Saturday, November 12, 2005

ten essential albums for 2005

for the next seven minutes, the animal club blog has been recast as a music blog, and the event you've been waiting the whole life of this blog for is here: baz's top ten of the year.

since i don't believe in anything being number one, these not necessarily ordered by bestness. luckily, most of them are available on emusic, so it's conceivable you could buy the whole list for under $20. enthused? ecstatic? read on....

Sufjan Stevens- "Come on Feel the Illinoise
As far as I can tell, no album this year generated as much well-deserved hype as "Illinoise", Sufjan's third solo effort, and second in his one-album-per-state project. Sufjan's strolling songwriter approach to the album pays off big time, creating an album that bounces around styles like nobody's business, yet manages to deliver a throughline. It's really a remarkable feat of both songwriting and orchestration.

Devendra Banhart- "Cripple Crow"
As the freak-folk movement gains steam, this youngster (three years my junior, to be exact) is responsible for the genre's definitive first landmark album. the album's laden with contributors and, quite possibly, hangers-on, but it retains an intimacy that really helps the record along- whenever devendra breaks off into his native spanish tounge, or the gang of sillies in the background are doing their dylan-recording-studio-shennanigans shtick, you at least feel like you're in on the joke.

Architecture in Helsinki- "In Case We Die"
The neighborhood swimming pool of my youth was shaped like an "L". One end was the "shallow end", no deeper than three feet for the waders, the kiddies and the folks who hadn't quite yet figured out the buoyancy thing. We'll call this the "Polyphonic Spree". perpendicular to this was the "deep end", nine-feet of chlorinated air mattress to cushion your cannonball, suicide or sitter. This shall be known as the "Arcade Fire". joining the two was the four-to-six foot deep middle section, not so deep your rational fears of abysses would be brought up, not so shallow the novelty of wet knees wears off after an hour or two. It was the section godilocks chose, and it's called "Architecture in Helsinki".

Animal Collective- "Feels"
As great an album as "Sung Tongs" was, some of us Animal Collective fans thought the band might be primed for a letdown or a massive departure from their established camp-freak style. What we got was both neither and everything we could hope to hear. "Feels" brings back two other members of the collective, and sees the group bringing more electricity into the fold, without losing that kids-improvising-songs feel that made "Sung Tongs" so great. Also, they use words somewhat less as percussion instruments, still being playfully abstract with their lyrics but with a stronger sense of literary purpose. On top of all that, it's just fun as all get-up to listen to.

Okkervil River- "Black Sheep Boy"
Caught somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Geroge Harrison Beatles, Okkervil River keeps the alt-country rock derivative kicking with this album that rocks just as hard as it tells stories. There's also shades of old-school Palace Music thrown in, and the record never loses it's sense of melody, even in the harsher tracks.

Animal Collective- "Prospect Hummer"
Yeah, they're my one of my favorite bands right now, and as such if they can put out two good albums in one calendar year, both will make my arbitrary and completely worthless list. This four-song EP features reculsive 60's brit-pop folk icon Vashti Bunyan, and is a damn site closer to the "Sung Tongs" vibe than "Feels". I can't say this enough- I love what Animal Collective has decided music is capable of. No structure is taboo with them, and unlike some other post-rock pioneers, they maintain a strong sense of melody throughout their explorations, which in my mind makes all the difference.

Antony and the Johnsons- "I Am a Bird Now"
The first fifteen seconds of "I Am a Bird Now" made me cry, almost uncontrollably. Immediately. I don't think I've ever heard emotion laid so bare as on this album. Lead singer Antony's story is worth reading, so I suggest you google him before listening to this. His voice is unmistakably unique- a vibrato so sharp you'd think it could cut diamonds- but when it's belting out such simple beauty as "Hope there's someone who will take care of me/ When I die/ Will I go", the combination just wills you to understand what he's feeling.

The Decemberists- "Picaresque"
In the sea of musical experimentation, broad genre exploration and intimate vulnerability I've been lost in this year, it was mighty hard for a good old fashioned rock and roll record to make the cut, but the Decemberists are working at the top of their game. I honestly didn't think too much of "Her Majesty...", but "Picaresque" works the same angles as the awesome "Castaways and Cutouts"- mixing unbridled fun ("The Sporting Life") with histrionic melancholy ("Eli the Barrow Boy") and gleeful protest music ("16 Military Wives"). There's still some of that theatrical story-song stuff that filled "Her Majesty...", but the enhanced production and cleaner orchestration greatly helps.

Mice Parade- "Bem Vinda-Vontade"
On the exact opposite end of the musical spectrum, Mice Parade's Adam Pierce has made a name for himself by focusing on musically statuesque patterns and brilliant rhythmic experimentation. His latest sees him folding lyrics and melody into the mix, and although it seems to have disappointed some of his hard core fans in the press, I dig where he's going. "Nights Wave" is bar none the most accessible Mice Parade song ever, and if that song hadn't been so distinct, "Bem Vinda-Vontade" would have been another casualty of having too large a digital music collection. As it were, "Nights Wave" caught my ear, and introduced me to his whole back catalogue of wonderful experimentation.

Andrew Bird- "The Mysterious Production of Eggs"
Not being an Ani DiFranco fan, I hadn't very much exposure to Righteous Babe Records' stable of artists, but this Andrew Bird guy is the shiz. The rest of the world knows him, and knows him well, but it took a chance encounter with good friend Joe Stile of the borderless puzzle to get me on board. Joe had been singing the praise of Mr. Bird for some time, and he gave me a copy of "Eggs" which more or less blew me away. I've since grabbed the rest of his albums, and like Sufjan Stevens, he's one of those artists who's moving in the right direction, each album better than the last.

honorable mention:
Stephen Malkmus- Face the Truth
Spoon- Gimme Fiction
Of Montral- The Sunlandic Twins
Arcade Fire- Funeral

There she is. Like i said, you can most likely get this entire list for under $20 at emusic, and all this wonderfulness is available on itunes as well. Enjoy!


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