Fester’s Lucky 13: The Best Albums of 2005

2005 Year-End Summary

With a lot fewer great albums, 2005 may have been relatively the weakest year in music in about thirteen years. It’s hard to say why, other than the fact there is nothing truly riveting or surprising that’s capturing our imaginations. When you least expect it, some seemingly played-out genre sometimes goes through some clever innovations. But other than the “freak folk” scene, which, honestly, isn’t all that impressive, this year hasn’t seen much change.

Yet I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a bad year in music. There’s simply too much creative energy floating about the world for there not to be plenty of great music. Death metal reared its head from the black seas of Scandinavia and presented Opeth’s masterpiece. Sleater-Kinney took a surprising turn, after years of annoyingly twee guitars and lack of a heavy bottom. With The Woods, they have finally begun to rock like beasts, like giant mythic Yeti crashing through the forests of the Northwest. Patrick Wolf and My Computer made subtle innovations, augmenting folk, pop and rock with laptronica. The British pop bands produced a strong batch of albums. While not groundbreaking by any means, Franz Ferdinand comfortably evolved into a straight pop band, while debut albums by Editors, The Rakes, Field Music, Bloc Party, Maximo Park and Dogs show great promise. They all beat the living hell out of Kaiser Chiefs. Swedish pop veteran Robyn delivered an album that tops last year’s efforts by Annie and Utada. Together they show that Scandinavia and Japan are eclipsing the U.S. and Britain in producing pop stars with actual talent. Hardly pop, Finland’s Paavoharju created an enchanting, timelessly strange album called Yh? H?m?r??. African musicians Konono No. 1 (from the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Amadou & Mariam (from Mali) produced albums that stretch and redefine traditional production techniques.

Comeback of the year

After a glut of reunited post-punk bands the last few years, things slowed down in 2005. I give the nod to Bettye LaVette. Like Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me, her I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise was produced by Joe Henry, who seems to be developing a side career rejuvinating aging soul singers. More, please.

Debuts of the year

Editors lead a strong crop of young bands, including The Rakes, Field Music, Bloc Party, Paavoharju, Akron/Family, LCD Soundsystem, Maximo Park, The Shortwave Set, Dogs, Edan, Devin Davis, and The Evens

Overrated of the Year

So intense is the desire for something new and exciting, people are willing to rejoice in the idea of something new, even if the reality doesn’t quite hold up. In this case, it’s the appropriate exotic persona of M.I.A., an English woman of Sri Lankan heritage. We already got a preview with the bootleg mixes with her DJ partner Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1. The mix of pop, hip-hop, samples and electronics was diverting enough. But Arular didn’t really expand on that palate. Nor were many of the tunes all that successful. It’s not bad, but even live, I felt M.I.A. was a little boring. It’s certainly far from the best album of the year. Runner up is Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise. While Greetings From Michigan was a revelation, his music has gone from being diverse and surprising to staid. Runner-up, Kanye West (again) and Fiona Apple.

Disappointment of the Year

Both White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age were a let down. Being great bands, they certainly didn’t make bad albums. But both ended an upward creative swing in which it seemed they could do no wrong.

Overrated Subgenre/Trend

Following up on previous years’ electroclash and grime, freak folk takes the prize in 2005. Aside from being ill-defined, the artists touted aren’t really that great. Devendra Banhart showed some promise, but he kind of fell apart on Cripple Crow. He helped revive interest in Vashti Bunyan, who released an unremarkable Joe Boyd-produced album in 1970. Her comeback, Lookaftering, is equally pleasant and unexciting. Okkervil River are okay, but wow, their cover of Tim Hardin’s “A Stone” really sucks.

Looking Ahead

Everyone hopes the next big thing is just around the corner. I’m not always keen on big things, but I like surprises. I’d love to see hip hop leap out of its creative rut. There are a handful of artists for whom I have high hopes in 2006, including TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Radiohead. With singer-songwriters like Rufus Wainwright and Antony getting acclaim, I’d like to see Ed Harcourt and Hawksley Workman get some much overdue success. See you soon for my picks of 2006.

Click here for the entire list.

Fester’s Lucky
13 — The Best Albums of 2005

  1. Opeth, Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner)

    Who’d have thunk the best album of the year would be the eighth release by a death metal band from Stockholm, Sweden? Arguments for it being a weak year in music aside, Opeth deserves the recognition. Not content to regurgitate the formula that won them universal acclaim, at least in the metal community, with 2001’s Blackwater Park, they continue to take risks, such as the all-acoustic 2003 album Damnation. Ghost Reveries is the band’s most finely balanced mix of brutal crunch, toning down the Cookie Monster vocals in favor of more straight singing, and stately, almost lovely arrangements that pay homage to British and German prog bands and space rock. With poetic lyrics that delve into occult mysticisim, group vocal chanting and elaborate classical themes, Opeth are a likely candidate to cross over into the mainstream. Metal is back.

  2. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods (Sub Pop)

    With their seventh album in ten years, and the first in three, Sleater-Kinney may be slowing down, but they’re not mellowing out. In fact, The Woods is the most poundingly vicious album they’ve ever done. The key to their refreshing new approach is using Dave Fridmann, no fan of their earlier work, to light a fire under their butts. Indeed, Janet Weiss sounds like she’s using John Bonham’s femur bones for sticks, while Corin Tucker’s vocal work reaches a primally powerful peak. Near the end of the album, song structure is abandoned for hypnotic jams. It’s not a perfect album, but if Sleater-Kinney can manage to write songs to match their best from Call the Doctor and Dig Me Out with this new sound, they’ll be the best rock band on the planet, male or female.

  3. Patrick Wolf * Wind In The Wires (Tomlab)

    A young violinist/singer/songwriter who’s been experimenting with sound since he was 11, Patrick Wolf sounds like he’s 21 going on 51 on his second album. After recording the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink folk and electronics debut Lycanthropy, Wolf studied composition at the Trinity Music Conservatoire. Wind in the Wires is dark, autumnal European folk, tweaked with laptop electronica. While the gothic songs show that Wolf has an old spirit, it’s also one of the most passionate albums of the year.

  4. My Computer, No CV (Tesla UK)

    I think a lot of people are craving music like My Computer, but they just don’t know it exists — passionate art rock with meticulous arrangements. They were ignored for their amazing 2002 debut Vulnerabilia, and from the look of year-end lists, they were ignored this year. Fools!
    Full
    review.

  5. Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better With Franz Ferdinand (Domino)

    Franz Ferdinand transcended both the hype and backlash of the post-punk revival by simplifying their sound into pretty straightforward pop. Impressively, they improved on their debut in doing so, smoothly grooming themselves for success. And who’s to argue they shouldn’t? Wouldn’t you rather hear their songs on the radio over Nickelback?

  6. Editors, The Back Room (Kitchenware UK)

    Once upon a time, a group of anglophiles called Interpol topped a lot of year-end lists, including Pitchfork. Problem was they weren’t that great. Then came an English band who had better lyrics, better songs, and more intensity, and people sneered derisively. Their sound may not be trendy right now, but it’s still great music.

    Full review.

  7. The Rakes, Capture/Release (V2 UK)

    I’m baffled why, in an age when we have access to any and all music practically without limits, people are still handicapped in finding good music. Take Kasabian — decent hit single, shit album. Yet the album is at the top of many lists while the Rakes are neglected. Consider The Kinks, late era Jam and Madness. The Rakes are well qualified to fit within that pantheon. They’re young and just starting out, but this is a cracking album.

    Full review.

  8. Robyn, Robyn (Konichiwa Records)

    I ignored this album for most of the year because I thought the raves were just coming from fanboys with no lives. I was pleasantly surprised to find this is even better than the albums by Annie and Utada. The songs are alternately cocky, wounded, defiant, yearning and most importantly, they’re all great.

  9. Field Music, Field Music (Memphis Industries UK)

    This eccentric group from Sunderland, England (same place as The Futureheads, much different sound) has often been lazily and inaccurately compared to the Beach Boys. Think more like Robert Wyatt, XTC and some Abbey Road era Beatles. In the end, Field Music sound like no one else, they’re weird, and they’re wonderful.

    Full review.

  10. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (Wichita/V2)

    I got ahold of the Bloc Party album at the end of 2004, and I couldn’t stop listening to it for the next three months. Combined with their B-Sides, Bloc Party were immensely entertaining. They put on a great live show, and Matt Tong proved to be a juggernaut on the kit. Time has not been so kind to Kele Okereke’s yelping vocals and a couple of the weaker songs, but Bloc Party hangs in at number ten for emerging so fully formed with a distinctive sound.

  11. Akron/Family, Akron/Family (Young God)

    This young band with impressive beards may be associated with the “freak folk” scene, being labelmates with Devendra Banhart on Michael Gira’s Young God, but they have something that many of their peers lack — a knack for melody. No matter how far they might veer into electronic-laced psych-folk weirdness, there’s usually a breathtaking hook or chorus that makes these songs stand out.

  12. LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem (Capitol/DFA)

    Record collecting geek, label co-owner and producer James Murphy was frustrated with the dance music scene he was involved in. It didn’t rock. Instead of complain about it, he formed a band. It’s not the most original concept, but LCD Soundsystem pulls it off flawlessly. It’s danceable, it pokes fun at hipsters, and it rocks like a motherfucker.

  13. Paavoharju, Yh? H?m?r?? (Fonal)

    Finnish born-again Christians singing songs of devotion doesn’t sound like a party I’d want to stay at, but these folks are weird and talented enough to make something really special. Ancient folk traditions clash with electronica to produce an eerie, powerful sound that wavers like a hallucination. On “Musta Katu” they even reinvent their own Nordic darkwoods brand of reggae.

2005 Breakdown

Since I listened to enough metal to fill a whole list, I split up the Hard Rock & Metal category. I combined New Americana with Country & Folk, because I found less music in those categories that I liked this year. I didn’t hear any R&B and Soul this year of note, but had to at least give Bettye LaVette props. Wimp Pop is an endearing name I made up (hey if The Wire can do it, so can I) a couple years ago, but it hasn’t really caught on. I’m open to suggestions for a better name. Click here for the entire list.

Rock & Pop

  1. Sleater-Kinney * The Woods (Sub Pop)
  2. Patrick Wolf * Wind In The Wires (Tomlab)
  3. Franz Ferdinand * You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino)
  4. Editors * The Back Room (Kitchenware UK)
  5. The Rakes * Capture/Release (V2 UK)
  6. Robyn (Konichiwa)
  7. Field Music (Memphis Industries UK)
  8. Bloc Party * Silent Alarm (Wichita/V2)
  9. LCD Soundsystem (Capitol/DFA)
  10. Spoon * Gimme Fiction (Merge)
  11. Maximo Park * A Certain Trigger (Warp)
  12. Dogs * Turn Against This Land (Island UK)
  13. Stephen Malkmus * Face The Truth (Matador)

Avant Rock & Out Pop

  1. My Computer * No CV (Tesla UK)
  2. Broadcast * Tender Buttons (Warp)
  3. Sigur Ros * Takk… (Geffen)
  4. Nine Horses * Snow Borne Sorrow (Samadhisound)
  5. The Shortwave Set * The Debt Collection (Independiente UK)
  6. Russian Futurists * Our Thickness (Upper Class)
  7. Eluvium * Talk Amongst The Trees (Temporary Residence)
  8. Out Hud * Let Us Never Speak Of It Again (Kranky)
  9. Richard Youngs * The Naive Shaman (Jajjaguwar)
  10. The Books * Lost and Safe (Tomlab)
  11. Birchville Cat Motel * Chi Vampires (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)
  12. Animal Collective * Feels (Fat Cat)
  13. Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (Righteous Babe)

Heavy Rock

  1. Witchcraft – Firewood (Candlelight)
  2. Black Mountain (Jagjaguwar)
  3. Abramis Brama – Rubicon (Transubstans)
  4. Torche (Robotic Empire)
  5. Dozer – Through The Eyes Of Heathens (Small Stone)
  6. Truckfighters – Gravity X (MeteorCity)
  7. Queens of the Stone Age * Lullabies To Paralyze (Interscope)
  8. Earth – Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method (Southern Lord)
  9. Burning Saviours (Meteor City)
  10. Sunn 0))) – Black One (Southern Lord)
  11. UFOmammut – Lucifer Songs (Supernatural Cat)
  12. The Mars Volta * Frances The Mute (Universal)
  13. A-Frames * Black Forest (Sub Pop)
  14. Lightning Bolt * Hypermagic Mountain (Load)
  15. Oneida * The Wedding (Jagjaguwar)
  16. The Darkness – One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back (Atlantic)
  17. The Living Things * Ahead Of The Lions (Jive/Zomba)
  18. Fantomas * Suspended Animation (Ipecac)
  19. Love As Laughter * Laughter’s Fifth (Sub Pop)
  20. Cave In * Perfect Pitch Black (Hydra Head)
  21. The Gospel * The Moon Is A Dead World (Level Plane)
  22. The Fall Of Troy * Doppelganger (Equal Vision)
  23. Oceansize * Everyone Into Position (Beggars Banquet)

Metal

  1. Opeth * Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner)
  2. Enslaved * Isa (Candlelight)
  3. Ulver * Blood Inside (The End)
  4. High on Fire * Blessed Black Wings (Relapse)
  5. Rammstein * Rosenrot (Universal)
  6. Early Man * Closing In (Matador)
  7. Jesu (Hydra Head)
  8. Meshuggah * Catch Thirty-Three (Nuclear Blast)
  9. System of a Down * Mesmerize (Epic)
  10. Pelican * The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw (Hydra Head)
  11. Cursed * Two (Goodfellow)
  12. Kylesa * To Walk A Middle Course (Prosthetic)
  13. Immolation * Harnessing Ruin (Olympic)

Wimp Pop

  1. Go-Betweens * Oceans Apart (Yep Roc)
  2. Clientele * Strange Geometry (Merge)
  3. Brazilian Girls (Verve)
  4. Camille * Le Fil (Virgin)
  5. Roisin Murphy * Ruby Blue (Echo)
  6. Ladytron * Witching Hour (Rykodisc)
  7. Go-Kart Mozart * Tearing Up The Album Chart (West Midlands UK)
  8. Colder * Heat (Output)
  9. Love Is All * Nine Times That Same Song (What’s Your Rupture?)
  10. Engineers (Echo)
  11. Antony and the Johnsons * I Am A Bird Now (Secretly Canadian)
  12. Sam Prekop * Who’s Your New Professor (Thrill Jockey)
  13. Imogen Heap * Speak For Yourself (Megaphonic)

Electronica, Techno & Dance

  1. Gorillaz * Demon Days (Virgin)
  2. Jamie Lidell * Multiply (Warp)
  3. Matias Aguayo * Are You Really Lost (Kompakt)
  4. M83 * Before The Dawn Heals Us (Goom/Mute)
  5. Four Tet * Everything Ecstatic (Domino)
  6. Vitalic * OK Cowboy (Pias)
  7. Isolee * We Are Monster (Playhouse)
  8. M.I.A. * Arular (XL)
  9. Chemical Brothers * Push The Button (Virgin)
  10. The Juan MaClean * Less Than Human (DFA/Astralwerks)
  11. The Lappetites * Before the Libretto (Quecksilber Germany)
  12. The Boards Of Canada * Campfire Headcase (Warp)
  13. Triola * Im Funftonraum (Kompakt)

Global

  1. Paavoharju * Yh? H?m?r?? (Fonal)
  2. Amadou & Mariam * Dimanche a Bamako (Nonesuch)
  3. Rhythm & Sound * See Mi Yah (Burial Mix)
  4. Konono No. 1 * Congotronics (Fat Cat)
  5. Seu Jorge * Cru (Wrasse)
  6. Max De Castro (Trama)
  7. Various * Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa (Luaka Bop)
  8. Tom Ze * Estudando O Pagode (Trama)
  9. Thione Seck * Orientation (Stern’s Africa)
  10. Aoki Takamasa & Tujiko Noriko * 28 (Fat Cat)
  11. Tujiko Noriko * Blurred In My Mirror (Room40)
  12. Dengue Fever * Escape From Dragon House (BRG)
  13. Damian Marley * Welcome To Jamrock (Universal)

New Americana, Country & Folk

  1. Akron/Family (Young God)
  2. The Mountain Goats * The Sunset Tree (4AD)
  3. Okkervil River * Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar)
  4. The Dirty Three * Cinder (Touch & Go)
  5. Freakwater * Thinking Of You (Thrill Jockey)
  6. Pernice Brothers * Discover A Lovelier You (Sub Pop)
  7. Sufjan Stevens * Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty)
  8. David Pajo * Pajo (Drag City)
  9. Ry Cooder * Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch)
  10. My Morning Jacket * Z (ATO)
  11. Angels Of Light * Sings Other People (Young God)
  12. Crooked Fingers * Dignity And Shame (Merge)
  13. Deana Carter * The Story of My Life (Vanguard)

Hip Hop & Rap

  1. Edan * Beauty and the Beat (Lewis)
  2. Roots Manuva * Awfully Deep (Big Dada/Ninja Tune UK)
  3. Dalek * Absence (Ipecac)
  4. Quasimoto – The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas (Stones Throw)
  5. DangerDoom * The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph/ADA)
  6. Kano * Home Sweet Home (679)
  7. Lady Sovereign * Vertically Challenged EP (Chocolate Industries)
  8. Common * Be (Geffen)
  9. The Perceptionists * Black Dialogue (Definitive Jux)
  10. Sway * This Is My Promo (Dcypha Productions)
  11. Cage * Hell’s Winter (Definitive Jux)
  12. Blackalicious * The Craft (Anti)
  13. Prefuse 73 * Surrounded By Silence (Warp)

R&B & Soul

  1. Bettye LaVette * I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise (Anti)
  2. Missy Elliott * The Cookbook (Atlantic)
  3. Mariah . . . no, can’t do it.

Albums released in 2004 but reissued in 2005.

  1. Annie * Anniemal (679)
  2. The Earlies * These Were The Earlies (WEA)
  3. Dungen * Ta Det Lugnt (Subliminal Sounds)
  4. The Go! Team * Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Memphis Industries)
  5. Cut Copy * Bright Like Neon Love (Modular)

Albums released in 2004 that should be reissued cuz we missed ’em.

  1. Sketch Show * Loophole (Third Ear)
  2. Patrick Wolf * Lycanthropy (Tomlab)
  3. Orphaned Land * Mabool (Century Media)
  4. Syd Matters * A Whisper And A Sigh (3rd Side/V2)
  5. Blue States * The Soundings (Memphis Industries)
  6. Feist * Let It Die (Arts & Crafts)
  7. Spektrum * Enter…The Spektrum (Playhouse UK)
  8. Polysics * Polysics Or Die!!! (Surla/Sony)

Reissues

  1. The Stooges * Funhouse (Rhino/Elektra) 70
  2. The Associates * The Affectionate Punch (Fiction) 80
  3. Patti Smith * Horses (Arista) 75
  4. Can * Soon Over Babaluma (Mute/Spoon) 74
  5. Martha and the Muffins * This Is The Ice Age (Dindisc/Virgin) 81
  6. Funkadelic * Maggot Brain (Westbound) 71
  7. Funkadelic (Westbound) 69
  8. The Adverts * Crossing The Red Sea With the Adverts (Devils Jukebox) 78
  9. Can * Future Days (Mute/Spoon) 73
  10. Motorhead * Ace Of Spades (Roadracer) 80
  11. The Damned * The Black Album (Chiswick/Big Beat UK) 80
  12. The Fall * Hex Enduction Hour (Castle/Sanctuary) 82
  13. The Stooges (Rhino/Elektra) 69

Click here to see the entire list of reissues.

Singles

  1. The Rakes “Binary Love” (V2)
  2. Robyn “Be Mine” (Konichiwa)
  3. Spoon “I Turn My Camera On” (Merge)
  4. Maximo Park “Apply Some Pressure” (Warp)
  5. White Stripes “My Doorbell” (XL)
  6. Dogs “Selfish Ways” (Island)
  7. Franz Ferdinand “Do You Want To” (Domino)
  8. The Shortwave Set “Is It Any Wonder” (Independiente)
  9. Antony & the Johnsons “Fistful of Love” (Secretly Canadian)
  10. Jamie Lidell “Multiply” (Warp)
  11. Editors “Fingers In The Factories” (Kitchenware)
  12. LCD Soundsystem “Tribulations” (DFA)
  13. Lady Sovereign “Random” (Casual)

Shows

  1. Walt Mink, Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis
  2. Mastodon, Bottom Lounge
  3. Bloc Party, Metro
  4. LCD Soundsystem, Metro
  5. Domenico+2, Museum of Contemporary Art
  6. Konono No. 1, Logan Square Auditorium
  7. Gogol Bordello, Subterranean
  8. Seu Jorge, Grant Park
  9. Dinosaur Jr., Metro
  10. The Arcade Fire, Lollapalooza
  11. Spoon, Lollapalooza
  12. Black Keys, Lollapalooza
  13. Billy Idol, Lollapalooza

Movies

  1. Walk The Line
  2. Brick
  3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  4. Serenity
  5. Kung Fu Hustle
  6. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
  7. Millions
  8. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  9. Sin City
  10. The Squid and the Whale
  11. Batman Begins
  12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  13. The Family Stone

Runner-ups: Oldboy, Broken Flowers, Madagascar, 40 Year-Old Virgin, Aeon Flux, Chronicles of Narnia.

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