December 12, 2005

Subject to change if something really fantastic comes out in the next two weeks

I'm busily working on an update to the Holy Tango Basement Tapes, so watch this space for that. But for now, I have another music-related item -- my yearly list of my favorite CDs.

Normally, I make a top 20 list, but this has been such a fucking awesome year for music, I expanded it to a top 25.

1) Andrew Bird -- The Mysterious Production of Eggs
2) The New Pornographers -- Twin Cinema
3) The Go! Team -- Thunder, Lightning, Strike!
4) Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois
5) Paul McCartney -- Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
6) Iron and Wine -- Woman King EP
7) John Doe -- Forever Hasn't Happened Yet
8) Amy Rigby -- Little Fugitive
9) Of Montreal -- The Sunlandic Twins
10) Architecture in Helsinki -- In Case We Die
11) Dungen -- Ta Det Lungt
12) The Posies -- Every Kind of Light
13) Stephen Malkmus -- Face the Truth
14) Jens Lekman -- Oh You're So Silent Jens
15) The Decemberists -- Picaresque
16) The Boy Least Likely To -- The Best Party Ever
17) Kate Bush -- Aerial
18) Kaiser Chiefs -- Employment
19) Bettye Lavette -- I've Got My Own Hell to Raise
20) Devendra Banhart -- Cripple Crow
21) Susumu Yokota -- Symbol
22) Mia Doi Todd -- Manzanita
23) Animal Collective -- Feels
24) Vashti Bunyan -- Lookaftering
25) Wolf Parade -- Apologies to the Queen Mary

And some comments on those:

1) The man is an amazing violinist, composer, lyricist, arranger, and whistler. I was already sold on him when The Swimming Hour came out, but on that albums the songs tended to remind me of other people ("Two-Way Action" sounded very Beck-ish, for instance). Somewhere over the past few years, he assimilated all his influences and came out the other side sounding like nobody but himself. If you have never seen him live, you should remedy that as soon as possible, since, whenever you see him, you will be kicking yourself for all the times you could have seen him but didn't.

2) The Electric Version was weak and samey. The Slow Wonder was an improvement but didn't beat Mass Romantic. This kicks the ass of them all.

3) Bliss. Note: It is possible to swing dance to "Huddle Formation".

4) The first example of a trend I couldn't be happier about: the return of prog. Except this time, it's not bloated and pretentious; instead, it's exuberant and playful (and rarely involves sidelong suites). Admittedly, I haven't really listened to the Mars Volta or Coheed and Cambria, so there could very well be bloated, pretentious neoprog bands out there -- but what I've heard, I like. Also see Architecture in Helsinki, Dungen, Animal Collective, Head of Femur, and Broken Social Scene.

5) Paul McCartney is like the songwriter who cried "comeback". Basically every ho-hum McCartney record for the past decade has been declared Paul's return to form; one could be forgiven for thinking that it's just hype again. But it turns out Nigel Godrich really whipped Paul into shape. Let's hope they keep working together.

7) I've never really listened to John Doe, either solo or as a member of X. But I did recognize his name when this CD turned up on the Cargo giveaway table, so I gave it a listen, and I was blown away. It's fiery country-influenced rock in a Neko Case vein (she guests on one song; many other guests also appear, although Kirstin Hersh's song stands out), and I knew as soon as I heard it that it would be high on this list.

8) Such a great lyricist. (For example, in one song she compares her romantic resilience to Rasputin's ability to survive assassination attempt after assassination attempt.) Why isn't she massively famous?

9) I've always wanted to love Of Montreal. Their album covers are gorgeous, and their songs have titles like "Lecithin's Tale of a DNA Experiment That Went Horribly Awry". But somehow I never found them more than a pleasant thing to play every once in a while when I was in a Beach Boys-y mood but tired of listening to the High Llamas. Then someone put one of the songs from this album on a mix CD for me and my ears perked up. Time to start backtracking through their recent catalog, I suppose.

10) This CD features musical saw, theremin, tuba, bassoon, and power tools. Yay for twee prog! [Note: I misinterpreted the what-instruments-play-on-which-songs graph included with the CD when I first posted this. I think Tufte would back me up when I say that given a pale color and a dark color on a chart, it's easier to interpret the pale color as background than foreground.]

14) Really a compilation and not a proper album, but you wouldn't be able to tell just from listening to it. He loves samples and puts them to excellent use; maybe he's the chamber-pop version of the Go! Team.

17) I was on tenterhooks about this one. It had been so long, and I so wanted to love it -- but the last thing she had done was The Red Shoes, which I had really disliked. Thankfully, this is far better than The Red Shoes. It doesn't beat Hounds of Love or The Dreaming, but I think it ties The Sensual World, and that's not shabby.

19) I won this CD from a Knitting Factory contest. It was an easy contest -- they had a bunch of promotional CDs, and the first person to write in asking for each one got the one they asked for. The album is all cover songs; my favorites are "Joy" (Lucinda Williams) and "Sleep to Dream" (Fiona Apple).

20) Devendra Banhart doesn't like being labeled a "freak-folk" artist, but too bad, because that's such a good description. "I Feel Just Like a Child" was one of my favorite songs this year, and I might have ranked this album higher if he hadn't written that song twice; "Chinese Children" has basically the same melody and structure. And I'm not sure how I feel about the "Little Boys" song. So, docked a few spots for ambivalence.

21) Ambient electronic music composed of classical music samples (including John Cage and Meredith Monk). Dreamy and disorientingly familiar.

Honorable Mention:
Iain Ballamy –- Mirrormask soundtrack
Sigur Ros -- Takk
Broken Social Scene (self-titled)
Gang of Four -- Return the Gift
LCD Soundsystem (self-titled)
The Bees -- Free the Bees
The Sugarplastic -- Will
Head of Femur -- Hysterical Stars
The Fall -- Fall Heads Roll
The Go-Betweens -- Oceans Apart
Bill Frisell -- East/West
Tracy Bonham – Blink the Brightest
Caribou -- The Milk of Human Kindness
Brad Mehldau Trio -- Day Is Done

Brian Eno -- Another Day On Earth
Liz Phair -- Somebody's Miracle

Best reissues:
The Toms (self-titled)
Bruce Springsteen -- Born to Run

Best compilations:
Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans (actually from 2004, but big whoop)
The bonus disc of the aforementioned LCD Soundsystem CD
Kirsty MacColl -- From Croydon to Cuba
Belle and Sebastian -- Push Barman to Open Old Wounds (I didn't actually buy this, because I own all the CDs that it compiles...but those EPs are fantastic)
The Sugarplastic -- 7x7x7
Fountains of Wayne -- Out-of-State Plates

Best albums from a while ago that I finally got around to buying this year:
Billy Nicholls -- Would You Believe
Rolling Stones -- Beggars Banquet (I know, isn't it embarrassing?)
The Balancing Act -- Three Squares and a Roof
The Balancing Act -- Curtains (I've been trying to replace the tapes, which were on their last legs, for years; it took me this long to find reasonably priced used copies)
Paul McCartney -- Ram (And I want McCartney II, but it's out of print)
Sugar -- Copper Blue (I decided my crappy duped cassette wasn't doing the trick anymore)

Best mix-CD-ready tracks from albums that didn't make the list:
Paul Weller -- From the Floorboards Up (from As Is Now)
Ted Leo -- I'm Looking Through You (from the This Bird Has Flown compilation)

Best song I wrote this year:
"Dear John". What, you didn't download it?

What was I thinking? Last year's list reconsidered:
I actually did a pretty good job of picking the top 20; there's nothing I'd remove in retrospect in favor of anything on the honorable mention list. I might drop Mission of Burma down to #3, though -- I think I ranked it a little too high based on the fact that I liked it so much more than I was expecting. But over the course of 2005, I've still been playing the hell out of the Futureheads and Ted Leo, while I haven't gotten the Mission of Burma CD out nearly as often.

Most of the CDs above are available from Amazon; I've provided links to other sites if a CD's not available at Amazon, or if Amazon's price is stupidly high.

Finally, go here and see how I compare.

Posted by Francis at 01:44 AM

Did you dislike the Death Cab for Cutie album or just run out of slots on your lists? Just curious.

Posted by: Rich at December 14, 2005 10:00 PM

I never bought it. Someone at Cargo had a copy, and I gave it a listen, but my attention wandered and I never got all the way through it. I don't know, it just didn't grab me. Do you think I should give it another chance?

Posted by: Francis at December 14, 2005 10:53 PM

To be honest, all I know is the cut Soul Meets Body, and I am not sure whether that would make me want to buy an entire CD of theirs. Perhaps others more knowledgeable and passionate will comment.

It's often the case that first impressions are the best guide, so be cautious. On the other hand, the group's name anagrams to "I CROTCH FED A BEAUT," so you might be able to get a good lyric out of them.

Posted by: Rich at December 15, 2005 11:42 AM