Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Best of 2005 | Top Album and Contenders

Over the year, there were five albums that I considered for my Album of the Year. However, in the end, my favorite was:

The Go! Team | Thunder Lightning Strike
Why It Was My Favorite Album: Bo Muller-Moore of Eat More Kale fame said it best when he was lending his copy of this album to a friend. Bo told his friend that if he didn't like The Go! Team, he may not be able to be friends with him anymore. Knowing Bo's big heart, I'm sure he would have forgiven his friend but it's a good story to describe the love that can be had for Thunder Lightning Strike.

The album is a freak. Put together by London DJ Ian Parton, the album is actually a layered collection of clips from other songs. However, it doesn't sound like a DJ mix. It plays like eleven distinct band-performed tracks. In creating brand new songs from the various musical clips, Parton is more Dr. Frankenstein than he is DJ Shadow.

The result is an album that sounds fresh and familiar at the same time. The melodies and beats are almost immediately infectious. However, there is so much going on in the different layers of sound that the album never grew old for me. I always find something different to groove to each time I spin it. It's a little Motown...a little Sonic Youth's wall of noise...a little TV theme music...and a lot of fun.

Due to the nature of how the album was created, the production quality is not very high. As the man behind underpants records described it, "It sounds like a band was playing and somebody was just standing there with a mic recording them." However, if you listened to any of the lo-fi indie bands of the 90's like GBV, Pavement, Palace, Smog, etc. then you shouldn't be troubled by the production quality. It just adds to the charm of the disc.

Mitigating Factor: Their live show stinks.

The Go! Team | Huddle Formation (courtesy of The Camera As Pen)
The Go! Team | Ladyflash (courtesy of Nialler 9)
The Go! Team | Junior Kickstart (follow the link) (courtesy of Music Slut)

In no particular order, here are the other four albums that I considered for the top slot:

Nouvelle Vague | Nouvelle Vague
Why It Made the List: I first heard of Nouvelle Vague when I received a few tracks in an email that described them as "French electronica covers of 80's new wave tunes". My initial reaction to that description was a gigantic rolling of the eyes and a quick smack of the delete key. However, I didn't delete the files and thank goodness for it.

While that initial description was accurate, it implied something much less desireable than what I ultimately heard. The album is a collection of covers of new wave tunes (The Clash, Dead Kennedys, Joy Division, New Order, etc.) but each one has been so reworked that none of them resemble their former selves. In fact, the female singers on the album had never heard the originals and were not allowed to hear them until after they had finished recording. This ensured that the singers would put their own interpretive spins on the tracks. Plus, while the two French DJs/musicians behind the project do use electronic beats, the sound is much more bossanova than electronica.

The result is an infinitely enjoyable album that swings. Over the year, I've shared the album with seven or eight people and everyone has loved it; regardless of whether they knew the originals or not.

Mitigating Factor: The cover of Killing Joke's "Psyche" is the one dud on the album.

Nouvelle Vague | I Melt With You (courtesy of The Camera As Pen)
Nouvelle Vague | Too Drunk to Fuck (courtesy of Moist Works)
Nouvelle Vague | Teenage Kicks (courtesy of Moist Works)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Why It Made the List: What's left to say about this album? It's been blogged and blogged and blogged since last June. Based upon the lower than expected rankings it received in a lot of year-end lists, it seems there has been a bit of a backlash against the boys from Brooklyn. However, it isn't their fault that a lot of people wrote about them and it doesn't make me smile any less when I play the album.

There isn't a second of ground-breaking material on the album and Alec Ounsworth's vocals are almost entirely indecypherable. However, none of that matters. The songs are great. It's all about the songs. Big loveable beats and basslines provide the undercurrent for jangly guitar melodies. Oh, and did I mention the comically cheesy synth keys? Love 'em.

Plus, I loved their story. In June, they started selling their CDs through their website and by December, their tunes were being used on a network TV show. In between they sold tens of thousands of albums and became only the second band to ever sign a deal with Warner Distribution without signing to a label. It's been a nice ride for them.

Mitigating Factor: Worst opening song of a debut album ever.

CYHSY | The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth (courtesy of I Guess I'm Floating)
CYHSY | Heavy Metal (courtesy of Interpretations Diverse)

Sufjan Stevens | Illinois
Why It Made the List: With this album, Sufjan Stevens went from "that Christian guy that makes those nice albums" to one of the biggest names in indie music. It's a staggering work in it's beauty, composition and...research. Who the hell does research to write a rock album? Well, I guess Stevens does.

The album has an almost orchestral feel to it as one song sweeps into another. However, it changes sounds throughout the disc. At times, it's layered with horns, background singers, keys, etc. while other times it's just a plaintively strummed acoustic guitar or heavy rocking electric guitar. But somehow, Stevens makes it all flow in a one huge work.

By the way, Stereogum has a story today about Stevens quitting music for a while. It's only a rumor and I don't believe it but take it as you will.

Mitigating Factor: I can't say it any better than this comic strip did.

Sufjan Stevens | Chicago (courtesy of Interpretations Diverse)
Sufjan Stevens | Decatur (courtesy of In House Radio)

The National | Alligator
Why It Made the List: If I wasn't happily married and had suffered a tough break-up this year, this would have been my album of the year. It has to be one of the best break-up albums of all-time. From that boiling cauldron of pain came fourteen tortured tracks of beauty, despair and hope.

While the two rocking tunes from the album ("Mr. November" and "Abel") got the most attention from bloggers this year, the greatness of this album is in the quieter numbers. That's when Matt Berninger's vocals and lyrics dominate. The guy is a savant of torment as he sells you on his misery. For these reasons, the album is best listened to on a damp, gray day with a chill than in the invigorating sunshine of summer.

Mitigating Factor: I thought Berninger handled the scene poorly in Northampton last summer when he walked off the stage before the encore and left his band searching the building and street for him. Ulitmately, the band (sans Berninger) came back on stage to try to salvage the encore but it was a mess. If he wanted to end the show prematurely, he should have told his bandmates rather than leaving them up on stage looking lost.

The National | Looking for Astronauts (courtesy of So Much Silence)
The National | Karen (courtesy of Aquarium Drunk)
The National | Secret Meeting (courtesy of Shake Your Fist)

By the way, one note about choosing these albums: I used the US release date to decide whether an album was eligible for 2005. So, while The Go! Team and Nouvelle Vague had 2004 European release dates, their albums came out in 2005 in the US. Conversely, I couldn't include Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock and Roll in this year. I guess I'll be writing that one up next year at this time. Eighteen months after first hearing "Good Weekend".


c said...

cool list. good to know go team sucks live.
i'm not that into them, but i'm checking out the mp3s again.

chad said...

Wow. I wouldn't have expected your list to be so different than mine!


Flatlander said...

They aren't that different. I'm just not done yet. I still have one more post of "Other Albums I Loved".

Here were the albums you listed on BS:

wolf parade: apologies to the queen mary
iron and wine|calexico: in the reins
dangerdoom: the mouse and the mask
jens lekman: oh you're so silent jens
sweeny and billy: superwolf
art brut: bang bang rock and roll

Wolf Parade and Superwolf will both be on the next list.

Art Brut would be on the list if it had a 2005 US release date.

I love the Lekman disc but I already had most of the songs from his EPs which were released earlier than 2005. So, I decided to not inlcude it. It was a toss-up call.

As for the I&W/Calexico disc, great disc but I tried to keep EPs out of it. Maybe I'll do a list of EPs with the ones from SKWBN and The Lovekevins.

I liked the DD album but the clips from the cartoons wore on me after a while. I found myself skipping those tracks on mix playlists towards the end of the year.

So, our lists are only different due to technical crap for the most part.

K. said...

Always like to see different lists. Nice lineup and links Flatlander. I know I have mentioned it before but if you havent heard The Avalanches yet they blow Go Team out of the water.

K. said...

There you go some sample Avalanches tracks.

Flatlander said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll spend some time this weekend checking them out.

chad said...

I look forward to the rest of your 2005 posts!

Nico said...

The Sufjan bug has finally bit me. My list would be totally different if I did it today based on some stuff I've heard in the last two weeks.