1. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
When I got this album back in July amidst the controversy of the unlicensed picture of Superman on the front cover that forced the label to replace the cover and reissue the album, I mentioned that it was the early front-runner for album of the year. And here we are, 6 months later, and a chorus of indie rock and general music aficionados are joining in my proclamation. Amazon, MetaCritic, A compilation survey of mp3 blogs, and other independent blogs have all named this Album of the Year. It's also up for several Plug Independent Music Awards, and there's even talk about Grammy nominations. Which is all pretty amazing. And well deserved. But rarely is well-deserved praise in the music industry actually rewarded.
There is nothing pre-packaged, formulaic, or utterly unoriginal in this recording, the 2nd in Stevens' stated goal of 50 albums about the 50 states, and everything about it works. Some have argued that it is inferior to Greetings from Michigan, the album that put him on the map, so to speak, but I have to disagree. This is a fuller, richer, more varied, and more amazing album than that worthy predecessor. It is in fact my album of the year. And nothing really came close. But click below to see the rest of the list...
2005 Album of the Year List (continued)...
The debut full-length from this Canadian indie rock band received a strong rating in my review a few months ago and placed a remarkable 5 different songs in my Top 10 records of the week countdown, including the scorching "I'll Believe in Anything", which features the closest approximation to pure sonic bliss I've heard in quite a while during the time between 2:24 and 3:06 of the track. They have absolutely taken over the mantle of the Next Arcade Fire and are running with it. Just a great, great album.
This is actually a collection of previously released EPs, combined onto one album released in 2005. Since I didn't own any of those EPs and as only a recent convert to the wonders of the British indie legends, hadn't heard many of these songs, it qualified for album of the year status. And is well-deserving of this position. " A Century of Fakers", "This is Just a Modern Rock Song", "Put the Book Back on the Shelf", "I'm Waking up to Us", an early version of "The State I Am In". I mean come on. Just pure pop bliss.
A very good album from the (apparently former) lead singer of Superchunk Mac McCaughan, who has continued to pump out solid pop masterpieces year after year with very little acclaim outside of his dedicated fan base, which includes me and others who appreciate finding hidden gems like "Center of the World", "I Wanna Know Girls" and the brilliant "Through with People", all featured on this album.
It's tough to be considered a disappointment while still making the Top 5 of the Year, but this album (the slightly better of two releases by Bright Eyes last January) certainly was a bit of a letdown for the two-time defending artist of the year. And despite such wonderful songs as "Poison Oak", "First Day of My Life", and "Old Soul Song", there was a certain sameness to most of the tracks that detracted from their overall beauty. And the battle for a 3rd straight artist of the year award will come down to a fight with Sufjan Stevens, and at this point, I have no idea who the winner will be.
The band now infamous for getting upstaged by opening act Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! this fall actually put out the much better album and has just as bright a future as the indie rock community has rallied around their snubbing to praise this wonderful album, full of soft-spoken gems like "Daughters of the Soho Riots", "City Middle", and "Secret Meeting" mixed with hard rocking blasts of sonic joy like "Abel" and "Mr. November". Truly impressive.
A collection of tracks recorded for the BBC between 1996 to 2003 comes close to approximating the live brilliance of these Scottish legends.
The other Bright Eyes album released in January. This one actually has the best song on either CD, and one of their best ever, "Light Pollution", currently the leader in most played song of 2005 on my iPod.
Another debut full-length from a foreign band, this one British. "This Modern Love" is one of the catchiest tracks of the year, even though it reminds me terribly of New Order.
As a whole, I have some issues with this album. It's a little too sprawling, with too much instrumentation on many tracks. But the ending song "It's All Gonna Break" is just about a perfect realization of the peaks that this band can achieve, and "Ibi Dreams of Pavement" trumps "This Modern Love" for catchiness. And it grows on you. I still had a hard time placing the album, but I couldn't keep it out of the top 10.
The rest of the top 25:
11. The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree
12. Explosions in the Sky: How Strange, Innocence (debut re-release)
13. My Morning Jacket: Z
14. M83: Before the Dawn Heals Us
15. Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy
16. Death Cab for Cutie: Plans
17. Decemberists: Picaresque
18. Stars: Set Yourself on Fire
19. Sigur Ros: Takk...
20. Arcade Fire: EP (debut re-release)
21. Dirty Three: Ciinder
22. Morrissey: Live at Earl's Court
23. Calexico & Iron and Wine: In the Reins
24. Rogue Wave: Descended Like Vultures
25. American Analog Set: Set Free