John Peel, papa to all us music dorks who passed away this year, was famous for answering the perennial music critic question "what was the best year?" with an emphatic "This one!" and after ploughing through 170 of them for you, dear enlightened reader, I agree. Here is my take one on the cream floating to the top of the 2005 milk bucket.
The Top 10, in rough order
The National - Alligator (Beggars Banquet)
This album knocks me on my ass every time I listen to it. When I went to see them, a woman next to me said, "I just wanna go give that guy a hug, I think he needs one" but under all the self-doubt and misery is a white hot glimmer of delusional grandeur. In a lot of ways "Alligator" charts the terrain of depression with its doldrums lows and melodramatic victories, with crack musicianship to boot.
The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (Fat Possum)
I still maintain these guys as "best band in the world" in a drinking-argument context (though Drive-By Truckers are an equal contender for the throne, and surpass them in a lot of regards) and this album still kills, and rocks the ass off anyone I play it for. Amen and the end. We can take it outside if you think otherwise.
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Matt Sweeney - Superwolf (Drag City)
I think 2005 saw a close to my "Will Oldham Phase" (no fault of his) but it was a pretty good run, and Superwolf is a perfect way to go out. Its still different like he always is: spooky, a little raunchy, a little friendly and just excellent.
Architecture in Helsinki - In Case We Die (Bar/None)
I hadn't planned on falling for this goofy troupe of Australians, but love plots its own directions. This album is so boundlessly joyous and peppy that it gets on your blood and probably gives it a candy flavoring. I listened to it for the first time in a couple months just yesterday and it still made me want to get up and be a part of their musical-number explosion.
Boris - Akuma No Uta (Southern Lord)
Yee-Haw! this onslaught from the finest doom/metal/hard-rock power trio in Japan tears my shit wide open and builds a bypass to the infinite through it every time I hear it. Its kicks your ass so much you don't mind not being able to sit any more. besides you have to stand to play air guitar properly. I know its a re-issue, but its new to me and mind boggling in its rampant unbridled awesomeness.
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty)
I think its now a legal requirement to have this on a 2005 top 10 list, but that's OK, it would be on mine anyway. Stevens' latest crossing-off on the National Geographic map hanging over his bed is both a testament to one man's tenacity at pursuing a goal and that same man's bottomless well of beautiful melodies. I bet more collections of Carl Sandburg poetry were sold this year than any other, thanks to this record. But its just beautiful. I hope when the revolution comes, they let Sufjan write the New United States' national anthem.
Four Tet - Everything's Ecstatic ()
Ka-Boom! Techno got brilliant again, first time (for me anyway) since The Orb's "Live '93." I don't know if there is any logic behind the "folktronica" label that this album is supposedly a prime example, but it is a powerful organic mind-opening record. That you can dance to even.
Twilight (Southern Lord)
Are you there Satan? Its me, Alex. This year is the year I got reacquainted with my dark side and accepted Black Metal into my heart as my personal saviour, and the Southern Lord catalog as my Chick tract leading me the way. I don't know what it is about this brutal, primitive form of death song, but it totally does it for me, and this all-star lineup is one of the finest examples I've heard.
M Ward - Transistor Radio (Merge)
I almost forgot about this one, but upon re-visitation, its still glows like watching a super eight film of a homecoming parade in your old hometown. Its so perfect it aches.
Circle - Guillotine (Scratch)
Well look at you, Finland! The Finns have taken the weird music world by storm and this band of veterans are easily the new Can for the throngs loving the loop and the weird magick that can happen when your ride it.
Jens Lenkman - You're So Silent, Jens (Secretly Canadian)
This is not an album proper, but a collection of singles, but a lot of the best things in life are not legit and proper. Jens' voice reverberates in my head like it was bell struck by a velvet hammer.
and special late addition:
The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2)
Man, I really tried to not be into this record for some completely snobbish reason, but goddamn, is it brilliant. So simple and so complex and shallow and deep and everything. Jack White and his decided Robert Plant + Jimmy Page impersonation that premeates this record is dead fucking on. Every single person in my family was into this record before I even was. My wife all but glued it shut into the CD player in the car after hearing "The Denial Twist" on the radio, and my four year old will totally chicken dance to it, proclaiming "It sounds like Jack's Big Music Show" which in every way it is. But damn its wrecking ball good, even the goofy marimba numbers. If I'd been in on it moths ago, it might be my album of the year, but I think his may be the first timeless thing they've done.
Sunn O))) - Black One (Southern Lord) If you took the drippings from pure evil and made delicious gravy for youe biscuits from it, this is how it would taste.
My Morning Jacket - Z (Sony) - The finest voice in indie rock got a little finer on their latest
Vic Chesnutt - Ghetto Bells (New West) - I keep thinking I dreamed this album
Silver Jews - Tanglewood Numbers (Drag City) - What is playing in your car when you get that DUI ticket after the AA meeting.
Akron/Family and Angels of Light (Young God) - Folk funk from the supernova of Brooklyn that explodes in your ears like fireworks.
Electrelane - Axes (Too Pure) - Brilliant driving rock that drills a heart shaped hole in you as you listen.
Jaga Jazzist - What We Must (Smalltown Supersound/Ninja Tuna) - How to I say their are like Chicago, but from Norway, and make it sound appealing? I dunno, but this this is a charmer
Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe) - He's the first whistler you won't want to murder after 30 seconds
The Frames - Burn the Maps (Anti) - Why Coldplay is allowed to tour stadiums and the The Frames are still an unnown quantity, I don't know. Luck of the Irish, I guess, but this album is flawless
The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (4AD) - This year was a great year of John Darinelle, with this album, his live show and discovering his excellent website Last Plane To Jakarta.
Favorite songs this year:
The National - "Mr. November" - With "I won't fuck us over" shouted over and over in the chorus, how can this not be number one?
Antony and the Johnsons - "Fistful of Love" - His vocal chops and personal magentism are undeniable, but a whole album of his feels like the American Idol finals on the Island of Misfit Toys. However, this song off "I Am a Bird Now," complete with Lou Reed's glowing cameo, is dazzling.
Clem Snide - "The Sound of German Hip-Hop" - I almost forgot about this little bittersweet gem from earlier in the year, with its tales of wife-swapping and self-destruction. Best lyrics all year, and this was a good year for lyrics.
The Frames - "Fake" - Crying shame you don't know the name of Glen Hansard's baby, but we are notified of little Apple Martin-Paltrow's every BM. This is a perfect big-sound pop song deserving a wide arena-size audiance.
Paul Wall - "Smooth Operator" - Southern hip-hop is still in the house, at least until the eviction papers arrive.
Architecture in Helsniki - "It's 5" - Can't remember the last song that made me squeal like this does.
The Black Keys - "10 AM Automatic" - Do I need to kick your ass, or will you accept The Black Keys as the best band in the world?
Lewis and Clarke - "Bare Bones and Branches" - This little sleeper soothes the svage beast every time I hear it.
Sufjan Stevens - "Decatur" - I've played this so many times in the can that my 4-year old knows some of the words
Kanye West - "Testify" - My 4-year old also unfortunately picked up some more words from "Gold Digger" so I ususally get as far as this song before I move on to something else, but that's OK. This cut is glorious
Boris - "Ano Onma no Onyou" - If you see a laser beam shoting from my split open skull, its because this track from Boris was on my headphones.
Anomoananon - "Leap Alone" - The younger Oldham brother kicks out this delicious classic rock jam on their latest album Joji
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com