Will Hermes' Top 10 CDs of 2005All Things Considered music reviewer Will Hermes shares his picks for the 10 best CDs of 2005, from the "wonderfully strange" world of Animal Collective to the "gorgeous hymn rock" of Sigur Ros.
Music reviewer Will Hermes shares his picks for the 10 best CDs of 2005, from the "wonderfully strange" world of Animal Collective to the "gorgeous hymn rock" of Sigur Ros. Hermes is a frequent contributor to NPR and writes for Spin Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and other publications. He is also co-editor of Spin: 20 Years of Alternative Music.
Animal Collective: Feels
No record I heard this year took me to as wonderfully strange a place as this one did. Produced by a quartet of guys originally based in Brooklyn, now scattered across the the globe, they come together like kids in a secret clubhouse, magically triangulating rock, folk, and experimental music thats flecked with wobbly melodies, unidentifiable noises and delirious screams. Every time I put it on I hope to figure it out; happily, I still havent.
Did You See the Words
Amadou and Mariam
Amadou and Mariam: Diamanche
2005 was an astonishingly great year for African music: Thione Secks Orientation, Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate's In The Heart of the Moon, Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim's Ceasefire, Gangbe Brass Band's Whendo, and the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers (dominated by the Ethiopian jazz-funk of Mulatu Astatqe) were all standouts. But this set by Amadou & Mariam, a blind couple from Mali, was the most thrilling, both for the unapologetically modern production by polyglot producer Manu Chao, and for the same qualities that have made their previous albums nearly as great: hypnotic grooves, delicious melodies, and Amadou Bagayokos fiery blues-rock guitar licks.
M.I.A. - Arular
In the newly-exploding world of British rap, it's nice to see that the women are as good, if not better than the men. Lady Sovereign put out a hot EP, but this set by the Sri Lankan expat Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., was the highlight: a noisy, sexy, politically-provocative set of rhymes whose jittery electronic beats echoed dancehall reggae, Brazilian ghetto funk, and the nattering beeps of polyphonic cell phones.
I don't think even Kanye West, big as his ego seems to be at this point, expected he could follow up his soulful, thoughtful, funny, and groundbreaking hip hop CD College Dropout with another as good. Actually, song for song, this may be a better record, with even more ambitious production (thanks in part to collaborating producer Jon Brion) and raps that speak a mind thats as restless as ever. And while it might not have as many hot singles as his last, "Golddigger" more than makes up for it.
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket: Z
Another outfit like Animal Collective (although admittedly less weird) who are hard to get a bead on. In love with reverb, especially on the vocals, this Kentucky outfit shows equal affection for Neil Young, Radiohead, the Allman Brothers Band, and dub reggae on their best set to date. Groups with an equal knack for songwriting, adventurous studio sounds, and hot guitarwork are very rare; now there's one more.
The Go Team!
The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning, Strike
One of the year's giddiest records, this group of British guys and gals use a mix of both vintage samples and live playing to make dance party songs that straddle '60s pop and early hip-hop, with occasional nods to kiddie cartoon soundtracks and the mangled electric guitar sound of Sonic Youth. Many tracks are instrumentals, but you don't need words to understand what they are about: the pure joy of pop music.
Power Is On
Mary Gauthier: Mercy Now
The finest country this year - and it was a good one, musically speaking - was made by women. Lee Ann Womack and Martina McBride both made their best-ever records by looking backwards stylistically. But Mary Gauthier, who has more in common with the frayed-denim sound of Lucinda Williams than anyone getting video rotation on CMT, made a rootsy record of hopeful songs for dark times. She's not well-known yet, but she deserves to be.
The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday
On the surface, these guys sound like a cross between early John Cougar and early Bruce Springsteen, telling stories about hard-luck kids struggling in Middle America. But lyrically the songs are somehow both darker and funnier, with characters sworn to rock'n'roll and damaged by booze and hard drugs, who cut themselves just to feel the pain and try to square their lives with a childhood Christianity that seems like thin gruel in the adult world.
Charlemagne in Sweatpants
Sigur Ros: Takk
Another set of gorgeous hymn-rock from this Icelandic group, one of those records that's so lovely it's hard to write about beyond simply spewing superlatives. Veteran listeners might classify it as prog-rock, which I guess is correct. But singer Jonsi Birgisson has a more heavenly voice than Yes' Jon Anderson. And since he's singing mostly in Icelandic, sketchy lyrics are not a distraction, at least for most of us.
Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle
Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle: You've Stolen My Heart: Songs From R.D. Burman's ollywood
Far from your usual string quartet recording, this matches the adventurous Kronos ensemble with Asha Bhosle, the greatest living singer of Indian film music, for a set that recreates songs from famous Bollywood musicals by esteemed soundtrack composer R.D. Burman, who was also Bhosle's husband. Burman was a musical polyglot, like the members of Kronos, and here they are as likely to be playing autoharp, Farfisa organ, or theremin as violins and violas. It's classical music in the broadest sense of the word.