The Year in Music
Consensus is a tricky thing. In a year of a great album—say, Prince’s Sign o’ the Times—you feel buoyed by the fact that you and everyone else you know digs on the same record. What tops the critics’ polls also tops the charts. Innovation coexists with pop appeal. 2005 was definitely a year of no consensus. Yes, our winner won with a comfortable margin, but not even half of our contributors voted for it.
Many voters griped about what a lame year for music it was. One even claimed it was the worst he had yet lived through, all of which seemed like shorthand for the lack of a Next Big Thing. In terms of radio and video, ownership was ceded early in the year to a G-Unit/Harajuku Girls conglomerate. Hot topics included beating pussies up, wishing your girlfriend was a freak like them, and figuring out the most clever way to say “I used to poison my own people” over hot beats. Venality, cheekiness, fun, ugliness, volume, repetition, occasional profundity, stupid-looking diamonds in your teeth—sounds like pop music to us.
So what’s left to do but embrace it? Take your iPod and cherry-pick popular culture while discovering weirdo shocks only 499 other people have heard. It might be a bad time to own stock in a major label, but it’s still a fairly decent time to be a music fan. Call us hopelessly naive, but the internet has made interesting music (old and new) infinitely easier to find, if infinitely tougher to wade through. If you’re not much bothered by notions of community, it’s still a golden age to find that one song that really speaks to you.
Our Top 10 albums of 2005 were picked from weighted ballots submitted by City Paper contributors Ryan Boddy, J. Bowers, Tom Breihan, Raymond Cummings, Jared T. Fischer, Jess Harvell, Eric Allen Hatch, Geoff Himes, Sam Hopkins, Catherine Lewis, Marc Masters, Michaelangelo Matos, Bret McCabe, Anthony Miccio, Makkada B. Selah, Al Shipley, Key Stephenson, Jason Torres, Tony Ware, and Mikael Wood. The full ballots will be posted on online. We’ve also, for the first time ever, posted a list of our Top 40 songs of the year for all you 21st-century boys and girls who’ve abandoned the lowly album format. (Jess Harvell)
1 Kanye West Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
By the end of 2004, many people were heartily sick of Kanye West and his ego, even as they recognized the talent. By the end of 2005, you just wanted to cheer him on, even as his reach exceeded his grasp. Who else is going to castigate our president in front of millions, speak out against hip-hop homophobia, and make possibly the most harmonically complex hip-hop album of all time while still rapping like a lisping combination of Jermaine Dupri and Mase? Late Registration is not without its flaws, but Kanye’s reckless ambition makes everyone else seem asleep at the switch. (JH)
2 M.I.A. Arular (Interscope)
This Sri Lanka-born Londoner prompted the most fractious dance-pop discourse since Madonna herself, with “terrorist” replacing “slut” at the end of “Is she or isn’t she a . . . ?” (Aren’t the ’00s fun?) But while it’s all too easy to dismiss Maya Arulpragasam’s politics, her pop, not so much: Musically, vocally, conceptually, this is the most potent all-things-to-all-digital-children amalgam of the decade, the beats buzzing and furious with Arulpragasam hopscotch-nonchalant overtop, as giddy and undeniable as her seeming message isn’t. (Michaelangelo Matos)
3 Gang Gang Dance God’s Money (Social Registry)
Gang Gang Dance’s earlier records frustrated listeners with seemingly random noise jags and atonal screeches. God’s Money is the great leap forward, as the band unfurls grooves like underwater dancehall or Plutonian funk, human drumming fusing seamlessly with cyborg beats. Shimmering keyboards reference new-wave Orientalism and cheesy Cinemascope grandeur, topped by Lizzi Darque’s sour Smurfette croon. Not for everyone by a long shot, but perfect for those who like their experimental music with a good beat. (JH)
4 Animal Collective Feels (Fat Cat)
Animal Collective’s newfound happiness may be that of the blind eye of the trust-fund kid; after all, there’s a war, hurricanes, etc. But occasionally you’ve gotta switch off CNN to decompress, and Feels is so blissed out that it’s like sucking up too much oxygen. It’s the group’s most song-based set to date, even if you can’t figure out what they’re saying half the time. But the overriding message remains “It’s good to be alive.” (JH)
5 The Hold Steady Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss)
The Hold Steady hit its sophomore stride with Separation Sunday—a love letter to dive bars, burnout kids, and, well, God. Epic where the band’s debut, Almost Killed Me, was episodic, Sunday unfolds like a screwball detective novel. It’s a trashy, uplifting, and ultimately inscrutable parable about the meaning of faith, youth, and rock, played by the best bar band you’ve never heard, with the nasal spoken vocals of the Rev. Craig Finn presiding. (J. Bowers)
6 Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree (4AD)
John Darnielle has been doing his fiercely eloquent and humanistic singer/songwriter thing for a minute now, but he’s never turned his searingly sharp eye on himself until this album, a devastating memoir about his abusive stepfather. Darnielle is wrenchingly candid, remembering family life as a haze of anger and confusion and music as a fleeting escape. And with John Vanderslice’s rich, layered production, Darnielle’s words find the lift and grandeur they deserve. (Tom Breihan)
7 Common Be (Geffen)
The further Common climbed into his knit cap, the more you missed the snotty Common Sense of the first few albums. Still preachy on Be, with the help of Kanye West and Jay Dee, he’s (mostly) reined in his excesses, buffeted by pillowy ’70s soul. Who knew Kanye could freak John Mayer into a hook on “Go,” or that Common could pen one of the few love raps in 2005 that made you not feel ashamed to be both a rap fan and a man? (JH)
8 Beanie Sigel The B.Coming (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
The B. Coming is a document of a specific moment in time. Sigel recorded it on house arrest shortly before serving a one-year prison sentence. It’s also his last album for Roc-A-Fella before the label split and Sigel’s State Property crew fell apart. Full of angry, introspective verses and epic posse cuts like “I Can’t Go on This Way,” it’s the kind of album Sigel will probably never make again, hopefully because he’ll never again find himself in such a desperate situation. (Al Shipley)
9 Sufjan Stevens Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)
If you haven’t heard the bazillion critics swinging from Sufjan Stevens’ jock, or if you’re having difficulty believing, cop his newest joint. Illinois, the second album of Stevens’ one-state-per-album plan, features 22 tracks of folk melodies twisted through Broadway musicals, starring Superman, Carl Sandburg, and John Wayne Gacy. An inspired album that makes you look super-cool when seen on your desk and, if he’s not shitting us, we’re dying to hear the Maryland joint. (Jason Torres)
10 Celebration Celebration (4AD)
Celebration does its best to convince you to see the band live. And really, that’s all it should do. Yes, there’s always the bias of the band being on the “home team,” but few home-team bands put out a record this year that teeters between technical and visceral like this one. Celebration’s first big league at-bat is a solid double up the middle, giving us hope for the band’s future records. (Ryan Boddy)
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