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2005 Favorites: Music Editor’s Picks

Posted by January 2nd, 2006 No Comments »

The Mix-Tape Project
The Best of 2005, A Compilation
By Adam Lawrence, Music Editor

Ed Harcourt – “A Storm is Coming” A (mostly) coincidental choice for the opener on a Year of the Hurricane compilation. The real reason is the swirling, somewhat ominous guitar part. From Harcourt’s Strangers release.

New Pornographers – “The Bleeding Heart Show” – “Bleeding Heart” is the best example of how this Canadian super-group toned down the bubblegum on Twin Cinema without losing any of the joy from their previous releases.

Detroit Cobras – “I Wanna Holler (But the Town’s Too Small)” – Although technically released overseas in 2003, the Cobras’ 3rd album was finally released on Bloodshot in 2005, and what a great fit. These miscreants and misfits breathe dirty new life into slightly sanitized and obscure 50’s R&B tunes. Dig that opening bass line!

Bloc Party – “Like Eating Glass” – The year’s best breakup song comes courtesy of a band I should hate but don’t. England’s Bloc Party ought to sound like the rest of the trendy Britpop I’ve shunned for years, but there’s enough different about this band’s approach to keep things interesting. “Like Eating Glass” combines smart lyrics, angular guitars and jaw-dropping drumming in a catchy package.

Wilco – “Handshake Drugs (Live)” – This gem, from Wilco’s first live album, is the best example of how much more urgency Jeff Tweedy’s songs have live. The studio version on A Ghost is Born just doesn’t elicit them same reaction.

Calexico & Iron and Wine – “History of Lovers” – While the collaboration between indie darlings Calexico and Iron & Wine seems to make perfect sense, take into account that Iron & Wine is only one guy (Sam Beam) and Calexico frequently plays onstage with at least 9 members. Remarkably, it works and we get to hear a new dimension to Beam’s songs. “History of Lovers” is jauntier than all his songs put together.

Kathleen Edwards – “Back to Me” – I kinda thought Edwards’ hailed 2003 debut, Failer, was overrated, but she kicks the sophomore slump to the curb here. A straight-up rocker for a weary world, it’s also an excellent revenge song. Look for the video starring John Doe as the antagonist.

Fiona Apple – “O’Sailor” – Apple is probably rock’s most notorious crank under 30. Every single article written about her first album referenced her, shall we say, eccentricity. The fact is, however, that Extraordinary Machine is the latest in an annual trend: Album Stuck In Limbo Because The Record Company Doesn’t Like It, Then Is Leaked To The Internet Before Being Re-recorded And Released, Becoming A Critical Smash. It happened to Aimee Mann with Bachelor No. 2, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot from Wilco and now this. Apple does seem a little more stable for her time away. “O’Sailor” showcases a more mature direction with smart lyrics and a memorable arrangement.

Frank Black – “I Burn Today” – What a year for Frank Black. First, he wrapped up a hugely successful Pixies reunion tour, and then he got to go into a Nashville studio to play new songs with some of the most famous musicians in history, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. “I Burn Today” is the best example of a revitalized solo Black.

Heartless Bastards – “The Will Song” – Ohio’s best power trio first came on the scene on a tribute album for Junior Kimbrough and their debut, Stairs and Elevators, shows a tremendous amount of promise. Guitarist/Lead Singer Erika Wennerstrom fronts the band with a powerful voice and guitar riffs to match, and ‘The Will Song’ kicks you in the head and doesn’t let up.

John Doe featuring Neko Case – “Hwy 5” – Former X frontman John Doe’s solo albums have never really satisfied fans of the seminal L.A. punk band or those intrigued by Doe’s Americana leanings. Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet dashes those criticisms by showcasing strong melodies with a punk running time. At just over a half hour, Doe’s latest solo effort is a revelation, combining some of his best songs with some extremely talented guests and admirers.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth” – Despite the title, this song is the best example of New York’s best as-yet unsigned band’s sound – Talking Heads meet the Strokes. Of course this feeble attempt doesn’t come close to really capturing the influences of the band, but it should give you an idea of how to approach the best DIY album in a long time.

Marah – “Fat Boy” – The famously Philadelphian band Marah used to rock like this All The Time. After shooting themselves in the foot for two albums after 2001’s mostly-brilliant Kids In Philly, the brothers Bielanko return to form with this year’s excellent If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry. Thrill to the sounds of a band recording live in studio rather than forcing a “better” sound with Britpop producers and overdubbing! Gasp at the new/old Marah’s wild abandon! Rejoice that one of the best independent bands of the 90’s will live on into the new century! “Fat Boy” nearly implodes at the start, then quickly recovers into the best rocker of the new album.

My Morning Jacket – “Gideon” – Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket had quite a year, releasing their fine third album, Z, getting a sizable part in superfan Cameron Crowe’s last movie, and further endearing themselves to their fans by sending out burned copies of their album to anyone who wanted one after finding out their record label put spyware on the CD. Those who saw their recent Seattle show report delirious joy from seeing one of the best live bands around. “Gideon” will remind you of U2’s greatest moments, complete with soaring vocals and driving guitars.

Over the Rhine – “Bluer” – While they will never threaten ‘overexposure’ status, Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine have released album after album in the past few years. “Bluer” is an insomniac song, to be heard late at night when the only thing that makes sense is a beautiful voice and a piano.

Sufjan Stevens – “Chicago” – Stevens’ megalomaniacal ambition has led him to record albums based on the local history of all 50 states. 2005’s Illinois is the second such album, and the material is much stronger than his other, less state-centered work. ‘Chicago’ is predictably the best song on a very good album that includes songs about John Wayne Gacy and local urban legends about zombies.

The Long Winters – “Delicate Hands” – The Long Winters will survive. After absorbing the loss of Sean Nelson, John Roderick has emerged with a glimpse of what’s to come when that new album finally comes out. While the bouncy sound of When I Pretend to Fall has taken a backseat to quieter, more restrained and English arrangements, Roderick’s unique songs and one-of-a-kind delivery are still the backbone of Barsuk’s best band.

Brandi Carlile – “Follow” – 23 year-old Brandi Carlile shouldn’t be this accomplished already. After growing up in the Washington State wilderness, Carlile produced a debut of fully-formed songs that stick in the head as well as the heart of anyone who listens. Here, the best album of 2005 ends with one of the best opening tracks I can remember.


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