Tuesday, January 10, 2006

SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2005

First of all, the (as usual) shamefully long list of albums which I haven’t heard in their entirety if at all, but which if I had might potentially have impinged on the Top 10:

ARAB STRAP – The Last Romance
ART BRUT – Bang Bang Rock ‘N’ Roll
BECK – Guero
BLACK DICE – Broken Ear Record
BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm Remixed
BRIGHT EYES – I'm Wide Awake It’s Morning / Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
BROADCAST - Tender Buttons
KATE BUSH – Aerial
DOVES – Some Cities
THE DUKE SPIRIT – Cuts Across The Land
EDITORS – The Back Room
ENGINEERS – Engineers
THE FALL – Fall Heads Roll
THE FIERY FURNACES – Rehearsing My Choir
FOO FIGHTERS – In Your Honour
HOT HOT HEAT - Elevator
JOY ZIPPER – The Heartlight Set
LADYTRON – Witching Hour
M83 – Before The Dawn Heals Us
MERCURY REV – The Secret Migration
MEW – And The Glass Handed Kites
MODEY LEMON – Thunder + Lightning
THE NATIONAL - Alligator
RILO KILEY – More Adventurous
STARS – Set Yourself On Fire
TEST ICICLES – For Screening Purposes Only
TOM VEK - We Have Sound
THE WHITE STRIPES – Get Behind Me Satan
WILCO – Kicking Television

The worst of it is that there are almost certainly several records I’ve forgotten about…

Next, the honourable mentions:

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – B-Sides & Rarities
CLOR – Clor
THE CORAL – The Invisible Invasion
GOLDFRAPP – Supernature
THE GO! TEAM – Thunder Lightning Strike
HOCKEY NIGHT – Keep Guessin’
IDLEWILD – Warnings / Promises
THE MAGIC NUMBERS – The Magic Numbers
THE MARS VOLTA – Frances The Mute
NINE BLACK ALPS – Everything Is
SILVER JEWS – Tanglewood Numbers
SIX. BY SEVEN – Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves
SONS & DAUGHTERS – The Repulsion Box

Closest to sneaking into the Top 10? I’d say a four-way tie between The Go! Team, The Magic Numbers, Nine Black Alps and Sufjan Stevens.

And now for the Top 10 itself, which due to my tardiness may not come as much of a surprise to readers of Expecting To Fly and Sweeping The Nation

10. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Lullabies To Paralyze
It was always going to be a tall order to better Songs For The Deaf, and Lullabies To Paralyze duly failed to do so, not least because it tails off disappointingly towards the end. But any record that can throw together a barnstorming single (‘Little Sister’), a delicate falsetto-vocalled gem (‘I Never Came’) and a seven minute long beast with a riff that wraps itself around your head like a boa constrictor (‘Someone’s In The Wolf’) deserves plenty of plaudits.
Key track: ‘Someone’s In The Wolf’

9. FIELD MUSIC – Field Music
The Surprise Late Gatecrasher Of The Year. The threesome may share links to North-Eastern brethren The Futureheads and Maximo Park, but they weren’t piggybacking on anyone’s success, their debut LP being a marvellous record in its own right – clever Sgt Pepper’s style orchestral pop as played by new wavers and garnished with helium-high-pitched vocals. I’m eternally grateful to Jonathan for giving me what I believe is referred to in young person’s parlance as “a heads-up”.
Key track: ‘If Only The Moon Were Up’

8. EELS – Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
It may have featured in SWSL’s Top 10 Albums Of 2003 list, but in retrospect, Shootenanny was something of a disappointment, a bit average. As such, Blinking Lights And Other Revelations was a sparkling return to form, as well as to the delicately simple melodies of Daisies Of The Galaxy. Modulating between the heartbreaking sadness of ‘Suicide Life’ and the heartwarming joie de vivre of ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’, the double LP has been hailed in some quarters as E’s finest hour – not here, but it certainly comes close.
Key track: ‘Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)’

7. FRANZ FERDINAND – You Could Have It So Much Better
You Could Have It So Much Better? Either unduly harsh self-criticism or arched-eyebrow irony. The latter, in all probability, but then with tracks like ‘The Fallen’ and ‘I’m Your Villain’ they earned the right to be smug. Much like last year’s debut, this was an instant hit, and one widely hailed as marking their discovery of the ballad (see ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Eleanor Put Your Boots On’, Alex Kapranos’s ode to girlfriend Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces). These are the weakest tracks, though, so it’s a relief that for the majority of the time the foursome stick to what they do best, and that’s hip-shimmying indie disco.
Key track: ‘The Fallen’

6. BLOC PARTY – Silent Alarm
Unlike the transcendent and expansive single ‘So Here We Are’ that prefaced its arrival on the shelves, Silent Alarm suffered something of a gradual decline in my estimation of it as the year went on – I’m not entirely sure why, except that Kele Okereke’s voice on tracks like ‘The Price Of Gas’ started to grate, and their po-faced earnestness in interviews made me realise that (‘So Here We Are’ aside) it’s a bit of a joyless affair. You simply can’t argue with the likes of opener ‘Like Broken Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’, though, their tension and agitation created through the dynamic interplay of fabulous guitar and Matt Tong’s stunningly idiosyncratic drumming.
Key track: ‘So Here We Are’

5. THE RAVEONETTES – Pretty In Black
For those who felt themselves drowning in a sea of XTC and Gang Of Four obsessives (such as the bands flanking them in this Top 10), The Raveonettes were a rubber ring. Pretty In Black looked not to the post-punk era for inspiration, but to the Phil Spector produced girl groups of the 1950s and 1960s. Transparent perhaps – their covers of ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ and ‘Everyday’, and employment of Ronnie Spector herself on ‘Ode To LA’ revealed they were under no illusions on that front – but no less charming for it. As I’d suspected, underneath all the feedback lay sultry, beguiling pop songs crafted out of breathy vocals, fluttering eyelashes, surf guitar twangings and lashings of tremolo.
Key track: ‘Ode To LA’

4. MAXIMO PARK – A Certain Trigger
Not so long ago, the musical heritage of my native North-East would have been very nearly enough to drive me to chuck myself off the Tyne Bridge in shame. Dire Straits, Sting, Lighthouse Family, Lindisfarne, Venom – utter wank, the lot of it. And then, all of a sudden, up pop The Futureheads from (of all godforsaken places) Sunderland and things go nuts. The Mackems’ former tourmates Maximo Park are at the vanguard, their debut LP A Certain Trigger sufficiently smart and sharp throughout (it’s about more than just the singles, as admittedly brilliant as they are) to elevate them above the pack. Literate, spiky new wave pop which administered an invaluable shot in the arm to local pride, but which articulated the universals admirably too.
Key track: ‘Apply Some Pressure’

3. SIGUR ROS – Takk
Barry White may have been the Walrus of Luuurrrve, but these four shy and retiring Icelanders have proven to be the ones seemingly intent on creating aphrodisiac music designed to soundtrack the sexual acts of a rather larger aquatic mammal, the blue whale. Quite astonishingly, this stuff appeared to possess a modicum of commercial appeal (and not just amongst blue whales, I might add). Who’d have thunk it, eh? Quite possibly their finest record to date – and Takk’s predecessors have hardly been shoddy.
Key track: ‘Glosoli’

2. LOW – The Great Destroyer
The early frontrunner for the top spot, The Great Destroyer was only eclipsed by a record that would have stormed it practically any year you care to mention. After the calm of previous albums, the storm. In truth, they’d hinted at a suppressed knowledge of powerchords before, but on The Great Destroyer that knowledge was given its freest expression yet. Low’s year may have ended on a sour note, Alan Sparhawk’s fragile mental health necessitating the cancellation of their autumn tour, but the album with which they kicked 2005 off was nothing short of a triumph and ‘Death Of A Salesman’ remained THE most affecting and arresting song of the year bar none. If it hadn’t have been for those pesky Canadians…
Key track: ‘Broadway (So Many People)’

1. THE ARCADE FIRE – Funeral
It was never in much doubt, was it? Any lingering scepticism about the volumes of gushing hype that had flooded over from Canada and the US was instantly dispelled the moment Funeral got its UK release. If A Silver Mt Zion ever stopped being so obtuse and engaged with the mainstream rather than ghettoising themselves at a safe distance from it, then they might perhaps have sounded something like this. Out of angry emotions and emotionally trying circumstances – The Arcade Fire’s choice of title wasn’t arbitrary, after all – had come affirmative action. “Something filled up my heart with nothing”, sang Wyn Butler on ‘Wake Up’, but Funeral filled those of its listeners with so much everything, not least hope. A stirring, impassioned masterpiece.
Key track: ‘Crown Of Love’

A reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2004:

1. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus
2. THE FUTUREHEADS – The Futureheads
3. SONIC YOUTH – Sonic Nurse
4. FRANZ FERDINAND – Franz Ferdinand
5. THE FIERY FURNACES – Blueberry Boat
6. INTERPOL - Antics
7. THE ICARUS LINE – Penance Soiree
8. PJ HARVEY – Uh Huh Her
9. KELIS - Tasty
10. CLINIC – Winchester Cathedral

Links to my reviews of some of this year’s Top 10:

SWSL review of Queens Of The Stone Age's Lullabies To Paralyze

SWSL review of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm

Vanity Project review of The Raveonettes’ Pretty In Black

SWSL review of Maximo Park’s A Certain Trigger

Vanity Project review of Sigur Ros’s Takk

SWSL review of Low’s The Great Destroyer

SWSL review of The Arcade Fire’s Funeral


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