Top 10 Albums of 2005
by john wenzel
1. Spoon – Gimme Fiction (Merge)
Listen up, kids: if you haven't heard Spoon yet it's not too late to get into the habit. And for the fans of this Austin, Texas-based trio, it's truly a habit. Spoon's already airtight catalog was bolstered by 2005's best straight-up rock album, Gimme Fiction, which boiled down all the melodic melancholy, roiling rhythms, and sexual vigor of Prince, The Pixies, Guided by Voices, and Elvis Costello into one superbly paced platter.
2. The Rosebuds – Birds Make Good Neighbors (Merge)
The Rosebuds are Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp and whatever drummer happens to be handy (in this case, Lee Waters). Their first album for Merge was upbeat, melodic, and pretty boring. Their second album, Birds Make Good Neighbors, introduced delicacy and grief in equal doses, and hit an affecting note somewhere between the girl groups of the '60s and the pseudo-orchestral indie rock of the Arcade Fire. Sound weird? It is. And really fucking good. Repeated listens are richly rewarded.
3. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop)
A cursory listen to this Montreal quartet's debut full-length sounds like indie rock by-the-numbers. Modest Mouse? Check. Arcade Fire? Check. Destroyer? Check. But by the third listen the improbably structured and ultimately victorious songs shine through, all warbling vocals, duct-taped keyboards, and overdriven basement guitars. You've done it again, Sub Pop. Where did you get your discerning ears?
4. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem (DFA/EMI)
I tried to resist this band but it was impossible: James Murphy makes insanely ingratiating, disco-friendly dance hits for cynical college radio DJs, music critics, and ass-shakers everywhere. I don't dance and I never have, but this year I danced my ass off to "Tribulations." Listen to it a few times and defy me not to do the same, especially if you've had a couple drinks.
5. The Caribbean – Plastic Explosives (Home Tapes)
What a weird, wonderful cast of experimental pop musicians the Caribbean are. The harder you listen to this D.C.-based group's songs the more they reveal to you, with lead singer Michael Kentoff's nasal vocals cutting through the stitched-together clatter of acoustic guitars, shifting polyrhythms, and twinkling bells. If Yo La Tengo and The Books got a little too drunk one night and slept together, The Caribbean would appear nine months later, kicking and screaming in that sideways, geometrically-arranged way of theirs.
6. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (self-released)
Whether or not you like this band's chiming, Talking Heads-influenced indie rock, you've got to admit it's heartening to see an unsigned act sell almost 35,000 copies of its home-recorded album out of their Brooklyn apartment. That, and the song "In This Home on Ice" is one of the catchiest three minutes and 58 seconds of music I've ever heard.
7. Lou Barlow - Emoh (Merge)
It's pretty amusing that Lou Barlow considers Emoh his first solo album, considering he's second only to Bob Pollard in the realm of prolific indie rocker, home recorder-songwriters. But it's also good to hear how this former Sebadoh leader struck the perfect balance of labored-over production and inspired songs on Emoh, reminding everyone why he was such an underground rock darling to begin with. Plus, he's the original bassist of Dinosaur Jr. You can't argue with that.
8. Guided by Voices – Propeller (vinyl reissue, Scat)
Guided by Voices fans are a special breed, and their voracious intake of Bob Pollard's equally gluttonous output extends to both vinyl and CD. That's why, despite the fact that this 1992 album has been available on CD for a while, it was a treat to get it re-pressed on wax. "Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" sounds positively electric on vinyl, making you wonder why it would take the rest of the world two more years to finally catch up with these indie rock godfathers.
9. My Morning Jacket – Z (ATO)
Jim James and his Louisville, Kentucky-based cohorts follow a strange and shifting muse, morphing their sound over the years from spooky lo-fi rock to Southern-fried jams to undisputed masters of all popular genres. James' heavenly voice (think a less annoying Kermit the Frog pumped through a four-mile-long cardboard tube) perfectly complements the nimble drumming and spot-on guitar work on "Z," an album as enigmatic as its title.
10. The Mouse and the Mask – Danger Doom (Epitaph)
MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse aren't exactly the most revelatory combo in hip hop history, but they're certainly one of the more organic ones. Forget about all the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guest appearances (which get a bit annoying after a few listens) and concentrate on Doom's hilarious, intuitive flows and Danger Mouse's samples and beats, which sound like the glorious second coming of Dr. Octagon.