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The Top 25 CDs of 2005
Did Somebody Say Sword?*

wrangled, compiled and written by Brent Sallay
with Trever Hadley, Matt Thurber, David Sallay, Jeremy Mathews, Michelle Sallay, Stephanie Geerlings, Kelly Peterson, Riley Booker, Jordan Scrivner and Stewf
   
 
   
INDIVIDUAL LISTS
 
   
Brent Sallay
 
    40 Buddha Machine, FM3
39 Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, Venetian Snares
38 Wilderness, Archer Prewitt
37 First Light's Freeze, Castanets
36 Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals
35 The Debt Collection, The Shortwave Set
34 With a Cape and a Cane, Joggers
33 Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River
32 Evolution Fight, Cyne
31 Gimme Fiction, Spoon
30 May 23rd 2007, The Kallikak Family
29 Shamelessly Exciting, Jason Forrest
28 Transistor Radio, M. Ward
27 The Runners Four, Deerhoof
26 What We Must, Jaga Jazzist
25 Birds Make Good Neighbors, The Rosebuds
24 Demon Days, Gorillaz
23 Multiply, Jamie Lidell
22 I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, Bright Eyes
21 The Woods, Sleater-Kinney
20 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
19 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
18 Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your
Enemies Will Float By, The Drones
17 God's Money, Gang Gang Dance
16 The Understanding, Röyksopp
15 Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers
14 Strange Geometry, The Clientele
13 Remembranza, Murcof
12 DraculaZombieUSA, DraculaZombieUSA
11 Wearemonster, Isolée
10 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
09 The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada
08 Beauty and the Beat, Edan
07 The Getty Address, Dirty Projectors
06 Corduroy Road, Goldmund
05 The Milk of Human Kindness, Caribou
04 In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster,
Shining
03 10th Avenue Freakout, Fog
02 Serena-Maneesh, Serena Maneesh
01 Frost Giant, The Dead Science
 
       
   
Trevor Hadley
 
    12 Spelled in Bones, Fruit Bats
11 Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave
10 The Sunset Tree, The Mountain Goats
09 Learn: The Songs of Phil Ochs, Kind of Like Spitting
08 Superwolf, Matt Sweeney & Bonnie “Prince” Billy
07 The Listening Booth, Will Sartain
06 Let Me Come Home, Limbeck
05 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
04 The Weight Is a Gift, Nada Surf
03 Tiny Cities, Sun Kil Moon
02 Arms as Traps, Taughtme
01 Plans, Death Cab for Cutie
 
       
   
Matt Thurber
 
    10 Absence, Dälek
09 Body of Song, Bob Mould
08 Enter the Chicken, Buckethead & Friends
07 Demon Days, Gorillaz
06 In the Arms of God, Corrosion of Conformity
05 Suspended Animation, Fantômas
04 Ghost Reveries, Opeth
03 Robot Hive/Exodus, Clutch
02 Hypnotize, System of a Down
01 Mesmerize, System of a Down
 
       
   
David Sallay
 
    20 LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
19 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
18 Wearemonster, Isolée
17 In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki
16 The Sunlandic Twins, Of Montreal
15 The Woods, Sleater-Kinney
14 EP, The Fiery Furnaces
13 Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, Venetian Snares
12 What We Must, Jaga Jazzist
11 Corduroy Road, Goldmund
10 The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada
09 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
08 Demon Days, Gorillaz
07 The Milk of Human Kindness, Caribou
06 The Understanding, Röyksopp
05 Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence, Enon
04 Frost Giant, The Dead Science
03 Serena-Maneesh, Serena Maneesh
02 10th Avenue Freakout, Fog
01 In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster, Shining
 
       
   
Jeremy Mathews
 
    15 In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki
14 Humming by the Flowered Vine, Laura Cantrell
13 The Debt Collection, The Shortwave Set
12 We Have Sound, Tom Vek
11 The Sunlandic Twins, Of Montreal
10 Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion version), Fiona
Apple
09 The Headphones, The Headphones
08 Transistor Radio, M. Ward
07 Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers
06 The Forgotten Arm, Aimee Mann
05 Picaresque, The Decemberists
04 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
03 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
02 Wilderness, Archer Prewitt
01 Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, Eels
 
       
   
Michelle Sallay
 
    10 Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals
09 Clor, Clor
08 Autumnland, Built Like Alaska
07 Demon Days, Gorillaz
06 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
05 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
04 The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada
03 Wilderness, Archer Prewitt
02 Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers
01 Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River
 
       
   
Stephanie Geerlings
 
    10 Arms as Traps, Taughtme
09 Axes, Electrelane
08 Arular, M.I.A.
07 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
06 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
05 Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple
04 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
03 Noah's Ark, CocoRosie
02 Les Retrouvailles, Yann Tiersen
01 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
 
       
   
Kelly Peterson
 
    10 Demon Days, Gorillaz
09 Before the Dawn Heals Us, M83
08 Serena-Maneesh, Serena Maneesh
07 Keep Guessin', Hockey Night
06 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
05 LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem
04 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
03 The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, Pelican
02 Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
01 Silent Alarm/Silent Alarm Remixed, Bloc Party
 
       
   
Riley Booker
 
    31 Nature Getting Its Revenge, Partial
30 Silent Alarm, Bloc Party
29 The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada
28 First Light’s Freeze, Castanets
27 The Headphones, The Headphones
26 They Think They Are the Robocop Kraus, The Robocop Kraus
25 Feels, Animal Collective
24 Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals
23 I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, Bright Eyes
22 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
21 The Woods, Sleater-Kinney
20 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
19 Evolution Fight, Cyne
18 Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
17 Engineers, Engineers
16 Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River
15 Picaresque, The Decemberists
14 Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, Eels
13 Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave
12 Beauty and the Beat, Edan
11 Serena-Maneesh, Serena Maneesh
10 Gimme Fiction, Spoon
09 Multiply, Jamie Lidell
08 I Am a Bird Now, Antony and the Johnsons
07 Takk..., Sigur Rós
06 The Milk of Human Kindness, Caribou
05 Strange Geometry, The Clientele
04 Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers
03 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
02 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
01 Wilderness, Archer Prewitt
 
       
   
Jordan Scrivner
 
    15 Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals
14 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
13 Guero, Beck
12 10th Avenue Freakout, Fog
11 Broken Social Scene, Broken Social Scene
10 Tiny Cities, Sun Kil Moon
09 Axes, Electrelane
08 Lost and Safe, The Books
07 May 23rd 2007, The Kallikak Family
06 Face the Truth, Stephen Malkmus
05 The Woods, Sleater-Kinney
04 Tanglewood Numbers, Silver Jews
03 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
02 Picaresque, The Decemberists
01 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
 
       
   
Stewf
 
    30 Recording a Tape the Colour of Light, Bell
Orchestre
29 Gimme Fiction, Spoon
28 In the Reins, Iron & Wine/Calexico
27 Picaresque, The Decemberists
26 They Think They Are the Robocop Kraus, The Robocop Kraus
25 End of Love, Clem Snide
24 Silent Alarm, Bloc Party
23 Autumnland, Built Like Alaska
22 Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple
21 Tiny Cities, Sun Kil Moon
20 The Headphones, The Headphones
19 Takk..., Sigur Rós
18 Noah's Ark, CocoRosie
17 Set Free, The American Analog Set
16 Prairie Wind, Neil Young
15 Les Retrouvailles, Yann Tiersen
14 Birds Make Good Neighbors, The Rosebuds
13 The Debt Collection, The Shortwave Set
12 In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki
11 Wilderness, Archer Prewitt
10 Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade
09 The Sunlandic Twins, Of Montreal
08 Axes, Electrelane
07 Aerial, Kate Bush
06 Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, Eels
05 Transistor Radio, M. Ward
04 Good Night, and Good Luck: Music from and Inspired
by the Motion Picture, Dianne Reeves
03 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
02 The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird
01 Illinois, Sufjan Stevens
 
       
   
 

For most people, this is a festive time of year. A time of peace, giving and joy. A time of Christmas bonuses, egg-nog-flavored novelties at local ice creameries and hours upon hours of traffic if you want to drive more than five blocks away from your house. But most importantly, it’s a time to celebrate the birth and ascension to heaven of our one and only true… [NOTE: The next three paragraphs have been censored by liberal America.]

Anyway, what was I saying? Egg nog…wise men…did somebody say sword?* Oh yeah, for music critics (and, tellingly, accountants), it’s not such a festive season. Someone has to put the year’s music together in an orderly fashion so the rest of the world can partake of it like some sort of Christmas miracle. We may not be the music makers and the dreamers of dreams, but we sat next to those people in high school and we studied them, and we practiced describing their respective outputs using words like angular, incendiary and oeuvre. Not to mention puns-—lots of puns.

As a final note, it was especially tough this year whittling our picks down to a top 25, and there were some unfortunate casualties. Among them: Fiona Apple, Architecture in Helsinki, Bloc Party, CocoRosie, Death Cab for Cutie, Edan, Isolée, The Headphones, The Kallikak Family, LCD Soundsystem, Jamie Lidell, Röyksopp, Sigur Rós, Spoon, System of a Down and Yann Tiersen. Lamentably, there were also some unfortunate casualties to that sentence. I suppose we could have just made the list bigger so no one would feel left out. But then no one would have anything to complain about. Which is also an important part of this holiday season. Enjoy!

25. The Sunlandic Twins - Of Montreal
I’ve never been able to describe Of Montreal’s sound to anyone outside those who have heard the bands of the Elephant 6 collective. But now, well, I don’t think it’s describable to anyone. The Sunlandic Twins is like a second volume to last year’s playful Satanic Panic in the Attic, flitting from psychedelic ’60s pop to funky bass disco to ’80s electro anthems to Latin brass(!)—often within the same song. This is the sort of record you play at a party populated by your weirdest friends. But only if they’re willing to dance around the room like carefree fairies and play make believe. “Let’s pretend we don’t exist/ Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica.” —Stewf

24. Strange Geometry - The Clientele
It’s an established fact that if you gave 100 people on a deserted island a Clientele album, 27 of them would listen to it while walking along the beach, 31 while stargazing, and 43 while trying to go to sleep. Also, 12 of them would try to wear it as a hat, 19 would try to eat it and one of them would be inspired to build an airport—not to escape, but for the ambience. Somehow this London-based band, which shares a sonic space with the Velvet Underground, Low and Galaxie 500, makes the perfect music for isolation, meditation and innovation.—BS

23. Corduroy Road - Goldmund
Deceptively simple at first, Corduroy Road gradually reveals itself as an achingly beautiful treatise on the power of one man (Keith Kenniff) and his piano. At times reminiscent of Carter Burwell’s score for “Being John Malkovich” or a Cat Power album sans vocals, Corduroy Road covers the spectrum from light jaunts to rainy-day ballads to dark, haunting interludes with a minimalist flair. Even the slight creak of the piano keys, the distant strum of an acoustic guitar or the abrupt cymbal crescendo helps to elevate the mood.—BS

22. Arms as Traps - Taughtme
Imagine if Björk had a little brother who was heavily influenced by the minimal ambience of Low. That’s the best way to describe Salt Lake City local act TaughtMe’s music. With lyrical inspiration from Phil Elvrum of The Microphones and Will Oldham, Taughtme’s Blake Henderson displays an immense amount of human emotion and a unique collection of heartfelt themes. Every syllable sounds carefully placed on this album. Almost every track on Arms As Traps has soothing background vocals that sound like a child humming the chorus. These vocals create a childlike innocence that is reminiscent of nursery rhymes.—TH

21. Tiny Cities - Sun Kil Moon
As legend has it, Mark Kozelek (from Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon) went to see The Shins a couple years ago and stayed for the headliner, Modest Mouse. The latter band blew him away and he delved into its discography, became obsessed with it and eventually recorded this album of wildly reinterpreted, much mellower cover versions of the band’s songs. This story, granted, is not quite as cool as saying that you were into Modest Mouse since the ’80s before they were even a band, but is at least better than saying you saw that “Float On” video on MTV last month and it changed your life. It should go without saying that Kozelek’s interpretations bring a whole new layer of meaning to some of the Mouse’s most potent tracks.—BS

20. Transistor Radio - M. Ward
M. Ward’s dusty, gravelly folk has always sounded like it came from an earlier era, but those roots were often partially obscured by modern lyrics and transitions. The title of his latest effort doesn’t leave anything to the imagination—Transistor Radio sounds old and beat up (despite the ill-advised reverb effects on “Sweethearts on Parade”). While perhaps not as cohesive as 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent, M. Ward still sounds great here, especially on the second half of the album. There is nothing better than tracks nine through 16 for a late summer evening on the front porch. Transistor radio, sure—his voice and writing are so strong, it wouldn’t matter if you played this stuff through a tin can and yarn. Actually, that’s not a bad idea for album no. 4, Matt.-—Stewf

19. Axes - Electrelane
Let me hear you say yeah! Now repeat, precisely in minimalist rhythm. The English band Electrelane has developed a methodical, anxious post-Krautrock quality with a sound that is consistent, intelligent and rocking. The band has been around since 1998, augmenting classical motifs with powerful sound collages. At times perhaps too attached to the metronome, Electrelane still has a spontaneous quality. If the band members stay together and keep tightening their intense style, they could break through to an unachieved level in music. Play their new album Axes for planned children in utero or toddlers and you will have the coolest, calmest and smartest kids in the post-modern condition.—SG

18. Black Sheep Boy - Okkervil River
When it rains, it pours I guess. Tim Hardin, who’s been in ’60s-folk-singer heaven for about 25 years now, was nary expecting a festive Yule log from his Secret Santa this year. He certainly wasn’t expecting a street-credible indie folk band to revive one of the songs from his glory days, let alone build an entire album around it. But that’s just what Will Sheff and his merry band of Okkervillians did—took a two minute song about simultaneously wanting to fit in and wanting everyone around you to die, and expanded it into a rich, lyrically vibrant album—loosely based on Hardin’s life—that addresses those feelings and all the emotions in between.—BS

17. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene
There was no other album this year that I was looking more forward to than this one. I’ve never anticipated a follow-up album from a group consisting of so many Canadians that I needed more than two hands to count them all. Trying to make a record with so many musicians is like eating a dozen donuts from Tim Horton’s and trying to keep them down during a full three periods of hockey. Listening the first time, my stomach was uneasy, but this record did not disappoint. As you would expect from a collective, the influences are wide, so you get your fill of catchy drum patterns, sweet female vocal melodies, controlled noise freak outs, and even a spattering of horns. Despite all the ideas constantly floating about, Broken Social Scene remains colorful and cohesive throughout. So I now award it with the honor of my official “Driving With the Windows Down” album of 2005.—KP

16. The Woods - Sleater-Kinney
With the release of 2002’s One Beat, it looked like Sleater-Kinney’s path was going to be at least halfway predictable. After all, that was the album where the band started implementing things like guest vocalists, horns and even theremins. Surely soon, Sleater-Kinney would start releasing full-studio concept albums like the Flaming Lips, right? But with The Woods, the band proved that you can still expand your horizons simply by rocking harder than the boys next door. With the amps cranked up to 11 and the electricity palpable in the air, Sleater-Kinney has brought us, simply, the most rocking album of 2005.—JS

15. Demon Days - Gorillaz
The fact that a cartoon band like Gorillaz can make an album as great as Demon Days without the assistance of Dan the Automater or Del tha Funkee Homosapien just shows that it’s ready for a place on our list. (Props to Danger Mouse.) Bouncing between hip-hop, trip-hop and traces of Damon Albarn’s brit-pop, Demon Days surprisingly outshines the band’s self-titled debut in more ways than one. The single “Dirty Harry” continues where “Clint Eastwood” left off, fusing laissez faire pop with underlying themes of urban mystique. Other gems include “DARE” and “Kids with Guns,” with their instantly danceable beats, and “Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head,” featuring a unique spoken word rant by Dennis Hopper.—MT

14. Frost Giant - The Dead Science
Frost Giant is Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock stripped bare, drugged, dragged through Deerhoof mud, stabbed in both eyes by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, bandaged with a white blindfold, fermented for 14 years and placed in an insane asylum with all the other crazy, crazy trees. The rest is, of course, history: The stalk overcomes its oppressors during the night, lovingly eviscerates them and redresses itself with the skins of their hides. Then it stands, bold as before, with just a hint of blood staining its branches. Laughing stock indeed. This is the sound of the tree that fell with no one around to hear.—BS

13. In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster - Shining
In the Kingdom of Kitsch, who will be a monster? You answered “you,” referring to me, which is incorrect. You should have answered “me,” referring to you. Simpsons and Stephen King references aside, in a little under 40 minutes, Norway’s Shining is able to explore the sonic landscapes of the kingdom of kitsch and find distorted guitars, thundering drums, raucous acid jazz and a bizarre electronic wasteland. At times it’s reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, Danny Elfman’s Music for a Darkened Theater and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (which is one hell of a compliment, I might add). Finally, a jazz album that alienates everyone who likes jazz music. Take that Dad!—DS

12. The Campfire Headphase - Boards of Canada
While perhaps not as fresh as Music Has the Right to Children sounded in 1998, and not as adventurous as 2002’s Geogaddi, Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase was still well worth the wait—a soothing elixir of the electronica duo’s trademark withered keyboards and drugged-out hip-hop beats and a dollop of guitar tones thrown in to shake things up. In eschewing many of the aural Easter eggs that usually adorn their music—and even revealing to the world this year that they are in fact brothers—Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin proved that even without all of the mystique, Boards of Canada is still on the cutting edge of the modern electronic scene.—BS

11. Picaresque - The Decemberists
It’s funny how the 19th century doesn’t seem all that different from the 21st these days—the wars, the oil, the insane world leaders… To quote Snake Pliskin, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is especially true with “motif bands” like The Decemberists, whose members continue their obsession with the aforementioned time period and how it relates to the here and now. Told through the medium of (mostly) narrative songwriting, Picaresque suggests images of Arabia, mariners, long-lost loves and “cannibal kings” throughout its 11 epic tracks. And the imagery these songs evoke is hard to shake. Just try not to taste the salt air while listening to “From My Own True Love,” or to feel the burning contempt of “Mariner’s Revenge Song.” If nothing else, head Decemberist Colin Meloy can sure weave a good yarn.—JS

10. Blinking Lights and Other Observations - Eels
E (aka Mark Oliver Everett) of Eels found himself in top form with a bounty of inspiration this year, as he recorded the epic Blinking Lights and Other Observations. The double CD contains more than 30 tracks of everything from off-kilter organ rock (“Trouble with Dreams”) to touching folk (“Railroad Man”) to feel-good orchestral pop (“Losing Streak”). While many see E’s songs as abundantly depressing, his genius as a songwriter lies in the ability to infuse hope and understanding into songs like “Checkout Blues” and “Understanding Salesmen.” And his willingness to continue to try different styles and formats (on the tour for this album, the band reinterpreted its catalogue with string quartet accompaniment) paid off with a triumphant journey through hope, despair, trauma and love.—JM

9. The Milk of Human Kindness - Caribou
When I saw Caribou touring earlier this year, I was very curious to see how Dan Snaith and company would manage to capture all the bottled, psychedelic Ewok energy of their studio work in a live performance. It seemed like they would almost have to just play their record over the loud speaker, stand on stage and smile, perhaps while juggling. Which is basically what they did at first. Except without juggling. So you can imagine my disappointment. But then they broke out the dueling drummers. That’s right—two men, two drum sets, staring each other down, battling to the death. Except they weren’t battling against each other, but for each other, unified in one common purpose. Which is, thankfully, just how this album sounds—full of life, community, and all the 4th of July drumming your pretty little heart can bear.—BS

8. Apologies to the Queen Mary - Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade makes high-energy indie rock that’s heavy on the rock side. The band members may have only been together for three years, but their talent is already shooting them into the upper stratus of the rock-world pantheon, alongside esteemed colleagues The Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse. Aside from its potent, world-weary lyrics and endless hooks, there is a nervous energy to Apologies to the Queen Mary that sets it apart from all the other Arcade Fire/Broken Social Scene wannabes. Not to mention a lively pace and slightly off-kilter tone that would make David Bowie proud. Be aware of your surroundings when listening to this album—it is a biological necessity to dance to it.—SG

7. 10th Avenue Freakout - Fog
The wonderful thing about 10th Avenue Freakout is how Andrew Broder (aka Fog) brings to mind the surreal wonders of childhood with imagery of hunting woolly mammoths, napping in baseball mitts and sucking the magma out of planets. Yet at the same moment, he reminds you of how jaded you are to be grown up, because the mammoth hunt is overpriced, that mitt is now collecting dust on the floor of your car, the baseball has rolled onto the freeway, and the decomposing bodies of the children who went to fetch it are, ironically, being used to fuel the flying cars of the future. Hell, wouldn’t you freak out too?—DS

6. Twin Cinema - The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers have a little something for everyone to love (except, for some reason, Stewf). Into redheads? Consider Carl “A.C.” Newman, whose irresistible work with similarly minded power poppers Zumpano and as a solo artist more than qualifies him to stand at the helm. Prefer indie pin-up girls with sweet country voices? Look no further than bubbly chanteuse Neko Case. Is the bearded, astute vagabond type more your fancy? Then there’s Dan Bejar, who moonlights as experimental folk savior Destroyer. Still unimpressed? Well did I mention that this is probably the band’s most cohesive and addictive batch of songs yet? More polished than Mass Romantic and more epic and consistent than Electric Version, Twin Cinema is porn that you can be proud to own.—BS

5. Serena-Maneesh - Serena Maneesh
The best albums of 2005? In the year of Serena Maneesh, shouldn’t it be “2ØØ5”? But I digress. Unnecessary diacritics aside, the full-length debut from these Norwegian shoegaze rockers—self-proclaimed as “chaos called pop symphony and dragged out psychotic rock and roll” (whatever the hell that means)—had us all rocking out, and only occasionally staring at our shoes. Inspired by everything from Southern blues to My Bloody Valentine to Spiritualized to Gershwin, produced by Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth) and even featuring contributions from self-proclaimed “friend” Sufjan Stevens (keep reading), Serena-Maneesh is chock-full of primal screams, angelic melodies and solid walls of guitar fury.—DS

4. The Mysterious Production of Eggs - Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird was clearly ready to break out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ genre-confining shell. Since going solo, he’s explored multiple styles and moods in fine fashion. But with The Mysterious Production of Eggs, he managed to strike gold with nearly every track. Using his violin, voice and extraordinary whistling powers, he tackled emotions ranging from exalted joy to melancholy. There are moments when the orchestration is so lush and the chords strike so deeply, we aren’t sure whether we’re listening to songwriter rock or a film score. But we love it either way.—Stewf

3. Wilderness - Archer Prewitt
Wilderness’s gentle current pulls you through an exotic jungle where a new splendor hides behind each turn, offering more than is expected from a standard folk song or pop arrangement. Former Coctails and The Sea and Cake member Archer Prewitt’s expansive, unconventional song structures and elegant arrangements (horns, strings, bells, etc.) create an unpredictable and consistently re-listenable experience. The individual songs, like the epic opener “Way of the Sun” and the bittersweet “O, Ky,” about his father’s death, reinvent themselves as they go along. And so does the album, which builds to rollicking moments, rests on airy ones, and adds up to a beautiful conclusion.—JM

2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
This is the one that no one could have seen coming—five guys from Brooklyn releasing a record by themselves and having said record ignite the indie-college circuit simply via word-of-mouth and myspace.com. Ironically, it soon became difficult to avoid the hype. And what strange music to fascinate and titillate the masses—it’s essentially Clap Your Hands and Say Talking Heads, and the chorus to the album’s opener was just the first three words in the band’s name repeated over and over again with a spare carnival organ accompaniment. But somehow it all seemed to make sense. It all seemed to click. And the euphony of the music becomes as impossible to escape as that slack-jawed guy at the party, asking, “Hey, have you heard this new band called Clap Your Hands Say Yeah?” Yes we have, slack-jawed party guy. Yes we have.—JS

   
*Salt Shaker fun fact no. 127
 
   

Sufjan (pronounced SOOF-yahn) means “comes with a sword”
in Armenian.

 
   
When Sufjan Does Utah
 
       
    While there are 47 states standing in the way of Utah finally getting its due in the form of a Sufjan Stevens tribute album, there is every indication that we won’t have to wait as long as you might think. For starters, when Sufjan first announced his national tour in support of Illinois, there were only something like four or five states on it, and we were one of them. So he was casing the place.

Then you have the actual show in Salt Lake City, which was bound to leave an impression as the hottest place on earth that you could possibly play a show without all your guitars melting. Then of course, there’s the whole religion thing. So the question isn’t so much “When Utah?” but “When Utah, what?”

Fortunately for all of you, I just happen to have access to a preliminary track listing for what is sure to be Sufjan’s greatest work yet!

Sufjan Stevens Says, "Utah— They Really Laid This Place Out Well"

1. To the Pioneers Who Settled in Magna by Accident

2. To the Five Polygamist Wives in Colorado City That I Saw Once at an Arby’s

3. The Great Salt Lake Divide, or “This Is the Place,” or “No, It Isn’t,” or “Yes, It Is,” or “Dude, Seriously,” or “If You Build It, They Will Come.”

4. Mormons in Danger!!

5. At the Point of Your Mountain, I Will Meet You, I Will Meet You

6. The Jordan River

7. To the Frail Old Lady Who Couldn’t Cross the Street Because All the Orange Flags Were on the Other Side

8. Steve Young, Move Back to Utah Please!!!

9. The Great TRAX Massacre of 2027— Which Will Have Occurred by the Time Sufjan Stevens Gets Around to Making This Album

10. Onward Olympic Soldiers!

11. A Five-Second Interlude That Pales in Comparison to the Experience of Actually Witnessing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Person, or “I Lost My Wallet at Temple Square, Can You Please Help Me Find It?” or “Missionaries, Look Elsewhere! I Have Already Found Jesus!”

12. Exclamation Points! Placed Incongruously Throughout !!! a Sent!ence That Is Already Suffic!iently Exclamatory! Without!!!!! Them (Sorry, that was a cheap shot.) (!)

13. President Bush Visits!

14. What a Kind Bunch of Lads at the Salt Shaker Magazine!

15. Democrats Attack!! Oh Me, O My!!

16. Lay Thy Head on My Pillow, Rocky Anderson, Cry Thy Tears on My Shoulder, Olene Walker, We Carry On and On Until That Great Millennial Day

Brent Sallay

 
       

1. Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
Now here’s someone who has it all. Sufjan Stevens’s style is sophisticated, smart and refined. Better yet, it is uniquely his. Adding to his credit, he is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and lyricist who has undertaken a task in time, space and sound unparalleled by any other rock musician—to make an album dedicated to each and every state in the nation. This massive project is an attempt to illuminate specific theories and themes of our present era through a lyrical exploration of the historical events that have shaped each state. And this year, in the only second installment of the project, Stevens gave us a humanized glimpse into the faults, follies, and sentimentalities of the state of Illinois.

Stevens began his musical travel journal with 2003’s well-received Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State, which, for lack of a better phrase, put him on “the map” of artists to watch. Now Illinois, or for you literal front-cover readers, Sufjan Stephens Invites you to Come On Feel the Illinoise, continues his recent endeavor in the psychology of place. Stevens’ lyrics are as complex, romantic and honest here as they have ever been, achieving empathy for Illinois, its rich history, culture, and people. And the music is much more than just a backdrop for the songwriter’s lyrical musings. The production on Illinois is exceptional in its minutia—rich in high and low tones, hollow bass sounds and tiny twinkling bells—and demands that you listen to it on a sound system that does it justice at least once before you die.

Stevens develops an especially stunning disconnect on Illinois by exploiting the happier local harmonies while not withholding the hyper-violence of the state’s history. Its anthological pursuit includes tributes to John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (the notorious “Killer Clown”), the birth of the modern cavalry, Chicago architecture, Carl Sandburg, the fight for workers’ rights, Abraham Lincoln and the madness of Mary Todd Lincoln, Superman (the real cartoon one, not that Brandon Routh hack), the American Indian Movement, UFOs and much, much more. Most of which would normally require an accomplished historian to unravel. Fortunately for all of us, Stevens has already proven himself that and so much more. Now I just can’t wait to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir led by Stevens, exposing the terrifying truths of Utah.—SG


Honorable Mentions:

Beauty and the Beat - Edan

Join hands with me, white people, as we reminisce about the glory days of hip hop. “You mean Nas and Biggie?” No, earlier than that. “The Sugarhill Gang?” No, too early. “You mean BDP, EPMD, Public Enemy, and Rakim?” Word. Edan took us back to the heart of the glory days of hip hop this year, evoking both the ultra-accessible flavor of daisy era artists like De La Soul and the cocksure bravado of emcees like Big Daddy Kane. But he also updated the sound of that era with some of the most psychedelic production you’ll hear outside of a Flaming Lips album. If you don’t count the Gorillaz album (which is only half hip hop), and maybe even if you do, this is the best hip hop album of the year, bar none. –BS

The Getty Address - Dirty Projectors

There isn't space here to elaborate on the back story of this album. But in a nutshell, it's a concept album—correction, rock opera—about the Eagles (yes, the band), the Aztecs (yes, the civilization), and, um, September 11th. In the making for two years, prominently featuring orchestral and choral arrangements (alongside xylophones and spare hip hop beats), recorded, stripped apart, glitched up, and then all put back together again, this is certainly one of the most ambitious and labored albums of the year, and to those with a willing ear, one of the most satisfying as well. –BS

Silent Alarm - Bloc Party

It was nearly a year ago I sat nervously in an English chalet in front of two Germans. Their robotic glares pierced my fragile American mind as they quizzed me with precision about new music from our country they hadn't heard yet. Finally, after answering their questions satisfactorily they decided to let me live. Not only that, but they also decided to tell me about a record which had been released in Europe but not the US yet. “All of zee keeds in Amerika veel be loving eet!” Fabian exclaimed as he told me Silent Alarm was the best dance rock album ever recorded. “Ja, und they vill dance,” Malte proclaimed triumphantly. “All of zee rock kids vill dance!” Malte was so right. I have seen the kids rock, and I have seen them dance! And I have seen a skinny, greasy haired American rocker dancing his little heart out wearing a shirt which read “God Bless the Bloc Party.” –KP

Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By - The Drones

First off, I'd like to apologize in advance for all the ensuing name-dropping, but I've been saving it all up for this one last blurb. The Drones are not, like you'd think, a drone rock band like Mogwai or Stars of the Lid. In fact, they make some of the most sublimely swaggering, drunken, epic rock and roll since the Jesus Lizard or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Gareth Liddiard is the quintessential vocalist, sounding at times like a cross between Roger Waters, Nick Cave, and Frank Black. Throw in a touch of blues-tinged guitar a la the White Stripes or the Black Keys, and just a smidgeon of the organ sound from Talk Talk/Catherine Wheel's Tim Friese-Greene, and I'm pleased to introduce you to your favorite new band from Australia. –BS

 

 
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