My review of the year 2005 will begin with Music. Here I will list the new albums that I listened to this year more than a couple of times, in descending order of admiration. Unfortunately, I don’t really know how to talk about music, as you’ll see.
1. Demon Days – Gorillaz
It’s close, but I’m going with Demon Days for my favourite album of the year. I probably listened to it more times than anything else, and I’m listening to it right now, so I suppose it’s appropriate. I wasn’t excited when it came out; the self-titled first one had a few good tracks, but the four-year interval killed off any remaining hope for a better follow-up. Eventually, I got around to listening to it, and on about the fourth time I suddenly loved it. It’s like nothing else released this year. I can only listen to the whole thing right the way through, because it is a genuinely great album, not just a collection of work compiled together; every track works on its own but works better in the context of the others around it. Give it a go, even if you’re sceptical.
Favourite track: 15 – Demon Days
2. ’64 – ’95 – Lemon Jelly
Paul Deakin and Nick Franglen’s third album is their best yet, after the considerable quality of lemonjelly.ky and Lost Horizons. “This is our new album. It’s not like our old album” proclaimed the cover, which proved to be very accurate: ’64 – ’95 adds a bit of darkness to their patented pleasantry, signalling that they’re not just a chillout duo any more. Another album that I have to listen to all at once, as each track segues wonderfully into the next and worms its way into your head for days. They are sampling wizards, even using a bit of John Rowles; it’s good music for any situation, with several excellent tracks.
Favourite track: 02 – Come Down On Me
3. Late Registration – Kanye West
I don’t care if you don’t like hip hop; this is a great album. Thanks to Richie for alerting me to its brilliance. I call it hip hop, but it’s hard to label (categorising music is difficult and pointless, anyway). It frequently reminds me of Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which is to say it’s in the same class: it’s catchy, profound but not preachy, musically intriguing. Several tracks stand out, and the interludes – especially Bernie Mac’s introduction – are amusing. Next, I shall get a hold of his debut College Dropout, which many say is even better. Hard to believe, I tell ya.
Favourite track: 19 – Gone
4. Come On! Feel the Illinoise! – Sufjan Stevens
A five-star review in the Herald put me onto this, and after two listens, I was hooked. He’s incredibly audacious and pretentious, this young man, seeing fit to give tracks ridiculous names like ‘A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in which Sufjan Stevens has an Existential Crisis in the Godfrey Maze’ and singing in a typically anguished ‘indie-wail’. But, it’s actually pretty good – very good, even. He’s on a mission to educate all of us about each of the 50 United States, and does a pretty good job on Illinois here – reaching for a deeper truth while contemplating such things as John Wayne Gacy’s killings and the Sears Tower. The whole album is wonderfully arranged and flows nicely, with Stevens himself playing almost all the instruments, and includes a nod to The Cure (naturally). Do try it.
Favourite track: 12 – The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
5. Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll – Art Brut
“Formed a band, we’ve formed a band. Look at us! We’ve formed a band!” So opens the most enjoyable album of the year. If The Streets were a punk rock band, this is what they’d sound like. It’s proper British punk rock too, irreverent but not inane, tapping into the everyday lives of young people everywhere. Rua told me about these guys, appropriately through the song My Little Brother, so cheers Rua. Just listen to it, and songwriters take note: you can reach a great many deeper truths by keeping it simple. Metaphors need not be complex – just write and sing sincerely.
Favourite track: 04 – Rusted Guns of Milan
6. The Fanatics – The Fanatics
Not actually an album, but a 7-track EP – still, this was the best NZ offering this year. The hype is not enough for this duo from Auckland: they have a unique sound, what they call ‘electro-rock’, which harks back to the 80s but also contains elements of the Future… sounds a bit like Fischerspooner, but with no pretence. They’re currently working on an album, which I am as excited about as I have ever been about a forthcoming music release.
Favourite track: 02 – Dead
7. Odyssey – Fischerspooner
Gay couple Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner were performance artists (gag, spit) who decided that the music they wrote for shows was far more interesting than the performances, so they turned their attention full-time to making music. Their first album, #1, was inconsistent with a few outstanding tracks (Sweetness, Emerge to name two); thankfully, Odyssey is an improvement, feeling more like a real album rather than a collection of tracks just thrown together onto a CD. Their sound is pretty much unique and at the forefront of what we call synthtron, or electroclash (man, music genres are ridiculous). Spooner’s lyrics are a bit dodgy, but Fischer’s sound carries it through; plenty of good tracks on here, so if you heard Emerge in a club and liked it, you’ll probably like Odyssey.
Favourite track: 08 – Happy
8. Funeral – Arcade Fire
I like singers who wail in falsetto, so I was always going to like Arcade Fire. Win Butler wails with the best of them, and sings about reasonably interesting things; as always with me, though, it’s the instruments that draw me in. Alternating between strong & driving and a sort of dreamy low-keyness, this album is great right up until the last track, which is a terrific anti-climax. Pity. Still, I enjoy it very much, and it contains maybe my favourite rock song of the year.
Favourite track: 09 – Rebellion (Lies)
9. The Sound Inside – Breaks Co-op
The other NZ album I bought this year, and it’s really bloody good. I was in Real Groovy browsing for about an hour, and found myself listening to and very much enjoying what they were playing over the PA. Turns out it was these guys, so I came back the next day and bought it. I bought it in July, and it’s a perfect summer album, so of course I haven’t come to appreciate it so much until now. It is a departure from their earlier stuff, largely because of the addition of a new band member, but it is (in my opinion) an improvement. Very much easy-listening chillout music, but… you know… good.
Favourite track: 05 – Last Night
10. Human After All – Daft Punk
Homework was essential, Discovery was a delightful reinvention, and after four years of waiting for another one we get… this? That was my initial response to Human After All – they produced this in a couple of weeks, surely? It felt like complete rubbish, derivative of everything else they and several other French house groups have done. A couple of tracks stood out, but overall it was just a big mess. But then I looked again at the title, and at all the track names, and I realised that they were in fact taking the piss. Out of us, out of what we’ve become. In the end, it’s clever, but a fascinating waste of time is still a waste of time. I don’t dislike the album, but I feel they would’ve been better off taking another six months to create something with the innovation of either of their first two. At any rate, the final track is one of my favourites of the year – it’s a blindingly obvious six and a half minutes, but as I said earlier, simplicity can often bring about a stronger and deeper reaction in the listener.
Favourite track: 10 – Emotion
11. Get Behind Me Satan – The White Stripes
More of the same from Jack and Meg, but if it’s a same you like, then great – fortunately, I do like it. Nowhere near the greatness of Elephant or the near-perfection of White Blood Cells, this is still a good offering; there are a few experiments here and there, but mostly they’re just doing what they’ve always done. Kind of feels like they phoned it in a bit. As I say, good regardless.
Favourite track: 02 – The Nurse
12. Nympho – Armand Van Helden
Easily the biggest disappointment of the year. 2 Future 4 U and Killing Puritans are two albums I own and very much enjoy, but what the hell happened here? This is lazy, sloppy work from a guy I thought was at the forefront of the DJ scene. There are some very good club tracks – Into Your Eyes, My My My – but where are the nine-minute epics of previous outings? Perhaps I didn’t give this one a fair go, but it seemed to me that his trademark repetitiveness was different this time: he was repeating boring beats and hooks, not interesting ones. Shame.
Favourite track: 03 – Into Your Eyes
So, only one new album a month on average. It goes to show that most of the music I listen to is from previous years. For the record, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips and Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes by TV on the Radio were my most-listened-to non-2005 albums this year. Both are phenomenally great, totally unique albums that you should track down and listen to as soon as you can.