Mix Suggestion: The Best of 2005
A month has gone by since the ball dropped. (Now I have two of them! Geez, 26 years to descend...) I haven't written anything for awhile. I'd best get crackin' on that annual best-of-the-year mix I do. Let's slap one together, shall we?
As always, I don't claim that I've heard everything this past year had to offer. Perhaps even less this year than most, since my relocation and subsequent unemployment ate up a lot of my CD monies. Regardless, there was still enough great music in 2005 for me to collect more than enough songs for a best-of-the-year compilation- notable exclusions include Mike Doughty's "Looking At the World From the Bottom of a Well" and Sigur Ros's "Saeglopur," though my mix is still probably fairly predictable if you know me at all.
Out-Tech Barium Martini: The Best I've Heard of 2005
1. Pernice Brothers- "There Goes the Sun" (3:36) Ever since Joe Pernice covered a New Order song on Chappaquiddick Skyline's self-titled album (and wrote a smart novella loosely based on The Smiths' Meat is Murder), his pessimistic folk-rock songs have been getting new-wave comparisons. Regardless of whether you think the bass-driven "There Goes the Sun" owes a tiny debt to The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, or any other early-'80s bummerbands, though, its biggest draw is simply the disaffected whisper of a hook that Joe draws his literate lyrics through. Frankly, after you listen to him hand over intellectual custody of the Beatles, Chet Baker, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to an ex-lover, seemingly the only thing the narrator can claim as his own is the tune itself and Peyton Pinkerton's reverb-laden guitar work. Sears didn't have the balls to include the line "Kick the life from me till one better comes" when they licensed this song for a commercial; what a great, disturbing surprise that must've been for anyone who bought this album after hearing it there! From Discover a Lovelier You.
2. Ladytron- "Destroy Everything You Touch" (4:36) Now, as for bands who can convincingly take up New Order's torch, Ladytron is a wonderful caretaker of their predecessors' grandiose robot-pop, visibly drowning their emotions in antiquated keyboards like loathsome redneck women drowning sacks of their dog's puppies. Nearly as unsettling, too. It'd be positively masochistic, in fact, if it weren't for the mocking vocals of Helen Marnie, catcalling from beneath the arrangement like an acquaintance who's amused by how ridiculous you're acting while drunk but who doesn't want you to pass out either. That's where the song's heart lies, even if it's attached to lots of nasty electrodes. And if you, like me, secretly wish you were born a cyborg, you'll totally melt into it. From The Witching Hour.
3. M.I.A.- "Pull Up the People" (3:45) Given the hype Sri Lankan electronic mad scientist M.I.A. got this year, it just fascinates me that Mouse on Mars never got this level of mainstream acceptance. This head-spinningly skittery tune is an absolutely brilliant combination of programmed IDM polyrhythms, clubby Dawali beats that Sean Paul wishes he could conjure, and M.I.A. herself boasting, "I've got the bombs to make you blow/ I've got the beats to make you bang bang bang!" from amid an abattoir of chopped-up basslines, drum snippets, and bloopy, bleepy synth samples. Robots are sexy, people! I'm telling you! From Arular.
4. Twink- "Pussy Cat" (2:02) I've said before that this song can stand next to the jazzy soundtracks from Warner Bros.' old Three Little Bops cartoon, but the more I listen to it, the more I think that if the Three Little Bops had a soundtrack as interesting as this, I wouldn't have groaned obnoxiously every time it appeared on Nickelodeon's Looney Tunes hour when I was a little brat. It's a mishmash of children's songs about cats, which Mike Langlie has pasted together in such a fashion that your ska-loving hipster friends will love it as much as your big-band-loving grandparents do. If Twink and The Other Leading Brand ever get together... no one could top that conflagration of samples. From The Broken Record.
5. New Pornographers- "The Bleeding Heart Show" (4:27) Anyone who heard the New Pornos' first two albums won't be surprised to hear that they came up with an animorphic, multi-part power-pop song that contains more hooks than Hellraiser after going through a car wash, but... who expected something so melodically affecting? Midway through, when "The Bleeding Heart Show" bursts into a wordless refrain, it's like the entire concentrated power of a hundred years of gospel music hitting you at once. It's enough joy that just about everyone should be able to feel God smiling down upon them at that point. (Athiests may lie on their backs on the bedroom floor and contemplate the simple joy of life, alternatively.) The lyrics don't matter- they're as random as ever. What matters is Neko Case and her commanding voice taking things over and swingin' you around as she previously threatened to do. From Twin Cinema.
6. Sufjan Stevens- "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." (3:19) I fully expect to include a Sufjan Stevens song in this list every year until the day I die. (2009.) Though this song isn't as intricately arranged as most of his other songs are, Sufjan uses biographical details from the life of a mass murderer to play the sympathy card and plead for forgiveness. Already, the line "On my best behavior, I am really just like him" has become an indie-pop classic, though as chilling as it is, Sufjan's acoustic guitar betrays a hopefulness that goes well beyond arguments for clemency: ultimately, the tune is an open-hearted, spiritual offering in the hopes of everyone being forgiven for the blotches on their souls, from John Wayne on down. From Illinois.
7. Ween- "Did You See Me?" (5:11) I'm such a sucker for Ween fucking with Pink Floyd's legacy. I know that two years ago, I included "The Argus" in my list and that's nearly the same song, but it's a good song! This one is a bit more aggressive, injecting Wish You Were Here-style epics with angry barre chords and carnivorous keyboards, but buffering the humor with a truly desolate melody that demands to be taken seriously anyway. I have no idea why this was left off their previous albums, but this year's rarities compilation is all the better for it, because it's a slice of trippy genius. From Shinola, Vol. 1.
8. The Konks- "King Kong" (2:14) Unlucky break for garage band The Konks to release this song in a year that also saw the release of an unappealing film by the same name; people are just gonna think they're a tie-in. Shame, that, since this tune is honestly about as punk as it's gotten since the Ramones' debut, with its single-mic distorted-guitar arrangement and two-vocalist call-and-response growling about how some girl makes the narrator go completely apeshit. Hooky, brash, and wonderful. From The Konks.
9. Clem Snide- "The Sound of German Hip-Hop" (5:11) As far as I'm concerned, this is the best song of the entire year. The arrangement is pure early R.E.M.- think "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville"- but Eef Barzelay's scratchy twang emits apocalyptic lyrics that are so striking in both their chilling realism and black humor that the first time I heard this song, I had to listen to it no fewer than 20 times in a row. Politics, riots, religion, sex, and entertainment are all dragged through the End of Times wringer here, and Eef is equally critical and affectionate about all of the above without stealing any of the mortifying power of his subject matter. I don't want to spoil even one line for you; it's a must-hear. From End of Love.
10. Sage Francis- "Sea Lion" (3:01) Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) contributes the haunting guitar line and chorus to this otherwise in-your-face exhibition of hip-hop exhibitionism. It's a great, sour pairing, too, given Oldham's proclivity toward antisocial murmuring and rapper Francis's tendency to mutilate himself with verbal razors. The rapid-fire lyrics are some sort of hair-raising post-Oedipal blame-slinging, but as awful as they are, there's no denying the phonetic pleasures of lines like "City to city, I'm already lost/Tell the boss who is new in town/I'm-a ride this horse till it bucks me off and I'm forced to shoot it down." Yes, blah blah you don't like rap- you'll like this. Trust me, Mikey. From A Healthy Distrust.
11. Stars- "Ageless Beauty" (4:05) Seemingly moments after amazing Scottish pop stars the Delgados called it quits, savvy Canadian indie-pop duo Stars swooped in to claim their fussily orchestrated throne with Set Yourself on Fire, perhaps this year's best album. However, given all the great-yet-derivative breakup music the album contains, its most gripping track is a simple dreampop number breathed by Amy Millan for maximum My Bloody Valentine wispiness. The lyrics are great, but they don't matter. What matters is the simple, gasp-inducing structure here, even if it's just droney guitars and keyboards a la Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube." From Set Yourself on Fire.
12. Nouvelle Vague- "Too Drunk to Fuck" (2:16) Man oh man, I hope this pisses Jello Biafra off to no end, the douchebag. It's a great French lounge-pop cover of the Dead Kennedys' hardcore standard. Far from being a novelty one-off, though, the chanteuse given vocal duties does a great job re-creating the hair-shaking, saliva-sucking lack of inhibitions of a woman who's had way more than she can handle: handily subverting an already subversive parody of straight-edge abstinence. It's fascinating, a little sexy and a little sad. Even catchier than the original, too, with the acoustic hook bouncing behind her. From Nouvelle Vague.
13. Of Montreal- "So Begins Our Alabee" (4:15) Kevin Barnes's latest album in his band's discography of kind-hearted twee-pop self-loathing doesn't have much new to offer to those of us who were addicted to 2004's Satanic Panic in the Attic, but this ode to his newborn kid is an energetic disco-videogame treasure. Recorded all by himself, Kevin's harmonies, melodically high-pitched basslines, and vocal "Oh-ohh"s are the most fun a kid-at-heart could have, even as they capture the nervousness of a new father in lines like, "I never want to be your little friend, the abject failure." Much as I dislike children, I love this song to pieces. From The Sunlandic Twins.
14. Decemberists- "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (8:45) What's cooler than pirates? Nothing. In fact, they're the subject of my favorite joke: "A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel sticking out the front of his pants. The bartender says, 'What's the steering wheel for? Doesn't that hurt?' The pirate replies, 'Yarrr- it's drivin' me nuts!'" Ta-daaa. Well, maybe robots are cooler, but since Grandaddy just broke up, don't expect any great new robot songs for awhile. At any rate, this tune is an epic tale of a pirate getting revenge on a lech who took advantage of his mom, told from inside a whale in a sophisticated balalaika style that borrows as much from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Lorenzo Carcaterra as it does from Camper Van Beethoven and the tale of Jonah. Revealing any more would be to spoil Colin Meloy's literary surprises, but trust me when I say that it justifies its nine-minute running time. Unless you don't like accordions, in which case you don't deserve this song anyhow. From Picaresque.
15. Books- "Be Good to Them Always" (4:51) The Books have always stuffed their recordings with samples, often in a seemingly haphazard fashion, but this track finally gets the balance right. With a bing-bong keyboard arrangement that resembles a giant novelty cuckoo clock, vocal slices appear amid the laid-back programmed drums, doubled by precise singing from one of the duo. It's insubstantial, I'll grant, but it's also pleasantly catchy, and the non-sequitur samples themselves offer some interesting juxtapositions ("You do not have to stand on one foot"). Slight but memorable. From Lost and Safe.
16. Kraftwerk- "Radioactivity" (live) (7:41) Twenty years after the studio version of this song appeared, a live version comes to attack it with "death and skin cancer" (to quote an anti-radiation disclaimer from the song's intro), conflating geiger counter keyboards and lyrical references to Madame Curie with vocoderized lists of nuclear disaster areas and, halfway through the track, modern Tour de France rhythm effects. If you're into dances of doom, there's no song you'll rather go out of the world with. From Minimum-Maximum.
17. The Go-Betweens- "Finding You" (4:02) In a year full of interesting reunions from the decade between 1975 and 1985 (the dB's, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, et al), the Go-Betweens' new album arrived with nothing more than a worshipful hush, and that's as it should be. Never a band to stand out so much as to let their emotional down-under guitar-pop speak for itself, their best new song should've been a worldwide prom theme, but is instead just a heart-wrenching anthem for any lucky-yet-broken soul who might stumble across it. Grant McLennan's vocals carry as much whip-smart emotion as a lost Crowded House track, and the chorus carries as much flag-waving memorability as a lost Midnight Oil track, but the combination could only come from this band's jangly intelligence, which seems to have simultaneously influenced and been influenced by R.E.M., circa Lifes Rich Pageant. From Oceans Apart.
18. Gruff Rhys- "Gwn Mi Wn" (2:33) Though we all love the Super Furry Animals for their idiosyncratic arrangements and weirdo electronic effects, the best any of them came up with this year was a simple singing-in-the-round number from frontman Gruff Rhys's solo album. Backed only by a drum loop, ol' Gruff and several of his overdubbed doppelgangers sing the praises of something or other that I can't understand as it's in Welsh. Catchy as all hell, though. Like a particularly spirited round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." From Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.
19. Sun Kil Moon- "Dramamine" (2:44) On a semi-inexplicable album of Modest Mouse covers, this is the best song, reinterpreting one of the better songs from MM's unremarkable This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Unless you're as into scratchy indie-rock guitars as I was in college, you'll far prefer Mark Kozelek's gentle acoustic picking, and unless you're as into lispy indie-rock shout-singing as... some idiot who likes that better than vocal ability, you'll far prefer Mark Kozelek's gentle multi-tracked whispering. As with all Modest Mouse songs, the lyrics are nothing special, but Kozelek affectionately shakes the beauty out of Isaac Brock's seemingly nonexistent melody. It's not as impressive as Mark's take on AC/DC, What's Next to the Moon, but it'll do, pig. It'll do. From Tiny Cities.
2005: The Last Year Of Our "My Humps"-less Lives
by Joe Friesen
The New Pornographers - "The Bleeding Heart Show" (4:26) Let's just get this one out of the way real quick. It's the best song on the best album of the year, it's the best song of the year, it's the best song of the decade, it's the song I exclusively listened to on repeat for about two months, it's just about my favorite song ever. Good? Good.
Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - "Rise (the imaginary Joe Friesen remix)" (8:58) Technically probably shouldn't count for something like this, seeing as how it was made before 2005 but (as far as I know) didn't see a release in it's original form until The Days of Mars came out. But I'm including it because, in addition to being a mind-blowing slice of repetitive electro space-rock that just about makes the massive back catalogue of Tangerine Dream completely superfluous, it's inclusion in 2004's three-disc DFA compilation single-handedly convinced me that this whole DFA dance-punk bullshit was worthwhile after all. I put on the first disc, heard Delia & Gavin's "Casual Friday" (released under the pseudonym Black Leotard Front), and thought this stuff was actually pretty cool. When the DFA's remix of "Rise" came around, Delia & Gavin & James & Tim & Tim had totally washed away the bitter aftertaste that I'd still carried with me after hearing that The Rapture Echoes caterwauling nonsense. Turns out the original is even better. The disco beats are gonna, and the majestic conclusion (y'know, that one that goes "dooooo-Doooooo-DOOOOOOOOOOOO-BEE-boooooo-Bee-booooooo-Booooo-beeeeeeeeeCLUNK) that barely rose above the layers of the remix is given a good 2-3 minutes to take the song to a new level.
This imaginary mix that doesn't actually exist is just the original with the first four minutes chopped off and a slow fade-in, because it's a good song, but 13 minutes? That's not fair.
Sleater-Kinney - "Modern Girl" (3:01) I'm a sucker for Sleater-Kinney's pretty balladeering, and this one might be even better than All Hands On the Bad One-standout "Leave You Behind". It's every bit as pretty and fetching as the girls themselves, and Janet's thunderous entrance through the building noisy chaos two minutes in gives it the perfect riot grrl touch. If I didn't already have two songs pushing ten minutes, I'd opt for the hard rock crunch of Let's Call It Love. Since Willie insists on sticking to this antiquated mix CD nonsense when most of us have moved on to MP3 player playlists, I will reluctantly play by his rules. (Menomena's 18-minute "Water" deserves a place in here to. C'st la vie.)
Sufjan Stevens - "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Run For Your Lives!! Ahhhh!" (5:09) I guess we have a winner in that Coolest Song Title of the Year award nobody bothered to give out. I loved Illinois, but I had a hard time picking out a song for this because the whole album had a very consistent sound to it that it was hard to pick out one or two standouts. I went with this one because, duh, Zombies, and I thought it would be an even CREEPIER counterpoint to the fan fave "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", which I like, but just can't compare to the sinister yet GROOVY! vibe we get here.
Say YES! to Oregon! in 2006, Sufjan!
Immaculate Machine - "Broken Ship" (3:33) I never woulda guessed one of my favorite albums of the year would come from some anonymous opening band I never hearda. Shows what I know. Immaculate Machine opened at the splendiferous New Pornographers/Destroyer show here last September, and truth be told, Dan Bejar was a pretty big letdown after these guys got done. This might've been the most infectious bit of pop other than, well, y'know, but where Carl Newman is ambitious and unpredictable, his niece's band is angular and simplistic. This song is about as simple as it gets: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-rinse-repeat, with short bursts of guitar chords to guide it on its merry way, sort of subscribing to the ain't-broke-don't-fixit philosophy. I'm not sure how else to break it down, other than to say, the verses, the chorus, and those Talking Headsy chords are all great, and work to create something familiar yet wholly compelling.
Petra Haden - "I Can't Reach You" (3:30) Grin. Petra Haden, the newest edition to Colin Meloy's travelling minstrel show, came out with a bizarre experiment called "Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out", which might be the most literally titled album I've ever come across. She literally sings every part (vocals, drums, guitar, everything) of every song of The Who Sell Out. It's bizarre, yes, but it's still moving in its silly way, and I couldn't help but keep going back to it throughout the year. "I Can't Reach You" was always my favorite on the original, so, what the hell, I'll pick it as my rep for this thing.
LCD Soundsystem - "Tribulations" (4:59) I used this as my alarm clock for a long long time. I'm not sure what that says about me, that I'm just a deep sleeper who needs something real loud and startling to get up in the morning, or I'm just a sick, sick man.
The National - "Friend of Mine" (3:25) Word to the wise: don't put The National on a CD AFTER The Go! Team's Thunder, Lightning, Strike. It seems like a good idea since TLS is so short, but take it from me, you will never ever get around to hearing The National, which would be a shame. Going from the freaky fun of The Go! Team to the mellow indie-rock of The National with no transition at all, believe me, it just doesn't go. This song recently came up on shuffle mode in my MP3 player, and it's convincing me what a horrible mistake I made. It's just a gorgeous song with a gracefully hook that's got me racing to Soulseek to track down the rest of their catalogue.
The Minders - "I'm So Low" (2:10) I'm just now realizing that I'll never be able to just slide in my favorite GBV song of the year into something like this again. I'm not shedding any tears, though; I got The Electrifying Conclusion on DVD, I got the excellent From a Compound Eye, and I got a rowdy good time in the front row of latest Bob Pollard concert. And for 2005, I've got this, a submission to the PDX Pop Now! compilation from Bob associates The Minders. Did I say Broken Ship was infectious? Well this is garage-pop that makes tuberculousis look sedentary! (god that was stupid) It's just another reminder that we've got the best music in the world over here, motherfuckers.
LCD Soundsystem - "Daft Punk is Playing at My House (Soulwax Shibuya Remix)" (6:52) This is the last DFA-related song, I swear. Just as randomly hearing "Friend of Mine" sent me scrambling for everything National-related I could find, hearing this at the end of the DFA Holiday mix sent me straight to my computer to find anything and everything I could on Soulwax. I'm not even sure how to describe it, just kind of an electrified, muted and more hard-nosed version of the original. But there's just something about it that... makes... me... have... to... play... it... LOUD. Putting your sounds to capacity and considering buying something better because you still can't make it loud enough... that's GOT to be a sign of a good song, doesn't it?
Caribou - "A Final Warning" (7:15) 2005: The year when blatantly ripping off your influences became really cool. And, what with my love of LCD Soundsystem aping The Fall and Eno, Delia & Gavin doing Tangerine Dream, and finally, Caribou doing all that wonderful Kraut-rock that I love, I guess I've decided that I'm OK with that. Seriously, other than the occasionally rave-up/cool-down section that bubbles up now and then, there's almost nothing to distinguish this song from Neu!'s "Hallo Gallo". But if you're gonna rip off a song and call it your own, you might as well rip off a really GOOD song like "Hallo Gallo". Believe me, I love "A Final Warning", and I'm not complaining, just stating the obvious.
Deerhoof - "Spirit Dities of No Tone" (4:09) My ambivalence towards Deerhoof knows no bounds, and here's the song that I think encapsulates my love/hate relationship with the band the best. Overall, the song kinda leaves me cold and a little confused. Lots of noise and a song structure that doesn't really go anywhere. But dropped in the middle is one KILLER guitar solo (and what sounds like a mandolin harmonizing with it), featuring a tone and immediacy that makes my jaw drop. Then, sure enough, we're back into the song proper, with a muddled melody and lead vocals sung with that wonderful combination of staccato phrasing and falsetto expression that make my ears wanna bleed. It's a frustrating experience, but, ultimately, pretty exhilirating, because, in the end, it all makes for a pretty good song, and it's that feeling of ultimate content that's going to make me come around to this band in the end, no matter how long it eventually takes.
The Decemberists - "On the Bus Mall" (6:06) Hmm, where to go with my Decemberists pick (because you KNOW there's going to be one)? Do I go catchy and choose "We Both Go Down Together"? Melodramatic and fantastic in "The Mariner's Revenge Song"? Or do I go for a song that strikes just the right emotional chord in me to give me goosebumps to matter how many times I hear it? Well, that's no choice at all. First listens would suggest that the indie bombast of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" is the best offering the Decemberists put out this year, but the subtlety of Colin's lyrics and vocal performance here is enough to win the day for me.
M83 - "Lower Your Eyelids To Die With the Sun" (10:41) Just as I've never been too impressed with scenester favorites and M83's primary influence My Bloody Valentine, I found myself thinking 2004's Dead Cities, Red Seas and Lost Ghosts was more "not" and less "hot" (and yes, I need to look up that album title every time). While this song is hardly enough to change my mind about M83 (much less MBV), even I can't deny it's epic, glorious power. A *wee* bit overlong, but still very much a winner. Were this a real mix, this would make a perfect note to go out on...
Ween - "Monique the Freak" (5:48) ...NOPE. WEEN IZ BACK, BIDGES. BEST RIFF EVA.
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