ended 2005 by singing the blues: CD sales were down dramatically for
the second time in five years, by 10 percent from the numbers in
2004. But don't feel too bad for the industry.
During the same
period, digital music sales tripled, with more than 14 million
albums sold via downloading in 2005 vs. 4.7 million a year ago.
perspective of this critic, how you get your music is irrelevant:
The point is that there were as many great discs out there as ever,
and while you might not have always known it from mainstream radio
or MTV, it was becoming easier than ever to find them, sample them
and buy them if you cared to.
With that in
mind, whether your Christmas stocking included a record store gift
certificate or a new MP3 player that you're just dying to load up
with tunes, here are my Top 10 must-own albums of 2005.
Common, "Be" (Good Music/Geffen)
collaborations often disappoint, but the pairing of two Chicago
hip-hop giants -- Common, the finest rapper this city has ever given
us, and Kanye West, the most imaginative producer in pop music today
-- prompted each to hit new heights. Common has never been more
eloquent and insightful or stretched further as a rapper, surveying
the state of the African-American community, and veering from the
gritty realities of ("The Corner") to philosophical questions such
as whether God is a woman ("Faithful").
Soundsystem, "LCD Soundsystem" (DFA/Capitol)
dance producer James Murphy's merger of post-punk art-rock and
cutting-edge techno is simply irresistible, the rhythms are
undeniable and the sense of humor is absolutely invigorating. Crank
up "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "Movement" or "Disco
Infiltrator" and just try to avoid pogoing around the living room.
West, "Late Registration" (Roc-A-Fella)
From the cover
of Time magazine to his own outspoken pronouncements, West was in
the news constantly through 2005, but his sophomore album actually
justified the hype with a hooks- and strings-laden production
crafted with Jon Brion and heartfelt raps about politics personal
(as when West pays homage to his mother and grandmother) and global
(as when he questions the exploitation of African diamond miners and
whether the drug plague in America's inner cities is actually
fostered by the government).
Go! Team, "Thunder Lightning Strike" (Columbia)
Second only to
LCD Soundsystem, this was the feel-good, blood-pumping dance record
of the year, pairing Ian Parton's skillfully crafted grooves (a
winning mix of indie noise-rock, New Wave and old-school bubblegum
R&B, a la the Jackson Five) with firebrand frontwoman Ninja's
double-dutch- and playground-inspired rhymes and chants.
I know, I know:
Moby just isn't cool anymore (and hasn't been since he sold all
those tracks from 1999's multiplatinum "Play"), and he can't really
sing. I don't care. The onetime "face of techno" remains a master of
crafting melancholy moods, and I simply couldn't get the melodies of
songs such as "Raining Again," "Beautiful," "Lift Me Up" and
"Spiders" out of my head from the moment this album was released.
Ladytron, "Witching Hour" (Ryko)
The New Wave era
of the late '70s and early '80s continued to inspire a lot of the
best rock music in 2005, and this two-man, two-woman Liverpool
quartet was among the best to build upon those early synthesized
grooves, propulsive rhythms and electronic hooks. Ladytron has been
a good band since its inception, but on its third and darkest
release, it became a great one, and "International Dateline" was the
second best single of 2005, after West's "Gold Digger."
Coldplay, "X&Y" (Capitol)
The New York
Times declared Chris Martin and company the most "insufferable" band
of the year, but it seems to me that honor belongs to U2. With its
embrace of early '70s German art rock and ambient experiments a la
David Bowie during his "Berlin phase," Coldplay brought an inventive
new element to its sound (as U2 did circa "Achtung Baby") while
delivering more of the heartbreakingly gorgeous hooks that have made
it the best kind of arena-rock band (as U2 once was, circa Zoo TV).
White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan" (V2)
presence of some piano and marimba, the heart of the Detroit duo's
sound remains the rhythmic interplay between Jack White on guitar
and vocals and Meg on drums. Here, the current rock scene's greatest
minimalists delivered another killer set of blues-inflected garage
rock, their strongest since "White Blood Cells" (2001).
of a Down, "Mezmerize" & "Hypnotize" (Sony)
band from L.A. issued its third album as two distinct discs released
six months apart. Individually, each suffered from detours into the
silly/scatological, much like the band's hero, Frank Zappa, often
did. But if you combine the two and burn your own "best-of," cutting
out the filler, you'll have one of the smartest, most creative and
most infectious hard-rock albums ever made, and one that elevates
this quartet to the pantheon of the greats. (The must-haves: tracks
2, 3, 8 and 9 from "Mezmerize" and 1, 3, 4 and 8 from "Hypnotize.")
New Pornographers, "Twin Cinema" (Matador)
On their first
two albums, this loosely knit indie-rock supergroup hardly lived up
to the billing, but this time, key songwriters A.C. Newman and Dan
Bejar seemed determine to outdo each other in a friendly and
fruitful competition that produced one indelible power-pop gem after
another ("Sing Me Spanish Techno," "The Bleeding Heart Show,"
"Streets of Fire"), all ably enhanced by the talents of a big band
that included golden-throated Chicago vocalists Neko Case and Nora
GREAT MUSIC TO EXPERIENCE
If you still
haven't found something on that list to send you hurtling toward the
record store or downloading on your computer, here are the next 30
albums on my list:
Warlocks, "Surgery" (Mute);
James, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (Warner Bros.);
Gorillaz, "Demon Days" (Virgin);
XIV, "The Best Little Secrets Are Kept" (Atlantic);
& Naomi, "The Earth Is Blue" (20/20/20);
"The Great Destroyer" (Sub Pop);
Spoon, "Gimme Fiction" (Merge);
Black Eyed Peas, "Monkey Business" (A&M);
Mills, "The Wall to Wall Sessions" (Ernest Jenning).
Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Howl" (RCA);
Decemberists, "Picaresque" (Kill Rock Stars);
Redwalls, "De Nova" (Capitol);
Ros, "Takk" (Geffen);
"Ghost Reveries" (Roadrunner);
Corgan, "The Future Embrace" (Warner Bros.);
Tet, "Everything Ecstatic" (Domino);
Kaiser Chiefs, "Employment" (Universal);
on Fire, "Blessed Black Wings" (Relapse);
L'Altra, "Different Days" (Hefty);
Marianne Faithfull, "Before the Poison" (Anti-).
Young, "Prairie Wind" (Reprise);
Detroit Cobras, "Baby" (Bloodshot);
Sinead O'Connor, "Throw Down Your Arms" (That's Why There's
Chocolate and Vanilla);
Mould, "Body of Song" (Yep Roc);
Out Boy, "From Under the Cork Tree" (Island);
Danger Doom, "The Mouse and the Mask" (Epitaph);
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, "Worlds Apart" (Interscope);
38. Head of Femur, "Hysterical Stars" (Spin Art);
Pelican, "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw" (Hydrahead);
Brian Eno, "Another Day on Earth" (Opal/Rykodisc) and John Cale,
"Black Acetate" (Astralwerks).