My favorite 25 albums released in 2005.

25. Jason Forrest- Shamelessly Exciting- A few years ago, I became aware of the art of the mash-up- taking the vocals of one song and combining them with the music of another. This was appealing to me- as a fan of cover versions, this was an interesting and unique method of creating new music out of someone else's work. Enter Jason Forrest and his sampler- together they create the next generation of recycling art- combining short snippets of familiar songs to create entirely new songs. And we're not talking one or two songs a track- some contain dozens, like his track "My 36 Favorite Punk Songs", which takes bits of what it says in the title and creates a speedy new song in the process. Elsewhere, like on the 70's sampling "Skyrocket Saturday", the samples are darting in and out so quickly, it becomes a on the fly name that tune. Which could be distracting if it wasn't executed just right, which it is here. Not the future of music, but definitely interesting and recommended to those who have a million pop and rock songs floating around in your head- you'll hear hundreds of them on this CD.
24. Lightning Bolt- Hypermagic Mountain- The title and cover of this CD accurately portray the sound- colorful, chaotic, hyper and all over the place. This bass and drums duo creates a cacophony that suggests at least one or two additional members in their band, and their songs veer back and forth from solid groove to noise effortlessly, with rapid fire drumming being one of the few constants. Moments of metal, punk, funk and progressive rock mix with experimental music with only a trace of vocals. John Zorn's Naked City seems to be a good reference point, though Lightning Bolt actually tries to craft 4 minute "rock" songs, concentrating on one main idea where Zorn's group would jump from one idea to the next. Not for the faint of heart, but those who enjoy the noisier, experimental side of rock could find much to enjoy here.
23. Shout Out Louds- Howl Howl Gaff Gaff- Sweden once gave us pop chart toppers such as ABBA, Roxette and Ace of Bass, but recently they've been exporting some decent alternative rock, including last year's Timmy Award top ten finisher The Concretes. The Shout Out Louds meld jangly guitars, slightly whiny vocals and soaring melodies, adding traces of accordion, tambourine, xylophone, melodica, synthesizer and violin to add color to the proceedings. The Feelies and other 80s/90s alternative guitar-pop bands come to mind in places, but the overall sound is a blending of upbeat, left-of-center pop from the past 40 years. A solid debut.
22. Jamie Lidell- Multiply- I read a lot of British music magazines, which often lead me to some the albums I would have not heard of otherwise which ultimately grace these awards which . Usually the magazines' reviewers give great advice, but occasionally they hear something I don't, giving praise or descriptions I don't feel are warranted. So it was with a fair amount of skepticism that I approached this album, which they compared favorably to Otis Redding and James Brown. Hmm. But being a big Otis fan, I thought I'd take a chance. While in some places a Jamiroquai or Prince comparison is more accurate, there's more than a smattering of 60's soul to be found here- with the occasional synth thrown in, of course. Lidell has had some success on the UK dance charts with previous projects, and he's applied what he's learned on this CD, but the basis remains old school soul with a very modern execution. Not the frozen-in-time soul of Joss Stone's debut EP, this album takes 60's soul into the present and manages to pull it off.
21. Brendan Benson- The Alternative To Love- Power pop has managed to create more than a handful of healthy careers outside of the mainstream over the past 30 years, containing music that has catchy melodies and hooks in all the right places but still manages to elude mainstream popularity. You can add Brendan Benson's to the company of Matthew Sweet and Nick Lowe as a singer/songwriter who would be huge in some alternate reality where The Archies were a real band. What sets this apart from the dozens of power pop albums that exist on the fringes each year is Benson's ability to borrow liberally from other sounds, from the rocking lead-off track "Spit It Out" to the Phil Spector-ish "Pledge of Allegiance" to the early 70's pop of "Get It Together". Like the blocks on the cover, Benson takes 12 songs, creates them each in the style he sees fit, and crafts this catchy, easy-going album.
20. Feist- Let It Die- Maybe it's the affordable prescription drugs, but something is invigorating the music scene north of the border. Feist (her surname, first name: Leslie. Yeah, I'd go with Feist, too. Especially since I'm a guy) has a strong and versatile voice- she can effortlessly switch back and forth from sweet to sultry. There's a few different styles here- the indie folk-rock of "Mushaboom" to the almost Sade-like makeover of the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out" and she rarely misses a step along the way. Maybe she'll never be a household name, but it won't be due to her voice.
19. The Darkness- One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back- The movie "The Aristocrats" came out in 2005, and it consisted of dozens of comedians telling the same joke, proving it's not the joke itself, but how you tell it. I'm not sure if the boys in The Darkness saw that movie, but they certainly get the idea. There's a lot of the same Spinal Tap metal spoofery of their first album (a 2003 Timmy winner), but instead of focusing only on the stuffed-trouser rock of the late 70's and 80's, they add a bright new color to their palette- Queen. More than once am I reminded of Queen's tongue-in-cheek humor and over the top theatrics- heck, "Knockers" even steals the beat from "Radio Ga-Ga". Add in some Big Country-ish mock bagpipes, a splash of "Sweet Talkin' Woman" era ELO on "Girlfriend" and more than a hearty helping of falsetto throughout and you're left with a joke that's worth hearing several times over.
18. Robert Plant- Mighty Rearranger- Robert Plant? In the Timmys? Yes, dear reader, it's true. This is a fine album that surprises in the way in references Zeppelin, but somehow sounds more mature and embarrasses neither the singer or the listener. The big surprise here is the nice mix of North African instruments and sounds to Plant's strong but older-and-wiser voice. He can still hit some high notes, as he does to great effect in "Tin Pan Valley", but the big difference is that he knows that he doesn't need to/probably shouldn't sing in that register all the time. Plant seems to be comfortable with his voice, his solo career and his past- and the result is a solid rock album- a dying breed. Leave it to a member of the old guard to bring it back.
17. Gorillaz- Demon Days- Damon Albarn, leader of Blur and Gorillaz, doesn't always hit a home run when he comes to the plate, but he always keeps the ball in play. Forgive me for using the baseball analogy on a British album, but it's an appropriate one- Albarn's music is good even when he's not at the top of his game. There are moments of brilliance here and more than a few well-chosen cameos. Shaun Ryder (formerly of Happy Mondays and dozens of rehab programs) rises from the ashes on "Dare", and De La Soul adds just the right kick to "Feel Good, Inc.", which could very well be my favorite song of 2005. The mood gets a little dark here and there, but it all works cohesively as an album and a nice blend of alternative and dance influences. Gorillaz hit a stand-up double, which is great for anyone's second plate appearance.
16. Maximo Park- A Certain Trigger- Did I really get nine albums into the Timmys without using the term "new wave revival"? Well. that streak is over. Maximo Park (forgive the lack of the i with an umlaut in my text) take more than their fair share of ideas from early XTC and other British new wavers- a little bit of Smiths here, some Undertones there- but blend it in a way that quickly lifts this effort above mere copying. When one of the catchier songs, "Graffiti", launches into its chorus with "I'll do graffiti/if you sing to me in French", you know there's some cleverness lurking beneath the familiar guitars and keyboard of yesteryear. Maybe not an album for the ages, but a nice debut.
15. The Magic Numbers- The Magic Numbers- Two males, two females, a few hefty members, beards, sunny melodies and sweet vocal harmonies- The Magic Numbers needed a bullet train to stay ahead of The Mamas and The Papas comparisons. While there's enough similarities to warrant those comparisons, it's just part of the story. This band, comprised of two brother/sister pairs, takes decades of sunny pop harmonies and jangly guitars and combines them in a fresh way. The album gets bogged down towards the middle and the slower songs can get boring, but when they're on, The Magic Numbers can brighten up any winter's day.
14. My Morning Jacket- Z- Their previous album sounded like Neil Young meeting the Flaming Lips in an old barn and jamming until the wee hours of the morning. This isn't a complete departure, but there's a little less of the dirty hippy element and a little more attention paid to mixing in new sounds and constructing shorter, poppier songs. None of these tunes will climb the Top 40, but there's a few gems here that will make more than a few alterative playlists. If they continue growing in this direction, their next album is likely to be higher on my list.
13. The National- Alligator- I've referred to albums as being "cinematic" before, meaning that their sound creates larger than life imagery. This is the case on Alligator, but if The National is cinematic, it's in an independent film sense. These songs paint miniature pictures of left-of center lives, mostly filled with some sort of loss, anger or both. The words and music land somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. filled with literate lyrics and solid, efficient playing. Not the sunniest album listed here, but you don't expect independent films to have a Hollywood ending, do you?
12. Kanye West- Late Registration- Here's the most mainstream the Timmys get, smack dab in the middle like a sorbet between courses. I was late arriving to the Kanye party, even mispronouncing his name constantly, and pretty much ignoring his first album until it was no longer an option. I heard a few of the early singles off of this one, bought the album on a bit of a whim and was pulled right in. Every now and then, an artist achieves a great deal of popularity while still blazing his own trail, and Mr. West seems to be heading down that path. His rhyming style is nowhere near the best, his lines are clever but not as clever as many- but musically he pulls it all together to keep things interesting. With help from Jon Brion- best known for working with Aimee Mann, Michael Penn and Fiona Apple- Kanye adds some depth to the often one-dimensional hip-hop world, from the Curtis Mayfield sampling "Touch The Sky" to the couldn't be catchier "Gold Digger" to the sinister sound of "Drive Slow", West not only avoids the sophomore slump but raises his game to another level.
11. Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah- Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah- Just as MTV made a career for Duran Duran, blogs lifted CYHASY onto its nerdy shoulders and into the hearts of downloaders and indie geeks everywhere. Word of mouth (blog) helped this band get on the indie rock map, and they've now firmly set up their tent. Selling over 40,000 copies of their self-released album is nothing to sneeze at, and that's what this band managed to accomplish in 2005. So what do they sound like? Well, the quickest and easiest comparison is The Talking Heads, with a quirky lead singer, jittery rhythms and off-kilter songs. Some Velvet Underground primitivism sneaks in, and maybe there's even a hint of Pavement here and there. The vocals are an acquired taste at best- a bit whiny, a bit shallow, a little crazy- but they're a great compliment to the songs. A nice, off-beat album by a band of underdogs- will they be spoiled by their moderate success?
10. The High Dials- War Of The Wakening Phantoms- More Canadians? Can a Rush comeback be far behind? Likely not- the only thing that Rush and The High Dials share is the country on their passports. There's more than a smattering of psychedelic influences here- if the title and cover didn't already give it away. But while a 60's psychedelic-pop influence is apparent, it's not the only story going on like it is for bands like the Cosmic Rough Riders or The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. I can hear influences of bands who themselves have some psychedelic influences- 80's/90's British bands, even some early R.E.M. When the sitar comes in, though, you know they've got one foot in the 60's- and it seems comfortable there. Not unique so much as it is a nice combination of older and newer influences.
9. The Hold Steady- Separation Sunday- When I read that this album concerned a girl named Hallelujah who did more than her share of heroin and then gets born again, I had a good feeling it wasn't an album for me. But I read another good review and another and broke down and bought it. It turned out to be one of my better album purchase this year (well, one of the top 9). Not sung as much as they are recited (the singer often reminds me of a nasal Lou Reed), the lyrics manage to convey the tale of Hally without being preachy, and use biblical imagery in ways not found on many rock albums ("I guess I heard about original sin/I heard the dude blamed the chick/I heard the chick blamed the snake/And I heard they were naked when they got busted/And I heard things ain't been the same since"). The music takes bar band sounds and classic rock influences and manages to keep the story interesting. One of the more unique things I heard in '05.
8. M.I.A.- Arular- While I'm talking about unique sounds in '05, let me introduce (many of) you to M.I.A. When one hears the term "world music", you generally think of NPR or coffee shops. But what's more worldly than a Sri Lankan girl growing up in London and playing a hybrid of New York old school hip hop and dancehall reggae? The old tagline "So advanced, it's simple" applies here- at times the lyrics sound like double-dutch chants, but yet the overall sound is as new as any album which falls into the vast popular music category. References to terrorism appear, but they don't detract from the rhythmic party going on in each track. As the world gets smaller, there's a bound to be more M.I.A.s, kids from different backgrounds mixing various influences with their culture and their surroundings. I hope it happens while I'm young enough to enjoy it.
7. Art Brut- Bang Bang Rock & Roll- Humor as a main theme in one's music can be a tricky proposition- the road to becoming a novelty act is a short one, and the cleverest act could turn into the Dead Milkmen or Weird Al before they know it. Art Brut manages to stay on the right side of the humor line, taking frequent jabs at themselves and the music world in general. "Formed A Band" kicks things off as a perfect intro- it talks about their forming and does so with a razor-sharp wit, setting the tone for the rest of the album. "Emily Kane" is another stand-out, in which singer Eddie Argos obsesses over an old flame. The music is Buzzcocks-influenced melodic punk, a nice match for the sly humor.
6. Bright Eyes- I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning- There's a quartet of fresh-faced singer/songwriters vying for critical and popular attention these days, and to my ears, it's like Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Devendra Banhart is too dirty hippy, Sufjan Stevens is too history professor and Ryan Adams is too scattered. That leaves us with Conor Oberst, doing business as Bright Eyes. I wouldn't say that he's across the board the superior of this quartet, but of seven albums(!) released by the four men in 2005, this one is the finest. Folksy and acoustic, the songs do most of the talking here, from the opener "At The Bottom Of Everything"- the most uplifting song about a plane crash that you're ever likely to hear, to "The First Days Of My Life", a sweet song destined to be played at more than a handful of indie kids' weddings. Solid musical backing with nary a note that's not needed, this is an album that weaves country, folk and pop into a colorful, complete album.
5. DJ Format- If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em- Where is it written that instant revivalism belongs only to the alternative rock crowd? DJ Format, a UK turntablist, takes us back to the recent past of early De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, with a musical style that owes much to Prince Paul's production methods. Canadian MCs (what is it with Canada?) Abdominal and D-Sisive's smooth yet witty raps add to the late 80s vibe, as does guest spots from members of Jurassic Five. Nothing groundbreaking here, just a good-time rap album like they made 15 or so years back...
4. Eels- Blinking Lights And Other Revelations- Dave Eggers wrote a book a few years back called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius which concerned the sudden deaths of his parents and his subsequent responsibility to care for his pre-teen brother. The title of that book could apply to this album, the sixth album Mark Everett has recorded under the Eels name. Written after the deaths of a few family members from various causes, this 90 minute, 33 track double disc set is all over the map, both musically and emotionally. From somber and reflective country to upbeat pop and everything in between, this album covers a lot of ground and does it effectively.
3. Spoon- Gimme Fiction- Spoon has treaded the same literate indie-rock neighborhood as The Shins, but thankfully haven't been pegged by any movie characters as a band that will change your life. Both bands veer towards the artsy while remaining accessible, Spoon being the more soulful of the two groups. Where The Shins wear their artiness like their beards, Spoon carries the air of a band that thinks they're being commercial but somehow wind up remaining firmly alternative. This album contains a number of different styles, from the almost-dancy falsetto-led "I Turn My Camera On" to the flat-out rockin' "Sister Jack". Cryptic lyrics will likely keep Spoon out of the mainstream, which is fine with me, and likely more than O.K. with Spoon, too.
2. Bloc Party- Silent Alarm- My favorite album for all of 2005 until the album listed below was released, Bloc Party burst onto the stage that Franz Ferdinand built for them- a place for edgy, new wave influenced guitar rock with a sense of urgency. While Franz seemed concerned with style and presentation, Bloc Party came off as more political, more urgent. Kele Okerere's vocals soar above the urgent songs, which whip along at a fair clip for most of this album. Nods to British alternative bands from the 80's and 90's echo throughout, so this isn't the newest sound around. But a cohesive album where the sum result makes the individual songs seem stronger is a rare treat in any year.
1. Franz Ferdinand- You Could Have It So Much Better...With Franz Ferdinand- A Timmy Award first- a band tops my chart twice- in two consecutive years, no less. I really enjoyed the first Franz Ferdinand album and wondered if they could possibly top it with their second effort, as second albums prove to be difficult for many a band. Franz tackled the sophomore slump challenge by crafting a strong collection of songs as opposed to an "album"- some reviews suggest this sounds more like a greatest hits set than a unified album and I agree. But while those reviewers meant that as a problem, I feel that's a good thing. I like a unified album as much as the next guy, but one could argue that Revolver (among other great albums) had a greatest hits feel as well. I mentioned in my review of their first album that several of the 11 songs could be considered singles- that is even more true here. The big difference with this album is that the band sounds more relaxed and comfortable- it sounds like they're having fun. This album is more upbeat than the first, always a good quality in my book, and mixes in a hint of 70's glam rock in a few spots. Franz Ferdinand seems to be moving in a poppier direction, and so far, it's working.

Honorable mentions:

Antony And The Johnsons- I Am A Bird Now
Architecture In Helsinki- In Case We Die
Clor- Clor
Doves- Some Cities
Edan- Beauty And The Beat
Laura Cantrell- Humming By The Flowered Vine
Laura Veirs- Year Of Meteors
Micah P. Hinson- And The Gospel Of Progress
Ordinary Boys- Brassbound
Paul Weller- As Is Now
Ryan Adams- 29
Sufjan Stevens- Illinois
Sons And Daughters- The Repulsion Box
White Stripes- Get Behind Me Satan
Wolf Parade-
Apologies To The Queen Mary

Note: I've used the images of album covers on this site so that if anyone reads this and is inspired to buy these albums, they know what they look like. Anyone from these record labels who would like me to add copyright information or remove any of these images, let me know. Thanks.

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