We all know that year-end lists aren’t truly definitive; count and survey and poll all you want, but you won’t get a list that ends discussion. What we can hope for is a spark to conversation, a beginning point. When we read lists, we’re looking for reminders of the year past, tips on music we might want to check out, and headways into arguments. It can be fun and it can be a snapshot (will the 2005 list fare better than your junior year haircut after a few years have passed?), but it’s strictly an academic exercise.
But even knowing that, we still get fired up when our albums don’t make the cut. The first thing I do when I come to a new list is scroll down to see how my favorite albums placed, and when I can’t find one ... well, cripes, this whole world is run by a bunch of idiots and if I were in charge of things… And so it begins.
So when PopMatters put up its lists a few weeks ago, there were sure to be writers who slowly realized their cherished albums hadn’t scored enough votes to place. Clearly, the artists aren’t at fault—a combination of promotional incompetence, public lack of taste, and critical failure are more likely to be the cause. “If only people knew!” we cried.
So, to put things right, we’ve forgone voting and ranking and even a pretense of objectivity to let our writers tell you about that one album that was overlooked by clueless or misguided colleagues. It’s time to champion the underdog and revive the ignored superstar, to cross several continents and at least two oceans, to put our credibility on the line by going pop or risk our good standing by going snark. It’s time, in short, to let you in on our secret relationships.
And also to point out that everyone else is wrong.
Le Fil (Virgin)
Björk made Medúlla out of boredom, and it showed. Camille made this brighter, poppier, brilliant equivalent out of love and laughter, and it glows. From Arabian chanting via opera to hymns, then back again to chanson and rhythm & blues via spluttering beatboxing and playground catcalls: the songs are simple yet vibrant, playful and subtle, whilst Camille herself is irresistibly silly one moment and almost unbearably poignant the next, her soul’s singing sometimes vertiginous, sometimes “softly, silently, as one would wake the rain.” You didn’t hear a fresher or more delightful album in ‘05; you didn’t hear Le Fil ‘cos it’s (mostly) in French.
Stefan Braidwood Amazon
Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Fierce Panda)
If God were a hipster, whose Great Commission was to spread irony across the globe, then Art Brut will be the one to pummel the resident harpist into submission and take his place among the choir of seraphim. Boasting three-chord smart-alecky punk goodness not seen since the Ramones, the band is so self-referential that it hurts. However, because their wankery approaches hyper-pretentiousness, Pitchfork-ism is eschewed in favor of sheer anarchic enjoyment from laughing at the follies of our scene. Coupled with a ton of playful winks and more one-liner spewing from frontman Eddie Argos than all of Sam Raimi’s movie heroes combined, Art Brut has crafted one of the more important documents of 21st century cool. More importantly, Bang Bang Rock & Roll is the Seventh Seal for the second coming of a scenester Jesus.
Kenneth Yu PopMatters review Amazon
Elephant Eyelash (Anticon)
Maybe it’s a matter of punctuation. Why? befuddles at the onset with an awkwardly inquisitive pseudonym. The Anticon association further confounds with irrelevant expectations and unfortunate assumptions. Whatever the cause or case, Elephant Eyelash never attained the attention or acclaim it deserved. In an era where the increasing commercial viability of indie has all too many artists playing it safe, Yoni Wolf and his backing band continue to take risks. Naked and unflattering self-assessment abounds across intricately quirky arrangements in impossibly perfect consonance. Sunny ‘60s harmonies, shambolic slacker shuffle, and headnodding bounce swirl into cinematic splendor and explode into cathartic pop. Equal parts Paid in Full, Pet Sounds, and Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Elephant Eyelash is that uncommon combination of audacity and delight. Stop questioning and seek it out.
Josh Berquist PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
The Jaws of Life (Common Wall Media)
Fine China’s The Jaws of Life has rekindled for me that all-consuming, almost scary love of music that comes with the discovery of an album like The Queen Is Dead or Wowee Zowee, and how it seems to enhance your very existence. From the first 30 seconds of lead-off track “Rated-R Movie”, when a Joy Division-inspired bass riff breaks the church-like ambience of a subdued reed organ, I was hooked. When singer Robert Withem sings his dark, literate, and wonderfully droll lyrics in his sweetly slurry delivery and nails Brian Wilson-like falsetto backing vocals to die for, I was absolutely obsessed. The Jaws of Life came out of nowhere and found the elusive connecting point where American indie-rock and British post-punk intertwine, and succeeded where so many have failed.
Mark Horan PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Live in Japan (Northside)
Only people who have been playing together for a long time make music like this. Olov Johansson (nyckelharpa), Mikael Marin (violin, viola), and Roger Tallroth (guitar) formed Väsen in 1989, and in this live recording they anticipate one another’s motifs with an intimacy that makes intricate tunes sound simple. This is three-dimensional, fluidly muscular folk music. The lines of sound run together like a host of eels twisting in a smooth knot, each instrument separate and distinct in its own right while also being part of a single, graceful mass. Live in Japan isn’t Väsen’s most accessible album, but it might be their best.
Deanne Sole Amazon iTunes
Waiting for the Sirens’ Call (Warner Bros.)
New Order is like your old childhood buddy who’s moved out of town. You don’t see her very often, but when you do, you get along as well as ever. It’s like the time hasn’t elapsed at all, and there’s a sense of comfort and nostalgia, but also possibility for the future. We love our best friends more for how they don’t change than for how they do, and Sirens’ Call was a warm reminder of why we’ve loved New Order over the years. Bernard Sumner has to be the most wide-eyed 50-year-old around, and the songs—the title track, “Krafty”, and “Turn” in particular—were stronger and fresher than they had a right to be. It was great hearing from you guys; let’s get a beer again soon.
John Bergstrom Amazon iTunes
Pixel Revolt (Barsuk)
John Vanderslice is a total sweetheart. The weekend after he played CMJ, his web site announced that his next gig would be a backyard barbeque in Brooklyn, and everyone was invited. Luckily, only around 40 people showed up, which is probably the same number who realize that the songwriter’s fantastic Pixel Revolt was one of the best albums of 2005. The edges from Cellar Door get smoothed out but the stories are just as dark and winding, their characters drawn with blurry lines. Vanderslice at his most hauntingly beautiful.
David Tatasciore PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Old Time Relijun
Old Time Relijun ain’t just about regression (dig the childish fuck-drawing on the cover), they’re about infinite regression. You know, mathematics and infinity and worlds-within-worlds, all conceived within the stomping grounds of Arrington de Dionysio’s very finite and dirty brain. This album didn’t make many top 10 lists simply because rock ‘n’ roll is not a meritocracy. Well, there’s that, plus the band’s penchant for throwing formless jazzy excursions onto loud rock records. But I’ll forgive ‘em for that: no other band around can encompass dreams into polyrhythms, which themselves contain polyrhythmic dreams… And so on to the infinite regress, the old hollow tunnel where you can even hear your mama dancing.
Mark Desrosiers PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
Jacksonville City Nights (Lost Highway)
Amidst announcements that he was changing his name to Microbioticon and that he was releasing not two, but three albums in one year, it seemed certain Ryan Adams would soon be relegated to the rock ‘n’ roll parody hall of fame. Though all three of these releases were better than the ill-advised Rock and Roll, it was his down-and-dirty country record Jacksonville City Nights that saved him. Whether you count yourself among the Ryan Adams faithful, or just like to see him make an ass out of himself in public, denying the power of songs like “Hard Way to Fall” and “Peaceful Valley” is damn near impossible. Adams’s cathartic wail on “The End”—“Oh Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul / How you hold all my dreams captive”—is as an emotive a declaration as we’ve heard from him recently, and a welcome return to Adams’s Whiskeytown roots.
Dave Brecheisen PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
It’s Yours to Keep (Jackpine Social Club)
All too often “indie rock” connotes “doesn’t rock”. Not so with Loquat. This San Francisco quintet conveys motion without a single distortion pedal or juiced-up tempo. Rather, the band’s songs bob and float along light, fluid beats. Drum machines mesh so subtly with live drums that the question arises: Postal Who? Kylee Swenson’s voice is achingly beautiful, breaking up ever so slightly when pushed. Clean guitars, warm keys, and electronic textures intertwine in these perfect arrangements. Don’t let the quiet atmosphere fool you. Bands try for entire careers to reach the level of songcraft Loquat attains on its debut.
Cosmo Lee PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry (Yep Roc)
The Bielanko brothers, Dave and Serge, who hinted at earning their if-Springsteen-hailed-from-Philadelphia stripes on last year’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, finally nailed it with If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry. Recorded live in the studio, joyful tunes like “The Closer”, “The Hustle”, “Poor People”, and “Fat Boy” are the sound of the ups-and-downs of life in the big city, which in a nutshell, is why this album defined my year. Trad rock bands too often only make year-end lists with a formula tweak (see: the Hold Steady’s verbiage, Wilco’s bleeps ‘n’ bloops). Why Marah got overlooked for crafting an unpretentious, honest, meat and potatoes rock record only proves it’s best to live life taking the album’s title to heart.
Stephen Haag PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Perfect Pitch Black (Hydrahead)
In a year where heavy music recaptured some spotlight, Perfect Pitch Black got lost in the shadows. Perhaps fans were worried about lukewarm leftovers from the band’s radio friendly major label misadventure, Antenna. Instead, Cave In offers the thrilling hybrid of ferocious hardcore metal and spacey sonic exploration that have come to define the band. Birthing a unique batch of songs, ferocious, celestial, and haunting, the group broadens their canvass, enticing wayward fans to return by way of spacecraft. Years ahead of their contemporaries, Cave In continues to astonish.
Dave Bekerman PopMatters review Amazon iTunes