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PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2005

Zeth Lundy

Looking for gift solutions that will help you avoid the phrase, 'Not another tie'? PopMatters selects some of the year's best (and most unique) music, DVDs, and books for this season of giving.

PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2005
[19 December 2005]
Editors: Sarah Zupko and Zeth Lundy

It had the makings of just another year. Annual archetypes were hollowed out anew; trends awaited the spark of resuscitation; disappointments and surprises alike were handicapped by the legions of obsessives.

The year saw its share of bands that altered their attack and, as a result, alienated factions of their fan bases while attracting new recruits: Sleater-Kinney unleashed a veritable eruption of shock, while the Mars Volta found a way to become possibly the most impenetrable band with a single on the Billboard Hot 100. There was the annual attempt at an indie junta, this time spearheaded by label-less Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but perhaps drowned out by louder indie bands like the Hold Steady who continued to embrace a polemic of classic rock populism.

It was a year rife with prolificacy, indulgence, and Bob Pollard emulation: Ryan Adams released three albums between May and December; Michelle Shocked dropped three all at once; Bright Eyes issued two distinctly separate records, one "acoustic" and one "electronic"; and metal bizarro System of a Down split a double album into two independent releases.

The obligatory long-delayed album was finally released: Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine, after years of recording, speculation, emancipation campaigns, and re-recording, made its way to the store shelves in an entirely new form. There were artistic resurgences by old warhorses like Paul McCartney and Neil Diamond, a sudden end to a 12-year silence by Kate Bush, and less publicized resurfacings by fringe figures like Bettye LaVette.

There were collaborations (DJ Danger Mouse and MF Doom as Dangerdoom, for instance) fit for a music geek's wet dream and one band in particular, LCD Soundsystem, that was a danceable manifestation of music snobbery. It was an exceptionally bounteous year for reissues and box sets, marked by massive collections of Ray Charles, Talking Heads, the Band, and Bruce Springsteen. The year's unofficial archival king was Bob Dylan, whose legacy was treated to a Martin Scorsese film and two-disc soundtrack, a live album, and no less than four books.

We were even witness to (some, unfortunately, violated by) a scandal perpetrated by the music industry itself. As if its control of roughly 20% of the world music market weren't enough, Sony BMG distributed CDs with imbedded, infectious rootkit software, essentially ushering corporate extortion into the realm of "acceptable". Some would say that's what you get for buying a Trey Anastasio solo album, but we like to think that all music lovers should be allowed to live without fear of corporate molestation.

The weirdest moments of 2005 were when it felt like the second coming of 2004: weren't we just discussing critically acclaimed albums by Kanye West, Franz Ferdinand, and Animal Collective, like, 12 months ago? In our accelerated effort to progress through the year, this kind of tangential déjà vu downshifted our perspective into slower motions. It was there that we took stock of how far the musical landscape had come (if at all) in the course of mere months.

Surrounded by all this familiar upheaval of possibility, PopMatters' music staff was smitten by an eclectic array of releases, including albums by a Sri Lankan civil war refugee, a songwriter with a penchant for whistling and pizzicato violin, a man with a hauntingly sexless voice, and an ambitious optimist with a fetish for state histories. As it turns out, we were most blown away by a motley crew of Canadians with a cavernous stockroom of pop confections in its head and the deceptive appearance of a next-door neighbor.

These year-end lists, rituals of taste by those who like to think themselves tastemakers, become something more than authoritative personal biases when collected, tabulated, and condensed. PopMatters' lists, celebrating the year's top albums, reissues, as well as some select genre highlights, are an example of this kind of communal wisdom. Beyond that, they're proof that 2005 happened, that we were here, that we sifted through the good and bad, the remarkable and decidedly less so, and wished to present our definitive findings to the equally curious and hungry.

It was just another year, and yet it was different than any other year. Here's why.

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