1. Every Time I Die, "Bored Stiff" (Ferret). iTunes
2. Pelican, "March Into the Sea" (Hydra Head).
3. Arsis, "A Diamond For Disease" (Willowtip).
4. Darkest Hour, "Convalescence" (Victory).
5. Torche, "Vampyro" (Robotic Empire). iTunes
6. Nile, "Lashed to the Slave Stick" (Relapse). iTunes
7. The Red Chord, "Antman" (Metal Blade). iTunes
8. A Life Once Lost, "Vulture" (Ferret).
9. Withered, "Like Locusts" (Lifeforce).
10. Aeon, "God Gives Head in Heaven (Acoustic)" (Unique Leader).
It was a good year for art-metal. Hipsters everywhere earnestly pretended they understood the esoteric sound collages, drones, and jazzercise on Southern Lord's, Hydra Head's, and Ipecac's rosters, a phenomenon nicely documented by Jon Caramanica in The New York Times. It was an even better year for good cop/bad cop metalcore, as Trivium, Killswitch Engage, and As I Lay Dying taught the dehydrated Ozzfest faithful how to sing (for their $5 bottled waters) again. But as, er, "pleasant" as those two developments were for the ever-expanding sphere of extreme music, it was a fan-fucking-tastic year for mad dog death metal. There's something to be said for all bad cop vocals, all the time—not to mention, you know, riffs. So, even though there are a few divergences here, let's get to sayin' it.
1. Hilarious Buffalonian smart-asses dropped the disappointingly repetitive and trite Gutter Phenomenon (the only prescription is no more cowbell, thanks), but "Bored Stiff" is a deliriously deviant beatdown, with Keith Buckley's slurred Casanova hey-ya ("Hey there, girls! I'm a cunt!") anchoring a backbreaking breakdown.
2. Not the truncated album version air strike, but the unabridged, lumbering EP epic (20:28), featuring a devastatingly morose, four-chord dirge outro that lasts forever in the best possible way.
3. Composed for a "metal ballet," for God's sake, but there's nothing flowery or laughable about this two-man Virginia juggernaut's staggering death metal sweep.
4. Notorious for sprinting just ahead of the pack of At the Gates clones, the D.C. quintet takes a welcome left turn, sitting on chiming arpeggios, a kindergarten-simple lead riff, and vicious double kicks to deliver their activist credo. "Stagnant time is a breeding ground for regrets and wrongdoings," indeed.
5. Everyone's trying (and miserably failing) to channel Ozzy these days, but for a more original and nonironic take on the vintage Sabbath stomp, these ex-Floor and ex-Cavity longhairs tilt a triumphant witches' brew of chug.
6. The "Since U Been Gone" of Egyptology-obsessed death metal.
7. From a concept album about lost souls loitering around frontman Guy Kozowyk's pharmacy night shift. It's all the rage to fuse the disparate elements of grind, death, and thrash, but it's rarely executed as memorably as on "Antman."
8. Shit moniker, but this is metalcore how it oughta be: rabid, unhinged, and just comprehensible enough that you feel the dread of being between the crosshairs. Heavily informed by Lamb of God, but far better.
9. Cut from the same ultraproficient marrow as Mastodon, but more interested in interweaving genres, a la Arsis and the Red Chord—in this case, doom, grind, and black metal. 2005's unsung revelation.
10. Bonus track: It wouldn't be a metal best-of without an appallingly offensive country/western version of a death metal nail-bomb that posits, "Heaven is for faggots." Yes, tongue is firmly in cheek on the homophobic front . . . if not the religious one.
1. Georg Druschetzky, Concerto for six timpani, 1st movement, Alexander Peter, timpani/cond. (Naxos). iTunes
2. Mozart, Gigue, K. 574, Richard Goode, piano (Nonesuch). iTunes
3. Weber, Oberon, Overture, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John Eliot Gardiner, cond. (Philips). iTunes
4. Franz Berwald, Wettlauf (Foot-Race), Gavle Symphony Orch., Petri Sakari, cond. (Naxos). eMusic
5. Josef Rheinberger, Organ Concerto in F, 1st movement, Paul Skevington, organ (Naxos). iTunes
6-11. Bartok, Romanian Folk Dances 1-6, Uccello, led by Matt Haimovitz (Oxingale).
12-13. Strauss, "Daphne's Transformation" and "Moonlight Music" from Daphne, Renee Fleming, soprano (Decca). iTunes
14. Strauss, Oboe Concerto, 1st movement; Jonathan Small, oboe; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Gerard Schwarz, cond. (Avie).
15. Berio, Sinfonia, 3rd movement, Gothenburg Symphony, Peter Eötvös, cond. (Deutsche Grammophon). iTunes
16. Osvaldo Golijov, "Tancas serradas a muru" ("Walls are encircling the land"), from Ayre, Dawn Upshaw, soprano, with the Andalucian Dogs (Deutsche Grammophon). iTunes
Leave it to Naxos to unearth oddball repertory no other label would dare to. Like a disc of 18th-century timpani concertos by composers who treated a rank of kettledrums like a giant marimba and gave them actual melodies for a change. Or a Swedish composer whose dashing, headlong 1842 evocation of a steeplechase could have been written by John Adams last Tuesday. Or a pair of organ concertos by Liechtenstein's greatest composer, a musician with a startling knack for catchy tunes.
On his miraculously crystalline and subtle all-Mozart disc, pianists' pianist Richard Goode offers a 90-second Gigue that skitters and syncopates like Stravinsky. John Eliot Gardiner leads a thrilling, incisive period-instrument recording of Weber's problematic Oberon. With dazzlingly colorful music but a plot that's gawky and incoherent even by fairy-tale standards, CD is probably this opera's ideal home. Similarly, Daphne combines ravishing music with what-was-he-thinking? stage directions. Fleming keeps pouring out vocal ribbons of satiny gold even after Apollo turns her into a tree.
Another Strauss expert, the Seattle Symphony's Schwarz, released a wonderful double disc (with his other, trans-Atlantic orchestra) containing two immense tone poems and two slender, Mozartean concertos. You can hear his graceful, transparent way with the Oboe Concerto live when he conducts it with the SSO, March 23–26. Uccello is a cello ensemble Matt Haimovitz is bringing to the Tractor Tavern on Jan. 21; their hallucinatory version of Bartok's astringent Dances incorporates sound effects you've never heard from cellos before.
With the third movement of his 1968 Sinfonia, Berio practically defined musical postmodernism, overlaying the rushing scherzo from Mahler's Second Symphony with other musical fragments and spoken bits of Beckett, Ulysses, and street cries from that year's student uprising in Paris. The result is goosebump-exciting. Reflecting his own polyglot heritage, Golijov in his song cycle, Ayre, draws on musical influences from southern Spain, crossroads of the Christian, Arab, and Jewish worlds. The third movement, based on a Sardinian revolutionary song, further mixes in a dance-pop beat and a furious accordion line; call it Cajun techno. Upshaw leaps in fearlessly with a nasal snarl, proving once again she is the coolest soprano in the world. There is not even a close second.
1. Six Organs of Admittance, "School of the Flower" (Drag City). iTunes
2. Jennifer Gentle, "Circles of Sorrow" (Sub Pop). iTunes
3. CocoRosie, "Honey or Tar" (Touch & Go). iTunes
4. Devendra Banhart, "Heard Somebody Say" (XL). iTunes
5. Animal Collective, "Turn Into Something" (Fatcat). iTunes
6. Old Time Relijun, "Your Mama Used to Dance" (K). iTunes
7. Deadly Snakes, "Gore Veil" (In the Red). iTunes
8. Kelley Stotlz, "The Sun Comes Through" (Sub Pop). iTunes
9. LCD Soundsystem, "Great Release" (Capitol). iTunes
10. Superwolf, "Only Someone Running" (In the Red).
11. Smog, "Let Me See the Colts" (Drag City). iTunes
Obviously, this year-end mix isn't comprehensive. You can tell because it doesn't include the Game's "Hate It or Love It," which is the song I was secretly hoping to hear every time I turned on the radio or MTV this year. With the hefty, 13-minute Six Organs song—which belongs as much to guest drummer Chris Corsano as it does to the author, psych/folk guitarist Ben Chasny—leading things off, something had to give. What I'm left with is another year of (mostly) free folk, influenced and informed by jazz, junk, rock, and psychotropics—or at least the mood of psychotropics.
The jury's still out on whether or not the Italian duo Jennifer Gentle are dosers or not; they sure do make pretty, backward-glancing (and sometimes backward-looped) sounds, regardless. Banhart is back, appearing as he did on the mix I made last year, only then he was next to Joanna Newsom (who guests on the last track) and now he's next to CocoRosie. Seemed natural to put the Animal Collective's tautly wound and freely spun indie folk next to Old Time Relijun's carnal dance party groove; ditto for the Deadly Snakes, and yes, I'm kind of surprised to see them pop up here, too, quite frankly. Have you heard their Porcella? When you do, you won't think of them as a garage rock band anymore—unless you think of Love and/or the Bad Seeds as garage.
Stoltz's song rips off John Lennon's Imagine as well as (if not better than) LCD Soundsystem rip off Brian Eno with the six-minute ambient, un-electro "Great Release" from their otherwise overly electro double-CD release. Sounding like no one else at all, both Superwolf (featuring Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney) and Smog (aka Bill Callahan) kicked my ass with their bare, minimal, singular songs. More than any other record this year, Smog's A River Ain't Too Much to Love reminded me that all the tricks and cute tweaks in the world don't hold a candle to true words sung in a deep, purposeful voice by a man with a guitar in his hands and piano player and quiet drummer on the other side of the room. This is Callahan's 12th record, and if I weren't so sure that I'll like his next one just as much if not more, I'd call it his best.
1. Alice Coltrane, "Sita Ram" (Impulse!). iTunes
2. Various artists, "Ahl Al Aqil" (Sublime Frequencies).
3. Isolée, "My Hi-Matic" (Playhouse). Bleep
4. Justus Köhncke, "Elan" (Kompakt). Kompakt Store
5. Gorillaz, "Dare (DFA Remix)" (Virgin).
6. The Orb, "Tin Kan" (Kompakt). Kompakt Store
7. Boards of Canada, "Farewell Fire" (Warp). iTunes
Let's face it: 2005 was the Worst Year Ever. Not just on a macro level—natural disasters, political disasters, economic disasters—but on a personal level, too. Tragedy followed tragedy with a one-two punch so devastating that I didn't know when I would recover.
Alice Coltrane's late-2004 record, Translinear Light, wasn't her best, but it didn't need to be; I was just happy to have her around, to feel her calming presence pulsing through ancient Hindu hymns I half-remembered from childhood. The Sun City Girls' Sublime Frequencies label kept churning out homemade compilations of far-flung music from far-flung lands at an alarming rate; "Ahl Al Aqil" is from Choubi Choubi!, the Iraq installment, which shed light on the little-known genre of poppy party music known as choubi, helping to humanize Iraq beyond the Bush administration's assessment of the country as little more than a holding tank for oil and Saddam. The sole bright spot this year was a few months spent living in Berlin; the sweetly euphoric disco-infused house music of Isolée and Justus Köhncke remind me of that charmed summertime.
Music geeks live for those "huh?" moments, when you hear a new tune and just have to know what it is. I first heard the DFA remix of "Dare" on a dance floor. It rocked me—and then later, much to my chagrin, I found out it was the work of the jokey cartoon band Gorillaz. It starts with a stoopid Happy Mondays–esque bounce, and equally stupid lyrics about "You've got to make it baby . . . [something-something] . . . DARE!" It's a great pop song, but after power-remixers the DFA ran it through their magical DFA machine—slowly ratcheting up the tension to unbearable levels in the process—the song became epic genius. Dance now and ask questions later.
But there's been more brooding from this end than dancing these days—more ambient wash and fewer upbeat beats. A little over a month ago, one of my friends from college died of a reported ecstasy overdose. He was 29. After spending several days shaken, I decided the only way to claw myself out was to make a mix CD of his favorite songs. Kevin helped get me into electronic music in the first place, and two of his favorite bands were the Orb and Boards of Canada. Both groups released new albums this year; neither were their best efforts, but that didn't matter. I was just happy to have them around.
1. Young Gunz, "Set It Off" (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam). iTunes
2. Lethal Bizzle, "Pow! (Forward)" (Relentless).
3. Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, "In 2 Deep" (Universal/Tuff Gong). iTunes
4. Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim, "Gua" (Riverboat). iTunes
5. Will Smith, "Switch" (Interscope). iTunes
6. Amadou & Mariam, "La Realite" (Nonesuch). iTunes
7. James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal, "Stereo" (Brown Brothers).
8. Mahala Rai Banda, "Mahalageasca" (Crammed). iTunes
9. Shakira, "La Tortura" (Epic). iTunes
10. Rachid Taha, "Rock el Casbah" (Wrasse). iTunes
11. Gogol Bordello, "Think Globally Fuck Locally" (Side One Dummy). iTunes
12. Thione Seck, "Ballago" (Stern's Africa).
13. Franz Ferdinand, "Walk Away" (Epic). iTunes
14. Art Brut, "Moving to L.A." (Fierce Panda). iTunes
15. British Sea Power, "Please Stand Up" (Rough Trade). iTunes
16. Jamie O'Neal, "Somebody's Hero" (EMI). iTunes
17. Switchfoot, "Stars" (Sony). iTunes
18. Kanye West, "Gone" (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam). iTunes
In this space last year, I touted the unique freakishness of the American musical experience, humbly submitting to the reality that our garish pop glory and brutish cultural heritage were inseparable. Well, 2005 was no less reactionary, but the few divergences from unremitting blandness—dreadful Gwen Stefani and dreadfuller Black Eyed Peas offering shamelessness as a limp excuse for ineptitude—were insufficient compensation. From Young Jeezy to Faith Hill, our stars basked in a haughty provincialism that not only ignores the real action three blocks away, but summons no more specific reason for their hood's supposed ass-kicking than the fact that it's, you know, their hood.
How lackluster was American pop in 2005? My favorite country tearjerker ("Somebody's Hero") came courtesy of an Australian (Jamie O'Neal). Other international crossovers livened up the proceedings a bit. With home audiences tended to first, Pan-Am freak Shakira and noble scion Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley accepted U.S. stardom on their own terms, and if Rachid Taha didn't follow suit with his Clash reclamation, that's your loss. Franz Ferdinand self-consciously played the Yank ideal of a British pop band to the hilt to less success than they deserved, while their pals in Art Brut thought of the U.S. as no more than a place to lounge about with Morrissey; as a result, they're still waiting on a U.S. release date (though you can download their album from emusic.com).
The best cross-cultural exercises ignored U.S. audiences completely: Malian ex-pats Amadou & Miriam translated the vertigo of globalism into French with help from Manu Chao, Senegalese legend Thione Seck tracked West Africa's Arab roots deep into the heart of Asia, and if more musicians sought to pacify their homelands as winningly as Sudanese child soldier turned Nairobi rap star Emmanuel Jal, maybe we can someday be rid of Bob Geldof entirely. And no jam partied harder than the Balkan throwdown "Mahalagesca"—though no one conceptualized the Gypsy aesthetic as ferociously as New York "immigrant punks" Gogol Bordello.
Still, there were moments in American pop '05 to be grateful for. So thanks to Switchfoot for reminding me that the Christian invocation of grandeur can be a gesture of humility and to Kanye West for hipping me to an Otis Redding take on Chuck Willis that I never knew existed. And yet, my two fave hits were straight-up dance-rap trifles. "Set It Off" volleyed twin vocals with a flexibility most old-school retro hounds never come near, while "Switch" delivered the fun that Fresh Will usually only promised back when he was just a TV star. Only 1,996 years left in the Willennium, muhfuhs, so get out on the floor. What, you too cute to dance?
1. Missy Elliott, "Can't Stop" (Goldmind/Elektra). iTunes
2. Jackson and His Computer Band, "Rock On" (Warp). iTunes
3. Murderbot, "Only World" (Dead Homies).
4. Crazy Titch, "Singalong" (In the Hood).
5. Rod Lee, "Dance My Pain Away" (Club Kingz/Morpheus Union). iTunes
6. Maceo, "Nextel Chirp" (Big Cat). iTunes
7. Skream, "Midnight Request Line" (Tempa).
8. Rich Boy ft. Pitbull, "Get to Poppin'" (TVT). iTunes
9. Blaq Starr, "Get My Gun" (Club Kingz/Morpheus Union).
10. Vex'd, "Angel" (Planet Mu). iTunes
11. Hive, "Krush" (Metalheadz).
12. Sa-Ra Creative Partners, "Glorious" (ABB Soul).
13. D4L, "Laffy Taffy" (Asylum). iTunes
14. QQ, "Poverty" (Frenz).
15. David Last, "Posca Kid" (theAgriculture). iTunes
16. Ezekiel Honig, "Love Session (Graphic Remix)" (Microcosm). iTunes
Rhythm can take as many forms and evoke as many moods as there are things to hit, buttons to push, or noises to edit. If this CD of 2005 beats and pieces reflects anything, it's that in the post-rave/rap world the steady backbeat is either a distant memory or perverted in ways that would never make it past the Motown Quality Control assembly line.
Missy's "Can't Stop" is the best beat Rich "1 Thing" Harrison made this year that isn't "1 Thing" itself, with the heaviest drums on an R&B record since Funkadelic. Jackson's "Rock On" is 47 stab wounds to the back, sides, and front of an unsuspecting dancer. "Only World" is throwback jungle that piles pitched-up drums like spilled Legos, and "Singalong" is grime that pits dueling, hysterical snatches of pitched-up Vivaldi against each other. The black-tar blankness of the nagging keyboard and titular sound effect of "Nextel Chirp" found its echo 3,000 miles from Atlanta in the dislocated bleeps of U.K. dubstep producer Skream's bassic anthem.
Black Starr's "Get My Gun" and Rod Lee's "Dance My Pain Away" are the flip sides of Baltimore club music (please don't call it Baltimore breakbeat) in 2005: the former an eerie, reversed threat; the latter a hopeful, shaggy plea to forget your troubles on the dance floor. Rich Boy rides a snapping Timbaland beat with two chicas moaning a lament in sympathy. Vex'd and Hive both explore jackhammer drums and bass, the difference between the two being about 50 beats per minute. Sa-Ra's gassed take on D'Angelo gets lost in a cavernous groove beset on all sides by synthetic phantoms. D4L pare down the new Southern minimalism 'til it barely qualifies as music—just a few snaps and a MIDI preset—and ride it up the charts.
"Poverty" is the most charming political tune made this year by a Jamaican grade-schooler, a Nyanbinghi drum pattern that sounds both alien and double-Dutch cute. David Last reaches back to the IDM classicism of Plaid before a wistful accordion moves "Posca Kid" somewhere beyond pastiche. And Graphic's twerkstep drum and bass remix of Ezekiel Honig's "Love Session" crossbreeds Snoop's "Drop It Like It's Hot" with the clicking, popping micro-house of Germany's Perlon label, as a bass groans and the tape speed wobbles inconsistently. If rhythm is a dancer, she needs more than two legs this year. And no leg warmers, please.
1. TV on the Radio, "Dry Drunk Emperor" (Touch & Go).
2. The Legendary K.O., "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People" (MP3). k-otix.com
3. The Futureheads, "Piece of Crap" (679).
4. Isolée, "Schrapnell" (Playhouse). Bleep
5. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy" (Warner Bros.).
6. Masha Qrella, "Unsolved Remained" (Morr). iTunes
7. Low, "Death of a Salesman" (Sub Pop). iTunes
8. LCD Soundsystem, "Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up" (DFA). iTunes
9. Alex Smoke, "No Consequence" (Soma). iTunes
10. Booka Shade, "Mandarine Girl" (Get Physical).
11. Sleater-Kinney, "Modern Girl" (Sub Pop). iTunes
12. Franz Ferdinand, "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" (Domino). iTunes
13. The Fiery Furnaces, "Here Comes the Summer" (Rough Trade/Sanctuary). iTunes
14. The National, "Looking For Astronauts" (Beggars Banquet). iTunes
15. DJ Koze, "Estrella" (Kompakt). iTunes
In (inter)national terms, 2005 was the year everything went wrong and nearly everyone finally agreed about it. TV on the Radio's antiwar dirge and the Legendary K.O.'s Kanye-reworking FEMA condemnation are the year's perfect anthems, and the Futureheads round out the political wrap-up with a gleeful slab of fury in which our hero lures a Bible-thumping hater back to his place. Add the explosive "Schrapnell" and it's enough to make one "Crazy" like this Cee-Lo/ Danger Mouse soul collaboration. With the former track's guitar-and-horns fireworks and the latter's uncanny ability to make an emotional breakdown sound like the best time ever, this mix's sociological posturing derails prematurely into sheer ecstasy.
Let's start over then: In personal terms, your 2005 was probably a year like any other. Barring an unusual period of triumph or tragedy, you've had yet another 365 days of opportunities grasped or just as likely missed, possibilities fulfilled but probably unrecognized, sins of commission and certainly omission. Qrella's "Unsolved Remained" speaks to that well, making the concepts concrete with a guitar echo that wells up into a shrill, piercing reminder of . . . something. Take as a warning Low's "Death of a Salesman," a tale of dreams dropped in the face of responsibility. Don't let yourself be too long distracted by LCD Soundsystem's meditation on the struggle between lust and laze, commitment and complacency, or let Alex Smoke's louche bass line and ambiguous murmuring lull you too far into ambivalence.
"Mandarine Girl" has an intro that feels like your daily grind, but its dreamy flute noise promises something better—and its post-break climax delivers. It's a fitting lead-in to a trio of spine-tingling and blissful pop songs: the sunny day of Sleater-Kinney's "Modern Girl," Franz Ferdinand's wistful and affectionate "Eleanor Put Your Boots On," and the (sometimes future) nostalgia of the Fiery Furnaces' "Here Comes the Summer" with its gut-wrenching exhortation to "Remember!"
Amid all that delight, the Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger pledges, "I swear that I will do my part." Whatever that means, it's bound to bring you back down to earth. One thing about down: You can still look up. So here we have the Wilconian "Looking for Astronauts," wherein the National wonder if it isn't too late and examine their collective medium-sized American heart, while encouraging you to throw your record collection out the window. It's heartbreaking in a joyous way, and while you're looking for astronauts, you can let your gaze drift further and take in the cool solace of DJ Koze's stars.
1. The David S. Ware Quartet, "Aquarian Sound" (Thirsty Ear). iTunes
2. William Parker Quartet, "Hawaii" (Aum Fidelity).
3. Sonny Rollins, "Global Warming" (Milestone). iTunes
4. Marty Ehrlich, "News on the Rail" (Palmetto). iTunes
5. Charles Lloyd, "Jumping the Creek" (ECM). iTunes
6. Happy Apple, "Ella by Nightlight" (Sunnyside). iTunes
In 2003, when the Bad Plus were blowing up and Newsweek was doing stories on jazz's piano-playing vanguard, America's Classical Music Equivalent (ACME) was totally hot. By which I mean it was low profile and taken for granted, but less so than usual. In '04, new jazz returned to the respectable, invisible margins, but this past year, it was back. "Back" as in "exhumed." If you heard someone chattering about a jazz album in '05, it was most likely At Carnegie Hall by the Thelonious Monk (d. 1982) Quartet with John Coltrane (d. 1967), or Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 by Charlie Parker (d. 1955) and Dizzy Gillespie (d. 1993), or maybe Coltrane's One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note (rec. 1965). The chatter was understandable. Most of this music, besides being very good, was previously unreleased and even unexpected—the Town Hall acetates were found in a junk shop, where their flatted fifths had been languishing for decades.
It's hard enough for living and active jazz record makers to compete against the catalogs of past masters; competing against effectively new albums by those masters is