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 hopeless. Can Happy Apple, three average-Joe white guys from the Twin Cities, stand up to John Coltrane, visionary searcher and key musical voice of the civil rights movement? (No.) But that doesn’t mean that dead guys necessary make better records. I, for one, am way into living people—they have more, I don’t know, vitality.
The David S. Ware Quartet’s “Aquarian Sound” comes as close to the spirit of Coltrane’s classic quartet as you can get without consulting a medium, and not just because its initial rhythm recalls Coltrane’s “Out of This World.” Ware, a circular-breathing fire-music tenor saxophonist, sometimes sounds like Coltrane, but the kinship is deeper, spiritual, which, of course, is the only way to go about evoking Coltrane. Sometimes it’s like Ware is trying to prove—to God, not to you—that a tenor sax can make every sound imaginable, and sometimes he sounds frustrated, intensely frustrated, that certain sounds are beyond his reach. Meanwhile, pianist Matthew Shipp ranges from elegant swinging to huge, violent chords that roll over Beethoven. “Aquarian” lasts over 31 minutes, but it’s not long, it’s expansive.
I didn’t plan this, but the next two selections create a little island-themed, hmm, island in our mix. Bassist William Parker—dig his arco solo on “Aquarian”—hit a career high with Sound Unity, an accessible free-jazz album from which comes “Hawaii,” all blues connotations and microtonal poetry. “Global Warming” is from Sonny Rollins’ oft-maligned calypso songbook. Maybe Rollins spends too much time going through the motions on Caribbean crowd pleasers, but the motion seems to be going through him here, and real jazz can always use more danceable levity.
Reedman Marty Ehrlich’s “News on the Rail” offers an inviting palette of tuba, clarinet, trumpet, bass, drums, and—here’s the kicker— melodica, courtesy of James Weidman, who conjures King Tubby and the outro from Sesame Street while refusing to admit that he’s playing something close to a toy. After a Charles Lloyd jaunt, we close with Happy Apple’s “Ella by Nightlight,” a lullaby replete with nagging melancholy and anxious diminished chords. It might lead to emotionally complex dreams.
1. The Legendary K.O., “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” (MP3). k-otix.com
2. Kanye West, “Hey Mama” (Roc-a-Fella). iTunes
3. Paul Wall ft. Big Pokey, “Sittin’ Sideways” (Atlantic). iTunes
4. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?” (Daptone). iTunes
5. Of Montreal, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” (Polyvinyl). iTunes
6. The Hold Steady, “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” (Frenchkiss). iTunes
7. Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone” (RCA). iTunes
8. A Frames, “Eva Braun” (Sub Pop). iTunes
9. The Field, “Love vs. Distance” (Kompakt). Kompakt Store
10. Three 6 Mafia ft. Young Buck, Eightball & MJG, “Stay Fly” (Hypnotize Minds/Columbia). iTunes
11. M.I.A., “Bucky Done Gun” (XL). iTunes
12. Capone, “U So Craaazzzy” (Fastlife). eMusic
13. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, “Welcome to Jamrock” (Universal/Tuff Gong). iTunes
14. The Mountain Goats, “This Year” (4AD). iTunes
15. Tape, “A Spire” (Häpna). Häpna
16. Brad Paisley, “Alcohol” (Arista Nashville). iTunes
In a year when the world was messy as fuck, you might figure pop music would follow suit. Only 2005 felt contained, carrying little in the way of surprise, and it didn’t necessarily take any distaste for sweater-cozy, OC-ready college-radio-is-back to think so (though it helped). The year’s most inescapable radio hit evoked cancer (maybe your doctor should have a look at those lovely lady lumps, ma’am), and put paid to schmucks who thought inane pop was, like, over in the wake of a promised payola crackdown. The cradle of American pop drowned as the president waved. The RIAA busted your mom for making a mix-CD. And the best album of the year advocated terrorism.
This mix might have contained more songs had I jettisoned either Tape’s electro-acoustic meditation or the Field’s misty-eyed epic-trance flashback, both nearly 12 minutes long. But 2005 didn’t feel much like a cram-in-as-much-as-possible kind of year. Nearly all of my top 10 albums (in order: M.I.A., the Hold Steady, the Mountain Goats, Kanye West, A Frames, DJ Koze, the Go-Betweens, Crazy Frog, Kiki & Herb, and Run the Road) are formally perfect and self-contained, with seven under 45 minutes. I’d wager this is due to both a subconscious backlash to CD-length bloat and a subconscious rise to the challenge of MP3 culture to make albums as fat-free as singles. (The exception is Kanye’s 73-minute superstar move, which sprawls in all the right ways.)
Maybe that’s why my sixth-through-10th favorite albums aren’t represented on this mix. More likely, it’s just that my most intense pleasures this year were isolated ones—if not actual singles (“Stay Fly,” “Alcohol,” “Jamrock,” “Sittin’ Sideways,” Clarkson, the MP3-only Legendary K.O.), then album cuts I kept hitting repeat on, up to and including the 12-minute songs, not to mention “U So Craaazzzy,” buried on a mediocre album (track 19 of 20) and the hottest marching-band drumline track any hip-hopper’s cooked up yet.
But drumline or no drumline, Kanye rules this mix, for two reasons. One, his album’s best song is about his mama. And two, he fueled the most blazing piece of protest pop in years. The Legendary K.O.’s “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” still freely downloadable at www.k-otix.com, is a great record that in a better world wouldn’t have needed to be made. It’s not enough that it was, but it helps. To all of us, better luck next year.
1. Whitey, “Halfway Gone” (1234).
2. Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.” (Virgin). iTunes
3. Three 6 Mafia ft. Young Buck, Eightball & MJG, “Stay Fly” (Hypnotize Minds/Columbia). iTunes
4. Pendulum ft. Fresh, $pyda & Tenor Fly, “Tarantula” (Breakbeat Kaos).
5. Missy Elliott ft. Vybz Kartel & M.I.A., “Bad Man” (Goldmind/Elektra). iTunes
6. Lady Sovereign, “Cha Ching (Cheque 1, 2 Remix)” (Vice). iTunes
7. Masafumi Takada, “Sweet Blue Flag” (Scitron).
8. Kano, “Sometimes” (679).
9. Ladytron, “Destroy Everything You Touch” (Emperor Norton). iTunes
10. The Raveonettes, “Twilight” (Columbia). iTunes
11. Monade, “A Few Steps More” (Too Pure). iTunes
12. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” (Daptone).
13. Brooke Valentine, “Long as You Come Home” (Virgin). iTunes
14. Bigg Jus, “Supa Nigga” (Mush). iTunes
15. Cage, “Lord Have Mercy” (Definitive Jux). iTunes
16. Edan ft. Dagha, “Rock and Roll” (Lewis).
17. Beck, “Day for Night” (www.beck.com). www.beck.com
18. Jason Forrest, “Evil Doesn’t Exist Anymore” (Sonig). iTunes
Since 2005 seemed to be a half-lucid blur of staggering disappointments (Daft Punk), unsurprising reliability (Kanye West), and a front-loaded first few months that would make everything subsequent feel like a letdown in comparison (M.I.A., the Hold Steady), the songs that I feel represent my year most tellingly are the ones I never saw coming. There are more avenues than ever to stumble across new accidental favorites, and the old critical standby of receiving promos and getting assignments isn’t as huge a factor as it might’ve been (Bigg Jus being an especially spectacular exception). The droning blob of beardy acoustic oatmeal that smothers indie rock and college radio often lulled me into just enough apathy to make the gauzy Stereolab side project Monade or the tightly coiled Spectorbilly of the Raveonettes leap out at me like wire-fu swordsmen.
A cursory flip to MTV2 revealed the then-just-released crunk/rave/Philly International pachinko machine of Three 6 Mafia’s best track in five years. The next time I flipped to the channel weeks later, “Stay Fly” was their No. 1 video and my No. 1 single. A manic friend with whom I used to trade tapes of Japanese pro wrestling e-mailed me out of the blue to tell me how great Pendulum’s “Tarantula” was, and damned if it wasn’t the best jungle (jungle!?!?) track I’d heard since 1998. (Jungle?!!!) Whitey’s one-man stoner-punk fuzz-drone and Brooke Valentine’s luxury sedan R&B were impulse downloads turned five-star iPod fixtures. And rap got weird: Edan kicked his Ultramagnetics habit and recalled Justin Warfield’s throwback psych-rap to lead a whole new generation of B-boys on acid, Cage siphoned his farcical morbid humor into disconcerting real-life dysfunction, and if anyone expected a second Gorillaz album, I’m not sure they expected it to be chock-full of catchy fatalism, anchored by a cut that would give De La Soul their first glimpse at the Hot 100’s upper reaches.
Rounding things out is a particularly Underworldly selection from Masafumi Takada’s score to Killer7 (a great video game nobody bought), Ladytron’s continued justification of the otherwise hard-to-justify electroclash posture, a Black Sabbathy/Boards of Canadian Web-exclusive Beck song that smokes 90 percent of Guero, two outta-nowhere (OK, London) grime hotshots in Kano and Lady Sov, Sharon Jones covering a Kenny Rogers chestnut in get-up mach-funk double time, a Missy track that proved that, holy shit, real live American pop stars knew who M.I.A. was, and a Jason Forrest glitch-and-paste epic that, to be honest, I actually did figure was going to be great. But damn if I’m going to leave it off.
1. Bloc Party, “Banquet” (Vice). iTunes
2. Stars, “Ageless Beauty” (Arts & Crafts). iTunes
3. Low, “Just Stand Back” (Sub Pop). iTunes
4. The Kills, “Love Is a Deserter” (RCA). iTunes
5. Sufjan Stevens, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” (Asthmatic Kitty). iTunes
6. Susumu Yokota & Rothko, “Path Fades Into Forest” (Lo). iTunes
7. Isolée, “Pictureloved” (Playhouse). Bleep
8. Ellen Allien, “Your Body Is My Body” (Bpitch Control). iTunes
9. Broadcast, “Black Cat” (Warp). iTunes
10. Röyksopp, “Only This Moment” (Astralwerks). iTunes
11. Shy FX & T Power, “Sheets” (Digital Soundboy).
12. Broken Social Scene, “7/4 (Shoreline)” (Arts & Crafts). iTunes
13. Feist, “Inside and Out” (Interscope). iTunes
14. Velella Velella, “Telephone Poles for Sale” (Velella Velella).
15. Various artists, “Rachel’s Drum & Bass Mash-Up” (various labels).
Without question, my favorite album of the year was Leslie Feist’s Let It Die. She opened for Kings of Convenience in the spring, persevered this summer while a sold-out Showbox chanted for Rilo Kiley, and devastated with Broken Social Scene this fall, screaming her heart out on “7/4.” Feist’s album is crammed with wistful folk-pop, with covers like the Bee Gees “Inside and Out.” At some point while I was listening to it—probably while cooking dinner—I realized I’d embraced adult contemporary. Scary, but Feist’s chameleonic musical nature shows that’s just a facet of her personality. As a listener, I hope this mix says the same for me.
It betrays how much time I spent in smoky bars (RIP) this year, being underwhelmed by bands whose star power didn’t live up to their singles (Bloc Party, Stars), though the Kills were impressive as the best trash-garage duo going—did you see “Hotel”‘s careening guitar between a back-bending “VV”‘s legs in Spin?—for whatever that’s worth. Low didn’t tour, but Sufjan Stevens nearly brought the Triple Door to tears recounting the murders of Midwestern boys, “With their cars/Summer jobs/Oh my God” in “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” Local electronic funk group Velella Velella wowed with their booty-shaking debut and shows; Broadcast dazzled with a retro-futuristic light show and mod grooves. Isolée’s We Are Monster is the first tech-house record I listened to as an artist album, and I felt lucky to enjoy it live at the Decibel Festival. She wasn’t there, but Ellen Allien’s forward-thinking Thrills plunged me headlong into techno, and though I put Röyksopp’s “49%” on more mixes, “Only This Moment” sounds as guiltily good as the first time I heard Paul Oakenfold’s Tranceport.
What I listened to most of all was drum and bass, and if I had two turntables and proper inputs, this mix would contain nothing but. In June, I discovered BBC radio’s “New! Black! Music!” station 1xtra online, which updated me on subgenres, artists, and albums like Shy FX & T Power’s great, dubby, jump-up Diary of a Digital Soundboy. “Sheets” resurrects the Isley Brothers’ cheeky suaveness from the grave of Big Poppa, who last made it funky; Shy FX’s stand-alone “Plastic Soul” is first in the mash-up. About which: For curious friends, I compressed my favorite tracks from DJ broadcasts, audio blogs, and record-store clips into a final song that’d cost about $100 in 12-inches. They’re not mind-blowingly inventive, but they are a lot of fun: staccato snares and wobbly bass blend together and bottom out in dub, noir, and a rain of glitter, just how I like it. Craggz & Parallel Forces’ “Dusk” (Valve), A.I.’s “Switch On” (Widescreen), D Kay & Jenna G’s “Woe” (Bingo Beats), Total Science’s “Going in Circles (A.I. Mix)” (CIA), Amit’s “Re Order” (Commercial Suicide), Illogic & Raf’s “Forever” (Liquid V), Breakage’s “Ask Me” (Bassbin), Chris Su’s “Solaris Theme” (Subtitles), and Klute’s “Hell Hath No Fury” (Commercial Suicide)—take a bow.
1. Tod Dockstader, “Raga” (Sub Rosa).
2. Oren Ambarchi, “Triste Part 2” (Sub Rosa).
3. Alog, “Severe Punishment and Lasting Bliss” (Rune Gramafon). iTunes
4. A Taste of Ra, “Wind and the Mountain III” (Hapna).
5. Jan Jelinek, “Universal Band Silhouette” (Scape).
6. Alir Pukai Stringband ft. Bob Brozman, “Alir Pukai” (Riverboat/World Music Network). iTunes
7. Tod Dockstader, “Yaya” (Sub Rosa).
Don’t let anyone fool you: The Universe was more mysterious than ever in 2005. Just ask me, who delved into the Great Unknown with the express intention of using every last bit of it up, right down to Madonna’s mulhadara chakra. Naturally, I failed. Again. Mystery is the antipetroleum, replenishing itself so fast that, like air, it always surrounds us. Plus, it takes enormous sensory stimulation to mitigate our general obliviousness.
Enter Tod Dockstader, 73, creator of early ’60’s electroacoustic shudder classic Quatermass. (“Never before had a tape-manipulated balloon squeal meant so much to so few.”—me) Installment No. 1 of a three-part magnum opus, Aerial finds the celebrated experimentalist—now computer-empowered—conjuring cosmic epiphanies from humble shortwave source material with a finesse that renders his triple-decade hiatus moot. “Raga” proceeds on strict Disney-classic lines (think Fantasia), opening with an otherworldly melodic snatch that multiplies faster than amoebae on a bed of interleaved drones so plush, no princess in the world would notice a WMD cache beneath it.
Oren Ambarchi’s “Triste Part 2” starts where Dock leaves off—minus pillows and sferics—its abstract melodies revolving like doors in a transdimensional mall. Despite the track’s live status, there’s no clear indication of what he made it with, or how. Like the rest of recently reissued Triste (originally out in 2003 on Idea as a vinyl-only edition of 300), it’s a testament to the Australian multi-instrumentalist’s alchemical prowess, especially during a finale that sounds like a horde of living radios made from insect parts.
Splitting the difference between Reichs Steve and Wilhelm, Norwegian duo Alog put all their bugs in a hard-driving row on Miniatures opener “Severe Punishment and Lasting Bliss.” At first, anyway. After a few minutes, the track’s interlocking figures thicken, spreading like honey onto moon-drenched terrain frosted by tumescent guitar. In his A Taste of Ra guise, Nicolai Dunger waxes commensurately solar. “I will use you like my shotgun,” the Swedish acoustic pop studmuffin croons lasciviously on “Wind and the Mountain III,” like Devendra might if Tim Buckley had sired him.
As with all of his magisterial Kosmischer Pitch (note to reader: Check this fucker out now!), the musical paternity of Jan Jelinik’s “Universal Band Silhouette” is shrouded in a profusion of multihued mists. Sure, the German click-house veteran uses loops and beats. But the latter provide a mere pulse, half-buried in the former’s richly layered shades of Krautrock, minimalism, techno, and psychedelia, not unlike familiar syllables in the lyrics of Papua New Guinea–based liltmeisters Alir Pukai Stringband’s 2/3 eponymous theme. Does the chorus of Songs of the Volcano‘s opening track actually end with “do me, brontosaurus”? More important still, am I actually ending this mix with the vertiginously yammering “Yaya,” from newly released Aerial (2)? That’s right! A double shot of Dockstader! Even if I can’t gobble up every last bit of 2005’s mystery, I at least wanna clean my plate for next year. Yours too!
1. LCD Soundsystem, “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” (Capitol/DFA). iTunes
2. The White Stripes, “Walking with a Ghost” (V2). iTunes
3. The New Pornographers, “Star Bodies” (Matador). iTunes
4. Judee Sill, “That’s the Spirit” (Water).
5. Teenage Fanclub, “It’s All in My Mind” (Merge). iTunes
6. Out Hud, “It’s For You” (Kranky). iTunes
7. Deerhoof, “Spiral Golden Town” (Menlo Park). iTunes
8. The Juan Maclean, “Tito’s Way” (DFA). iTunes
9. Tiger Tunes, “Kirsten Is a Fuck-Machine” (V2 Europe).
10. Duplex!, “Mr. Slim” (Mint). iTunes
11. Melt-Banana, “Sweeper” (Sounds of Subterrania).
12. Fireball, “Arsonist” (High Roller Society).
13. The Fiery Furnaces, “Here Comes the Summer” (Rough Trade/Sanctuary). iTunes
14. Robyn, “Konichiwa Bitches” (Konichiwa). iTunes
15. Supersystem, “Everybody Sings” (Touch & Go). iTunes
16. Franz Ferdinand, “Do You Want To” (Epic). iTunes
17. The Legendary K.O., “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People” (MP3). k-otix.com
18. Neung Phak, “Fucking USA” (Abduction).
19. Sleater-Kinney, “Entertain” (Sub Pop). iTunes
20. Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago” (Asthmatic Kitty). iTunes
21. Charming Hostess, “Ms. Lot” (RéR/Ad Hoc).
The biggest influence on my taste this year was becoming someone’s dad. (He’s awesome, 9 months old, and really into Krautrock and Cecil Taylor.) It didn’t Change Everything like some people said it would—there’s only one kids’ song on my list, Duplex!’s ode to a free-spirited kitty—but it did make me start paying a lot more attention to the way I relate to music and to everything else. That means that I was more itchily aware of the big political picture, including my own twitching, half-willing participation in the cultural-social-economic machine. So I loved the Legendary K.O.’s repurposing of Kanye West’s repurposing of Ray Charles’ repurposing of “Jesus Is All the World to Me”—the only good piece of new music I heard about the year’s biggest domestic story, and way better than “good.” Likewise, I appreciated Neung Phak’s cover of a North Korean protest song about the biggest bully on the block, and Sleater-Kinney’s very loud complaint about the complicity of both performers and audiences. And Charming Hostess’ frantic Bulgarian-folk setting of a Muriel Rukeyser poem about Lot’s daughter captured exactly the sensation of being overwhelmed by forces large and small.
Other than that, a lot of my important musical experiences this year were at my local karaoke joint. Karaoke’s as close to a tradition of musical amateurism as there is right now, and my favorite way to see and hear what Toronto critic Carl Wilson calls the “personalized gnosis” people who aren’t professional musicians find in the songs they love. A lot of my list is songs I wish were in the joint’s book (I assume “Do You Want To” will get there eventually), and not just because I want to sing them. It’d be great to open up for public habitation LCD Soundsystem’s idol-worshipping-and-surpassing fantasy, Robyn’s kittenish cartoon of old-school self-glorification, and most of all Supersystem’s brittle, blurting robo-funk track “Everybody Sings,” an anthem about the sublimity of pop music that carefully avoids idealistic lies. Best duet lyric of the year: “Do you feel a connection to everyone you meet?” “Yes and no. Yes and no.”
Finally, a few statistics: Artists here I heard for the first time this year: six. Songs I heard on the radio at some point: one. Songs I first encountered through audioblogs: four. Songs from records I paid money for: six.