Over the past year, I’ve listened to a lot of new music, most of which, regrettably, I haven’t liked very much. Because I have my headphones on during much of the day at work, I burn through music pretty quickly. Even though by now I should be content with the music I have, sometimes nothing in my library will do. So I get suggestions from friends, scour the list of new albums at metacritic.com, read Paste Magazine, download the podcast of All Songs Considered, and look out for “best of” lists at the end of the year. Here are a few of the albums that rose to the top of my personal playlist.
- Kelly Clarkson, Break Away: What can I say? I’m a sucker for this American Idol. She can really belt out a good tune, and her songs have major power-pop hooks. While my musical taste usually runs counter to the top-40 trends, this time I was riding the wave, listening to this album more times than I’d like to admit.
- Keane, Hopes and Fears: This band’s music is like sugar to my ea/cgi-bin/mt32/mt.cgi#rs. Not literally. They’re a Brit-pop band in the same vein as Coldplay, but their songs are even catchier, especially moreso than Coldplay’s latest offering, which to me at least was a little disappointing.
- Imogen Heap, Speak for Yourself: From the frontwoman of Frou Frou, this solo album mixes smooth vocals, laid-back rhythms, and electronic infusions. In “Hide and Seek,” which I first heard on All Songs Considered, Heap sings the entire song through a Vocoder. Cool.
- Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise!: Now every critic’s darling, Stevens once went to Hope College and played in a local band at a humble little coffeehouse in Grand Rapids. This album continues his special brand of delicate and wispy vocals, goofy yet poignant lyrics, and intricate and multi-layered instrumentation. It’s hard not to love a musician with a song called “A Short Reprise For Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons.”
- My Morning Jacket, Z: A great album from a straight-ahead rock and roll band with lots of reverb.
- Sigur Ros, Takk…: Out of every band on the planet, this is the one that I’d most like to have with me if I were trapped inside a cocoon. Their music leaves me breathless and bedazzled with its sweeping orchestrations of shameless grandiosity. They kind of open up the universe.
- CocoRosie, Noah’s Ark: These two sisters produce a folktronica sound with startling, operatic vocals and unpredictable melodies. Just the way I like them.
Now that leaves three albums that I’ve listened to a lot and love, but don’t feel I can put in the same list as the others, because of my personal connection with the musicians.
- Peter LaGrand, Falling Down in Place: If ones and zeros could wear out, these songs would be more weathered than my favorite pair of jeans. Read my review.
- Jason Harrod, Bright As You: When he’s on, he’s really, really on. Read my review.
- Over the Rhine, Drunkard’s Prayer: I’ll never figure out why these guys haven’t become insanely famous.
So, what are your favorite albums of the past year?
Hey Karl! For once, we have no overlap. But of course I’ve never heard of a good chunk of your favorites. Here’s mine, in no particular order:
Girlyman: A group out of NYC — opened for Dar Williams this tour. Best new band I’ve seen in ages.
Dar Williams: I forgot about her for a few years. She’s still fantastic.
Ray Lamontangne: Reminds me of my teenage angst years — okay, some of those years were in my 20’s . . .
Bebel Gilberto: sensual and smart
Charanga Cakewalk: First time hearing it on the car radio, i pulled over, waited for the song to end, and call the station to see just who that was. You can dance, you can jive, you can drum along.
Di, thanks for the recommendations. I can’t wait to check them out. Ever the music glutton…
You probably know about this, but maybe some others do not. I also have my headphones on a good part of the day, but when I get bored with the music I have I go to pandora.com. This is a free music service that matches you to music based on over 400 levels of compatability (take that e-harmony!). You put in the song or artist you like and it spits out songs and artists that are the similar – a “you like this?, well try this” sort of thing. It is awesome and free.
I think 2005 has been a decent year for music. It’s getting easier for smaller acts to get an audience. Some of my favorites of the year have been:
Martha Wainwright: Martha Wainwright
Sigur Ros: Takk
Wilco: Kicking Television
Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow
Hayden: Elk Lake Serenade
Jose Gonzalez: Veneer
Sun Kil Moon: Tiny Cities
Like yourself, I too hear of much of what I consume from paste or from the podcast edition of all songs considered. I’m a big My Morning Jacket fan but I didn’t care for “Z” much. Sorry.
Josh, you’re right: Pandora is a great service. Thanks for mentioning it. I wrote about that company last year when they were still referring to it as the Music Genome Project.
Kevin, no hard feelings about your not liking “Z.” Actually, I’m not a big fan of Bright Eyes or Wilco, so I guess we’re even. But I look forward to checking out Jose Gonzales, Sun Kil Moon, and Devendra Banhart. Thanks for those recommendations!
Hey Karl. Great list. I just picked up Z and am glad I finally did. I love that title. Z . Here’s my list in no real order:
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake (no love for Bright Eyes yet? Give him another try.)
Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Feist – Let it Die
My Morning Jacket – Z
Gorillaz – Demon Days
Franz Ferdianand – So Much Better (real great to dance to while doing the dishes)
Ryan Adams – Cold Roses (not real great to dance to while doing the dishes)
Gadzooks! How out of it am I? I haven’t even heard of ANY of these groups! They’ve probably been played on WYCE so I might’ve heard them. You young whippersnappers and your pandoras, podcasts and ipods leave some of us geezers in the dust!
Here are my top 5 of 2005.
1) The Go! Team-Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Great group out of Brighton, UK. The freshest stuff I’ve heard in a while. Ironically, what makes it fresh is how they combine influnces. Imagine 60s beat-heavy dance music (played with real drums), with some electronic flourishes, melodic, cool guitars, and a female vocalist called Ninja, who sounds like 10 cheerleaders at once .Their single “Ladyflash” is my favorite single of 2005. Think Jackson 5, Banannarama, cool Motown rhythms. This album is post-modern pop music done well. I love them also because they sample DMX, Sonic Youth, and the Clash. It’s like fusion cuisine when it’s well executed. Delicious. This album always makes me smile when I play it. I guarantee it will elevate your mood.
Better than the Smiths!! and The Sugarcubes!!
2)Nada Surf-The Weight is a Gift
While never a huge fan of this NYC modern rock trio’s earlier work (they had a hit in the mid-90s called “Popular”), I find this album riveting. Great melodies, and great lyrics that deal with the tension between youthful vitality and the shifting of priorities/responsibilities that comes from being in your 30s. The video for their song “Always Love” gives me a lump in my throat every time I see it. Great soulful rock music.
3) Teenage Fanclub- Man-Made I’ve always loved this group becuase I’ve always loved power pop bands that sound like Big Star, Crazy Horse, or the Replacements. To me, the Fannies have sounded like all three. This time around, they went to Chicago, hooked up with producer Jim O’Rourke (of Tortoise, Sonic Youth, and Wilco fame), and refined their sound. The distortion pedals have been turned off and the beauty of their melodies comes to the fore. Effecting stuff.
4)Ryan Adams- 29
This is the best of his three albums which were released in 2005. It’s a more stripped down affair. I think this is his most intimate stuff to date. I’ll never forget seeing him in 2000 in the tiny North Star bar in Philly in 2000. He performed the entire show sitting on a step with his acoustic guitar. It was the first time I had heard or seen him perform and I felt like I had discovered a superstar. I defy you to find a more talented 31 year old living American songwriter.
5)Matt Pond PA- Several Arrows Later
This happens to be one of those occasions where the boys from Paste magazine are off and, in their occasionally off-putting sanctimony, have dismissed a jewel of an album.
The fact that this group is from my hometown of Philly and that their music has been featured on “The O.C.” is not why I love this group. The NY Times said it best about this band. To paraphrase, hey have the cleverness of the Shins, but more so. Imagine the Shins, with more violins, and guitars that sometimes sound like Joy Division. It’s music that’s Fey in the best way!
karl (mr swedberg),
i’m a closet KC fan too. i like your taste in music. check out architecture in helsinki, arcade fire..they’re a little crazy. and kathryn williams.
10th grade english student at unity
Wow, the recommendations keep pouring in! Thanks Josh, Drew, and Craig, for the tips. I already checked out Jose Gonzalez (Kevin’s recommendation) and really like him. And not just because he’s Swedish!
Hey Ginny – you said it all, for me. I feel as if I’m on another planet reading those lists.
My favorite these days? Morten Laurdisen “Lux Aeterna” performed by the Los Angeles Chorale. Pretty tame stuff. Karl. play us some of your choices next time we visit.
Josh – glad to see you’re helping with the housework :-) Smart of Brooke to buy you those dancin’ albums, says her grandpa.
It’s always intersting to see what you and others have been listening to. (I am going to check out Kelly Clarkson.) So here is what I’ve been listening to.
1. Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary
2. Jaga Jazzist: What We Must (a 10 piece electro jazz ensemble)
3. ditto on the Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
4. Bell Orchestre: Recording A Tape the Colour of Light (” …faraway dance music from lovely old jazz films that disappeared at the border”)
5. Talking Heads: Remain in Light
6. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
7. American Analog Set: Set Free