Orac's picks for the Top 10 best albums of 2005

As you may know, I love music. I love it so much that I have over 1,000 CDs collected over the years (I've lost count), and over 10,000 tunes on my iPod and in my iTunes library. Consequently, as one might expect, I'm a bit of a music critic wannabe. Before blogging, there was no outlet for this tendency. After blogging (in fact, very soon after I started blogging), I couldn't stop myself. So, if you're not interested, feel free to skip this post, but if you're into music join me as I list my picks for the best albums of 2005. One word of caveat is that I don't get exposed to nearly as much music as, say, your average music critic working for a major (or even minor) magazine or newspaper. Consequently, this list is culled only from what I've bought or what I've heard. It's possible that I've missed a fair amount of good music. It's also highly biased. I had meant to finish this list and save it up to be posted during the week between Christmas and New Years, but all the badness that happened sort of got in the way.

Unfortunately, this year wasn't as good as last year as far as music goes. There was nothing as fantastic as the Arcade Fire's Funeral (which is still sitting in my car CD player even now, a year later), as coherent and angry as Green Day's American Idiot, or as satisfyingly, thumpingly loud and Zeppelinesque as Secret Machines. Nonetheless, this year, I've found almost as much that I've really liked. So, without further ado are my picks for the best albums of 2005, in no specific order:
  1. Worlds Apart (...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead). Released early this year, Worlds Apart is full of exhilirating anthems that seem custom-made to fill stadiums, even before this band can fill a stadium. Yes, it uses a lot of classic rock tricks, but avoids classic rock cliches.
  2. Free the Bees (A Band of Bees). I have a soft spot for neopsychedelia, and that's why I like this rollicking romp through the 1960's. It sounds almost as if it could have come from the Summer of Love, but something about it makes it sound contemporary. With echos and influences of The Byrds, The Beatles, and the Small Faces, this is still not just an exercise in nostalgia. These guys borrow from their influences, but fuse them into a sound that's all their own.
  3. Some Cities (Doves). My initial impression of this album was that it was a comedown from their previous effort, The Last Broadcast, but repeated listenings revealed an evolution to a less highly produced sound that is more direct and more visceral, without sacrificing the shimmering layered sound that I came to love in 2002. Doves are one of my favorite bands.
  4. The Magic Numbers (The Magic Numbers). Straightforward, softer, harmony-driven, vaguely folky-sounding rock that's impossible to resist. This band, a combination of two brother-sister duos, has been compared to a fusion of the Mamas and the Papas and Flaming Lips. I'm not sure if I agree, but I like their sound.
  5. The Great Destroyer (Low). Full of slower songs that build to satisfying crescendoes, this represent's Low's most polished and melodic effort yet.
  6. A Bigger Bang (The Rolling Stones). Sometimes old warhorses still have life in them and can still surprise you. No, the Rolling Stones haven't suddenly gone rap. They still sound like the Stones. But they have released their best album in at least 24 years, as I described when I reviewed the album a couple of months ago.
  7. Takk (Sigur Rós). I definitely have a soft spot for post-rock, and the biggest, baddest post-rock band of all is Sigur Ros. With a singer with an otherworldly voice who sings songs in a made-up language over layers of synthesized goodness, Sigur Rós doesn't dissapoint. They even find room for horns this time around, which was a bit jarring at first but soon sounded natural.
  8. Get Behind Me Satan (The White Stripes). Sadly, Get Behind Me Satan was not as good as their last outing, Elephant, but, even so, no band last year did stripped-down garage rock as well as Jack and Meg White. Even though they've expanded the instruments in their armamentarium a little bit this time around, they still retain that simple, urgent sound.
  9. Frances the Mute (The Mars Volta). What other form of rock do I have a weak spot for? Well, prog rock, for one, and The Mars Volta definitely does prog rock, their protestations otherwise notwithstanding. However, this isn't your father's prog rock, like Jethro Tull, Yes, or Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. Rather than grafting symphonic noodlings onto a more conventional rock core, the core of much of Mars Volta's prog rock is borderline speed metal in some places. Besides, any band that can do multi-movement suites of rock songs, some of which have Spanish lyrics can't be all bad. (Well, maybe they can be, but Mars Volta can't.)
  10. Employment (The Kaiser Chefs). Just straight ahead working class bar rock, and we all need some of that every now and then. (At least I do.)
And, my pick for the best compilation released last year:

Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era 1976-1995. I don't know how Rhino Records does it, but the producers of the Nuggets series just keep putting out fantastic collections of psychedelic garage rock. In the third release in their Nuggets series of compilations of psychelia and garage rock, Rhino has for the first time gone beyond the 1960's into bands from what is described as the "second psychedelic era," a period from 1976 to 1995. Compiling, as the liner notes say, "the good tracks from all those albums that have only one good track," this album covers garage, ska, surf rock, country punk, and the paisley underground. The song choices are outstanding (although with a little overlap with their recent Left of the Dial and No Thanks boxed sets). Nonetheless, this is the best collection of the year.

Well, that's about it. After the bounty of 2005, 2006 was a bit of a letdown, but still produced a lot of good music. Now that they've performed with Bowie, here's hoping Arcade Fire puts out a new release this year. Or, even better yet, now that Bowie has recovered from his angioplasty and been seen performing with Arcade Fire, maybe Bowie will finally put out a new album. (The last I read, in December he said he was working on some new songs in preparation for another "period of experimentation." If that's true, I can't wait.)


  1. I'm with you on Trail of the Dead and Kaiser Chiefs. You might try Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary; in my opinion, it's the closest thing to Funeral that's been released this year.

    My other favorite CDs this year:
    Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers
    Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens
    Transistor Radio, M. Ward
    Picaresque, The Decemberists
    Woman King, Iron & Wine
    In Case We Die, Architecture in Helsinki

  2. You really have outstanding taste. I think I've said before that one of your old music lists is what attracted me to this blog in the first place. Living in Austin, I'm ashamed I still haven't seen Trail of Dead in concert yet. But I am going to see Sigur Ros next month - a show I've heard must not be missed.

    I'll offer a recommendation of my own (although Picaresque has already been taken):
    Skeleton Jar, Youth Group (music player on site; title track's one of my faves). Just heard these guys a couple of weeks ago on the XM radio. It's straightforward Aussie pop-rock, but it has depth and energy and a sound I find very appealing.

    And the new Kashmir and Mew albums are out. These will be a bit harder to find (Danish), but so worth it.

  3. Great list, Orac. I'm emabarassed to say I only recently discovered that music wasn't entirely dead. I have the misfortune of living in a radio market that's too large to escape the notice of giants like ClearChannel but too small to have any true independent stations. The internet is the opposite; too much data and I have too little time to sift through it. So it's great to have others filter it for me! I've bookmarked your page for reference while I figure out how to spend my iTunes gift certificates...

  4. Its interesting to see album titles that get recycled. Worlds Apart is also the title of a 1982 album by Canadian group Saga, which produced the Canadian hit "On the Loose."

    I can't make a list of top ten CDs of 2005 since as far as I can tell I didn't buy anything released in 2005. The most recently released CD I've purchased is probably Acid Mothers Temple's Mantra of Love, released in 2004. I've been mainly buying jazz lately, especially since the local outlet of the A&B Sound chain has some Blue Note remasters on at 50% off.

  5. Oops, now that I think about it I was wrong. I did purchase live @ kanadian, november 2004:
    by Sakura "Kant" Watanabe and Motohiro Nakashima in 2005, from Saskatoon's own nonCapable Recordings label. Its interesting to buy an album of Japanese music released on a label in your own home town. kanadian is a restaurant in Osaka.


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