This is the one time of the year when I wish that I listened to whatever the radio mainstream is. Not because I find anything particularly attractive about the mainstream, but rather because I miss the way radio sounded during the holidays when I was a kid. As a Top 40 radio listener, I kept the radio on approximately 23 hours a day during Christmas break. The stations would play all the best music of the year, generally culminating in countdowns of the top 50, 75, or 100 songs of the year as New Year’s Eve got closer. Prince, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, The Police, Robert Plant, Hall & Oates. They all got played, for better or for worse, together. But I don’t listen to mainstream, pop music, so making my own year-end lists will have to do.
2005 was an outstanding year in music, in my most humble opinion. Where MP3 blogs and the iTunes Music Store changed the way people listened to and obtained music the past two years, 2005 was the year that podcasting became a prime source for discovering new music. Despite the fears of the idiots who run the recording industry, the Internet and its tools have made it much easier for music fans to discover new music, which ultimately means more money for bands and labels, even if there are a few illegally obtained tracks along the way.
Here is my top ten list, with a couple special wrinkles. You’ll understand the wrinkles as you work your way through the list, should you choose to accept that assignment.
10 – “My Doorbell” – The White Stripes. A bold offering from rock’s most dangerous band. Like nothing I’ve ever heard from the red, black, and white ones. Bouncy. Buoyant. Light-hearted. Fun, even. As I’ve said many times, I didn’t love everything on the Stripes’ latest album, but I loved the fact they took some tremendous chances. Bonus: “Spit It Out” – Brendan Benson. 70s AM rock, garage punk, and power pop combined into one marvelous, easy-to-digest package. I tremble with excitement to hear what Jack White and Benson have in store for us on their 2006 collaboration.
9 – “Jacksonville” – Sufjan Stevens. Another bold artist, Sufjan’s Illinois disk was loaded with smart, majestic, up-lifting tracks of shocking depth and meaning. It was tough to pick which one was my favorite, but “Jacksonville” fills that role nicely. Bonus: “Emily Kane” – Art Brut. Where Sufjan is dense and complex, Art Brut is raw and basic. But no less interesting or entertaining.
8 – “Sweet Troubled Soul” – Stellastarr*. They may not be critical darlings, but I dug their chili this year. “Forest Fire” – Athlete. A wonderful B-side that I played almost as much as any A-side this year.
7 – “Black and White Town” – Doves. A little “Motown by way of Joe Jackson” track that highlighted Doves’ most excellent disk Some Cities. Bonus: “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” – Idlewild. Another UK band that emerged right around 2000 and is still doing fine work.
6 – “Kissing Families” – Silversun Pickups. Full of staggering changes in tone, tempo, and feelings, a song that proves the alternative rock world is the best place to find emotionally raw music. Bonus: “California” – Low. Clearly we need more all-Mormon trios from Minnesota. This song sounds like a sunny, warm spring day.
5 – “Give It Up” – 8MM. The sexiest song of the year. Almost too sexy. Bonus Tracks: “Slayer” – Giant Drag. Second sexiest track of the year. “Rebellion” – The Arcade Fire. Technically a 2004 song, it was released as a single this year, earning it mention here. The best track off last year’s landmark disk Funeral.
4 – “16 Military Wives” – The Decembrists. The most enjoyable and entertaining anti-war song of all-time. The Decembrists lead a group of highly literate, indie bands that became the darlings of the blogosphere. Bonus tracks: “Gideon” – My Morning Jacket, “This Year” – The Mountain Goats, “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
3 – “7/4 (Shoreline)” – Broken Social Scene. A late-year discovery that I found completely astounding. Bonus: “The Bleeding Heart Show” – The New Pornographers. Two super-bands from Canada that put out two of the best songs of the year. How the hell does that happen? Come on, America! Get your act together!
2 – “I Turn My Camera On” – Spoon. The best song off of the amazing Gimme Fiction disk. Full of classic Prince-esque, bravado-laden falsetto. Fun and funky and fierce. Bonus tracks: “Spanish Teeth” – Robbers on High Street. They sound so much like Spoon that they were initially dismissed as horrible rip-off artists. Turns out they make some damn good music of their own. “Crazy All the Time” – 33Hz. More 1978 Prince repackaged for the modern ear.
1 – “Going Missing” – Maximo Park. My most listened to song of the year. When those guitars chime in before the chorus, you’re taken back to a summer when you lost a love of your own. Also, from a band that is known for offering up a healthy bit of cheek with their tunes, this was a lovely counter of seriousness. Bonus: “Test Transmission” – Kasabian. Maximo, Kasabian, and the Kaiser Chiefs are leading the way for a new British Invasion.
Honorable Mention (In No Particular Order):
“JackInABox” – Turin Brakes
“6 String Belief” – Son Volt
“Hoppipolla” – Sigur Ros
“Paul Simon” – The Russian Futurists
“Princeton Junction” – The Natural History
“Winter in the Hamptons” – Josh Rouse
“I’m Your Villain” – Franz Ferdinand
“It Grew On You” – Foreign Born
“Old Shit/New Shit” – Eels
“Blood” – The Editors
“Stormy Weather” – Echo & The Bunnymen
“Soon Enough” – The Constantines
“I Can’t Stand to Stand Beside You” – Brakes
“Like Eating Glass” – Bloc Party
“Let’s Get High” – Benjamin Diamond
“Sixty Lives” – Aberdeen City
“Verve” – The 101
Coming next week, my top 20 most played tracks of the year.