|So this is the sort of thing I was supposed to post a month ago. Fah! The People's Republic of Wasp Jerky bows to no such decrees. But now that I've gotten around to it, this would be the list. Better late than never, eh? Note that I haven’t ranked these from one to ten. Some of these albums are much better than others, but it would take me another month to get them sorted into a proper hierarchy of greatness. (Also visit Streak, Left Cheek and From the Salmon—four freakin’ times—for more 2005 musical madness.) |
The Accident Experiment – United We Fear
A few years back, guitarist Marcos Curiel went through an ugly public breakup with his band P.O.D. Depending on whom you believe, Curiel either left to pursue a side project, or was kicked out of the band due to differing spiritual viewpoints. The Accident Experiment is Curiel’s new band, a side project no longer. Together with Pete Stewart, another fallen son of the Christian music industry (Grammatrain anyone?), Curiel has crafted a band that is lyrically honest and musically adventurous. Those looking for a sequel to P.O.D.’s mingling of rap, reggae and rock won’t find it. The Accident Experiment sounds more like a Disturbed or Chevelle with chunks of Pink Floyd, Rush and Led Zeppelin baked into the crust. The Accident Experiment leads listeners down dark, twisting sonic passages. Abrupt rhythm changes, moody guitars, and Stewart’s wailing vocals guide listeners across hesitant emotional footholds, where little is certain, and where doubt, depression, fear and anxiety are your only comfort.
Cue – Bring Back My Love
Cue follows in the tradition of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Austin scene-mates Explosions in the Sky, blending elaborate musicianship with grandiose emotive soundscapes. The band emulates the Post-rock pattern of slow, peaceful guitars that escalate into a frenzied wall of sonic chaos. But Cue does it so well that it doesn’t really matter. Cue more than manages to put its own spin on things. The addition of piano, violin and glockenspiel to these songs, as well as varied, sometimes abrupt, tempo changes, frees the band up to be itself. The resulting dynamic produces short opuses that dive and soar. Cue sooths with its soft, guitar driven melodies, nearly lulling you to sleep with the interplay of low-key bass and melancholic violin arrangements. Then, slowly, the pressure builds, often following the lead of Jason Brister's frantic drumming. The frenzied instrumentation fans in multiple directions, yet ultimately never loses control.
John Davis – John Davis
It’s always a bit troubling to me when respectable artists convert to Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for someone finding Jesus. But for some reason those artists often begin making art that is less like Shakespeare’s and more like Tim LaHaye’s. Fortunately ex-Superdrag frontman John Davis doesn’t make that mistake in his gospel and blues drenched solo debut. The funny thing is that when Davis does sing about Jesus. A lot. The difference, though, is that when Davis does it, it feels sincere and legitimate. When most CCMers do it, it feels like someone threw up in a hymnal.
Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
Sage Francis’ major label debut skirts the tightrope of contradiction. One moment he’s a slam poet, gasping for breath as he skips along the jagged rhythm in his head. The next he’s an Old School resurgent, playing in the house that Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash built. One moment he’s an abrasive political insurrectionary, practically daring you to cut the system’s tightening noose. The next he’s an emotive confessionalist and you’re the priest. This is my least favorite of Francis’ official releases. But it’s still good enough to be the best rap record of the year.
Half-Handed Cloud – Thy Is a Word and Feet Need Lamps
Thy is a Word sounds a bit like what would happen if Brian Wilson or the Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles became obsessed with obscure stories from the Old Testament and decided to record an album. Half-Handed Cloud revisits the murder and mayhem of the Jewish scriptures, telling you the juicy nuggets your Sunday school teacher never coughed up, the ones about bread baked over human shit and gang-raped concubines. It sounds like it ought to be a record put out by some blood-drinking doom metal band. But it’s actually quite humble, happy, and, at times, downright funny. This 29-minute album is a hodgepodge of lullaby soft melodies, guitars, cellos, pianos, breathy church organs, woodwinds, trombones, non-instrument sounds, and an eight-person choir. Rarely has the Judeo-Christian story been this erratic, or this much of a LSD-trip.
Headphones – Headphones
Headphones’ debut finds former Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan alongside TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, The Soft Drugs) and Frank Lenz (Starflyer 59). Lyrically, Bazan is still crafting droning anthems of pain and misery. Loss, love, loneliness, disappointment and deceit are very much at home in the Seattle native’s dark poetry, as is a stark, almost uncanny attention to detail. Bazan’s writing is as disturbing as it is deep. What sets Headphones apart from Bazan’s previous musical output, though, is the musicianship. Headphones is shrewdly constructed entirely from synthesizers and live drums. But don’t let that keep you away; you’ll rarely miss the traditional rock instrumentation. Evocative of early Low records, Headphones orchestrates beautiful electronic melodies into a thick yet passionately simple debut.
Senryu – Pssst
Senryu came pretty close to breaking up before releasing this album, its crowning achievement to date. You can kind of understand why. It’s got to be hard as hell being in a band when no one gets what you’re doing. And I can’t imagine that many people get Wil Wright’s musical hodgepodge. Their loss. Blending influences like Brian Wilson, The Zombies, Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies, Senryu is quirky Knoxville pop meets the circus, parades, magicians and sunny days.
Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
I grow a little sad when I realise that at the rate he’s going Sufjan Stevens will never finish his much-ballyhooed collection of states-themed albums (unless he’s either a vampire or in possession of the philosopher’s stone). But then I listen to Illinois and those feelings go away. Dozens of critics named this record the year’s best. It’s not hard to see why. Stevens’ weaves atypical instrumentation with meditations on serial killers, poets and state parks. Beautiful.
System of a Down – Mezmerize/Hypnotize
It’s hard to forgive the fact that these two albums weren’t released as a single record. A little ironic, too, given System of a Down’s anti-corporate sentiment. Nonetheless, this is System at its best: graceful, discordant, melodic, surreal, schizophrenic, often during the space of a three minute song.
Derek Webb – Mockingbird
Webb did his tour of duty in the CCM industry in a folk band called Caedmon’s Call. There he penned songs that made listening to a CCM band a worthwhile experience. His songs were thought-provoking reflections on the whole of life, not the theologically impotent, cliché-filled twaddle that usually emanates out of Nashville. This, Webb’s fourth solo album, could just as easily have been called How to Piss Off the Religious Right in Eleven Tracks or Less. Taking his cue from Jim Wallis, Webb, in just over 40 minutes, defies nearly every convention of AmeriRepubliChristianity. My wife and I bought this in a Christian bookstore while drunk, just to spite the system.
Other 2005 Discs I Enjoyed
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Coldplay – X & Y
Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
Low – The Great Destroyer
The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
Kanye West – Late Registration
Discs That Probably Would Have Made My Top Ten Had I Heard Them
Starflyer 59 – Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice
Over the Rhine – Drunkard’s Prayer
The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan