I don't know if there's anything to report in general with my list this year, other than that it's maybe a little more poppy than in years past overall. There's some indie rock, some electronic stuff, some ambient, and even classical. I will say that if you read this site on a regular basis and generally agree with my reviews, you shouldn't go wrong with anything mentioned below. As with the past several years, I'm doing a Readers List, so get on over and contribute if you feel like spreading your good word. As always, thanks for reading!
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)
Two down, forty-eight to go. You'd think that instead of releasing epic seventy-minute albums for each state, Sufjan Stevens might hold back a little material for future releases, but if his first two efforts (and previous work, including the adventurous Enjoy Your Rabbit) are any indication, we may very well be in for great music for a long time to come. Throw in a cheerleading-laced, buoyant live show, and 2005 was officially the year of Sufjan. full review
2. The Books - Lost And Safe (Tomlab)
For some reason, it seemed like quite a few people who liked the past releases of The Books didn't care for their newest album. In my mind, though, it seemed like the true culmination of everything they've done to date, with perfectly incorporated vocals that brought even more of a human element to their delightfully awkward music. This album has moments that make me giggle, make me swoon with delight, and even sadden me a bit. What more could I ask for? full review
3. Animal Collective- Feels (Fat Cat)
Whenever a group puts out an album that I really love, I always approach the follow-up with a little trepidation, and after Sung Tongs last year (my favorite album for 2004), I definitely hoped that Feels would at least be pretty good. As it happened, I had no reason to worry, as this newest release from the group found them moving into even more assured territory and putting out another excellent disc. full review
4. Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary (Sub Pop)
This is a disc that I liked plenty when I first heard it, then it just kept on growing on me. This is some rough-around-the-edges rock that isn't afraid to go all synth-powered and still get down. It appears that Canada isn't going to run out of great musicians anytime soon. full review
5. Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Született (Planet Mu)
While I've felt that Venetian Snares has hinted at greatness in the past (most notably on the fun Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits), I've never quite fully gotten into one of his albums. In a fully-realized release, Funk lures you in with melancholy strings and then slaps you around with splattering beats. Sure, it's been done before, but this disc makes it all seem fresh and new again. full review
6. Caribou - The Milk Of Human Kindness (Domino)
I guess at this point I should learn to never underestimate Dan Snaith. The Milk Of Human Kindness wins the award for album on my list that officially has grown on me the most since I initially reviewed it. A wild, super-varied album from a young artist who obviously still has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, this one has been lodged in my CD player a lot this year. full review
7. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (Righteous Babe)
This is probably the most unexpected album to arrive on my list, as I'd heard work from (and even enjoyed Weather Systems a great deal) Andrew Bird before, but I still didn't expect this. With A Mysterious Production Of Eggs, Bird has moved far above and beyond his earlier Squirrel Nut-esque styles to something unique and inspired. Oh, and I love the whistling. full review
8. Broken Social Scene - Broken Social Scene (Arts & Crafts)
I'm not quite sure anyone was expecting such a wildly varying, oddly-produced mess of an album, but that's what Broken Social Scene has delivered with their latest effort. It's not a first or second or possibly even third listen disc, but one that you have to spend some time with before things really start to feel at home. Different sequencing (and a few small snips) could have probably made it better, but there's loads on here that give me chills. full review
9. Balanescu Quartet - Maria T (Mute)
At one point, the Balanescu Quartet was most famous for their string quartet covers of Kraftwerk songs, and after some truly unique and inspiring albums, that's a bit of a shame. Maria T is their first album in several years and it's a lengthy, beautiful release of modern avant classical music. full review
10. Amon Tobin - Chaos Theory (Ninja Tune)
I suppose I should feel really dirty for liking an album that's the soundtrack to a freaking video game, but I have to admit that this is another heck of an album from Amon Tobin. All the usual adjectives like moody and atmospheric and cinematic still apply, and it's as involving as any of his recent work with a great mixture of midtempo claustophobic rumblings and full-throttle assaults. I'll never play the game this one is associated with, but it also doubles as great workout music. full review
11. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow (XL)
Devendra Banhart is another artist that I've been following for some time, but who hadn't truly grabbed me until I heard his latest album. Yes, Cripple Crow is a bit on the long side, but it's also very consistent and at times downright inspiring. The sound of a young artist truly harnessing all his powers. full review
12. Windy And Carl - The Dream House (Kranky)
After a hiatus of almost five years, Windy And Carl returned with these four pieces that filled up two long EPs. Minimal pieces that find the duo creating some beautiful ambient spaces with only guitars and synths, this one is a must-have for drone and ambient fans. full review
13. Thee More Shallows - More Deep Cuts (Turn)
Thee More Shallows crossed my radar after I discovered their first little gem of an album, and More Deep Cuts is even more realized with better production, more focused songwriting, and another great batch of songs in general. One of the better albums you probably haven't heard this year. full review
14. Gang Gang Dance - God's Money (The Social Registry)
A late arrival to my heavy-rotation pile, Gang Gang Dance mix a load of different styles into a heady batch of tribal ambient freak folk (or something) that calls to mind a lot of different artists but doesn't sound like anyone in particular. A weird group that hasn't forgotten melody. full review
15. Jan Jelinek - Kosmischer Pitch (~Scape)
Tackling 'cosmic music' like Kraut and Cluster and those rascally Germans from the 70s in general, Jelinek moves slightly away from his murky jazz restylings of past albums into new and invigorating territory. This is a release that I was looking forward to, but it surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. full review
16. Holopaw - Quit +/Or Fight (Sub Pop)
There's nothing on this album that really knocks me over the head when I listen to it, but it instead works more like a glass of wine. As it progresses, I slowly fall under its woozy spell and the odd lyrics and subtle instrumentation really work into my head. full review
17. Isolee - We Are Monster (Playgroup)
One of the more unique albums to come down the pipe in awhile, this is about as far from minimal and polished as you can get. At times feeling clunky, and at others slippery, this is a fun album that eschews most modern electronic trends and sets phasers directly for your hips. full review
18. Jaga Jazzist - What We Must (Smalltown Supersound)
This Norwegian supergroup shifted their sound a bit with this newest effort, and the result is a rock album that shimmers with a dazzling array of horns, strings, guitars, and vocals. Dropping their microprogrammed beats, the group heads towards more epic territory here with dense arrangements and some dizzying blowouts. full review
19. Songs Of Green Pheasant - Songs Of Green Pheasant (Fat Cat)
A completely out-of-nowhere release from one Duncan Sumpner (recorded in his kitchen) that knocked my socks off. A fuzzy, warm and elegant release that sounds like it could have been recorded at any point during the past 20 years. Don't overlook this one. full review
20. FM3 - The Buddha Machine (Staalplaat)
A completely non-traditional release, this little plastic box of ambient loops accompanied me to work on several days when I felt like throwing a wrench into the iPod schedule. Mix with the sounds of your everyday life and create something new every day. full review
10 other releases I listened to a lot this year
Blood Brothers - Crimes (V2)
I know I shouldn't like this disc, but I can't help it. It's so over-the-top and full of riffs and screaming and uh...grr...whoo!
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-Released)
A fun disc from a group who may very well be one of the most over-hyped of the year. I love the rough charm of this disc, here's hoping they can follow-up with something even better.
Clue To Kalo- One Way, It's Every Way (Mush)
A breathy, summery album of lost thoughts and lush organic/electronic instrumentation.
Jackie-O Motherfucker - Flags Of The Sacred Harp (ATP)
The best album yet from this elusive and ever-changing group.
Mountains - Mountains (Apestaartje)
An excellent ambient album from a great pair of artists on a consistently excellent small label.
Murcof- Remembranza (Leaf)
Another gooey, string-laden minimal electronic gem from the ever-consistent artist.
Polmo Polpo - Kiss Me Again And Again EP (Intr.Version)
Just keeps going and going and going and I'm sorry but I'm totally shaking my ass right now.
Sam Prekop - Who's Your New Professor (Thrill Jockey)
Another great album from the Sea And Cake member (surpassing the recent output of that group).
Safety Scissors - Tainted Lunch (~Scape)
Totally vapid lyrics are backed up with delightful, quirky electronic pop on another fun one from M Curry.
Tape - Rideau (Hapna)
The best album yet from this understated (but getting a bit louder) Swedish trio.