NT's Best of 2005
Night Times staff
1/9/2006 9:56:41 AM

Oh man, picking a Best Of list is so hard with a mile-high stack of CDs, a handful of diverse writers, and a really solid, encouraging year for new music. We’re no doubt leaving a ton of them out. But here's a mix of some of our favorites of 2005...

Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning [Saddle Creek]
I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning is Conor Oberst’s best of two simultaneously-released albums (the other being Digital Ash In A Digital Urn). In this endeavor, Oberst perfectly captures his first impressions of New York City. He uses vivid imagery of the city while relating it all to his small hometown in Omaha, Nebraska. His blunt, honest lyrics show how chaotic the world is today, with the war and Iraq and its effect on humanity at large.

Behind this brilliant album is Oberst stating his political views—lightly guised in metaphor and clues. “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning” is the landmark in the song writer’s career where it isn’t an overstatement to claim Oberst as the next Dylan.

Death Cab for Cutie Plans [Atlantic]
With the poppy beats this album delivered, it’s no wonder why so many people this year are hooked on indie-pop sensations, Death Cab for Cutie. One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Plans was welcomed with gusto and without disappointment. From the genius mind of Ben Gibbard, Plans was Death Cab’s first release on a major record label. The first single, “Soul Meets Body,” expanded minds all across the America, with deep thoughts like,

I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
If the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too.

To me, and thousands of other fans, these words are not only beautiful but meaningful, too. Another, bleaker, song on Plans is the heart-felt, “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” If you don’t find any meaning in this song, then you haven’t heard it. Astounding. --MD

Idlewild Warnings / Promises
In this fifth CD by the Scottish quintet, Idlewild, Warnings / Promises [Capital Records], the band that many feared were coming to an end have never sounded better or had a more promising future. Picking up where REM left off when they were great, and adding the interest of some Teenage Fanclub harmony and Brautigan-influenced literature, this is a CD to set apart as an all-time favorite.

Warnings / Promises is all over the board in influences—from folk/country (“I Understand It,” “Not Just Sometimes But Always,” “Disconnected,” and “Goodnight”) to squealing psychedelia (the undeniably catchy, “I Want A Warning” and heavy arena-rock jam of “Too Long Awake”), but there’s a cohesion to it all that rests squarely on the smartness of the lyrics and the passion of the music. The first track, “Love Steals Us From Loneliness,” could almost be a love song, if it didn’t call his girl ‘stupid’ from the get-go, and then circle around with the smart-alecky line, Happy birthday, are you lonely yet? “Blame It On Obvious Ways” is flat-out one of the most brilliant examples of lyricism on the planet—and it rocks.

It’s true that the name Warnings / Promises sounds like the old American saying, ‘Is that a promise, or a threat?’ But really, who cares what it is? It’s fantastic.-JGB

Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
At Carnegie Hall {Blue Note/EMI}
Those brave audio spelunkers at the Library of Congress unearthed a rare gem with this recording. It features a fantastic pair of sets recorded late in 1957 at Carnegie Hall performed by a quartet that has mythic status in jazz history--no doubt due to the fact that there is scant recorded evidence of its considerable prowess. Fortunately, the performances truly live up to the hype. Monk and Trane were truly a formidable pair and this recording catches four musicians on fire. This disc also gives listeners an intriguing aural portrait of two great artists at crucial points in their respective careers. The music and energy they created forty-eight years ago continues to entice and amaze.—KK

The Perishers Let There Be Morning [Nettwerk]
Hailing from Umeå, Sweden-- the group claims its muse flourishes in cold, dark, environs. Umeå, although a long wintered region, proves the perfect pod for producing perfectly, depressing pop, according to The Perishers. The Perishers presented their offerings-- beautiful summer-less sadnesses.

The Perisher's melancholy indie rock endears rather than alienates; comforts rather than bums out; empowers more than it enables. In fact, it's catchy to a crazy degree; it's feel-good in a manic way. When lead vocalist/guitarist, Ola Klüft sweetly sings, "One may think we're alright/ But we need pills to sleep at night/ We need lies to make it through the day/ We're not ok ..." listeners can't help but actually feel okay. The lyrical content may be depressing, but its effect is completely glee-inspiring; so much so that even the stiffest of congregants find their feet fidgeting to the toe-tap-able tunes. It's like someone telling you, "You're not okay, I'm not okay," but then it is completely okay because as they're telling you this, they're gently moving the hair out of your eyes and kissing your forehead. It's like that. –SS

Sleater-KinneyThe Woods [Sub-Pop]
For about a decade now, Sleater-Kinney have been pretty much underground alternative/girl punk gurus, rocking the Kill Rock Stars Record Label. Even with CDs under their belt, they’re still virtually unknown in the mainstream public’s eye. However, this does not make The Woods any less astonishing. It is, honestly, anything that you could possibly want from an alternative band. The two singers, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, really belt out some incredible notes. The drummer, Janet Weiss, finally perfects her rock and roll attitude in the spot of ‘Sloppy Drums’.

The CD starts off incredibly: The first song, “The Fox,” is about love-gone-bad, nothing new in lyrical ideas but creative and original from a musical stand point. Massively noisy and hopelessly dreary, the track “Jumpers,” about people jumping off of bridges, is incredibly moving. This song is guaranteed to make goose-bumps, at least the first couple of times you hear it. Emotional, the chick-rockers end on a high note with “Night Light,” and keep the songs playing inside your head, hours afterwards. --MD

Spoon Gimme Fiction
Is it fair to rate a CD in the Best Of 2005 when the sound isn’t new? Spoon’s Gimme Fiction [Merge Records] songs are all over: reaching back to the Stones’ disco “Miss You” era, David Bowie’s glam rock, other times sounding like a lost Lennon song, and then big guitar rock in tracks like “Sister Jack”. To which we say, so what!

With frontman Britt Daniels’ cryptic lyrics and moody vocals, unstoppable bass lines and lo-fi grooves, and that beautiful something buried in the rhythm…the old is new and it all comes together in such a way that demands recognition. This CD is dark, fun, catchy and rough, holding fast to their glorious indie cred while venturing into more accessible waters to possibly change their rep as the best unknown band in the country.--JGB

Sufjan Stevens Illinoise [Asthmatic Kitty]
It’s been a long time since a concept album has been so perfectly developed for the theater of the mind. Within these 22 tracks are song-stories rooted in the state of Illinois—some capturing the busy city buzz of Chicago; others paying homage to state poets, architects, president’s wives and serial killers; as well as poignant gems of friendship, love and death. Throughout these gorgeous folky tales are unlikely instrumental combinations with guitar; banjo doing work on some of the saddest songs (comedian Steve Martin once did an act about how it was not possible for the banjo to sound sad!), trumpet, and a string quartet. Interspersed among these vignettes are orchestral build-ups and breakdowns that segue into what can best be described as an altered state of consciousness.

As the second installment of his 50-state project (he’ll be a very old man when he’s finished), Sufjan Stevens has created a masterpiece. Stevens’ soft warm vocals are also amazingly capable of communicating great emotion and a gorgeous sensuality within the simplest phrases. One of the finest examples of this range is in the song, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” which tells the tale of one of the worst serial killers in Illinois, if not the U.S.A. In a lush, empathic tone, Sufjan Stevens veers in and out of first and third person narrative; beginning sweet before building to an eerie, haunted quality, and then almost crying the next:

Quiet hands, quiet kiss on the mouth / And in my best behavior, I am really just like him / Look beneath the floorboards / for the secrets I have hid

The song closes to the sound of deep breaths that are downright chilling.

But Illinoise is not all darkness. Polyphonic Spree-ish backing vocals are sprinkled throughout these tracks, lending an odd-yet-pleasing collision of brightness to Stevens’ layers of sweet and spooky crooning. A stunning piece of work. --JGB

Laura Veirs Year of Meteors {Nonesuch/Warner Bros.}
Laura Veirs has created something special with Year of Meteors, an album that seduces rather than assaults, drawing the listener in with genuinely thoughtful songcraft. Veirs plain and unaffected voice attracts attention to her blithe but poignant lyrics. Each of the twelve tracks displays an uncommon facility for understatement that nevertheless builds a lush musical backdrop and makes for very rewarding listening. Highly recommended.—KK

Honorable Mention:

The Exies Head For The Door [Virgin Records]
With the exception of one cheesy ballad, this album is, track for track, great alternative rock and roll. It’s catchy, full of heart, and while vocalist Scott Stevens sounds an awful lot like Kurt Cobain, since when is that a bad thing? I’ve seen ‘em twice live and they kick ass on stage, too. –JGB

Kasabian [RCA]
Facts are facts, baby: Kasabian rules. Their debut self-titled album is loaded with danceable beats, chunky bass lines and swirling guitar, loops, orchestrations, and world beats. It’s like Oasis on a dance floor—with a DJ and with a brain. So cool. -JGB

contributing writers: Mike Dague, Julia Gordon-Bramer, Ken Kase, Michael Mofsen and Sara Swinson


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