And you thought music was dead.
It's been a pretty good year for music, with some disappointments along the way, but if anything, 2005 indicated that good bands just keep getting better. That said, we apologize to all you Weezer fans who actually expected to see their most recent gem on this list.
10. Prior to Guero's release in spring of '05, fans hadn't seen anything from Beck since the rightfully overlooked and confused Sea Change in '02. Three years later, the '90s alt-rocker finally changes up his style on the new album; Beck somewhat ironically returns to and revisits his Los Angeles roots, embracing his hip-hop and Latin American influences like never before. He stays true to his previous records with his illustrious electric guitar-playing and ironic lyrics, but with its variety of electronic beats and allusions to Latin culture, tracks like "Que Onda Guero" establish Guero, hopefully, as a new direction for Beck.
9. Rogue Wave burst onto the music scene in 2004 with a debut album that gained unanticipated praise from critics...and a few too many comparisons to the now hugely famous Shins. On its second album, Rogue Wave turns up the volume and not only produces the quieter, more morose tracks that got the band noticed ("Love's Lost Guarantee"), but also dives headfirst into the genre of catchy, upbeat rock, making it almost impossible not to sing along to the echoic voice of lead singer Zach Rogue and electric guitar harmony.
8. They sing about Jesus, the woes of falling in love and goddamit, they make you want to shuffle your feet. There's blues, folk and harmonicas all over BRMC's third album, which was given cultural importance by several nods on the ever-worsening O.C. Although at times obvious (in case you missed their influences, they've conveniently titled one track "Gospel Song"), the often-acoustic album is an impressive return for the group after its recent dismissal from Virgin Records.
7. While Animal Collective shies away from the chaotic melodies of 2004's Sung Tongs for something more, well, accessible, the shift should be seen as nothing less than positive. While some of Sung Tongs' mainstays, including its spastic screams, bizarre noises and all-around explosiveness remain, the first two tracks of Feels indicate a move toward a pop-infused celebration that might not beg the "you have to listen to it a bunch of times" warning of previous albums. The eight-minute-plus "Banshee Beat," which drifts along calmly and reaches no more than a whisper, highlights Animal Collective's unmatched instrumentations and reminds us that despite evolution, the band will continue doing what it does best.
6. Canada just keeps churning out the good ones. "When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire," opens this orchestral album whose unapologetic pop is seamlessly tied with all those grand themes of love, youth and death to create something emotional that (almost) manages to avoid sentimentality. Nevertheless, with its sad violins, harsh guitars and sudden drums, "One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead)" is the most cruel and tragic song of the year.
5. Building off the success of their first two albums, the New Pornographers, unsurprisingly, have put out another record with both the catchy pop resonance of its predecessors, Mass Romantic and Electric Version, and also a sense of some lyrical maturation. The group's mastery of merging the sounds of strong guitar and drums with melodic vocals is accentuated on "Use It" and "The Jessica Numbers," while "These are the Fables" highlights the almost-angelic voices of female band-members Neko Case and Kathryn Calder. Calder, who recently joined the group after reuniting with her long-lost uncle and New Pornographer front-man A.C. Newman, may have been just what the band needed to push itself toward the slightly deeper feeling of Twin Cinema.
4. Despite his notorious knack for saying the wrong thing at, well, any time, somehow Kanye West reached a status in 2005 that landed him in Time 's "People Who Mattered" this past December. Record sales of West's sophomore release surpassed the two-million mark after only a few months on the shelves, proving that his coupling of classic instrumentals with outspoken raps is more appealing to the masses than what he says on TV. West's talent as a writer is undeniable as he skillfully paints a picture of his grandmother's death on "Roses" and his incorporation of harp and violin throughout the album ("We Can Make It Better" and "Gone") gives it the musical credibility that your typical rap hits are lacking.
3. Calling a band the "new [insert relatively well known band here]" is annoying, so I won't do it, even though The National begs comparisons with Interpol and Joy Division. There, I didn't do it. Lead singer Matt Berninger's deep voice is part assertive, part gloomy, so that "fuck me and make me a drink" doesn't sound quite as harsh as it could, while the repeated "I'm so sorry for everything" is callously sung. The guitars and drums work together to bring us songs that waver between the serene and pissed-off, like album-closer "Mr. November," which seals the deal for The National as one of the most exciting current indie-rock bands.
2. At this point, Colin Meloy's nicely packaged short stories are to be expected, even if the stories get better and the melodies, more exciting. Picaresque stands out from previous albums not only in the number of solid tracks ("The Sporting Life," "Military Wives" and the gorgeous "The Engine Driver," to name a few), but in the overall composition of the album, which lacks the lapses in energy of earlier LPs. With the exception of closing the album with "Of Angels and Angles" instead of "The Mariner's Revenge Song," the album reflects some of The Decemberists best choices, and with their recent switch to Capitol Records, we should expect more from the literary and sometimes-pretentious, but (almost) always enjoyable, band.
1. Beginning with the 2003 release of the thought-provoking Greetings from Michigan, the then obscure folk-rocker Sufjan Stevens boldly announced that he intended to write a record for each of the 50 states. After its success, fans and critics alike wondered if Stevens could create an album that could top Michigan, but with Illinois he has perfected his art of narrative song-writing. Stevens' lyrical descriptions of a woman stricken with cancer in "Casimir Pulaski Day" and mudslides in "Decatur" are impeccably complimented by saxophones, home-made stringed instruments, banjos and his Illinoisemaker Choir. Stevens' tranquil voice, combined with musical and choral arrangements that rival those of a Broadway show, make Illinois an album that would stand out even amongst its 48 possible successors.