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The Top 10 albums of 2005

This Magazine Staff

Here’s what filled my ears this year, whether on the subway, at home or out with friends:

10. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn by Bright Eyes
9. Idols of Exile by Jason Collett
8. The City by The Fembots
7. Arular by M.I.A.
6. Has a Good Home by Final Fantasy
5. Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes
4. The Futureheads by The Futureheads
3. Apologies to the Queen Mary by Wolf Parade
2. Silent Alarm by Bloc Party
1. Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers

Honourable mentions are too numerous to, uh, mention. What can I say, it was a good year for music. What were your favourites?

More on each album after the jump…

10. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn by Bright Eyes
The more upbeat and, well, digital of two simultaneous Bright Eyes releases from early in the year, it was a mainstay in my rotation right through April. I went from not really caring for Conner Oberst’s fragile voice to being hooked by the strength of his country-tinged songwriting and his lyrics (which are admittedly hit-or-miss, but when they hit—ho boy). “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)” is the standout track, rooted by distorted guitars and pulled along by a lovely melody and driving drums. Speaking of drums, one of the most intriguing parts of this album is the use of two drummers at once through most of the songs, only discernible when their fills diverge. My enjoyment of this album waned as the weather got warmer (for some reason Bright Eyes is winter music to me), but now that the cold is back, so is the Urn.

9. Idols of Exile by Jason Collett
In which yet another Broken Social Scenester proves that the parts are just as good as the whole. It’s a whimsical, relaxed album with guest spots from the usual suspects (please step forward, Amy Millan and Feist), but unlike some rock-folk records you hear these days, it’s catchy as all hell. Solid throughout, with nice string arrangements to complement the guitar work and a few tracks that would feel anthemic if they weren’t so gosh darn laid back.

8. The City by The Fembots
Pals with The Weakerthans? Check. Contributions from the great Julie Penner on violin? Check. Connected to Toronto’s past and present, from the gritty side streets to the pages of Taddle Creek? Check. The City is said to be more straight-ahead than previous Fembots records (I’m not familiar with their older stuff), but undoubtedly the use of horns and violins over found objects as instruments (as in the past) was a good one. The result is a rich, modern record with strong foundations in blues, country and the best roots rock. Featuring both haunting lyrics (as in “Hell”) and singalong choruses with distant vocal harmonies (as in “Count Down Our Days”), it’s a winner.

7. Arular by M.I.A.
Where did I turn in 2005 when I needed a quick pick-me-up? To a Brit originally from Sri Lanka, M.I.A., whose reggae/hip hop/dub/dancehall record made instant fans out of anyone looking for something to groove to, without pretension. Backed by a crew of one and a DJ making his own buzz (Diplo), M.I.A. was one of the surprise hits of the Coachella festival in California this May, and one of few to earn an encore. And to top it all off, she’s fiercely political, as songs like “Pull Up the People” will attest. Play anything from this record at the bar and I’ll be on the dance floor before you can say “Yah yah yay, yah yah hey!”

6. Has a Good Home by Final Fantasy
It was only a matter of time before the violin genius behind such acts as The Arcade Fire, The Hidden Cameras and Jim Guthrie broke out on his own, and with his Final Fantasy project, Owen Pallett did just that in 2005. If “This Is the Dream of Win & Regine” doesn’t do it for you, with its half-plucked violin hook and Pallett’s slightly tortured vocals, I might question if you have a pulse. But it doesn’t stop there—the album is full of eccentric lyrics and lush strings that definitely work as the primary instruments on a pop record. Finally, Has a Good Home features the best of three quality songs entitled “Please Please Please” from this year (the others are by the Shout Out Louds and Fiona Apple). A great album to listen to while riding my bike in the summer, singing loudly and proudly.

5. Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes
So what if Meg White can’t drum? In a way it actually adds character to the Stripes’ music, as on “My Doorbell,” a song with a simple beat she barely gets through but also with a wonderful refrain. GBMS was certainly a departure for Meg and Jack, who often forgot about the electric guitar entirely in favour of piano (heavy piano, light piano, strange piano) and even marimbas. When the guitar figured prominently, as in “Blue Orchid,” the results were a reminder of the Stripes’ ability to dominate in the rock department when called upon.

4. The Futureheads by The Futureheads
I like power pop. Perhaps more than any other genre of rock, power pop really gets me going. I think it started with Weezer and Sloan. Anyway, I think these days they’ve changed the name from power pop to post punk, but whatever you call it, The Futureheads mastered it this year. All the ingredients are there: short, punchy songs featuring heavy, rolling drums, delicious guitar and vocal hooks, backing vocals with two- and three-part harmonies and silly lyrics (maybe it has something to do with them being British). Their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” was named track of the year by NME magazine (try to find the live version, which they play at a faster tempo).

3. Apologies to the Queen Mary by Wolf Parade
Okay, I’m going to try and get through this review without mentioning The Arcade Fire or Modest Mouse. Damn. Okay, two primary singer/songwriters lie at the heart of Wolf Parade, a Montreal-based five-piece originally from Victoria, and Apologies is their second studio album and first full-length. The album specializes in organic guitar rock propelled by terrifically simple keys and piano and the distinct but complimentary vocal stylings of songwriters Dan Boeckner and Spencer King. The drums rise and fall back when necessary, the melodies are at once intense and bouncy, and the production by Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock brings it all together as only he can. One of those rare bands (like The Arcade Fire, who drummer Arlen Thompson once played with) that lives up to considerable hype.

2. Silent Alarm by Bloc Party
The year’s top album according to NME magazine was a success on both sides of the Atlantic for the simple fact that it was simultaneously tender and raucous. There wasn’t a more perfect love song all year than “This Modern Love,” but “Like Eating Glass” is a must on any playlist meant to be a soundtrack to the revolution. Inspiring and often soaring guitars, rock-solid drums, flourishes of bells and handclaps all combined with Kele Okereke’s high-register wail to leave any listener floored. And steady, building beats and chant-able refrains helped give Silent Alarm the unique sound that set it apart from other albums this year.

1. Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers
Vancouver’s all-star band is fast becoming Vancouver’s supergroup, and if there’s a better pop songwriter in the world than A.C. Newman, well then I’d like to meet him or her. Twin Cinema is a revelation, an album that stands up to repeated listens because it’s not only diverse and catchy, it’s also damn well produced. Examples abound. The shotgun guitar riff that anchors “The Jessica Numbers,” the quick and ear-catching descending keyboard line in the closing seconds of “Star Bodies” and the perfect balance of male and female unison vocals on “Streets of Fire” would all be impossible without expert production by Newman, John Collins, David Carswell and Kurt Dahle. The three songs written by part-time member Dan Bejar are some of his strongest, and Neko Case would carry entire ballads by herself if the band wasn’t strong enough to support her vocals (which of course it is). But Twin Cinema’s secret weapon is drummer Kurt Dahle, who seems to fancy removing any muffler from his bass drum for a hollow, boombastic sound that makes him out to be the second coming of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Many of the album’s best songs come to rousing crescendos in their last thirds, and one can picture Dahle like an impatient Animal from the Muppet Show, heaving as he calmly plays chimes or something during the first parts of the songs and then letting himself go when called upon. Finally, lyrics like “Two sips from the cup of human kindness and I’m shitfaced” (from “Use It”) simply can’t be beat.

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