MY FAVORITE MUSIC OF 2005
I've finally gotten around to blogging about my favorite music of 2005. There was a lot of it that's not on the list below. A lot of amazing stuff that others have written about already. But these particular CDs stuck in my mind more--I just simply played them more often, or select songs from them, more often.
1 - SPOON - GIMME FICTION
every morning I've got a new chance
I wanna play the part of Eddie in The Stranger Dance
he makes love to the duke
he swordfights the queen
he steals the whole show in his last dying scene
no one sees the two sides of Monsieur Valentine
no, no one sees the two sides of Monsieur Valentine
What a beautifully strange CD, from the cover to the actual songs, with lyrics and music that take on a luminous, slightly decadent quality the longer you listen. The music has a coiled intensity that promises release but never quite gives it in the way you expect. There are songs here that could be about loneliness or being watched, songs that love ambiguity. From the very first notes of “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” you’re sucked into another place. The CD is textured—it has a unique voice, in which you can see flashes and sparks influence but the whole is alien and different and powerful. There are traces of sounds in these songs that suggest a horizon beyond the song—little quirks and background twitches that make you think about movies like Blow Up, where there’s something in the shadow that doesn’t quite want to come out into the light. If there’s a way for rock and pop music to suggest brush strokes, to suggest both paintings and something much more fluid and sensual/supernatural, this CD does that.
When I got this CD, I put it in my car CD player and I must have listened to it a hundred times before I got sick of it. And when I started listening to it again, a few months later, it was entirely new. Through the summer of 2005, which was very difficult for me, I don’t think I could have survived without Spoon’s song “The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine.” That wonderful rise in tempo toward the last part of the song, the kind of leap the music makes, the way the lyrics repeat and yet mean something different each time. I would take long drives late at night, playing “The Two Sides” and then switching immediately to “My Mathematical Mind,” with its parallel leap of energy, this time at the beginning of the song. Some songs transport you. Some songs make you think of defiance. Some songs make you want to write. Some songs simply have such an odd and enduring beauty that you’ll never get to the bottom of them. There are songs on Gimme Fiction that do all four things for and to me. And there are many pages of fiction I’ve written to this CD already. This may be my favorite CD of the decade so far.
great dominions, they don't come cheap
great dominions, they just want you to leave
I got the meaning the meaning sat tight
said it's not what you expected but it could be right
2 - THE NATIONAL - ALLIGATOR.
I wake up without warning and go flying around the house
In my sauvignon fierce, freaking out
Take a forty-five minute shower and kiss the mirror
And say, look at me
Baby, we'll be fine
All we gotta do is be brave and be kind
put on an argyle sweater and put on a smile
I don't know how to do this
I'm so sorry for everything
- Baby We’ll Be Fine
The other CD that annihilated me in 2005, that kept transforming my brain every time I listened to it, that rewarded repeated and intense listening, was The National’s Alligator. It’s hard to describe The National. They have a singer with a deep, world-weary voice—one of my favorite voices in music—and a sensibility that veers from slow to fast, from rock to something on the edge of alternative, but with beautiful melodies. The National’s lyrics are more direct than Spoon’s, less mysterious and yet they are, in combination with the music, luminous and something more than they seem on the page. Songs about desperate people, or people coming to terms with who they are. Songs that function as miniature character studies. All through the summer of 2005, this CD’s steady pessimism, its roll call of men and women trying to make sense of their lives, propped me up, got to me on a deeply emotional level. “Baby We’ll Be Fine” just blew me away—I can’t even describe the profound effect of this song on me.
The lead singer’s voice provides the heavy authority for the music—the voice allows the music to at times be understated, to be lighter as a counterpoint. And as the CD progresses, the stories seem to intertwine, seem to connect to one another. Just quite simply one of the great new American bands.
I think this place is full of spies
I think they're onto me
Didn't anybody, didn't anybody tell you
Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room
I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses, I know.
3 - ROBBERS ON HIGH STREET - TREE CITY.
My lover is in America
I'll reach out with one hand
And keep one foot on the platform
Well I know what I want if I know I can get it
I take what I want, un-hun, if it's there
Well I know what I want if I know I can get it
I take what I want un-hun, if it's there
I think of Robbers as Spoon with less esoteric lyrics and with release—the songs don’t coil the way Spoon’s songs coil. They break outward. It could be seen as a lack of discipline or just as a different way of looking at music. Although this band has unfortunately been called a Spoon rip-off, it’s mostly because the band’s lead singer sounds a lot like the guy from Spoon. Other than that, although they’re in the same subset, they couldn’t be more different. Except. Robbers also has a strangeness to their music, if not their lyrics. This strangeness comes out as a kind of surreal luminous quality, for me. (I tend to think the best rock-pop has this quality of otherness, of some odd feyness that is the equivalent of a strange gold-green light against the horizon of a fading sun.) Keyboards, jangly guitars, and a pulsing drum beat make for something with a much more solid foundation than the umpteen million New Wave Brit replicants stalking across the music scene right now. And these guys have rock swagger—in both their initial EP and the 2005 full-length. I listened to this CD as much as the Spoon and the National. Robbers aren’t quite as strange, but they are the real deal. Nothing against the Strokes and their ilk, but this band blows the Strokes et all away. (Oddly, I listened to Fine Lines, their first CD, while reading the Pullman books…and it was the best soundtrack! The six songs are like stars thrown out across a dark night sky, the perfect complement to Pullman’s fine descriptions and northern milieu.)
(Everything is so complete)
Until there's more than everything
(Everything is what you need)
So quit now
Could you even help with this one
While it's tied to me?
Bring on the terror, and give it to me
4 - JOHN VANDERSLICE – PIXEL REVOLT
I’ll see you next fall
At another gun show
I’ll call the day before
But I—I wanted so much more.
I’ve got exodus damage bleed.
Could not commit.
Some things I’ll never be.
“Exodus Damage” on VanderSlice’s third CD in three years I first listened to while mountain biking in a thunderstorm that had come up suddenly. The trail was all shot to hell, I was miles from the exit point, I had sand and dirt in my eyes, under and on top of my contacts, I was protecting the ipod on my arm from the water with a couple of plastic bags that had held my supply of nuts and berries. Two inches of water on the trail and a steady incline and the red dust turned to mud. And I had “Exodus Damage” blasting in my ears and I had one of those epiphany moments where the song was making me strong so even though it was torture to keep biking I did and simultaneously the song was getting to me, and the world was getting to me and I really was in another place, miles from anything and glad of it and yelling into the rain to keep my legs pumping and the song just getting to me and getting to me. The whole CD is great, if hard to describe—it has a song on it that’s a letter from someone saying sorry for losing their bunny that’s funny and terrible at the same time. It’s got some of the oddest sounds and melodies on it, and they work with a kind of delicate beauty that has an underlying tensile strength beneath it. I’m not a musician, so it’s hard to describe the music in traditional terms. All I know is this is another one that got to me on a very deep level.
No one ever says a word about so much that happens in the world.
Dance, dance revolution.
All we’re gonna get
Unless it falls apart.
So I say go go go down
Let it fall down.
I’m ready for the end.
4 - SUPERSYSTEM – ALWAYS NEVER AGAIN
I was born into the world in a hospital called ABC
I was born into the world a friend to every falcon, shark, and bee
I lived above a candy store
Behind a massive marble door.
I was born into the world in a city with volcanoes in the sky.
I was a friend to every lion, snake, and fly
I lived above a flower store.
Behind a massive iron door.
Supersystem used to be El Guapo, also a dance band…but I’ve never really heard a dance band like this one. It’s not the international influence, including Brazilian dance music, trance, jazz, punk—it’s the insanely surreal lyrics. The song I heard, playing over the sound system before a Deathray Davies concert, was “Six Cities” (lyrics excerpted below), which as one Amazon reviewer said is a bit like a series of miniaturist Calvino set-pieces. I started to kind of dance to the music and then I realized what I was listening to: I was listening to dance music with fantasy lyrics. Not only are the beats pulse-pounding and insanely infectious, but the lyrics are dark and strange and, in combination with the music, again have a kind of luminous quality. I bought this CD for the kinetic energy of it but kept listening to it because of the lyrics.
There was once a city that was made glass.
All the buildings you could see right through.
Each and every person had opinions and ideas,
And each and every one of them was true.
There was a city made of marble.
All the buildings were beautiful and cold.
The people had solutions for anything that failed,
So they spent their lives being helpful and alone.
6 - GRAHAM PARKER - SONGS OF NO CONSEQUENCE.
When you hit those kinds of highs
you know you have to crash
When you hit those kinds of lows
you know there's further down
in the hands of forces
you just don't understand.
One of the first albums Ann ever taped for me was Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks, which blew my mind. The incisive, sometimes sad lyrics, the pure rock approach with a kind of punk attitude. Every song was a classic in my opinion, from “Discovering Japan” to “Local Girls” to “Saturday Nite Is Dead”. The honesty Parker brought to his work impressed the hell out of me. Since then, I’ve listened to all of his other work, including Mona Lisa's Smile and The Real Macaw (mostly love songs), which (along with the Furs’ Love My Way) are pretty personal and memorable to Ann and me. Then he dropped off my radar for awhile. I forgot about his ability to write the perfect rock-pop song. Which was a mistake. Because when Parker is on, his work is seamless. The songs don’t seem to have been constructed, but to have formed all at once, as if from a single piece of clay or from a cooled piece of molten magma. The sensation of sinking into his best work, of just letting the song take over, has been one of the joys of my life as a listener of music.
After a few hit-or-miss CDs, Parker popped back into my awareness with Songs of No Consequence, and especially with the song “Chloroform,” which I played as much as any song in 2005. It’s got all the classic Parker signatures—the downbeat lyrics with the upbeat, optimistic, hard-driving sound, the perfect melody, the effortless production. But also gritty and with lyrics that really spoke to me. And with the rest of the CD Parker showed me he’s still got it. (The upward lilt on the line “You remain ambivalent” from the song “Ambivalent” is one of my favorite moments on a 2005 single—perfect bliss.)
So where you gonna get your feelings from
after they've been removed?
Why didn't you see it coming, man,
from way down the pike.
There had to be a payback--
someone had to strike.
There could be literally dozens of honorable mentions, but these three are ones that stand out in particular. I also loved the new Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, et al.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS - B-SIDES AND RARETIES. A three CD set. Of Cave's extra stuff. You know what? Most musicians would kill just to have created some of these B-sides. I've long wanted the Seeds rollicking version of Paul Kelly's "God's Hotel" on a compilation, as well as "Tower of Song" from the Leonard Cohen tribute CD, and "The End of the World" from the Wender flick. But it gets better. B-sides like "The Train Song" and an insane version of "O'Malley's Bar" from Murder Ballads. Not to mention a great orchestra-fueled version of "Red Right Hand" from the Scream 3 soundtrack. Basically, this is awesome and a must-buy.
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 - YOU'RE A WOMAN I'M A MACHINE. This is like some kind of weird hybrid of punk, electronic, dance, and grunge. It's also an all-out attack in terms of the sound, and I love it. The intensity of the sound is amazing, considering it's mostly bass and drums.
TIM BOOTH - BONE. I've loved James ever since Whiplash, and have sought out everything they've ever done since then. Now lead singer Tim Booth heads out on his own with Bone. It's a somewhat psychedelic, trippy effort, with the result that a couple of the tracks sound a little silly lyrically. But other than that, this is an excellent solo CD that avoids the somewhat cloying effect of his last non-James outing--Booth and the Bad Angel. Several tracks achieve a transcendent quality, even as several songs deal frankly with sex and gender. Yeah, yeah--he's a little flaky. Deal with it.
6 mile jog in 47 minutes (4 miles up hills, 1 mile level, 1 mile downhill)
2 1/8th mile sprints (up hill)
30 minute brisk walk