Greg "Greg0rb" Simpson is a staff reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
Hey everybody, Greg here. You haven't heard from me much lately, so I'll catch you up quick. In August I moved from Chicago to Bloomington, Indiana, and I still teach music in a small town east of there. Even though my output as a reviewer has sucked lately, there is still a lot of music I have been obsessed with (you know how I get) and I wanted to share that with you. I love doing lists and I had to promise our pal Brian that I would get back on the review horse come the New Year, so you can expect to hear more from me soon. I've made my New Year's resolution to punknews.org.
In 2005, for me the biggest loss in the music world was not the most famous guy in the world, but rather a guy who I looked up to: Derrick Plourde. He was best know for drumming with Lagwagon on their first three albums, but he also drummed for the likes of The Ataris, The Mad Caddies, and Bad Astronaut. On March 30th he ended his life, and after I heard this I dedicated most of my listening time to those influential releases he performed on. I looked up to him and was completely in awe of his skills as a drummer.
As in 2004, 2005 brought more reunions. The Promise Ring reunion show was the most fun I had at a show all year. The Smoking Popes also reunited, and even though I couldn't make that show, I am ecstatic that they will be making new records. Dinosaur Jr. got back together to tour extensively, and I have not seen them but it prompted me to finally pick up some of their classic records, which I have been quite into recently.
Even though I spent most of the year tracking down and enjoying records by older acts like Camper Van Beethoven, Husker Du, Bob Dylan, and early Rolling Stones, I still found a lot to like about 2005. I know I enjoyed making these lists, and I hope you enjoy/agree with/are infuriated by them. Thanks for reading.
My Top Twenty Albums of 2005
#20. New Pornographers ‚?? Twin Cinema
This was my biggest "maybe" to make it on the list. I fell in love with the band when I heard "The Laws Have Changed", one of the most addictive songs ever written, and picked up Electric Version. While the rest of that album didn't quite stand up to that one song, I still enjoyed it and looked forward to their next release. Twin Cinema doesn't have any one song that can top "The Laws Have Changed", but there is no denying the incredible pop songwriting found here, and the fact that they take some risks and don't just follow a formula like many mainstream pop acts.
#19. Mando Diao ‚?? Hurricane Bar
When I first got this, I figured it would end up in a "Biggest Disappointments" category. But as I went back and listened again in preparation for this list, I forgot why I thought that- maybe I just wanted Bring ‚??Em In part two. This one's a little less uptempo, but the melodies are good as ever, and this one has a bit more soul in place of some of the bash-it-out garage rock.
#18. Coheed & Cambria ‚?? Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Vol. 1
Columbia / Equal Vision
Yes, I love these guys, get over it. While I prefer their last offering, the major label production here really does these guys well, as is evident by the first resonating drum hit, which they make you wait several minutes for.
#17. Bright Eyes ‚?? I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
I almost wrote off Bright Eyes as the hype around Oberst grew and grew leading into 2005 and the release of his two new albums. It's almost like I didn't want this to make the list. But it dawned on me that this is the best of his songwriting. There is less whining and over-dramatic performances while there's more polish but not enough to make it lose its intimacy or to really go mainstream.
#16. Troubled Hubble ‚?? Making Beds in a Burning House
I still can't believe these guys broke up because they never gave a good explanation why, only talking vaguely about "health reasons". It also may have had something to do with the financial troubles Lookout! had, for they probably would not have recieved the attention they deserve as a result. Whatever the cause, this swan song is their most consistent album, a fun-on-the-surface-but-depressing-underneath rock record that will remind you of Built to Spill, Modest Mouse and The Dismemberment Plan. [review]
#15. The Mars Volta ‚?? Frances the Mute
Universal / Gold Standard Laboratories
I could have done without some of the guitar wankery and ambient noise and trimmed this album down about 15 minutes, but when these guys rock, they rock hard. I also love the addition of Spanish lyrics and horns to their onslaught.
#14. Propagandhi ‚?? Potemkin City Limits
Fat Wreck Chords
The only good thing about the span of time between every Propagandhi album is that when one finally comes out, it's an event. Just having more Propagandhi to listen to practically gets it on the list alone, but of course they still kick total ass. Not as goofy as they used to be, and Less Talk, More Rock is still my favorite, but this one takes the direction Today's Empires was headed and runs with it.
#13. The White Stripes ‚?? Get Behind Me Satan
What is everyone's deal with this album? Is it just because the instrumentation is a little different than previous records? The songs are still great, and I don't even notice anymore that fuzzed-out guitar has been almost completely replaced by acoustic guitar, piano and marimba. We still have the great stomping, bluesy, sing-able tunes, with a little country twang thrown in sometimes too. I applaud artists who take risks, and the Stripes could have easily made another Elephant but they chose to move forward.
#12. Bloc Party ‚?? Silent Alarm
I didn't really pay much attention to this band at first, but then I finally caved and bought it and saw that everyone was right. Every instrument is a rhythm instrument and the whole thing is so immediate and driving.
#11. The Decemberists ‚?? Picaresque
Kill Rock Stars
I love nerd music, and I love stuff with accordion, banjo, mandolin or ukulele. This has all of the above, but they are super-talented and don't rely on the weird instruments; they insist on having captivating lyrics and catchy melodies as well. The 9-minute musical play "The Mariner's Revenge Song" really says it all.
#10. Against Me! ‚?? Searching for a Former Clarity
Fat Wreck Chords
I had never bought an album by these guys before this one. Don't ask me why; they were always on my "buy me" list especially after Cowboy came out, and on this list they sat, pushed aside for some reason. Now I realize why all the kids shout along. But is it wrong that I like their slow almost-country songs the best?
#9. Animal Collective - Feels
I still like the acoustical-chaos that was Sung Tongs (thank you Jesse for finally convincing me to get that), but Feels shows the band attempting to become more focused, and that is always good. This is not to say they are your standard indie rock band now, they are still bizarre as hell. I still would say that this band sounds like nothing else I have ever heard, and I love that about them.
#8. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
Atlantic / Barsuk
This album didn't grab me like The Photo Album or Transatlanticism and sometimes I think it just feels like more of the same from ol' Ben Gibbard. But I'll take that over almost anything ‚??cause the guy writes a damn good tune. Plus, they take a new angle this time around: being positive!
#7. Sleater-Kinney ‚?? The Woods
I didn't actually own an album by these Seattle natives until I was visiting there last summer. I saw the highway off ramp sign with their moniker and bought Dig Me Out that very day. It seemed grating and thin-sounding, but it grew on me and later I picked up All Hands on the Bad One. The Woods is still grating vocally, yes, but in the most kickass way, and this album sure isn't thin sounding. Some of the music is more classic rock now, but the vocals and lyrics are still passionately punk.
#6. Architecture in Helsinki ‚?? In Case We Die
The Australian octet's debut Fingers Crossed was nice, but it didn't blow me away. Their second offering, however, happens to be one of the most fun records I have ever heard. This band seems up for trying pretty much anything, and I could imagine them in the studio saying to each other, "well what if we tried this‚?¶?" and then they all laugh about it, and then say "ok, why not?" The sound effects, dozens of different instruments, and spastic style changes mid-song don't detract from the great poppy songwriting within. This album is a blast!
#5. Wolf Parade ‚?? Apologies to Queen Mary
Yet another reason for me to love Isaac Brock. He brought these guys to the indie-masses by getting them on Sub Pop, and he also recorded this album. There may be a few similarities between his own band and these guys, other people hear Arcade Fire, and the band themselves claim Bowie and Eno influences. Whatever it is, me likee.
#4. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Just thinking about the work that went into this album blows my mind; how fully orchestrated these songs are when at their root they are folk songs and could have been great with just some acoustic guitar. It's not a perfect album-it could use a trimming-but when you're swinging for the fences, you're bound to whiff once or twice.
#3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah ‚?? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
All hype aside, this record is flippin' sweet. Synth-filled quirky rock in the vein of the Talking Heads that sounds fresh and weird. And if nothing else but to qualify ranking this record so high, these guys sold something like 30,000 copies of this album out of their garage, with no label or PR agent, before they finally inked a distribution deal. This band's music got people talking, and I will continue to spread the word.
#2. The Mountain Goats ‚?? The Sunset Tree
After so many releases of focusing on the fictional and last year's We Shall All Be Healed focusing on real people other than himself, John Darnielle finally points his pen at his younger self. What we get is all the more compelling because we can truly picture our main character. It's not all whiny and hateful towards his abusive stepfather; Darnielle uses his narrative prowess to paint a very broad yet detailed picture of his young life and the hope that he had throughout it all. [review]
#1. Lagwagon - Resolve
Fat Wreck Chords
It feels great to get Lagwagon up here on this list. They were my favorite band all through high school, and at a show nearly nine years ago, Joey made my day by wishing me a happy 16th birthday before they started their set. Also, as I said before, as a young drummer I loved Derrick Plourde and tried to replicate his drum parts. Now he is gone and Lagwagon has dedicated their most powerful record to him. Maybe I'm getting all emotional and making this record better than it is, but I don't think so. This is the best Lagwagon has sounded in a long time, and anyway, this is my list, and this is my #1.
The Constantines' Tournament of Hearts, Broken Social Scene's s/t, and Spoon's Gimme Fiction were three albums that may have made this list had I gotten my mits on them sooner and let them sink in. The Suicide Machines' War Profiterring is Killing us All is great, but I love their melodic and ska moments, while this record is a lot of hardcore and metal. Hot Hot Heat's Elevators is such a fun listen, but the straight, almost formulaic pop songs just don't stand up to the more diverse Make Up the Breakdown. Best EP of 2005
Iron & Wine / Calexico ‚?? In the Reins
Sam Beam's songwriting and hushed voice mixed with Calexico's instrumentation and southwest flavor makes for an incredible seven songs. When I realized how few EPs I bought this year, I thought about just putting this in the "Album" category, because it is a long EP. I decided against it when I had a hard time narrowing down the album list, but this could have made the top ten against all those full length albums.
Bright Eyes ‚?? Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Its companion album ends up in the "Best Albums" category and this one ends up here. Why? It's maybe that Oberst was out of his element here and it just seems a bit amateur, but I'm sure he had fun making it. I was excited to hear something different from Bright Eyes, and ended up a bit let down.
Of Montreal ‚?? The Sunlandic Twins
2004's Satanic Panic in the Attic was in contention for my top 20 last year, but didn't make it. This one didn't even come close. It was just like they were trying the same thing again, but trying too hard‚?¶ or not trying hard enough. One of those.
Motion City Soundtrack ‚?? Commit This to Memory
Just didn't do for me what I am the Movie did. Not a bad album.
Alkaline Trio - Crimson
While most of my other long-time Alkaline Trio fan friends have kinda given up on these guys, I keep buying the albums and sticking up for them. Yet the albums continue to let me down. I do like a lot of it, but I have to ignore just how good they were on their first two albums.
Weezer ‚?? Make Believe
Ok, I was gonna call this the "Comeback Album" award, but they really haven't been completely gone or completely sucking (admit it, there were good songs on Maladroit). And while this isn't exactly a return-to-form of the Blue Album and Pinkerton days, it's the first solidly good Weezer album in 9 years. Peoples' opinions seem to be split on this album, but I for one rather enjoyed it. Who's with me?
Say Anything ‚?? Is a Real Boy
Must give props to my boy Scott on this one. I have not sung along with any album in 2005 more than this one. Can't get enough.
Animal Collective ‚?? Sung Tongs
Now here I must give props to Jesse, even though I already mentioned that.
Fiery Furnaces ‚?? Blueberry Boat
Rough Trade / Sanctuary
Technically I did hear this in 2004, but I didn't understand it's greatness until 2005. The things this band does with a melodic motive are amazing- pay attention to that and you will see how they have trouble writing a short song. There are so many ways you can toy with a few notes to get their full potential, but maybe that's just a classically-trained musician talking. For everyone else, just know that you can't listen to it the same way you would listen to a regular pop band, you need to concentrate and not just have it as background music. I didn't get their new one, but I'm very interested because I hear you either love it or hate it.
Arcade Fire - Funeral
I missed the hype boat on this one and didn't get it until January. Love it.
Most anticipated of all would be Cougars, Ryan's Hope, The Shins, and it seems Darnielle could very well put out another Mountain Goats album, which would be awesome. After that in no particular order would be: Thursday, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Murder By Death, The Strokes, Death From Above 1979, Mates of State, Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Blood Brothers, Arcade Fire, The Flaming Lips, Jenny Lewis, Cursive and Saves the Day.