Best of 2005 - Adam's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2005

Best of 2005: Adam's picks

Adam's picks (2005)

staff picks

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Adam White is a news editor and reviewer here at -ed

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)

When historians sit down to write the annals of the House Of A, 2005 will span chapters. I finished school in May and with degree in hand moved from the wonderfully cultured city of Guelph back to my ever perplexing border-town of Niagara Falls. For months the seas between the two were rough and uncertain, and I nearly veered north and westwards as the winds toyed with me. I now find myself working a full time job and living on my own. For purely personal reasons, this has been a huge year of transition, and I've yet to be hit by the sense that my status quo is in place.

Meanwhile the world continued to spin as it often does. We found the giant squid. Hockey came back. Nature tried to kill us more than a few times. America continued to scare the bejesus out of the rest of the world. Nothing Nice To Say came back. Molson bought Creemore to my dismay. The CBC was locked out and I was one of the .06% of Canadians who really cared. Earth-2 Superman came back. I assume other things happened but if one word can summarize my year it would be "preoccupied."

For Punknews this was a huge year. Most obviously Aubin, Scott and myself realized a dream in launching Punknews Records with the release of Somerset's full length Pandora. While it seems we've often found ourselves fumbling in the dark for the proverbial light switch I'm so incredibly proud of the band and the record, and can't wait for what 2006 will bring (and on that note, Pandora's not in the running for this list, I've got too much emotionally invested in that baby). Also in the new year we're putting out the new full length from Ryan's Hope, and Apocalypse in Increments will knock your socks off. We've made an effort to balance the news site and the label, quite conscious that one has been the step that brought us to the other, and think we've done a decent job of keeping objective and fair. A huge part of that has been the efforts put in by reviews editor Brian and our new news editor Justin, as well as our staff of reviewers. It's the voluntary hours of all these people that keeps this site running and I can't thank them enough.

Musically this was a fine year, although my expectations and the reality of certain releases were often misaligned. I see several threads converging in this list, as my interest in garage-oriented punk rock and my zeal for supporting independent Canadian music is tied up together among these 20 choices. I found that while many of the bands I expected to find here put out solid punk records (that I do enjoy) I just couldn't can't find it in me to rank among the year's best. I'm not sure if my tastes are maturing or if I'm just in the cloud of some trend I can't yet identify, but here's my look at 2005.

Who Rocked The Casbah In 2005
20. Greg MacPherson Band ?? Night Flares
April 19 on G7 Welcoming Committee Records
I still think his best work is ahead of him and a few songs do mire Night Flares in pacing problems, but I'm a believer in the gospel according to Greg. The Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter's Clash / Springsteen inspired rockers are top notch and his social views are expressed with as much tact and subtlety as one could hope for. [ the review / interview]
19. Teenage Bottlerocket - Total
April 12 on Red Scare Records
Maybe it makes me a musical conservative, but it's remarkably reassuring that there's new bands emerging to carry the torch of the Ramones and Screeching Weasel. This is solid meat & potatoes punk rock, charmingly free of whatever today's trends are yet still youthful and vibrant.
18. Neil Young - Prairie Wind
September 27 on Reprise
Not the best Neil Young record, but rather a nice way to end a year I've spent obsessing over the man's catalogue. Neil wrote this one while his very life was in question, threatened by potentially fatal brain aneurysm, and that's a fascinating context for the record. It shares that mix of retrospection, fear and an almost childlike innocence that you could be heard on the last songs Joey Ramone wrote before succumbing to cancer. It's certainly an odd position for a songwriter to be in, and Mr. Young channels it through a nice batch of Harvest style Americana.
17. Invisible Eyes - Laugh In The Dark
November 22 on Bomp! Records
This is the last band Greg Shaw signed to Bomp, and while it's hard not to be sentimental about that Laugh In The Dark is a fantastic record that's completely characteristic of the music Shaw built his life around. This is a hybrid of sorts, dabbling in stomping garage punk as much as it does hazy psychedelia, and it's utterly infectious. This is the type of record that slips through your fingers if you try to get a solid grasp on it, yet you keep on coming back to try again.
16. Chixdiggit! - Pink Razors
April 19 on Fat Wreck Chords
Unlike this year's other comeback from a long running Western Canadian punk band, Chixdiggit's new record sounds like a band still willing to find some joy in their craft. As one of the first live bands I ever saw this group's always got a bit of a free pass from me, but no longer feel the need to justify my support for them. I just love this band. It's amazing how close a band of Ramones-inspired goofs can get to the spirit of this genre.
15. Cuff The Duke - Cuff The Duke
July 26 on Hardwood Records
While there's a handful of acts playing punk-minded "alt-country" these days none of them have produced quite the same mix as Cuff The Duke. The band's self-titled sophomore release is far from perfect, but the songs here (backed with the band's great live show) are remarkably compelling. This is very much a college band for me, as their two full lengths more or less bookended my years in Guelph. [ the review]
14. Paint It Black - Paradise
March 8 on Jade Tree Records
I've never found modern hardcore remarkably interesting, and while I can appreciate the energy and passion involved the songwriting tends to bore me. Paint It Black broke through that, and it's likely because this still feels like hardcore as an extension of punk rock, rather than some later permutation. Mr. Yemin can craft quite the hook, and he smartly relies on them to carry his songs instead of lumping on another "breakdown" or whatever you metalheads get off on.
13. The Soviettes - LPIII
June 28 on Fat Wreck Chords
There are more than a few tracks on LPIII that are completely brilliant. This is quite the proficient punk band on a good day, but frenzied, multi-voiced, delightfully manic tunes like "(Do) The Swagger," "Multiply and Divide" and "How Do You Like That" take it to another level entirely. [ the review]
12. Black Mountain - Black Mountain
January 18 on Scratch Records (Canada) / Jagjaguwar (US)
Black Mountain claims territory that falls somewhere between the Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath and Queens Of The Stone Age. This is lumbering, psychedelic hard rock that's more content with establishing a tumbling groove than it is in crafting singles. Dual male and female vocals courtesy of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber tie things together and create something quite different than the sum of its influences.
11. The Ponys - Celebration Castle
May 3 on In The Red Records
Everything the Ponys did on Laced with Romance is more fully realized here. Celebration Castle still makes a cerebral mix of Richard Hell swagger, Television's artful take on punk and the atmospherics of My Bloody Valentine, but the songwriting and production are vastly improved. Tracks like the Stonesy "Get Black," urgent "Glass Conversation" and poppy "Discoteca" are among the year's best.
10. Elliott Brood - Ambassador
October 4 on Six Shooter Records
Their press calls it Death Country, and with a number of Nick Cave-styled murder ballads maybe that's not a bad description of this Toronto three-piece. Even Elliott Brood's slow material seems to have more drive and purpose than most of this season's punk bands. Ambassador frequently shifts gears form haunting, literate, historically minded folk tales to aggressive, stomping, banjo-driven songs. A long overdue and beautifully packaged follow-up to their excellent EP.
9. FemBots - The City
September 6 on Paper Bag Records
Anyone who's seen the Weakerthans on tour in the past year or so has seen the FemBots, as the core duo of the band's been moonlighting as members of Samson's ensemble. Likewise, Weakerthan Jason Tait joins the FemBots, violinist Julie Penner and a host of others for this clanging, waltzing, layered piece of rock art. Indie folk? Post-Waits singer/songwriter? MacKinnon and Poirier's duo is impossible to define at times, and that's part of what makes the FemBots such an interesting band.
8. Turpentine Brothers - We Don't Care About Your Good Times
January 18 on Alive Records
When I first heard this record nearly 12 months ago I knew they'd end up on this list. This three-piece plays a dark, propulsive set of garage punk/soul tunes, the entire record simply dripping with style. The Boston based act rips through an amped up set of Motown and blues standards as well as killer original works. Turpentine Brothers have taken a lot of old pieces and used them to construct something new. [ the review]
7. The Constantines - Tournament of Hearts
October 11 on Three Gut Records (Can) / Sub Pop Records (US)
This is the Constantines as Crazyhorse, playing themselves up as an earthy hard rock band willing and able to get out of the garage and conquer the arena. Tournament of Hearts is a difficult album though, and for a band that has been at times so caustic a decidedly restrained record can seem underwhelming. Their focus is on composition, and the songs are carefully built and layered only to explode in the last few seconds. The learning curve this time is steeper, but this is my favourite active band and I'm more than willing to put in the time. [ the review]
6. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
May 3 on Frenchkiss Records
Craig Finn's a storyteller, first and foremost, and the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday is a wonderfully effective narrative. Much has been said about the classic rock sound of the band, but far more important is how well their music fleshes out Finn's tale of self-destruction and resurrection. Proof that concept albums can be done without pretension, self-importance or forced epics.
5. The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Fighting and Onions
July 15 on Shoutin' Abner Pim Records
Hidden gem of the year, and one of three bands on this list I discovered through the indispensable CBC Radio 3 podcast. The Agnostics call themselves "gospel for the unbeliever" and that couldn't be more perfect. This is raw-throated, aggressive music in the spirit of Leatherface and Husker Du, only with its sights set on swampy blues, infectious southern gospel and Appalachian folk music. Make no mistake though, this is no rock band dabbling in a hybrid genre. The bare honesty and authenticity of sound this Calgary band creates is remarkable.
4. The Briefs - Steal Yer Heart
October 18 on BYO Records
The knives have been out as publications trip over themselves to complain that the Briefs take so much from the Buzzcocks. What shocks me is that these easy shots from banal critics are often too ignorant to even bother mentioning the Undertones, which would at least make for a convincing argument. What the Briefs have done is tapped into the sensibilities that those bands captured: that celebration of the nervous, depraved pop-geek. It's a theme in punk that was there in the early days, only to be ignored and buried when things got too political and serious. If you must, go ahead and write it off again in your endless pursuit of bleeding edge music, but I'm not coming with you. [ the review]
3. The Deadly Snakes - Porcella
September 27 on Paper Bag Records (Can) / In The Red Records (US)
Each Deadly Snakes record has been a departure from the previous, but the gear change between the soul-influenced garage rock of Ode to Joy and the haunting Porcella is remarkable. The band sequestered themselves in a cabin somewhere in Northern Ontario to craft this one, and they must have been spinning Tom Waits and Nick Cave albums on that long drive up the 400. Porcella is a feast for the ears, as multiple genres are touched upon, a host of instruments are mixed and matched, and a prominent theme is developed. This is one of Canada's best bands, and more than deserving of all the hype we shovel onto Montreal these days.
2. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
August 23 on Mint Records (Can) / Matador Records (US)
At this point in the game I shouldn't let this band astound me, but yet they continue to do so. A.C. Newman's songwriting is as gifted as ever, even more so since he's now proven he can mix up the Pornographers' near perfect balance and still achieve something incredible. In what seems like a risky decision Neko Case is given slow, quiet songs, and the gamble pays off by creating some emotionally intricate and moving compositions. However where Twin Cinema really breaks new ground for the band is in how epic it sounds. The New Pornographers have always succeeded at layering pop hooks, but never like this. This is something more.
1. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
May 24 on Sub Pop Records
Every time a track from The Woods shows up in the shuffle I tend to stop what I'm doing and just listen. While I liked a lot of records this year nothing came even close to capturing my attention like this has. Sleater-Kinney's always quality songwriting is mixed with an impossibly loud and imposing set of instrumentals, captured by a brutally raw production style. The band's vocals, guitars and drumming are all pushed to the breaking point and the results are staggering. The Woods is one of the most confident albums of the decade, and the band's command over this material is breathtaking.
Honourable Mentions

Records that fought for a spot on the list included the Epoxies' Stop The Future, Solomon Burke's Make Do With What You Got, Tangiers' The Family Myth, Kaiser Chiefs' Employment, Lagwagon's Resolve, Angel City Outcasts' Let It Ride, Against Me's Searching For a Former Clarity, Queens Of The Stone Age's Lullabies To Paralyze, Mando Diao's Hurricane Bar, Controller.Controller's X-Amounts, the Dropkick Murphys' The Warrior's Code, the Raveonettes' Pretty In Black, A Wilhelm Scream's Ruiner and the Bloody Hollies' If Footmen Tire You among a ton of others I'm surely forgetting.

Top EP
The Loved Ones - The Loved Ones
February 22 on Jade Tree Records
Sure, one song makes the band sound curiously identical to Hot Water Music, but the other 4/5s of this EP are comprised of some of the most hooky punk rock of the year. While they've maintained a lower profile than others in the Kid Dynamite-related crop of bands, this is the group to watch for in 2006.
Oh come on! What about...
Propagandhi - Potemkin City Limits
October 18 on G7 Welcoming Committee (Can) / Fat Wreck Chords (US)
Propagandhi is a great band but I'm having a really hard time connecting with them lately. It seems that when John left he took with him some of what humanized the group, because if Potemkin City Limits can be described in one word it's cold, even more so than Today's Empires. For a group that goes to such lengths to be funny though their label (ever read a G7 press release?) their political message has become increasing alienating and joyless. Of all the issues out there, the fact they devote a song to raging against pragmatism is evidence of this. It seems that its simply not enough to be on the same end of the ideological spectrum -- if you're not on the same paragraph of the same page as Propagandhi you're the enemy. Potemkin has some killer tracks ("A Speculative Fiction" in particular... wow) but I'm just not ready to drink the kool aid this time.
Against Me! - Searching For A Former Clarity
September 6 on Fat Wreck Chords
There was a sadly aborted Punknews interview from earlier this year in which Aubin and I had a chance to sit down and talk to Against Me! prior to this release. They're the nicest guys, but it really does seem like they're going to pay for those early anarchist lyrics for the rest of their careers. Being an independent artist is one thing, but singing about is almost guaranteed to come back and bite you in the ass: it invites those who believe the ideology trumps the music. In the wake of recent events Fat Wreck doesn't seem all that extreme a home for them, but they still had people slashing their tires for making that decision. While these actions are inexcusable, the band is (in a way) guilty of inviting the extremists to the party in the first place. Clarity is fuelled by this conflict, and I'm completely into the richer, Replacements-style sound J. Robbins brought to the record. A few songs felt under-realized to me, which is why you don't see it listed above.

Oh, and the Sire thing? Yeah it bums me out, but these are adults who can make their own decisions and I don't presume to be so enlightened that I should dictate how they live their lives. That move has been made, and no amount of petty bitching on my part is going to un-sign their contract, so I'm more interested in what they do with this.
Dropkick Murphys - The Warrior's Code
June 21 on Hellcat Records
It's really easy to write this band off, as they've been around forever had have their established sound, so to the wider world a new Murphys album doesn't seem like much of an event. However The Warrior's Code may just be the best realized record they've ever put together. I'm not even thinking of the Celtic stuff, just listen to "The Burden" or "Sunshine Highway" --- where did this ability to craft a perfect pop hook come from? This band is one step away from writing that huge populist anthem. It's going to tick off the skinheads and street punks, but Creedence here we come. [ the review]
Top Reissue
The 101ers - Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited
June 21 on Astralwerks / EMI
There will come a point where I've been exposed to everything the good Mr. Strummer ever put out there, but until I reach that plateau I've got little bits of joy like this 101ers reissue to savour. The mid-70s pub rock band is fascinating to hear from a pre-Clash perspective (who else got really excited that a "Junco Partner" cover is on here? What about the proto-"Jail Guitar Doors" of "Lonely Mother's Son"?) but the band had a lot of fun rock energy in their own right.
Top Podcast
CBC Radio 3
One of those things I'm proud that my tax dollars are paying for. The Radio 3 podcast is hosted by Grant Lawrence of the Smugglers and showcases the best in independent Canadian music. A given show can hit on any number of genres and features new music from coast to coast (to coast). Not that I'm keeping score, but I can credit the show with introducing me to three of this year's top 20, as well as spinning nearly every Canadian act I've mentioned here.
2005 Mix Tape
    Side A
  1. Elliott Brood - Second Son
  2. Sleater-Kinney - What's Mine Is Yours
  3. The Ponys - Get Black
  4. Paint It Black - Memorial Day
  5. Propagandhi - A Speculative Fiction
  6. Against Me! - From Her Lips To God's Ears (The Energizer)
  7. The Briefs - Razor Blade Heart
  8. Angel City Outcasts - I'm an ACO
  9. The Raveonettes - Twilight
  10. Constantines - Soon Enough
  11. Dropkick Murphys - Sunshine Highway
  12. John Doe with Neko Case - Hwy 5
  13. Lagwagon - Automatic
  14. The White Stripes - Denial Twist
  15. Teenage Bottlerocket - Crashing
  16. Common Rider - Dogtown
    Side B
  1. Cave In - Trepanning
  2. Maximum RNR - I Hate The Cold
  3. The Riverboat Gamblers - Smoking Crack with L.A. Reid
  4. Broken Social Scene - Windsurfing Nation
  5. Cuff The Duke - The Ballad of Poor John Henry
  6. Against Me! - Don't Lose Touch
  7. Latterman - Fear and Loathing on Long Island
  8. Chixdiggit - I Remember You
  9. The Loved Ones - Candy Cane
  10. Kaiser Chiefs - Oh My God
  11. The Soviettes - (Do) The Stagger
  12. The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Buried Them In Water
  13. Black Mountain - Don't Run Our Hearts Around
  14. The Deadly Snakes - Work
  15. The New Pornographers - Stacked Crooked
Looking forward

Neko Case will release Fox Confessor Brings The Flood on March 7 though Anti-. Now I'm a huge fan of Ms. Case and she's again teaming up with the spectacular Sadies for a few tracks, but what really has me on the edge of my seat is the fact that Garth Hudson of The Band is on this. That just blows my mind in so many ways. You really have no idea.

The Loved Ones' EP this year was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to see if they could carry over that hooky punk sound to February's Keep Your Heart on Fat Wreck. Speaking of Fat, they're set for another great year with the Lawrence Arms' Oh! Calcutta and releases from the Sainte Catherines and many others on deck. While we're talking about Quebec, make sure to keep an eye on the upcoming Fifth Hour Hero full length on No Idea.

Buzzcocks will finally release Flat-Pack Philosophy next year on Cooking Vinyl. I loved their self-titled record from a few years ago so I can't wait to hear the follow up. Of course I wouldn't mind hearing some new recorded material from bands like Statues, Million Dollar Marxists, the Frenetics' Malcolm Bauld, the Weakerthans, the Marked Men, the Lashes and the Futureheads among others, but we'll see what the new year brings.

Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Happy New Years folks. You guys make this possible so thanks for sticking around for another year. Cheers!