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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The top 10 of 2005

Published: December 9, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

With remixes, collaborations, comebacks, reunions, and double albums, 2005 has presented one of the better years of music in the last decade. Although there was still a considerable amount of mediocre (Dave Matthews Bands Stand Up) and downright terrible (50 Cents The Massacre) releases, the past year has seen an extensive rise in well-thought, brilliantly composed releases. In the hundreds of releases that come out every year, a small number take the proverbial music cakehere are the top ten for 2005.

10. LuceroNobodys Darlings. These Memphis, Tenn. rockers may have finally made the album to break into the music world. At a time when country music has spurned a massive following, Luceros inventive mix of country and alternative rock with a healthy mix of punk spirit and all-American poetic writing couldnt be more timely to bridge gaps between fans of modern country and rock. Nobodys Darlings starts off strong with Watch It Burn, as frontman Ben Nichols gruff vocals and soaring guitar work adds considerable emotional depth and carries every song, from the boot-stomping single Sixteen to the sprawling, murky Noon as Dark as Midnight.

9. Queens of the Stone AgeLullabies to Paralyze. Hardly their best work, Queens of the Stone Age returned to the music world, sans bass player and cornerstone member Nick Oliveri, aimed at rising to the top. In Oliveris absence, frontman Josh Homme packs the album with guest stars from ZZ Tops Billy Gibbons to pseudo-band member Mark Lanegan, and manages to come out of the studio with a handful of stoner rock sing-a-longs worthy of praise. Tangled Up in Plaid is reminiscent of many of Queens expansive earlier pieces with an evil carnival twinge, and successfully packages Gibbons Texas guitar-crunch with Queens signature haunting sound into Burn the Witch.

8. Sage FrancisA Healthy Distrust. The Bohemian emo-rapper from Rhode Island steps up the production values, political ideology, and poetic presence on his newest release with no adverse consequence to the music. Enlisting help from the top of hip-hops producer hierarchy, with super-producer Danger Mouse, Reanimator, and Alias, Francis frantic, manic lyrics still hold the spotlight among feverishly well-crafted beats. From a tribute to Johnny Cash in Jah Didnt Kill Johnny, to a message to a long-lost love in Bridle, to prose-tinged pop rap in Sun vs Moon, Francis unique spin on hip-hop has shown through quite healthily.

7. Iron & Wine (and Calexico)Woman King and In the Reins. Iron & Wines Sam Beam certainly has had a busy year, from Iron and Wines singular EP, Woman King, to their collaboration to Calexico, to a significant contribution to the In Good Company soundtrack with the nine and a half minute opus The Trapeze Swinger. With all that hard work, Beam has pulled away with a couple of tremendously beautiful, emotionally enduring EPs. Although Iron & Wine didnt produce a full-length album this year, from the sweet, tender subtlety of Jezebel off of Woman King to the overpoweringly moving Dead Mans Will, their double EPs have proven more endearing and enduring than most releases this year.

6. Ok GoOh No. Chances are, most people wrote Ok Go off as another run-of-the-mill one-hit wonder after Get Over It went through massive replays on Clear Channel stations across the country. Fortunately, Ok Go are anything but a lost musical memory, and their latest, Oh No, proves just that, combining a fun pop-rock experience and clever, with catchy songwriting and placing it in over a dozen truly enjoyable songs. From the cowbell-smashing single Do What You Want to the sweet and hand clap-inducing Oh Lately Its So Quiet, Ok Go have defied all expectations that a relatively forgotten one-hit wonder must endure. Plus, their video for A Million Ways just might be the best thing put on film this year.

5. AtmosphereYou Cant Imagine How Much Fun Were Having. After two straight years of constant touring, promotions, and creative collaborations, Atmosphere has blasted back onto the music scene with their most accessible and mainstream hip-hop friendly album yet. With the pressure from the world of underground hip-hop on their shoulders, MC Slug and producer Ant rise above the massive expectations set up for them after their incredibly popular Seven's Travels won over fans who would normally ignore hip-hop. With hip-shaking, innovatively ingenious beats and smooth-flowing lyrical word play on songs such as Smart Went Crazy and Musical Chairs, Atmosphere manages to package smart emo-rap into easily-swallowed instrumentals to make the best rap album of the year.

4. Clap Your Hands Say YeahClap Your Hands Say Yeah. The biggest surprise of the year has come from a little, self-sufficient band from Brooklyn whose music evokes the very movement their name asks you to do. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have provided the blueprint for how a little band with a lot of creativity and talent can go far in todays generation, and their music is not a testament to that, but the reason for it: filled with swirling guitars and strangely captivating and unique vocals from frontman Alec Ounsworth, the band has created a fever among indie music lovers this past year, and for good reason. From the frantic guitar work and oddly arousing chorus on Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood, to the captivating, bouncy instrumentation on the single The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth, CYHSY have made one of the most important albums of the year.

3. Sufjan StevensCome on Feel The Illinoise! No musician or band was as ambitious, eccentric, or brilliant as Sufjan Stevens has proven of himself with the release of Illinoise, the patented second concept album in Stevens idealistic goal to create an album exclusively for each American state. Lets hope the rest will be as good as Illinoise: Stevens takes the Mid-western state and breaks it down into over twenty quirky, melodic tales packed with lyrical ambiguity and ingenuity. Odd songs ranging from John Wayne Gacy, Jr., an emotionally harrowing piece about the infamous serial killer, to the touching and complex The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! infuse the album with Stevens brilliant songwriting and exemplify amazing work from one musician who could be the next great all-American poet.

2. System of a DownMezmerize/Hypnotize. With two amazing
albums, System of a Down announced their triumphant return to the music world after a less than stellar release of B-sides in 2002 under the title of Steal This Album! Whereas most other bands manage to fall flat on their faces trying to tackle two albums in one (such as Foo Fighters' recent release), System packs in three years of political ideology, societal resentment, and alt-metal composition into a surprising number of good songs. From the catchy tunes of Revenga off of Mezmerize to the politically soaked Holy Mountains, which recalls P.L.U.C.K. off of Systems first release, the unusual undefinable sound that swirls through every System song is omnipresent on both albums, placing both albums as a blueprint for bands striving to attain Systems ingenuity.

1. AqueductI Sold Gold. The best album of the year wasnt produced in a million dollar studio, but was created in Dave Terrys bedroom. The Aqueduct frontman has created the milestone album for bedroom pop, a rising genre of indie pop songs complete with a healthy mix of electronica beats and emotional lyrics. Terrys odd vocals work their magic and meld with the music to create eleven blistery, bittersweet, catchy and emotionally fragile tunes. From Growing Up With GNR, an ode to a first-love of a girl and Axl Rose, to the boisterous and lonely Hardcore Days & Softcore Nights, Dave Terry has managed to pull away with a brilliant set of songs that captures the spirit of todays best writing, creativity, and music.