Top 10 CD List of 2005

10. Ladytron – Witching Hour

I really like bands that have that almost-cheesy electronic sound but are actually quite good. Basement Jaxx are a band like that and so is Ladytron. Their third album, Witching Hour is the natural progression from 604 and Light & Magic. Apparently, as part of the effort to make the live show better, Ladytron has added more live instruments to deliver a richer sound and it is really obvious on some of the tracks.

Some suggest that Witching Hour is the Liverpool-based bands best album – though I think it’s Light & Magic – but it definitely fizzes and sparks with the band’s own idiosyncratic charms. Some might find Ladytron a little to minimalist or repetitive in their lyrics but this album was certainly appealing to me.

PS: If you like Ladytron and their sound you should totally check out the album Ladytron (Softcore Jukebox), a mix-CD put together by the band. It kicks some serious ass.

Standout Tracks: International Dateline; Destroy Everything You Touch; All The Way

9. Spoon – Gimme Fiction

Spoon almost slipped under my radar this year. I thought about picking up this album for quite some time and never did. I think it’s because Ryan said it was too weird to play in store and for revenge I didn’t listen to Spoon for like seven months. Why? I have no fuckin’ clue either…This album isn’t as sparse as their earlier work although there’s a couple of tracks that ensure fans of earlier records find something they enjoy. It surprises my every time I read that they’re from Austin, Texas. Maybe it’s because they can combine Southern Rock and the style that I associate – at least in my head – with the British sound that came out of Manchester. Does that make any sense? It does to me.

Standout Tracks: I Turn My Camera On; I Summon You

8. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods

Sleater-Kinney is a band I only discovered late last year so I don’t know a lot of their back catalogue. I’m not sure what a lot of their fans felt about 2002’s One Beat but I loved it and it made me highly anticipate The Woods, an album that didn’t disappoint. With the deliberate use of liberal doses of distortion and the complemantary singing of primal wails and soothing counterpoint by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, it’s a record with a raw edge that reaches down your throat and won’t let go. This is an album that presents a solid wall of sonic energy that makes you enjoy just how good rock and roll and can still be. Along with Interpol, Sleater-Kinney is one of the bands I’d like to see live the most but still haven’t.

Standout Tracks: Wilderness; What’s Mine Is Yours; Modern Girl; Rollercoaster

7. The Decemberists – Piqaresque***

From the opening track that features some sort of whale noise, this album – even more than previous efforts Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty EP – solidifies the Decemberists as the only band (I know of) that incorporates what I think of as traditional sea-chanties and modern indie folk-rock songs. The fact that I always wanted to be a privateer or Napoleonic-era English naval officer means this record connects right to my boyhood daydreams. It was also produced by Chris Walla who plays in and produces my favourite band Death Cab For Cutie.

Colin Meloy’s voice has a distinctive needling quality and he writes really smart lyrics that tell these amazing little stories. The Mariner’s Revenge Song is an almost 9 minute long epic voyage that has this great polka sound and totally engrosses you in the life of a child of a seaside tavern wench, who devotes his life to gaining revenge on the rakish captain of a whaling ship that drove his mother into an early grave. He spends nearly 20 years and ends up in the belly of a whale (like Pinocchio) on the task, driven by the death-bed commands of his mother. They were great fun live, expounding lots of energy and creating a theatrical experience of crowd participation. Anyone who can get jaded Vancouver scenesters to make whale noises and jaw-crushing motions during the encore is okay in my books.

Standout Tracks: The Mariner’s Revenge Song ;We Both Go Down Together; The Sporting Life; 16 Military Wives

6. Kaiser Chiefs – Employment ***

I really enjoyed the Kaiser Chiefs – named after a South African soccer team – when I first heard their album. I loved them even more when I saw them play at the Commodore earlier this year. They played with Ok GO and the Caesars and were one of the best shows I saw all year. I couldn’t believe how much lead singer Ricky Wilson got the normally totally apathetic Vancouver crowd pumped – he actually crowd surfed!!! Combined with records from fellow new comers Bloc Party, a new album from Oasis that didn’t suck and other factors, the Kaiser Chiefs helped show Brit Pop is back. Some people might think that this album is top heavy and all the really good songs happen right off the top but I enjoy it from start to finish. This album just has fun and rocks out.

Standout Tracks: I Predict A Riot; Born To Be A Dancer; Everyday I Love You Less And Less

5. Mike Relm – Radio Fryer ***

I don’t really know how to describe Mike’s style of music. One friend said it was a DMC-kinda style but I don’t know what that means. Mixing records, audio-scratching and manipulation of video? ‘Cause that’s Relm. Watching Mike Relm perform is so fun and he has an outstanding stage presence. I bought the CD at the first show and while it’s good, it doesn’t do him justice. It’s fifty tracks although there’s way more songs on the album; there are snippets of songs that are only seconds long but compliment the whole beautifully.

The hour thirteen mixed into 9 distinct chapters tell some interesting stories. Anyone who can have a tribute to old school hip-hop, Joy Division and Danny Elfman – all within a High Fidelity framework – has to be awesome. Check out his DVD Suit Yourself to get a little more flavour of his live show but you’ve got to be there in person to fully experience it – especially when he scratches, linked to the video feed of Office Space. I was watching the DVD with a friend when my dad happened to walk in the room. I was floored when even my dad was able to say, ‘He’s a musician the way he uses his equipment, not a DJ.’ Seriously, my dad. He’s almost 60 and he said that!?

Mike’s one of the coolest and most accessible artists I’ve ever met. We were talking politics and post-Katrina implications after one of his shows outside the Commodore while I tried to keep my geek-out in check. He’s also super at responding to any questions or messages sent to him. In fact, in trying to find out what the release date for Radio Fryer was, I offered him my congratulations on making my Top 10 CDs of 2005 List and he promptly replied:

thanks paul! here’s my acceptance speech:’Wow I didn’t expect this at all. First I’d like to thank the academy, my family, friends, colleagues, and all the artists who made this possible. I’d like to thank god even though I don’t believe in him. And to the people who said I couldn’t make Paul’s top 10 cd’s of 2005 list, please accept my middle finger.’

While Mike’s album was only number 5 on my Top 10 CDs of 2005 List, he would be number 1 on my Top 10 Artist of 2005 List. Check him out on MySpace or his website (www.mikerelm.com).

Standout Tracks: Josie and Relm; Chapter 3 – Back to School; Chapter 4 – Tribute to Danny Elfman; Chapter 7 – The Twist; Chapter 9 – The Joy of Division

4. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm ***

I keep reading about how there’s this big backlash forming against Bloc Party as the leaders of the new post-punk sound. I haven’t actually heard it but I keep reading about how it’s coming. Most reviewers have the same opinion that I do. That Bloc Party shouldn’t be punished for making such a kick-ass record.

The percussion of this album is so spot on that you expect that drum machines were used with the speed and percision needed on these songs. Matt Tong wails the tar out of his drum kit when showcased and does it with style. Kele Okereke has an interesting bark and yells effectively. Some of the songs are a little weak – Price of Gas seems a little too first year poli sci kinda logic to me, sure it’s right but not very nuanced. Yet in the end, the energy that comes across in their delivery makes enjoy your time until the really awesome tracks arrive. Here’s hoping post-punk doesn’t go away before we hear what Bloc Party can do on a second album after a great debut effort.

PS: I only gave the remixed version of Silent Alarm a listen to once at work and I didn’t really care for it (not even Ladytron’s remix of Like Eating Glass – go figure). A couple songs were okay but the rest was just too sparse and minimal for my liking – although this may have been in part because of the setting. I really should give it a listen to in the comfort of my own home.

Standout Tracks: Like Eating Glass; Banquet; This Modern Love; Helicopter

3. Death Cab For Cutie – Plans ***

Death Cab For Cutie is part of a trend I had this year with some of my favourite bands releasing albums I didn’t like as much as their earlier ones. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Plans right away. It just wasn’t as so spot on with my life as Transatlanticism felt like it was. Yet after repeated listening and putting away my desire for another Tiny Vessels or Sound of Settling, I really came to appreciate the intricacies that Ben Gibbard can put into his simplistic sounding lyrics, what with all his ‘ba-ba-bas.’ When layered over ‘the band’s subtly shifting instrumentation,’ the two can make every sensitive male yearn for something.

It’s true, I think I’m emo, since Death Cab is my favourite band. Chris Walla does an excellent job producing. Actually, I don’t really know what that is. And I work in the music business? Regardless, Plans is a wonderful album. I’m still waiting for my Japanese import copy with a bonus track to arrive.

Standout Tracks: Soul Meets Body; Crooked Teeth; I Will Follow You Into The Dark

2. controller.controller – X-Amounts ***

controller.controller is one of the bands that made me realize that I still love going out dancing. There’s nothing like being in a club with a bunch of good friends when there’s an awesome vibe. Yeah, there’s still the hipster-elite but at least the music is great and there aren’t any choches to ruin your… Whoops! Almost slipped into my hipster-speak.

I think the first thing you notice about controller.controller is the dueling guitars that aren’t afraid to lay down some seriously ch-awesome licks. From the first track, Nirmala Basnayake sounds like a stalking panther, all smooth and coiled strength. Their attempts at an emotional bond occurs in the primordial areas of the brain; I’ve seen them live and it translates well to stage. Their driving sound is dark and has been labelled death-disco and it totally fits. After a fairly long gap between their well received EP History, the band met the lofty expectations people had for their debut album.

Standout Tracks: Rooms; Tigers Not Daughters; City of Daggers

1. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary ***

I really like Wolf Parade and they’re kinda emblematic of the way my music taste has become over the last few years. An indie early-adapter. But since I’ve enjoyed them this I first heard their EP, I may be becoming what I’ve always wanted to be. An indie-innovator. Some reviews I’ve read suggest that Wolf Parade is the ultimate cumulation of the current indie sound in vogue and that if they didn’t exist someone would have to make them up. Throw in beards, Montreal and the word Wolf and you have all the makings of an indie rock uber-cool band. I think that that’s all shit and just the haters making digs. The dueling yelps (maybe it’s a year for dueling?) of lead singers Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug. The bizarre cacophony of instruments that seem like they’re played on completely different timing. At times the staccato timing of the singing reminds me somehow of Bowie at his best. All this noise combines in some sort of coalescing force that makes for an epic album.

The record takes a great journey bursting in with a stark announcement that is either a brutally honest evaluation of a relationship or a cautionary tale and travels all the way to the latent and enduring strength possessed by the final track. To me this record is, simply, a love album. When I saw Wolf Parade open for Architecture in Helsinki, they were the best part of the show. I really wish I had a chance to see them play with The Arcade Fire, which I heard was an awesome show. I can’t believe how much live music I saw this year and how many of my favourite bands of 2005 I managed to see.

Standout Tracks: I’ll Believe In Anything; You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son; This Heart’s On Fire

*** – Bands that I saw live this year.

Honourable mentions in no particular order:

The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers

Architecture in Helsinki – In Case We Die ***

Hot Hot Heat – Elevator ***

Louis XIV – The Best Little Secrets Are Kept

Statistics – Often Lie

Doves – Some Cities

Crooked Fingers – Dignity and Shame

CD that I still for some reason haven’t listened to but think it might have made this list if I had – Sufjan Stevens – Illinois.

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