Tuesday, December 20, 2005

YEAR IN REVIEW: My 5 Top CDs of 2005

Oh yes, we're in that time of year again, when all the hipsters and hoodaddies talk about what all they grooved to in the year that's winding down. Over the next couple weeks I'll toss my two cents into the conversation, starting today with a brief look at five CDs I humbly submit as pretty darned good tunes that came out in 2005.

Beck, ‘Guero’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe mockingbird is at it again. Pop chamelon Beck has been a hipster, an acoustic tunesmith, a disco diva. Now he’s all of the above and more in this collection of diverse tunes, perfect for riding down the road with the top down in your El Camino. Funky, eclectic and surreal, it combines the best of Beck’s previous record personas to create an anthemic, danceable manifesto. Special bonus, a track-by-track remix companion CD, “Guerolito,” was just released, nearly as good as the original.

Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comFiona’s debut back in the mid-1990s was piano-laced angry girl rock. Call this a mature comeback. Her third album got held up by the record company and endless delays, but it was worth the wait. At 28, she’s writing a far more thoughtful, wizened sound, without the pretentious edge that snuck into her earlier work. Her lyrics are cutting, introspective and sharp. These 12 tracks are detailed, piano-driven ruminations on love and self-respect, with Apple’s dark, smoky voice holding sway over it all.

New Pornographers, ‘Twin Cinema’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comDon’t freak out about the name. Despite the dangerous-sounding moniker, this Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada band is a fairly clean-minded, multiple-voiced pop band with sparkling invention and great, cheerfuly caffeinated choruses. Few bands these days let more than one singer have the spotlight, but this band’s got at least three, each with their own spin on the songs — frontman Carl Newman, the country-fied twang of Neko Case, the glam-rock drama of Dan Bejar. Hunt this little-known band down if you’re a fan of inventive, energetic catchy pop tunes.

Spoon, ‘Gimme Fiction’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis Austin, Texas, band specializes in smart, poppy rock tunes, and “Gimme Fiction” is their masterpiece to date. You’ve got the Who pop joy of “Sister Jack,” the funky, staccato Prince rhythms of “I Turn My Camera On,” the slinky Echo and the Bunnymen feel of “Monsieur Valentine.” Spoon manages to combine quirky pop sensibilities with a jam band’s love for sheer music nicely, and frontman Britt Daniel has a great swaggering presence, authoritative and yet not too egotistical. A confident, hook-filled treat.

The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
Image hosted by Photobucket.comThe punk rock blues of the White Stripes’ first few albums undergoes a big shift in this strange, experimental and often brilliant album, which mostly gives up roaring guitar solos for piano-driven juke joint rambles. It’s rough and almost unfinished sounding, yet frontman Jack White’s talent for a melody rings loudly on tunes like the Jackson Five-ish “My Doorbell,” the hoedown “Little Ghost,” or the groovy “Denial Twist.” Perhaps the raw sound is the point. A stripped-down gem from the most interesting two-person band in rock ’n’ roll.

Honorable mention: Franz Ferdinand, “You Could Have It So Much Better”; Wilco, “Kicking Television: Live In Chicago”; The Mountain Goats, “The Sunset Tree”; LCD Soundsystem, “LCD Soundsystem.”

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