Saturday, 24 December 2005

2005: A Year in Music [Part 3: Cutting room floor]

Now I'm going to talk about the albums that didn't make my top 10 for the year. Not all of these albums are disappointments, some are really solid albums that were simply beaten at the post into the top 10. Some have also not had enough time to grow on me. One day they may grow on me and I will need to re-evaluate the top 10. But I can't wait forever, the line needs to be drawn somewhere and a decision must be made.

So let's take a look at the cutting room floor of the great year that was 2005. These are sorted in alphabetic order by artist name as I don't want to imply any order here.

On a side note...have a happy and safe Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Festivus (cross out the ones which don't apply).

Animal Collective - Feels

These guys have been getting critical acclaim for a long time now, and after reading a 5-star review in the Hit section of the Herald-Sun I decided to give it a go. This is considered by fans to be their most accessible album, but accessible is obviously very relative. It's still a mighty weird record.

The first half of the album is made up of lushly recorded "pop" songs, but once again I use that word very loosely. I'm trying to think of a band to compare these guys to, but it's very difficult. The closest parallel I can think of is Mercury Rev, but even that doesn't quite explain what is going on here. The second half of the album is where the band opts for extended mood pieces, and this is where I think the album is let down. Banshee beat is a great song, one which just builds and builds but doesn't quite reach the heights you'd hope it would.

In all honestly, the jury is still out on this album. Maybe at the right time, in the right place it will sound absolutely amazing and blow me away like it seems to do to everyone else.

Andrew Bird - Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs

Oh, how I have tried to love this album. I have really tried. Music fans from all around the world are praising this album left, right and centre and I keep listening to it to see it it "hits" me. But there's just something about it that doesn't gel for me. And I think I have come to the conclusion that it's his voice. It's just too polished. The instrumentation is superb, with a wonderful mix of violins, whistling and everything but the kitchen sink. But I like the vocals to have a bit of character, and this guy sounds like an indie David Mead.

That's not to say that there aren't some great songs on this album, notably A nervous tic motion of the head to the left. But at 53 minutes it's a bit too much of his voice for me to handle. Cool cover, though.

Kate Bush - Aerial

This was bound to be the most anticipated release of the year. After all, it was her first release since The red shoes in 1993. So next time you find yourself complaining that your favourite band is taking too long between albums, remember that Kate Bush took her sweet bloody time and waited 12 years to release a follow up album. And it's a double album...

Kate's masterpiece Hounds of love (from 1985) was split into two distinct halves, the first half being a set of standalone songs and the second half being a concept song suite called The ninth wave. Aerial attempts to do the same thing, but instead of a 47 minute album being split down the middle, she has split an 80 minute double album down the middle. Each disc even has a different name. You have to give her brownie points for ambition.

Does it work? Yes and no. It sounds wonderful, and there is clearly nobody in the music business quite like Kate Bush. The production values are quite similar to her golden period in the 80's (read: a bit dated) but she seems to be spreading herself a bit thin on this album and it does lack the focus of her best work. Still, I'm sure this is going to take many more listens before it sinks in.

The Decemberists - Picaresque

If you put Neutral Milk Hotel, The Smiths, Belle & Sebastian and Augie March in a blender, you would probably get these guys. Colin Meloy has the vocals of Jeff Mangum, the delivery of Morrissey, the storytelling ability of Stuart Murdoch and the literary lyrics of Glenn Richards.

This is a frustrating album for me. There are many great songs here, but there are also some songs which just don't work. With a bit of editing, it could have easily entered my top ten. But alas, it merely ends up on the cutting room floor.

Many songs on this album are fantastic when digested separately - We both go down together, 16 military wives and haunting closer Of angels and angles are all fantastic songs that mix the right amount of intelligence and pop accessibility. But these brilliant moments tend to get lost amongst the clutter of overlong and self-indulgent songs like The bagman's gambit and The mariner's revenge song. And that's where the frustration lies.

Doves - Some Cities

In another year, this album would have easily been in my top ten albums of the year. The fact that it isn't this year has nothing to do with the quality of this album, merely the quality of its competition.

Some cities sees the brooding Mancs do what they do best, with a few added influences and new sounds to keep things interesting. The storm sounds like their tribute to the Bristol trip-hop scene, Black and white town shows a soul influence and One of these days nods in the direction of the space-rock of Pink Floyd (and not just in the song title). A subtle evolution and another excellent album.

Ben Folds - Songs For Silverman

This here is a perfect example of a relative disappointment. I listened to this the other day for the first time in a few months and it's actually a pretty good album. But after his previous album, the brilliant Rockin' the suburbs, I was expecting more from the man.

That's not to say there isn't a plethora of great songs on this album - You to thank is a fantastic ivory tickler, Landed is classic vintage Folds, Jesusland is a witty look at the bible belt in southern America and Late is a poignant tribute to Elliott Smith. The problem with this album is that there is some filler, especially near the end of the album. Suburbs didn't have any filler. And there lies the problem with this album right there.

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

Listening to a New Pornographers album is like slowly eating your way through a box of chocolates. It's pretty tasty at the start, but it can get a bit sickly sweet after a while. The good news is that while their previous two albums could be considered Cadbury and Hersheys, this is their Lindt album. Their music has become a bit more refined, and doesn't leave you with that sickly aftertaste that the cheaper brands can leave you with.

This is easily their best album to date, the band adding a few ballads to the mix (including the epic Bleeding heart show) to help diversify their sound. But even their songs which sound like they could be off their previous albums sound more mature - there is no doubt that Carl Newman's songwriting is continously improving. Sing me spanish techno is also their best song to date, a perfect pop song and one of the choicest cuts released this year.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy

Out of all the albums in this post, this is the one that I feel may one day enter my top ten albums of the year. It simply hasn't had enough time to grow on me, but it does get better each time I hear it. It's a difficult listen, probably best described as alt-country-folk (if I had to pigeon-hole it) with vocals not unlike Bonnie "Prince" Billy. The title character is mentioned at several points of the album, giving the record the feel of a conceptual piece.

Teenage Fanclub - Man-Made

The Fannies don't release bad albums - they release great albums or good albums. Unfortunately for them and their fans, this is only a good album.

sees Norman Blake, Gerald Love and Ray McGinley enter middle age doing what they do best - writing feel-good pop songs. Their work ethic is pretty similar to that of XTC, in that they record what they feel is right for the time rather that following musical trends. There is a true irony to their work - it is clearly in the "been there done that" category, but you can't help but feel that they are true innovators of their art because nobody does it quite so well.

While it is unlikely that they will ever top their career peak of Grand prix, the world will continue to be a better place if they keep churning out solid feel-good albums like Man-made.

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