Music Features

The No Ripcord Years: 2005-2006 (NR10)

As part of our tenth birthday celebrations, I asked the current crop of No Ripcord writers to contribute a few words on some of their favourite records of the last ten years. This is not intended to be a definitive look at the last decade; it’s just a space for all of us to remember some of the classic albums of the period and to promote a few overlooked efforts. Perhaps at some point down the line we’ll do a best of decade feature – this is not it. 

Please use the comments space to discuss some of the music you remember from 2005 and 2006. Reflections on overlooked gems and undisputed classics are equally welcome.

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Queens of the Stone Age: Lullabies To Paralyze

Following the annihilating boom of Songs For The Deaf, Lullabies To Paralyze had a lot to live up to. Refusing to make the same album twice, Josh Homme, (Nick Oliveri no longer with the band and Mark Lanegan underutilized), took a risk and crafted an experimental gothic rock album that was much less accessible than its predecessor, but somehow better demonstrated stylistically what QOTSA were capable of, making Lullabies their best, most realized effort to date. History will recognize its worth. (Sean Caldwell)

The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday

The Hold Steady might be pegged as low-frill classic-rock revivalists, but their creative zenith is their most happily convoluted record. A concept album without a plot, Separation Sunday is a complex, mysterious, and multivalent patch work of texts overheard and re-imagined, texts sonic and linguistic, texts spiritual and secular. Hardly a case of nostalgic retread, Separation Sunday is "classic" rock unashamed, un-ironically communicative, and unwilling to concede expressive complexity to sensual pleasure, instead lending credence to both and illuminating their commonalities. Sunday epitomizes the Steady’s positive jam program, refracting the ever-youthful memory of Western pop through the older, wiser, but vigilantly gleeful eyes of the punk fallout, marrying joyous tribute with powerful insight, and reminding us all that punk’s sense of purpose and faith is stylistically neutral. (Tom Whalen)

Verbose and self-referential, but often brilliant, Hold Steady front man Craig Finn is like the kid in your freshman English class who did all the talking, intertwining his interpretations of “On the Road” and “City of Night” with tales of his drug-addicted teenage friends, and throwing in imagery from vampire novels and the Book of Revelation. All of it would be obnoxious if he didn’t throw in hilarious put-downs like, “I ain’t gonna do anything sexual with you. I’m kind of saving myself for the scene,” and images like that of a girl entering an Easter mass “with her hair done up in broken glass.” He may have toned it down, to some extent, on subsequent releases Boys and Girls in America and Stay Positive, but Separation Sunday – a quasi-concept album about a confused Catholic girl named Hallelujah (Holly, for short) – remains the definitive Hold Steady work. What holds it together is the hard rock backing band that contains Finn’s speak-singing like the ropes of a boxing ring. So what if the riff on Hornets! Hornets! sounds like it’s quoting Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy? The familiarity of those humbucker-heavy guitar parts gives the listener something to grab onto while trying to follow Finn’s raving mad narratives. As a whole, it’s tempting to dismiss Sunday as a “sketchy mess” but it may be remembered as an album that helped resurrect classic rock and roll. (Ryan Faughnder)

The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan  

Elephant may have been their biggest album, but Get Behind Me Satan was their best.  Introducing a level of musical versatility unparalleled by any of their other albums, the Stripes officially shed their garage rock tag with this record, going heavy on piano and marimba while still writing some great country folk (Little Ghost, As Ugly As I Seem) and blues cuts (Instinct Blues).  (Andy Pareti) 

Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning 

As far as I’m concerned, Conor Oberst is hit and miss. Letting Off the Happiness? Too emo. Fevers and Mirrors and Lifted? First rate. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn? A painfully worthless response to the Postal Service. But the simultaneous release of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning with Digital Ash softened the blow. In fact, the poppy alt-country work made Bright Eyes more famous than he’d ever been, and rightfully so. By pairing artfully cynical tracks like At the Bottom of Everything and We Are Nowhere and It’s Now with the more heartfelt, emotional songs like Lua and First Day of My Life, he avoids the whiny, angst-filled persona that plagued his debut album, allowing his poetic lyrics to take center stage. (Conor McKay) 

M83: Before The Dawn Heals Us

Arguably M83's breakthrough album, Dawnsaw Anthony Gonzalez and company cast off some of their homespun sound in favour of cinematic experimentation. Still unapologetically shoegaze, the album reaches glorious moments of leftfield bliss in offerings like Don't Save Us From the Flames, Teen Angst, and Can't Stop. Never has a band so successfully melded space rock and melodrama, with the near-death serial of Car Chase Terror! perhaps a foreshadowing of Saturdays=Youth's narrative leanings. Yet for all its complex and intricate electronics, Dawn is simply a very pretty album, never forgoing the music for the synth. (Kevin Liedel) 

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
I know I said that these features weren’t going to be exhaustive, but seriously: how can you even start to write about 2005 without mentioning Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois? This sprawling 22-track opus is one the greatest achievements of the decade and it remains Sufjan’s strongest record (which is saying something because Michigan is pretty awesome, too). The well-researched lyrics and the complex arrangements are classic Stevens, but it’s the more personal moments, in particular the emotionally powerful Casimir Pulaski Day, that really steal the show. Stevens has been uncharacteristically quiet of late and that whole ‘Fifty State Project’ thing looks more like a personal joke every day; even if he never gets round to doing another geographically themed album, he can hold his head up high; this is one for the ages.

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TV On The Radio: Return To Cookie Mountain

A stunningly exceptional rock album: a combination of modern day sampling and rock elements creating these psychedelic harmonized jaunts into an atmospheric plain of aural ecstasy.  Be thankful for your headphones.  As vocally intense as Brian Wilson, TVOTR recaptured the art/music hybrid as capably as Brian Eno had in the 70s, toying with soundscapes, blues and danceable rock rhythms.  David Bowie even makes an appearance, which winds up one of the most appropriate guest collaborations ever. (Sean Caldwell) 

Prized for their musical inventiveness and quirk, TVOTR embraced one of rock's greatest traditions with Cookie Mountain: snarling and baring one's teeth. The rippling muscle of Wolf Like Me is unforgettable to this very day, its fabric-splitting, unrelenting beat a perfect match for all the noisy buzz. Yet there are the ethereal moments, too: the heartfelt stumble of Province and the clicking, post-nuclear drone of I Was a Lover are perfect valleys for album's peaks, somehow achieving an addicting semblance from the chaos. (Kevin Liedel) 

My Morning Jacket: Okonokos 

Okonokos, the two-disc My Morning Jacket live album recorded at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, finds lead singer Jim James at his best. The band’s studio albums simply can’t do the music justice. James’ earnest vocals soar over the band’s huge sound on standout tracks like Off the Record and Wordless Chorus, transforming the neo-psychedelia dream poppers, perhaps surprisingly, into an arena rock powerhouse. 2008’s Evil Urges, the band’s first record since releasing Okonokos, was a let down to some. But as far as I’m concerned, these 21 anthems are all the MMJ we will ever need. (Conor McKay) 

Annuals: Be He Me 

And to think this album nearly slipped between my fingers! This was one catch I am infinitely thankful for; what a tremendously inventive and lively set of songs these youngsters created!  The biggest surprise of the year and an easy victor for best album of 2006, Be He Me is jam-packed with ideas, and nearly all of them work. Also, please see them live – they translate this zeal tremendously on stage. One of the most underrated live acts today. (Andy Pareti) 

Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood 

Neko Case’s peerless voice has always been the single best thing about the New Pornographers, yet as much as I appreciate the band’s peculiar dynamic, I often find myself thinking that her talents deserve a grander setting; harmony parts with Dan Bejar just seem a little... well, beneath her. After a handful of respectable solo outings, Case hit the jackpot with 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and it remains her greatest achievement, New Pornographers included. The barroom country number Hold On, Hold On provides the perfect introduction to Case’s dark side, but it’s the gorgeous melancholia (That Teenage Feeling) and the tender spiritual moments (John Saw That Number) that really leave their mark. On Fox Confessor a great singer proved she could be a great songwriter, and the resulting album is a landmark in modern country music. (David Coleman)

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