Music Features

Top 50 Albums of 2005 (Part Two)

25. LOW

"The Great Destroyer" (Rough Trade)

"Low rock out: who'd have thought it? Very few fans of the band that brought us Secret Name and Things We Lost In The Fire would have predicted tracks so fiery as Monkey or the crashing When I Go Deaf. And yet, it's still very much a Low album, sparse, even stark in places and always beautiful. But with Dave Fridmann producing, even the most unexpected of crescendos sounds perfectly at ease, making this an extremely fine record indeed, and one of Low's finest." - Simon Briercliffe


"Lookaftering" (Fat Cat)

"Lookaftering is a symphonic composition, and in that sense it's a proper, pre-CD album, functioning as a whole, yet with subtle shifts and variations throughout; lyrically there's a unity to the stories told - travelling, loving, losing, caring, in short, lookaftering. Vashti Bunyan's picked acoustic guitar and Max Richter's piano provide the backing for her soothing, often heartbreaking voice, while luxurious production layers in flutes, strings, harps and Rhodes like warm sunlight filtering through the forest canopy. A beautiful album, a fitting follow up, albeit years late, to a classic." - Ben Bollig


"Open Season" (Rough Trade)

"None of your second album syndrome bollocks here. Cumbria's finest follow up their killer debut with an album that takes in ice bergs, insomnia and finding God. Please Stand Up managed to get banned by MTV America but even that couldn't stop it being the summer's best anthem. Elsewhere, bassist Hamilton stepped up to the songwriting plate and provided three cracking numbers - including the heart rendering album closer True Adventures. British Sea Power are the best there is and you should own this record." - Peter Mattinson


"Cripple Crow" (XL)

"How to top two of the best albums of 2004? A 22 track souped up collection of drunken imagery, protest songs, nursery rhymes, and Spanish party tunes. 22 tracks recorded with the help of an amorphous collective of nu-folk luminaries, matched only in its ambitiousness by its accomplishment. Intricate, insane, and brilliant." - Peter Hayward


"Picaresque" (Kill Rock Stars)

"So Colin and the gang have signed to Capital Records, looking for "something bigger". I can't say I'm surprised, since his shanty-band has been casting off the ballast and tacking into the wind faster than ever, as evidenced by last year's brilliant The Tain and this year's not quite as brilliant but still terrific Picaresque. Hardly a sellout, the album was quirky, bizarre, tuneful and, most importantly, it rocked hard. Gone is the clumsy charm of The Chimbley Sweep, replaced by the tight, menacing groove of The Infanta. The Decemberists, once a band that stared at their shoes on record are now looking us straight in the eye, daring us to blink. The other records will always have the allure of the insecure outsider, but let's face it, now they're better." - Alan Shulman


"Lost And Safe" (Tomlab)

"Nick Zammuto's guitar, Paul de Jong's cello, Anne Doerner's perky banjo, a battery of found and altered instruments, including a vintage Hohner clavinet, a set of tuned plastic drainpipes, and a cheap metal filing cabinet with subwoofers installed inside, plus some of the randomest text you'll find this side of a Surrealist tea-party are the basis of a sound like no other, which, for once, merits the description, utterly unique." - Paul Roylance


"The Campfire Headphase" (Warp)

"In common with a number of this year's big releases, BoC's follow-on to 2002's hugely successful Geogaddi had a much lighter tone than its predecessors - no less quirky and gorgeous in its dreamwash sound textures, but, most significantly, incorporating guitar in a kind of happy shoegazing way that took a lot of fans aback. But new fans just basked in the greatness that is the Sandison brothers and enjoyed the ride." - Paul Roylance


"Face The Truth" (Domino)

"He's ba-aack! The louche, charismatic ex-Pavement frontman has delivered perhaps his most solid album yet, and that's saying something. Many didn't like his first two solo efforts. But so what? Maybe he doesn't care what you think. Maybe he's too busy being way too cool for his own good. Anyway, just as well: Face The Truth is quintessential Malkmus- playful and freewheeling, in-your-face sort of dirty rock, with plenty of excellent riffy guitars and some beautiful poetic moments. It's like Malkmus has reinvented his own image. We all knew he had it in him somewhere, and this is just the album we've been waiting for." - Sally Pryor


"Twin Cinema" (Matador)

"The latest release from power-pop royalty, the New Pornographers, is catchier than ever. Twin Cinema is a confident and brilliantly executed album, sporting a bevy of lyrical hooks and some of the tightest rhythms in the business. " - Gabbie Nirenburg


"Government Commissions" (PIAS)

""...This music can put a human being in a trance like state and deprive them of the sneaking feeling of existing..." - The immortal opening words of Young Team, Mogwai's 1997 debut album still ring true in this year's essential Beeb sessions collection. Never failing to inspire, this album charts the rise and further rise of Scotland's greatest export. Outshining all previously heard recordings, these cuts are a rare glimpse at the unusually intimate side of the band. Endorsed by and dedicated to the infinitely wise John Peel. Enjoy this album alone. The great man would've wanted it that way." - Ian Simpson


"Demon Days" (EMI)

"Ever find yourself longing for the heady days of 1996, or the fascinatingly media-propagated days of Roll With It versus Country House? Well take a listen to Demon Days, you'll soon realise who the winner was there. While Oasis have bloated into self-parody, Damon Albarn has continued to push himself, resulting in this, Gorillaz' second. That'll teach you to dismiss them as a cartoon band - this record is chock-full of potential singles and left-field hip hop, produced with a swagger and yet two feet on the ground. High class material here." - Simon Briercliffe

14. HOOD

"Outside Closer" (Domino)

"You could probably make a successful argument that Hood's output to date has been a little patchy. Not so with Outside Closer, a record of uniformly excellent songs and a cohesive sound which ties the whole thing together extremely well. Maintaining the listenable electronic sound and combining it with more organic vocals and instruments is a tricky one to get right, but it's certainly done with panache here. There's even potential mainstream singles here, not that that'll ever happen." - Simon Briercliffe


"The Runners Four" (5RC / Kill Rock Stars)

"One of the most consistent, inventive and, it has to be said, fun bands of the last ten years, San Francisco's Deerhoof shows no signs of growing stale on its latest opus. Less disorientating than the chaotic Reveille, less saccharine than Apple 'O, and with much better cover art than the otherwise fantastic Milk Man, The Runners Four is, for my money, the band's finest offering to date." - David Coleman


"Apologies to the Queen Mary" (Sub Pop)

"For the often maligned Wolf Parade, backlash had already started before many got a chance to hear them. By the time many got to listen, taste-makers who live to destroy beautiful things, (who also hate Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Wilco, Everything, etc,) had them convinced Wolf Parade was a Modest Mouse cover band. Perhaps the reason people love-or-hate Wolf Parade, is the fact that they represent every aspect of the "modern" indie-pop band in both their sound and rise to fame. If you can't help to compare them to somebody else you love, it's not because they are ripping anybody off, it's because they are knees deep inside the consciousness of what people want to listen to today. And the way everybody interprets this band differently, personalizing the music and lyrics to their own experiences/perspectives, just goes to prove this." - David Ferris


"Silent Alarm" (V2)

"The first (and undeniably best) British band to pin their colours to the reinvigorated post-punk mast, Bloc Party still remain an enigma to many people even after all of their success this year. Moody and stand-offish in print, yet devastatingly honest and emotionally raw on record, the South London quartet have made an album in Silent Alarm that crackles with nervous tension and wide-eyed enthusiasm, and one that I can guarantee will act as a musical reference point for others for many years to come." - Ben Stroud


"The Milk Of Human Kindness" (Leaf)

"Snaith continues to completely disregard genre. The beats of Lord Leopard could show up on a cLOUDDEAD release, while Bees is slightly reminiscent of Mercury Rev's See You on the Other Side. Hand's First is thirty seconds of Florien Hecker style noise, followed by Elliot Smith-tinged psych-folk on Hello Hammerheads. Pelican Narrows could be an instrumental Jazz medley take on Wu Tang's C.R.E.A.M, in the style of Jethro Tull." - Tom Lee


"Takk" (EMI)

"This was one of the big releases of the year, and there was a lot hanging on it - SR's fourth, and the first since signing to EMI. Generally speaking, it won even the approval of the indie miserabilists who fell in love with (to?) the spectral sound of the Icelandic indie princelings' Ágætis Byrjun back in 2000. Some say the spawned single - Hoppípolla - is one of the best of the year, too. It's certainly the first SR track to get any prime-time airplay on radio, that's for sure, and spreading the love like that is never a bad thing." - Paul Roylance


"I Am A Bird Now" (Rough Trade)

"Lou Reed protégé and leading light of New York's cabaret circuit, Antony Hegarty's story of gender confusion, identity, and transformation has been one of the surprise breakthroughs of the year. Guest appearances from Reed, Boy George, and Rufus Wainwright are completely overshadowed by Hegarty's remarkable voice, torch-song arrangements, and emotional hymnals." - Gabbie Nirenburg


"LCD Soundsystem" (EMI)

"While monster bass riffs guide the album, the self-effacement of the bass player is found throughout, particularly on the bashfully marvellous Daft Punk.... Murphy's genius is to produce tracks that will send you wild in the club and then, at home, make you laugh out loud while wanting to root out all your old Suicide and Neu! Records. 'I heard you have a compilation of every great song ever done by anybody,' sings Murphy. It may even be true. LCD Soundsystem is knowing and knowledgeable, inspired and inspirational: it takes the electro model and kick-starts it into outer space." - Ben Bollig

6. M.I.A

"Arular" (XL)

"Far beyond the popular "World Music" label it has acquired, Arular is a fantastic amalgamation of dozens of styles, too many to be classified by one, perhaps even deserving of a whole new genre. M.I.A. should be a club standard, if she isn't already, shaking hips from L.A. to Tokyo. Sure, her lyrics are rebellious and controversial, but try to close your eyes and tune out instead. Focus on the perfectly placed repetitions, the mixture of tribal and electronic beats, the pulse of her voice undulating in and out of the drums. Sound pretty sexy? It is. Listen to this record and just try not to dance." - Gabbie Nirenburg

5. M83

"Before the Dawn Heals Us" (Gooom)

"In 2003 M83's Dead cities... flew in from a weird galaxy where Tangerine Dream and My Bloody Valentine rewrite Vangelis soundtracks. Their camp synth genius looked set not to last, and even less so when they split and M41.5, Anthony Gonzalez, hired his brother to do the vocals. Ready to sneer, instead we've been blown away by the magnificent ambition and attention to detail on their follow up; Before... is rockier, scarier and weirder than its predecessor. Slick yet charming, precise yet human, M83 are quite unique and quite brilliant." - Ben Bollig


"I'm Wide Awake It's Morning" (Saddle Creek)

"The cry-baby, bed-wetter, self appointed spokesman of Emo has had a busy year. One album of "folk", one of Bitch-Disco and one recorded live to chronicle his exploits. Adore him or abhor him, you can't deny the fact that I'm Wide Awake... is a classic. Another Saddle Creek family fairytale, placing legendary Emmylou Harris as 'Mother Goose'. If you've yet to form an opinion about Nebraska's very own Slacker Prince it's about time you did. Buy this album for someone else; when they fall in love with you, you'll truly appreciate its power." - Ian Simpson


"Feels" (Fat Cat)

"It's an amazing accomplishment when a band follows up their breakthrough album with a better one. The trippy sound that started to coalesce on 2003's Sung Tongs reaches a kind of twisted perfection on Feels. The band has always been praised for producing a sound that called forth visions of drug-addled campfires and communal freak-outs, but what has been most overlooked is the band's audacious use of melody, which in its range and lyricism challenges Andy Partridge and Brian Wilson. Culminating in the tense Banshee Beat, Feels has everything fans of the band could want and a few nuggets for anyone with open ears ready to have an open mind totally blown" - Alan Shulman


"Clap Your Hands Say Yeah" (Self-released)

"Recently signed Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are easily one of the year's best discoveries, having spiked into rockstardom in record time. They've been compared to Neutral Milk Hotel, the Talking Heads, the Arcade Fire, the Unicorns and Yo La Tengo, among countless others. But it's their very own brand of awkward, spastic-yet-charming rock that makes them prime contenders for This Year's Next Big Thing." - Gabbie Nirenburg


"Illinois" (Rough Trade)

"Last December, when a rather daunting Excel spreadsheet revealed The Arcade Fire's Funeral as our number one album of 2004, I almost fell off my chair. Unavailable in the UK at that time, I'd barely listened to it myself. It certainly hadn't dented my personal top 20. I felt so out of the loop. Thankfully, this year's victor comes as no real surprise to me. Illinois is Sufjan Stevens' second offering in his wildly ambitious 50 States Project, and it's to the songwriter's great credit that it somehow eclipses its brilliant predecessor, Michigan. A vast and demanding album, its 22 songs stretching out was beyond the 70 minute mark, Illinois is guaranteed to test even the most patient of music fans. Furthermore, aside from three or four immediate standouts (John Wayne Gacy, Jr and Chicago spring to mind), the startling quality of much of the material here only becomes apparent with repeat listens. It will take time, but as initial frustration gives way to awe, you'll be glad you chose to persevere with this inspirational masterwork." - David Coleman