This list has taken me bloody hours. I had to narrow down from 60-70 albums to this final top forty. None of the following are losers, in that respect. Whether they’re 40 or number 1, they’re this year’s essential albums. Unlike every other big list you’ll see, this is completely un-influenced by labels or advertising revenue. And I haven’t shagged anyone on here. Yet.
It’s all about the music.
(UPDATE: Since sticking this up, I’ve had a couple of emails asking why my list doesn’t include The Arcade Fire, like all the big music critic lists. It’s simple, their album was in my 2004 list. Yep, the mainstream music media is as on the ball as usual…)
40 Frog Pocket – Gonglot
Frog Pocket is John Charles Wilson from Ayr (Ayrshire, Scotland). Gonglot, on Mu, is a shivering, zithery, minimal electronic record. Wonderful folky melodies wander through a big sproingy, empty swimming pool.
39 Teriyaki Boyz – Beef Or Chicken
The Teriyaki Boyz bring us good old party rap. No attempt at “authenticity” or pretending to be American, just good tunes knocked out by an assemblage of superstar producers. I wish I knew enough Japanese to know what the hell they’re rapping about.
38 The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever
As twee as fuck. Wonderful songs about fur and kissing and warm panda cola. The Boy Least Likely Too. Brilliant!
37 Headphones – Headphones
Pedro The Lion’s Dave Bazan goes a bit Dave Gahan (geddit?) with this gloomy, bassy synthpop album. Look no guitars! Whee! Like a very sad Postal Service with less fast stuff and more stuff about disliking George Bush a lot. Face it, Bazan’s one of the great songwriters of this generation. Try finding the bandsite on Google and not seeing ear-speakers. Headphones.
36 Riddle Of Steel – Got This Feelin’
Riddle Of Steel rocks the fuck! That’s right, they ROCKS THE FUCK! Nuff said. You FUCKS!
35 Self Scientific – Change
DJ Khalil and Chace Infinite, Self Scientific, also rocks the fuck, but in a more hip hop, head-nodding fashion. A solid, solid, solid album! Who do they make music for? Well…
“Haha. Coffee shop chicks and white dudes, heavy asian, and hispanic. Hip-hop is a dichotomy of a bunch of different people. Hahaha. But who do we make it for? We make it for us! We’re selfish”
That’s me, the heavy Asian! Yeah! You FUCKS!
34 The Soviettes – LP III
The Soviettes have made a great pop album in III. It’s a pity most folks will be too blinkered to check out it’s prime harmonies and short, sharp, shocks of songs. Part insane early Bis, part B52s, all good. Punk, pop and proud!
33 Isoleee – Wearemonster
Pigeonholed as an “electronic” album but seeing as nobody records on wool any more, what does that mean? In Isolee‘s case, it means an album that’s like running through a huge cornfield, getting whipped in the face by throbbing corn cobs. Still too vague? Okay, it’s blippy, echoy, supremely melodious and ‘Schrapnell’ alone justifies purchase. Supreme electropop.
32 Andrew Bird – And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs
Review here, popkids.
30 Seven Ark – Noise Of The New
Seven Ark‘s album is sparkly, sometimes shimmery sometimes gloompy. Electroharmonies.
29 Wintersleep – 2005
The album is called nowt but 2005 but Wintersleep need no steenkin’ titles when they rock so amazingly melodically. Twiddly, stop-starty but very poppy and accessible rather than dull experimentalism. Definitely file under “pop.”
28 Decemberists – Picaresque
Everytime I listen to ‘Engine Driver,’ I have to do big, girly harmonies. A gorgeous album. The Decemberists.
27 Bus Feat MC Soom T – Feelin Dank
Mini-review here, mofos.’
26 Sibiria – Norrlands Inland
I bought this album directly from Martin Sibiria, lovely chap that he is. Yes, it’s more fantastic, airy guitar indiepop from Sweden. Sing along in Swedish with the rocking Sibiria.
25 Tunng – This Is Tunng
When I first heard ‘Fair Doreen’ by Tunng, I thought, ‘Oooh, lovely electrofolk! Hope the album’s good!’ It is. Good to see another musician who’s managed to survive growing up in Derby…
24 Lone Catalysts – Good Music
Oh dear, their website seems to have been cybersquatted. Have a look here. Pure, uncompromising hip hop. As James Blunt is to Lenny Cohen, mainstream hip hop is to Lone Catalysts. Proper lyrics.
23 Clor – Clor
I’m amazed this album didn’t break through more into the mainstream. Clor have got the songs, clearly (clorly?). Is it because they weren’t fashiony enough? You should see me dancing round to this. On the other hand…
22 Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die
They made one of my favourite albums of last year and now the buggers have done it again! And they’re all lovely people as well as being multi-instrumental geniuses. The bastards! Pics here. Oooh, nearly forgot – this album sounds like kids taken off Ritalin shut in a school music room on a summer afternoon. Yes, that good.
21 José González – Veneer
Why is Gothenburg now dominating the international music scene? What’s going on in Sweden? Eh? In these days of paper-thin corporate acoustic singer-songwriters, José González‘ album is thick with slow imagery, tiny dynamine beauty and brooding revelations. If he isn’t mega-famous sometime next year, there’s something woefully wrong going on.
20 Grayskul – Deadlivers
Grayskul deliver on ‘Deadlivers.’ What? Oh yeah. A slap round your head, thunking beats in your ear and some beeeeoootiful rhymes.
19 Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Perhaps the peak of 2005 kitchen-sink production, you want it, Sufjan‘s bunged it on here. All used to frame his tender, funny, sad, startling songs about… well, everything. If you don’t like ‘Chicago,’ you must have piss in your veins. Do you remember when most indie music used to be this good? Yeah, me neither.
18 Brakes – Give Blood
Review here, my sweet-cheeked foraminifera.
17 Esborn Svensson Trio – Viaticum
The best new jazz album I bought this year but, to be fair, the only new jazz album I bought this year. Whatever, the Esborn Svensson Trio‘s classically-slanted piano womblings keep tumbling through my head. Essential, I’d say.
16 Modeselektor – Hello Mom!
Are Modeselektor fucking-up electronics and then recording and releasing the result? Yep. Do they need their nipples tweaking for making such addictive choons? Yep. Are they naked? No, but I am.
15 Sage Francis – A Healthy Distrust
There is an elitist theory that only a select few like good music. Bollocks. If that was true, why do I get people asking me about Sage Francis every time I play his tunes when I’m DJing? This is both hardcore, hyper-political and, like Public Enemy, supremely poppy and accessible. Who else could write lyrics like ‘Gunz Yo?’ The wordplay is incredible, the metareferences and allusions are true poetry.
14 Why? – Elephant Eyelash
The best album Pavement never made. And Why? not?
13 The Chalets – Check In
Oh Pee Pee, oh Pony, why must you be so ravishing and be in one of the best pop bands going? You make me hurt in a wrong place with your hyperpopsongs about loser boys and smart girls. I’m crying now… damn your lovely eyes.
12 Jennifer Gentle – Valende
Slightly rambling review here, hyrax buffers.
11 Touane – Awake
I already jizzed on about this seedee here. Oh, just trust me and buy it, eh?
Phew! Into the Top 10 at last! And it’s only 5.49am…
10 Black Lipstick – Sincerely
I’ve listened to this album so much in the car, driving around at 3 and 4am. It fits sweetly then, the VU-ish chugging meshes with the empty roads and sodium-tinged panoramas like the perfect soundtrack. Black Lipstick make it sound effortless, as all great bands do, but there’s a patina of work here, the ease that comes of knowing who you are and what you want to say. The crime is that guitar indie bands without even one hundredth of BL’s talent are playing on MTV now. That should be BL. They’re that poppy, they’re that worthy of making a space for in your life. Oh, and I’ve rambled about them here too.
9 Venetian Snares – Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
A revelation. A refutation. A revolution. A redefinition. An album that could not have been made five years ago, let alone longer. Other artists dig up the 80s / 70s / 60s / when-the-fuck-ever, Venetian Snares goes mental and then releases, to you, his rotting hypothalamus. Supremely sad and psychotically fractured, it’s never easy but everything can’t be Norah Melua, can it? I’ve wanked on about it here too.
8 Adam Green – Gemstones
“Hello! It’s me? Remember me? It’s Fun. Yeah, F-U-N. I used to be in your record collection before MTV started putting all those emo bands on primetime. You got rid of me when you sold your Now comps and pretended you were cool like all your metalcore friends. Now you just listen to blokes with major label record contracts shouting about how bad their lives are over riffs filched from Poison b-sides.”
“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine. Yeah, I’m with Adam Green now. No, he isn’t “crazy” or “wacky” he’s… well, he’s like me, I guess. He likes smiling and laughing, catchy choruses and pop songs about chubby princesses. And crackhouses. Yeah, I know people don’t take him seriously but I don’t care. He’s actually a much better writer than all that bellowing, teenage nonsense you like! I think we’re going to get married. Yeah, really. He’s serious about Fun. Oh, by the way, Honesty and Poetry say hi. They miss you…”
7 Reef The Lost Cauze – Feast Or Famine
Jean Claude van DAAAMN but this has been a top year for hip hop. I’ve had to leave shitloads of hip hop albums out due to lack of space but no way was Reef‘s opus going to be one of them. He soars, baby. He’s a madass rhyming eagle. He’s a crazy Fokker. His rhymes make me laugh out loud when I’m DJing and then people think I’m barmy. C’mon… ‘Give It Up’ has got some of the funniest, sharpest lyrics ever. That’s not to say this a comedy or party rap album, Reef just covers a lot of ground. If you’ve ever even nodded to hip hop in passing, you need to own this album.
6 Cyne – Evolution Fight
Blip hop? Glitch hop? Be-hop? Boho tech-hop? Naah, just a scintillating, groundbreaking hip hop album that combines unusual aural finessing with lyrics you rewind to hear, they’re that “whaaaaht?” Oh, I know you’ll rip them off. Yes, you. One to play to ignorant indie kids who think all hip hop begins and ends with the Beastie Boys. I was going to do a joke with ‘Cyne on’ somewhere in it but I can’t be arsed now. There, are you happy now?
5 Refree – La Matrona
This album is so far above its peers, they’ll soon be seeing its head again. Consummate modern indie pop, Refree gambol through the world of songwriting, slinging bits of Randy Newman’s whimsy in their basket, next to Nilsson’s slippers and Ben Fold’s younger souffles. Everything is creamy in Raül Fernández’ music. Okay, he sings in Spanish so, for all I know, he might be singing about sewing mackerel to the legs of passing mystery shoppers. But I don’t think he is. Anyway, I don’t care. There’s not a duff track on here. I make up my own lyrics when I sing along. They’re about chucking bream at Shakers.
4 Danger Doom – The Mouse And The Mask
Danger Doom is Danger Mouse and MF Doom. But that’s like saying 2Na[Au(CN)2] + Zn —-> 2NaCN + Zn(CN)2 + Au (s). What we have here is refined hip hop gold. How can anyone not like ‘El Chupa Nibre?’ Hell, even if you’re unfortunate enough not to love Futurama, surely, certainly, MF’s flow will flip your wig? And if you are an Adult Swim geek like me, you will jizz yourself when you hear Meatwad tearing shit up. This album works on so many different levels, it’s funny and serious, dancey and contemplative, great for solo iPoddy listening, even better DJed. His voice, the beats, the intros/skits that are actually funny. I see some kids nowadays walking around affecting a poe-faced, hilariously inaccurate ’80s look. They really, really need this CD rammed up their arses.
3 Jeans Team – Musik Von Oben
First, have a butchers’ at my previous worship.
Back now? Okay, ready, let’s do it!
This album has changed me. It’s changing my life even as I’m typing this. Its rigorous timing is out of time, it’s dancing out of step. On the surface, it could be dismissed by a passing dimwit as ‘just another electronic record.’ That would be the same as remarking that Roger Penrose ‘seemed like a clever bloke.’
This album has the attention to detail of a miniature painting but the scope of a fifty-foot mural. I’ve listened to ‘Oh Bauer’ at least 80 or so times, hitting that back button on my car stereo continuously. Every time, like a Truffaut film, like a Vonnegut book, like a Minter game, I notice some new detail, some Satie-esque flourish that I missed before. These glamours interlock, they mesh and produce music that is intricate without being laboured, machined but never industrialised like, say, Girls Aloud. With their chordally simple but melodically complex songs, Jeans Team have made a record that I feel I’ve known forever, it’s become so a part of me.
2 Perceptionists – Black Dialogue
These lyrics bear repetition:
I’ve got a question..
I’ve got a question..
Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
We been lookin’ for months and we ain’t found nothin’
Please Mr. President, tell us something
We knew from the beginning that your ass was bluffing!
[Akrobatik] I never thought of this the day that I enlisted
That I’d be dodging bullets, seekin weapons that never even existed
For someone else’s personal beef, I risk myself
While the Commander-in-Chief, would never come to fight himself
I feel I’m bein’ tricked even worse that the civilians
Nobody ever told me that we would be killin’ children!!
Feelin like the ones that sent me here are the psychotics
but if I say that out loud — I’m “unpatriotic”
but would Donald Rumsfeld back me up with the chrome?
Would Tom Ridge fight or would he stay secure back home?
and would Condoleeza Rice cover grenades in a fox hole?
I’m startin to believe what I was told is not so
What’s the reason for the war?
I’m shootin at these people that I got not animosity for
I wonder if I’m just a pawn in someone else’s struggle
or a here even though I’m just a small piece of the puzzle
I know that when I finally return where I reside
I’ll make up for the months my wife and moms cried
and carry on for all my fallen brothers that died
but you can’t take my pride — cuz I’m a fuckin’ SOLDIER
Show me one indie band that can match that with their oh-so-subversive political posturing and vague, meandering, cowardly imagery? Show me one so-called punk band who can match the precision and poignancy of The Perceptionists?
The above is why rock music is fucked and useless. It’s now simply a club for people to boast about their pedalboards and take their mandatory illegal drugs, like the good little Mummy’s boys they are. To be rock is get a tattoo on your forehead saying “DON’T WORRY – I GIVE IN, I CONFORM, I WILL BE NO TROUBLE TO THE RULING CLASS WHATSOEVER. I’LL BE TOO FUCKED TO CARE. WHAT WAR?”
The Perceptionists dazzle me on this album. They skip through the shit of living in the now. They’re not buttfucking the 1960s, pretending to be the fucking MC5, they’re bringing us what they know about now. They piss on 100% of rock music and at least 50% of other hip hop. Here’s some lines from ‘Black Dialogue’:
Yeah, it was written in the books of Europeans we were savage
That our history was insignificant and minds below average
But how can one diminish the work
Of the most imitated culture on this earth
Fast foward to 2000 and now
You see it everywhere you look, speech, music, fasion and style
It’s black dialogue
Go ahead kid, try it on
It’s much harder to master than precision with firearms
Corny niggaz switch it up and rent it to Viacom
Fucking and kniving just to keep our bank accounts thriving
See I walked the path my elder laid out
Cause acting like a monkey for white folks is played out
I get my own money, on my own turn
Got heat for everybody, watch the microphone burn
This is modern folk music. This is the direct descendent of Leadbelly, Guthrie and Seeger, not all the drooling, mewling “folk” songwriters that are metastasizing across our TVs. Why don’t more people sing about real life, who they are, where they’re from, like The Perceptionists do? Why do so many artists censor themselves, for fear of harming their career? Why do most love songs by male schmindie songwriters revolve around their poor ickle broken hearts instead of telling the truth about what absolute cunts they were to every girl they ever touched?
Art may never be truthful, who the fuck knows what is or isn’t true. But it can be honest. The Perceptionists’ album is one of the most honest albums I’ve ever heard. It’s not easy, it’s not glib, parts of it will make you feel not-good. That’s the point of music. That’s the point of art.
Or at least, it used to be.
I could quote you prime lines from every damn track on this album. But I’ll leave you with a few I’d be proud to have as my epitaph:
And the rhythm of the drums shines its own sun
My father said son, “you think a brighter day ever gon’ come?”
I said, “Pop, rock a beat box!”
And I’m a empty out my mind
Cause I’m around till I drop
1 Suburban Kids With Biblical Names – 3
Just when I thought I’d have to burn my guitars in protest at the whole of indie rock, something stops me. And that something is…
Yep. Sweden is the last, best hope for
humanity indiepop. When I gigged there recently, I was stupefied by their indie culture. First, it was actually independent. Imagine that – independent indie! We seem to have lost that in Britain. Apart from a few outsiders, our indie music is churned out by careerist fucks who’d eat a dead horse’s arsehole to have a hit record. Art? Eh? But in Sweden, I played with and met musicians all doing catchy, simple indiepop music and singing about their own lives.
SKWBN are a prime example of this and that’s why their album ‘3’ is my number one record this year. It may sound strange to compare a very twee, mostly happy-sounding indie record to The Perceptionists but although these records sound vastly different, they have the same core: honesty.
Don’t be afraid to sing about your home town, about who your friends are, the petty crimes you committed with your mates as a kid. Why invent mystical bullshit when real life is stranger than any fiction? I’ve spent ages listening to the minutiae of SKWBN’s lyrics, trying to work out what the bits about tagging and noodles are all about. The songs are almost puzzles, little glimpses into someone else’s history, occasionally backed by barking. Yes. Barking.
Another reason this is my top album is that it cleans out your musical tubes. If I spend too long watching MTV or listening to Radio One, inevitably I get all bunged up. It’s a bit like eating a sandwich made of thick bread and very dry cheese, no butter, no water to drink with it. It dries up your saliva and ends up getting stuck on the roof of your mouth like a recalcitrant gobbet of mastic.
SKWBN’s album dissolves all that irritating grak away! This sunny, charming, tootling, pootling record starts of fantastically and then gets better. ‘Marry Me’ sounds like a lovesick bassett hound, all mournful and yet irresistible. Mmmm… Of course, ‘Loop Duplicate’ is hyperpop, just insanely catchy. But the genius of SKWBN lies in the way they follow it up with ‘A Couple Of Instruments.’ This is the kid of those extended, happy grooves that Haircut 100 used to knock off effortlessly. Rock snobs hated them for it, of course.
My favourite track, at the minute, is ‘Parakit.’ This is a perfect pop song. I can’t fault it in any way whatsoever: production, playing, singing, lyrics. Every bloody thing is perfect! As soon as the guitar comes in, you just know you’re going to be singing this song ten, twenty years from now. This song touches me as much as ‘In My Life.’ As with Agent Simple and Cats On Fire, I find it depressing that people whose first language isn’t English should write English pop lyrics orders of magnitude better than anything coming from Britain. What the fuck?
‘Peter’s Dream’ is another gem. The chorus reminds me of ‘Odelay’-period Beck but the song is in no way a rip-off, it glides along it’s own sweet way. I love the Shadowsy guitar coupled with the drum machine. It shouldn’t work but it does. Again, SKWBN aren’t afraid of space here, which is why this album is so comfy and roomy, like a favourite shirt.
Don’t talk to us, we’re so witty,
And you, you look like Tom Petty
Those aren’t my fave lyrics overall (they’re in ‘Parakit’) but they’re an example of the SKWBN deceptive whimsy. They’ll just throw shit like that in their pop garbagecan and it’ll lull you into a false sense of security. And then the next lyric will open you up. Knife goes in, guts come out. They’re tricky blighters.
I can’t easily express how happy this album has made me. It’s quite unreasonable that a little bit of plastic with some data encoded on it at 16bit / 44.1KHz should have the power to make me smile for hours, to remind me of being a stupid kid, to make me want to move to Gothenburg and marry a pair of pale, stick-insect Swedish men. I know Peter Gunnarson and Johan Hedberg are probably average, normal lads but they’ve created something so special here, something that I truly believe should be number one in the pop charts. Everywhere.
I hope SKWBN break big next year. I hope that they wash all the scum off the indie streets, send them scurrying back into their poorly-written, will-this-do schmindie ratholes, post-punk tails between their legs.
Write to SKWBN. Email them. Love them and nuzzle them, polish their little faces with your kisses till they shine like a June bride’s smile.
This is a great pop record. It’s rare and wonderful. Treasure it.