Friday, December 30, 2005

Top 10 Albums of 2005

It's that time of year again. I have to be honest, I look forward to this list all year, in between listens of my "Christmas Music" playlist I have been listening to all the music I have that came out in 2005 trying to make the all important decision as to whether or not they made "the list" and where they ranked on that list. Well, Here they are...

JR's Top Ten Albums of 2005!:

1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

The Good: This is one of those albums that comes along every few years or so that changes how you listen to music. You can't really classify Sufjan as Folk, because he is anything but simplistic, but his songs lean heavy on his incredible ability to tell a story through music. In Illinois, Sufjan uses various string arrangements, and horns to lead the listener through personal recollections, historical narratives, and strange facts to take you to, both lyrically and musically, the great state of Illinois. On the surface what looks like songs about cities, people (even serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr ,), and events that take place in Illinois are really songs about fear, hope, adolescents, and faith. In the end Illinois ends up being less about place then spirit. If you need further proof of it's greatness just read the reviews posted at Amazon, everyone should own this album.

The Bad: The length, 73 min. is a lot of time to spend in Illinois, it gets a little on the tedious side the first few times you listen.

2. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cold Roses (no, NOT Bryan Adams...)

The Good: Easily my favorite Ryan Adams solo effort to date, this is a truly gorgeous album. In Cold Roses, Adams takes a step back to his "Alt. Country" (I hate that term) roots after a string of a few albums that were defiantly more "rock and roll" then his early works. Back is the pedal steal and a little bit of twang, but not in an annoying sense. Adams nails his own sound better then he has since leaving Whiskytown. Also it's a double album, so twice the music!

The Bad: It's a double album, which isn't bad in itself (see the good list), but there are a few songs that feel like they could have, and would have in a normal release, been left off this effort. Also, this is more a complement then anything else, but he reminds me (as do most good Alt. Country groups) of what country music could and should be if it weren't full of a bunch of Backstreet Boy look-a-like, wannabe-cowboy, pop-rock singing rednecks wailing about sticking their "boots" places were boots don't belong. So for as much as I love Alt. Country and old Country, I will continue to claim a strong hatred for "country music".

3. Derek Webb – Mockingbird

The Good: Wow, just wow! Webb has done it again! This could have broke into the top two, but I have had it for a totally of 23.5 hours and have only got to listen to it about 5 times all the way through. Musically he breaks into new territory for him, and does it beautifully. Not what you would expect from the former member of Caedmon's Call if that was the only place you knew him from. With Mockingbird you hear a really strong Beatles (Sgt. Peppers/Magical Mystery era) influence along with some Elliott Smith, The Shins, and a touch of Wilco going on there. Lyrically Webb is himself again, not afraid to speak the truth at any cost. This is his most controversial album yet, it is fun to see the progression of what God has laid on his heart and the willingness he has to lay his neck on the chopping block to share it.

The Bad: Late release date, so my opinion is not fully formed or completely accurate (as I am still gitty about it). Musically not as experimental as his last effort, there is less risk to the music side of this album than I See Things Upside Down, but he is making up for that in risk through lyrical content.

4. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World

The Good: This is the first album I have heard from Elbow, and I love it. Thanks to Chad for introducing me to it. This album has kind of a Coldplay meets early Radiohead thing going on. Think Coldplay if they didn't care about pop radio success and had something to say. Musically it is one of the more interesting albums I own, I feel like I find something new with each listen, which keeps me coming back to it, it's not really one to just play in the background, this is why it made it to number 4.

The Bad: Sometimes the Radiohead and Coldplay comparisons are a little to easy to make. Also, lyrically, it says something, which is good, but it is nothing new really.

5. Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

The Good: The (almost) perfect blend of lyrical and musical styles has always been a strength of Death Cab to me, and they don't disappoint with their latest.Ben Gibbard mesmerizes me with his ability to tell a story rhythmically and in such detail while still letting the mood and emotion of the song be told by the music. The perfectly combination of catchy pop and moody emotion driven ballads without becoming too "emo" (it's a very fine line folks).

The Bad: Extremely similar to all their other efforts. Overall, I am still not convinced it is better then their last one, Transatlantcism.

6. Sandra McCracken – The Builder and the Architect

The Good: Beautiful. This is one of the most lovely worship albums I have ever heard. In The Builder... McCracken takes 18th and 19th century hymns, mixed seamlessly with a few she wrote herself, and puts them to her own acoustic stylings. I have had the opportunity to see Sandra live a couple times with her husband (Derek Webb) and her voice is amazing. This album displays Sandra's amazing voice better then any of her previous commercial releases. A great example of a truly amazing singer/songwriter at her best.

The Bad: I have never been a huge fan of her commercial releases because they just don't seem to capture her live sound, this album comes a lot closer, but it's still not quite there. I come away from a Sandra studio album with a feeling that she is musically playing it safer then she really wants to. I feel like she has an inner Gillian Welch waiting to come out, and I want to hear it.

7. Coldplay – X&Y

The Good: Coldplay has an amazing sonic, atmospheric sound that I have not heard duplicated successfully, this album continues that tradition. One of my favorite bands of the last 5 years. X&Y is a great album to follow up one of the most successful, both commercially and musically, albums of the last half decade, Rush of Blood To The Head. The whole album is strong and flows well together, but there are defiantly some tracks that stand out as near perfection. The Johnny Cash tribute song, "Kingdom Come", is one of my favorite Coldplay tracks ever.

The Bad: Chris Martin continues to write songs that sound deep but say very little. They defiantly played it safe with their sound and continued with what has made them popular as apposed to exploring what they can go musically at the risk of popularity, I am never a fan of the safe road. I still like Parachutes better.

8. Over The Rhine – Drunkard's Prayer

The Good: One of my favorite bands of all time. Drunkard's Prayer is a passionate and emotional reflection of two people relearning the joys of love, laughter, and each others company. Karin Bergquist's voice is at it's smokiest in this album and she has one of my favorite voices in the industry already. The stand-up bass, cello and sax along with Linfords graceful piano playing float through the air like smoke in a jazz club. This is an album of real, honest songs about love and faith, not the watered down junk we are use-to, like a relationship it is heavy at times, hard at times, funny at times and just plain fun at times. The album ends on a fun romantic note, a beautiful cover of "My Funny Valentine".

The Bad: Not as original, risky, interesting, and just overall great as their last album, Ohio, but it is hard to live up to that. Some of the songs sound too similar to each other.

9. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

The Good: Conner Oberst is a musical genius.Emmylou Harris adds perfect harmonies to this collection of well crafted acoustic alt. country ballads. Released along side his Digital Ashes from a Digital Urn this was the better of the two very good Bright Eyes albums released that day. I love the unpolished feel of a Bright Eyes album. Oberst is a great songwriter, mature well beyond his years in that aspect. This album moves a little bit away from his famous self pity of previous albums, while still emotional it's a much more mature emotion.

The Bad: I little more "studio" then previous albums, I like the raw un-mixed sound of the older albums, it lends well to his vocal stylings and musical content. It is way to early for the Dylan comparisons that some like to throw around, hopefully he doesn't kill himself or overdose before he can have any chance of living up to those comparisons.

10. Switchfoot– Nothing Is Sound

The Good: One of the most culturally relevant albums of the year. Jon Foreman confronts issues that pledge young americans such as the loneliness and hopelessness that can be a part of living in a country driven by excess, but, as always, showing glimpses' of a hope that can only be found in God. Just straight up great, catch, guitar driven rock and roll music that will lift your spirit but not without making you think first. They are staying true to their message and original style despite the major market success they have enjoyed the last few years.

The Bad: Not as musically strong as New Way to Be Human (1999), but I like it more then The Beautiful Letdown (2003). Although this is a great album, I think they have better in them, I can't wait to hear it.


(what can I say, it was a great year in music, I would recommend any of these albums as well)

Jars of Clay – Redemption Songs
The Choir - O How The Mighty Have Fallen
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Andrew Peterson – The Far Country
Moby – Hotel
David Crowder Band – A Collision
Beck - Guero
Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better
Bright Eyes - Digital Ashes From A Digital Urn
Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up
Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams
Dave Matthews Band - Stand Up
Depeche Mode - Playing the Angel
David Gray - Life In Slow Motion
Gorillaz - Demon Days


jennylou said...

You and your music!! :) I was glad to see Sandra made the list--I love the new hymns album to pieces. As for Mockingbird, DW's first album, She Must and Shall Go Free, is still my favorite lyrically. His new music is amazing, but I miss the hopefulness of his earlier songs (even if I did just about fall out of my chair when I heard the lyric that says that seeking peace through war is like seeking virtue through fornication). He says the things that I wish we all could say--and his lyrics humble me and definitely make me think of how I simply brush off Jesus' harder commandments.

Paul said...

Good list. I was going to add Elbow, but thought only half the album was solid (compared to Cast of Thousands).

Why am I not impressed by Sufjan? I'm trying to be ... I feel like he's trying so hard to be indie and hip and original, but I don't connect with the songs; they're decent songs, but I don't feel them. But I'm old and bitter.

Amanda said...

JR-- great review. I was looking forward to it from last year. Looks like I need to expand my listening selection. Happy New Year!

arj said...

great list . very paste. well thought out and critiqued.

thanks a lot

MissyJ said...

Crowder's "Collision" wins tops for me right now (or, as my brother would say, "The David-Crowder-is-really-sweet Band")--can't seem to pull it off either my ipod or my car. I'm glad it got at least an honorable mention!

J.R. said...

Yes, it is a great album, but I had to give Sufjan Stevens #1, because the best song on Crowders album was written by Sufjan Stevens, "O God Where Are You Now (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)"

Mamamax said...

I never know what to expect from your blog! Definately interesting. I'm still enjoying the Christmas Album you gave me, but it didn't make your list :(

Blessings as you listen and enjoy.

J.R. said...

That's because it was released in 2004.
Glad you like it though.

Anonymous said...

You know how I know your gay? You like Coldplay.

J.R. said...


How can I argue with such a thought out, well writen respones?