By Ray Troll
January 03, 2006
2005, a helluva year for great music. As usual the mainstream airwaves were clogged with pretty innocuous stuff, but if you live in a houseful of music nuts like I do (three of us now do radio shows on our local public radio station KRBD), there's plenty to choose from that's extraordinary, remarkable, refreshing and just plain fun. I continue to be amazed at the number of CDs clogging our shelves here in the house. We seem to get a box every other day from Amazon.com. Were definitely doing our bit to support the flagging music industry.
Visit Ray Troll's web site at www.trollart.com
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak ©2005
But enough of the rambling preamble stuff, here's my list of favorite CDs from 2005. I try to restrict it to 5 but that's getting tougher to do.
1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are a five-piece band from Brooklyn, New York. They've been compared to various artists like early Talking Heads, Radiohead, Interpol or Neutral Milk Hotel but I hear a bit of the Velvet Underground in what they do. Comparisons aside the band plays simple three and four chord arrangements with cool guitars and the occasional toy piano, with arty obtuse lyrics sung in a nasal voice. The band somehow captures the spirit of our times with songs that build in emotional impact. Details of the War is my favorite cut. The best tossed off line from the CD is You look like David Bowie but you've nothing new to tell me from the song Over and Over again. They're getting a lot of media buzz these days and seem destined to be the next big thing, even though they've done it all on their own without signing to a major label. Check out their website at http://www.clapyourhandssayyeah.com/news.php
2. Iron and Wine, Woman King and In the Reins with Calexico
Iron and Wine is a one-man band and that man is named Sam Beam, a former community college professor from Miami. He looks like a soft-spoken Amish guy with a long beard and short-cropped hair. The songs he writes are quiet low-key affairs with hushed vocals recorded with such clarity that you can hear Sams every breath. It's Americana kinda stuff with banjos and acoustic guitars. But this is not sweet treacly music. Death imagery pervade the lyrics, entire families go off to prison, lovers embrace secretly, betrayals abound, murders are committed, the cicadas chirp loudly& oh yes its rich, rich stuff. These are actually two EPs that Sam put out this year. The first one was Woman King, exploring the topic of women. The song Jezebel is a stunningly beautiful song taking the side of the fallen woman. The lyrics as always tell the story in broad strokes with keenly observed details. Here are a couple of excerpts from that song:
The second EP In the Reins is collaboration with the band Calexico, know for their Southwest flavored music. Sam stretches things out a bit and the Calexico boys bring in the trumpets, pedal steel guitars and castanets. Surprisingly its a great fit. A History of Lovers is a great melody that chugs along with a march like beat.
3. Matisyahu, Live At Stubbs
The first thing you're always going to hear about this guy is that he's a traditional Hassidic Jewish man that raps and sings reggae. Okay, you don't see that every day so yeah he gets your attention. It doesn't seem to make any sense that such a weird mish mash of cultures would work but man oh man it does. It helps when the backing band is composed of seasoned professionals and the young star vocalist can hit notes you can barely imagine or spew lyrics about god and righteousness in an amazing machine gun staccato style. I was lucky enough to catch Matisyahu at the aforementioned rock festival and was standing in the front row not knowing what to expect. I was blown way by his singing style and commanding presence. He really knows how to work a crowd and you can hear that on this live album. King Without a Crown will knock your socks off. Say what you will about the religious message but the man is passionate and the music delivers. Will he have staying power or will the novelty wear off? My bet is that well be hearing a lot from him over the next decade. This debut is that strong& and we haven't even heard what he can do in the studio yet.
His website is at http://www.hasidicreggae.com/
4. Andrew Bird, and the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Andrew Bird is a whistling violinist, guitarist and glockenspiel player who sings wildly original songs with titles like A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left (something he apparently suffers from in real life), MX Missiles and Fake Palindromes. The songs are imminently listenable and cover wide-ranging topics from classroom humiliations to quantum physics and the pitfalls of writing computer code ( all you see are ones and zeros). My favorite lines from the album were inspired by watching the History channel / when the esteemed panel is asked why are alive / heres how they replied: you're what happens when two substances collide / and by all accounts you really should've died. Bitterly sweet words for the evolutionist in me. The wordplay is clever and engaging and loads of fun to listen to carefully. The entire album is strong and holds up throughout. Youll be humming these tunes for days on end. You can hear the entire album in streaming audio at http://www.righteousbabe.com/artists/andrewbird/tmpoe/index.asp
5. My Morning Jacket, Z
Unlike Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the band My Morning Jacket have been around for a decade or so laboring in semi-obscurity out in Kentucky. After going through some personnel changes, Z is their big break out album and major record label debut ( RCA/Sony). Rolling Stone magazine is calling them Americas Radiohead. Z is a real mix of sounds and influences. One can hear surf guitar in there, maybe some Floyd, reggae snippets, a bit of U2 perhaps. Wordless Chorus and Gideon stand out for me. Off the Record is hard to categorize because it has so much in it, from an opening guitar salvo that blatantly steals the classic Hawaii Five 0 riff through a Marley inspired interlude with a long musical jam tagged on to the end. Its a great song. The only downside is that this one of those Cds that is encrypted with some sort of software that prevents copying. So if you want to play it on your computer youre forced to install a program that apparently might make your computer vulnerable to hacking. Ah, the dark downside of signing up with a major label!
6. Laura Veirs, Year of Meteors
Seattle singer songwriter Laura
Veirs returns with more powerful smart art girl rock. Laura makes
what might be called chamber neo-folk music with fuzz guitars
and lyrics that evoke the great outdoorsy northwest. Lake Swimming
is an ode to the bliss of summer fun and Spelunking uses cave
exploration as a metaphor for romantic entanglement. Shes a poet
in the first degree using evocative phrases to set a mood. The
emotional core of the CD in my opinion is a beautiful little
song called Magnetized. Clearly she's got a bit of the science
nerd in her too (she was working on a degree in geology and Mandarin
Chinese before veering into music). Shes been compared to heavy
hitters like Joni Mitchell, Bjork and Leonard Cohen. The songs
Galaxies takes the listener on an emotional journey out to the
stars and back to 10,000 leagues below the sea with eels and
sea grass and bears and boulders floating through the air. You
get the drift. Check out the video at
7. Gorillaz, Demon Days
Musical genius Damon Albarn, front man for Blur, returns with his side project the virtual cartoon band Gorillaz in masterful style. It's got it all: hip hop, ska, rousing choral arrangements, Dennis Hopper ranting about fire coming out of monkey heads and much, much more. It's a densely layered record and most of the songs switch tempo and style effortlessly in mid stride. Its all about culture jamming and believe me it rips the doors off. I still haven't spent enough time with this disk, discovering something new and fascinating on each listen. For a short history on this band that doesnt actually exist, go to Wikipedias page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorillaz
8. Amadou and Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako
Speaking of cultural mixing, hows about combining the talents of French/Spanish pop star producer Manu Chao with two blind guitarists from Mali? I just picked up this CD at Christmas but its energy and power is immediately apparent. Amadou and Mariam met as children at an institute for the blind in Mali and have been making music ever since. Manu Chaos contributions are pretty clear as he brings his madcap energy to bear on the sound. He's also co-writer on many of the tunes.
Patrick's list for 2005:
1. Broken Social Scene- Broken
Corinna's list for 2004:
1. Sufjan Stevens / Come On
feel the Illinoise
My Top 5 2004
1. Iron and Wine / Our Endless
My Top 5 2003
1. Steve Winwood/ About Time
Top 5 for 2002
1. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
Top 5 2001
1. Ryan Adams, "Gold"
Top 5 2000
1."Stories From the City,
Stories From the Sea", P.J.. Harvey
1. Blur -13
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