Landmarks: The Year 2005
In the past decade, has anyone done more to enhance the profile of the state of Illinois than Sufjan Stevens? Barack Obama, maybe, but that’s about it. Stevens’ Illinois album was everywhere in 2005, a favorite both in indie rock circles as well many evangelical circles; the album was celebrated both for its musical acumen and its spirited ruminations on God and faith. For me, 2005 might always be remembered, on some level, as the year of Sufjan– though truthfully, that album was never as dear to my heart as it was to that of so many others, and while I hold it in high regard, it’s not what I would call a personal favorite.
Perhaps it’s because the music is all just a bit too twee for me; perhaps it’s because Stevens’ meek voice has never really grabbed me; or perhaps it’s because, by the time the album came out in June 2005, I had already heard my choice for sprawling, freewheeling pop album of the year. Andrew Bird released his Mysterious Production of Eggs early in the year, and, virtually from the opening notes, I was pretty sure I’d found my favorite album of the year. To this day it remains one of the most exhilarating and addicting records I now, a mutant pop album that celebrates melody even as it takes hairpin left turns and oozes with imagination, with lyrics that match the music in their dizzying wordplay and celebration of creativity’s power and intrigue. The album did much to revive my affection for pure melody and the gift of simple, childlike wonder, and it has that effect on me even today.
It was a monster of a record, but it wasn’t the only highlight of the year. The Hold Steady released their second album, Separation Sunday, and I can count on one hand the number of records released this decade that are as profound– and hilarious– as that one. A concept album about drugs, Jesus, and redemption, it’s nothing if not a modern-day, gutter-poet retelling of the prodigal son parable, and its religious fervor is matched only by its irreverent humor. Oh yeah: And it kicks ass, too; few rock albums boast so many devastatingly cocky guitar riffs.
But while The Hold Steady was coming into its own as a guitar band, another band was hanging up their guitars. The White Stripes— a terminally weird band– released their own weirdest album in Get Behind Me Satan. I love the album for its energy, its humor, its boldness… but most of all, I love it for the way Jack White puts away the electric guitars (mostly) in favor of piano and marimba, and still makes an album that sounds like quintessential Stripes.
2005 was also the year of what I call the Near Break-Up album. Over the Rhine released their most intimate and personal collection, a set called Drunkard’s Prayer that chronicled the near-collapse of the duo’s marriage, and the hope of reconciliation. It’s a rousing and ravishing set. And, Charlie Sexton released his wonderful album Cruel and Gentle Things, which surveyed a damaged relationship but held out hope for its survival. Musically, it touched on everything form gospel to jazz to slow-burning rock and roll.
I would almost put Erin McKeown‘s We Will Become Like Birds on the list; though not an album about a near break-up per se, and not as conceptual as either of the records cited above, it is an album about triumph over adversity, particularly where relationships are concerned. It’s also a terrific, sophisticated, and very smart pop album, one that I played a lot in 2005 and still hold in high esteem. And McKeown was just one of a few strong, passionate women who crafted winning, fiery discs in 2005. Additionally, soul singer Bettye LaVette made a bravura comeback with her Joe Henry-produced set I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, while Fiona Apple made a ferocious, biting, and at times quite beautiful breakup album called Extraordinary Machine.
But that’s not all. Spoon made their biggest, most eclectic album in Gimme Fiction. Sexsmith & Kerr created harmonies to die for in their folksy, Everly Brothers-inspired album Destination Unknown. Richard Hawley had his breakthrough in the timeless Cole’s Corner. Kanye West released one of the decade’s seminal hip-hop albums, Late Registration— still my favorite of his recordings. New Pornographers crafted a blustery, power pop triumph with Twin Cinema. And Sleater-Kinney released one of the year’s most ragged, raucous rock sets, The Woods.
Those were my favorites from 2005. What about yours?