Puckett's Favorite Albums Of 2005
This was the year when I realized what had been, up to that point, a lifelong dream - seeing Saint Etienne live. I found out about the tickets less than two weeks before the show, but after being a fan since picking up "Foxbase Alpha" in 1991 and getting frustrated over missing micro-tour after micro-tour, I wasn't missing that show at The Metro.
And perhaps it's odd that a punk rock site considers that one of the high marks of the year - it certainly wasn't for lack of trying to find something interesting in punk, just the persistent, on-going lack of confrontation in punk. At some point in the last few years, it seems as though someone took punk rock in for an oil change, draining all the threat and menace and potential for transformative change from it, and then forgot to fill it back up.
As such, I feel like I've been clinging to any half-assedly decent record which challenges the status quo like a life preserver - it ain't much, but it's better than drowning.
I will only claim one thing about the following records - this is what 2004 sounded like for me. Some guilty pleasures, some great artistic accomplishments, and some selections that will likely leave you scratching your head. So be it. Music - and writing about it - is a frustrating thing and lists like these are intended to spark discussion and debate. With that said, let's get on with it. Here are the disclosures:
- I have some level of personal involvement with a number of bands on this list. I have either interviewed them, am in the process of interviewing them, am friends with them, talk with them on a regular basis, drink with them or otherwise have a relationship which extends beyond merely hearing the record. There are a substantial number of records which were released in 2005 by bands that I also have some relationship with that do not appear on this list.
- The only albums on this list which I did not pay for are:
- The Bomb, "Indecision" (Thick)
Come on. If you didn't put this on your best of 2005 list before the first five seconds of "Up From The Floor" had elapsed, I don't know what you heard, but it sure wasn't what filled my ears. To deal with the inevitable Naked Raygun reference first, Jeff Pezzati is on vox, which means that these songs will sound superficially familiar to anyone who has a collection of hardcore classics. However, while all of Pezzati's vocal tricks are still present (complete with your recommended daily allowance of whoas, ohs , hos, and so forth), the dude can flat-out sing. Sure, it's crooning and he won't be recording duets with Josh Groban any time soon, but it's a far cry from the fabled tuneful bellowing / shouting that many hardcore vocalists strove for / managed. While I think all of us hold that vocal style near and dear to our hearts, Pezzati's ability to carry a tune - while always hinted at in Naked Raygun - is on display here and it's surprisingly affecting. And this is where things might surprise you - while any Naked Raygun fan should be able to appreciate this album, it isn't merely a throwback to 1980s Chicago hardcore (not like the average scene kid I've seen at The Metro over the past few years knows a thing about that). Instead, the melodies sound like ... well, now, to be blunt. While I won't demean this album by saying that these riffs wouldn't sound out of place on any post-core or emo album, it's equally true that these riffs are angular and ringing, soaring and muscular, direct and yet curious enough to warrant repeated listening. While The Bomb may include a hardcore legend, this album doesn't depend on those prior accolades to rapidly establish its own worth and merit. Instead, these dozen songs flex their own muscles and build their own legacy which stands quite handily on its own.
- Caitlin Cary And Thad Cockrell, "Begonias" (Yep Roc)
This is a classic country record, the kind that just begs for a dark room and a bottle of whiskey that slowly gets emptier as the hours drag on until morning. Caitlin Cary came out of the legendary Whiskeytown, and while Mr. Ryan Adams was busily releasing box sets of every false start that somehow made it to tape, Ms. Cary obviously took a different approach, focusing on quality instead of quantity and the 11 songs collected here are mournful, stunning examples of what country can be at its finest moments. The stark, oppressive, unrelenting loneliness. The enveloping, expanding dread which, despite gentle instrumentation, grows into a crushing burden. The struggle to make sense of mounting losses and heartaches which never seem to shrink, much less dissipate; instead, they only grow in stature and significance. And of course there's hope here, but that hope seems so frail and remote that it most closely resembles a lost sparrow freezing in the snow with little more than the chance that someone will notice and take it inside until spring comes around and we can look around to see what sort of healing, if any, the thaw brought around this time.
- Bettye LaVette, "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise" (Anti)
Anti never fails to astonish me. A label spawned by Epitaph signing and releasing records by Tom Waits, Solomon Burke, Billy Bragg, Neko Case, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Porter Wagoner, Jolie Holland, Marianne Faithfull, Merle Haggard and Nick Cave? What the hell? Who among even the most idealistic and optimistic music fans would have dreamed that this is part of where all that money that the Offspring generated would go? Oh shit, wait a minute, this is ostensibly a punk rock site. Let me rewrite that really quick ...
"Oi! Those slags at Epitaph fookin' blagged off all the quid from that Offspring record on shite and bollocks instead of REAL gob-in-yer-face and boot-ta-yer-head punk rock! Fookin' poseurs! *spits*"
There. Credibility regained. Bear with me while I catch my breath after dodging that bullet.
Hey, I'm a geek. In any year, there's usually a handful of songs that I just can't hear enough, that I listen to on repeat for hours, that linger in my ears for weeks afterward. If I were making a mix CD of 2004, these songs would be on it.
- Wilco, "The Late Greats"
Of course, new releases weren't the only game in town. This year was pretty decent for reissues and collections, including:
- Collections of singles, EP tracks and other errata from Black Cross and the now-defunct Give Up The Ghost
If you didn't pick those up, you really might want to do so.
Every year, I wind up with discs that I'm just not sure about - albums that keep me listening and keep me interested, albums that I keep going back to like dysfunctional relationships with addicting people. Think of this list as albums that I reserve the right to add to my list of favorite records for 2004 whenever I see fit. Unlocking their secrets simply requires more time than I had to offer them in 2004.
- Wilco, "A Ghost Is Born" CD (Nonesuch)
Most Overlooked Album Of 2003
How in the hell did I miss The Postal Service's "Give Up"? Good thing I corrected that mistake.
Múm's "Summer Make Good" features what is absolutely the worst packaging of the year. Sure, it looks good but the CD slips into a sleeve which is so tight that it has to be forced back in ... and practically pulled out with tweezers. It's just stupid - if you can get the CD out of the packaging without ripping the sleeve, you will be graced with some delightful glitch-pop songsmithing ... but that's a pretty big if.
2005 is already shaping up to be better - you will be hearing about the Jesu record that Justin Broadrick is releasing - I have a copy here, I can't stop listening to it and it's fucking amazing. If you can imagine a combination of Godflesh, My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Rós, you will have a vague understanding of how mind and genre-bendingly awesome the Jesu album really is.