Ian’s Top Ten Albums Of 2005
Alright this is a couple weeks late due to technical difficulties, but I wanted to do it anyways. It’s every music nerd’s favorite time of year… top 10 time! And so in true Hi-Fidelity fashion, I give you my ten favorite records released this year.
10. Nile - Annhilation Of The Wicked
I was a little skeptical about whether or not to put this on the list, seeing as how I don’t own it, nor have I even heard all of it, which is why I decided to sneak it onto the bottom spot ahead of Interpol’s Antics, but I felt that it deserved a mention. This is a band that many would find hard to like. Nile play brutal death metal with an Egyptian twist, which basically means they sound exactly like you would expect them to; you get hyperspeed blast beats and double kick drums going *DIGGA-DIGGA-DIGGA* in every song. You get subterranean bass tones that will blow your speakers. You get two guitarists going absolutely apeshit at the same time with impossibly technical six-string fuckery. And most of all, you get not one, not two, but three completely incomprehensible vocalists going “WHHHUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” over top of the whole thing. But Nile is so much more. The dynamics of the songs, the esoteric instrumentation, the epic atmosphere that is invoked, and the mystical lyrical content all serve to create a musical experience far removed from mere one dimensional blasting. There is no other extreme metal band even close to making music like this. Nile will fucking kill you.
Best Track: Sacrifice Unto Sebek
9. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan
To be honest, I was disappointed in this one, mostly because this was for me by far the most anticipated record of the year. After 2003’s massive Elephant, I was ready for more tube burning, white-Hendrix amp squeal. Unfortunately, Jack White has elected to jettison almost completely the garage blues hybrid perfected on the White Stripes’ early albums. It’s far from bad, and in some places it’s outstanding, but I found it maddeningly inconsistent, as many of Jack White’s genre experiments come off as half baked vanity projects. A few of them, namely “The Nurse” and “Little Ghost” work well enough to justify this sort of tinkering, while “Instinct Blues” and “Red Rain” kick up enough of that trademark thunder to redeem the record’s numerous flaws.
Best Track: Instinct Blues
8. Bob Dylan - No Direction Home: Bootleg Volume 7
None of this music is really “new” at all, so in a way, it’s almost unfair that the Dylster can find his way onto this list by way of songs that have already been all but canonized for the last 40 years. I mean, it’s essentially a collection of the “Best of Bob Dylan” circa 1961-1966, otherwise known as the man’s golden age. However, the early, unreleased material from the archive, as well as the subtle changes in fidelity and song structure that come across in the live setting are enough to certify this as a classic Dylan album in it’s own right, and if not absolutely essential, it is certainly the best compilation of his earliest and most relevant material ever to be released. Certain tracks, namely the early ones recorded during his Woody Guthrie-worship phase, and an absolutely sublime rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright” rank among the best he’s ever recorded, and even the immortal “Judas!” version of “Like A Rolling Stone” is included here. Although it lacks the focus and cohesiveness of other, better editions of the bootleg series, it provides a truly masterful double-disk overview of Dylan at his most vital, daring and controversial.
Best Track: Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
7. Gorillaz - Demon Days
I don’t think after “Clint Eastwood” anybody really expected to hear from Gorillaz ever again, but lo and behold, here they are four years later with an album that flat out shits all over its predecessor, no small feat considering that their debut was one of the most pleasantly idiosyncratic releases to register with the mainstream in years. Here they continue their genre dabbling to an extent, but there’s a focus to Demon Days that was not evident on Gorillaz. “Feel Good Inc.” even got enough radio play to blow away their one-hit wonder tag. Demon Days makes fewer concessions to the mainstream than the self-titled disc did, forgoing most of that albums’ rock-isms in favor of a straight-up techno sound. As such, it is less accessible, but ultimately far more rewarding.
Best Track: Dare
6. Dead Meadow - Feathers
Feathers is straight-up, no bones about it 70’s style head music. Everything about the album, from the analog recording equipment, to a mix absolutely bathed in reverb and echo, to the distorted, psychedelic cover art, to the seemingly endless amounts of inebriated jams, (of the sweat-soaked headband variety) screams stoner band. And that’s all there is too it. Somehow, Dead Meadow manages to sound like a cross between Neil Young in full on “Like a Hurricane” mode, and pre-Dark Side Of The Moon era Pink Floyd, without sounding at all derivative. Headphones are a must.
Best Track: untitled
5. Bongzilla - Amarijuanican
Bongzilla love weed, if you hadn’t guessed. They make no bones about it. And they also play in a band. Every so often they get stoned and jam. Amarijuanican contains 7 down-tuned, ridiculously heavy sub-sabbath muckfests and some unintelligible growled lyrics that are about weed. The best of the bunch, the towing 12 minute epic “Stonesphere” even contains a mellow-out section in the middle that’s complete with a full-band bong session. They even throw out a shout-out to their influences, with a completely unrecognizable, filth-encrusted cover of Muddy Waters’s “Champagne & Reefer.” Shame they decided to forgo the movie quote intros that were such an entertaining aspect of their earlier albums though.
Best Track: Stonesphere
4. High On Fire - Blessed Black Wings
Legendary guitarist Matt Pike’s band High On Fire returned with a new bassist for their third album, the indomitable Joe Preston, of Melvins fame. Preston’s style doesn’t seem to differ too much from his processor George Rice, however, Blessed Black Wings benefits greatly from another new addition to the lineup, producer Steve Albini. Albini’s production gives the album far greater clarity and more punch than either of the band’s previous works. The songs show a continued willingness to branch out and borrow elements from nonstandard sources, and Pike even ramps up the tempos occasionally, with the opener, “Devolution” surely qualifying as the fastest song he’s ever recorded. With some of the songs reaching into the 6 and 7 minute range, it can be a challenging listen at times, however Pike’s spectacular guitar work make a convincing case in favour of Blessed Black Wings as the band’s best work yet.
Best Track: Cometh Down Hessian
3. Om - Variations On A Theme
Just edging out their old pall, Matt Pike’s old cronies in Sleep made their much awaited return to music with Om in 2005. Although it’s been many years since Sleep was dropped from a major label for being the most singularly unmarketable band in history, time seems to have dulled the creative process none, as Al Cisneros and Chris Haikus essentially continued in the only logical direction after Jerusalem and the departure of Pike; to continue as bass and drums duo writing droning religious epics. The 3 songs on Variations differ very little from one another, hence the name, and are really just meant to be taken as a single work. Cisneros seems to have ditched his “PROCEEDS THE WEEDIAN, NAZERETH!” bellow in favor of a monotone chanting style, and the lyrics have lost their hempy connotations. The two men deliver exemplary performances and create something that is wholly original.
Best Track: On The Mountain At Dawn
2. Six Organs Of Admittance - School Of The Flower
Ben Chansy is officially canonized in my book. After joining Comets On Fire last year as a full time member on Blue Cathedral, far and away the best album of 2004, Chansy returns as his less amplified alter-ego, Six Organs Of Admittance. After a number of stellar but basement recorded albums, School Of The Flower is the first time Chansy has had access to a recording studio. Unsurprisingly, while this is by far the best sounding album he’s recorded as Six Organs to date, the overall sound here is not too different from the other records. School of the Flower is the best Six Organs album to date, a psych folk odyssey that takes the listener on a journey to a place that can almost be described as sacred. This is incense lighting, herbal tea drinking, hippie bead wearing stuff. Chansy uses repetition of eastern modes and ragas to lull the listener into a trance, the most obvious example of this being on the 13 minute title track. Though a number of these are instrumentals, Chansy’s delicate voice and adept finger picking are keen matches, making the album a brief and beautiful journey to the centre of your mind. And the cover of enigmatic freak folk legend Garry Higgins’ “Thicker Than A Smokey” is just awesome.
Best Track: Procession Of Cherry Blossom Spirits
1. Black Mountain - Black Mountain
Black Mountain’s self titled debut edged out School Of The Flower in a tight race partly decided by the fact that Black Mountain are the hometown heroes of rock in 2005, hailing from right here in Vancouver. Make no mistake; Black Mountain is nothing you haven’t heard before. The expected classic rock signposts are all here; Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground and even a shot of James Brown. Black Mountain is no mere throwback to another era however. From the opening scattershot saxophone shuffle of Black Mountain’s mission statement in “Modern Music” to the screeching finale of “Faulty Times,” Black Mountain mastermind Stephan McBean has created a truly classic album in the tradition of his heroes, a complete listening experience which at once assaults and soothes the senses. Highlights abound, such as the fantastic double-time finale of “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around,” the slow burn buildup to a crushing proto-sabbath riff in “Druganaut,” and the narcotic lull of “Set Us Free.” Black Mountain does not so much emulate the heroes of the Classic Rock pantheon as stand tall with them. Truly a classic in every sense of the word.
Best Track: Don’t Run Our Hearts Around