Albums 2005

Here it is! The waiting is over! Back by popular demand – well, back at the request of our SFH buddy Scott Sellers, in any event – is the year’s Top Ten Album list! As in previous years, the list is completely subjective, proudly unscientific, and thoroughly unsuitable for small children or old ladies. As in previous years, too, we at ask that you DO NOT download any of this stuff. Along with landing you in the slammer, it is unfair to a lot of acts who have been shoveling back grease wheels for years, and who deserve every cent they make. Here goes, rock’n’rollers and punk rockers!

1. SON VOLT: Okemah and the Melody of Riot – Son Volt doesn’t release very many albums (this is their first release since Wide Swing Tremolo in 1998), and they really aren’t a band (Jay Farrar comprises most all of the essential ingredients), but this extraordinary record is, to me, the year’s best. Cruising along Highway 61, the road that divides folk, country, punk and rock’n’roll, Farrar demonstrates that he is a capable writer of lyrics and songs in the style of his muse, Woody Guthrie. This record sounds easy and unhurried as Summer – but, if you listen closely enough, it tells the tale of an America with a broken heart: an amoral presidency, a war no one wants, a growing gap between rich and poor. I have recommended this record to many people, in 2005, and all come back to me with the same assessment: it is magical. It really is.

2. PENNYWISE, The Fuse – In the Summer of 2004, not long after my Dad died, I sat in a tour bus with Jim Lindberg, the lead singer of punk veterans Pennywise, and – I know he doesn’t know this, and I don’t know if he’d care if he did – he made me feel a little less sad. We talked about the power of music to change lives, and the ideas and ideals of punk, and the irrefutable need to change the world. Lindberg told me about this album, and how he wanted to provide a bit of hope in George W. Bush’s America. His eyes burned when he said that. So I stepped off that bus, feeling better, and wanting to hear this album. It was worth the wait. It is worth your time.

3. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: Lullabies to Paralyze – I don’t adore it as much as 2002’s Songs For The Deaf (or, rather, as much as my kids love that record, and the ass-kickingest-ever rawker that starts it off, ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’), but QOTSA still carries the bloody, grimy banner for hard rockers with intelligence. (In fact, they may be the only hard rockers with intelligence.) The Foos’ Dave Grohl and Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan have both done their time in this group, but – at the end of a hard-drinkin’ day, doing doughnuts behind the wheel of a souped-up 1966 Pontiac GTO – Queens are really just Josh Homme. I love his stuff because it sounds like my much-missed Urge Overkill, but without the cutesy uniforms and whatnot. It is also cool his girl is Brody of the Distillers.

4. KINGS OF LEON, Aha Shake Heartbreak – A few bloggers – well, okay, just my pal at Lotusland – despair of the fact that I am so smitten by the brothers Followill. Boozy, skirt-chasin’ Southern rock, without a scintilla of political correctness, or even politics? Stylistically and musically, no different than so many better-known acts of the past, like the brothers Allman or Skynyrd? Stupid album names? Well, yes and no. What distinguishes these three brothers and one cousin is, here as before, the songs. They write memorable, enduring songs. Lyrically, some of the tunes here – like ‘Soft,’ which is all about what the title implies – leave something to be desired. But every tune here, despite that, is worth the price of admission.

5. SAGE FRANCIS, A Healthy Distrust – White rappers, before Eminem, were pretty thin on the ground. If you ever lost a few minutes of your life to Vanilla Ice, you would certainly know why that is so. Now, with Mr. Mathers allegedly about to retire, yet again, who will assume his mantle? Sage Francis, that’s who. There’s a reason why the Rhode Island polemicist is the only rapper on Epitaph – there’s a reason why Pitchfork, no less, has wordily opined that “he expresses an especially distinct, heartfelt worldview, and serves as a galvanic reminder to re-evaluate your politics and morals on a personal level.” Angry, articulate, astute, Francis is what rap once was (with Public Enemy, or even NWA), and could be again. He means it. Check out his and you will see what I’m getting at. This is the guy who could sweep away hip-hop’s misogyny, its worship of guns and money. This is the guy who could do it. Invest in him.

6. ARCADE FIRE, Funeral – For a longish time, I resisted the Arcade Fire, mightily, but they won in the end. As all and sundry know, I am a subculture snob. I detest popular culture that is popular. Thus my affinity for real punk rock, disturbing David Lynch films and bad television. As soon as something goes platinum, I’m gone, baby. But these fellow Canadians got me with ‘Rebellion (Lies).’ It’s stuck in my brain stem, hookier than a tackle box. Every time you close your eyes, dum dee dum.

7. YOUTH GROUP, Skeleton Jar – This album has gone Top 40 on the CMJ College Charts and received embarrassingly positive reviews in Esquire, Blender, Giant, Filter, Nylon and Time Out New York. Other artists went bonkers, too. Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla weighed in with this: “Skeleton Jar is sweet and dear and genuine in a world stolen by cynics. And Youth Group are masterful at avoiding the mire, the bleeding heart dreck that drove people to irony in the first place. Put simply, Youth Group gets it. If you don’t love them, your heart is dead.” Bit of an overstatement, but not far off the mark. Get it.

8. DEATH FROM ABOVE, Romance Bloody Romance – I’ve always resisted liking Canadian groups – the Terminally Hyped in particular – simply because they were Canadian. I’m not necessarily against CanCon rules or anything like that, but I find hometown fannishness a bit much, sometimes (cf. Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, ad nauseum). These guys? These guys would be fucking rock stars if they came from Mars, maaaan. Saw them at the Nine Inch Nails show, and the two of them – two of them! – mopped the floor with Trent. Amazing disc, even if it is a remix kind of thing. Josh Homme did one of the remixes, too. Cool. Did I mention the Brody thing?

9. VARIOUS, Punk-O-Rama 10 – Okay, okay, okay, I know it’s against the Top Ten List Commandments to list a compilation. But, c’mon! Bad Religion, Rancid, Pennywise, NOFX, Sage Francis, Youth Group, Tiger Army, all in one place, and dirt cheap, too…what more do ya want? The greatest record label in the world, for many reasons.

10. SFH, SFH – Um, I hear they suck, dude. But, if you want to buy their record, cheap, it’s right here. Barney Rubble is my double, Barney Rubble is my double…dum dee dum.

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