Hey, Jason did it, so now I’m
stealing borrowing the title and idea from him. The basic gist is that I choose the top ten albums of the first half of 2005. Sounds simple enough, right? In no particular order:
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra • Horses in the Sky
Another strong but incredibly potent release from Efram (ex GY!BE), this time featuring even more rough, multi-part vocals. This isn’t an album I’d listen to in a car, but rather with my circumaural headphones on, so I can catch every nuance, pizzicato bass note, and throaty syllable. It’s a bit of a delayed-gratification idea: for example, in the opening “God Bless Our Dead Marines,” listeners spend eight of the song’s eleven minute riding a gentle wave of growing dissonance (and additional strata of sounds, first simply string bass and vocal, then violin, and drum, and finally hand clapping), before it becomes quiet again and a beautiful chorus of gradually-expanding voices sings in a round. An incredibly rich and organic experience.
Mars Volta • Frances the Mute
I could have predicted this last year, when I was quivering in anticipation, but the final product didn’t fail to deliver. Aside from some extended ambient sections that could have been excised, this is one rockin’ rockfunkmetalsomethingorother album.
Ulver • Blood Inside
I was unsure what to expect what to expect from this album. Ulver has never retained the same sound from album to album (from viking metal to acoustic folk to raw black metal to synthy rock, to heavily sampled ambient). This album is something different entirely, having more in common with Themes… than Perdition City I think, but continuing neither. It’s the sort of album that Trent Reznor wishes he could have made this year.
Nine Inch Nails • With Teeth
Speaking of Trent Reznor, and despite my comments, his new work under the NIN moniker sounds like the structure of Pretty Hate Machine with the textures of The Fragile. It would take an album of truly loin-exciting potency to top The Fragile in my mind, but With Teeth is still an incredibly solid album, and makes me wonder even more what direction Reznor will continue in.
Red Sparowes • At the Soundless Dawn
Both Cult of Luna and Isis released albums late last year, and in the heavy postrock vein, this soundly beats both of them (and that’s a difficult thing to do). Not only does this band (which has members of Isis: no surprise there) use incredible lyrics and artwork for the album, but it’s the sort of aural journey that will leave you breathless. Longwinded but not aimless, it was one of my big surprises so far.
Dredg • Catch Without Arms
I didn’t think El Cielo, despite being an excellent record, lived up to the potential Dredg showed in Leitmotif (I’m sure some would disagree), but I’m very pleased with this latest offering. The vocals and musicianship have gotten stronger, and while I’m sad to see that the esoterica from their first offering seems to have passed away for good, this is the sort of solid artsy rock album that’s too good for radio.
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead • Worlds Apart
Ah, everybody’s favorite “We’re much smarter than you, but we’ll still smash our guitars” band. This album has to make it on my list if for nothing else than the title track. That the rest of the album is good (continuing in the same style as Source Tags & Codes) only solidifies its place.
Porcupine Tree • Deadwing
I must confess that I am not actually a big fan of Porcupine Tree. I liked Steven Wilson’s work on Opeth’s Blackwater Park, but Blackfield was lame, and I much prefer their PT’s doppleganger, Pineapple Thief (whose new album I’ve failed to include on this list because I got it last year). Still, one can’t argue with the musicianship on this album, and I find myself getting drawn in on further listens.
Sufjan Stevens • Illinois
The second in an ambitious question to make an album for each US state (the first was Michigan), Illinois (sometimes known as Come on, Feel the Illinoise!) floats between extremely delicate folk songs and more upbeat pieces like the title track. Exploring the widely differing locales of Illinois, Steven’s ghostly voice layers on top of guitars, strings, trumpets, piano, and a variety of percussion to create a damnably addictive effect.
The Decemberists • Picaresque
What can I say? These saucy
Brits Portlanders make music in the style of Neutral Milk Hotel, and while some might take issue with the slightly overbearing vocals, it’s really catchy stuff.