Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005: Albums

I spend more time listening to or playing music than I do watching movies, but I'm woefully unequal to the task of making an end-of-the-year music list. I've seen a good chunk of the favored movies (14 of the top 15, it turns out) in the Village Voice film critics poll, but the situation couldn't be more different with music. Given (1) the vast volume of music released each year, (2) the splintering of genres into oceanic sub-regions, and (3) the sheer amount of time it takes it wrap your ears around each album and do it justice, I've only been able to hear a dozen or so 2005 albums with any care or attention.

Of these, my numero uno pick is probably M.I.A.'s Arular. Yes, I'm Tamil like she is, but that's not the reason why. M.I.A.'s sound is a masala of hip-hop, electronica, Jamaican dancehall and the British hard and minimal style known as grime. Her vocal arrangements favor tribal-sounding chants, often in a fabricated English argot with Tamil-like cadences. The beats are monstrously thick, the bass lines elephantine, and the whole concoction glows with a chintzy-neon video-game ambience. The album sounds both thoroughly experimental and thoroughly accessible. People have been trumpeting M.I.A.'s Sri Lankan refugee background and revolutionary agenda but frankly, I find the real strengths of this record to be more sonic than political. And it drips with charisma the way Neneh Cherry's eclectic hip-hop debut Raw Like Sushi did. Now let's hope M.I.A. doesn't drop out of music like Neneh did.

Of the other 2005 records, the ones I played the most were probably: Amy Rigby, Little Fugitive; Missy Elliott, The Cookbook; Sufjan Stevens, Illinois; and Kanye West, Late Registration.

Recent acquisitions that I like already but haven't yet plumbed the suspected depths of: Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine; Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree; and Robyn, Robyn.

2005 albums that spent the most time on your stereo? Feel free to share if you like.

37 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

J. Hoberman makes a list of 30 good movies from 2005.

December 29, 2005 11:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You know that post-good-movie high?
I just got back from The Squid & The Whale.
Knocked me giddy.

December 30, 2005 12:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Top 50 music videos of 2005.
[via Sasha].

December 30, 2005 8:56 AM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

Wow! I didn't know u played music (I hope u meant u played musical instruments). I am impressed...

Would u make a list of your top 10 English language movies? I really can't get enough of these top 10's...lol

December 30, 2005 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, I saw The Squid and the Whale yesterday, too. Man, that film hit close to home. Not the broken home stuff, thankfully, but the intellectual pretenses. I laughed really loud when Walt called "The Metamorphosis" "Kafkaesque" -- really loud, and in a theater where I was the only person who laughed at all.

How impressive is Jeff Daniels? On the page, his character is such an unredeemable bastard, but Daniels brings him that little bit of sympathy that the film needs so badly. The whole cast was great, actually. (Did you know that the younger son is Owen Kline, son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates? He does have his mother's bone structure.)

Oh, and favorite music . . .

Sufjan's probably at the top of the list. I also really like Anders Parker's EP, The Wounded Astronaut, Beck's Guero, John Vanderslice's Pixel Revolt, Laura Veirs' Year of Meteors, The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema, and Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities.

My two favorite new releases, though, might be of older recordings: the 30th anniversary Born to Run boxset, which has finally cured me of my anit-Springsteen bias, and Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, which is a miracle.

December 30, 2005 10:34 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I just heard M.I.A. for the first time a week ago. The guy from whom I get dosas played her music for me--it's good!

December 30, 2005 11:39 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, the film blew me away.
Had no idea about the Kevin Kline/Phoebe Cates connection...
And I didn't recognize Anna Paquin until the end credits; hadn't seen her since The Piano.
I really liked Baumbach's debut Kicking And Screaming but his second Mr. Jealousy, was weak. But this one was a quantum leap above them.
A million small details.
I liked how Jeff Daniels used the word "fillet": as in "Elmore Leonard, the fillet of the crime genre" or "the fillet of the neighborhood".
And the Breathless invocation was spot-on.
The writing and acting were brilliant but I was also taken with the camerawork and editing: they seemed organically wedded to the subject and mood.
I'd like to write about it when it comes out on DVD when I can sit down with a remote and a pause button.

And I can't believe I haven't picked up the Monk/Trane CD yet. Heading over to Amazon right now.

December 30, 2005 12:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach, I'm envious: you probably have an embarrassment of good dosa places in NYC. I have to take a 2-hr trip to Toronto to the "Madras Express Cafe" to get my fix.

Rakesh, I made a list of favorite films here.

December 30, 2005 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Good timing Girish on TS&TW -- I've just posted my 2005 top ten and I think you'll be surprised.

There was a period earlier this year when Arular dominated my iPod.

I only recently learned about her associations with groups like the LTTE, though I'm so naive on Sri Lankan politics. Some claim it to be a terrorist group, while others describe them as freedom fighters. I feel foolish for never stopping to think about the guerilla imagery in her songs ("Like PLO we don't surrend-o"). I also learned that Arular is named after her dad, who was a member of the group Eros that trained with the PLO. But quite frankly, I could care less -- this albums rocks!

December 30, 2005 12:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A bangin' list, Filmbrain. I love it.
You're also way ahead of me: I've only seen about half the films on your list; they all sound great.
And I finally get the subtitle of Ben's blog.

December 30, 2005 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Zach (if I may), where do you get your dosas? I got spoiled when I lived in Queens -- the Dosa Hut on Bowne Street was a slice of heaven. Their butter masala dosa was to die for, ditto for the coconut sambar. I've not found anything that comes close in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Perhaps it's because the owners of the Dosa Hut are Sri Lankan? (I've been told by several Indian friends that they make the best dosas.)

Girish -- if you do make it down to NYC, we shall have to take a trip out there. It's worth it.

December 30, 2005 1:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Count me in, Filmbrain.

December 30, 2005 2:04 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I don't know too many dosa places--there is this new one that is supposed to be good called Saravanaas on 26th and Lex (see the review with pics: http://www.nycnosh.com/?p=62). I hope to try it in the next few weeks.

The 'Dosa Guy,' Thiru Kumar, of Sri Lankan origin, works on Washington Square South and Sullivan St. Google him and you'll see the devotion he inspires! Since I attended NYU, and now work there, he's most most convenient fix. He used to manage the famous Dosa Hut during its reputed glory days. Everything is fresh and great. Thiru is a saint in addition to being a good cook.

December 30, 2005 2:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren's resolutions.

December 30, 2005 2:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Cool post by Joshua sparked by the Slate Movie Club.

December 30, 2005 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Girish: Your thoughts on this list?

December 30, 2005 4:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, I should send that link along to my parents. They might have an opinion or two about it. They are loyal Bollywood watchers.
I was raised on a full Bollywood diet but these days I see almost no current Bollywood films; I've just lost interest in them. But I still love old (often B&W) Bollywood films: Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, etc.

December 30, 2005 5:21 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, I assume you've read this year's movie club at Slate and that you stood up and applauded like I did when you got to this bit from Rosenbaum:

"When people in such places bitch about any of us critics writing about movies they haven't seen, what they're really saying is that the only new "information" they find permissible—and please note that we have to keep "information" in quotes—is some form of advertising. For me it parallels in an eerie way how Bush tries so hard to limit what we can say about the occupation of Iraq. What they all should really be writing and saying is, "Don't tell us anything we haven't already heard." To which I can only reply—or would reply, if I was back in the Fray—"Please roll over and go back to sleep. The rest of us are having a fruitful discussion.""

Hot damn, that's beautiful!

December 30, 2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, he really nailed that one. And I had to cheer.

This week, I've been reading the book he edited with Adrian Martin, Movie Mutations. It opens with a fantastic letter relay among a handful of critics (the two of them + Kent Jones, Nicole Brenez and Alex Horwath).
Truly inspiring; makes me want to put down everything and go spend the weekend watching and pondering movies.

December 30, 2005 5:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, Steven Shaviro's best music of the year.

December 30, 2005 7:59 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

I recently had a good listen to Arular and gotta say it's a truly unpredictable and inventive album. Also, regarding The Mountain Goats' The Sunset Tree - subsequent listens proved it to be quite a moving album, so don't give up on it!

By the way, I've been enjoying your blog for some time now. Thought it was about time to make a post. :)

December 30, 2005 10:24 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

My brief best-records list:

1. Antony & The Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

Followed by everything else.

I need to pick up Arular. I've listened to it all the way through on the headphones at Tower records, but for some reason don't actually own it yet.

December 31, 2005 7:49 AM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

Hey Girish,
Wanna wish u fabulous 2006!!!

December 31, 2005 9:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Mubarak and Rakesh--Thanks a bunch.

David, I've heard a lot about that Antony & the Johnsons record; I need to sample it on iTunes.

I watched That 70s Show for the first time last night on DVD. It was real late but I had to pause an episode, go downstairs, power up the stereo and spin Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" a few times. Used to be a big Todd-head ten years ago.

December 31, 2005 10:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Check out Aaron's end-of-the-year list; you haven't seen one like this anywhere else.

December 31, 2005 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

What, long-winded?

(thanks for the mention, girish, and happy new new to you!)

December 31, 2005 11:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The same to you, Aaron.
And it was your collage--it made me chuckle.

December 31, 2005 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, that's the episode where Donna kisses Eric for the first time, right? Out on the hood of the Vista Cruiser?

December 31, 2005 12:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Correctamundo, my friend.
Good memory.
The Vista Cruiser reminded me of that Aerosmith road trip in Dazed And Confused.
And I think they're both set in '76.

December 31, 2005 2:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I don't think it was a Vista Cruiser in the Linklater film but everything else (the era, clothes, music) took me right back to that film, which just gets better and better with time. It just might be the man's masterpiece.

December 31, 2005 2:16 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

The Criterion edition of Dazed and Confused might be my most highly anticipated DVD of 2006.

December 31, 2005 5:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow. Didn't even know about that one...

January 01, 2006 12:50 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Guess which blog I read first on getting back in town?

... I think the Gorillaz disc and the Seu Jorge are the only things I've heard from 2005. A lot of new music just does not excite me, though I keep meaning to pick up the Sufjan.

January 03, 2006 8:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Welcome back, Tuwa...
Been meaning to pick up the Gorillaz. What I've heard from it sounds great.

January 03, 2006 8:36 PM  
Blogger Richard Gibson said...

Sufjan: 'Illinoise' is good, I'm also pretty into 'Funeral' from The Arcade Fire. I'm pretty impressed with that, passed me by on release but a couple of the better UK music magazines have it pretty high up on their lists of best releases of 2005.

January 05, 2006 4:55 PM  
Blogger Grand Epic said...

My favorite album of the year didn't make it to the states, Pocket Revolution by dEUS.

January 16, 2006 11:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Not sure who they are, GE...

January 16, 2006 11:08 PM  

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