THE YEAR GONE BY: MUSIC
Aimee Mann, who performed at the Hawaii Theatre this year, makes the list of picks with "The Forgotten Arm."
Top albums of 2005 cross cultural borders
THIS HAS BEEN a banner year for music, filled with sounds to both soothe and excite.
It was one of those rare years in which I was able to witness in concert some of the music acts whose albums grace my Top 10 list. For my money, how you translate your art in a live setting is a truer benchmark of success than how many times you've been downloaded to those ubiquitous iPods, or how well marketed your music is on your page at myspace.com.
And while I usually don't mention music books, I can't sleep on this year's critically acclaimed "Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation," by former isle resident Jeff Chang. I was heartened by Chang's sociopolitical take on hip-hop's crucial development, putting it in proper context.
He's an important part of the national hip-hop intelligentsia, and he gave a telling quote to the San Francisco Gate in 2003: "Our generation is a different breed, intellectually. We've grown up with multiculturalism, grown up in a world where pop culture has always mediated how we analyze the world. We're not afraid of the media anymore; there's a constant dialogue in hip-hop about the gaps between our reality and the ways we're represented. We're naturally interdisciplinary; we mix signifiers, we break everything down to bits and bytes and rebuild something new."
Which perfectly illustrates the first entry on my list of 10 favorite albums of 2005:
"Arular" by M.I.A.
/ M.I.A. (Interscope): The American version of this original U.K. release is the one to get, the bold debut of the Sri Lankan-born and London-based artist Maya Arulpragasam. Buoyed by the international hit "Galang," it's the electro sound of revolution suited for both the clubs and the streets 'round the world.
"The Forgotten Arm" / Aimee Mann (SuperEgo): At the other end of the spectrum, Mann mines the vagaries of the heart, this time involving a has-been boxer and his lover. Her sense of pop melody and her singing voice are in top form. I already loved this well-crafted concept album before having the pleasure of seeing Mann in concert at the Hawaii Theatre.
"Jumping the Creek" / Charles Lloyd (ECM): The veteran jazz saxophonist is making the best music of his extensive career, with the help of a superlative backing band featuring pianist Geri Allen and the young phenom Eric Harland on drums. I saw him with the band at the end of an extended run at Yoshi's in Oakland, Calif., featuring compositions from this album. It was a near-spiritual experience.
/ Kanye West (Roc-A-Fella): His follow-up to last year's "The College Dropout" is just as audacious, although maybe not as strong verse-wise. Still, despite the self-indulgence, it sounds great (everybody LOVES "Gold Digger"), thanks in part to the help of outside arranger Jon Brion.
"The Mouse and the Mask" / DangerDoom (Epitaph): Two of hip-hop's biggest underground talents, Danger Mouse and MF Doom, collaborate with the goofy gang at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. It's eccentric fun that doesn't take itself seriously. It helps if you love "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."
"Return the Gift" / Gang of Four (V2): This is the '80s counterpart to "Arular," angular post-punk revitalized in all its glory by the original band. You'd figure it'd be redundant to redo old, if "classic" material, but with still-relevant songs such as "To Hell with Poverty" and "I Love a Man in a Uniform," why not trot them out, still filled with piss and vinegar?
"Takk ... " by Sigur Rós.
/ Sigur Rós (Geffen): For me the Icelandic group put on THE concert of the year here -- and we got them before their major U.S. tour -- AND some of the cast members of "Lost" were in attendance, to up the cool factor. Beautiful, ethereal and the band's most emotionally direct album to date.
"Twin Cinema" / The New Pornographers (Matador): The Vancouver indie super-group put out an album of smartly executed songs that evoke the sunny innocence of the 1960s. It's so damn perfect, it hurts. Pure pop pleasure.
"Welcome to Jamrock" / Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley (Universal): The best post-Bob Marley album any of his sons has issued, even besting the radio-friendly popularity of Ziggy's earlier work. It boasts the title track, one of the best summer hits of the year, and, more important, a solid collection of tracks in the dancehall/reggae groove, with no throwaway lyrics. Jr. Gong is the true inheritor of his father's mantle.
"The Woods" / Sleater-Kinney (Sub Pop): It was a special thrill to finally see one of my favorite bands in Los Angeles several months ago. Their collective feeling of desperation, of wanting to rejuvenate their core trio sound, has made their music that much stronger and given it that much more immediacy. Taking their cue from, all things, classic rock, the women ratchet up the sonic assault (without sacrificing heart) and take no prisoners.
/ Common (Interscope)
"Chávez Ravine" / Ry Cooder (Nonesuch)
"Dimanche à Bamako" / Amadou & Mariam (Nonesuch)
"Francis the Mute" / The Mars Volta (GSL/Strummer/ Universal)
"I Am a Bird Now" / Antony and the Johnsons (Secretly Canadian)
"Less Than Human" / The Juan Maclean (DFA/Astralwerks)
"Live from Iraq" (4th25.com Entertainment)
"The Magic Numbers" (Capitol)
"Minimum-Maximum" / Kraftwerk (EMI)
"Same !@#$ Different Day" / Lyrics Born (Quannum Projects)
10 favorite tracks
/ Amerie (Richcraft/Columbia)
"Feel Good Inc." / Gorillaz (Virgin)
"Galvanize" / The Chemical Brothers (Astralwerks)
"Grillz" / Nelly featuring Paul Wall, Ali, & Gipp (Derrty)
"Jerk It Out" / Caesars (Astralwerks)
"Mercy Now" / Mary Gauthier (Lost Highway)
"My Doorbell" / The White Stripes (V2)
"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" / Jack Johnson (Brushfire/Universal)
"Still Tippin'" / Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Paul Wall (Asylum)
"Wait (The Whisper Song)" / Ying Yang Twins (TVT)
Favorite music DVDs
"The Directors Label Series: The Work of Directors Mark Romanek, Jonathan Glazer, Anton Corbijn and Stéphane Sednaoui" (Palm Pictures)
"End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones" (Rhino Home Video)
"The Fearless Freaks: The Wonderfully Improbable Story of the Flaming Lips" (Shout! Factory)
"Looking for a Thrill: An Anthology of Inspiration" (Thrill Jockey)
"Punk: Attitude" (Capital Entertainment)
And aloha to Martin Denny and Jerry Byrd ... and ReNew Orleans.