The Best Records of 2005 

Tribal drones, lush Britrock, and cartoon monkey bands beguiled our critics this year.

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2K6 Basketball (The Tracks)

Fill in the rap blank: A little bit of this is all I need/Can't wait to get home and smoke some ______. The answer? Salmon. Smoke some salmon. Which is why I love this PG-13 rated orgy of video-game/hip-hop synergy, starring the Roots, Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, Common, Hieroglyphics, RJD2, Zion I, Jean Grae, Redman, Aceyalone, and Aesop Rock. It's a chaste frat party in a jewel case. Just add smokeables. (Decon)

The Mouse and the Mask

Hip-hop is so wack -- its biggest stars are on the cover of Vanity Fair while the actual talent cavorts with cartoon characters. MF Doom, Dangermouse, and the stars of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim effectively shame 99 percent of the sewage released this year. However, the masterful rhymes of sentient fried product Meatwad somehow got cut. A secret transcript: And I'm a motherf**ing n**a you will never try/F**k you hos 'cuz I'm a pimp till I die! (Epitaph)

Demon Days

This "cartoon monkey band" gets a lot of crap, and I agree: Cartoon monkey bands deserve short shrift in this world, unless they mint the summer jam of the year ("Feel Good Inc.") and recruit Dennis Hopper for an antiwar song. Yes, these bungholes demand in-costume interviews and are richer than God. But I'm starting to feel as though it's the cartoon monkey bands' world; we just live in it. (Virgin)

The Herbalizer
Take London

Big. Brassy. Sassy. Sexy. This UK hip-hop collaboration album works well with espionage movies and hard liquor-based parties. Most of the talent ends up bowing to standout star Jean Grae. Right off the bat, the South African-born, college-educated NYC emcee calls herself the Jonas Salk of hip-hop and says she has the cure, earning the plaque for Best Polio Reference in Popular Music 2005. (Zen)

Roots Manuva
Awfully Deep

Roots Manuva was supposed to blow up by now, and Awfully Deep was supposed to be his breakout album. Luckily, he released fourteen ham-handed tracks that are only half club-stompers; the rest concentrate on existential navel gazing. "Chin High" destroys on the dancefloor, while "Thinking" goes nowhere. It's this mix that's kept Manuva low-key and close to my heart. (Big Dada)

Fires in Distant Buildings

Gravenhurst is for people who want to like Wilco, but want to be first. Meet an obscure indie band from a far-off land called Bristol, England, home to Massive Attack and neighbors to Portishead, though the similarities end there. No, Fires in Distant Buildings sounds a lot like Wilco, with the guitars and the lost lyrics and the experimental sections with those huge moments that make you want to tear your face off. Plus, you can tell people you were into Gravenhurst before it got popular. (Warp)

Queens of the Stone Age
Lullabies to Paralyze

ProVigil is an antipsychotic drug developed by the military and used by methamphetamine addicts who've been up for 72 hours or more: It prevents them from having violent psychotic breaks, or "going werewolf" as they call it. A little-known home remedy for going werewolf is listening to this QOTSA record on repeat at high volume. Studies show Lullabies to Paralyze saves people from carving worms out of their arms or shooting the postman for spying on their mail. (Interscope)

Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine

The women in my life immediately loved this CD with a defensive fervor that I found a) hot, because the women in my life don't usually fight about music, and b) sad, because this CD is all over the place. Fiona has totally lost her marbles. It's a car crash -- a hot, sad car crash that I constantly put on to make girls happy. Thanks, Fiona. (Sony)

Eric K. Arnold

West Oaktown

Acid jazz made an official comeback in 2005, perhaps best symbolized by this double CD that stacked up a mountain of press clippings faster than you can say "Bring it, mate!" The result of importing an English jazz-funk head like Charlie Tate to urban Oakland and letting him marinate, West Oaktown's combination of complex time signatures, soulful mood swings, chilled beats, and scientific raps from Capitol A, Roots Manuva, and Azeem made it hip to be Cool like dat all over again. (Om)

Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim

Perhaps the only thing more fascinating than this groundbreaking fusion of traditional East African rhythms with up-to-the-minute electronics and stirring raps was the artists' own backstories. MC Emmanuel Jal hails from southern Sudan, while Abdel Gadir Salim is from the north. Their historic collaboration constitutes a strong cry for unity -- healing the civil-war-ravaged nation with insistent messages of peace as well as captivating melodic textures. (Riverboat/World Music Network)

Seu Jorge

This South American singer and actor (City of God, the Bowie guy in The Life Aquatic) has the versatility to pull off Elvis Presley and Serge Gainsbourg covers, Brasilelectro remixes ("Tive Razão"), and acoustic ballads ("Fiore de la Città") on Cru, which lives up to its title (it means "raw" in Portuguese). Jorge globalized and energized the singer-songwriter shtick with percussive rhythms, soothing guitars, and a dash of electronic treatments, all held together by his intense vocal delivery. (Wrasse)


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