The Best Records of 2005 

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

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Maceo Parker
School's In!

The baddest alto sax in R&B/funk history is back! Parker, sax god in James Brown's great 1960s band, blows euphorically throughout with his sizzling, blues-rich tone. With terse horn riffs, punchy and rippling bass, snapping drums, chunky guitar, and BBQ-flavored Hammond organ, this is hard funk, boys and girls, of the kind Sly, Funkadelic, the Fatback Band, War, and Soul Bro #1 served up hot in the '70s. Get this! (BHM)

Red Sparowes
At the Soundless Dawn

Imagine if Black Sabbath circa 1971 had collaborated with film-score titan Ennio Morricone for the soundtrack to an end-of-the-world-themed sci-fi film, but the film is never finished, and the tapes go in the vault until 2005, when dense layers of guitars (including pedal steel) get thrown on top. Witness this Dawn and imagine no more. (Neurot)

Amy Rigby
Little Fugitive

She's the Elvis Costello of soccer moms! No, wait -- she's the female Dylan of Wisteria Lane, the most desperately rockin' housewife! I got it: Ray Davies writes songs for the Shangri-La's if they were born ten years later! Rigby is all those things and more, a fearless chronicler of a particular rock 'n' roll demographic: the Mod housewife with tattoos who has to make breakfast for her kids even though she and her band played out the night before. (Signature Sounds)

The Domino Kings
Some Kind of Sign

At first you think, "Yawn, another roots-rock combo." Then you play this a few times and you notice these Domino Kings' songs have many of the timeless qualities of Buddy Holly, Buck Owens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Swan Song-era Dave Edmunds: simplicity, directness, melodies that are plaintive and strangely exultant at the same time, lyrics about the heart sung with heart. Before you know it, you've played this ten times in a row. (HighTone)

Mingus Big Band
I Am Three

Charles Mingus took jazz' roots in blues and gospel, Duke Ellington's orchestral élan, bebop's feverish modernism, and 20th-century classical music and simmered them in his imaginative, sensitive, outraged, mercurial pressure-cooker of a mind (he once punched out his trombonist's front teeth) until it became Him. Three features a number of ensembles performing his compositions, all with one thing in common: Each captures the indomitable spirit of the man in all his ragged, poised glory. (Sunnyside)

Justin Farrar

The USA Is a Monster

This isn't quite as concise a statement as the USA Is a Monster's previous release, Tasheyana Compost, but Wohaw is insanely more ambitious. In addition to this New York duo's physical fusion of political hardcore, proggy histrionics, Lightning Bolt-inspired techno-metal, and eco-conscious Native American war chants, this two-hour epic also documents the group's forays into elfin-folk, Tin Pan Alley schmaltz, and campfire field recordings. Wow! No American band extant attempts to bring together so much diversity while still kicking out them jams. (Load)

Temple of Bon Matin

The lonesome howl of percussionist and vocalist Ed Wilcox feels lonelier than ever before, and this Philadelphia ensemble's usual brand of churning psychedelic noise-rock is sparser, more fractured, and way more acoustic. Disjointed, lo-fi production and a ragged set of song fragments are precariously pasted together using Wilcox' sadness for glue. So, yeah, Infidel is a downer and sonically challenging, but it's also the most emotional record I listened to all year. (Spirit of Orr)

Kemialliset Ystävät
Kellari Juniversumi

Originally released in über-limited quantities in '02, this year's reissue of Kellari Juniversumi is just too damn important to ignore for technical reasons. Kemialliset Ystävät (Finnish for "chemical people") constructs these ghostly little jams full of chimes, acoustic guitars, prayerlike vocals, odd percussion, and tweaked electronics. However, each of these live jams actually moves like a digitally manufactured patchwork of sounds, forming a bridge between folk music and minimal techno. (Fonal Records/Beta-lactum Rings)

Arthur Russell
World of Echo

The New York disco producer Arthur Russell released the World of Echo LP in '86; the CD reissue of this prescient work finally came out this year. His gorgeous, spellbinding mixture of soft dance grooves, raga-inspired cello work, minimalism, and studio wizardry makes this "Buddhist bubblegum music," as Allen Ginsberg once tagged it. It's also the spiritual contemporary to New York's current crop of innovative psych-dance noise-jammers like Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, and Jane. (Audika)

Alvarius B
Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset

Sun City Girls' Alan Bishop moonlights as the scatological singer-songwriter Alvarius B. Over aggressively finger-picked folk tunes and touches of cello, electric guitar, and percussion, he shifts from demented sneer to playfully sinister chirp as he croons songs of pain, pubic hair, blood, and death. And while poetic verse like My next door neighbor dusted off the chemical weapons in his garage sure makes me giggle, Blood Operatives of the Barium Sunset is ultimately a dark soundtrack to the undertaker shoveling that last scoop of dirt on our country's coffin. (Abduction)


I believe the dude who owns the Tumult imprint works at Aquarius Records in San Francisco's Mission. So head on over there and plant a big, sloppy smooch on his kisser, because this double-disc compilation of super-rare jams from the Finnish collective Avarus only further proves that Finland's underground is in the vanguard when it comes to creating tribally droning, psychedelic folk-rock jams. Ruskeatimantti is as hypnotic as throbbing electronic dance music, and as elastic and free-form as any classic acid rock. (Tumult)

Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar

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