The Best Records of 2005 

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

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This Swedish outfit's 43-minute industrial ritual (divided over twelve tracks) is at times meditative and ambient, but often cacophonous as well. Dominated by ringing electronics, uneasily moaning men, and percussive clatter, Hålrum initially sounds like a massive chunk of rusted sheet metal. But repeat listenings reveal a warm, moist flow to this moody racket. (SNSE)

Carly Ptak

Baltimore's Ptak is a noise musician, performance artist, designer, experimental filmmaker, curator, record-label owner, and electronics enthusiast. She employs all these myriad activities on this self-released CD/DVD set, an immaculate package of twelve electronically processed vocal abstractions, four psychedelic video collages, and a silk-screened print. All this media congeals into intricately constructed patterns reflecting her obsession with reconciling the order-chaos dichotomy. (Heresee)

Niger Magic & Ecstasy in the Sahel DVD

Okay, so a DVD is not exclusively a listening experience, but this riveting documentary contains some of this year's best music. Seattle-based filmmaker Hisham Mayet scours poverty-stricken Niger, capturing musical performances that exude a pure, mystical soul. Niger Magic is full of trance-inducing percussion and vocals, faith-based congregational songs, street musicians playing the "talking drum," and Group Inerane, the most kick-ass Afro-funk garage band of '05, featuring BiBi Ahmed (who is so damn cool). (Sublime Frequencies)


Animal Collective helped pioneer the fusing of minimal techno and improvised psychedelia. Unfortunately, the band's 2005 disc, Feels, replaced this novel fusion with standard pop tunes. Luckily, Jane (featuring DJ Scott Mou and Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox of AC) created Coconuts, which sports two twenty-minute workouts. Each maintains a repetitive, slowly mutating groove while Mou and Lennox blast into deep space with synthesizers and echo-drenched ululations. Jane is the Grateful Dead for indie kids, and that's cool. (Psych-o-Path)

Duck Baker

Derek Bailey and Evan Parker

The London Concert Guitarist Bailey and saxophonist Parker were two of the defining forces in the challenging avant-garde style of free improvised music when it evolved in England in the '60s and '70s. Unfortunately, personal issues have precluded their playing together since the early '80s, which makes this reissue of their best duo effort especially significant. Includes thirty-plus minutes of previously unissued material. (psi)

Paul Bley
Nothing to Declare

Early in his long career, Bley was underrecorded, but since the mid-'70s he has more than made up for it. Of the dozens of records he's made since then, few meet Nothing to Declare's standard. Bley stretches to the utmost on this solo outing, demonstrating why jazz aficionados find him to be one of the most daring and consistently rewarding pianists of his generation. (Justin Time)

Fred Hess Quartet
Crossed Paths

One of the frustrating facts of the jazz life is that it's all but impossible to find out about dedicated artists whose music isn't "commercially viable" (i.e., too edgy for jazz radio play), and it's even harder if they aren't NYC-based. Tenor saxman Fred Hess is a case in point: Working out of Denver with an excellent quartet, his solid modern-to-free concept becomes clearer with each new record. (Tapestry)

Peter Horan and Gerry Harrington
Fortune Favours the Merry

Though they represent not only very different regional styles but different generations, flutist Horan and fiddler Harrington combine beautifully on this beguiling record. Nobody is trying to prove anything here, but like all great traditionalists, these guys know how to let a tune tell its own magical tale. They also know how to select a fine program. It really doesn't get much better than this. (Clo Iar-Chonnachta)

Alan Jabbour & Ken Perlman
Southern Summits: 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo

Fiddler Alan Jabbour has been a force in old-time Appalachian music since the '60s, while banjoist Ken Perlman began his career the following decade; nonetheless, this may be the best record either has made, one of a tiny subset of records devoted to fiddle-banjo duo playing. More importantly, it's great listening. (Self-released)

Catherine McEvoy & John McEvoy
The Kilmore Fancy

These days it seems that most great new Irish records are self-produced, and this offering from two Birmingham Irish siblings is a case in point. Catherine's flute and John's fiddle achieve the kind of seamless blend that only blood ties can provide on an exemplary program that's brilliantly delivered. Every embellishment and nuance has a reason, making this the best McEvoy record to date. (Lagore)

Grachan Moncur III Octet

Moncur emerged in the early '60s and quickly became one of the definitive free-jazz trombone voices. His best work was on several Blue Note records that found a middle ground between hardbop and free approaches, and he returns to mine that rich vein more deeply on Exploration. The supporting cast is excellent, and reworkings of early triumphs like "Frankenstein" are inevitably glorious. (Capri)

Ray Nance
When We're Alone: Complete 1940-1949 Non-Ducal Violin Recordings

The AB Fable imprint specializes in jazz violin rarities, but this release should appeal to a wider audience. Best known for his trumpet work with Duke Ellington ("Take the A Train"), Nance was also a significant violin stylist. The eye-opener here is a 1941 session with Ben Webster on clarinet, conjuring a sound like no one else and executing lines that often don't recall his tenor playing at all. (AB Fable)

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