In 2005, R. Kelly found himself trapped in a closet, Gwen Stefani declared fecal matter was bananas, emo went stadium-sized thanks to My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy and music executives thought it would be a good idea to release songs called “My Humps” and “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” (by the Black Eyed Peas and Trace Adkins, respectively).
To use an increasingly annoying and tired journalistic cliché, it was clearly a year for pop music that defied any means of classification or generalization. Looking back, how does one sift through the massive pile of tunes and determine what goes in the bin marked “best” and the one marked “worst”? (Well, you can guess where “My Humps” goes…)
I’ll tell you how: ask the most musically inclined minds in East Lansing what they thought were the best and worst pop songs of the year. I consulted with Dave Bernath and Jon Howard of Flat, Black and Circular at 541 E. Grand River Ave.; Jaime Wilkins of Code of tha Cutz at 317 M.A.C. Ave.; Shawn Parker, music manager at Barnes & Noble at 333 E. Grand River Ave. and State News music reporter Benita Mehta (via e-mail). With their recommendations, here’s a list of must-have albums and some tips for what to avoid from the year that almost has been.
So sit back, enjoy the show, take some notes and remember to turn off all pagers or cell phones or put them on “Viiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiibrate!”
BEST ALBUMS of 2005 (in alphabetical order by artist):
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals-\”Cold Roses” (Lost Highway)
“It’s just a really good disc. I’m a big fan of his music in general, and it’s his first since [2000’s] “Heartbreaker”; his first solo album, real big return to alt-country, and he has a great band who shared co-writing credits, so it’s just not his ego. It’s a terrific double disc album.”
-Shawn Parker
Animal Collective-“Feels” (Fat Cat)
“I quite liked the new Animal Collective. Shocked and amazed how much we’re selling for such a strange album. It’s not easy listening, not your typical indie rock.”
-Jon Howard
Beck-“Guero” (Geffen)
“I love Beck. He\’s a genius. Guerois one of those rare albums in which every song is catchy and fun. This has been my favorite album to walk to class with this year.”
-Benita Mehta
Blood of Abraham-“Eyedollartree” (Basement Records)
“They’re a little darker, more introspective hip-hop. They also have these weird funky things where they’re singing, like they took part of a song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and made it into more like an abstract-funk song. I mean, if you didn’t know the words, you wouldn’t recognize it because it doesn’t sound anything like the original song… I was very impressed by the way they did it because they didn’t strictly sample it, they made it their own and put their own little twist on it.”
-Jaime Wilkins
DangerDoom-“The Mouse and the Mask” (Rhymesayers)
“That was more on the funny side. I know my employees really like that.”
The Decemberists-“Picaresque” (Kill Rock Stars)
“I didn\’t think The Decemberists could surpass Her Majesty The Decemberists, but they did it with Picaresque. “16 Military Wives” is the best song on the album. The video is fabulous. The lyrics are outstanding and the band is so awesomely quirky.”
The Eels-“Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” (Vagrant)
“This is an album I listened to on repeat for weeks when I first got it. I\’ll go as far as to say it\’s the best Eels album to date, and I\’m a big fan of their previous albums. I love listening to this when I\’m in a reflective mood or when I\’m on a long drive.”
The Fall-“Fall Heads Roll” (Narnack)
“This is something like their thirtieth album. They can’t be stopped.”
Lafayette Gilchrist-“Towards the Shining Path” (Shantytone)
“That’s good jazz. Sounds as cool as he looks.”
-Dave Bernath
Konono No. 1-“Congotronics” (Crammed Discs)
“An African troupe that makes their own instruments and brings their own PA with them and it’s all thumb pianos. It’s like afro-funk, but done on thumb pianos.”
Bettye Lavette-“I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise” (Anti-)
“Kind of sounds like Tina Turner, like she used to sound in the \’60s.”
One Be Lo-“S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.” (Fat Beats)
“The best lyricist I’ve heard in a long time. He’s conscious and positive as well. I mean, he has one verse that says, ‘Even when I’m dissin’ you I’m bein’ sincere,’ which means he’s really heartfelt, like even if he doesn’t agree with somebody or he’s not feeling them, he let you know why, and not just like, ‘Oh, you suck.’ He’s like a teacher.”
Giles Peterson-“Giles Peterson in Africa” (Ether)
“He’s got a great African one and a great soul one too, for a record-collecting geek. It’s basically playing his record collection.”
Sleater-Kinney-“The Woods” (Sub Pop)
“This is S-K\’s most experimental album. It\’s pure rock \’n\’ roll. They have always been mostly a punk rock band, but they jam a lot on this album, showing off their great skills. There\’s even an 11-minute song on here. They have so much talent and they\’re also amazing live. S-K will always be my number one favorite band of all time and have been for seven years. They continue to astound me with each new album; every time I don\’t think they can come up with anything better than the last, but they do.”
Sufjan Stevens-“Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty)
“Sufjan Stevens is like the indie wonder artist. He\’s all anyone who loves music has been talking about for the past couple years and he deserves all the credit. He\’s really innovative and the album as a whole is very good.”
Tin Hat Trio-“Book of Silk” (Artemis)
“Tin Hat Trio’s kind of classical, ethnic, acoustic, cello, violin… nice dinner music.”
Various Artists-“Searching for Soul” (Luv ‘n’ Haight)
“Old-school funk reissues, that was really big this year. Companies seemed to find a lot of good stuff.”
Various Artists-\”Tom Middleton Presents Cosmosonica: Crazy Covers, Vol.1\” (Family Recordings)
“A bunch of all-over-the-map people doing different covers.”
Zion I-“True and Livin’” (LiveUp)
“A musically-infused hip-hop act. It feels really musical, and it’s just a DJ/producer and an MC, and they create really good music. It’s kind of jazzy, funky hip-hop.”
WORST of 2005:
“We’re always disappointed here,” said Howard when asked about the musical dregs of 2005. “Some things, you wonder why they’re so popular.”
One style the guys at Flat, Black and Circular could not avoid was that ever-divisive punk sub-genre, emo. “They were all nameless, faceless,” said Howard. “There seemed to be an endless supply of 19-year-old boys going emo and we’d get them sent in the mail to play in here, and it’s just one after another, they have nothing new to say. Stuck in a rut there, kids stuck in a rut.”
It had been threatening to do so for the past few years but Mount St. Emo erupted this year, spewing heartbreak and stupid haircuts across the land. My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, bands that had put in their time toiling in the indie underworld, were suddenly thrust headfirst into the mainstream. Having been completely unaware of this, I was shocked to see the pasty-faced, paramilitary-uniformed MCR on the cover of the May issue of Spin. Once the teens on MTV started screaming for Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down,” it was clear rock was going to be whiny for a while.
\”There’s always something that we don’t get,” said Howard. “That was particularly perplexing.”
Sometimes an artist crawls up from the underground to annoy listeners. And sometimes an artist crawls up from the mid-\’90s with the same devious intentions. Both Parker and Mehta gave their disapproval of the debut release from Institute, the new band fronted by Mr. Hollaback Girl, Gavin Rossdale.
“The world doesn’t need Bush again, 10 years later,” said Parker.
Mehta used the reach of The State News to warn music fans of the coming of Institute. “I gave it zero stars. One song on the album stands out – it\’s called ‘When Animals Attack’ and it\’s pure crap. I\’m sure I\’ve heard some other bad stuff this year, but Institute is the first thing that popped into my head.”
Sonic wash-out is not a phenomenon exclusive to rock ‘n’ roll. However, Wilkins was reluctant to say if there was anything in 2005’s hip-hop that let her down. “I don’t really think I want to put my name on those ones,” she said.
I, on the other hand, have no problem putting my name on a critique of awful hip-hop – for example, songs with sexual innuendoes made with the sweet tooth in mind. Certainly this isn’t a new phenomenon, but 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” and D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” transgress any sort of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” and go straight for “puke-puke, hurl-hurl.”
It was a bad year all around for the hip-hop metaphor, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the Black Eyed Peas “My Humps.” A few of my friends have staged an ongoing battle between the Black Eyed Peas and Los Lonely Boys for the title of worst band in current pop music. For my money, “My Humps” nudges the Peas past the Boys. There’s no possible way this song could make the human anatomy less attractive (HUMPS? LADY LUMPS? COCOA PUFF? COME ON!). Also, there’s really nothing sexy about the song’s delivery. It’s cold and robotic, and Fergie sounds like she’s about to fall asleep. This song would be absolutely genius if it were a satire of the continual sexualization and objectification in pop music. Speaking of which, “Don’t ‘Cha” came out this year too, didn’t it? Oh man…
But it’s going to be all right. There’s enough good music to drown out the bad. After all, I managed to get a whole list of good albums, while people could give me only little samplings of what they thought was truly bad. And nobody recommended the new Ashlee Simpson album. You’ve got to accentuate the positive, right? So go get at least one of the records on the Best list. Increase the proliferation of good music, because there’s a whole new crop of crap awaiting us in 2006.

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