Looking Sideways at 2005

by Jason Warburg

Musically, Jeff describes 2005 as "not bad," and it's hard to argue with such ambivalent praise. Personally, my favorite musical experiences this year generally involved discovering neglected nuggets from years past, or picking through my mailbox to find the diamonds hidden in the indie rough. There were some excellent albums made by name artists, to be sure (Death Cab For Cutie, Ben Folds, Bright Eyes), and some big names returned to the headlines (the Stones, McCartney, Pink Floyd) this year, but nothing in the mainstream absolutely knocked me out. That said, here goes my annual cavalcade of entirely arbitrary awards…


Most Seamless Transition To A Major Award

Death Cab For Cutie -- Plans

It's always dangerous when heretofore independent artists move to a major label. Will they be assimilated into the collective, or keep the spark of individuality that made them special in the first place? The question is especially appropriate when the band in question is as un-flashy, introspective and generally downbeat as Death Cab For Cutie. The good news is, Plans is every bit as gorgeous and unsettling an album as Transatlanticism before it, full of luminous odes to dislocation and missed emotional connections.

Most Seamless Transition To A Minor Award

Josh Joplin -- Jaywalker

After trying out life on a mid-major (Artemis) and finding it not to his liking, Joplin went solo and indie for this year's Jaywalker, and put out one of the most lyrically potent albums of the year, releasing it on tiny Eleven Thirty Records. This is stripped-down thinking-man's folk-pop at its finest.

Guilty Pleasure Award

Draw Tippy -- Draw Tippy

Technically, this didn't come out this year (it has a 2004 release date), but it was one of my favorite discoveries of 2005, so screw it. Dave Pachence takes '80s pop and blends it with Blink-182 sass and riffage to create a fizzy confection that's pure danceable fun.

How'd I Miss This One? Award

Jet -- Get Born

The bastard children of AC/DC and the Rolling Stones dish up one of the tastiest servings of riff-rock to cross the international date line in many a moon. That ubiquitous iPod song ("Are You Gonna Be My Girl?") was just a teaser, and one I wish I'd followed up on much sooner. This one stayed in the changer for weeks.

Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen Award

Dave Matthews Band -- Stand Up

Did aliens kidnap Dave Matthews several years ago and leave an uninspired, repetitive hack in his place… or does it just seem that way?

Sustained Excellence Award

Ben Folds -- Songs For Silverman

It's just really, really good. Again. The craft and substance Folds pours into his increasingly mature work only augments the raw emotion of his performances. This isn't even his best album -- Rockin' The Suburbs still holds that title with me -- but it stands head and shoulders above 99% of the rest of what came out in 2005.

Tour Of The Year

Green Day

Best show I've seen this century.

Box Set Of The Year

Bruce Springsteen -- Born To Run 30th Anniversary Box Set

Can you make one of the best albums of all time even better? Would you dare even try? If you're Bruce Springsteen, the answers are yes and yes. The sound is crisper and richer and even more full of drama than ever before, the "making of" DVD is terrific and the concert DVD is exactly as it should be: simply explosive.

EP Of The Year

Amy Lennard -- EP

Again, technically not a 2005 release, but I don't care. Beautifully crafted singer-songwriter material, arranged and sung with genuine power and emotion. Joni Mitchell would be proud, Sheryl Crow would be awed, and in a just universe, major-label A&R types would duel with swords -- sharp ones -- to decide who gets to sign her.

Indies Of The Year

Yes, "indies." No way I can fail to mention all three of these:

3. The Tom Collins -- Daylight Tonight

Blistering Zeppelin-reincarnate music under a set of devastating breakup songs. Driving, visceral, brilliant.

2. Danielia Cotton -- Small White Town

A compelling mix of rock chops and gospel-blues influences, Small White Town is an astonishingly mature and accomplished debut for this precocious young talent.

1. Last Charge Of The Light Horse -- Getaway Car

Quite possibly the most gripping and lovingly crafted album of working-man's rock and roll since Springsteen's heyday.


Honorable Mention:

Arms Of Kismet -- Cutting Room Rug; Brendan Benson -- The Alternative To Love; Frank Carillo & The Bandeleros -- Bad Out There; The Redwalls -- De Nova; Patrik Tanner -- Soft

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