CD’s of the Year
1. Sufjan Stevens: Come On, Feel The Illinoise!: Another year, another amazing Sufjan Stevens release. Blending sociological analysis and evocative storytelling with dense and whimsical musical arrangements, Illinoise captures an artist in full manic flight. Stevens’ rousing tribute to the state of Illinois not only boggled music listeners’ ears and captured their imaginations, it also cemented his status as the undisputed darling of independent music. An artwork “malfunction” and a controversially cheeky live show only bolstered Illinoise’s mystique. In the end, though, Illinoise wins on the merit of the music contained on the disc: Stevens whispers his way into the recesses of the listener’s psyche with his wavering tenor, dazzling arrangements support his shiny folk-pop melodies, quiet and quaint rural songs give way to soul jams which give way to bombastic pieces. It was another year, and Sufjan Stevens ruled our ears. We’ll never look at John Wayne Gacy Jr. the same again.
2. Boards of Canada: The Campfire Headphase: The latest offering from the mysterious electronica duo from Scotland. The Campfire Headphase finds the group working in alot of guitar, but a guitar in the hands of Boards takes on a whole new feel. Their mastery of the ambient/dance genre has reached yet another new height, as the inclusion of spacey-yet-folky guitars fills the tracks with a vintage feel. With more of a focus on downtempo beats, Headphase holds the potential both to soothe and to thrill. And as always, the chord changes are incredible. A surprising new direction from Boards Of Canada, and a brilliant one. You’ll never look at guitar the same way after your first listen.
3. The Sound Gallery: phos: At the intersection of art and life is phos, the second full-length CD from CA’s The Sound Gallery. Created as a response to a family member’s personal tragedy, phos’s journey through death via atmospheric, eerie, and ultimately redemptive drones strikes an emotional chord with listeners while retaining an artistic purity rare even in independent music. A chilling and mesmerizing release that demonstrates a meticulous attention to detail in its intermingling layers of sound, phos stands as a loving gesture to its original intended listener, as well as the rest of u able to soak in its music upon release to the public. And make no mistake…phos isn’t on this list because Somewherecold released it. On the contrary, Somewherecold helped to release this CD because it blew us way when we first heard it…
4. Sigur Ros: Takk: The masters of ambient/slocore/shoegaze are back with Takk. This beautiful composition rings with keys, ambient textures, and mirthful vocals. Unlike ( ), Takk has more guitars laden in the tracks and the band plays with more volume as songs move from quiet to explosive. As Sigur Ros gains more and more acclaim worldwide, their sound progresses to an even better level, filling out their compositions with more and more texture.
5. Hammock: Kenotic: Way back in January, 2005, Hammock released the dazzling full-length Kenotic, instantly establishing themselves as the new masters of space-ambient music. Supple drones cradled liquid guitar lines on Kenotic, whisking listeners to far away places in their minds. For some listeners, Kenotic was a beautiful new musical experience from an up and coming band, whole others saw it as a stunning return to form from Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson, studio veterans who’d taken a sabbatical from independent music for several years. However listeners viewed Kenotic, one thing was certain: through its atmospheric music, the CD provided a fertile launching point for inspired reflection and soul-searching.
6. Sennen: Widows: Well, the era of nu-gaze has been well on its way for a few years now and Sennen proves that there is so much to do in this genre yet. They have produced what should become a classic in the genre ala Slowdive. Although not creating a genre like their predecessors, they have taken the genre to a new level with their patient compositions, influx of slocore elements and incredibly talented instrumentation. Widows is their freshman debut and, if it’s any indication of what is to come, it bodes well for the future of the band as they progress and grow. Let the new British invasion begin!
7. Castanets: First Light’s Freeze: 2004’s haunting alt-country release Cathedral must have been a hard act to follow for the Castanets. But, ignoring the increasing excitement and buzz surrounding the band, the Castanets appeared in 2005 with First Light’s Freeze, an equally unsettling collection of bone-rattling, soul-shaking songs. Eschewing traditional song structures and arrangements for stark, meandering dirges, First Light’s Freeze resonated deeply with listeners. There is something so gripping about hearing front-man Ray Raposa belting out in his world weary voice “the war is on…”, over strummed acoustic guitars and spooky faint funeral noises.
8. The Sleepover Series [Volume 1]: On an album mostly attributed to Marc Byrd, ½ of Hammock (but featuring ample contributions from band-mate Andrew Thompson), soft drones still the busy listener and quiet the loud chatter of life. The Sleepover Series [Volume 1] is a full-length of pristine music designed to encourage listeners to pause and REALLY listen not only to the music, but to life. Many artists have attempted such a goal through their music , but rarely have their results been as gorgeous and buoyant as The Sleepover Series [Volume 1] is.
9. Instruments of Science and Technology: Instruments of Science and Technology: The brilliant Richard Swift abandons the piano and guitar for a moog and a synthesizer. Instruments of Science and Technology draws on the off-kilter genre of early electronic music. Filled with bizarre noises, melodies, and beats, Swift’s songs avoid catchy melodies and clean sound, and yet prove strangely enticing. Stylistically, the tracks range from quirky dance/hip hop, such as “Shooting a Rhino Between the Shoulders”, to strange horror-organ noise-fests. INST breathes new life into the electronic music of the seventies, and both excites and confuses the listener. Above all, it stands as a highly original reworking of electronica, and yet another brilliant work by Richard Swift.
10. Bayta Darell: Write Me in Metal / Make Me Forever: A self-released CD from a TX band with an odd name, Write Me in Metal / Make Me Forever has everything Somewhere Cold readers love. Winding, dreamy songs with hushed vocals? Check. Explorations through structure-less/experimental drones? Check. Beautiful melodies that really do linger in the listener’s mind well after the CD is done playing? Check. Louder, more aggressive songs with a full-on shoegaze rock assault? Yup. And Bayta Darell combines all of these elements into a cohesive collection. Bayta Darell may not be the most well-known band on our list, but Write Me in Metal / Make Me Forever is a fine CD that easily rivals any of the others on our list in terms of creativity, consistency, beauty, and musical boldness.
Artist of the Year: Hammock – There were many artists that caught our attention this year. But, none can lay claim to releasing three incredible CD’s I nthe span of one year like Hammock can. Andrew Thompson and Marc Byrd followed up their debut release, the full-length Kenotic, with a CD and vinyl release of the fantastic Stranded Under Endless Sky. Later on in the year, the two collaborated on The Sleepover Series [Volume 1], a concept full-length of calming drones. Hammock released all of these releases (save the vinyl version of Stranded Under Endless Sky) on their own label, Hammock Music, and lovingly promoted their music on two official websites. Through it all, Hammock demonstrated a dedication to music craft, creative integrity, a willingness to experiment, and an uplifting and intelligent integration of thought and music. In the end, the band’s mostly wordless releases speak for themselves. For consistently vibrating our eardrums with music that resonates in our souls on these three great releases, Hammock is undoubtedly our Artist of the Year.
EP of the Year: y: Our favourite EP of 2005 contained no vocals, but spoke to us in ways that words couldn’t. featuring four achingly beautiful and well-crafted instrumental atmospheric compositions, Stranded Under Endless Sky perfected space-ambient music. Even now, a half-year after its release, the EP’s languid guitar melodies echo in our minds and hearts. On Stranded Under Endless Sky, Hammock has created music that sounds like the soundtrack to a collective dream that everyone has had.
Label of the Year: Temporary Residence: Ah! How to pick a great label that has produced so much great music over a year’s time? Although none of the discs from the label out this year are in our top ten, the output of Temporary Residence has been both substantial and full of quality art. Here is a list of their output for this year:
Mono/Pelican: Split Vinyl EP
Sleeping People: Sleeping People
Explosions in the Sky: How Strange Innocence (reissue)
The Drift: Noumena
Bellini: Small Stones
Bellini: The Buffalo Song 7”
Nice Nice: Spring
By the End of Tonight: A Tribute to Tigers
Nice Nice: Summer
Caroline: Where’s My Love (cd single)
Tarentel: Big Black Square
Tarentel: Paper White
Cex: Starship: Galactica (reissue)
Crain: Speed (reissue)
The Drift: Streets/Nozomi
Eluvium: Talk Amongst the Trees
Howard Hello: EP
Parlour: Hives Fives
On top of all these releases, The Travels in Constants series saw many brilliant releases as well:
The Drift – Vol. 19
Eluvium – Vol. 20
Explosions in the Sky – Vol. 21
Without sacrificing quality for quantity, the folks at Temporary Residence have shown that a label can stay true to their mission and still have a large output of fantastic artists. The artists range from loud instrumental, ambient, to avante garde, among other fantastic compositions and sounds. Visit the label, and let your wallet do the talking. You won’t be disappointed.
Vinyl Release of the Year: Mono/Pelican: Split EP: This vinyl is a split ep from Mono, yes the Japanese one, and Pelican. Both are instrumental bands that play with volume, feeling, and vigor. Coming in a limited number of copies, both Temporary Residence and Hydra Head Records co-released this vinyl full of aural pleasure. Temporary Residence released a red and black vinyl while Hydra Head released Orange, Green, White, and black versions as well. I would hunt for a copy now because they have gone fast and both labels are sold out.
Compilation of the Year: The Speed By Which We Fall: Finally, in the year 2005, The Speed By Which We Fall saw the light of day. This compilation is on Rachel Goldstar’s (Experimental Aircraft, Monster Movie, Eau Claire) label Roller Derby Records and contains an incredible cast of bands.
Stars as Eyes
With some great Somewhere Cold faves like Timonium, Air Formation, Jessica Bailiff, Electro Group, and My Education along with a cast of new names that are just as brilliant, you can’t go wrong with this cd.