I spend more time listening to or playing music than I do watching movies, but I'm woefully unequal to the task of making an end-of-the-year music list. I've seen a good chunk of the favored movies (14 of the top 15, it turns out) in the Village Voice film critics poll, but the situation couldn't be more different with music. Given (1) the vast volume of music released each year, (2) the splintering of genres into oceanic sub-regions, and (3) the sheer amount of time it takes it wrap your ears around each album and do it justice, I've only been able to hear a dozen or so 2005 albums with any care or attention.
Of these, my numero uno pick is probably M.I.A.'s Arular. Yes, I'm Tamil like she is, but that's not the reason why. M.I.A.'s sound is a masala of hip-hop, electronica, Jamaican dancehall and the British hard and minimal style known as grime. Her vocal arrangements favor tribal-sounding chants, often in a fabricated English argot with Tamil-like cadences. The beats are monstrously thick, the bass lines elephantine, and the whole concoction glows with a chintzy-neon video-game ambience. The album sounds both thoroughly experimental and thoroughly accessible. People have been trumpeting M.I.A.'s Sri Lankan refugee background and revolutionary agenda but frankly, I find the real strengths of this record to be more sonic than political. And it drips with charisma the way Neneh Cherry's eclectic hip-hop debut Raw Like Sushi did. Now let's hope M.I.A. doesn't drop out of music like Neneh did.
Of the other 2005 records, the ones I played the most were probably: Amy Rigby, Little Fugitive; Missy Elliott, The Cookbook; Sufjan Stevens, Illinois; and Kanye West, Late Registration.
Recent acquisitions that I like already but haven't yet plumbed the suspected depths of: Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine; Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree; and Robyn, Robyn.
2005 albums that spent the most time on your stereo? Feel free to share if you like.