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October 2005
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Top Ten CDs of 2005

There was an abundance of great new music in 2005 if you knew where to look. Below are my picks for the best of the year. Please click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this post to leave feedback, or more importantly, to leave your own best of lists or top tens for the year.

1. The DissociativesThe Dissociatives (Astralwerks/EMI)

Diss_1 I think this is the best album of the year by a long shot. Of course no one else has even heard it. I think it’s sold less than 6,000 in the U.S. That’s because EMI didn’t do a thing to promote it, or even let people know about it’s existence. It’s so good I don’t even know how to describe it or what bands to compare it to. The album is full of very hooky pop songs and melodies with lots of layered vocals. It’s so quirky and cool though, that it keeps you guessing. I can hear some elements of Moby’s more commercial pop type stuff combined with Electric Light Orchestra, The Beatles and Brian Wilson. It’s not top 40 or slick. It’s more artistic than that. It’s a quirky album with piano and keyboards and some really incredible vocals.

Recommended tracks: Somewhere Down The Barrel & Horror With Eyeballs

2. Sufjan StevensIllinois (Asthmatic Kitty)


This is like a younger, more modern version of Brian Wilson’s Smile album with lots of weird quirks, lyrics and instrumentation. This is by far Sufjan’s best work to date. It’s like They Might Be Giants meets a quirky folk version of Brian Wilson. You have to hear it. It all comes down to the great songs. Oh yeah, and the controversial cover art. Where did that Superman go?

Recommended tracks: Casimir Pulaski Day & The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

3. John DavisJohn Davis (Rambler)


The former Superdrag front man delivers a stunning solo debut that is an instant classic. John is very reminiscent of Terry Taylor and the Lost Dogs. It sounds like The Beatles and Brian Wilson heavily influenced this album. The songs are nothing short of incredible.

Recommended tracks: Salvation & Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home

4. Mike DoughtyHaughty Melodic (ATO)


Finally! The former singer of Soul Coughing has a full band solo release. Even if you didn’t like Soul Coughing, check this disc out. It’s so much better than anything Mike or his former band had released. This album is lyrically brilliant and the songs are infectious!

Recommended tracks: Busting Up a Starbucks & His Truth is Marching On

5. Starflyer 59Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice (Tooth and Nail)


Wow! This is a great record! It could have easily been a notch or two higher on my list. These alt-emo rockers have come up with a hooky, layered alt-pop masterpiece that sounds like Daniel Amos and even a bit of the Electric Light Orchestra (gasp)! This is easily their best yet. Good Sons is song of the year in my book.

Recommended tracks: Good Sons & A List Goes On

6. New Pornographers – Twin Cinema (Matador)


Alternative rock influenced by Sparks, Wings and 10cc?! Where do I sign up? This is known as a collective or a consortium of artists, but the best of the material here seems to be coming from A.C. Newman. His songs keep getting better and better. Fans of good alternative rock and quirky power-pop need to devour this disc.

Recommended tracks: Twin Cinema & Jackie, Dressed in Cobras

7. The ChoirO How The Mighty Have Fallen (Galaxy 21)


This could very well be the best Choir album yet. At least it’s my favorite. The songs here are beautiful and melodic. Derri Daugherty’s voice has never sounded better. If you never heard The Choir, you’re missing out, and this new one is a great place to start. What if R.E.M. wrote songs with intelligent lyrics and had a singer with a voice like an angel? That would be The Choir. This one most closely resembles the Circle Slide album, considered by many to be their high water mark.

Recommended tracks: Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride & We Give We Take

8. KinoPicture (Inside Out)

Kino This is an excellent melodic rock band ala Alan Parsons Project, Marillion and Yes (90125 era) featuring members of Porcupine Tree, It Bites and Marillion. It’s miles ahead of the competition and I personally feel it’s one of the best releases in this genre in years. The vocals and melodies are so good, and the production is way beyond most modern prog, this one deserves to be heard. There’s even a modern UK pop-rock vibe that I think many non-prog fans would like.

Recommended tracks: Swimming in Women & People

9. EelsBlinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant)

Eels_1 The Eels hit a low point with 2003’s Shootenanny. In fact, the last few Eels records all blended into one and I had all but given up on them. It all sounded the same after awhile. Well, E is too talented to let his career wallow in sameness. He bounced back with one of the best releases Eels have ever had. Normally a double CD release would scare me, but it’s amazing how solid it is. All the songs hold up. These are some of E’s best songs. I hope other discouraged fans will give this one a chance. From mellow and melancholy to quirky and upbeat this album is amazing.

Recommended tracks: Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living) & Theme From Blinking Lights

10. The Pernice BrothersDiscover a Lovelier You (Ashmont)


This one surprised me. I’ve liked a song here and there, but this is the best overall album from the Pernice Brothers. It is probably their most “power-pop” sounding project with really good melodies and hooks. The lyrics are first rate as well.

Recommended tracks: There Goes the Sun & Dumb it Down

The next five albums…

Porcupine TreeDeadwing (Lava)

Paul McCartneyChaos and Creation In the Backyard (Capitol)

Andrew Bird - Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe)

Sam AshworthGonna Get It Wrong Before I Get It Right (Emergent)

David MeadWherever You Are (Eleven Thirty)

The Import Dilemma….

This is a tough year. The Mew album And the Glass Handed Kites is one of my favorite releases of 2005. It is easily my second favorite album of the year, so why didn’t it make the list?! It’s a UK import and hasn’t been officially released here in the U.S. Lots of us music rubes who make these lists have certain criteria and qualifiers. Most importantly, was it officially released in this calendar year? Mew was, but not in the US. So do I put it on the list this year because this is the year I got it, or do I wait until next year when it comes out here? I’ve talked with other fans, professional critics and rubes and many of them say it has to have a U.S. release date to qualify. But what if it never comes out over here? Then I’ve got one of my favorite releases that won’t ever make my list! Oh well. I left it off, thinking it’s going to be huge here next year. It should, it’s the most original thing I’ve heard in years. Think Mars Volta, Yes and Radiohead all rolled into one.

CD and Record Stores…

There are still some great ones out there. I love to go record shopping for CDs and Vinyl. I’m not talking about scouring the internet, or doing an online search for a CD. It’s nowhere near the experience. No, I’m talking about brick and mortar retail. Physical stores with a roof and a front door, a place I can visit in person. That’s right kids, a real world physical experience that doesn’t take place on your computer. Don’t get me wrong, I do buy online and I love my computer, but nothing can replace actually finding a cool record store and browsing through the Records and CDs, hoping to find that gem.

I’m the kind of record and CD collecting rube that actually takes special trips just to go record shopping. I also travel a bit with my job, which has taken me to London, NYC, etc. All great places for CD and Record stores. Usually once a year I take a trip somewhere and plan it around CD shopping and a record show, where I meet up with other music rubes and we make a weekend of it.

Southern California (the Los Angeles area in particular) is probably my favorite place to go record shopping (for the purpose of this blog that will include CDs and Vinyl). It’s the best in my humble opinion. The Amoeba Records on Sunset alone is worth the trip, not to mention Rockaway and host of other stores to numerous to mention.

Nashville, TN is also a good place to find great stores. Grimey’s has that cool vibe with lots of indies, imports, vinyl and hard to find releases crammed into small spaces with free posters, samplers and stickers by the door. Another plus for Grimey’s is the owner, he knows music and you can tell he’s a real fan and collector. The Tower Records on West End Ave. is still one of the best Tower stores I’ve been to (the best would be the one in London). For its size Nashville still has a number of great used stores, mainly Phonoluxe and the Great Escape. Phonoluxe is probably the best, but don’t expect a smile or a lot of help from that staff though…classic.

My second favorite area for record shopping will probably come as a surprise; it’s the Buffalo/Rochester area (that's in New York state for those of you playing along at home). It’s almost as good as the Los Angeles area and is probably tied with London for second on my list of overall music buying experiences. To put it in the league with Southern Cal and London you need to include both Buffalo and Rochester, but hey, it’s still probably less driving time to hit all of the stores. The number of independent stores and local chains in the area boggles my mind. Per capita it’s got to be one of the best number-of-stores-per-person ratios in the country, and gosh darn it if they aren’t some of the best stores! In fact, it’s home to my favorite store, The House of Guitars. The locals call it “The Hog.” It’s a fitting title, as the building itself is a behemoth with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of CDs, LPs, Shirts, box sets, posters, promo items, etc. crammed into every nook, room and spot imaginable. There is no other store like this and there couldn’t be. It’s like a snowflake, totally unique. This is one of those “you’ve got to see it to believe it” deals and I’ve included some photos in my photo pages but none that can really do it justice.


Armand Schaubroeck and his two brothers started the store in 1964 in their mother’s basement, mainly selling guitars. They quickly outgrew that and it eventually became The House of Guitars. You can still find new and vintage guitars and amps in the front of the store, and in other rooms there are piles of band t-shirts and if you wind through the maze of large interconnected rooms you come to the main record store room which in and of itself is quite large. There seems to be no organization. Oh, there are bins with alphabetized categories, but on top of those bins you’ll find stacks of other CDs and merchandise that won’t fit into the bins. There are boxes of CDs underneath the bins. You’ll never know what you’ll find. One employee said he tried organizing one section, worked on it for a few days, was just starting to make some progress and was told to stop. Armand or one of his managers told him that they didn’t want it organized. It’s true chaos. But if you go in there looking for something, especially a title that’s current or in print, the staff can usually put there hands right on it for you and they almost always have it, at very good prices as well. But the best parts of the whole store are the hidden gems buried in the stacks and boxes that are everywhere. The isles are cluttered with product and promo items. Old cassettes, albums, CDs and jewel cases crackle under your feet as you walk. They sell wholesale as a one-stop to some of the other local stores as well. They’ve got it all there. I’m a sucker for promotional items from labels and they have that stuff there. If you’re diligent and have some time, you can find some pretty cool stuff.

Musicians and music fans from all over the world make regular visits to The Hog. Matthew Sweet says it’s “the high point of any tour.” He even missed a sound-check for a show in Rochester because he couldn’t tear himself away from the store.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul area could learn a thing or two from Rochester and The Hog. Most of the great stores in the Twin Cities from the 70s and 80s are long gone. We still have The Electric Fetus and Down In The Valley, and that’s about it.


Extra special thanks and cheese to The Dave Danglis for his pics, and more importantly for turning me on to The Hog.

Click here to see all of The HOG pics