Sound Of The Year
If you put a gun to my head and asked what the music of '05 sounded like, I would say stripped-down. The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Neil Diamond all turned out acoustic-driven albums that were a departure from their past work. This worked better on some albums than others; Springsteen's Devils And Dust was overwrought to me, and too polished when compared to his superior works Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad. On the flip side, you had A Bigger Bang, which was a return to form for the Stones, balls-out rock done as only Mick and the gang can do it.
Best Sounding Album Of The Year
Dire Straights -- Brothers In Arms (Dualdisc)
This year saw the advent of the Dualdisc format and its growing acceptance as viable medium for music. I've bought a few of these, and while the listening experience has been outstanding across the board, one album really stood out in terms of sound. Brothers In Arms sounds gorgeous with a 5.1 system. When you hear the riff to "Money For Nothing" start up, it's like you are standing in the room with Mark Knopfler himself. Funny thing about this disc was while it sounded excellent, the album itself bored me.
Biggest Surprise Of The Year
Neil Diamond -- 12 Songs
When you think of Neil Diamond, you think of sequined suits and horrible movies starring Laurence Olivier. Sure, there are great songs to be found, but as an artist Diamond was all but dead for years. Luckily for us, Rick Rubin sparked something in Diamond, and he turned out an extremely well-crafted album in 12 Songs that highlighted Diamond's singer/songwriter aspect.
Biggest "I Coulda Told You So" Of The Year
Coldplay -- X&Y
I really tried to give Coldplay a chance this year with X&Y, to no avail. My previous conceptions about the band -- too moody, depressing, and boring -- were all highlighted again with the album. The hit single "Speed Of Sound" was way too derivative of "Clocks," for example. Chris Martin explained this as "a bridge between the two albums" - sorry, I'm not buying it. As far as overrated bands go, Coldplay has to top the list.
Best Pre-2005 Discovery Of The Year
Tenacious D -- Tenacious D
Most of the music I purchase usually doesn't fit within the current calendar year. So at this point I'd like to take the time honor to the best pre-2005 album/band I discovered this year. From out of nowhere, the rock gods handed me down Tenacious D. Sure, go ahead and laugh, but the album is really good. Jack Black and Kyle Gass make me laugh at least once during every skit and song, and they really do "rock" in every sense of the word.
Best Indie Album Of The Year
The J Project -- Beautiful Criminal
This year I listened to more indie albums than ever, and for the most part I was quite pleased. Despite what corporate radio would have you believe, there are talented bands to be found. As for the best indie album, I was torn between two albums, Parlor Noise by the Drawers and Beautiful Criminal from The J Project. In the end, I chose the latter, although everyone should check out both.
Best"I Really Tried To Like This Album" Of The Year
Stevie Wonder -- A Time To Love
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Stevie Wonder, and consider his 70's output to be one of the greatest runs of musical talent in the 20th century. Naturally, when A Time To Love came out this year after a long delay, I snapped it up. After giving it listen upon listen, I just don't "get it." There are moments when I can hear the old Stevie at work, but most of the time I can't find it in myself to finish listening to the entire record. There are just one too many numbers that drag on longer than they should, and that hurts A Time To Love.
Best Sequel To An Album From 2004
Brian Wilson -- What I Really Want For Christmas
It's official; I have bought into the genius of Brian Wilson. After 2004's SMiLE, I snapped up as much of the man's work as I could. My opinion of Wilson has only gone up since last year; when he hits his stride, he's better than anyone on the planet. Listening to What I Really Want For Christmas is a true pleasure; from the brilliant and complex arrangements to the soaring vocals, Wilson proves that pop music doesn't have to be unimaginative and bland.
Best Songs Of The Year
For this award, I took a gander at the most played songs on the iPod, and chose my absolute favorites of the year. Choosing one was impossible, so here are the cream of the crop.
"O Holy Night" -- This is the best track off of Brian Wilson's What I Really Want For Christmas, hands down. To put it bluntly, this track features some of the best vocal arrangement Wilson has ever done, including his Beach Boys work. Absolutely heavenly.
"Delirious Love" -- What are the odds, another Wilson appearance! "Delirious Love" is the closest Neil Diamond gets to his old pop form on 12 Songs. You have the driving acoustic form of the original, and the driving, surf-pop of the Wilson version. Both versions are classics.
"Make Death Count" -- Best indie track of the year, this song comes to us from Parlor Noise. The blending of different styles from the Beatles, U2 and more grab your attention and doesn't let go.
"Landed" -- It's true, I'm a sucker for piano-based rock. This was the big single off of Ben Folds' album Songs For Silverman, and it demonstrates how amazing Folds can be when he aims for pure pop.
Best Album Of The Year
Dean Gray -- American Edit
Hoo boy, this was tough. In my opinion there was not a true "standout" album that distanced itself from the rest of the pack. This one came close for uniqueness, mashing up Green Day's American Idiot with countless other songs to create something truly original. Granted, the reasons behind the album's creation make it that much more appealing, but it does stand alone as a work of art.