Saturday, December 17, 2005
noddin' my head to the beat

I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but I find that my tastes are pickier than most. I generally can't stand just about anything on the radio unless it's either jazz, classical music, or NPR. My friend Forrest once compared the tyranny of my musical criticisms to Jack Black's character Barry in High Fidelity, which is probably more accurate than I'd like to admit. Besides, I'm totally down with singing Marvin Gaye songs when I go karaoke. =D

But I digress... the following is my "Top 12 Albums of 2005" (in no particular order, but remember, I'm biased towards hip-hop music). Why twelve? Well, it's higher than 10 and 11, of course...

.:Common - Be
A consummate lyricist and living hip-hop icon, Common's socially conscious and street-wise rhymes have always made him a underground favorite. It wasn't until 2000's Like Water For Chocolate that more mainstream fans began to take notice, despite the strength of his previous LP's hit single "Retrospective For Life" featuring Lauryn Hill singing the hook. However with Be, the combination of Common's skills on the mic with Kanye West's production have created an album that is accessible to anybody. Just about every track is a stand-out classic, from Common's demonstration of lyrical mastery and syllabul manipulation on "The Corner", to his reflections on God and faith on "Faithful", to the soulfulness of my own personal anthem "It's Your World". If you only bought one hip-hop CD this year, this one is it. No joke.
Favorite tracks: The Corner, It's Your World, Faithful, Real People, The Food

.:Fort Minor - The Rising Tied
Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park's solo project, rumor has it that he had already completed most of the album when he took it to Jay-Z and asked him to select the 16 best tracks (some of the unselected tracks can be found on a mixtape made by DJ Green Lantern). The resulting album, filled with dark keyboard chords, guitar riffs, and pounding drums, is the rare gem that will satisfy both underground hip-hop heads and the MTV crowd. Guest spots by Shinoda's crew, Styles of Beyond, John Legend, Black Thought, and Common are amazing, but even more unbelievable is that Shinoda's swaggering and seething flow proves he can hang with the best. There's not a single really weak song on this whole project. Who would've thought the lead emcee of an alt-rock band would make a hip-hop album that gives Common's Be a solid competitor for album of the year?
Favorite tracks: Right Now, Petrified, Back Home, Kenji, High Road

.:Jin - The Emcee's Properganda
The new release by the former "Freestyle Friday" champ, Jin's sophomore album utterly blows away his sad debut album. His writing has improved and the production by prodigal producer Golden Child (only 15! WTH?!) brings back memories of gritty, old school hip-hop flavor from days of yore. From the hip-hop history of "Top 5", to Jin's commentary on modern culture's hoe-ification of women in "Foolish Girls", to "My First Time" (Jin's take on Common's classic "I Used to Love H.E.R."), Jin has proved that he's more than just a battle emcee.
Favorite tracks: Top 5, Foolish Little Girls, No Concept.

.:Lyrics Born - Same !@#$ Different Day
Bay Area Japanese American emcee with a unique and fast-talking flow, Same !@#$ Different Day is the "remix" follow-up to his 2003 debut, Later That Day. The album bumps with a distinct flavor, mixing Lyrics Born's humor and lyricism. Often overlooked hip-hop producer extraordinaire Dan "The Automator" Nakamura appears, contributing his skills to the song "I'm Just Raw" while other notable guest appearances include Dilated Peoples, KRS-1, and Morcheeba. Underground hip-hop fans will be satisfied.
Favorite Tracks: Do That There, Stop Complaining, I'm Just Raw

.:Kanye West - Late Registration
Maker of arguably the biggest hip-hop album of last year, many wondered if Kanye West's success could avoid the sophomore curse that frequently traps many artists. Indeed, Late Registration was... well, released late. Whatever the reason though, this album continues to showcase Mr. Pink Polo's creative powers both behind the boards and surprisingly, on the mic. While your local club skanks and manwh0res for the past several months have been shaking their asses to "Gold Digger" (f. Jaime Fox's best Ray Charles impersonation), they probably missed the catchy trumpets on "Touch the Sky" or the 007 movie sample on "Diamonds from Sierra Leone", both songs featuring guest rapper Lupe Fiasco. Adam Levine from Maroon 5 sings along with the piano rifts and drums of "Heard 'Em Say", a great song that pales only to brilliant song "Roses", a personal story of Kanye visiting his sick grandmother in the hospital... the song's bells and quiet chords evoke the melancholy mood perfectly. Hate him or love him, Mr. West looks like he's here to stay.
Favorite tracks: Roses, Touch the Sky, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Gold Digger

With m-flo's latest projects being the "m-flo loves..." collabs with various J-Pop artists, most people are driven to either two extremes - a strong dislike of m-flo's new hip-pop stylings or a strong love of the group's creativity in mashing musical genres. If you happen to fall into the latter versus the former group, this album will keep you happy. Despite the formula of Verbal as emcee and Taku as DJ/producer, it's always surprising to hear the diversity of musical styles they blend to make catchy songs. From the pop/R&B of "Loop In My Heart" (w. Yoshika & EMYLI), to the reggae-influenced of "Float 'n Free" (w. Rie fu), to the dance groove of "Cozmo-Naughty" (w. Karimi Karie), the sad ballad of "Let Go" (w.Yoshika) or the crazed drums of "HEY!" (w. Akiko Wada), this song freely mixes just about every genre of music with their take on Japanese hip-hop.
Favorite tracks: TRIPOD BABY, Let Go, Loop In My Heart, Float'n Free

.:Daphne Loves Derby - On The Strength of All Convinced
Finding out about Daphne Loves Derby was a bit of a fluke... their webpage randomly appeared while I was messing around on my Last.FM site. While I'm not your typical emo /indie rock fan, I found myself still humming their songs - the voice of lead singer Kenny Choi blends well with their melodies, and the band's catchy guitar work being most apparent on acoustic tracks like "Pollen and Salt" or a track off a previous LP, "Simply Starving to Be Safe" (which you can find on purevolume) Good stuff.
Favorite tracks: Pollen and Salt, Hammers and Hearts, Middle Middle

.:Gorillaz - Demon Days
The Gorillaz have the funny distinction of being a completely real unreal band - the animated group is made up of the characters 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel. While their actual history is pretty much anybody's guess (read more on Wikipedia), what is known that list of contributors in this album centers around Damon Albarn (Blur) and Danger Mouse (maker of the [in]famous Grey Album, which mixed Jay-Z's Black Album with Beatles tracks) The songs made by the group have the unique quality in the blending several genres - rock, hip-hop, metal, jazz and even J-Pop. It's the perfect album for anybody who doesn't like their tastes to be typecasted.
Favorite tracks: Feel Good Inc., Dare, Dirty Harry, Kids With Guns

.:Mika Nakashima - MUSIC
The third album from the neo J-Pop princess, I've always appreciated the deeper sound and more complete range of Mika's voice in comparison to the sometimes overly falsetto whine that can characterize Ayumi Hamasaki's voice. This album continues to build around her beautiful voice, the best tracks being the melancoly jazz of "Fake" and the ballad "Legend" which was used for the anime series Gundam Seed.
Favorites tracks: Fake, Legend, Hi no Tori (Firebird), Carrot and Whip

.:Sowelu - Sweet Bridge
Her debut album "Geofu" was one of last year's surprise J-Pop hits, but this sophomore album proves that Sowelu wasn't a fluke. In the crowded genre of "hot-looking J-Pop girls", Sowelu's success rests largely on her vocal skills more than her looks (though she's definitely as kirei as any girl in the industry). The uniqueness of her sound, which tends to be closer to female American-style R&B voice than girlie J-Pop falsetto, really helps the songs on this album to stand out - examples being the stand-out song "Last Forever", the upbeat "I Will" used in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist, and the upbeat song "Glisten". She even busts out her English to sing a nice cover of an old song, "The Rose".
Favorite tracks: Last Forever, I Will, Glisten, The Rose

.:John Legend - Get Lifted
Technically this album came out last year, but being that it was released on my birthday, December 28th, I don't feel that Get Lifted has gotten enough credit for how good it really is. John Legend's songwriting, piano work, and soulful voice harken back to a time when music was really made by musicians, not pretty faces with heavy studio production and a couple of vocal lessons. Fans of the so-called "neo-soul" sound will love this album, but there's a lot here for your casual pop music fan as well. While many people may get caught up in the heavy Kanye West sounds of the catchy "Used To Love U", the standout song is the heart-felt song "Ordinary People", which Mr. Legend says was inspired by his own parents' marriage, divorce, and eventual re-marriage. The quiet choir and acoustic guitar accompanying his voice on "Stay With You" is also a nice track.
Favorite tracks: Ordinary People, Stay With You, Refuge, Used To Love U

.:Alicia Keys - Unplugged
Though MTV is responsible for a lot of wackness in modern day music, the Unplugged series, bringing the novelty of "live music", was consistently the best show on the channel. This album, featuring Alicia's live performances of several of her greatest songs, is the new high benchmark for future sessions of the show. The creative choral and orchestral re-arrangement of several songs is great, but hearing her piano and voice performing live is what makes this album unbelievable.
Favorite tracks: If I Ain't Got You, If I Was Your Woman, You Don't Know My Name


Not convinced? You check out some samples of the best songs right here on this Rapidshare link (for a limited time): (~68 megs)

How to Use Rapidshare (it's easy!):
1. After you click on the link, a new window will pop up
2. Scroll down and find the "free" button
3. You'll be taken to a page with a countdown
4. When the countdown expires, enter the code they give
5. It'll give you a download link for the file.



cool. didnt know there was a remix of Lyrics Born out.

did u listen to Atmospheres release this year? i wasnt blown away by the album, but "Smart Went Crazy" is pretty tight.
oooh...speaking of hip hop, you know that cd you made for me before i moved? do you have a track listing for it? susan helped me figure out about half... :)
dks- i'm the biggest Atmosphere fan, but you're right "Smart Went Crazy" is a great joint. Gotta love the contrast of the loud rap, wailing guitar, and the soul sample.

steph- you know what, i actually don't have it... but if i listen to it, i can tell you! i'm surprised Susan doesn't know them all. =)
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4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

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main listing

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