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Best in Show

A friend "tagged me" to list my favorite concerts of all time after doing so himself. I'm not sure if I'm truly up for the challenge, because my memory is so shitty. (In fact, I'm finding 1997-1999 a total blank spot.) But regardless, I'll give it a shot.

I'm sure this is true for most people: Many of my favorite concerts happened during my formative years, living near Peoria, Illinois in the early-to-mid '90s. Oddly enough, most if not all of those concerts were also booked by another good friend. I actually recall more details about many of those shows -- even though many of them occurred a decade or more ago -- than I do concerts that I've attended in the past five years. I suppose I can chalk that up to youth, in that I had such a wild, uninhibited time (often not aided by alcohol) that the memories have stuck with me.

Unlike the person who tagged me, I can honestly say that I have not seen a majority of my favorite bands, in part because so many of them are from the '60s and '70s. So, this list hardly comprises my favorite bands, but instead my favorite and/or most memorable concerts. Some notables didn't make my list, including The Walkmen, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, Neko Case, Guided By Voices, Will Oldham, Magnolia Electric Co., The Flaming Lips, and Dead Meadow. Certainly, they all put on memorable shows ... just not as memorable as the following. Here's my list -- in order and subject to change the minute I click "publish post".

25. Jonathan Fire*Eater @ a house party, Peoria, 1995(?)
This show appears more due to circumstance rather than performance. Yet another friend actually booked this show -- his first and only attempt at such an endeavor. The show was supposed to be held in the basement of a house that hosted shows on a regular basis. But the landlord, reacting to numerous compaints from neighbors and the police, decided to erect a wall in the middle of the basement space just a couple days before the Fire*Eater show. The show ended up being held in the house's attic space, three flights up! After hauling all the gear upstairs -- and managing to avoid the massive whole in the floor, which had been covered up by a hardly-adequate piece of plywood -- the show began over an hour late. The three opening bands each got to do a full set, but just four songs into JFE's set, the cops arrived and pulled the plug. JFE were totally cool about the bizarre show, taking far less than their guarantee in exchange for a floor to sleep on. I saw them seven years later in Chicago as The Walkmen (before they got huge), and approached them after the show. Oddly enough, they remembered the gig vividly, saying they had discussed it just the day before on their drive across Illinois.

24. Oval @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2001
I'm not a big fan of abstract or experimental electronic music. I think I was simply scratching an itch when I went to see Oval. It was clear from the start that Oval -- playing to a nearly empty club -- was received as more of a curiosity than anything else. Playing by his lonesome, Markus Popp stood in front of a laptop and for 45 minutes produced some of the most intense, borderline-painful white noise I have ever heard. The funny thing is, after a while I began to dig it. It was almost as if Popp recognized that he was a curiosity, and got busy being curious (or just plain offensive). Needless to say, I don't think The Highdive has booked any more avant-garde electronic composers since then. But I for one was taken by Oval's brashness. Sure, Popp may have been simply wiping his hard drive clean, but the fact remains that he chose to say "fuck you" to the environment and forgo any of his more accessible material (like, say, with beats and structure) for the sake of aural destruction. That takes some balls, I guess.

23. The Cherry Valance @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2002
I’ve seen my share of “classic rock” bands perform live. It’'s sort of a surprise to me that Drive-By Truckers didn’t make my list. Maybe they should have, but their show was definitely not as good as North Carolina’s The Cherry Valance. Two drummers -- who are also the lead singers -- and a woman on lead guitar make for one helluva fun time, especially when the band is channeling The Pink Fairies and Blue Cheer. Man these guys were good.

22. The New Year @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2001
I never got to see Bedhead in action, but The New Year were the next-best thing. Their three-guitar attack is even more stunning in person, and they even dusted off one of my Bedhead faves.

21. Joanna Newsom @ Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, 2004
Newsom opened for the Incredible String Band, and it was quite easy to tell who was there to see which artist. Newsom is probably my favorite discovery of the past few years (thanks WFMU!), and she did not disappoint one bit in concert. My first -- and hopefully not last -- time watching a harpist perform.

20. Jens Lekman @ Second Story, Bloomington (IN), 2005
Jens may be the closest I come to seeing either Beat Happening or Morrissey in my lifetime. Live, Jens wore a silly hat and brought a cellist along for the ride. His songs didn’t go over so well in a crowded, stinky indie rock club, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at the faces of those in the first few rows.

19. DMS @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2001
This entry means little-to-nothing to anyone living outside of central Illinois, as you have probably never seen (or maybe heard of) DMS, which for the better part of their existence was a one-man-band fronted by drummer Steve Lamos. Steve’s live performance combined technical drumming with electronic samples and live trumpet playing. If it sounds weird, it was. But on stage, he was simply spectacular. One of the five best drummers I’ve ever seen.

18. Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ Empty Bottle, Chicago, 2002
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were good, but on this night they were blown off the stage by the opening act, the Liars. This was the Liars before their original lineup dissolved and they became what they are today, more a curiosity than anything else. The intensity with which Angus Andrew and company performed caused flashbacks to my first Fugazi concert.

17. U.S. Maple @ the East Peoria VFW hall, 1996
Growing up in a town without a proper (or accessible) venue, I saw a lot of shows at what amounts to adult fraternities (VFWs and American Legion Halls). Those venues were each unique in some fashion, often times simply due to the fact that they weren't intended as live music venues. If memory serves, this VFW hall featured a very modest, foot-high stage thrown in the corner of the room. This was my first (and only) time seeing U.S. Maple, and I was hardly prepared for their intense show. Al Johnson was quite the actor on stage, and on the whole U.S. Maple seemed to thrive off of audience interaction. That is, they provoked the audience through their bizarre on-stage antics. At one point, guitarist Mark Shippy actually forced his way off stage into the audience, clearly violating the invisible stage/audience wall at the lip of the stage in a sudden fashion. He proceeded to play his guitar into my ex-girlfriend's chest -- with no regard for what he was doing, as if he was on another planet -- while she sort of stood there, confused. Anyway, I left that night with the impression that U.S. Maple -- through their seemingly improvised music and stage demeanor -- were as much a theater troupe as they were a rock band.

16. The Frogs @ Double Door, Chicago, 1997
Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, but I do have a soft spot for Dennis and Jimmy Flemion. Their live show and their songs are both so over the top, and that’s precisely what I love about them. On this particular night, they played “Adam and Steve” and brought the house down.

15. Jonathan Richman @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2002
I admit that seeing Richman perform wasn’t necessarily why this concert is on my list. That has more to do with the circumstances of the concert, and what felt like a date even though it wasn’t called such. But romance aside, Richman’s publicist wouldn’t grant me an interview prior to the show, which pissed me off as I was denied the opportunity to speak with one of my rock & roll idols. After the show, I talked to Richman, and he apologized for not doing the interview (and explained why), which made me feel all giddy and self-important in a way that most of my rock idols would never dream of doing. I had my picture taken with him, too, but I’ve no clue where that snapshot ended up.

14. Blur, Pulp @ The Vic, Chicago, 1994
Two bands that I don't listen to much anymore. But in 1994, I loved Parklife and His 'n' Hers. I remember three things about this concert: doing a congo line (of sorts) through the balcony during "Girls & Boys", watching Damon Albarn jump from the top of the speaker cabinets (he stole my speaker-leaping virginity), and Jarvis Cocker eating all kinds of fruit during Pulp's set, periodically tossing a banana into the crowd.

13. Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, and 5ive Style @ Bradley University, Peoria, 1996
The first time I saw Tortoise was probably a year prior to this date at the Metro in Chicago, and their performance that night was superior (and probably deserving of a spot on this list). However, the lineup on this night was just awesome. I don't really listen to any of these bands any more (at least on a consistent basis), but at the time these were some of my favorite bands. Seeing them all together was way cool.

12. Smog @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2002
The Clientele @ Schubas, Chicago, 2001

Put Bill Callahan and Dirty Three drummer Jim White in the same room together, and something good’s gonna happen to you. Enough said about that. The Clientele show appears here as a tie simply because I remembered it after I completed my list, and didn't want to nudge anything else off this list to make room. This concert's reservation on the list has as much to do with circumstance as it does with the group's performance. After my guest for the concert backed out at the last second, I reluctantly decided to make the two-and-a-half hour drive to Chicago by my lonesome. During the concert I ended up striking up a conversation with a gorgeous (and loopy) girl -- something that never happens to me at shows. We dated for a couple months before things fell apart, but she was quite the pleasant surprise. And the band was great, too!

11. Fugazi, The Make Up @ Expo Gardens, Peoria, 1995
In retrospect, I'm more excited that I got to see The Make Up, who actually stole the show on the stage. Off the stage, it was a whole 'nother matter. The Expo Gardens is essentially a large, empty room used for conventions. A make-shift stage was set up in the middle of the room, and the force with which the fans were moshing during Fugazi's set was causing the stage to move. That, combined with a few nasty punks in the crowd, had peaked Ian MacKaye's attention. (Ian is, of course, a pacifist at heart.) He stopped the show once to warn the crowd to settle down. A couple songs later, he demanded that the entire crowd be seated, or the show would not go on. So, there you have it: 900 or so Fugazi fans sitting down during a Fugazi concert. The oddest part of the evening was that prior to the concert I interviewed Ian for my fledgling fanzine -- and he predicted such an event. This was their first time in Peoria, and Ian was nervous about a young crowd that wasn't accustomed to a lot of punk rock shows of that ilk. The interview actually went over better than the concert -- not what I would have guessed as much heading in to the evening.

10. Archers of Loaf, Butterglory @ The Blind Pig, Champaign, 1995
I interviewed charming Archers’ guitarist Eric Johnson before the show, and that dialogue to this day ranks as my favorite interview. (Eric -- who looked and even sounded a bit like the Dana Carvey of Wayne’s World -- told me he preferred vinyl to CDs due to the “popcorn sounds”.) The Archers were spectacular, as one would expect of their Vee Vee era days. Butterglory was actually great, too.

9. R.L. Burnside @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2000(?)
Sometimes you just know you're watching a legend ply his trade, and on this night, it was certain. R.L. performed sitting down in a chair, backed by only a drummer. His take on the blues -- electric and distinctly rural -- was even more captivating in a live setting.

8. Dirty Three @ The Highdive, Champaign, 2003
Sometimes the best concerts are those that sneak up on you. I own not a single recording by Australian trio Dirty Three. But if they ever play in town again, I am so there. Violinist Warren Ellis is a brilliant performer, and of course having Jim White on drums (he’s the reason I went after seeing him perform with Smog) is to die for. The entire set was jaw-droppingly good.

7. Yo La Tengo @ Lollapalooza, Chicago, 1995
Yo La shared the second stage with the Coctails and Brainiac, among others. This was my first time seeing them live, and they’ll probably never compare favorably again. After all, this was Electr-O-Pura era Tengo (still my favorite period), when Ira Kaplan would get crazy on the organ and guitar, and the songs still rocked through and through. After the show, James McNew gave me his telephone number, and two weeks later I called him up to do my first-ever interview. He was great on the phone, but his band was better in person.

6. The Jesus Lizard @ American Legion Hall, Peoria, 1995
Another of several shows on this list booked by my friend Jon. This show was actually caught on tape in a documentary about the Chicago music scene titled Out of the Loop. (I know, sorta odd that the filmmaker would travel downstate to film a Lizard show, but whatever.) David Yow was up to all his usual tricks at this show, and prior to the concert I had an interesting exchange with bassist David Wm. Sims while he was shaving in the men's room. The best part of this show (other than the Lizard's outrageous rider)? Above the stage it read "For God and Country", and Yow made a point to continually reference the slogan throughout the show. Matter of fact, if memory serves, there was also a reporter at the show from Rolling Stone. For one evening, Peoria was the epicenter of the indie rock world.

5. Shellac, Brainiac, Melt Banana, Gaunt @ Fallout Comedy Club, Chicago, 1995
Shellac in their prime, when the "Fuck Canada" and "Fuck Wicker Park" jokes were still funny, when Todd Trainer being lifted off the stage while sitting on his drum stool was still fresh, when At Action Park was the best punk rock record I had ever heard. Steve Albini didn't seem so damn old in 1995. (Maybe that's because he had yet to work with Bush.) His band was in top form on this night; I shant forget their rendition of "Wingwalker", in which Trainer went bonkers on the cymbals. But the rest of the bill was interesting as well. This was my second time seeing Brainiac, who never disappointed in a live setting. I also recall the guitarist of Melt Banana have extensive trouble with his guitar strap. Several times during their set, his strap came unhooked, and twice he had to play the bulk of a song while laying on his back. Anyway, this concert trumps the time I saw Shellac open for Fugazi, solely because by the time of that amazing bill (at a roller rink no less!) I had already seen both bands on multiple occasions.

4. The Magnetic Fields @ Old Town School of Folk, Chicago, 2000
I consider 69 Love Songs to be among the five-best albums recorded in the past decade, so it should come as no surprise that Stephin Merritt's performance of his 69 songs -- done in order over the course of two nights -- is near the top of my list. The Old Town is a lovely, diminutive theater (where you can drink and sit in an assigned seat!). With his able backing crew of Claudia Gonson, John Woo, and Sam Davol, Merritt charmed the capacity crowd. But this concert was a bittersweet one, because I went to it with my soon-to-be-ex. We had both fallen in love with each other and The Magnetic Fields at about the same time. Our relationship, however, was on its last gasp at this time, and so it was somewhat disheartening (yet strangely accurate) to listen to Merritt's "love" songs while we were falling out of love with each other. We left the concert knowing that we were through, even if we didn't verbalize that sentiment till a couple months later. Oddly enough, Merritt's subsequent records (as both the 6ths and Magnetic Fields) haven't done much for me. Maybe I've chosen to subconsciously bury the Fields just as I've buried the ex?

3. Neutral Milk Hotel, Superchunk @ Lounge Ax, Chicago, 1998
I’m not sure why I drove to Chicago to see this considering the duo played in Champaign just two days later. It was a smart move in retrospect, as this remains the only show I got to see at the Lounge Ax before the legendary club closed it doors. Superchunk was typical: full of bounce, sounding and looking the part of the indie rock veteran, delivering the classics with all the verve one would expect. But I was there to see Neutral Milk Hotel, whom I did not think could possibly live up to the infamy of their recordings in a live setting. I was terribly wrong, as the ramshackle Salvation Army-esque backing band quickly charmed the audience and provided a perfect backdrop for Jeff Mangum’s otherworldly tales. It’s a shame that he’s faded into relative obscurity over the past six or so years. Maybe some day…

2. Dungen @ The Empty Bottle, Chicago, 2005
Hands down the best performance I have ever seen by a rock band. Sure, it was just a few months ago and maybe the proximity of the concert is affecting my judgment ... but I don't think so. Dungen is jaw-droppingly good on stage: Four amazing musicians playing -- to borrow a cheesy sports cliche -- as a team. Their between-song banter was humble and humorous, showing their true lack of concern for the rock star image they are owed. And they ended their set with an encore of epic proportions: a fifteen-minute jam that switched gears several times and included an amazing bliss-out on organ that was like "Whiter Shade of Pale" on LSD. The best way to summarize just how much I liked this band's performance: I absolutely fucking hate the flute. But when Gustav Ejstes pressed his lips to his flute, I sorta, kinda liked it. A lot.

1. Nirvana, Mudhoney, Jawbreaker @ some gym in Iowa City, Iowa, 1993
No concert will ever top this one, for a whole host of reasons. First, there’s the circumstances of how I ended up there: ditching high school and a mandatory marching band performance -- without telling my parents -- to drive the five hours to the concert. (Oh, and I got caught -- big time -- by both the school and my parents.) Then there’s the lineup. I had no idea who Jawbreaker was at the time, and honestly they were fine but merely kept the stage warm for Mudhoney, who tore apart my right ear drum. (I had a pleasant ringing in my ear for three days.) I still have my “Mock Cooter Stew” Mudhoney t-shirt, and wear it on occasion to M’s chagrin. Nirvana was brilliant. The setting -- a gymnasium -- was a little ironic, but Kurt was in top form on this night. Really, the performance is a blur, in a good kinda way. I won’t say that this concert changed my life, but the entire experience surely set me down the road I still find myself wandering along today.

So there you have it. I'll get back to posting mp3s shortly.


Welcome back to my recap of my favorite songs from 2005. If you missed parts One or Two, click away. I'll follow up this post later this week with a brief discussion of my favorite albums of the year.

Songs are listed in no particular order, other than the order in which they appeared on the mix. All songs are from records that I purchased -- no iTunes downloads, no mp3s cribbed from blogs, no feeling guilty over not owning the album's actual artwork. Barring a few reissues of recently recorded music, all songs appeared on albums whose original release was in 2005.

The Noiseboy's Best of 2005, Volume Three

Dead Meadow - "Let's Jump In"

Feathers is far more layered and trippy than anything Dead Meadow has released so far. The addition of a second guitarist gave the band "more surface area," singer/guitarist Jason Simon told me in an interview last year. Indeed, more emphasis has been placed on melody this time out, and the results are quite interesting. I think Dead Meadow have opened doors to new audiences by heading in this direction, and done so in a manner that hardly seems to sacrifice much of their muscle. "We always considered ourselves to be a heavy pop band that maybe leaned to the harder sound early on as a way of protecting ourselves while playing out," bassist Steve Kille told me. "What a better way for three skinny guys to create art than to hide behind loud guitar and heavy drums?" They aren't hiding any more. Hawkwind is still a heavy influence, but so too is British shoegazer. Me likes.

Shipwreck - "Cavern"

Not the Shipwreck from Albuquerque; rather, these dudes are from my hometown of Champaign, and formed from the ruins of The Buzzards, who may just be the best band to ever cover Gram Parsons' "Kiss the Children". Shipwreck is much more of a traditional "rock" band than their predecessor, but their range of influences still venture from Will Oldham to Ummagumma. Their debut record, Origin, shows great promise. Now if they can only get themselves inked to a record deal.

My Morning Jacket - "Anytime"

Yes, I know that I'm in the minority when it comes to not being all that impressed by Z. The songs on Jim James' newest just don't stack up to his previous two releases. The less-claustrophobic sonic atmosphere may make MMJ more approachable, but it doesn't necessarily make them better. I think the critics missed the boat on this one, but regardless I really dig this song.

Okkervil River - "Black"

This song reminds me of Bruce Springsteen in a big way, and I love love love it. It's got that same reckless, driving energy that made Born to Run so essential.

The Mountain Goats - "This Year"

I'm glad that John Darnielle finally struck a brilliant chord after so many near-perfect songs.

Sufjan Stevens
- "Chicago"

Stevens has received enough hype this year. But I'm partial to Illinois because I've lived in the state nearly all of my life. And while he does come across a bit too fey (too often) on the whole, he sure does know his way around a melody. I don't know if this album will hold up over time, but this song in particular stands a good chance.

Antony and the Johnsons - "Hope There's Someone"

If anyone received more hype than Sufjan over the past year, it was probably Antony. There isn't much room for grey area here; you either love him or hate him. What makes Antony's music more than camp -- more than simply style -- is the anger that breathes right under the surface of his best songs (see the second half of this song, for example). Once I accepted his unique voice, I was hooked.

Devendra Banhart
- "Cripple Crow"

Sure, he's a modern hippie. But I can't fault him for his eccentricities, especially when his music is attempting to reach outward without regard for the inevitable smirks, slaps, and shallow disdain for something striving for honesty. Not enough songwriters are expressing thoughts like this in the year 2005: "Our pain dissolves with believing / that peace comes." And this song is a great example of Banhart growing out of his T. Rex shell into a pretty little butterfly.

The Drones - "Shark Fin Blues"

If Richard Thompson fronted Drive Like Jehu, we'd all have a new favorite band. And if The Drones could pull that off over the course of an entire album, they would be my new favorite band. Sadly, they struck out on Wait Long By the River & the Bodies
of Your Enemies Will Float By
. But misses aside, "Shark Fin Blues" is still my favorite guitar rock anthem of '05.

Andrew Bird - "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left"

Andrew Bird's attempt to mimic The Shins-gone-country. What can I say? I'm a sucka.

Jens Lekman
- "I Saw Her in the Anti War Demonstration"

This was released first on a Secretly Canadian EP in 2004, and then re-released in November 2005 on a compilation full-length titled Oh You're So Silent Jens. I include it here only because it is a fabulous song and it's sadly quite possible that you've yet to meet the truly wonderful Jens Lekman.

Cass McCombs - "City of Brotherly Love"

Welly welly well, maybe you'll find this one a bit too melancholy and downtempo. But I find it to be quite splendid, and since it's M's favorite song of '05, I just had to include it.

The Hospitals - "Happy Jack"

I broke two of my own rules to include this song. For starters, I don't own the source recording; I downloaded it. For seconds, this is a cover that surely has Keith Moon rolling over in his grave. Since The Hospitals make this song their own with their bizarre rape of the original recording, I don't feel much guilt about including this. Such disregard for legends should receive applause. This was released on a limited-edition 12-inch by a German (I think) label and is way out of print. Enjoy. (And if anyone knows where I can track down a copy, please let me know.)

Nagisa Ni Te
- "Anxiety"

Japanese folk-rock duo Nagisa Ni Te (which translates to "on the beach") rock out on their four-song EP, Dream Sounds. I love the jangly Velvets rumble, the slightly off-key vocals, and the occasionally jumpy bass line. A surprise find for me, and highly recommended if you're into older Yo La Tengo.

The Clientele - "Since K Got Over Me"

Finally, we reach my favorite song from 2005. How can a song with a wink to Phil Spector -- listen for it at the one-minute mark -- not find its way on to my Best of 2005 list? But what separates this song from others is that it was written by Alasdair MacLean, quite possibly the greatest guitar player that no one ever talks about. MacLean's biting lyrics and exquisite use of melody have always been his band's calling card, but never has he sounded this confident, as if he's fully aware that this pop song will utterly crush his ex's heart.

Shout Out Louds - "Oh, Sweetheart"

I found the Shout Out Louds' 2005 major-label U.S. debut to be a bit of a bore -- a cautious, more rockin' attempt at overseas success for the Swedes. Howl Howl Gaff Gaff simply repackaged many of the band's earlier releases, like this tune from a 2004 EP that I fell in love with. Since that EP was only scarcely available as an import, I include it here.

The Kills - "Love Is a Deserter"

If there is a "last place" song on my Best of 2005 mixes, then this is it. I was totally disappointed in The Kills' sophomore album, No Wow, especially given how much I enjoyed their debut. Honestly, listening to this song now, I wish I would have left it off the mix. It's not bad, for sure, but it's not that great, either.

Spoon - "I Summon You"

At least we end on a high note. Every Spoon album has that one sentimental song that gets you weak in the knees, and Britt Daniel has written none better than "I Summon You". On a side note, I want to marry Jim Eno, just so he can play the drums for me 24 hours a day. Anyone else feel the same way?

Thanks for reading my Best of 2005 entries. I had a lot of fun putting the mixes together on my stereo (note: NOT COMPUTER). All in all, I probably spent 20 or so hours ranking songs and fretting over what would not make the list. Hopefully, you found a few new faves in the process. And please, share your lists with me as well.


Welcome to week two, mix two, of my Best of 2005 recap. For week one, click here. The same disclaimer holds true for this volume.

Songs are listed in no particular order, other than the order in which they appeared on the mix. All songs are from records that I purchased -- no iTunes downloads, no mp3s cribbed from blogs, no feeling guilty over not owning the album's actual artwork. Barring a few reissues of recently recorded music, all songs appeared on albums whose original release was in 2005.

The Noiseboy's Best of 2005, Volume Two

Silver Jews - "Punks in the Beerlight"

David Berman has never recorded a more direct, rocking tune than this dark ode to his days as a drunk. In some parallel universe, this song was a Top 40 radio hit and scores of kids rallied around the Silver Jews and their T-shirts popped up in Hot Topics the world round. How can you go wrong with this: "So wanna build an altar on a summer night. You wanna smoke the gel off a fentanyl patch." And of course, the anthemic chorus: "Punks in the beerlight, burnouts in love!" Man, this song is like a tribute to the Swingin' Seventies CBGB's scene. And I love it! (Postscript: If you haven't watched the brilliant video for this song, get on it now!)

Spoon - "Sister Jack"

Speaking of bands with an obviously ignored radio hit on their hands, how about this one? Many of my friends wondered how "I Turn My Camera On" could be left off my Best of 2005 list. And I responded with this question: How can the best-sounding "classic" Spoon song ever penned not make it on your Best of 2005 list? Plus, I love the fist-pumping lyric: "I was in a drop-D metal band we called Requiem."

Devendra Banhart - "I Feel Just Like a Child"

If you don't "get" this song, then you don't "get" Devendra Banhart. I thought Cripple Crow was weaker than either of last year's offerings -- mostly because it was just too fat around the edges -- but this song is just Devendra doing his own beautiful thing. Never has he channeled Marc Bolan with such success.

Smog - "The Well"

Bill Callahan wisely dropped the parenthesis from his band name for his newest release, A River Ain't Too Much To Love. But on the record, he also foregoes electric guitars in favor of a back-porch acoustic album. The songs are solid, but overall the record lacks the immediacy of some of his best work of recent. My choice from this record was a toss-up from the album's strongest pair of songs, "Say Valley Maker" and "The Well". Ultimately, Jim White's drumming on "The Well" won the coin toss. He sure is a swell drummer.

Six Organs of Admittance
- "Home"

I went with the "pretty" Ben Chasney song for my mix not because it was necessarily the best on an album that fluctuates between longish dirges and short and sweet John Fahey-inspired blues, but because I couldn't justify taking up 10+ minutes with School of the Flower's title track.

The Magic Numbers - "Love Me Like You"

There are two things that I like about this band: 1) the fact that they don't mesh with the standard "look" for a major label artist (they are what they are); and 2) this song. The rest of their self-titled album didn't do much for me, but this tune belongs amongst pop's royalty.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
- "In This Home on Ice"

Upon swallowing Pitchfork's hype and purchasing this record, I spent a good week loving it. On first listen, I heard a pleasant throwback to the days when Unrest ruled the school. But the album quickly faded in my rear view mirror. This song, however, stayed in the backseat a bit longer. I love the energetic Rocketship-esque keyboards and the melodrama, proving that I am still just as much a sucker for indie pop at age 30 as I was at age 20.

Suburban Kids with Biblical Names - "Funeral Face"

These Swedes are hopping on the coattails of Jens Lekman in an oh-so-obvious way, but who fucking cares? I was so stoked for their full length, No. 3 (released on Labrador Records), and it let me down in a big way. But this single is a very nice consolation prize. Hopefully they'll fare better with their next album, as the promise of their debut EP, No. 1, has yet to be realized.

The Fiery Furnaces - "Here Comes the Summer"

I'm not the biggest fan of this dude and dudette. But this song just floored me. If every song they wrote was this direct, then Matt and Eleanor would be King and Queen of the world. It sort of frustrates me that they can't harness their ambition for just one record and give us a collection of pop songs this good.

Animal Collective - "Grass"

The chug-chug-chug of electric guitars buried underneath thumping toms; the primal yelps coupled with woo-ooo-ooo's; obscure melodies squeezed of their last breath; the urgency with which the lyrics are delivered; the far-out-to-sea-on-a-lazy- boat-in-the-midst-of-a-big-storm feel of the entire song; all makes for one engaging, brilliantly-skewed song from Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and company.

Oneida - "Did I Die"

Speaking of daring NYC ensembles, how about Oneida and their latest, The Wedding? Don't even try to tell me that you heard anything like "Did I Die" in 2005. This one strokes my psych-rock side while also satisfying my occasional craving for the obtuse, difficult indie rock of my youth. Song-of-the-year as far as I'm concerned.

Dungen - "Panda"

Technically, this song has no business on my mix, as Ta Det Lugnt ended up No. 2 on my Best of 2004 list. But since so many of my friends had yet to hear Dungen as of late 2005 -- apparently still scared off by their Swedish tongue -- and since the album saw its re-release domestically in '05, I had to include "Panda" here. Plus, Dungen put on the best live show I've ever seen from a rock band when I caught them at the Empty Bottle in October. They are not to be missed, folks.

Witchcraft - "Chylde of Fire"

Everyone's got a little Sabbath itch to scratch from time to time, no? These Swedes sing in English and channel Ozzy and Roky in equal doses. I know it's more tribute than original, but I got a sweet tooth so lemme have it.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney - "My Home Is the Sea"

It's possible that Will Oldham is too prolific for his own good. But I for one think that his 2005 collaboration with former Chavez gunslinger Sweeney gave ole Bonnie a breath of fresh air. Sure, not many of the songs on Superwolf rank among his best, but this one sure does, with Matt playing Ned's role to great results. I really dig the psychedelic ending, which I'm guessing is all Matt's doing.

Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice - "Dogpaddlin' Home to Live with My Lord"

I didn't get to hear James Toth's other 2005 album, Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Figg, before I made up my Best of '05 list. But I think I like this song from The Flood better than anything on his other release, despite the fact that I like the other record more as a whole. The mood and lyrics of this song remind me of Richard Davies for some reason.

Akron/Family - "Shoes"

There sure is a lot of NYC on this mix. Akron/Family were among my favorite new discoveries last year, and thinking about them now reminds me to pick up their album with Young God Records' founder Michael Gira, aka Angels of Light. Anyone heard it?

Sigur Ros - "Saeglopur"

I enjoyed Sigur Ros' breakthrough 1999 album Agaetis Byrjun, but I don't listen to it very often. In fact, I think it had been at least a couple years since I'd last listened to it when I ran it through the headphones this fall. I was attempting to decide if I wanted to order Takk, their 2005 release that was receiving lots of praise. I reinvested in the band after remembering why I fell in love with them in the first place, and I'm glad I did. Takk is exceptional at times, and while I'm sure I won't listen to it all that often either, it's great to have around when the mood strikes.

The Clientele - "E.M.P.T.Y."

It's good to see The Clientele return to the form that won them my musical heart in 1999. Strange Geometry is a sadly overlooked gem from the past year. Any self-respecting fan of Felt and The Left Banke needs to rush ye to a record emporium in a hurry and pick this up.

That concludes volume two of my Best of 2005 mixes. Next week: the third and final offering.


I'm dishing out my Best of 2005 selections in three healthy portions. Every year, I make a "Best of" mix for my friends, and this year I purchased a good deal of music, necessitating a three volume mix. I'm going to offer ya'll the same mix for download. This week, we begin with volume one.

But before we start, a prelude is needed. I'll eventually share my Top 10 albums of the past year. But first, I'd like to focus on songs, rather than records. Since I became so involved in blogging this year, I've been concentrating more and more on individual mp3s, er... songs. And that in turn got me more interested in making mixes once again. Then, in November, they let me back on the airwaves. So once again, "singles" have become a point of fascination more so than albums.

Anyway, my goal in life has never been to make MONEY -- just to make enough money to be able to spend some money on RECORDS. That goal didn't change in 2005, despite starting the year on a ridiculous effort to curb my spending. I anointed the burden my "Year Without Music". (Yes, I actually thought I might be able to go an entire calendar year without buying more than one record per month. Ha!) What you're holding in your hands right now is Exhibit No. 1, proof that I failed miserably in my yearlong fast. (I did make it about five-and-a-half weeks, give or take a week. Still, I would make a poor Buddhist monk.) I live to buy records -- guilty as charged -- and I have now accepted this fate.

Music journalists will often write that such-and-such year was a truly awesome year in music, or an absolute snooze fest. But I don't listen to 'em. Sure, 2005 may not hold water compared to, say, the year Punk broke in 1977 or Beatlemania in 1964. But fuck, if we're going to compare every year to the standard-bearer of all years, then why don't we just stop looking forward and instead make out with our copy of Never Mind the Bullocks? My point: Every year is a pretty swell year in music, if you know where to look. It's up to the excavator to uncover the gold. But I do admit that some years the process of finding the booty can be trying, to say the least. I mean, I don't have unlimited funds after all. (If anyone wants to hook me up to that end, drop me an e-mail.)

I spent a good deal of the year looking backward, purchasing records by obscure '60s garage rock bands from Holland and collecting psych-rock compilations from Asia and Latin America. But I also purchased a bunch of albums recorded over the past year or so. Due to such non-2005 purchases, I sadly can't tell you if the new Beck or Broken Social Scene is worth a shit. Sorry.

One final note: I don’t claim to be a music critic, but I am a music fanatic. These songs may not be the best of the best in your book, but they sure made my year more enjoyable. Maybe they'll work some magic for you as well.

The Noiseboy

Songs are listed in no particular order, other than the order in which they appeared on the mix. All songs are from records that I purchased -- no iTunes downloads, no mp3s cribbed from blogs, no feeling guilty over not owning the album's actual artwork. Barring a few reissues of recently recorded music, all songs appeared on albums whose original release was in 2005.

The Noiseboy's Best of 2005, Volume One

Animal Collective - "Did You See the Words"

Sung Tongs didn't grab me on first listen, but AC's newest album, Feels, is full of a certain warm energy that lends the album both an immediacy and a coherency that's simply potent. If a demographically diverse grouping of third-graders could be cobbled together, locked in a hut for a year quietly practicing their chosen instruments, and then loosed on society in a free concert for the masses, "Did You See the Words" is what they would sound like.

Akron/Family - "Running, Returning"

Another NYC band whose folksy cacophony struck me dumb this year. Supposedly, they put on one hell of a live show, which I'll find out for myself in a month when they play in town.

Cass McCombs - "Sacred Heart"

One of the 2005's finest feel good tunes. I know the lyrics are somber, but the songs still makes me feel giddy. I think it's those '80s synths and the guitar crescendo heading out of the chorus. Sorta makes me think of The Chills and East River Pipe in an oh so good way. Why Cass McCombs isn't as popular as the Pope I just don't know.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - "No More Shoes"

I wrote Stephen Malkmus off years ago, and then he goes and pulls this shit on me. If this is what growing old sounds like, then count me in. Who knew the dude could still rock like this?

Oneida - "Lavender"

A fucking phenomenal record from one hell of a band. Oneida's The Wedding is a dizzying, daring assemblage of aural delight. Two thumbs up!

Black Mountain - "Don't Run Our Hearts Around"

I love me some dirty, Hawkwind-esque riffage. In my interview with Black Mountain from early last year, frontman Stephen McBean told me that he loves the Grateful Dead as much as any band this side of Bay Area speed metal purveyors Exodus. If you listen to this behemoth in that context, it all makes sense.

Jackie-O Motherfucker - "Hey! Mr. Sky"

Unlike the rest of Flags of the Sacred Harp, this song perfectly captures that archetypal Palace Brothers lull.

Magnolia Electric Co - "The Dark Don't Hide It"

Sometimes I think Jason Molina does nothing besides wander along train tracks with an eighth whiskey in his ass pocket, howling at the moon. I didn't like What Comes After the Blues as much as MEC's studio debut, but even a mediocre record from diminutive Molina stands taller than efforts from his peers.

Andrew Bird - "Fake Palindromes"

I've never been much of a fan of Andrew Bird or his Bowl of Fire, but The Mysterious Production of Eggs caught me by pleasant surprise. Here's one for you vocabulary buffs: surely, this is the only time the words formaldehyde and fratricide have been used in a rhyming sequence in a song.

Jose Gonzalez - "Crosses"

Technically, the album that this song is from, Veneer, came out in 2003. I bought it in 2004 as an import, and Hidden Agenda reissued it in 2005. Since precious few knew about it prior to last year, it makes an appearance here. Double-tracked vocals can get annoying, unless they're sung by the Swedish-born son of Argentine parents. This record is well worth owning, so go forth and purchase.

Okkervil River - "For Real"

I saw these guys play the tiny upstairs of Mike & Molly's when they were just freshman. My how they've grown into handsome juniors. Black Sheep Boy, despite rave reviews upon release, is not getting the sort of year-end list respect it deserves.

Wolf Parade - "I'll Believe in Anything"

Pitchfork loves these guys. Wee! I don't think Apologies to the Queen Mary is as good as advertised, but when these boys from Montreal hit their stride, they strut with their chins high.

The Living Blue - "Tell Me Leza"

A big step forward for this Champaign-Urbana quartet. "Tell Me Leza" is proof that morphing into a Flying Nun-influenced power-pop band will get ya a hit record! The full length, Fire, Blood, Water, is a more raucous affair, lacking some of the polish of this single, but not hurting for guts.

Destroyer - "An Actor's Revenge"

Dan Bejar teams up with those zany kids in Frog Eyes to re-record selections from his 2004 album Your Blues. Personally, I enjoyed the synthetic strings and analog keyboards of Blues, but it sounds good in rock 'n' roll redux, too.

Jennifer Gentle - "I Do Dream You"

Listening to this Italian duo's take on Syd Barrett is like being high on the wacky weed and getting a wedgie from an Oompa-Loompa. Garage rock Single of the Year, hands down!

M. Ward - "Hi-Fi"

Following up 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent is a tall order, so I don't fault M. Ward for failing. Besides, "Hi-Fi" is one of the best songs he's penned.

Iron & Wine - "Evening on the Ground (Lilith's Soung)"

Sam Beam proves he isn't a pussy. Folks, that's a distortion pedal!

Dead Meadow - "At Her Open Door"

If not for those pesky Swedes in Dungen, Dead Meadow would have won Concert of the Year honors from Jukebox Upchuck. Seductive stoner rock? You betcha! Romancin' the bong never felt so right.

Next week: volume two of The Noiseboy's Best of 2005.