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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sean Fennessey's 'Best-Of' 2005

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: Well, our series of "Best-of" lists is coming to an end. Just a couple more after this one, which is by Neumu contributor Sean Fennessey, who is now music editor at Stuff magazine.

1. Kanye West, Late Registration (Rocafella): I'd prefer it if less was said about this album rather than more, which sounds like cold comfort. But, as an unabashed fan and chronicler, it's been fun to watch West rise above the crowd and deliver the best rap album of the year. Again. Flexing ingenuity with a smirk and expanding his vision thanks to help from co-producer Jon Brion, West's relentless derring-do and tightrope walk with pop, rhythm-and-blues, electro and symphonic grandiosity profoundly congeal. Plus, he's a far better rapper than he's given credit for.

2. Clipse, We Got It 4 Cheap Volume 2 (none): Perhaps diametrically opposed to West in terms of sensitivity, but not in intensity. Never that. Virginia's major-label castoffs, in search of a record deal that allows them the room to grow while still selling records, punished audiences with what is easily the finest mixtape of the year. Clever, vicious, and ever expanding the swirl of the drug-dealer metaphor.

3. M.I.A., Arular (XL): I was just telling someone (an admitted hater) about my thoughts on this album. They do not reflect Sri Lankan politics or art-school swag contests. Tamil Tigers might as well be Cowardly Lions to me. But there's an animosity and power to the beats and a glee in M.I.A.'s voice that is better felt than read about, despite all the damn print spent on her. An obvious of-the-moment record, and a damn good one.

4. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty): Another titanic hype-swell. Justified in its ideas, bloated in its execution, but actually poignant in places, in a time when nothing ever feels poignant in music. No snarling, no irony, probably too much historicism. But a beautiful, measured work by a sincere songwriter.

5. Beanie Sigel, The B. Coming (Rocafella): The saddest, most sweeping album of the year, recorded by a man generally considered a grimacing pit bull, on the eve of a yearlong prison term. It took that kind of desperation to get Sigel to deliver this kind of desperation.

6. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (Jon Brion Version): Still wonderfully husky and sharp with words, but she really should have let Brion ride shotgun. Their relationship, musically, still has legs. Even if it can get long-winded. Drum machines are for hacks anywho.

7. Various Artists, Run the Road (679): Grime, bah. This is all that'll be left behind. It could do worse.

8. Maximo Park, A Certain Trigger (Warp): The best rock record of the year, truly, from a band that couldn't avoid the Gang of Four comparisons, but found a way to subvert them by writing devastating love songs. Lead singer Paul Smith's wicked, ritualistic contortionism might get him hurt some day. Not now though.

9. Young Jeezy, Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (Def Jam): A natural star whose ad-libs and iconography may have more to do with his success than anything else. Not a superb songwriter or lyricist, but a presence, completely aware of what he should and shouldn't say. "I'm emotional, I hug the block." Hardy-har.

10. Juelz Santana, Back Like Cooked Cracked Volume 2 (dipsetmixtapes.com): The most fun I've had all year. Usually mindless, occasionally mindful of his predecessors and their graces, Juelz is a joke-cum-genius. Another mixtape, too, which speaks to the freedom and verve on these illegal entities, but also to the quality of albums released this year.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears on occasion.



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