Best Albums 2005 (11-15)

15. Jamie Lidell — Multiply


Fans oversell his soul power and his traditionalism both–his vocal style’s as once-removed in high Brit fashion as those of Paul Young or Mick Hucknall. Lidell’s bright enough to recognize that his well-turned usages would blend all too seamlessly into a standard retro setting, and too rhythmically ingenious, not to mention idiosyncratic, to settle for that. To be fair, his falsetto curlicues also augment his beats, and the layered vocals that first won me over when that Target ad used “A Little Bit More” are integral to his rhythms. No white Briton who genuinely mistook himself for Otis Redding could have given us a better, or more contemporary, white R&B album.

14. Lil Wayne — Tha Carter II


When it comes to Dwayne Carter, one school of thought fondly recalls his earlier street rhyming and cringes at his newfound pop notoriety. The latter, often gangsta-resistant, trumpets his late-decade deluge of absurdist mixtapes. I sympathize with both. He was a solid singles artist whose nasty wit smuggled his drug stories past their own dumbness, and yet, since he lacked the narrative skill of Big or Ghost, he’d never have grown as an artist if he hadn’t limited himself to discovering newer, snider ways of threatening to steal my stash and fuck my bitch. The hungry MC here would scoff at his all-thumbs rock moves, his innumerable by-the-numbers guest raps, the Young Money album. And yet there’s a laidback cool to even his grander moments, as when he claims the title of “the motherfuckin’ best yet/ Sorry for cursing.”

13. The Go-Betweens — Oceans Apart


Neither as lithe as Friends of Rachel Worth, nor as diffident as Bright Yellow Bright Orange, this is quite simply a set of sharp compositions from a band that sounded ready to keep at it for years. Robert Forster’s “Born to a Family” is an anthem for all artsy slackers sprung from working class families; “Finding You” is Grant McClennan at his most lyrical and romantic (“What would you do if you turned around/ And saw me beside you/ Not in a dream but in a song?”) If only McClennan hadn’t died in his sleep a year later, resting up for the evening on which he’d planned to propose marriage. And yet, how nice, for a change, to hear a rocker who sounds like he wasn’t ready to go.

12. Wide Right — Sleeping on the Couch


“The best meat-and-potatoes rock band today,” I apparently once called ’em, and if you consider the Truckers grits-and-gravy rock and the Hold Steady cold-pizza-for-breakfast rock, I stand by it. Leah Archibald kicks off her finest album by talking her man out of doing the dishes and ends with the title track, talking him back into bed. If her songs are less explosive than on the s/t debut, courting the generic more closely than is ideal, the lyrics cut deeper, rooting her “Rust Belt Girl” persona firmly in her everyday Brooklyn life. And for the folks back home, there’s “Buffalo Fight Song” — “It isn’t always freezing and it doesn’t always snow.”

11. Amadou & Mariam — Dimanche à Bamako


If musicians in Mali are anything like their first-world peers, virtuoso guitarists and heavenly singers from Bamako to Timbuktu must begrudge this moderately talented showbiz couple their ascension to the heights of the world-beat circuit. And that’s not just the haterade talking — plenty of West Africans with more personality and style have yet to crack NPR. But these blind love-birds have pop smarts and a distinctive style to accompany their back story, and Manu Chao knows how to play these assets off his channel-surf rhythms to comment on the role of traditionalism amidst Euro-flux. Also, they sing and play pretty damn good.

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