I'm not going to get too countdown heavy and reminiscent here, but since I had to gather my Top 10 albums and singles of the year, anyway, I'm posting them as my sole means of capping the year. Inspired by Anthony Miccio's brilliant rundown of his '05 favorites on his blog (the countdown entries span days in his December archive, so scroll around), I'm going to try to keep my qualifications mercifully brief.
10. Boards of Canada The Campfire Headphase - Nostalgic enough to make me miss IDM and corrosive enough to screw up downtempo's shiny veneer. Maybe that's just a complicated way of saying, "strong enough for a man, but made for a pussy."
9. Mariah Carey The Emancipation of Mimi - I like my Mimi as hoochie and batshit as possible, so the relatively tempered turn of Emancipation was sort of a letdown. She almost made up for the polite normalcy with her incessant yammering about her dog's websites and albums-as-gifts-to-fans ethic (not to mention sausage-casing-as-outerwear fashion sense) in the thousands promo appearances that forecast and shadowed the album's every move. Yeah, you heard me: almost made up for it. Go 'head, Mimi, douse my ashy, chickenhead existence with your lotion. Put it on me!
8. M.I.A. Arular - This level of sass hasn't been so celebrated since the one-two punch of Dee and Shirley ruled the airwaves.
7. Keyshia Cole The Way It Is - Endlessly fascinating hair aside, Keyshia is hope for the future. With more melisma and spunk than that which can be found around Christina Aguilera's vocal cords and vagina (respectively?), Keyshia is always honest, but never to a fault. Keyshia is simultaneously articulate and feisty -- I can't decide if she's more of a likely successor to Mary J. Blige's throne or Judge Judy's bench. Either way, it's gonna be fun watching this one grow.
6. James !@#$%^ Friedman Go Commando With . . . - This mix is (sorry, M.A.N.D.Y.) the sound of absolutely right now. How appropriate, then, that it should close with almost 10 minutes of uninterrupted neo-Italo rendered by a band that describes itself as "epic, synth-driven progressive rock?!"
5. Kelley Polar Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens - Disco, now more harmonized and whiter than ever! Oh, also? It sounds perfect. Morgan Geist (who produced this one) is a magician.
4. Missy Elliott The Cookbook - Shut up, the ballads are great, and if you don't agree I don't think we can stay friends. Easily her most consistent since Miss E . . . So Addictive and the best showcase for her songwriting yet. Don't be afraid of the R&B, bitches. Timba-what? Timba-who?
3. Vex'd Degenerate - Wow, and all this time, the one thing holding me back from me getting into the jagged sound of the UK underground was its unending supply of wack-ass rappers. This violent, largely vocal-free double album makes me want to scream "Who'da thunk it?!?!" in the streets, piss on Mike Skinner and fuck Dizzee Rascal in the ass. He sounds like such a bitch, doesn't he?
2. Carl Craig Fabric 25 - See how the electrohouse and the black people play together? Isn't it nice?
1. Róisín Murphy Ruby Blue - Everything pop music can be (via Moloko's former frontwoman), chopped up into cubes. I've never heard the balance struck so well between a massive personality (lady is a vamp) and massively intricate production (via Matthew Herbert). I can't tell who the bigger diva is, and that is a beautiful thing.
10. Ciara featuring Ludacris "Oh" - Nikes, a Cadillac, thick chicks and Southern cookin'? You spoil us Ciara, and so does that fuckable tempo.
9. M.A.N.D.Y. vs. Booka Shade "Body Language" - Acid so nice, it could burn my skin off and I wouldn't even notice.
8. Tori Alamaze "Don't 'Cha" - That the Pussycat Dolls' ubiquitous insta-remake didn't destroy this original is testament to Alamaze's wonderfully restrained, ultimately harrowing delivery. Tori took a trip to the unemployment office (she lost her deal with Universal after her version tanked), and all we got was this stupid pack of fake Brits.
7. Vitalic "My Friend Dario" - Yeah, the guitar-filled original is one of the few instances in which a six-string has gotten me to dance, but "Dario" comes in so high mostly because of the "Dima Prefers New Beat Mix." I didn't even know I liked new beat, but I think this Dima's onto something.
6. R. Kelly "Trapped in the Closet (Parts 1-12)" - Finally, R&B gets a sense of humor. It's only taken . . . well, how long has it been since Teena Marie's similarly over-the-top/under-aware/fanfuckingtastic "Ooh La La?" 18 years? Regardless, yay for camp & B, and double yay for camp that comes via repeating the last word of a song through fade out. For the record, I couldn't believe it was a man, man, man, man, either.
5. Mariah Carey "We Belong Together" - I've said it before, but this time I mean it: Mariah Carey is the people's diva. Embracing this was key to her success -- compare the lyrics of her 2000 single "Crybaby" (her first in a string of non-hits that walked through the valley of the Glitter) to those of "We Belong Together" (her first in what's shaping up to be a string of megahits). In "Crybaby," she turns to the radio for relief, "Supressin' the tears / But they start to flow / 'Cause the next song I hear / Is a song I wrote." "We Belong Together" supplants the megalomania with music geekery -- instead of telling us, she shows us her songwriting wit by revising quiet-storm favorites (Bobby Womack's assertion, "If you think you're lonely now, wait until tonight" becomes "If you think you're lonely now . . . wait a minute, this is too deep," and the Deele's "I only think of you on two occasions" becomes "I only think of you, and it's breaking my heart"). Jermaine Dupri's production, sparse enough to give Mariah room to run wherever she wants, is as clever as the lyrics. If she's this year's Usher, he's clearly this year's . . . uh, Jermaine Dupri.
4. Quesh "Candy Girl" - The dance/sex song will never die! The bass line of "Candy Girl" zips like a fly coming down, while the half-sung/half-rapped lyrics provide a torrent of sexual aggression ("hit" is used instead of "fuck" here -- it's not quite an offer to beat that pussy up, but you can tell the MC Bailey isn't exactly asking if all this is OK, either). While rough sex might be a no-brainer combo, soulful electrohouse is not -- there simply isn't enough of it. If there is to be a hip-house revival, please let it sound like this.
3. Gwen Stefani "Hollaback Girl" - Gwen Stefani is so annoying, she constantly sounds like she's mimicking someone (anyone) in retarded voice. Factor in her impossible blondness to the inherent irritation and the question becomes clear: why didn't she take on the role of a high school student earlier?
2. Three 6 Mafia "Stay Fly" - I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I am a sucker for a simple hook. When the beat flips into a house 4/4 for a few bars before each chorus, I get high, high, high.
1. Lindstrøm "I Feel Space" - Is that Moroder in your title, or are you just happy to be making disco, Lindstrøm? Gorgeous and manipulative, "Space" is sci-fi disco at its most fey -- think Patrick Cowley's Megatron Man recast as an introvert. Like a scramble song devised by Philip K. Dick, "Space" could fit into virtually any type of contemporary (which is to say retro) house set. Hearing it on Love's perfect sound system before Alexander Robotnick's set this summer made me tear up like someone had taken away my spaceship.
And, a few remainders:
Jamie Foxx Unpredictable - Probably my favorite R&B album of the year, but since I made these lists for this year's Pazz & Jop critics poll, I didn't want to throw my vote away on a record that was released fewer than two weeks before 2006. Just waiting for everyone else to catch up to this record's unyielding charms ("With You" may be the definitive drop-it-like-it's-quiet song -- at the very least, it's perfect pop). Unpredictable will place high on my list next year, although that my love for it aligns me with Roger Friedman makes me rethink my entire existence.
Anthony Hamilton Ain't Nobody Worryin' - Pretty much the same deal as above. I think that in this case, though, it is I who need to catch up since Hamilton tends toward subtetly and takes time to appreciate. I know one thing, though: I'd totally read the Bible with him.
Masters at Work The Kings of House - Sheer absent-mindedness kept this off my list -- this is the most perfect survey of early house that's ever been presented in a two-disc package. Try not to be amazed, neophytes, when you discover that early house extended beyond Chicago and Trax. Who knew? Kenny and Louie did.
Mariah Carey "Don't Forget About Us (Remix featuring Juelz Santana & Bone Thugs-n-Harmony)" - I thug this shit so much, I was tempted to include it even though it is, fundamentally, a tacky retread of "We Belong Together" and a fail-safe smash (happy 17th No. 1, Mimi!). Dupri's slight changes to the original "Forget" make all difference, though -- amazing what a quadruple time, 808-sounding snare can do to a remix. But really, what makes this redux so special is the return of Bone Thugs. After years of working the double-time singing/fast-slow jam concoction she originated and perfected with the Thugs via 1997's "Breakdown," Mimi rejoins forces with them for (finally) an unpretentious retread's retread. In that sense, it's kinda like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, but with melisma.