Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My Favorite Music Albums of 2005

In the heat of the Oscar and awards season, I've neglected the fact that my site is about my being an "otaku," and by definition, I'm into more than just movies. Music and literature are also significant joys in my life. So I'm doing something here that I didn't get to do in my original website (which was exclusively on films): give a list of my favorite albums and books of the year. I can't say that I'm as non-selective with books and albums as I am with movies; whereas I try (try being the operative word here) to watch as many films as I can every year, I buy only the albums and books that I'm really interested in. After all, I'm no album or book reviewer.

Anyway, here's my list of Top 5 Albums of 2005:

5) Love. Music. Angel. Baby. (Gwen Stefani). At times reminiscent of 80s pop, sometimes sweetly mellow, but always entertaining, Gwen Stefani's debut solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is as enjoyable as sensible, quality dance albums can be. I'd be hard-pressed to name a catchier, more "last-song-syndrome" tune than that of "Hollaback Girl" (B-A-N-A-N-A-S), although "What You Waiting For?" and "Rich Girl" are nearly as addictive. For someone like me who loves practically everything Japanese, "Harajuku Girls" was a cute (kawaii), amusing song. In fact, that Japanese theme was all over the album, making it additionally novel and worth adding to any musical collection of anyone who just wants to have fun.

4) Amarantine (Enya). While A Day Without Rain was a good album with very catchy ("Wild Child") and inspiring ("Only Time") tunes, it had nowhere near the mystic, ethereal beauty that held me in thrall when I listened to The Memory of Trees and the albums prior to that. It has been said that Enya has gone too pop and mainstream, and I was getting inclined to agree. Amarantine is a welcome return to the otherwordly music that this Irish songstress has long been known for. There's a sorry absence of songs in Gaelic, but the fictional language Loxian makes an interesting substitute. Apparently, Enya and constant collaborator Roma Ryan enjoyed their turn at speaking Elvish for the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. I hope that this is a sign of better, more mystical things to come for Enya.

3) The Beekeeper (Tori Amos). I still think that Tori Amos is brilliant. In fact, she's my favorite artist of all time. But the last Amos album that I could call brilliant is From The Choirgirl Hotel. After that, the albums have ranged from good to great, but none of them have been as inspired as her previous releases (particularly my favorite, Boys For Pele). The Beekeeper almost makes it back to those great days for Toriphiles, with "Sleeps With Butterflies" being a worthy Amos single and "Sweet the Sting" being amazingly, lovingly cloying. But it's still not in the leagues of Tori's first releases. I'm probably just missing the harpsichord. Well, at least Tori's going back to more piano pieces. I'm still a big Toriphile and still waiting for the next release from this fiery, brilliant artist.

2) Aerial (Kate Bush). Twelve years after The Red Shoes (unfortunately my only other Kate Bush album), which is considered by many to be rather inferior to her previous works, Kate Bush returns with a bang. Well, perhaps that isn't very appropriate; Aerial is quietly, subtly mesmerizing. The themes of the two discs (A Sea of Honey and A Sky of Honey) are diverse: among the subjects of her songs are her son Bertie, Joan of Arc, laundry, birds, and pi. Yes, the infinite number pi. Ever heard someone sing the number as the chorus? Sounds kitschy, but it's very well made. And yes, birds. In several pieces in the second disc, Bush sings in birdsong. Unlike #3 in this list, Aerial does not fall short of brilliant. I eagerly await her next project. Until then, I'll listen to birdsongs with newfound appreciation.

1) Comet's Tail (Cynthia Alexander). Okay, some of you (particularly those not from the Philippines) will be scratching your heads in confusion. Who's Cynthia Alexander? She is widely considered (at least by those who are in tune with the best local music, and not just the mainstream) to be one of the country's greatest musicians. She's a premiere bassist (she won an Asian competition back in the 90s), but she also plays other instruments. In fact, she's responsible for most of the instrumentation in this third album, Comet's Tail. The songs play like dreams, for that's in fact what they are; Alexander says that most of her songs find their roots in her actual dreams. It's hard to find a more luminous, serene, involving album in recent years than this one. You're probably tired of me using this adjective, but this album is BRILLIANT, a cut above all the rest. You can't know how much I want those of you who don't know her to actually get to hear her music. Though her songs are not available here, you might want to check out her website. I'm sure you can find other sources for her songs online (wink wink).

Note: Here in the Philippines, Fiona Apple's much lauded album Extraordinary Machine is yet to be released. I love Fiona's music, so if I had been able to get this one in time, it probably would have made it to my Top 5.

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