Metro Weekly

High (and Low) Notes

From the brilliance of Offer Nissim to the drudgery of Daft Punk, the year in music had plenty of highs and lows

Maybe it’s our bias, but we think 2005 will be remembered for its riches of dance-pop treasures and electronica-tweaked rock songs — not mutually exclusive categories, as Kelly Clarkson, of all people, proved with ”Since U Been Gone.” Hip-hop may still reign in the mainstream — and thanks to Kanye West’s and Missy Elliott’s contributions, with some justification. But from Depeche Mode to Andy Bell — with and without Vince Clarke in Erasure — to, of course Gwen Stefani, there were plenty of other perfectly danceable pop confections to be heard.

First, the best:

Dolly Parton: Those Were the Days

10. Those Were The Days, Dolly Parton — Parton did a marvelous job choosing and covering as bluegrass a full album’s worth of rock and pop standards, many of them antiwar. Her heavy-hearted messages of concern are never offered in a heavy-handed way, thanks to the restraint shown in her vocals and musical arrangement.

Keyisha Cole: The Way It Is

9. The Way It Is, Keyshia Cole — Cole’s alto is rough-edged and robust, and her music, produced by Kanye West, is consistently feisty. The album never fails to convey this hard-knocked songstress’ confidence and seriousness of purpose.

Bob Mould: Body of Song

8. Body of Song, Bob Mould — Mould has found an appealing middle ground between post-punk/pop and dance/electronica. But that feat is outmatched by his lyrical power, and even more by his album’s organization. From an anxious, intensifying track one to a reflective and retreating track 12, the album rides love’s emotional rollercoaster.

Africanism III

7. Africanism III, Africanism All Stars — Led by the glorious single ”Summer Moon,” Africanism III is a continuously mixed collection of dance songs from a Paris-based collective of African musicians. It proves that today’s tribal-centered dance music, which owes its existence to Africa, hasn’t even begun to incorporate all the bewitching rhythms that the dark continent has to offer.

LCD Soundsystem

6. LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem — James Murphy creates indie-rock rooted in disco and distortion a la David Bowie. His debut album is overstuffed with undeniably fun music and sassy, amusing lyrics about pop music, former lovers and everyday living.

Feist: Let It Die

5. Let It Die, Feist — With her eponymous band, this Paris-based Canadian chanteuse makes elegant pop music that turns to bossa nova, Cole Porter, even the Bee-Gees for inspiration. Let It Die is startingly amazing, and Feist just may have the prettiest voice in today’s pop music.

New Pornographers: Twin Cinema

4. Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers — This Vancouver-based pop collective makes music so melodious and addictive, it certainly could qualify as music pornography. Inspired by psychedelically bent bands from decades passed, the New Pornographers’ lyrics are as amusing and nonsensical as its music.

Madonna: Confessions on a Dance Floor

3. Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna — With the phenomenal producer Stuart Price, Madonna crafted one of her very best albums ever. It’s an irresistible and perfectly planned-out party album featuring dozens of references, both subtle and explicit, to Madonna’s past work. You’re guaranteed to hear something new with each listen.

Coldplay: X&Y

2. X&Y, Coldplay — Coldplay ramped up its already amped-up sound, with soaring anthemic melodies and layers of instrumentation. But they don’t get carried away. They’ve never sounded better or more assured — or more deserving of the oft-made but still-premature comparisons to U2.

International male: Nissim

1. First Time, Offer Nissim and Maya — Gay Israeli Offer Nissim seems to style himself as a classical composer who just happens to make dance music. But with help from his exceptional lyricist and vocalist Maya, he never loses sight of the need to create fully formed melodic songs that dazzle on their own, in addition to telling an overarching story for one complete symphony. His is a story about exquisite longing.

Offer Nissim: First Time

And then, there are the worst:

5. Everlasting Love, Vanessa Williams — Williams sucks much of the life out of this collection of ’70s love songs, creating the musical equivalent of a Botoxed face. The album is sorely lacking in expression.

4. Hotel, Moby — Moby checked himself into a marketing deal with the W Hotel chain for his latest album of wannabe rock hits and overly chilled electronica instrumentals. But we think the time is drawing near for Moby’s checkout of the music-making business.

3. Wowie Zowie, Superchumbo — Tom Stephan took his time in compiling this debut album after years of dance hits. And yet he needed to spend more time fleshing out his few great ideas and not just stretching them out.

2. In Flight, Linda Perry — Instead of releasing a new set, Linda Perry re-released her overlooked, decade-old solo debut. What’s going on, we don’t know. But this dour and depressing set is not what we were waiting for from this celebrated pop producer. This won’t get any party started, not even one of pity.

1. Human After All, Daft Punk — The annoying single ”Technologic” sums up what’s wrong with this album. ”Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, now upgrade it.” But this French duo didn’t bother to fix its flaws or upgrade its style. So we trashed it.

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.