January 05, 2006

Music 2005 - Top Ten (Part Three)

#3 - Death Cab for Cutie
Plans (Atlantic/Barsuk)

Of the records that make up my top five this year, this the only one I forsaw being there at the beginning of the year. I've been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie since the release of 2003's Transatlanticism (one of my top five -- ever), so naturally I had high hopes and fully expected them to be honored. And while Plans is no Transatlaticism, it is one of the year's best albums. Plans is Death Cab's first major-label album, as well as their first release since becoming fairly popular (via praise on shows like The O.C. and the success of singer Ben Gibbard's side project, The Postal Service). While the band may only now be experiencing mainstream success, this is actually the band's fifth album. Plans introduces a slightly bigger sound than on previous records, courtesy of producer/guitarist Chris Walla (who has produced all of the records). It's usually not to the point of over-production, though lead single "Soul Meets Body" could easily be a Postal Service track. Rather, there's more of an atmospheric feel to many of the backing tracks, especially on "Marching Bands of Manhattan," and my personal favorite, "Your Heart is an Empty Room." Gibbard is a superb lyricist, and his work on Plans does not disappoint. "What Sarah Said" manages to find several ways to describe the immense loneliness of a hospital waiting room: "Each descending peak on the LCD/took you a little farther away from me." The album is not perfect by any means; a couple tracks are overlong (and thus repetitive), not to mention the so-so closing track (a shortened remake of a previously-released song). Despite these flaws, Plans is a very strong outing; one that is certain to draw in new fans and please existing ones.

Key Tracks: "Your Heart is an Empty Room," "Soul Meets Body," "What Sarah Said"

#4 - Panic! At the Disco
A Fever You Can't Sweat Out (Fueled by Ramen/Decaydance)

You may not know it yet, but let me impart a bit of knowledge on you: Panic! At the Disco will be the next big thing. Just as Fall Out Boy is getting huge now, Panic! will be doing the same, be it with this record or the next. Signed to Pete Wentz's Fueled by Ramen imprint, Decaydance, Panic! have unleashed... get this... the catchiest shit ever. And hey, I throw that word around alot. Many other albums released in 2005 are catchy... but not to this extent. You will sing along to everything, even if you don't know what the hell he's saying (cue random mumbling). Granted, Panic! aren't the most original act out there. First are foremost are vocal and lyrical stylings ripped from the "Fall Out Boy Presents: How-To Write Self-Involved Songs" Manual. Several songs are directly influenced by Chuck Palahniuk novels, especially Invisible Monsters (see: "Time to Dance"). Even their name is taken from the Name Taken song "Panic" (I crack myself up). Still, throw in a little synth and it's damn-near irrisistible. It's hard to explain, but not tough to realize after listening to it. The first half of A Fever You Can't Sweat Out is very danceable, with heavy synth and thumping bass. After the intermission, a more vaudeville approach is taken, complete with piano, trumpet, cello, and violin parts. You may not even be consciously aware of the change during your initial listens because these final songs are every bit as intense as the first ones. And that's probably the best thing I can say about this album. Despite comparisons to their contemporaries, they managed to release a more appealing, relentless, and loveable record than any of their peers in 2005.

Key Tracks: "Time to Dance," "Camisado," "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"