The Year in Review – a Review

One of the things I like most about the Christmas/New Year period is the appearance of the ‘best of year’ lists – music, movies, celebrity couples, royal babies etc.

Not that you can take them very seriously; they tell you more about the publication’s readership or editorial angle than the quality of the actual item. Look at the music lists, for example. The NME, a UK music institution, is rabidly Anglo in its selection of the ‘best of 2005’ – Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Editors, Engineers, Babyshambles all feature, while Pitchfork magazine, the voice of alternative America, includes indie favourites Deerhoof, Wolf Parade, New Pornographers, Animal Collective and the Decemberists among the year’s best.

Meanwhile, Q magazine, whose readership seems to be confined to Oasis, Coldplay, Radiohead and Texas (yes, Texas) fans, voted ‘X + Y’ as the best of the year, possibly the only magazine in the world to do so.

Rolling Stone’s ‘best of’ list is peppered with rock ‘n’ roll icons like Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Paul MacCartney, indicative of its more ‘mature’, conservative readership.

In the quest for lists and reviews I’ve recently discovered Metacritic.com, an internet resource which gathers review information on games, movies, music and books from around the world, and using a ‘magical formula’ determines the overall critical response to a particular release. Metacritic also contains a handy summary page of the major ‘Top 10’ end-of-year lists, and a ‘definitive’ list of the ‘best reviewed’ albums of the year.

According to Metacritic’s calculations, Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Illinois’ is the ‘best reviewed’ cd of 2005, having featured in 27 ‘best of’ lists and nominated ‘best album’ on 7 of those lists. Other ‘best reviewed’ albums include Kanye West, Antony & the Johnsons, My Morning Jacket and MIA.

‘Illinois’ also topped my own personal ‘best of’ list, which looks like a hybrid of the UK and US favourites, with a couple of ‘outsiders’ thrown in for good measure:

1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
2. LCD Soundsystem – LCD Soundsystem
3. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
4. Beck – Guero
5. The Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart
6. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
7. Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better
8. Mercury Rev – The Secret Migration
9. My Morning Jacket – Z
10. Architecture In Helsinki – In Case We Die
11. Editors – The Back Room
12. Engineers – Engineers
13. Ladytron – Witching Hour
14. The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across The Land
15. Sleater-Kinney – The Woods

‘Illinois’ should actually be listed a few points higher – not just one – than any other album on the list – it’s that good! A ridiculously ambitious pop symphony that manages to weave UFOs, serial killers, Frank Lloyd Wright, zombies, Superman and much more into its 75 minutes.


With another 48 states to cover in his ’50 states’ saga, Sufjan Stevens is going to be kept busy until the middle of the century, long after I’ve left the planet. I’ll be happy as long as I get to hear his take on my favourite US state – Maryland.*

In the meantime, a New Year beckons, and it’s time to start a new list…

* I always imagine some sort of giant theme park. Y’know, Disneyland, Movieland, Maryland etc…

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