The end of the year is upon us, and that can mean only one thing for a fledgling music review website: it’s obligatory list posting time! Surely, with so many lists of fine-tuned nuance and suspiciously similar taste floating about the internet these days, we would be remiss to pass on an opportunity to hop on the band-ranking bandwagon. What’s that I hear you say – ranking artists stinks of rockist elitism? Well, what can we say, we like making lists. It gives us something to talk about. Of course, with so much new music so readily available for easy, risk-free consumption, there are bound to be more good albums released and overlooked than we have time to process in this year-end crunch, which is basically a roundabout way of mentioning the inevitable list-making caveat that every list is necessarily incomplete, biased, and subject to change at a later date.
But enough of this blathering! You’re only here for one of three reasons: 1) recommendations for future music purchases; 2) confirmation of your superior musical tastes; and/or 3) samples of new music. Some of our contributors have been kind enough to share their personal “best of” lists, which will be posted over the next few days. Enjoy.
KIM’S PERSONAL PICKS FOR 2006
10) Nouvelle Vague – Bande A Part (buy)
9) The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes (buy)
The Essex Green – Cannibal Sea (buy)
7) Suburban Kids with Biblical Names – #3 (buy)
6) Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope (buy)
5) Heikki – Heikki 2 (buy)
4) I’m From Barcelona – Let Me Introduce My Friends (buy)
3) Hello Saferide – Introducing Hello Saferide (buy)
Every time I feel like I’ve outgrown the “woman with an acoustic guitar” genre of music, I get sucked back in by a fantastic musician. Hello Saferide is the stage name for the Swede Annika Norlin. You’ve probably never heard of her, since she is virtually unknown in the United States. While Introducing Hello Saferide is a 2005 release in Sweden, the album was released in the USA in October, but practically impossible to get!as my copy has been in transit for the past two months. So, while technically a 2005 release, it is still #3 on my list because it is just!that!good. When I listen to Hello Saferide I feel like she’s my best friend. She has the ability to capture the mundane aspects of friendships and new boyfriends and makes me laugh and say, “I’ve totally felt that way, too!” Her music is my favorite to listen to on my walk home from work. It puts an extra bounce in my step.
2) Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country (buy)
Let me tell you how much I liked this album: Once I had sufficiently listened to it, I immediately went out and purchased the other two Camera Obscura albums, devouring them. According to my audio scrobbler, Camera Obscura is my most listened to artist, beating out the Magentic Fields by over 100 plays!and I have eight Magentic Fields albums! As you can probably tell by my top 10 list, I love female vocals. Camera Obscura is poppy and infectious without being over-the-top. It is something you can listen to at work, at a party, in the car. The lyrics and sound is unoffensive, making it music for everybody to enjoy.
1) Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat (buy)
It’s difficult to choose the song highlights for Rabbit Fur Coat because I feel like the album has to be taken as a whole. The music is more about religion, politics, and family than your standard album of love songs. It has a warm and tinny quality to the sound, reminiscent of Patsy Cline.
DAN’S FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2006
10) Thom Yorke –The Eraser (buy)
A lot of people couldn’t get used to hearing Thom Yorke alone without the power of his band behind him, but on subsequent listens The Eraser is just as moving as any Radiohead record. Gone is the epic intensity and instrumental depth that the band is known for, but Yorke sounds even more haunted as his vocals stand out starkly above the mix of laptop beats and sparse instrumentation. The Eraser is a lean piece of work that exists in an Orwellian black and white world where no one, besides Thom Yorke, stops to feel anything or even catch their breath.
9) The Strokes –First Impressions Of Earth (buy)
The Strokes genuinely pushed themselves and made a surprisingly mature album with First Impressions Of Earth, but due to the early January release date it has been virtually overlooked in 2006. The other problem is that the Strokes are one of those bands that everybody loves to hate, despite the fact that they continue to write great songs and have one of tightest sounds in modern day rock and roll. First Impressions Of Earth is adventurous in its length, packaging, production, and songwriting. The Strokes have really gone outside of their comfort zone to try something new on this record, while remaining true to their roots and themselves.
Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (buy)
During a skit near the beginning of Fishscale, Ghostface Killah’s boxing coach warns us, “He’s an animal! He’s hungry! You ain’t been this hungry since Supreme Clientele!” This sentiment captures the feel of Fishscale, which is an epic and soulful album where Ghostface gives us everything he’s got. His flow is creative, powerful, emotional, and hilarious at the same time, while the tracks bounce with soul samples and catchy beats, making for a very memorable and moving album.
7) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones (buy)
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs decided to approach their second album in an entirely different way than their first. For starters, the instrumention, with its acoustic guitars and quieter dynamics, displays a lot of subtlety that is hard to get used to at first since they are known to be such an explosive band. As Show Your Bones begins to enter your unconscious, you realize the depth of emotion and power the songs actually offer, and proof that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are just getting started.
6) Cat Power – The Greatest (buy)
Cat Power’s The Greatest features Chan Marshall backed by some of the best Memphis sidemen in rock and roll history, which creates a brilliant combination of vintage and modern musical styles. The idea of a young artist working with players of the past is nothing new, but Marshall has crafted songs that fit perfectly with the style of these musicians. The album floats along so effortlessly with itss sexy, warm, hypnotic, countrified soul that it casts a spell you wish would never end.
5) TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain (buy)
TV On The Radio is one of those bands that is very difficult to describe since they sound like they exist entirely in their own universe. Return To Cookie Mountain is their major label debut, yet it is completely uncompromising and totally unique with its layers of falsetto vocals and strange instrumentation. Each song plays like a bizarre short film, but as the album progresses you begin to realize how it all makes sense as a whole and stands together as a visionary piece of work.
4) Sonic Youth – “Rather Ripped” (buy)
After losing honorary band member Jim O’Rourke, Sonic Youth have managed to tighten up their sound and play on their individual strengths, while working as a cohesive unit better than ever before. The songs on “Rather Ripped” seem almost pop since they are surprisingly catchy and instantly memorable, while never getting distracted with long guitar solos or noise breakdowns. Sonic Youth haven’t lost their lost of jamming, but this time they do it without overindulging, which makes for an extremely satisfying listen and quite possibly their best album.
3) Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You (buy)
Jolie Holland’s Springtime Can Kill You is not as immediately accessible as her last album, Escondida, but she managed to create a piece of work that exists entirely in her own bittersweey world. Holland sounds consistently haunted throughout the album, while singing spooky love songs that sound like they have been soaked in honey and moonshine. It’s a breakup album that you will play over and over again whether you are happy, sad, or most likely, both.
2) Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium (buy)
This is the year’s biggest surprise, since it is one of the very few double albums that actually works. Stadium Arcadium features 28 songs that compliment each other brilliantly and make up an album that is diverse and consistent, playful and beautiful, and ambitious without being pretentious. The Chili Peppers are at the top of their game.
1) Bob Dylan – Modern Times (buy)
Nothing else released this year came close to the undeniable power of Modern Times, which makes the case that Dylan is doing his best work at 65 years old. Dylan’s songs, as well as his backing band, are the strongest they have been in decades. Each song on Modern Times seems to have a great weight to it while Dylan senses the impending apocalypse and still takes the time to think about love and lust.
SCOTTER’S TOP 5 OF 2006
So, you ask, why a Top 5 and not a Top 10? Is it because only five albums this year were good enough for mention on a “Best of” list, you may ask? Well, no. To prepare my list I gathered all of the 2006 releases I had gotten my hands on this year and found, to my surprise, that I only had in my possession 11 new releases this year, six of which I would not put on a “Best of” list.
Alas, 2006 was a year for the archive. I passed on the new Decemberists album due to a new-found obsession with Harry Nilsson; I passed on the new Beck in order to feed a newer-found hunger for the Bach and Beethoven recordings of Glenn Gould; I passed on the new M. Ward when all of my time for a straight couple weeks focused upon Caetano Veloso’s marvelous A Foreign Sound; I passed on TV On The Radio because I knew 27 people who had already purchased it and thought one would have burned me a copy (none did); I passed on the new Hold Steady because, well, between me and you, I just didn’t like Separation Sunday that much (SHHHHHHHHHH!); I passed on Joanna Newsom and the new Tom Waits because rent was due.
The irony is that all of these albums will surely need to be acquired for the archive in 2007, thus disabling me from acquiring 2007 new releases and the endless cycle shall cycle perpetually for sure.
Thus, what you receive from me is not a definitive list based upon a vast and deep experience with new music, but a “Best of What I Got” list. But believe me, my fellow Post-Rockists, the “Best of What I Got” got the best of me.
5) The Blow – Paper Television (buy)
I was introduced to The Blow’s Paper Television late in the year and soon became infatuated (and still am). Comprised of the duo of vocalist Khaela Maricich and beat-maestro Jona Bechtolt, The Blow’s songs are as painfully infectious as Maricich’s lyrics are painfully blunt about relationships failed, failing, and flavorfully frivolous. This is the album I’ve been waiting for since Junior Senior’s D-D-Don’t Stop the Beat: pop and electronic music marry for the benefit of every long boring road trip, pre-party, party, post-party, and night alone when you can’t help but become your own personal dance party.
4) The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely (buy)
I reviewed this album in September for this very internet publication, which you can find here. It was bad medicine for a tough part of my year, a year of anxiety and loss (fuck you 2006; come hug and kiss me 2007). The album so vividly reminds me of this year that I’m not ever going to listen to it again. It’s that good.
3) Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat (buy)
That voice, those lyrics, that band, those songs. Jenny Lewis stepped away from Rilo Kiley for a year to put out her first solo album and, with the help of the Watson Twins, made the country album of the year. If popular country music was anything like this album, no lover of music could wince when stumbling upon CMT while flipping stations on cable. The album establishes Lewis as one of the wisest of lyricists, able to use understatement and irony artfully and to sing each word exactly as it should for maximum effect. This album is the work of a master songwriter/performer. When I listen to “Melt Your Heart,” I seriously think I’m about to levitate, so enraptured I become in such a smooth, soulful, and sorrowful silk.
2) Xiu Xiu – The Air Force (buy)
I bought this album for the cover, and it was well worth it. I wanted to write about the album several times for the Post-Rockist, but words always fell short. The experience of listening to this album is so simultaneously intense and beautiful and disturbing. It isn’t an album one can listen to from start to finish in one sitting. It requires listenings in shifts. But it rewards the listener with an understanding of how profound modern music can be. While the meaning of the songs is often elusive, they are unforgettable and deeply affecting. Don’t listen to the album while driving: vertigo on the freeway is never a good thing.
1) Bob Dylan – Modern Times (buy)
A lot has been written about the greatness of this album (this website is certainly guilty), so I’ll supply my favorite blurb. Jody Rosen of Slate writes, “I hate to break it to Justin Timberlake, but a wheezy old man has recorded the best make-out songs of 2006.” This, of course, isn’t the whole story since Modern Times falls upon serious subjects like life, love, and death, which anyone at Dylan’s age must be seriously thinking about (for the purest statement of this, check out “When the Deal Goes Down”). But what marks this Dylan album, as well as Love & Theft, is Dylan’s singing. This may sound like hogwash to some haters, but Dylan put in the best singing performance of the year (well, at least against everything else I heard). He developed a command of the growl, the sneer, the sigh, the whisper, and the croon, and matches each to the words to which they belong. When sound and sense meet perfectly, so said a college English professor of mine, that is poetry. We don’t tend to think of Dylan as someone who develops: he was pretty great as he came out on the scene in the ’60s. But Dylan had to develop into this album. I think it’s his best ever.
AMY’S LISTS FOR 2006
What I Learned About Music in 2006
I don’t like top ten lists. The imaginary authority they assert makes me feel stupid when what I would pick is unranked. And yet I am too uncomfortable with the underlying assertion that these are not just ten outstanding examples –they are the top ten, culled from thousands, with which the author of the list is presumably familiar enough to exclude them.
Not only have I not listened to even a hundredth of a percent of the albums that were released this year, I have barely listened to any albums proper. Nor have I paid any attention to hot singles, or scanned ratings thoroughly enough to judge anything over or underrated. Most of the music I listened to this year was either made by my friends or recorded before the year 1970. I worked at a college radio station for half of the year and still this “modern rock” sensibility managed to evade me.
Still, I learned a lot about music this year. And a lot of it you may have learned a long time ago. But just to make sure you don’t make any of the same mistakes or overlooks I did, I’m going to share it with you. In descending order, just like any self-respecting top-whatever list. And then I’m going to give you a selection of music that I appreciated in 2006. Top ten nothing. Don’t argue with me.
4) That one kind of bad Nirvana song was a David Bowie song first.
And thank heavens for that. It is always nice to realize that behind the whines and the grunge guitar hides a song that is brilliant and fantastic! I listened to tons of David Bowie in 2006, and every time I hear his voice, I remember why I believe in God. I think he should be sainted. He is also aging remarkably well, and is an admirable patron of contemporary rockers.
3) Not all concerts are created equal.
And more often than not, it has nothing to do with the musicians giving the concert. Sometimes bands that are wonderful when pressed are a snooze on stage –an Electric Six show in Madison, Wisconsin, which should’ve been wildly uplifting, felt canned, and was attended by the most annoying crowd of any show I have ever attended.
But beyond mere showmanship, there is something untouchable and atmospheric. I anticipated Andrew Bird’s performance at Summerfest more than I anticipated pretty much anything in my life except maybe growing up. And it was a total let-down, probably because it was outdoors, under a highway overpass, and I was surrounded by drunk people who were waiting for Wilco to start. Wilco’s set might as well have been a stadium show. I would rather listen to Wilco in my living room. Live music should be a blow-your-ears-out tent-revival basement-barroom beer-and-sweat experience –an experience that big outdoor shows just can’t deliver. See my review of Pitchfork (August 2006) for more exposition on this issue.
I have danced in the streets in my day. I saw Cake in a parking lot.
But not in 2006.
2) There is no ailment that soul music cannot cure.
I’m talking soul music in the broadest sense of the term. The magnificent One Kiss Can Lead to Another box set of forgotten ’60s girl pop (released in 2005) carried me through one winter malaise after another, and Alan Lomax field recordings of dusty Southern gospel calmed me deeply during my panic-stricken spring. New music is nice and all. It is good that new music is being made. Exciting things are happening in the world of rock and roll. But like a well-planned one-pot vegetarian diet, I am a recent convert to the belief that a musical menu that includes nothing but Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, the Jackson Five, and the dearly departed James Brown is nonetheless complete.
At boring concerts this year, I kept thinking about who I would rather be seeing. The answer was always Otis Redding. Too bad he’s dead.
1) It’s not so hard to like hip-hop.
True post-rockists have known this for a long time, and good hip-hop has long been the brightest spot in popular music. This year’s best-of lists are full of high-profile hip-hoppers: Ghostface, Lupe Fiasco, Clipse. By some standards, hip-hop is what is happening in music today.
Still, there is a pervasive and tenacious belief that hip-hop is all about guns, drugs, and hos in bikinis, that tendency to profess one’s love of “everything but country and rap.” And while I have always been theoretically open to liking hip-hop, having enjoyed ridiculous hits like “Gold Digger” and “Roll Out” and whatever Chris “Ludacris” Bridges graces us with, I have also always been cautious. I have always assumed that there is a context I am lacking, an instruction manual I need to read to really get it.
Luckily, I made friends with a nice approachable guy who turned out to love hip-hop thoroughly, passionately, all-consumingly. This guy basically raps in his sleep. Little by little, I learned not only to like hip-hop, the way one likes or does not like, say, brussel sprouts, but to develop a taste for it, to detect its myriad hints and spices. I like the nerdiness of A Tribe Called Quest, the defiant silliness of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the raw Wu-Tang sound. I like the Napoleonic pomposity of Cee-Lo Green and Kanye’s charismatic sincerity. The undiluted bravura of Outkast’s “Morris Brown” positively sweeps me off my pretty little hipster-white-girl feet. I’m not faking it! I am not kidding! This wasn’t hard at all! I went back to the Trick-Trick/Eminem single “Welcome to Detroit” and found it impossibly, intolerably low-brow. Mere months and the barest of introductions, and I had developed a palatte. I had become discerning.
Remarkable! Hip-hop is great!
And now, in no order at all, selections.
This album, composed whilst J-Dilla lay dying in his hospital bed, is wrenchingly wonderful.
The Detholz – Cast Out Devils
These unsigned Chicago kooks are rock-and-roll disciples. They are evangelists. By far my favorite band of all time, their live shows are strange and boisterous, ironic, raucous, and utterly transcendent. Compared endlessly to Devo and Talking Heads, they are nonetheless fresh and epic in their own right. Cast Out Devils is their first release in four years (following 2002′s Who are The Detholz?) and proves once and for all that the band has moved on from funny-ha-ha songs about Mars and robots and is ready to seriously move us all. Scratch that –they are ready to launch us into the stratosphere. Some of their talky tracks are lamentably disposable, but the tight harmonies and crunching chord progressions of the title song and “Behold the Man” are such mystical experiences that it barely matters.
Jeff Tweedy handpicked The Detholz to tour with them and Pitchfork Media has already spotlit sister band Baby Teeth. It would be a crime if these brilliant men were far behind.
The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes
I have been playing in a rawed-up ’60s-style girl band for two years. This band’s success is at once predictable, overdue, and deserved.
I didn’t listen to this album that carefully, but every time I heard anything by Hot Chip this year, I felt warm, sad, and wholly satisfied.
Califone – Roots and Crowns
I haven’t even heard this album yet and I know it’s great. You know why? Because this band has always been great. Even when I haven’t liked them they’ve been great. They remind me of train rides through Eastern Europe in the winter. And this is a knock-out title. Roots and Crowns. That’s beautiful! This album is great.
Boy oh boy, these lists just keep coming, don’t they, folks? The tireless writers and music lovers that make the Post-Rockist possible have been working night and day, through meals and showers, for the sole purpose of sharing with you, fellow music lover, in numerical order, the albums that meant the most to them in 2006. So, without further fanfare, more lists. You know the drill…
JOSHUA’S TOP 10 ALBUMS LISTED IN DESCENDING ORDER, PLUS NOTES, AS PROVIDED BY A ROUGH TRANSCRIPTION
10) Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (buy)
I’m not the type of guy who really likes hip-hop that much, but every now and then I hear an album that makes me go, “Yeah, I can get into this.” Hell Hath No Fury is filled with smart, clever lyrics, and it’s my favorite hip-hop album of the year.
9) The Blow – Paper Television (buy)
Khaela Maricich, the lead singer of the Blow, is as smart and sexy as Peaches, and one-millionth as repulsive.
Tapes ‘n Tapes – The Loon (buy)
I figured I needed to have at least one rock and roll album on my list, and The Loon is very crunchy rock and roll.
7) The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever (buy)
I’m aware that I’m cheating by placing this on a “best of 2006″ list, but it was very hard to come by in the States and it’s just too good not to be placed in the Top 10 of any year it was discovered.
6) Lily Allen – Alright, Still (buy)
Man, I just love this record. Lily Allen’s like the female Streets – a smart, sassy white girl from London whose album is filled with more hooks than any other pop album this year. It’s hooktastic!
5) Frida HyvÃ¶nen – Until Death Comes (buy)
This is my Billy Bragg-esque choice. This is a very brave record – just Frida and her piano. I imagine she has a very tough persona.
4) Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block (buy)
“Objects of my Affection,” the first proper song on Writer’s Block, has the greatest chorus of the year: “And the question is, was I more alive then than I am now? And I happily have to disagree; I laugh more often now, I cry more often now, I am more me.”
3) Beirut – Gulag Orkestar (buy)
I listened to “Postcards from Italy” 35 times after a bad break-up this year, and I still can’t believe that the voice behind it is that of a 20-year-old; Zach Condon simply has the most beautiful voice.
2) Joanna Newsom – Ys (buy)
This album is too smart and too interesting to fall any lower than #2.
1) The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine (buy)
I knew this was going to be my album of the year before the end of the first track. That feeling hasn’t gone away.
Plus, there are two EPs deserving of mention:
*Ferraby Lionheart – Ferraby Lionheart (it’s piano-based singer/songwriter music where the piano reminds me of the opening credits of the American Office.)
*Professor Murder – Professor Murder Rides the Subway (this is propulsive running music)
BRYAN’S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2006
10) Thom Yorke – The Eraser (buy)
Everybody’s wondering when the new Radiohead album will come out. Somehow, a lot of these people overlooked the next best thing. The Eraser sounds like Kid A‘s eletro cousin. Phil, Ed, and the brothers Greenwood aren’t there, but the clicks and cracks from Thom and producer Nigel Godrich’s keyboards give it an urgent feel. Hail to the Thief was angry, but here Thom is foaming at the mouth. His vocal isolation laments a bleak present and an even bleaker future. But it’s not a downer. It gets every socially conscious cell in your body ready for action.
9) The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (buy)
Yes, I do feel smarter for listening to Mr. Meloy sing of cormorants, parallax, and fontanel. Yes, it helps that I thirst for scary tales about old-world American hooligans. And yes, I like it when pop bands put a little more rock into their sound. But for all the quirkiness these Portland roustabouts dish out, this is their most accessible album to date. The lyrics are as literate as ever, but it evokes a less nautical theme than usual. It’s not their best, but a lot of band’s still can’t touch them.
Brightblack Morning Light – Brightblack Morning Light (buy)
Ninety-degree sunny day. So humid your fingernails sweat. You float on an innertube down some backwoods creek through a flower child commune. Every second of this debut will either calm you down or drive you mad. A deep Rhodes piano groove slowly pulls you through the dirtiest fucking hippie music this side of Trey Anastacio’s house. But there’s no jamming, no wah pedals, and few congas. Simplicity and repetition make it funky without reeking of patchouli.
7) The Rapture – Pieces of the People We Love (buy)
Every year seems to have one great party album. This is 2006′s. Luke Jenner and Mattie Safer pull you onto the floor by singing about how people don’t dance no more, the Devil makes dancin’ shoes, and my my my m-m-Mustang Ford. What Pieces leaves out in emotional intimacy, it makes up for in butt-shaking bass lines and grooves you won’t be able to shake no matter how hard you try. And believe me, you will shake.
6) Beck – The Information (buy)
Just a year after making what some called Odelay Jr., Beck made an album some might call Odelay III. But just as Guero was more than a rehash of his signature white man funk, The Information is Beck having fun with every blip, strum, and sample he hasn’t yet used. His once stream-of-consciousness lyrics are now direct and poignant. A line like, “I think I’m in love, but it makes me kind of nervous to say so,” is both simple and universal. The man has rarely been simple, but luckily his universality keeps growing.
5) Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (buy)
Stuart Murdoch and company drifted further away from the soft-spoken, bashful sound they helped popularize. Their new sound jumps from ’70s AM hits to Glam stomp to The Psychedelic Furs meets Motown. But they’ve never sounded more fun. After a decade of solid pop standards, B & S have started to explore their full potential as musicians. And so far, they’ve done it quite swimmingly.
4) Danielson – Ships (buy)
Twenty musicians. Dozens of instruments. One high-pithced nasal voice. Every moment of Daniel Smith’s second solo album assaults your ears with layer upon layer upon layer. Using glockenspiels and marimbas do make Ships sound a bit carnival-like, but it rocks harder because of it. Despite all the noise, there’s an abundance of childlike innocence in songs like “Did I Step on Your Trumpet?” and “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up.” Everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki make the whole more than the sum of its parts. And for 42 minutes, the parts never stop coming.
3) Joanna Newsom – Ys (buy)
In two albums, Ms. Newsom has become my favorite female musician. Her first solo album showed how sweet and smart the world’s most famous harpist could be. But on Ys, Newsom shows how confident she can be. Van Dyke Parks leads an orchestra that sweeps you away to medieval meadows, but never overshadows her dreamlike lyrics. Lines like, “Toddle and roll; teethe an impalpable bit of leather, while yarrow, heather, and hollyhock awkwardly molt along the shore,” are belted in a voice somewhere between Bjork and the Cocteau Twins. This is not passive music. You must give it your all, just like Joanna.
2) The Knife – Silent Shout (buy)
If you took away the lyrics, it would be a great dance album. If you kept only the lyrics, you’d be in awe of the modulated voices spouting evocative descriptions of like near the Arctic Circle. Together, they create music that’s fresh and a little difficult to classify. For all the beeps and chirps, you can’t really call it house or electro. It may feel cold at first, but it will burrow under your skin and make your heart beat fast enough to move your feet.
1) Liars – Drum’s Not Dead (buy)
Both the most challenging and most rewarding album I heard this year. Few of the lyrics are intelligible, but my ears were drowned with emotion from the dark tribal percussion, meticulously crafted feedback, and Angus Andrew’s hypnotic falsetto. The two characters in the album are Drum and Mt. Heart Attack, and represent a sort of creative Yin and Yang. Drum is confident and assertive, and MHA is full of self-doubt. Their story journeys through loss and change, and eventually leads to acceptance and hope. The sound isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth the patience.
TODD’S TOP PICKS OF 2006
Bridging the musical arc from Buddy Holly to Wilco, Swedish trio Peter Bjorn and John have crafted a remarkable pop album that manages to combine elements of New Wave, British invasion rock and roll, and shoegazer, all while remaining wholly original. Utterly irresistible.
9) Jay Dee aka J Dilla – Donuts
A late addition to the list, but just a few listens to the shuffling high-hats, Holland-Dozier-Holland samples, and successive rapid-fire impact of these 31 instrumental bursts make it painfully clear that Donuts is a strikingly visionary piece of work. That Jay Dee composed and released an album filled with this much joy just days before he died leaves me speechless.
I can honestly say that I have never heard anything like this before. Juana Molina, former Argentinean TV comedian, has created a breathtaking work on her fourth album that defies all conventional expectations. Son is a rich patchwork of laptop folk, organic noise, acoustic guitars, free-floating electronic blurbs, and her processed, hypnotic native tongue. The song structures appear and disappear with remarkable fluidity, like an enchanting, detached mystery.
The hum of machines, the arc of dreams. To call this record experimental ambience would be to miss the nuanced sway and swell of this New Orleans duo’s debut fuzz. October Language is the perfect prescription for anyone who loves to gets lost in Kevin Shields’ white noise reveries or Fennesz’s endless summer sounds.
I can’t breathe when this album is on, and, while listening to Dennis Coles blaze through the visceral street narratives of Fishscale with unrelenting spitfire intensity, I don’t think he has any intention of letting up and giving me a break. Although there are plenty of tales of uncut cocaine distribution and firearm bravado set to samples with the makings of classic hip-hop noir, the Iron Man still makes time to create affecting odes to ladies who hide him from the Feds and to a mother who whupped him but loved him anyway. This is hip-hop par excellence.
I’m from Barcelona, you’re from Barcelona, we’re all from Barcelona. This is the magic of childhood as provided by 29 exuberant, adorable Swedes. I couldn’t be any happier.
Regina Spektor’s third album is endowed with elegance, raw talent, and, yes, hopefulness. On the upbeat, hip-hop-influenced “Hotel Song,” Spektor sings, “I have dreams of orca whales and owls, but I wake up in fear,” which places in succinct focus the wild-eyed imagination that fuels her songs, as well as the human frailty that gives them so much resonance.
A three-way tie for second place. With the Highway 61 Revisited-for-Grand Turismo of Bitter Tea, and the trans-atlantic, genre-hopping journeys of Matthew’s two albums, the siblings Friedberger have forged a musical universe unto themselves, in which stunning pop melodies emerge out of snarling junkyard pastiches, complex storylines are woven together by hyper-detailed prose paragraphs and alliterative childlike verse, and thunderous guitars crack the heavens wide open. Uneven and accidentally glorious, this output is impressive in both magnitude and impact. This is the stuff obsessions are made of.
Forget the Lloyd Cole references; forget the Belle & Sebastian comparisons. The ten lilting, wistful pop masterpieces on Let’s Get Out of this Country are pristine portraits of heartache and longing, each track flawless in its on right. There is nothing about this album that I don’t like.