Best of 2006 (so far): Artists' and bloggers' picks
As many of you might have seen, Gorilla vs. Bear shared an interesting post recently that polled many artists and bloggers on their favorite releases of 2006 to date. I thought it might be fun to do a similar post compiling the favorite albums of 2006 so far by my own industry, blog, and band buddies.
You'll notice a clear Dixie flair in the entries below, although the participants aren't as a rule from the southeast. You'll also see that a few contributors "cheated" a bit by including releases from late 2005 or offering multiple submissions. I let that slide for the most part. This was a lot of fun to put together, and there are several albums below I haven't checked out yet. Now I have a good reason to do so, eh?
Anyway, on with the picks...
Neal of Blank Crisis:
Liars, Drum's Not Dead
I have to go with Liars' Drum's Not Dead. To me, it isn't very often these days that artists successfully invoke occult-like mystery that was once part-and-parcel of the trade. Cryptic cool. Scary shit. And they've abandoned the guitars altogether! What or whom is this "Drum" anyway? Are they going to kill me? Something isn't right about these boys, I'll tell you that.
Liars - Be Quiet, Mt. Heart Attack
Brandon Arnold of The Preakness and The Licentious Five:
Six Organs of Admittance – The Sun Awakens
Last year, I thought Ben Chasney had hit his high water mark with School of the Flower. This year, he proved me wrong. The first six tracks explore the same Fahey-influenced, psych-drenched ground he's trod before…but, this time it's somehow more focused, more cohesive… From the solo acoustic opener ("Torn by Wolves"), to its reprise ("Wolves Pups"), these tracks are succinct, brilliant examples of Chasney's ability to demonstrate restraint. But it's the final track - an unapologetic, self-indulgent woozy drone masterpiece - that makes the record a career milestone. The patient, plodding 25 minute epic begins with layered guitar a la Roy Montgomery/Keiji Heino, slowly building with drums, chant, and washes of sound…It's the auditory equivalent of reaching the top of the mountain. When I first heard this record, I was driving through a rainstorm. I can't think of a better metaphor… clean and direct… a storm can be violent, unsettling, and mezmerizing…This record is a near perfect storm.
Also loved records by: Liars, Danielson, Islands, and Destroyer...many others, but those come to mind.
Six Organs of Admittance - Attar
Leah of Confessions of a Music Addict:
Rhett Miller, The Believer
I think my favorite album so far this year has been The Believer by Rhett Miller. Miller's ability to incorporate the previous alt-country style of the Old 97's into a pop/rock sound that is all Rhett Miller for a sophomore album is pretty admirable. I'm also a huge fan of the lyrical content, so this album hasn't really left my CD player/iPod since probably around February. Definitely a super mood-setter if I've ever heard one.
Rhett Miller - My Valentine
Bawston Sean of Bucket City is Burning, Grand Palace Records (Murfreesboro, TN):
Various Artists, Soul Sides Vol.1
It's a little blog-cestous, but this is, far and away, the best record I've bought all year. If you read Soul-sides.com you're familiar with Oliver "O-dub" Wang's superb tastes in all things soulful and funky. The first Soul Sides comp has great mix of the classic and the contemporary, perfect for barbeques and trips to the swimmin' hole.
Simply said, every track is a barn-burner. Amanda Ambrose's "Sad Songs" and Joe Bataan's "Ordinary Guy" have become staples of my DJ sets at Grand Palace, and Erma Franklin's "Peice of My Heart" is friendly reminder that Janis Joplin was full of shit.
O-dub does a great job of sequencing the tracks, keeping the momentum up from song to song. A lot of comps have a clunker or two, but this only slows down a tad, downgrading form great to damn-good.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker "Come On In"/"Slinky" 45 rpm
DEEP, DEEP funk from Music City. You can't beat it.
Charles May and Annette May Thomas - Keep My Baby Warm (sample)
Jennifer Hicks (aka Jenn Cogburn) of The Cogburns:
Elevator Action, Society, Secret
Elevator Action's "Society, Secret" is one of the few albums released in 2006 that I actually own, but even if I had a thousand records released this year this one would be at the top with no question. Elevator Action's 2nd album was recorded by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, The Kills) and released on up and coming Charlotte, NC based Morisen Records. With their tales of rock and roll nightlife and the drama that goes along with it, and the finely executed male/female vocals, they have perfected modern trashy, glammy, bubble-gum rock. I imagine a host of rockers playing this while dolling up for a night out or driving out to the local rock show. In fact, I dare you to listen to Society, Secret and not make your glam face/poses - if you can stop singing along at all.
Elevator Action - Surely You Know
Philip Dickey of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin:
Jonathan Bentley, Sue
I like this CD so much because I know JB and because it's real good. It's art... and it means a lot to me.
Jonathan Bentley - Raven and Me (sample)
Michelle Dubois of Luigi and Ultrababyfat:
(Michelle cheated a bit, as her pick was released in 8/05, but here it is...)
Amadou and Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako
I don't know if you'll allow this, cause it was released in August of 2005, but:
I loved it in the winter and I'm loving it this summer.
IT is Dimanche a Bamako by Amadou and Mariam.
The married duo teamed up with Manu Chau on this release. This music has soul that I rarely find in today's efforts; in the voices, the guitars, the rhythms--together so buoyant you can float on the songs, so vibrant your heart beats with excitement and you find yourself blushing.
More simply put: this world music rocks and has a beat I can dance to.
Amadou and Mariam - SÈnÈgal Fast Food
Leanna Fugate of Silent Kids and Georgia Fireflies:
Flaming Lips, At War With the Mystics
No contest - the new Flaming Lips! Why? In a word - handclaps.
Flaming Lips - Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
Cary Ann Hearst (singer, songwriter, guitarist):
(Cary Ann cheated too, as JCN was released in 9/05 and she picked two)
Ryan Adams, Jacksonville City Nights
The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers
I spent most of my year listening to vintage music... old Tom Petty, Neil Young, New York Dolls, and I am always listening to Exile on Main St. by the Stones and Highway 61 Revisited by Dylan... this stuff is always great, but it also lets you know where I am comin' from and why I would love one record verses another. I fell in love with two records this year. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals "Jacksonville City Nights" and The Raconteurs' "Broken Boy Soldiers" are two of my favorites.
I am not a die hard Adams fan, but this album has some deep cuts on it that shatter my heart into itty bitty pieces, especially the title track "Jacksonville" and "the Hardest part". Adams seems to put out every song he writes, but there is nothing extranious on this album. Its is a solid heartbreaker. The Raconteurs brilliant record is highlighted by the now hit single "Steady as She Goes" and my personal favorites "Call It a Day," and "Blue Veins." There is the ever vintage inspired Jack White in the context of a full band for a change. The songs are stylisticly forward but there are always references to the rock and roll basics... do woppy harmonies, overdriven tube amps, and something of the blues is ever present in their sound. YAY for the presence of the blues in rock and roll!
Ryan Adams samples at Amazon (I don't want to get sued)
The Raconteurs - Steady as She Goes
Jeff Kuykendall of Optical Atlas:
The Essex Green, Cannibal Sea
A few weeks ago, as I was driving to Santa Cruz with my sister and her kids, she asked what kind of music I listened to, and I was suddenly in the position of trying to find an album both representative of my tastes and strong enough to convert her own away from--whatever my sister listens to (we barely talk). Cannibal Sea, the third album by The Essex Green, was perfect Boardwalk music, all fresh air and sunburn, and to my sister's ears it was utterly alien. But Sasha Bell, Chris Ziter, and Jeff Baron, erstwhile members of Guppyboy and The Ladybug Transistor, are formidably matched singer/songwriters, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more impressive collection of pop songs this year, from singles "Don't Know Why (You Stay)" and "Snakes in the Grass," to the folky "Rue de Lis" and "Rabbit," the snarky "Uniform," and the rocking "Elsinore." If you play it for your sister, tell her they were on Gilmore Girls (sort of true), and then she might really listen and start bobbing her head to the music as she ought to.
The Essex Green - Don't Know Why (You Stay)
David Lizerbram of Kite Flying Society:
Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
This is almost unfair. Neko's voice is so great, she could put out "Neko Sings Nickleback's Greatest Hits" and I'd probably love it. Fortunately, despite reviews to the contrary, I think Neko's songwriting has continued to develop on every album, and this one is no exception. As her song structures get more abstract, her obsessive attention to detail (both in the lyrics and in the production) continues to draw me in to the stories she's singing about. I was lucky enough to see her at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach last month (my 3rd or 4th Neko show), and the new songs come across just as well live as they do on record.
Runner-up: Tropicalia compilation
This comp was my first opportunity to hear these classics, which I've been reading about since Beck cut that "Tropicalia" tune back in the late 90's. Great stuff. I've fallen in love with Os Mutantes. These songs will be making appearances on my mixes for years to come, and people will think I'm very hip. Want people to think your mixes are hip? Buy this comp, and you're good to go.
Looking forward to: the new Dylan album, of course. Every time one of the songs from Time out of Mind or Love and Theft comes up on my iPod, I get a total charge...one can only imagine (hope/dream?) this new one will hit the same astonishing levels of quality. Hell, even if it's the new Empire Burlesque, it would still be better than almost anything else out there these days.
Neko Case - Star Witness
Gilberto Gil - Bat Macumba
Jon Manyjars of Underneathica:
There have been some great reissues and reunions this year. The surviving members of the Replacements recorded several new songs for their latest career retrospective. Legendary Aussie punk band Radio Birdman reunited and recorded an album of new material which will be released in August, and they will tour North America for the first time ever. Dance punk pioneers ESG and the Slits have also recorded new material.
One reunion that I think was overlooked this year was that of the Belgian band dEUS, who emerged from a ten year hIATUS with a new album, Pocket Revolution. It isn't as good as their first album, or even their last one, but the single "Seven Days, Seven Weeks" was silky smooth, dark and bittersweet. Flat Pack Philosophy, this year's record by the reunited Buzzcocks, contains the perfect single, "Wish I Never Loved You", in which Pete Shelley puts every other punk-pop songwriter to shame with the spiraling melody of the chorus. Of this year's reissues and retrospectives, I highly recommend Mcluskyism, the Au Pairs' Stepping out of Line, and Wire's 1977-1979, which contains remastered versions of their first three classic albums, plus two discs of live material.
Buzzcocks - Wish I Never Loved You
dEUS - 7 Days, 7 Weeks
Austin L. Ray of What We All Want, Decatur CD, and music journalist:
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
When Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes came out in 2004, it caught my attention enough to earn the "honor" of my #1 album of the year. However, Return to Cookie Mountain makes Desperate Youth look silly by comparison. This is a band that has expanded both its membership and its sound over the last couple years, and managed to make the major label jump without watering down its sound. In short, Cookie Mountain is gorgeous, epic, near-perfect, completely triumphant throughout and a whole bunch of other hyperbolic, over-wrought descriptors. Believe me, it's worth every one of them too.
TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
Janet Timmons of Out the Other:
Sound Team, Movie Monster
It's been a little over seven months since I first saw Sound Team at the Basement last November, and they've grown to be one of my favorite bands - on the strength of their phenomenal live shows as well as this incredible, incredible album. The two go hand in hand though, and while Movie Monster does a better job capturing what Sound Team is capable of on stage than I dreamed was possible, I think their recorded material will always just be a way to tide myself over until the next concert.
Sound Team - Your Eyes are Liars
James Trigg of The Jupiter Watts:
Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped
My hands down favorite album so far this year is Sonic Youth "Rather Ripped." The weird thing is that the first time I heard it, I was disappointed by how conventional it sounded to me. On second listen, it got more interesting, and by the third one I was hooked. The great thing about it is that they're taking straightforward pop songs and subverting them in really subtle ways with odd unresolved chords, tasteful (and restrained) use of noise, and their always-cool Beat-like lyrical style. They sound like a band totally in control of what they're doing, which was confirmed by their sublime show at Center Stage Atlanta back in June.
Sonic Youth - Incinerate
Mike Turner of Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records:
(Mike really, really cheated)
Well, only one is too hard... so here are 4 that are always on rotation.
First off, I'm going to skip talking about any of the HHBTM records that are out this year as that is lame, and well if I didn't love them the most I wouldn't have put them out, but so far 2006 has brought us these gems:
The squeal, the shrill, the most xylophone-tastic record you'll hear all year. The band has costumes, and the all star cast that made the album can't be beat, just check out the mp3 below.
Bearsuit, Team Ping Pong
This band might be the best band in the world at this time. Sonic Youth's tonal challenges, Stereolab's drone, Beat Happening's rough and tumble structure, and some of the brattiest and catchiest songs to date. This is an import that is a must have. (suggest mp3 of hey Charlie hey Chuck)
Delta 5, Singles and Sessions
Post punk brat pop on reissue from Kill Rock Stars, the opening track of this disc is worth the price of the CD alone. All I got to say is "can I get taste of your ice cream?"
Boat, Songs that You Might Not Like
New 4 -piece from the Pacific Northwest that blend the charm of the first Kissing Book record with the wit and snarky humor of Tullycraft. They are a perfect fit for Magic Marker Records.
There are plenty of other good records, these are just a few that have
been stuck on heavy rotation.
Danielson - Did I Step On Your Trumpet?
Bearsuit - Chargr
Delta 5 - Now That You've Gone
Boat - Holding All the Globes
Greg of Captain's Dead:
Centro-matic, Fort Recovery
After reading a pre-release statement by the Trucker's Patterson Hood claiming that Centro-matic's Fort Recovery was a "master piece," I was both estatic and a little skeptical. Having that kind of statement out there could potentially mess up my whole listening experience. Luckily, Patterson was pretty much on the money. Fort Recovery is not about immediate gratification, and thats part of it's brilliance. Listen just once, don't expect much out of Fort Recovery. Listen ten times, reveals a record that is damn near perfect.
Centro-matic - Triggers and Trash Heaps
Kim Ware of Eskimo Kiss Records:
Gomez, How We Operate
Gomez's "How We Operate" pretty much served as my introduction to the band. I had heard a few of their singles here and there but never an entire album. I became interested in the band after hearing the title track a few times on satellite radio and was impressed enough to want to hear more. That song is great, but what really hooked me was "Girlshapedlovedrug." Catchiest ditty of the summer, IMHO. All in all, I enjoy the album's variety and pace. Sometimes it leans towards brit-pop (expected, as they're British), other times Americana, sometimes more straightforward guitar power-pop (like in "Girlshapedlovedrug"). There's hardly a clunker in the bunch, and it's great for driving or for helping me get through a tough day at work!
Gomez - Girlshapedlovedrug
Some interesting choices, for sure, and a few records I haven't checked out at all.
Now, as for my pick... I have to go with the most recent Neko Case album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. What can be said about Neko's soaring voice and talent that hasn't been written already? It wasn't an album I necessarily expected to be among my favorites for the year. However, it's been one of the few 2006 releases that have remained in constant rotation. Nearly every track on Fox Confessor is outstanding; I rarely skip any of them when listening. I imagine a great performance at Variety Playhouse in April also contributed to my enjoyment of the record.
Neko Case - Hold On, Hold On
One last note -- the JoeRockhead.com guys have extended their sale for C&T readers by a week. You can still get 15% off purchases this week by using the code TWEED15 at checkout.