As you may recall, I have already posted my list of favorites for 2006. Now, because I enjoy the community aspect of being involved with this silly weblog, I'd like to share the picks of some of the bloggers and artists I admire. You may remember I did a similar post about six months ago to assess the mid-year picks, but with time have come a new set of choice albums and some different contributors. There's a heavy Dixie flair among those taking part, and that's not an accident. After all, this is a Georgia-based music blog. Of course, there are also folks from a couple great California bands (Kite Flying Society and Princeton) as well as the master and commander of the world's premiere Elephant 6 blog.
I asked each participant to submit their favorite record of 2006 along with a brief explanation for their selection. They're presented below with minimal editing. The picks are diverse and interesting, and I'm glad to see the variety of music being enjoyed. A sample track is also provided for each release. Now, on to the picks!
Allyson Allen of Confessions of a Music Addict
Manchester Orchestra, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child
this year has offered up some great new music. cold war kids blew me away with robbers & cowards, annuals certainly put up a good fight with be he me, and brit faves the fratellis definitely deserve a place up there with their album costello music. but when it came down to choosing only ONE for all of '06, strangely enough i had to go with manchester orchestra's like a virgin losing a child.
i have not been able to put down this album since the first day it arrived in the office. taking the best of bright eyes and death cab, it's the kind of cd that you don't want to skip any songs on. put quite simply- andy hull is one of the most brilliant songwriters of our time. the whole cd from beginning to end is so amazing that it might go down as not only my best in '06 (this is gonna be a bold statement), but one of my all time favorites.
Manchester Orchestra - Golden Ticket
Brandon Arnold of The Preakness
Joanna Newsom, Ys
I know this'll probably be at the top of a lot of lists this year, but dammit, I can think of no other record in 2006 that approaches it. Ys, a 5-song record clocking in at 50 minutes, is nearly impossible to listen to (and I mean really listen to – you have to invest some time in it) without recognizing not only Newsom's considerable technical abilities and compositional brilliance, but also the deep emotional resonance within the complex content of her lyrics. Once you get past any hang-ups you may have against her unusual squeal, and harp songs that bandy about phrases like "kith and kin" where the protagonists are sparrows and bears, you cut into territory that's raw and deeply personal. I read somewhere that she had a near breakdown during one of these recording sessions, and you can really hear the shiver of emotion beneath the artifice of her metaphor.
While Van Dyke Parks' string arrangements add a nice complement, Ys's heartbeat is firmly planted in Newsom's fingertips and unmistakable voice. For me, the intensity of her performance is best captured in the middle track, "Sawdust and Diamonds," featuring Newsom and her harp, unadorned. It's the most brilliant 10 minutes in music this year. Her live performance at the Variety Playhouse sealed the deal for me. While I thoroughly enjoyed her first record, with more approachable song lengths and hooks, this one is a work of startling magnitude. And in a world of records that sound like nuevo-Talking Heads wrung through a Neutral Milk Hotel grinder, it's nice to hear something that is wholly unique - at least in this time and place.
Joanna Newsom - Only Skin
Leah Baker of Confessions of a Music Addict
Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, The Dust of Retreat
My top album of the year has to be The Dust of Retreat from Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. I was lucky enough to see them live before they cancelled two shows in a row in Atlanta, and I was literally mesmerized by the whole production. The album has stayed in my car since the moment I bought it, and I continue to go back to it even though I've had it since March. I even went so far as to buy it again on iTunes since the actual CD wouldn't import (thanks, Sony!). The power that Margot tends to display with all the instruments they implement is off the charts, and lyrically, the songs move me from mood to mood within a matter of seconds. I haven't been able to find anything else of this caliber yet, so I'm sticking with them...
Margot and the Nuclear So and So's - Skeleton Key
Michelle Gilzenrat of Harlot PR
Summerbirds in the Cellar, With the Hands of the Hunter It All Becomes Dead
OK, so I am cheating here because technically this record came out in 2005…but! I discovered it this year and I think a lot of other people did, too. After all, Creative Loafing named Summerbirds one of the top 10 bands to watch for 2006! I discovered this band totally by chance when they opened for USSR at The Caledonia this summer. I was mesmerized by their two drummers-- one on a traditional kit and one on an electric kit. So, I bought the record there and, honestly, 6 months later its still pretty much all I listen to. Andy LeMaster recorded this beauty, and the production and arrangements are flawless. There are so many layers of complexity and detail that I find new things to love with each listen. The best news is that this Orlando band is moving up to Athens this month, so I'll get to see them more than ever! Woo!
Summerbirds in the Cellar - Behold the Wolf 1
Paul Guinto of The Yellow Stereo
Grizzly Bear, The Yellow House
I've been kind of back and forth about this as my #1, but I listened to it all the way through again last week and it reaffirmed my stance on it. It's one of the most, if not the most beautiful album I happened to listen to all year. It's the perfect medicine for a sleepless night. An album that's not trying to come off as ambitious but easily is very much so.
From the very first track, it sets a mood and tone that lasts throughout the entire album and never strays away from it. It's scattered with wonderfuly complex melodies and harmonies that have an almost haunting atmosphere to it. You just have to really sit down and patiently absorb every small detail this has to offer.
Grizzly Bear - Easier
Robbie Horlick of Cassavetes
The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
2006 has been fortunate for me, musically. A lot of great records were released by great bands, and, through buying or borrowing, i was able to hear a good number of them (or, so i think). Anywho, that makes the task of picking my favorite album of 2006 a pretty difficult one, and I'm usually not a list-maker (except for to-do lists, i love 'em), but i'll give it a shot. There is one record that i was simultaneously very excited and very skeptical about this year that won me over like a new used sweater - Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady. I'm a big fan of Lifter Puller and the first two Hold Steady records, and Craig Finn (and/or his characters) have always been some of my favorite anti-heroes. I was nervous about their third record, because it was on Vagrant (i.e., Hot Topic Records - not literally, but you know what i mean), because as great as they are, there's always a chance of too much of a good thing, of distillation and extension to the point of pointlessness.
But the record really works. I hesitate to say it's "more mature," because I've always thought Finn's songs were pretty mature, but, as the title suggests, the scope is bigger. And they pull it off. More than ever before, there are capital C Choruses, built for singing along. There are oohs and aahs all over the place. And the piano, forgetaboutit, it's on fire. By the way, I get the Springsteen comparisons, but I really think they need to stop - minus the piano and the fact that you're listening to a skilled storyteller tell you about his Everyteen, it's not all that similar. Here, the characters are just as compelling and real as always, and like always, the specificity of their predicaments really makes you think generally about the bigger picture. From the first line, "sometimes i think that Sal Paradise was right, boys and girls in america, have such a sad time together," you're hooked. You can't wait to hear Finn tell you about this "sad time," to draw you in and make you believe. The Hold Steady gives us a lot - bit of truth, a bit of despair, a bit of hope, a lot of rock, and a ballad or two - and they get us to sing along while they do it. That's skill.
The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy
Mike Kane of Long Knives
Mastodon, Blood Mountain
Relentless. From the opening thunder of "The Wolf is Loose" to the tight, interweaving guitar and blistering meltdown of "Bladecatcher" on through the mournful, acoustic guitar driven "Pendulous Skin" this record kills me. This record, equally complex and punishing, is why Mastodon is the greatest Metal band going. Plus, they're hometown boys. There's like fifty Metal records worth of riffing and -ahem- facemelters on Blood Mountain. Neurosis meets The Boredoms meets YES of all things. Awesome.
Grizzly Bear, Yellow House
Tim Hecker, Harmony in Ultraviolet
Mastodon - Crystal Skull
Matt Kivel from Princeton
J Dilla, Donuts
Donuts is comprised of 31 instrumentals that are eloquently woven into a unified and deeply spiritual affair. I haven’t heard another album all year that comes close in terms of intimacy and musical invention. Beats are turned inside out, Motown melodies are cut and spliced, the productions are nuanced but never overwrought. My favorite track is “Donuts of the Heart” which captures Jay Dee in all of his funk laden glory, sprinkling a muted backbeat with The Jackson 5’s clipped harmonies. The song’s outward appearance is overtly sexual, but Dilla’s work runs deeper than the average slow jam. He uses a treated guitar riff as the song’s backbone and its simple descending melody has an emotional resonance that masterfully plays against the music’s blatant allusions to physical love. There have been a lot of great albums this year, but ten years from now this is the only one I’m gonna give a shit about.
J Dilla - Workonit
Jeff Kuykendall of Optical Atlas
Casper & the Cookies, The Optimist's Club
Summer Hymns, Backward Masks
My favorite of 2006? I don't think I've listened to any '06 album more than The Optimist's Club by Casper & the Cookies. It may not be the best album the band ever does, but it captures my favorite moment in a band's evolution: when they've sharpened their talents and throw everything they can at an album, willing to try anything. It's their Rubber Soul. But I'm going to have to call it a draw, evenly matched in my heart with Backward Masks by Summer Hymns. This is a band a little further down the road than Casper and his Club, and it's a more mature, fully realized work, a major work from one of my favorite bands. I love it.
mp3: Casper & the Cookies - Sid from Central Park
mp3: Summer Hymns - Pity and Envy
David Lizerbram of Kite Flying Society
Bob Dylan, Modern Times
I'm no physicist, but I'd guess that if you piled up all the books, articles, and other fragments of praise Zimmy has received over the last 40+ years, it would be so massive as to collapse into a singularity, into which the entire world would be sucked. Or maybe that has already happened. How would we know? Wouldn't time slow to what we would perceive as a full stop? And doesn't it feel that way sometimes? Or, if I were to say a few more complementary words about Modern Times, would time come to an end? I don't know, but just to be safe, I'm not going to be the one to push us over the Bobby D. Event Horizon. This is what I call responsible music criticism. So, you'll just have to listen to the record for yourself and make up your own mind. P.S. The new tunes sounded even better live.
Bob Dylan - When the Deal Goes Down
Lori of MyExBestFriend
TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain
It would be impossible to contribute to a "Best of the Year List" without including TV on the Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain - a compelling album that scored well amongst even the toughest of critics. The album was a bi-polar masterpiece ripping one inside and out, upside and down and sometimes everywhere and everything in- between as they journeyed through an atmosphere that proved not only to energize but to drain, shaking one to their apocalyptic core. Return To Cookie Mountain was TVotR's critically acclaimed follow-up to the crazygood Young Liars EP and the full-length Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Additionally it was the band's first on a major label and managed to not only secure their indie creed amongst hipsters but took it to a seemingly all-out über level.
Kyp Malone's perfectly-timed falsetto's continue to swirl and blend with the deep, throaty tenor of lead vocalist, Tunde Adebimpe, resulting in not only one of this year's most entertaining albums but also one complex enough to satisfy the most discriminating of listeners. TVotR ups the ante in brilliant fashion in this latest effort and the resounding beauty that falls leaves it's listener with a sense of accomplishment as they successfully float from the post-apocalyptic mist. - With Return To Cookie Mountain, TVotR brought it all to the table giving us some of the best in music, vocals and yes, even lyrics - offering more than just cookies, but a return that is one of this year's best.
TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
Jason NeSmith (aka Casper Fandango) of Casper & the Cookies
The Bicycles, The Good The Bad and The Cuddly
Current bands making good pop music (the 60's kind, not Xtina) are increasingly hard to find. The Bicycles from Toronto know why songs work and how to write them. Then they bash them out. This record reportedly took two years to make, but it doesn't sound overproduced. Like the Turtles, but louder!
The Bicycles - I Know We Have to Be Apart
Andrew Rieger of Elf Power
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, The Letting Go
I really like Bonnie Prince Billy's album that came out this year, "The Letting Go"....amazing songwriting as usual,augmented by sweeping string arrangements and Dawn McCarthy's haunting vocals....one of his best...
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Cursed Sleep
Janet Timmons of Out the Other
Guillemots, Through the Window Pane
I tend to agonize a bit over end of the year best-of lists - whether you care about them or not, I think they say a lot about a person, and I like putting a lot of thought into mine. For that reason, I will work on my list until the moment I have to post it on my blog, probably on the last day of the year. But Rich asked for my number one pick a bit earlier than that, and I (almost confidently) submit Through the Window Pane as my favorite album of 2006.
Maybe by the 31st I'll figure out a way to eloquently describe why I love this record so much, but for now all I can say is that I just feel this music in a way I can't explain; it affects me more than anything else I have heard this year. The first time I played "Trains to Brazil" on my show this year I said that it sounds like music for a film, and the same holds true for the entire album - there is something cinematic about this music, epic and emotional and incredibly personal. I think I literally fell in love with this band's sound when I first heard them early this year, and I guess sometimes you just can't explain love.
Guillemots - Trains to Brazil
Mike Turner of Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
How I Became the Bomb, Let's Go!
Since picking a HHBTM band would be in poor taste since I love those records the most, but a non-HHBTM band that blew me away this year was How I Became the Bomb from Murfreesboro, TN. They released a 7 track Ep titled "Let's Go" in the spring. It's a mix of early 80's Cars melodies, Devo nerd-core, and classic New Order synth-pop. The frontman is one of the sassiest people I have ever met, and the band put on one hell of a live show. It's impossible not to move around when they play, after a few shows you'll know the words, and you might even have some dance moves worked out to some of the songs. Going to be mega-huge in 07.
How I Became the Bomb - Robo
Kim Ware of Eskimo Kiss Records
The Lemonheads, The Lemonheads
I should preface this by saying I really haven't purchased much new music this year. But out of what I did, if I had to pick a number one I think it would be The Lemonheads new self-titled record. Admittedly, from start to finish this isn't anything ground-breaking (but Lemonheads records usually aren't), and there aren't many moments that just blow me away. But I think one of the main reasons I took to it was that I was really in need of a Dando fix! They're one of my favorite bands ever, were a big influence on me when I first started playing music. I still rip off his songwriting whenever I attempt to play guitar.
What I like best about this album is it's classic Lemonheads... reminds me of Lick with better production and a more rockin' rhythm section. There are some great tunes here too... namely Become the Enemy (although I don't think that one's even credited to Dando, songwriting-wise), Pittsburgh, and the country-ish break-up ballad Baby's Home (not to get too personal, but being divorced, this one really tugs on my heartstrings with some really touching lines, especially "... when a marriage is dying tell me who does the firing, and who is to say who's to blame...").
I'm glad Evan is back at it; I've read a few times that critics are saying this is the best Lemonheads record ever, and I might just agree.
The Lemonheads - Pittsburgh