So here it is, almost June of 2007, and I’m giving you my list of the best albums of 2006. It might seem weird, but I wasn’t comfortable rushing a list out in January. These past months have allowed me perspective, to decide what music can stand the test of time (and our world, which is seemingly made up of all A.D.D.-sufferers). The accelerated taste-making of the internet and its effects on the music business shows in the way we love our albums now. How many discs from the past few years do you cling to like a life raft? I find that a safe average is 5-7 per year. That may seem like a lot to your everyday person on the street, but for a music obsessive like me, it’s damn near tragic. It makes you nostalgic for years like 1994, when you can name 10 classic albums, and still have 10 left over. Even the first few years of these double-oughts were great, but since 2003, it’s been a bit of a drought. That’s the way it goes nowadays; iTunes has taken over our minds, and in some cases affected lesser bands’ ability to make an album that’s good front-to-back. More people can come up with their 10 favorite songs of the year than their one favorite album. Actually, my intense love for certain singles, and the heavy rotation they got on my iPod, caused their accompanying albums to fall off this list, a list that has gotten shorter and shorter every time I work on it. I just don’t feel like listening to them; I burned myself out. Is it The Buggles all over again? Did the iPod kill the Long Player? What was the first song bought off of iTunes, so I can know it as a piece of trivia, for posterity and continued Trivial Pursuit dominance… It’s almost time for Wapner. I digress. These are the albums that struck me as especially mentionable, for their artistic merit & entertainment value. They are still the ones I want to pull off the shelf instead of playing the highlights on my iPod. And so, I share with you the few discs worth your gas money, and you should pass them on if you enjoy them. Music’s not as good if you can’t tell someone about it. I guess that’s also why some musicians make it in the first place.
I hope you like what I write. And I hope you keep reading. Have a fun-filled holiday weekend.
“Live well and with love, Friends. May your times be good ones.” – Comets on Fire (whose Avatar nearly made this list)
Return To Cookie Mountain
Artist: TV on the Radio
To me, as I survey the music landscape of 2006, awarding this album the number one spot is very anti-climactic in its obviousness. It was pretty much guaranteed the honor from the second it leaked, months before its proper release. Even as the blogs and message boards waited with baited breath, it exceeded expectations. How, after all these months of living with it, and after all that’s been written about it, do I put into words the greatness of this astonishing song cycle? The album, like the band that made it, defies easy classification. The hints of influence are from far corners of music history. How do you tell someone that an album somehow reins in pieces from the artistic expeditions of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, the passion of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the warmth of Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound girl group productions, the assault of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, the color of Brian Eno, the grooves of Fela Kuti, the depth and detail of Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral, the cut-and-paste boom bap of The RZA, the rough edges of Stax colliding head-on with the playful melodies of Motown? How on Earth do try and tell someone what “Playhouses” sounds like? It may be impossible. And still the result sounds like virtually none of these things. It is its own entity, completely fresh and unheard of, until now. Standing atop Cookie Mountain is like saying you stand atop a mammoth mound of love letters to rhythm and noise.
- TV On The Radio website
The Body, The Blood, The Machine
Artist: The Thermals
Label: Sub Pop
Gather ‘round children, and hear the tale of The Thermals, Hutch & Kathy spreading the good word of independent thought, faith in self, and spiritual rebellion against a society built on fear and paranoia. This story is short, but endlessly quotable; double-take wisdom sure to wear out countless replay buttons. TBTBTM does everything that American Idiot did, but better; it’s smart, clever, with a sharp bite and a venom-spewing bark. But the best part is that it’s lean, like a punk rock classic should be, not weighted down to the point of sinking with 9 minute song-suites and MOR ballads. Don’t assume though that The Thermals are too focused on speed and bluster; the lump-in-the-throat longing pouring out of Hutch Harris in songs like “An Ear For Baby” or “A Pillar Of Salt” is powerful, and the frightening visions in “I Might Need You To Kill” and “Power Doesn’t Run On Nothing” are severe warnings of a possible future none of us want. So listen to what The Thermals are telling us, and go with them if you want to live.
- The Thermals website
Artist: Ghostface Killah
Label: Def Jam
I have to admit, I was initially disappointed by this album. I had set the bar so high because of my intense love of 2004’s Pretty Toney Album. But the difference that I was too impatient to appreciate is that that album is a party album, and this album is a street hustler’s album. It’s dark and nihilistic, but also with a sharp sense of humor poking holes in the dumb narratives of other Scarface-obsessed rappers. Ghost is too mature for that kind of clichéd and empty boasting. He’s 36. He’d rather give you hyper-detailed storytelling, like on the mind-blowing “Shakey Dog”, “Crack Spot” and the dream sequence of “Underwater”, than give you just another club joint about big asses (though the Pete Rock-produced “Be Easy” could fill a floor). This is also a massive album, a 20 song masterpiece that doesn’t feel overlong but all-encompassing. I recently read Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers called "Hip-Hop's Sgt. Pepper's"; I think Hip-Hop might have just gotten its White Album.
- Ghostface on Myspace
Artist: Hot Chip
What Hot Chip accomplish is a difficult balancing act: they’re managing to make interesting dance music that doubles as pop music. Neither the lyrics nor the beats suffer because of the attention paid to the other, leading to accessible new music that still gets accepted by electronic genre purists. Add in far-flung influences from Prince to Aphex Twin, from Anti-Pop Consortium to New Order, and this could end up being a mess, but it doesn’t. This feat is a testament to the brilliant songwriting and arranging of co-lead vocalists Alexis Turner and Joe Goddard. They rise and fall with the synth arpeggios and rubbery bass, linking up as a new millennial Simon & Garfunkel; Goddard juxtaposes his post-everything jadedness and boredom, moaning and muttering, while Turner’s heartbroken voice floats over the top of the music.
- Hot Chip website
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Artist: Arctic Monkeys
Through all the hype and backlash, I say this is still a classic. You argue if you want, but if you mention a song title from any of these songs, I can hum or quote almost all of them. That’s an admirable feat for a band on their first album, or at least it seems that way on paper. Then you hear them. The Arctic Monkeys emerge from the ooze fully formed, tight as the young birds they’re trying to pull at the clubs on Saturday nights. This is the handbook for the youth of today, in the same way that Mike Skinner caught a certain zeitgeist 4 years ago. Alex Turner and his mates just slapped together the garage band version, but in the transition, lost none of the swaggering rhythm, priceless punchlines, whispered asides, or overheard secrets from the next stall over. The boys always cited Oasis as a major influence growing up, and while Turner has the Liam sneer down, Noel never had lyrics this knotty and thick.
- Arctic Monkeys website
Artist: Mr. Lif
Label: Definitive Jux
It’s getting increasingly difficult to write about good Hip-Hop in the 2000’s, because so much of the genre is disposable and low-brow that most of the young generation have never had the chance to feel the magic of the true art. Mo’ Mega is one of the few recent albums that put Hip-Hop’s best foot forward. It’s so packed with wisdom that it feels aggressive even when it’s lighthearted. Mr. Lif continues to be one of the most intelligent and well-informed MC’s currently blessing mics, and he has skills to match. There aren’t many MC’s today that could get up on stage and match the fire of Golden Age figures like Rakim, KRS, or Chuck D, but Lif is undoubtedly at the head of the short line. By boasting a core of six varied yet flawless tracks, from the great single “Brothaz” through “Long Distance”, Mo’ Mega somehow manages to be better than 2002’s excellent I, Phantom. With the sad state of Hip-Hop music nowadays, you owe it to yourself to support the real deal; as Lif says in the liner notes, if you don’t find him…He’ll find you.
- Mr. Lif website
Be Your Own Pet
Artist: Be Your Own Pet
Label: Ecstatic Peace/Universal
This album is fuckin’ trash! And it’s terrific. It’s wild abandon. It’s hilarious. It’s raw. It’s fun with 6 u’s, and it grows on you like a rash from the gym class showers. It’s just about the best album you’re likely to get from the 17 year old punks hanging out in the parking lot of your local 7-11. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore thought so when he signed them off the strength of their fucking Myspace demos. The boys knock out sloppy thunder (“Bog” makes my head spin every single time), as singer Jemina Pearl ends every line with exclamation points. The impending doom that opens “Thresher’s Flail” gives way to innocent teens throwing their all into a Sunday afternoon all ages show at your local community center, playing at being rebels, but really just scratching their names into their math class desks. If you know anyone that either (a) was pissed that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cleaned/grew up on their new album, or (b) constantly talks about early 80’s punk rock like it’s the best shit ever, then tell them to get this album.
- Be Your Own Pet website
Everything All the Time
Artist: Band of Horses
Label: Sub Pop
One improper trend in the hyperspeed world of music blogs is the need to always be jumping on the newest freshest sounds, and I think this stems from the new generation of college-aged kids being raised on eclectic albums like OK Computer, Odelay, and The Soft Bulletin. Their taste for boundary-pushing art is insatiable to the point where they might miss a good old Rock band like Band of Horses. It is then to BOH’s credit that they made a spectacular enough record for people to heap praise on them last year. Everything All The Time wouldn’t really sound out of place in 1973 or 1993; it doesn’t break any new ground. It’s simply excellent. The songs are tight, from the stutter step of “Wicked Gil” to the shuffle of “Our Swords”, from the indie-Stairway crescendo of “The Funeral” to the Crazy Horse upward spiral of “The Great Salt Lake”. In the video for “The Great Salt Lake,” the band sits in the back of a pick-up, singing along to their own song, wind blowing in their hair, and that carefree spirit pretty much sums up this great album.
- Band Of Horses website
If you have extra cash, spread it around on these...
Asobi Seksu: Citrus
Belle & Sebastain: The Life Pursuit
Brand New: The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me
Clipse: Hell Hath No Fury
Comets On Fire: Avatar
J Dilla: Donuts
Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
The Hold Steady: Boys & Girls In America
Junior Boys: So This Is Goodbye
The Rapture: Pieces Of The People We Love
The Walkmen: A Hundred Miles Off
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones