Monday, December 18, 2006

2006: Albums of the Year Mix

2006 was a pretty strange year for me, and many of my interactions with music over the past 12 months have been quite different than those I've had in years previous. Writing this blog has certainly had a huge impact on the way I think about, talk about, and even listen to music, but its hard to say exactly what kind of changes in taste and attitude the experience has brought about. On the one hand, it has forced me to think a little more deeply about the music I listen to, and its even given me the opportunity to talk directly with a few of the artists that have released great records this year (we've been fortunate enough to interview both #1 and #2 on this year's list). But on the other hand, I feel that writing this blog has often put me in the position of having to judge certain artists and pieces of music too quickly in order to keep content moving, and I know I've grown a little more cynical about the music business due to greater exposure to the hype machine that seems to dictate so much in the industry these days.

Blogging and personal issues aside, however, I must say that I've been generally let down by much of this year's crop of "important," "breakthrough," and "buzzworthy" bands, even though I can't tell whether this is due to changes in my own taste or some general drop off in other people's. I'm not sure if my preferences have simply shifted away from relatively accessible contemporary "indie" rock like Wolf Parade, Spoon and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (all of which appear on my 2005 list), or if there just weren't as many releases in 2006 that combined artistic merit and commercial appeal the way those records did. Do I just not get The Hold Steady, Sound Team, Danielson and Band Of Horses, or are those bands simply less compelling than their blogger approved counterparts from last year or the year before? Of course, its not as if my 2006 list is completely void of items that will appear on many other year end lists (you'll see many such records listed below), its just that compared to last year, or any recent year for that matter, a larger percentage of the allegedly "significant" new releases of 2006 have failed to strike me as particularly exciting or even pleasurable to listen to. Has Pitchfork lost its nerve, or am I less cool? Is the Gnarls Barkley record as annoying as I think it is, or am I being unreasonably grumpy in my dismissal? Like many things in life, the answers to these questions probably lie somewhere in between the extremes I have offered here, yet I still can't help but feel less in step with guitar-centered "indie rock" than I've been in previous years. I've spent a lot more time digging through the vaults and discovering older music this year, and I've generally been less excited about new music all year long. So sue me.

That being said, there has been a handful of great records released this year, including a few that I would consider classic. Below is a list of my favorite records from 2006, along with some MP3s for you to sample.

Honorable Mentions:
Ricardo Villalobos Fizheuer Zieheuer
Tim Hecker Harmony in Ultraviolet
Wilderness Vessel States
Six Organs of Admittance The Sun Awakens
Skygreen Leopards The Disciples of California
Vetiver To Find Me Gone
Lupe Fiasco Food and Liquor
Ghostface Killah Fishscale
Om Conference of the Birds
Excepter Alternation
Kompakt Total 7
Califone Roots and Crowns
Beirut Gulag Orkestar
Beach House s/t
120 Days s/t
Lindstrom Its a Feedility Affair
Growing Color Wheel
Johan Johannsson IBM 1401: A User's Manual
Scott Walker The Drift

The Top Ten:

#10- Holy Shit Stranded at Two Harbors: I continue to be fascinated with just about everything Ariel Pink is involved with, and this record features some of the best material he has ever produced. Working with songwriter Matt Fishbeck seems to bring out a clearer pop sensibility in Pink, as many of these songs sound like his solo tracks minus some of the wandering and goofy surrender that sometimes holds his material back just a bit. The fractured, distant production and disco influenced 70's pop found on this record have the unmistakable fingerprints of Ariel Pink for sure, but sometimes its nice to listen to him follow through with an idea and wind it down at just the right time. "I Don't Need Enemies" LINK

#9-Clipse Hell Hath No Fury: One thing I really hate is when music critics/bloggers put an obligatory hip hop record on their year end lists and proceed to intellectualize the shit out of said record in order to find the perfect balance between indie smarts and street cred. I hate it so much, in fact, that I almost left this record off the list all together just to avoid being accused of such things. But unfortunately I can't ignore Clipse this year, because leaving this record off my list would be nothing more than a lie, and a pointless one at that. Both MCs' lyrical phrasings are impeccable and their delivery reeks of an understated and compelling cockiness, but to me the real story here is the Neptunes' return to form. The production on this record is chilling, distant and creepy, complete with sparse, minimal drum programming and some of the strangest sampled and synth sounds I've ever heard on a Neptunes track. Clipse does a good job of convincing the listener that they are genuinely pissed off and vicious, but the Neptunes experimental production makes it all the more thrilling. Anyone thats equally sick of same old same old mainstream rap and backpack hip hop should take notice of this record. "Mr. Me Too" LINK

#8- Wooden Wand and the Sky High Band Second Attention: There really isn't anything particularly new or revolutionary about the songs on this record, and in fact, its probably the most stylistically and structurally conventional album Wooden Wand has produced to date. Fortunately, the relatively straightforward nature of the album is actually one of its strengths, as it finds Wooden Wand writing bold, accessible and smart songs that combine traditional country and folk influences with the iconic lyrical tendencies of folk-rock-country fusion songwriters like Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. The words are precise, intelligent and clearly delivered, and I dare you to grab this record and tell me that there aren't at least three songs stuck in your head after the first listen. This is one of those rare records that is stylistically retro in form but completely fresh in delivery, driving home the point that this kind of music can still be exciting when its done so goddamn right. "Portrait in the Clouds" LINK

#7- Junior Boys So This is Goodbye: Sometimes its a little hard to figure out when I should be listening to this record. Is it a sit at home and read kind of thing, or is it a Friday night staple? The funny thing is that I've tried it in both situations, and it seems to work equally well across the board. Sure, most of the songs are dark, cold and dry, and some of them are even really sad. But the more uptempo tracks, fused with the sounds of early house and the spirit of New Romantics, Kraftwerk, Human League and Suicide all seem perfect during those moments when you're about to go on some kind of adventure and are excited by the fact that you have no idea whats going to happen. It sounds like a break up record that somehow spends as much time being excited about the future as it does mouring the past, and its complexity is quite refreshing. Anyone who has become cynical about neu wave should give this record a chance, because the Junior Boys come off as time machine rather than a capsule, and the best part is that you can't tell whether they're dragging you to the past or ushering you into the future.
"Double Shadow" LINK

#6- Indian Jewelry Invasive Exotics: Invoking the ghost of Spacemen 3 with a Butthole Surfers Ouiji Board, Indian Jewelery's first full length was a late arrival to my best of list, but with very good reason. Each time I listen to this record, I discover that I'm more and more impressed with the fact that less and less seems to be happening on each track. Indian Jewelry lock on harsh, metallic and otherwordly tribal grooves that are both frightening and mesmerizing, reminding the listener of PIL, Red Crayola and a really pissed off My Bloody Valentine while they blow concepts like form and choruses completely out of the water. That might sound like bullshit, but its somehow the truth. I think people often forget that Throbbing Gristle was formed out of what was essentially a pseudo-hippie art commune (albeit a very dark one), and I'm really glad that Indian Jewelry seem to revel in that fact. "Dirty Hands" LINK

#5 Comets on Fire Avatar: Throughout 2006, I've been slowly admitting to myself that I, on many levels, am a total classic rock dork. You got a problem with that? I don't, and its partially because of the enlightening experience that is listening to Comets on Fire. Not quite as noisy, loose and furious as their previous work, Avatar is much more structured and deliberate that anything Comets on Fire have released, but that doesn't mean its any less compelling. In fact, when one of their relatively subdued songs begins to take off into the kind of psyche rock guitar explosion they are known for, its clear that Avatar might actually showcase the perfect version of Comets on Fire, the one that the Cream fan inside me has been waiting for ever since I first heard them. "Lucifer's Memory" LINK

#4- Boris Pink: I've heard a lot of long time Boris fans complain that Pink is some kind of step backwards or compromise for the band, but I have to say that I just don't understand that sentiment. Of course, this record has gained a lot more attention in the media than any of Boris' previous work, but sometimes things like that happen because an album is actually really good. This is one such time. After easing you in with a sprawling shoegaze influenced opening track, Boris takes you on the psyche rock ride of the year, serving as a good reminder of how dumb the average metal band is and how wimpy the average indie rock band is. This album really opened me up to a lot of the heavier music I've started to enjoy this year, and its relentless energy is the exact kind of overwhelming fun I need these days. "Pink" LINK

#3- Oneida Happy New Year: I've spent a long time trying to figure out what the hell to say about this record, but I just can't seem to find any good reference points to introduce Oneida to anyone that isn't already familiar with them. What I can say is that Oneida seems to somehow combine the ambitious structures and precision of jazz and prog rock with the organic warmth of psychedelic pop in way that pretty much no one else even attempts. Whether they're playing pounding drums and electric guitars or spacing out with quiet acoustic guitars and soft vocals, I always have to ask myself where the hell these guys and their songs come from. And its nice to have no idea. "The Adversary" LINK

#2- Lansing-Dreiden The Dividing Island: I'm having the opposite problem with this record: I've probably said too much about it over the course of the year. So instead of describing how it sounds once again, I'll just add that I've been wondering why this album didn't have more of a cross over appeal than I thought it would when it first came out. Is it because these guys publish a literary journal? I don't know, but I have serious doubts that anyone with a pulse can listen to this record a few times and not enjoy it. One of the best things about L-D is the way their songs grow on you, and this record is no exception. And when I say "grow on you," I don't mean "gets a little better every time you hear it." What I mean is "the songs fundamentally change and take new forms as you discover more and more about them and begin to realize how catchy they are." But I'm sure you already knew what I meant by that. "A Line You Can Cross" LINK

#1- Liars Drum's Not Dead: To me, this record is just about as perfect as I possibly could have hoped it would be, and I've listened to it and thought about it more than any other record released this year. All year long, I've returned to it and enjoyed it in different settings and moods and I still can't seem to wrap my head around the way these songs flow, startle, and take form before they break down and build up again a track and a half later. This is one of those rare concept record that seems to center around recording techniques as opposed to narrative, and to me its truly an artistic achievement of the highest order. Perhaps the best part about having this record around all year was realizing that Liars will surely be remembered as one of the most important bands of this era, and the fact that they have a sense of humor about the whole thing makes it all the more pleasing. "A Visit From Drum" LINK


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I've spent a lot more time digging through the vaults and discovering older music this year, and I've generally been less excited about new music all year long. So sue me."

The perfect summary of the modern musical experience.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

youre right that this year pretty much sucked, but w/ the exception of boris, you guys are turning into as big vaginas as gorilla vs bear.

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the pAper chAse's "Now You Are One Of Us" is hands down the best album of the year.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Armin Meiwes said...

i've been a Boris proselytizer for many years. glad to see them getting more attention.

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#0 -- "its my dick in a box"

12:26 AM  
Anonymous the truth hurts said...

paper chase fuckin blows

1:42 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I'm not an as big vagina.

1:47 AM  
Blogger Blackeyed Donkey said...

I agree with you about the Liars record. A CLASSIC!!!
Big Props for the Holy Shit! Love. Great band that should get more attention.

4:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good call on the Liars record - I wish you liked the Hold Steady though man... I have spent time w/ that record and I think its really amazing.. But, hey - guess its not for everyone. At least we all agree that the Silverspun pickups blow.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cliff Notes From The Underground

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Junior Boys????????
This must be a joke???????
Please say so??????
That record is shite!

8:48 AM  
Blogger Zak said...

Cool list, I'll have to listen to some of the ones that I don't know. I agree with many of your picks and your sentiments. Thanks for sharing.

I'm almost finished with my year-end list, they are such a pain in the ass, but it's tradition.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, youre just as big a pussy. pretty soon it will be SR and GVSB at the Cavern DJ'ing for twee night.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SR, you are definitely right, the buzz shit this year sucked supremely. especially the hold steady, gag.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous justin said...

i'm glad to hear more and more people saying the same thing i've been thinking ever since the first "best of" lists started coming out.

the more i read the lists, the more i am reminded of albums that i really enjoyed but lost interest in nearly immediately, only to be reminded of them months later in a year in list. this year in music could be best summed up as "forgettable." very few albums have had staying power for me.

i've had more enjoyment listening to my favorite albums from last year and discovering things i missed from years back than i have listening to anything new. i'll still be able to make my own year end list, just like i do every year, but putting it up against last years or the year before would just be a joke.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

prediction: best album of 2007 = In Stormy Nights by Ghost.

seriously, this one is going to kick ass.

10:51 AM  
Blogger DTC said...

I liked the new secret machines this year.

11:06 AM  
Blogger tystamp said...

PINK sucks
Prince - 3121

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"how come i liked what all the other bloggers liked last year but not this year? have my tastes changed, or do these bands really suck?"

come on. think about what you're saying.
music is relational (as is most art). things that really stand the test of time are not going to be immediately evident. erik satie died a pauper living in a boarding house who played piano in brothels for a meager living, yet who is now far more known and celebrated than many of his more famous/succeful contemporaries. if you think the internet changes all this, i have a lovely bridge to sell you.
music you could not get into the first time around may return to you at a different time and bite you in the ass with how much you like it. music you loved when you first got it may seem stale and empty when you return to it later. bands that you embrace may have one decent/good record in them for their whole career. bands may make a shitty first record (pablo honey, anyone?) then go on to find themselves and make some of the best music out, over the course of years.
i find this frenzy to a) anoint or 2) deify every new thing that comes out really annoying. i don't really get, say, joanna newsom (mostly because her voice makes it hard for me to emotionally hear the songs) but i respect her efforts, and the fact that people i know really love her music (i don't think they are stupid for doing so).
it's fine to put things in a hierarchy, but to expect that this is in any way objective is incredibly narcissistic and self-defeating.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If body of popular music (i.e., anything not classical) wants to be considered art it has to be catchy enough to make you want to listen more than once, and as you do, show you that it possesses depth.
Otherwise, yes, it's trash; not art. This "music is art" argument is verrry subjective and applies only when musicians apply themselves to their craft, rather than churning out catchy melodie.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous pookie said...

I heart art.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

so now i'm a pussy. what are you, a frat guy? wait, is this that bitch from strident zend again? dude, i'm NOT going to post your bullshit music, i realize it would be the biggest thing in the history of your band, but you're going to have to get over it.

stonedranger, get at me about that twee DJ night, i think it'd be huge.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does the non-vagina listen to?
Does the non-vagina necessarily a penis? Do you listen to cock rock?

I'm quite interested in what reproductive parts listen to. My penis likes ... Willie Nelson. WTF?

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chris is bringing sexy back. yeah.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually, no, cantalini vs brain cells, that was'nt me... why, it's been weeks since i've said something detrimental about your bullshit spin doctoring. sirius, should, of course, reconsider...
my writing style is quite easy to copy, of course............

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bueno noches, gorila: judging by you're lavender standards, i'd say you were the bitch. by far.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Silence Productions said...

one thing chris from gVb got right was that peter and the wolf album. it's incredible.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

yeah, i was pretty sure it was you.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter & the Wolf aren't incredible.
Neither is GvsB, which is just a blog that uses cut and pasted phrases from the Modern Descriptive Phrase Generator, and posts mp3's of bands people have already heard of and passed up.

4:19 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, our Twee DJ night would probably be more important than that guy's entire life, whoever he is.

And who are these strident zend people, and why do they hate you?

4:22 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

strident zend are the greatest band in dallas, maybe in north texas, maybe on planet earth, SR.

you should definitely put them on a mix.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no discussion on pfork's bullshit pick of the knife at number 1 today? what a godawful boring amateur piece of shit that album was.

5:52 PM  
Blogger Zine-O-Phonic said...

That's a pretty solid list.

That Boris album has some pretty cool stuff going on musically.

I didn't get the Lansing-Dreiden album yet, but really liked the thing you posted on them about a month or so ago.

6:33 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

you know, I actually like The Knife album. It wasn't one of my favorites of the year, but I still thought it was pretty good. I'm not sure how much I like the way they did their vocals, but the music and beats were pretty solid.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Zak said...

The Knife tops my list. That record was pretty outstanding and it never got old. I love those processed and filtered vocals though... I used to listen to some of the 'good' industrial in the 80s and that was a staple of that sound. I think they really hit on something with that sound of theirs, but I definitely understand why some people don't like it.

I thought P-fork's list was okay, I enjoy reading it. I always find their lists weird when you go through them and things they rave about or give a Best New Music stamp to don't make the list at all or are way in the back 25, yet albums that didn't get any stamp or just a Recommended are high on the list.

Overall, I only heard 5 of their top 10. I don't get that Joanna Newsom record and I think TVOTR is overrated; good, but not better than Liars good. The rest I would like to hear, or have only heard parts.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Josh said...

Strident Zend, is that like Soylent Green?

No, actually, it's worse:

This band is allowed to play live? Can we even call this music? Strident Zend is people?

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Josh said...

Here's the "song" I attempted to link above:

Strident Zend - Abby

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

stab the knife..........

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