2006 Year-End Summary
I can’t see how anyone would feel confident in their year-end list before the year is up. I spend the entire month of December tracking down albums I missed earlier in the year, and revisiting ones I hadn’t heard in a few months. No matter how hard I try, there are always another handful of albums I discover in the following years that would have made my top 50 and usually at least one that cracks the top 10. New Year’s Eve is tomorrow night and having stuffed over 200 new albums into my brain this month in addition to re-listening to another 50, I’m drunk with music, eyes swirling, balance and grammar compromised. So let’s do this, shall we?
It seemed 2005 was doomed to be the nadir of the decade. I felt it was the weakest year in music since about 1992. There was no where to go but up, and 2006 was definitely an improvement. Opinions will differ widely, because tastes are more fragmented than ever. The age of consensus is gone, and this is largely a good thing. No single artist can define an entire generation’s cultural zeitgeist. How could they, when music flows around us more than ever. Wherever there is air, it vibrates with music. Contrary to what some think, the abundance of music via the Internet does not cheapen it. Without air, we die. Many of us breathe in music like air every day, and while we wouldn’t die without it, quality of life would certainly feel like it’s taken a dive. The difference is that our tastes are more individualized, segmented into personalized MP3 playlists. The era of corporate media colonizing our minds with their focus-group researched to lowest common denominator tripe is, if not effectively over, greatly diminished. Some may still yearn to belong to a larger community like the Beatles/Stones/Dylan generation. But the direct effect of filesharing, music blogs and customizable Internet radio (Pandora, Last.fm, Rhapsody) is that many artists have increased their audience. This decade, new artists who hadn’t even released a full length album have been selling out small venues. This is in sharp contrast to the 80s and 90s, when many touring indie artists took it for granted that they would often play in front of a handful of people and not always earn enough to eat that night. A good show with a happy crowd of 100 to 500 is plenty of community for me.
Without a doubt the band of the year was TV On The Radio. No other artist right now can remotely touch their mix of originality, passion, and showmanship. They may not top all the polls, as they are not all things to all people, but a lot more would get them were they to see their fiery live performances. David Letterman smirked when he read the title, Return To Cookie Mountain while introducing the band. But it’s no joke, Dave, that’s the best album you’ll hold in your shriveling hands for years to come. What makes them so great is that while their excellent lyrics touch on political rage, they don’t have a messianic savior complex like some artists we know. They don’t drown the audience with pious, sentimental ballads, or bore us by twiddling knobs and fussing with their complex layers of experimental textures. Instead, they do what they did on Letterman’s show, rock the fuck out with crazed sexual energy.
Mastodon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs also released stellar albums. Rivaling TV On The Radio for best live band in the world, Brazilian group Kassin +2 released the third in a sort of trilogy, Futurismo. Oddly, it’s currently a Japanese import. The Hold Steady hit the jackpot by sweetening Craig Finn’s literate storytelling with melodies and some actual singing. Sweden’s The Knife, while almost oppressively creepy, developed a brilliantly unique sound. Fujiya & Miyagi aren’t the first band to pay homage to Krautrock, but they’re the best of this year’s crop. Neko Case continues to refine her music until it’s so exquisitely out-of-time it will certainly haunt the past and the future. Björk may be laying low this year, but her influence can be heard in two very different artists – avant-folky harpist Joanna Newsom and Miho Hatori, formerly of the fabulous Cibo Matto. Who knew that shibuya-kei J-pop influenced pomo pop and “freak folk” would have a common thread.
The only genre that stands out with the most albums in my top 100 aside from rock, is electronica. Fujiya & Miyagi, Hot Chip, Junior Boys, Herbert, Nathan Fake, Barbara Morgenstern, Ellen Allien & Apparat all made impressive fusions of soundscapes, dance beats and subtly catchy pop melodies. Dominated by the mystifying success of the stunningly mediocre Arctic Monkeys, UK rock had a slow year. The more subtle charms of the second Futureheads album recall mid-period The Jam, but few seemed to care. Libertines offshoot The Dirty Pretty Things made an album far better than one would expect. Longcut, The Brakes, Ladyfuzz, Graham Coxon, Clinic made good albums, but Razorlight’s second album was a big disappointment. Artists from around the world are well represented with Kassin +2, CSS and Caetano Veloso (Brazil), The Knife, The Horror The Horror, Britta Persson, Enslaved and Love Is All (Sweden), Benoît Pioulard and Phoenix (France – Pioulard is actually from Michigan, but he seems to really want to be French so lets give it to him), Tony Allen (Nigeria), Ali Farka Touré (Mali), Cappabblack, Miho Hatori, Tokyo Jihen, OOIOO and Cornelius (Japan), Asa (Finland), Barbara Morgenstern and Ellen Allien (Germany), Ampop and Jóhann Jóhannsson (Iceland), Marit Larsen and Lindstrøm (Norway), Under Byen (Denmark). There’s too many Canadians to keep track of.
Comeback of the year
It’s been 11 years since Scott Walker released an album, and The Drift is a doozy. It’s hard to imagine he was once an MOR singer (one of his ballads was featured prominently in a maudlin scene in the movie Love, Actually), as this album is one of the most extremely unhinged avant garde albums I’ve ever heard. It’s difficult listening for sure, something you respect from a distance and play only once in a great while, as it takes a while to recover from the experience. It’s no wonder it even rated highly in the Decibel metal magazine poll.
Debuts of the year
Only Benoît Pioulard and The Horror The Horror cracked the top 20 with debuts. The Horror The Horror were completely written off, partly because they have not yet gotten American distribution, partly because of the strong influence of Television and The Strokes. I’ve had the album since the spring and I still love it. I’m not positive it’s their first album, but Asa’s Terveisiä Kaaoksesta is my favorite hip hop album, from Finland no less! The use of ancient folk sure serve as an example of the untapped realms hip hop artists could explore to get out of their rut.
Overrated of the Year
Without a doubt, Bob Dylan’s Modern Times. This unfortunately will top the polls, which is completely fucking pathetic. Come on people, move on. It’s not that great. I imagine in the event when Dylan dies (I love most of his work up through 1975 and wish him to live happily long into old age), ageing critics will participate in ghoulish ceremonies of worship where the Grand Priest of Dylan, Greil Marcus, will pass around a pipe sprinkled with ashes of Dylan’s remains, as they ruminate over the Dylan Bootleg Series Volume 169, consisting of mumbled snippets of melodies and what sounds suspiciously like farts recorded in his hospital bed.
Disappointment of the Year
I got some flack for my love of Razorlight’s 2004 debut, Up All Night, which I still maintain is a great album. I hoped their second album would prove they’re a great band. They took a turn to total pop, and while there’s a few good songs on it, there’s some real stinkers. They got rid of their great drummer and are now utterly incapable of rocking. Sigh. Two of my favorite solo artists, Ed Harcourt and Hawksley Workman, failed to live up to their potential and reach a wider audience.
I hesitate to hype up the next Radiohead album, as many will expect them to “save music” or something ridiculous like that. I would like to see some favorites like PJ Harvey, Karen O, The Rakes, Ghost, Annie, Robyn, Patrick Wolf, Café Tacuba, The Notwist and Nação Zumbí uncork some sparkling albums. But mostly I’m excited about the unknown. Surprise me, 2007.
Click here for the entire list.
TV On The Radio * Return To Cookie Mountain (4AD/Interscope)
Considering that I was already a big fan of TV On The Radio, yet it took me over a month to “get” Return To Cookie Mountain, it’s impressive that they hovered in the Billboard 200 album chart for several weeks. They received plenty of critical attention, enough for backlash such as being dismissed by The Wire and other similar snoots. But with their transcendent live shows and undeniably pioneering sound and style, the band’s stature is guaranteed to grow, whether their future work becomes more commercial or more inscrutible. And inevitably, the 20,000 people who were into them in the beginning will magically become 200,000. Just like the original audiences of about a dozen people who first saw The Ramones or The Sex Pistols have expanded to about a million. But that’s cool. It’s the awesome moment that you know you’ve got a lasting legacy, when people lie about being there in the beginning. Full
Mastodon * Blood Mountain (Reprise)
As I wrote in last year’s feature on metal, metal is made up of a hugely diverse array of sub-genres. Few will agree on what’s best, as tastes run from conservative power metal to more adventurous experimental stuff. Mastodon have been receiving the most critical attention overall because they manage to straddle influences of 80s thrash and even 70s prog. And why not, they have so much to offer, from Brann Dailor’s tricksy time signatures and tight riffing, detailed production to outrageous, ambitious lyrical themes. Lamb of God may have sold four times as many albums, Blood Mountain feels like a timeless classic alongside the mighty Leviathon. Full
Yeah Yeah Yeahs * Show Your Bones (Interscope)
Throughout the year, my feeling that Show Your Bones was a totally successful and superior progression from Fever To Tell was unwavering. It has the tunes, the emotional pull, and the excellent performances. Yet the excitement has waned a bit, and the album is totally buried or missing from end of year lists. Had critics actually taken the time to re-listen to it next to their late additions, it probably would have fared much better. I hope Karen O’s solo venture is succesful, but I’d hate to see the band end. They really do have something special. Full
There’s a couple reasons why one of the absolute best bands in the world has gotten so little attention in the U.S. Despite the U.S. interest piqued by reissues of old Tropicalia artists like Os Mutantes and Tom Zé, the band has not exploited its connections, with Moreno Veloso being Tropicalia founder Caetano’s son. Secondly, the band changes its name every album, as each member takes his turn as band leader. They started in 2001 as Moreno +2, became Domenico +2 in 2002, and four years later, released their best album as Kassin +2. Thirdly, the albums never find U.S. distribution until a year or more after their original release (though it is available at Dusty Groove). Hopefully Futurismo will be properly promoted in 2007 to coincide with their tour. With their artful mix of bossanova influenced funk (like Joao Donato and Marcos Valle), jazz and restless electronic experimentation, they’re simultaneously steeped in history and one of the most forward looking bands in Brazil. They are not to be missed.
The Hold Steady * Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)
It’s ironic that as recently as last year, I found this band annoying. Their first two albums got a lot of attention, with some fans raving that they were the best things they’ve heard all year. I could tell Craig Finn had some good stories, but couldn’t make it through more than a few songs, as his tuneless ranting became unbearable. The new album solves that problem, with Finn developing a pleasing Bob Mould-like singing voice and a whole trunkful of hooks. The sweeping, piano-driven Springsteen-influenced bar rock may not break any ground, but it shows that timeless, great songwriting can render everything else superfluous. Full review.
The Knife * Silent Shout (Rabid/Mute)
Stockholm’s Olof and Karin Dreijer remained mysterious through their first two albums, hiding behind raven masks and only playing their first show in London in 2005. Partially recorded in a carbon dioxide factory and the vaults of Stockholm’s Grand Church, Silent Shout is a stunning work. It’s immensely creepy, yet manages to allure with its otherwordly, inventive sounds that make most electronic music sound like they’re made from primitive children’s toys.
Fujiya & Miyagi are actually a British trio from Brighton. But rather than sounding like Nipponophiles (the name is a Japanese turntable manufacturer and Pat Morita’s character in Karate Kid), their influences are decidedly German and anglo, with spare, motorik rhythms of Can and Neu colored by splashes of Eno (ranging from Roxy Music era to his work with Robert Fripp, Cluster and Talking Heads). Yet no one is going to mistake Transparent Things for a 70’s recording. Once it gets a domestic release in January 2007, it should garner even more excitement than the new LCD Soundsystem. I’ve been listening to this since April and I’m still addicted.
Neko Case * Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti)
Having proved herself an artistic equal of the likes of Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, Neko Case spent four years developing the songs for her fourth studio album. It was worth the effort. Fox Confessor shows Case outdoing herself as a songwriter, transcending the country genre and establishing her unique style of noir Americana. With pipes, soul and tunes to die for, Case is the singer songwriter to whom all her other contemporaries will be compared.
Joanna Newsom * Ys (Drag City)
A casual listen to Joanna Newsom’s first solo work, 2004’s The Milk-Eyed Mender could easily be associated with the somewhat tiresome “freak folk” scene. Yet Newsom has always had more to offer. Growing up in a musical family with avant-garde composer Terry Riley as a neighbor, she’s not just some hippie harp-plucking pixie. She plays with two other bands, the noise-rock Nervous Cop and the post-punk The Pleased. For Ys, Newsom collaborated with Van Dyke Parks and recorded with Steve Albini to create her ambitious hybrid of avant-garde folk and appalacian blues. Imagine if Björk collaborated with prog-folk band The Strawbs. It still wouldn’t be as remotely weird, enchanting and accomplished as Ys.
Hot Chip * The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks)
After the 2002 electro-pop triumphs of The Notwist, My Computer, Rob and Schneider TM, it seemed like the trend of mixing accomplished singing with creatively unconventional electronic pop songs took five. Four years, to be exact. On their second full-length, Hot Chip picked up the baton with an unpretentiously engaging batch of songs that manages to meld catchy melodies with surprising sounds better than anyone else.
Benoît Pioulard * Précis (Kranky)
Just as Fujiya & Miyagi are not Japanese, Benoît Pioulard may sound French, but is actually 21 year-old Thomas Meluch from Ann Arbor, Michigan. This makes him no less special mind you. Précis is a gentle, gauzy trip through meadows on a summer night, evoking the melodic gifts of The Jesus & Mary Chain and the subtle touch of Felt (the band). Like Lansing-Dreiden and The Radio Dept., it vaguely hearkens back to pre-shoegaze 80s indie pop. But with its dense layers of acoustic picking, subtle sound effects, and engaging songwriting, Précis stands out.
Tony Allen * Lagos No Shaking (Honest Jon’s)
From most year-end lists, you’d think the only good album that came out of Africa was Ali Farka Toure’s Savane. While it was given more attention because of Toure’s recent death, it was a good album. But it’s unfair to overlook the vibrant music of Tony Allen of Nigeria. As Fela Kuti’s drummer and musical director, Allen is responsible for nearly all of Fela’s greatest arrangements from 1968 to 1979. His solo albums have been uniformly excellent, carrying a political message that’s only slightly less sarcastic and unhinged as Fela’s. After living mostly in France for the past 20+ years, Allen returned home to Lagos for this album, revisiting his Afrobeat roots. Rather than just a genre exercise, the music here is fresh, ranging from exhuberant and bubbly to world weary melancholy. Lagos vocalists Fatai Rolling Dollar and Yinka Davies add soul, grit, and even some sexual tension on “Ogogoro.” Allen will get more attention for his role in Daman Albarn’s new band, The Good, The Bad And The Queen. But his talents are best represented here. Don’t be misguided by safe African music marketed to the Starbucks crowd. Lagos No Shaking is a hot monster of an album.
Junior Boys * So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
Reviews of So This Is Goodbye early in the year were preoccupied with the departure of Johnny Dark and his skittering Timberland beats. What many failed to notice was how much better the songs are, not to mention Jeremy Greenspan’s singing.
All the above albums can be purchased online, even the imports. See the Fast ‘n’ Bulbous Guide to Online CD Shopping for tips.
This year there were more albums to choose from than ever. I rated over 420 albums, 180 were a 9 or better. Click here for the entire list.
Rock & Pop
The Horror The Horror was one of the year’s unfairly ignored albums, expecially compared to the relatively dreary stuff by The Decemberists and Midlake. Some have dismissed the Swedish band because there’s some noticeable Strokes influence, along with Television and many others. Most simply haven’t heard it, because they’d realize it’s far, far better than the last couple Strokes albums. The Futurheads’ News And Tributes easily surpasses their somewhat annoying debut, and The Dirty Pretty Things makes up for the lack of The Libertines’ (and Babyshambles’) drama with actual hooks. Indie rock geezers Yo La Tengo, Built To Spill and Mission of Burma nearly equal their best work, while Brazilian newcomers CSS come off as cute, irreverant and a little dumb, but sound like no one else. For punky energy and an avalanche of witty lyrics, check out the new Scottish band The Fratellis.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs * Show Your Bones (Interscope)
- The Hold Steady * Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)
- The Horror The Horror (Tapete Records)
- The Flaming Stars * Born Under A Bad Neon Sign (Big Beat)
- The Futureheads * News And Tributes (679)
- The Dirty Pretty Things * Waterloo To Anywhere (Universal)
- Yo La Tengo * I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
- Built To Spill * You In Reverse (WB
- CSS * Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)
- Mission of Burma * The Obliterati (Matador)
- The Rapture * Pieces Of The People We Love (Universal)
- Cold War Kids * Robbers & Cowards (Downtown/V2)
- Ad Astra Per Aspera * Catapult Calypso (Sonic Unyon)
Avant Rock & Out Pop
The confusingly named Various is an actual band name of the elusive British duo Adam and Ian, who would sound like a dozen different artists, dipping into styles from Alec Empire style electro terrorism to dubstep and trip hop. But the stylish production unifies it, with some of the best songs assisted by female vocals that might satisfy the jones for new Portishead product. Milanese is an utterly depraved primordial muck of jungle, grime and other distorted electronica that would eat Burial for breakfast. OOIOO are a couple Japanese women who make a fearsome yet playful noise. White Flight is the bloke from the Anniversary gettin’ weird.
- TV On The Radio * Return To Cookie Mountain (4AD/Interscope)
- Fujiya & Miyagi * Transparent Things (Tirk)
- Various * The World Is Gone (XL)
- Milanese * Extend (Planet Mu)
- OOIOO * Taiga (Thrill Jockey)
- White Flight (Range Life)
- Miho Hatori * Ecdysis (Rykodisc)
- Radio Citizen * Berlin Serengeti (Ubiquity)
- Acoustic Ladyland * Skinny Grin (V2)
- Longcut * A Call & Response (Deltasonic)
- Sonic Youth * Rather Ripped (Geffen)
- Man Man * Six Demon Bag (Ace Fu)
- Om * Conference Of The Birds (Holy Mountain)
Experimental & Ambient
I got a little burned out on your standard indie rock and pop, so this year I added an Experimental & Ambient list. I often don’t have patience for this stuff, associating it with the boring, stodgy side of the once lively British magazine The Wire. However, in my insane overdose of listening to over 250 albums in the month of December, the albums below served as soothing palate cleansers. First is Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) collaborating with legendary drummer Steve Reid, who has played with Miles, Sun Ra, Fela, and James Brown (R.I.P.). The result is some free-form spacy, funky improvisations with burbling electronics, recalling some of Miles’ 70s sessions. Classical and electronic experimentalist Ekkehard Ehlers tackled the blues with intruiging results, while all sorts of people with Nordic names dominated the list.
- Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid * The Exchange Session (Domino)
- Ekkehard Ehlers * A Life Without Fear (Staubgold)
- Svalastog * Woodwork (Rune Grammofon)
- Mountains * Sewn (Apestaartje)
- Tim Hecker * Harmony In Ultraviolet (Kranky)
- Jóhann Jóhannsson * IBM 1401, A User’s Manual (4AD)
- Colleen & Les Boites A Musiques (The Leaf Label)
- Huntsville * For The Middle Class (Rune Grammofon)
- Thomas Strønen * Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon)
- Taylor Deupree * Northern (12K)
- Phill Niblock * Touch Three (Touch)
- Svarte Greiner * Knive (Type)
- Shogun Kunitoki * Tasankokaiku (Fonal)
Like their prog/fusion such as Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Mars Volta inspires equally passionate admiration and condemnation. While their music may be too dense for some, it hardly deserves the hate. They’re simply trying to aspire to something outrageously otherwordly. And more times than not they succeed. Tool, Katatonia and Don Caballero also continued their mix of prog and hard rock with sometimes impressive, but inconsistent results. The Melvins have returned from the wilderness and collaborated with Big Business (the band). Drums galore! Wolfmother came out of Australia seemingly to fill the niche left behind by The Darkness. However, these guys are not nearly as campy and funny. Nor are their songs as catchy as The Darkness. What they do have, however, are great songs, riffs and talent. Most likely more longevity too. Comets On Fire and Oneida continued to develop their psychedelic chops, while Queens of the Stone Age members took a break with some unpretentious fun in Eagles of Death Metal and Mondo Generator.
- Colour Haze – Tempel (Elektrohasch)
- Sahg – Sahg I (Candlelight)
- Burning Saviours – Hundus (I Hate Records)
- The Mars Volta * Amputechture (Umvd)
- Dead Man (Crusher)
- The Melvins * A Senile Animal (Ipecac)
- Wolfmother (Modular/Interscope)
- Made Out Of Babies – Coward (Neurot)
- Madder Mordem – Desiderata (Peaceville)
- Hypnos 69 – Eclectic Measure (Elektrohasch)
- Comets On Fire * Avatar (Sub Pop)
- Harvey Milk * Special Wishes (Troubleman Unlimited)
- Tool * 10,000 Days (Tool JV)
- Eagles Of Death Metal * Death By Sexy (Downtown)
- Krux – Krux II (GMR)
- Church Of Misery – Master Of Brutality (Diwphalanx)
- Oneida * Happy New Year (Jagjaguwar)
- Katatonia * The Great Cold Distance (Peaceville)
- Mondo Generator * Dead Planet (Sonicslowmotiontrails) (Tornado)
- Don Caballero * World Class Listening Problem (Relapse)
- Deftones * Saturday Night Wrist (Maverick)
- Battle Of Mice * A Day Of Nights (Neurot)
- Totimoshi – Ladrón (Crucial Blast)
- Priestess – Hello Master (Ace Fu)
- Wolf & Cub – Vessels (Dot Dash/4AD)
- Nebula – Apollo (Liquor and Poker)
- Witch (Tee Pee)
- Turn Me On Dead Man – Technicolour Mother (Virus)
- Seemless – What Have We Become (Equal Vision)
Enslaved’s mix of symphonic, prog-influenced black metal seems to be at a peak with Ruun, an album that is crossing over outside of the usually small black metal audience. Chicago based Nachtmystium has also gained a lot more attention. Lots of critics are slavering over the relatively tighter structures on Boris’s 2005 album Pink, but sleeping on the astounding collaboration with Sunn 0))), which includes guest appearances from members of Earth (Sunn 0))) was originally an Earth tribute band), The Melvins, High On Fire, Khanate, Soundgarden, and oddly, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. Texas band The Sword created a fine Sabbath-influenced album, not unlike last year’s Firewood from Sweden’s Witchcraft, and Iron Maiden made their best album in over 20 years, and Germany’s Blind Guardian continues to crank out ridiculous, massively enjoyable power metal.
- Mastodon * Blood Mountain (Reprise)
- Enslaved * Ruun (Candlelight)
- Slayer – Christ Illusion (American)
- Isis * In The Absence of Truth (Ipecac)
- Nachtmystium * Instinct: Decay (Southern Lord)
- Blind Guardian * A Twist In The Myth (Nuclear Blast)
- Sunn 0))) & Boris * Altar (Southern Lord)
- Jesu * Silver EP (Hydra Head)
- The Sword * Age Of Winters (Kemado)
- Iron Maiden * A Matter of Life and Death (Sanctuary)
- Bible Of The Devil – Diabolic Procession (Raw Deth)
- Converge * No Heroes (Epitaph)
- The Gates Of Slumber * The Awakening (Final Chapter)
- Motörhead * Kiss Of Death (Sanctuary)
- Battle Of Mice – A Day Of Nights (Neurot)
- Cult Of Luna – Somewhere Along the Highway (Earache)
- Celtic Frost – Monotheist (Century Media)
- Vanden Plas – Christ O (Inside Out)
- Bal-Sagath – The Cthonic Chronicles (Candlelight)
- Lamb Of God * Sacrament (Epic)
I suppose I could just call it pop, but that brings to mind stuff like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce. I’d like to think these artists are special — assembling fragments of new wave, electro-pop and twee British indie pop into songs that are catchy enough to be hits, but don’t quite make it all the way. They’ll have to be content to be mostly underappreciated except by geek boys and outcast girls. Multimedia art collective Lansing-Dreiden sound like they could have been comfortable playing on the same bills as Orange Juice, Heaven 17, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, and early Galaxie 500. Herbert and his wife Dani Siciliano created an alluring pop album, while the elusive Shack came out with another gorgeous, ignored collection of inspired acoustic pop. French band Phoenix sounded more like The Strokes than their former electonic incarnation, and piled on the catchy hooks and choruses.
- Hot Chip * The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks)
- Benoît Pioulard * Précis (Kranky)
- Junior Boys * So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
- Lansing-Dreiden * The Dividing Island (Kemado)
- Herbert * Scale (!K7)
- Shack * The Corner Of Miles And Gil (Sourmash)
- The Radio Dept. * Pet Grief (Labrador)
- Phoenix * It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks/Source)
- Final Fantasy * He Poos Clouds (Tomlab)
- Asobi Seksu * Citrus (Friendly Fire)
- Love Is All * Nine Times That Same Song (What’s Your Rupture?)
- Mew * And The Glass-Handed Kites (Sony)
- Ampop * My Delusions (Recall Fr)
Electronica, Techno & Dance
I’ve been impressed by the prolific Ellen Allien since her 2003 album Berlinette. But I haven’t really gotten excited about her work until her collaboration with Apparat. It seems to have a warmer, more engaging texture. Nathan Fake is young kid who’s managed to add something to the likes of M83. Barbara Morgenstern picked up on the work of her fellow countrymen The Notwist, and Thom Yorke released an album in such a low key manner you’d think he was trying to keep it a secret so as to not offend his band. I’m sure he’s saved plenty of good tunes for Radiohead’s album. Matmos sound less clinical than usual, while Kode9 & the Spaceape and Burial represent the latest trend, dubstep.
- The Knife * Silent Shout (Rabid/Mute)
- Ellen Allien & Apparat * Orchestra of Bubbles (Bpitch Control)
- Nathan Fake * Drowning in a Sea of Love (Border Community)
- Barbara Morgenstern * The Grass Is Always Greener (Monika)
- Thom Yorke * The Eraser (Capitol)
- Mordant Music * Dead Air (Mordant)
- Matmos * The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth of A Beast (Matador)
- Kode9 & The Spaceape * Memories of the Future (Hyperdub)
- Burial (Hyperdub)
- Belbury Poly * The Owl’s Map (Ghost Box)
- Clark * Body Riddle (Warp Records)
- Squarepusher * Hello Everything (Warp)
- Booka Shade * Movements (Get Physical)
Lead by former solo star Shiina Ringo, Tokyo Jihen is unlike anything I’ve heard from Japan. Jazz fusion, avant rock and pop, whatever it is, it sounds fresh to these ears, with some crazy musicianship to keep Adult interesting and mystifying for many listens to come. When many audiences tend to want to hear generic, distilled, “authentic” versions of ethnic musics, it can be hard to seek out the more adventurous stuff. I’m no expert in this area, but of what I managed to find, I was impressed by the subtle innovations of Ali Farka Touré’s final album, Thomas Mapfumo and Toumani Diabaté. Ojos de Brujo combine classical Flamenco with hip hop and electronica, while Rachid Taha took a step back from his angry and experimental Tekitoi (2004) to more traditional rai and still made a great album.
- Kassin +2 * Futurismo (Video Arts Japan) – Brazil
- Tony Allen * Lagos No Shaking (Honest Jon1s) – Nigeria
- Tokyo Jihen * Adult (EMI Japan) – Japan
- Ali Farka Touré * Savane (Nonesuch) – Mali
- Thomas Mapfumo * Rise Up (Realworld) – Zimbabwe
- Toumani Diabaté Orchestra * Boulevard de l’Independance (Nonesuch) – Mali
- Caetano Veloso * Cê (Universal) – Brazil
- Ojos de Brujo * Techarí (Six Degrees) – Spain
- Rachid Taha * Diwan 2 (Wrasse) – Algeria
- Gigi * Gold And Wax (Palm Pictures) – Ethiopia
- Tanya Stephens * Rebelution (VP) – Jamaica
- Juana Molina * Son (Domino) – Argentina
- Gjallarhorn * Rimfaxe (Vindauga/Westpark) – Finland
New Americana, Country & Folk
I had recently been rolling my eyes at the “freak folk” trend, but was obviously impressed by Newsom’s latest. Espers really grew on me too, with their chilling, droney music that is more along the lines of Nico’s Desertshore than their contemporaries. Tom Waits emptied his closets, mothballs and all, but there’s many treasures to be found among the mystery junk. It’s surprising to find that Britta Persson, with her rustic Cat Power sound, is Swedish and Marit Larsen’s country-tinged pop is Norwegian. Nashville’s Cortney Tidwell, on the other hand, sounds more like a British shoegazer. Continue to mix it up and keep us guessing folks, it’s fun not being able to peg where your roots lie within the first three seconds.
- Neko Case * Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti)
- Joanna Newsom * Ys (Drag City)
- Espers * Espers II (Drag City)
- Tom Waits * Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers & Bastards (Anti)
- Britta Persson * Top Quality Bones and a Little Terrorist (Bonnier Amigo)
- Horse Feathers * Words Are Dead (Lucky Madison)
- Sparklehorse * Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (Astralwerks)
- Marit Larsen * Under the Surface (EMI Norway)
- Cortney Tidwell * Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up (Ever)
- Beirut * Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing!)
- Los Lobos * The Town And The City (Hollywood)
- Howlin’ Rain (Birdman)
- Bonnie “Prince” Billy * The Letting Go (Drag City)
Hip Hop & Rap
I have a question for everyone who put Clipse, T.I., Lil’ Wayne and The Game on top of their lists. Are you embarrassed to play it around your girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and friends? Yeah? Then WTF are you thinking? Each has a few okay beats and rhymes, but 90% of those albums are tedious shit. Clipse my ass. It’s like the 90’s Gangsta Misogyny Special Olympics all over again. What happened to hip-hop that aspires to be something great, where women have names and there’s more on their minds than petty materialism and dealing cocaine? Rather than write an extensive rant, I think bell hooks and Lornnae O’Neal Parker covered it pretty well in “Gangsta Culture–Sexism, Misogyny: Who Will Take the Rap?” (Z, Feb 1994) and “Why I Gave Up On Hip-Hop” (Washington Post, Oct 2006). It took artists from Japan and Finland to show the sonic possibilities have not reached a dead end. The Roots are back on their game with a bristling, catchy album. J. Dilla left us behind with an inspiring mix, and Spank Rock managed to be inventive and gleefully sexual and pottymouthed without being totally offensive. Subtle recovered from a tragic accident to make their most ambitiously experimental album yet, while Chicago rappers Rhymefest and Vakill made great leaps. The Coup and Mr. Lif wrote some heavy-hitting music that was almost completely ignored, while Brits Ty and Akala continue to prove the UK has something to offer hip hop just as they did to blues rock. And no, I didn’t forget Ghostface Killah. He’s at #325, yo.
- Cappablack * Facades and Skeletons (Scape Germany) – Japan
- Asa * Terveisiä Kaaoksesta (Julkaisuvuosi) – Finland
- The Roots * Game Theory (Def Jam Left)
- J. Dilla * Donuts (Stones Throw)
- Spank Rock * Yoyoyoyoyo (Big Dada)
- Subtle * for hero: for fool (Astralwerks)
- Rhymefest * Blue Collar (Allido/J)
- The Coup * Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)
- Ty * Closer (Big Dada)
- Mr. Lif * Mo’ Mega (Def Jux)
- Akala * It’s Not A Rumour (Illastate)
- Nas * Hip Hop Is Dead (Def Jam/Columbia)
- Vakill * Worst Fears Confirmed (Molemen)
R&B & Soul
While there’s no doubt that Gnarls Barkley produced an empirically catchy single, the album was short and inconsistent. Amp Fiddler should have made a bigger splash, but for some reason the album wasn’t even available in the U.S. Hopefully 2007 will be his year. Amy Winehouse isn’t exactly soul, but she touches on it, and certainly has a mature voice for a British girl in her early 20s. James Hunter is another Brit who’s been doing 50’s and 60’s style R&B since 1994. Madeleine Peyroux sounds like a reincarnation of Billie Holiday, and Candi Staton and Solomon Burke continue to show that old soul singers still got a few fresh tunes in their sleeves. Now how about a new generation who can hold up such a legacy? There’s got to be more out there besides Joss Stone!
- Amp Fiddler * Afro Strut (Genuine UK)
- Gnarls Barkley * St Elsewhere (Downtown)
- Amy Winehouse * Back To Black (Universal/Island)
- James Hunter * People Gonna Talk (Go Records/Rounder)
- Candi Stanton * His Hands (Astralwerks)
- Madeleine Peyroux * Half the Perfect World (Rounder)
- Solomon Burke * Nashville (Shout! Factory)
- Outkast * Idlewild (La Face/Zomba)
2005 albums you’ll see listed in this year’s lists cuz critics are lazy no good cheatin’ cheaters.
- Editors * The Back Room (Kitchenware UK)
- Robyn (Konichiwa Records)
- Boris * Pink (Southern Lord)
- Yat-Kha * Re-Covers (World Village)
2005 albums that we (er, I) missed.
- Todosantos * Aeropuerto (La Superagencia)
- Blut Aus Nord * Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity (Candlelight)
- Nôze * Craft Sounds and Voices (Circus Company)
- Hello Saferide * Introducing… (Razzia)
- Anthony Hamilton * Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ (So So Def/Zomba)
- The Spinto Band * Nice And Nicely Done (Bar/None)
- Volcano * Beautiful Seizure (Leaf)
- Mariem Hassan * Deseos OK (Nubenegra)
- Talking Heads * Remain In Light (Sire/Rhino) 80
- Wire * 154 (Harvest/Pink Flag) 79
- Talking Heads * Fear Of Music (Sire/Rhino) 79
- Wire * Pink Flag (Harvest/Pink Flag) 77
- Amon Düül II * Tanz der Lemminge (Revisited) 71
- Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band * Doc At The Radar Station (Virgin/EMI) 80
- Pere Ubu * The Modern Dance (Silverline) 77
- Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band * Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Virgin/EMI) 78
- The Pretenders [Deluxe Edition] (Sire/Rhino) 80
- Talking Heads * More Songs About Buildings And Food (Sire/Rhino) 78
- Amon Düül II * Yeti (Revisited) 70
- Lizzy Mercier Descloux * Zulu Rock (Ze) 84
- The Comsat Angels * Sleep No More (Polydor/Renascent) 81
Click here to see the entire list of reissues.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cheated Hearts
- The Horror The Horror – Sound Of Sirens
- Neko Case – Hold On, Hold On
- Dirty Pretty Things – Bang Bang You’re Dead
- Hot Chip – Boy From School
- The Hold Steady – Chips Ahoy!
- Lily Allen – Smile
- The Rakes – All Too Human
- Ladyfuzz – Bouncy Ball
- Gwen Stefani – Yummy
- TV On The Radio, Metro
- Scratch Acid, Touch & Go 25th Anniversary, Hideout
- The Buzzcocks, Double Door
- Mastodon, Metro
- Gogol Bordello, Metro
- The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Riviera
- Amadeu & Mariam, Millennium Park
- Big Black, Touch & Go 25th Anniversary, Hideout
- The Rakes, Double Door
- Blue Cheer, Intonation
- Wolfmother, Metro
- The Sword, Intonation
- The Hold Steady, Metro
Also, High On Fire, Lady Sovereign, The Epoxies, Thievery Corporation.
I’ve missed a lot of movies in the theaters, but I still say it was a crap year for movies. Even my seventh favorite, V Is For Vendetta, is deeply flawed. None below that would have been worth paying $10 in the theater for. But where are the magical, thought provoking indie movies? Stranger Than Fiction came closest, but
- Stranger Than Fiction
- The History Boys
- The Namesake
- Happy Feet
- Children of Men
- V Is For Vendetta
- A Scanner Darkly
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- Flushed Away
Also decent: The Fountain, Nacho Libre, Talladega Nights, The Good German, Underworld 2, Casino Royale, Eragon, Over the Hedge, Fay Grim, The Science of Sleep, Little Children, Tenacious D: In The Pick of Destiny, In the Land of Women, The OH in Ohio, My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Haven’t seen: Inland Empire, The Queen, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Good Shepherd, Thank You For Smoking. Avoid: Hard Candy, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, Miami Vice.
Books – Rock ‘n’ Roll Fiction
I decided to add books this year, since I’ve read so much fiction that made music culture such a large part of the stories. The best was Frank Portman’s King Dork, a brilliant coming of age story that’s both a vicious satire on the Catcher In The Rye cult, and a homage. Brendan Halpin’s Long Way Back is a wrenching tale of dealing with grief after a tragic loss, and how punk rock inspired a man to get through it and heal. All he had to do was stick some incest in it and it would have made Oprah’s Book of the Month club! Chicago writer Brian Costello wrote an excellent account of the excitement and heartbreak of forming and ending a band, while Tom Perrotta focused more on balancing a love of music with responsibilities of adult relationships. More coming of age stories abound, but none were all that successful. I’ll expand this section soon.
- Frank Portman * King Dork (2006)
- Brendan Halpin * Long Way Back (2006)
- Brian Costello * The Enchanters Vs. Sprawlburg Springs (2005)
- Tom Perrotta * The Wishbones (1997)
- Richard Perez * The Losers’ Club (2003)
- Louise Voss * To Be Someone (2001)
- Joe Meno * Hairstyles Of The Damned (2004)
- Jamie S. Rich * The Everlasting (2006)
- Andy Greenwald * Miss Misery (2006)
- Marc Spitz * How Soon Is Never? (2003)
- Jamie S. Rich * Cut My Hair (2000)
- Kevin Sampson * Powder (1999)
- Charles Stross * Accelerando (2005)
- Neil Gaiman * Anansi Boys (2005)
- Richard K. Morgan * Altered Carbon (2002)
- Rudy Rucker * Freck And The Elixir (2005)
- Brendan Halpin * Donorboy (2004)
- Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell
- Neal Stephenson * Cryptonomicon (1999)
- Neal Asher * Gridlinked (2001)
- Rudy Rucker * Realware (2000)
- Chris Moriarty * Spin State (2003)
- Richard K. Morgan * Broken Angels (2003)
- Cory Doctorow * Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom (2003)
- Haruki Murakami * Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World (1993)