• Top 20 Albums of 2006 & assorted extras

    Feb 12 2007, 21:10

    20. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
    Good album, more than deserving of the number 20 spot. But I have so much more I need to write I feel like I can’t waste it on the number 20 album. Soz.
    19. Tapes 'n Tapes – The Loon
    Pitchfork’s darling of the year (aside from The Knife, yuck), “The Loon” is a daring peek into the career of the Pixies through a post-post-punk kaleidoscope. “Insistor” is a great tune. Overall the album is great, and I’m sure there are a lot of likable things about it, but Pitchfork kind of ruined it for me. I just don’t care for buzz bands too much. Buzz bands that have the buzz cave in on them, though (like my number one, hahahahahahahaha), well, that’s another story.
    18. Asobi Seksu – Citrus
    Shoegaze is definitely a genre I’d like to see come back. There’s something about droning guitars and synths covered over (like some neon-pink blanket) by sweet, indecipherable female vocals. And, as with MBV’s Loveless (do I really have to spell it out for you???), having a male sing lead every here and there is not so bad, either. Citrus, like Loveless and Slowdive’s Souvlaki, just screeeeeeeam urban sex. And that album cover ain’t bad neither.
    17. Grandaddy – Just Like the Fambly Cat
    Grandaddy’s swan song, featuring the typically-Grandaddy intro song “What Happened” in which several adolescent boys ask, ad nauseum, “what happened to the fambly cat?” followed by cruncher “Jeez Louise,” probably one of their best (and noisiest) songs. The surprising centerpiece to the whole album is the largely instrumental tune “Skateboarding Saves Me Twice” and follow-up “Where I’m Anymore” (complete a concept-album touch, background “meow-meow-meows.” Ultimately a sadder and more sinister outing than any album before it, including their post-apocalyptic (and personal favorite) second album “The Sophtware Slump.” Toward’s the latter end of the album’s hour comes “Elevate Myself,” the video for which I am happy to report comes bundled with the Microsoft Zune. The slightly new-wave “Disconnecty” arguably the catchiest song on the album, and closers “This is How it Always Starts” (a sad electro-piano song) and “Shangri-La (Outro)” (opera singing in the background) wrap up a ten-odd year career of a regular musical Todd Zilla.
    16. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afriad of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
    While I am convinced Yo La Tengo is probably the best and living American band (or at least the oldest), I am not entirely convinced “IANAOYAIWBYA” is their best album to date, though everything from “Pass the Hatchet” on down is, truly, great. Rather than play the kind of sad-sack (though still really good) tunes that their album “Summer Sun” had en masse, YLT return to their roots – the kind of folk-fuzz that earned the Hoboken trio those Velvet Underground comparisons in the first place. At this time I haven’t had enough of an opportunity to listen to it, I think (admittedly my own fault), and I have a feeling this is an album that will grow on me more as time goes by.

    15. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55
    Ms. Gainsbourg only gets this spot on technicality. Considering that, excepting a SINGLE song, all the music on this album was written entirely by Dunckel and Godin of AIR, and the lyrics were written by Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) and the dude from Divine Comedy, this really shouldn’t even be on this list, because it’s not even a real album, in the sense that the other 19 albums on here are – that is, created at least primarily by the person or persons behind the moniker attached to the LP. Sadly this album, while by itself a great fusing of chanteuse, French electronic and Brit-pop styles, does nothing to add to the Gainsbourg family legacy, and more than that perpetuates a different kind of legacy – that of pop geniuses (Cocker, et alia) penning tracks for semi-talented female singers. Charlotte’s late father Serge did it for France Gall and pretty much every female French singer to have come out of the 60s and 70s, and here it is the same. But that in no way lessens the contributions of the geniuses themselves – it just makes Charlotte seem less like the daughter of a genius, and more like a normal person with an exceptional cast of studio musicians. In fact if I weren’t so in love with her dad I’d probably not give two shits about this album. Crap. There goes my journalistic integrity.
    14. Mountain Goats – Get Lonely
    By far John Darnielle’s gentlest, most melodic and least-irritating record to date, hence its relatively low position on this list. While a bit of the fire and fury of his (many) other works is missing here, he combats it with adding a kinder touch to his sort of pedestrian storytelling style. It’s music for real people. Though I can’t say I won’t miss the constant CA-city name-drops now that he lives in like Kentucky or some shit. Ah, if you can, catch the Rian Johnson-directed video for “Woke Up New” (he’s the dude who wrote and directed the simply phenomenal movie “Brick).
    13. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Letting Go
    I can’t really say why I like this one all that much – like the Mountain Goats’ “Get Lonely,” it’s somewhat of a departure from preceding albums, and, from what many of the reviews have said, the weakest album in the particular artist’s canon; however, I actually like the Nick Drake-style background orchestrations, the meaty folk of it all.
    12. Swan Lake – Beast Moans
    A great album, truly, but unfortunately somewhat disappointing given the lineup of the band (Mercer from Frog Eyes, Krug from Wolf Parade / Sunset Rubdown, and Bejar from Destroyer). All the tracks on here are, far and away, better than what a great many musicians release over a period of several years but, given the pedigree of the respective members of Swan Lake, I was expecting a cross between “I’ll Believe in Anything” and “It’s Gonna Take An Airplane” and instead got something along the lines of the Traveling Wilburys. Ouch.
    11. Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming
    I didn’t warm to this album at first few listens, but I understand where it fits into the Spencer Krug / Wolf Parade mythos. A great album. No “Apologies to the Queen Mary” but it’s certainly one of the better albums of the past year.

    10. Joanna Newsom – Ys
    More music needs to sound like this. And I’m not talking about her voice, or the
    fact that she plays a harp, but the arrangements and the style of it all… man. More lacking in that god-awful “Renaissance Faire” feeling that most people (and, in fact, the album’s cover) give it credit for, just the wispy, show-stopping (er, show-starting) medley of “Emily” warrants this album’s inclusion within the Top 10. For it to go on, as it does, and provide some of Newsom’s best work, the first three tracks on “Milk-Eyed Mender” included (and boy are those first three good) secures it this most coveted number 10 spot. And to those who complain about her voice… well, to me, she sounds like Billie Holliday. And who hates Billie Holliday? I sure don’t.
    09. Danielson – Ships
    Shit, man, there’s pretty much no way I can ever justify my intense love for this intensely curious and off-kilter album. But where Sufjan’s earnestness is eroded by his own prolificacy (how can you take seriously a guy who writes songs about heartbreak faster than heartbreak can even occur?), Danielson’s sincerity just bleeds through this album, which romps Kinks-style from opener “Ship the Majestic Suffix” through to climactic “Time that Bald Sexton” (replete with Ray Davies-esque arena-rocker “Sitting Ducks”). “Did I Step On Your Trumpet?,” while sounding a bit Animal Collective-infused, stands out as one of the better, and odder songs on the cd. The last two songs on the album are nearly the best – country-style “He Who Flattened Your Flame is Getting Torched” and the only truly saccharine tune on the entire record – “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up” (with the slightest hint of Sufjan-esque flourish) – perhaps a personal message to to the Suf himself?
    08. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of this Country
    From the opening organ line, you know you’re in for something with this one. Finally ditching the multi-singer approach that hindered their earlier work (and indeed hindered the latter work of their kinsmen and countrymen Belle & Sebastian), opting for a more straightforward, doo-wop-twee sound, Camera Obscura has finally stepped out of the shadow of (again) Belle & Sebastian, whose Stuart Murdoch produced their first two albums, and given the old B&S method a few feminine touches. But whereas B&S is dry and sarcastic, Let’s Get Out of this Country, with the exception of album closer “Razzle Dazzle Rose,” is exceptionally, hopelessly sad. Even the most jubilant track, opener “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken,” is sung in a twangy deadpan that keeps all of its frowns upside-down.
    07. Peter Bjorn & John – Writer’s Block
    When this album snuck up on me toward the end of the year, I knew I was fucked. In fact, I don’t think I ever even heard it until the beginning weeks of 2007. As soon as the title track (all 15 seconds of it) went through its bleeps and bloops and other Scandinavian shite and “Objects of My Affection” (#2) blasted through its first .5 seconds of static and revealed this pretty little gem, this Elvis Costello-ish march, I knew I was in trouble. The faint whistling that I thought really pulled the instrumental breaks in “Objects” together would only prove fatal in the next song – pop behemoth “Young Folks (feat. Victoria Bergsman)” [note: if Ms. Bergsman had, perhaps, a last name beginning with a “D,” then that particular tune would include, as musicians, “PB&J feat. V.D.”]. To give you an idea of how good this song is, my little brother refuses to go to sleep until he listens to this song at least once (he’s 10). He calls it the “whistling song” because, indeed, it features whistling. Swedish whistling. The most deadly kind. And there are bongos in that song, too. There. I’m done talking about it. Fuzz-rock tune “Start to Melt” shows these guys ain’t just fucking around; “Up Against the Wall” goes places Guster only hoped they could have ever gone; “Let’s Call It Off” is the only truly 60s-esque tune within what is essentially a 60s-folk-pop endeavor (somewhat akin, though less obviously copy-cat, than Saturday Looks Good to Me’s stuff); “Roll the Credits” sounds like as much, but like the credits for the best movie you have never seen, or perhaps something with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in it – is there such a film?); it ends with “Poor Cow,” obviously a Jeff Mangum tribute judging by the slitghtly off-key acoustic strumming and low recording fidelity. Give it another month and this will be my number one album of the year.
    06. Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
    I don’t care what anyone says; the fact that a 19 year-old from New Mexico can channel Jeff Mangum’s wild-eyed mysticism and inject a healthy dose of Americanized, circus-gypsy pop into it is just freaking cool. There aren’t really any other words that can describe this orgy of insanity.

    05. Augie March – Moo, You Bloody Choir

    From top to tails, a solid album. Effort really counts for a lot these days, and with too many artists out there producing mostly mediocre albums anchored by a handful of musical gems, it’s great to listen to an album without any “throw-aways” (ahem, Sufjan - prolificity does not a genius make). The album starts strongest with “One Crowded Hour” (apparently a runaway hit in the band’s native Australia) and the fantastic “Victoria’s Secrets” and “The Cold Acre.” And then, after an investment of about an hour, with upbeat Aussie-country “Mother Greer” through up and down, rockers and shy folk tunes, to that other Aussie-country tune “The Baron of Sentiment,” Augie March gives you the slow-burning “Clockwork” and the graceful, sloping “Vernoona.” To think the album has yet to even get a ‘States-side distributor. Talk about a cold acre.

    04. Guillemots – Through the Windowpane
    This may seem like a bit of a cop-out (it is) but pretty much all that can be said of this absolutely brilliant record was already said by Mr. Clayton Sakoda. I will say this – “Trains to Brazil” is the catchiest emo song ever written. And I cannot stress more the fact that “Sao Paulo,” the album’s closer, is probably the most remarkable 6min+ song of the year (excepting the other three dozen that were also written and recorded this year). My Chemical Romance says they’re not emo. They’re not. Guillemots is emo. This is the most affected, bombastic music imaginable.

    03. Decemberists – The Crane Wife
    Ah, the Decemberists. For all I’ve said before about them, they truly are one of the best bands making music today. And admittedly when they signed on to a major label, leaving behind Kill Rock Stars, I was very disappointed and very scared of where that would take them. But to hear this prog-folk gem of a record, this leave-it-to-a-fey-English-major-from-Montana-to-stick-it-to-the-man-record, was a surprise. Not since Built to Spill’s “Perfect From Now On” has a band created a more enthusiastically “out-there” album as their first for a major record company. And even then, Built to Spill made it a little too psychedelic for their handlers to deal with. Either those labels are finally getting it, or the Decemberists just got it right. I’d go with the latter. This is R.E.M.-style prog-folk at its very best… and technically its worst because there really is no other albums in that style. Leave it to the English major. Careful, though. Listen to this album too much and suddenly you’ll find yourself either looking longingly at an accordion in a music store window (a lesser fate) or perhaps writing some kind of Japanese fable (a fate worse than death, natch).

    02. Islands – Return to the Sea
    Pop goodness. From those opening chords, and the drum pops that follow on “Swans,” you know you’re in for something good, something fanfuckingtastic. Then it builds and builds and builds, and they follow this monumental musical movement with some a song about humans (entitled “Humans”). And just as you’re beginning to wonder if they’re out to claim the entire animal kingdom, member by member, they follow THAT up with another pop song, the beautiful “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby.” Then comes the big guns – “Rough Gem” and synthesizer suite “Tsuxiit.” Beginning with “Where There’s a Will There’s a Whalebone,” (a hip-hop) tune, Islands throws away the strict pop of the first half of the album and don about half-a-dozen different masks (samba (“Jogging Gorgeous Summer”), country (“Volcanoes”), synth-infused doowop/jazz (“If”), and then end it all (quite literally – the band broke up shortly after releasing this album) with straight downbeat, downcast indie rocker “Ones” (excluding oddity bonus track, the soft piano crooner “Bucky Little Wing,” with recorded rainfall preceding it and dead silence after).

    01. Destroyer’s Rubies

    When I first heard “Rubies,” this album’s opening track, I had no fucking clue who Destroyer was. I recognized the voice, Dan Bejar’s, who I remembered vaguely as the weird-looking dude in the band “The New Pornographers” (actually Kurt Dahle, though Bejar is in the band as well) who sings a couple of songs here and there on their three LPs. I think me, Brenna, and Clayton were driving to LACMA at the time. Upon hearing the pedaled-out opening ten seconds, I still hadn’t much of a clue. But when I heard the sweet, sweet strumming that follows (later known to me as “European blues”), I knew it was something special. No. Fuck. Something amazing. And the fact that Bejar introduces an album by, among other things, mentioning something along the lines of how many dresses he has (one for every season, and it was worth it) and how much of a value he squeezed out of his hotel, “the castle” (it paid for itself) and then somehow swings from that to a nice little one-two drum-and-guitar kick and then turns THAT into a rambling nine-and-a-half-minute song, arguably the most epic song of all time (ask me about this song in ten years and I’ll have the same answer), then midway through it throws in the devastating, belongs-in-the-last-song line “all good things must come to an end; the bad ones just go on forever”, then goes on to jam an additional four-and-a-half minutes, all the while referencing various facets of pop culture, including his own prior work (unknown to me at this point) is simply amazing. Luckily at the time I was so wrapped up in this new world of Bowie/Dylan/Bejar (pop meets pop meets tremendous songwriting abilities meets terrible singing voice) that I could not even have analyzed it if I had wanted to. 10 songs and 54 minutes later your jaw still lies on the floor, after he blows you away time and time again with pop songcraft and wordplay and sheer geniusness. I’m not fucking kidding. Sheer geniusness. Just listen to “Painter in Your Pocket” (the most-played song in my iTunes’s history) and “Watercolours into the Ocean” and “European Oils” and just tell me it isn’t so. And then give yourself a year (like I did) to soak up all of Destroyer’s other albums, its “Streethawk: A Seduction,” its “Your Blues,” all of them, and even the skeptic will understand that Rubies is not only a great album in its own right, but a great Destroyer album, a great among greats, and that it is great due both to its achievement of sonic greatness, but in its ambition: to top all of Bejar’s back-catalog. I don’t even want to write any more. I’m just going to listen to the album instead. Bye.

    Albums and Artists I discovered in 2006 that I would put on the list if I could:

    Destroyer – Your Blues (2004): the very pinnacle of the Destroy ethos; literate, catchy, and self-conscious to the point of using MIDI instrumentation in every single song. One can only wonder what this monument of musicality might sound like with a full orchestra. Los Angeles Philharmonic, meet Dan Bejar.
    Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction (2001): folk-rock; like Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” I’d say. Quite possibly my favorite Destroyer album.
    Fela Kuti – Underground Spiritual Game (2004): I can see the appeal of world music, particularly African music, and why it has affected and influenced artists like David Byrne so much; I never really got it before, and I guess I still don’t, but man if there isn’t SOMETHING about this music that just grabs you and shakes you around a bit.
    David Dondero – The Transient (2004): fuck Conor Oberst. This is the real shit.
    Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live at the Barbican (2005): Stuart Murdoch always lamented the terrible recording quality of the album version of Sinister, so two years ago at All Tomorrow’s Parties he decided to play the (absolutely classic) album in its entirety, and record it. You’ll thank me for it later.
    Manu Chao – Clandestino: Esperando La Ultima Ola… (1998): Mexican Beck.
    The Orb – Adventures Beyond the Overwold (1991): great intro. to 90s electronic.
    Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melodie Nelson (1971): probably one of the best pop records to have come out of the 1970s. Serge Gainsbourg is a freaking genius.
    Stereolab – Mars Audiac Quintet (1994): More French geniuses.
    Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968): One Irish one.

    BEST SONGS OF 2006:
    Insister, Tapes n Tapes
    Painter In Your Pocket, Destroyer
    Rough Gem, Islands
    Mother Greer, Augie March
    Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken, Camera Obscura
    Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, The Flaming Lips
    Rubies, Destroyer
    Trains to Brazil, Guillemots
    Mount Wroclai (Idle Days), Beirut
    All Fires, Swan Lake
    The Big Guns, Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
    Summersong, Decemberists
    Young Folks (feat. Victoria Bergsman), Peter Bjorn & John
    Emily, Joanna Newsom
    Pass the Hatchet, Yo La Tengo

    Best Two Compilations of 2006:
    The Clientele – It’s Art, Dad
    Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche

    Albums I didn’t get to in time:
    Badly Drawn Boy: Born in the UK
    Ali Farka Toure: from what I’ve heard, it’s fucking amazing.
    Built to Spill
    Beach House
    Keven Federline