FINALLY I'll get crackin' on this sum'bitch. Between working 60 hours/week and dealing with moving into my new apartment, spare time has been fleeting. Oh, yeah: plus, my dad died, so there's that. But as I sit here unable to sleep before trudging off shortly, I realize I'd better fire this shit up before it becomes totally irrelevant (i.e. last year's "Best of 2005 List" which I didn't post until like June).
The only rule is that reissues are not included, so that eliminates TimeLife's excellent 10-CD "Malt Shop Memories" compilation. Fortunately, this rule has little bearing on the Chavez retrospective, because Chavez just isn't good enough to make the list anyway.
Disclaimers: I've heard about 50 albums that were released in '06 proper, including a bunch of the usual crap that you'll find on many other year end lists (The Hold Steady, TV on the Radio, The Raconteurs, etc.). Again, to be sure, these albums are excluded from this list not because I didn't hear them, but because they're terrible.
THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2006
20.) Thom Yorke - The Eraser -- This sounds exactly the way you'd expect a Thom Yorke solo joint to sound, which is not such a bad thing. But buyer beware: it's ultra monotonous, which is not such a good thing. Oddly, it sounds *kinda* like Radiohead, but still has its own singular identity: The Eraser is not as experimental as Kid A orAmnesiac; not as RAWK as The Bends; not as violently spotty and uneven as Hail to the Thief, and nowhere near as good as OK Computer. Although it is a "solo" release, Yorke wisely kept ace producer Nigel Godrich behind the boards -- his mastery of dynamics conjures a "new Floyd-for-the-do-it-yourself-digital-age" vibe. Best song: "Analyse."
19.) Keene Brothers - Blues and Boogie Shoes -- solid-if-unspectacular collaboration between Tommy Keene and Robert Pollard, crammed to the gills with competent powerpoppage. Almost a little bit too "mature" (as Bob himself would say) for my tastes, but it's obvious that Bob went out of his way to fire up some decent melodies on this one, as opposed (for example) to his downright shabby efforts on the Airport 5 records, which is a shame, because I prefer Airport 5's musical bedding (supplied by former GbV second fiddle Tobin Sprout) to that of the Keene Brothers. *sigh* Tobe deserved better. Best songs: "Death of the Party" and "Heaven's Gate."
18.) Howlin' Rain - Howlin' Rain -- side project from Comets on Fire frontman Ethan Miller. After the first three Comets records (this was released prior to Avatar), the, um, "restraint" on this one is super obvious (i.e. no echoplex freakouts, no Keith Moon-on-crack drum breaks and no harsh-as-nails processed vocals). And it's easy to dismiss this as a full album of CoF castoffs, but so fucking what, it's still some mighty fine good listenin'. Best song: "Calling Lightning with a Scythe."
17.) Beck - The Information -- I'm torn re: Beck. Half of me wishes that he had quit/left/died/whatever after Odelay, while the other half of me is happy that he's able to keep pumping out serviceable-yet-totally-inessential records to give my ears a brief respite from the usual metal/punk/postrock/indie stuff that I listen to these days. Since I have absolutely no tolerance for the robotic monotony of beat-centric electronica and I openly revile hip-hop culture, Beck's blue-eyed and funkified junk sculpture is pretty much as close as I get to either of those genres. In other words, what he lacks in melody, cohesive lyrical content and substance he more than makes up for, well, by sounding absolutely nothing like anything else I appreciate. On The Information, he re-ups with Sea Change producer/Radiohead guru Nigel Godrich, who no doubt provides most of the bleeps, bloops and sound effects. Has Beck shat out Guero II (or, just as accurately, Odelay III)? Probably. But just as long as he's not subjecting me to faux-earnest whinefests like Sea Change I'll keep on listening. Best song: "Cellphone's Dead." Does Herbie Hancock get royalties from this? 'Cuz he should.
16.) Wolfmother - Wolfmother -- My God, there are so many reasons that, in theory, I should *HATE* these fucking guys. Musically, completely unoriginal/totally derivative. Prettyboy frontman. Questionable drumming. "Third verse, same as the first" aesthetic. Credential-free, meteoric rise to stardom. The same two-note riff in what seems like every fucking song. And, plainly put, the worst lyrics not written by Lenny Kravitz. But when you RAWK like these fellas, you make it fairly easy to overlook all that. Probably the Party Record of the Year (unless you're a heroin addict, in which case you'd probably favor Mogwai's Zidane soundtrack). Best song: WOO-MON!
15.) Ratatat - Classics -- This is officially the first electronic-related record I've enjoyed since the ketamine flowed like nostril-imbibable wine a few years back. To Ratatat's credit, instead of skewing the mix towards some absurdly banal beat as a given track's focus (as is predictably the case with most electronic artists), they put the emphasis firmly on melody. Yes, at times it sounds kind of Tetris-y, and it's as dangerous as a glass of milk, but hot damn are some of these jams catchy. Best song: "Tacobel Canon."
14.) Robert Pollard - Normal Happiness -- [insert yearly "well, Bob's probably not as good these days as he was around Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes, but he's still better than pretty much anyone else around/this album has some great ones and some really, really awful ones/probably not going to convert any non-believers but Pollard fanatics will eat this one up"-themed comment here.] Best song: "Top of My Game."
13.) Two Gallants - What the Toll Tells -- Got turned onto these guys when I saw 'em opening for Wolfmother (surprisingly awesome) and Gov't Mule (shudder) in September. They're about as irony free as you can get; in fact, if you can't stand ultra-earnest lyrics you're likely to have your head explode while listening to this record. Lots of songs about being an outlaw/rebel/misfit/outcast -- kind of in the vein of a more literate Mike Ness. However, where Social D base their trademark sound around a wall of crunchy-ass guitars, Two Gallants' foundation is vocalist Adam Stephens' raspy howl, which many may instantly find off-putting. Part of me wishes these guys would just bite the bullet and pick up a kickass rhythm guitarist, but on the other hand that could severely fuck up more delicate songs like "The Prodigal Son." Hmmm. What the fuck do I know. Best to leave well enough alone, I guess. Best song: "Waves of Grain."
12.) Built to Spill - You in Reverse -- I've always thought of BtS as kind of the ultimate cock-tease band -- they come so close to actually rocking that, at times, they can be mistaken for actually rocking. Other than that, this record is a tough one to pigeonhole on the "Is it Indie?" test. It's indie: two-chord songs. It's not indie: said songs occasionally last 8+ minutes. It's indie: crummy vocals. It's not indie: fancy guitar playing. It's indie: sounds kinda like Modest Mouse. It's not indie: sounds kinda like Neil Young. Best song: everybody says "Goin' Against Your Mind," but I'm going with "Conventional Wisdom."
11.) Boris - Pink -- Um, WTF? This album obviously came out in '05, but I've seen it on so many year-end best-of lists (i.e. those compiled by people more punctual than I) that leaving it out would be foolish. Musically, these guys cover pretty much all the appropriate "loud" bases: grandiose post rock, gritty speedpunky metal, noise, doom, you name it -- all kinds of great riffs. Plus I kinda dig not having any idea what the vocalist is singing about. Best song: "Farewell."
10.) Bobby Bare, Jr. - Nick Nacks and Paddy Whacks -- Live/tour CD by an artist who, until '06's The Longest Meow (which was recorded largely live in the studio) was definitely better appreciated in concert than on record. Bare Jr. just simply sounds better when presenting his songs with Pixies-ish instrumentation than he does on the subtler, rootsier album versions. The only thing keeping this out of the top 5 is the questionable omission of "Valentine" and "Motherfucker," which really defies all logic, considering that those are two songs which benefit most from the live treatment. Best song: Hmmm. Lotsa good'uns. I'll have to go with "Terrible Sunrise" since I already have several great live versions of "Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville."
9.) Robert Pollard - From a Compound Eye -- Again, with a few outstanding exceptions, the songs on this record are _not_ immediately accessible pop masterpieces, and at least for me, FaCE required practically a full year in my listening incubator thingy before I thought it was much good at all. And as with any of Bob's recent records, one's apprecation forFaCE will hinge largely on how one feels about Todd Tobias' production. To me, one of the greatest things about Guided by Voices in the pre-Tobias days was that their songs, even when primitively recorded, almost always were exactly as loud as they needed to be: no more, no less. That's obviously not the case on this album. The versions of songs on FaCE like "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men," "I'm a Widow" and "Love is Stronger than Witchcraft" are flat out limp, and come nowhere near rocking. On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine "The Flowering Orphan," "Cock of the Rainbow" or "50 Year-Old Baby" without the lush Tobias touch. Regardless, there are just too many great songs on this album to pass it up. Of particular note is "The Right Thing," in which Pollard gives the listener a window into the process by which he turns basement scraps into full-fledged songs. The track begins with a brief, repetitive three-note pattern, accompanied by non-descript, generic (probably improvised) lyrics before switching key, switching gear and rocking the fuck out. Fuck yeah! Best song: "US Mustard Company," also the best song of the year.
8.) Comets on Fire - Avatar -- When is a top 10 album still a disappointment? When you've started your career off as The Kings of the Hard Rockin' Freakout, challenging Mogwai for the Planet's Greatest Band crown, and then you drop an album that sounds as much like a Phish/Allmans hybrid as it does your earlier output. Face it, "Dogwood Rust" sounds like Phish's "Birds of a Feather," "Hatched Upon the Age" sounds like the title track ofBilly Breathes, and nearly everything else has at least one moment where you think, "damn, this sounds like" either "Whipping Post" or "Elizabeth Reed." Phew, at least there's no Rusted Root thrown into the mix! And were we really eager to hear what Comets sounded like playing ballads, for fuck's sake?! God, I know that may sound harsh; after all, this is still a really good album. It's nowhere near Comets on Fire or Blue Cathedral, any way ya slice it, however. Many of the songs feature wildman drummer Utrillo Kushner on piano (yeah, I know), which moves echoplex maven Noel Von Harmonson off his squallin' shriek machine onto the drumkit, which in turn leads to a decrease in noise, distortion, and overall unpleasantness. This is definitely not a positive development. The only song that really sounds like old-school Comets to me is the all-too-brief "Holy Teeth," which clocks in at about 3 minutes. Seriously, guys: NEEDS MORE ECHOPLEX. Best song: probably "Dogwood Rust."
7.) Bobby Bare, Jr. - The Longest Meow -- So this is what good alt-country sounds like! Having heard more than my fill of overrated / mediocre acts like Ryan Adams and Wilco had made me dismiss the entire genre as nuthin' but a bunch of talentless hacks and watered-down jamband-lite wankers. But fuck that, Bobby Bare Jr.'s the real fucking deal. On The Longest Meow, which was recorded virtually entirely live in the studio, Bare splits the difference between his alternative-ish past and his more country-grounded solo records with the Young Criminals' Starvation League, retaining both the grinningly clever lyrics and the RAWK heft. In closing, the fact that Bobby Bare Jr. is not insanely popular is all the proof you need to know that America is full of dumb assholes. Best song: "Stop Cryin'."
6.) Witch - Witch -- True meat n' taters stoner rock at its finest, with J Mascis (!) on the drumkit. Of course, the lyrics are a bit over-the-top generic (lots of burning pyres, funerals, magic spells, and even a succubus!) but c'mon, the blueprint for this (or any other great stoner rock) is Sabbath, so juvenile things-that-go-bump-in-the-night imagery is not simply given a pass: it's revered. The guitars are downtuned and fuzzy, and Mascis does as good a Bill Ward impersonation as anyone. My only real complaint is that the vocals are a bit too Claypool-esque for me. Minor complaint, though: make no mistake about it, this is a damn fine album. Grow yer hair out, bust out the air guitar, and thrash along to the opening lick to "Rip Van Winkle," you pussy. Best songs: "Rip Van Winkle" and "Seer."
5.) Tool - 10,000 Days -- If anyone needs me, I'll be listening to Alice in Chains and pricing Faith No More bootlegs on eBay. Best song: "Jambi."
4.) Russian Circles - Enter -- Now, this is some damn hot flashfingered instru-metal, done up post-rock style, and cheers to 'em on that. This album is meant to be enjoyed as a succession of linked mini-suites, and a continuous theme is definitely noticeable the whole way throughout: not in a rock opera-ish way, but more in an overall "this is our style, so deal with it you pansy" type display of manliness. At times slow and brooding, at times manically aggressive, just like any great metal record. Any chance Mogwai picks these guys up as openers on their next trek across the States? Pwease? Best song: "Death Rides a [motherfucking] Horse [vulgarity added]."
3.) Tapes 'N Tapes - The Loon -- See, since I grew up listening to Zeppelin, Guns N' Roses and Metallica instead of Pavement, Jesus Lizard and Morrissey I don't suffer from the jaded hipster tendency to bury every great new album under an insufferable game of "spot the influence." Presumably, this is why I like bands like Interpol, The Raveonettes, and all kinds of shit that others simply dismiss with a "meh, they're ripping off Gang of Four" and a cluck of the tongue. The Loon was easily my most-listened-to new album in 2006. It's the type of record that, at first, seems awkward and self-consciously self-conscious before you realize A.) these dudes can play, B.) they know what goes into writing some damn fine songs, and C.) said dudes really manage to RAWK without simply relying on excessive volume (make no mistake, that's really fucking tricky). "The Iliad" stomps, "Insistor" shuffles, and "Jakov's Suite" is the best rock n' roll underture not written by Pete Townshend. And you can't leave out the vicodin-and-comfy-chair perfection of "Manitoba." Good, good shit. Best song: "The Iliad."
2.) Robert Pollard - Moon -- As the old saying goes, "Everything sounds better live." In the case of the songs from this year's FaCE (see above review), this adage is proven true with the album versions fleshed out into fully-formed, beefier versions of themselves. For the uninitiated, Moon was recorded during Robert Pollard and the Ascended Masters' (goddamn, I love that band name) two-show stint opening up for Pearl Jam. Oy vey, who knew that they'd be able to make "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men" listenable? It's a real fucking shame that the ticket-buying public is such a bunch of clueless shiteaters, because if Bob could have sold out some of the shows on his tour supporting Normal Happiness, he wouldn't have had to bust up his excellent backing band (Tommy Keene on guitar/keys, Jon Wurstur on drums, Jason Narducy playing bass, and Dave Phillips on guitar). Of course, since I'm a scab-scratching nitpicker, I have a few bones to pick with the chosen setlist. For example, for Christ's sake, where the fuck are "US Mustard Company," "Denied," "I'm a Strong Lion" and "Recovering?" And if Bob was going to bust out some songs from Normal Happiness in front of the Dockers n' North Face set in the Pearl Jam audience, why not "Top of My Game" and "Rhoda Rhoda?" And couldn't he have squeezed a second GbV chestnut in there somewhere? Either way, and with all my petty bitching aside, this is a fantastic record, significant because it's really only the second proper live album Uncle Bob's released, and it seems, sadly, that his beer-fueled caravan won't be hitting the road for the foreseeable future, which is a shame. If you never saw a Pollard solo show, or never saw GbV live you really, really missed out. Best song: "The Right Thing." I AM HIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH!!!!!! "Conqueror of the Moon" is incredible too, though.
1b.) Mogwai - Mr. Beast -- If you think that Young Team is better than this, you're an asshole. Best song: "Glasgow Mega-Snake."
1a.) Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties -- This might just be the finest summer album ever put out by anyone, and, on top of that, it's an indie album that actually RAWKS. These songs are packed with as much nostalgia and wistfulness as they are with huge, arena-sized hooks, and the songwriting is great enough to actually pull that tricky combo off without sounding insincere. Previous Oxford Collapse outings have been decidedly scrappier affairs, but on RtNP they're making no attempt to conceal that they're boldly swinging for the fences. Best song: gotta be "Burno" but there's no shortage of great songs on here.