Best Albums of 2006 #40-31
This sound comes through like a radio signal on a foggy night; sometimes playing on static, others times, sharp and clear. It’s meant for interior spaces; dark, subterranean, soothing—but one still feels the cool air creeping in the cracked window panes at one’s back. Noirish jazz, sweet funk, and heavy soul will have your head nodding, but you’ll have to set your brandy and cigarette down to groove to “Night I” and “Night II”. If someone’s talking at you while this is on, you’ll only be pretending to listen to them. The sound here is simultaneously cerebral and soulful, and it will draw you in, like a light in a basement window on a chilly night.
- Mutiple songs [MySpace]
Nine Times That Same Song
(What’s Your Rupture?; US: 24 Jan 2006; UK: Available as import)
The musical landscape was already rife with post-punk influences by 2006, but few bands captured quite the early-post-punk visceral excitement that informs Love Is All. Based in Sweden but releasing on New York City’s What’s Your Rupture? imprint, Love Is All bypasses usual ‘80s influences for New York circa 1979, pairing lo-fi punk riffs with no-wave sax blurt and a clever, fresh production angle. Creating a thrilling controlled noise, the meticulous production manages to sound straight off of a basement four-track without sacrificing excellent instrument separation throughout, which is important given how much is going on in any given track. Within that approach, the band never seems to rest too long on any precise sound, swerving through downtempo glockenspiel and echo-chamber disco when it suits its purposes, and the sheen of reverb and distortion obscuring keyboardist/singer Josephine’s voice on most tracks only makes her words all the more personal when it lifts.
- “Talk Talk Talk Talk” [MP3]
At War with the Mystics
(Warner Bros.; US: 4 Apr 2006; UK: 3 Apr 2006)
The Flaming Lips discovered politics, rediscovered guitar, and uncovered a love of early Pink Floyd and other psychedelic influences on their current release, At War with the Mystics. Chief Lip Wayne Coyne shows a pissed-off side that’s both eye-opening and refreshing. The keys are the first two songs; if you can wrap your head around “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and “Free Radicals”, you’re hooked. There are a good mix of anthems (the two aforementioned songs, “Haven’t Got a Clue”, and “The W.A.N.D.”) and cosmic psychedelica (“Vein of Stars”, “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”, “The Sound of Failure”). Steven Drozd’s guitar work is exceptional, and there are many hidden touches that unearth themselves with repeated listens. At War with the Mystics is as challenging and as rewarding as any release in 2006. The Flaming Lips have got the power now, motherfuckers—it’s where it belongs.
The Flaming Lips - The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
Under the Skin
(Reprise; US: 3 Oct 2006; UK: 2 Oct 2006)
Lindsey Buckingham fans (and there’s a crucial distinction between these and most Fleetwood Mac fans) usually cite the solo album that Buckingham couched within 1979’s Mac opus Tusk as irrefutable proof of the man’s musical and technical genius. Under the Skin is more akin to that work than anything Buckingham’s done in the last 27 years. Except that, instead of being driven by fame, personal tragedy, and drugs, Under the Skin is inspired by Buckingham’s belated domestic bliss and his fear of the clock winding down on his solo aspirations. The results are shot through with tension, longing, and gratitude—emotions reflected in these 11 breathy, odd, yet captivatingly melodic songs, including Stones and Donovan covers that Buckingham makes his own. Don’t call this an “acoustic” album, either: All of the multi-tracking, click tracks, and effects make that irrelevant. Instead, call it Buckingham’s most intimate, affecting case yet for being the major singer/songwriter he so wants to be recognized as.
Lindsey Buckingham - Show You How
An Announcement to Answer
(Ubiquity; US: 25 Jul 2006; UK: 24 Jul 2006)
Quantic, one Will Holland, is a globetrotter and it shows. He’s bound by the chains of no genre conventions and no geographic definitions. While traveling from Puerto Rico to Ethiopa and America, he worked on the ambitious An Announcement to Answer on his laptop, soaking up regional sounds and applying his own abundant imagination at every juncture along the way. There’s hip-hop and soul, sure, but there’s also salsa, funk and jazz. Quantic is one fine crate-digger. These sounds are diverse, while resonating as unified and whole. It takes a great artist to use a broad palette and capture seemingly disparate and wide-ranging elements and bring them together into a coherent (and beautiful) statement. Quantic’s work is always adventurous and yet accessible, a very difficult thing for any musician to achieve. This is among his finest statements.
- Multiple songs [MP3]
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
(Anti-; US: 21 Nov 2006; UK: 20 Nov 2006)
Tom Waits’s songs have always been a motley bunch of mangy ruffians—in the department store of American popular music, they’re the ones relegated to the “irregulars” bin in the corner. And so a title like Orphans is only too representative of Waits’s musical world, which, while inextricable from the musical world at large, maintains our only consistent connection to the unpopularized nooks and crannies of American musical history. The three-disc set, housed in a beautifully bound booklet, takes a whopping 54 songs—some new, some newly re-discovered, some previously available on compilations and soundtracks—and divides them into three thematic demarcations. Brawlers has the b-movie rockabilly, grunting Chicago blues, and frothing-at-the-mouth spirituals; Bawlers collects the classicist balladeering and folk-based strums; and Bastards oozes the detritus of batshit subconscious, from bedtime nightmares to oral dissections of insect life. Much more than a closet-cleaning odds ‘n’ sods collection, Orphans is a comprehensive summation of Waits’s craggy persona and a rough reflection of the dirty water flooding the tidal pools of American music.
Tom Waits - Lie to Me
- “Bottom of the World” [MP3]
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
(Matador; US: 12 Sep 2006; UK: 11 Sep 2006)
Down an abandoned alley in deepest, darkest Hoboken, Yo La Tengo finds itself cornered by a multitude of fearsome contemporary music gangs. The last vestiges of nü-metal, coughing and tearing their goatees out, but still lethal, advance on the veteran indie-rock band. Crunk stars sport brass knuckles; emo-kids prepare to launch homemade Molotov cocktails brewed with the collected tears of their tormented hearts, but Yo La Tengo is not cowed. Frontman Ira Kaplan steps forward, backlit by sodium light, and declares I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. The alley erupts in derisive laughter. But before the gangs can react, the band unleashes a lethal volley: the cowbell-and-falsetto of “Mr. Tough” which compresses “Let’s Be Still” (from 2003’s Summer Sun) into a hard nugget of R&B-flavored pop, the gorgeously stretched-out instrumental “Daphnia”, and the catchy-as-fuck “Beanbag Chair”. Gold teeth go flying with impact of the garage-band beach party of “Watch Out For Me Ronnie”. Explosions of self-absorbed angst are rendered into powdered sugar by the calm wisdom of Georgia Hubley’s “I Feel Like Going Home”. The gangs are routed every which way including Sunday by Yo La Tengo’s mastery of an arsenal of styles, its record unmatched in 2006 for its diversity and charm. Many asses are kicked this day.
Yo La Tengo - Today Is the Day [Live on CNBC]
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
(Columbia; US: 25 Apr 2006; UK: 24 Apr 2006)
The premise: an aging rock star explores his musical roots by devoting an entire album to remakes of traditional folk songs recorded by someone semi-popular 60 years ago. To do so, he will forego recording with his world-famous, ass-kicking band and assemble a collective of unknown musicians who play such rocking instruments as the… uh… washboard. Sounds like a hit, eh? Not exactly, but when the rock star is Bruce Springsteen and the folk singer is Pete Seeger, you’ve got an undeniable slice of Americana.
We Shall Overcome is not only a concise anthology of American folk music (and its roots in Great Britain), it’s also a lesson in American mythology. From outlaws to biblical figures to heroic laborers, Springsteen mines the depths of our heritage. All of this would be worthy for purely academic reasons, but the album also sounds really damn good. Dylan may be America’s most revered artist, but he could only dream of sounding this inspired.
Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band - Jacob’s Ladder
Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
Rabbit Fur Coat
(Team Love; US: 24 Jan 2006; UK: 23 Jan 2006)
As her song “I Never” on Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous first suggested, Jenny Lewis sees the deep clear honest beauty in country music. Presumably she responds not only to the melodies and textures, but also to the great storytelling tradition of the form. And perhaps to the way strong females can thrive and even dominate within the genre. Rabbit Fur Coat is both a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Folk, country, pop, and Southern gospel are fused into an ageless, captivating record that, in quite the oddest way, reminds me very much of Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose. Wrapped carefully within the soft soprano harmonies of the Watson Twins, Lewis’s voice is deep, sensual, and extraordinarily expressive, handling all measure of emotions with a constant mesmerising grace. Like Neko Case, she bends her voice at will around her intricate, twisting lyrics as if it was the easiest thing in the world. If I could own only one record that was released during 2006, this would be the one.
Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rise Up with Fists
- Multiple songs [MySpace]
For all his scrupulous intentions and inarguable punch, Eddie Vedder’s aggressive earnestness is what has probably turned a lot of people off to grunge’s sole survivors over the past few years; additionally, though Pearl Jam’s live shows have remained thrilling, its last two records were the spottiest of its 15-year career. That makes Pearl Jam one of the most welcome comebacks of 2006, a roaring monster that finds Vedder’s righteous rage focused on those most worthy of targets: a messy war, a garish president, and the vulgar abuses of power unleashed on honest men by both.
Vedder and his enduring company swear up and down that Pearl Jam isn’t a concept disc, but it’s tough to think the carpe-diem meteor “Life Wasted” (and its brief reprise), the majestically melodic “Marker in the Sand”, the fireball sucker-punch to the administration “World Wide Suicide” (“Tell you to pray while the devil’s on their shoulder”), and the heartbreaking “Come Back” don’t star the same cast. But Pearl Jam‘s power is not just Vedder: Mike McCready and Stone Gossard have relocated the bite sometimes missing from Riot Act and Binaural, and Matt Cameron’s all but perfected his thrash. War is good for nothing, but there’s great worth in responses as thoughtful and driving as this.
Pearl Jam - Life Wasted