The following list is comprised of my favorite 12 albums released in 2006. Take note that this list is in flux, and could be very different a month from now. For example, last year I declared Sufjan Steven’s Illinois as my top album of ’05, but in retrospect that title, without a doubt, goes to The National’s Alligator. Such is the nature of time spent with music and our appreciation of it. As I tend to spend a lot of time with older artist’s catalogs, I encourage you to visit the blogroll to the right too see how other contemporary audio blogs are weighing in on the year in music. It’s been a great year — thanks for reading.
Robert Pollard :: From A Compound Eye (Merge)
After disbanding Guided By Voices a solo Robert Pollard ironically released, via Merge Records, the best GBV record in years entitled From A Compound Eye. Working with producer and collaborator Todd Tobias, Pollard made good on his threat to release a double album and for the most part the results were excellent all the way through. True to himself, as he is known to do, Pollard also released another album on Merge in 2006 entitled Normal Happiness to an albeit overall less enthusiastic response.
MP3: Robert Pollard :: Dancing Girls And Dancing Men
MP3: Robert Pollard :: Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft
Amazon: Robert Pollard – From A Compound Eye
Centro-matic :: Fort Recovery (Misra)
Even before it’s official release, Drive-by Trucker , Patterson Hood hailed Centro-matic’s 2006 LP his favorite album of the year. High praise indeed, but far from unwarranted. Fort Recovery is the sound of Centro-matic coming into their own after many years working together in both the Centro-matic and South San Gabriel. The album was also the soundtrack driving across the country — and back — with my wife this past summer. “Patience For The Ride “ took on a wholly personal meaning eating up mile after mile of U.S. freeway for two plus months.
Related: A.D. review of Centro-matic’s performance in L.A. September 2006 at The Troubadour.
MP3: Centro-matic :: Calling Thermatico
MP3: Centro-matic :: Patience For The Ride
Amazon: Centro-matic – Fort Recovery
www.centro-matic.com ++ www.south-san-gabriel.com
TV On The Radio :: Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope Records)
Sonically descending from out of nowhere, Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio tore out of the gate with their Young Liars EP unleashing their chaotic blend of fuzzed out post-rock on the indie-minded masses. Effortlessly combining an organic blend of gospel, free-jazz, punk, and drum loops, TVOTR sounded like nothing else on the contemporary music scene. That claim can still be made in 2006. Riffing on the same atmospheric paranoia as its predecessor, yet expanding on both the sound and the songwriting, Return To Cookie Mountain defies convention. Like their previous work, this album continues to show the listener something new with each listen.
Howe Gelb :: ‘Sno Angel Like You (Thrill Jockey Records)
Another great road album from last summer’s cross-country fandango, this LP is quickly earning a “modern classic” tag in my book.
If you don’t know the score already, this is the album Howe Gelb enlisted the help from a Canadian Gospel choir (Voices Of Praise Choir) to back his off-kilter musical leanings. This odd pairing works amazingly well adding a texture to Gelb’s music that sounds more like exaltation than church.
Drive-By Truckers :: A Blessing And A Curse (New West)
A Blessing and a Curse finds the Truckers once again delivering yet another stellar batch of raw, imaginative Southern Rock. The album’s opener and first single, “Feb 14,” finds Hood ruminating on the aftermath of a less than perfect romance. Standard rock ‘n roll fare, only Hood puts his undeniable touch on the well-worn subject matter, and in doing so, owns it. Contributions from both Cooley and Isbell round out the album touching on subjects not at all inherently “Southern,” which is something the band has stated they wanted to achieve with this album. No matter the Zip code the band, once again, achieves big here.
The Hold Steady :: Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant Records)
To the uninitiated, not unlike it’s predecessor, 2004′s Separation Sunday, Boys and Girls in America is at first listen quite the unassuming album. Full of loud bursts of guitars, bordering on pastiche keyboard fills, and leader Craig Finn’s bark, The Hold Steady come off as a seasoned bar band. It’s only on further examination that you decode the back alley poetry and creeping charm that make up the band. Paeans to drinking, love, misery, the streets, and the working class — The Hold Steady can at times seem like (albeit less depressing) an aural counterpart to a Bukowski short story.
What has been the most surprising (and refreshing) about The Hold Steady is the fact that they have been so accepted in contemporary music. Non-pretentious, un-ironic, bare bones rock & roll has not been fashionable in years and yet these guys are making it in today’s fickle rock landscape.
Bob Dylan :: Modern Times (Columbia)
“I own the Sixties. Did I ever want to acquire the Sixties? No. But I own the Sixties – who’s going to argue with me? I’ll give ’em to you if you want ’em. You can have ’em.” — Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone, 2006
When you’re Bob Dylan you not only have the luxury of making such statements, as the above, but also have the goods to back them up. From a (pop) cultural standpoint Dylan in many ways does “own” the tumultuous decade, but as plainly stated later in the same interview, he is not interested in being judged against his back-catalog, as he would rather an audience view him an artist of the present. And an artist of the present he is. Returning with his first album in five years, Dylan explores the roots-rock waters navigated on 2001’s Love & Theft with his usual brand of steadfast lyrics matched with a confident cowboy backbeat.
Recording with his longtime touring band, Dylan again acts as his own producer under the guise of “Jack Frost” deftly getting the sound out of his band that before had only existed in his head. After the barn-burner opener “Thunder On The Mountain”, the album eases gracefully into its second track “Spirit On The Water” – a seven minute-plus waltzy lovesong demonstrating classic Dylan at his best. The remainder of the album weaves and darts a similar pace, with the question remaining: Is it natural to be this good on you’re 42nd album? I think in the case of Dylan the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Related: Various bootlegs and alternate sessions were shared on A.D. in 2006. Search the archives.
Will Oldham has long mastered mood and atmosphere in his work. His lyrics and instrumentation have often painted scenes of quiet desperation, longing and pain, and this latest LP proves no exception. While The Letting Go stays the course thematically for the majority of the album’s path, Valgeir Sigurdsson’s production and the addition of strings and chamber orchestration give it an added layer of feeling that amplifies some of the elements at play here. Also new and noteworthy, is the welcome addition of Dawn McCarthy lending her voice to the harmonies that swell throughout the work. It’s as if The “Bonnie” Prince has found a New Partner.
MP3: Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: Cursed Sleep
MP3: Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: Lay And Love
Amazon: Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Letting Go
Sonic Youth :: Rather Ripped (Geffen)
There are some artists whose every brushstroke, plucked note, and keystroke are anxiously awaited by their fervent admirers. Sonic Youth is such an institution.
Rather Ripped yet again exemplifies why Sonic Youth are the Grateful Dead of Art-Rock. Like those aged hippies of yore, no one does what Sonic Youth do, nor could. Pale imitations yes, but never matched, nor topped. With the exodus of Jim O’Rourke, the album also finds the band returning to a tight four piece unit. It’s this essential core that makes the “Sonic Youth” sound so readily apparent and familiar. It is none more than evident within the first few notes of the LP’s opening track “Reena.” A Kim Gordon vehicle that feels as natural as anything from the band’s extensive back-catalog, the track pulls you into the album’s world immediately.
With 20+ albums under their belt Sonic Youth break no new ground here, but explore and expand on the firm foundation that they have been mining since their NYC No Wave beginnings back in the early 1980s. The more things change, the more the stay the same.
Related: A.D. review of Sonic Youth’s performance in Atlanta 6-19-06 at The Centerstage.
MP3: Sonic Youth :: Do You Believe In Rapture?
MP3: Sonic Youth :: Incinerate
Amazon: Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
Like Dusty Springfirled decades before her, Chan Marshall rolled onto Memphis, cold, as an outsider and recorded with a crack, native Memphis band to stunning results. She may have also created, again like Springfield, her most accompished work.
Horse Feathers :: Words Are Dead (Lucky Madion Records)
Hailing from Portland, this indie folk duo’s debut album Words Are Dead dominated my listening habits in the late summer months. Horse Feathers rustic use of strings, saws, and bows arrived fully formed, both on disc and in person, which make it all the more startling these two are not the seasoned veterans their music seems to invoke. RIYL: Iron & Wine, Travel By Sea, Will Oldham, Sufjan Stevens.
Related: A.D. first impressions of Horse Feathers – August 2006.
MP3: Horse Feathers :: Finch On Sunday
MP3: Horse Feathers :: Hardwood Pews
Amazon: Horse Feathers – Words Are Dead
Daniel Hutchens :: Lovesongs For Losers (Autumn Tone)
Note: Released in October, this was my newly minted labels’ debut release recorded last Spring at David Barbe’s studio in Athens, GA. I could’nt be happier with the results.
The record plays like the bastard child of Hutchens’ long running rock & roll outfit Bloodkin with the quirkier, creative shadings and nuances of his solo work. It’s the sound of an American bard from the South — there is no artifice here. I highly endorse not only this recording, but encourage fans of the Drunkard, and/or Southern Gothic/Americana/No Depression, to seek out LESSER, the seven Bloodkin LPs, and of course Hutchens’ live gigs. This guy is a national treasure, and I’ll stand on Steve Earle’s coffee-table in my Jack Purcell’s and say just that.
The following is a list of albums that I fully endorse picking up, and — in fact — look forward to spending more time with in 2007. Some barely missed the cut for the above list as “favorites” so take that into consideration while perusing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Track A Tiger :: Woke up early the day I died
I can’t recommend this enough for those looking for a solid and lazy alt.county/pop album.
The Knife :: Silent Shout
I haven’t spent this much time with an electronica based album since the late ’90s.
M. Ward :: Post-War
Post-War further cristalizes Ward’s folk laden, troubadour vision
Yo La Tengo :: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Sparklehorse :: Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
Mark Linkous triumphantly returns to the public eye with a beauty of an album.
Neko Case :: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Neko’s finest solo work yet. Everything comes together here from the lyrics, delivery and instrumentation.
Grizzly Bear :: Yellow House
The production and arrangements on Yellow House alone warrant multiple listens.
Destroyer :: Destroyer’s Rubies
An at times challenging album that delivers after multiple listens. Mr. Bejar’s best yet.
Califone :: Roots & Crowns
Beach House :: Self Titled
Fantastic. The second coming of Mazzy Star…or the closest we’ll get bar a reuion.
Robyn Hitchcock :: Olé! Tarantula
This album really plays up to Hitchcock’s strengths. Not to be missed if at all a Soft Boys fan.
Belle & Sebastian :: The Life Pursuit
The best Belle & Sebastian album in years. Seriously.
Band of Horse :: Everthing All The Time
This Seattle band came out f the gate and were just what my My Morning Jacket deprived ears needed.
Gob Iron :: Death Songs for the Living
Jay Farrar and Anders Parker’s aold time collaboration. Appalachian Spooky.
The Raconteurs :: Broken Boy Soldiers
Howlin’ Rain :: Self Titled
The grateful dead for the indie-rock/cool-haircut set.
Beck :: The Information
After initially dismissing Beck post-Guero, this album brought me back into the fold.
The Whigs :: Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip
Imagine Pavement or possibly early Strokes if they were Southerners.
Midlake :: The Trials of Van Occupanther
Home to my favorite single of the year, this album is great in and of itself.
Lucero :: Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers
One of my fave bands the past year, I FORGOT to list this LP when I posted last night. Thanks to the commenters who helped me remember this fine album of 2006.