Archive for May 7th, 2007

2006: The Year In Music

7 May 2007

[Before 2006 gets too far in the rearview mirror, let's take a moment to reflect on the year gone by...]

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“The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”
– Mark Twain

2006 is a done deal, and looking back on the year in music, there isn’t any one story that stands out as a fitting allegory for the year gone by. Ziggy Stardust didn’t fall from the skies to tell us we’ve got five years left. Elvis didn’t make his long awaited appearance on the Gaza Strip to broker peace in the Middle East. And Motley Crue didn’t start producing a major motion picture about their lives (or wait, maybe they did).

The grim reaper is quite a music fan, and he got some good ones in ’06. Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Buck Owens, Anita O’Day, Ali Farka Toure, Wilson Pickett, Desmond Dekker and dozens of lesser-known but equally influential voices took their leave of this realm. They will all be missed.

Barrett and Lee – ‘acid casualties’ before the term had even been coined – were fiercely independent artists who turned away from music in what should have been their prime years. These misunderstood pioneers of (respectively) British and American psychedelic music were justly celebrated and finally given the hosannas and hurrahs that they had earned so many summers ago.

James Brown passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Day. The Godfather Of Soul’s influence on modern music is incalculable – in addition to inventing funk as we know it and providing the backbone of modern hip-hop sound, he is the most sampled artist in the history of music. JB leaves behind 6 kids, 4 different wives, more than 100 hit singles (though curiously no chart toppers), a smattering of high profile arrests, and a lot of heavy hearts.

Also leaving us behind were two musical institutions that catered to delivering specialized music to hardcore fans. CBGB’s and Tower Records took different routes to music fans’ hearts, but they both delivered the goods, time and again. Unfortunately, they took exactly the same route into the dustbin of history: bankruptcy.

There was some re-birth. Os Mutantes, ESG, Radio Birdman, The Saints, Replacements, and Roxy Music (among dozens of others) all reformed for the first time in years (or in some cases, decades). Reunions are hardly surprising anymore, but the ferocity and passion with which some of them played was a shock.

But the winner for ‘most stunning development of the year’? That’s easy: Rolling Stone magazine is suddenly good again. From excellent investigative pieces by Robert Kennedy Jr. to Maureen Dowd’s feature-length interview with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to great articles about James Brown and Bob Dylan by Jonathan Letham, my lifetime subscription is suddenly a bargain instead of a heinous, screeching albatross.

Speaking of great journalism (and screeching albatrosses), Dr. David Thorpe’s withering, brilliant music reviews are some of the best music-related comedy ever. His reader mail from Mars Volta and Tool fans, and breakdown of the epic dorkiness of They Might Be Giants are enough to justify a visit to his site.

And finally, does the little sticky security strip on the top of CDs really have to be so hard to remove? I realize that MP3s are pushing discs the way of the 8-track, but after we find peace in Iraq, can someone negotiate a cease-fire on the glue guns? Elvis, where are you?

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The 40 best albums of 2006…

The Coup - album
The Coup * Pick A Bigger Weapon

1 – “His performances… captured the personalities of the numerous black characters he created to ridicule and comment upon the circumstances under which African Americans lived. It was revolutionary humor.” That description ran in an obituary for Richard Pryor earlier this year, but it’s an apt summary of the lyrical and satirical strength of The Coup’s Raymond ‘Boots’ Riley.

Putting his own spin on the term ‘party politics,’ Riley understands that a punch line can be more effective than a clenched fist at driving home a particularly devastating point. But that doesn’t mean that Pick A Bigger Weapon pulls any punches – this is a funky manifesto about the places where politics meet the everyday. Bigger Weapon’s central premise is that politics can (and do) trickle down into the bedroom, the workplace, and every other nook and cranny of modern life. From a hustler who wants a better paying job, to a Rico Suave who want 10 more minutes in bed before work, to a woman contemplating her uterus’ place in the apocalypse, every song conveys a point of view on something.

While not as overtly aggressive or revolution-minded as 2001’s Party Music (with songs about killing CEO’s, pushing women’s rights, lashing political ambivalence, and much more), this is an album that contains enough little truths to make it both more finely detailed and universally applicable than its damn-that’s-hot predecessor.

Most political protest music is boring, preachy, or too serious to be easily enjoyed, but The Coup never fall prey to narcissism or let the message overpower the music. Like skilled social satirists before them, they convey an essential understanding of the people they’re portraying, and crawl beneath the clichés to reveal the pulse of life that exists in everyday people with concerns beyond ousting a lousy government (“All I wanted was a Regal to glisten/And my kids would have meat in the kitchen”). The Coup understand that it’s hard for people to fight for good government when they’re busy trying to make a good living, and that this paradox is at the center of minorities’ (and America’s) continuing downward spiral.

Kanye West’s comment that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” was naive and self-evident. For The Coup, the real challenge isn’t getting Bush to care about minorities (hell will freeze over first), but to get minorities to care about Bush, and the policies of his administration — and do something about them. And when he sings “We like free speech, but we love free cable” it’s clear that Riley understands that he’s in for a long, steep, uphill battle.

What the critics say: “Boots fuses sexuality and celebration with naked politics just as seamlessly as he combines irreverent humor and heartwarming humanism.” – The Onion (A.V. Club)†

† Most of the quotes from other critics come from the super cool site metacritic.com

Tom Waits - album
Tom Waits * Orphans

2 – Tom Waits doesn’t put out new albums very often, so this triple disc release of rarities, b-sides, and new material felt like a Christmas gift in November. Subtitled ‘Brawlers Bawlers and Bastards’ the set is seamlessly divvied up by subject matter. Brawlers brings together some of the more rough and tumble material, Bawlers contains (of course) the ballads (if Tom Waits singing anything can be considered a ballad), and Bastards collects loose ends, spoken word pieces, and anything else beyond the fringe of mortal reason.

This set was originally proposed as a collection of rarities and other ephemera, but Waits was didn’t feel that the material was standing up on its own and decided to round it out with new songs. This eventually blossomed into 32 new tracks that expanded this well beyond the realm of another ho-hum b-side closet cleaning. Leave it to an artist as stubborn and imaginative as Waits to release an album that encapsulates and summarizes his entire career without including a single hit (or even well-known) song. Orphans is an outstanding collection that reflects the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of a singularly gifted artist.

What the critics say:Orphans is a bravura showcase for the instrument of Tom Waits’ voice.” – ShakingThrough.net

Beck - album
Beck * The Information

3The Information is an amalgamation of all the Becks we’ve ever loved before. There’s the funky jetsetter, the white trash rapper, the blue eyed-soul wannabee, and the experimental whiz-kid. Beck continues to create his own corner of the music industry – one that resembles a flea market crowded with bowling pins, trampolines, puppets, accordions, disco balls, and the ubiquitous string section. This is an album (like Odelay) worthy of your finest dorky 80’s break dancing moves (the electric freeze, the robot, and the moonwalk come highly recommended). It’s a strong return to form that succeeds on every level and should replace Odelay as the album by which every subsequent Beck release is measured.

What the critics say: “One of the best albums Beck has ever made.” – Rolling Stone

Mylo - album
Mylo * Destroy Rock & Roll

4 – Most electronica is like a supercharged motorbike – it’s fast, loud, creates tons of adrenaline, and comes in a shiny plastic shell. Destroy Rock & Roll is more like an 18 speed bike – lots of gears but essentially simple, made to be enjoyed by all ages, yet providing pretty much the same rush as its’ high powered counterpart. In the continuing evolution of electronic dance music, this stands as a milepost where sly humor intersects cartoon beats and devilishly clever samples. It’s a place where good times abound, and no helmets are required.

What the critics say:Destroy Rock & Roll is exponentially more than the sum of its parts.” – Playlouder

Neko Case - album
Neko Case * Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

5 – If Wikipedia’s definition of Impressionism (“[an] emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, and unusual visual angles”) is correct, then Neko Case qualifies as an Impressionist. She captures luckless losers in broad, colorful strokes, and has an eye for the kind of detail that sticks to your ribs: “Two girls ride the main line/Two girls walk down the same street/One left her sweater sitting on the train/And the other lost three fingers in the cannery.” Fox Confessor… mines the seediest seam of the gutter and turns up storytelling gold.

What the critics say: “Case has never sounded as vital as she does on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.” – Billboard

M. Ward - album
M. Ward * Post-War

Calexico - album
Calexico * Garden Ruin

6/7 – It’s hard not to hear M. Ward’s new album as a soliloquy from the perspective of a soldier in Iraq. The song titles alone – ‘To Go Home’ ‘Right In The Head’ and ‘Eyes On The Prize’ – invite this interpretation. Ward sounds like a man wishing for the other side of life and longing for home, love, and a chance to ask a wise man three questions. Of course, his ages-old croon is perfectly suited for bringing these songs to life. It’s called Post-War, but it sounds an awful lot like notes from a quagmire.

Calexico’s music has always been about motion, yearning, and the Southwest. It evokes moods in adobe browns and cactus greens, and if you squint your ears, it sounds like despair, Iraqi-style. Garden Ruin doesn’t call out that conflict by name, but it’s impossible not to feel its presence rippling through the songs. “When you think it couldn’t get much worse/Watch the numbers rise on the death toll” sings Joey Burns as ‘All Systems Red’ builds into a swirling storm of feedback. An angry, vital album by a band stretching out at the top of their game.

What the critics say: “A rich, bright sounding record, albeit etched with Ward’s lyrical ruefulness and voice of crumbling, lugubrious regret.” – Mojo

What the critics say II: “The best thing about Garden Ruin is the way they look beyond country borders to engage with the wider world, both culturally and musically.” – BBC Collective

Cat Power - album
Cat Power * The Greatest

8 – Chan Marshall had shown flashes of brilliance that kept her name at the forefront of indie rock talk, but she was known more for her live show meltdowns than for musical accomplishment. With The Greatest, she has finally harnessed her immense talent. Recorded in Memphis, TN with crack session musicians, whose backing adds an emotional depth to the music that allows Marshall to stretch out her vocals and wring goose bumps out of even the simplest of lines. Like Dusty Springfield before her, Cat Power has tapped into the deep, dark recesses of the South and produced an album of striking clarity and gothic beauty.

What the critics say: “The rare album that works even better in execution than it does in theory, one that rises far above the genre exercise it could have been.” – Under The Radar

Arctic Monkeys - album
Arctic Monkeys * Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

9 – Arctic Monkeys shot to the top of the charts with the fastest-selling debut in British history (yes, you read that correctly) and were immediately obscured by their own success. Are these guys better than the Beatles? Of course not, but the fact that the comparison was made so often highlights a weird tic of modern society: the impulse to equate ‘most’ with ‘best’. That said, they are pretty damn good, and several of these songs are instant classics. Whatever People Say I Am… matches catchy riffs with plenty of smarts and the right amount of attitude. Sure, it’s pop confection that’s mostly about nothing, but the kids are alright.

What the critics say: “You probably won’t hear a better CD all year long.” – The New York Times

Modern Times - album
Bob Dylan * Modern Times

10 – With each passing year, Bob Dylan comes to resemble more and more the cosmic joker (usually disguised as a coyote) that we all read about in mythology class in high school. Not content to merely confound expectations, he mocks them – witness the Victoria’s Secret ad he appeared in this year. Of course, his album that most sounds like it sprouted from 1930’s WPA America is called Modern Times. The songs namecheck Alicia Keys, pitchforks, and levees, with a dense underpinning of Revelations. Dylan has wrapped these songs in a cloak of pre WWII cadence, rhythms, and imagery, and the result is an album that sounds vibrant, hand-crafted, and instantly familiar.

What the critics say: “It radiates the observant calm of old masters who have seen enough life to be ready for anything–Yeats, Matisse, Sonny Rollins.” – Blender

Los Lobos - album
Los Lobos * The Town And The City

11The Town And The City is an album populated by folks who are just trying to make it through today and to the next. Los Lobos’ 13th, it bleeds weary resignation. If the bulk of their recorded output is for (and about) Friday and Saturday, this album is all about Sunday and Monday. Weaving tales about immigrants and the hard roads they face (“I’m killing myself to keep alive/killing myself to survive” sings David Hidalgo) with some of the simplest melodies of their career, it’s an album that is by turns tragic and lovely. It’s far from their usual roots rock celebration, but it’s as good as anything they’ve done since 1992’s Kiko.

What the critics say: “A tour de force of intertwined sound and imagery.” – Uncut

Girl Talk - album
Girl Talk * Night Ripper

12 – Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) combines DJ Shadow’s crazy quilt mixing style with William S. Burroughs’ cut and paste aesthetic and Casey Kasum’s playlist. He samples Pixies, Violent Femmes, Billy Squier, Pilot, Kansas, Elton John, Hall & Oates (among many other unusual suspects), and marries them to fragments of killer hip-hop. The music is pretty cool, but the real story here is that Gillis is challenging existing sampling laws through the Fair Use Act, claiming that he is creating something original. If his tactic succeeds, it could open the door for a host of albums that will sound like the overdue grandchildren of Paul’s Boutique and make this easily the most influential album of this year. Stay tuned…

What the critics say: “Due to its overwhelming number of unlicensed sources, Night Ripper is practically begging for court drama.” – Pitchfork Media

Gnarls Barkley - album
Gnarls Barkley * St. Elsewhere

13 – Like the best stuff in life, this collaboration between Cee-lo Green and DangerMouse is quite simply beyond category. You could pull out a bag full of hyphens and call it funk-punk-rock-soul-hip-hop, but that sort of proves the point. Gnarls Barkley touch on a lot of genres, but they’re captive to none. Surprise smash hit ‘Crazy’ crossed over into every demographic and became the first single to go to #1 in the UK on downloads alone. Their movie-motif costumes for photo-shoots and concerts were smart theater and made the duo instant media darlings. But more importantly, St Elswhere is filled with great songs from a pair of artists who are not willing to be easily defined. Now where do they go?

What the critics say: “You certainly won’t hear much else at the moment as inventive as this.” – New Musical Express

TVOTR - album
TV On The Radio * Return To Cookie Mountain

14 – TV On The Radio possess the unsettling edge of Peter Gabriel, the strange, driving funk of Prince’s early work, and flourishes of barbershop quartet and No Wave thrown in for good measure.†† Founding members Tunde Adebimpe and David Andrew Sitek are visual artists, and it shows all over their three dimensional songs. Return To Cookie Mountain is full of layers, but it never feels dense. TVOTR use sound as texture and layer it upon itself to create a depth of field that most music lacks. This is their first major label release, and it’s much more challenging than their previous work. An exciting and unusual album from a band just discovering what they sound like.

††I wrote this just because these guys have obviously worked so hard to avoid the “they sound like this band plus this band” equation.

What the critics say: “TV on the Radio have crafted a work of immense, cataclysmic, almost overwhelming power and righteous fire.” – Stylus Magazine

Yell Fire - album
Michael Franti & Spearhead * Yell Fire!

15 – When you’re Chicken Little, and the sky has already fallen, what do you say? Michael Franti has made a career out of bemoaning the state of the world and America’s role in it, but his latest album is strangely upbeat. Logically, Yell Fire! should be a blowtorch, but on balance it’s more laid back (and studio produced) than previous Spearhead albums. Songs like ‘East To The West’ and ‘Hello Bonjour’ trade Spearhead’s usual angry polemics for ‘One Love’-style sentimentality, and to fine effect. If Bob Marley were a hip-hop artist, this is exactly the type of album he’d make in this day and age.

What the critics say: “Franti’s brain-stimulating songwriting rises to a new level of proficiency here.” – All Music Guide

Tommy Guerrero - album
Tommy Guerrero * From The Soil To The Soul

16 – This former pro-skateboarder has quietly been making excellent proto-funk albums for years. His first effort for the Bay Area’s Quannum Projects label is an atmosphere album of the highest order, and it’s hard to see why Guerrero hasn’t caught on to a larger audience. Songs like ‘The Underdog’ and ‘Let Me In Let Me Out’ are ready-made to be mixed into the hip-hop of tomorrow. Like Cymande and Mandrill before him, Tommy Guerrero seems destined to become an artist who – through repeated sampling – becomes more famous 20 years down the line than he was in his own time.

What the critics say: “If Tommy Guerrero isn’t one of the most overlooked musicians of the last few years, we don’t know who is.” – HipHopSite.com

Johnny Cash - album
Johnny Cash * American V: A Hundred Highways

17 – Throughout his [insert a hundred hyperboles] career, Johnny Cash always came back to the themes of death, love lost, and redemption. On American V those themes moved from mere abstraction to autobiography as he sang at death’s door while mourning the passing of his life’s love, June Carter. Chanting down the grim reaper with a broken and sometimes raspy voice, Cash digs deeper than we deserve to deliver yet another album for the ages.

What the critics say: “From beginning to end, it’s as heartwarming and heartbreaking an album as you’re likely to hear this year.” – Paste Magazine

Springsteen - album
Bruce Springsteen * We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

18 – Springsteen’s punk album. Like an Americana version of the Pogues, the Boss and his ramshackle 13-piece band bring a proudly ragged delivery to Pete Seeger’s songs and move with all the elegance of a drunk in a rainstorm. The way he sneers the line “Robert Ford, that dirty little coward/I wonder how he feels” is positively one of the most Rotten-esque moments of the last 25 years. A noted perfectionist, Springsteen rush recorded this material in a matter of days, and it shows in the best way. By invoking the voice of chaos, Springsteen righteously condemns the present through the songs of the past.

What the critics say: “It’s quite possibly his best album since 1982′s Nebraska.” – E! Online

Unsung - album
Slaid Cleaves * Unsung

19 – Under-rated Austin, TX singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves shares the love by covering a dozen overlooked artists on Unsung. Cleaves’ voice is like single barrel bourbon – smooth and rich with some burn behind it – and he makes each of these songs his own. Anyone familiar with his other fine albums (including Broke Down and Wishbones) might assume these were all originals, they fit so well with the work he’s already done. Poetic justice dictates that this is the album that breaks Cleaves to the larger audience he so desperately deserves.

What the critics say:Unsung is excellent, the songs are of the highest quality and Slaid has tackled them with sensitivity and grace – it’s understated but with a gritty edge. Highly recommended.” – Fish Records

Petty - album
Tom Petty * Highway Companion

20 – Tom Petty’s return from the dark side makes Highway Companion the most impressive comeback album of the year. After a couple of grouchy stink bombs (admittedly the first of his long career) TP rebounds in a big way with this set of movers and shakers. ‘Saving Grace’ and ‘Down South’ are ready made for every subsequent Best Of, and ‘Jack’ is the kind of song the Red Hot Chili Peppers should be doing – no joke.

What the critics say:Highway Companion contains the most clear-eyed and hopeful songs that Petty has written in memory.” – Prefix Magazine

Black Keys - album
The Black Keys * Magic Potion

21 – The Black Keys’ brand of blues-rock draws comparisons to the White Stripes because of their guitar-&-drums-only configuration. But where the Stripes add lots of jaunty flourishes, the Keys play it straight and keep things stripped to the absolute essence of the Blues. Guitarist Dan Auerbach sings “I don’t want to go to hell, but if I do/It’ll be because of you” like he’s simmering over a slow flame. Magic Potion isn’t groundbreaking, but it will blister the paint on your sedan.

What the critics say: “They take their place among the scruffiest, ugliest and most crowd-pleasing bad guys the West has ever spat out.” – Urb

Kleptones - album
The Kleptones * 24 Hours

22 – Leave it to The Kleptones to take the mashup to doctorate levels. This double disc concept album is based on an around the clock day-in-the-life of an average worker bee, and the songs are subtitled with military time codes that chart a course through morning, workday, and night(life). The tunes combine the likes of Genesis and Edwin Starr, T. Rex and John Lennon, Simon & Garfunkel, Hip-Hop, various movie clips – and much more – in supremely odd (and wonderfully satisfying) juxtapositions. 24 Hours captures the humor, frustration, and absurdity of life in the rat race.

What the critics say: “As usual, grab it now. Who knows how long until they get ceased-and-desisted off the net…” – PlayTheRecords.com

Broken Boy Soldiers - album
The Raconteurs * Broken Boy Soldiers

23 – Jack White and Brendan Benson’s side group run blues-rock through a pop filter. Where White’s other group, the White Stripes, thrive on fuzzy imperfection, The Raconteurs smooth out the rough edges to create something that owes more to Marc Bolan than Blind Willie McTell. Side projects like this often come off as unconvincing, but even though Broken Boy Soldiers is often light, it contains enough magic moments to leave you hoping it’s not just a one-off.

What the critics say: “The cool sound of hot days, fragrant smoke, and FM radio at ear-splitting volume.”- Spin

Outkast - album
Outkast * Idlewild

24 – The pseudo-soundtrack to Outkast’s movie of the same name, Idlewild is neither artistic triumph nor unmitigated disaster. But considering their last three albums were all mind-blowing hip-hop of the highest order, it’s easy to forgive all the hype and hyperbole. With a few brilliant flashes (the marching band infected groove of ‘Morris Brown’ is a major highlight) this is a solid album, but not up to their normal, admittedly over-the-rainbow, standard.

What the critics say:Idlewild the movie may well prove to be Outkast’s Purple Rain, but the album is more likely to be their Graffiti Bridge—intermittently brilliant and spotty, and signaling the beginning of the end.” – XXLMag.com

Peyroux - album
Madeleine Peyroux * Half The Perfect World

25 – Like a torch singer in twilight, Madeleine Peyroux projects a persona that is equal parts fragile and fierce. With phrasing that brings to mind Billie Holiday, she’s got the chops to live up to that comparison while covering Fred Neil and Tom Waits! Half The Perfect World is a ray of sunshine on a rainy day – an album that is thrillingly and perfectly out of time.

What the critics say:World is like stumbling into a jazz café at closing time.” – Entertainment Weekly

Axis Of Evol - album
Pink Mountaintops * Axis Of Evol

26 – Musician Stephen McBean switches between his alter-ego groups Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops. In theory, Black Mountain is the repository for his harder, more Sabbath influenced material, but you wouldn’t know it by Axis Of Evol. This is 34 minutes of barely cloaked menace that ranges from acoustic strumming to heavy-handed wailing – often within a single song.

What the critics say: “Never mind McBean’s more successful other gig; Mountaintops don’t get much blacker than this.” – Magnet

Zeno Beach - album
Radio Birdman * Zeno Beach

27 – The biggest surprise of the year that didn’t come out of Johnny Cash’s vault belonged to this band of Australian renegades who hadn’t recorded together in nearly 30 years. Zeno Beach doesn’t have the fire of 1977’s Radios Appear, but few albums ever released can match that redline intensity. Still, considering that at the beginning of 2006, Radio Birdman was a dusty footnote in the history of punk music, this album (and subsequent tour) is a gift from the music gods.

What the critics say: “Roaring back to life as loud and rowdy as ever, Radio Birdman reinvigorates the hot-and-sweaty sleaze-punk of its youth for another generation.” – Aversion.com

Neil Young - album
Neil Young * Living With War

28 – Like Neil’s best hit-and-run recordings, Living With War is all the stronger for its’ sing-along sloppiness. Like 1975’s Tonight’s The Night, this is an album that mourns like a wailing widow. And unlike 2003’s overwrought and overcooked Greendale it effectively and economically bemoans a world on fire. From the cover stencil artwork to the very last note, it’s an unadorned – but incredibly affecting – statement.

What the critics say:Living With War is instantly the most incisive and penetrating album that Young has released in years, and it is arguably the most vital of his career.” – Tiny Mix Tapes

Herbert - album
Herbert * Scale

29 – Matthew Herbert is a classically trained pianist, and has gotten a lot of attention for using objects (723 of them, according to liner notes) to create the samples in his music. Ignoring the sheer novelty value of the previous sentence, the real story of Scale is that is marries the sugar of pop to the chassis of electronica, and successfully disguises political songs as love songs. It’s an album that effectively rides the line between syrupy and sublime.

What the critics say: “Inspiring and ingenious, this is an album you shouldn’t be without.” – musicOMH.com

Hot Chip - album
Hot Chip * The Warning

30 – Combining vocal harmonies and electronic beats is hardly an original formula, but Hot Chip strike a fine balance between robotic knob-twiddling and heartfelt confession. Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard wrap their vocals into a double helix of dread and comfort, making The Warning an unusually compelling mutation of the electronica gene.

What the critics say: “In the end, Hot Chip leave us frustrated, which makes sense since this is an album about frustration.” – cokemachineglow

Savane - album
Ali Farka Toure * Savane

31 – Ali Farka Toure died of bone cancer just three months before this – his 11th and final album – was released.Savane is a funky affair that contains a bit of everything he did well, and can’t help but leave you saddened at the passing of this world music legend.

What the critics say: “All we need to know is, he was a master and this is his masterwork.” – Observer Music Monthly

Wolfmother - album
Wolfmother * Wolfmother

32 – Like a blast furnace from the past, the pride of Sydney, AU hook molten metal riffs to prog-ish synth runs and sound like the delinquent offspring of Queen and Judas Priest. A raucous, fist-pumping good time, and the best 2006 debut this side of Arctic Monkeys.

What the critics say: “A terrific gonzoid metal album.” – Dot Music

Spank Rock - album
Spank Rock * YoYoYoYoYo

33 – Fusing helter skelter beats to the worst tendencies of hip-hop culture would seem like a bad recipe for success, but Spank Rock make it work. This Baltimore duo has the flow of champions, and the first half of this album is some of the best hip-hop you’ll hear all year.

What the critics say: “Some of it is juvenile, yet there is something undeniably likeable about YoYoYoYoYo.” – IndieLondon.co.uk

Clapton/Cale - album
Eric Clapton & JJ Cale * The Road To Escondido

34 – More mellow than a cup of chamomile tea, The Road To Escondido makes up in charm what it lacks in fireworks. Hearing these two old hands finally collaborate is a simple and delightful joy, and a journey well worth taking.

What the critics say: “Although it took years for this collaboration to finally happen, The Road to Escondido proves it’s never too late to form a new musical partnership.” – GlideMagazine.com

Animal Years - album
Josh Ritter * The Animal Years

35Animal Years doesn’t come within a country mile of 2001’s Golden Age Of Radio, but it displays much of the same deft touch and warm songwriting; skills that should make Ritter a household name sooner or later.

What the critics say: “Melodic, understated, yet with much natural warmth too, Ritter’s time has surely come.” – Q Magazine

Band Of Horses - album
Band Of Horses * Everything All The Time

36 – Finding the hidden groove between Flaming Lips and Neil Young, this Seattle group released one of the better debut albums of the year, only to see one of their founding members split during the subsequent tour.

What the critics say: “An astoundingly seductive debut.” – Drawer B

Frank Black - album
Frank Black * Fast Man Raider Man

37 – The mellowing of the Frank Black continues with Fast Man Raider Man – two discs of jazzy, laid back rock that sounds comfortable in its own skin. Nearly the polar opposite of his work with the Pixies, and all the better for it.

What the critics say: “That rare double album with enough life in it to deserve that much real estate.” – Alternative Press

Boxing Mirror - album
Alejandro Escovedo * The Boxing Mirror

38 – Escovedo nearly died from Hepatitis C three years ago, and The Boxing Mirror plays like a diary from his deathbed. Haunting and forlorn, this is a sublte album about life slipping away, and soul music of a different stripe.

What the critics say: “The darkest, most mysterious album of his career.” – Amazon.com

You In Reverse - album
Built To Spill * You In Reverse

39 – Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch is a modern day guitar god, and there’s nothing on You In Reverse to dispel that notion. While not as epic as previous BTS albums, it’s another solid effort from this supremely talented Boise outfit.

What the critics say:You in Reverse is a tremendous record – engaging, enveloping, engrossing.” – Trouser Press

Album Leaf - album
The Album Leaf * Into The Blue Again

40 – More than half the songs on Into The Blue Again are instrumentals, and each track plays like and evocative mini-symphony. One man band Jimmy LaValle makes moody music that is loaded with gravitational pull.

What the critics say: “There are certainly worse ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon than venturing into LaValle’s world.” – Lost At Sea

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13 more albums worth a mention…

[There was a lot of extremely worthwhile music released in 2006 that wasn't necessarily 'produced' in 2006, or didn't fit quite fit in the 'new releases' bin. Here's a baker's dozen of the more notable examples...

Personal File - album
Johnny Cash * Personal File

This double disc set of material from the 70′s and early 80′s (discovered after his death) shows that Johnny had anticipated the acoustic template that Rick Rubin would use so effectively to jump start Cash’s career in the 90s. Most of these songs were previously unreleased, but all of them are essential listening. This was perhaps the single best release of 2006.

Radiodread - album
Easy Star All-Stars * Radiodread

The same reggae collective that took on Pink Floyd (with Dub Side Of The Moon) has a go at OK Computer – with mixed results. While not as consistently entertaining as the Floyd covers, this is still a must listen for Radiohead and/or reggae fans.

Okonokos - album
My Morning Jacket * Okonokos

Featuring a dream set list, Okonokos is a worthy recording of a great live band. That said, there is no substitute for the real thing – go see them if you get the chance. And if you like this, check out their many live shows available for download at archive.org.

PJ Harvey - album
PJ Harvey * The Peel Sessions 1991-2004

On this collection of performances from the late DJ John Peel’s BBC show, Harvey shines time and again. The songs come from all phases of her career, but the taut, muscular vocals are all PJ, and Exhibit A on why she embodies the blues better than any other living female singer.

DFA Remixes - album
DFA Remixes * Chapter One

Comprising LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and partner Tim Goldsworthy, DFA are currently one of the most in-demand production teams on the planet. This set includes mixes of Gorillaz, Le Tigre, The Chemical Brothers, Hot Chip, and others, and shows just why DFA is such a hot item.

LB Live - album
Lyrics Born * Overnight Encore: LB Live

Lyrics Born is a top-shelf MC and performer. His concerts include a tight live band, talented backup singer Joyo Velarde, and LB’s nimble, literate wordplay. Veering from soul to hip-hop and back, Overnight Encore is a fine showcase for one of this generation’s best and most unheralded entertainers.

LCD Nike - cover
LCD Soundsystem * 45:33

This “Nike + Original Run” soundscape is by LCD Soundsystem, and the music is solid, if somewhat disjointed. But the product it’s designed for is the real star. Nike + iPod – with its associated website – is the coolest running accessory since shoes.

Lost Crowes - album
Black Crowes * Lost Crowes

These two discs of lost treasure from the Crowes’ heyday are all that. Taken from sessions for Amorica and By Your Side, these songs more than stand on their own – they’re on balance better than anything else the band has released in the last decade.

Neil Fillmore - album
Neil Young & Crazy Horse * Live At The Fillmore East

The first phase of Neil’s answer to Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, or an overpriced rip off? The first release of Neil’s ‘Archive Series’ is a little of both – light on running time, but long on hot-as-shit guitar solos that will leave you shaking your head in wonder.

Beatles Love - album
The Beatles * Love

This authorized Beatles mashup by George Martin and his son Gilles is mildly interesting and almost totally pointless. Considering that the Fab Four are perhaps the most mashed-up group in history, these mixes come off as predictable, stale, and – worst of all – harmless.

Jungle Rot - album
George Brigman * Jungle Rot

The fraternal twin to The Stooges’ Raw Power, this buzz-saw concerto from 1975 originally saw single digit distribution (no joke). This ‘reissue’ is cause for celebration, and Jungle Rot deserves mention as one of the most uncompromisingly rocking (and straight up best) albums of its era.

Wolfking - album
John Phillips * John The Wolfking Of L.A.

Phillips’ unsung 1972 masterwork finally receives the loving reissue that it has long deserved. Including seven previously unreleased tracks, John The Wolfking portrays the dark side of the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene of the early 70’s, and is an overlooked musical treasure.

Tropicalia - album
Various Artists * Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution In Sound

Soul Jazz records strikes again with this outstanding collection of Tropicalia classics. Featuring the songs of Gal Costa, Os Mutantes, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, and Caetano Veloso, this might be the best anthology ever assembled on behalf of this revolutionary Brazilian music.

————

Five I slept on in 2005…

Living Things * Ahead Of The Lions
Wolf Parade * Apologies To The Queen Mary
Jose Gonzalez * Veneer
Ben Vaughn * Designs In Music
Mike Coykendall * Hello Hello Hello

————

10 concerts that rocked 2006…

Roger Waters * Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA – 10/10/06
David Gilmour * Paramount Theater, Oakland – 4/17/06
Amadou & Mariam * Coachella Festival – Indio, CA – 4/30/06
M. Ward * Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR – 9/30/06
Lyrics Born * WOW Hall – Eugene, OR – 5/21/06
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Coachella Festival – Indio, CA – 4/29/06
Ween * Greek Theater – Berkeley, CA – 7/22/06
Cut Chemist/Lyrics Born * The Independent – SF, CA – 10/21/06
Radio Birdman * Great American Music Hall – SF, CA – 8/31/06
My Morning Jacket * The Fillmore – SF, CA – 12/30/06

————

And finally, a stifled yawn for…

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium

This overrated double-album smash (#1 in 26 countries) pales in comparison to the group’s strongest work.

Art Brut * Bang Bang Rock n Roll

A big, steamy pile of indie poop. The first song is a middle finger to any unfortunate audience.

Thom Yorke * The Eraser

The Eraser is easily the best singer-songwriter album ever made by cyborgs.

Paul Simon * Surprise

Like a peanut butter & guacamole sandwich, this collaboration with producer Brian Eno features two great tastes that don’t taste great together.

Sufjan Stevens * The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras…

Sweet – a bunch of outtakes from an album I never liked in the first place!

The Mars Volta * Amputecture

This album deserves a scratch-n-sniff review that smells like puke.

Paris Hilton * Paris

Moral of the story: above average ho’s don’t necessarily make above average albums.

Kevin Federline * Playing With Fire

K-Fed, K-Rap.

Vitalic * OK Cowboy

If you’ve ever wondered what electronica made by insane clowns sounded like, this is it.

The Flaming Lips * At War With The Mystics

‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’. I rest my case.


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