2.05.2007

Best of 2006 ... finally

Choosing the 10 best albums of the calendar year of 2006, or any year for that matter, is an extremely fickle beast. There are albums I absolutely adore that aren’t particularly innovative or overly creative and there are albums that are musically revolutionary that I didn’t care for. The moral of the story is, what conditions do you set “best” relative to? I ended up evaluating albums with a balance of subjective and objective criteria.

I thought some of the highly lauded albums of the past year were a great deal smoke and fog. Return to Cookie Mountain (TV on the Radio) is an example of an album that was great, but in a lot of ways, I saw it as a sophomore slump. In the case of Ys (Joanna Newsom), there was an enormous growth musically and compositionally, but the non-orchestrated “Monkey and Bear” (EDIT - I meant "Sawdust and Diamonds," thanks for pointing that out to me Kleeb) stood out to me as the strongest song on the album. Broken Boy Soldiers (The Raconteurs) was an onslaught of great songs, but it was just another Jack White project, falling short of The White Stripes. And the list goes on, varying from person to person…

This monotony, repetition, and overexertion is obvious on a lot of albums, but the subjectivity lies in the interpretation of where these qualities are positive and progressive. Quite of few of the albums from my possibles list several posts ago fall into this grey area. Some emerged from it, and others still wallow in it. Within the next couple of weeks I’ll evaluate some of these albums that didn’t make the cut and why. Now on to the albums that made it.


1. Tortoise – A Lazarus Taxon

Highlight Songs: Gamera, Why We Fight

Excuse my semi-stereotypical simile, but Tortoise is to me like Dave Matthews Band is to a frat boy. Anything can be set to Tortoise, immediately mesh, and be enhanced. A Lazarus Taxon is 3 discs and a DVD, which some might argue exempts it from the top albums list, but not for me. Additionally it’s a sort of best of, b-sides, and remix compilation. I don’t care. Tortoise is some of the most simplistically creative, complexly droning, and absolutely inspired music to stem from the constant evolution of “rock” over the past 15 years. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum from Talk Talk in the genesis of post rock, you can’t get more original than Tortoise. This entire set is anthemic in the most non-anthemic way possible. There’s a theme song for any and everything within there 3 discs.



2. Chad VanGaalen – Skelliconnection

Highlight Songs: Flower Gardens, Gubbish

I have a feeling that Chad Vangaalen is that guy who sits in his basement studio and records music he thinks no one else will like. His music is really weird, but also quirky, ingeniously poppy, and haunting. Skelliconnection makes such a mess of genres that I have no idea what to classify it as other than indie (becoming more indescript, day by day, 10 years and running). Everything about this album has a soundtrack feel to it, but I have no idea what the movie could even be about. Every time I hear something new from Chad it makes excited to hear what he’ll be doing next. His progression is intriguing; I feel that the only thing in common between some of his songs is hearing his voice, but yet there is definitely some sort of non-precise common thread between his songs … moreso lyrically, but also musically.



3. Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Highlight Songs: Atoms for Peace, Harrowdown Hill

No. This is not just a solid album without the rest of Radiohead. It’s a unique stage where Thom can showcase his oddity in a semi-divergent manner from the outlet of Radiohead. In case you didn’t notice in your unenchanted listening to this album of Radiohead minus most of the musical component, the vocals are nearly devoid of the effects and reverb present in the majority of Radiohead tracks. Thom’s voice is truly amazing on “Atoms for Peace,” an element that never rears its head in such a way within the entity of Radiohead. Pads, guitars, and beats are all glitchy, hauntingly melodic, and lie in a perfect balance of mechanized and organic. The personal implications of this album for myself are huge … also being a self-proclaimed artist of the “laptop rock” variety. I see no reason why everyone shouldn’t love this album.



4. Jeremy Enigk – World Waits

Highlight Songs: A New Beginning/Been Here Before, Cannons

Enigk’s voice is one of my all time favorites. Everywhere in between his whispered lullabies and strained, impassioned cries, he never ceases to throw his entire self into vocal expression. Moving past the vocals, the entire album sounds meticulously and carefully orchestrated. Attention to no detail is spared … and this vigilance is well heard. The opening track “A New Beginning” is a great testament to my former observation. It’s completely rocking out; you can feel the emotion. On a sidenote: Enigk was featured in “O, Porcupine” off mewithoutYou’s lastest record, and the way he sings make we wonder what’s to come from Enigk. His vocals are blood-chilling, and I hope to hear him sing in the same manner in the near future on new material.



5. My Brightest Diamond – Bring Me The Workhorse

Highlight Songs: Golden Star, Magic Rabbit

I didn’t hear even a hint of any indication of a female Jeff Buckley in any of the background vocals on Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise, but apparently it was hiding in there somewhere. When you give Shara Worden, of slight Illinoisemaker fame, the spotlight, the comparison to Buckley becomes obvious. A classically trained composer and opera singer doesn’t seem to out of place on the ever eclectic Asthmatic Kitty label, but Worden definitely sets herself apart. Obviously indie and operatic, her sound begs so many descriptions. The certain depth and darkness of her voice is what pulls in the Buckley comparison, and it is definitely well merited. The album sounds big, maybe a bit overproduced, but I’d say it’s a great and captivating sound for a debut. I, for one, am hooked and can’t wait to hear more.



6. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Highlight Songs: Black Flowers, The Story of Yo La Tengo

I have to admit that any Yo La Tengo album released will make my top 10 for that year. They can’t do wrong. And they’ve enhanced this addition to your collection with attractive 10 and 11 minute bookends to make it all the better. A long, sprawling last track is a given for many bands like Yo La Tengo, and although the first track my seem unnecessary in length, it is completely unobtrusive to the album. All tracks are fashioned in the beautifully quirky Yo La Tengo fashion sitting somewhere between sleepily ambient and sugar-sweet pop. If there was ever a band that combined equal parts Broken Social Scene, Belle & Sebastian, Brian Eno, and Elliott Smith, and made a perfect album, that album would have been I Am Not Afraid…. I feel a lot of familiarity and done before vibe (by both YLT and others) in this album, but it’s in an extremely positive way. In so many ways it is a perfect album where so many others have fallen one step short.



7. The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics

Highlight Songs: Free Radicals, The W.A.N.D.

At War With The Mystics is much more than mediocre, and if you don’t think much of it, it’s because you liked Yoshimi and The Soft Bulletin too much. This album was released at the wrong time, preventing a lot of people from appreciating the genius that At War With The Mystics is. It was just the right amount of time for the timelessness of the previous two albums to sink in and dictate the mindset that the next Flaming Lips album needed to be interpolated precisely from the progression from Soft Bulletin to Yoshimi. The Flaming Lips went out on a limb and exceeded the parameters of the interpolation by far. People weren’t ready for this and all but rejected the new album. I venture to say that it is a damn solid album, creatively, musically, and lyrically. Soon enough people will learn that if you expect much of The Flaming Lips, you’re going to be let down. They never do what you think, and that’s one reason they are so damn good.



8. Anathallo – Floating World

Highlight Songs: Dokkoise House (with face covered), The Bruised Reed

These Michigan Boys have done it again. It’s been a while since their last release, but it was well worth the wait. Super-saturation of emotion has been a common thread in my analysis of 2006’s top albums, and this is yet another album that invades that list. It quite possibly could be at the top of the list, and if you have ever seen Anathallo live, you can be the judge. Japanese proverbs, chain clinking, some orchestration, harp, and female vocals aside, this is just another Anathallo album, but they are great at what they do. Four part harmonies, enchanting melodies and countermelodies stacked teeteringly high, atypical percussion, and a horn section reminiscent of nameless fugues and dirges are all still omnipresent and better than ever. In short, the sound sits somewhere between atypical and typical, which I think perfectly describes Anathallo.



9. The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed

Highlight Songs: Teaspoon, Ultimatum

I didn’t think the delicate and carefully crafted “Ultimatum” could get any better then the version on the identically named EP in late 2005. Somehow, by way of baring no holds and a mysterious method of “rockification”, John Roderick made this song better. I guess you can do that when you hole up for a year or so like he did to make the new album. And I’m glad he did because if there’s an album I would say defines straight up indie rock and roll at this present moment, it would be Putting the Days to Bed. I really can’t think of much else to say about this album other than the fact that it’s nearly perfectly crafted upbeat rock that will put me (and I hope you too) in a good mood, anytime, anywhere.



10. Most Serene Republic – Phages

Highlight Songs: You’re Not an Astronaut, Anhoi Polloi

This is a tour EP. I didn’t realize it until I was tracking down the artwork to post with this review, at which point I had to add this aside. With 8 tracks and 30+ minutes it might as well be an album, because I’m counting it as one for this list. I haven’t specifically discussed drumming on an album, but I will begin on Phages with the drumming. Frantic, sub-divided, intense, but never excessive. Tony Nesbitt-Larking replaces drummer Adam Nimmo from the previous album and continues to build on the spastic percussion of Underwater Cinematographer. On Arts and Crafts, one would assume Most Serene Republic sounds similar to label definers Broken Social Scene and Stars, and one would assume correctly. But the drum work on this album sets Most Serene Republic apart from the sound they would otherwise be pigeonholed in. This is a truly unique and epic album; keep an eye on Most Serene Republic.

If there is demand, I can make a zip file with all of my 2006 highlight tracks and post it. I do not have time to upload or find links for individual tracks. If you would like the zip file with the 20 highlight tracks, leave a comment and I’ll post it in the near future (It will actual be in the next week if there’s demand, I promise).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

funny how your best albums also have some of the best album art, especially the long winters album, whose album art is way better than the actual album.
P.S. You forgot Danielson's 'Ships' which should have been #1
P.P.S. I forgive you for forgetting Danielson but dont do it again.

-Neal

Mt. Heart Attack said...

Hello Sean. I quite enjoyed those reviews, and am presently downloading that Most Serene Republic (which can be found here for anyone else who was as as interested as I was). It sounded intriguing, whether by virtue of their talent or yours. Anyway, have a nice semester.

Mt. Heart Attack said...

PS. If this so-called Neal is opening the floodgates for what else possibly should be on here... The Knife - Silent Shout?