* It may seem probably a little strange to a best of 2006 almost one month into 2007. I began writing this in November and had a draft ready in late December. I wanted to post it the first draft but didn’t because I wanted to include mp3 selections and didn’t have access to a fast enough connection to upload music while I was in Arizona. Since coming back I also began to know some albums on the list better and was able to rank and write about them with greater insight.
* I’m not posting a “classical music” best album list because I typically don’t pay too much attention to new “classical music” album releases. Since it often takes so long for new classical works to get recorded, I’ve come to believe that the best place to hear contemporary art music is the concert hall. Furthermore, since I’m always just surfacing enough to catch my breath and trying to hear as much classical music that I didn’t know beforehand I barely have a chance to also keep up with the large stream of new classical releases. These points aside, I also feel that the album medium is one that better suited for more popular song-based music and in 2006, more than any other year before, I really tried to keep up with new album releases.
* The following mostly represents my personal tastes for highly literary songs and things that, although they may be on the radar, are not necessarily what you’ll hear the most on commercial radio stations or see regularly on some music video channel. Also, to try and make this a bit more precise I’m appending an “Almost Best…” list for a few albums that are almost good enough to be included.
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1. Bob Dylan: Modern Times
What can I say? Bob Dylan has done it once again. I think that this is one of the most consistently rewarding albums he has put out since Blood on the Tracks. Also compared to his last excellent album ”Love and Theft” Bob Dylan’s are melodies are much clearer and his lyrics have become much more simple and direct. I feel so glad to be around for what may end up being another of Bob Dylan’s golden ages. A song like “Nettie Moore” possibly has the most devastating chorus Bob has ever written, “Workingman’s Blues’ #2” has one of the best workings of a Robert Johnson line I’ve ever heard (especially since it’s mixed with a Shakespeare reference), and the new lyrics and performances of “Someday Baby” and “Rolling and Tumblin’” even top Muddy Waters’ recordings.
Audio Sample: ”Nettie Moore”
2. Joanna Newsom: Ys
Joanna Newsom’s last album was one of the strangest and most charming albums by a singer-songwriter that I had heard in years. It seems almost impossible to understand how she so quickly reached the profound level of song craft found in Ys and its songs like “Emily.” The five songs on this album almost total an hour and show a view into one’s inner mind and life that is rarely found in song. It is a world that isn’t easy but, if you’re willing to let it, can welcome you in tenderly and slowly.
Audio Sample: ”Emily” (live)
3. Destroyer: Destroyer’s Rubies
I first heard this album a month ago and instantly started researching the rest of Dan Bejar’s (or Destroyer’s) catalogue to try and get a point of reference and better sense of the esthetic that drew me to this album so quickly. There’s little more I can say to praise this album except that besides being lyrically challenging and musically intricate it’s also completely listenable and – even exceeding most of the Destroyer catalogue – almost ingratiatingly catchy.
Audio Sample: ”Looter’s Follies”
4. Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming
I know I’m just repeating what many an mp3 blogger has said before, but I think this Spencer Krug is one of the next big things in rock music. I really don’t want to add much to the gushing I’ve heard all over except that I have a particular fondness for the sloppy quirky and eccentric way he seems to reconstruct a standard rock song with his wonderful array of lo-fi keyboards, EBowed acoustic slide guitars, squeezebox, and glockenspiel.
Audio Sample: “Us Ones In Between”
5. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
This album crept up on me like no other album this year. I first heard it when it leaked over the summer and until a few weeks ago I didn’t intend to include it on this list. Unlike many other albums I heard in 2006, almost every time I heard this album – besides a few times during a brief misanthropic spell in October when I was not particularly enjoying music – I liked it better than the previous time I heard it. One thing that drew me is the unique timbral and tonal it inhabits – for example, it is nearly impossible to play along with any track on this album if you have an equally tempered keyboard. I first noticed this after failing to figure out “Tonight” and discovering that “Wash the Day Away” is in E quarter flat. Besides that there’s also something cryptically truthful and cathartic about the lyrics in songs like “Blues From Down Here.”
Audio Sample: ”Blues From Down Here”
6. Band of Horses: Everything All the Time
There’s an open shimmering almost golden quality that the sound on this album exudes – I also picture a desert sky clearing after an overnight monsoon rain. It is not hard to enjoy this music it is warm and comfortable just like giving a lover your extra covers on a cold morning. There’s almost a sense of foreboding in the anticipation but there’s also the relief that there will almost always be human comfort to help when the dark comes again.
Audio Sample: ”The Funeral”
7. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
I’ve had a long-standing love/hate relationship with so-called country music in my life. There are arguably few “genres” that I hate with more ferocity that commercial “country music” and although I do enjoy some of the more classic “underground” country artists like Johnny Cash I find I never like these artists so consistently to call them some of my favourites. On the other hand I have a really strong love for some country artists who produce really haunting songs full of grief and silent longing like Gillian Welch or Neko Case on this album. Other than saying that, it’s hard for me to explain the attraction except for the fact that it may relate to my musical upbringing. Maybe he
r songs will ring true for you too, maybe they won’t.
Audio Sample: ”At Last”
8. Yo La Tengo: I’m Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass
Yo La Tengo has always one of those mildly schizophrenic bands that seemed to be more themselves when they wear many different disguises. Although I think “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” may remain Yo La Tengo albums this new one comes in a close second particularly in terms of its eclectic and overall fun – “…Beat Your Ass” is alternatively rocking, meditatively calm, and completely danceable. It also arguably has the best guitar jam song on any Yo La Tengo album – “The Story of Yo La Tango.”
Audio Sample: ”The Story of Yo La Tango”
9. Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You
Jolie Holland puts on a concert that feels more like an impromptu living room jam session than any sort of ego-driven concert setting. I’ve often said that if you want to create good music now, you need to feel the blues. Jolie knows the blues better than nearly anybody else out there right now and communicates them in an personal honest direct manner that can break your heart just as you realize why it’s breaking or already broken.
Audio Sample: ”Stubborn Beast”
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Billie “Prince” Billie: The Letting Go
In the last year Will Oldham – in his many guises (Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace, Will Oldham, and most recently Bonnie “Prince” Billie”) – has become one of my favorite singer-songwriters making music today. I’m not quite sure but the main reason that I don’t probably don’t place this album just above in the “Best of” list is because I also came to know some of Will Oldham’s best albums like I See a Darkness and Days in the Wake this year as well.
Mountain Goats: Get Lonely
Okay, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a sucker for depressing folk albums but there’s just something strange about this album. It’s almost as if it is too depressing. Maybe it’s how it changes my mood after I listen to it, maybe it’s the lack of resolution that it offers, maybe it’s because its melancholy can seem so gentle at times. I really don’t know.
Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics
At moments this album is lot of fun like most Flaming Lips albums but at most other moments it’s surprisingly introspective and, frankly, almost a downer. It’s refreshingly addictive like most Flaming Lips albums and although the introspection thing isn’t completely novel for them (see some of the tracks on Priest Driven Ambulance) it is nice to hear Wayne Coyne express his uncertainty and doubt some.