Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: The Top Album of the Year

#1 – The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America


What can I say? It’s the year of The Hold Steady. It’s pretty amazing that last year’s Separation Sunday made my top five and now, Boys and Girls in America is my best album of 2006 (questionable cover art aside). All my minor quibbles with the last album have been addressed. Boys and Girls in America, named for a Jack Kerouac quote, is much tighter than any album the band has made to date, but it still keeps its expansive flavor. Epic rock songs if you will.

From the rocking "Stuck Between Stations," a song that seems to depict many 30 somethings I Know all too well, to the more conventional closing number, "Southtown Girls," there’s not a single dud on this album. And all the songs seem to go back to the source of the albums name: “boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.”

When everyone else seems to be looking at the 80’s as their inspiration, The Hold Steady unapologetically gets their chops straight from the mid-70’s. And it works very well. There ain’t no keyboards here—just an organ. I really can’t say enough about this album.

Of course, their tremendous live show helped their cause. Unfortunately, I didn’t heed Craig Finn’s advice and call in sick the next day.

NP: "Manta Ray" - The Pixies

Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Album #2

#2 – Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood


This is where this list gets really, really tough. In almost any other year, this would easily be the top album of the year for me. Not that settling in at number two is such a bad thing. Although this album came out early in the year, it has constantly stayed in my rotation.

On Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Neko Case sings more abstract songs than she has in the past, but the songs don't suffer at all. In fact, they are more suited to her unique vocal talents. You don't get distracted too much trying to discern some sort of narrative to the song. Instead you get caught up in the pure power of her voice and the music itself.

Neko case is today's Patsy Cline. You can't listen to her music without being utterly captivated by The Voice. Why Nashville, caught in its own navel-gazing, doesn't notice stumps me.

When I saw her live earlier this year, a friend of mine was attending her first Neko Case show. I could literally see her break out in goosebumps when Neko belted out her first notes supporting Kelly Hogan. This album showcases that voice at its best. I certainly hope that she doesn't totally abandon The New Pornographers, but I still look forward to many other albums from her like this.

NP: "This is Our Emergency" - Pretty Girls Make Graves

2006 Music Wrap Up: Album #3

#3 – Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones

The second album by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones, was released with what seemed like little fanfare, at least compared to their previous effort. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because the first single, "Gold Lion," seemed like such a departure from their earlier work. While this is only anecdotal, many of my friends didn't care much for that song when they first heard it.

Of course, this lack of fanfare was an absolute shame, because this really is an outstanding rock record. This time out, the band really showcases Karen O's vocal talents—I wonder if Siouxsie Sioux is getting royalty checks from the band. All the songs here are definite departures from their biggest song to date, the plaintive "Maps." These are more confident and energetic, which really is the sweet spot vocally for Karen O. In my opinion, the album peaks with "Phenomena" and "Honeybear", midway through the album. I hope the band continues to build on the foundation they've built on this recording, and I look forward to more from them in the future.

NP: "Help Me Mary" - Liz Phair

Friday Music Report

According to my Last.fm profile, I listened to the following music the most last week.
  1. The Charlatans U.K.
  2. Joy Division
  3. Pixies
  4. Preston School of Industry
  5. Catherine Wheel
  6. Prefab Sprout
  7. Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  8. Swervedriver
  9. Wilco
  10. My Bloody Valentine
I've decided to do away with the random 10 I've been experimenting with over the last couple of months; it doesn't seem to add anything and doesn't show anything about my actual listening activities. Of course, if anyone feels strongly that it should stick around, just let me know in the comments.

NP: "Major Label Debut" - Broken Social Scene

Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Album #4

#4 – Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Last year, my list was very heavy with Canadian bands, but thus far this year, there are notable only by their relative absence. Finally, Here are some Canadians for you. Sunset Rubdown is a side project by Wolf Parade's Spencer Krug. Though, it's one of the more satisfying feeling "side projects" that I've run across, since it feels more fully formed than a lot of primary projects one will find out there these days.

I originally had this album even higher on this list. That is until I listened to it again last week. That doesn't mean that I don't love this album, and I definitely rate it as top five, but the memory of seeing Sunset Rubdown live had elevated even beyond what the album presents. While he album loses a little of the raw energy that is ever-present in the live show, it's still Mr. Krug at his foot-stomping, yelping best.

NP: "So-Called Dangerous" - The Fall

Monday, December 25, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Album #5

#5 – Band of Horses: Everything All the Time


Now to the top 5 albums of 2006 with an album per post. I will wrap the list up by the end of the week. In this spot we have Seattle’s Band of Horses release, Everything All the Time. This album has much going for it. It fulfills the promise shown by their earlier EPs, as well as an unexpected maturation of their sound. This record taps the same roots of inspiration as My Morning Jacket, with soaring guitars and epic sounds—sounds that flirt with being bombastic, only on this record, they work. The songwriting at times evokes R.E.M.’s obscure phases, but when something sounds so good, it’s just silly to quibble over storylines or narrative from the lyrics.

Nobody will call Band of Horses pioneers in this sound—that distinction belongs to bands like Wilco and My Morning Jacket—but they have discovered a way to make a damn listenable album nonetheless. Sometimes the firstest isn’t always the bestest.

Friday, December 22, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Albums 12 - 6

#12 – Jim Noir: Tower of Love
I first became acquainted with Jim Noir during the World Cup; the song "Eanie Meany" was featured very prominently in Adidas's ads during the competition. That song got stuck in my head and I had to find out more. The rest of the album is the same. Jim Noir draws more inspiration from the Beach Boys than either The Beatles or Rolling Stones, and it makes for a perfect background soundtrack for just hanging around or entertaining.



#11 – The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers
No we know what The White Stripes would sound like if they weren't just half a band (i.e., had a bass line somewhere lurking in their songs). A lot of people thought this was a rather light-weight effort considering the star power lent to it by Jack White and Brendon Benson, but I thought it worked very well. "Steady as She Goes," is a fantastic, straightforward rock and roll tune that will roll around in your head for weeks if you aren't careful.



#10 – Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
Fun. Pure fun. I would never have guessed that any album that prominently features Cee-lo would end up in one of my year end lists (just not my bag generally), but here it is nonetheless. I defy anyone to listen to this album, especially "Crazy", and not find themselves moving in time with the music.

It's been out for quite a while now, but it still sounds as fresh to me as it did when I first heard it.


#9 – Lucero: Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers
I'm sure that this album's inclusion on my year-end list will surprise very few of you who know my listening tastes well. I guess I had to get some southern rock on the list since I was a little disappointed with the Drive-By Trucker's last album (at least compared to their previous two). Well, Lucero certainly fits the bill. They get better and better with each album.





#8 – We Are Scientists: With Love and Squalor
When I first made up my draft list for the year, this album wasn't on the list. It's not because I don't love the album (I do), but because it came out early in the year. It had already assimilated itself into my more permanent rotation. I'm really disappointed that I missed their show at the Roxy in October.






#7 – Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat
If you had asked me last December what I thought would be on my year-end list for 2006, I think this is the only album that I would have put on that list, even though I had only heard a single song at that point, the outstanding "Rise Up with Fists". Well, the rest of the album is just as strong, including a nice cover of the Traveling Wilbury's "Handle with Care." Adding the Watson Twins was a masterstroke for Jenny Lewis. Their sound matches the songs she has written here perfectly.


#6 – TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
A lot of year-end lists have this as their top album of the year. While I'm also enthusiastic about this, I'm not quite that enthusiastic. I'm not sure really how to describe TV on the Radio's sound. All I can say for sure is that they make really interesting and literate music that challenges me at every listen without becoming an dreary exercise. Besides, they have the best 'fros in the business.





NP: "Lost in Boston" - The Walkmen

Friday Music Report

The weekly version. According to my Last.fm profile, I listened to the following music the most last week:
  1. Pavement
  2. The Charlatans
  3. Sufjan Stevens
  4. Luna
  5. Supergrass
  6. Pulp
  7. My Morning Jacket
  8. Afghan Whigs
  9. Pixies
  10. Catherine Wheel
What? You expected Christmas music?

To provide a slightly different window into my musical tastes, here are 10 songs drawn randomly from my iPod:
  • Looks Just Like the Sun - Broken Social Scene
  • There Is No Such Thing As Love - The Dears
  • Decent Days And Nights - The Futureheads
  • 24 - Game Theory
  • Hideaway - Ivy
  • Be Kind & Remind - Rogue Wave
  • 24 Hours - Shack
  • Sleeping Pills - Suede
  • The Other Jesus - Swervedriver
  • I Can't Stop Smiling - Velocity Girl
I hope to begin posting my year end list later today.

NP: "Like Eating Glass" - Bloc Party

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Honorable Mentions

Now that I've listed my favorite shows of the year and showed the albums I actually listened to the most in 2006, it's time to get to my favorite albums of the year. This is not meant to be an "end-all, be-all" list, since there are a lot of worthy albums that I didn't listen to for whatever reason. This list merely reflects my taste and my listening habits. Some of you may find it valuable, some of you may not. At the very least, I'd like this list to make you think or respond or call me a raving lunatic (well maybe not that last one). Or even do your own list!

But before I can get to the list proper (and there are 12 items on it this year), I thought I should highlight a few albums that for one reason or other didn't make the list. Call this introduction to the list the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention #1: EditorsThe Back Room
You may recall that I included this album in the honorable mention category last year. I still stand by that inclusion since I had been listening to it a lot, even though it was only available as an import at the time. Once it came out in the U.S., I was still listening to it quite a bit.

Whatever the weird timing of its release, I still like this album quite a bit, even though I'm not sure it would make it into the top 12 (10 is too few) albums of 2006 though. Last year I was working with a much larger list—too large for my current schedule. In any case, if you have a chance to see these guys live, do so. Even if they don't have the material to support a long set, what time they play, they rock hard.

Honorable Mention #2: Snowden Anti-Anti

I've only begun listening to this album lately, even though it came out in August. It has been mesmerizing me over the last few weeks though. I call it out for special attention now for a couple of reasons: 1) I've been listening to it a lot and 2) It's the first time since I've been doing this that an Atlanta band has merited any kind of consideration in the year-end kudos.

I haven't had the chance to see Snowden live yet, but I certainly hope to remedy that situation early in the new year. They've been touring constantly, most recently with Forward Russia!


Honorable Mention #3: Bishop Allen – 12 EPs

They make the list for releasing an EP a month over the course of the year. I don't even know what image to link to for this one. I'm certainly not going to included 12 separate images, so this one will have to suffice. You have to admire a band that stretches it's creativity so, putting out so much original material in one calendar year.

And the funny thing is, a whole lot of it is damn entertaining. Some of it is even captivating. Hopefully, they will be able to cull some of this material down, add a few more songs, and then make a full length album. Then relax a little bit. They've certainly earned it.

I'm not going to list all the albums that I considered for my list this way, but I thought these two deserved a little extra attention for the reasons stated above. Now, before I begin the list proper (hopefully tomorrow), I thought I'd list those albums that I considered for the list that didn't quite make the cut. I'm not going to say anything about any of these individually (I'm not Pitchfork after all), but I did enjoy them all, just not quite as much as the ones to follow:
I'm sure once I get through my top dozen, there will be others you think should be represented, but I'll deal with them then.

NP: "Memorial" – Explosions in the Sky

Super Realistic Flies

And by flies, I mean those things you tie to the end of a piece of leader and connect it back to a fly-rod. I used to do a bit of fly fishing, and even less fly tying, but I've never seen anything quite like these.

The main point of most fishing flies is to catch fish, and since fish don't see quite like humans, I'm not sure these would work any better than the flies you by at your local tackle shop or at Orvis. That said, they are pretty amazing to look at, and I can certainly appreciate the effort that it took to create them. (via mefi)

NP: "Congregation" - Afghan Whigs

Sunday, December 17, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: Most Memorable Shows

I didn't attend as many shows this year as I did last year, but the shows I did see were all very good. I'm just lucky that way I guess. Since it's the time of year to reflect, here are the five best shows that I was able to take in this year. Click the links below to see my original reviews.

#5: The Wedding Present + Sally Crewe + Tentonic

#4: The Church + Rob Dickinson

#3: Neko Case + The High Dials + Kelly Hogan

#2: Sunset Rubdown + Beaver + One Hand Loves the Other

#1: The Hold Steady + Sean Na Na + The Secret Service

Ordering this list was darn difficult, and there weren't appreciable differences between any of these shows. Harder still was leaving shows off the list. Daniel Lanois springs immediately to mind here.

NP: "Gold Lion" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Music Report

According to my Last.fm profile, I listened to the following music the most last week:
  1. The Hold Steady
  2. Wilco
  3. Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
  4. Echo & The Bunnymen
  5. Guided by Voices
  6. Neko Case
  7. The Charlatans U.K.
  8. Catherine Wheel
  9. Maximo Park
  10. R.E.M.
NP: "Love You Too Much" - The House of Love

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tom Snyder Interviews The Clash in 1981

And shows just how clueless he actually is.


NP: NPR - All Songs Considered

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2006 Music Wrap Up: What I Listened to the Most

It's December, so everyone who is anyone in the blogsphere is doing their end of lists. Even though I'm not an A-List music blogger [Ed. Note: More like the J-List], I'm no exception.

Unlike last year, however, I'm not going to just throw out what I thought were the best albums of the year. In keeping with the spirit of my Friday Music Report, I thought I would start with those albums that I actually listened to the most over the last year (all stats by Last.fm). So without further ado, here are the albums I listened to the most over the last year:
  1. Elvis Costello & The AttractionsGet Happy!!
  2. Yeah Yeah YeahsShow Your Bones
  3. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of DeadSource Tags & Codes
  4. PylonHits
  5. The Hold SteadySeparation Sunday (3)
  6. Billy BraggBack to Basics
  7. Echo & the BunnymenEcho & the Bunnymen
  8. The NationalAlligator (2)
  9. SwervedriverJuggernaut Rides '89-'98
  10. Sufjan StevensIllinoise (9)

The numbers in parentheses indicate where I had these albums ranked in my year-end list last year. Wow, I would never have guessed I listened to Elvis Costello that much, but as I've said before, my iPod does have a seeming affinity to Mr. McManus's work. Interestingly, only one album from this year made the list, so you can probably make the assumption that you'll be seeing more about it in a week or so.

In the coming days, I'll continue this list fest with a list of the best concerts I saw over the last 12 months, and then begin counting down albums (only a dozen this year).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Music Report

According to my Last.fm profile, I listened to the following music the most last week:
  1. Wilco
  2. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
  3. Echo & the Bunnymen
  4. Guided by Voices
  5. Neko Case
  6. The Charlatans U.K.
  7. Catherine Wheel (No exact site found)
  8. Maximo Park
  9. R.E.M.
  10. Game Theory
There's no random 10 this week unfortunately, as I don't have access to my music library from my work laptop right now.

NP: "Keeping up with You" - Moose

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Landed

So I just got back from training in Boston for my new gig (it sort of snowed). Three and a half days without Internet access kind of sucks just for the record. So I thought I'd check in. Once things settle down, we should get back to normal. Stay tuned [Ed. Note: Please].

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Music Report

According the my Last.fm profile, I listened to the following music the most last week:
  1. Neko Case
  2. Pulp
  3. Echo & the Bunnymen
  4. The Replacements
  5. The Futureheads
  6. The Pixies
  7. Sonic Youth
  8. The Pogues
  9. Saint Etienne
  10. Ted Led & the Pharmacists

I think I can safely say that the only place you'll see some of those bands next to one another would be in this list.

Now for another view into my music library. Here are 10 songs drawn totally at random from my iPod:

  • Senior Breakdown - The Soundtrack of Our Lives
  • Angel is the Devil - Steve Earle
  • Dumb - Nirvana
  • Walking with a Ghost - The White Stripes
  • Gold Lion - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Prison Shoe Romp - Sixteen Horsepower
  • It's Destiny - Rock*A*Teens
  • Chardonnay - Game Theory
  • Same Way of Saying - Pavement
  • Gloria - Patti Smith

NP: "Tralala" - Lush