Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last list - Best albums of 2006

Saw Chris Mundy at the Omaha Press Club. He currently writes for CBS's Criminal Minds, but he used to be writer for Rolling Stone, interviewing everyone from the likes of Sean Penn to Liz Phair. It was a great conversation. I sat next to a guy I went to college with. He was an intimidator when it came to writing. Not that he meant it, it was just he was that good and he was a person whose presence pushed you to be a better writer. He's out of the journalism game now. He looked at me and shrugged "I have absolutely no desire to go back." He writes 300-word summaries of company profiles. He makes a comfortable living. I look at Mundy - a person who moved to New York from Omaha . He got an internship, 'stumbled' into a Rolling Stone job. And as glad and energized as I was, I can't help but think of his situation as the rarity and other situations as the norm. I'm not making excuses, but currently, I like paying rent and possibly making a car payment eventually. With an entry level reporting job at 33...I'm not too sure if that's the route for me. But I have the first few months of next year to figure that out. Anyway - on to the really important issue...

The best albums of '06...

10. Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards – Tom Waits

Some of the music on this disc was even too weird to land on an actual Tom Waits CD. Still, this is not a ‘cleaning out the cupboard’ CD collection. Instead, listeners get a remarkably solid collection of three CDs worth of seedy bar ballads, lovelorn howlers and even some corn thrown in for good measure.

9. Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance

My “If you were to tell me this band would have landed on my top ten this year, I would have either said this entire year had to have sucked all ass or asked that person when I had the lobotomy” award for 2006. Taking some pointers from touring with Green Day, MCR recruited producer Rob Cavallo to create a miserably fun album about death, cancer and vampires. Darken your clothes and dust off those Queen albums, Welcome to the Black Parade brought a much-needed pomp to the music world this year.

8. Rather Ripped – Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth’s discography of could fill up half a CD tower (including compilations) – and the godfathers (and godmother) of modern alternative music have yet to settle into complacency. Rather Ripped comes just about a year before their near-certain induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the curious, Rather Ripped may be the best CD to introduce yourself to Sonic Youth. For die-hard fans, it’s a perfect companion to their late-era classic Murray Street.

7. The Greatest – Cat Power

Released the same say as Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat, January 24, 2006 was arguably one of the best days for music releases, kicking 2006 off on a very good note. Chan Marshall hunkered down in Memphis to record an album that won her a ton of new fans (an probably a few thousand more once “Could We” gets national exposure via a movie or TV plug) and probably a few hundred calls of “sellout” from her dedicated fan base. When you are in the middle of listening to “Living Proof,” you swear you are listening to an album at its creative climax, and then you realize you are only on the second song.

6. Game Theory – The Roots

Yes, recall notices should be mailed out to everyone who purchased The Tipping Point, the much-maligned last full-length album from The Roots. But Jay-Z saw a band that deserved the freedom to take a few creative falls. For from those falls can come greatness, which is exactly what Game Theory is. The album starts off shaky with “False Media,” which is basically Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe The Hype” on repeat, but after that, the band is unstoppable. Each angry indictment of social injustice is followed by some of the catchiest, head-bobbing melodies The Roots has ever created. Don’t let the subject matter and cover fool you, Game Theory is as fun as it is provocative.

5. Destroyer’s Rubies - Destroyer

It’s about 50 minutes in length, but Destroyer’s Rubies is so dense, it feels like you’ve listened to a Tool album by the end. It doesn’t help that the first song clocks in at about ten minutes. Dan Bejar’s vocals may take some getting used to, but his rapid-fire lyrics and layered guitar work will have you revisiting Destroyer’s Rubies to catch what you missed on the first listen. After an additional 30 listens, you’ll still think you’ve only absorbed a little less than half the album.

4. Modern Times – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is cool enough to sing about being a horny old man and not come off as creepy. Some thought Modern Times was Dylan’s third straight masterpiece or even the best of an unprecedented winning streak began by 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Others thought it was Dylan doing a victory lap for his Love and Theft triumph. I was in the latter category. Still, listen to the album front to back and you’ll hear at least five or six songs that stand toe-to-toe with the best of Time or Theft. “Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains” may not exactly be “The answer my friends is blowing in the wind,” but songs like “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and “Someday Baby” capture Dylan at his cantankerous best. “The Levee’s Gonna Break” may be an obvious nod to Hurricane Katrina, but Dylan’s cover is mercifully devoid of exploitation. It may not be a classic, but it continues one of the most enduring comebacks in pop music history.

3. Fishscale – Ghostface Killah

If Game Theory wasn’t enough, Def Jam added a second classic to their collection this year with Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale. With age wrecking havoc on Public Enemy and even Eminem’s output, it seemed like rap was a young person’s game. Many critics have even overpraised De La Soul’s last few albums just on the basis that they didn’t suck. But Fishscale proved detractors dead wrong with perhaps the best concept album ever written about … cocaine. Like most albums with skits, Fishscale could have cut out a few skits, but the storytelling on Fishscale will have you going to a printer to print off the lyrics. Anyone who was too young to catch the Wu Tang Clan during their first go around need only to listen to “9 Milli Bros.” to find out what all the hype was about.

2. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood - Neko Case

It could have been 70 minutes and still felt too short of a listen. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood has Neko Case singing about animal mythology, losing faith and packing up and leaving everything. The first half of the album contains some stunning highlights, such as the “you are there” descriptions on “Star Witness,” a song about an auto wreck whose victims are so unnoticed that the cops don’t even turn on the siren or the opening class divide song “Margaret vs. Pauline.” But the album truly gains momentum smack in the middle with the title track. Out of all the CDs released this year, this has yet to leave my CD player.

1. Return to Cookie Mountain - TV on the Radio

Even with the quality and diversity of the crop of music in 2006, TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain was one of the only albums that could make a listener say “I have never heard anything like this before.” That said, there was plenty of stuff on Return to Cookie Mountain to lure in shy listeners (namely a cameo by David Bowie in “Province”). Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals seem like a cross between Prince and Corey Glover of Living Colour. His vocals, along with Dave Sitek’s guitar work created slow burners like “A Method” and “I Was a Lover,” but could also unleash a hurricane-like fury on tracks like “Wolf Like Me” and “Province.” Return to Cookie Mountain was a fiercely original as it was instantly appealing.
Honorable mentions - a ton of them...
The Crane Wife - The Decemberists
Boys and Girls in America - The Hold Steady
Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions - Bruce Springsteen
I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass - Yo La Tengo
Post-War - M. Ward



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