I thought that 2006 was stellar year for music. My list of favourite albums for this year is the longest one since I started posting my annual list 4 years ago. It’s interesting to note the genres represented in each of my lists. Where last year’s contained many subdued electronic albums, this year’s has plenty of loud and aggressive rock. I’ve also given the ‘album of the year’ distinction to two bands to share; both of which are veteran bands.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
Alexisonfire – Crisis
Crisis finds Alexisonfire recalling the intensity of their self-titled debut, which is was somewhat absent on their last release, Watch Out. Crisis is a full-on fast-paced assault on your ears. You would think that the success of Dallas Green’s acoustic balladeering side project, City and Colour, would have influenced this album by introducing calmer moments, but (thankfully) that didn’t happen. Surprisingly, Dallas’ vocal duties haven’t increased because of the air play that City and Colour got. George still shreds his vocal chords, and Wade has more vocal performances than ever before. And if you still write off Alexisonfire as “that screaming band”, I got a lavender-scented pillow, Belle and Sebastian album and cup of chai tea for you.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – So Divided
Reviews of So Divided have been mixed, and I’ll admit that it’s not immediately satisfying. But after repeated listens, it’s sinking in, and doesn’t leave me pining for the days when Trail of Dead sounded like blasting dynamite filtered through amplifiers. So Divided‘s subtleties shine through on “Stand In Silence”, “Naked Sun” and “Witch’s Web”. To add, I actually prefer Trail of Dead’s cover of GbV‘s “Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory” to the original.
Built To Spill – You In Reverse
It took way too long for B2S to release a new album, and thank goodness they finally did. The 9-minute opener, “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, is a phenomenal way to kick off an album. you In Reverse is loaded with guitar mastery…long live the B2S extenda-jam.
The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
Listening to the Decemberists conjures images of hip indie kids from Newfoundland who start a great band. And then I’m reminded that they’re actually from, of all places, Montana. The Crane Wife takes the Decemberists’ formula of prog rock mixed with sea shanties and applies it to a Japanese fairytale over the course of an entire album, and it works!
Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
When Owen Pallett isn’t providing strings to The Arcade Fire, he records as Final Fantasy. It’s hard to imagine beat-less violin-driven music actually rocking, but Pallett finds a way to make that a reality. He Poos Clounds is complete with references to Toronto real-estate heavyweights and video games; an unlikely winning combination.
The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America
The Hold Steady remind me of another band from Minnesota; The Replacements…and I love those ‘Mats. Swaggering indie rock with thought-provoking story telling is The Hold Steady’s forte. “Chillout Tent”, a love story involving a guy (played by Soul Asylum‘s Dave Pirner) and a gal (played by The Reputation‘s Elizabeth Elmore) who meet in the recovery tent at a music festival after pulling whiteys, is my standout favourite track.
Isis – In The Absence Of Truth
Texture. Lots ‘n’ lots of texture. I hate to use other bands to compare a band’s sound, but think Melvins + Black Sabbath + The Cure, and that’s where Isis is on In The Absence Of Truth. Sounds weave in and out of the mix and culminate in a loud and heavy burst of distorted guitars. Isis have introduced more subdued sounds and melodies into their repertoire and achieve excellent results.
Mastodon – Blood Mountain
When I listen to Blood Mountain (usually prior to playing hockey), I envision this huge craggy mountain where muscular cave dwellers drink from skulls. With loud, pounding sounds and quick-shifting time signatures, Mastodon are the new Rush.
Mogwai – Mr. Beast
I can never have one of these lists without a Mogwai album, it seems. Mr. Beast finds the band compressing their sound into 4-minute songs for quick consumption. There aren’t build-ups to climaxes. What we have are short bursts controlled noise like “Glasgow Mega Snake” and “Travel Is Dangerous”, which will make you want to knock down a building with your bare hands. And when the times comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil, “Friend Of The Night” is the last song I’d want to hear.
Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Big guitar and drums rock with a lot of epic drama regarding the end of the world and aliens. Muse have gone down this path before, but this time it’s super-sized. Muse even get a little bit sexy, as a change of pace, with “Supermassive Black Hole”.
Pavement – Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
Matador continues the tradition of reissuing Pavement albums complete with all B-sides, outtakes, rarities and live performances. Wowee Zowee was the last of great Pavement albums, and it starts to show. But I’d still pony up for similar reissues for Brighten The Corners and Terror Twilight, if Matador goes that route.
Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam
This is by the far the best PJ album released in the last 10 years. When PJ experiments, they’re hit and miss (mostly miss). This self-titled release is a fine return to form.
Peeping Tom – Peeping Tom
Mike Patton (aka: Peeping Tom), has been quoting as saying that this album is his interpretation of modern pop music. With an array of collaborators like Dan The Automator, Kool Keith and Amon Tobin, this is definitely a pop album sonic-wise. It’s a stark contrast from the Mike Patton of Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/FantÃ´mas/Tomahawk that we all know and love. “Mojo” is taylor-made for TRL on MTV. Yet, Mike still managed to surprise me when he managed to convince docile songbird Norah Jones to say ‘motherfucker’ on “Sucker”.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
By The Way, RHCP’s last release, was a snoozer. Actually, most of the Chili’s output recently has been pretty tame. Where’d the funk go? On Stadium Arcadium, it’s returned! Back in grade 8, Mike Fortin introduced me to the Uplift Mofo Party Plan and I was hooked; the raunchy mix of punk and funk had my 12 year-old ears hooked. Now Stadium Arcadium doesn’t exactly hark back to those days. Pussies are no longer partied on, and nobody needs to be knocked down. But the funk is back and John Frusciante puts on one hell of a show.
Silversun Pickups – Carnavas
Love the fuzz. SSPU pick up where they left off on the Pikul EP. This is an extremely hummable album, easily capable of spawning lots of earworms.
Sloan – Never Hear The End Of It
At 30 tracks, it’s work to hear the end of Never Hear The End Of It. Stylistically, Sloan cover a lot of territory on this album; indie rock, ballads, punk and chamber pop. There are plenty of immediately catchy but gone-too-soon tracks reminiscent of Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes/Under The Bushes, Under The Stars era GbV.
Sparklehorse – Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain
It’s good to have Mark Linkous releasing albums again. Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain is a contemplative album with many references to ghosts and pain; Sparklehorse staples.
Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
Nobody could ever hope to record another Sister or Daydream Nation; not even Sonic Youth themselves. Toward the end of the last decade, I began to doubt that Sonic Youth could be interesting and relevant again. Murray Street and Sonic Nurse gave me hope and Rather Ripped is the crowning achievement of a trio of albums from this millennium that prove that the ol’ noise makers still have it. It has all of the trademark elements that make Sonic Youth one of the best bands of all time. Odd guitar tunings? Check. Feedback? Check. Melody? Check. Songs from Kim that are actually good? Check. Rather Ripped was a rather pleasant surprise.
Tapes ‘n Tapes – The Loon
TnT wear their musical influences on their sleeves. With their sleeves covered in Pixies, Pavement, and Modest Mouse, TnT take the sounds from great bands and make it their own.
Tool – 10,000 Days
Complicated and always evolving, Tool have done it again. The one-two punch of “Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)” and “Rosetta Stoned”, which could either be about alien abduction or acid trip recounts or a combination of both, is one of my favourite parts of the album.
The Tragically Hip – World Container
The Hip, the best of the accessible rock bands that you’ve never heard if you live outside of Canada, prove that they still have plenty of fight left in them. Introducing a few new nuances like the highhat trickery on “The Lonely End Of The Rink” that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Bloc Party album, World Container is the still The Hip that your Canadian heart knows and loves, but with a new bag of tricks.
TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
Skip “I Was A Lover” and you got yourself a brilliant album. The combination of layered vocals and instrumentation make for a very dense album. There are sounds everywhere; way more subtle and not-so-subtle textures than there were on Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Turn the corner nonchalantly, and you’ll be poked with an unfamiliar sound in the eye. This album is best experienced with headphones.
Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
I love Yo La Tengo; I really do. They’ve covered everything from folk to blues to noise rock to electro-drone to jazz. Their two most recent albums, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and Summer Sun, are hushed and gentle. To me, that’s fine in small doses, so I was pleased to hear that I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, came back to their all-over-the-map-in-a-single-album ways. Kicking off the album with 10 minutes of noise and guitar on “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Good Kind”, put my mind at ease. The next 14 tracks are a wild ride that cover a lot of territory in much the same way that I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One did, which is welcome to my ears.
Some other notable albums that didn’t quite make my list were The Flaming Lips‘ At War With The Mystics, Pretty Girls Make Graves‘ Elan Vital , Snow Patrol‘s Eyes Open and Thom Yorke‘s Eraser. Of course, there a many other good albums released this year that I haven’t had a chance to listen to, yet. So feel free to add to my list, if I’ve missed any.