December 19, 2006
Albums Heard 2006
These are the albums I most appreciated this year. If you agree or disagree please let me know. Especially let me know if you think I've missed something!
- Beirut: Gulag Orkestar
Yes, yes, yes. Man this is a good album. And I'm pretty sure if you picked it up and listened to it today, you wouldn't like it. It is so unique, it probably took me at least 10 listens to really start appreciating it. This is not your father's rock and roll. In fact, it isn't even your's, or your child's. This is true Bohemian, gypsy rock and roll with a large helping of brass instruments and juicy Eastern European beats. I am completely blown away by this one. It bashes you over the head with a ladle full of borscht and puts all the other albums on this list below to shame. Highlights include "Postcards from Italy," "Scenic World," "Brandenburg," and "After the Curtain."
- Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin
I listened to the new Lips' album At War with the Mystics but I kept on coming back to this one. I was listening to this one heavily right around the time the Twins stadium was finally passed, so it seems to make me extra happy every time I hear it now. If you've ever heard the Lips before you know they are the masters of experimental sound techniques, and this album is no exception. Highlights include "The Gash" and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," one of the best two song combinations in all of rock in my opinion.
- Sufjan Stevens: The Avalanche
The fully appreciate the majesty of this album, I think it is important to understand that this is an album of throwaways, songs that weren't deemed good enough to make the final cut of the Illinois album. Having said that, this album is still one of the best of the year. That is how good Sufjan Stevens is at creating music. Seriously, I would give about anything to hear Sufjan in concert, so if anyone knows when he is coming to town please let me know. Highlights off this album include "The Avalanche," "Adlai," "Mistress," and "The Pickup." Needless to say I am anticipating with great interest the next state in the series.
- The Secret Machines: Ten Silver Drops
The Secret Machines make a particular brand of music: passionate, pretentious, and grandiose. I would stick U2 and Muse below in that list too. This album has 7 great songs in this vein where the music is intended to be "big." This album would also rank higher if not for the stinker "Daddy's in the Doldrums," an appropriately named song of boring mediocrity that clocks in at 8 minutes long. One misstep, though, that I can just fast forward through. Highlights include "Alone, Jealous, and Stoned," "Lightning Blue Eyes," and "Faded Lines."
- Sting: Sacred Love
Let's be frank: Sting is not the same Sting that we all knew from the Police. He is an old man that makes adult contemporary music now. Unfortunately for me I am also getting older and I actually like this stuff. In fact, this album is actually very good and undeserving of most of the bad reviews it got. Sometimes Sting has a tendency to overproduce some of his songs, but that is a small quibble. By far my favorite song on this album is "Dead Man's Rope." It is a song of addiction, forgiveness, and redemption that I may write more about it at a later time. But not today.
- Band of Horses: Everything All the Time
This is one of those word-of-mouth type albums that was impossible to escape this year. Between this and their now mythical performances at SXSW in Austin, TX , it was hard to not hear about the Band of Horses. The album is thankfully very good and is highlighted by the songs "The Funeral" and "Weed Party." I like the cover artwork, too.
- The Decemberists: The Crane Wife
I must admit that I haven't gotten into The Decemberists phenomenon yet. In fact, this is the first album of theirs I have ever listened to on a regular basis. I definitely like what I'm hearing. The band hails from Portland, Maine, and the songs definitely have a New England/fishing village type feel to them. At least I think so. And the fact that this is also a concept album of sorts seals the deal. Listen to the first song and you'll be hooked.
- Keane: Under the Iron Sea
This album is this year's winner for best album art. I love this cover. The songs also live up to the hype. What I find interesting about this band is that it doesn't employ any guitar players. Any guitar-like sounds you hear are produced by a synthesizer. Anyway, I thought that was pretty cool. Highlights include the first single "Is It Any Wonder?" but the gem of the album is "The Frog Prince." That song alone is worht the price of admission.
- The Long Winters: Putting the Days to Bed
Another in the long line of Seattle bands, The Long Winters gets a bad rap for being too much like Death Cab for Cutie. Fortunately I haven't listened to Death Cab for Cutie much. This album, though, is a very solid effort and has even been described by some publications as a "must have" album of 2006. I am particularly impressed by "Teaspoon" and "Ultimatum."
- Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
This is an album I would have loved in high school. The songs off this album are probably played more on 93X than The Current, but I gotta say I am impressed. This is a tight, tight album full of good hooks and powerful, crunching guitar chords. Elements of Zeppelin, U2, and Queen, if you can believe it, can be found in this album. It is a pretty decent cavalcade of sound.
That's it for the albums I liked in 2006. Stay tuned for my favorite movies.
Posted by snackeru at December 19, 2006 6:17 AM
I assume there will be a warning post when Sufjan comes to town. Sign me up. (Although I never really got into The Avalanche. I'm going backward instead, learning to love his previous albums I had yet to hear.)
I love Sting, but have not got into Sacred Love. Say what you want about Sting and the music behind the words, but he has to be the top songwriter alive at this time. Even the jaded should put him in the top five. I can think of no better storyteller in the music world.
Have you given TV on the Radio a try?
Posted by: bjhess at December 19, 2006 11:28 AM
Nice list Shane, hopefully I'll have mine up soon. Can't go wrong with that flaming lips album.
Posted by: Freealonzo at December 19, 2006 12:39 PM
Barry, I have listened to a little TV on the Radio and I didn't care for it. I know a lot of people like it though.
And freealonzo, when you put your music list up I am going to link to it in a big way! I'm very sorry for not linking to your book list myself. Shameful. I apologize!
Posted by: Shane at December 19, 2006 1:02 PM
Uhh, Sting the "top songwriter?" the only guy with a lower now/back-then ratio than Sting is Eric Clapton.
I can name 5 better songwriters than Sting hailing just from the Twin Cities.
Posted by: chapman at December 19, 2006 1:39 PM
While I may not agree that Sting is the absolute best songwriter alive today, I will say he is without a doubt better than any Twin Cities song writer. And if he isn't the best songwriter alive, he is definitely in the top 5.
Taken as a whole, his catalog of achievement is pretty hard to top. A wide range of musical diversity, to be sure, and intelligent lyrics, to say the least.
I don't care what he's done for me recently, but I will definitely give him his props for what he's done in the past 25 years.
Posted by: Shane at December 19, 2006 3:15 PM
Da Doo Doo Doo, Doo da da da. That's all I want to say to you.
Posted by: chapman at December 19, 2006 11:02 PM
Bah! Using that logic we can knock out Lennon and McCartney too. Ob La Di, Ob La Da everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey.
Posted by: Shane at December 20, 2006 8:52 AM
If you don't realize that Sting has songwriting talent, well, you haven't listened to "I Was Brought to My Senses," "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying," and his numerous songs about being a call girl.
As for TV on the Radio, it's definitely an aquired taste. I have a weird relationship with them. I like them, but my mind tells me I really shouldn't...but I do. It's not the type of music I typically dig. At the very least, try to take a listen to "Wolf Like Me." Bring up the lyrics while you listen.
Posted by: bjhess at December 20, 2006 9:03 AM
One more Sting point and I'll shut up. As a lead in to this point, I must let you know that storytelling is a major factor in my judgement of a lyricist. I absolutely love music that tells a story, and makes it picturesque - worth more words than physically written. I prefer the story to the poetry.
I have a friend who is a fanatical Sting fan. He's also a fan of Johnny Cash.
When Cash's cover of "Hung My Head" came out on one of those "American" albums, my friend kind of assumed that, in fact, this was not a cover, but an original tune from Cash's 90's catalog. He convinced himself that Cash was the originator of the song and Sting covered the rarity on his album, "Mercury Falling."
And it's hard to blame my buddy. Sting channelled the hell out of Cash on "Hung My Head." The song is lyrically phenomenal. Actually, I cannot think of a more lyrically more powerful song written in the past 20 years. This is not meant to be a factual statement, just an honest one.
(Ah, another point. He's also an outstanding instrumentalist. Gotta respect that.)
Posted by: bjhess at December 20, 2006 9:15 AM
Damn you Hess! I was going to make some wiseacre crack about Sting being dead to me since Outlandas D'Amour. Then you bring out "Hang my Head."
I admittedly was shocked too when I found out Sting wrote HMH and not Cash. I say it's more a testiment to Cash that he made that song his own, than Sting channelling Cash, but I may be biased.
Anywho, Sting wrote a very cool song and because of that I guess I have to grudgingly give him more credit than I have in the past.
Posted by: Freealonzo at December 20, 2006 12:52 PM
Yeah, I don't want to get into any Cash/Sting comparisons. I do think the lyrics of that song are Cashy, though.
As for Stevens' "The Avalanche," I'm listening to it now and I guess I gotta respect a guy for writing a song about Adlai Stevenson.
Posted by: bjhess at December 21, 2006 1:56 PM