Monday, December 15, 2008

2006 - the consummate revisionist.

Though I’d been making lists for a few years, 2006 is the first time I bothered to write and rank a list of my top 25 albums for the year. It’s been interesting to look back and see what I still listen to (The Mountain Goats, a-doy) and what’s more or less dropped off my radar (Regina Spektor, it was fun while it lasted). So here’s the breakdown on my current list:

  • 7 of these albums were on my original list, and are marked with asterisks.
  • 5 of those albums have changed positions
  • 2 stayed the same
  • 2 of them weren’t heard until 2007
  • 8 of these include text from assorted Collegian articles, ‘cause I’m feeling lazy.

2006 was a hard year to choose favorites for, both then and now. There’s a slew of records from my original top 25 that would sound just as good here, such as The Bouncing Souls’ The Gold Record or Latterman’s …We Are All Alive. Or, ya know… original entries like Armalite’s self-titled debut or The Falcon’s Unicornography. Ultimately, this top 10 consists of albums that I consistently pulled out this year. It's getting harder to qualify what makes these "the best," but I do know that when I'm in a jam, these albums are what get me through.

10. Crime in Stereo – The Troubled Stateside*

Having been introduced to Crime in Stereo via their live show, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the album they were touring on at the time, The Troubled Stateside. I always thought it was a solid melodic hardcore record, but it didn’t quite capture the group’s live energy. To that end, The Troubled Stateside didn’t even chart on my original top 25 for 2006, garnering a mere honorable mention.

But in the two years since its release, The Troubled Stateside has slowly taken root in my brain. Songs like “Bicycles for Afghanistan,” “The Impending Glory of American Adulthood,” and especially the closing track, “I, Stateside,” strike a fine balance between melody and dissonance. It’s Long Island hardcore that sidesteps cliché chestbeating and “NYC HXC”-ism. Given its trajectory, I could totally see this record hitting my top five in two years.

9. AFI – Decemberunderground*

You can play any two successive AFI albums back-to-back, and it sounds like the same band. But try going from, say, The Art of Drowning to Decemberunderground, and you’re gonna be blown the fuck away. I’m not even gonna try comparing the pure, precise punk of Answer That and Stay Fashionable against this album's gothic electronic-pop. But I do know this: it’s a fantastic record. Most of it is tuneful and dark, fitting snugly between Ladytron and The Cure’s “Dark Trilogy.” But there are also elements of glam rock, punk, and emo hanging out. Even a touch of hardcore and hip-hop come in the form of the opening tracks “Kill Caustic” and “Prelude 12/21,” respectively. Fucking brilliant!

8. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country

A Scottish indie pop band that’s been kicking out the (soft, orchestral) jams since 1996, Camera Obscura has drawn a heck of a lot of comparisons to other pop classicists like Belle and Sebastian or even The Smiths. But on Let’s Get Out of This Country, Camera Obscura sound only like themselves, having turned out 10 delicious pop tracks in under 40 minutes. The album is almost evenly divided between peppy ditties and slower, more intimate numbers. But regardless of the tempo, Camera Obscura delivered a great record. Lyricist Traceyanne Campbelle is a stellar composer, jotting down and singing out songs that are compactly catchy yet still deeply moving, not unlike The Beatles’ back catalog.

7. The Secret Machines – Ten Silver Drops*

The Secret Machines are easily one of the greatest live bands I have ever seen. Incorporating a brilliant light show that adds to the ethereal music, they can jam for as long as they want and it still won’t feel long enough to me. Given how integral their live show is to appreciating their music, though, it’s a wonder Ten Silver Drops holds up with only the audio aspect of the band’s style represented. Slightly tweaking the sound they showcased on Now Here is Nowhere, The Secret Machines turned in a lucid, drug-fueled work of heartache with Ten Silver Drops. Like a more emotive Pink Floyd, The Secret Machines are atmospheric and straight up hypnotic. Not just because of the playing, but also because of the sympathy/empathy involved. It’s essentially a break-up record… on acid. A heartbreaker like “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” kind of sums up my first half of 2006 (minus the part about being stoned. STRAIGHT EDGE! MY LIFE IS A WAR! [I’m leaving this in because I think it’s precious, albeit no longer true.]). Actually, it sums up my entire year. First it’s slow and sullen. Then it rocks the fuck out (just like during my seven months with Michelle).

6. Brand New – The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me*

Bitter Long Island emo duder Jesse Lacey just keeps getting weirder. But his work on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, with its swirling guitars and sullen lyrics, are proof that at least he can still rock out. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, in addition to having a silly title, is a difficult album. Clocking in at nearly an hour, its pseudo-prog rock moments may scare away some and irritate others. But those who dare to make it through the whole thing will be rewarded with one of the best Brand New songs ever – “The Archers Bows Have Broken.” Lacey spent too much time on Deja Entendu talking about how he could’ve been a great songwriter if he actually tried. But “The Archers Bows Have Broken,” with its quick pace and unyielding sense of U2-style bravado, is proof that he wasn’t bullshitting us the whole time.

5. The Lemonheads – The Lemonheads

Evan Dando spent a few years being the butt of jokes before he decided, “Hey, I shit my bed with great pop songs every night. What if I tried to write something good?” The result was this tight, infectious, country rock-tinged collaboration with The Descendents’ rhythm section. Rivaling even megahit It’s a Shame About Ray, The Lemonheads is just as effortless-sounding but still wicked fun. How else can you explain the opening track “Black Gown?” It rocks and rolls so dang hard, with a dash of feedback for indie cred, while discussing the fine points of werewolf removal. I kind of view this record as a cousin to Band of Horses’ Everything All the Time below. Both records take a country rock cue from Wilco and My Morning Jacket while adding their own spin. Everything All the Time is the haunting sunset to The Lemonheads’ joyful sunrise.

4. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time*

Beautiful and ethereal, Band of Horses are a solid indie band with some solid Southern hooks in their solid arsenal. Everything All the Time floats by quite easily; it’s hard to believe it’s only 36 minutes long. But then, that’s part of its easy-going nature. Singles “The Funeral” and “Great Salt Lake” both sum up the album perfectly – soft but forceful, elegant but rocking. And while follow-up Cease to Begin doesn’t tweak the sound much, there’s no need. These guys have found a nice a groove, and I fully intend to see how long they can keep it going.

3. Thursday – A City By the Light Divided*

Unlike their ‘90s forefathers, “emo” bands this year embraced pomp and melodrama like whoa. My Chemical Romance tried to be Queen and Panic! at the Disco tried to be… the emo Cirque de Soleil? I dunno. But not enough people gave props to Thursday for being the “emo U2” with this year’s A City By the Light Divided. Passionate and purposeful, this album is a huge, but logical, change away from War All the Time. This stuff is much more hopeful (a la The Joshua Tree, in spirit at least). Thursday always had a commanding presence, but this is the first time I’d call their songs “epic.” From the Full Collapse-referencing “The Other Side of the Crash” to the near-seven-minute closer “Autumn Leaves Revisited,” A City By the Light Divided is arguably the strongest Thursday release yet.

2. Silversun Pickups – Carnavas

Silversun Pickups’ 2006 release was arguably one of the greatest alt-rock sleeper hits of 2007, thanks to the atmospheric love song “Lazy Eye.” Music shorthand demands I compare this L.A. band to The Smashing Pumpkins, and admittedly, the two do share similarities: A rock band from the indie circuit with dreams of bigger, arena rock moments. Plus, they have the same initials. But while there are “big guitar” instances on tracks like “Well Thought-Out Twinkles” and “Future Foe Scenarios,” the record is more like a companion piece to The Smashing Pumpkins’ moody albums Adore and MACHINA than a tribute.

Musically, Carnavas is a record of convergence. You’re never totally sure what’s guitar and what’s keyboard. Or if those vocals are completely male or backed up by lady bassist Nikki Monninger. Sure, the lyrics don’t always quite make sense (there’s another similarity with Billy Corgan’s earliest and latest work!). But they do create vivid images. The little lover who’s so polite; the moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life but isn’t quite right; revolution, baby. Carnavas is a great record to feel. You can dance to it and rock to it and sleep to it and cuddle to it and maybe even eat a sandwich to it.

1. The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely*

Sometimes, you just gotta go with your gut. When initially planning this series, Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country took my top spot for ’06. But, given time to rethink that decision, I find that it’s actually my original top pick, Get Lonely, which rules my heart most. Given that CO eventually ended up at #8, I think it’s clear how close all these rankings are to begin with. In a way, the numbers are superfluous; what matters is that these albums matter to me at all.

John Darnielle delivered another mellow folky soon-to-be-classic with Get Lonely. His previous effort, The Sunset Tree, dealt with Darnielle’s mixed feelings towards his abusive stepfather’s death. Get Lonely is that album’s companion piece, dealing with the aftermath. After his stepfather’s funeral, Darnielle struggles to move on over the course of 12 tracks. But amid the quiet introspection, The Mountain Goats provide anthems. Lines like “Half Dead”’s simple chorus of “Can’t get you out of my head / Lost without you / Half dead” is conveyed with such emotion, resignation, and at the same time determination, that it’s nearly impossible not to bond with this record. It’s sad bastard music, but it’s the most gloriously sad bastard music since Morrissey himself.

NEXT WEEK: did you happen to notice that the words just get in the way, there is an ocean in my soul, and other non-surprises, 2007.

1 comment:

Mr. Dogg said...

Latterman is not even cracking the top 10 anymore. That's a damn shame. If there is a better medicine after loss than...We Are Still Alive, I have not found it yet.