Top 10 Albums of 2006

Number 10.  –  Eraser – Thom Yorke

After the release of Hail To The Thief in 2004, Radiohead fans were once again subjected to the agony of having to wait for almost 4 years before they could listen to what this band would next produce. However, something that would satisfy their appetite was this solo offering from Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke. As expected, it doesn’t really seem to deviate too far from his band’s recent work. Contained in this package are the same electronic percussion loops, synths and falsettos that were present on Kid A and Amnesiac and it is also fair to say that a lot of these songs are probably derived from ideas during those sessions. Lyrically however, Yorke seems to have gone down the political route with plenty of tirades against the Blair Government (“Black Swan”, “Harrowdown Hill”) and against climate change (“And It Rained All Night”, “The Clock”). However, the question that could be asked of these songs is whether they sound too much like Kid A outtakes? All put together, it’s almost like folk music for laptops. It’s gentle on the ears thanks to the largely digital arrangements, yet it’s also immediate and direct. Most of all it’s refreshing to hear Thom get something a bit more casual out of his system. Though it may not be as finicky and precise without all the extra ears that come with Radiohead, it’s new and exciting and ultimately a shamelessly enjoyable album.

Number 9.  –  The Information – Beck

the moment where all that raw power actually hits the goal for once. There is actually very little beyond “it’s good” to back up that opinion. Beck returns to the mixture of hip-hop and indie rock that’s probably the closest he’s ever got a signature style, only this time it has more of a live band feel and the only sampling is based on what he and his band have recorded (the same fills and vocal interjections appear throughout the album). The production is hyperactive with all sounds of percussions, instruments and random sounds – not a kitchen sink production, but more so inviting everyone you know for a recording session and telling them all to just grab whatever they feel like and shake/bang/strum it to the rhythm. It’s fun, it’s good and most importantly, it’s consistent. The only actual fall comes at the concluding “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton” monstrosity that does its best to leave a sour aftertaste with its sheer pointlessness. Besides that, The Information is simply a melting pot of everything that makes Beck great at his best moments: the dry rapping, the off-beat humour, ramshackle production mixed with killer songcraft and the feeling of kooky fun radiating from it all. I’m pretty sure Guero was the dawn of a new era for our friend Beck Hanson. It’s not Bonkersville for this gentleman anymore, it’s focused pop songs with interesting songwriting and eccentric tendencies. The Information is Beck’s under-the-radar release from 2006, just a year after Guero took the charts by storm. It’s a more focused, and I’d say more mature, version of what Guero has to offer. That said, The Information is loaded with great riffs, countless colorful melodies, and groove after groove after groove. It features Beck in the fullest array that we’ve ever seen from him. He croons, he garbles, he’s in full rap mode at times, laying down some of his slickest licks since Odelay. It seriously makes me wonder if Beck’s junkyard rock schtick will ever lose it’s appeal, as fifteen tracks of impressive consistency indicate that Beck’s not slowing down any time soon.

Number 8.  –  Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – Arctic Monkeys

It’s quite hard to find rock music that can make you dance nowadays, but rather than banging your head and a garage rock (an indie-hard rock subgenre) some how manages to make its listeners to think else but the dance floor. With a total of 13 Hits and no misses, this album rocked the house. Like most dance-like music, the lyrics of each song is a first-person narratives of observations made within this context like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” that always makes me visualize people in a dance-off and the Arctic Monkeys knows how to get their audience pumped up for a good dance. If there’s one thing that 2000’s music has accomplished, musically, is to make garage albums well known that before and if there’s one garage album that sticks out as the best of it’s kind, well you’re looking at it now. There are plenty of songs that many of us can relate to and it makes you fall in love with music all over again. At times it makes you think of the times where rock music was demanding in dance floors, while rap music today took that attention. Arctic Monkeys may or may not be the future of rock’n’roll.  Probably not, if the truth is told.  They’re not the best rock band of the decade, this is not the best debut of the decade, and they’re not the new Oasis/Stone Roses/Pulp/Blur/Strokes/whoever else you’ve heard them compared to.  It’s not perfect, and it’s not a masterpiece.  But they come close.  Really, really close.  And what do you really expect from them, anyway?  Don’t come at this like it’s some kind of holy artifact, just treat like a rock record.  Because it is one of the best (though not quite the best) rock records in recent years.

Number 7.  –  Costello Music – The Fratellis

What is there not to love about this album? It never gets boring, the songs are catchy, and its the ultimate pick-me-up for a bad day. The album is simple, but that’s really the beauty of it. Most of these songs sound like they’re sung in a pub. It’s also true that the music lacks maturity, but that’s precisely what this album is for. Costello Music accomplishes being a fun listen. Which, in my opinion, is something that is missed a lot in music. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being this catchy. The chorus in most of the songs goes beyond catchy and into a realm where it will probably burn out your eyeballs if you don’t take a few breaks once in awhile. What does it mean when a band makes you desperately want to grab the loveliest girl in the room and have a few dances with her? Well… it probably means it’s Indie-Pop. The thing the Fratellis does a bit different (Aside from The Arctic Monkeys.) is the frenetic pace that most of the songs set from the opening chords. So not only will you dance with that lovely girl, afterwards (when you’re all wet) you’ll have to take a shower. It’s relentless in it’s sarcasm and cheekiness. Sure, the Lyrics don’t invade your mind in that provocative way that Brand New’s lyrics do, but when you’re having as much fun as the Fratellis are obviously having then lyrics are probably the last thing on your mind. That’s right, sometimes it’s okay to cut loose and have some fun at the expense of looking like you’re happy.

Number 6.  –  Hidden World – Fucked Up

In retrospect, this album is the perfect bridge between their earlier, more straight-foward, records (of course all singles and EPs, what else would you expect from a hardcore band) and their sprawling, more experimental second full length, The Chemistry of Common Life. I like a few songs from the latter, but it still hasn’t clicked with me. Perhaps all the hipsters creaming themselves over it is keeping me from liking it. They would probably think this record is too blunt and punk for their refined tastes. what a crock of shit. This album is so much more than hardcore. Although Pink Eyes’ vocals keep it grounded in hardcore, the band blends every style of punk in this wonderful masterpiece. “David Comes to Life” sounds even Stiff Little Fingers-esque, for example. Fucked Up takes the genre to places many bands wish they could take it, and still sound great. Greg Ginn took Black Flag in an increasingly experimental direction, but it just got boring and long-winded, a far cry from the brilliance of everything they released through 1984. Fucked Up experiments with hardcore and expands song length, but keeps the listener interested. Lyrically, it is brilliant. Religion is a central issue, and their scathing indictment of it is nothing new in punk, but they do it with the intelligence of Greg Graffin and the aggression of Henry Rollins. Taking on Nazis is also nothing new, but Fucked Up indict it in the same fashion as above. A hardcore album thats average song length is 5 to 6 minutes sounds like a terrible idea. To be honest i wasn’t playing into their game after the first spin. But after a few spins I was finally getting into and screaming along with Pink Eyes. But the highly prolific Toronto punks switch styles from album to album. There will never be another album quite like Hidden World from Fucked Up.

Number 5.  –  10,000 Days – Tool

“10,000 Days” is the Tool album that had to grow the most on me as it might be the most complicated one. And it’s a concept album. Those need time and love. I remember having it for a long time until I could finally grasp it. I’m so glad it happened. And now I know the terrain. Follow me so that you won’t get lost. Our journey starts with “Vicarious” that is the most accessible song on this album. It teaches us something we already know but does it well. Now that we remember who we are, let’s get to know “Jambi” who is one of my favorites. He is not easy to control, he has a breakout every now and then, but he will calm down with time and finally – shine. I feel we’re heading for the swamps now. It’s getting rainy and someone might sink in the bogs as we will spend a lot of days here. “Wings for Marie” and “10,000 Days” are the two songs (that might as well be one) I had the most problems with. They are very slow, melancholic and hard to get into. But after a while I got to know them better and all that remained was beauty. Now we are ready to get out of the pond and move on to “The Pot” that has some strange tones in the beginning but evolves into being absolutely fantastic. After a little break with a “Lipan Conjuring”, we approach (with the aid of our “Lost Keys”) the central monument of our trip: “Rosetta Stoned”. This song is an outstanding, incomparable work of art. It has some of the most intriguing vocals and mesmerizing riffs that I have ever experienced. The breakout at 8.35 min. is the greatest moment on our voyage. You should take a picture. Otherwise we can’t be sure if we were really here or if it was all just a dream. It’s good that Tool gave us some time now to handle the aftermath of “Rosetta Stoned” with another trouble song of mine: “Intension”. While it’s a very atmospheric piece and we might need it to gather energy for our final climb to the summit, it can’t really stand out because “Right in Two” awaits us at the top of the mountain. Now we are close…so close…why giving them a thumb…the monkeys will kill each other in the end…they will. And we fall. At last we arrive and hit the bottom. Don’t skip the winds of “Viginti Tres” and listen to the end of the world. I would show you a nice way home now but there is none anymore.

Number 4.  –  Asobi Seksu – Citrus

Following the distinctive course of past shoegazers, Asobi Seksu (meaning “playful sex” in Japanese) bring to us “Citrus,” a noisy, textured, and shamelessly pop driven piece. Although artists like My Blood Valentine and Slowdive essentially brought shoegaze music to its peak more than a decade ago, Asobi Seksu are able to foster the elements that made up shoegaze music, and also give birth to new sounds and techniques of their own. “Citrus” brings a variety of sounds, the albums base is evidently more of a dreamy pop; the vocals remain distinct, finding its way through the noisy walls of swirling guitars- much of which the cover art in itself depicts. Yuki Chikudate’s genial vocals (sung in both English and Japanese), matched with the layered, hazy, and washed tones of feedback give it a fruitful flavor of reminiscence to the past. The pattern is quite simple: poppy vocals and candied hooks that overlap the springing beats and intensifying strings that work their way up until the final crash of noise- which has seemingly worked to their advantage. A quick 17 second intro (“Everything is On”) leads us to “Strawberries,” an immediately catchy song that lures us in with heavy bass and drum lines. It starts off as a luscious pop song, until the chorus hits and the walls of noise come crashing down- all while Yuki Chikudate’s voice floats above daintily and effortlessly, alongside “Goodbye” which is easily another whimsical brew of pop. Guitarist James Hanna is able to orchestrate his distinctive sound with “Red Sea,” with its undoubtedly meaty, dense, and surging guitar work. “Exotic Animal Paradise” may be the only slight exception to the album entirely. It has more of a slow and dreamy sound to it, supplemented with Yuki and Hanna’s vocals. Continuing onto its downbeat path, it finally reaches the end, with its emotionally thrashing guitar riffs, and pounding drums that end the song. Citrus does not falter in replicating the shoegaze forebears of the past. It is of their most substantial work to date; they have smoothly created a bilingual album that is rich in not only melodies, but with traces of love, despair, and thrill. Asobi Seksu has formed a bond with painstakingly trudging instrumentation, and also with calm and harmonious vocals that have found its way through a labyrinth of sounds. Perhaps “Citrus” really is the most fitting name for the record, considering that each song holds not only a sweet taste to it, but an oddly satisfying sour aftertaste.

Number 3.  –  Donuts – J Dilla

Dilla loved what he did all his life, and I have grown to love him and his music the same way that thousands of other modern Dilla fans have. Apart from everything ODB related, my absolute favorite thing in hip hop is sampling. A meticulously hand crafted meta language of sounds and words that frequently becomes a super language in itself, deconstructing the source material, turning it upside down and rearranging it in gloriously odd ways. Seeing art as a living structure to which you can add or shape into a whole new hybrid. When done well it can be awesomely heady and oodles of fun. It can also very easily reveal if you’re creative or not, if you just copy and paste the backbeat of “When Doves Cry” you’re lazy, if you grab Twin Peaks’ backwards midget dream and cross breed it with Cantona saying “I am not a man, I am Cantona” then you’re something else entirely. J Dilla’s Donuts is a 31 track inspired mish mash of classic soul, funk and whatever else he found amusing to insert. We can get sections borrowed from the great Isley Brothers or Shuggie Otis, then we swing to Martha Reeves, then it’s something from 10cc, Smokey Robinson or the Beasties. “Workinonit” sounds like a long lost Prince tune. It gets major points for sheer unpredictability, surprising soulfulness and for creating a perfectly orchestrated chaos that somehow flows together. Only one of the 31 tracks lingers beyond the two minute mark, everything here is a fidgety collage that keeps throwing surprises and curveballs at us, not resting on its laurels for a second. It is all the better for that constant reimagining of samples both puzzling and familiar. Reckless, restless post modern genius.

There’s a lot of emphasis on flow and all of the songs flow into each other brilliantly and progress fantastically. It’s brilliantly produced, meticulously arranged, the beats are great, there’s a fantastic use of soul samples, outstanding drum and piano effects as well as turntabalism. Donuts is most definitely a perfect if you have a short attention span, a truly wonderful achievement and a love letter to the music J Dilla loved.

Number 2.  –  (A) Senile Animal – The Melvins

(A) Senile Animal is the 16th full-length studio album by US alternative/sludge metal act Melvins. The album was released in October 2006 by Ipecac Recordings. Melvins have usually been known as a trio, but on (A) Senile Animal, the two consistent members of Melvins, King Buzzo (guitar, vocals) and Dale Crover (drums, vocals) have joined forces with Jared Warren (bass guitar, vocals) and Coady Willis (drums, vocals) from Big Business to make Melvins a four-piece with two drummers.  Merging Big Business with Melvins proves to be a very wise move and this is quite possibly their best album. The two new members provide a breath of fresh air to the trademark alternative/experimental/sludge metal sound of the Melvins. Add to that the intense and raw vocal delivery and the heavy distorted bass work of Jared Warren and it´s hard to come up with anything negative about the new collaboration. There are twists and turns, sweet percussive details and adventurous ideas in spades. It´s all packed into a relatively accessible format though and that works well for the band. The sound production is organic, detailed and powerful. High quality production to my ears. (A) Senile Animal is the first in a row of strong album releases by the now four-piece Melvins. “(A) Senile Animal” to me is the epitome of wild, restless and carefree rock´n´roll. Even though Melvins occasionally take the tempo down to “mean badass heavy” or add some aggression, their music seems designed to make you happy. At least it´s happiness I feel after listening to this album, and that can´t be bad now can it? Try and wipe that smile of my face, sucker!

Number 1.  –  Ashes Against The Grain –

Though I’d probably choose The Mantle over this album, if I absolutely had to choose, both albums are indispensable to me.  In this album, Agalloch goes for a fuller sound with fewer acoustic sections; it works well (especially in the absurdly catchy “Falling Snow”), but I find that the instrumental track and noise track surrounding Part II of “Our Fortress is Burning…” detract a little.  They make sense in the theme of the album (Part I represents people going about their lives, Part II the end of the world, and Part III the nothingness that is left), but I don’t really want to listen to them. Nevertheless, this album is the perfect mixture of melancholy, anger, and menace that Agalloch is known for, along with the lyrics about nature, nihilism, and death.  The acoustic parts are absent, but the sound is unique and fulfilling either way.  I found that I was overwhelmed at first (with song lengths of ten minutes, I often am), but after repeated listens, I started enjoying everything on here.  Now I couldn’t live without it. Each song on this album is its own, but the album is still held together by a continuity of feeling and emotion. The most easily accessible song on this album is Falling Snow. Its melody is instantly intoxicating. However, don’t mistake, this song has just as much depth as the rest. The album is a sea of atmospheric acoustic passages, driving electric rhythms, and pristine solo figures, that all complement and overlap each other in a meaningful way. The vocals are dark and grating at times, clean and mysterious at others. It’s not really fair to compare them to typical death/black metal vocals, because they are not really shouting, screaming, or grunting. Just dark and wispy, like an icy wind blowing through the fading treetops on a clear night in the early winter. As for the clean vocals, listening to them is like hearing the reincarnated soul of an invincible medieval warrior from the 12th century. Not in a cheeseball power metal way, but in a “we actually traveled back in time and lived in a medieval forest-village for five years to get ideas for this album” way. Definite album highlights include “Falling Snow”–that strong solo guitar that starts and pervades the track is excellent–and “Fire Above, Ice Below” with its interwoven yet perfectly straightforward guitarwork. The haunting 3-track “Our Fortress Is Burning” is a great piece that seems to summarize within twenty minutes everything this band can do: from the mystic acoustics, to the enthralling vocals, the symmetrical-raindrop solos, the eerie soundscapes, and finally what seems to be the entire band fading away into the shrouded depths of the forest, to return only when they deem us worthy to behold their visages again.

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