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JUST IN TIME!! I really had to think long about this, which is odd because I listened to plenty of music last year. Maybe I listened to stuff that that came out earlier? Maybe I didn’t listen to a wide variety of stuff? Who knows? But here’s my list of favorite records that came out in 2006. And one month into 2007, I can already name about five of the years best albums. BUT that is neither here nor there… So here’s last years.
10. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55
As the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Charlotte has some pretty big shoes to fill. With the help of producers Air and Jarvis Cocker, it turns out just right. The mellow music hearkens to Serge’s Melody Nelson period and equally Air’s Moon Safari record. This is a great mellow record that is lovely and haunting. It hasn’t been released in the states yet… but I’m sure it will be soon.
9. Ratatat - Classics
I find it hard to argue that that this was a great record. It kept the same consistency with their self-titled debut, and yet it branched out in many different directions. Every song is still instrumental featuring their stomping backward guitar sound, but they’ve experimented with lots of different instruments, musical styles and techniques. It’s far more fulfilling than their debut which sorta blurred together after “Seventeen Years”. “Montanita”, “Tacobel Canon” and “Wildcat” are standouts for me, but it’s solid through and through. My friend Octavio (who’s really into hip-hop for the most part) really dug this record saying something to the effect of, “I love instrumental music lately. Music with lyrics is just someone telling you their opinion. I’m sick of that.” Good point my friend.
8. Beck - The Information
I’m surprised that this record got so little respect in end-of-the year lists. Especially after all the acclaim that Guero got back in 2005. The Information does sound like a continuation of Guero (or even of Odelay if you mind), but it’s even more experimental, even more out-there. Beck’s idea of making this an more open-sourced album was revolutionary. Not only did he provide the listener with do-it-yourself cover art, but he filmed a video for every song on the album (as well as a few remixes) and put them on a companion DVD. How cool is that? I also have reason to believe that they purposely mixed this record to make it easier for DJs to remix and mash-up. Between “Elevator Music”, “New Round”, “The Information” and practically every other track, this record was listenable and abstract. Solid through and through.
7. The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes
The Pipettes are rad because they know they’re a gimmick. They admit that they were a concept before they ever wrote songs. Luckily their songs turned out great. I can’t think of any group in recent memory that has done a genuinely authentic throwback to Phil Spectre era girl groups. I personally love that sound and it’s a shame it didn’t stick around. But thanks to the Pipettes, we got it back. All their songs are super fun and well written. Marylynn fell in love with this record far more than I did (but I still like it a lot). “Pull Shapes” makes me want to freak out, it’s so fun. “Judy” “ABC” “We Are the Pipettes” and “Sex” are just loads of fun. We need more bands like this.
6. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
I didn’t like this album at first, but I’m starting to like it a bit. It’s still growing on me. This is strange because I consider Belle and Sebastian one of my favorite bands. But this record is really different. It just doesn’t have the same vibe as they have had in the past. Of course they can’t all be like “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, but this is even a departure from their last record, “Dear Catastrophe Waitress”. It just… I don’t know. I still like it. It’s good, but B&S should be in my top three. Not this far down the list.
5. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
I like this record. I like it more every time I hear it. The Decemberists broaden their scope with this record. It’s a bit of a concept album (what concept that is, I’m not quite sure, but then again I never really “get” concept albums). Something based on a Japanese proverb of a guy being married to a crane that … dies or something? I don’t know. The Decemberists seem to be like a staple for my generation. Everyone has to like them or something. But I don’t care. The songs are great all the way through. It makes me happy. I love “O Valencia”, “Sons and Daughters”, “Summersong” and I get chills every time I hear the intro of “The Crane Wife”.
4. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
I first heard Lily Allen when I saw her video for “LDN” and I was just thrilled. How can you deny a sweet British girl in a 50’s dress prancing down the street to a great pop song built over an authentic Jamaican ska song? Awesome! The whole record is just about as good. Her producers rely a lot on old ska and reggae and it just thrills me that she’s doing so well. This is the record that Gwen Stefani SHOULD have put out. Oh, and she’s covered the Specials and the Kaiser Chiefs. Great record. My only criticism is that she should lose her b*tchy side a bit and make it less bitter and a whole lot sweeter.
3. The Aggrolites - The Aggrolites
If you know the Aggrolites, then you know what to expect. I love The Aggrolites because they bring something fresh to the ska/reggae genre. They don’t try to mimic the past, but they definitely sound old school. They bring their own brand of low down funk to it that just floats my boat. And they’re not just playing reggae to their own crowd, but they’re accessible to everyone (the same thing that made Hepcat so great). I’ve been saying for over ten years now that Skinhead Reggae was my favorite type of music, and yet no current band has really been doing it right until The Aggrolites. Not to mention I had a blast touring with them over the summer.
2. I’m From Barcelona - Let Me Introduce My Friends
Now, for the total opposite of the Knife, (yet still just as Swedish), is I’m from Barcelona. It’s a group of around 30 of the happiest Swedish indie hipsters I’ve ever seen. The comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree are obvious and easy. These guys are less “Join with us, brother. You will never see your family again” and more like “Hi! We like you! Let’s have a picnic! You’re OK”. Less Patty Hearst and more Karen Carpenter (on a good day). I first listened to this record when I was driving from PA to Baltimore for the first time on a job interview and I was surprised at how each song just got better and better. Seriously, banjos, melodicas, beautiful backing vocals and endearing, encouraging lyrics. It’s just fantastic. I want everyone to hear it. It will make their lives better.
1. The Knife - Silent Shout
This was the big surprise upset for me. I heard about The Knife a while ago on Pitchfork and listened to about 10 seconds of one of their songs and dismissed it as pretentious arty crap (really? on pitchfork? wow!). Then once I started working at Virgin, Nick or Tesi or someone threw it on and I was like …eh. But listening to it, I tried fining fault and ended up saying “I could really get into this” And so I did. a LOT. I’ve been listened to this record a lot, and subsequently got into their older stuff, and it’s full of gems. But back to the record. It’s dark and electronic and spooky. A lot of the songs start with really disjointed noises that sorta fall into a rhythm and the song takes off from there. There occasional moments here that remind me of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream or something that should be on an 80’s sci-fi movie (”The Captain” could be straight out of Blade Runner, I swear.). The more I write about this record the stupider I sound, so I’ll just stop here - give it a fair shake. It’s really good.
Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
Like the rest of the country, I loved “Crazy” and listened to it non-stop for a while. It was definitely the “Hey Ya” of 2006. The rest of the record is pretty good too. DJ Danger Mouse did miracles producing the Gorillaz “Demon Days” and he did some good producin’ here too. Cee-Lo is an amazing singer and the songs are catchy, dark and fun. They also made some great videos too. I hope they win a bunch of Grammys.
Easy All-Stars - Radiodread
Of all the gimmicky novel Radiohead cover albums, this one stands the best on its own. “Let Down (featuring Toots Hibbert)” is enough to make it alone, but the whole thing translated really well. The Easy All Stars (who formerly did “Dub Side of The Moon”) covered Radiohead’s “OK Computer” from beginning to end with different guest vocalists on each track. It would normally be quite a challenge, because it’s not the most straightforward album, but they really pulled it off. I love OK Computer and I love reggae, and they did it right.
Moneybrother - Pengabrosan
I’d be a really big jerk to leave this out. Moneybrother is one of my favorite bands of all time. My brother Parker and I are the unofficial US Moneybrother advocates. Anyhow, I like ‘em… Pengsbrosan (”money brother” in Swedish) is Anders Wendin’s little personal album for his homeland fans. Almost entirely in in his native tongue, it’s a collection of covers with some interesting guest spots. Howlin’ Pete Almquist (The Hives) shows up for a duet on an operation ivy cover, “Falling in Love (With Christmas)” is a re-working of an old Monster tune, and they do a great version of My Morning Jacket’s “Off The Record”. But the highlight for me was the single, “Dom vet ingenting om oss” (a cover of Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Care About Us” Awesome. If I could understand this album and they lost a few of the slower tracks, it would have cracked my top ten for sure.
Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape
Gwen, Gwen, Gwen. I’ve stood faithfully behind you since the early days of No Doubt, and you’ve inspired me so many ways. I really liked “Love, Angel, Music, Baby” because it was a throwback to 80’s booty bass stuff like Expose and Debbie Deb. Awesome! The Sweet Escape was admittedly more “modern” but sheesh. I can’t stomach this. Where do you draw the line between winkingly doing a cheesy pop record for fun and churning out crap? One, maybe two good songs on this record. Let’s speed up the next No Doubt record already, okay?
The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
I was sad to have to put this on the list. But COME ON! I loved the Flaming Lips freaky surreal sounds and stories on “Yoshimi”. It seemed like they came from another galaxy and it fascinated me. At War With The Mystics, despite the awesome artwork, is tremendously timely and preachy. Between sermons on atheism and hatred towards political conservatives, it comes off more like a rant from Al Franken or Bill Maher. And considering how increasingly political they’ve become the past year or two, it basically is. BOOOO!
Teddybears - Soft Machine
Okay, I love pretty much all the songs on this record. What’s the problem? Because this record came out 2 years ago! Without the “necessary” guest spots. Go listen to “Punkrocker” without Iggy Pop or “Yours To Keep” without Neneh Cherry. A million times better. Guys! We love you! Leave well enough alone!