year in review 2006
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson
1. Bruce Springsteen
Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
mere idea of Springsteen covering folk standards is not that
appealing, but the execution is what matters. Not only does
he blow the dust off these old classics with a rowdy band
and untraditional arrangements, but Springsteen’s emotional
depth—long his strong suit—brings great joy to the sing-alongs
and poignancy to the protest songs.
may be Chan Marshall’s most accomplished album yet, or maybe
it’s not, but the backing by Memphis session musicians works,
adding punch here and lushness there, while a solid handful
of tracks—“Could We,” “Lived in Bars”—are among her greatest.
pop for now people: Not many songwriters these days have the
pop-song craft down as well as onetime Northampton, Mass.-area
resident Joe Pernice does. This latest album ranks with the
people think that tinkering with the Beatles back catalog
to create a Vegas circus soundtrack is the worst idea in the
world. But it’s not sacrilege if Sir George Martin and his
son do it! It’s not so much the musical collage that makes
this great (though it is a trip), it’s more about the sonic
restoration that punches up the well-loved tracks and sends
them charging out of the speakers in surround-sound glory.
De Ser Sexy
a band of five women and one man from Brazil, are the latest
in a line of Brazilian new-wave-influenced bands. This is
supremely catchy dance-punk with a Western-pop-culture bent,
a sense of humor and charmingly mangled English; in “Artbitch,”
the words “suck suck suck my art hole” had my friend laughing
for at least a day.
Kamikaze Hearts are a democratic band: Their latest album
neatly alternates between the Troy- and Gaven-sung tunes (they
say that wasn’t planned). But it works because the listener
comes away with an appreciation for the songwriting skills
of both; this would be a great album coming from anywhere.
That they’re local only makes us more proud.
Fujiya & Miyagi
months I thought they were a mysterious Japanese band with
a Can fixation. Turns out they’re a British band with a Can
fixation (disco era). Not a bad thing at all.
Steve Wynn & the Miracle Three
. . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick
don’t know why more people don’t know about this guy beyond
his Dream Syndicate days. . . . His last few albums have been
totally scorching. And I don’t know how this album fell through
the cracks, but it rocks completely.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
of the Broken Seas
collection of duets between former Belle and Sebastian member
Isobel Campbell and Seattle’s Mark Lanegan is an exercise
in contrasting darkness versus light: sweet female vocals
atop haunting lyrics and melodies, contrasted by Lanegan gruffness.
year, Black Mountain was my torch-bearer for 1970s derived
hard rock; this year, Wolfmother’s Black Sabbath simulation
is doing it for me. Originality is overrated.
Critic: Bill Ketzer
1. The Sword
extraordinarily doom-laden bit of magic for the stoner set
from these young Texans. A simple, flawlessly executed riff-o-rama,
this is my pick for classic metal album of the year. The head
swells with visions of black hooves galloping over conquered
hinterlands, the cries of my enemies an afterthought as I
slip in the shower, moaning.
former skinsman for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Chick
Corea, Berroa offers up smart, enthralling experiments here
that weave his hardwired Afro-Cuban metronome into vibrant,
swinging jazz masterpieces. It has been done many times before,
but here the styles aren’t layered over each other insomuch
as they become a single, porous and funky-ass bulletin. The
message: Life is motion. Now get in the ocean.
it bleeds, it leads. Everything I expected and then some.
Great for Sunday laundry schleps, crime fighting or draft
unyielding juggernaut redefines metal with back-breaking time
signatures, Tolkienesque folklore and downright frightening
heft. Buy one for yourself and one for a friend in recovery
from drugs, Catholicism or Russ Meyers.
collection deftly isolates the aural proteins that made Coltrane
one of the greats into one steaming miasma. Coltrane bit the
reed, blew too hard and tested the parameters of pitch like
none other. This disc serves as an excellent roadmap for beginners
as to why even Miles kept a picture of him on his wall.
debut here from these Montreal metallurgists. Sure, they steal
a page from Josh Homme’s playbook every once in a while, but
not often enough to cry foul. I found this one in heavy rotation
on the iPod far longer than expected.
and Roll Is Dead
damn good rock & roll, despite the title. Pretty sad when
the Swedes can out-rock the Brits.
Hank Williams III
you claim to put the “dick” back in Dixie and the “cunt” back
in country, you’d better be able to back it up. This charming
little disc does exactly that. Spin Straight to Hell,
take a shower and then put on something that passes for country
in Wal-Mart, maybe Big and Rich or the like. You’ll want to
Here’s a band who were destined to not age well, if their
early-’90s spandex abominations were any indication. And then
they come from out of nowhere, more than a decade later, with
this majestic thing, putting all the MTV2 bands to shame.
so I like Ani DiFranco. Shut up. Let me guess, you think the
Decemberists are just earth-shattering, right?
Critic: John Brodeur
1. TV on the Radio
to Cookie Mountain
seems to be some consensus among critics over this album’s
awesomeness. That’s because it’s awesome.
Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
against one? No fair.
Happier. More productive. And just plain lovely.
to La Bomb
Girls’ idiosyncrasies are ratcheted way up for this lubricious
second act. This is the real sound of New York City.
appointed pop with plenty of glam kicks. Jellyfish, the Darkness,
and Oasis rolled into one. Right on.
most daring and complete release to date. Half of the tracks
top 5 minutes—two break the 11-minute mark—and yet the whole
thing feels concise.
The Long Winters
the Days to Bed
songs are just as wordy as the Decemberists’, but I get the
feeling that John Roderick actually talks that way.
Plus, as a craftsman, he’s at the top of his game.
twaddle, or avant-noise masterpiece: Can it be both?
the Maybe World
record is like a cloud made of cotton candy and strong drugs.
Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s
Dust of Retreat
collection of emotionally stark pop-Americana boasts a handful
of the stealthiest hooks in recent memory, bolstered by some
righteous ensemble playing.
Critic: Erik Hage
1. The Who
people know, care about, or understand the complicated cyber-punk
lyrical narrative that Pete Townshend has relentlessly been
working out in his head ever since the Lifehouse song
cycle collapsed under its own aspirations to become one of
the greatest rock albums of all-time, Who’s Next. But
we all understand how the pulverizing socio-politics of “Won’t
Get Fooled Again” can suddenly melt into the heart-crushing
emotionalism of “Behind Blue Eyes.” On this album you can
hear echoes of that Who, still very much alive in its two
surviving members and still trying to say something that is
too unwieldy for words and six-string. It is this and other
tensions that keep the greatest rock band still relevant after
all these years.
a world inside this album that I can’t adequately describe.
A slow, moody burn and tumbling groove, like Levon Helm driving
Yo La Tengo. A deep, crushing kind of beauty and some of the
best lyrics ever plied against guitar snarl.
Confessor Brings the Flood
crafts vintage yet timeless beauty like Case. You know those
chills that went up your neck the first time you heard the
La’s “There She Goes” or Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”? That’s
the region where Neko dwells . . . constantly. The Sadies’
stately, reverbed Silvertones guide Case through the tragically
beautiful “Hold On, Hold On,” while “Star Witness” contains
the kind of rare beauty that people die for on occasion.
Stefani and I were both born in 1969. But while I largely
string together aphorisms and think about music a lot, she
has carved out the kind of ’80s-pop-meets-dance-club legitimacy
that no amount of Kabbalah could provide for Madonna. “Wonderful
Life” is clear evidence of this album’s brilliance: Hear how
the song strings together the new romanticism of “Planet Earth”-era
Duran Duran and SoCal dance-club cultcha.
The Hacienda Brothers
Wrong With Right?
Hacienda Brothers play deep, burnished country-soul, fulfilling
the Cosmic-American-Music promise that Gram Parsons made to
the world but only hinted at occasionally before becoming
a smacked-out hippie-generation casualty. Country and soul
are comfortable bedfellows here: Ray Price, Merle Haggard,
Quiet Storm, and Muscle Shoals. The last time I saw guitarist
Dave Gonzalez, he was pinned to the back corner of the Ale
House like some feral cat—Brylcreemed hair in his face and
slashing out mongrel roots & roll with the Paladins. This
is different than that.
dance-pop group’s adult-onset discovery of Bruce Springsteen—and
the influence of it upon this album—have been overstated.
But they did learn a few things about energy and revival-meeting
commitment from the Boss, and damned if “When You Were Young”
doesn’t morph, for a few transcendent seconds, into the organ-rolling
bombast of the E Street Band, just before lead singer Brandon
Flowers butchly beats his chest (Bruce-style) against the
words: “They say the devil’s water it ain’t so sweet. . .
Los Straitjackets with the World Famous Pontani Sisters &
has all the food groups: burning rock & roll guitar, twisting
go-go dancers, and a Scotsman who dresses like he’s in the
Shadows, circa 1962. They toured off this album in October,
and seeing them at Revolution Hall was a deliriously fun extravaganza.
Every time I see Eddie Angel, we discuss property taxes and
the like: Genius often hides behind normalcy and modesty.
could have ended up a footnote to the turn of the millennium
like so many of their modern-rock contemporaries. But they
have an ability to couch very straightforward, unchallenging
rock songs in unique textures: Mike Einziger’s harmonic accents,
Brandon Boyd’s theatrical and smooth vocals and the very subtle,
trippy soundscape elements. “Anna Molly” is an inspired, exciting
the night Away
Shins’ breathlessly clever indie-pop comes at you from odd
angles. You think you’ve got them tuned in, and then someone
turns the kaleidoscope a bit and there’s something else you
hadn’t figured. In the 2004 movie Garden State, the
Shins song “New Slang” was supposed to “change your life.”
I question that (admittedly great) tune’s transformative powers.
But the brand new (brilliant) Shins song “Phantom Limb”—now
that’s a life changer. This album just came out, and
with more time to absorb it, it probably would have scored
Jean Through the sea
Albany music critics so we’re supposed to root for the Figgs,
right? We might have discovered them because we all crawled
from the same primordial ooze, but we love the Figgs because
they continue to be everything we want a rock band to be:
smart, tough, hooky . . . and enduring. Being a Figgs fan
is like having a good retirement account; it just keeps paying
off year after year. The career-long push and pull between
Mike Gent and Pete Donnelly is no better expressed than by
listening to “Regional Hits” and “Jumping Again” back-to-back.
Critic: David Greenberger
1. Ian McLagan & the Bump Band
is Mac’s tribute to his late friend and bandmate, Ronnie Lane.
Among other notable moments, he rebuilt “Itchykoo Park” around
a rich piano foundation, bringing out the spirituality and
melancholy that was always there behind the original’s psychedelia.
Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
three-disc set of music (either originally for other projects
or just never previously released) is a mother lode of songs
that are now vital entries in his catalog.
& Other Things
long-awaited and triumphant return of the master of emotionally
hypnotic cubist songs.
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins
Jenny Lewis’ many strengths and charms, I’m particularly enamored
by the fearlessness with which she rhymes a word with the
Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3
a full-on rock album experience, better than anything since
Element of Light.
Town and the City
yearning, and broken promises are tempered with shades of
hope by the sheer beauty of the music.
Brown is marketed as a folk singer, he’s actually too soulful
to be contained by any one label. If this album had contained
only the song “Skinny Days,” it would have still made this
of the West
Alvin has once again set aside his own songs, this time for
a celebration of the broad range of California-born songwriters.
Such is his bearing that he now can lay claim to even “Surfer
art songs and experimental hijinks like this can find safe
haven in the jagged marketplace is a good sign indeed.
his explorations of old blues songs on a pair of albums in
the early ’90s, Dylan has regained his footing, making albums
on his own leisurely schedule, but making the wait worthwhile.
Critic: Carlo Wolff
best Parliament-Funkadelic update in decades, this weird hybrid
dances great, sounds even better and features “Crazy,” hands
down the best single of the year. Don’t miss the “Gone Daddy
This Perfect World
Alert” (by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas) is especially
alluring, the original “Once in a While” suggests Peyroux
is getting bolder as a songwriter, and this features a killer
version of “Everybody’s Talking,” making her third “official”
album Peyroux’s best. For sheer sonic beauty, it’s the top
production of the year.
of Dylan’s most musical albums, it rocks like crazy and there
are times it’s so romantic you swoon. The ominous—later Dylan
packs a ton of threat and danger—has never sounded so engaging.
Man Raider Man
ambitious double album conjures Exile on Main Street in
its darkness and unanticipated tenderness, but it’s decidedly
clear-headed and perhaps more diverse. Lotsa pedigree and
legacy in the musicians, along with a very modern point of
embering, world-weary beauty signals Petty’s return to songwriting
form in tunes like “Turn This Car Around,” the Southern Gothic
“Jack” and “The Golden Rose,” surreal, romantic Americana
of a particularly swashbuckling sort. Sharp, minimalist, memorable.
sounds big, the songwriting is deft, and the working class
gets its due again. Tunes like “Simplicity” and “Between”
put the meat back in Seger’s powerglide motion.
sequenced and surprisingly lively, this rocks hard and boasts
“If It Takes a Lifetime,” the song “The Flame” really wanted
to be when it grew up.
newly widowed Saxophone Colossus regains full-throated voice
in his first independent release. This is supple jazz as swinging
as anything Rollins has released in years.
Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet
charged, aggressively conceived and gratifyingly gritty, Husky
is the funkiest jazz album of the year.
than his 2004 debut, Get Lifted, this poorly titled
effort sounds like the best Stevie Wonder album in decades.
Beautifully sequenced, unabashedly affectionate and androgynous,
it scores points on equal parts musicality and techno-savvy.
Critic: Mike Hotter
1. Ornette Coleman
Modern Times, here is a master still kicking on all
cylinders. For the Ornette neophyte, this isn’t the place
to start (Virgin Beauty is probably the most accessible
intro to Coleman’s modernist blues), but the musically adventurous
will still find a wealth of passion on this stellar live set.
Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
going to take more weeks of intensive ear-digging to give
this three-disc juggernaut its due, but the mixture of old
ore (Skip Spence’s “Books of Moses”) and new gems like “Bottom
of the World” already makes this one a classic.
Confessor Brings the Flood
Riding Hood of noir-country creates music to keep the dire
wolves of American politics and pop banished out in the reality-challenged
dark. If you like her voice, this album is like being steeped
in a loving cup of song.
they played “Crazy” to death, but damn the backlash. If you
listen with open ears, this is still a hell of an album. Fun,
lyrically dark, soulful and damn funky, a one-hit wonder this
band definitely are not. . . . Though it’ll be interesting
to see how Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse traverse the sophomore
Chris Whitley & the Bastard Club
refused to go gently into that good night. This testament,
recorded last year at Catskill’s Old Soul Studios, was divided
equally into the all-out rock and somber blues-folk that Whitley
managed to make all his own. The song “Cut the Cards” is one
of the most heart-rending I’ve ever heard.
first couple of listens, I didn’t see what the big deal was.
If you look past the obtuse lyrics and let the sounds entrance,
this strange form of electronica-tweaked Americana will grow
on you like a spore in an incubator.
peers Yo La Tengo made a strong showing this year, but the
Youth’s best record since Washing Machine was just
a few cuts above. The Youth sounded fresh and radio-ready—and
won the blue ribbon at the New York State Fair to boot.
to My World
recent documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the
best movie of its kind since Crumb, called for a reassessment
of the ultimate indie cult figure (though Roky and Jandek
fans might take issue). This career retrospective distills
the songwriting substance that Johnston’s mythic life journey
is built upon.
Sunn O))) & Boris
a year where the most heralded stoner albums offered little
more than sleepwalking groove-music (OK, you can sit down
now, Brightblack Morninglight and Grails), this pairing of
the United States’ and Japan’s heaviest art-rockers wins hands
down. It only makes real sense if you turn the volume up to
Comets on Fire
previous album, Blue Cathedral, ranks with Fun House
and Master of Reality as a freak-rock classic, so there
was nowhere else to go but down from there—which still leaves
the Comets miles in the sky above most of the bong-friendly
Critic: David King
Bang Rock & Roll
like my punk rock-art noise-Brit wave-dance pop with oozing
helpings of sarcasm and dry wit, and nothing delivers on that
like Art Brut. They brought the pure joy of rock & roll
steamrolling back for me with choruses like, “My little brother
just discovered rock & roll,” and “Look at us! We formed
Deadboy and the Elephantmen
Are Night Sky
is nothing like Dax Riggs’ soulful bayou croon. On Deadboy’s
earlier albums, Riggs brought it home with a full backing
band that produced haunting goth dirges. But on the band’s
first proper national release, Riggs only has his plastic
white soul (taking the form of his guitar) and drummer Tess’
plodding drumming to carry him. Riggs’ morbid lyrics and heart-filled
glam singing breathe new life into the tired guy-girl garage-rock
Cult of Luna
Along the Highway
love bombastic prog-metal. I love it even more when it’s delivered
with the swelling, overwhelming beauty of bands like Radiohead
and Sigur Ros. Somewhere Along the Highway, despite
the menacing shouting of the lead singer, is a classic epic
monstrosity of a rock album that surges like the ocean’s waves.
Be ready to be emotionally drained.
Broderick of Godflesh fame is an overachiever. His many metal/industrial
side projects all teem with experimentation. But his newest
solo project Jesu delivers something none of his projects
have before: shimmering pop hooks and catchy choruses. While
Jesu’s self titled debut album was propelled by the racket
of distorted samples and machines, the Silver EP could
be the work of a stone noise rock band, except for the genius
ending of the album where humming guitars give way to bleeping
The Glass Handed Kites
to Mew is a lot like eating cookie dough. It’s sweet, and
squishy, awkward and guilt-ridden, but way too satisfying
to avoid. I saw these Danish fellows on a bright, breezy summer
day in the McCarron Park Pool in Brooklyn opening for British
dance-popsters Bloc Party, and Mew blew them away. The formula
for Mew’s prog-dance, polyrhythmic, jagged, immaculately produced
disco-guitar hymns is something like this: T. Rex plus Mogwai
plus Radiohead divided by Depeche Mode multiplied by Sigur
Ros equals epic pop-rock heaven.
The Secret Machines
never got it so good from an American band. The title of the
best song on Ten Silver Drops, “Alone Jealous and Stoned,”
also functions as a to-do-while-listening suggestion. This
hook-laden, long-droning work of self loathing is good for
long car rides and for the nights you spend hiding from people.
wasn’t Mogwai’s nod to their past that everyone wanted it
to be. It’s something different, and in this case, something
different is something good. Because Mr. Beast rocks
in the spazoid, soundtrack-of-a-sci-fi-flick way that only
the true heir to My Bloody Valentine’s throne could rock.
The Fiery Furnaces
not going to pretend that the awkward brother-sister relationship
of the Fiery Furnaces does not creep me out, and I’m not going
to pretend that their recording sessions with their grandma
and her old-people diatribes don’t give me the shivers. But
man, the expertise of their keyboard pop is undeniable.
this is not the best prog-metal album of the last couple of
years as everyone would like to have you believe. There are
quite a few underground metal bands doing it much better.
What it is, though, is an extremely competent, even catchy
mountain of psychedelic rage that will bring together stoners
and metalheads alike. Blood Mountain is the best mainstream
metal album of the year. Out of all the major-label metal
signings that happened this year, Mastodon hold the highest
hopes of keeping artistry the first priority in a genre full
of posturing and bullshit.
The Black Keys
Black Keys could have gotten on my Top 10 list on the strength
of the single “Your Touch” alone. The bluesy yelp “It’s your
touch!” with that torn-up guitar warmed my bitter heart (or
something like that). And the rest of the album is just as
tortured, soulful and entrancing.