The obligatory best-of-the-best list.
Earlier this year I reviewed the energetic and baffling Man Man’s Six Demon Bag, thinking it might make it into my top albums of the year. The novelty wore off quickly, however, and it ended up tossed by the wayside. An underwhelming anecdote about an underwhelming year: 2006 wasn’t exactly banner for music, in my opinion.
I was disappointed by a few hyped releases – the long-awaited Thermals album had maybe two rousing tracks; the reformed not-quite-Don-Caballero were hit-and-miss; TV On The Radio didn’t get nearly the critical acclaim for their sophomore release. A lot of my favourite albums are from artists I’ve never heard of, so I spent more time tracking down earlier releases and less time trying to stay current. And almost all the music I fell in love with came from Norway, and required headphone-listening, to appreciate the obsessive panning effects. I don’t feel as though I missed out on much, this year.
I’m by no means certain that others had the same experience, though, so without further ado I’ll present some alternative views on the best music that 2006 had to offer.
Miles Baker’s Winners Club
1. Cat Power – The Greatest (Matador)
I know a lot of people like Cat Power when she’s crazier, but I love her sane. I admit there are fewer surprises on The Greatest than Moon Pix, but Moon Pix was 10 years ago, no one should stay so crazy for that long. Many critics have talked about the Memphis musicians she hooked up with to make this record and how they are awesome—they are awesome. This is my top record because it has the swagger of a cowboy and melancholy of a tortured piano-girl. So I feel tough and weak all at the same time—that is the definition of me.
2. Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds (Blocks Recording Club)
3. Hawksley Workman – A Treefull of Starling (Universal)
4. Hylozoists – La Fin de Monde (Boompa)
5. Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope (Sire Records)
Johnathan Isaac’s Inner Circle
1. Joanna Newsom – Ys (Drag City)
Ys is easily the standout album in a year of standout albums. Since 2004’s The Milk Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom has polished and cleaned the edges of her childish sound. Yet it’s exactly Newsom’s off-kilter voice that provides the perfect foil for the beautifully arranged strings and harp. The five pieces, none of which are less than seven minutes in length, tell rich and detailed stories of all kinds of love, from her admiration of her sister in “Emily” to the bizarre exploitative romance between two metaphorical animals in “Monkey And Bear”. There is no denying the brilliant narrative quality of the lyrics, like children with their large shifts in focus and occasional hyper-attentive details. The album evokes strongly a page from the past through the use of unusual turns of phrase (the repetition of “why the long face” in “Sawdust and Diamonds”, for instance) and antique melodies. Ys is a porcelain ocean: pretty and pure on the surface, but deep and rewarding to dive into.
2. Boris – Pink (Southern Lord)
3. Various Artists - Jamaica To Toronto: Soul, Funk and Reggae 1967-1974 (Light in the Attic Records)
4. Venetian Snares – Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom-Poms (Planet Mu)
5. Keith Fullerton Whitman – Lisbon (Kranky)
Lonny Knapp’s Best Friends
1. Tom Waits – Orphans (Anti-)
Most collections of “new and unreleased” material by music industry dinosaurs tend to be nothing more than a washed-up artist cashing in on sub-standard material. But Orphans, a three-disc collection of new and archival recordings from Tom Waits, exceeds expectation. The first disc, Bawlers, contains drunken ballads and mournful dirges best listened to in the wee hours with a bottle of bourbon. Brawlers is raunchy blues tracks featuring backstreet characters so real you can smell the blood, sweat, and beer through the speakers. Bastards, the wildest of the discs, exorcises Waits’s demons, with odd animal grunts and howls accompanied by the rattling of chains and the clatter of a junkyard band. Carrying the entire collection is his voice: strange, wounded, guttural, and raspy––he can be a clown, a boogeyman, an angel, or a devil. His varied musical talent is represented in enough detail to satisfy die-hard fans; its enormity makes Orphans my favourite album of the year.
2. Amy Millan – Honey from the Tombs (Arts & Crafts)
3. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos (ATO Records)
4. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol Records)
5. Solomon Burke – Nashville (Shout Factory)
Sam Linton’s Honour Roll
1. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol Records)
I love this album enough to make it my Crane Wife. Granted, I tend to like all Decemberists albums, so any album they released was assured a spot on my top 5. But The Crane Wife merits my number one spot for the year by appealing to my inner music lover, my inner literature student, and my inner… guy who enjoys looking stuff up? All the Decemberists’ albums engage me in this sense, but The Crane Wife epitomizes this. Take either of the title tracks: we have an engaging and pleasant melody, an interesting narrative (packed with Colin Meloy’s trademark literary flair) and a link to a classic Japanese folk tale, to be read and perused for further enjoyment. The song “Shankill Butchers” comes alive once one has familiarized oneself with the real Shankill Butchers, a group of Ulster Unionist serial killers. The song “When the War Came” resonates much more once one gains an understanding of Soviet agriculture in the face of WWII. Even for those without mountains of free time on their hands, the album is still thoroughly enjoyable: you too may want to pick up your own Crane Wife. Or at least a Crane Girlfriend.
2. The Pipettes – We Are the Pipettes( Memphis Industries)
3. Blind Guardian – A Twist in the Myth (Century Media)
4. Various Artists – Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (Anti-)
5. The Old Soul – The Old Soul (Hand of God/Universal Canada )
Allana Mayer’s Coalition of the Willing
1. Band of Horses – Everything All The Time (Sub Pop)
If wailing shoegaze isn’t your thing, you’ll be turned off by Band of Horses; I was, on first listen. From the openings bars of (redundantly-titled) “The First Song”, you can already tell this album means to give your heartstrings a good tug. I made it through to “Funeral”, obviously the most single-worthy track, before I conceded that I was indeed hooked. Even Ben Bridwell’s voice, verging on whiny, contains attitude and certainty — though the lyrics are so ambiguous I hardly know what I’ve signed myself on for. Pensive yet unapologetic, Everything All The Time is such a perfect guilty pleasure I don’t feel the need to justify it. It’s great mopey pop: simply structured, but somehow compelling, and fraught with tension and regret. Admittedly, I’m tired of the more embellished bits, like “Funeral” and the ultra-depressing ending of “Part One”. But their divine harmonies and lulling acoustic work more than make up for it. I’m constantly charmed by the silly “Monsters” and roused by “Our Swords”. Just tell yourself you deserve a break from being cheerful all the goddamn time.
2. Subtle – For Hero, For Fool (Astralwerks)
3. Svalastog – Woodwork (Rune Grammofon)
4. Danielson – Ships (Secretly Canadian)
5. In the Country – Losing Stones, Collecting Bones (Rune Grammofon)
Gena Meldazy’s Power Squad
1. Rammer – Cancer (Blue Fog Records)
Toronto’s Rammer, and their new album Cancer, is nothing if not thrash-worthy, and their release party at Sneaky Dee’s was an eventful and disastrous exchange. An opening act completed their set with the burning of a wooden cross, and a bar brawl broke out in the middle of the dance floor with almost parallel timing. Rammer’s set was thus delayed when security threatened to cut power to the stage for the remainder of the night. For those familiar with earlier releases from this band, Cancer progresses to something more serious. The lyrics tone down on the stereotypical ‘fantasy’ element, from albums like Incinerator, (think: ‘Iron Witch’) and take a more sombre tone. If you are a heavy metal junkie, the entire Rammer discography is worth your while. If you don’t give a fuck either way, their most recent is a solid bet.
2. Criminal Damage - s/t LP (Feral Ward)
3. Fucked Up – Hidden World double EP (Deranged Records/Jade Tree)
4. Government Warning – No Moderation LP (Feral Ward)
5. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped (EMI)
Leo Moncel’s Prestige Team
1. Cadence Weapon – Breaking Kayfabe (Upper Class Recordings)
Someone finally did it –– Cadence Weapon created the anthem for the barhoppers scanning the bus schedule after last call, plotting and plodding our ways home. Breaking Kayfabe covers a broad range of stories: everything from his father’s grow-op to consumerism to unrequited love. But each song is quite focused, and the writing is technically fantastic. The Weapon has an excellent command of internal rhyme structure, wordplay and tongue-twisters. He has a variety of unique flows and often uses several per track. To top it off, he produces his own beats and they’re unlike anything else out there. Fat, synth-y, bass-y bangers are heavily seasoned with esoteric little samples, and wild, digital bleeps and bloops. He occasionally mixes his beats too loud and buries the lyrics, as in “Grim Fandango,” a sin against such quality writing, but the album still makes for a great listen.
2. K’Naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher (BMG Music)
3. The Streets – The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (Locked On)
4. Jurassic 5 – Feedback (Interscope Records)
5. The Game – The Doctor’s Advocate (Geffen Records)