Monday, January 01, 2007

Best of 2006: Top Fifteen Albums

Has anyone else on the internet done a top albums of the year list yet? I don't know, I haven't seen any. Seriously, I'm a bit behind on this, but there's some different picks, so perhaps you'll find somethin worth checking out.

15. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat: Few albums create such a well defined world as this one does. The title track features a fully developed narrative that makes it hard to believe Jenny was a child star, not a poor girl in the South. The songs are in a country gospel style, but there's enough of the driving rhythms of Rilo Kiley to keep things interesting. "The Big Guns" is suitably charging, while "Rise Up With Fists" has a wonderful, relaxed rhythm. But, the highlight is the ethereal "Born Secular," a startlingly beautiful mix of vocal harmonies.

Standout Track: Born Secular

14. Nelly Furtado - Loose: She's got the best song of the year on here with 'Maneater,' relentless, 80s inspired, but distinctly 00s. Timbaland fills the album with weird, expansive synths, in simple, but memorable lines. The synth part on 'Promiscuous' gives a great base for the flirting vocal interplay between Furtado and Tim. I've heard that song so many times and it just never gets old. Other strong stuff is the wistful finale, 'All Good Things,' and the glitchy, trip hop 'Afraid.' A lot of people criticized Nelly Furtado for putting on a new persona for the album, maybe that's true, but just listening to it, you get a standout example of distinctly 00s pop.

Standout Track: Maneater

13. Peeping Tom - Peeping Tom: Mike Patton is the most versatile vocalist working today, able to seamlessly move from assaultive screaming to smooth crooning. His best work is distinctly experimental, and the greatest knock on this album is that it's something of Patton by numbers. But, Patton on autopoilot is still worlds better and distinct than most people at their best. 'Five Seconds' is one of the nastiest album openers I've heard in a while, starting with the ultra smooth delivery of "Strolling through the slaughterhouse of love," eventually cutting into his more assaultive scream style for the chorus, then quickly scaling back for the verse. That's what makes Patton so special, the contrast and variety of his vocals. This album has a whole bunch of great stuff, particularly 'Mojo' and 'I'm Not Alone.'

Standout Track: Five Seconds

12. Men, Women and Children: Electrodancerock is my favorite musical form to emerge here in the 00s, and I think bands like The Rapture are one day going to be hailed as pioneers. They opened the door for a band like Men, Women and Children, one of the smoothest fusions of dance and rock to emerge yet. The album opens with gnashing guitars, then segues into an ultrasmooth disco rhythm. That perfectly sums up what the band does, mix rock and dance elements into something that's a lot of fun to listen to. There's no bad track here, you could drop any of these on a club floor and get people moving.

Standout Track: Time for the Future (Bang Bang)

11. Bruce Springsteen - The Seeger Sessions (We Shall Overcome): This album initially seemed the definition of throwaway, if Rod Stewart is any indication, the covers album is a prime sign of artistic atrophy. Rather than approaching these songs with an acoustic, one man style, Springsteen arranges them for a full Dixieland band and creates one of the most fun albums of the year. I love the extended instrumental solos, particularly on 'O Mary, Don't You Weep' and 'Eyes on the Prize.' More than any other album this year, I wish I could just jam with these guys, drop my own solo in there. This is exactly what a cover should do, preserve the message of the original song, but expand on it in some way.

Standout Track: Eyes on the Prize

10. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That: I've got to start by saying that this album was a bit of a disappointment. Alphabetical is one of my all time favorite albums and it took a while to get used to their new direction. However, there is a lot to appreciate here. 'Long Distance Call' joins the pantheon of their other perfect pop singles. The other songs rely less on their trademark warm synths, going for a straight rock direction. 'Sometimes in a Fall' builds to a fantastic release in the chorus, and emotion infuses all the songs. Still, it feels less distinct than their best work, and that's why this is ten, while Alphabetical was the second best album of 2004.

Standout Track: Long Distance Call

9. Morrissey - Ringleader of the Tormentors: He keeps the momentum from 2004's brilliant You are the Quarry going with another fantastic set of songs. You'd think the guy would have less angst at this point, but there's still plenty of emotional trauma to draw from. The epic opener 'I Will See You in Far Off Places' is full of eclectic instrumentation, making it unique from other work in his catalogue, but it's the driving rock songs like 'You Have Killed Me' and 'In the Future When All's Well' that form the core of the album. The ridiculously excessive finale 'At Last I Am Born' is distinctly Moz in its theatricality, no one else could pull off that song, but he does it seamlessly.

Standout Track: The Youngest was the Most Loved

8. The Flaming Lips - At War With the Mystics: As with "It's Never Been Like That," this album had the misfortune of following two masterpieces. I think the Lips did a great job of building on what worked in 'Bulletin' and 'Yoshimi,' and also bringing in new elements. No one sounds like they do on the bizarre pop of 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song' or 'The W.A.N.D,' but my favorite moments from the album are the Pink Floydian 'My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion' and 'Pompeii am Gotterdammerung.' Those songs feature absolutely gorgeous psychedlic instrumental sections.

Standout Track: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

7. Gwen Stefani - The Sweet Escape: Making a comparison that will likely cause rock purists to cringe, this is the "Amnesiac" to "Love Angel Music Baby"'s "Kid A." That album was a revelation with its 80s inspired pop songs. It's one of my favorite albums of the decade. This one has some songs that are just as good as the best on there, "Sweet Escape," "Early Winter," "4 in the Morning" and particularly "Wonderful Life" are all perfect. Unfortuantely, the other songs are more disparate in quality, the opening single, "Wind it Up" is pretty bad, and there's a few forgettable crunk sounding songs mixed in there as well. I think listeners of the future will view this album and its predecessor as one unit, and likely appreciate it more as a result. But, if you were to take the six best songs off this album and the six best off "LAMB," you'd have the best pop album of all time.

Standout Track: Wonderful Life

6. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes: From 80s inspired pop to 60s inspired pop, this is just a perfect a record. 60s girl group music was great, and this stands with the best of it. The lush strings and vocal harmonies help make the simple songs sonically memorable. The lyrics are clever, and things never repetitive, a major potential problem with a group like this. Any track on here could be a single.

Standout Track: Pull Shapes

5. Scissor Sisters - Ta Dah: Continuing the journey through decades, we stop at the 70s, for another fantastic era aping pop album. The opening track, 'I Don't Feel Like Dancin', co-written by Elton John, inhabits the same space as the Beegee's best work. 'Lights' is another high point, using a great horn line for a song reminiscent of 'Superstition.' 'Land of a Thousand Words' and 'I Might Tell You Tonight' are top notch ballads and 'Kiss You Off' proves they can still do more modern style electropop. It's shiny, smooth pop, and I'm really hoping to get to see them live in March.

Standout Track: I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

4. Goldfrapp - Supernature: Continuing their evolution from ambient downtempo songs to driving glamrock pop songs, this album proves they weren't lying when they titled an album "We are glitter." The albums opens with a string of three perfect pop songs, the atmospheric synths of their early work still present, but now backed by club style bass. There's a bit more humanity in a song like "Ooh La La" and particularly the finale "No. 1" than in their early work. "Time Out From the World" proves they can still do lower tempo, chilled tracks, but it's the driving pop songs that linger. They've released five singles off the album and they're all great songs. This is their best album yet, and I hope they continue to evolve in this current direction. My only request would be that she brings back the siren-like high pitched vocals used on 'Lovely Head,' mixing that with these club style songs could create something totally new.

Standout Track: No. 1

3. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds: Of all the albums on this list, this one feels the most like one cohesive work. While his debut had some killer singles, it didn't really flow. Here, the tracks bleed into and out of each other, stretching out into interludes that bridge them together. More generally, the album moves from the ultratechy mechanical opening, with the title track and 'Sexy Back,' gradually becoming more organic, culminating in the acoustic finale. Unlike a lot of people, I thought 'Sexy Back' was a fantastic first single, and it sounds even better in context, after the almost Nine Inch Nails style title track. Timbaland drops so many fantastic instrumental loops in here, each song feels like it has the potential for a great ten minute club mix. I already covered My Love here, some other standouts are 'Love Stoned,' which starts as a driving club song and segues into a gorgeous indie rock style by the end. 'What Comes Around...' isn't quite 'Cry Me a River,' but it's pretty damn close. There's not a bad track on here and they flow so well together, Timberlake and Timbaland are working on a whole different level from everyone else in pop music. I'm glad that some of the most popular songs of the year are also some of the best.

Standout Track: My Love

2. Cansei de Ser Sexy - Cansei de Ser Sexy: Another mix of dance and rock, this album is just so now, breaking down generic boundaries and, above all, embracing a pop sensibility. Their disco style basslines are infectious, as in the opening buildup on 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above.' The driving 'Alala' and hilarious 'Art Bitch' are also highlights. The album is unrelentingly dirty, something I didn't even notice for a long time, because I was so caught up in the driving dance beats. It's simple, but infectious, if you wanted to show someone where music is going, you couldn't do much better than giving them this album.

Standout Track: Music is My Hot, Hot Sex

1. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit: It feels like ages since I heard this album, but in that time, nothing has topped it. I think Dear Catastrophe Waitress is their best album, but it wasn't a sustainable direction, this album is the perfect fusion of all the different eras of B&S, while at the same time establishing a more upbeat status quo. A track like 'Sukie in the Graveyard' might have been played as a lowkey acoustic number in the past, now it's uptempo, with a great synth line and a killer guitar solo. 'White Collar Boy' is a great anthemic track and 'Song for the Sunshine' is a weird, 70s style funk song. The other albums on this list generally take one thing and do it well. This album is all over in terms of style and tempo, while still maintatining a cohesiveness. No song this year can match the fragile pain of 'Dress Up in You,' but one track after we're into the exuberant 'Sukie in the Graveyard.' No band today can match the scope of their catalogue, and the quality of this album bodes very well for their future. I can't wait to see what's next.

Standout Track: Sukie in the Graveyard

2 comments:

Amanda By Night said...

I can't remember the last time I bought a 'new' CD. I'm still stuck in the 80s and loving all of my newest discoveries (Toyah, Laurie Anderson, etc...) but based random readings here, you've probably talked me into buying some new stuff, mostly Scissor Sisters and Morrissey. Those sound great!

Great blog!!!

Patrick said...

The Scissor Sisters are stuck in the 80s as well, so you'll probably like their stuff. They draw on a lot of 70s influences with their new album, but the first has more synth based songs. If you like 80s pop stuff, I'd reccomend either of Gwen Stefani's albums, they're each about half 00s sounding and half 80s style synthpop. The 80s style stuff is just fantastic, and the new stuff isn't bad either.