Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My top 25 music releases of 2006

There are many different criteria for end-of-year lists that people make. Here are mine: 1) I include various artists compilations unless they're cheap knockoffs of singles (such as most label comps); 2) I include reissues as long as the previous or original issue was very difficult to find, out of print for a long time, or it never properly got released until 2006 (e.g., the Wowee Zowee reissue does not count even with all those never before released songs); and 3) I might include albums that were released in late 2005 (like that November or December) that I didn't hear of until 2006.

I'll start off with the Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Cast King - Saw Mill Man (Locust)
Charalambides - A Vintage Burden (Kranky)
Citay - S/T (Important)
Erase Errata - Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars)
Foundry Field Recordings - Prompts/Miscues (Emergency Umbrella): My friend Billy Schuh's band's debut, and it's very good!
Noxagt - S/T (Load)
Spank Rock - Yoyoyoyo (Big Dada)
Scott Walker - The Drift (4AD): The most challenging album I've listened to in a long time.
V/A - Big Apple Rappin' (Soul Jazz)

25) Wolf Eyes - Human Animal (Sub Pop): Noise music, by its very nature, is probably the most difficult music to do/make well (along with free jazz), but there's been one band/artist that's been consistently pioneering and leading the way. Wolf Eyes : Noise music :: Beatles : Pop music. It's not for everybody, but if you like noise, Wolf Eyes is at or near the top year after year.

24) Drumcorps - Grist (Cock Rock Disco): What do you get when you mix grind and death metal, drum & bass, and what sounds like a marching band drum corps section? You get Drumcorps! And it's just one guy!

23) Califone - Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey): A very underrated album, this one grows on me more and more with repeated listens, and I can easily see this is being higher on the list had I listened to this even more.

22) Part Timer - S/T (Moteer): Kind of like an Endless Summer-esque Fennesz, Part Timer's mix of acoustic, folk-pop, and glitchy, IDM is beautiful...and it may very well be the most soothing album of '06 for me. This is a late entry into my 2006 collection, and with more listens, this would undoubtedly be higher.

21) Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti): I know some are touting this as Neko Case's best album yet. Not me...although I admit she's becoming more and more refined as a songwriter. And that voice! This album further solidifies her status as a great American songwriter (not just country), and it's about time the mainstream has caught on.

20) Parts & Labor - Stay Afraid (Jagjaguwar/Brah): Brooklyn's Parts & Labor are a very exciting duo and Stay Afraid, their third full length, is one of the most exciting albums I've heard this past year. Rock on.

19) Oneida - Happy New Year (Jagjaguwar): Oneida’s one of those bands that are relentless, constantly touring and constantly putting out really good full length albums every year. Notice I said really good. In my opinion, their one great album was the epic Each One Teach One from 2002. However, just about every album is good at the very least, and their live shows are always killer.

18) Razor X Productions - Killing Sound (Rephlex): Intense, distorted, hardcore ragga/dancehall/jungle. This will make your heart beat faster and not care that you blew out your speakers...until you realize that you can't listen to this anymore because you need new speakers.

17) The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph): SF Bay Area's The Coup is easily the best left-wing political hip-hoppers since Public Enemy, and with Pick a Bigger Weapon, they continue that P-Funky goodness that separates them from other political rappers. You can listen for the left-wing lyrics or you can forget politics and just listen to shakeyoass.

16) Six Organs of Admittance - The Sun Awakens (Drag City): Since I started listening to Six Organs of Admittance in 2002, Ben Chasny (also of Comets on Fire, Current 93, and Badgerlore) continues to give me reasons why his Six Organs project has become one of my favorites of all time, ranging from John Fahey-esque acoustic guitar pickings to East-inspired experimentation to now, some electric guitar psych jams without losing the experimentations of the past. If there were any musician or artist I wish I could be, it would be the ultra-talented Mr. Chasny.

15) Warhammer 48K - An Ethereal Oracle (Papa Slag): These guys are from Columbia, Missouri, and they may be the most promising band to strike a chord with all the cool kids into metal, experimental, and psychedelic music, like they already have with Aquarius Records in San Francisco, and should (and eventually will be) with Forced Exposure and The Wire. It's only a matter of time. Corey Rusk (founder of Touch and Go) was said to be on hand to check 'em out at the Empty Bottle in case he wants to sign them. He better not sleep!

14) Josephine Foster - A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (Locust): Josephine Foster is a name I kept hearing and reading about for the past few years, but I finally picked up two of her albums in 2006. I’m kicking myself for waiting so long! I bought 2004’s All the Leaves are Gone and 2006’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. I like All the Leaves are Gone better, but this album ain’t no joke, and it’s an ambitious and rewarding album. The album consists of covers/interpretations of 19th century compositions by Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Franz Schubert, and she sings entirely in German! It sounds like ancient German folk music, but with a little electric guitar distortion thrown in for good measure by Brian Goodman (who is in Foster’s backing band, the Supposed).

13) Bardo Pond - Ticket Crystals (ATP Recordings): I don't know anybody who would rate Bardo Pond as their favorite band or even their favorite psychedelic band, and they're not mine either. However, I absolutely love them, and they may be the most consistent psych band out there, with nary a bad album by them. They can probably put out an album every year and it would probably be on my top 20 list. Ticket Crystals is yet another very strong album from these Philly drugsters.

12) Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go (Drag City): Mr. Will Oldham does it again. Some people dislike his music due to his voice, but he's a phenomenal songwriter, and this collection may be as good as he's ever done. Dawn McCarthy (from Faun Fables) provides backup harmony vocals. Wonderful.

11) A.R. & Machines - Die Grüne Reise-The Green Journey/Erholung (Melting Point Music Company): I know very little about Achim Reichel & Machines, except that I discovered them (through Aquarius Records) this past year with this reissue (originally released in 1970 (Die Grüne Reise-The Green Journey) and 1975 (Erholung)...and this is some of the best Krautrock I've ever heard. Especially for fans of Can, Amon Duul II, and Circle.

10) Major Stars - Syntoptikon (Twisted Village): The biggest difference in Major Stars' sound is that they have a new female singer. Other than that, they continue their psychedelic hard rock blitz. If you like Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, they'll kick your ass. Even if you don't like those bands, Major Stars will still kick your ass.

9) Cat Power - The Greatest (Matador): This is the most straightforward and most consistent Cat Power album. Less singer-songwriter and more bluesy, smoky nightclub soul, this album, overall, sounds lighter and happier (if you could call it that) than her previous work. Still, there are still some songs that are so heart-achingly sad and beautiful (especially "The Greatest") that are up there with "Colors and the Kids" and "Good Woman."

8) Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (Def Jam): Even though this is pretty much straight-up NYC hip hop, Ghostface is such a great rapper with such charisma that he can't be denied. Some are now calling Ghostface as one of the best rappers ever, and I may have to agree.

7) Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (Re-Up Gang/Zomba): Believe the hype. Clipse will be on the "Mount Rushmore" of rap music before it's all said and done. The production of the Neptunes is impeccable and the rapping and flow from the Thornton brothers are killer. Hell Hath No Fury was delayed for a number of years, and although it was well worth the wait, I hope their next one comes out sooner than later.

6) Karen Dalton - In My Own Time (Light in the Attic): Recorded in 1971, this was reissued this past year. Thank you, Light in the Attic! Think a bluesy, folk-rock Billie Holiday...but better than that might actually sound. Think of some of the best folk-rock albums ever from the 60s and 70s, and this has to be right up there. So fucking good.

5) Shogun Kunitoki - Tasankokaiku (Fonal): Despite the Japanese name (both band and album), Shogun Kunitoki are from Finland. This instrumental quartet play some dense and, at times, fuzzy Neu-like Krautrock that doesn’t let up during the entire album. This could’ve easily been even higher on my list...

4) Girl Talk - Night Ripper (Illegal Art): Easily the most fun album of the year. This is definitely a guilty pleasure, but it’s also simultaneously just flat out good quality mash-up music. Even after countless repeated listens, this never gets old.

3) Om - Conference of the Birds (Holy Mountain): Only two tracks, each around 16-17 minutes each, and yet, this is strong enough to warrant a top 10 or 20 ranking any given year. Although only consisting of bass and drums, the psychedelic stoner metal sound that Om expels is powerful and trance-inducing. You really don’t need any drugs to fully enjoy this, although I’d imagine it would be incredible.

2) Boris - Pink (Southern Lord): If one was really, really cool, he or she would have had this on their list last year, when it was released on the Japanese label DIWPhalanx and in very limited quantities here in the States. Alas, I’m not that cool. However, I rejoiced when Southern Lord issued this domestically in 2006. And this one’s got almost 9 extra minutes of drone on one track. Take that, Japan! Anyway, this extra-powerful metal trio ain’t just metal since they’re perhaps the most flexible and unpredictable hard rockers on earth, with their sounds ranging from Sunn0))) and Earth-inspired sludge to ultra-distorted garage RAWK like Guitar Wolf to the psychedelic craziness of Acid Mothers Temple to, at times, an almost My Bloody Valentine quality in their music. I could go on and on. Hell, they could decide to put out no-distortion pop album, and I’d probably eat it up...because they're that good! I still want one of the Japanese releases (actually I want two of them because they sell for crazy amounts of money on ebay). BORIS!!!

1) This Heat - Out of Cold Storage [box set] (This Is): I don’t know. This may be a cheap choice for number one because it’s not an album or even a reissue of a single album. It’s a box set with 6 CDs: their two studio albums, one for their 12” single (“Health and Efficiency”), John Peel sessions, Repeat (their posthumous 1992 album consisting of previously unreleased outtakes), and a never-before-released live tracks from 1980 and 1981. I won’t really get into more about the band and music itself, since you can look it up and read about it from much better writers than me. In any case, depending on where you pick this up, the cost will range from $80 to $100. I bought this for $90 at Reckless, and it’s worth every penny. My favorite purchase of 2006 (besides the plasma TV).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Music releases I slept on in 2006

For various reasons (e.g., dry spells in which I didn't buy shit for months, or laziness, or I didn't know until recently that they were released, or they were too hard to find, etc.), these are some releases this past year I completely missed out on. (I'm currently compiling 2006 releases that I did buy and/or listen to and will have a top 10/20/whatever in the near future.)
Circle - Miljard (Ektro)
Sun City Girls - Djinn Funnel (Nashaphone)
Woven Hand - Mosaic (Sounds Familyre)
Dat Politics - Wow Twist (Chicks on Speed)
Joanna Newsom - Ys (Drag City)
J Dilla - Donuts (Stones Throw)
Tim Hecker - Harmony in Ultraviolet (Kranky)
Oakley Hall - Gypsum Strings (Brah/Jagjaguwar)
Growing - Color Wheel (Mega Blade)
Espers - II (Drag City)
Lansing/Dreiden - The Dividing Island (Kemado)
Skaters - Rising Spheres of Crossing Angel Minds (New Age Cassettes)
Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering (Fat Cat)
SunnO))) & Boris - Altar (Southern Lord)
Steffen Basho-Junghans - In the Morning Twilight (Kning Disk)
Mission of Burma - The Obliterati (Matador)
Calexico - Garden's Ruin (Touch and Go)
Black Heart Procession - The Spell (Touch and Go)
Slavic Soul Party - Bigger (Barbes)
Howe Gelb - 'Sno Angel Like You (Thrill Jockey)
T.I. - King (Atlantic)
Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky (Durtro)
Avarus - 2 (HP Cycle)
Kid 606 - Pretty Girls Make Raves (Tigerbeat 6)
Burial - S/T (Hyperdub)
The Knife - Silent Shout (Mute)
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
Animal Collective - Hollindagain (Paw Tracks)
Comets on Fire - Avator (Sub Pop)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - House Arrest (Paw Tracks)
Coughs - Secret Passage (Load)
Arthur Russell - Springfield (Audika)
Roots Manuva - Alternately Deep (Big Dad/Ninja Tune)
Isis - In the Absence of Truth (Ipecac)
Brightblack Morning Light - S/T (Matador)