The Brilliance of 2006 - Part Two
by Joel Caris
Just in time to wrap up 2006, I bring you part two of my favorite albums of 2006. (You can check out part one right here.) Just to reiterate, these are all albums that I discovered in 2006, irregardless of their date of release. And thus, without further delay, here is the second part of my list.
Illinoise and Michigan - Sufjan Stevens
Okay, I'm kind of cheating and putting two albums in here together, but this works. Trust me. See, Sufjan Stevens has this project going on in which he's creating an album for every state in America. So far, these are the two that he's finished. Of course, there's a damn good chance that he'll never finish this project and he himself has made comments casting doubt on his willingness to actually follow through on all fifty states. I'm hopeful he will, though, because his first two stabs at it are fantastic.
Anyway, Michigan was his first album in the project and it's a great introduction. Stevens does a fair amount of research for these state albums and it shows in the content of the songs, as he often delves into significant events in the state's history. He also typically writes songs about major cities, as well. However, he generally takes these places and events and uses them as a starting point to then delve into personal themes and issues, ending up creating albums that may use a specific state as a backdrop, but that ultimately cycle back to introspection and self-appraisal. This was probably particularly easy with Michigan given that Stevens was born in Detroit and raised in the Michigan city Petoskey.
Illinoise garnered more attention and critical acclaim than Michigan. It's served as his breakthrough album, pushing Stevens into the upper tier of the indie rock scene. The attention is deserved, as well, as this album is just as good, and possibly better, than the magnificent Michigan. Stevens has a unique sound, firmly in the realm of folk and incorporating strings and trumpets. His songs fluctuate from quiet, sparse and intimate to more ambitious and upbeat productions. However, the consistency and quality exhibited throughout his albums is rare, hard to find in the music scene, and should therefore be embraced. I really recommend giving Stevens a try if you have yet to hear him.
All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace! (MP3)
For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypisilanti (MP3)
Casimir Pulaski Day (MP3)
The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts (MP3)
Engine EP, Electric Love Letter, and When The Sun's Gone Down - Langhorne Slim
I know, I know, now I'm just getting lazy and ridiculous. Yes, after including two albums as one selection, I'm now dumping three into one selection. But I just can't point at any one of these albums and say that it's my favorite by Langhorne Slim, so I'm putting all of them in here, whether you like it or not.
So let's talk Langhorne Slim. If you read part one of this column, then you read my write up on Two Gallants. Well, my exposure to this group first came when they opened for Two Gallants at a concert I went to last year. Usually, opening acts are passable at best, and sometimes they just kind of suck. That's been my experience, at least. However, these guys blew me away. The lead singer brought so much energy, excitement and enthusiasm to the stage, it sucked the whole place in. Whereas much of the crowd is typically indifferent to opening acts, everyone was completely caught up in this performance. They put on an amazing show and, frankly, upstaged Two Gallants.
I'm not quite sure how to explain their music. They claim it's bluegrass and I guess you could call it that, though that doesn't seem exactly right to me. Basically, you have the lead singer, with a slightly high-pitched, yet compelling voice, working over guitar and bass. It's great, catchy, toe-tapping music and—did I mention these guys put on one hell of a great show? It was just drenched in fun. And while you don't get that full experience from their CDs, they're not one of those bands that don't translate to CD, either. It's still good.
The lyrics are fun and clever. Wikipedia says he's a folk singer. I don't fucking know. Just listen to these guys and enjoy—and if you see them in town for a concert, go.
From When The Sun's Gone Down:
In The Midnight (MP3)
The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me - Brand New
Oh yes. I wrote a Lo-Fi column a few weeks back about falling in love with an album and then what happens when it's time for the follow up to that album—the anticipation, the brutal wait, the fear as the album approaches. That column was completely based on this album. I originally was going to write about this album specifically, but decided it would be more fun to do a general column about what the process of anticipating a follow up is like without mentioning any specific album. I like how it turned out, but now it's time to actually write about this album.
It's good. No, it's great. Their previous album, Deja Entendu, dominated me. I've listened to it again and again and again, sober and drunk, in all kinds of moods. It's one of my favorite albums, period. Thus, the wait for this album was brutal. It was worrying, too, once it came time to actually listen to the full album, because what if it wasn't as good as Deja Entendu? What if it wasn't even close? What if it was a huge disappointment? I wanted so badly for it to be another great album from them that it was horrible to think that it might not end up being that at all. That, in fact, it might end up being one of those albums you listen to a few times, realize it's not growing on you, and then just discard it. That was the last thing I wanted.
Luckily, it turned out to be great. I have a hard time measuring it up against Deja Entendu, because I don't think it's as purely enjoyable as that album. On the other hand, I think this is better music, and that is important. It doesn't much matter, though, because there's no question that I love this CD, and that I can listen to it again and again. It's dark, it's introspective, the sound of it moves back and forth between loud and insistent to quiet and thoughtful. It's emo, I suppose, but it's good emo. It's rock emo. It's strong, emphatic and mature emo.
It's pretty much exactly what I wanted from a follow up.
Which is pretty amazing.
"Jesus Christ", "Degausser", and "Sowing Season" are all streaming at Brand New's MySpace page
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel
This album sat on my computer and iPod for months before I finally gave it a try. I had listened to a song from it once and found it strange and less than interesting, so I didn't listen again until a few months ago. I don't know why it didn't grab me the first time I gave the album a try, but with just one listen this year, I was hooked. This band was making music back in 1998 that sounds like some of the trendiest indie rock of today. This is an incredible album, filled to the brim with weird and bizarre lyrics, eclectic instrumentals, and surrealistic imagery. These guys are right at home on Merge Records, it's just strange that this album is 1998, because this sounds very much like what's happening today in some of the popular indie rock.
There are snippets of lyrics scattered throughout this album that I love. They just take over my mind for those short, few moments they're being sung.
As we would lay and learn what each other's bodies were for
Now how I remember you
How I would push my fingers through
Your mouth to make those muscles move
That made your voice so smooth and sweet
Made for his lover who's floating and choking with her hands across her face
And in the dark we will take off our clothes
And they'll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine
And when all is breaking everything that you could keep inside
Now your eyes ain't moving now
They just lay there in their calm
Your father made fetuses
With flesh licking ladies
While you and your mother
Were asleep in the trailer park
It's a weird, strange, fascinating album, and one of my absolute favorites, from this or any year.
Holland, 1945 (MP3)
"The King of Carrot Flowers Part 1" and "Two Headed Boy" are both streaming at Neutral Milk Hotel's MySpace page
Avalanche - Matthew Good
I've been listening to Matthew Good since something like 2000, so he's not a new artist for me. He's a pretty big artist in Canada, but he never made the full jump over into the United States. One album of his, Beautiful Midnight, was released in America in 1999 (which is the first Matthew Good album I heard) but the label did not continue to bring other albums of his over to the states, leaving him to Canada alone. It made it hard for me to eventually acquire all of his albums, simple because of cost prohibitions. But I managed to find them pretty cheap through a Canadian site and slowly purchased them all.
Anyway, while I had heard Avalanche before, I didn't buy it and really listen to it all the way through until this year. Good's music is alternative rock, if you want to slap the most generic label possible on it, but he really doesn't sound like any other artist. Not that he creates shocking new music or anything—his sound mostly is unique because of his voice, which tends to slip into this wavering, trembling quality that is . . . great and catchy, as far as I'm concerned. The sound of the songs themselves are a mix between big rock melodies and quiet, intimate acoustic songs that damn near quiver at times, Good seemingly completely lost within himself.
It's a great style, overall, and I don't own a single Matthew Good or Matthew Good Band album that I don't like considerably. Avalanche is definitely one of his best, though, and I recommend it without hesitation.
Particularly if you're near the Canadian border.
I couldn't even find a crappy stream for this. Lame.
There were a few other albums I really loved this year, but that I didn't quite get on this list.
American Myth - Jackie Green: Really good, bluesy rock type music that is just very enjoyable. It feels modern, yet a throwback at the same time.
The Animal Years and Girl in the War - Josh Ritter: Great, great, acoustic songs with sparse arrangements and strong, personal lyrics. I can't wait to see this guy live in late February.
Acoustic - Bayside: Bayside is an emo band and they've never struck me as a particularly impressive one (though I'm sure competent). In fact, I haven't heard any of their regular albums. This acoustic album, however, was recorded after the death of one of the band members and I thought it was really great. I lived by this album for a week or two in late November.
Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan: I finally started listening to Bob Dylan this year, and of the albums of his I bought, this was my favorite. Great stuff. I'll leave it at that.
Thus ends the list of my favorite music from 2006. If you want to know still more of what I listened to this year, for some reason, then you can check out my last.fm profile. I pretty much tracked everything I listened to from June on, so it gives a good idea of my musical tastes. Try not to mock me too much.
What were your favorite albums of 2006?
Joel knows the difference between good emo and bad emo is all in the singer's outfit
I've been listening to The Devil and God and I'm still not totally sold on it. Deja Entendu is one of my favorite albums of all time, so a follow up has pretty big shoes to fill, and I'm hesitating to say I'm disappointed for that reason. I think I need a few more listens before I pass a full judgment on it.
Posted by: michele | December 28, 2006 8:04 AM
Matthew Good is one of the few good things you can find on the radio.
Posted by: Dan | December 28, 2006 9:34 AM
I first heard Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998 when I was driving late at night and "Ghost" came on the radio. I couldn't make out the lyrics and I thought that they were some sort of novelty band. I didn't even catch the group's name, but the song reminded me of "The Prince's Panties" by Mason Williams.
Three years later I heard a few more of their songs on Yahoo Music and bought the album the minute I had some money to spare. Totally amazing.
What ever happened to Jeff Mangum, anyway?
Posted by: Philbrick | December 28, 2006 11:20 AM
I think with Devil and God, Michele, you're where I am with The Black Parade. I'm not completely sold on it as the follow up I wanted it to be. I do want to give it a few more listens, though, before I make an absolutely final decision.
I'll be curious to find out if Devil and God ultimately wins you over or not.
Dan, I remember hanging out in a great pub in Victoria with a friend and hearing Matthew Good come on the radio. This was only about a year ago. It was definitely strange hearing him on the radio. It definitely doesn't happen here in the states.
Philbrick, it doesn't seem he's been doing much since NMH. It would be great to get a new album from him, though.
Posted by: Joel | December 29, 2006 7:48 PM