Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dirty Frank's (Resident Indie-Pop-Snob) 2006 Best In Music

Ahh… blogging life. A place where any idiot with a keyboard and a few misplaced ideas can be heard. God bless the Internet. After being hounded by Elite Opinion’s head elitist for months, I finally broke down and decided to dip my toes in the blogging pool (which someone really needs to chlorinate, by the way – the water’s looking a little brown).

Since everybody and their mother does a year-end top ten albums list, it’s become so cliched at this point. To remedy this, I’ve had a brilliant breakthrough (which I totally didn’t steal from anybody). [Cue lightning striking]. I present to you… Dirty Frank’s Top 13.5 Of 2006.

Now, some of you may ask, “Why 13.5?” Why?

Because fuck it, that’s why.

13.5 Grant-Lee Phillips/ nineteeneightiesBy all accounts, this album should have been a MASSIVE failure. Now, I like Grant-Lee Phillips. I also like post-punk and new wave. But 11 post-punk/new wave tracks done in Phillips’ Americana style? Whose fucking bright idea was this?! Well, color me ignorant, slap a cowboy hat on me, and call me Toby Keith. Phillips’ stark reinterpretations of tracks like Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way,” Joy Division’s “The Eternal,” and The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” stand on their own as legitimate work, rather than the sideshow that they could have become in lesser hands. This album probably isn’t for everyone, but those who can appreciate it will probably fall in love with it.

[THE’SPACE] Grant-Lee Phillips
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13. Forget Cassettes/ Salt – Otherwise known as, “Let’s suck up to Elite Opinion’s head elitist by including one of his favorite releases, thereby securing more space for my own columns.” Are you kidding me? The Top 13.5 Of 2006 has way more integrity than that. Right? Right?! Surprisingly, it does as Salt is actually one of the best straight-up rock releases of the year. Vocalist Beth Cameron sounds like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, minus the recently acquired pop sheen. Now, I’m normally not down with what I call ADD-rock, which is categorized by shifting from one sound to another three or four times in the space of a single track. That shit usually bugs me to no end, but damned if it doesn’t work here. You need only listen to “The Catch” to see what I’m talking about. Although there’s surprisingly little info on the ‘Net about Forget Cassettes, Salt is definitely well worth tracking down.

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12. Yo La Tengo/ I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass –
This album could have made the Top 13.5 Of 2006 for the title alone. Holy mother of God that’s a great title. As a bonus though, the album’s actually really, really good. Despite being an indie snob, I’m ashamed to say that this album was actually my introduction to YLT, but what an introduction it was. More like an amazingly eclectic mixtape than a release by a single band, I Am Not Afraid Of You… throttles you right off the bat with the opener “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” which is almost 11 minutes of quintessential indie freak-out guitars, thick basslines, and crashing percussion. This is followed up by the bossa nova beat of “Beanbag Chair,” then by “I Feel Like Going Home,” which is as airy and breathy as the following track, “Mr. Tough” is poppy. And that’s just the first four tracks, kids!

[THE’SPACE] Yo La Tengo
[HOME] Yo La Tengo

11. Editors/ The Back Room As a middle-class jackass from Lancaster, PA, one of my favorite musical genres is post-punk, in which I’m including the recent post-punk revival. Why I identify with a predominantly British, working-class movement, God only knows. Probably because the UK gives us world-class post-punk, while the US pop charts are dominated by classless glorified karaoke. In any event, The Back Room stands as a great addition to the current revival of post-punk. Many have tried, but few have succeeded in accurately replicating the sound in the past few years. Believe me – for every Interpol, there are four or five versions of Kaiser Chiefs or She Wants Revenge. On The Back Room, Editors run the gamut from danceable rock (“Munich”) to dour dirges (“Open Your Arms”). Drawing their influence from the obvious sources (Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, Gang Of Four) as well as some not-so-obvious ones (R.E.M.), Editors stand with the best of the revivalists.

[THE’SPACE] Editors
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10. Band Of Horses/ Everything All The Time – Rising from the corpse of Carissa’s Wierd, Band Of Horses’ debut on Sub Pop is striking, especially when considering the fact that the band looks like they may end up becoming a one-off project after the departure of guitarist Mat Brooke. Their possible break-up is a shame because Everything All The Time is one of the most refreshing listens of 2006. Listen to either “Wicked Gil” or “The Funeral” to see what I mean. Combining the chamber pop of Carissa’s Wierd with the country-rock of My Morning Jacket and the indie sheen of Interpol, Brooke and vocalist Ben Bridwell have created something that sounds unlike any other album this year, reflected by the fact that it can be found on numerous year-end top ten lists. Which is to say, other lists that don’t matter nearly as much as this one.

[THE’SPACE] Band Of Horses
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9. Ray LaMontagne/ Till The Sun Turns Black – Aaaaand the race for the title of “Nick Drake Of The New Millenium” between Iron & Wine, Jose Gonzalez, and Ray LaMontagne continues, with LaMontagne edging ahead with his newest offering, Till The Sun Turns Black. As the balladeer du jour for TV dramas as disparate as Rescue Me, Bones, and One Tree Hill (don’t hold it against him), LaMontagne’s smoky, world-weary voice recalls Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison. While his phenomenal 2004 debut, Trouble, was predominantly LaMontagne and an acoustic guitar (hence the Drake comparisons), on Till The Sun Turns Black LaMontagne employs more arrangements in tracks like “Gone Away From Me” and “Empty,” while doing his best Traffic impersonation with “Three More Days.” Stark without being depressing, LaMontagne has managed to avoid the sophomore jinx.

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8. Sonic Youth/ Rather Ripped – Psst. Ever heard of a little band called Sonic Youth? They’ve only released twenty-odd albums over the past two decades and are one of the forerunners of indie rock so if you haven’t heard of them… where the fuck have you been and what the fuck have you been listening to? You better not say My Chemical Romance. For the uninitiated, Rather Ripped sounds like the best album that The Velvet Underground never recorded, especially when Kim Gordon eerily channels Nico on tracks like “Jams Run Free” and “Turquoise Boy.” Instantly the most accessible Sonic Youth album that’s ever been put to wax, it’s still got enough of their DIY aesthetic to make it stand as a classic in their canon. Try to resist “Pink Steam.” C’mon – I dare you. Accuse me of heresy if you will, but Rather Ripped stands among Sonic Youth’s best.

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7. The Decemberists/ The Crane Wife Hyper-literate music snobs unite! Colin Meloy’s library-pop Portland collective, The Decemberists, has released yet another literary song cycle, this time based on a Japanese folktale. For those of you scared off by that description, don’t be. The album marks the band’s major-label debut on Capitol Records after leaving indie Kill Rock Stars, and is very similar in tone to R.E.M.’s major debut, Green. Packed with more catchy tracks than any of their other releases, The Crane Wife serves as a fitting introduction to the indie-fearing masses. Tracks like “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Soon),” “Oh, Valencia!,” and “Summersong” could have easily received radio airplay and became modest hits, while song suites “The Island” and “The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2” are fairly experimental, soundchecking R.E.M., Yes, and many others along the way.

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6. M. Ward/ Post-War – I guess it’s somewhat shocking that an album this good came from someone who’s so closely associated with Conor Oberst. You know Conor, right? That lispy, no-talent, douchebag who should be husking corn, not releasing albums? Yeah – that guy. Well, unlike any (and every) overrated Bright Eyes release, Ward’s Post-War is a smoky, 3AM kind of record that sounds like it could have been recorded by John Lennon circa-1973. “Poison Cup,” “Post-War,” and “Rollercoaster” are melancholy ruminations that take on an almost ghostly quality due to Ward’s interestingly retro production. Lest you think this album’s all aural Xanax, Ward kicks it up with a rollicking cover of Daniel Johnston’s “To Go Home,” featuring backing vocals from fellow indie darling Neko Case, who just missed this list with her own offering, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Apologies, Neko, but at least you made the list in some form.

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5. The Roots/ Game Theory – For anyone who heard 2004’s The Tipping Point, it would have been fair to assume that The Roots’ best days were behind them. Well, Game Theory proves that assumption’s as bogus as Jay-Z’s “retirement” and “talent.” Music’s top hip-hop BAND (all caps and bolded for a reason), succeeds with this record where they failed so miserably in 2004. They prove that whittling down the jams and going with a more economical sound doesn’t have to mean becoming a radio-friendly sellout. “In The Music” and “Game Theory” rock as hard as anything on the band’s high-water mark, Phrenology, “Atonement” may be the first (or at least the best) hip-hop track to sample Radiohead, and “Can’t Stop This” is a more than fitting tribute to the late producer J Dilla. Game Theory is The Roots’ statement that they’re back in a big way.

[THE'SPACE] The Roots
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4. TV On The Radio/ Return To Cookie Mountain – Talk about an album that sneaks up on you and grabs hold without letting go. TV On The Radio’s stunning major-label debut is the very, very rare case of a band jumping from indie to major status and not only being able to avoid compromising their sound, but actually being able to improve upon it as well. If not for everyone’s single of the year, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” “Wolf Like Me” would be hands down the best track released in 2006. Go to YouTube and find their performance on Letterman and you will become a believer. They’ve also been stamped with the Bowie seal of approval by landing the Thin White Duke himself to appear on vocals on “Province,” while “Hours” and “Dirtywhirl” are two other major standouts on this phenomenal release. Plus, who looks more like a rock star than guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone? Seriously.

[THE’SPACE] TV On The Radio
[HOME] TV On The Radio

3. The Format/ Dog Problems – Other than our soon-to-be-named Album Of The Year, this band was my favorite find of 2006. Kinda sounding like the bastard child of The Shins, Queen, and The Get Up Kids, The Format have got hooks coming out of their asses on the year’s best pop album, Dog Problems, particularly on “Time Bomb,” where singer Nate Ruess affects his best Freddie Mercury, and on “Oceans” while being backed by some funked-out synths. Plus you gotta love any band who writes a song called “The Compromise” about their former label ordering them to write a marketable, radio-friendly hit. How’s that shit grab you, Elektra/Atlantic Records? Stick to marketing James Blunt and Jason Mraz and leave the real music to the grown-ups.

[THE’SPACE] The Format
The Format

2. Pearl Jam/ Pearl Jam – If it takes the Bush administration being in power to get Eddie and the boys to record an album this vital, can we just make a constitutional amendment right now to keep W. in office in perpetuity? God knows it would probably stand as the administration’s greatest accomplishment in their near-eight years in office. Now, it’s been a long time since even the most hardcore Jam fan could defend one of their releases and as an owner of close to 100 PJ bootleg concert discs, I should know. But the opening quartet of tracks (“Life Wasted,” World Wide Suicide,” “Comatose,” and “Severed Hand”) serve as a gut punch that announces that Pearl Jam isn’t fucking around anymore. “Unemployable” is proof that their time with Springsteen on the 2004 Vote For Change tour was time very well spent, and “Come Back” is damn near Motown circa-1968. The eponymous title says it all as this is THE representation of Pearl Jam. Look, if even Elite Opinion’s head elitist, a self-proclaimed (and proud) Pearl Jam hater can get behind it, you owe it to yourself to give it a spin.

[THE’SPACE] Pearl Jam
[HOME] Pearl Jam

1. Silversun Pickups/ Carnavas – Ladies and gentlemen, your Album Of The Year. I have been pimping this band hardcore porno-style to anyone who’ll listen for MONTHS now. No other disc this year has hit as hard or as satisfyingly as Carnavas. Singer/guitarist Brian Aubert is nothing less than a latter-day Billy Corgan, minus the teenage poetry club nonsense and Courtney Love-banging. While they’ve been compared to bands as diverse as My Bloody Valentine, Devics, and Catherine Wheel, these guys are pure Smashing Pumpkins reinvented for the aughts. They’ve even got a female bass player and an Asian dude in the band – COME ON!! They take the feedback-drenched tones of the Pumpkins and infuse them with so many different sounds on so many different tracks that it will blow your mindhole. You want immediacy in your rock? “Well Thought Out Twinkles” and “Future Foe Scenarios” have you covered. Poppy hooks your thing? Check out “Little Lover’s So Polite” If you’re an indie-rock whore like me, “Lazy Eye” is one of the best singles that you’ve heard all year. And when it’s time to cool it all down and mellow out, “Three Seed” is so placid and dreamy that it’ll put you to sleep in a good way. I can’t remember the last time I fell in love this hard with a band. Simply put, if you don’t dig Carnavas, you really don’t like music.

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So kids, there you have it. I welcome any comments or criticism you have of The Top 13.5 Of 2006. Of course, you’d be wrong, but you probably already knew that. Let’s all just hope that 2007 brings us the same quality that we’ve seen in 2006. With releases by The Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Cure, Interpol, Modest Mouse, Pinback, Radiohead, Rilo Kiley, The Shins, Spoon, Tegan & Sara, and Wilco on the horizon, I’d say there’s a better than average chance that it will.


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