Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Top 14 Albums of 2006

I'm probably breaking a few rules of end-of-the-year listmaking: I'm a little late for the end of the year; I'm including a movie soundtrack, an EP, a Christmas album, and a posthumously released album of outtakes and alternate versions; and my list contains the very round number of 14 albums. I guess it's true that we asymptotes just barely toe the line. Or are just slightly behind the curve. Or *insert dorky math joke here*.

1. The GossipStanding in the Way of Control. The title track blows my mind every freakin' time I hear it. "Yr Mangled Heart," "Keeping You Alive" and "Listen Up!" -- I need to dance...I need to dance...I need to dance. Wait, I thought I hated disco? Heck, if I were alive and living in Chicago, I would have participated in Disco Demolition Night. Only Beth and Hannah could get me to convert. P.S. To whom it concerns, I want "Coal to Diamonds" played at my memorial service. Oh, and I want to be cremated.

2. Tom WaitsOrphans. This thing's a beast (three monstrous discs!), and I haven't quite digested it all yet. But here's what I know: Waits makes a better Elvis than Elvis ("Lie to Me"); is a serviceable Shane MacGowan ("Bottom of the World"); cooks up highly effective anti-depressants ("Sea of Love" and the Ramones cover "The Return of Jackie and Judy") and depressants ("Rains on Me"); and far surpasses Bush in his politics ("Road to Peace" – one of the collection's very best). And all that just from the first disc. I need a nap.

3. Erase ErrataNightlife. This album has steadily grown on me since I saw them live. "Aim the satellite down from a penthouse bubble / Cause we're afraid of being robbed / Or catching something / While you're too broke to not commit a crime / Your federal government knows that this is true." Maybe they don't need Sara after all.

4. Camera ObscuraLet's Get Out of This Country. This Scottish outfit has quietly crept onto my short list of favorite bands. With stunningly beautiful vocals and alternately heartbreaking and uplifting lyrics, LGOOTC continues their stream of classic albums. From "Dory Previn": "Fed up with girls in pretty dresses / And boys who want to teach them a lesson." From "The False Contender": "I once had a love / That soon had enough / Cause he was a false contender." From "Country Mile:" "The singer in the band made me want to cry." Yup.

5. MorrisseyRingleader of the Tormentors. The popular tagline on this one seemed to be Morrissey + Sex = Tasty Music. Is the equation really that simple? I doubt it, seeing as how he's created more than a few excellent tunes while celibate and melancholy. His new happiness may be responsible for this record's certain glow, if you will, but let's not give too much credit to the power of love (or of the "explosive kegs" between his legs). Morrissey can approach mediocrity and excellence at any given time – luckily for us, with Ringleader he's definitely aiming for the latter.

6. Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man Motion Picture Soundtrack. Let me tell you, Bono should be banned from music. If he did not appear on this album, it would have shot up my list to, like, number five. But his 40-second "performance" on the very last track is the definition of the word "travesty." So, stop the CD before you hit track 16 and you'll be okay. Especially note Martha Wainwright's contributions: "Tower of Song" and "The Traitor." And Perla Batalla's "Bird on a Wire." Goddamn. Teddy Thompson also puts in an unexpectedly nice turn on "Tonight Will Be Fine." Mark just loves Nick Cave's "I'm Your Man." (That's a big fat lie.) Antony brings down the house on "If It Be Your Will." And who doesn't want to hear Rufus do a calypso "Everybody Knows" or sing about receiving head on an unmade bed?

7. Tanya DonellyThis Hungry Life. I kinda felt bad when I didn't like Donelly's Whiskey Tango Ghosts. I mean, I despised it. Which, given how much I love everything else Donelly has ever touched, seemed almost impossible. Or definitive evidence of my evil nature. So I was really, really ecstatic when I heard the opening chords of the first track (an utterly perfect song called "New England") and then the rest of This Hungry Life's brilliance (including a surprising cover of George Harrison's "Long Long Long"). The Earth returned to spinning on its axis, I was no longer an evil person, and I could excuse Whiskey as a bizarre anomaly in Donelly's otherwise spotless track record.

8. The Exploding HeartsShattered. The liner notes for this album are a heartfelt tribute to a band that's one of the saddest rock n roll stories from the past few years. Obviously, I didn't know any of the three band members who died in that July 2003 car crash, so I can't really join in the mourning of them personally. But I can mourn the lost music that these boys (yes, they were just boys) would have provided for decades to come. They were master power pop songwriters and energetic and skilled performers. This collection of previously unreleased songs, early singles, and alternate takes is a sparkling glimpse into their genius.

9. The CoupPick a Bigger Weapon. It must be hard to write and perform as many politically-inspired songs as The Coup without it becoming stale. Their secret must be that while they care about serious things, they also have a lot of fun. As Mark noted, "Laugh/Love/Fuck" is a standout track. It's also a brilliant prescription for anyone saddened by the state of the country.

10. Bob DylanModern Times. This is far from Dylan's best album, but even his lesser material is better than most of what's produced these days. "Rollin' and Tumblin'" is a body-shaker, "Beyond the Horizon" and "Nettie Moore" are pretty sweet, and "Spirit on the Water" is another good memorial service candidate. So the man makes my Top 14 of 2006 and every album he ever makes will continue to make this list until someone can prove to me that he doesn't deserve to be here. Good luck.

11. 50 Foot WaveFree Music. What would a Top 14 Albums list be without a Kristin Hersh appearance? Sure, it's only five songs long. Sure, I couldn't actually get it for free because I don't have the computer technology. But it's still Kristin Hersh and still 50 Foot Wave, and this EP delivers. 'Specially on "Pretty Ugly" and "The Fuchsia Wall."

12. Aimee MannOne More Drifter in the Snow. Though I love Christmas music, I really can't listen to it year-round, and that's the only reason this album was relegated to the bottom three. "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" (featuring Grant Lee Phillips) is dead on and her spare "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of the best versions I've heard. Plus, Mark predicts that "Whatever Happened to Christmas" will join the ranks of Christmas standards – and he's never wrong about Christmas music.

13. Justin TimberlakeFuturesex/Lovesounds. I get enough crap from my co-workers for having a past that includes loving NKOTB, so I couldn't put JT any higher on this list. But he deserves to be on it. "My Love" makes me want to sing. "Sexyback" makes me want to dance. And "Futuresex/Lovesound" makes me want to fu-, um, dance. Yeah, dance. I'm psyched to be seeing him live this Saturday.

14. Yeah Yeah YeahsShow Your Bones. A slight disappointment, this record just barely scraped it's way into the Top 14. Only after repeated listens did certain songs grow on me, including "Gold Lion," "Phenomena," and "Honeybear." And "Dudley" is one of their best songs ever. Still, better luck next time.

So, it was a decent year. By the way, I'm not planning on dying any time soon, but watching Six Feet Under makes me want to have my post-death wishes known. So, here they are: cremation, ashes scattered off the coast of Rockport, MA (not ME), and good music played at my memorial service. Simple enough, don't you think?