February 8, 2007

Best of 2006 (and 2007 preview)

I know, it’s already February 2007, but I always do a year end list, and this year is no exception. January was the busiest month of my now 30 (!) years of life, so I have not had time to do this until now. And in some ways I am glad I waited a month to do this, because during that time I discovered one of my top 5 albums of 2006, Manchester Orchestra. Starred (*) albums are available on vinyl. At this point every album I want that is available on vinyl I buy in that format.

Another benefit of me doing this list so late is that I have had tons of time to think about it. This is the most complete list I have done in years. There is a top 10, honorable mention section, and a most anticipated list for 2007. I also provided links to all the artists websites, and to all of the record label websites. And all of the artists listed here have Myspace sites, which at this point are usually a much better source of information than their actual websites.

Lastly, I provided mp3s! There is one zip file which is my best of 2006 album. If you download it and unzip it the songs will fit perfectly onto an 80 minute CD. Then there is also another zip file that is another mix, containing mostly songs from 2007. Since there is obviously not much 2007 music available yet, I filled it with songs from the last few years.

The Top 10 of 2006:
1. Fair- The Best Worst-Case Scenario (Tooth and Nail)
I have been an Aaron Sprinkle fan since I first heard him sing “Ring True” for Poor Old Lu back in 1994 (The only Lu song he sings lead on). I have loved and purchased everything he has ever done, from Rose Blossom Punch to his solo albums and now Fair. I am also a big fan of his production, from bands diverse as Eisley and Demon Hunter. This album is pop-rock perfection, and the best thing Aaron has done outside of the Poor Old Lu albums. Very slick production and some very unique guitar tones and effects throughout. The artwork is beautiful and was nominated for a Grammy!

2. Mates of State- Bring it Back* (Barsuk)
Not your typical husband/wife band, because they rock! Kori on keyboards & vocals, Jason on drums & vocals, this is their 4th and by far best LP. I have been obsessed with them since I saw them perform in front of about 30 people in a small club in Paris in August of 2003. Fun music.
3. Jeremy Enigk- World Waits (Lewis Hollow)
Jeremy Enigk is the lead singer of one of my all-time favorite bands, Sunny Day Real Estate. Counting albums from that band, the Fire Theft, and solo, this is his 7th LP. His only other solo album, “Return of the Frog Queen”, came out 10 years ago. I haven’t been too excited about any of his work since the last SDRE album (2000) except for the soundtrack he did for the movie “The United States of Leland.” This album takes him back to his glory days, singing with my favorite male voice of all time. Good balance between stripped down acoustic songs and more upbeat rock songs. Entire album is driven by piano and acoustic guitars. I saw Jeremy perform live last November opening for Cursive. That is the most recent show I have been to. It was far and away the best concert I have ever seen put on by a single individual. Jeremy was so passionate, the show was very moving. He alternated between playing piano, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. The highlight of the show was when he performed the SDRE song "How It Feels to be Something On."

4. Manchester Orchestra- I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child (Favorite Gentleman)
At this point in my life I rarely discover “new” bands. Almost all of the music I buy is from artists I have been listening to for years; whether it is the band they have always been in, a new band they are in, or another solo album. Manchester Orchestra is the only “new’ band to make my top 10. ‘I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child’ is their first LP, releasing in October of 2006. I didn’t get it until January however, and I have been listening to it non-stop since. What I find most appealing is the intensity of the vocals and the lyrics. There is more lyrical depth on this album than I have heard in awhile. Musically, for fans of Lovedrug, Death Cab for Cutie, the Decemberists and Bright Eyes. If I had discovered this album sooner, it could have been number one on this list. As I type this, I am still tempted to move it to number one. It, probably more so than any other album on here, has the potential to become one of my favorite albums of all time.

5. Neko Case- Fox Confessor Bring the Flood (Anti)
This is a spectacular folk-country album, and sounds like it could have been released decades ago except for the crisp production. Neko Case has one of the best voices out there today- she can wail!

6. Starflyer 59- My Island (Tooth and Nail)
Starflyer has been releasing a CD a year for the last 14 years. For awhile, they somewhat lost my attention, even though I have bought every release. They regained my utmost respect two years ago with the great ‘Talking Voice vs. Singing Voice’ and then this album blew me away. The most rocking album they have done in 10 years probably, but absolutely nothing like what they were doing 10 years ago. SF59 reinvents themselves with every-album, this one being bass-heavy and up-tempo.

7. The Be Good Tanyas- Hello, Love (Nettwerk)
I wouldn’t call myself a bluegrass fan, but I LOVE the Be Good Tanyas. A female trio of stripped-down, acoustic bluegrass. This is their 3rd album, and probably best. Mostly very earthy mid-tempoed and vocal-heavy tracks, accompanied by quiet banjo and guitar.
8. The Appleseed Cast- Peregrine* (the Militia Group)
9. Brandtson- Hello, Control (the Militia Group)
I discovered the Appleseed Cast and Brandtson about the same time, when Deep Elm Records started around 1998. They each had songs on the first Deep Elm sampler, which led me to seeing them on tour together in the late 90s in the back of a small skate shop in Birmingham, AL. I was most excited about the Appleseed Cast song on the sampler (Marigold and Patchwork), but it was Brandtson who most impressed me at the show. I have been following both bands very closely ever since, buying every release. The Appleseed Cast has pushed the limits with their very diverse body of work ranging from the indie-pop rock of ‘Two Conversations’ to their post-rock masterpieces ‘Low Level Owl’ volume 1 & 2. At their best, there are few bands better. Brandtson has stayed closer to just straight up indie-rock, being very fun music to sing along to. Over the last decade I have seen Brandtson on average twice a year. The Appleseed Cast I did not see again after that first show until summer 2005 in Nashville.

Brandtson has always had great songs, but never really had a great full-length album until ‘Send Us a Signal’, which was my number one album of 2004. Now in 2006, both bands are back on the same label, this time the Militia Group. Neither band is at the top of their game, but they are still talented enough to put out intriguing albums. Brandtson’s album is a complete departure, one member change leading to a completely new dance-based style. Most all of the songs are super-catchy with electronic drums; pure pop. The first time I listened the album I was in shock and somewhat appalled due to the huge shift from their usual organic indie rock. The album grew on me however and now I appreciate their effort to do something new.

The Appleseed Cast’s album isn’t too different than their past work, but for most fans it is a welcome shift back to territory more similar to the ‘Low Level Owl’ albums. However, most Appleseed fans didn’t like ‘Two Conversations,’ which I love. 'Peregrine' is probably my least favorite Appleseed Cast album (excluding the debut), mostly due to the fact that there are no great songs. I love the overall style and guitar work, but nothing makes too much of an impact.

10. Sleeping at Last- Keep No Score (no label)
Sleeping at Last continues to put out great music just under the radar. Their last album, ‘Ghosts’, was awesome and on a major label, but it led to nothing and they stayed in anonymity. ‘Keep No Score’, the band’s third album, is their masterpiece. Stylistically consistent with ‘Ghosts’, they have added strings to their solid guitar work and it sounds amazing. The highlight of the album is probably the lyrics, the line “You were meant for amazing things” from the song “Umbrellas” often streaming through my head. The packaging is composed of stunning original watercolor paintings.

2006 Honorable Mention:

Headlights- Kill Them with Kindness* (Polyvinyl)
The debut album from former members of Absinthe Blind. Tracks typically alternate male and female vocals, reminds me a lot of the Anniversary in many ways. Very happy, keyboard heavy indie rock, somewhat a more serious version of Mates of State.
Cursive- Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek)
2006 was the year I finally "got" Cursive. I had been hearing them since the late 90s, but I never truly explored their music. "The Ugly Organ", Cursive's 2003 release I heard when it camed out and liked it, but never took the plunge and bought it. Well, in preparation to see them in concert in November with Jeremy Enigk, I listened to "The Ugly Organ" again and fell in love. Thier concert was strange- I thought about 2/3 of the songs were amazing, but the other 1/3 I hated. All of "The Ugly Organ" songs sounded awesome, so I bought the vinyl. Well, for some reason I assumed those songs that I hated must have been from their newest album, "Happy Hollow", so I never listened to it. Yesterday I found the CD used for $3.00, so I bought it, and it is great! "The Ugly Organ" is better, mainly due to the cello and the lyrics, but this new one is very good. Cursive sticks with their dischordant sound, but adds horns, accordion, and tons of other instruments. "The Ugly Organ" would have been in my best of 2006 top 10 if not for the fact it was released in 2003.
My Brightest Diamond- Bring Me the Workhorse* (Asthmatic Kitty)
My wife and I saw My Brightest Diamond open for Sufjan Stevens and we were absolutely blown away by her vocals and stage presence. My Brightest Diamond is Shara Worden, who is a trained opera singer. This album is extremely diverse and takes influences from rock, jazz and classical styles.
The Weepies- Say I am You (Nettwerk)
Acoustic pop-rock songs with very soothing vocals and memorable lyrics. Songs alternate between male and female vocals and both voices are outstanding.
Cat Power- The Greatest* (Matador)
I have heard Cat Power for years and after reading so many positive reviews this is the first album I actually bought from her. Quiet and sexy.
Over the Rhine- Snow Angels (no label)
I would rarely mention a Christmas album on any kind of list, but these are all original songs and everything Over the Rhine does is spectacular. Karin’s voice has never sounded better.
Anathallo- Floating World (Nettwerk)
Sufjan-esque rock band delivers Japanese themed album. The album is so good I don’t think I appreciate it correctly. Music is complex, weird, and great. Highlight for me is the album artwork- beautiful. The cover is an intricate cardboard cut-out.
MeWithoutYou- Brother, Sister (Tooth & Nail)
It took Jeremy Enigk singing on the album for me to finally appreciate this band. Now I am blown away- very intense stuff.
Hem- Funnel Cloud (Nettwerk)
I have heard Hem for years, and while I liked the style, nothing ever stuck with me. They opened for Over the Rhine over the summer and my wife and I worked the merch table and loved them. They are similar to Over the Rhine, but quieter, more similar to the Innocence Mission. Their song “Not California” is my number one song of 2006.
Stavesacre- How to Live With a Curse (Abacus)
Stavesacre was one of my top 10 bands of the 90s. But after Jeff Bellew left the band their releases suffered greatly and they reached a low point with their self-titled album in 2002, which I found horrendous. This album doesn’t quite reach the standard set by their first three albums, but it is very good. Mainly it is just nice to see Stavesacre making great rock music again.


Most disappointing album of 2006:
Leigh Nash- Blue on Blue (Nettwerk)
Anyone who knows me knows that Sixpence None the Richer is my co-favorite band (along with Poor Old Lu.) They broke up in 2002, so obviously I was very excited to see Leigh making music again. Matt Slocum was the primary song-writer for Sixpence though, and it really shows here. While I don’t dislike Leigh’s solo album, most of the song-writing is weak, cheesy, and shallow. Her voice sounds great, but it is not enough. I can't remember the last time I listened to this CD. (Am I the only person that thinks she looks like Ashlee Simpson in this picture?)




Most anticipated of 2007:
Tess Wiley- Super Fast Rock N’ Roll Played Slow (April) (Tapete)
My favorite female vocalist ever; she also writes great songs and plays almost all of the instruments on her releases.
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Eisley- TBA* (May) (Warner Brothers) When I discovered this band in 2002 I heard three demos and said that if they stayed together 10 years and released LPs consistently they would probably become my all-time favorite band. They are on their way!

Thrice- TBA* (Summer) (Island) Thrice is pretty much my favorite band of the last few years. Everything they release is stunning, musically and lyrically. This album is going to be in four parts and on four discs, from 5 to 7 songs on each, around 25 total.

Lovedrug- Everything Starts Where it Ends (March) (the Militia Group)
The tracks I have heard of this (about half) have blown me away. I loved Kerith Ravine and the first Lovedrug album, but I think this album will be a step to a different level.
Fountains of Wayne- Traffic & Weather (April) (Virgin)
The best pop-rock band ever, their last album was my number one of 2003. Needless to say, there are high expectations.
Zookeeper- TBA (April) (Belle City Pop!)
Zookeeper is Chris Simpson of Mineral and the Gloria Record, who is my favorite lyricist of all time. His new project is a huge departure from his former rock bands. His song writing style is similar, but the instrumentation is drastically different. Based around acoustic guitar and piano, he is accompanied by horns, accordion, banjo... just about everything. His first 5-song EP was released in 2006- I have mixed feelings about it. It is solid, but hard to get used to they style. The first Zookeeper full length hopefully will be a little more refined and cohesive.

The Innocence Mission- We Walked in Song* (March) (Badman)
The Innocence Mission is the quietest band I listen to. I own everything they have ever done, but the last few albums have not been my favorites. I am hoping for a return to the quality of song-writing they had in the 90s.
The Smashing Pumpkins- Zeitgeist (July) (Label unknown) Who is in the band? Who cares! It is Billy Corgan releasing a rock album, and that is enough for me.
Tegan & Sara- TBA (Fall) (Label unknown) Tegan & Sara put on one of the best live shows I have ever seen. What you need to know here is that their new album is being produced by Chris Walla and there going to be notable guest appearances from many great musicians.

Dakoda Motor Co.- TBA (TBA) (Label unknown) Coming out of nowhere, this band has reunited with their original line-up (Davia!). They played their first show in over 10 years last October. I am still shocked. They were my first favorite band, but their break-up was so final, the members weren’t even really in touch. No one really knows what the plans of the band are, but they are back!

This Diminishing West- TBA (TBA) (Label unknown) After Poor Old Lu broke up in 1996, ¾ of the band have stayed super active except for the lead singer Scott. Well he is finally back with a new band!

Chevelle- Vera Sera (April) (Epic) Chevelle’s first two albums were great hard-rock releases, reminiscent of Tool. Their third album bored me; I am hoping for a return to form.

2007 Albums I already have:
1. Explosions in the Sky- All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone* (March) (Temporary Residence)
I generally like instrumental post-rock, but don’t listen to it much and never buy it. The exception is Explosions in the Sky- some of the most emotional music I have ever heard, and they are able to communicate so much with no words.


2. Rosie Thomas- These Friends of Mine (March) (Sing-A-Long) Another album that was available digitally in December, I find it to be Rosie Thomas’ best work. Her voice is spectacular, but her last album was over-produced. This album is more stripped-down folk, and the album title is for a reason- her friends, playing guitar, banjo, and singing bgv’s, are Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer. This is her fourth LP after a short stint singing for Velour100, and she keeps getting better.

3. Arcade Fire- Neon Bible* (March) (Merge) I haven't truly digested it yet, but it is epic. Not as raw as the first, the vocals are much improved and the instrumentation more diverse.
4. Dustin Kensrue- Please Come Home (January) (Equal Vision)
This album was available digitally in early December, but it didn’t officially release until January. Dustin is the lead singer of Thrice, a former punk-metal band that now crosses every genre. His solo album is still a complete departure, being very lo-fi folk in the vein of Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash.

5. The Shins- Wincing the Night Away* (January) (Sub-Pop)
It took me years to “get” this band, but I finally have- great album.
6. The Brothers Martin- s/t* (January) (Tooth & Nail)
Jason Martin from Starflyer 59 and Ronnie Martin from Joy Electric record their first album together in 15 years. It sounds EXACTLY like what you are thinking and it doesn’t impress me. I’ll stick with SF59.








Best of 2006 CD Tracklist:

1. Jeremy Enigk- Canons
2. Starflyer 59- Mic the Mic
3. Brandtson- Earthquakes and Sharks
4. Cursive- Dorothy at Forty
5. Appleseed Cast- Woodland Hunter (Part 2)
6. Headlights- Put Us Back Together Right
7. Mates of State- Like u Crazy
8. My Brightest Diamond- Something of an End
9. Hem- Not California
10. Neko Case- Hold On, Hold On
11. The Be Good Tanyas- Opal
12. The Weepies- Gotta Have You
13. Cat Power- Where is My Love
14. Over the Rhine- Here it Is
15. Sleeping At Last- Umbrellas
16. Fair- Unglued
17. Manchester Orchestra- Where Have you Been?
18. Anathallo- Hanasakajii 1
19. MeWithoutYou- O, Porcupine

02.10.07 Mix CD Tracklist:
1. Explosions in the Sky- What do you go home to? (2007)
2. Lovedrug- Happy Apple Poison (2007)
3. Arcade Fire- Keep the Car Running (2007)
4. Cursive- Driftwood: A Fairy Tale (2003)
5. Rainer Maria- Life of Leisure (2006)
6. The Brothers Martin-The Plot That Weaves (2007)
7. Fair- Once Again (2006)
8. The New Pornographers- From Blown Speakers (2003)
9. The Shins- Sea Legs (2007)
10. Thrice- Between the End and Where We Lie (2005)
11. Brandtson- Parallels (2006)
12. Headlights- This One (live) (2007)
13. Rosie Thomas- Much Farther to Go (2007)
14. The Innocence Mission- Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning (2007)
15. Dustin Kensrue- Weary Saints (2007)
16. Copeland- When You Thought You'd Never Stand Out (2006)
17. Zookeeper- Delivery Room (2006)
18. Tess Wiley- Halfway Through (2007)

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