Best Albums of 2006: #20 to #11
20. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
The first time I heard Band of Horses, there was one immediate comparison that rang in my head. Vocalist Ben Bridwell sounds strikingly alike to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, which I recognized as nothing less than a good thing. Everything All the Time is a solid debut built around a core group of songs, most reliant on heavy chord progressions that tend to reflect a sporadic movement. Bridwell’s soaring vocals carry the tracks often times, almost making the musical component sound more complex than it actually is. For example, the wicked great ‘Wicked Gil’ really is only built around a handful of chords and a simplistic song structure, but Bridwell manages to take the song and make it one of the most alluring of the album. When the musical inclimation reaches a peak in ‘The Great Salt Lake’, Bridwell just enhances what greatness is already there. Another fantastic debut.
19. Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer
This one took me by surprise. Decidedly, I’m not surprised that Green Gartside is still making music. The aspect of White Bread, Black Beer that shocks me is the general presentation. Gartside’s Scritti Politti has long generated songs expressive of hip-hop, dance, and stereotypical 80s corniness. What comes out of White Bread, Black Beer is a collection of relaxing songs that range from the light synth accessibility of ‘Throw’ to the low-tempo power pop of the XTC-influenced ‘Dr. Abernathy’. That being said, Gartside’s songwriting still is entirely original and in touch with human traits. Rather than staying stuck in the 80s, Gartside has fortunately moved on and is still creating some very enjoyable music, as displayed in the Mercury Prize nominee, White Bread, Black Beer. The nomination and album alone present a good image of Gartside’s durability.
18. The Knife – Silent Shout
It is not be premature at this point to consider The Knife “the next big thing”. After all, it seems that almost every major music publication has Silent Shout listed as the best album of 2006. Just like the Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens in the previous years, The Knife should be expecting a major reputational boost for 2007 thanks in part to infamous online media “end of the year lists”. I’m not going to disagree that Silent Shout is a great album; it’s the sort of album that creates memories due to the wildly imaginative and unique sound. Silent Shout is subtle pop music, disguising choruses and rather straightforward song structures with atmospheric tones such as backing synth pads, vibrant rhythm sections, and in-key synth variations. ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ sounds like it comes from another world, with bouncing synthetic percussion that balances the song flawlessly. On first listen, one may question the choice of making it a single. Speculation will be proved wrong after several more listens, as patience is key to discovering each and every hidden component of The Knife’s lustful songs. The brother and sister duo from Sweden show perhaps their best work in ‘One Hit’, managing to create an anthemic style built around oddball vocal effects that circulate around sonorous production. The throbbing nature of Silent Shout comes off freely, establishing the album as one of great variety and passion.
17. Herbert – Scale
These days, it’s hard to hand out a tag promoting anyone as a musical “innovator” or “genius”, largely due to the fact that music is so widely available through internet and media, thus creating a source for gathering and half-duplicating influences. Matthew Herbert is certainly one of the most original and skilled producers in music today. Perhaps he doesn’t have the organic sound skills that Steve Albini does or the mainstream credibility of Timbaland, but there is no point in arguing Herbert’s talent, whether it’s producing his wife and occasional vocal puppet Dani Siciliano or himself. Scale really is just what Herbert has done best in his previous albums. He has created a tour-de-force consisting of electronic dance elements that flow smoothly, ready for any type of listening whether it’s the early morning or late at night. It comes as no surprise that Scale is his most commercially successful, with 70s-vibe gems such as ‘Moving Like A Train’ that capitalizes on Herbert’s already masterful comprehension of contemporary production.
16. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
Grizzly Bear’s debut album, Horn of Plenty, was not bad at all. In fact, it was one of the more enjoyable releases of 2004. It’s just that the follow-up makes it look elementary. Yellow House will be looked on several years from now as the album that propelled Grizzly Bear to a new formed status. The avidity that surrounds the whole album is enchanting, with the 60s-tinged love song ‘Knife’ taking its worth to a new level. Ed Drost leads the band through a series of triumphs, adding a variation of dramatics from hazy backing vocals to the haunting strings and Tom Waits-esque feel of the marvelous ‘Marla’. Yellow House moves slowly, there is no doubt, but each and every moment sounds fresh as the band has now abandoned all stereotypes of average performers. At this point, they’re something special.
15. Love Is All – Nine Times That Same Song
Is love all? The explosive five-piece from Sweden seems to think so. In an explosively original debut, Love Is All’s combination of art-rock, jazz, punk, and soul brought them headlines throughout the musical community. Singer Josephine Olausson has quite a range in vocal emotion, as her demeanor in songs such as ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ and ‘Used Goods’ are essential, even with the band’s expanded musical intellect. In a briskly effective Swedish accent, she blends in well with the popular involvement of Fredrik Eriksson’s saxophone and the assorted rhythm section. ‘Felt Tip’ is born off of that aforementioned rhythm section, as Johan Lindwall’s bass line builds an unbreakable wall throughout the entire song. Just like love, the song reaches the climax towards the end as Olausson lifts the song from a whisper to a shout with the signal of Eriksson’s brass. The anti-NME folks who are labeling Love Is All as nothing more than a singles band are doing it quite prematurely, as the album is one of those that many don’t grow out of.
14. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
Pet Shop Boys and producer Trevor Horn seem to go like magic together. When the cult duo and Horn last worked together about ten years ago, the Pet Shop Boys were in their prime as the darlings of British pop. Throughout the 90s, the Pet Shop Boys have been surprisingly consistent though any form of large commercial following has all but left them. Their fanbase remains strong though and that appears to be all the motivation they require. Fundamental is the Boys’ most technologically advanced of their career, utilizing countless numbers of layers and still managing to craft insanely addictive pop songs like ‘Integral’, which is one of the best songs of their respectable career. While not exactly recalling their earlier days of simplicity, Horn takes the band to a new level with Fundamental that is highly influenced by the political events concerning George Bush and Tony Blair. The aptly titled ‘Twentieth Century’ is a brilliant stab at the administration, as Neil Tennant sounds somewhat prophetic declaring that “sometimes the solution is worse than the problem” in a convincing mindset. While political views certainly vary from person to person, the general consensus of Fundamental is that Pet Shop Boys have crafted their greatest album in over a decade.
13. Morrissey – Ringleader of the Tormentors
I suppose an argument could be made that Morrissey is spoiled in one way or another. In a sense, working with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Tony Visconti, a full orchestra, and the most reputable children’s choir in Italy would only be provided to someone with the status of Moz himself. You could argue that Ringleader of the Tormentors deserves a lower placement under the lesser known artists just because of Morrissey has so much to work with, while other artists are living on one meal a day in their basement. While it’s true that the days of glorified amateur production are long gone for Morrissey, I am judging on the actual album. The circumstances could mean less to me. What I find is a collection of brilliantly produced songs, each representitive of amiable songwriting and dedicated effort. The album takes an unusual direction for Morrissey, resulting in an edgier, more rock-oriented sound. Despite the arrangements, Morrissey’s most prominent aspect to me has always been his lyrical intellect. Ringleader of the Tormentors marks a new era for the man: happiness. Yes, it seems that the majority of this album is actually filled with optimism and triumph as Morrissey declares his discovery of happiness from the ruins of Rome. I was a bit disheartned about this, as his sadness (satirical or not) was admittedly something I always took for granted. Luckily, he sprinkles a few dramatic ones in there as well, with the best song on the album being the epic ‘Life Is A Pigsty’. From the moment I could hear the raindrops in the intro, I knew it was going to be a memorable one. The songs reminds me of his classic ‘Late Night, Maudlin Street’ based on the general structure and usual atmosphere of loss and misfortune. The excellent ‘On The Streets I Ran’ is a reminder that Morrissey can contribute to a great song, lyrically uplifting or not. In one of his best vocal performances, Morrissey demonstrates that he can still perform as one of the best after twenty-five years.
Morrissey – Life Is A Pigsty
12. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
It seems that very few people despise Belle & Sebastian. Stuart Murdoch’s project has always been the epitome of “indie success”, never quite reaching the mainstream but still maintaining to be wildly successful in the small market. Like the Pet Shop Boys a few spots up, Murdoch enlisted the help of producer Trevor Horn for The Life Pursuit, a collection of jangly effective pop songs that deliver in several forms. While I was no fan of Motown attempts like ‘Song for Sunshine’, the rest of the album flows with sparkling specialties, whether it’s the insanely catchy single ‘Funny Little Frog’ or the upbeat melodics of ‘We Are The Sleepyheads’. The Life Pursuit is the band’s most resounding and fast-paced album yet, abandoning the usual acoustics and soft-spoken ballads. While most of their previous albums were great accomplishments, The Life Pursuit represents an even larger step forward for a band who has already established themselves as one of the distinguishable figures of indie pop.
11. Magenta Skycode – IIIII
Besides already established artists who released debuts under a new project this year, Magenta Skycode’s IIIII is the best debut album of 2006. The group from Finland stunned me on first listen, with a unique sound that borders between eerie and mystical. It’s ironic that the band has an interest in monochromatic photography, as their music is anything but colorless. In fact, it’s incredibly vibrant and colorful, all while maintaining to be serene and enjoyably atmospheric. With an assortment of synths and gentle guitars, Magenta Skycode utilizes the “clapping method” as percussion whenever they can. It’s in perfect form for IIIII, not being overused or underestimated. ‘Go Outside Again’ is a good example of the execution, being my favorite on the album and one of my favorites for the entire year. The song initially works around a building guitar-led verse, as some beautiful synth complements the surroundings before the fall into a enigmatically catchy chorus. Many of the songs on IIIII work in a similar fashion, with other highlights being ‘People’ and ‘Luvher Oh Hater’. Though they have yet to reach any state of popularity, if Magenta Skycode continues to write songs in the mold of IIIII it will only be a matter of time.