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Dec 4, 2006
Muzzle of Bees Top Ten (so far!)

Hot Chip - The Warning
James Hunter - People Gonna Talk
TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
M Ward - Post-War
The Knife - Silent Shout
William Elliott Whitmore - Song Of The Blackbird
Peter Bjorn & John - Writers Block
Guitar - Tokyo
Lucero - Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers
Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up, I Am Dreaming

Posted at 06:34 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Erin's Top Ten Albums of 2006

10) The Science of Sleep Soundrack
I think as a movie soundtrack, this might be against the rules. Anyway, its a lovely album that manages to actually sound like sleep... surreal, quietly beautiful, foreign and sometimes dreamy orchestration... zzzzzz..... then you are jarred awake (usually by the Willowz). "If You Rescue" me is a sweet ensemble cover that made it on to a mix or two of mine this year.

9) Beck - The Information
Including Beck makes me hang my head and feel like I didn't try hard enough, but what can I say, Beck went and did it again this year.

8) The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
This tremendous album was the least surprising great album of the year to me - meaning, I knew there was no way I wouldn't love it since I really do seem to like each Decemberists album better than the last. From the incredible first two tracks ('The Crane Wife 3", "The Island") I was smitten. Is minstral-ish a word? The album as a whole feels like an impossible homework assignment to interpret (rock for phD candidates or something?) but the songs do stand very well on their own, and that's what matters most to me.

7) The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
This most definitely would not have made it if I hadn't seen them play a last minute show at the Park West in Chicago on the day the album released last January, at which point I realized I had to give The Strokes another chance. I admit at first I had to struggle to make it through the entire album, but the energy, the raw edginess, the sincere rock-n-roll aesthetic, the fact that they are totally cute boys (sigh) ... I don't know, I just really like this album, particularly "Heart in a Cage" and "Ask Me Anything" which with its repeated "I've got nothing to say.." sounds like it could make it into the next Wes Anderson movie soundtrack.

6) Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Beautiful solo achievement by Jenny Lewis, and I wasn't even all that into Rilo Kiley. The Watson Twins' perfect, mesmerizing harmonies make me forgive them for looking like they are about to murder a poor unsuspecting Jenny on the album cover. To me she sounds like a youthful Neko Case meets a less-twangy Dolly Parton (on "Happy"), and her songs manage to somehow be heartbreaking and fun all at the same time. She blew me away in her live show recently at the Pabst Theater. I adore the song 'You Are What you Love' so much that I find myself trying to identify the lyrics with something in my life so I can justify loving it the way I do (but to no avail so far, which is good, I think?) She gets flack for the 'Handle Me With Care' cover featuring all her indie boyfriends - I too thought it was a little silly at first, but now I unapologetically enjoy it very much - I've done hours of unplanned driving lately and have hit repeat on that song and sung at the top of my lungs, alone in the car, more than once...

5) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Given that this doesn't release until January '07, including The Shins 'Wincing the Night Away' is not even slightly within the parameters of the rules under any circumstances whatsoever. But what if I promise not to include it next year? Anyway, having seen them live a few times within the last year or so and being devastated over and over again by the mediocrity of their live show (and that's being kind), I was that much more excited and impressed by this album, where they've totally redeemed themselves. It took more than a few listens, but over time it managed to make its way into the best albums I've heard in 2006, and I swear its not only due to the recency effect. As a whole, it feels like a real departure from their quick, lovable poppy Beach Boysie harmonies. 'Wincing the Night Away' has more of an 80s/synth/Morrisseyish feel on certain songs (Sleeping Lessons, Sea Legs, Pam Berry, etc), but don't worry, the catchy-as-hell songs from The Shins we know and love are still there (Turn on Me, Australia, my current favorite).

4) M. Ward - Post-War
I've been a fan of M. Ward for a while, and this is another instance where there was really no way I wasn't going to thoroughly enjoy this album. I can't be more erudite than this: I love this album simply because its full of beautiful songs. There's love songs (Poison Cup), sad songs (of course) and as a special treat, songs featuring some of my favorite musicians (like Neko Case, and Jim James of MMJ on the amazing Chinese Translation)... just really beautiful folk-inspired songs that feel like they couldn't be done by anyone but M. Ward.

3) My Morning Jacket - Okonokos
One of my favorite AV Club writers called My Morning Jacket part of "a fun new genre called Acceptable Jam Bands" - isn't that perfect? So, I know this is another mischevious rule-breaker because its a double live album, and one comprised strongly of songs from last year's 'Z' at that. My argument here is that until this year when I first saw MMJ live, I truly didn't realize how much of their wonder lies in the force of their live show, and Okonokos brings them to life over and over again.

2) Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Not too much to say about this that hasn't been said already. I've loved Belle & Sebastian for many many years, and this is the best album they've put out since my all-time favorite B&S album, Tigermilk. Yeah, Tigermilk. 2006 also marked the first time I ever got to see them live (at the Riviera in Chicago with The New Pornographers, my other favorite band, even when they are Neko-less like they were at this show) - it was everything I hoped for and more.

1) Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
I may have flirted with Jenny Lewis this year, but Neko's the one who really has my heart. In my eyes, she could never put out an album that was anything less than spectacular anyway, but this is hands down my favorite album of 2006. In my opinion what this album really showcases is her amazing songwriting ability - not to say that her voice isn't as soulful and heart-wrenching as ever (maybe moreso since she backed off the heavier country influence a bit on this album). Some songs are cryptic (like the title track), some are a little more obviously stated ("Teenage Feeling"), some make sense but only if you do enough research to know what they're about ("Star Witness")... Regardless, they all are wonderfully written and perfectly phrased poems. If I had to do a list of favorite songs of '06, "Hold On, Hold On" would probably be ..1, and I still haven't even figured out what she's saying in the chorus! But that's Neko - its the way she sings it, and the heart and soul and smokey voice behind it, that makes me feel like I know exactly what she's talking about.

Honorable Mention:

Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy
Easily the best named album of the year, but also one of the most fun (and at times funny - Jack Black has a cameo on "I Want You So Hard"). I never would have imagined I'd like it as much as I did, but thats what happens when you work with a bunch of 24-27 year old guys like I did when this album came out. "Cherry Cola" and "Don't Speak" are some of the catchiest/silliest/raunchiest songs on the album, and again, I can't believe I like them but I do.

Posted at 06:09 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Ryan's Best Of 2006

Hey everyone.  It's been great reading your lists.  Matt, thanks for inviting me to post mine too.

Here we go with some Indie Soundcheck flava.

10.  Yo La Tengo - I am Not Afraid of You and I will beat your ass

It'd be enough to make this list simply because of the album title.  But once you get past that, you've got a long CD of some of their best work.  Am I a Yo La Tengo expert?  By no means...I have just recently started to get in to them.  But there are two songs that are some of my favorites of the year.  "Bean Bag Chair" and "Mr. Tough", which to me, sounds like the band tipping their hat to "Domino" by Van Morrison with that horn section and arrangement.  And why can't we solve all of our problems on the dance floor?  Favorite track: Mr. Tough.

9.  Silversun Pickups - Carnavas

This appears to be the only rock record on my list.  I didn't realize it was THAT bad a year for rock music.  But then again...this was the year that Disturbed decided to cover "Land Of Confusion" by Genesis, and then follow it up with an interview about how much they hate Phil Collins.  This album was a pleasant surprise and it has struck a chord with our listeners too.  For whatever reason!  We play "Lazy Eye" and people are always calling in, "Hey, what was that song?  That was awesome!"  Maybe it's because the singer has a little bit of Billy Corgan in him.  Maybe it's because it's not a complex song.  But I'm elated that it's getting the love that it is in regular rotation.  I wish more of my indie records would make it big like that...but it doesn't look like the new Shins song will make a similar leap at this point, which is too bad.  Favorite Track:  Well Thought Out Twinkles

8.  Neko Case -- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

I'm never quite sure what I think about my favorite indie artists winding up on television.  A Neko song was featured on an episode of this seasons Veronica Mars (it's a guilty see, the writers find little ways to wink at us in the show....there was a Blues Brothers reference that I'm sure 98% of the target audience missed... and it's always fun to play spot-the-actor-from-other-shows...there have been alum from Freaks and Geeks, The Simpsons, and the divine movie Wet Hot American Summer of late...).  Of course by the time it was in the show, the CD had been half a year old.  Regardless, Neko gets better and better with every release, and her concert at the Pabst was one of the highlights of 2006 as well.  Favorite song: Star Witness.

7.  The Dresden Dolls -- "Yes, Virginia"

It had been awhile since a hugely anticipated second album came with the payoff that "Yes, Virginia" did for me.  The Dresden Dolls' first album was great, but there was still some question as to how they were going to develop.  I knew that they wouldn't go down in history as the band that sang "Coin Operated Boy" or the band that Dan Savage dropped in his column every week for a month and a half a few years ago....but I was very intrigued as to what the next step would be.  "Yes, Virginia" sounds like a serious band making music instead of a novelty duo with white faces milking their 15 minutes of fame (a la Ok Go), and it's this more mature self image that got me hooked on the first listen.  I thought that the song "Sing" was an AWFUL choice for a single, but I'm prepared to let that slide.   Favorite track:  Backstabber

6.  Essex Green - Cannibal Sea

How to describe the sound of the Brooklyn-via-Vermont based Essex Green?  Upbeat Belle and Sebastian, the nautical styles of the Decemberists, plus some wacky mix of 10,000 Maniacs and Frente! to round out the sound.  I stumbled upon them through Sirius Radio.  Worth noting, of the 518 times that "Snakes In The Grass" and "This Isn't Farmlife" have been played, 405 of them were on Sirius.  What's holding them back from being indie-household names?  I'm not sure.  They've got a great indie label in Merge, they've got catchy pop songs, and the CD was reviewed well (Pitchfork even liked it....and they don't like anything!) what's the problem?  I offer no solutions, but rather implore you to take a listen sometime.  Favorite Track:  Snakes In The Grass

5.  Jim Noir - Tower Of Love

Usually when people describe a CD as sounding Beatle-esque, it makes me want to run screaming.  You'd come out with something like Jet, blatantly ripping off the formula that worked so well.  Enter Jim Noir.  Noir masterfully makes the record sound like it could have actually been released in 1968.  It sounds like the kind of bass lines Paul McCartney would use.  Listen to the song, "Tell Me What To Do" and tell me that it wouldn't have fit right in on Rubber Soul.  The best part is that Noir seems to have sincerity rather than pretentiousness.  Brit pop isn't used as a buzz word here.  It sounds like 60's brit pop.  Favorite Track:  Key Of C

4.  Decemberists - The Crane Wife

After Death Cab's journey to a major label last year, it was the Decemberists turn to make all the indie people wonder if a major label release would ruin them this year.  If you read some of the reviews of their concerts (Villiage Voice, Tribute), one might say yes.  But if you actually LISTEN to the album (what a concept), one could argue it's their most brillant work to date.  I've heard people argue that Colin Meloy is an aquired taste, but I can't see how you can be #1 on the CMJ charts forever and just be an aquired taste.  So he's got a unique voice.  He also writes his music with an incredible attention to detail, right on down to the last keyboard arpeggio.  Favorite track:  The Island

3.  Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope

Before going to her concert in Madison this fall, I had a conversation with someone who was telling me that all the people who have been on the Regina Spektor bandwagon for awhile...they hate the new album.  And after seeing her show, I can see why people are on polar opposites.  The new album is a lot less quirky.  The new album is well produced, and has mainstream radio potential (we gave her some spins in Milwaukee).  Her music video is being played on VH-1 (when they actually play videos) along side Subterranean on MTV2.  I tend to think that the negativity towards the new album is a case of the hardcore fan not wanting the secret of Regina being let out of the bag.  I heard the new album before I heard her older stuff, and there was a time when I could not stop listening to it.  Did she reinvent the wheel?  No -- there are plenty of other piano girls out there (she's not even that great a pianist either....but I'll be the first to say that less is more sometimes).  Did she reinvent herself?  Maybe a little.  But that's how you grow.  Some songs are simple.  Some songs are much more complex.  All songs are delightful.  Favorite Track:  Better

2.  Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

I keep waiting for a misstep from Belle and Sebastian, and I'm still waiting.  Did I fall in love with this record as instantly as say, "If You're Feeling Sinister"?  Not at all.  But there's a lot more to this record.  I'm okay with the fact that it sounds like there was heavy production on the record.  I'm fine with that.  So it's a little more polished than their earlier work.  It all comes back to the songs, and Stuart is still a pro.  I don't think they could have followed 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' any better than they did.  From the actual rays of sunshine that they put into "Another Sunny Day" to dreamscape in "We Are The Sleepyheads" to catchy songs about laundry, they're still the Belle and Sebastian that I fell in love with nearly 9 years ago.  Favorite track:  Sukie In The Graveyard

1.  Jenny Lewis - "Rabbit Fur Coat"

The only bad thing I have to say about this album is that it's rather short.  Just under 38 minutes.  And it feels even shorter than that.  But with that said, I think it's brilliant.  The Watson Twins add an amazing wrinkle to the songs, and the songs allow the listener to be empathetic.  I feel her confusion during "You Are What You Love".  It's one of those rare occasions where I feel that every single amount of positive press she got was deserved and worth it.  But aside from the songwriting specifically...this album was what I listened to non-stop during a not-so-fun start to 2006.  And I know it's cheesy to say that an album can singlehandedly get you through the tough times...but if it's biologically possible for that to happen, this album did it.  From a radio standpoint, my interview with her was probably my radio highlight of the year.  When calling her, I caught her voicemail the first time, and her outgoing voicemail greeting is as follows:  "It's almost Christmas..."  I adore her.  Favorite track:  You Are What You Love

Misc. Awards:

Song of the year:  Conventional Wisdom - Built To Spill

Never been that big of a Built To Spill fan.  I still don't consider myself a Built To Spill fan.  But they wrote my favorite song of the year.  It's the catchiest guitar riff of the year, and it's impossible for it to not put the biggest grump in a great mood.

Song of the year runner up:  You Only Live Once - The Strokes.

Yeah, the First Impressions of Earth CD is about 4-5 good songs, and a lot of filler.  This is the opener of the Cd, and upon first listen, it had my hopes high that the rest of the CD would be as great.  Eh, what can you do?

Best Concert of the year:  Belle & Sebastian and New Pornographers @ Riverside Theater

Groove of the year:  Wildcat - Ratatat

I somehow convinced the boss-types to let me play this on the indie show.  The 13 spins that we gave it is by far the most on any terrestrial radio station.....2nd place is a tie of AAA stations in NYC and Philly.  I'm a sucker for song structure;  it's cool how the song builds and builds on itself.  A great payoff.

Best Colin Meloy Non-Decemberists Appearance:  Cemetary Row - The Minus 5

Band I'd like to see make it big:  Band Of Horses

Worst Song of the Year:  Louisana - The Walkmen

Album that should never have been made.:  Under The Covers Volume 1 - Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. 

This requires further ranting.  I enjoy both of those artists in their own idiom.  But this was was the full-of-shit liner notes penned by Van Dyke Parks.  Referring to Sweet and Hoffs, he praises"...two navigators in the pop musical current, current tense vocally and as tunesmiths with prime craft of their own write.  They've bagged the best of the 60's, with uncanny insight.  I know, I was there but can remember.  The decade known as the 60's didn't last ten years.  It's alive and well in this audio embrace.  Here's a sampling of what made the love vibe that fanned The Revolution".  (cough gag cough) They don't particuarly do much of anything to make these cover songs their own, and you get the sinking feeling that just by the nature of the title...there is a volume 2 in the works....Boourns to that.

Collaboration waiting to happen: Joanna Newsom and Rasputina

That's all.  Thanks for reading.  See you at the end of December.

Posted at 03:02 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Dec 1, 2006
Greg Z's Top Ten of 2006

Greg Z's Top Ten Albums of 2006

Well, I have to say it wasn't the best year for new music, but definitely a lot of great stuff out there.  A lot of good lists so far. I hope you'll enjoy mine.

1. Beck - The Information

 Beck - The Information CD Cover Art

What can I say, I love Beck. I guess he's not indie or underground enough to make anyone else's list, but his talent cannot be denied.  Beck is one of the few artists that makes great album after great album all while continuing to explore new sounds.  This album mixes his quiet side with his energetic side.  It's sort of a funky Sea Change, which is one of the greatest albums ever.  Producer Nigel Godrich did a great job of combining funky beats with introspective lyrics.  I don't buy albums too often these days, but the packaging alone was worth the price of the album, which included stickers to make your own cover and a bonus dvd which Beck made homemade videos for each track.  I saw him in Chicago in October and the table jam was something to see. They had make your own T-shirts with iron ons of the same stickers that were in the album package. C'mon, what artist is cool enough to do that?

2. Yo La Tengo - I'm Not Afraid Of You And I WIll Beat Your Ass

Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass CD Cover Art

Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands. Probably the best thing about them is their consitency of being inconsistent. You never really know what your going to get from them.  This album returns to familiar territory and while there's nothing groundbreaking here it's just a solid album that old and new fans should enjoy.

3. Medeski, Scofield, Martin, and Wood - Out Louder

Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Woo - Out Louder CD Cover Art

Next to Phish, MMW is probably the best live band I've ever seen. They only get better with John Scofield added to the line up.  They continue with the same dance/groove oriented sound of 1998's A Go Go on this album. Whether you consider them acid jazz or jam band they always make it fun. They will be at The Rave (Boooooo) Dec. 8, so do yourself a favor and check them out.

4. Miho Hatori - Ecdysis

Hatori, Miho - Ecdysis CD Cover Art

Most famous as the other half of Cibo Matto, you've probably have heard on other albums from the Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, and a few compilations. If your like me, you're a sucker for female singer/songwriters with soft/melodic voices. Miho delivers pop songs similar in sound to some of Bjork's work. Charming and fun.

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones CD Cover Art

Not quite as good as Fever To Tell, but less screaming from Karen O makes for a more listenable sound.

6. Subtle - For Hero: For Fool


Subtle - For Hero : For Fool CD Cover Art

Doseone is a madman. No words to describe this one.

7. Stereolab - Fab Four Suture

Stereolab - Fab Four Suture CD Cover Art

Again, my penchant for female vocalists kicks in here. This album has much of the same sound of previous albums, but it's still as enjoyable as ever. Laetitia Sadier's heavily accented vocals and her use of French lyrics remind of walking through the streets of Paris on a rainy afternoon. If you haven't heard them before I would suggest getting Dots & Loops.

8.  Eagles of Death Metal -  Death By Sexy

Eagles Of Death Metal - Death By Sexy CD Cover Art

Pretty straight forward rock album. A lot of fun.

9. Saint Etienne - Tales From Turnpike House

Saint Etienne - Tales From Turnpike House CD Cover Art

Excellent Euro dance pop.

10. Dave Holland Quintet - Critical Mass

Holland, Dave - Critical Mass CD Cover Art

Follow up to 2005's Overtime. Pretty straight forward jazz with some nice grooves.

Best of the rest:

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
Wasn't too familiar with these guys before, but I really liked this album.

J. Dilla - Donuts
Great set of instrumentals from the late hip hop producer. Easily one of the best producer's of the last ten years, this album showcases his abilty to mix samples with jazzy beats.

Metallic Falcons - Desert Doughnuts

Ghostface - Fishscale
Classic hip hop from the Wu Tang Clan's most consistent member.

Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55
Not much to her vocals, but great production from Nigel Godrich and Air. You may have also seen her in the film The Science of Sleep as Stephanie.

Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Another Nigel Godrich produced album. A little dull at times, but not a bad solo outing.

The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Pavement - Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels
Who doesn't like Pavement? Gotta love all the bonus material on this deluxe reissue. Lets hope for a reunion sometime soon.




Posted at 10:58 am by Top Ten Albums
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Erika's Top 8 Albums of 2006 (Musically challenged)

Well, we all know I'm fairly musically challenged and tend to listen to "old" music. So, here's what I could muster up. My top 8 albums of 2006:

Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit
Yes, my all-time favorite (should have gone to NYC with Matt) has come out with yet another smash album, their 7th full-length album. The Life Pursuit has a sound building on 2003 Dear Catastrophe Waitress album bur further delving into the sound of pop retro and moving further from their folk with which they made their name. Not to mention, Murdoch's lyrics are at turns witty, insightful, assertive, and sardonic. I only hope this group keeps on going (and makes another trip to Wisconsin!)

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat
For her first solo album from Rilo Kiley, this has been a total hit! With two performances at the Pabst Theater this year [I only made it to the first] Jenny is on a roll. Like most of these other artists, her ability to storytell is fascinating. Her tracks are easy strumming and likeable melodies, a great variation of vintage country and pop. The back-up Twins are incredible.

Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Case has an astonishing collection of rich eccentric lyrics that leave the songs as a whole up to interpretation. I’ve never been much of a country fan, but her work hardly qualifies as country music. A most outstanding live performance, she blew us away with her appearance at the Pabst Theater. I would love to see Case again and await another beautifully written album, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.

Tilly and the Wall: Bottoms of Barrels
Their second album and also produced by Team Love (think Jenny Lewis), is a collection of bright, big-hearted melodies that are always in movement. To me, it’s like a sing-a-long. I love how they three sing and shout together in such perfect childlike fashion. Wonderful pop music-- perfect for singing and dancing and forgetting your troubles and feeling an absolute connection with your inner child.

m.ward: Post-War
As Toronto Life said, “M. Ward is making folk music cool for a new generation of listeners.” I can’t help but completely agree. The album has some beautiful, catchy songs that you can’t help but to tap your feet and wiggle your head to [while sitting at a desk at work].

Rainer Maria: Catastrophe Keeps Us Together
Who doesn’t love a trio of Wisconites making it big? Rainer Maria’s new album Catastrophe keeps getting better and better. With its poetic lyrics and resounding metaphors, you can’t help but want to sing along.

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
I really did LOVE the single “Crazy.” Love it the instant I heard it on the radio. An eclectic mix of funk, pop, rock, and hip hop [creating a style of music unique as it is reminiscent] these tracks totally make you move! “Does that make me crazy?”

India.Arie: Testimony: Vol. 1 Life & Relationship
Like a true woman, India Arie gives us another album that gives her earnest expressions of self-righteousness. Set to comforting folk-tinged R&B, I can’t wait to hear her next volumes. Her upbeat attitude makes you wonder why you can’t live the same easy, unrestricted life.

Posted at 08:35 am by Top Ten Albums
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Bottom on Top


10.) Bruce Springsteen

9.) Caliphone

8.) Justin Timberlake

7.) Sparklehorse

6.) The Coup

5.) Tom Waits/Gnarles Barkley (tie :-)

4.) Belle and Sebastian

3.) Hot Chip

2.) Joanna Newsome

1.) Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins


Posted at 12:28 am by Top Ten Albums
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Nov 30, 2006
Tim's Top Ten of '06 OR, Wait, ten albums came out this year? And they were worth listening to?

My brother Matt sets out rules on his Soundopinion blog every year and this year I felt the need to apply myself.  This list is in no way, shape or form an educated list, just music that I've been listening to.

Since we must build suspense awaiting the actual list here are the honorable/dishonorably mentions.

Close but no cigar: Zero 7 The Garden

A band that made it's money on three Scandanavians with more lo-fi sensibility than Portishead, and voices that rival Billie Holiday's soul took a big hit in this album.  They made an attempt to redefine their sound, which while it still sounded great, the highlights were in the wrong place.  Separating the album into its parts this is all around a good album.  The music has an interesting combination of lo-fi sensibilities and Burt Bacharach-like melodies.  Unfortunately the use of brass and more upbeat arrangements seemed to undo the album by overplaying the vocals.  Ultimately a good album that brings the Zero 7 feel into a new sound, but in doing so they lost a lot of what made them great and top ten worthy.

The Defibrillator Award: Bjork Drawing Restraint 9

I know this album is from last year, but I didn't know it existed until last month.  Plus, it wasn't released in the states until two months after everyone else got it.  So that has to buy me some leniency.  The reason this gets a mention is not because it is a great album, which it is.  It gets mentioned because I just want to say "Thank god she bounced back from Medulla."  Medulla was an album where she experimented with beatboxers and her own breathing rhythms in an album that didn't use instruments.  It came out sounding like an orgy looped through a sound box.  Creative triumph? yes.  Replay value? no.

  Drawing Restraint 9 is the soundtrack to the newest installment in the Drawing Restraint series of movies.  As such this album has a lot of Japanese influence, in fact she gets one of the world's greatest sho players, Mayumi Miyata, to play.  It also retains the charm of Bjork hearkening back to Vespertine.  Let's face it, Bjork needs something more than her panting to back her voice.  This album revived a flatline case.

Unexpectedly fun: Ben Folds & Rupert Gregson-Williams Over the Hedge Soundtrack

I almost put this at number ten, but I couldn't in good conscience do that.  I have a soft spot for William Shatner singing a child friendly "Rockin' the Suburbs" with Ben Folds though.  Besides that it actually is a solid album.  The first track is a melancholy song about being alone by Ben Folds called "Family of Me."  There's also a great cover of the Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket" that serves very well in this album. 

We know that Ben Folds does good work, but Rupert Gregson-Williams managed to work with Ben Folds in writing the score, it would be interesting to see how much he actually contributed, but it's hard to tell since his most significant contribution to music recently was the score to Battlefield 2, and unless you're a gamer who plays for the music, you wouldn't notice.  The actual score fit the movie very well and with Ben Folds's help it had a very good feel to it.  Nothing spectacular, but good enough I thought I'd mention it.  Besides, Shatner rocks.  Anyone who disagrees can take it outside where we'll settle it like men, that's right get your bat'leth (If you can correct me on continuity here, shame on you.)

What's more fun than talking about William Shatner though?  You guessed it, slamming Robbie Williams. Behold.  The most disappointing album of the year.  When you've drank all you can of the finely brewed coffee of music all you have left are...

The dregs: Robbie Williams Rudebox

If I would describe one album as craptacular this year, it would be this one.  Robbie Williams takes the cake, serving tray and spatula on Rudebox, that's why this one can only be described as "Nice Try" with a snicker.  He bragged before the release that this would be his favorite and best album.  It might be his favorite, but then we'd question his taste.  He made an attempt to create a hip-hop album this year after two very good rock albums in Intensive Care and Escapology.  The rhymes are insipid, the beats are too catchy to be any good, and the ones that aren't catchy are, let's face it, awful. 

  The album had a couple of songs that were stomach-able, like "Life on Mars" which was close to his previous material, but not close enough.  Just when you think the album might have some redeemable qualities, along comes the song "Dickhead" a thinly veiled attack on everything that ever made him angry.  Everyone from the person who lets the dog go to the bathroom on his lawn to Radiohead is in this song.  This attempt at shock gangsta' pop, my head is still reeling in disbelief, is the last track for some reason solidifying anyone's opinion on the album.  After hearing Robbie Williams say "Why you dis my bra', dickhead" you will never be the same.  Williams needs to put his tuxedo back on and start again from "Millennium" and find out where he went wrong.

Top Ten

10: John Pizzarelli Dear Mr. Sinatra

Son of the legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, John has made his own niche becoming more recognizable than his father.  This album is less about his jazz guitar skills and more on his voice.  The album, a tribute to Frank Sinatra, is a collection of songs that are recognizable as songs made famous by the Chairman of the Board.  So there's no point in talking about the quality of writing, but there's not point in asking if he does justice to them either.  Pizzarelli, despite being less than creative in the past ("Errand Boy for Rhythm" is the same song as "I've Got Rhythm" hoping that no one would notice) arranges each song in a fresh way making it sound like Frank Sinatra's greatest songs are being performed by the Nat King Cole Trio.  Overall a great album and my favorite Jazz album from the last few years.

9:  Nine goes to two EPs both by phenomenal bands that didn't deserve higher than nine because they were lazy this year.

   A.The Polyphonic Spree Wait EP

If only the Fragile Army would have come out on one of the first three release dates they had for it.  Sadly all fans of the Polyphonic Spree have to feel mocked by the release of an album called Wait.  Five songs, most of which covers of standards from the time when Polyphonic Spree was simply Tripping Daisy.  Covering Nirvana's "Lithium" was an interesting touch because instead of the hateful sounding song it was, Polyphonic Spree makes it sound almost hopeful.  But the shining star of the album is "Mental Cabaret."  More high octane than most of the Spree's material and a little rougher.  The 24 piece band had better hurry out with Fragile Army though.  A lot of people were impatient before, but this made them hungry.

    B.Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers Four Unlike Before

This one shares a space for a couple of reasons.  It was good enough to be on this list, but it wasn't exactly their most original work, just like Polyphonic Spree's album.  This four track album is a set of remakes of old songs.  While RCPM is an incredible band, they're still relying on the fact that people remember The Refreshments which was evident by their full length release from last year, a live album where they do their old catalog in a new way.  Four Unlike Before doesn't make you look at the songs in a new way, but they do make you say, he wouldn't it be cool if they had done it that way?

Both of these groups deserved a place for the effort this year mainly because if there were any full length albums from them this year they would definitely be on this list. 

8: Regina Spektor Begin to Hope

I didn't give much credence to Regina Spektor the first time I heard her.  She seemed to sound a bit too much like Nelly Furtado or Letters to Cleo for me to take her seriously as an original artist, just another voice riding the bandwagon.  Begin to Hope has a very specific sound to it and there's something in the music that keeps me happy.  At times the album also becomes rather eccentric which keeps me interested.  The sweet ballad of "Samson" is a good break from the plucky sounds that start the album.  The organization of the album from there seems to bring you back up slowly.  A very good tool in my opinion.  Another good song is "Apres Moi" which is wedged in right where attentions would start to fade.  Overall a good album, very creative, and uses a lot of piano.  I mean, that makes for good music.

7. Clint Mansell The Fountain Score

My dedication to Darren Aronofsky films and Clint Mansell's scores to them prompted me to listen to this one.  While he did do better work on the independent films of Requiem for a Dream and Pi which he did along side great artists like Aphex Twin and Autechre, his work is still great here.  I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't comment on how well it fits the movie, but if the score is any indication of the movie, it should be good.  He marries a full orchestra with his synthesizers better than Requiem, which was so good that a few studios stole pieces of it to advertise other movies, like Lord of the Rings: Two Towers.  However, the music was not as interesting as his previous two, but still quality nonetheless.

6. The Flaming Lips At War with the Mystics

What can really be said to justify The Flaming Lips being in sixth here?  They're the Flaming Lips, that's what can be said.  They found a formula that works.  Quirky sounds and good lyrics.  Most of the albums here I have because of their creativity and imagination, I can't think of too many more imaginative than the Lips.  Mystics feels like a Wagnerian opera written by The Flaming Lips.  There's an epic development with a manic storyline buried in there somewhere.  But, it's no higher than six because it doesn't offer anything we haven't seen or heard before from them.

5. The Cat Empire Cities: The Cat Empire Project .

The Cat Empire seems to be delivering in spades.  This album is number five mainly because the top four I will not be swayed from.  Two Shoes which was released in '05 was incredible and Cities shows them continuing the fun use of brass that is seriously lacking from music these days.  Overall the good feeling I get from this album is what gets it to rank here.  There's some influence from Jazz, blues, Latin sounds and Warner Brothers cartoons here to make an album that actually forces me to dance in my seat like very few albums do.  It's just a lot of fun.  I can't really describe anymore than that, if you want to know, pick it up.

4. Bob Schneider The Californian

It seems that a lot of my favorite music comes from the Southwest.  Roger Clyne Tempe, Arizona, Polyphonic Spree Dallas, Texas and Bob Schneider Austin, Texas.  Bob Schneider's been all over the board of musical style.  From his alt. folk sound in I'm Good Now to his ska work with the Scabs or the country work with Mitch Watkins in Underneath the Onion Tree, Bob Schneider has defied any sort of definition.  The only thing that critics can really agree on is that he's from Texas, but that's not entirely true.  The Californian is a straightforward rock album.  It's not particularly well written, it's not particularly well recorded, but if you've seen Bob Schneider live you'll appreciate this album as much as I do.  His music seems like an inside joke that you're in on once you've listened to the album.  Opening with the song "Holding in the World" that can only be said that it rocks and keeps going with great tracks like "The Californian" and "Game Plan."  Unfortunately, the recording chosen for his pirate song "The Sons of Ralph" was bad.  I have better recordings from the live CDs he sells at his shows.  All I can say about this album is that it rocks.

3. Johnny Cash American V: A Hundred Highways

So did everyone just forget about this?  One of America's greatest artists leaves us an album from beyond the grave and it gets no mention.  No I'm not talking about Tupac Shakur.  Next to this grizzled old man Tupac Shakur's just a pampered little snot from the suburbs... oh wait, next to anyone that's all he was.  But it's wrong to speak ill of the dead.  Johnny Cash started his American recordings in '94 and started releasing them staggered over time.  Numbers three, four, five and six were all finished in '04 and stored away.  Number five, released shortly after his death, is a melancholy album about the past.  He covers the old traditional "God's Gonna Cut you Down" and covers a series of other songs from artists like Gary Lightfoot and Kris Kristopherson.  The album has Cash's trademark voice and minimalist guitar style.  He performs the songs so wonderfully it's hard to imagine that the man has passed on.  I just can't wait for American VI, which has yet to be titled.

2. "Weird Al" Yankovic Straight Outta Lynwood

Yeah, I was shocked too.  How did a Weird Al album make it to number two?  How does it beat Johnny Cash?  Believe me I was shocked.  In making this list I chose albums that I enjoyed and felt stood out above and beyond others.  It can be agreed that American V is Johnny Cash's most recent album, but it can be argued that Straight Outta Lynwood is Weird Al's greatest album.  I certainly believe it.  This is one that I suggest buying instead of downloading.  It comes on a double sided disc which has videos for a few of the songs.  The videos are pretty good as he gave the songs to several animators and said, make a video. 

Amongst these animators was Bob K. of Ren and Stimpy fame who supplies an hilarious video for "Close but No Cigar" a song that seems to sum up my love life rather well and draws similarities to Cake as Wikipedia tells it, I'm not sure I agree with that.  The single "White and Nerdy" parodies Chamillionaire and hits a few more common notes to my life.  Other than what I have in common with this album it is the most musically sound. 

Despite the high amount of parodies on this album, he approaches them with a certain amount of maturity that was lacking before recently.  The track "Canadian Idiot" not only taunts Canadians for being "Beer swilling hockey nuts" but also attacks America's violent culture.  The same maturity is there for his original works.  "I'll Sue Ya"is a satire on the American culture of litigation.  "Don't Download This Song" has a very specific message, and if you go to his website you'll find that message pasted all over the front page in the form of free downloads.

The music overall is much better too.  His use of sound effects isn't as rampant as it used to be now favoring the use of music over the use of novelty.  Even the novelty song, "Weasel Stomping Day" isn't for all ages.  Weird Al's fanbase is growing up and he's growing with them.  Of all the albums I've bought this year, I think I've listened to this one the most.

The suspense is killing me.

1. Tom Waits Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

Tom Waits's new three disc set of Orphans is amazing.  He manages to touch on every style he's used over the years and improve upon them.  I once heard Tom Waits be described as having a voice that is smothered with cigarettes and drenched in whiskey.  I wouldn't want it any other way.  Orphans:  Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards triumphantly takes first place in my list despite being released less than two weeks ago.  It is an ambitious album that he separates into three distinct discs.

Brawlers: The first disc of the album uses his gospel and rock influenced sounds giving it the appropriate title of Brawlers.  These are the songs that make you think of Tom Waits as the sort of guy who's trawling the bars and looking for a fight.  They have a rough edge to them that sound as though they pack a mean right hook.

Bawlers:  This one is the ballads and the torch songs.  This is as sensitive as Tom Waits gets these days.  Almost a throwback to the days of Closing Time or The Heart of Saturday Night.  This is the disc that makes you think of Tom Waits as the guy at the end of the bar staring at a glass of bourbon like he's expecting it to tell him a story.

Bastards:  Bastards is the disc that was never understood.  Sounding like it was born of Mule Variations and Frank's Wild Years, Tom delivers the insanity of "Spidey's Wild Ride," stories about all kinds of sadistic animals and how they relate to humans in "Army Ants" and a bedtime story I would hope no one would tell their kid in "Children's story." This disc is the one where Tom is the guy in the corner of the smokey bar telling stories to anyone who will listen.  God help you if you stop to listen.

After it seemed that Tom Waits was irretrievable from the bizarre sounds of Blood Money & Alice and the insanity of Real Gone, all good albums, but pure insanity from start to finish, he releases Orphans.  The music is fresh, but at the same time the same as the Tom Waits that we've always loved.  The balance of the three discs is outstanding.  Each disc has it's own sound and is aptly titled.  The music can disturb and comfort in the same sitting and will always make you want to go get a shot of whiskey and go tell stories that never happened, but are at least entertaining.  Tom Waits has been the constant voice in music for me over the last seven years of my life and Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards keeps fresh the love of dive bars and bad whiskey for me.  If only a dive bar in South Korea didn't mean it was a Karaoke room that only serves Cass beer.

However, Tom Waits isn't for everyone, for that matter neither are most of the things on my list.  So let's see what everyone else is listening to before we cast the final votes.

Posted at 09:25 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Mike's Top Ten Albums of 2006

Mike's Top 10 of 2006 (in alphabetical order)

Eric Bachmann - To the Races

The best album you've ever heard that was written in the back of van. Eric does the impossible: making a CD with just a dude and his guitar that sounds interesting. We can only hope that someday he plugs back in and lays waste to everyone like we know he can…

David Bazan - Fewer Moving Parts

Surprisingly personal stuff from Mr. theLion. Directly addressing the Pedro breakup while expanding his vocal range beyond the typical low and lazy delivery. The ending of "Backwoods Nation" downright rocks.

Channels - Waiting for the next End of the World

Honestly, this may be J. Robbins' weakest effort in a few years. But who cares? He still eats the young of any of these younger "post-hardcore" bands.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

"The Island:" how many other songs combine erudite lyrics about the sea and… uh… possibly rape… with an early Genesis keyboard breakdown?

Bill Frisell - East/West (Further East/Further West)

Oft-mislabeled as simply jazz, Bill is one of the few musicians I've heard who is genuinely "original." This live CD set (and it's online-only companion) is a master class in improvisation; where the melody is never lost and you constantly wind up in a place you would never expect. Who else could take "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and make it ethereal, authentic and scary in under 6 minutes?..

Mastodon - Blood Mountain

There hasn't been a real metal CD in years. And now there is. In spades. A three-headed beast on the cover?? Sold. "The Sleeping Giant" will make you a believer. Unless you suck. Finally a band that is on par with the greats of the past.

MC Lars - The Graduate

This is the most fun I've had listening to a CD in forever. A post-punk laptop rapper talking about Moby Dick, the ladies of science fiction, and modern versus post-modern writers. If you don't smile while listening to this, you don't have a heart.

Tenacious D - The Pick of Destiny

"The Metal" sums up 30 years of a genre in 2 minutes. Parody and reverence have never been so closely intertwined.

TOOL - 10,000 Days

Still the standard-bearers. Still better than the 4 million bands that try to take pieces of the whole and exploit them. No one understands dynamics better, or the concept of an album that opens itself up only after repeat listens. It takes 5 years between discs simply because it takes the rest of us that long to catch up.

Tom Waits – Orphans

Honestly, I haven't even heard this yet. But it's TOM-FUCKIN'-WAITS. Of course it's gonna be great! Name me the bad Tom Waits CD? I thought so…

Posted at 09:03 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Matt's Top Ten Albums of 2006

10. Islands- Return to The Sea

I'm not going to lie...this one came down to a coin toss tie breaker with a couple of the other honorable mentions (although rather than declare a 6 way tie...i decided i had better go ahead and pick a number 10) Island's "Return to The Sea" is nonetheless one of the best and most simply creative and unique records of the year. Acting as sort of strange dichotomy between silly phrasing and lyrics to some pretty serious political and social statements. By far the album's standout track is the 4th cut on the record which is at the same time an upbeat melodic tune that exclaims the brutality & bloodshed caused by African diamond mining. Between this alternating of themes, flaming lips-esque bleep and bloop instrumentation and an uncanny knack for unconventional arrangements, this band, that actually rose from the ashes of indie-popsters "The Unicorns" develops something that The Unicorns were never able to truly define...a sense of heart. With this adventurous yet grounded approach, social consciousness and some pretty stellar arrangements to boot, Islands firmly earn themselves a spot on my list (whether it took a coin toss or not to get there).

9. Belle & Sebastian- The Life Pursuit

When I heard Belle & Sebastian was releasing an album this year (and returning to their roots at Matador records nonetheless!) I was to say the overcome with euphoria and expectations over what it would sound like. I was fresh off of their b-sides compilation from 2005 "Push Barmen to Open Old Wounds" that really reinvigorated my excitement for the band. With that said, upon nabbing an advance copy felt as though a sacred privilege had been bestowed down to me....and then as I listened to "The Life Pursuit", I suddenly came to the shocking assessment that (at the time) this album was nowhere good as I had imagined in my mind that it would be....the problem....I had imagined an album that nobody in the universe could have created because it took the sheer love i had for one of my favorite all time artists and projected it onto something that simply could not possibly exist. Fast-forward to March 06 with B&S playing at The Riverside here in Milwaukee (which by the way also resulted as one of my proudest achievements of the year). Listening to the tunes live made me realize that although this isn't "Fold Your Hands Child" or "Boy With The Arab Strap" it is still an exceptional album filled with excellent songs....and unlike the aforementioned two albums....they're not all sad laments.(in fact, the album might actually be more fun that 2003's love-fest "Dear Catastrophe Waitress") Songs like "White Collar Boy", "Sukie in the Graveyard" and "Another Sunny Day" in a weird way had somehow become just as instantly classic as many of the other songs in their catalogue that I am a complete freak about! Band masterminds Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson had indeed created yet another incredible chapter in what has become one of the greatest legacies by any indie band of the last 20 years.

8. Hot Chip-The Warning

In an effort to show that dance-pop doesn't have to totally suck, UK synth-a-riffic outfit Hot Chip very quietly released one of the best discs of the year with their latest album "The Warning". Utilizing a combination of brit-pop sensibility with a heavy grooving synth beat, Hot Chip delivers a disc in "The Warning" that consistently reveals new elements and complexities with each listen. Capitalizing on the oh so successful format of combing a tremendous command of programming and instrumental prowess with excellent arrangement and melodic intelligence, Hot Chip achieves a goal that frankly most dance music completely neglects.... an appreciation of the song and songwriting itself. The album is both a danceable, enjoyable listen, it also has rock solid songwriting that is complimented by all of the various electronic elements rather than overrun by them. Track's like the anthemic "Over and Over" display some of the years best hooks and a sense of humor about the band that really becomes one of their more enduring qualities. Though Hot Chip's "The Warning" sticks to the script with an almost solemn continuity, they also do a stellar job of bridging the gap between straight forward accessible brit-pop and electronic synth-dance, they do it without a single ounce of pretentiousness and inject a potent dose of depth that quite frankly is often lacking in both genres.

7. Neko Case-Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The fact that Neko Case's "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" makes only my #7 spot is in no way a reflection upon how truly brilliant this record really is and more a testament to the albums that ended up higher on my list. With that said "Fox Confessor" is everything a Neko Case record should be. A heavy dose of country-americana that is tempered by a smart and emotionally deep set of contemporary sensibilities and edge. Neko simply flourishes on the album where some of the direct country influence has been slightly toned down, her voice still soars and relates soulfully and sincerely to the listener. The opening track "Margaret Vs. Pauline" sets a somber tone for a record that routinely roots for the underdog. Never really fitting into the mold of either country crooning bombshell or indie rock rebel, Case finds herself more on this record with a sound that is both undeniably mature and still exceedingly fresh. The album's track "Widows Toast" begins with a haunting a cappella piece that nearly hits the reset button on the entire album serving as a strange center-piece to remind the listener that Neko Case belongs nowhere near the comparisons of those who would state her peers to be milk-toast singer-songwriters of the Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams variety. If a song like the exceptionally dark murder ballad "Dirty Knife" in which case chants over and over "...and the blood runs crazy" doesn't prove this fact, I don't know what does. What really sets Case apart is the fact that there is an edge there which ironically (if not openly) slaps the listener directly in the face right down to the album art which features a little girl surrounded by what look to be hungry foxes while cradling the human head of another little girl in her arms....and somehow it still looks beautiful, appealing and almost innocent. Sort of speaks volumes about Neko Case too....

6. Cat Power-The Greatest

The pure power and resonance of Cat Power's (AKA singer-songwriter Chan Marshall's) beaten, battered, smokey and utterly soulful voice in the opening lines of her 2006 album "The Greatest" make the case all too easy that this album is deserving of a spot in the top albums of the year. With the assistance of her Memphis All-Star Rhythm Band (featuring soul legends Teenie & Flick Hodges of Al Green's band and drummer Steve Potts of Book T & The MGs) Marshall reveals herself a somewhat changed woman if not painfully aware that she somehow has to move forward from a history of onstage breakdowns and erratic behavior intermediated by occasional flashes of pure genius to creating a more coherent and full picture of who she really is. The band however gives Marshall a new found strength and even in light of some moments of heart wrenching sorrow through the ballads, we find shifts to moments of true optimism such as on one of the albums standout tracks "Lived in Bars" in which 2/3s of the way in Marshall and the band break from the heartache to depart into a soulful Memphis that is accented more by a sense of contentment and appreciation than one of sadness or even irony. The horns, hammond B3 and vintage southern R& B guitar/drum/bass work on this record compliment Marshall's smokey and deeply emotive voice beautifully. Beyond all that however, at the end of the day it really is about the voice. Marshall may have the finest vocal instrument in music today. Seeing her live can really seal this fact home to the non-believer. Though at some times a little bit one dimensional and simplified, "The Greatest" finds Cat Power in a state that we haven't seen before, covering a wider range of emotional ground and spreading her wings as a strong, inelligent, eclectic artist.

5. The Decemberists- The Crane Wife

The signs were all there.... a critically acclaimed yet semi-popular west coast band that had been increasingly straying from their "Neutral Milk Hotel" inspired sea shanties in favor of pop oriented 3 minute songs jumps ship from their indie label to sign with the megalithic schlock machine at Capitol Records. What's their next move? How about a broad sweeping prog inspired opus of a concept album centering around a tragic Japanese folk tale about an old man who's wife provides for them by spinning fabric from feathers and turns into a crane that flies away when the man finds her out, with the 2nd track clocking in at a paltry 13 minutes that leaves the band sounding more like Peter Gabriel's Genesis or ELP than Death Cab for Cutie or The Shins...I'm sure that's exactly what Capitol was looking for. Capitol Records however having learned the lessons of Wilco, The Flaming Lips and numerous other breakout indie hits, clearly realized that it was ok sometimes to let a band write the songs that they want to write, even if it doesn't necessarily lead to a moment of instant populist success. The Crane Wife in all honesty is a tremendous record and although at some times the major label jump does add a somewhat undesired level of slick production, it is obvious that front man Colin Meloy is in clear control, even if it does drive the band in some unexpected directions. Herein lies the hope that perhaps some of the majors are finally learning the lesson that if they let a great band flourish into becoming a career artist rather than searching for the magic bullet single, ultimately the result is a stronger and more durable artist that might just do something brilliant on their watch.

4. Joanna Newsom- Ys
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Harpist/singer/songwriter Joanna Newsom's latest effort came somewhat out of left field in terms of my expectations of the great albums this year. Newsom's previous release "Milk Eyed Mender" was beautifully constructed yet very stripped down (only Newsom and harp) and thoroughly an acquired taste given Newsom's unorthodox approach to vocals and meandering lyrics. "Ys" finds Newsom with a full band and more importantly the presence of production dream team Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey and a zillion other things producer), Jim O'Rourke (Wilco's country killer) and most notably the return of Beach Boys' Pet Sounds arranger Van Dyke Parks giving the album a musical pedigree that seemed only to be missing Phil Specter (who couldn't be reached for comment). Having toned down some of the oddities in her vocals since "Mender" and instead trading them in for songs of epic proportion, (5 songs on the record clocking in at nearly 60 minutes long!) movement and progression- Newsom becomes a child like storyteller with wisdom far beyond her years. The medieval sounding arrangements (due much in part to the shear mechanics of having a harp as the lead instrument) are wonderfully complimented by Van Dyke Parks' soaring string arrangements. Lyrically, Newsom skillfully strings together her stories with such poetry and grace that even though it sits somewhat in the background, the ubiquitous force- the emotion with which she plays and speaks, takes an almost self evident control over the music. I've heard more than one comparison to Bjork when talking about Newsom and quite honestly, I find it almost to be a little bit of and insult to the music as Ms. Newsom is truly a tour de force unto herself. Though her nuances and idiosyncrasies (not to mention the sheer length of her songs) may prevent her from developing any kind of mainstream appeal or god forbid radio play, Newsom transcends all of this by producing a massively exceptional and creative work.

3. Beirut- Gulag Orkestar

Musical prodigy might actually be an understatement and somewhat unfair assessment of 19-year old Zach Condon, the sole force behind his musical pseudonym "Beirut". Coming seemingly out of nowhere this year, Beirut's full length debut "Gulag Orkestar" was indisputably one of the finest releases of the year and his blazingly unorthodox approach to music shows an artist with seemingly endless potential. Steeped heavily in Eastern European musical styles, in which he played nearly every instrument on the album himself (and not a single guitar on the whole record!) Condon approaches the concept of incorporating multiple world influences with a true sincerity and proficiency that is often lacking. Though vocally, Condon is somewhat reminiscent of David Byrne, I would dare to say that his approach to world & multicultural music might actually be more forthright. Byrne & The Talking Heads as well as relative newbies DeVotchka & Gogal Bordello always seem to have (whether it's intentional or not) almost a tongue in cheek attitude about the music before they've actually perfected it. In Gogol Bordello's case, it almost comes off as parody. Though certainly not perfect, Condon's Beirut seems tremendously dedicated and unwaveringly sincere and respectful for it. Whereas his lyrics at times are nearly indecipherable, Condon's approach is clearly more in touch with the concept of creating a sonically complex and interesting environment where the texture and landscape of the pure sound tells the story above all things. Gulag Orkestar is truly about exploration and in many ways, it's a refreshing glimpse of the future of alternative music. Exploring musical genres of other cultures and of the past is certainly nothing new. What makes Condon's approach so compelling is the fact that he takes ownership of it and rather than becoming a visitor in a new place, he establishes residency. A tremendous debut to say the least.

2. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins- Rabbit Fur Coat

The career of a front-person turned solo artist is always a strange road to travel. The question of whether the move propels the artist to a new height is generally met with the cold realization that you were better off staying with a band that could evolve over time....unless you're Jenny Lewis, whose left turn from her day job fronting Indie Rock outfit Rilo Kiley to Gospel-Country-Americana bombshell produced one of the finest records of the year. On "Rabbit Fur Coat" Lewis speaks with such a personal (and seemingly personable) tone, it's as if we are listening to an old friend vent her frustrations, express her desires and divulge pain and heartache. From the albums lead a cappella opening track "Run Devil Run" Lewis quickly asserts that she didn't come to the party alone with the soaring vocal harmonies of Chandra and Leigh Watson that are prevalent and necessary throughout the record. Additional guests on the album include producers M. Ward, Mike Mogis & collaborators Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) who ironically combine for the album's one weak spot a somewhat pretentious cover of Traveling Wilbury's "Handle With Care'. That aside, there are true moments of beauty on this record including possibly the albums best song, the dazzlingly beautiful ballad "Melt Your Heart" or the album's heartbreaking title track that takes us through a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional account of a child-actresses troubled relationship with her overzealous mother. Track's like "The Big Guns" in which Lewis exclaims "Have mercy, have mercy, let's pretend that everybody here wants peace" or "Rise Up With Fists" where she sings "It's just you and God, but what if God's not there? But his name is on your dollar bill" Jenny displays a social conscience an unwavering irony and sly intelligence to the music that remains prevalent throughout the record. I was admittedly worried when I popped this record on early this year to find that in her life as a solo artist, Jenny Lewis had taken to sounding less and less like (one of my favorite bands) Rilo Kiley. The good news was, more than ever, she was sounding more and more like somebody we knew all along- Jenny Lewis.

1. M. Ward- Post-War
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Simple, minimalist, timeless and at the same time absolutely breathtaking. M. Ward's 2006 effort "Post-War" is simply put nothing short of a masterpiece. From the closing line's of the album's first track "Poison Cup" in which Ward exclaims "I'm gonna to give you everything", though it sounds cliche, that's exactly what he gets very close to doing with this superb recording. Featuring guests Neko Case, My Morning Jacket's Jim James & instrumental everyman- Mike Mogis, M. Ward proves through and through that "Post-War" may very well be the moment in which he has solidly defined himself as an artist. Ranging from the somber sorrow of the record's title track to the Americana shuffle & shimmer of "Chinese Translation" to the sheer lumbering power of the Daniel Johnston cover "To Go Home" (feat Neko Case) Ward shows a diversity and understanding of injecting intelligence, emotion and technical ability into songs that few artists possess. Tracks such as Rollercoaster & Magic Trick display both a sense of life and humor to them while "Today's Undertaking" "Poison Cup" and "Eyes on The Prize" are very quietly massively complex and expansive works that have an emotional depth and sheer innate beauty that defies convention. Lyrically, the record seems both deeply personal and at the same time wonderfully ambiguous with a larger sense of general truths as opposed to specifics. Ward, throughout the record makes some truly beautiful lyrical statements that relate social, personal and spiritual sentiments. One thing that is easy to forget through all of this is actually what a fantastic technical musician Ward actually is. With an understated brilliance, Ward effortlessly flies through some simply amazing guitar work. This afterall seems to be the recurring them for M. Ward however. As an artist, his appeal & true genius is not even close to fully appreciated (or even recognized) upon a first listen. Post-War is truly a series of quiet epics & masterworks that to the non-discerning ear very well could go unnoticed. His music takes time and dedication truly appreciate. It doesn't slap you in the face with any sort of instant accessibility, nor does it make an effort to be overly obtuse or abstract simply for the sake of doing so. With a beautifully blended folk/americana hybrid, Post-War could be the score to an epic travel film or simply the soundtrack to a contemplative mood. M. Ward's vision of old-sounding new performance may not instantly resonate with everybody....but then again neither does truly great literature, masterworks of visual art or virtually any other medium that is eventually recognized as the work of a truly great artist in their prime.

such a great year for could I choose just 10?! Here are my honorable mentions

Honorable Mentions
Lily Allen- Alright Still
Annuals- He Be Me
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton- Knives Don't Have Your Back
Tilly and The Wall- Bottoms of Barrels
Mates of State- Bring it Back
Band of Horses-Everything All The Time
TV on The Radio- Return To Cookie Mountain
The Hold Steady- Boys & Girls in America
The Flaming Lips- At War with The Mystics
Regina Spektor-Begin to Hope
Badly Drawn Boy-Born in the UK
Calexico- Garden Ruin
Black Keys-Magic Potion
Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche

Posted at 08:51 pm by Top Ten Albums
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Nov 23, 2006
Top Ten Albums of 2006: The Rules

Hey Everybody

It's thanksgiving weekend!! Time to get together with the ones you love to share quality time, enjoy a good home cooked meal & watch the Detroit Lions find yet another creative way to lose at football....unless of course your name is Matt Beringer, in which case that means it's time to once again devise, revise & release the rules and posting directions for The 4th annual Sound Opinion Top Ten Albums lists of 2006! 

Yep...It's that time of year again!! Prove your musical snobbery superiority to your peers & further demonstrate your tendency towards compulsive behavior by posting your favorite albums of 2006 on my weblog has been woefully lacking updates as of late!)

In addition, this year I'll be hosting a Listening/CD Burning Party at The Pabst Theater Pub Dec 29 at 7:30pm.  It'll be free drinks, cool folks and a great opportunity to listen to & get your hands on some excellent music. All you have to do is show up with your Top 10 CDs!  (more details on that coming soon!)

so without further ado....I'd like to present:


1.  Album must have a release date between November 1 2005 and January 1 2007- Always the lead-off rule and  (for some bizarre reason) always the most difficult one for people to follow.... What's that? You haven't listened to 10 new albums yet this year? (really?) I'm sorry to hear that!  That's bad news! (and a little hard for me to imagine in the world of IMs, burnable CDs & the Internet)...The good news?- you have until the end of the year to get cramming!  Ask a friend, relative, loved one or family pet to help you up your knowledge!  On the practical side of things  If you're not sure whether something is eligible try either The iTunes Store, or .  All of these places list reasonably accurate release dates. 

2. Every selection must be accompanied by a short yet poignant explanation- preferably a paragraph or two for each...a simple list just isn't good enough....prove why it's in your top ten (otherwise, why should we care?) .  For a few examples- check out some of last year's lists here:

3.  No Greatest Hits Albums, Reissues or other bogus loopholes like that: Time Magazine recently announced their top 100 albums of all time and curiously enough, split it up by decade.  Under "The 2000s" they listed "Elvis-30 #1 Hits", "Hank Williams-'The Essential Collection'" & "Muddy Waters-'The Anthology'" ....nevermind the fact that all 3 artists had been dead for at least 20 years each (50 years in Hank W's case!) add to that fact that Time had made a huge number of criminally unforgivable omissions (including but certainly not limited to the complete absence of any Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits and a host of others) & Time had given me a great example of how record label cash cows can edge out new and important artists for an undeserved 20 millionth chance in the spotlight. (not that i don't like Elvis...but enough is enough already!) 

4. B-Sides, Soundtracks, Compilations and Live Albums need special explanation -  Yes, Sufjan Stevens put out 2 new recordings this year. No, they weren't technically albums (or were they?) An argument COULD be made that this was the case.... On a related note...strangely I'm still waiting for somebody to choose & formulate an explanation on one of the editions of "Now That's What I Call Music" "The O.C. Soundtracks" or the ever popular "Kidz Bops" for their top ten....oh please do!

5. Comments Welcome- The blog space has a section for comments that I would greatly encourage you to utilize to speak your mind on other people's lists. We'll probably end up chatting this up at The Listening Party as well.  If you decide to go negative (which is certainly fair game...and kinda fun) please make sure your list is already posted (so that at least backlash is an option) and please, if my 10 year old cousin decides to post....take it easy on the little's not his fault that he still finds that girl so 'Fergalicious'

6.  Visual aids encouraged- I usually  put the album cover in (because that just kind of makes sense) but if you feel that putting up a picture of your Hamster Lulu's latest litter of pups because it will help emphasize your point...who am I to judge?  (also on a side note...hamster babies really are called "pups"....look it up...learn something new every day, don't you?)... also YouTubes, Myspace links & anything else that will help you state your case are welcome- 4 years ago when we did the first list, none of this stuff was it is...take advantage of it.  (plus, what better way to say that the new TV on the Radio video totally kicks ass than by just showing people).  

7.  Feel free to make other year end lists/awards/recognition/honorable mentions- Usually my favorites in this category involve disappointments & stuff that just generally sucks (what better way to get revenge on a band that turned out to be totally awful for tricking you into spending $9.99 on iTunes for their latest piece of schlock than airing your distaste for them in a public forum?)  Conversely, honorable mentions that didn't make your list as well as single categories like Best Song, Best Band, Best Live show etc etc are all valid.  I personally may be putting together my own fake awards show called "The Matty's" for this one.

8.  Please forward this e-mail to anybody you think might be interested and worthy- I'd be really happy to get as many posts this year as possible and as for the Listening/CD Burning Party...friends of friends are definitely welcome.

9. Your list must be posted in a timely manner in order to be taken seriously.- Would be really great if everybody could have theirs posted by the listening party at The Pabst on Dec 29 although I don't want that to prevent you from making a list.  

10.  Any of these rules can be bent, reinterpreted or broken at any time- Yes...just like every year...I spend the better part of an afternoon writing rules for you to follow only to nonchalantly mention at the end of said list that none of the rules really matter anyway.  I'm clutch like that.

How to post & view the lists

All of the lists will be posted at

to post

login in to sound opinion at 
Username: topten
Password:  albums

and select "New Entry" under sound opinion blog after the login screen. (FYI, if you have Safari for Mac, you might want to try Internet Explorer or a different browser....for some reason, blogdrive & Safari don't seem to agree with each other)


if e-mail your list and explanations to me at:

I will be more than happy to post them on the site

Other than that, hopefully we'll see you at The Listening Party Dec 29 at The Pabst.

Have a great weekend and happy listing friends!

Posted at 08:58 am by Sound_Opinion
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