Non-Dead Content: The Year in Music 2006

Here at Live Blogging Dead HQ East, we're busy listening to 4/23/77 Springfield Civic Center and taking notes for a review to be posted soon. (None of our loyal readers has hooked me up with 3/18 or 3/19, so I'll have to skip those for now).

In the meantime, here's a little Non-Dead content: my annual Year in Music list. Bob has already posted his here, but since I have nowhere else to park mine, here it is. These lists give a little insight into what we listen to when we're not scouring the Dead's vaults in service to our loyal readers.

Top Fifteen Albums

1. Lily Allen – Alright, Still

A Britpop masterpiece whose sunny sound is belied by its cutting lyrics -- never before has an album of put-downs and cut-ups sounded like such a party. Allen's tough-girl posturing gets all the press, but the fact that she is able to lay bare her vulnerabilities so movingly in "Littlest Things" is what clinches this as album of the year.

One to download: LDN

2. Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock and Roll

Another brilliant debut from the
UK. Catchy, ironic punk that will have your head bobbing along as you laugh out loud.

One to download: Emily Kane

3. M. Ward – Post-War

This indie folkster delivers the goods in his follow-up to "
Transistor Radio." This one sounds like a shoo-in for album of the year for the first nine tracks, but it loses a little steam at the end.

One to download: To Go Home

4. Mates of State – Bring It Back

This duo's surging pop sound, featuring a nice he/she vocal balance, is vaguely reminiscent of The New Pornographers. The first of two albums on this list with this caveat: ignore the bizarre album cover.

One to download: For the Actor

5. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

A project that sounds like a snoozer -- an album of folk songs associated with civil rights-era icon Pete Seeger -- turns out to be a delightful hootenanny of the highest order with some brassy New Orleans style swagger thrown in for good measure. Arguably, no album in Springsteen's back catalog is more fun.

One to download: Jacob's Ladder

6. The Sounds – Dying to Say This to You

In a perfect non-Clear Channel, non-payola world, this blast of Blondie-meets-Avril Lavigne retro Swedish pop would be a Top 40 hit. The second of two albums on this list with this caveat: ignore the bizarre album cover.

One to download: Painted By Numbers

7. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

If you think you know this Scottish band from their previous efforts (generally marked by their delicacy and introspection) this album will certainly surprise you. It's track after track of exuberant catchy pop.

One to download: Another Sunny Day

8. The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics

It's a testament to just how good
"Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" was that an album this strong could be considered a letdown. It's a more raw, organic sound than that 2002 classic, but if you're patient with it, it'll grow on you.

One to download: My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion

9. Cat Power – The Greatest

Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) turns in a lovely set of typically low-key soul and pop. It's not exactly "poppy" in the traditional radio-ready sense, but it's the most accessible album of her career.

One to download: Living Proof

10. Ray LaMontagne – Til the Sun Turns Black

A far more subdued and atmospheric affair than his excellent debut
"Trouble," and an even better showcase for his "not-since-Van Morrison" voice. Nearly every song after the take-it-or-leave-it opener is a real keeper.

One to download: Barfly

11. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Speaking of incredible voices, Neko Case could sing the phone book and I'd listen raptly. Actually, listen to some of the gibberish on this album and it may as well be the phone book. But regardless of what she's singing about on this one, she's in top form vocally and her band sounds great.

One to download: Hold On, Hold On

12. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat

The five best tracks on this release stack up very well with the five best on any other album from 2006 – but unfortunately there is also a lot of filler. Lewis’ voice recalls that of Neko Case, but whereas Case’s lyrics are sometimes too obtuse for her own good, Lewis’ are occasionally too transparent.

One to download: You Are What You Love

13. Tom Petty – Highway Companion

A great collection of songs from the consummate professional. This batch of tunes (delivered sans Heartbreakers) sounds both fresh and familiar.

One to download: Down South

14. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

Jack White's on quite a roll: first his excellent contributions to the
"Cold Mountain" soundtrack, then producing Loretta Lynn's much-ballyhooed comeback "Van Lear Rose," and 2005's triumphant return from the White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan." He’s earned the benefit of the doubt and his winning streak continues with this infectious garage rock side project.

One to download: Steady As She Goes

15. Los Lobos – The Town and the City

A reliably solid effort that touches on immigration issues without being heavy-handed.

One to download: Little Things

Also Recommended (In this Exact Particular Order)

Bob Dylan – Modern Times

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy listening to this one very much, but come on, it’s a little overrated. Only Dylan can get away with so much blatant “borrowing.” (How can he claim exclusive songwriting credits for “Rollin and Tumblin’,” “Someday Baby,” and “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” without acknowledging these songs’ origins in the folk domain?) And I don’t ever need to hear Dylan record another awkward lounge shuffle along the lines of “Beyond the Horizon.” But it's recommended listening nonetheless.

The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth

A little bloated and overambitious, but cut out the fat, and you’ve got ten or eleven songs that stack up pretty well with “Is This It” and “Room On Fire.”

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Not quite the rock saviors that the British press would have you believe, but it's certainly worth checking out nonetheless.

Chris Smither – Leave the Light On

Although the sound is timeless on this smart folk-blues album, some of the lyrics are quite topical, as on the Bush-bashing “Diplomacy” and the intelligent design send-up “Origin of Species.”

Built to Spill – You in Reverse

Doug Martsch’s guitar wizardry is as impressive as ever, but the quality of the songwriting isn’t up to the standard set on “Keep It Like a Secret.”

Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

A downer of a listen, and some of the covers are downright corny – but it’s Johnny Cash and in the twilight of his life he’s got the gravitas that's required to validate these tracks. Listen to "Rose of My Heart" three or four times and you'll go from finding it too cheesy for words to memorizing the lyrics in order to sing it to your spouse as you slow dance to it.

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Features the single of the year, “Crazy.” None of the other songs quite matches that gem, but there’s plenty of highly enjoyable bizarro hip-hop on this release from Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse.

Solomon Burke – Nashville

The 60’s soul legend pays homage to classic country with help from Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris. Good, but not quite as strong as his brilliant 2002 comeback “Don’t Give Up On Me.”

Gomez – How We Operate

A nice low-key effort from the British blues rockers who have settled into a nice mature groove at this point in their careers.

Secret Machines – Ten Silver Drops

Strong noisy charging psychedelic rock that isn’t quite the equal of these Texans’ debut, "Now Here is Nowhere."

Slightly Disappointing

Beck – The Information

You'll enjoy it when it's playing, but twenty minutes after it ends you'll be hard pressed to recall a single memorable melody or lyric.

Beth Orton – Comfort of Strangers

It's certainly not bad, but after repeated listens, it just doesn't match up with "Central Reservation" or "Trailer Park." She doesn't seem to be evolving much as an artist.

Golden Smog – Another Fine Day

An enjoyable effort from the alt-country supergroup featuring members of Wilco and the Jayhawks, but it fails to reach the heights scaled on "Down By the Old Mainstream" or "Weird Tales."

Rhett Miller – The Believer

It seems like he's desperate to become a solo pop star, but these songs certainly won't do it for him. Confirms once and for all that Miller is at his best with his Old 97's bandmates.

Hugely Disappointing

Nelly Furtado – Loose

Calculated sellout of the year. It seems like it worked, so good for her. But none of these mindlessly sexed-up songs is anywhere near as good as "I'm Like a Bird," which now seems destined to eternally remain her best song.

Slightly Overrated

Neil Young – Living With War

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment of this Bush-bashing release, but many of these songs consist solely of ham-fisted slogans, particularly on the more lyrically topical songs like "Looking For a Leader" (complete with cringe-inducing lines like, "Maybe it's Obama!"). The more subtle songs, like "After the Garden" and "Families," are the ones that won't sound silly in ten years.

The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

There are some great songs on here like "First Night," "You Can Make Him Like You," and "Southtown Girls," but what it comes down to is that I don't find Craig Finn's debauched-salvation-in-a-cocktail-napkin lyrics to be all that revelatory. And I don't really care for his speak-slash-singing voice.

No comments: