Tuesday, June 28, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2006

Good evening everyone, and welcome to my first complete do-over of a "Wonderful Year" blog.

From a music standpoint, 2006 seems like an eternity; a different world, even. Some shameless opportunist gave Kevin Federline and Paris Hilton record deals, emo-pop was still in vogue, and people were anticipating rapper Lil' Jon's first solo album (which was released to minimal fanfare four years later). Justin Bieber was in sixth grade, Lady Gaga was still a struggling cabaret pianist in New York City, and Adele --the unlikeliest woman to ever have a #1 hit for five straight weeks in the US-- was just an average British high school student with a good singing voice and zero stage presence. Looking back, 2006 was also a challenging year to be a music critic. The splintering of subgenres in the early 2000s resulted in a year (not unlike 2005) where there was no consensus "best album." Debates were raging and endless. With that said, I have posted the list below fully confident in knowing it looks like no one else's top twenty.

So why the mulligan? When I first posted my list 4 1/2 years ago, I whipped it out almost as an afterthought; several notable albums were excluded because I hadn't listened to them. Of course, there's also the sentimental factor: the rock albums on this list more or less comprise the unofficial soundtrack to my junior year at Illinois State University. I'll listen to any given disc and find myself waxing nostalgic about college. Most of the hip-hop and R&B selections, however hit my radar later on. Plus, I thought it'd be fun to see what's held up since '06; oddly enough, most of the albums that made my list the first time around made the new cut (sorry, Hotel Lights) though their positions vary.

(note: parentheses note previous ranking)

1. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys. After the Britpop movement of Oasis, Blur, and Pulp collapsed upon its own weight in the early 2000s, the British rock scene didn't make much of an American dent for awhile. Hey hey, along came the Monkeys, four Yorkshire lads who were in their early teens when Damon Albarn and the Gallagher brothers fought for world control. One of the first rising bands to take advantage of internet word-of-mouth, the Monkeys played raucous dance-punk and made the entire English-speaking world eat out of their hand. More than five years later, Whatever is a musical statement they have yet to compliment, much less replicate.
2. Black Holes and Revelations, Muse. After flirting with epic bombast on 2003's Absolution, Muse goes all in on the theatrics with Revelations. Sounding and acting like the missing link between Freddie Mercury and Thom Yorke, frontman Matthew Bellamy is the little fella with the big voice, the British rock deity for a generation that badly needs one. For those of you listening to this CD for the first time, I'd go with the expensive headphones.
3. Yellow House, Grizzly Bear. The honor of most improved band of '06 goes to this New York City art-rock quartet. Humongous and intimate at the same time, Yellow House has better songs, stronger production values, and more heart than GB's somewhat forgettable debut two years earlier. The guitars have a
chugging cool that will remind one of The Velvet Underground, but the meat is in the harmonizing, which evokes The Beach Boys by way of The Mamas & The Papas.
4. St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley (2)
5. Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio (3)

6. Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, Neko Case (4)
7. Jay Dee Donuts, J Dilla
8. Modern Times, Bob Dylan (6)
9. Futuresex Lovesounds, Justin Timberlake
10. The Information, Beck (1). I'm not embarassed to admit I like this album, but looking back this was not a worthy numero uno. As I stated back in '06, the best tracks are upfront; the more experimental second half of the disc is alternately trippy, meandering, and maybe a tad pretentious. Regardless, I can't give an album that contains "Cellphone's Dead," "Nausea," and "Think I'm In Love" any bad press; if this were an EP, though The Information would be a masterpiece.

11. Sam's Town, The Killers
12. The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance
13. Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids (10)
14. First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes
15. Carnavas, Silversun Pickups. This intriguing debut long-player shares a few things in common with Grizzly Bear: striking harmonies, lush dream-pop cravings, fuzzy guitars. The greatest difference is SP's debt to Smashing Pumpkins and their varying allusions to the '90s grunge sound; the songs are less twee and more brooding. Regardless, there's something new to discover with each listen.

16. Begin to Hope, Regina Spektor
17. Springtime Can Kill You, Jolie Holland (11)
18. Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins
19. Show Your Bones, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
20. Broken Boy Soldiers, The Raconteurs. Long before Jack White had a gazillion side projects, in 2006 he had only one distraction from the White Stripes, this short-lived collaboration with fellow Detroit native Brendan Benson. "Steady As She Goes" is the no-brainer hit single, a catchy lark of a tune that was intended to be a one-off effort and proved to be so much more. The '70s rock stylings of cuts like "Hands," "Intimate Secretary," and "Yellow Sun" otherwise carry a fun though imperfect offering.


"Crooked Teeth," Death Cab For Cutie
"Dani California," Red Hot Chili Peppers
"How We Operate," Gomez
"World Wide Suicide," Pearl Jam
"Tear You Apart," She Wants Revenge
"Breathe Me," Sia
"Satellite," Guster
"Ain't No Other Man," Christina Aguilera
"Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That," Robert Randolph & The Family Band
"Punkrocker," Teddy Bears feat. Iggy Pop

(note: due to site HTML limits, I could not post links to all the clips. They are, however all readily available on YouTube.)

1. "Knights of Cydonia," Muse. A solid contender for video of the decade, "Cydonia" is several masculine fantasies thrown in a six-minute salad bowl: a kung fu shoot-um-up spaghetti western... in space?
2. "Hung Me Out to Dry," Cold War Kids. The oeurve of early indie-flick director John Cassavetes is homaged in this gritty, eye-catching B&W beauty.
3. "Nausea" (Version 1), Beck. Everything is better with marionettes... right?
4. "Here It Goes Again," OK Go. The first of several memorable "concept" videos by the Chicago-based quarter, it's a telltale sign that '06 was a strong year for clips if something this wonderful could only muster fourth place.
5. "Knife," Grizzly Bear. Speaking of outer space...
6. "Fidelity," Regina Spektor. A certain petite Russian-Jewish pianist/songwriter first gained notoriety with this MTV2 and MTV-U favorite, which proves that a little color makes a big difference.
7. "Rise Up With Fists," Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins. A tongue-in-cheek recreation of "Hee Haw," complete with a Junior Samples lookalike and a wacky cameo from Sarah Silverman.
8. "Read My Mind," The Killers. The stars of the popular Japanese kids' show "Hirake! Ponkikki" interact with Brandon Flowers et al. on a catawampus, whirlwind trip to Tokyo.
9. "Crazy," Gnarls Barkley. How no one thought of doing a trippy, Rorschach ink blot-inspired video until the mid-2000s is beyond me.
10. "Move Along," The All-American Rejects. The song is pop piffle, the lyrics border on cliché, but this clip is cleverly edited.

Before I ask for your thoughts, I'd like to touch upon some of the breaking news that has occured in the past 36 hours. As you might expect, I am relieved to know that my corrupt laughingstock of a former governor is facing a minimum of ten years' jail time. The verdict was not only long-anticipated by my fellow Illinoisans, but also a highly damnening (potential) death knell for the Land of Lincoln's incubator of greasy palms and coffer-filling. I feel sorry for his wife and two young daughters, but I have absolutely no pity upon Rod Blagojevich. Without question, justice has been served.


  1. It still bothers me a little bit that we had to spend all this money for a 2nd trial because some stupid old lady couldn't live with herself to send a corrupt man to jail. So that's what, 23 out of 24 jurors thought he was guilty?

    Watching "Chicago Tonight" discussing the verdict, 2 defenders of Blagojevich (including Sam Adam Jr) were all saying "he was doing what goes on in politics". Which just shows you how arrogant & fucked up politics are in this state.

    I really don't feel sorry for Patti - she's just as evil, crooked & corrupt as he is. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if she was the force driving behind him. It's unfortunate that those kids had to have two awful, delusional people as parents. Rod was basically "trying to break into a safe with the wrong combination". Ironic how the platform he first ran on ended up being totally hypocritical and his undoing.

    I hope attitudes of voters are changing in this state, because no politician or public servant is above the law. Unfortunately it takes the public years & absolutely horrible circumstance to finally realize what's going on.

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