Twenty from 2006

Here are 20 of the best songs I heard first in 2006. This year's been one of sing-a-longs, big arrangements, and party-fun songs. Not many of my "core" artists released noteworthy records this year, so what we've got is a year-end snapshot of my years listening. It was (as in years past) tough to bring it down to twenty, but worthwhile in the end. I'm not a critic, just a lover of good sounds so don't do that ever-so postmodern critique-the-critic thing, please? If you see a little pink star next to an album name, it's one of my favorites for the year. Lastly, the list isn't in order of greatness - rather I tried to create a nice flow for listening.


"Wolf Like Me" TV On The Radio (Return To Cookie Mountain*)
Show you what all the howlin's for
This song kicks off Return To Cookie Mountain, which I listened straight through at least 20 times last July. It took me a few listens to fully appreciate it, and now i can easily call it my favorite album of the year. But this list isn't about albums, is it? I love the thick vocals, driving drums, and distorted everything on this song - great rock production. It keeps me coming back cause it's a sinister, sexy, noisy, creepy anthem. "We're howlin' forever, oh, oh!"

"Raising the Sparks" Akron/Family (Akron/Family and Angels Of Light)
What the bachelors of old all were missing
A southern-rock stomp with hints of some kind of world music rhythmic hullabaloo. The verses are a bit on the weak side but are MORE than made up for by frenetic "Ya-da-das" and the most amazing revival-esque a capella shouting stomp. (best_drunken_party_singalong_ever.) Chris saw this live and I didn't. My kids love to run around the house when I put this on. I love to run around the house when I put this on. This album is from 2005, but the Akron/Family self titled release from 2006 is really worth listening to as well.

"Many Rivers To Cross" The Walkmen (All My Life/Many Rivers To Cross)
And I merely survive because of my pride
On a backdrop of bright cymbals, a simple rock beat, strumming acoustics and zum-zumming strings, three jets take off in the form of electric guitars to sing us the sweetest sliding riff. That's what I picture swirling around Hamilton Leithauser's head as he guts out this song. He was born to sing it, you see. The Walkmen take Harry Nilsson's cover of Jimmy Cliff's original to the next level - the music is crisper and more cinematic, the vocals more gutteral and desperate.

"Kingdom" Richard Buckner (Meadow*)
Downtown, let down
This tune is from Buckner's best record since... Since. He's brought back a bit of song structure (but not too much) and a more nuanced production technique. The VOICE is still a major draw for me, but this song in particular sports two moments where slight echoey voices swoop in like angels to back-up the main vocals. It's such a fleeting delight for me that I keep going back for that "just one more listen."

"You Don't Love Me Yet" Various Artists
Cause without you it would never do
This is some kind of Swedish art collective sing-a-long project by somebody named Johanna Billing. You can read about it here. There are lots of voices taking turns of the verses, with a troupe of them making it happen on the chorus. It's funny because when I think about this song I file it in the "feel-good" category, but the lyrics aren't so feeling good - it's that "I love you and you don't me" kind of thing again. Sway, sing along, smile, and cry.

"Did I Step On Your Trumpet" Danielson (Ships)
Good luck gettin' this!
A couple of months ago I listened to this song over and over on my train ride home, hoping to memorize it. I happened to be running on very little sleep and this song bounced me along from dream to train and dream to train that evening. Overall, a good experience. When I put it on for Emmett and ZIon they instantly fell in love too - commanding endless repeat listens. First of all, it's fun. The call and response between Daniel and the backup singers is priceless (particularly on the diversion regarding his pet parrot). Lyrically, it closes with some good advice for me this year: "Be just who you're made to be. Pappa is so mighty pleased with thee." There's also a silly video for this song that's worth watching.

"Young Folks" Peter Bjorn & John (Writer's Block*)
Usually when things has gone this far people tend to disappear
The best song from a really great record. There's a male/female back and forth thing going on here with sort-of pedestrian (but pretty) vocal stylings. It's believable too... two people negotiating a relationship, endlessly talking, oblivious of what's going on around them. I find it romantic and fun. What's more, there's a great beat and a great whistle.

"Long Distance Call" Phoenix (It's Never Been Like That)
I don't say much, but I might
Simply a great (pop) rock song - It's catchy and has great production value. The verse sections support some kind of wonderful post-beat electronic swell just before a team of electric guitars motor us into the "it's never been like that" chorus. The dynamics and all the neat little moments keep this song fresh after a ton of listens. Do yourself a favor and listen to this while driving.

"Yea Yeah" Matt & Kim (Matt & Kim)
You stole tapes and a flashlight on a summer night from my car
This song is a blast. It's the old "big drums, big keyboards, & vocals" formula - but it's more melodic and twice as fun as any Quasi song I've heard. There's a determined sort of seriousness in the vocal delivery that only serves to enhance the "yea yeah" chorus abandon. Think bobbing heads and bouncing in chairs. The video is also quite fun.

"Rehab" Amy Winehouse (Back to Black)
There's nothing you can't teach me that I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway
This contemporary soul banger is done so well you'll swear it was from the golden age. If you're not into old soul you might think you're listening to Lauryn Hill, only BADASS - perhaps that's the best description. Why aren't more people making music like this!?! There's a goofy Hot Chip remix of this song out there on the internet (if you like that sort of thing) but it's not as good as the album version I've posted here.

"Just Like We (Breakdown) (DFA Remix)" Hot Chip (Over and Over Single)
With a fist and a fall we meet with the floor
Hot Chip's The Warning is one of my favorite albums of the year, but I never wouldn't given it a chance to sink had I not heard this DFA remix. The vocal styling is a Hot Chip weird harmonizing sing-songy oddity. The beat and production are DFA brilliant - taking a sleeper track off a great album and giving it the umph-thump head-bob atmosphere that I never knew I was looking for but can't live without. For a sampling of Hot Chip sans DFA, try the title track from The Warning*.

"In The Morning (Ft. Andi Toma)" Junior Boys (So This Is Goodbye)
You don't care just take one
I'm not accustomed to describing this kind of music. It's electronic, but it's not for dancing. It's pop, but you'll never hear it on the radio. It's filled with bleeps and video game sounds but instead of shooting something I'm Imagining a pop singer from the 80's singing while looking in the camera. He's got his hair feathered back a bit and the video cuts between him and some young blond woman in a suit getting ready for her downtown professional job, primping her hair and putting on lipstick.

"Pop The Glock" Uffie (Ready To Uff 12")
Pick up the pace with your cracked-out face
This song is bad. Objectively, it's really NOT a good song - but I love it. Uffie's got a non-flow, and the lyrics are pretty stupid, particularly when she claims to "sound like Twista, fast as hell" - is this intentional comedy? BUT - the vocodor doubling of her vocals is AWESOME, the chick bravado is sexy, and the production is good. It's fun, but will I be listening to this song in 2008? I don't know... I've listened to it a documented 30+ times over the course of this year (should I have told you that!?). This song contains cuss words.

"Hopelessly Wasted" Shrag
And you scrimped and you saved what was free
The way she delivers the vocals is slightly restrained, and it's a perfect match for the atmospheric electro-pop downtempo thing that's going on behind it with its short bursts of keyboard strings. I imagine this playing out at a dance in a big warehouse - only there's not many people there, and nobody's dancing. But she's beautiful, and there's a magic in the air from the subtle guitars and repeated thum-dum of the bass and drums.

"Flight 180" Bishop Allen (April EP)
My friends, my friends, I'm coming' home
Bishop allen wrote a bunch of great songs this year - this is only one of them. It's the lyrics and vocal delivery that keep me coming back to this tune. I love the way he weaves the flight narrative together with his own thoughts and preoccupations. It reminds me of the way I think and so it strikes me as being "true" - if you know what I mean.

"Put A Penny In The Slot" Fionn Regan (The End Of History)
Her phone is ringing straight to message minder
What we've got here is a straightforward folk song with a bit of melancholy and whimsy. This isn't a new formula, but the lyrics are clever in parts and not too snooty even when Mr. Regan recommends a book by Paul Auster (for the loneliness I foster, or course!) The climax comes as a slight surprise with background vocals and a bit of banjo, a magic moment and the backdrop for a brilliant lyric: "Send out a batallion to find her."

"Rhineland (Heartland)" Beirut (Gulag Orkestar*)
Lai-de-dai, die-dee-dai-dye
It's a gypsy folk thing and somehow he pulls this off without sounding pretentious (we could argue that point, I suppose). My love for this music everything to do with its melancholy dirge-ness. I can imagine a troupe of sad-faced europeans with their dusty instruments scuffling through town playing this. I want to join them and "lai-de-die" too.

"How I Got To Memphis (Ft. Fiona Kelly)" Greg Peterson (It's Hard to Die With The Piney Wood Blues)
I haven't eaten a bite or slept for three days and nights
Greg reinterprets Tom T. Hall with the gentle sincerity that characterizes most of his work since I first met him in 1995. Fiona's vocal is a perfect match for this arrangement, which sports some rather nice atmospheric sample-sounding bits. Am I unbiased when it comes to Greg Peterson? Absolutely not! Still, it's a great song that I've listened to the whole year and you'll like it so there.

"The sun's gone dim and the sky's turned black" Johann Johannsson (12" Single)
Cause I loved here and she didn't love back
This song crept up on me late one night while i was working. That's when I tend to do the most/least focused reviewing of music. I'll tune in and out - but ocassionally something will grab me and I can hardly move. It's ambient neo-classical slightly electronic... I imagine it as a soundtrack to my commuting life, particularly when I ride the metra and the windows are green and the urban landscape and its lights fly by. It's epic and sad and beautiful.

"Everybody's Gotta Live" Love & Arthur Lee
I think you know the reason why
I happened upon this song just after Arthur Lee's death. There's a beauty in the sing-along feel-good nature of this tune and the sparseness of the recording. I've done a little bit of searching to find other songs by Lee with this same aesthetic and I've come up broke. I imagine myself pulling out the guitar during a stressful work meeting and busting out this tune. We'd all sing along, of course - swaying slightly and holding hands during the chorus.

Honorable Mention Mixtape:

"Chrome Mix" Peanut Butter Wolf (Mixtape)
Too many wannabees S (dot) Carter
I listened to quite few hip-hop mixtapes this year, but this was a stand-out. The original version of this mix had two low-points for me, but I edited them out so it's 16 minutes of 100% gold. All the best of hip-hop represented here - but no chart toppers. Quasimoto, Madvillain, Jaylib, and others. This mix contains cuss words.