Monday, January 1, 2007

Will's Top Musical Experiences of 2006

A year ago, we began this blog with Charlie and I counting down our top ten favorite records of 2005. Since music has played such an integral part in my life this year, I've decided to not count down simply my favorite albums, but my favorite musical experiences...

15. Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
There's a familiar sound in Everything All the Time - not in the fact that you may here similarities to My Morning Jacket or Modest Mouse or even R.E.M. Familiar in the fact that - when hearing a song for the first time - it resonates with you as if it had been a favorite for years. There's an accessibility to the lyrics and emotion of the songs, yet a complexity to the music that makes listening quite the experience. Regardless of when the life-altering events have taken place in your life, Everything All the Time feels like the soundtrack. By the time you reach the lovely "St. Augustine," you know you're going to make it through.

14. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen
Whether singing for the mother of a dead soldier on "Mrs. McGrath," or just wailing through "Erie Canal" accompanied by cabaret horns, Springsteen and his band sound as if they are at once having a blast, while speaking to something greater. The plea for peace on "We Shall Overcome" is a far more poignant statement against our present war than any of Neil Young's more literal compositions on Living With War. Though decades old, Seeger's words still hold great meaning, and sung with the fire that Springsteen has, they sound all the more relevant.

13. "I Was A Lover," TV on the Radio
To be completely honest, Return to Cookie Mountain just has not made the number of spins on my iPod that it probably deserves. That being said, I completely understand why it's ending up near the top of most year-end lists. Last year, I was really into songs that had been crafted as pop tunes, then deconstructed from the inside (see LCD Soundsystem, Kanye West). Much in the same vein, "I Was a Lover" has an R&B base but then is fucked up by distortion. I absolutely love the horn samples. A beautiful song totally at war with itself.

12. South/Margot and the Nuclear So and So's at the Independent
Seeing South headline the Independent back in April was a highpoint for two reasons - one, they sounded good playing songs from the new album, their awesome previous album, and on a cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle." Also notable was the discovery of Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. Their mix of Conor Oberst-like vocals with the luscious sounds of a band featuring keyboards, guitar, two percussionists and horns was fantastic. And they gave us a free cd afterwards, in addition to playing with both bands that followed. Both 2006 albums by those bands are quite good as well - South's being rather poppy, while Margot's captures a certain emotional intensity.

11. Return to the Sea, Islands
While they have no problem easing from moody indie pop to a classic rock guitar solo on opener, "Swans (Life After Death)," all schizophrenic musicology is pulled off with just enough restraint to create a near perfect pop song. Elsewhere, the experiments are unique, but welcome. "Where There's a Will, There's a Whale" is undoubtedly the finest rap/rock song ever written, opening with an atmospheric blues riff and possibly sassy lyrics like, "Layin' low in a tropical hideout/if anyone finds out/turn the lights out." This becomes even more epic as the music intensifies and the most bizarre flow you've ever heard kicks in. Of course, some form of catchy pop will always follow the respective Unicorns members wherever they go, and "Rough Gem" has been filling that duty for the hipsters, due in part to its instrumentation - both lush and bouncy.

11. "Burning," The Whitest Boy Alive
Sometimes a song is bigger than the album it is featured on. It's pretty much a given that I'll be into anything graced by the presence of Erlend Oye (Kings of Convenience), and such was the case with Whitest Boy Alive. Despite a pretty solid album, I found it rather difficult to get past opener "Burning." Listening to it on the train, and later outside as the weather changed to cold and melancholy, the song fit the mood perfectly. I found myself frequently going back to listen to it once more, instead of letting the album reach song number two.

10. The Raconteurs at the Warfield/"Steady, As She Goes"
As a live act, the Raconteurs are tight as can be, while appearing to be having a total blast. I didn't even mind each song turning into a jam session. Covers of "It Ain't Easy" and "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" were positively brilliant as well. Back in the first month of my blogging days, I happened upon the stream of "Steady, As She Goes" and "Store Bought Bones" - the first two released Raconteurs songs. I was pretty much blown away, writing, "The Raconteurs could be the sound of 15 years ago, but they could also be the sound of 15 years from now. With this 7" White continues his mind-blowing streak of making the past sound like the future."

09. Ballad of the Broken Seas, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
The way their two voices clash, yet blend so beautifully, suggests the story of a relationship, with both parties holding out despite what they know will be the inevitable end. The story is heartbreaking and gorgeous. The record's first half is about sadness, yet by the time a Hank Williams cover rolls around, Lanegan is completely unapologetic about his failings. A song later, however, both are agreeing that they can't "say they'll be true," but declare, "you're my guiding north star/and my love travels with you wherever you are." By album's end it seems like they are going to try and make things work.

08. Ringleader of the Tormentors, Morrissey
Morrissey kills Morissey on this album, and then sounds more alive than ever. Alive is the Morrissey who cannot ignore his own disgust with the American and British governments or with the general public's habits of consumption. Alive is the Morrissey who seeks to rally the cult that sings his every word as if it were the gospel into a movement - one that can change the world, and how we live our lives. He calls out to them on "The Youngest Was the Most-Loved," accompanied by a children's choir, singing, "There is no such/thing in life as normal." Coming from anyone else, such a statement may seem insignificant, but with his self-assured swagger and a voice that is powerful as it has ever been, it is downright inspiring. As the situationist title suggests, Morrissey is no longer content to sit idly, and watch life go by. Ringleader is equal parts a beginning and an end, but most importantly, it's a triumph.

07. Nellie McKay at Bimbo's 365 Club
"So, the album's coming out on Halloween," Nellie McKay said early on in her Bimbo's set, regarding the follow-up to Get Away From Me which has been m.i.a. since last December. "Same day as K-Fed's, so you better save up." And that's a pretty good summation of the fantastic, nearly two hour set McKay played Thursday night. She talked after each song, going through political rants, expressing distaste with her former label, telling funny stories about her parents, and interacting with the crowd. During an intermission in which McKay gave away such gifts as a giant Superman coloring book, someone in the back shouted that she should resume playing. Like a pro, McKay made fun of the heckler throughout the rest of the evening, went about her business of giveaways, and then continued to thrill us with her one-woman show.

06. We Are the Pipettes, the Pipettes
If David Lynch movies tell us anything, it is that the sounds of the past have a way of showing us the darkness of our present. The Pipettes' debut, We Are the Pipettes, captures this Lynch-like quality of pop music, mixing the early sixties aesthetic with a punk rock/D.I.Y. attitude. The opening title track is a pretty clear indication that these girls owe more to Chicks on Speed than any modern day pop group. Like those classic hits, The Pipettes harmonize over tales of being in love and learning new dance moves, but they also bring new perspectives to the lyrical table. Pledging attitude over obedience, they sound more empowered than any girl group to come before.

05. Matthew Herbert at the Mezzanine/Scale
I first got interested in Herbert in 2003, when he was leaving house music behind and leading the Matthew Herbert Big Band. Seeing him live was a long time coming. What makes the live show so special is how it differs so much from his laptop/sample-heavy counterparts. Unlike the Go Team using a live band to completely recreate the album or Herbert's openers, Spacetime Continum - who let the laptop do all the talking, Herbert finds a healthy balance between the two. He's at the front - wearing a bathrobe - leading with his laptop and keyboard of samples. Alongside him though, he's got bass, drums, piano and horns alongside a fantastic singer who, always clad in a bathrobe, does not stray far from his post but commands the stage with a Vegas hotel-like presence.

04. Destroyer and Neko Case: The Post Pornographers
Last year, I was all over the New Pornographers, who made their finest record to date. In 2006, a pair of Pornographer alumni (who also had budding solo careers) put out the best albums of their respective careers - and I got to see them both live! Case's album - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood - has a familiar sound, but she also experiments in subtle ways - the Twin Peaks and girl group harmonies on "Lion's Jaws," and the sharp strings on "Dirty Knife." The album was influenced by gospel music, but Case points out that she is not a particularly religious person. Thus, unlike the subjects of many a country music song, her characters are not waiting on a miracle. On Destroyer's Rubies, the brainchild of Dan Bejar, we learn a few things about the man - Bejar prefers "la la las" to lyrics when it comes to the chorus,the meaning of lyrics remain a mystery (reclusive tendencies or deep romantic longing hidden behind historic tales of fallen empires?), and regardless of how long a song is (9 minutes on opening title track), it never gets tiresome.

03. The Twighlight Singers
I fell completely head-over-heels with the music of Twilight Singers in 2006. Thankfully, there was much of them to experience. First, came Powder Burns - probably my favorite record this year, an intensely emotional record that meshes overcoming cocaine addiction with the devastation of hurricane Katrina - an event which halted recording of the album. A few months later, the band released a stellar EP - A Stitch in Time. I was fortunate enough to see the band live twice, accompanied by Mark Lanegan, for two insanely good shows. I even got to meet, hang out backstage with, and interview frontman Greg Dulli.

02. The Beatles' Love
Love makes this list for two reasons. One - the experience of the live Cirque de Solei show, which I was taken to as part of a grand birthday surprise. The second - is the music, now thankfully on CD. Beatles producer George Martin and his son returned to the studio, revisiting old recordings to craft a Beatles experience like none other. Songs crash in toeach-other, blend together, opening new doors. The Beatles' Vegas debut is not one of imitation - as the band cannot be imitated. They are represented in Love only as spirits - ensuring that the band's ghosts will love forever. Love is in many ways a statement of the band's immortality - in another, it's a beautiful conclusion to the greatest career in music history.

01. Producing the N&UR Video Podcast
Ok, this may seem like an overly sentimental number one, but is really the only that makes sense. The love for music has been present in my life since the beginning, and as I steadily began to find film and video as my musical calling, I sought to mesh the two interests. Producing the video podcast allowed me to do a number of things, most notably engaging with new media and new means of distribution, while always remaining true to my own vision. Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to converse and profile musicians whose work I deeply respected. Featuring Chris Brokaw, the Cuts, Birdman Records, Boy Least Likely To, Kelley Stoltz, Howlin Rain, Dengue Fever, the Little Ones and Matt Lutz was truly an honor. That work was just the beginning, laying the foundation for big artistic and business plans I have in 2007. After the Kelley Stoltz episode hit the internet, I was contacted by the Passionistas, and subsequent discussions with the band have shaped a very exciting future for myself and N&UR. Stay tuned!


Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is a great approach to listing the music of your year! Because it is tempting to compartmentalize the albums separately from the shows, but the experiences from each do so strongly influence the other.

A very thought-provoking list, Will - makes me look at some of these musicians/albums in a whole new light.

Happy New Year!

Allison said...

You've put other lists to same, well done you. We should all take notes for next year.

I need to listen to The Twighlight Singers, that's (one of) my goals for the week.