11. Silversun Pickups – Carnavas
After their 2005 EP (Pikul) I eagerly awaited Silversun Pickups’ full length release. Carnavas did not disappoint. Even more impressive- Carnavas is filled with brand new material, not a single song from Pikul was included. Similar to Built to Spill, no matter where I come in on a song, I know when it’s Silversun Pickups. And it’s not just the lead singer’s trademark raspy yowl; it’s the structure of their songs, the layers of instrumentation, the fuzzy-fullness of their sound. While this can lead to their album sounding a bit formulaic at times- it is a winning formula and it’s all their own. In a year these guys (and gal) have gone from playing Neumo’s with little fan-fare to selling out one of Seattle’s larger venues The Moore Theatre. Their skyrocketing year all culminated in booking an early 2007 gig at Key Arena, home of the Seattle Super Sonics. And for once, I’m glad… I think these guys are gonna be the 2000′s answer to the Smashing Pumpkins.
10. Cursive - Happy Hollow
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you: I love me a concept album. I understand, however, that this is treacherous territory, as most concept albums come across as self-important and trite. This is currently being made painfully clear by HotTopic-hipster’s, My Chemical Romance’s: Welcome to The Black Parade. Blessedly there are bands who excel at the concept album, most notably, mid-westerner’s: Sufjan Stevens and Cursive. Cursive already had one successful concept album under their belt with 2003′s The Ugly Organ, which tended to the theatric and personal. With Happy Hollow, Cursive focuses their lenses on the modern dystopic American landscape under the specter of Christian Fundamentalists and the Bush Regime. It features songs about religion trumping science (“There Was a Big Bang Once”), homosexual priests (“Bad Sects”), the War in Iraq (“Flag and Family”), and the challenges of being a non-believer in an increasing fundamentalist country (“Rise Up! Rise Up!”). Maybe it’s the angry Atheist in me… but every song on this album speaks to me, not in a whisper but a SHOUT: from the lyrics that are used, to the beautiful fury of instrumentation.
9. Ghostland Observatory – Paparazzi Lightning
Beer, dark chocolate, strong espresso … some of the best things in life are an acquired taste. Austin’s Ghostland Observatory could easily be included on such a list. I’ve had a number of readers write asking “Really– is Ghostland Observatory worth the hype? Because I think he sounds like my neighbors dog when he’s been left out too long.” And I answer, without hesitation: YES. Ghostland Observatory is worthy of any and all hype they are receiving. While most of the praise is focused on Ghostland’s manically inspired concerts/dance parties, it is not just their performance that’s worth lauding. Paparazzi Lightning is a great album all on its own. It is probably the only “dance” album I have ever liked, and other than the requisite copy of Thriller, it’s certainly the only one I actually went out and bought. While I own Thriller for posterity’s sake, I own Paparazzi Lightning because even the saddest of sad bastards needs an album that’s so good that they can’t help but boogie…and this album is it. I challenge you Seattle… put on “Ghetto Magnet” or “Sad Sad City” and try not to move… it’s physically impossible.
8. Figurines – Skeleton
Initially, I was disappointed with Skeleton. I’d just seen the Figurines live, where they put on an ear destroying, raucous, punk show. I went in expecting the album to sound the same, with the fire and furor of their live performance. Thus, on first listen, Skeleton came across sounding a little too produced, the instrumentation too tight, and the voices too silky. But today, I can appreciate Skeleton for exactly the album it is– an album filled with one great song after another. The songs may not be super complex, but they are insidiously catchy and they translate amazingly live. One song after another, I hear them and think… why hadn’t someone written that before? The album is even more impressive, as it’s not written in the band’s native tongue, which is Danish. (Though I have gotten a tremendous laugh trying to imagine an American band writing and recording an album in Danish…)
7. Built to Spill - You In Reverse
An album that was truly worth waiting for. There is only one song on this album that I don’t absolutely adore. (Track 9,” Just a Habit,” if you’re curious) A number of tracks from the album are battling for my favorite Built To Spill song of all time (a coveted title). I love that whatever part of a song (drums, vocals, guitar) that you come in on… you know it’s Built to Spill within moments. This is a band people try to sound like… there have even been some decent imitations, but no one does it like Doug Martsch and the boys from Boise. There isn’t a bad Built to Spill record out there, but this is one of their best.
6. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
I know you’re supposed to be glad when good bands succeed and get noticed- but I rarely am. When a band I love signs to a major record label, I am filled with dread. When a band as beloved as The Decemberists signed with Capitol, I was sick to my stomach. What would the demand for commercial success do to the unique sound and stories spun by Colin Meloy and Crew? Would the songs about pirates and lyrics with olde english and GRE words be banished to B Sides? Thus, it is with great joy, that I include The Crane Wife on this list. It is an album which saw The Decemberists stay true to themselves, while continuing to evolve as a band. Who else could have a major label release with such compelling songs about Japanese ghost stories, civil war lovers or meat cleaver murders? No one.
5. Thee Emergency – Can You Dig It?
Thee Emergency are pure rock’n'rollers. These guys could light a guitar on fire or destroy their instruments after a set and not seem cliché at all. Because in 2006 Thee Emergency managed to make a classic 70′s rock album. I listen to it and think… if this came out in the 70′s it would be the biggest thing ever… giving bands like Zeppelin and The Who a run for their money. If it comes out later that Thee Emergency is a State Department experiment in cloning or cryogenics, I truly wouldn’t be shocked. Rock and Roll this authentic, this good… just isn’t made anymore.
4. The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine
An incredible Northwest release AND a stirring concept album?!?! Add in plenty of religious imagery, driving punk riffs, great vocals, ridiculously clever lyrics… and this half of SOTS is the closest she’ll ever be to heaven. The Body, The Blood, The Machine brings the political and disenfranchised back to punk. It’s like someone created an album out of George Orwell’s nightmares and prescient visions. Despite starting the The Body, The Blood, The Machine with one of my favorite songs of the year, “Here’s Your Future, the album manages to build momentum with each track. The songs are succinct; lyrically and musically, while still containing much to be explored and contemplated. The Thermals write songs filled with lines that make me think–”damn! I wish I’d written that!” And I imagine I’m not alone in that feeling. I’m pretty sure The Body, The Blood, The Machine is the album Green Day wanted to write when penning American Idiot, ditto on Cursive’s beloved Happy Hollow. Consider the following lines from, “Our Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing”, and tell me that Billy Joe isn’t kicking himself. “They’ll give us what we’re asking for, cause God is with us and our God’s the richest. Yeah our power doesn’t run on nothing. It runs on blood. And blood is easy to attain, when you have no shame. We have no shame. …You think we’ll cease? You see a reason? Do you think its fair? Do you think its fair? Do you think we care?”
3. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Neko Case managed to make an album which is at once beautifully antique, as well as thoroughly modern. I listen to it and hear an album that would’ve been hugely successful, no matter the decade it was released. I mean, tell me that “That Teenage Feeling” wouldn’t have been a huge hit in the early-60′s? That “Star Witness” couldn’t go hand in hand with the great teenage death songs of the 1950′s? Or that the Carter Family wouldn’t do a great version of “John Saw That Number?” Though the album is filled with one standout song after another, “Hold On, Hold On” is on a completely different plane of greatness. It is a song Lennon/McCartney could’ve been proud of. A song that Willie Nelson listens to and thinks – “Why didn’t I write that?” When I hear “Hold On, Hold On”, I hear an instant classic, something that could become a “standard.” I don’t think many artists could have managed to pull off this album with the grace and authenticity that Neko Case does. There’s nothing kitschy about it… it’s not a throw back album or a take on Americana, it’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood and it’s just about perfect.
2. The Long Winters – Putting The Days To Bed
Putting The Days to Bed is doubtlessly my most listened to album of 2006. The Long Winters write songs that sound instantly familiar, in the best way and which have been scientifically proven to be impossible not to tap your foot too. Featuring gems like “Pushover” and “Teaspoon,” this album is pop the way it should be, made by the nicest guys in rock’n'roll. Like the Long Winters themselves, Putting the Days to Bed, is witty, loud, welcoming, unafraid of displaying quirks and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. These are guys who have a ball making music together and it’s obvious. To me, it’s all like watching the early Beatles, before the feuds and insane fame. Indeed when reviewing the album, I made not one, but multiple Beatles references. And while it may be “old school” of me, such references are rare and compliments of the highest order. My most recent Fab Four thought is: The Long Winters could (and should!) pull off making a movie like “Help!”
1. Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday
Elvis Perkins was my single best discovery of 2006. I bought Ash Wednesday after hearing only a fragment of one song live. I couldn’t even wait for the song to end (much less his set) … not wanting to spend another moment without his music in my possession. It is likely the best ten dollars I have ever spent. Ash Wednesday satiated me like no other album, yet left me wanting infinitely more. In fact, one of my favorite Elvis Perkins songs, “How’s Forever Been Baby?” didn’t even make the cut for Ash Wednesday. Trying to describe the album’s title track, the power of its lyrics and melody, leaves me painfully wordless. (It’s going to be my generation’s “Hallelujah…”) Each time a decent young songwriter comes around, they get the “new-Dylan” label, but Elvis (and this album) are actually worthy of such lofty comparisons.
Most Noticeably Missing - Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards
While Cold War Kids were the best live act I saw this year, as well as being the authors of my favorite song(s) of 2006, their debut album fell flat. The vocals are too produced, lacking the growl and passion that make Cold War Kids so extraordinary. Despite choosing to release material from their previous flawless EP’s (Up in Rags and With Our Wallets Full) they made a mistake by revising and over-polishing the tracks. Perhaps if you’d just heard the album without knowing the truth of just how fucking incredible the Cold War Kids really are, you’d think Robbers & Cowards was amazing. To me the release was one of the great disappointments of 2006.