Monday, January 22, 2007

Belated Best-Of List

Yeah so what, I've never been in a real big hurry to do stuff. At least it's still the first month of the new year while I'm getting my best-of 2006 list together. I've also never really been into the big rush to get it done while it is still 2006, sometimes December can pull off some surprises, but that's really just a flimsy explanation for my laziness.

1. Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky
I can without a doubt say this was my favorite album of the year. David Tibet (with a little shot in the arm from Mr. Six Organs Ben Chasny) visualizes the apocalypse in the form of the hungry-for-the-heavens black ships. Equal parts delicate beauty and creeping terror until the climactic title track, when he self destructs the odd little world he spent the whole album creating, then gives it a haunting requiem with a reprise from an earlier song. Interspersed with the black ship song cycle are renditions of an early Methodist hymn as interpreted by the likes of Antony, Baby Dee, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Marc Almond. While it is the same song sung about 8 different times, with this cast of mad geniuses putting their stamp on each version it's far from repetitive.

2. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Dan Bejar sets out to make you forget that anyone else ever wrote guitar based pop songs before he did, but does it by continually referencing those that came before him. If that made sense to you, then you "get it" and don't need me to push this record on you. If not, just give these dense, complex, highly literate yet utterly accessible gems (oh god, sorry, Destroyer's Rubies + gems = terribly "clever" music critic play on words) a few listens and see if you're not converted to the "Dan Bejar is the second coming of Tim Buckley" club. I'm not just the president, I'm also a client.

3. sunnO))) + Boris - Altar
Ever since I read about this one I knew it would most likely end up on this list. It wasn't the nasty, evil, sludgy, droney wreck of an album I was expecting but it was by no means a let down. While the track "Etna" is a slowly bubbling black cauldron of low-end sound, the rest of the album is more akin to extrapolations of sunn's White 1 & 2 ambience and the quieter moments of Boris' "Pink". The grand scope of this album really didn't hit me full force until I was standing in the shadows of Mayan ruins this past December. I was in the grips of a full on psychedelic spell walking along sun-dappled paths to ancient stone edifices listening to Jesse Sykes' ethereal vocals on "The Sinking Belle", which kind of comes off as an utterly hopeless Mazzy Star tune. (that's a compliment BTW) By the time I made it back to the main "castillo" pyramid and "Akuma No Kuma" was playing, I was pretty sure the limestone rocks were vibrating at the same frequency as what was flooding my ears, and me this insignificant bag of skin and blood and organs in the middle of it all. Well even if you can't listen to this masterpiece at Chichen-Itza, you'll still dig Joe Preston's vocoder enhanced vox and the Conan (the Barbarian, not O'Brien) worthy horn arrangements and tympani/gong crashes.

4. Warmer Milks - Radish On Light
Louisville's sons of midwestern darkness have captured the same sort of toned-down ferocity that you can find on "Bad Moon Rising" era Sonic Youth, but crank the weirdness up to 10 and make it their own. Four lengthy cuts comprise the WM's first proper, unclassifiable full length release, ranging from meandering psychedelic dirges with feral, decelerated black metal-esque vocals (In The Fields) Black Sabbath meets the mummy (Pentagram Of Sores) to straight up noise rock exploration on the title cut. The perfect soundtrack for those who've embraced the notion of going to hell in a handbasket and who want to enjoy the ride. Also, you can't help but admire a band who puts THX TO NO ONE in their liner notes.

5. Howlin' Rain - Howlin' Rain
Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire) and John Moloney (Sunburned Hand Of The Man) tone down the weirdness, dust off some Allman Bros. riffs, and get back to the land with this idyllic disc. Miller's voice, unlike in his Comets material, is clearly discernible and imparts a wonderful Canned Heat/early 70s Jerry Garcia vibe to the excellent lyrics, ranging from thunderbolt struck non-believers (Calling Lightning With A Scythe) to modern day murder ballads (The Firing Of The Midnight Rain). It makes you wonder what you're missing on Blue Cathedral. This is what your dad and his brothers would have listened to if they had it in those old photos you've seen when they all have long hair and perfect mustaches and are sitting around with their shirts off drinking beer in the summer.

6. Joanna Newsom - Ys
Appalachian chipmunk warbling accompanied by a lone harp is replaced by a more polished voice delivering epic length fairy tale narratives and grandiose string arrangements, courtesy of a collaboration with Van Dyke Parks. This was another very pleasant surprise for me. I'm glad the elfin Ms. Newsom didn't succumb to the sophomore suck after such a critically acclaimed debut. (Are you paying attention, Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah?)

7. MV / EE & The Bummer Road - Mother Of Thousands
Hippie folk-raga-rock with its bare feet firmly rooted in the New England soil while its head drifts around in the black voids of space. I'm not using hippie as a derogatory term here either. These people are shining bastions of good taste in an otherwise squalid sub-culture, applying all the best aspects of the tune in-turn on- drop out ethos in a contemporary way. They're slowly but surely taking it back from the post-Phish and String Cheese Incident shabby-chic, unwashed, poorly dressed yet expensive pot smoking, SUV with a save the planet bumper sticker driving masses. This should be required listening to anyone with an extensive live bootleg collection who uses the term "dude, you gotta see 'em live" more often than their hair brush.

8. Bonnie Prince Billy - The Letting Go
Even if this wasn't one of Will Oldham's strongest albums since "Master & Everyone", this would make the list solely based on the performance of "Strange Form Of Life" from Conan O'Brien this past fall where Andrew W.K. played piano and it looked like Will's pants split at the end after dancing his weird little jig all throughout the song and howling into the microphone at the appropriate times. Bonus points for being recorded in Iceland and for the achingly sweet vocal harmonies with Dawn "Faun Fables" McCarthy. It's a nice complement to Will's world weary, cracking timbre.

9. Six Organs of Admittance - The Sun Awakens
Ben Chasny puts the cryptic, solo acoustic dust & chimes thing on the backburner and unleashes this dark psychedelic beast of an album. He bookends fretboard searing rock (Black Wall) and Ennio Morricone recording with Bedouin nomads (Attar) with a pair Octavio Paz-esque numbers (Torn By Wolves, Wolves Pup) before the murky waters of "River Of Transfiguration" swirl around and carry you down a pulsing, chanting stream of (un)conciousness while ravens in dead trees on the banks look down at you.

10. Various Artists - Jukebox Buddha
The Buddha Machine, the meditation sensation from the Far East (an ingenious little plastic box that plays 9 different mp3 loops) acts as the raw material for this CD that has artists like sunnO))), Robert Henke, Blixa Bargeld, and the Sun City Girls manipulating the loops into lovely walls of sound.

Honorable mentions and comps and shit like that:

Tom Waits - Orphans
Not to be overly pedantic but this wasn't really recorded in 2006. However, the man is a genius and I'm kinda pissed it's taken this long for a collection like this to come out.

Cat Power - The Greatest
Chan Marshall pilfers the Hi Records rhythm band and puts out the best blue eyed soul since Dusty went to Memphis.

Pink Mountaintops - Axis Of Evol
Drum machines and weird electronic tones meet hairy drug music.

The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
Brendan Benson's polish acts as the foil to Jack White's snarl while they mine the classic vein of rock without being dicks about it (Are you listening, Wolfmother?). Jack's guitar also sounds great with a real rhythm section behind it.

Belle & Sebastian - The Life's Pursuit
They finally get over losing Isobel and put a record worth listening to the whole way through since her departure.

Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
Dreamy electro lullaby sound washes wrap around you like a warm blanket to shield you from the hard, cold world outside.

Everything the Numero Group released
For real kids, if you're a music nerd, you'll drool over the compilations that this label puts out. Obscure enough to satisfy even the most discriminating snobs, ranging from northern soul to Belizean funk.

Pop Levi - Blue Honey EP
Ladytron's old bass player put out a fun little fuzzy 60's psych pop flavored EP. There's also a delta blues/flamenco number on it. One of these things is not like the other...

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