Music Picks for 2006

‘Tis the season for top ten lists. Here are some albums that stood out for me this year. They may not be “the best” of 2006 (well, some of them are), but they’re my favorites. Where I can, I’m linking to the artists’ MySpace page so you can listen to mp3s posted on their site, and I might put up an supplmental audio post on my Vox blog (you didn’t know I had another blog did you?)

fox.jpg NEKO CASE: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

I don’t care if forever never comes / because I’m holding out for that teenage feeling

Holding out and holding on sums up the vibe of this mesmerizing album. As usual, Neko’s voice soars to pitch perfect heights on songs belonging to a bygone era, but what really knocks me out about Fox Confessor is Neko’s lyrical genius, her mastery of story-telling. On the first track, “Margaret vs. Pauline,” a song about the disparate lives of two women, Neko sings:

Two girls ride the blue line / Two girls walk down the same street / One left her sweater sittin’ on the train / The other lost three fingers at the cannery

Don’t that just say it all? These lyrics are not as poetic or complex as most of what Neko offers up on this album, but they’re no less haunting. Fox Confessor is a wistful collection of songs, with dark corners to turn – Neko herself says it’s about “losing your faith, in every possible way” – yet she manages to imbue them with an undercurrent of hope and redemption, lighting the way. Admittedly, I’m bias when it comes to Neko, but I’m fairly certain this album will turn up on “best of” lists all over. File under: genre-bending alt-country/gospel/folk

citrus.jpgASOBI SEKSU: Citrus

Asobi’s drum pounding, reverb guitar-driven songs, fronted by Yuki Chikudate’s hazy falsetto sweetness, give me warm rock-n-roll fuzzies. Technically, Citrus should be #1 on my list because I listened to it more than any other album this year. It was a fixture in the house for a few months (wake-up, drink tea, Asobi Seksu.) Last week, I read an interview with Yuki who said she’s most often compared to Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins and Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, which explains my fixation. File under: shoe-gaze on anti-depressants

y.jpg JOANNA NEWSOM: Ys

Then the system of strings tugs at the tip of my wings (cut from cardboard and old magazines): makes me warble and rise like a sparrow

An apt self-description from Joanna, the harpist/singer who grew from a tiny magic bean into a bloomin’ indie folk hero with the phenomenal success of her debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender. For Ys, she was able to write her own ticket, which included “recording engineer” Steve Albini (Nirvana, P.J. Harvey) and string arrangements by the legendary Van Dyke Parks (Brian Wilson.) Ys is more complex and sweeping than Mender. Joanna screeches (and occasionally squeaks) for your un-divided attention, sometimes barely stopping to breathe for a six-minute span – but, after all, the joy of Ms. Newsom is listening carefully to her splendiferous lyrics spilling forth:

The cities we passed were a flickering wasteland, but his hand, in my hand, made them hale and harmless / While down in the lowlands, the crops are all coming; we have everything. / Life is thundering blissful towards death / in a stampede / of his fumbling green gentleness.

Whew. Every single moment of the album offers up something grande. Thing is, you’ll either “get” Joanna or think she sounds like a chirruping grandmother. I’m not sure if there’s an in-between. File under: other-worldy folk/harp/orchestral

round.jpgCARINA ROUND: Slow Motion Addict

Can you honestly expect me to take you seriously / When you’ve put nothing on the line at all / When you say you can’t believe in believing

This took about ten listens to grow on me, but once it unfolded unto my ears, aye Carina. Straight up, unless you’re into eccentric, raging, pint-size rock n’ roll powerhouses, Carina is not to be trifled with. Even more than on her killer debut album, Carina uses her voice as an instrument on Slow Motion Addict. Velvety smooth one moment, howling and brash the next… quirky purling, slithery whispers, unlikely keys in surprising places. If you can take her on, she’ll keep you enthralled. File Under: rock n’ roll guitar goddess

fount.jpgTHE FOUNTAIN (motion picture soundtrack)

Composer Clint Mansell teamed up with the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai to create this heartbreaking score for Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain – an exquisite soundtrack for an exquisite movie. It’s dripping with beauty. If you like modern classical with an edge (and you have a decent set of speakers), I highly recommend for a transcendent experience. File under: elctro-classical

(BTW, I’ve been meaning to post about The Fountain for over two weeks, and will hopefully get to it.)

dvk.jpg DEVOTCHKA: Curse Your Little Heart

Denver “indie rock” band mashes up their Spanish gypsy/Eastern European influences with six cover songs (including Siouxsie, Velvet Underground and Sinatra) sung by crooner Nick Urata, a cross between Roy Orbison and Morrissey. This album is like wind through my hair. Grand. Sweeping. Cinematic.

File under: gypsy indie rock

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lind.jpgLINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: Under The Skin

I bought Fleetwood Mac’s 2003 release, Say You Will, and didn’t like it much – except – I was smitten by one song, “Red Rover,” written and sung by Buckingham. That’s largely why I bothered to check out Under The Skin, his first solo album in 15 years, and it turned out to be one of the most unique albums I’ve heard all year. Lindsey’s hushed, echoey voice over expert guitar picking and a tiny bit of percussion is intimate, drifting, dreamy… and his layered harmonies are beautiful as sunshine. When I listen to this album, I think I develop acute synesthesia because the music is golden and sparkling all around me. I don’t know much about “production,” but this album sounds particularly crystalline. File Under: acoustic/experimental
jenny.jpg

JENNY LEWIS with THE WATSON TWINS: Rabbit Fur Coat

I’ll play the first gospel inspired track on Rabbit Fur Coat… hear Lewis’ soulful voice sing out bright and impossibly clear… and think to myself, da-aamn, why haven’t I been listening to this album more frequently?? Then, by album’s end, I remember why: Jenny’s such a cynic

What are you changing? / Who do you think you’re changing? / You can’t change things. / We’re all stuck in our ways / It’s like trying to clean the ocean /What do you think, you can drain it?

Maybe the dichotomy between Jenny’s innocent, girlish voice (think Emmylou Harris) and her cynical, world-weary lyrics is what drives them in too deep? (It hurts!) Such is why I have a push/pull relationship with this album. I love it for the beautiful song writing, singing and achingly poignant exploration of themes like mothers or loss of faith. I can even appreciate Jenny’s lyrical wit (however jaded.) Yet, when I go deep diving, I don’t want to drown. Throw me something to hold on to. Then again, that’s not Jenny’s responsibility. She’s got enough on her mind. File Under: alt-country girl sings the blues
evan.jpgEVANESCENCE: The Open Door

To hell with Christina and Beyonce. Two words: Amy Lee.

Evanescence makes grandiose, over-produced, music for the masses, and that’s the context within which I determine this album R.O.C.K.S. (*makes devil horn sign for rock-n-roll*) Furthermore, The Open Door surpasses their 2003 multi-platinum debut, Fallen. Contrary to popular opinion, Open Door is not a string of hits and misses – it’s tight – and sinfully easy to listen start to finish. Better yet, it’s a break-up record, so we get to hear all of Amy Lee’s personal baggage (she has more hope than Jenny Lewis!) This album makes me feel like a rebellious teenager, and that’s enough to keep me listening. Repeatedly. File Under: top 40 rock
peel.jpg

PJ HARVEY: The Peel Sessions 1994-2001

A PJ Harvey fan’s delight. File under: indie-rock queen


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