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Wednesday, 17 January 2007 00:00

Recommended Diversions

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In putting together my annual list of the year’s best albums, I was reminded of what a terrific year 2006 was — there were at least 25 new albums I actively enjoyed this year, a bumper crop.

 

The only downer is that either I am beginning to show my age and fall even further out of touch with new music, or there just aren’t that many youngish guitar bands making exciting albums these days. A couple of them are in my honorable mention category, but I can’t really visualize them going on to have the careers that four of my last five top 10-ers have had.

Note, also, the absence of hip hop. Though I am obviously oriented toward fast guitar bands and alternative country, I usually find at least one or two hip hop albums that get to me. Not this year. Not even the new Outkast.

Then again, it was a great year in music, these are all spectacular albums, and I am sure someone will bring to my attention great albums I have overlooked. No list of this kind is immutable, but I’ll happily vouch for the following.

 

Ten Best Albums of 2006

• Centro-matic, Fort Recovery — Though they’ve evidently been around awhile and are apparently cult heroes on the indie circuit, I had never heard of them until this year. This album, however, is masterful, displaying the fragility and lyricism of Big Star’s classic Sister Lovers album in one song, the spacey surrealism of Sparklehorse in another, and the jagged, crunching rhythms of Archers of Loaf in yet another. And yet, the record is somehow seamless, probably because I played it so many times this year. A great one.

• Beck, The Information — May very well be his best album in a pretty damn impressive body of work.

• Todd Snider, The Devil You Know — Could be sacrilege to say so, but I give this the nod for singer-songwriter album of the year, even over the venerable Bob Dylan. I especially like the one where he reminisces with an old high school girlfriend, now a hooker, and another one in which a frat boy grows up to become President of these United States. It is called, “You Got Away With It.” Now guess which President? Hint: He’s not getting away with it like he used to.

• Wussy, Funeral Dress — Alternative country, I guess you’d call it, if that label still means anything to anybody. Great lyrics wrapped around whopper hooks.

• Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere — The year’s most infectious record. Had my family jumping around in the living room all summer. I especially like the cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone.”

• Los Lobos, The Town and the City — A terrific album from one of history’s greatest rock bands. It finds the balance between their roots rock/bar band/Tex Mex beginnings and the thrilling experimentalism of the Colossal Head /Latin Playboys phase.

• Bob Dylan, Modern Times — Dylan’s creative resurgence continues. This is his third excellent album in a row, and if it doesn’t quite stand up to Blood on the Tracks or Blonde On Blonde, how many albums these days do?

• Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, Rabbit Skin Fur Coat — Mountain music with banjos and fiddles and guitars and harmonizing galore.

• New York Dolls, And Some Day It Shall Please Us To Remember Even This — The surprise of the year. Not just a decent album from a seminal band of the ‘70s, but a fresh, often great album. I thought this was a gimmick, but it isn’t.

• Yo La Tengo, I’m Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass — Husband and wife Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have invested a lot of years in this band and made some wonderful records. I Can Still Hear the Heart Beating As One is one of my all-time favorite records. This one isn’t quite up to that lofty standard, but it is nonetheless a great album of many flavors and moods.

 

Honorable Mention:

Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped ; Tom Waits, Orphans; The Thermals, The Body, The Blood, The Machine; Tom Petty, Highway Companion; Mountain Goats, Get Lonely; Drive-By Truckers, A Blessing and a Curse; Roseanne Cash, Black Cadillac; Sparklehorse, Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain; Gogol Bordello, Gypsy Punks Underground World Strike; Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae; Black Angels, Passover; Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soliders; The Handsome Family, The Last Days of Wonder; Ghostface Killah, Fishscale; The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America; Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet.

— Chris Cox

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