The Best CDs of 2006

Welcome to the annual Lullaby Pit “Best of” list. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

 

The Slammy: CD of the Year

Jets Overhead – Bridges
What if shoegazer had happened in San Francisco in 1965? What if that marvelous swirling, ethereal, atmospheric guitar sound had emerged from a slightly less dissonant context, infused with psychedelia and driven by an explicit commitment to melodic songwriting?

Jets Overhead is what if. Simply transcendent. Bridges is one of those records that’s so rich and textured I feel like I could listen to it 100 times in a row without it getting old.

And you can download it free off their Web site: Jetsoverhead.com

 

Platinum LP: Superior Achievement

VAST – Turquoise and Crimson
We’ve heard some of these songs before – this 2-CD collection essentially comprises the demos from which 2004’s Nude was derived. A bit rawer than the polished, finished Nude, of course, although nothing Jon Crosby does is ever really raw. You can hear the U2 influence throughout everything VAST does, and as badly as it pains me to say it, it’s been 15 years since U2 was anywhere near as good as any of Crosby’s four releases. Over the last eight years VAST has been one of the two or three greatest artists in the world of rock, and this release demonstrates that even his outtakes are better than most of what you hear from other bands.

The Strays – Le Futur Noir
A little hard to classify. Neo-punk in a very Clash sort of way, but less fawning over the influences than some nu wave bands of the last couple years. Really, just an extraordinary record top to bottom – great songs, great performances.

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
This band generated the biggest hype in the UK since Oasis, and for once the hype is deserved. I keep waiting for the next big thing to come along, but all I usually get is a rehash of the thing that happened 20 years ago. With Arctic Monkeys, though, the sound is genuinely fresh, pulling influences from all over the place without it seeming labored at all. Sort of like if Jet were more concerned with 2006 than with 1976.

The Killers – Sam’s Town
Wow. For their second record they go all homage on Born to Run? Didn’t see that coming. I’m still not sure they’re quite as grand as they think they are – not yet, anyway – but it’s really nice to see a band trying for something epic. All those iconic bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s became legends because they tried for it. Sam’s Town features more consistent songwriting than the debut, and aside from the fact that it doesn’t quite have the killer (if you’ll pardon the term) hit that Hot Fuss did (“When You Were Young” is a great track, but probably isn’t quite the single that “Somebody Told Me” was), an all-around better effort. I’m now anxiously waiting for the third CD – once upon a time, in the ancient land of Artist Development, that third record was the one where you learned the ultimate truth about a band. I’m starting to think The Killers may be a throwback to that era. Of course, back in the day you had to be able to play live, too, and every time I’ve seen these guys trying to perform it’s been a trainwreck…

Don Dixon – The Entire Combustible World in One Small Room
A nifty concept album, with all the songs being about rooms, more or less. Don’s last outing was more pensive than his previous work, and this one is even more so. It’s not that it’s without hooky moments, but the focus is on a deeper exploration of character and place, and as such it’s most assuredly not Most of the Girls Like to Dance

 

Gold LP: Significant Achievement

Shiny Toy Guns – We Are Pilots
Yet another neo-’80s act reviving the sounds of their youth. And this time, somebody’s been listening to Alphaville. Soaring harmonies, lots of expensive production, and oh, the synthesizers. Strong male and female vox lend the sound an added dimension and depth, and Carah Faye has the it (although Jeremy Dawson seems to be the brains in the outfit). This is probably my favorite 2006 release to listen to – just too much fun to turn off.

Electric Six – Switzerland
Okay, above when I said Shiny Toy Guns was my favorite 2006 CD to listen to…let’s call it a tie. This is big, dumb rock at its most gloriously, cleverly big and dumb. My wife wants to hate it so badly, thanks to the lyrics in songs like “I Buy the Drugs,” but she can’t because the songs are so damned catchy. Like this, from “Infected Girls”: “I gave you my heart/I gave you my soul/Now I’m just another number at the Center for Disease Control.” Yeah, what kind of drooling genius comes up with this sort of magic? This is what Barenaked Ladies would be like if they could somehow get over themselves.

She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge
Two LA producer/musician/DJs with a hard-on for Joy Division. Only unlike Joy Division, this is listenable. Very funny in spots, too – at least they don’t take their neo-post-punk angst too seriously.

Razorlight – Razorlight
Although they’re a tad lighter in the critical substance department, these guys sort of remind me of Marah. A little slicker, maybe. A little prettier. But still, a real rock band. I guess some people want to lump them in with the nu wavers, but that’s not quite apt. While I hear some pub rock echoes in spots (“Who Needs Love?”), their overall sound has evolved past any debt to a particular moment in musical history.

Goldfrapp – Supernature
Ooh la la, indeed. I have a weakness for electro/trip-pop (Hooverphonic, Mono, Saint Etienne, Frou Frou, Imogen Heap, etc.) and Goldfrapp is the latest train to come pulsing down those tracks. Equal parts Portishead lounge vibe and T. Rex glam stomp, and easily the sexiest disc of the year. (In fact, I hear the name “Goldfrapp” and think it sounds like something from a 007 film – and how incredibly perfect this disc would be as a Bond soundtrack.) If it has a weakness, it’s that the first three tracks are so incredibly strong that it makes the rest of the record seem a little anti-climatic by comparison.

 

Honorable Mention

The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
Praise Jebus – Jack White finally got a band around him. And he’s collaborating with Brendan Benson? Sweet! White has always been talented, but given to some extremely self-limiting tendencies (like insisting on a band with nothing but a guitar and a bad drummer, for instance). His songwriting has always been a bit limited, as well. The White Stripes’ best moments were always derivative of Zep (no truth to the rumor that the band selected this name because White thought raconteur was the French word for “Led Zeppelin”). and the rest of their moments were, well, less. So hooking up with a legit pop/rock talent like Benson opens a lot of doors – for both of them. BB has needed the sanction that White’s name represents and White has desperately needed someone who could drag him out of the very small box in which he’d chosen to conduct his career so far. I still don’t know if this is intended as a band or a project (hoping for “band,” fearing that it’s a one-off) but what I’m hearing here suggests that the whole is potentially a lot greater than the sum of the parts. Let’s hope White and Benson recognize a really good thing when they see it.

The Streets – The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
I don’t know enough about hip-hop to comment intelligently, but this is unusual in its intelligence. Frankly, there’s too much damned critical fawning over rap artists who aren’t smart enough to craft a coherent thought, so I’m always appreciative when I trip across a hip-hopper with something useful to say.

Matthew Sweet & Susannah Hoffs – Under the Covers Vol. 1
Two performers who respect rock tradition doing reverent takes on a variety of classics. I especially like Sweet’s version of “The Kids Are All Right,” and Hoffs was just about born to sing “Different Drum.”

Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
It’s clear that this crowd liked the Saturday Night Fever era more than a rational person should have, but I guess that’s to be expected in a sub-culture where genre and gender are so obviously…fluid. The nice thing is that they also seem to have revered ‘70s-era Elton John, and that influence inspires some truly wonderful moments.

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