2006 wasn’t a great year for me and a lot of my friends. However, new music seems to be the ray of light that keeps us going. There were a lot of decent albums we’ve talked about in the past (check out our reviews on releases by Fear Before The March of Flames, TV on the Radio, Yo La Tengo and Love As Laughter, just to name a few) –and some we are meaning to get to (Brand New, Liars). In the meantime, here’s what we fell in love with in 2006:
Secret Machines Ten Silver Drops [Reprise]
An almost perfect album: 8 tracks that while tending to run a little longer than radio prefers, feels just right. Like a well-written short story, there is no fat, no unnecessary tracks or even unnecessary moments.
The two obvious singles, “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” and “Lightning Blue Eyes” are radically different and yet infused with the Secret Machines’ cool detachment from a pain that’s so obviously there. “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” is a darker, somber way to open up a CD and with their swirling buildup of sound and Benjamin Curtis’ raspy voice, it couldn’t be more successful.
“All At Once (It’s Not Important)” offers some of the most gut-wrenching lyrics as Curtis resigns himself to the fact he’s not loved (”what fell in place just falls apart again, I guess…”), and yet he still hangs on to the shred of hope that it might work out in the end (”it’s only time, and you know I’ll wait…”)
“Lightning Blue Eyes” is pure pop genius, with an undeniable bounce and a glorious culmination of mixed feelings; it dares the listener to feel joy and then sears a reminder onto their brain that something did in fact, go wrong.
“Daddy’s in the Doldrums” takes us into Pink Floyd territory, showcasing spacey guitar and cool story-like lyrics. “I Hate Pretending” is an angry little ditty with great backing vocals from brother Brandon Curtis. “Faded Lines” is another story; a comical set-up for a drug bust and perhaps the least emotional track on the album, but still packing a few lyrical wallops. “I Want To Know If It’s Still Possible” opens with the sounds of a thunderstorm and a distant radio. It hurts your heart before Curtis even starts to sing. Then, the gorgeous words speak of star collisions and encounters that feel more like disaster than love. Another one of the stronger tracks, and this writer’s favorite, is the closer, “1,000 Seconds”. It’s dark, angry, beautiful and full of that mellifluous melancholy that the Secret Machines do best. Ten Silver Drops is the story of heartbreak and it’s one you’ll never want to get over. – J. Gordon
Alexi Murdoch Time Without Consequence
Every once in a while an artist comes around with that
perfect combination of sound and words that you find yourself playing over and over and over without fear of burning holes through your sensory headpiece. Alexi Murdoch is an artist without an image, whose songs you may have heard without even realizing it. The incredibly haunting “Orange Sky” has been the best pick for most film and television music coordinators since the EP’s release, having been featured on several television shows and movies.
Born in Scotland, but raised in London, Murdoch’s latest CD, Time without Consequence [Zero Summer Records], will draw the inevitable Nick Drake comparisons – one melancholy man with an equally melancholy guitar, lyrics made personal and minimalist production. It is unclear if in the production the ambient quality and air was intentional or just the result of a self-produced, low budget CD. Whatever the intention, the end product is a sound to lose yourself in. The beauty of the music is that it is simply pure and free of a man seeking an image. It is music for the sake of music and lyrics for the sake of poetry. It is music made his own way and was not corrupted by minds’ whose intentions are something you can chart with pretty colors. As you listen you realize it is not about the personality. That is the one thing that seems to be missing here, but that is the one thing that makes this work so amazing – its lack of intention.
Begin Time without Consequence with “All My Days” and you understand what he intends to deliver. Follow through to “Home” which is a song made so repetitive and again so simple it is mesmerizing and haunting. Continue through to “Song for You”, “Blue Mind,” and “Orange Sky” and you find a CD that delivers the artist’s original intention – an intention that kept him away from the major labels and moved him into the harder, but more worthy road of a grass- roots success.
It would be hard to tire of Alexi Murdoch. After all, how does one tire of any great artist whose sole intention is to create lasting impressions and music that will never tire a restless mind?
The Cardigans Super Extra Gravity [Nettwerk]
The nice thing about Super Extra Gravity is that it shows that the Cardigans are so much more than that poppy, disco-dance infused beat of their best-known (and over-played) single from the 90s, “Lovefool.”
Like “Lovefool” and their other songs/albums, the lyrics of Super Extra Gravity remain dark, with singer Nina Persson in full gorgeous voice crooning over her abusive and dysfunctional relationships. Her Swedish accent is a delight, pronouncing words like “lose” as “loose” (but so many misspell it that way, anyhow!). Throughout the CD, Nina is the star; warm and breathy with a velvet edge. You’ll find many of the songs like “Godspell” to be reminiscent of Aimee Mann in lyrics and melody. That’s to say they’re smart, catchy, melancholy-soaked pop. Songs like “Overload” feel like an old song from the 1940s—except that the lyrics, while sung sweetly, are sinister and sometimes sick in the head, lending a twisted kind of beauty. One of the strongest tracks has the funniest title, “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to be Nicer.” And the song “Little Black Cloud” has it all, too: clever guitar that is ever-changing and full of surprises, passionate vocals, killer lyrics injected with a bit of humor and a bouncy melody that sticks in your head. The Cardigans may no longer be played every five minutes on the radio (although “Lovefool” still does get some decent rotation), but that’s because they’re reaching much higher artistically than radio could ever stretch. Super Extra Gravity will suck you in. – J. Gordon
Thom Yorke The Eraser [XL]
If you’re going into Thom Yorke’s solo debut, The Eraser expecting it to sound like Radiohead, you may be a little disappointed, although it’s not such a far cry from the band’s CD Amnesiac and could probably be passed off as outtakes from Kid A (plus a bit of “The Gloaming” for good measure). There’s a creepy vibe to the whole thing, which maybe won’t put you in the greatest mood but can certainly serve to fascinate. The lyrics of The Eraser are a little more straightforward than the last few Radiohead albums, still, that’s not saying a whole lot. Most of the songs rely on strong choruses—another departure from his band—which puts this album more in the pop world than experimental categories, but also has an unmistakable techno beat.
The song, “Atoms for Peace” is York’s defining vocal moment, and probably the highlight of the CD. “And It Rained All Night” is chock full of words, but no one ever really gets a clear message. It’s clear that Yorke didn’t want this to sound like another Radiohead album (despite the technical wizardry and detached ambiguity fingerprints of the Yorke and Greenwood team), and he really stretches to continue his decade-plus creative streak. On an album of only nine songs, at least six are killer—not too bad of a ratio. It’s terrific to isolate one talent in a perfect team and see what they do alone. One does learn to appreciate the band member’s input however.
Jeremy Enigk World Waits
In the 1990s, Sunny Day Real Estate was the coolest indie band the mainstream never heard of. And lead singer/songwriter, Jeremy Enigk, never seemed all that bothered about dishing out mainstream fare, preferring to serve himself and his own taste. That trend continued on to his present band, The Fire Theft, and his solo project today. Bucking trends as usual, it would be so easy to consider Enigk’s latest release, World Waits a prog-rock album. After all, World Waits is doing everything on a grand scale: this is big music, big production, big ideas. Listening to World Waits at times has the impact of huge, complicated bands like Yes—a truly amazing achievement given the liner notes say the indie label album [Lewis Hollow Recordings] was primarily recorded in several homes and townhouses. In contrast to prog-rock, however, there is nothing false, overly-showy or pretentious about this album. That’s a difficult line to walk.
World Waits is an achievement on so many levels. Emotionally, Jeremy Enigk’s vocals are so sincere, occasionally pleading and near-perfect as to not let a single word slip past without affecting the listener. Songs like “Been Here Before” and “City Tonight” are impossible to get out of your head, and it’s just as impossible not to strain your own vocal chords attempting to join in. The lyrics take us through Enigk’s life and love, and while he leaves enough ambiguity not to give it all away, it’s still written with a simple, no-bullshit feeling that hits you in the gut.
When Enigk came out with his solo, Return of the Frog Queen in 1996, it was a stripped-down, emotional departure from Sunny Day Real Estate’s hyper, more frenetic keening. It was such a critically lauded album that everyone collectively held their breath, not believing Enigk could ever match or improve upon it. Well, perhaps it’s not an improvement per se, but World Waits seems to be a great mix of the best of all he’s done: Sunny Day, The Fire Theft, and that perfectly beautiful Return of the Frog Queen. World Waits is a dramatic, majestic record—one Enigk should be proud of and one you should be proud to own.
David Jackson’s Top Ten Singles of 2006—
1. The Secret Machines – “Lightning Blue Eyes”
The fact is, I could put any song from their new album Ten Silver Drops on this list and feel good about it. I picked this song because it has the shimmering, brilliant energy that permeated their first single “Nowhere Again”, which made me an instant fan. If this doesn't do the same for you, there is no justice in this world.
2. Beck – “Nausea”
Kickin'. Beck's folksy guitar and funky beats provide an insatiable urge to get up and dance.
3. “Weird Al” Yankovich – “White And Nerdy”
A parody of a hip-hop song so ubiquitous, even us non-hip-hop people haven't been able to avoid it, “White And Nerdy” reminds us all why we love Weird Al. He works in D&D, coding, Star Trek and more, celebrating geek culture even as he mocks it. Also, Al's other single, “Don't Download This Song”, is a biting, sarcastic, and timely commentary on the RIAA. Both “White and Nerdy” and “Don't Download This Song” are (ironically enough) available for free from his MySpace.
4. A.F.I. – “Prelude 12/21”
Most of A.F.I.'s Decemberunderground is really disappointing, but it's almost worth the entry fee for this epic intro – pounding drums, light piano, and choral harmonies back Day Havok's ominous vocals as he summons an ancient evil (or something). The band has never sounded creepier or more dramatic. Too bad the rest of the album is so mundane.
5. Gym Class Heroes – “The Queen And I”
Emo/indie hip-hop? Believe it. Right from the start (“I love it how she breathes booze in the mornin'/Man, it's so sexy how she can't remember last night...”) “The Queen And I” is witty and fresh. The Gym Class Heroes defy comparisons. You need to hear this song – now.
6. Hellogoodbye – “Here In Your Arms”
Clean, cool, and ridiculously upbeat, it's a mystery why the first single from Hellogoodbye's Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! Isn't already a radio hit. “Here in Your Arms” isn't just fun, it's a harmonic, wide-eyed burst of reverent optimism, and that's positively refreshing.
7. Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy”
Substitute with “Gone Daddy Gone” to taste. Overplayed as it may be, this breakout song dragged a bit of good music (kicking and screaming) into the ever-fickle mainstream, and made radio a bit less shallow in the process. Myself, I like it. Does that make me craaaaaazy? Probably.
8. Cute Is What We Aim For – “The Curse Of Curves”
It's crunchy three-chord pop rock, but with an inspired wit, and thick with sarcasm. “Her bone structure screams, 'Touch her, Touch her!' and she's got the curse of curves,” should probably speak for itself. But don't take my word for it – hit up the band's purevolume page and hear for yourself.
9. The Prize Fighter Inferno – “The Going Price For Home”
We love Claudio Sanchez. On his new solo album Postal Service esque beats combine with his eerie, childlike vocals to tell another hellish story of love and death.
10. My Chemical Romance – “Welcome To The Black Parade”
Speaking of love and death, it's some new MCR! Actually, their new material is a bit heavier on the death, but in a more philosophical sense – it's not about people dying, it's about the whole idea of death itself. The music also sounds just like a parade, a big grand show, sort of like what they might sing walking down the street at Disneyland in Hell. Yes, that's a compliment.