2006, or how I finally made sense of my life
15. Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit. Its no Boy With the Arab Strap but The Life Pursuit at times reminds me of Beat Happening, one of my favorite bands of all time, and at other times blows my mind in other ways. "We Are Sleepyheads" is probably my favorite song on the album.
14. Less Than Jake: In With The Out Crowd. Less Than Jake was a defining band of my adolescence, and In With The Out Crowd reminds me of my own maturation by hearing theirs. They've thematically moved from focusing on adolescent angst to love (though often unrequited), independence, and growing up. This album is really awesome because its so self-realized.
13. Mates of State: Bring It Back. Can we all just agree that this is the most beautiful couple ever? Bring It Back is also a really mature album. It channels all that whimsey into something elevated and serious. I first listened to Mates of State when they opened for Death Cab (yeah I know, shut up) in 2003 at a Halloween show at the Variety Playhouse. I was struck by their togetherness, and this album really demonstrates that. Fraud in the 80s is such a good demonstration of the maturity of the band and of the album, especially around 2:14 before the song transitions into the chorus, then later around 3:00.
12. Joanna Newsom: Y's. I know a lot of people hate this album, but I've rather enjoyed it and I find it really easy to lose myself in it when I feel defeated. "Cosmia," especially, has this quietude about it that suddenly becomes sublime and nostalgic.
11. Stephin Merritt: Showtunes. I admire this album for making me enjoy a genre of music that I previously refused to appreciate. I love it for its simultaneous delicacy and boldness, its incorporation of non-traditional instruments, and for the fact that it has hints of Stephin Merritt all over it. It includes tracks from The Orphan of Zhao, My Life as a Fairy Tale, and Peach Blossom Fan, all of which Stephin composed with Chen Shi-Zheng.
10. Ghost Mice/Pretty Hot Split. Both of these bands have been important to me for the last two years or so (since my folk punk obsession began). Ghost Mice is probably my favorite Plan-It-X band, and I took the name of this blog from a Pretty Hot song. This split was probably the most exciting thing that happened to me this year (music-wise) because it combined the two. It was somewhat of a disappointment that there weren't a lot of new Pretty Hot songs that I hadn't heard before, but they rock so hard that the remixes were really awesome to listen to. This album probably wins the award for being the best road trip music of this year.
9. Yo La Tengo: I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. It took awhile for this album to grow on me, but I eventually decided that it was well-produced. "I Feel Like Going Home" at about 1:38 really captures the way I think most people feel when they are exhausted and just want to return to a familiar place.
8. nina nastasia: On Leaving . When I'm angry, I often listen to this album and walk around campus. For some reason, it reminds me of the way I felt when I was 10 and listening to the Cranberries would break my heart. "Settling Song" and "Bird of Cuzco" are probably my favorites because they capture this enormous feeling of loss and redemption.
At this point, I have to stop and say that the difference between the top 7 and the bottom 8 is pretty vast. The next 7 were definitively the best and most significant of this year, and I really could have done a top 7 of this year and been satisfied.
7. Band of Horses: Everything All The Time. I have an intense personal relationship with this album. There was probably a 2-month period this year when I could not stop listening to it, no matter how painful and bleak it became. I would wake up in the morning humming "St. Augustine" or "Great Salt Lake." Sometimes I couldn't sleep because the album would repeat itself in my head long after I'd turned off my ipod. It became a problem. I banned it for a few months, but couldn't stop coming back to it. It sounds hokey, but I found it to be so much more significant to revisit after a couple of months of listening to other things. Haunting, it may have ceased to be, but it sounded so much more mature through the lens of (and compared with) everything else.
6. POS: Audition. This album is pretty much insane. "De La Souls" really turned me onto it because of the addition of Greg Attonito, but overall I think Audition is really well-executed. You can definitely hear a lot of the punk influence and so much of it is just melodic. I'm a bit surprised that this album hasn't appeared on a lot of hip hop blogs this year, but there have been a few mentions on year-end lists.
5. The Submarines: Declare a New State. Although I've bought a lot of stuff from them this year, but the best discovery I made on Threadless was not the Communist Party t-shirt, but The Submarines. Declare a New State has been a really good relationship-turbulence-relieving album for me, but I especially like to listen to it when its sunny outside to remind me of how far (the S.O. and I) have come. I don't think this album has gotten enough attention, though I'm glad to see some other people appreciating them.
4. Ratatat: Classics. I reviewed this album back in July and the main thing I had to say about it was that it was much more expansive and experimental. After a couple of months of letting it sort of gestate in my mind, I should also add that it is probably their best album so far. I was really attached to the S/T until I sort of came out of a daze once just as "Gettysburg" was starting and heard all of the complex low notes. Amazing.
3. Kimya Dawson: Remember that I Love You. If she isn't your favorite Moldy Peach, you've got some rethinking to do. This album contains a lot of songs that she's performed live over the years, and was released right around the time I think she had her baby. It's a reminder of the purity and beauty that can come out of an artist's extreme love of her fans, her community, and her family. While sometimes polemical, listening to this album is like a long, warm hug from Kimya. I was kind of surprised to only find it on one list.
One more time out. Choosing between these next two was really hard. On the one hand, I don't think anyone rocked harder than the Souls this year. On the other, I don't think I've heard anything that has shaken my soul as much as Begin to Hope. Regina Spektor may have single handedly made this year for me. It was a tough choice, but here's ultimately what I decided.
2. Bouncing Souls: The Gold Record. When I reviewed this album back in June, I definitely thought it would be my favorite of this year. It has a couple of good covers, but songs like "Sounds of the City," "Midnight Mile," and "The Gold Song," really spoke to me about the predominant themes of my life (negotiating my way through urban space, leaving home, and watching my youth slowly drift away). I was excited to see this album getting a bit more recognition, but it kind of seems as if a lot of people who gave it good reviews have sort of forgotten about it.
1. Regina Spektor: Begin To Hope. I was so mean to this album the first time I wrote about it. I blame it on bad traffic and road rage. I aquired Begin to Hope in the summer, when I had a lot of city driving to do, and I think I got through the first 3 tracks before I decided that it sounded like a stupid Top 40 and jettisoned it for something else (probably The Gold Record). In some weird twist of fate, I left it in my car and was forced to listen to it later when I was yet again stuck in traffic because there was a busted water main about 5 minutes from my house. In the hour and a half it took to travel a distance of 2 miles, I listened to Begin to Hope a few times, and this time decided that I loved it. I still think the first few songs sound like Top 40's, but I don't mind so much because later tracks like "Edit," "That Time," and "Summer in the City" more than make up for them. "Samson" probably wins the award for being the most beautiful song of this year, and even "Fidelity" became amazingly good when I listened to it a few more times. So, sorry for being so mean to you before, Regina Spektor. You are really beautiful and awesome and I kind of love you.