(Below is the initial synopsis I had for the year of 2006 in Music. Now that I look back at it I realize it was better than I thought. I switched a few things around and dropped a couple artists in that I hadn’t heard when I made my initial list. My top 6 here would all rate higher than my number 1 for 2009.)
No business model seems to be more in a state of flux than the music industry. Each year the idea of selling a traditional record is less likely to happen, as downloading music on to MP3 players is the new mechanism. While Youtube and Myspace were around prior to 2006, it was during this year that they made a large leap in helping sell product. Groups like OK Go and Buckcherry used viral video to put themselves on the radar.
The power of singles hasn’t been this strong since the early 60’s, which has to be affecting the motivation of music artists to make a great long player. The plus side of this new model is that record companies and corporate radio have lost some control, giving more bands a chance to be heard. 2006 lacked an American Idiot or The Bends, but the depth was impressive. The rock music system seems to be echoing the NFL, as parity rules.
1. Muse- Black Holes and Revelations
It’s remarkable when one of music’s most derivative bands mangages to take all their different influences and from them create one of the most original sound collages of the past decade. It jumps from prog to electonica to glam to goth to dancepop to metal to baroque, while somehow making it all sound seamless. Read the review from July, as my opinions haven’t changed a bit.
2. Dixie Chicks- Taking the Long Way
While it is very cool in the rock and roll world to slag the President, in country music you could wind up never getting back on the radio. Before Natalie Maines took a shot at Dubya during the height of American jingoism, the Dixie Chicks just might have been the most popular country band in the world. Pathetic that much of country radio has turned it’s back on such quality music. I would argue the first 3 songs on “Taking the Long Way” are the best beginning of any record of 2006. Produced by Rick Rubin, the band has taken the next step up the ladder, as Maines’ voice had never sounded purer.
Downloads: Long Time Way Around, Easy Silence, Not Ready to Make Nice, Silent House
3. Gnarls Barkley- St. Elsewhere
The unlikely pair of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse come together to make the record Andre 3000 has been dreaming of. Cee-Lo brings the best Sam Cooke pipes to the radio since Terence Trent D’Arby. Oh and Crazy was the best single of 2006.
4. The Hold Steady- Boys and Girls in America
From the Twin Cities by way of Brooklyn, Craig Finn produces the Springsteen album that the Killers only hinted at. Finn brings the snarl of an Afghan Whigs to the Born to Run grooves of the music.
Downloads: First Night, Stuck Between Stations
5. Eagles of Death Metal- Death by Sexy
Josh Homme’s takes a break from Queens of the Stone Age to play drums with EODM leader Jesse Hughes. Putting a modern spin on classic rock, this release should be played in every strip club in America. The new and improved Foghat? I don’t say this as a knock, as the Hat were the funkiest classic rock band of its day.
Download: Cherry Cola, Don’t Speak, Poor Doggie
6. Cold War Kids- Robbers and Cowards
One trend that I think has been great in 2006 is the strong return of piano in rock music. Considering that the Cold War Kids have influences such as Dylan and Waits, the question might be “why don’t you have the real thing on your list?” I will agree that Dylan and Waits have put out quality works, but I don’t hear anything from their 2006’s records that they haven’t done better in the past. Lead singer Nathan Willet’s voice is more in the vein of Jeff Buckley, which is something I can handle with repeated listening. Waits and Dylan will stand the test of time, where I’m guessing the Cold War Kids will be disbanded within 5 years, but of all the 3 releases mentioned I would choose the Cold War Kids to listen to right now.
7. Raconteurs- Broken Boy Soldiers
What Jack White does on his free-time is pretty remarkable. (see Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose) While many have focused on the union with Brendan Benson, the rhythm section of Cincy’s great 60’s revivalist group the Greenhornes is a very underrated element of the Raconteurs. The Raconteurs remind me of some of the early 70’s English rock bands like Uriah Heep. Kind of like 1o cuts worth of “Easy Livin’”.
Downloads: Steady, As She Goes, Broken Boys Soldiers, Call It a Day
8. Deadboy and the Elephantmen
So take one part guitarist with a focus on the past and one part slammin’ drummer, then record it with a lo-fi, live sounding feel. Despite what you might think it doesn’t sound much like the White Stripes, as frontman Dax Riggs comes from the Peter Murphy School of singing. This is the album David Bowie should be trying to make.
Downloads: Stop, I’m Already Dead, Blood Music
9. The Hush Sound- Like Vines
Will Carroll turned me on to this great Chicago band. Have you ever wondered what a union of Ben Folds and the Cardigans would sound like? Look no further than here. Sugary sweet deliciousness.
Downloads: Don’t Wake Me Up, Wine Red
10. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead- So Divided
This one hit my radar in 2008 and it seems to get better each time I hear it. Kind of like the Flaming Lips if they were touring the country as a Beatle-tribute band, The Trail of Dead are one of those bands that have made a record just edgy enough to not get played on radio, but not edgy enough to get critical accolades.
Sure they are derivative, but has anyone done the Sabbath/Zep better since Soundgarden? Who they really remind me of is Deep Purple when a young David Coverdale fronted them.
Downloads: Woman, Love Train
12. Little Willies
While her first 2 albums sold better, this is the best work of Norah Jones’ career. Taken a collection of old country tunes and making them their own, this band also features Richard Julian on vocals, as well. Julian’s Lyle Lovett-esque tone blends nicely with Jones’ gorgeous pipes. While the cool kids go for Neko Case or Jenny Lewis, I take off my cowboy hat to the biggest selling female artist of the past 5 years making an eclectic recording that purposedly stayed away from the soft jazz moneymaker she is well-known for.
Downloads: I Gotta Get Drunk Richard Julian Night Life
13. Prince- 3121
Taking the next step after Musicology , 3121 is the triumphant return of Prince at what he does best. The most rocking album he has put out since “The Gold Experience”. Don’t think the funk isn’t represented as well. While recorded before James Brown’s death, it is a tribute in many ways to the Godfather of Soul. Black Sweat is the best electro funk song since Kiss.
Downloads: Lolita, Get On the Boat
14. The Pernice Brothers- Live a Little
The great British Pop album this year is recorded by a guy named Joe from Massachusetts. Furthermore, this Joe guy used to front a band named the Scud Mountain Boys. Yeah, I know it sounds hard to believe, but if you have been looking for music which sounds somewhere between early Bee Gees and Badfinger, “Live a Little” is for you. Downloads: Grudge Fu**, Somerville.
15. Phoenix- It’s Never Been Like That
The second best British Pop album this year is recorded by some cats from France. Reminds me of some of the good pop/synth groups of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Downloads: Consolation Prizes, Long Distance Call, Lost and Found