Sunday, March 04, 2007


Top 10 Discs of 2006


Shaky finally threw the hammer down and gave us his Best of 2006 list. I've had this stored for some time now, so I won't delay and get right to it. Apologies to those who don't like long posts.

1. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat

Some might point out that this came out in 2005, and it did, but my copy clearly states a 2006 release date. So there.

Regardless of what year this was released, this is a fantastic album that I could listen to for years without getting bored. My limited critical vocabulary doesn’t permit me to fully capture why this disc is so good, but I will try.

Rabbit Fur Coat is a country/folk mélange that is incredibly well crafted and beautifully written. It is also quite quirky and, as far as my limited musical knowledge goes, unique. Although the critical acclaim has been, in my view, lacking, I would not hesitate to put in the same category as Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.

2. Damien Rice – 9

Rice’s second album didn’t have the same critical success as his first (which was also outstanding), but I like this one better. The very melancholy O was a great debut album, but it was, let’s say, a little sombre.

This time, the sombreness is still present, but it doesn’t dominate the album. There are a few (relatively) upbeat tracks and some that might even get your feet tapping a little. Cocunut Skins is one track in which the beat is up and you really notice that Rice is an Irishman.

My favourite track, which is quickly becoming my fetish track for the year, is Rootless Tree. It is, along with the Indigo Girls version of Romeo & Juliet, one of the most intense songs I have heard. The fact that the chorus begins with a series of f-bombs is only part of the reason I like this song so much.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium

When one of my friends opined that the Chili Peppers were probably one of the most underrated bands of the 20th century, I had a hard time refuting his argument. They have had a series of good to great albums of the span of two decades, yet nobody would mention them in the same breath as U2.

Although I’ve always liked them, I only have one of their albums and I can’t say that I was ever a huge fan. I am now.

Stadium Arcadium is an album for the ages and might get the Chili Peppers out of the “underrated” category. Given the fact that this is a double album (28 tracks), the quality of the tracks is even more impressive. It’s not easy to have that many high quality songs on one album (think Ryan Adams). Somehow, they pulled it off.

The songs are, to a certain point, eclectic, but not to the point where the album is not cohesive. I think this is what impresses me the most. I also have a fetish track on this album: Hump de Bump. If you don’t feel like dancing when this song is on, then you may be even whiter than I am.

4. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers

As those who know me and my musical tastes will attest to, I am fairly predictable. In almost every one of the lists that I’ve made, Jack White has been featured. Here he is again as the leader of a new group.

I’m not sure why I like what he does so much (from his work with Meg, to Loretta Lynn, to his soundtrack to some movie with Tom Cruise’s second ex-wife), but I think it’s because it’s quite simple and straightforward. For example, when I read that he and Meg were the only two performers on the Stripes’ albums, I figured they did a lot of over-dubbing. I then saw them in concert and Jack plays like three instruments at a time.

With the Raconteurs, things feel a bit more “produced”, as it is a quartet, but not much. It’s still pretty straightforward rock, à la Kings of Leon.

5. The Tragically Hip – World Container

Much like most people my age, I went through university on a steady diet of Gord Downie. In the past few years, however, I had strayed from that path. With the release of this album, I am right back where I should be, smack dab in the middle of Bobcaygeon and the Paris of the Prairies.

The new disc is somewhat a return to the classic, straight-shooting, no-frills rock that we are used to, but it also has some more eclectic stuff. The last track, Yer Not the Ocean, has a tinge of a, dare I say it, Santana sound to it…but better.

On a side not, I like the little pun they used for the 7th track: Luv (sic). For someone who’s considered the king of the bad, Dad, jokes, this is tailor made for me.

6. Beck – The Information

After being dumped and getting in touch with his depressive side on Sea Change, Beck returned to form with Guero. On this album, he makes it clear that he is still on top of his game.

I don’t know if there is a description for the type of music Beck produces, but in my limited experience, he clearly has a style of his own. Granted, it is a melting pot of a number of musical influences, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where he is coming from. I guess this it what makes me like his stuff so much.

The Information is very much in the genre of Odelay and Guero and not so much like his earlier work. Although I usually like “folksier” music, I really prefer Beck when he lets it all hang out and pushes the envelope.

7. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

Thanks to Shaky and our mutual friend David, I got hooked on Belle & Sebastian after listening to their 1996 disc, If You’re Feeling Sinister. It took a while, but I now have most of their work and it’s always in frequent rotation.

The Life Pursuit is just the latest in a long line of great discs that is, once again filled with great songs. For fans, it still has the great writing that is a staple with B&S, as well as the great musicianship. Even if I’m quite familiar with them, I’m always amazed by how tight they are as a group.

People rave, and rightfully so, about how Arcade Fire is so great live and how a large group of musicians can be so tight. I would put B&S in the same category. I saw them live a few years back and they were like 12 people on stage. It was fantastic. Great energy.

If there is a difference in this latest project, it has to be the fact that it’s a little more upbeat and a little funkier. I wouldn’t say that it’s a “departure”, but it has a slightly different feel to it.

Check it out.

8. John Mayer – Continuum

Yes, that’s right. You read that properly. John Mayer. Shut up Beeg!

I used to listen to John Mayer strictly when my better half would insist upon it. I didn’t really mind it, but I didn’t necessarily look forward to it. Seeing him live and how great of a guitarist he is, however, made me a convert.

Now, this disc is not anything like his live performance, but there is a little more focus on the guitar, which is a good sign. He other positive aspect is the writing. He can be quite the clever writer at times, which is another aspect I appreciate.

Although I often feel that the whole John Mayer experience is a little to sleek or to “packaged”, I like the final product. He is definitely a perfectionist, but his passion still comes through in the music.

For me, the highlight of the disc is the remake of Jimi’s Bold as Love. When I saw it on the track list, I thought it was a little brash to attempt a song from the best guitarist in the world, but Mayer pulls it off quite nicely. He’s got some serious chops.

9. Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning

In my music collection, I have but one Dire Straits album and none of Emmylou Harris’ great work. Nevertheless, I have an immense respect for both of them and I really like everything I’ve heard from both. I just need to work on my collection.

With the two of them getting together, I couldn’t pass up the chance to get to know them better.

This disc came highly recommended, but it took me a few spins to really get into it. I did, however, really get into it. As one would expect, it has a great country sound to it and it’s very well crafted. The songs are quite polished, but come off as if they were recorded on the first take. It feels like one of those albums that was recorded in a barn that was converted into a recording studio. Maybe it was. Either way, that’s the image I have when I listen to it and that adds to the calming effect the songs have on me. It’s a great disc to play when you want to relax and work off those rough edges from a long day.

10. Indigo Girls – Despite our Differences

Without hesitation, I will buy every new Indigo Girls album without hearing a single note or without reading a single review. For me, they are just one of those bands.

Many critics and fans have indicated that this disc is return to the “Closer to Fine” glory days. That is not necessarily false, but it makes it seem as if their previous discs were sub par, which they weren’t.

If anything, this disc has a slightly faster tempo than the previous two IG projects, which is, in a way, a return to their more “intense” early years. There were a few albums that had a more “sensitive” or melancholy sound to them, notably Swamp Ophelia, Rights of Passage and Become You.

Another aspect of this disc that makes it a little more like the earlier work is that the Girls seem to have rediscovered their acoustic guitars, which they had slightly strayed from on their last few discs.

All in all, for those who appreciate good harmonies and great acoustic riffs, pick up this disc.

Oh yeah, for fans of Pink, she makes an appearance on the track “Rock & Roll Heaven’s Gate”. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Honourable Mention:

11. Ani DiFranco – Reprieve
12. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
13. The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics
14. Dixie Chicks – Taking The Long Way


J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton – Road to Escondito

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