Best Records of 2006

I hope you all had a great holiday this year. Since I haven't really been hearing a lot of new music this year, my list will be a combination of new discoveries along with reissues and new releases from 2006. Here's my "Best of 2006" list just in time for the new year. Have a safe and happy new year, and I'll see you next year!

1) Comets on Fire- Avatar- This time around the boys from Santa Cruz tone down the cacophonous swirl of saxophones, psych garage guitars and echo-drenched vocals for a more laid back classic rock sound. Don't get me wrong though, the opening track Dogwood Rust still pummels you with a mind-melting hard rockin' listening experience. Think Jefferson Airplane mixed with MC5.

Comets on Fire- Dogwood Rust and Lucifer's Memory

2)Fred Lane- From the One That Cut You- I discovered this album on the fantastically diverse blog Palestinian Light Orchestra. The record is a mix of skronking big-band free-jazz with loopy sound effects, goofy absurdist vocals and noisy no-wave experimentation. It was originally released in 1975 and as far as I know can still be found for some serious cash. If you like things like Zappa, Beefheart and the Bonzo Dog Band, then this is right up your alley

Fred Lane- Fun In the Fundus and Danger Is My Beer

3)Harmika Yab Yum- Folk Sounds of Nepal- This album was released on Sublime Frequencies in 2005 and contains a distinctive awe-inspiring mix of field recordings of snake charming music, drum circles, radio signals from another world and acoustic folk music. If you are interested in authentic creative world music, then this is for you.

Harmika Yab Yum- VA- Radio Nepal vii and All Night Festival

4)Yo La Tengo- I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass- Besides having what is probably the best album title in quite some time, this album is all over the map stylistically. If you are a fan of Yo La Tengo, you will love this album because it is a brilliant mix tape representing every facet of the band's prolific twenty year career. The two tracks that bookend the album showcase the intense guitar dynamics of early favorites like I Heard You Looking or the hard-rocking version of Big Day Coming on Painful. While the light and bouncy pop of Beanbag Chair would have fit nicely alongside most of the tracks on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the spooky and elegiac eight-and-a-half minute instrumental Daphnia is undoubtedly inspired by their Sounds of the Sounds of Science sessions. Dig in and I'm sure you'll find something to treasure here.

Yo La Tengo- Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind and Daphnia

5)Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band- Egyptian Jazz- I discovered this on the Orgy in Rhythm blog while scouring the internet for new music. Egypt Strut features snake charming flutes, big band horns and a North Arabian rhythm section for a sound that is reminiscent of the Ethiopiques instrumental collections. Buy a copy here for a truly interesting listening experience.

Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band- Egypt Strut and Ramadan in Space Time

6)Bardo Pond- Ticket Crystals- On Ticket Crystals, the band's second release for ATP Recordings, Isobel Sollenberger and company tone down the sludgy, droning guitars and feature the vocals and flute more prominently. Lost Word features a psychedelic swirl of guitars, flute and drums which conjures up the feeling of smoking peyote in the middle of an indian reservation while hallucinatory visions dance across your subconscience. They even tackle a straightforward cover of John Lennon's Cry Baby Cry until the bottom falls out and it turns into a psychedelic firestorm at the end. Highly recommended!

Bardo Pond- Lost Word and Cry Baby Cry

7) Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood- I've had the privilege of witnessing Neko perform these songs in a live setting and it was nothing short of amazing. She has toned down the country-noir vibe of Blacklisted for a more diverse record with elements of rock, pop, country and gospel. Her voice is the star as usual, but highlights include Star Witness with it's haunting lyrics and vivid imagery of a fatal car crash. The minute and-a-half long, A Widow's Toast, displays Neko's dynamic vocal range over a humming electric guitar loop. Then, on the country-gospel song called John Saw That Number, she belts out an awe-inspiring vocal that would make Aretha and Mahalia proud.

Neko Case- Star Witness, A Widow's Toast and John Saw That Number

8) Old Time Relijun- Lost Light- Old Time Relijun put on such an incendiary show at the Halleluwah festival this past summer, that I had to put them on my best of 2006 list. Since Old Time Relijun relocated to Portland, OR this past summer, they have tightened up their sound to create an absolutely euphoric live experience. Arrington and company can best be described as a demented cross between Pere Ubu, Captain Beefheart and James Chance. Erratic, de-tuned guitars fight for space with dissonant saxophones over a bed of tight funk rhythms, while Arrington screams like a fire and brimstone preacher walking on burning coals. The highlight on this record and the live performance is a song called Cold Water, which features lead singer Arrington De Dionyso maniacally screaming over a tight and frantic disco rhythm from hell. You can't help but chant along with them by the end of the song, because your mind and body are possessed by the rhythm of old time religion. Don't pass up the chance to see these guys in your neck of the woods. They are electrifying!

Old Time Relijun- Cold Water and Vampire Victim

9)Beirut- Gulag Orkestar- If you are familiar with Neutral Milk Hotel, you will definitely relate the opening instrumental intro on The Gulag Orkestar to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. This is with good reason because Jeremy Barnes from Neutral Milk Hotel and Hawk and a Hacksaw adds additional percussion and accordion to this album. However, Zach Condon essentially created this masterpiece of beauty on his own by playing nearly all of the instruments on the record. It creates the illusion that you are listening to a 20 piece marching band from Slovakia who have had one too many at the local pub, when really it's just Zach and a few assorted friends. Fans of Fanfare Ciocarlia and Gogol Bordello will absolutely love this record.

Beirut- The Gulag Orkestar and Bratislava

10) Jolie Holland- Springtime Can Kill You- This time around the music has a more jazzy and breezy sunny afternoon vibe, but the lyrics still conjure up memories of hanging out with drunken friends and spending sleepless summer nights alone. Jolie has a way with phrasing words with a backwoods southern warble that reminds you of Karen Dalton or a folksy Billie Holiday. Springtime Can Kill You features shuffling drums, jazz-inflected vocals and an affecting whistle on the bridge. Ghostly Girl showcases Jolie's dynamic range with a truly haunting soprano vocal during the first minute of the song. The subtle nuances of lapsteel guitar on Stubborn Beast give the tune a down-home country feel with seductive vocals. Overall, this record sounds more mellow than Escondida, but it's songs explore themes of darkness and desparation which conjure up images of lost souls sipping moonshine on the back porch or just reflecting about the day.

Jolie Holland- Springtime Can Kill You, Stubborn Beast and Ghostly Girl

11) Built to Spill- You In Reverse- Boise Idaho's Built To Spill has finally graced the world with it's latest barnstormer of an album. Going Against Your Mind comes right out the gate with a propulsive drum beat that segues into a series of infectious guitar riffs that are layered meticulously by Brett Netson, Doug Martsch and Jim Roth. This song is epic and grand in every stretch of the imagination. It ebbs and flows like ocean waves crashing onto the shore, calming to a hush and then rebuilding its intensity in the climax. Just a Habit starts out calmly with a plaintive vocal and a mellow backdrop of acoustic guitar and percussion, but halfway through the song Doug Martsch explodes into a guitar shredding solo that is beyond words. Then, the song builds intensity for another mind-melting guitar solo while a bouncy bassline carries the song along to its ending. These two songs alone are worth the price of admission.

Built to Spill- Goin' Against Your Mind and Just a Habit

12) Alela Diane- The Pirate's Gospel- Alela Diane is a recent Portland, OR transplant from Nevada City, CA whose brand of backwoods campfire folk is highly influenced by Jolie Holland, Karen Dalton and Josephine Foster. She has complete control over her sensual and powerful voice and unleashes some of the best melodies these ears have ever heard. Tatted Lace is actually not on this album, but I love the yodeling chorus on this one so much that it brings tears to my eyes. Therefore, I have to include it here along with Foreign Tongue from The Pirate's Gospel. Foreign Tongue features majestically soaring vocals as well as the use of a whistling melody for the bridge that is hauntingly effective. Keep an eye out for this girl because she is bound to take the world by storm with her impassioned vocals and thoughtful lyrics.

Alela Diane- Tatted Lace and Foreign Tongue


atanase said…
kevin, many thanks for this review. very very useful. i do know some of the artists, but a few i don't and it is avery good introduction for me... i was just talking to some of my collector friend and was saying that comets are a good band. also good to see arrington here. anyway, thank you for your effort.
Kevin said…

Many thanks for the kind words. If you have any requests for stuff, please let me know. Comets on Fire and Bardo Pond are two of my favorite psychedelic stoner rock groups, so I have lots of other stuff from them. I could have probably listed about 50 other things that weren't released this year, but this list was the most concise list I could muster. Your site has turned me on to lots of Free Jazz that I never heard before. Thanks for the music and for leaving a comment.

I am also a contributor to the blog called Ear Fuzz and I did a post on James Chance and the Contortions right before the New Year.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Take care, Kevin
Anonymous said…
I'll agree with Neko Case and Beirut. The others I'm not familiar enough to comment. My favorite of 2006:
"The Drift"-Scott Walker
Kellen said…
That Yo La Tengo sounds good! I hadn't checked it out till now, but I guess I'll have to pick up the whole album soon. "Egypt Strut" sounds great, too.

Thanks, by the way, for the link!

Chris Rich said…
Fred Lane is affiliated with the excruciating modern Improvisers, LaDonna Smith and Davey Williams. Williams plays guitar on the release as Cyd Cherisse or something. They are an improbable bunch from a scene in Birmingham AL and Lane put other stuff under the title "Radalaunas Pataphysical Review".

You may be able to find more of their stiff at Wayside Music.
Theo said…
Awesome post, thank you!
Is it possible for more sublime frequencies stuff? Im hungry for more after that!
Kevin said…
Hi Theo. Thanks for your interest and for posting a comment. I have a Sun City Girls dedication comign up in the next couple days as well as a US Maple live show recorded in Portland, OR that sounds pretty good. As far as Sublime Frequencies stuff goes, I can post a couple more tracks from Harmika Yab Yum and I have one called Radio Algeria which is a mix of radio stations broadcasted in Algeria with some pretty cool Moroccan music. Make sure to check back soon for that. Also, you can sign up for the blog via the feedburner link and then it lets you know when I've updated the link.

Later, Kevin
Peecat said…
Just stumbled upon your Best Records of 2006 list, and while I would be delighted to see Comets On Fire, Yo La Tengo, Bardo Pond, Neko Case, Old Time Relijun and Built To Spill crash and die in a fiery plane wreck, I'm really excited that you turned me on to both Salah Ragab and Fred Lane. I'd never heard of either before and I'm going to spend some money I don't have purchasing both of them. Thanks for letting me know about them.

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