Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006 Best of the Rest

Welcome to the "best music of the year" portion of the blog. As usual, we begin with choices in some special categories. Paul Allen will have his choices in the same categories at his blog, 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds. Our top ten lists are coming soon!

Best Surprise
The Wood Brothers: Ways Not to Lose

One day this summer, this album appeared on my screen as one of the most recent releases at The cover intrigued me (see below), and the reviews were interesting. For $5.99 plus tax, I figured, why not? It was a good risk to take. This album may not be everyone’s cup of tea—the arrangements are sometimes spare, sometimes weird, and the tempo can be slow at times—but the lyrics are thoughtful and the music plays along. I haven’t tested the theory yet, but this seems like the perfect album to play while sitting on the porch on a day a bit too chilly to be out there, drinking a cup of tea—or something stronger.

Biggest Disappointment
The Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics
I was so excited for the follow-up to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The Flaming Lips were on a two album roll (after 1999’s masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin) and a third seemed like a sure thing. But this isn’t what I waited for. Some of the songs work, some don’t, but the big problem is that the album sounds like crap. At first I thought this was just me, but recently I read in SPIN that Wayne Coyne and company decided to mix the album loud. Lots of bad bands do this—it makes their albums sound more forceful coming out of your speakers by decreasing the volume difference between the mid-range sounds and the loudest ones. That may be fine for a song or two, but over the course of an album it all begins to sound the same, with no sonic variation, no way for big moments to stand out—and no way to enjoy listening.

Best Cover Art
The Wood Brothers: Ways Not to Lose

Simple, understated—just like the album itself—but this cover dangles the hand of fate, has you begging to see what card it’s holding, and thus sucks you into asking the question every cover should: I wonder what the music sounds like?

Best Album Title
At War With the Mystics
Hey, just because the album isn’t very good doesn’t mean the name isn’t!

Best Cover Version
Jenny Lewis and company: "Handle with Care"
Lewis is joined by Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard in a remake of the Traveling Wilburys hit song. It should be a mess—what right do these indie wunderkind have tackling a song handed down by the masters?—but it works perfectly. Proof of the talents of both the songwriters and the ones singing.

Guiltiest Pleasure
Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
This band is supposedly a successor to Radiohead, but I don’t see it. They do, however, make for quite the car ride, even if the lyrics are either nonsense or liberal propaganda. (And you know, if I think something is liberal propaganda, it’s off the deep end.) Bombast and catchy guitar riffs—I know I should bring something else with me, but I can’t stop myself!

Best Discovery
I’ve noted this on the blog before, but 2006 was the year that living with a classical music fan finally started to penetrate my rock and roll defenses. But the fun thing I discovered is that, while he prefers symphonies, I have a yen for concertos. Hearing the rollicking interplay between an orchestra and a virtuoso pianist or violinist unlocks something in my brain. No wonder I don’t leave for work in the morning without some Beethoven, Brahms, or Mendelssohn in my bag.

Best Trend
Does my short candidate list yield any “trends?” Not really. But its very shortness points to one: new albums by old favorites that are so roundly panned as to free me from buying them. The trend began with last year’s new Sheryl Crow album, which debuted to middling reviews. This year, Everclear, Jet, The Killers, the Magic Numbers, Damien Rice, Starsailor, Robbie Williams, and Pete Yorn have all done my checking account a favor by pushing out discs that didn’t meet with much critical acclaim. Not to mention Oasis and U2 and other bands that put out greatest hits albums that fail to live up to the job description. (Not including “Whatever” on an Oasis compilation? Are they kidding?) These bad albums are like money in my pocket!

Best Concert
As I profiled here, the best concert experience of the year for me happened at Ravinia in July. The stars aligned to give us a crowdless, quiet night to enjoy what many consider Mahler’s prettiest symphony, the fourth. It was preceded by a jazz-infused piano concerto written by Erwin Schulhoff (for which my Amazon order was recently canceled after five months of waiting). Both pieces were lovely, as was the evening. Even Bob Dylan couldn’t top it.

Hardest Album to Leave Off the Top Ten
Elton John: The Captain and the Kid
It kills me to have to deny Sir Elton; he could have made the list a little bit gayer. But while I catch myself whistling the opening track, "Postcards From Richard Nixon," and admire the storytelling that goes on over the course of this sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, some of the songs just don't do it for me. The Scissor Sisters also have a hard time slowing it down, but the songs I docked them for were merely B-level material. "Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way (NYC)," "Blues Never Fade Away," and "The Bridge" are three pieces of D-level cheese, and that's too many on a disc with ten songs. Sorry, sir. Maybe next time.

No comments: