Albums of the Year: 2006
And here are my top 10 albums of 2006. I’m sad to omit albums by Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Mindy Smith, Josh Ritter, Donavon Frankenreiter, Ben Kweller, Roddy Frame, Dévics, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Phoenix, Harris Tweed, Counting Crows, Regina Spektor, I’m From Barcelona, Snow Patrol… As always, I emphasise that these are my personal favourites, albums I still dig out; it certainly is not a list of the year’s “best” albums, never mind the critics’ favourites.
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Crowded House – Farewell To The World
This is a strange choice for the top album of 2006, because it was recorded ten years earlier, at Crowded House’s final concert in Sydney in 1996. I may be drawing the wrath of all serious Crowded House fans when I declare that the version of almost every song here is superior to the studio recording. One highlight, of course, is Don’t Dream It’s Over, the sheer brilliance of which is not diminished by its ubiquity. It is the final song of the set, and Neil Finn graciously allows the crowd to sing the final line. On the DVD, there is a touching shot of a tearful drummer Paul Hester, all the more poignant now, since his suicide in 2005. The live versions of When You Come, Distant Sun, World Where You Live, Something So Strong, Private Universe and even Better be Home Soon in particular eclipse their original recordings.
Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon.mp3
Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over.mp3
Alexi Murdoch – Time Without Consequence
In the review of 2003, I included Murdoch’s debut EP, Four Songs. It took the London-born singer a while to finish his full debut. It was worth the wait. Murdoch is often compared to Nick Drake — the default measure to which all acoustic musicians with a soft voice are liable to be held. The comparison does stick on at least one point: the music of both Drake and Murdoch sounds much simpler than it really is. Love You More, for example, mesmerises on strength of minimalist lyrics and the absence of a chorus that might relieve the ardency of Murdoch’s declaration. Murdoch’s gentle intensity is quite compelling throughout. Musical scouts for TV series certainly seem to think so: Murdoch’s music has featured in several hit shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, House, Ugly Betty, The O.C. and Dirty Sexy Money (and that’s just the shows that featured the majestic Orange Sky). The song Home was used to great effect in the second season of Prison Break, when Mahone persuades Haywire to commit suicide.
Alexi Murdoch – Home.mp3
The Weepies – Say I Am You
Do not be misled by the frankly unappealing name which Deb Talan and Steve Tannen adopted, for The Weepies’ folk-pop is not mawkish. And don’t be deceived by the cute cover, for The Weepies are not unrelentingly cute. Of course, Gotta Have You is cute, in the best possible way, as is Take It From Me. But there are poignant moments, such as World Spins Madly On, Riga Girls, Love Doesn’t Last Too Long, and Suicide Blonde (all Tannen songs). Talan is the counterweight to Tannen’s melancholy, especially with the lovely Not Your Year, which argues the case for optimism in adversity.
The Weepies – Take It From Me.mp3
James Hunter – People Are Gonna Talk
James Hunter, a white soulboy from Colchester, England, sounds a lot like Sam Cooke. On People Are Gonna Talk, that provides us with the benefit of imaging what Cooke might have sounded like had he dabbled in ska occasionally. That’s the sound here: ’60s soul with a generous hint of ’60s reggae. Hunter made his influences apparent from the start: in the 1980s he fronted a group called Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays, at which point fellow soul afficionado Van Morrison discovered Hunter (apparently at the prompting of his local newsagent), and even appeared on his debut album, 1996’s Believe What I Say. A decade and another album later, People Are Gonna Talk was a breakthrough for Hunter, who earned a Grammy nomination — in the Blues category, just where an album entirely lacking in Blues belongs. The sound of People Are Gonna Talk may be solidly ’60s, but it is not in any way a derivative pastiche, never mind a tribute. Hunter lives in the genre, and doesn’t need to try hard to persuade us of his authenticity. It’s not even “blue eyed soul”; Hunter is a true soul singer. Cooke, Wilson and Redding would have approved.
James Hunter – I’ll Walk Away.mp3
Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook
Kevin Mitchell left Aussie indie rockers Jebediah, changed his name to Bob Evans and became a country rocker. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Brad Jones (who has also produced Josh Rouse, Jill Sobule and Yo La Tengo), Suburban Songbook’s cheerful sound deflects the melancholy of many of Evans’ lyrics. Which is just as well, because Evans is an uneven lyricist, writing a brilliant line one minute, and a trite song the next. Suburban Songbook won the Australian equivalent of the Grammys (the ARIA Music Award), but, alas, that hasn’t helped break him big internationally.
Bob Evans – Sadness & Whiskey.mp3
Joshua Radin – We Were Here
Alexi Murdoch gets the Drake comparisons, and Joshua Radin even more so, even though a nod to Elliot Smith seems more pertinent. On his full debut, Radin whispers more than he sings. Apparently the hushed voice, which works so well with his affecting lyrics and gentle melodies, was imposed by the circumstance of Radin recording his songs in a New York apartment. A considerate man, he obviously didn’t want to annoy the neighours. And like Murdoch, Radin has had several of his songs featured on the TV series circuit. Indeed, that’s how he made his breakthrough. The story goes that Radin gave a copy of his song Winter (which appeared on the enjoyable First Between 3rd And 4th EP, released in 2004) to Zach Braff of the show Scrubs, who included it on the show. Radin re-recorded Winter for the full debut.
Joshua Radin – Someone Else’s Life.mp3
Eels – With Strings (Live At Town Hall)
As my list of omissions in the instalment for 2005 shows, one of my favourite albums of that year was Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double album that almost justified its length. With Strings incorporates much of Blinking Lights. As the title promises, on this live set E’s vocals are backed with strings. Setting rock to clsassical arrangement is an overused gimmick, and can create utter disasters (Meat Loaf’s philharmonic re-recording of Bat Out Of Hell!), though this is a rather unexpected combination. Happily, strings aren’t intrusive; the idea here clearly was not to go symphonic but to introduce something different into the live versions while maintaining the integrity of the studio versions. It works well, though not necessarily so well that these new versions eclipse the originals. The strings do add to the creepiness of Novocaine For The Soul, however, and emphasise the lonely sadness in It’s A Motherfucker.
Eels – It’s A Motherfucker.mp3
Farryl Purkiss – Farryl Purkiss
I’ve bigged up the South African singer-songwriter before, most recently HERE. Purkiss’ mellow, melodic sound, filled with memorable hooks, invites misleading comparisons with Jack Johnson, with whom he has collaborated. This is an introspective album, telling of relationships (with a woman, himself, the world) breaking down and then healing, of despair, and of having hope. South African artists rarely break big internationally. Purkiss deserves to reach a wide audience far beyond South Africa. Maybe he’ll get some attention after one of the songs from this set, Sticks And Stones, featured in an episode of Private Practice (a rather horrible TV show, populated by constantly smirking, deeply disagreeable characters).
I’ve mentioned the inclusion of artist’s music on TV shows a few times, so obviously I welcome it when artists I like are featured on soundtracks, or even commercials. Music blogs are one means by which the music researchers for TV shows and trendy soundtracks dig up artists who aren’t very well known. The licensing fees the artists receive for being featured on TV serials and commercials helps keep their heads above water, and having their music score a scene in a TV show or movie gives them the publicity they need to attract audiences to their concerts (who then, hopefully, buy CDs and merchandise at the gigs). It’s a new business model which allows performers maintain greater artistic control than they’d enjoy in the service of Corporate Music. So, researcher for Grey’s Anatomy, check out this song:
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3
Catherine Feeny – Hurricane Glass
This was a folk-pop album I discovered quite by chance, on strength of its appealing cover, I think. Born in Philadelphia, Feeny lived in rural England when she recorded Hurricane Glass, an intimate album with intelligent lyrics telling of struggles with regret, disillusionment, insecurity, and melancholy. Frequently these struggles are mitigated by a sense of hope. Mr Blue, with its cute flugelhorn interlude, is probably the album’s best known song. It has featured on a few soundtracks, notably in Running With Scissors (the song featured in the Songbirds mix I posted last year).
On the song Unsteady Grounds, Feeny takes issue with the people who swallowed the barefaced lies propagated by Bush and Blair before the invasion of Iraq. Feeny does well to cast the net of blame for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq wider than the warmongers. Bush and Blair are representatives of a profession whose practitioners we are conditioned not to trust. The large and articulate opposition to the proposed war set out a compelling case that Bush and Blair were predicating their invasion on an audacious lie. Yet people believed them. More astonishingly, so many people swallowed their even more audacious lie: that they were “misinformed” by “faulty” “intelligence” (and then some). So many people believed patent bullshit that Bush and Cheney —and indeed Tony Blair — were re-elected.
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down.mp3
Foo Fighters – Skin And Bones
Watching the DVD of this live set, I am always struck by the irony that former Nirvana drummer Grohl is the Foo Fighters’ frontman and the Foo’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is a spitting image of Kurt Cobain. Did Grohl plan it that way? Here Grohl and pals strip the old alt.rock songs down to something approaching acoustic (hence the album’s title, which is also a fairly rare Foo Fighters song). For the most part, it works well. Most of these songs have substance even when they are not amplified by loud guitars. On the closing track, a superb version of Everlong, the band shows that they can make a hell of a noise even acoustic style.
Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3
Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3