Friday, December 15, 2006

Best Albums of 2006: 5-1

5. Hot Chip - The Warning
One constant theme through this list seems to be the lack of time I had to digest an album, because the binge I went on for the past month, where I probably went through 30 albums, if not more. Somewhere along the line I just didn't find enough time for Herbert, Califone, Love is All, or Beirut, though I have them all and can't wait to give them more than one spin. But I don't need any more time with Hot Chip. I already know it's stacked with single, after single, of infectious dance pop. But what always grabs me, and why I can't seem to stop listening to this album, is the dark undertone that keeps cutting at all these songs, even as the keyboards glare and the melodies remain peppy. "We tried, but we don't belong" reads like it should be over syrupy strings. But it's not. How they made one of the most impersonal genres into something so genuine is hard to grasp, but it hasn't stopped me from trying to figure it out.

4. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Me and the Belle had a little romp this year that lasted roughly 4 months, where I didn't let anything else get between me. I'm not sure why Stuart Murdoch's voice can appease my head, but I was wrapped up in it for the longest time. And it's all because of this album. Sure I'd heard their earlier albums, I had even liked Dear Catastrophe Waitress and loved "Your Covers Blown", but here was an album where they their pop fantasies sat firmly on top of their newly found hips, which they swung with big bassy grooves for the entire disc. It doesn't have the same kind of importance as If You're Feeling Sinister, but Belle and Sebastian have never really ever been this much fun before.
Much has been said about indie rock's recent love affair with 70's AM rock, a genre that seems far removed from the raw pop of most indie. And to be sure, the Decemberists came nowhere near this list because of their recent foray, which keeps getting worse every time I listen to it. But instead of highlighting the bombast of some of the worst music ever made, they've taken the glam sheen and adapted it to their personal tales.

When I downloaded this album, I for some reason I stopped at "The Price for a Cup of Tea", meaning that sweet melancholy joyride song always ended this gleeful piece. So when I finally realized it wasn't the last track, I got rather offended and went ahead a deleted the weepy ballad that took it's place. This is a giddy free-fall of a record, and it should stay that way.
3. Mylo - Destroy Rock n Roll
So I took off on my bicycle. I don't go to many shows anymore. Sometimes I kind of wish I'd spend more time doing that, but I really don't feel that guilty. The bands I do see are ones that I dearly love, because I want to get drunk and sing every word. It could be my upbringing. Back in rural Indiana, going to a show meant organizing a huge expedition, and I still haven't gotten used to walking down the street and seeing someone perform. My excuse is old and tired, but I always grew up listening to music on headphones, and that's what I love the most. I think that's an artist at his most pure. Everything else heightens the experience, but it can never replace it. I love examining every crevice of my favorite music, and that can only be done with repeated close listening, and I can't think of anything more intimate then music being pumped straight into your ears at a outrageously loud volume. I think Mylo gets that, too. This dance music at it's most geeky and edited. Playing this at a club would probably stop the action in it's tracks, but on headphones it's sounds quite nearly perfect.
For headphone albums there is always an ideal situation, or at least one that pushes understanding beyond anything you could imagine, like listening to "Let Down" during rush hour in Times Square. And I can't imagine a better scenario than illegally listening to "Muscle Car" fully buckled in during a hairy take off from Laguardia in a very small plane that gets bumped around a lot. Actually, I can't think of too many bad times to play this album.
2. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
"Gonna walk around and drink some more."
Rock lyrics are often criticized about only talking about girls, sex and having a good time. The thinking is that the human condition is much more complex, and that this narrow focus doesn't quite capture the many other shades of life. But the only time you're ever going to listen to the Hold Steady is when you want to go out, meet girls, and have a good time. Not that the characters ever get what they want. "Boys and girls in America, have such a sad time together." And they do. None of the hookups work out, none of the drugs arrive on time, and there's this lonely girl walking around trying to find some more beer. What are all these boys and girls looking for? Sure they're looking for each other, but I think they're just looking for a better soundtrack. "We had some massive nights/ every song was right." There is one dud on this whole disc, but it's a short punky, raveup that you can't dance to. Every other song is either a rock anthem with a catchy chorus, or a weepy ballad about sad girls and boys where you'd have to get close with someone. And that's the way it should be. Rock needs to bring these sad groups together, even if it's just for one night where everything won't go to plan. But that won't stop them from wandering around trying to find the next person, that next experience, or even that last glass of beer. I liked Seperation Sunday, but nothing prepared me for this sad and joyous record, where failing sounds like the best soundtrack to wasted nights you could ever imagine.
1. The Pipettes - We Are the Pipettes
I feel like I should be deeply ashamed about this, and I’m sort of cowering now as I think of placing this at number 1. But please let me explain.
Austin's right. I do know all the names to the Pipettes (Becki, Rose, and Gwenno-they kicked Julia out about a year ago). I know the name of their backup band (the Cassettes), and where they are from (Brighton). There is, actually, not much I don't know about the Pipettes compared to most heterosexuals. I can't really explain why I've placed a pastiche girl band from England on the top of the list except that they make me really, unbelievably, uncontrollably happy every single day. There is not a single album that came remotely close to the giddy rush that this album gave me this year. I love the way they dress, the way they dance, and how bratty they are on television interviews, but mostly I'm just in love with the songs.
"Your Kisses are Wasted on Me" and "Pull Shapes" are the two most infectious singles released this year, and they are both on the same disc. "Your Kisses" mixes bratty Got Team energy with some heavenly chorus snatched out of some Diana Ross song. "Pull Shapes" was ripped straight from ABBA by way of "Hey Ya" except they break it down three times. And while the intoxicating heights of those two singles are never really topped, it's ridiculous to hide what would otherwise be a outrageous collection of perfect nostalgia, whether that's the cool sexiness of "Judy", "Dirty Mind", or "Tell Me What You Want."
There were better crafted albums this year, ones with deeper themes, and better production and you'll never excuse any of these singers for Beyonce. With a clear head, I'd probably pick the Hold Steady or even Mylo, and who knows, when I post this and realize what I've done, I might knock it down. But when I think of the album that I cared about the most, listened to the most, and wanted to tell the most people about, there really was no contest.


Jordan Harp said...

wow, i guess i should probably listen to the pipettes. i downloaded the album, but that's where it stopped. for shame.

i love you mylo people. i was one for three weeks this summer, and then i lost the cd. i'm also lazy, if that fills out the story at all.

medina said...

Ha! I was sure Mylo was going to be number one, but of course you broadside me with The Hold number two. Who would of thought the pipettes? You did give me a funny smile when I asked you if they were going to make your list.
This has been great fun. Again. I can't wait to see the consolidated list.