Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sean's Top 10 Albums of 2006

I wasn't feeling particularly inspired to compile a top 10 list for music this year, mainly because I didn't feel like there were a lot of albums that really stood out for me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I have indeed enjoyed a fair amount of music in 2006, and I just couldn't let it slide.

Like a lot of music bloggers, I probably fell victim to that all too common habit of too much downloading, not enough serious listening. Still, despite the large number of albums that I sampled this year, there were still a bunch that were memorable enough to receive plenty of repeat listens.

10. The Prototypes - s/t (Minty Fresh)
This French band just barely edged out my many other honourable mentions to make the #10 spot on my list. I had heard a lot of people raving about them earlier in the year, but didn't get around to checking them out until a few weeks ago. Very groovy and fun electro-clash stuff, and if you can accept a Karen O lookalike singing in French, it's highly addictive!
» MP3: Danse Sur La Merde
» Buy it on Amazon

9. Danielson - Ships (Secretly Canadian)
If it wasn't for Daniel Smith's unique child-like falsetto voice, the Danielson Famile would probably be indie rock superstars by now, merely through virtue of their close association with Sufjan Stevens. However, without Smith's voice, the band would not be nearly as charming. Ships could well be the Family's most accessible group of songs yet, which is to say they still aren't for everyone but they have definitely hit their creative stride.
» MP3: Two Sitting Ducks
» Buy it on Amazon

8. The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes (Memphis Industries)
If pure pop perfection is your poison, then The Pipettes are precisely what your personal pleasure center prefers! Ultimately there's nothing groundbreaking here, but this female trio (and their male backing band) from Brighton, England, are reviving that 50's/60's doo-wop sound in a truly delightful way.
» MP3: It Hurts To See You Dance So Well
» Buy it on Amazon

7. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth (RCA)
I guess I'm a bit late to the party when it comes to The Strokes but I actually find myself becoming more of a fan with each new album they release. First Impressions of Earth (released all the way back on January 3rd of this year) is a bit more unbridled than anything they've done before, but mostly it just has some sweet rock guitar riffs and great hooks, inspiring me to return to this record again and again throughout the year.
» MP3: Electricityscape
» Buy it on Amazon

6. The Meligrove Band - Planets Conspire (V2)
This Toronto-area band have been part of the Canadian indie rock scene for years, and at the time I wasn't even aware that they were still together. Planets Conspire was the biggest surprise of the year for me, not just because I didn't know it coming out, but also because I didn't expect it to be so lush and accomplished. This is some of the best piano-driven rock I've heard in a long time, somewhere along the lines of Ben Folds and Koufax.
» MP3: Planets Conspire
» Buy it on Amazon

5. Headlights - Kill Them With Kindness (Polyvinyl)
Fans of Stars and Mates of State will probably find something wonderful in the sounds of Headlights. I was a fan of their first 4 song EP, and now this full-length album is exactly what I was waiting for. A fun, jangly indie pop album with a great delicate male/female vocal combination.
» MP3: Lions
» Buy it on Amazon

4. Annuals - Be He Me (Ace Fu)
Maybe my affinity for this album is a hold over from the Arcade Fire excitement of 2004, because there are distinct similarities between this band and the Arcade Fire. But there's other stuff going on here too, it seems to be just the right mixture of Flaming Lips hippie noodling and Shins power pop. Tailor made for the hipster blogger crowd? Perhaps. But still a great album nonetheless.
» MP3: Mama
» Buy it on Amazon

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones (Interscope)
Here's another band that I didn't pay enough attention to when they first broke into the mainstream, and now I'm playing catch up. I don't know why I didn't give Fever To Tell a closer look when it came out (I liked all of the songs I heard from it), but this time around I made sure I was on board from the start. All it took was one listen to Show Your Bones and I was hooked. Catchy as hell, but still edgy enough to be interesting.
» MP3: Phenomena
» Buy it on Amazon

2. Girl Talk - Night Ripper (Illegal Art)
Zak told me about this album, and I was curious but really didn't think it would hold my interest for long. Like all mash-up albums, it seemed like a bit of a novelty and nothing more. But Gregg Gillis has completely convinced me that the art of sampling really is something special. This album is proof that if you're talented enough, you can create something new and original that is greater than the sum of its parts (although in this case many of the parts are also amazing in their own right).
» MP3: Double Pump
» Buy it on Amazon

1. Hot Chip - The Warning (Astralwerks)
You know, this band has been getting so much love on the internet over the past year or so that I really don't need to be adding to it right now. But the fact of the matter is, this album has fascinated me all year long. The subtle electronic beats and gentle melodies always seem to be just what I'm in the mood for, regardless of where or when I'm listening to the album. Coming On Strong had some cool moments, but The Warning is where Hot Chip became a big deal to me (and apparently to a lot of others). In light of that fact, I have no choice but to name it my #1 album of 2006.
» MP3: Colours
» Buy it on Amazon

...And So Many More Honourable Mentions:

CSS - s/t
Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
Thunderbirds Are Now - Make History
Swan Lake - Beast Moans
The Advantage - Elf-Titled
Pilot Scott Tracy - We Cut Loose
Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
The Album Leaf - Into The Blue Again
The Dears - Gang of Losers
The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Apples in Stereo - Same Old Drag

I always thought The Apples in Stereo were slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to doing the whole psychadelic-pop thing, but in recent years they seem to have been surpassed by indie faves like The Shins and Of Montreal in terms of popularity. Of course, that might also be a direct result of the fact that The Apples haven't released an album in almost 5 years. This February they will release New Magnetic Wonder, their 6th LP and first independent of spinART Records, which should be just what they need to put them back on the indie rock map.

The album will mark the first release for Simian Records, a new label launched by Elijah Wood. In terms of style, the album sounds pretty much like you'd expect it to, although there seems to be an extra dash of vocoder and other vintage sounds in the mix. I definitely think it's going to attract a lot of people who were into the last couple of Flaming Lips albums -- whether or not that was an intentional target audience remains to be seen. Either way, I am digging this album a lot. It's poppy and sugary sweet, but it just might be the best thing I've ever heard from them. New Magnetic Wonder hits stores on February 7, 2007.

» Bonus Track: Beautiful Machine Parts 1-2
» Pre-order it on Amazon

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Explosions In The Sky - Catastrophe and the Cure

I'll never forget the time I saw Explosions In The Sky open for ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead in Hamilton, where they completely obliterated the crowd (figuratively speaking, of course) and stole the thunder from the headliners that night. I know instrumental music is pretty uninteresting for a good majority of the population, but I dare you to see these guys play live and not come away a changed person. The ebb and flow of their songs, and the intensity with which they play is an experience you'll always remember.

I guess it goes without saying that when Explosions In The Sky release a new album it seems like a pretty exciting event to me. They don't churn out a ton of new songs (usually 6 per album... quality over quantity), making you want to cherish each individual track from beginning to end. That said, the 6 songs on All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone haven't completely blown me away so far. At first listen, the songs from their Travels In Constants EP were stronger and more interesting; this new one for me ranks at about the same level as the Friday Night Lights soundtrack. Still, I guess I have a few months for it to grow on me. All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone is released on February 20th on Temporary Residence.

» Bonus Track: Welcome, Ghosts (MP4)

The Fucking Champs - The Legend of Zelda (Overworld Theme)

For whatever reason, I've never been particularly impressed by The Minibosses and their renditions of 8-bit NES tunes. They may have been one of the first bands to cover video game music, but their style to me always sounded like it was intended for dirtbags and headbangers. Maybe I'm not being completely fair to them, however, because there are certain Nintendo songs that do actually lend themselves quite well to metal riffage. Just take The Fucking Champs' version of The Legend of Zelda Overworld Theme for example. It's probably a bit tamer and more faithful to the original than you might expect, but the instrumentation and layering of guitar melodies are flawless. This song appears on the compilation Power Up! Mutations and Mutilations of 8-Bit Hits from Dwell Records. I'm not really familiar with any of the other bands but I'm pretty sure they're all metal acts as well. If you're a sucker for 8-bit covers like I am, you can preview more of the songs over at the album's MySpace page.

» Buy it on Amazon

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stephin Merritt - Smile

I found this video linked over at Zoilus and thought it was too good to not repost. This is an Atlanta daily news program featuring an interview with The Magnetic Fields' Stephen Merritt as he promotes his album for the Lemony Snicket series. Hilarious.

Black Dice - Gore

I'll start off by admitting that I've never really been a big fan of Black Dice, so I'm very surprised to find myself addicted to this limited edition 12" that the band released earlier this summer. The band appears to be deliberately doing something different on this short EP. While their earlier stuff was characterized by minimalist noise, this new collection of songs heavily emphasize their more percussive beats that slowly build. Okay, so it's not that much different in structure, but these songs are really good. Trust me. This may be the closest the band has ever come to an official hit.

Bonus Track - Manoman

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trans Am - Tesco v Sainsburys

After 2004's Liberation, Trans Am announced that they were calling it quits, and I suppose for a couple of years they did exactly that. Drummer Sebastian Thompson kept himself the most busy, launching a pair of solo projects under the names The Frequency and Publicist; he even tried to get a cable TV show off the ground called The Vegan Drummer. But it was only a matter of time before the trio re-united (at a recording school in Auckland, New Zealand of all places). This February they will return with a brand new album called Sex Change, conceived and recorded in a span of about three weeks.

Although the title seems to indicate a radical new direction for the band, I have to say that the album still maintains that distinctive Trans Am feel. There are some elements from their 2002 album TA, a throwback to 80's synth rock, while there are also plenty of hard-driving instrumentals in the vein of what they've always done. The song "4,738 Regrets", actually reminds me a bit of Broken Social Scene (although, who doesn't sound like BSS nowadays?). Bottom line here is that it's great to have Trans Am back, and they'll be out on tour again early next year.

» Bonus Track: 4,738 Regrets (link removed)
» Bonus Track: North East Rising Sun (link removed)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hella - The Ungratefull Dead

If there's one band that would probably never be accused of needing to progress or re-invent themselves, it is the explosive duo of Spencer Seim and Zach Hill, better known together as Hella. It will take most of us a lifetime to get our heads around the sonic whirlwind that they produce; meanwhile, they've already gone ahead and progressed to that next level by adding 3 new members to the band and dropping the 2-piece label that has stuck with them for so long.

The new Hella now includes Zach Hill's brother Josh as a second guitarist, Carson McWhirter (Spencer's bandmate from The Advantage) on bass, and a new guy named Aaron Ross on vocals. Yes, that's right, they now have a lead singer who apparently was working as a butcher before joining the band. Unfortunately, the addition of a full-time vocalist is a bit of a double-edged sword here. I like the expanded sound that the additional instruments provide, but it's the vocals I am not completely sold on. Most of the time Ross resembles a cross between Mike Patton and Les Claypool and doesn't really add much to the music. On occasion, however, I am reminded of Zach Hill's collaboration with Rob Crow (The Ladies), or in the case of this song "The Ungratefull Dead", Ross almost sounds like Thom Yorke. Go figure. Either way, it's an interesting new twist for an incredible band that truly has no equal.

» Bonus Track: Dull Fangs
» Pre-order it on Amazon

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gruff Rhys - Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru

The last couple of Super Furry Animals have been hit and miss for me, as was the first solo album from frontman Gruff Rhys, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. Each had a few moments of brilliance, but the songwriting had moved in a pretty tame direction and just didn't quite grab me like their older material did. Next month Rhys will release his second solo album, Candylion, and while it doesn't incorporate as much experimentation as his last, I'm happy to say it's probably the best output we've heard from him in a while. There are still a lot of laidback psychadelic pop songs here, but these ones have hooks, and as a whole the album really flows. I'm sure SFA fans won't be disappointed. Watch the video for "Candylion" on YouTube, or listen to more songs on MySpace.

» Bonus Track: The Court of King Arthur
» Pre-order it on Amazon

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rogue Wave - Debaser

So apparently The O.C. is having trouble in the ratings department yet again, and they've launched an online campaign to save the show. But you know, if this compilation can't save the show, then nothing can. The O.C. Mix 6: Covering Our Tracks is a veritable MP3 blogger's dream, featuring hawt indie bands covering hawt indie songs from other hawt indie bands. A lot of the renditions seem cooler on paper than they actually sound in practice, but it's hard to resist checking out some of these tracks. Rock Kills Kid covering Spoon? Lady Sovereign covering The Sex Pistols? Mates of State covering Phantom Planet (The O.C. theme song)?

I have to admit, I've never really had a problem with the use of trendy music on The O.C... it's certainly not as distracting as it is on a show like Grey's Anatomy. But if anyone else has caught re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210 on TVTropolis lately, you'll realize just how uncool it's going to seem in 10 or 15 years. I guess what I'm saying is, enjoy these songs now, before the novelty wears off!

» Bonus Track: Lady Sovereign - Pretty Vacant
» Bonus Track: Pinback - Wasted
» Buy it on Amazon

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ronnie Johns Half-Hour

I've never heard of Ronnie Johns and have no idea what this show is. But two words emerge: Instant Classic.

Spank Rock - Lindsay Lohan

Finally the song we've all been expecting. I'm actually pretty surprised that Spank Rock waited this long to release a song about L-Lo before now; the two seem like they were born to go together. Of course, the pussy-obsessed Spank Rock focus almost exclusively on Lohan's lip slips (the chorus is "take your panties off, show your baby rat/oh shit, I remember that cheese"). God bless them for simply saying what we're all thinking, but with the standard amazing beats.

I've also included an amazing sped up remix of "Put That Pussy On Me" by XXXChange that is completely unrecognizable.

Bonus Track - Speeditupussy(XXXChange Exclusivo)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Baby Eagle - Redpath Sugar Factory

As a general rule, I don't usually go for much of the singer/songwriter-y type stuff. I don't know that I've got a very good reason why, except to say that there are few musicians whom I find compelling enough to listen to when they are armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. When it comes to the members of The Constantines, however, I'm afraid I'm all ears no matter how simplistic the music becomes. The band's maturing process has been one of gradually stripping away layers of noise and feedback, to the point where now they have spawned a pair of folky solo projects, recently released via Outside Music.

Baby Eagle is the code name for Steve Lambke's project, and while he doesn't have the gravelly voice of Bry Webb, he manages to emanate that same world-weariness, while also resembling a slightly less rambunctious Daniel Smith (aka Brother Danielson). There's a lot of mellow stuff on this album, especially along the lines of Constantines songs like "Windy Road", but there's a heartfelt vibe throughout the whole thing that I kinda dig. If you like this, you should also check out Will Kidman's solo project Woolly Leaves.

» Bonus Track: Let Wander Your Restless Heart
» Buy it from Outside Music

Thom Yorke - Harrowdown Hill (Extended Mix)

Earlier this year when Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke unleashed his solo album The Eraser on the world, the MP3 blogosphere lit up like the fourth of July. People just couldn't stop gushing about it, although I have to wonder in retrospect if everyone posted about it before they even bothered listening to the damn thing, because I haven't heard much about it since then.

Slowly I've come to appreciate the album, even though it's not quite as organic as his stuff with Radiohead tends to be. I have to be in the right frame of mind, but every now and then it really clicks for me. A couple of weeks ago Yorke also released a Japanese EP called Spitting Feathers, featuring 4 new b-sides and an extended version of "Harrowdown Hill". Despite what you might think, the b-sides aren't throwaway tracks either, and fit nicely with the rest of the album. Anyway, now it seems that Yorke has turned his attention back to being in the studio with the rest of the band. For the latest updates check out their official blog, Dead Air Space.

» Bonus Track: A Rat's Nest
» Buy it on Amazon