Mr. Thursday buys a lot of music. We try to get a decent variety of genres and time periods and such, but there is far more music out there than we have money to purchase, and so, even though we’re compiling our own version of the Best Of List, we are prepared to take any suggestions for albums that may be better than anything we’ve listed here. We also put the disclaimer that this is merely our Favorites list, so if we bashed your favorite band or love your deepest musical enemy, well, sorry. It’s not a definitive list.
Instead of a countdown of our top thirty-one albums (or thirty-seven, depending on your counting), we’re just dividing them into groups. The numbers don’t mean anything, they’re just present for the counting. The rest should be self-explanatory, we think.
Found Sound, 2006. Music that did not come out in the past year, but we found it and loved it and cherished it, anyway.
1. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew – 1969 – The first track is just a wash of noise for almost four minutes until Miles jumps in with his horn. Suddenly, the dozen assorted other sounds make sense, the next hour is done for.
2. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue – 1959 – We’ve seen this album a million times and always avoided it for the simple reason that it can be bought ANYWHERE, and if we’re at a record store, we may as well spend our money on the albums that are difficult to find. We finally broke down and bought this album this year, and we understand all the reasons people call it the greatest jazz album ever.
3. Fugazi – The Argument– 2001 – We’ve known Fugazi for a while, and even saw them live in 1998, on a rare tour. That said, we sort’ve lost track of them sometime after Red Medicine and just recently started picking up their latter day works. The Argument sounds nothing like Margin Walker,but we can actually whistle Fugazi tunes now, which is pretty amazing.
4. Elvis Costello – King of America– 1986 – Kind of bluesy, and kinda country, and all in that flawed Elvis Costello mean-spirited ballady kind of way. Wonderful stuff.
5. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um– 1959 – The only complaint about this album is that Mingus himself, the great upright bassist is mixed too far down to be heard properly. That said, this is high octane jazz, lots of fun, and lots of virtuosity on display.
6. Bear vs. Shark – Terrorhawk – 2005 – Oh, man, were we upset when these guys broke up after only two albums. We loved their first album, Right Now, You’re In the Best of Hands, and had heard nothing but good things about their second album of rock/hardcore mix and match. Finally picked it up, and we were NOT disappointed.
Disappointments. All of these albums could have or should have been better.
1. The Beatles – Love – “Hey, the Grey Album was cool, right? Well, why don’t we take Beatles songs, and mash ’em up with, get this, Beatles songs!?!?” They could have done a lot more with this, as the results are only sometimes cool, and worse, they make the average audience think they’ve done more than they have, by using rare, alternative cuts of tracks (like the virtually unknown acoustic version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, or the barren version of “I am the Walrus”).
2. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House – Saw them live, and they sounded pretty good. Bought the album, and its something we could sleep to, sadly.
3. The Futureheads – News and Tributes – Not half the energy of their first album, though “Skip to the End” is a favorite track.
4. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country – Highly recommended by the cool bartender at a favorite Philly bar, but it’s too quaint for us.
5. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – Fear is on Our Side – The band name made us laugh out loud, and thus, we needed to own this album. The music is not half as fun as we thought it would be. In fact, it’s not fun at all. These people are Death Cab miserable.
6. Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers – We thought this would be Jack White with a better drummer. It didn’t sound like Jack White at all.
7. Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche – There’s a reason these tracks weren’t on Come On, Feel the Illinoise!
8. Tapes’n’Tapes – The Loon– Cool cover art, cool single (“Insistor”), and that’s it.
9. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not – Really awful.
We Might Forget. These albums weren’t terrible, but we’re not confident they’ll stick.
1. Yusuf – An Other Cup– Cat Stevens is now Yusuf
Israel Islam, and this is his first pop album in 30 years. His voice has diminished, and his songwriting is somewhat repetitive. Maybe he just needs more practice.
2. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America – This album doesn’t have the lows of their previous efforts, but it doesn’t nearly have the highs, either.
3. Liars – Drums Not Dead – We don’t know why, but we’re trying really hard to like this album, and it’s not working that quickly.
4. The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely – We know their best when you’ve memorized every word of every song, but that’s coming to us harder than it has on albums past.
A “7-point-something” on Pitchfork. These are all good albums. As of this writing, we like them all, but don’t love any of them completely. They are all flawed, but their positive attributes mostly make up for these flaws.
1. Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit – It’s B&S, except there’s, like, energy and stuff, and the lead singer sounds different than we’ve ever known him to be.
2. Neko Case – The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood – We definitely like this album more than her other albums, which we also liked. Are only complaint against Neko is, in fact, that she has this massive, booming, dramatic voice, and we wish that she’d use it more often for songs like “John Saw That Number”, and ever more lighthearted than that. Her albums are too draining to listen to half as often as we’d like.
3. Christine Fellows – Paper Anniversary – We haven’t spent too much time with this album, so it’s likely to jump up or down a category in the upcoming weeks as we get a better listen to it. John Darnielle adores it, which is why we picked it up in the first place, and while we haven’t been stunned by its majesty, we do find ourselves wanting to go back to it more and more.
4. Sparklehorse – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of the Mountain– Read somewhere that Tom Waits really likes Sparklehorse. We don’t know if that’s true. It’s an interesting album, though. It feels big. The singer has a weak voice, but it makes him more interesting. He uses its flaws well. The last few tracks drag on the album though.
5. Bowerbirds – Danger at Sea– We don’t know what a Bowerbird is, but they sing with lovely harmonies, arpeggiated accompaniment, and a sort of mysticism. Listen to “My Oldest Memory”, and then listen to it again and again. And again.
6. IV Thieves – If We Can’t Escape My Pretty– This is another recent pickup that’s likely to change slots soon. We’ve been enjoying this album pretty thoroughly. It’s biggest flaw so far is that we’ve been unable to remember any of their songs.
7. The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth– Naturally, Rolling Stone made a big deal about this album, since the Strokes decided to do something “different”. The album has been largely lambasted, but we contend its criticisms have been unfair. Certainly some of the tracks, most especially the first single, “Juicebox”, are different from their previous efforts, and not in a good way. However, most of the album is solid, if not memorable, and there are at least three standout tracks (“You Only Live Once”, “Razorblade”, “Red Light”) that hold a lot of promise for future Strokes material. If this was Radiohead, it’d get critical love and it’d be called a “transitional album”.
8. John Mallinen – EP– He’s apparently friendly with Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer and that whole crowd, and sounds a bit like Iron and Wine, and is a lovely sort of singer-songwriter. It’s not much, but it’s all beautiful.
Addictively Good Albums. All these records got a lot of iPod love from us this year.
1. Islands – Return to Sea – Take two quirky indie rock guys, let them raid Julliard, and see what you get. It’s immaculate, it’s goofy, it demands to be played loudly in cars in the summer with the windows down.
2. Clinic – Visitations – The singer sounds eerily like Thom Yorke. Every song is a thumping, pulsing beast of a thing. It’s like the Beta Band backing Thom Yorke, but the album was recorded by aliens on steroids.
3. The Dears – Gang of Losers– Apparently lead singer Murray Lightburn, who possesses the Best Name In Music, is frequently called the Canadian Morrisey. We kinda saw it on their last album (No Cities Left), when the lyrics are menacing but simple and we swore that The Dears should be hired to write and record a Bond theme, given the inherent drama in their music. This album? Way less drama, but better songs.
4. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife– This album doesn’t sound as Old-Worldy as their previous stuff, and it starts slowly, but it picks up steam after a couple of “only-decent” tracks, and once it gets rolling it’s a stunner. Musically, it’s a lot more progressive–instead of Short-Stories-With-Melodies, they tell the briefest of tales, focusing on a singular point or emotion, and repeating over and over for surprising effect.
5. Man Man – Six Demon Bag– Having heard only a couple of tracks before buying the album, we were excited. Then, once we heard the whole thing, we were pleased to hear no wasted space. The is about 3/4 filled with “songs” and the rest is like nightmare soundtracking.
6. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions – There’s something amusing about Bruce Springsteen doing an album called The Seeger Sessionsthat doesn’t possess a single song written by Pete Seeger. Plenty of songs recorded by Seeger, but all of these tracks were written by others. That said, they’re excellent renditions, in a Bruce Springsteen way. Bruce is like a modern day Elvis Presley with his covers–they’re all good, but they all “Bruce-ified”.
Cream of the Crop. The absolute best of the year.
1. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain– It seems as though a lot of critics and bloggers are putting this album near or at the top of their lists. Personally, we were so excited for this album that we stole the tracks when they leaked (with all the names messed up). That might not sound like anything special, but it’s worth noting that we had to download and install LimeWire in order to do this, as we don’t own any mp3 pirating software. We then decided we couldn’t wait the extra 3 months for the album to come out in America, so we bought it from the UK. We then found out the American version has 3 extra tracks that our version did not, so we bought those on iTunes. We love this album. Deeply. Profoundly. We think it’s possible that TV on the Radio is one of, if not the, best band on Earth.
2. The Roots – Game Theory – With help from our Philly bias, we’ve loved The Roots ever since Illadelph Halflife. We’ve loved them for their flaws and despite their flaws. We’ve loved their deservedly legendary live show. We love ?uestlove’s afro. This is their best album, and it’s not really that close. I will hear arguments to the contrary, but I will strike them down with the force of a Zinedine Zidane headbutt.
3. Pela – Exit Columbia Street– It’s only an EP, and it’s only available through iTunes. Every track is brilliant, with extra special love for “The Trouble With River Cities”. If these guys would release a full length album that’s on par with this, we’d lose our mind. As we’ve said before, think Coldplay, but with a bit more energy, swap the piano for guitars that actually make sounds, and replace all of Coldplay’s hackery with wonder and glory and awe.
4. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister– We remember when mewithoutYou had no albums out and played shows every weekend with a friend of ours band. They are currently one of the best bands we’ve heard, and yet barely anyone knows who they are. We blame this on the every lethal “Christian band” moniker, which is a shame. Not that their Christian, but that because they are, some people are immediately turned off to them, before hearing a note. They have changed noticeably with every album. Their earliest stuff was screaming, sloppy punk, that refined into screaming punk, and from that into a tougher indie rock, and now it’s a proggy, tough, indie rock. We don’t describe the sound properly, but it’s a GOOD sound, and you should hear it. Really.
5. Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards – A lot of people are not putting these three disks of musical awesomeness onto best of lists simply because it (somehow) recieved the designation, “compilation”. Orphans is not a comp. It was originally meant to be, but it isn’t. There are some covers on there, but, to the best of our knowledge, nothing on there appears on another Waits album. And of the 50 odd tracks, at least 30 are new originals. Waits displays his Louis Armstrong-ed voice, his song writing, his penchant for the peculiar, and his appreciation for his influences here. Listen to “You Can Never Hold Back Spring”, and his reading of Bukowski’s “Nirvana”. They’re worth the price of the album alone.