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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sanskrit's Top 10 Albums of 2006

#10: Clogs - Lantern
This really feels like an album that shouldn't be considered "top ten material". Clogs are an interesting band, yes. An entertaining band, certainly. But how could orchestral chamber ambience possibly compete for top ten honors against the uncompromising competition from the likes of TV On The Radio, Junior Boys, Jay-Z, and so many other wildly popular and critically-acclaimed musicians who did not make my list this year? By simply being more compelling. In the simplest terms, Lantern is an amazing album. I listen to it while I'm drawing, I listen to it while I'm playing video games, I listen to it while I'm talking to ex-girlfriends on the phone for hours, and every time it inspires a warmth in my chest and a delightful glee at the tips of my ears. Clogs win my award for most underrated band of the year, without a doubt, and I will gladly listen to Lantern for years to come.

#9: Casey Dienel - Wind-Up Canary
Quaint, sweet and folksy, Casey Dienel's debut LP succeeds everywhere that Regina Spektor's new album fails (except in attempts to be "quirky rock", where Regina still doesn't quite make it, but Casey doesn't bother trying). In the American folk song tradtion, Casey's delicate yarns about people and their specific woes and joys weave a warm and tender quilt of humanity. Casey is simultaneously aggressive and pensive, forthright and grandiose. More importantly, she reminded me that the piano can be sexy without having someone laying across it.

#8: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase have shown us that they are all tremendous talents whose brilliance only amplifies when they work together as the all powerful Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Their past eps and full-length have shown humor, rage, frustration, longing, and so many other powerful feelings synonymous with the life of an urban hipster. With Show Your Bones, though, Yeah Yeah Yeahs did the one thing that I never expected, they were beautiful. All three members - whose wild, reckless disregard for anything approaching restraint has been their charming trademark in the past - are considerably...well...constrained. Nick's strings shimmer instead of shred. Brian's drums pulse instead of bleat. Karen's voice sings instead of shrieks. Its almost like the band has become a heavenly angel of some sort. There's still some shredding and wailing and such, but its more considered and less vagrant. Regardless of whether you miss the old revolutionary YYYs, you cannot deny that "Dudley" is their most beautiful song to date, and you know you wept just a little the first time you heard the "Cheated Hearts" plea of Karen's "sometimes I think that I'm bigger than the sound."

#7: Man Man - Six Demon Bag
If I were to make a list of the best live acts I'd seen in 2006, Man Man would be the surprising number one. I'd heard a few Man Man songs and a whole lot of hype leading up their set at this summer's Siren Music Festival, but I was nowhere near prepared for what I would see and hear on the stage that afternoon. A gang of unshaven men in bleached white tennis shorts and polo shirts with sweatbands on their wrists and heads and tribal paint on their faces proceeded to bash their instruments, throw plastic toys at pots and pans, and warble their way around songs in a way that suggested the inate geniuses of toddlers playing with their imaginations. Captivated, I rushed out and bought Six Demon Bag the following week and listened for months. Its moody and cinematic, epic and childlike, sincere and ridiculous. I implore all who like experimental music or outrageous live shows to open their arms to Man Man. Be cautious, though, as they're likely to throw plastic horns at your face.

#6: Islands - Return to the Sea
The Unicorns are dead, long live Islands. We all expected the debut release of this post-Unicorns band to be good, especially considering it featured guest musicians from the Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, but I don't think anyone was expecting the songwriting and craftsmanship to be so mature. Return to the Sea is to The Unicorns/Islands as Ill Communication was to the Beastie Boys, a history-obliterating album that proves the artists' relevence and integrity despite previous acclaim as quirky fun. I've heard some claim that Return to the Sea is nowhere near as good as Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, I've heard some claim that it's monumentally better. It doesn't matter to me which one is a better album or a better band. Return to the Sea showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that Nick Diamonds is a gifted songwriter, not just a clown, even if he does still wear costumes on stage.

#5: The Dears - Gang of Losers
Mock me all you want, naysayers. I! LOVE! THE DEARS! I've already rambled on and on about how great this album is (a couple of posts down), so I will simply reiterate that this is probably the best album the Dears have made yet, and if you don't feel a pull at your heart at any point during your listening, then you have no right to listen to pop music at all.

#4: Nomo - New Tones
When I saw Home Video, Nomo, and His Name Is Alive at Mercury Lounge back in May, I stopped by the merch table to say high to HNiA's Warn Defever and take a gander at his handmade electric kalimbas. Warn held up a copy of the just-released New Tones and proudly exclaimed to all that would listen that it was the greatest album he'd ever worked on (playing bass and producing). That claim, along with the handful of songs I'd heard from the previous Nomo album, was more than enough to convince me to purchase it without hearing a single note. Ten minutes later I became convinced that I'd made a good call as Nomo took the stage and stole the crowd's hearts for a breathtaking affair of handdrums, trumpets, conch shells and the aforementioned electric kalimba. Certainly no recording could contain the spirit and emotion and flawless nonet synchronicity of that live show...until two hours later when I was on the train with headphones secure and jaw dropped.

#3: Oh No! Oh My! - Oh No! Oh My!
An indie-pop goldmine was unearthed earlier this year by three kids from Texas trying to teach themselves how to make music professionally. Oh No! Oh My!'s self-titled self-released debut album is a non-stop traditional pop love-in that inspires mental images of hopeless bleak despair within tremendous tapestries of sweet adorable la-la-las. Even though I'd repeatedly listened to the album's unmastered pre-release late in 2005 and discussed my thoughts on the songs at some degree of length with the band via email, I still find precious little morsels in these pop tunes that incite more contemplative awe with each listen. The album is far from perfect, but its a stellar first effort (unless you count their previous Jolly Rogers ep, in which case its still a definite step up towards perfection).

#2: His Name Is Alive - Detrola
My most anticipated album of the year was an early favorite. Warn Defever's pet project, His Name Is Alive, have a rather sizable back catalogue of intesnely interesting music, spanning the entire spectrum of music. They were pigeonholed early in their career as a goth band, and then when they started doing surf rock, funk, gospel, and r&b, they were ridiculed by the industry and kicked off of the prestigeous 4AD label that had been their home for over a decade. Years passed and word finally came out that HNiA were releasing their first new album since being let go and fans squealed with delight. Surely this would be a culmination of all their work to date. Every single musical influence ever posed on Warn's shoulders would meld into one great collection of genre-bending american rock that would defy critics' expectations and command attention from those who had disbelieved before. And the most amazing thing about the album, when it did finally come out, was that was exactly what it did.

#1: Think About Life - Think About Life
I know I shouldn't love this album as much as I do. Its experimental pop, emphasis on the experimental. Three guys slamming casio keyboards and murmuring lyrics that mean little to nothing over simplistic 8-bit drum samples? This is just a goofy joke, right? But no! Think About Life's self-titled debut LP was actually the most compelling, satisfying, and blatantly addicting album I heard all year long! Much in the way that (former) fellow Alien8 labelmates The Unicorns captured the hearts and imaginations of legions of kids back in 2003, the overly simplified yet utterly messed-around-with melodies of Think About Life are sweet and despondant, bouncy and contemplative, joyous and cynical. There is so much rich flavorful creamy filling inside the coarse candy shell of this album that its almost impossible to describe, and difficult to appreciate until your fourth or fifth listening. Let me tell you, it only gets better as you approach listening numer two-hundred.

Wha??? Awards for fantastic and deserving albums that I loved but somehow didn't make my list this year:

Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
Liars - Drum's Not Dead
Supersystem - A Million Microphones
MSTRKRFT - The Looks
Ratatat - Classics
Herbert - Scale
The Rapture - Pieces Of The People We Love
Tunng - Comments Of The Inner Chorus
Xiu Xiu - The Air Force
I'm From Barcelona - Let Me Introduce My Friends
The Lovely Feathers - Hind, Hind Legs
Division Day - Beartrap Island
Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Asobi Seksu - Citrus
Peter, Bjorn & John - Writer's Block

11:50 AM
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