2006 seemed to be the year of the comeback kids. Many artists the public haven’t heard from or about in several years produced stellar albums, bringing their names back into the limelight. Narrowing down the Top 6 of ’06 was hard (I even had to cheat and include one that came out at the very end of ’05). If you don’t already own this list of incredible albums, put them on your holiday list; that’s an order.
1: The number one album of 2006 was actually released in October of 2005. It’s THAT good. Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine has to be the best, new album I’ve heard from any artist in the past 5 years.
Apple’s unique yet lovesick album emulates styles ranging from piano-top singers of the 1930’s to bongo-tapping, urban influenced music of the 80s to modern day, soul-pop. This album is nearly theatrical- beautifully orchestrated and instrumentally intriguing. Extraordinary Machine is intensely cohesive by design and musical synergy, making each track the perfect puzzle piece in this jigsaw.
Apple has been always respected for her deeply moving lyrics and instrumental constructs, oftentimes including exclusively just her voice and her piano, and this album truly breathed new life into my outlook on mainstream music. She, and this album, are hope for the future of music.
Outstanding tracks include “Extraordinary Machine,” “Tymps (the sick in the head song),” “Parting Gift,” “Oh Well” and “Red, Red, Red.” Some light and fun, others heart-wrenching and beautiful, Fiona Apple has made one of, if not the best album in a very, very long time.
2: We won’t go on too much about Bob Dylan seeing as how I loved Modern Times (released in August, 2006) so much I couldn’t wait for this article to make him a God among men through words.
For 65 years old and 31 albums under his belt, this album is beyond decent by default of longevity. Yeah, he’s old, but he still knows how to write a folk song that blows such wannabes as Conor Oberst out of the water.
The voice of Dylan may be different in sound but never in meaning, message and motivation.
Outstanding tracks from Modern Times would be “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Spirit on the Water,” “Someday Baby” and “Nettie Moore.” This album is a testament to Dylan’s genius and for all you snobs out there that say well, it’s no Blonde on Blonde or Freewheelin’, that may be true, but it’s still Dylan and you can’t deny or disrespect that.
Where would we be without musicians like Bob Dylan? Be thankful you don’t have to realize that sort of scenario and give credit where credit is (over)due.
3: The best underground band of the year hasn’t even made the hipsters scream yet. This band is so packed with talent and so underappreciated, I’m pretty sure I’ve struck gold.
The Sort Ofs have no reason not to be the biggest name in the indie-scene. Their electro-magnetic sound, political outlook and addictive vocal stylings make this band better than anything you’ve ever heard. They are part Beatles, part Stones, part Smiths and part Elliott Smith-making them everything you want and nothing you don’t.
Anxiety on Parade is a necessity to any record collection that contains good music. If you like the Killers now, you’ll hate them after hearing how much better The Sort Ofs are.
Outstanding tracks include “Anxiety,” “Terror-ism,” “Our Bed’s an Angry Ocean” and “Fascist Freedom.” For more information and to get your hands on this rarity of music genius, I suggest going straight to the source because Best Buy doesn’t carry stuff this good. Check ’em out: www.thesortofs.com.
4: Johnny Cash: dead but not forgotten and not just because of “Walk the Line,” either.
Talk about a musical icon. Johnny Cash redefined country music in the 50s and 60s and through good times and bad created some of the most memorable and remarkable songs of his era.
Dying a sad and painful death just a few years ago, his American Recordings albums have been released, with its final edition, American V: A Hundred Highways, released this year on July 4.
Hearing American V made me realize how sad and tired Cash was, but never defeated. In this album you can hear the age and weakness in his voice.
The album, obviously, was produced and completed after his death, and with what he was able to accomplish on this album, no listener could seem surprised that “death followed with him.”
In a somewhat annoying attempt to show music listeners the impact Johnny Cash made on music as a whole, there was a music video made for the single track from American V, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” It features celebrities ranging from Chris Rock to Johnny Depp and everyone in between (Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock, Kanye West, etc.). I understand its purpose, but what such celebrities have to do with Johnny Cash, his life and his hardships, I don’t quite understand.
Anyway, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is defiant and exemplifies the internal struggle Cash has faced not only in his dying days but his entire life. You could say this album would fall into a “top 6” by default, but really, its merit outweighs whose name is on the album cover.
Johnny Cash is like the father figure of country music. Albums with this much power, meaning, and importance don’t come out everyday.
5: Now, for mainstream indie-pop pleasure, Yo La Tengo and their latest album, which debuted in September of ’06, I am not afraid of you and I will beat your ass.
Yo La Tengo has released numerous albums, all of them equally good and continuously impressive and surprising. I don’t know how they do it but, more importantly, I’m so glad they do.
Since Fakebook in 1994, I’ve been in love with this band and have never looked back (Yes, I was a 9-year-old with exquisite music taste.thanks to the big brother).
One of the most fascinating things about Yo La Tengo is that they do the indie-pop bit, which is always sugary, catchy and fun; they do the sad, lonely, heartbroken bit, which is a staple of almost every indie-rock band these days; but they never forget to include their experimental tendencies. Eight minute songs filled with noise, out of key guitar screeches, and other peculiar instrumental “mistakes” set Yo La Tengo apart from the rest.
They play music for you and me, but just as much for themselves. They’ve never been a band to break records with album sales but they are always a band whose albums are hailed by critics world-wide. What do you think that means?
Outstanding tracks would include “Beanbag Chair,” “Black Flowers,” “Mr. Tough,” “The Room Got Heavy” and “Point and Shoot.” (That was really hard to narrow down.)
6: Our final explanation of why 2006 proved to be a pretty damn good year for music would be Tom Petty.
Who doesn’t love the slow-singing, mellow and twangy vibe Tom Petty presses onto disc?
His 2006 release, Highway Companion, was highly acclaimed across the board with the constant comparison to his much earlier release, Wildflowers, which again, I adored. Highway Companion proved to be just as classic as Wildflowers and unlike Dylan or Cash, Petty’s age doesn’t show in his voice. You’d think from all the smoking he’d be singing through one of those voice boxes by now but he still sounds as fresh and lively as he did in the 70s.
Outstanding tracks would be “Saving Grace,” “Damaged by Love,” “Jack,” ‘Square One,” “Ankle Deep” and “Turn This Car Around.” It’s simple, sometimes acoustic, but always Tom. Some things never change and I’m okay with that.
So that was 2006, in a nutshell, in its finest hours. It’s going to be a tough act to follow for 2007. So long, from Dr. Teeth.