Scott Heisel is an alumni news editor, reviews editor and reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
While I haven't seen any of the other 'Org lists yet, I have a feeling many of them will make a remark along the lines of "2006 wasn't a very good year for music."
Wasn't a very good year for music?!? When I came up with my shortlist for albums to include in my Top 20 this year, I had a shortlist of over 100 albums I was considering -- more than I had ever had for any previous year. There was a huge treasure chest of really good albums this year; the only problem being that so few of them were actually groundbreaking, incredible or even just great. But is having 100 really good albums better than having, say, five perfect ones? I don't know; that's for you to decide.
2006 also saw a lot of bands practicing the idea of quick turnaround between albums: Nine bands who were bestowed with some honor or another on last year's list put out albums this year as well, yet only three of them earned positive accolades from me this time around (and one of them even ended up on my disappointments list). I personally think this is going to become the new trend -- bands turning around albums much quicker instead of playing out the now-traditional "two years between albums" cycle consisting of touring, press, etc. After all, if you can keep writing good songs, you might as well record and release them whenever you can, too. (And if you can't, then the least you can do is officially release Songs from the Black Hole, Rivers.)
All in all, 2006 had its ups and downs, but we're all still here together, and we're not going anywhere, either. So without further adieu: The Top 20 Albums of 2006
Runners-up: The Album Leaf - Into the Blue Again (Sub Pop), Greg Graffin - Cold as the Clay (Anti-), the Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta! (Fat Wreck Chords), Rainer Maria - Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (Grunion), the Strays - Le Futur Noir (TVT), TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope), Thom Yorke - The Eraser (XL)
20. The Hope Conspiracy - Death Knows Your Name
I had somehow avoided the Hope Conspiracy up until this release, and I'm kicking myself for it: Death Knows Your Name is a face-ripper in every sense of the word. While it's heavy on the "Holy shit, that ripped my face off" and light on the "I would really love to listen to that specific track again because of its individual nuances," I still wouldn't change anything on this record -- especially the unbridled energy.
19. Head Automatica - Popaganda
This album actually didn't make my first draft of my list; it was only added after I checked my last.fm charts for the year and realized I had listened to it more than any other album released in 2006 this year. Sure, it's not going to change the world, but who said every power-pop record had to? It's a half-hour of fun, and that's what counts.
18. Set Your Goals - Mutiny!
It took me about three months to finally check out the rest of this album after playing the title track virtually nonstop. And while none of the other songs can even hold a candle to that massive pop-hardcore gem, SYG give it their all regardless, and the result is a quick, uplifting romp through what hardcore should be all about, and not what it's devolved to.
17. As Tall as Lions - As Tall as Lions
A definite dark horse on my list; I really only started listening to this album about eight weeks ago based on glowing recommendations from friends and co-workers. And while I had liked the band's first go 'round, Lafcadio, for its emo-punk meets alt-rock stance, I've simply fallen in love with As Tall as Lions v2.0 -- these atmospheric, heavenly rock songs are better than acts in the same genre twice their age.
16. The Draft - In a Million Pieces
In between the official dissolution of Hot Water Music this past May and the release of the Draft's debut full-length in September, I lost my faith in beard-rock, even shaving my beard off shortly before In a Million Pieces hit shelves. After a few spins, though, my outlook dramatically shifted, and my beard is back, better than ever -- just like three-fourths of Hot Water Music. These songs are tight, focused and a bit more experimental than HWM ever were, and I'm quite excited to see the next chapter in the musical lives of these men.
15. Armalite - Armalite
Punk rock, even when tackling (relatively) serious subject manner, should be fun, and Armalite get that better than anyone else. I originally didn't pay much attention to the lyrics on Armalite until seeing the band at the Fest V and hearing Atom Goren explain, "This song is about my diabetes," before launching into "I Am a Pancreas (I Seek to Understand Me)." As soon as I got home, I pulled out the album's liner notes and read the lyrics and explanations to every song while the record played on my turntable -- that was the first time I'd done that in a good decade or so. Thanks, Armalite, for making punk rock fun and thought-provoking again. Now just start touring, damnit!
14. Fear Before the March of Flames - The Always Open Mouth
Where in the hell did this record come from? Fear Before the March of Flames went from being a shitty Blood Brothers rip-off to a slightly less shitty Botch rip-off to completely knocking the door off the whole metalcore genre with a wholly original prog-hardcore release. While you can pick up hints of Muse, Cursive and Minus the Bear on a few songs, this Denver sextet are pushing the boundaries largely by themselves, and making some pretty goddamn interesting music while doing it. And I don't think anyone -- detractors or fans -- saw it coming.
13. The Loved Ones - Keep Your Heart
Fat Wreck Chords
This record would've ranked a little higher had this Philadelphia trio deviated from their pop-punk formula at least once; however, it's still track after track of gritty, catchy, energetic stuff that is endlessly fun to finger-point to.
12. Dashboard Confessional - Dusk and Summer
Does anyone else think "Don't Wait" sounds like the emo version of the Arcade Fire's "Wake Up?" True story. Killer record, too (even the duet with that douche from Counting Crows).
11. The Forecast - In the Shadow of Two Gunmen
Despite the constant stream of aural shit pouring out of their offices, Victory Records inexplicably manages to put out a handful of good-to-great albums every year, and In the Shadow of Two Gunmen is definitely one of those great discs. This Illinois-based band is channeling the best of what the Midwest had to offer from over the past 10 years (think Braid, Rainer Maria, Get Up Kids) with a y'all-ternative twang making it even more memorable. Their bassist wears braces, their drummer is fat and none of the guys wear makeup -- in other words, they're everything Midwestern emo should be.
10. Saves the Day - Sound the Alarm
There are days where I think this is the best album of 2006. Today is not one of those days, but it's still a pretty fucking great pop record.
9. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
If Death Cab for Cutie can get a gold record in this day and age, then the Decemberists should be going platinum soon. The Crane Wife isn't too complex or wordy, and retains an inherent -- dare I say -- funkiness absent in most indie rock.
8. The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia...
I never thought I'd like this, let alone fall madly in love with this, but Yes, Virginia... has some of my favorite musical moments of 2006 on it. This duo are writing musically catchy and lyrically morose songs, the kind of stuff Robert Smith might've churned out if he would've hooked up with Ben Folds Five. Goddamn, this record is a blast.
7. Maritime - We, The Vehicles
After Maritime's freshman flop (2003's Glass Floor), I don't think many of us even thought they'd get out a sophomore record, and even if they did, we all expected it to be of the "slump" variety. Luckily, Davey von Bohlen proved all of us wrong, and proved that he was still able to write another classic indie rock record at the same time. Adulthood has never sounded so promising.
6. Blackpool Lights - This Town's Disaster
And speaking of ex-members from enormously popular and influential bands, Jim Suptic showed the world that he still knew how to rock (and thus proving Matt Pryor ruined the Get Up Kids with his nancy-boy New Amsterdams bullshit), and rock he did, with This Town's Disaster being one of the most consistently, er, rockin' rock albums of 2006. Couple that with an incredibly tight rhythm section that easily matches the Pope brothers and you have yourself one hell of a band.
5. Andrew W.K - Close Calls with Brick Walls
So Andrew W.K. went crazy, and recorded it for all (in Asia, at least) to enjoy. Thank God for illegal filesharing, otherwise I would've missed out on all of AWK's pure, cracked genius.
4. Scarlet - This Was Always Meant to Fall Apart.
Picture this: Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green fronting Muse with a metalcore fetish. Bet they'd make an awesome record, right? Well this record already exists, and it's called This Was Always Meant to Fall Apart.. Criminally overlooked due to its January release date and Ferret's complete lack of promotion, this album is one of the freshest, most inventive takes on the heavy-music genre this decade, and deserves your fullest attention.
3. Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
Tiny Evil / Interscope
I wonder if Isaac Brock hates Jesse Lacey as much as Jesse Lacey adores Isaac Brock? It certainly would be fitting for one of the most complicated, quietly egotistical frontmen in rock, who loathes his fans as much as they worship him, to be reviled by one of his idols. The only reason I bring this up is because it's one of the few traumatic experiences Lacey's yet to go through to inspire his songwriting, and it's probably the only one strong enough to help make their next album even more complex, detailed and all-around depressing than this one, topping it in the process. In short: This is Brand New at their creative peak, at least until the next album comes along.
2. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
I don't drink, but if I did, I would get shitfaced to this band. It's pure Midwestern bar-rock for the blue-collar crowd, with enough of a wink-and-a-nudge attitude to capture the hipsters and intelligent enough for NPR fans. It's deceptively simple rock'n'roll played by guys who take being fun as seriously as a heart attack, and I love them for it.
1. Moneen - The Red Tree
Very rarely does a record hit me so hard in the heart that I get moved just by listening to it. The Red Tree is one of those elusive few that tugs on heartstrings as often as it makes you throw your fist in the air. Massively underappreciated in North America's largely trend-driven musical culture (they're slightly bigger in their homeland of Canada but still don't come close to the popularity of inferior acts like Alexisonfire or Silverstein up north), Moneen are emo's perpetual underdogs -- and if that sort of drive lets them make challenging, moody, explosive rock records like this, then here's to never getting your just due.
5. David Bazan - Fewer Moving Parts
Pedro the Lion-tamer officially launches his solo career with this double EP, featuring five songs each performed both acoustic and electric. And while it probably won't win over any new converts to Bazan's stable, those who worshiped Pedro's mope-rock will continue to eat this stuff up. And I'm definitely in the latter.
4. Ambulette - The Lottery
To be honest, it doesn't really matter to me what Ambulette sounds like; I'm just happy to see former Denali frontwoman Maura Davis belting out sultry melodies once more. Luckily for me, the music is a logical extension of where Denali was going, with more of an upbeat flavor. Can't wait for the LP.
3. Four Star Alarm - Four Star Alarm
Featuring a member of the Bomb, Four Star Alarm play punk rock like they've been around the block more than once before -- these songs are well-sculpted pop-punk songs maintaining their post-hardcore edge and lyrical maturity. Think mid-`90s Revelation (Gameface, Texas Is the Reason) mixed with timeless alt-rock á la Sugar and you're right on track.
2. Envy on the Coast - Envy on the Coast
This Long Island quintet aren't even of legal drinking age, yet they've already mastered their style and are outplaying all of their post-hardcore pop peers with this self-titled EP. It's Glassjaw with a piano, and I think that's just great.
1. The Stickup - Please, Disease
For a band who only formed in fall 2005, the Stickup are well ahead of the game, creativity-wise. Think if Comeback Kid went post-hardcore, if Modern Life Is War had smoother passages or if Moneen were just plain evil, and you'd have the Stickup. The promise this debut EP displays is out of this world; the bar has officially been raised for all new bands.
5. The Killers - Sam's Town
A bombastic, bloated mess. Had their egos stayed in check and they had decided to just churn out some more delightfully empty synth-pop, there wouldn't have been any problems. But this is what happens when entertainers try to be artists.
4. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
NYC's slack-rock kings phone in album No. 3, and while some of the tracks are the best in their catalog, the album as a whole suffered from a ridiculously long running time and too many rehashed half-ideas.
3. The Mars Volta - Amputechture
And speaking of ridiculously long running times... I've never flip-flopped on a band harder between records than I have with the Mars Volta. Frances Mute cracked my Top 10 last year; this disc, on the other hand, wouldn't even crack my Top 100 this year (and trust me, I actually wrote out a Top 100). Omar, Cedric, listen up: Just because a CD can hold 80 minutes of music doesn't mean it has to.
2. Less Than Jake - In with the Out Crowd
So this is what it sounds like to lose your spark.
1. NOFX - Wolves in Wolves' Clothing
Disclaimer: Just because this is my biggest disappointment of the year doesn't mean it's an unlistenable record. On the contrary, there are quite a few of NOFX's best post-millennium work on here ("Seeing Double at the Triple Rock," "The Man I Killed," "Leaving Jesusland"); just so many of the other songs fall on their faces incredibly incredibly hard. So this is what a punk rock midlife crisis sounds like.
They return with a great (if completely schizophrenic) new album, and then what do I do the first (and only) time they play Cleveland in support of it? I stay home to watch Grey's Anatomy or some shit. Goddamn, I miss this band already.
This Canadian duo delivered so strongly on 2004's You're a Woman, I'm a Machine that I had no idea how they could even follow it up. Apparently neither did they.
3. Vendetta Red
So you put out one of the best rock albums of 2005, followed by your record label completely and utterly dropping the fucking ball; you're probably in debt up to your ears, so what better to do than quit and start all over? Zach Davison's new band, Sirens Sister, is good in a Jets to Brazil sorta way, but I'm still moping that I'll never get to hear songs off Sisters of the Red Death live.
Yes, we all saw this coming, but that doesn't mean it hurt any less when the Band-Aid was ripped off.
I don't think anyone saw this coming; with their string of strong efforts for SideOneDummy, I thought the Suicide Machines would have a strong third act for years to come, becoming one of punk's elder statesmen in a decade or so. I guess they were just too volatile to keep it together for any longer; but really, isn't that kind of punk, when you think about it? Anyway, one last show, guys; that's all I'm asking.
The Early November - The Mother, The Mechanic and the Path
In 2003, I wrote off the Early November's first album, The Room's Too Cold, as a derivative, generic emo rock disc that was trying to be Jimmy Eat World. Four years later, given the state of underground music now, that doesn't sound all too bad. But surprisingly, their new record went above and beyond anything I could've expected, and really proved that you can be creative and talented on Drive-Thru Records (and your name doesn't have to be Matt Embree). Congratulations on this band upping their game tenfold.
Ryan's Hope - Apocalypse in Increments
This record made me believe in punk rock again. If you haven't checked it out yet, I urge you to at least head to their band page on the 'Org where you can stream this record in its entirety.
Paul Baribeau - Paul Baribeau
Paul Baribeau is, hands down, my favorite singer-songwriter active right now. His quick, chorus-less tales of growing up in Michigan, getting dumped by his girlfriend and coping with loss are absolutely gorgeous in their originality. And who knew you could be on Plan-It-X and not sing about smashing the state?
The Fall of Troy - Doppelgänger
Holy goddamn, does this record blow me away. And these kids can't even sit down at a bar yet! Ridiculous playing. I can't wait to see what they come up with in 2007.
husband&wife -- When I got husband&wife's self-released album, operation:surgery, in the mail about six months ago, I didn't know what to expect. Hell, I probably wouldn't have ever even listened to it had it not been for the intriguing cover art. Luckily I cracked open the plastic, because this album is a lush, melodic entry in the indie pop series, with influences ranging from Pedro the Lion to Mineral to Death Cab for cutie to Owen. This Bloomington, Indiana-based band self-recorded this disc, but you couldn't tell: The sound quality is as pristine as the songs themselves. You owe it to yourself to check this band out, because I can't imagine them staying signed for much longer. My Punknews.org Mixtape, 2006 edition
The Most Anticipated Albums of 2007
In no specific order outside of alphabetical, here's the new noise I'm looking forward to in '07: Against Me!, Alkaline Trio, Ambulette, Andrew W.K., Arcade Fire, Audio Karate, Bad Religion, David Bazan, Big D and the Kids Table, Boys Night Out, Circa Survive, Colossal, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Dillinger Four, Envy on the Coast, the Faint, the Fall of Troy, Ben Folds, Four Star Alarm, Glassjaw, Goldfinger, Guns N' Roses, Interpol, Jimmy Eat World, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Lifetime, Maritime, Minus the Bear, the One AM Radio, Pelican, the Postal Service, Radiohead, the Rentals, Say Anything, Smoke or Fire, Smoking Popes, the Stickup, Three Mile Pilot, Thrice, the Weakerthans and Wilco. In Closing
Thanks for reading, and I'll hopefully see many of you in 2007. And if you're heading to Cleveland for the Clash/Warped Tour exhibits at the Rock Hall, look me up -- we'll get pizza.