While 2006 was replete with interesting and exciting music, it was particularly notable to me because it was the first year that I felt completely separate from the 1990s. The Clinton-era is long-over, the Internet boom and bust has passed and punk and underground music is in a completely, unexpected phase. I found myself, more than years past, digging through my old albums, listening to some of the music that defined me, like At the Drive-In, Rocket From the Crypt and more than ever, the Fugazi. I realized that those records had gone from being modern to being true classics and to remember each of those bands as active and now long-dormant was truly an unusual experience.
The slew of reissues which followed this year was also a little unnerviing; until 2006, most of the albums I saw reissued predated me; The Clash, The Ramones and the Misfits all released the bulk of their catalogues before I was even born. Yet, this year I saw albums from Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Jane's Addiction and more repackaged and delivered to me, even though I can distinctly recall seeing all those records when they were originally released.
The reissue trend is also part of another unusual thing about being in your twenties in 2006; we're trapped in an odd limbo between youth and adulthood; they're selling the Transformers cartoon movie for $99.00 to people just slightly older than me, video game manufacturers talk about the 18-30 crowd instead of the 12-18 crowd; the notalgia industry is in full swing.
With all this nostalgia being repackaged and resold to us for twice the price, is there room for new music, new ideas and new culture? I hope so. 2006 saw some brilliant bands producing brilliant albums, and even though we're now firmly in the post-hardcore/screamo era, many bands did much both within and outside this narrow but staggeringly popular scene. I hope that in five years, I'll be able to look back on at least a few of this albums with the same reverence I hold for Relationship of Command, End Hits and Scream Dracula Scream!. I can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
And now, the best albums of 2006. There were many great albums, but these were my favorites. Some are obvious, others might be unexpected or controversial, but I think these were the albums that made 2006 such an exciting one, and are those which will stand the test of time.
Be Your Own Pet - Be Your Own Pet
Ecstatic Peace! / Universal
This is the best kind of punk rock, straight forward, blazing fast, catchy and full of attitude. A adorably aggressive frontwoman and a dynamite band and you have a bang up record. [Read The Review]
Envy - Insomniac Doze
Listening to Insomniac Doze is like walking through a cemetery on a sunny day. It's beautiful and serene but with an ever-present and nearly overwhelming sense of personal tragedy. Beautiful and utterly human music. [Read The Review]
The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
The Thermals - unlike so many three-chord punk rock bands - learned one vital lesson from the Ramones. There is so much that you can wring from those three chords. Brilliant lyrics, wonderful melodies and absolutely zero filler. [Read The Review]
The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
The Blood Brothers are, plain and simply, one of the most creative and outright daring bands working in hardcore today. They work without the net of hardcore convention and as a result, capably define and foretell the genre. As always, their albums are clever, subversive, frustrating and brilliant. [Read The Review]
Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
A pop record from the masters of noise in a time when noise has become the new pop. [Read The Review]
Cursive - Happy Hollow
Delivering great records has become a bit of a habit for Tim Kasher and his band of unmerry men. The only question is how he will do it. Whether it was the emo-shattering emo of Domestica, the masterful cello on Ugly Organ or, the horn-filled rock of Happy Hollow, Cursive rarely disappoints. This album is certainly the best use of horns in rock since Rocket From The Crypt's Scream Dracula Scream!. [Read The Review]
Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
Post-punk is supposed to be sterile, academic and cerebral so why does Mission of Burma make me want to jump on my bed like Minor Threat? To be both heady and hearty at the same time is remarkable, and to do it more than twenty years after forming is incredible. Just straight up awesome. [Read The Review]
The Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics
It was just shy of a year ago that I completely fell in love with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and while Mystics isn't quite that brilliant, it's a wonderful bit of punk rock on acid. No matter what my mood, the Flaming Lips constantly have me grinning about their mastery of the studio, their forthright melodies and their creative cartwheels. [Read The Review]
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Even though the band hops through genres with reckless abandon, the most easy comparison I could make is to They Might be Giant's, another band with an expansive musical vocabulary and the tenacity to try and the ability to succeed in each attempt. Some of the songs are a tad long, but the resulting compilation is nonetheless fun, quirky and cool [Read The Review]
The Mars Volta - Amputechture
What Cedric and Omar do well is constantly push everything. They pushed hardcore and now they're pushing conventional music. Sometimes it's brilliant and sometimes it falls impossibly flat, but to me, the creative leaps are the important ones, even if sometimes they result in a big, bloody mess when they land. [Read The Review]
Mogwai - Mr. Beast
Is it possible for one of the most well-known post-rock bands in the world to make an accessible album? The answer is contained within Mr.Beast, an album designed not for the hipster post-rock v-neck sweater crowd, but people who think it's possible for a guitar to sing as well as a person. That guitar might not gently weep but it does sing, scream and whisper as well as any rock band working today. [Read The Review]
Converge - No Heroes
I've heard people on this very site complain that Converge is "all noise" as if the unititiated wouldn't find half of what we cover to be "all noise." Like all progressive and experimental forms of music, Converge is remarkable because of how they create meaning and narrative inside chaos and subvert the cliches of aggressive music to find real beauty in the noise. [Read The Review]
AFI - Decemberunderground
I love Decemberunderground. It's unmistakably pop, like the 80s night as your local hipster club, but just like your average jaded scenester will find himself digging on "Take On Me" and "Bizarre Love Triangle," there is something so infectious about their mixture of Sick Of It All-influenced hardcore, Danzig-tinged punk and pure 80s goth. [Read The Review]
Mastodon - Blood Mountain
I guess it's not surprising that a bunch of guys who wrote an album about Moby Dick managed to create one of the most intelligent metal albums since Master of Puppets. [Read The Review]
Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
It's funny how a label founded on combining Black Flag-hardcore with sludgy metal has managed to find a new voice as the purveyors of sweet, pensive pop like the Shins, Postal Service and Band of Horses, but Everything All The Time has just enough warm melodies to melt the heart of your average Mudhoney fan. [Read The Review]
The Coma Recovery - Drown That Holy End in Wine
With post-rock and elaborate post-hardcore increasing in accessibility and popularity, are we going to see today's From First to Last-tinged screamo replaced with Envy and The Coma Recovery? I don't know, but if it does, it'll be albums like this one that do it. [Read The Review]
Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
Interscope / Tiny Evil
Brand New's latest album is a trojan horse; a burst of 90s-era alternative rock masquerading as an emo watershed. I had high hopes for this band, but they managed to both confound my expectations and raise them once again. [Read The Review]
Ignite - Our Darkest Days
Every review of Ignite inevitably focuses on Zoli's awe-inspiring vocal performances, and Our Darkest Days is certainly no exception. Zoli manages to use every bit of his incredibly range to awe and excite anyone who listens to Ignite, but more needs to be said about the solid musicians behind him, and the incredible songwriting team that keeps it all together. Our Darkest Days is a mesmerizing performance built on a solid foundation of musicianship, songwriting and passion. It's exactly what a great hardcore record should be. [Read The Review]
The Bronx - The Bronx (2006)
White Drugs / Island
I have to be honest, I thought of the Bronx's previous full length as a fluke, and didn't have terribly high expectations for this record, but that was exactly until I heard "History's Stranglers." The chorus from that song still remains one of the truly greatest single lines of 2006 and the song, like the album is everything I love crammed into one CD-sized square; pure rock'n'roll like the New Bomb Turks and pure hardcore like Black Flag. As long as there are bands like the Bronx, punk rock will not die. [Read The Review]
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
Vagrant had a slew of great records representing what I'm terming as the "Mature Audiences" version of the label; the Lemonheads, the Futureheads and most importantly, The Hold Steady. While Vagrant continues to sell plenty of records from Dashboard Confessional and Senses Fail, the label's newfound confidence should be applauded, and no record more accurately represents this new diversity than the Hold Steady. Like a rock'n'roll band surgically implanted into your favorite beat poet, the Hold Steady is the new post-modern punk rock band. Smart, ironic and human. [Read The Review]Music critics get their records for free so their opinions usually don't matter.
This year, one thing I found truly remarkable was a the sheer love and care that went into vinyl releases. While I don't plan to go into too much detail, here are five records notable not just for the audio content, but for the presentation, something that will never be possible with digital downloads or CDs.
- Mission of Burma - The Obliterati - Pressed on six separate slabs of vinyl and extremely limited.
- Pelican - March into the Sea - While Justin Broadrick's remix alone makes this 40 minute single worth the price of admission, the beautiful mixture of wax paper and semi-transparent packaging is just incredible.
- World Inferno/Friendship Society - The music is great, but the value-packaged gatefold LP is even greater.
- Envy - Insomniac Doze - Few albums make the leap onto my wall of vinyl, but this beautiful peace did.
- Jonah Matranga/Frank Turner - Jonah from onelinedrawing and Frank Turner from Million Dead and art that makes use of the generous canvas afforded by the 12-inch. A limited vinyl-only treat.
I've decided to opt out of two sections my colleagues provided this year, simply because I've become more and more of an album snob. While songs like the adorably catchy "Tokyo I'm on My Way" (Puffy YumiAmi) certainly should have a place on any mixtape I might make, I've found it too difficult to create a mixtape that adequate sums up 2006 so I urge you to buy all of the albums in my top twenty, put them on your iPod (or,
2007 should be awesome. There are a ton of great albums due out next year, not the least of which is the now-mythical album from Dillinger Four which may be awesome, or may not actually exist. I'm beginning to think D4 is like Schrodinger's cat , and the mere mention of the album on this or any other site delays it by another few months.
I know we'll see Against Me!'s highly controversial major label debut, but I don't care so much about the logo on the back as the music contained within. Tom, Andrew, Warren and James have always been good people and I think they've earned the benefit of the doubt from all of us.
More definite releases include the Modest Mouse's exciting new foray with Johnny Marr and Explosions in the Sky's undoubtedly epic blast of post-rock. I have incredibly high hopes for Bloc Party, which has proven itself to be the absolute best of all the bands in the post-punk craze of the past few years. The few songs I heard have been astoundingly interesting, highly rhythmic and not at all what you might expect.
I can't wait for Bad Religion, a band that might not be blowing the doors off of expectation but only because they have set their bar so high that raising it might be nigh impossible. Of course, at this point, Hot Cross owes me a record, if only because I love them and the completely justifiable delay is nonetheless completely annoying. Jimmy Eat World, a band I would describe as a guilty pleasure were I not so completely proud of my love for them. Of course, the Dillinger Escape Plan should defy expectations. I'm hoping for something from Old Man Gloom, partly because I loved Christmas and partly because I didn't really dig the new Isis record as much as I'd hoped.
By now, the Mad Caddies owe us a record, and both Only Crime and Smoke or Fire will be inevitably great. I'd be remiss not to mention the awesome Darkest Hour, Comeback Kid, The Warriors, Alkaline Trio and so many more.
Still, despite all these expectations, as this year's list and every list prior indicates, most of the surprises come from those least likely places.