Staff Picks (Part 5 of 5)

    Check out Prefix’s Best of 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 lists.
    Here is page two of the Staff Picks.

     

    [more:]


    Justin Sheppard

    10. Excepter

    Alternation

    5 Rue Christine (July 25)

    Synths, drum-boxes and ambient recordings combine to create the most cohesive and structured release by this Brooklyn improv troupe to date. Of course, “cohesive” and “structured” are relative terms here. Alternation is still a challenging listen, but it’s a challenge that more people might now be willing to undertake.

     

    9. Ghostface

    Fishscale

    Def Jam (March 28)

    Hip-hop’s greatest living storyteller returns with another fantastic album of tales from the drug game. What sets Ghostface apart from his contemporaries is his refusal to shy away from the gritty underbelly of the trade. There’s no glorification here, only truth. A stark, conflicted, dirty truth.

     

    8. Wooden Wand & The Sky High Band

    Second Attention

    Kill Rock Stars (August 22)

    Somewhere in between putting out a handful of releases of swampy psych-folk with his band of Vanishing Voices (or whoever else was available) this year, Wooden Wand (a.k.a. James Toth) took the time to confound everyone with a bona fide singer/songwriter effort. The sun-baked, bizarro imagery that Wand cooks up on Second Attention makes for some of the most interesting lyrics you’ll hear all year.

     

    7. Xiu Xiu

    The Air Force

    5 Rue Christine (September 12)

    Jamie Stewart sabotages more great pop songs in a single album than most artists write in an entire career. The Air Force doesn’t change the script, but it does see Stewart dial it down a notch, letting a few more hooks and melodies escape unscathed. The added sweetness makes the agony all the more satisfying.

     

    6. TV on the Radio

    Return to the Cookie Mountain

    Interscope (September 12)

    Return to Cookie Mountain is the sound of a band growing into its potential. TV on the Radio effortlessly accomplishes what so many acts try to do and fail: blend innovative experimentation with mainstream appeal. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the future of rock ‘n’ roll.

     

    5. Belle & Sebastian

    The Life Pursuit

    Matador (February 7)

    The world needs more smart, witty pop songs and, arguably, nobody wrote a better collection of them this year than Stuart Murdoch. Though he can still play the cheeky, loveable loser, The Life Pursuit sees Murdoch add a little swagger to his step to balance things out. It’s a pose that suits him well.

     

    4. Liars

    Drum’s Not Dead

    Mute (March 21)

    It’s amazing what a change in scenery can do. Having relocated to Berlin, the members of Liars responded to the panning of their previous record in the best way possible: by writing a concept album about it. Enter Drum (their creative drive) and Mt. Heart Attack (their lingering self-doubt), who duke it out for the band’s soul over the course of twelve tracks. The results are violent, beautiful and inspiring.

     

    3. Destroyer

    Destroyer’s Rubies

    Merge (February 21)

    One day, a brilliant person will write a book for Continuum’s 33 1/3 series about Destroyer’s Rubies, poring over every lyrical nook and cranny to try to solve Dan Bejar’s riddles and arriving at some objective truth. That person won’t even scratch the surface.

     

    2. Joanna Newsom

    Ys

    Drag City (November 14)

    In one fell swoop, Newsom has managed to distinguish herself from the catchall freak-folk label and dismiss any notions of owing her success to novelty. In the process, she also managed to establish herself as the greatest lyricist to emerge this (admittedly young) century.

     

    1. Bob Dylan

    Modern Times

    Sony (August 29)

    Modern Times could wind up being Dylan’s curtain call (the man isn’t getting any younger, and his voice sure ain’t getting any prettier) and if so, it’s hard to envisage him leaving on a higher note. Dylan rages, preaches and sweet-talks his way through Modern Times with — I would suspect — a wry, knowing smile carving deep-set lines across his aging face. He knows damn well he’s still got it.

     


    Jerome Ta

    10. Georgia Anne Muldrow

    Olesi: Fragments of an Earth

    Stones Throw (August 22)
    Singer/songwriter/poet/producer/rapper Georgia Anne Muldrow’s debut full-length is filled with melodies and vocal stylings that may be unpredictable and unconventional, but the music is fearless and engaging.

     

    9. Killer Mike

    Pledge Allegiance to the Grind

    Grind Time (October 31)
    Balancing hustling anthems with biting social commentary, Killer Mike takes no prisoners on this double-disc monster of an album. Utter frustration with the current state of the game (be it rap or politics) has Killer Mike heated, and with Pledge Allegiance to the Grind, Killer Kill has finally put out the sort of passionate and brutally honest music that can match his fire and intellect.


    8. The Roots

    Game Theory

    Def Jam (August 29)

    This is the Roots album I’ve been waiting for (or perhaps am willing to settle for) since 1999’s Things Fall Apart. The music finally sounds urgent and focused. (Props for bringing emcee Malik B back into the fold, too.)
    7. El Michels Affair

    Shaolin Series Vol. 1, 2
    Truth and Soul
    (June 5, November 13)

    As if the XM Radio live performance earlier this year featuring the Wu backed by El Michels Affair wasn’t enough, Truth and Soul records decides to press these gems featuring El Michels’ interpretation of Wu classics. Bottom line: absolutely face-melting material.

     

    6. Clipse

    Hell Hath No Fury

    Re-Up Gang/Star Trak (November 28)

    The beats don’t knock quite as hard as they did on 2002’s Lord Willin’, but Pusha T and Malice have added a layer of vulnerability and paranoia to the drug raps they do so well, rendering Hell Hath No Fury a compelling character study of two of the drug-rap game’s most revered kingpins.


    5. Various Artists

    Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound
    Soul Jazz
    (March 28)

    A vibrant and informative anthology, this album exudes the blissfully anarchic spirit of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement of the ’60s. And props to Soul Jazz for including some reading material on the movement.
    4. TV on the Radio

    Return to the Cookie Mountain

    Interscope (September 12)
    As epic as the album sounds, Return to the Cookie Mountain‘s highest achievement might just be the bits of pop hidden under all that heady atmosphere. Impressive and likeable, you say? Ditto.
    3. The Game

    Doctor’s Advocate

    Aftermath (November 14)
    Left for dead by damn near everyone from his circle, the West Coast’s veritable lone soldier re-ups with a banger of an album. Name-dropping be damned, the beats knock while the Game desperately hurls lyrics of fury at those spitting on his name and those prematurely shoveling dirt on his career. (Guilty.)
    2. Ghostface

    Fishscale

    Def Jam (March 28)

    Sounding hungrier than ever, Ghost spits over fitting beats with the vivid soul and swagger to masterfully weave Fishscale‘s elaborate drug-game narratives. This is the album that cements Ghostface as drug rap’s proverbial slang operator. Fuck a hip-hop honors award show. Get on G-dini’s level.

    1. J Dilla

    Donuts

    Stones Throw (February 7)
    Donuts is a revealing and captivating look into the mind of a notoriously low-key beat genius in his last hours. In all its youth, hip-hop has never, with the exception of perhaps ‘Pac, quite captured these sentiments the way J Dilla has on Donuts.


    Dominic Umile
    10. Birdy Nam Nam
    Birdy Nam Nam
    Uncivilized World

    This debut
    plays wonderfully”a cut-and-stitch turntablist tour de force that in 2006 is in
    competitive company (Cut Chemist, Kid Koala). But Birdy Nam Nam”’s grooves,
    built literally from the ground up, don”’t rely so much on scratch routines as
    they do on their carefully sewn elements, and their live sets revel in a
    mind-boggling sense of timing and creativity. Put simply, they make your local
    tavern”’s CD DJ look like an even bigger ass.

    9. Asobi Seksu
    Citrus
    Friendly Fire

    While
    loudmouths in 2006 hyped really godawful music, Asobi Seksu”’s second album
    exploded, equal parts bliss-pop, shoegaze, and rock. If dudes in the cafeteria
    are talking about the egg salad, saying ””The egg salad has a good chance of
    being the best lunch this year,”” naturally it”’s suspect. I”’ll stick with the
    shit they haven”’t bothered to try. Compared to Asobi Seksu, the cafeteria egg
    salad fails miserably.

    8. Trentemoller
    The Last Resort
    Poker Flat

    After
    solidifying a reputation based on dancefloor singles and remix work, Anders
    Trentemoller”’s debut artist album, a mix of electronic and organic sources
    alike, culls downtempo, thrilling techno pieces, and rich moodiness for stunning
    results. The experiments are both airy and deep, with beats that sound
    occasionally like heavy breathing beneath its dreary blanket of sound.

    7. The Capitol Years
    Dance Away the Terror
    Park the Van

    Call it
    some kind of regional pride. While Let Them Drink packs more liquor-fueled rage
    than Dance, their most recent effort exposes central songwriter Shai Halperin”’s
    diverse compositions to a greater extent for those unfamiliar with his wide
    creative range. Primarily, though, Dance is a shitstorm of 60s pop and psyche,
    and a quite feasible resolution to Cheney”’s War on Terror. Yes”¦we”’ve got to
    fight them over there”¦and so forth and some such thing.

    6. Belong
    October Language
    Carpark

    Even after
    many listens, October Language resonates with the same extremes that it did
    back in February. Its perpetual tide of heavily processed guitar, as recorded
    in the middle of the night in New Orleans, doesn”’t seem to wash out as easily
    as the album cover”’s photo did, and instead grows even more eerie with each
    spin. No percussion here, but a cinematic ground shaking outcome just the same.

    5. Nathan Fake
    Drowning in a Sea of
    Love

    Border Community

    Drowning”’s
    finest moments are many, and just as standout track ””Grandfathered”” suddenly
    ruptures, giving way to its massive, swollen girth, this lovely wordless album
    speaks volumes in digital beauty, as if trying to communicate the spread of
    colors on its hippy ass album sleeve with cheap keyboard sounds and Pro Tools
    enhancements. There are hippies in England, and they evidently excel in the
    area of computer-processed electronica.

    4. The Knife
    Silent Shout
    Rabid

    Silent
    Shout”’s wretched coldness, its monstrosities, are unparalleled in 2006, even
    when compared to the White House-sponsored Joe Wilson smear campaign; at least,
    no other act could”’ve matched this balance of bleak overtones, shrill
    atmospherics, and undeniably distinct compositions. It”’s both brilliant and
    devilish. For the most part, it”’s miles from the Knife”’s back catalog, but
    never too far from the theatrical vocal-pitching, synth shards, and mysterious
    verse that came before it.

    3. Camera Obscura
    Let”’s Get Out of This
    Country

    Merge

    Camera
    Obscura scares the living SHIT out of me. ””How did they get this sound?”” I
    ponder aloud. Each whistle-worthy guitar lick is EQ”’d so that they”’re as bright
    as any of the brass accompaniment that”’s pushed so far into the background. The
    floor toms bounce as if blatantly pilfered from Supremes records. There”’s an
    ever-present gloss. AN EVER-PRESENT GLOSS. Scared shitless over here.

    2. Jay Dee
    Donuts
    Stones Throw

    Most
    discuss an undeniable aura of ””love”” that radiates from Jay Dee”’s The Shining,
    what with its warm production values and the word itself having a place in
    several of the song titles, but the love that courses through Donuts has no
    vocalists channeling it into different directions; it”’s just straight Jay. The
    cherished producer”’s finest work is here, in these colorful batches of looped
    beats and clipped soul 45s, some of which were diligently composed in the
    hospital. Timeless.

    1. The Walkmen
    100 Miles Off
    Record Collection

    Rampant
    with ups and downs so extreme they deliver welts. Before cribbing Harry
    Nilsson”’s drinking music, the Walkmen made more of their own this year. Yeah,
    they lunged into the exhaustion that characterizes their previous efforts, but
    the rush of ””Tenley Town”””its eager, stagediving clamor”comes from Out of Step.
    On 100 Miles Off, though, it comes from out of nowhere, and it”’s just one
    argument for this being the best record of 2006.
     


    Bryan Whitefield

    10. Visioneers

    Dirty Old Hip-Hop

    BBE (March 21)

    Marc Mac from the U.K.’s 4Hero took some of our favorite beats (“Runnin’,” “World Is Yours”) filled them out with live arrangements and created a hybrid of the tracks originally sampled and the hip-hop instrumentals that I couldn’t stop listening to. He threw in another strong batch of his own originals and put himself firmly in the discussion with his American influences (Jay Dee, Pete Rock) as one of the most gifted hip-hop-minded musicians working.

     

    9. Band of Horses

    Everything All the Time

    Sub Pop (March 21)

    Big, full production to accompany some very intimate songwriting. This one took me by surprise, but I’ve been listening to it consistently since early August, and it still sounds great.

     

    8. Fallin’ Off The Reel

    Truth & Soul Vol. 1

    Light in the Attic (September 5)

    Many of the tracks on this label compilation started off as rare 45s that could only be found in places like Turntable Lab and the Sound Library, so this one’s saving everybody who bought it a whole lot of time and money. It includes three excellent tracks from the amazing El Michels Affair band, including jazz covers of Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Glaciers of Ice.” (Seriously.) I’ve listened to this comp close to a hundred times, and I still couldn’t tell you if these tracks were recorded in 1966 or six months ago. And that’s a beautiful thing.

     

    7. The Roots

    Game Theory

    Def Jam (August 29)

    This one doesn’t live up to the effortless genius of their first three albums, but it’s a drastic improvement over the last two. The Roots welcomed friends like Malik B and Dice Raw back and made the record they wanted to make. And it’s the most balanced, relevant and intelligent, straight-forward hip-hop record out this year.

     

    6. Cat Power

    The Greatest

    Matador (January 24)

    Her most accessible album. Her most beautiful album. That rare record that makes everyone who hears it fall in love with it instantly.

     

    5. The Walkmen

    A Hundred Miles Off

    Record Collection (May 23)

    I wasn’t fully sold on this album until I heard its songs played live. But after two knockout performances at Webster Hall and Warsaw, this became the official soundtrack to my summer, and nothing sounded better. A Hundred Miles Off is evidence of a very talented and severely underrated band working at the height of its powers with very little concern for commercial success. And, in this case, that’s a very good thing.  

     

    4. Bonobo

    Days to Come

    Ninja Tune (October 2)

    Simon Green beautifully blurred the line between a programmed and live sound to create quite simply the most listenable album of the year.

     

    3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

    Show Your Bones

    Interscope (March 28)

    This album doesn’t have the raw power or the big single, but it’s a clear improvement over the band’s debut. Razor sharp songwriting, hooks and melodies that only continue to grow over time and an amazing presence in Karen O. Want to know what New York sounded like this year? This is it.

     

    2. TV on the Radio

    Return to the Cookie Mountain

    Interscope (September 12)

    People wondered what would happen to TV on the Radio when they moved to a major label. Now we know: They just got better. Written and recorded before they put their signatures on Interscope’s dotted line, they went back into the studio older and wiser to craft the most creative, uncompromising album of the year, and it’s still something you want to listen to. Again and again and again.

     

    1. J Dilla

    Donuts

    Stones Throw (February 7)

    No contest. This was number-one on my list from the minute I had the advance in my hands last December, and it only gained resonance and depth with Dilla’s passing and with many repeat listens. It’s one of the clearest paths to an artist’s genius ever put to record. For his swansong, Dilla decided to make something that no one had ever even conceived of before: thirty-one original instrumental tracks chopped, slapped, slammed, cut and pasted together into a five-alarm fire of raw artistry. In a word, dope.

     

    Honorable Mentions:

    Boozoo Bajou Juke Joint II (!K7, August 8)

    Yo La Tengo I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass (Matador, September 12)

    The Radio Dept. Pet Grief (Labrador, May 30)

    Ghostface Fishscale (Def Jam, March 28)

    Radio Citizen Berlin Serengetti (Ubiquity, September 12)

    Nomo New Tones (Ubiquity, May 9)

    Thom Yorke The Eraser (XL, July 11)

    Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton Knives Don’t Have Your Back (Last Gang, September 26)

    Birdy Nam Nam Birdy Nam Nam (Uncivilized World, September 26)

    Madlib Beat Konducta (Stones Throw, March 21)

     


    AJ Wolosenko (no particular order)

    Clipse

    Hell Hath No Fury

    Re-Up Gang/Star Trak (November 28)

    �The LP That Jive Couldn�t Kill� finally dropped
    into the collective lap of rap fans who�d been salivating over �clipse release
    date� blog posts in something bordering on a behaviorist experiment. Records have
    no business being that hyped, let alone living up to the seemingly
    insurmountable expectations heaped upon them, but the Neptunes� spare beats and
    Clipse�s jagged rhymes combined into something like stained glass�Hell Hath No Fury was a record with multi-colored
    shine, but one that put the emotional grittiness that managed to hold it all
    together in plain view.

    DJ Drama & Lil Wayne
    Dedication 2
    Mixtape
    (June 20)
    If I didn�t know better, I�d swear Weezy was on some
    �Robert Johnson at the crossroads�-type performance enhancers in 2006. Not to
    take anything away from his achievements, it was just that uncanny how he became the most prolific, self-fulfilling
    prophecy in music. Proof of his spine-shivering genius/hilarity was all over Dedication 2, but especially on display
    during the micro-minute on �Cannon (AMG Remix)� when he over-consciously rapped
    �um� in a robotic cadence just to slap every other rapper in the proverbial
    face by co-opting their mistakes into a demonstration of his untouchability.

    The Game
    Doctor�s
    Advocate

    Geffen
    (November 14)
    The gruff-voiced, thin-skinned MC made the most
    paradoxical rap record of the year: an emo effort with the least emo beats
    maybe, um, ever? Sixteen tracks of bipolar posturing/confession over everything
    from rip-off Dre beats to faux-disco Scott Storch syrup. At times utterly
    confusing, but consistently compelling.


    Herbert

    Scale

    !K7 (May 30) 

    A sonically and emotionally complex record, Scale was a jumble of unidentifiable
    sounds woven into a warm quilt of steel-gray computer jazz. Multi-tracked male
    and female vocals traded turns at state-of-the-world lyrics, while unexpected
    chord resolutions and abrasive squiggles challenged and abounded. The challenge
    of figuring out exactly what was happening did justice to the record�s
    ambition.

     

    JME/Various

    Boy Better Know: Shh Hut Yuh Muh Edition 1

    Mixtape (February 13)

    The title was JME-speak for �shut your mouth�
    and that�s because the Boy Better Know mastermind didn�t leave room for anyone
    to say much of anything else. On this mixtape, the MC/producer/CEO annihilated
    any and all rivals/competitors/foes/etc., sticking to best-of-the-best grime
    fundamentals: subterranean bass, skittering handclaps, and dancehall-infused
    disses. Add a healthy dose of video game references and JME�s unique
    repetition-stutter flow to that equation, and the sum was an effort that sounded
    ferociously hungry and confident all at once.

     

    The Knife

    Silent Shout

    Mute (July 25)

    The enigmatic brother-sister duo rose out of the
    tundra toting an emotionally icy masterpiece. It was a far cry from the sensual
    pleasures of “Heartbeats,” but one that cut to a certain life rhythm all the
    same.

     

    Liars

    Drum’s Not Dead

    Mute (March 21)

    Showing their willingness to bravely transform
    into anything and everything they wanted to be, Liars softened their angular
    approach and Angus even started singing. The result was a more cohesive record
    than their last, a maze of ambience that felt consciously constructed where similar
    efforts by lesser bands fall far from the mark in their aimlessness.

     

    Peter Bjorn & John

    Writer’s Block

    Universal (August 17)

    Shabby Swedish pop replete with off-kilter
    whistling and ambling, charming lyrics. A hook-ey affair that could hit the
    strip to party, but was also just as content to stay home and finally get to
    reading that book.


    Professor Murder

    Professor Murder Rides The Subway EP

    Kanine (July 25)

    Purveyors of cheeky party-pop that grooved like
    a Sandy Koufax curveball, Professor Murder married self-conscious cowbells and
    airhorns with guitar-less thump-funk to get people hopping like the floor was
    electrified.

     

    Ratatat

    Classics

    XL (August 22)

    Guitar mastery in the hands of cut-and-paste
    studio wizards who managed to stay focused over ten tracks of fade-in, fade-out
    electronic sweetness. The stats said these guys sampled wildcats and reached
    seventy tracks of layering in some spots (!), but the heart said this was the perfect
    soundtrack to a certain type of happy-to-be-alone headspace.

     

    White Flight

    White Flight

    Range Life (April 25)

    On his return from musical purgatory, Justin
    Roelofs crafted a DIY masterpiece of organic, get-your-hands-dirty-making-it
    pop. Chunky guitars, simple piano licks, and muffled melodies galore. Do not
    fret: there is life after adultery breaks up your band and it is good.

     


    John Zeiss

    10. Phoenix

    It’s Never Been Like That

    Astralwerks (May 23)

    Sure, it gets fromage-y at times. But it never stinks. It’s too fun for that.

     

    9. The Court and Spark

    Hearts

    Absolutely Kosher (May 2)

    From the boho streets of San Fran comes a boho album with an eclectic mix of country-rock, cinematic instrumentals, and great guests like Jason Molina and Inara George. A completely satisfying complete package.

     

    8. Charalambides

    A Vintage Burden

    Kranky (May 30)

    All the rocking boy/girl duos out there like the White Strips and Mates of State can make all the racket they want. I’ll take the slower, steadier, quieter, lovelier sounds of Tom and Christina Carter any day. Who won that race between the tortoise and the hare again?

     

    7. Girl Talk

    Night Ripper

    Illegal Art (May 9)

    We can lament the increasing ADD-addledness of society as two-song mash-ups give way to multiple-song mash-ups which give way to Night Ripper. Or we can just get sweaty, strip off our clothes, and keep dancing.

     

    6. Comets on Fire

    Avatar

    Sub Pop (August 8)

    There have been a handful of moments in my life in which I’ve gotten a very odd onset of feelings and became absolutely certain there’s a whole other dimension out there that human beings can only begin to sense. Avatar would be the perfect soundtrack to those moments. Comets on Fire’s sound is otherworldly, nether-worldly, extraterrestrial. Maybe that cult that followed the Hale-Bopp comet had it right.

     

    5. Yo La Tengo

    I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass

    Matador (September 12)

    Let’s hope the members of Yo La Tengo never lose their sprawling imagination and try to cut an album of, say, ten three-minute tracks. Because their best albums, like 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, have all been beyond-seventy-minute affairs. Add this one to create a trifecta of vastly creative greatness.

     

    4. Midlake

    Trials of Van Occupanther

    Bella Union (July 25)

    It takes brass ones to create an album about a nineteenth-century forest wanderer with tongue nowhere near cheek. And it takes musical talent to make said album appeal beyond the tiny overlap where indie-rock fans meet ren-faire enthusiasts. Midlake does all of this with aplomb. Suddenly, “prog rock” isn’t always an insult.

     

    3. Sonic Youth

    Rather Ripped

    Geffen (June 13)

    If every other band in indiedom suddenly disappeared and all we were left with was Sonic Youth, that might just be enough. If we all grow old half this gracefully, we’ll be doing pretty well.

     

    2. Belle & Sebastian

    The Life Pursuit

    Matador (February 7)

    The blues may still be blue, but Stuart Murdoch sure seems to have gotten over them. Purists may miss the sweet sadness of past classics like “Stars of Track and Field” and “Chalet Lines.” Screw ’em. I’m too busy dancing to “Sukie in the Graveyard” and “Funny Little Frog.”

     

    1. Band of Horses

    Everything All the Time

    Sub Pop (March 21)

    Sometimes it’s too easy. Throw together the sounds of great current indie bands. Craft ten killer tracks, three of which use the same arpeggio trick to lure in listeners. Sequence them the way students are taught to craft successful stories in middle school. So by the time Ben Bridwell reaches full-throttle throatiness on “Monsters,” which resolves into the beautiful d�nouement “St. Augustine,” Band of Horses has created what’s arguably the most thoughtfully laid-out album since OK Computer.


    Staff Picks Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4.
    Check out Prefix’s Best of 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 lists.