2006 year-end wrap
Well here we are at the end of another year. How did the music fare? Not so bad, indeed. There was a nice mix of both indie and major label releases to enjoy, although I’m still of the feeling that the CD is truly going the way of the dodo. The instant gratification of mp3 players and their ridiculous affordability these days is truly revolutionizing the whole industry. On the other hand, the video game console wars have just started up, and there were a ton of great games released this year – well, at least for the Xbox 360 as well as some PS2 and PC titles as well. No one can get their hands on a PS3, and it’s too early to bring the Wii into this (that and the fact that I don’t own one). But anyway, enough chatter. Here’s my Best of 2006 for all your year-end list addiction needs.
Best Albums of 2006
“Weird Al” Yankovic: Straight Outta Lynwood (Volcano)
I have to say, it’s been years since I was really engrossed by a “Weird Al” album. I’ve been a fan since the In 3-D album and always pick up his latest release, but the last few have been a bit uneven to my ears. Not so with Straight Outta Lynwood which manages to skewer Usher (the hilarious “Confessions Part III”), R. Kelly (“Trapped in the Drive-Thru”), and Green Day (“Canadian Idiot”) amongst the parodies. The originals, which are usually the songs on any Al album that are the most dependable, are golden as well. Dig the Brian Wilson tribute “Pancreas,” the devastating “I’ll Sue Ya,” or the best ode regarding anal retentiveness ever, “Close But No Cigar.” And if that wasn’t enough, the set comes with a second disc filled with terrific videos for all the original tunes. Congrats, Al. Welcome back to the top of the heap, where you belong.
Scissor Sisters: Ta-Dah (Universal)
What can we say about Scissor Sisters that hasn’t already been said? That they took the best bits of their debut album and bettered it on the follow-up might be a good place to begin. Where their first disc was a groovy mashed-up tribute to various styles of ‘70s pop and rock, Ta-Dah finds the Sisters expanding their ideas into a more nuanced and theatrical shape. Oh, the retro thrills are still there (“I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” kills everything on the first album), but they’ve been tempered with a bit of a darker tone this time out. The bridge to “She’s My Man” is of another world, and “Kiss You Off” and “Paul McCartney” are pure heaven. It will certainly be worth waiting to see what this band does next.
Jack Johnson and Friends: Sing-a-Long Songs and Lullabies for the film Curious George (UMVD)
I admit I’m not a Jack Johnson fan at all. The guy’s okay for what he does, but I was never sold on any of his prior albums. Then I picked up the “Curious George” DVD for my son and, well, I was hooked right away on the songs. Perhaps Johnson has found his calling by writing cool ditties for the younger types that go down smooth and sweet with the older listeners. “Upside Down” is pure music goodness, period. “People Watcing” and “The Sharing Song” are also instantly catchy. Musical buddies G. Love, Matt Costa, and Ben Harper makes cameos as well, introducing kids to a whole array of funky laid-back grooving. If you, like me, originally avoided this album because it was a soundtrack for a kid’s flick, then you owe it to yourself to give it a spin and see if it doesn’t hook you as well.
Fiery Furnaces: Bitter Tea (Fat Possum)
Apparently there was no middle ground for this album. Either you loved it or you outright found it to be disposable weirdness. I read a review for it on another site which absolutely trashed the album and knew I had to hear it for myself. This was my first experience with Fiery Furnaces, and I must admit that I loved the album on first listen. Yes, it’s genuinely fucked up and deranged, but it’s also surreal to a point of being unnerving, and I find that highly enjoyable. You just have to dive in and experience songs like “Black-Hearted Boy,” “I’m in No Mood,” and “The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry” to hear what’s going on. It’ll still be a crapshoot, though. Bitter Tea certainly isn’t an album for everyone, but if you like something weird and different, then you just might find a lot of hidden treasure in here.
Richard Cheese: Silent Nightclub (Surfdog)
The world’s grooviest lounge singer returns with an all-new disc loaded with holiday-themed songs. Well, if you can consider such hits as “Live a Virgin,” “Ice Ice Baby,” and “I Melt With You” holiday-themed. For the record, I get the joke, and as usual it’s a hilarious outing with Richard and his band of swingers completely overhauling tried and true chart smashes in their own lounge style. It’s hard to argue with such choices as “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Personal Jesus” stacked up next to “The Trees” and “Imagine.” Yes – “The Trees” by Rush. That’s the Cheese for you. One hundred percent pure entertainment for those who demand a little velvet with their music.
The Like Young: Last Secrets (Polyvinyl)
Joe and Amanda Ziemba have been rocking out as a duo across a number of albums and EPs. This latest long player of theirs got back to the more pop-friendly nature of Art Contest (So Serious was just that, and a bit darker) and is ever bit as essential. Thirteen tracks, most clocking in between two and three minutes and getting under the skin instantly. It’s hard to not fall under the spell of Amanda’s youthful voice, and Joe knows how to write and sing a great hook as well. For proof, just check out “The Hell with This Whole Affair,” “Writhe Like You Mean It,” and “For Money or Love.” The Like Young are what the White Stripes would be if the Stripes were less blues-inclined and threw a bass into the mix all the time. They’re definitely Chicago’s best thing going.
Pony Up!: Make Love to the Judges with Your Eyes (Dim Mak)
This group of Montreal ladies made one of the most tasteful and moving pop albums of the year. The production is crystalline and the performances are air tight. This isn’t your every day kind of indie pop, either. Such songs as “Ships” and “The Best Offense” contain some of the most original sounds on the album. Granted, it doesn’t hurt that there’s also “The Truth about Cats and Dogs (Is That They Die)” and “Dance for Me” on here as well. This is an exceptional album, dressed to the nines in ideas, but fully accessible to anyone who enjoys well-written songs and music.
The Big Sleep: Son of the Tiger (French Kiss)
If you want a mind-blowing trip of epic proportions from the left field, then this is the album for you. New York’s Big Sleep created an aurally stunning work with this album, at once harnessing both exciting psychedelic strangeness and approachable rock song melodies. A lot of this stuff is instrumental, and it works perfectly. It’s hard to beat the sonic exercises of “Murder,” which seems to howl from a dark corner of oblivion while remaining mesmerizing. Then there’s “You Can’t Touch the Untouchable” and “Menemy” that expand the mind and the ears. Just close your eyes and enjoy the visuals. No drugs required, as it’s all in the grooves, baby.
Jandek: What Else Does The Time Mean (Corwood)
What would a year be without a Jandek album? Well, how about a year that has found the J-man releasing five albums, with three of those being double doozies? This single-disc release finds Jandek torturing himself with his usual assortment of desolate themes. He makes a song about a cup and a napkin sound like it’s definitely the end of the world (“Japanese Cup”). Then again, he welcomes death itself on “I’ve Been a Body” and brings the whole thing down like a scary-ass stalker on “If I Waited Twenty Hours” (“I want to explode my love on you / Why don’t you want me, too”). Next year will undoubtedly bring more of the same. When it rains, it pours for Jandek. He’s in touch with the world.
Paris Hilton: Paris (Warner Bros./WEA)
All right, it wasn’t the greatest album ever. No one expected that. But it was also a lot better than most people did expect. At any rate, I enjoyed Paris for its own plasticity. It worked best when it wasn’t trying to be overtly sexy. Say what you want about my last pick here, but there were far worse albums to be heard, and damn it, “Screwed” and “Jealousy” are two fine songs. When people complain about albums like these, yet send shitty NOW compilations straight up the charts, there’s no room to bitch about anything. Bless you, Paris, for your vapid good times. Now just stop hanging out with Britney Spears.
Worst Albums of the Year
Picking K-Fed’s disaster Playing with Fire is a no-brainer here. It’s just going to be a serious delight to see what he does next (assuming he does anything next – Ed.). That and finding out if the street team section of his thrilling web site will ever be functional. On the other hand, the less said about the Slumber Party Girls’ Dance Revolution, the better. I saw it for sale at Target last week for $8.99. Something tells me they’re going to have to start giving the thing away in boxes of Lucky Charms. Sadly, the days of such things as Kids Incorporated are long gone. Nowadays the kids wanna groove to Kidz Bop CDs and enjoy watered down versions of real songs. How’s that for a revolution?
Best Single/Video of the Year
Scissor Sisters: “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’”
The Sisters put the Bee Gees to shame and make a crazy, wonderful video to go along with it. You can watch it over and over and see something new every time. Jake Shears and Babydaddy are the polar opposites of each other, and Ana Matronic is fabulous, scary, and sexy all at the same time. What more could you want? Why the hell this band hasn’t caught on as much in the States is a mystery. Then again, we are the country that can’t get enough of hams like Taylor Hicks. Perhaps he needs a stretchy body suit to make better music. No, that would be a nightmare.
Best Reissue of the Year
The Beatles – Love (Capitol)
More proof that the Fab Four’s catalog needs to be remastered, pronto. That fact aside, Love is a mind-blowing masterpiece. There are so many mash-ups and things going on here that it’s like hearing the Beatles for the first time all over again and feeling that initial excitement that this was indeed one of the most amazing bands ever. What could have easily been a disaster instead becomes a rollercoaster of a listen. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sir George Martin and his son were behind the controls. If you’re going to do these things right, you might as well go back to the man that helped execute the band’s eclectic visions the first time around. Rock and roll music, indeed.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Tenacious D – The Pick of Destiny
I can’t comment on the movie as I’ve not seen it yet, but the soundtrack for it is a sad dud. A real shame, considering I thought the D’s debut album was the best of the year when it was released. Maybe this stuff’s funnier within the context of the movie, but it seems like Jables and K.G. are too reliant on saying “fuck” as much as they can in these songs. That’s not horrible, but when it’s basically the joke over and over again, it gets old fast. I even shelled out for the “deluxe edition” which features a fake leather-bound box, poster, nifty 3-D album cover, and a pick of destiny. Too bad the packaging was cooler than the tunes.
Best Movie of the Year
I’m not a movie reviewer on the site here per se (though I do write up the occasional DVD), but I would like to throw my two cents in for “Slither,” easily one of the funniest and best zombie movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Plenty of quotable lines, enough fun-time gore, Gregg Henry’s hilarious rant about Mr. Pibb, and Jenna Fischer with fantastically poofy hair are all included. This is definitely one of those movies I could be happy watching multiple times. Sure to be a cult classic in the near future.
Best Video Games of the Year
Xbox 360: “Gears of War” (Microsoft/Epic Games)
I’ll keep this short and sweet. There were lots of great games for these two systems this year, especially in the past few months, but “Gears of War” is the masterpiece the Xbox 360 has always had in it. For once, there’s a great single-player storyline that’s exciting and engaging, and a cast of characters that are all worth getting to know. The gameplay is easy to learn, the graphics are impeccable, and the soundtrack a sure winner. It’s going to be exciting to see what doors this game opens for the console. There’s no looking back now.
PlayStation 2: “Bully” (Rockstar)
"Bully" is nothing everyone said it was going to be. That is, another game from Rockstar that would glorify horrible violence between school kids and influence players to copycat their actions. Instead, it turned out to be a fascinating game of anti-bullying. You may get knots in your stomach when playing it if you ever were a victim of bullying in school, and feel the nausea creeping up your throat when taking part in the daily drudgery of making it to class and passing. But it’s all great fun, and Rockstar finally broke the mold of their “Grand Theft Auto” games by giving us something similar but highly original and captivating at the same time. Plus, any game that features the loser getting to make out with various babes around campus is a winner to me.