Monday, December 4th, 2006
And so we have it, another year come and gone. Was it a good year? A bad year? It was a year. That’s all. And with years come lists and so here’s mine.
General procedure is usually that the year-end list is supposed to tally up the “best” records of the year – well if anyone can tell me what the hell that means, I’d appreciate it. Rankings like that are inherently meaningless (as the uproar whenever someone publishes any sort of list that makes claims of definitiveness will attest) so instead, I’ve chosen to list off the ten records that meant the most to me in 2006 – the ones that soundtracked my life, so to speak. The ones that engaged, empathized, moved, mesmerized or just connected with me and that I listened to the most. And most importantly (or perhaps disappointingly), unassailable. I don’t doubt for a minute that there’s great stuff that isn’t on this list or that I’ve not even heard, but from what I did hear, these are the standouts.
Thankfully, all are also excellent records and would stand up quite well to any proposed criteria for what defines “best”, though I know for a fact that there’s many far-better reviewed and critically acclaimed records out there that are not represented here. That’s not what this list is about. You want science, go here. You want to know my favourite records of the year? Read on.
Points you may notice that I’m already aware of – 9 of 10 artists on this list are American, none are from outside North America and most could broadly be categorized as roots or Americana. I have no real explanation for that, though it also makes perfect sense. Take that as you will. This was a year in which I became more conscious of my personal tastes, what I do and do not like in music, and this year? I liked the rootsy, lyric-y stuff. Maybe 2007 will be about the Euro-rock. We’ll see. And they’re listed alphabetically so don’t read anything into the order (like some did last year even though I stated quite clearly that there was no ranking. Though it does raise the question – who put the alphabet in the order it’s in? Someone with a prejudice against x, y and z no doubt.
I hadn’t intended to run this list for another week while I fussed and fretted over what to include, but after opting to keep things ultra-focused this year, I was done before I knew it. I thought about doing some honourable mentions or special categories, but you know what? That just opens up the floodgates and eventually I’d want every record I liked this year – and there’s many – in here and that’s just too much to deal with. So here’s ten and ten only. After the jump, of course.
And I’m particularly pleased with myself for the visual treatment of the selections – most certainly the most fun I had with assembling this post. Probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you, but the 1986-87 Topps/O-Pee-Chee NHL set will always be very special to me. You’ve no idea how long I spent looking for number 251 – Brent Peterson, then of the Vancouver Canucks – to complete the set. And I still have it.
|Eric Bachmann / To The Races (Saddle Creek)
While Dignity & Shame was near the top of my list for 2005, this was the year I really began to immerse myself in Eric Bachmann’s post-Archers Of Loaf works and it’s been a wonderful trip. I can’t decide which was better – the fact that he released a new record that stood so well alongside those records, that he put on the best showcase I saw at SxSW in March or that he equaled if not bettered that performance at the Horseshoe in September.
Photos: Eric Bachmann @ SxSW – March 17, 2006
|Neko Case / Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Mint)
My first show of 2006 was seeing Neko pack the tiny Rivoli on Queen St and preview songs from her new record months before release. And she was in terrific form, setting the tone for what would be a great year of live music. And with Fox Confessor, she continued the trend of getting better and better with each record – there may well be no limit to how good she can be.
Photos: Neko Case @ The Rivoli – January 4, 2006
|Cat Power / The Greatest (Matador)
If I were to give out an “artist of the year” nod, it would go to Chan Marshall. The year she’s had, from releasing arguably (and there is much arguing on this point) her best album yet, through her well-documented breakdown, battle with and victory over alcoholism and her eventual comeback was truly a tale for the ages. And against all odds she put on not one but two of the most memorable live shows I saw in 2006. And in a good way.
Photos: Cat Power @ Lee’s Palace – September 4, 2006
|The Decemberists / The Crane Wife (Capitol)
It’s funny, I never think I’m an especially big Decemberists fan until they release a new record, and I’m reminded of how singular, engaging and idiosyncratic – and with their latest record, moving – their music can be. And then I see them live and I’m also reminded of how much fun they can be as well. Anyone who feared (or hoped) that their signing to a major would prove a fatal move turned out to have nothing to worry about.
Photos: The Decemberists @ The Kool Haus – November 6, 2006
|Early Day Miners / Offshore (Secretly Canadian)
This would probably count as the dark horse on the list – there’s not even a Metacritic score for the record – but for reasons I can’t fully articulate, Offshore just mesmerizes me. Epic, monolithic and hypnotic, utterly stark and raw at the core and fearsomely beautiful all around, this record just gives me something that I need and while I don’t really know what that is, I’m thankful for it.
|The Hold Steady / Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)
Even though this was year that I was fairly immersed in introspective (or naval-gazing, depending on your POV) music, there was one record that without fail, made me want to jump around, play air guitar, find a party pit or just walk around and drink some more. And thank God for that. Seeing them three times in under three months didn’t hurt either.
Photos: The Hold Steady @ Lee’s Palace – July 31, 2006
|Land Of Talk / Applause Cheer Boo Hiss (Dependent)
The only Canadian entry on the list, but there’s no tokensim here. Though Applause Cheer Boo Hiss is technically just an EP and I had to think long and hard about including it, the bottom line is that this record was just too good and exciting for me not to recognize it. At a time when most Canuck acts seem intent in cramming in as many members and instruments as possible, along comes an old-fashioned power trio to destroy them all. All hail.
|Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s / The Dust Of Retreat (Artemis/V2)
Yes the name is terrible and yes, they can sound more than a little precious at times but damn – when it hits, it hits good. Veering from cacophony to understated beauty and back again, often in the same song, I’ll only accept the “chamber pop” tag that gets foisted on them if said chamber has a fully stocked bar and puke stains on the floor. I’m tempted to put a little “rookie of the year” note on the front of their card – I expect great things.
Photos: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s @ SxSW – March 16, 2006
|The Mountain Goats / Get Lonely (4AD)
John Darnielle seems to have this uncanny knack of soundtracking very pivotal moments in my life with his music. And everything I wanted to say about this, I said back in August. All I’ll say now is the chills? I still get them, but I’m getting better.
Photos: The Mountain Goats @ Lee’s Palace – September 19, 2006
|Shearwater / Palo Santo (Misra)
Dense, harrowing, mysterious and beautiful, I’ve spent the better part of the last seven months absorbing this album and I’m certain it still hasn’t fully revealed itself to me. Rest assured I’ll happily spend another seven months immersing myself in it and another seven after that. The emergence of Shearwater as a focused and distinct creative force, stepping out of the black sheep shadow, is one of the most welcome happenings of the year.
Photos: Shearwater @ SxSW – March 15, 2006