Sounds: BW’s top 13 of 2006

These are the new releases that drew me back again and again last year. Well-worn albums all. 

13. Takagi Masakatsu, Journal for People (Carpark)

journal for people

And not just because I needed a token Japanese title. Or a token sound and video artist repackaging a CD/DVD of earlier material. This is among the most relaxing yet challenging Sunday morning music I’ve listened to this year — all at once. Imagine turning from Tokyo streets filmed in time-lapse, nighttime neon blurred and stretched, the whir and pop of a laptop harddrive struggling to cop Reich’s 18 musicians — and then make an unexpected whirling turn into sounds found in a sun-soaked hidden garden: water giggling over rocks, a child’s singing lessons. Someone in an apartment above noodles on an old piano.

12. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House (Warp Records)

yellow house

This year’s version of Animal Collective’s Feels. And in spite of their contribution to the ubiquity of indie bands named after woodland creatures (what are we supposed to think? that these bands aren’t all Brooklyn bedroom-composition wimps anxious about their masculinity in the new millennium?) these fellows are a little more human, a little gentler, a little less drug-crazed, maybe, than some of their freak folk friends. They’re also more of a band than they were on Horn of Plenty, and this is more of an album, though the debut was plenty pretty in its own right. Here they invite you to put on your headphones and stay a while, listening to songs that wear soft, like sunshine, like a blanket your grandma made you the day you were born.

11. Radio Citizen, Berlin Serengeti (Ubiquity)

berlin serengeti

It’s not that often that something this groovy makes it into my “best of” list. I tend to leave the downtempo dance tracks to my good friend Farrell Fawcett and trust that his annual mix will carry me through the year where the ESL genre’s concerned. Somehow, though, I wound up with this record ahead of his recommendation. Niko Schabel, the German DJ behind the moniker, asks what would constitute citizenship in a literal Radio City: the result is a sample-driven jazz, with vocals (reminiscent of Moloko) provided by an Indian-born vocalist, Bajka. Radio Citizen crosses borders, genres, traditions as Schabel draws, in his own words, on “my love for sixties jazz, funk 45s, soul, dub and reggae, hiphop, afrobeat, electronica, trippy stuff, d&b, early eighties avantgarde, surf, the old school, the new school, Arabian music, Latin, boogaloo, rocksteady, whatever.” Apparently it’s the whatever that counts.

10. Vetiver, To Find Me Gone (DiCristina)

to find me gone

Let’s stop talking about Vetiver in relation to buddy and sometime collaborator Devendra Banhart. To Find Me Gone positions itself, instead, somewhere softer — in bed, say, between Nick Drake and Marc Bolan. There’s more country feel-good here than freak or folk, too, with some songs leaning toward Flying Burrito Brothers or maybe even the Dead. The real charm of the album is this diversity and the concomitant difficulty you face pinning things down. Just when you think you know where it’s going, the album takes a different turn, finds a new percussion style, new backing vocals or arrangements (the strings on “Double” are extra nice), a slightly varied tempo (the transition from tracks 1 to 2 sets the bar for how varied things can be, though the kick into electric-squeal high gear in the middle of “Red Lantern Girls” runs a close second). What results is a record that feels familiar and surprising all at once — one that more than rewards repeated listening.

9. Devics, Push the Heart (Bella Union)

push the heart

In “Distant Radio,” one of the more uptempo songs on this pleasantly drowsy album, radio waves are invoked in an image that suggests something more sea-like — and if radio waves could roll and toss and lull, send you out and pull you back with the tide, that’s what these songs would do, all triplets and 6/8 signatures. Push emerges from a dream where a healthier Chan Marshall sings Radiohead tunes to herself in the bathroom mirror, or maybe where Erik Satie plays slow sea shanties on an accordian. I loved it before I knew Sarah Lov was a friend of a friend, before we benefitted from her hospitality at a summer BBQ in LA, and before we wound up with her and Devics’ piano-man Dustin at Disneyland (don’t miss the chance if you ever get it!). Our daughters wear their buttons on their schoolbags; we play their songs early in the morning and late at night.

8. Silversun Pickups, Carnavas (Dangerbird Records)


The sound of driving summer nights on LA freeways, windows down, stereo up. Reviewed 28 August 2006.

7. Mountains, Sewn (apestaartje)


Brooklyn-based soundscapsters Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp stir up a slowcooked stew of digitally processed sounds, laptop ambience, nature recordings, and occasional acoustic guitars and light percussion (chimes, a triangle). The ingredients remain distinct, but flavors seep the longer it simmers and soon you’re not sure what’s synthetic and what’s natural, where the human world ends and virtual reality begins. On last year’s self-titled debut, Mountains let the songs go for a very long time — sometimes close to 20 minutes — timed to your breathing, soundtracks for savasana. Sewn, as the title would seem to imply, is more piecework: shorter songs, an almost pop sensibility if these guys could conjure one. The guitar on “Sewn Two” veers dangerously close to the opening arpeggios of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but in the end they hold back from pop structures and references, close their eyes, and refuse to consider the possibility that words could accompany these sounds.  

6. Lambchop, Damaged (Merge)


Unlike the used paperback Bible you purchased on a radio swapmeet, this one you won’t want to sell back. Reviewed 4 September 2006.

5. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Letting Go (Drag City)

the letting go

Purists and naysayers who wish Will Oldham still sounded like a voice-breaking Peter Brady pooh pooh him for his mindnumbingly prolific output (how many new releases, collaborations, and live albums did he put out in the last two years?) as much as for what many old fans consider his gravest sin: his foray into high Nashville arangements on Greatest Palace Music, on which he revisited his much-beloved early songbook and turned a handful of fan favorites into countrypolitan schmaltz. Even those who disliked those arrangements (and not everyone did) may reconsider when they give The Letting Go‘s opening track, “Love Comes to Me,” a listen. A dark and winding violin duet lets you know the arrangements are integral, not ornamental or arbitrary, long before the vocals arrive: if the faux-Appalachian, squeaky voiced Palace “authenticity” is still largely missing, replaced by the mature, sustained singing of Oldham’s more recent records, the strings, piano, and especially the haunting, Kate Bush harmonies supplied by Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables) all contribute to songs that aim to reconcile you with the reality that you’ve somehow become a grownup.

4. Destroyer, Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge)

destroyer's rubies

If I were 22 all over again, Dan Bejar would be my Stephen Malkmus: as it is, I’m too late on the scene to be willing to unpack the dense web of references that make up most of his lyrics. No matter: I like the ones I get right off, playful little references that make you realize how fun the music is. (I’ve always assumed the band named itself after the KISS album, but a prophetic warning on “A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point” has me thinking otherwise now: “Those who love Zeppelin will eventually betray Floyd / I cast off those couplets in honor of the void.” What exactly would it mean to betray Floyd? And what relation would such a betrayal have to “the void,” let alone the impulse to honor it?) But the songs themselves convince you that there’s more going on here than just verbal fun and games. Gone are the early-Bowie-wannabeisms that sometimes plagued Destroyer’s first few records; there’s still a tendency toward the operatic, but it’s opera that rocks, not rock wanting to be opera, as I realized last spring when his live set bum rushed me and left me for dead. Infinitely more interesting than his New Pornographers bandmates, Bejar trades in a brand of smart rock that draws you in even as you realize he may be just as willing to drive you away.

3. His Name Is Alive, Detrola (Silver Mountain)


This CD stayed in the bedroom stereo for the better part of the year. “Mama Don’t You Know” was my song of the summer; Detrola was my album of that season. Reviewed 21 August 2006.

2. Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds (Tomlab)

he poos clouds

… on which a grown man sings so lovingly of his affection for a video game character (“I move him with my thumbs / He needs, he needs my guidance, he needs, he needs my time”) that he’ll make you misty eyed. How great is it that an album with this title won Canada’s first Polaris prize — the equivalent of England’s Mercury? Reviewed 20 April 2006.

1. Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)


No surprises here; this was easily my record of the year — maybe the last five years. Ah, the sexy woodelves. Reviewed 4 December 2006.

Also enjoyed: TV on the Radio, M. Ward, Cat Power, Gnarls Barkley, Islands, Sunset Rubdown, Espers

Best shows: Destroyer @ Avalon; Final Fantasy @ Tonic (and again @  Mercury Lounge); The Ex @ Knitting Factory; Joanna Newsom @ Webster Hall; Silversun Pickups @ the lunch room at Rhino Records; Beirut, Sunset Rubdown, and especially Frog Eyes @ Mercury Lounge; that crazy late show the Comas played @ Piano’s

And you, faithful readers? What were your hits and misses?

22 responses to “Sounds: BW’s top 13 of 2006”

  1. Jeremy Zitter says:

    A lovely list of familiar favorites and exciting new suggestions here, Bryan… I’m looking forward to checking out some of this stuff.. (sspu–who they heck are they?). Anyway, I still haven’t gotten around to making my list, but I will post another comment as soon as I do…

  2. Lisa Tremain says:

    there’s so much music being made in my house these days (here’s a sample), i’m feeling a bit behind on what others might be making. that being said, i’m drawn to anything that the waterman daughters are specifically liking– could you provide the girls’ top five songs of ’07?

    i saw chan marshall on austin city limits the other night (she followed up and blew away the raconteurs– who were a bit of a snooze) and then i bubbled about her, teary-eyed sometimes, to john for two days. “what growth the girl shows!” and “is her album about sobering up?” i do love the greatest (it’s come close to eclipsing moon pix which was stuck in my player for months). I recently bought the vinyl copy. am thinking about writing a post about my love affair with cat power, starting in 1996 and the various times i’ve seen her play or try to…

    the new shins songs (from up-and-coming wincing the night away) are quite lovely (what i’ve downloaded or caught on independent radio in l.a.) and mike andrews hand on string (even though i’m biased since john plays in his touring band) is an amazing, thoughtful record. joan of arc’s eventually, all at once is a record i can wholeheartedly recommend you listen to twice. oh, and deerhoof’s got a new one coming out.

    one throwback from ’05: wesafari’s alaska is an intelligent and under-appreciated record. we listen to it a lot on short or long road trips. you should too.

    and to show some resect: somehow i find myself listening (among the new bits and pieces and recordings by john in the living room) to older stuff. right now: ELO, lennon/yoko’s double fantasy, the allman brothers live, and anything by talking heads.

    thanks for these ear-friendly suggestions and rachel’s too.

  3. ssw says:

    is it bad luck to list your top 13?

  4. Beck says:

    At least tell me I was # 14.

    Um, didn’t you notice that FF put me on his top ten favorite videos of the year?

    That’s it Waterman, turn in your official fan club WWBD bracelet.

  5. PB says:

    OK Bryan, you know I only listen to Hillbilly wailers, Hem and Bowie, but I do read band names out of the Chicago “Reader” each week just for the literary and absurd joy of it and I have to say, “He Poos Clouds” is the best album name EVER!!!!
    As clueless as I am . . . the language in these reviews is lovely–“listening to songs that wear soft, like sunshine, like a blanket your grandma made you the day you were born”
    . . . so beautiful, like music.

  6. J-Man says:

    Bryan – thank you for giving a jaded girl hope! I’ve heard none but two of the cds you mention, and of the bands, I’ve only heard of a couple more than that. I’m excited to check out new music from a trusted source. My only offering (that springs to mind right now) is The Weepies “Say I Am You” – they, too, write songs much like the soft grandma blanket.

  7. Dave says:

    Some damn fine writin’, Bryan. And I’m always amazed at how much you listen to — I could maybe list 13 new albums I’ve heard all year. I will check out the many of these I haven’t heard. I agree with you on the ones I have, and I feel lucky to have been at a few of those shows you list.

  8. MarleyFan says:

    I have a confession: I go to during/after almost every one of his posts…

  9. MarleyFan says:

    Although not a huge Neil Diamond fan (I’m MarleyFan doggoneit!), Diamond just released an Artist Cut of his 12 Songs Album released in 2005, produced by Rick Rubin. Rubin produced the American Series of Johnny Cash, as well as LL cool J, Tom Petty (Wildflowers), and many others. I really like the raw sound of these demos, which are not drowned out by all the backup sh** that most studio recordings have. If you liked any of Diamonds music from the 70’s and 80’s, and not embarassed to say so, you’ll probably like this, my favorite song so far is “Hell Yeah”.

  10. Tim Wager says:

    Okay, Bryan, I’m used to picking up the year-end issue of The Wire and not knowing over half of the albums mentioned, but your list is disorienting (and humbling). I need some time to catch up on things.

    There’s some consolation, however, in knowing that I attended one of your year’s best shows.

  11. Beth W. says:

    A unique list. I’ve perused a fair number of lists this year and there is a lot of overlap but yours stands on its own. Did you hear Joanna Newsom on All Songs Considered? good show.
    Lisa had great reccommendations. (Admittedly, this lurker shares her biases.) I also adopted a fondness for Cat Power from her. I chose to go to bed instead of watching Cat Power on Austin City Limits last weekend. Sad I missed it but (here comes my segue) I had a similar experience.
    A few months ago I taped an episode of ACL featuring Franz Ferdinand (so boring I fast forwarded) and What Made Milwaukee Famous (really exciting and unexpected).
    Other music I was excited about this year to varying degrees: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins (awesome NPR performance), Band of Horses, Gomez (a brief passionate affair), The Weepies (like J-Man), Architecture in Helsinki, The Shins (like Lisa), Birdmonster, Asobi Seksu, My Morning Jacket (a live perfromance just this morning on KEXP) and an old favorite Joni Mitchell.

  12. Rachel says:

    Love the list, Bry, but why the dis against the New Porns? Since Sleater-Kinney went on “indefinite hiatus,” they are only the best band going. Perfect power pop is like ice skating–it’s sometimes thrilling, sometimes taken for granted, sometimes even insipid, but requires genius and discipline to make it look that easy. (Hey, I know you feel me. Don ‘t I know you from the “Surrender” dance?)
    P.S. NP are a great live show, but Dan Behar stumbled on & off the stage of Chicago’s Metro as little more than a drunken idiot. The man’s got talent, but he’s wasting it.

  13. bw says:

    #1 — Jeremy, please do share your list. Same goes for others. I’m curious to see where we overlap and diverge — and what you’ve been hoarding.

    #2 — tremain — one of my favorite nights out was also to see farraby lionheart and your man john — what was the name of that place? the lionheart EP was another favorite. also glad i’m tapped into ing.

    #3 — i would have gone for 15 but i had to go to sleep.

    #4 — i haven’t listened to it enough for it to become a favorite.

    #5 — PB — what were your favorite hillbilly wailer albums this year? have you tried the Bonnie Billy or Joanna Newsom? I wonder how they’d mix with your hard core stuff. As for that line re: Grizzly Bear, I’ve been dissatisfied with it all week. Not for the line itself, but because it’s slightly off re: the album. I was going for something that can be comfortable if threadbare — something that lets in too much cold but you can’t get rid of anyway. The sunshine on that album is all cold sunshine — the kind that makes you think it’s warmer outside than it actually turns out to be. Maybe the line as I wrote it would have applied better to Vetiver, which is warmer.

    6. J-Man — you gave me a favorite re-release this year — the Karen Dalton. (PB — are you a Karen Dalton fan? You should be!) “Moving to the Country” is one of the songs that’s hit me harder than any other this year. I find it hard to believe you don’t have a top 10, though, lady. Give it up.

    7. Thanks, Dave, but I want your list too. Even if it’s only 3. Of course we know the Yo La Tengo is on there … that show in Jersey City was good, too, esp for the company.

    8. and 9. Thanks, Marley, on both counts (I think). Thanks esp for the Diamond tip.

    10. Really, Tim? I worried that mine was pretty predictable. (“Imagine! A Bonnie Billy CD made Bryan’s year end list — what, for the tenth year in a row?”)

    11. Nice to meet you, Beth. Thanks for kind words. And I’m hunting down your titles even as I type.

    12. Rach — I confess, I’ve never liked New Pornographers, much to many of my friends’ dismay. I’ve liked songs here and there, but I find them as a whole to be kind of cold, like exercises in songwriting rather than something with real guts. I also am on oddball, I think, for finding Neko Case kind of boring. I’ve heard that Bejar is lame when he plays with them, kind of bored. Most NP fans probably don’t even realize he has his own career/band, which is anything BUT a boring show. That one competes with the Final Fantasy and Joanna Newsom. At the end of one song, I couldn’t contain myself and had to shout out his line about Robert Smithson: “Fuck the Spiral Jetty!” (which I’ve always taken to be his willingness to take up a challenge to make something larger than life). Bejar may be the most Muppet-like of the NPers, but I tend to like Muppets, myself.

  14. hey tim — would you mind posting the wire’s top 10? i tried to find them on the site but couldn’t. my favorite year-end lists this year were on dusted.

  15. Stephanie Wells says:

    Though I loved SSPU and Neil Diamond’s albums (and yours too, Beck) this year, I must add one superfave song which sums up the explosively joyful end of 2006 (well, other than Amel Bent’s cover of “Eye of the Tiger”) : Midlake’s “Roscoe,” which will forever make me think of Trixie. Best shows: Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Bowery Ballroom and Sonic Youth at the Orange County Museum of Art!

  16. Tim Wager says:

    Okay, I just typed up a long comment that seems to have been lost, so this will be brief (perhaps the other one will actually show up, but it’s not waiting moderation).

    Here’s The Wire’s Top Ten
    1. Burial – Burial
    2. Scott Walker – The Drift
    3. Joanna Newsom – Ys
    4. Carla Bozulich – Evangelista
    5. Wolf Eyes – Human Animal
    6. Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar
    7. Ekkehard Ehlers – A Life Without Fear
    8. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Letting Go
    9. Om – Conference of the Birds
    10. Phill Niblock – Touch Three

    Some of my faves not yet mentioned:
    Dark Hand and Lamplight – s/t
    Hawksley Workman – Treeful of Starling
    Scritti Politti – White Bread Black Beer
    Califone – Roots & Crowns
    The Be Good Tanyas – Hello Love
    Juana Molina – Son
    Tom Brosseau – s/t

    I’m making a mix, but don’t like doing top ten lists. My rationalization got lost in the last comment and I don’t have time right now. I’ll tell you sometime over beers.

    Good shows of 06:
    M. Ward at Henry Fonda
    Michael Hurley at McCabe’s
    Hawksley Workman at Tangier

    Must go now.

  17. Lisa Tremain says:

    FYI, re: comment #11, “Beth” has made a guest appearance in a Whatsit post. She happens to also know “John.”

    And, BW, that place we saw farraby lionheart is the fold at tangier.

  18. Tim Wager says:

    Okay, my mix is ready. Anyone who wants a copy, email me through

  19. Tim Wager says:

    um, re-do!

    that is, email me through the whatsit.

    maybe we can get an edit on this?

    thanks, luv what you do!

  20. Beth W. says:

    re: #17 I’ve been debating whether to remain incognito or to admit that names were not actually changed to protect the innocent. But you outed me. I am “Beth”.

  21. Tim Wager says:

    After sort of giving up on Will Oldham – so many noms de plume, so much product, so many aimless records among them – I went out and picked up “The Letting Go” on your recommendation here. It’s an amazing record – gorgeous and moving. Thanks!

  22. Jeremy Zitter says:

    Finally put together my list. Mix CD is forthcoming (I hope).

    In No Particular Order:

    Silversun Pickups: Carnavas
    Band of Horses: Everything all the Time
    Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
    Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You
    Devics: Push the Heart
    Midlake: The Trials of Van Occupanther
    The Decembrists: The Crane Wife
    Cat Power: The Greatest
    Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming
    Camera Obscura: Let’s Get Out of This Country

    Other Things I Liked: The Submarines: Declare a New State, Fiery Furnaces: Bitter Tea, Ferraby Lionheart: EP, Sea Wolf: Untitled/Unreleased, Adem: Love and Other Planets, The Concretes: In Colour, Under Byen: Samme Stof Som Stof, Sebastien Schuller: Happiness, Bonnie Billy: The Letting Go, His Name Is Alive: Detrola