Monday, February 05, 2007

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Mike C.'s Favorite Music Of 2006

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Top 50 Albums

1. PERNICE BROTHERS – Live A Little (Ashmont)

This would be much easier if it were 1966. Revolver would by my favorite album of the year. It would top all the critics' polls, if such polls had existed. It would be one of the biggest sellers of the year, you'd know what it sounds like, and there's a good chance you'd already own it and love it too.

Alas, your TV no longer has just three networks, your phone no longer has just numbers, and your record store no longer...well, your record store probably no longer exists, so maybe that’s not the best example. The point is, most pop culture is not universal. And that's ok. The fall 2006 release of Live A Little, the fifth Pernice Brothers album, was not widely heralded as an event of major cultural significance outside of the worlds of a few thousand dedicated fans. And while some may label me an elitist snob for naming a fairly obscure independent release that has sold about 5,000 copies to date as my favorite album of the year (whilst others who have heard it, and find it too boring or slow might just think I'm overrating it), the selection of a personal favorite that spoke to me is what seems most meaningful. The category I've set up is "favorite album of the year," not "favorite album of the year that most people have already heard of."

Even in a more tightly focused culture where mass phenomena were easier to create—think Elvis or The Beatles on Ed Sullivan—there still is almost no chance that the Pernice Brothers, the band that inspired me the most in 2006, would achieve enormous sales or fame. It's been years since I listened to any new album as much as I've listened to Live A Little, and while I am close to this music, I can step back from it and admit that its appeal is not universal. It rocks a bit in spots, but by and large it is a collection of quiet, poignant stories that probably are not likely to resonate with everyone.

But Live A Little is special. It is album of songs about travels by foot, car, plane, and within the human imagination. It makes smart lyrical nods to Tommy James, The Shirelles, The Clash, and numerous authors without obnoxiously calling attention to how clever those references are. It adheres to a sonic worldview in which The Smiths, Pretenders, and New Order are filtered through The Zombies as well as early Wilco. It has songs like "Zero Refills," which sounds like the mature adult offspring of The Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why," and "Cruelty To Animals," in which the Meat Is Murder author calmly sings "Alouette, gentille alouette" while seeking shelter from the storm of barbarism that begins at home. It also has, inconspicuously located at track number seven—meaning it would lead off side two of this 12-song collection if you had to flip the thing over after 20 minutes to hear the rest—quite possibly the best song created by anyone in the last 20 years. Live A Little bursts with brutal honesty, and passion, and humor, and thoughtfulness of the kind not so commonly heard on an indie rock record. Seems like without tenderness there’s something missing.

Even the album title is perfect. Of course it is meant in the typical, encouraging sense of the phrase: go on, have some fun, live a little. But in typical Pernicean fashion, there is no way not to also interpret in it a second, sarcastically funny meaning: as in, to live only a little, to not be living quite enough. Laughing in the face of pain and sadness, and conquering ennui with a deep breath and a clever pun, is the central theme of Pernice's art. Though none of his previous work has been less than excellent, Pernice's realistic but not pessimistic worldview has never shown itself as fully flowered as it does here.

Critical overstatement is a danger. Grand, sweeping declarations are often regretted by the author soon after they are printed or posted. But hang it all; if I've ever wanted to write a rave, this is it. To posit that Live A Little is a work of such originality, genius, and beauty that it is unlikely to be matched this decade in its power and achievement by any work of art, not just in music but in any medium—literature, film, painting, glass-blowing, collage, mime, skywriting, sand sculpture, anything—is not hyperbole. It is understatement.

2. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – The Life Pursuit (Matador)
After a couple of middling albums in a row, the foremost purveyors of Scottish twee return to their form with their finest album since their 1997 breakthrough If You’re Feeling Sinister. The songs are sharp musically and lyrically, and for once, they even sound like they’re having a bit of fun. That fun rubs off on this engaging collection that does not contain any songs that are less than excellent.

3. SMART BROWN HANDBAG – Harry Larry (Stonegarden)
A designation like “most underappreciated band on the continent” is awfully difficult to quantify definitively, but Smart Brown Handbag might really be it. We’re talking about a band that has recorded and released ten full-length albums in ten years but has never reported SoundScan sales of more than 102 copies of any of them. Granted, they probably have sold more than 102 of at least some of their albums at merch tables during shows—not that they’ve toured in years—but it is probably accurate to say that there are unsigned bands playing junior high school dances who have sold more albums than Smart Brown Handbag.

What’s staggering about SBH’s inability to find an audience is that their sound is so accessible; they do not engage in avant-garde musical wankery. Nor, it’s perhaps not obvious enough to avoid stating, do they suck. Their MySpace page—on which I appear proudly as one of the band’s 59 friends, as of this writing (and I'm in their Top 12, but I swear I've never even met them)—pegs their sound accurately by listing The Smiths, Prefab Sprout, and Death Cab For Cutie under the “sounds like” tab. But as they sagely state in the “influences” box, “After ten years we are our own influence.” I would add that there’s more than a dash of the mellower side of early R.E.M. in many of their songs. As stated in this space two years ago, and as put forth by one of the more brilliant American music reviewers of the last decade, Glenn McDonald, the continued anonymity of Smart Brown Handbag is truly one of the great musical conundrums of the indie rock era. The craziest thing about it this band is that they keep getting better. Harry Larry is one of their best.

4. JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS – Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)
Is this where I congratulate myself for waiting until number four before ranking an album that was both ecstatically embraced and backlashed upon by the musical hipster cognoscenti? The Rilo Kiley frontwoman takes a countrified vacation that shouldn’t have surprised anyone who paid attention to the acoustic numbers on the band’s last album, and hate it or love it, there really wasn’t anything else out there this year that sounded quite like this.

5. BEN KWELLER – Ben Kweller (ATO)
Lacking a potential monster hit single like his first two solo efforts, this album nonetheless coheres as a piece of work better than anything else the former teenage leader of Radish has done. Playing all the instruments himself and benefiting from smart production by Gil Norton, this album shows Ben’s songcraft taking a step up to the next level.

6. BUTCH WALKER – The Rise And Fall Of Butch Walker And The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
This collection of smart rock songs that oughta be hits might strike some as a tad slick—Butch has produced Avril Lavigne—but there are plenty of tattooed love girls and boys who believe the former frontman of Marvelous 3 (a band I never cared about) is more than just a cooler Bryan Adams. What puts this effort over the top is not the T. Rex homage “Hot Girls In Good Moods” or any of the other upbeat rockers, but the versatility he demonstrates in the trio of ballads that anchor the album. A sleeper that I never expected to make my top 10.

7. NEW YORK DOLLS – One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (Roadrunner)
Speaking of sleepers, what were the odds that, despite three-fifths of this seminal NYC pre-punk band’s original members being dead, their third-ever studio album—and first in 32 years—would be such a vital collection of music? David and Syl carry the torch admirably for fallen dolls Johnny, Jerry, and Arthur, with David writing some of the year’s best lyrics this side of Joe Pernice. Read the Christgau piece.

8. GOLDFRAPP – Supernature (Mute)
The British synth-rock duo led by Allison Goldfrapp continues to evolve in fascinating ways. Band most likely to unleash a masterpiece at some point.

9. THE HOLD STEADY – Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)
Third time out for these Brooklyn hipsters whose shit-stirrer of a native Minnesotan frontman has been known to talk up the Twins in front of NYC area audiences. Their neo-Springsteen/Lynott schtick still sounds pretty fresh.

10. HUMA – We Are Here For You (Cult Hero)
Cool bands continue to spring from my old college town of New Brunswick, N.J., despite the loss of the established live venues, dance clubs, and record stores of yore. The finest one I’ve heard in the last few years, the coed trio Huma, make post-space-age twee tunes of the most smile-inducing variety on their full-length debut. Most genuinely heartfelt album title of the year.

11. RHETT MILLER – The Believer (Verve Forecast)
This dashing gent somehow seems so much cooler without his alt-country bandmates from The Old 97’s. Or maybe it’s just that he tries harder when he’s on his own, resulting in more compelling songs. Though there are one or two skippable tracks, and it’s a slight notch down from his earlier solo effort The Instigator, there’s enough here to keep fans of smart straight-on rocknpop feeling groovy.

12. THE SOUNDS – Dying To Say This To You (New Line)
At their best, Maja Ivarsson and her Swedish cohorts evoke a perfect hybrid of Blondie and Depeche Mode. These moments don’t sustain the album all the way through, but they’re transcendent enough.

13. TRIS MCCALL – I’m Assuming You’re All In Bands (Jersey Beat)
The de facto poet laureate of Hudson County, Tris McCall finds inspiration for most of his writing—both as a composer of music and a copious writer of prose—close to home. As militantly pro-Jersey as they come (this side of me, anyway), McCall ventures just a few miles east off the mainland, two skinny little rivers over to planet Brooklyn, for a concept album about the indie rock culture of New York City’s self-proclaimed hippest borough. Though Jersey still permeates the spirit of the mostly bouncy, hyper-literate songs (one is even titled “Princeton Can Use A Man Like Joel,” and the hidden bonus track is a gorgeous paean to the county Tris calls home), this is a dandy day trip—and rest assured that McCall does not take the easy way out now. Not that he ever would.

14. ED HARCOURT – The Beautiful Lie (Heavenly/EMI import)
What Coldplay might sound like if they were fronted by Rufus Wainwright. Oh, and if they were actually cool.

15. HOT CHIP – The Warning (Astralwerks)
A late entry onto the list, and the only one of these 50 albums that I did not actually hear until January 2007. Might have ranked higher if I’d gotten my hands on it sooner and had more time with it. This is startlingly good electronic pop that often sounds eerily similar to the dance album The Aluminum Group has been threatening to make for years. Detached, understated vocals mixed with sharp beats and a vague sense of alienation permeating the proceedings. Pretty great.

16. THE DIVINE COMEDY – Victory For The Comic Muse (Parlophone)
That most debonair Northern Irish lad (cad?) Neil Hannon trots out his baroque wit (pith?) on a charming album that amounts to a realization of its title, which may or may not be tongue-in-cheek (tongue-in-chic?).

17. THE COUP – Pick A Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)
The only 2006 hip hop album I have listened to more than once in its entirety. That’s clearly my loss, but the genre was a natural victim of my curtailed music listening during the past year. The group whose 2001 album Party Music caused quite a stir due to an album cover that showed the twin towers on fire—and it was released before 9/11—keeps up its fierce politics on songs like “Baby Let’s Have A Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy.” Guests Talib Kweli and Black Thought help make “My Favorite Mutiny” the year’s best funk workout, a moment worthy of the finest work of Lyrics Born. Has a few weak moments (especially the lame skits) but does reward repeating listenings.

18. HAMELL ON TRIAL – Songs For Parents Who Enjoy Drugs (Righteous Babe)
Not the strongest set of songs from the one-man punk-folk rebel rouser, but even his trifles are worthy of many a spin. Read the Christgau piece on him, too.

19. THE ROBOCOP KRAUS – They Think They Are The Robocop Kraus (Epitaph/Ada)
The Nürnberg five-piece synth-and-guitar attack of the year. Surprised some of these tracks weren’t bigger talk of the MP3 blogs and indie dance club hits. The beat of the songs is so martial that they could only be German, yet they also sound like they’re having more than a bit of fun.

20. THE KILLERS – Sam’s Town (Island)
The band everyone wanted to hate in 2006 acquitted themselves reasonably well on an album that didn’t get tons better with repeated listenings, but certainly didn’t get worse. The cringeworthy, Vegasy moments are admittedly bad, and at times the performance and production coalesce into fleeting seconds of unlistenable histrionics, but even these flaws are forgivable when the songwriting’s this good.

21. THE EARLY NOVEMBER – The Mother, The Mechanic, And The Path (Drive-Thru)
In which an unknown south Jersey indie band that’s too offbeat and mellow to truly be considered emo feels gutsy enough to release a triple album. The first two discs are straightforward rock songs, and the third is the true “concept album” portion. I probably never would have heard about this had it not been for a lengthy, intriguing review by Tris McCall (yes, he of this year’s number 13 album, he’s also quite the critiquer of music). Still, I probably would not have bought this CD if I hadn’t stumbled upon it at the Greenwich Village location of Tower Records in December, priced to move at 70 percent off list, four days before the storied retailer went out of business. Life is a series of coincidences.

22. PRIESTESS – Hello Master (RCA)
This is rawk, 2006.

23. ELECTRIC SIX – Switzerland (Metropolis)
Maybe they threw this one together a little too quickly? The third album from this MC6 (there are indeed a half-dozen of them, and they are from Detroit) is a solid notch down from their first two albums, which were virtually flawless in their hybridization of “hard” rock and disco. There still are some moments here, but the band just sounds tired.

24. THE STROKES – First Impressions Of Earth (RCA)
It’s too bad you only get one chance to make a first impression, because many peoples’ initial take on these guys was that they were too cool for school and not worthy of the hype. Three albums in now, they haven’t taken over the world, but instead carved out a niche. It’s a nice niche with a lot of good stuff that anyone who can’t help but slag them is missing out on. You only live once.

25. GNARLS BARKLEY – St. Elsewhere (Downtown)
How nice of this Barkley fellow to make an entire album about my mother’s favorite TV show of the 1980s.

26. BOB DYLAN – Modern Times (Columbia)
I love Bob Dylan’s music so much, he’s the one person in music who I would actually be scared to meet. An album this highly praised by an artist I admire so much, but which I’m so highly ambivalent about, could only land right smack in the middle of the countdown. Others have pontificated elsewhere more eloquently about this than I feel inspired to do right now. If this is what getting old sounds like, it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Then again, most old people are not as rich and famous as Dylan.

27. THE RAPTURE – Pieces Of The People We Love (Mercury/Universal)
Last night a band saved my dj life. DJs like me need more hipster dance rock with grooves this tight and choruses this hooky; no really, we do.

28. ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 – Olé! Tarantula (Yep Roc)
Still mostly obtuse, except for the album-closing tear-jerker dedicated to the late New York Doll bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane,” this is more upbeat, if five percent less engaging than his last stellar effort, Spooked. Great fun, though, with Peter Buck along for the ride on lead guitar. Anyone who knows what Robyn’s on about in his lyrics is hereby pledged with the duty of sharing that knowledge with the world.

29. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia)
It’s all well and good, but he could have done so much more with this. Look, you’re doing an album of old folk songs by a left-wing musical deity, and you’ve already publicly expressed your disgust with the president and his extremist agenda, so Bruce, why are you wasting your and our time with “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” when you could be doing “The Torn Flag” or some other, bolder political statement? Ok, Dan Bern just did something with that one a couple years ago, but how many people heard it? You’re Bruce, you have a huge audience. There’s nothing wrong with this album, it’s just not as meaningful as it could have been.

30. ALBERT HAMMOND, JR. – Yours To Keep (Rough Trade)
The solo Stroke has some mighty catchy tunes to offer. A cool little surprise.

31. MORRISSEY – Ringleader Of The Tormentors (Sanctuary)
Morrissey, so much to answer for. Hopes were high in the wake of the return to form on his last album, You Are The Quarry. Though nowhere near as bad as his worse solo moments—when was the last time you spun Kill Uncle or Maladjusted?—this has to rank as something of a disappointment. As demonstrated on the album’s longest track, the semi-epic “Life Is A Pigsty,” he is still capable of unbridled greatness. Still thrilled to have one of the gods back and productive, and looking forward to the next one.

32. THE RACONTEURS – Broken Boy Soldiers (V2/Third Man)
The stock I put into this record rose and fell more times than, um, a really volatile stock. (Can you tell I don’t play the market?) In the end, it’s a solid rock album with a few memorable tunes by a whole that manages to be a little less than the sum of its impressive parts.

33. THE FRATELLIS – Costello Music (Universal import)
Fun British ‘70s glam ripoff artists.

34. JOHN LEGEND – Once Again (Columbia)
The title implies more of the same as what was on the debut, but while there’s no standout track a la Lifted’s minor classic “Ordinary People,” this may actually be a stronger effort in toto. I honestly expected less, but the beats and melodies are just too good to dismiss.

35. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE – The Black Parade (Reprise)
I don’t think Queen got enough respect in their day, either. The band that catapulted from headlining The Loop Lounge in Passaic Park to a perennial top 10 MySpace search term nationally does north Jersey proud on their second major-label set. If you’re from Jersey and you don’t root for this band, then the terrorists have already won.

36. PRIMAL SCREAM – Riot City Blues (Columbia)
These Scottish-based vets have reinvented their sound many times through eight albums in 20 years, and here they take the back to basics approach, leaving the more electronica-flavored stylings of their last two efforts behind in favor of a blues-rock sound that suits them well. They even had the biggest U.K. hit of their career with album opener “Country Girl.” Right on.

37. EDITORS – The Back Room (Kitchenware)
It would take a British band to out-Interpol Interpol, of course, and here it is, with songs that even boast a memorable hook or two.

38. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Show Your Bones (Interscope)
Cool attitude? Sure. Songs? Sadly, only in spots. Worthwhile? Yes, but only to a point.

39. MAGNET – The Tourniquet (Filter)
40. LLOYD COLE – Anti Depressant (One Little Indian)

They write the songs that don’t make the whole world sing, but those are rarely the most meaningful songs anyway...so who cares?

41. NEKO CASE – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti)
She’s good here, but she’s so much better in her role as occasional lead singer of The New Pornographers. This does have some very strong moments.

42. ARCTIC MONKEYS – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino)
It's good, really, it's good. It's just not great. Worth having in your collection if you have everything else of this ilk. You know how I know I’m not going to be listening to this in two years? I’m not even listening to it now.

43. WILLIE NILE – Streets Of New York (Reincarnate)
A solid comeback by one of those mostly forgotten late ‘70s/early ‘80s singer/songwriters a la Steve Forbert, the kind of guy a lot of Springsteen fans tend to like. If not for the return of the Dolls, this would win the New York City Album Of The Year Award.

44. BADLY DRAWN BOY – Born In The U.K. (Astralwerks)
The unpredictable British rogue Damon Gough takes his obsession with the ‘70s in general, and the Bard of New Jersey in particular, to new heights with this, his most listenable work since his debut.

45. WE ARE SCIENTISTS – With Love And Squalor (Virgin)
46. PHOENIX – It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks)

Hipster rock that didn’t totally suck, volume 2006.

47. KEVIN FEDERLINE – Playing With Fire (Reincarnate)
48. “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC – Straight Outta Lynwood (Zomba)

Two classic quotes uttered by Alan Alda’s megalomaniacal film director character Lester in Crimes And Misdemeanors come to mind. One: “If it bends, it’s funny; if it breaks, it’s not funny.” Two: “Comedy equals tragedy plus time.” Federline and Yankovic both bend. And do the math: each offers music of comparable sincerity and absurdity. That they did not tour together was one of the year’s great missed music marketing opportunities.

49. JOHNNY CASH – American V: A Hundred Highways (American)
For a while, I actually forgot that I had bought this. Not that it’s terrible—not by a longshot—but like the Nirvana Unplugged album, it’s a little depressing to hear such a mighty talent more or less dying on tape. There are probably at least 30 other, better Johnny Cash albums everyone should own before they get this one.

50. THE SLEEPY JACKSON – Personality (One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird) (Astralwerks)
And that’s the way I like it, that’s the way I like it.

Also Worthy
PETE YORN – The Nightcrawler (Red Ink/Columbia)
VARIOUS – My Old Man: A Tribute To Steve Goodman (Red Pajamas)
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO – The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch)
THE LEMONHEADS – The Lemonheads (Vagrant)
DAMONE – Out Here All Night (Island)
MAGNET – Hold On Tour EP (Filter)
KEANE – Under The Iron Sea (Interscope)

Perhaps Worthy
SCISSOR SISTERS – Ta-dah (Universal)
OUTKAST – Idlewild (LaFace/Zomba)
THE STILLS – Without Feathers (Vice)
JULES SHEAR – Dreams Don’t Count (Mad Dragon)
DIXIE CHICKS – Taking The Long Way (Open Wide/Columbia)
THE FUTUREHEADS – News And Tributes (StarTime)
THE HORRORS – The Horrors (Stolen Transmission)
THE FLAMING LIPS – At War With The Mystics (Warner Bros)

Likely Worthy, But I Didn't Hear Them In Full
JARVIS COCKER – Jarvis (Rough Trade import)
DAN BERN – Breathe (Messenger)
ASHFORD BREAKS – Traitor EP (no label)
THE THERMALS – The Body, The Blood, The Machine (Sub Pop)
PEACHES – Impeach My Bush (XL)
MATES OF STATE – Bring It Back (Barsuk)
TOM WAITS – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Anti)
GOLDEN SMOG – Another Fine Day (Lost Highway)
PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS – Stepfather (Red Urban)
EAST RIVER PIPE – What Are You On? (Merge)
THE LONG BLONDES – Someone To Drive You Home (Rough Trade)
THE RAKES – Capture/Release (V2 Intl)
CSS - Cansei De Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)
STEPHIN MERRITT – Show Tunes (Nonesuch)

Not Worthy
THE STREETS – The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (Vice/579/Atlantic)
MEAT LOAF – Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose (Virgin)
DONALD FAGEN – Morph The Cat (Reprise)
MATTHEW SWEET/SUSANNAH HOFFS – Under The Covers Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory)
CAM’RON – Killa Season (Asylum/Diplomats)
TAPES N’ TAPES – The Loon (XL)
BILLY JOEL – 12 Gardens Live (Columbia)

Top 100 Songs

1. PERNICE BROTHERS – B.S. Johnson (Ashmont)
A two-minute and 22-second masterpiece. The story of experimental British author B.S. Johnson, who committed suicide in 1973, resonates in this appropriately too-short song about someone who never fit into neat societal or artistic categories. Perhaps Pernice feels some kinship with the misunderstood and underappreciated author. Maybe he just admires his talent.

It’s the song’s narrative twist near the end that puts it over the top, making it one of the best pop song lyrics ever written by someone other than Lennon, McCartney, Dylan, Wonder, King, Wilson, Robinson, Simon, Mitchell, Hynde, Townshend, Morrissey, Stipe, Phair, Cash, Gaye, Springsteen, Taupin, or [insert last name of the amazing songwriter of your choice here]. After quickly laying out what it meant to be Johnson in a series of hypothetical present-tense commands (“Write a book of debt everyone must pay,” “Build a Taj Mahal on vacation time”), the songwriter imagines the futility felt by the author who was “jammed into a plot where you never would fit” and “dead by 42.”

Then he takes it a step further, drawing a connection between himself and the author in the continuum of history, it dawning on him that while B.S. Johnson was suffering the inner torment that ended in his own untimely demise, a young Joe Pernice was being put to bed by his mother after taking a bath, blissfully unaware of the existence of the author and his angst—indeed, perhaps young enough to be oblivious to all angst beyond the injustice of an early bedtime. At that exact moment, the song becomes not just the tragic story of one man’s struggle to cope with the pressures of life, it is universalized into every human being’s experience of innocence lost. With a formal but urgent mid-tempo arrangement of mostly understated electric guitars, bass, occasionally swelling piano and organ, perfectly played drums, and swelling strings, the song broadcasts its importance not through ferocity but by its tone. It is stately, but far from stodgy.

“B.S. Johnson” is a landmark recording of such depth and beauty, the likes of which has not been created in quite some time. It is by far the best song to date of this decade—and so, by extension, of this young century.

2. THE RAPTURE – Get Myself Into It (Mercury/Universal)
A dance-floor no-brainer, this is the band’s previous club classic “House Of Jealous Lovers” on the perfect dosage of antidepressants.

3. NEW YORK DOLLS – Dance Like A Monkey (Roadrunner)
When in doubt, start with the classic garage rock beat a la “Lust For Life.” Add lyrics that smartly mock creationism and fine musical performances all around, and you have one of the more memorable comeback singles in rock history.

4. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – We Are The Sleepyheads (Matador)
Haircut 100 with a darn good Hendrix understudy on guitar.

5. NELLY FURTADO & TIMBALAND – Promiscuous (Geffen)
The best Top 40 radio song of 2006 sounded an awful lot like it could have been a chart-topper in 1986. While the mid-‘80s were hardly a great time for R&B production-wise, somehow Timbaland made that era sound cooler now than it actually was then.

6. THE SOUNDS – Hurt You (New Line)
More or less “Don’t You Want Me” turned on its head—and in a similar synth-pop vein—it’s a duet where the male lead is the dumper instead of the dumped.

7. GNARLS BARKLEY – Crazy (Downtown)
Shine on you crazy diamond.

The tempo of this deeply funky hip hop track seems faster than it actually is, which says a lot about the power it wields.

9. BUTCH WALKER – When Canyons Ruled The City (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
It's funny how mistaken notions can influence your experience or understanding of a song. As someone who walks among the corporate canyons of the midtown Manhattan skyscrapers on a daily basis, this album-closing ballad resonated as a postcard from the future, from someone who'd either seen those mighty buildings tumble literally—something we've seen around here—or seen their import diminished somehow. A close reading of the lyrics reveals something entirely different: a byzantine soap opera of characters desperate for fame in the Hollywood hills. It doesn't make the song less powerful, just more personal.

10. HAMELL ON TRIAL – Father’s Advice (Righteous Babe)
The saddest song written since Lou Reed’s 1992 wrist-slasher (literally) “Harry’s Circumcision,” but this one is more subtle because it has a relatively rockin’ tempo. Only Ed Hamell could spin the true story of his father’s murder-suicide into a song both this good and this listenable without being sensationalistic. A brutal punch to the gut.

11. PERNICE BROTHERS – Somerville (Ashmont)
12. PERNICE BROTHERS – Cruelty To Animals (Ashmont)
13. PERNICE BROTHERS – Zero Refills (Ashmont)
14. NELLY FURTADO – Say It Right (Geffen)
15. PERNICE BROTHERS – Grudge Fuck (2006) (Ashmont)
16. BUTCH WALKER – We’re All Going Down (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
17. HOT CHIP – And I Was A Boy From School (Astralwerks)
19. THE STROKES – You Only Live Once (RCA)
20. MORRISSEY – Life Is A Pigsty (Sanctuary)

Two (count ‘em) Nelly Furtado songs in the top 14; if Teena Marie had sung these songs, they’d already be considered classics. Another beautiful Butch ballad, a couple danceable electro-jams, a Strokes highlight, and one of The Mozzer’s better (and longer) solo compositions. And have I mentioned these Pernice Brothers?

21. SMART BROWN HANDBAG – Harry Larry (Stonegarden)
22. NEW YORK DOLLS – We’re All In Love (Roadrunner)
23. ED HARCOURT – Revolution In The Heart (Heavenly/EMI import)
24. KEANE – Is It Any Wonder? (Interscope)
25. PETE YORN – Splendid Isolation (Red Ink/Columbia)
26. SHE WANTS REVENGE – Tear You Apart (Geffen)
27. JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS – Rise Up With Fists!!! (Team Love)
28. JOHN LEGEND – P.D.A. (We Just Don’t Care) (Columbia)
29. HAMELL ON TRIAL – Coulter’s Snatch (Righteous Babe)
30. BOB DYLAN – Workingman’s Blues #2 (Columbia)

The Handbag album’s title track is already like a comfy friend the first time you hear it. The track that kicks off the Dolls’ record is a corker. Harcourt makes you dream. Keane makes you marvel at the best-produced rock song to hit the radio all year. Yorn improves on a Warren Zevon chestnut. She Wants Revenge brings the early ‘80s all back home, Jenny brings the story of the hurricane, Legend lays lady lay, Hamell’s simple desultory dissection of odious Ann and the outright lies she perpetrates exposes that blonde really isn’t blonde, and Dylan sounds like tonight he’ll be staying here with you. In that order.

31. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Honeybear (Interscope)
32. THE FRATELLIS – Chelsea Dagger (Universal import)
33. THE RACONTEURS – Store Bought Bones (V2/Third Man)
34. ALBERT HAMMOND, JR. – In Transit (Rough Trade)
35. PRIMAL SCREAM – Country Girl (Columbia)
36. RIHANNA – S.O.S. (Def Jam)
37. NEKO CASE – The Needle Has Landed (Anti)
38. ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 – N.Y. Doll (Yep Roc)
39. JARVIS COCKER – Black Magic (Rough Trade import)
40. BEN KWELLER – Magic (ATO)

The Y3’s album’s only memorable rocker, a Sweet/Slade-esque glam stomper, some taut rock, a jangle-synth high, Soft Cell walks into the wrong nightclub, a decent pun, a lighters-out moment, and never believe it’s not so. (N.B. I did not get the full Jarvis album yet, so I’m reserving the right to vote for it on my 2007 albums list, provided it receives a proper U.S. release sometime this year.)

41. KEVIN FEDERLINE – Lose Control (Reincarnate)
42. EDITORS – Fingers In The Factories (Kitchenware)
43. TRIS MCCALL – Not Another Song About You (Jersey Beat)
44. SMART BROWN HANDBAG – Clearing The Slate (Stonegarden)
45. PERNICE BROTHERS – Automaton (Ashmont)
46. ASHFORD BREAKS - Exposure (no label)
47. EDITORS – Munich (Kitchenware)
48. THE KILLERS – When We Were Young (Island)
49. BUTCH WALKER – Dominoes (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
50. THE ROBOCOP KRAUS – You Don’t Have To Shout (Epitaph/Ada)

Get up, get into it, and get involved.

51. EDWYN COLLINS – Leviathan (no label)
52. PRIESTESS – Everything That You Are (RCA)
53. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea (Matador)
54. HUMA – Start To Realize (Cult Hero)
55. GOLDEN SMOG – Corvette (Lost Highway)
56. “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC – White And Nerdy (Zomba)
57. BELLE & SEBASTIAN – Song For Sunshine (Matador)
58. BUTCH WALKER – Hot Girls In Good Moods (Epic/One Haven/Red Ink)
59. THE DIVINE COMEDY – A Lady Of A Certain Age (Parlophone)
60. GOLDFRAPP – Fly Me Away (Mute)

A voice suspended in time, Montreal Rock City, something cheap, a neuron burst, if you can get a fast car, a room full of white people, blissed out summer, the club on a good night, dignity, and escapism.

61. THE HOLD STEADY – Stuck Between Stations (Vagrant)
62. NEW YORK DOLLS – Punishing World (Roadrunner)
63. RHETT MILLER – I’m With Her (Verve Forecast)
64. GNARLS BARKLEY – Smiley Faces (Downtown)
65. ED HARCOURT – You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk (Heavenly/EMI import)
66. THE SOUNDS – Tony The Beat (New Line)
67. TRIS MCCALL – An Ass Of U And Me (Jersey Beat)
68. THE COUP – Baby Let’s Have A Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy (Epitaph)
70. PRIESTESS – Run Home (RCA)

Stalling, suffering, sweating, smirking, shrieking, sashaying, supposing, sssex, striding, and sweating sweating sweating more.

71. ELECTRIC SIX – Slices Of You (Metropolis)
72. THE RAPTURE – Don Gon Do It (Mercury/Universal)
73. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – O Mary Don’t You Weep (Columbia)
74. THE RACONTEURS – Steady, As She Goes (V2/Third Man)
75. BEN LEE – Catch My Disease (New West)
76. BADLY DRAWN BOY – Welcome To The Overground (Astralwerks)
77. PERNICE BROTHERS – High As A Kite (Ashmont)
78. ARCTIC MONKEYS – Riot Van (Domino)
79. CHRISTINA AGUILERA – Ain’t No Other Man (RCA)
80. PHOENIX – Napoleon Says (Astralwerks)

The first cut is the deepest, don’t do me like that, baby stop crying, solid as a rock, sick again, get along Kid Charlemagne, one toke over the line, police on my back, my only love, and everybody wants to rule the world.

81. PARIS HILTON – Stars Are Blind (Universal)
82. KEVIN FEDERLINE FEATURING YA BOY – Dance With A Pimp (Reincarnate)
83. MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE – Dead (Reprise)
85. WILLIE NILE – Asking Annie Out (Reincarnate)
86. WE ARE SCIENTISTS – This Scene Is Dead (Virgin)
87. PERNICE BROTHERS – Conscience Clean (I Went To Spain) (Ashmont)
88. ARCTIC MONKEYS – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor (Domino)
89. THE RAKES – Strasbourg (V2)
90. CAM’RON – Weekend Girl (no label)

Paris and Kevin aren’t nearly as bad as you wish they were—musically, anyway; as human beings, of course, they are reprehensible. My Chem defines screamo, The Hold Steady and company detail a festival mishap, denial is a river in Egypt, We Are Prescients, tabula rasa, if I looked all over the world and there’s every type of girl, Europe is our playground, everybody wants a new romance.

91. THE THERMALS – A Pillar Of Salt (Sub Pop)
92. THE 303’S – Waves And Generation (Cult Hero)
93. RHETT MILLER – Help Me, Suzanne (Verve Forecast)
94. THE STREETS – Hotel Expressionism (Vice/579/Atlantic)
95. GOSSIP – Standing In The Way Of Control (Kill Rock Stars)
96. THE COUP – I Love Boosters! (Epitaph)
97. SCISSOR SISTERS – Oooh (Universal)
98. THE DIVINE COMEDY – Diva Lady (Parlophone)
99. OK GO – Here It Goes Again (Atlantic)
100. THE BEATLES – Drive My Car/The Word/What You’re Doing (Capitol)

You get the idea.

Top 10 Reissues, Compilations & Historical Releases

1. THE BEATLES – Love (Capitol)
There were no Pernice Brothers reissues in 2006, preventing them from being the first-ever winners of the Mike C. Music Quadruple Crown. So, in all their remixed and mashed-up glory, here they are, The Beatles!

2. THE BEATLES – The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2 (Capitol)
Duh part deux.

3. PRETENDERS – Pretenders (Sire/Rhino)
By far the greatest debut album in the entirety of rock & roll history gets its due with the long-overdue remastered double-disc treatment.

4. R.E.M. – And I Feel Fine: The Best Of The I.R.S. Years (2-disc version) (I.R.S./Capitol)
A thoughtful compilation of their best stuff up till ’87, but for fans the real action is on disc two, a fascinating treasure trove of rarities and previously unheard delights. Yet another reminder why they were the best American band of the ‘80s, period.

5. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Hammersmith Odeon ’75 (Columbia)
Rock and roll future when it was rock and roll present.

6. BEE GEES – The Studio Albums 1967-1968 (Reprise)
The first three BG albums—1st, Horizontal, Idea—in stereo and mono versions, and an enlightening disc of rarities accompanying each one. These are the albums where Barry, Robin, and Maurice wanted so, so badly to be The Beatles, and on many songs they might as well have been. A truly perfect reissue set.

7. MATTHEW SWEET – Girlfriend (Volcano/Legacy)
Wow, do I still love this album. And wow, does the fact that it’s now 15 years old make me feel ancient. My fawning summary of Girlfriend was one of the first record reviews of mine ever to appear in a publication that was printed somewhere other than the copy machine at my father’s office, and though I haven’t read it in a while, I’d probably stand by damn near every word of it today. So if you need to know more, consult the spring 1992 archives of The Rutgers Review. Still one of the 10 best albums of the ‘90s.

8. HEAVEN 17 – Penthouse And Pavement (Virgin import)
A lush British synth-pop classic of the ‘80s. Yummy.

9. THE BYRDS – There Is A Season (Columbia/Legacy)
They’ve been through the reissue mill more times than most, so it’s a great to hear there was some luster left to be added to the sonic reproduction of these timeless recordings.

10. BOW WOW WOW – We Are The ‘80s (RCA/Legacy)
As definitive a comp as we’re likely to ever get by this odd little early ‘80s media creation that actually managed to be a good band.

Top 25 Live Shows

1. PERNICE BROTHERS at The Mercury Lounge, NYC, December 8
2. THE AVENGERS at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, September 9
3. NEW YORK DOLLS at South Street Seaport, NYC, August 18
4. PRIESTESS at The Mercury Lounge, NYC, May 11
5. P.M. DAWN at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, August 2
6. THE HOLD STEADY at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, November 24
7. MY MORNING JACKET at Roseland, NYC, November 30
8. ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3 at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, November 8
9. BEN KWELLER at Webster Hall, NYC, October 20
10. JESSE MALIN and MATT AZZARTO at The Goldhawk, September 8

11. HAMELL ON TRIAL at Comix, NYC, November 29
12. RAY LAMONTAGNE at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, August 27
13. MAGNET at The Living Room, NYC, March 21
14. SCREEN TEST at Shifty’s, Syracuse, N.Y., July 21
15. HOPE AND ANCHOR at Flicker, Athens, Ga., June 17
16. ROONEY at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, July 17
18. RHETT MILLER at Webster Hall, NYC, April 13
19. THE KILLERS at Webster Hall, NYC, September 22
20. TRIS MCCALL & THE NEW JACK TRIPPERS and CHARLES BISSELL at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, June 24

21. PEELANDER-Z and THE WATERFRONT DUO at Maxwell's, December 12
23. RYE COALITION, GROUP SOUNDS, and SHELBY at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, January 13
24. SOUL ASYLUM at Irving Plaza, NYC, August 3
25. FOO FIGHTERS and FRANK BLACK at The Beacon Theater, NYC, August 23

Also Worthy
THE FAVE at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, December 1
BILL MCGARVEY at Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, Hoboken, September 17
BEDSIT POETS at The Goldhawk, Hoboken, February 8

Penelope Houston’s new Avengers bring out a version of the punk ethos at its best, one that seeks to create good more than to destroy evil. The Dolls repeated the same set they’d done at the Seaport a month later at the Hoboken Arts & Music festival, and not only was the city show a hair better, it also lacked Sylvain’s asinine comment introducing the band’s song “Trash,” to the effect that the its title was “no reflection on this town.” Gee, Syl, thanks so much for feeling the need to state outright that Hoboken is not trash. Funny, I don’t think any of the thousands of people in attendance needed such a clarification. Whatever.

P.M. Dawn was the weirdest show I’ve seen at Maxwell’s since a February 2002 set by Brian Jonestown Massacre, an oddly similar, sprawling, three-hour mess that was equal parts euphorically great and offensively horrible. Months later at the same venue, it was amusing to see Peter Buck of the Venus 3 standing near the merch table to catch a few minutes of an opening band, while no one approached him. Jesse Malin absolutely owned a hushed back room at The Goldhawk, and Ray LaMontagne did the same a few short blocks away. The gentle brilliance of Hope And Anchor was a highlight of my first-ever night in Athens. Steve Goodman’s sly songs stand the tough test of time.The Killers live show has improved drastically in the space of two years.

Peelander-Z and The Waterfront Duo both must be experienced to be believed, and even then it's not unreasonable to momentarily question how they could both be so brilliant. On the last night of live music at The Continental, Handsome Dick’s declaration that that punk rock was gonna be ok, even with the closing of that venue and CBGB, felt reassuring. A lonely Frank Black, on a Beacon stage that seemed way too large, played an inspired acoustic set that very few people bothered to witness. And yes, those stunning Pernice Brothers outdid them all.

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