Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chuck & Jon's Top 10 of 2006

A quick history of Chuck & Jon's Top 10 Albums...
Chuck & Jon's Top 10 goes back about 16 or 17 years now, when Jon and I worked at our college's student newspaper. Back then, we bonded over albums by the Ramones, Fields of the Nephilim, Alice In Chains and Nine Inch Nails. It was an exciting time to be reviewing and listening to music. Firstly, we were the prime age for listening to new stuff(in our early 20s), secondly, we had both played in bands, so we had "the ear," thirdly, grunge was erupting all over the place, and new stuff was coming out — and getting a LOT of attention. Everything was changing in popular music. And in El Paso, where our alma mater is, Jon and I were well ahead of the pack in listening to new material (El Paso is a little slow to adapt — hair metal was still clinging on in 1990).

We've done our own personal top 10s for nearly all those years, and this time, it finally gets to go in a blog. Unfortunately, Jon and I haven't seen each other in a few years now, and we're actually creeping up at doubling our age from when we first met. Yup, we were music snobs then, and we're music snobs now (back then, at 22 years old, it was cool; now that we're 38 — an age most people are well-established in their music listening — it can be a little offsetting (to some). Jon's my kindred musical brother (a bit of trivia: we're separated by only four days in age and our moms both have the same name!) and we've had strikingly similar lists for some years. These days, Jon's about 2000 miles away in Arlington, Virginia, and I'm still here in El Paso. If I get the chance, I'll try to find some of our old Top 10's from our 'zine The Nook & Cranny. (Remember 'zines? They've disappeared off the face of the Earth. Blogs have taken their place). Those ones are about twelve years old!

Enough, already... here's our take on 2006.

Chuck's Top 10 Albums for 2006

First, I should note that 2006 marked the year I purchased the fewest CDs in more than 15 years. But, I was exposed to more vintage recordings than ever before. Thanks to several of the blogs mentioned on this site that are sharing long out-of-print and unavailable recordings. My ears were never bored.

10. The Walkmen – A Hundred Miles Off

While not as strong as Bows + Arrows, AHMO is the perfect album for aging hipsters to share with the hip, young things half their age. Or is it the other way around? Think Dylan meets R.E.M. in the mid 1980s. Good stuff.

9. T-Bone Burnett – The True False Identity

Amazing return for legendary producer. Low-fi and organic, this one’s roots are deep in the blues and the bizarre. Tom Waits and Los Lobos fans should check out The True False Identity.

8. Bob Dylan – Modern Times

The original troubador does it again. I think we can finally forgive him for the 1980s.

7. M. Ward – Post-War
Understated instrumentation and powerful lyric writing. M. Ward is one of the best songwriters out there.

6. Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics
Constantly pushing the envelope in the sensory listening and viewing experience, the Lips celebrate 25 years of freaking out and tuning in.

5. Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Yorke takes a ‘head break and makes an album that seems to bubble up from nowhere, disappear, resurface, and meander along. While not a companion piece to recent Radiohead albums, it’s a definite progression of the band’s recent work. Here’s hoping that Radiohead returns in 2007 with something that is less experimental and a little more guitar-oriented (The Bends anyone?)

4. The Gothic Archies - The Tragic Treasury: Songs from a Series of Unfortunate Events

Indeed, if you could mix the 1960s bubblegum group the Archies with goth legends the Sisters of Mercy, it would be Steven Merritt’s (The Magnetic Fields/Future Bible Heroes) latest project. The songs that appear on this album were written as themes for each of the 13 Lemony Snicket books. The Gothic Archies are to music as Tim Burton is to film. Check it out.

3. Los Lobos – The Town and the City
35 years into their career, and Los Lobos still create more challenging albums than artists half their age. The Town and the City is, in every sense, the story of the journey of life, its promise, challenges and rewards, all in a subtle, understated voice.

2. Dirty Pretty Things – Waterloo to Anywhere
While not quite up to the caliber of the two fantastic albums by the Libertines, Pete Doherty’s departure doesn’t slow things down too much. In fact, Waterloo to Anywhere is a loose carousing affair in the tradition of the Jam and the Clash. This one made my iPod happy more than any other album in '06.

1. Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards
Despite about 50 percent of the tracks on Orphans being odds-and-sods, more than 20 of them here are new. Waits continues to find fantastic ways to make a glorious racket.

Other albums I enjoyed:

The Drive-By Truckers – A Blessing and a Curse
Another solid album by one of my favorite bands of the past five years.

Johnny Cash – One Hundred Highways
Goodbye, again, Johnny. An amazing farewell that was never intended to be. Technically, this didn’t reach my top 10, as the recordings were done about three years ago. Still, this was on my player throughout the year.

Wolfmother – Wolfmother
Solid debut by Sabbath-meets-Zeppelin-meets-Mars Volta trio. Probably will be seen as a novelty in a few years. For now, it’s kewl.

Peeping Tom - Peeping Tom
Everything that former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton touches is gold in my book. Fantomas, General Patton and the Xecutioners, Maldoror, etc... a fine one here.

Wayne Hancock – Tulsa
Nothing groundbreaking here, and that’s good. Hancock continues to do great laid-back honky tonk a la Hank Williams.

Fields of the Nephilim – Mourning Sun
A shockingly good comeback from these goth grandfathers.

Beck – The Information
Those that know me would be surprised to know that Beck didn't make my Top 10. Not that The Information is a bad album. It's just really boring. Still, seeing Beck perform a free surprise gig here in El Paso was a definite plus.

Jon's Top 10 Albums for 2006

I thought this was a pretty terrific year for new music. I haven't enjoyed buying CDs this much in quite some time. It's like 2006 was an apology to me for 2004, the worst year in music until 2005. I had to leave out a number of good releases to whittle my list down to 10. There was quality stuff that didn't make it from Thom Yorke, the Twilight Singers, Melvins, the Gourds, Mastodon, Isis, Placebo and more (and I don't care what anyone sez, I like the Liars).

10. The Proposition Original Soundtrack
The first time I listened to this soundtrack by Nick Cave and Bad Seed sideman Warren Ellis, I thought, Hey, this'd be great accompaniment to a Cormac McCarthy novel. So I laughed when I read Roger Egg-bert's review of the movie comparing it to "Blood Meridian." We all must be reading the same books. Cave pares his usual poetics down to a handful of ascetic phrases that repeat over a framework of music as stark and unforgiving as the film's Outback setting.

9. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
This was a little too similar to Dylan's previous "Love and Theft," or it would have moved a lot higher on my list. "Love and Theft" came out on Sept. 11, 2001, and was one of the first records I heard once I felt I could listen to music again, so "Modern Times" pales perhaps inevitably. But it's still Bob Dylan and it's still genius, and if you count live ablums and hits comps, "Modern Times" is a milestone: Dylan's 50th ablum. Celebrate. Buy it. Love it.

8. Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways
This posthumous ablum is all about death. Somber, meditative, yet never depressing. Here is a man using his final words to express his love for God, wife and music. The voice is weak, but the message is powerful and lingers long after the flesh is gone.

7. Peeping Tom - Peeping Tom
2006 was yet another busy year for musical mad scientist Mike Patton. Peeping Tom is one of his slightly more accessible projects: still demented but not likely to send anyone screaming out of the room. Patton indulged his inner wingnut more on a couple of ablums with John Zorn and some of his Bungle bandmates, and he put out some terrific work from the Melvins and Isis on his Ipecac label.

6. Tom Waits - Orphans
What riches! Three discs of previously uncollected Waits, and all but two songs were new to me. I can't say it any better, so I'll just rip off the Onion's review: "Waits may call them orphans, but another artist would call this a career."

5. Arab Strap - The Last Romance
The last ablum, too, if the breakup announcement is true. Arab Strap expanded its sound with a full backup band, and expanded its themes with songs that were actually relatively optimistic. Still, the opening line "Burn these sheets that we've just fucked in" suggests that true love hasn't quite been achieved, and there's plenty of the band's bleak Scottish dourness that remains. I got to see Arab Strap live at my neighborhood dive in 2006, and they put on an excellent show. Before they went on, I got to talk to singer(?) Aidan Moffat for a bit. No idea what he was saying. Ah well, that's what lyric sheets are for.

4. The Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics
Some critics slammed this ablum for not being weird enough. I donno, it was plenty weird for me. I never know what the Lips are on about, but it sounds like fun. "Mystics" features the most insidiously catchy opening track of 2006. I went around all year, singing, "Yeah yeah yeah yeah no no no no yeah yeah yeah yeah no no no no."

3. The Mars Volta - Amputechture
I gotta love a band this seemingly unconcerned with audience and critical expectations. They're off in their own little world, crafting 20-minute spazzouts, and if you wanna visit, fine, clap the headphones on; and if you don't, well, they're probly not gonna notice anyway.

2. Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist

Is this heavy metal? It's loud and guitar-based, but only two songs really rock out with their cock out. The rest of the ablum drifts dreamily on waves of eerie melody, electronic oddness and weirdo vocal FX. Chino Moreno's experimentations with side project Team Sleep seeped into this ablum like a creeping fog. Whatever you call it, it sounds terrific. It's also educational. Now I know why British people have bad teeth. I always wondered...

1. Tool - 10,000 Days

Maynard and his monolithic Tool (huh huh) put on a dizzying display of meticulous musicianship. Tool wisely avoids the naïve, overtly political statements that made the last Perfect Circle disc kind of a strident drag. Perhaps Maynard realized that the best way for a rock star to sound intelligent is to shut up and sing. Instead of proselytizing, Tool focuses on the tightly controlled widescreen soundscapes that make it one of the greatest of heavy bands. Again, can you call this metal? The music is heavily muscled, but the knuckles never drag on the ground. It's got a great beat and you can think to it! "10,000 Days" also wins the top prize for most spectacular package. It comes with a stereoscopic viewer and pages of headache-inducing 3-D art and photography that should keep the potheads staring vacantly for days. This makes Beck and his crapass stickers look especially lame.

And the CDs that made me feel like it was still 2004-2005:

The Streets - The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
I was so looking forward to this. The first two Streets' records were brilliant -- tender and angry and hilarious and heartbreaking tales of loser life. Then Mike Skinner gets mad successful in the UK and goes from eloquent loser straight to blistering asshole. He spends the entire record whining about how difficult and trying it is to drive sportscars, screw celebrities, stay high on all the best drugs and have every whim catered to. Oh, wretched, wretched life. If this is a joke, it's not a very funny one. And if it's serious, far from inspiring pity, this ablum just makes me want to punch Skinner in his stoopid effing face.

Beck - The Information
And I thought Guero was uninspired! Every time I play this (which isn't very often), the only song I can remember immediately afterward is the one Beck blatantly ripped off from "Exile"-era Rolling Stones. It's like some evil galactic overlord came down from space and stole Beck's soul and tossed it screaming into a volcano and then it came back as a kind of ghost to haunt listeners with lame music and fake religions based on crappy sci-fi.

Revolting Cocks - Cocked and Loaded
It's not bad enough that Al Jourgensen has to go wheezing off into middle-aged irrelevance by himself, he's gotta drag Jello Biafra and Gibby Haynes with him??! The once-mighty Jourgensen continues his annoying and inexplicable habit of starting and ending an ablum with the same song! I know the music's forgettable, but come on! I didn't even bother with the new Ministry. I applied the adjective "pitiful" to Ministry's last record, so it wouldn't be very creative to use it again, but really, the music's not worth my effort to think up a better word.

Audioslave - Revelations
After a horrible debut, Audioslave came back with a pretty respectable follow-up. They were starting to sound like a real, cohesive band instead of a marketing stunt. That didn't last long, and they tumbled back to crappy on their third outing. Chris Cornell, once the proud possessor of one of rock's strongest voices, now sounds like he's slowly drowning in phlegm. Not very pleasant to hear. I'm not pining for a Rage Against the Machine reunion, and if Cornell sounds this awful, the return of Soundgarden would be a travesty. I just want them all to go away.


Loweeb said...

Long live Chuck and Jon's list! You'd be surprised, though, at what ab-lum I'm completely burned out on. Or mebbe not.

Mondo Loco said...

Hi Loweeb! Long time no hear from!!! What's the ablum? How are you doing? Send me an email!

Jay said...

Thank you, both of you, for no TV on the Radio. Now I can take these lists seriously.

They reminded me that I missed the Flaming Lips album. I need to go back and get that one now. After reading your lists, I went and played the old one, remembering how great those dudes are.

Chuck, thanks for reminding me it's been too long since I bought a Los Lobos album. I'll go check that one out.

Jon and Chuck, thanks for reminding me that I still haven't forgiven Jon for convincing me that I'd love Tom Waits' The Black Rider. Man, that dude is even worse than TV on the Radio.

Mondo Loco said...

Aw, Man! The Black Rider is fantastic! Definitely not Waits' best, but true, he's and acquired taste!

Jon said...

Even my Ma digs Tom Waits. Get with it, Jay. Chuck, don't our mothers share the same name also? You left that out of our weird similarities in yer intro.

Mondo Loco said...

I had forgotten about that! I think they spell it differently, but Arleen/Arlene is not that common a name!