The Hold Steady
I can hardly wait for their next tour, album, interview, album artwork, and poster—heck, I might just buy a Decemberists lunchbox at this rate, to my eternal mortification.
Brooklyn, New York
This year’s prime example of a Band I Really Tried to Like But Couldn’t Quite: the Decemberists. Sort of watery, twee, vaguely melodic indie folk-rock, and if that’s your cup of tea, mazel tov. But for me they’re basically 10,000 Maniacs without a woman up front doing the hippie mud dance.
Hackensack, New Jersey
Sometimes bands, like professional sports, are a team effort. Thurston Moore can be a genius all he wants, but Sonic Youth albums win or lose because of the contributions of his teammates: wife Kim Gordon and lifer Lee Ranaldo. Rather Ripped is like the last of the Joe Torre–led Yankee championship clubs: not their all-time best, but still a world-beater, the work of confident warriors who have crushed most of the land around them.
Los Angeles, California
Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass: Welcome back, Ira, Georgia, and James. All is forgiven. Thanks for not just the album title of the year, but leading off with “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” which isn’t just the psychedelic noise-guitar jam of the year, but quite possibly the first time that the Velvet Underground has loved you back.
Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater” is strangely stern for pop—droning, stamping, and insistent, it’s not about sex so much as about a flashily fascist description of sex. Its vote-splitting sister “Promiscuous” makes it seem harsh at first, and indeed the latter song is more interested in humanity—it unveils something sad beneath its duo’s self-selling undulation and gives the listener room to breathe, even dignifying him or her with the occasional glance. But as disturbing as we good Democrats may find it, it’s fascism that astounds here, and humanity that merely soothes: The synths of “Promiscuous” reach for the stars, but the drums of “Maneater” treat them as earth.
For all the anger leveled at Nas over his album title, the record itself proves that hip-hop ain’t dead. For that matter, so do Ghostface Killah, Clipse, the Chappelle soundtrack, Lorna Doom, the Coup, and Lil’ Wayne. As for Jay-Z, he’s proven himself much more interesting as a cultural figure than as a recording artist (which is more than you can say for Diddy in either case).
I never thought I’d be listing the Who and the New York Dolls in my 2006 Pazz & Jop ballot (1973, maybe). Upon being assigned to review shows by both bands for the newspaper I write for, I had asked myself the question over and over: “Yes, but is it really the (fill in each band’s name here)?”. I asked the question even more forcefully after hearing the Dolls’ One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This and the Who’s Endless Wire, trying to remain skeptical and clearheaded about the obvious, mercenary motives of these beloved but gutted bands, reduced to flimsy fractions of their former selves. But the “Baba O’Riley” synth samples, Daltrey’s old lion’s roar, Townshend’s familiar power chords, and (via the Dolls) Johansen’s nicotine-stained caterwaul and street-smart swagger pushed me to an uneasy, but ultimately (gotta admit) comforting conclusion: close enough. Oh, one other thing: Live, they both kicked My Chemical Romance’s arse.
Country Teasers, The Empire Strikes Back: It’s easy enough to call Michael Richards an asshole while our tax dollars are funding a Shiite stag party, and in a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell year for racism, this album could easily have been #1. Offensive and deep in a way we haven’t seen since the Frogs’ debut, and with less of an interest in meta-musical subtext. I mean, most critics haven’t even heard this thing, or it would have been talked about. I probably should have pitched you on it.
It goes without saying that Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up” is unarguably the hottest hip-hop tribute to The Sound of Music, like, ever. And Gwen is certainly at least one of the best ska-vixen-turned-stoopid-white-girl-MC/yodelers in the world. But what this song really needs to push it over the edge is a cadre of Austrian children to be Gwenny-Gwen-Gwen’s “imaginary” backup dancers this go-around. Just call them the “Hollabrunn Girls.” I predict drapery-inspired fashion on L.A.M.B.’s spring line.
I wear Nikes—in fact, they’ve got that iPod thingy in the sole that can keep track of my mileage. I run the roads while I listen to LCD Soundsystem, and I feel like a tool.
St. Louis, Missouri
I think that I just woke up one day and hip-hop had developed the curious, powerful ability to remind me of my old age. Hopefully, a similar morning will greet Fergie soon.
Fort Worth, Texas
Listening to the Beatles in a blender (a/k/a Love), you come to see how George Martin sees the Beatles—everything George does has a tamboura running through it, and he conclusively proves here that “Octopus’s Garden” and “Yellow Submarine” are the same song. But he gets major points by toughening up John’s fruitiest song and overproducing Paul’s “Get Back” as an affront to Phil Spector. Only once you hear that song with the orchestral buildup from “A Day in the Life” and Ringo’s drum solo from “The End” do you know what overproducing really means.
Sure, Steve Vai or Esteban could probably do the same with fewer effect pedals. The difference between those relics and the new religion is that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner never sounds like he’s trying to go biblical. His guitar work is just a layer of a greater, wonderful, stimulating piece of art, as opposed to a splatter-shot of sonic ejaculation. Worship him. He’s like Odin. With spiky hair. And two eyes. And no muscles.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
I haven’t resold my copy of Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come for the same reason one of my best friends keeps buying Douglas Coupland novels—there’s something so perversely spectacular about monuments to mass-market mediocrity that they demand retention.
Those old bands, the ones you loved your whole life, the ones that broke your heart, they still have it in them to really kill you. The Who? Not a great record, more like a belated Townshend solo album with Daltrey singing—a couple of good songs, but not enough to carry the weight of their legacy. Rod Stewart finds some songs he should have sung when he was pretending to be George Gershwin’s boot boy, and that doesn’t suck. George Martin presses “shuffle” and the Beatles have a hit. Bob Dylan keeps on keeping on, chucking ’em out and having a laugh. Even Soul Asylum, a band I loved, hated, and then felt sorry for, pulled an album out of their asses that is so strong, so smart, and so heartfelt that it’s like none of the bad shit ever happened. (Goodbye, Karl.) Even Cheap Trick made a pretty good record this year. Sometimes being an old guy has its rewards.
Brooklyn, New York
Given all [my] negativity, my list might seem odd. But all this negativity is precisely why the Rapture is there: They made the most optimistic album of 2006, sometimes arguably to the music’s detriment, and I admire that level of dedication. They weren’t floating the usual “everything will be all right” bullshit balloon; instead, they went with the much more difficult “everything is already all right,” eschewing the former’s quasi-Christian “there will be peace in the next life” excuse-mongering for an exhortation to live in the moment. It’s a sentiment that shouldn’t have been hard to find in pop music, but in 2006 it sure was.
Brooklyn, New York
The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living: Like many precocious once-youngsters, Mike Skinner is a victim of his own success: His early, failed attempts at achieving a sound were so much more interesting than his current realization of it. That’s in no way unusual—do you listen to your late-’80s Ramones records? What impresses, though, is his running commentary on this fact—on the minutiae of his life, in fact. Each Streets album is like time-lapse photography on the rotting fox of fame and fortune. I can’t wait until the deathbed record—bedpans may never be described so jauntily.
Hinder rocks! Go Hinder!