J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Friday, December 22, 2006

j's indie/rock mayhem - 20th december 2006

[2006. a year of ups and downs. a year of mediocrity and bombast and genius. a year of potential and waste. a year of halos and handgrenades. and this is my summary of it all.

welcome to the j's indie/rock mayhem 5th annual top 25 albums of the year. out of all the records i played on my show this year, these are the 25 brightest, the shiniest, the most complex and enjoyable of the bunch. you may not agree with my picks, and certainly in reading this year's wrap-ups from a lot of the major on-line music rags, my top choices aren't all necessarily theirs, but you can see the talent, the drive, the emotion that went into this music. got a problem with the list? love it and want to make it your holy scripture? leave it in the comments.

i'll be taking next week off to be with the family and then i'll be back for the first j's indie/rock mayhem of 2007 on january 3rd at 6pm. don't miss it. now, for the last time in 2006...onward.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcast: 20th December 2006 Show

25 (tie). The Church - Uninvited, Like the Clouds : 17 years is a long time to go without a really big hit in the music marketplace. Even worse is if you've been steadily releasing albums in the meanwhile. The Church's pace has rarely slackened since their U.S. highwater mark, Starfish, but it's been since 1992's Priest = Aura that a Church album has been this readily good. They haven't fussed with their sound over the years, rather just making an even more refined, more mature and focused version of the hazy, dream-like pop that they crafted so perfectly during the early-to-late 1980s/early '90s. If you're a fan of the Church, you will love it - if you're new to them, it's actually not a terrible place to start. Played: "Unified Field"

25 (tie). Howe Gelb - 'Sno Angel Like You : Howe Gelb plus a Canadian choir was not at the front of people's minds when this year began. Choirs are a messy bid for notoriety sometimes on record, so when Giant Sand's frontman put together this downright beautiful and surprisingly complimentary pairing, it's no wonder he's here on this list. Most of the compositions are new, but he revisit's his band's "Robes of Bible Black" with such perfection that it's an easy move to stand it along side the original. Desert poetry and instruments with Northern soul. Right on. Played: "Robes of Bible Black"

24. Scott H. Biram - Graveyard Shift : By now the story of Scott Biram ought to be embossed into rock and roll history the same as any other legendary tale. His onstage performance, accompanied with wheelchair and IV, just scant weeks after being mauled by a tractor trailer, is one of those pure rock and roll moments. So is this record. Scott Biram haunts the dirty, raw elements of country and blues, fusing it with his one-man-band live-performance approach. Roots rock, americana, whatever you want to call it; it's sharp, and witty, funny and sad. In short, it's everything great country music ought to be. With outlaw spirit to burn, Scott has made one hulking piece of engaging rock. Played: "Long Fingernail"

23. Track a Tiger - Woke Up Early the Day I Died : Sparked by the best song of the year (well, according to me), "Glad to Be Scattered," this triumphant piece of dream-jangle pop is exactly what the doctor ordered. Parts of it remind me of other members of this list (hello, the Church!) and parts of it just remind me of scenes. "Glad to Be Scattered" especially conjurs images of journies just begun, of looking off to the horizon and finding the future laid out, faceless and warm. God bless this band. Played: "Glad to Be Scattered"

22. Calexico - Garden Ruin : Our first repeat offender for the night - Calexico was on the list last year for their beautiful split EP with Iron and Wine. Now they return with their own full length. The core of this band also served as the anchor weight of Giant Sand (hello, #25!) along with Howe Gelb for awhile. Tempering the desert flair they're known for so well, this is still, unmistakably Calexico. And remarkably so. Played: "Letter to Bowie Knife"

21. the Mountain Goats - Get Lonely : John Darnielle told an interviewer at Pitchfork earlier this year that in order to really get this record, it helps to be going through a tremendous, catastrophic, debilitating break-up. "Woke Up New" is the calling card of those intentions, as Darnielle waxes about the first morning without his other: he makes too much coffee, then drinks it all anyway, knowing she hated wasting things. Tragic, lonesome and gorgeous, this record is every bit the depressing ride that it sounds like, but oh, so radiant in the process. Played: "Woke Up New"

20. the Handsome Family - The Last Days of Wonder : Rarely is there a band where I revel so much in the words - a story telling band beyond compare, the Handsome Family's southern-gothic narratives are gorgeously rendered in post-moral paints that neither judge nor praise, but simply raise up to the light, like unearthing something buried for some time. This time out, the music wanders a slippery path, past jazz, classic country, faint rock and roll and other echoes of the past. Nikolai Tesla would be proud. Played: "After We Shot the Grizzly"

19. the Decemberists - The Crane Wife : People always worry - the major label jump: how will the band react? Will they stay true to their sense of artistry, or are they bound to water down everything that made them great in the first place? How did the Decemberists react? By including an 11+ minute prog-folk epic that rambles like a forlorn, lost lover through seas of malleable memories. No worries here. Played: "O, Valencia!"

18. White Whale - WWI : Admittedly I first paid attention to this band because of the moniker; can't be all bad if they appreciate Moby Dick. Then I saw they were on Merge Records. Then I downloaded the album and was floored. Waves of riff and melody catered with the slightly raspy, smokey, detached vocals. And a close runner for song of the year with "We're Just Temporary, Ma'am." It's hard to go wrong - here's hoping they're not temporary. Played: "We're Just Temporary, Ma'am"

17. Oneida - Happy New Year : Giving a description of Oneida can be tough - noisy, melodic, punishing, rewarding. It's a series of contradictory statements that consistently add up to one of America's most engaging bands. Reaching out to give one of the most thoroughly enjoyable rides of their career, Oneida rides their melodic, droning horse straight up the mountain and back down. You don't just listen to these guys - you absorb and experience them. Played: "The Adversary"

16. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped : To release your third great record in a row, more than 25 years into your career, is no small feat. And while this album may not be as adventurous as Sonic Nurse or as flat out great as Murray Street, it is a polished and sharp record. Coming in with their poppiest and most approachable selection of songs since Dirty, Sonic Youth has defied the conventional wisdom of their age and made yet another fantastic album. Musical visionaries, they are still plowing territory that is rarely touched by others. Long may they do so. Played: "Incinerate"

15. Drive-by Truckers - A Blessing and a Curse : The Trucker's most recent, previous entry on this list was a tie for #1 back in 2004. So is it a setback? More polished than just about any Truckers record thus far, this album highlights the strong, more mainstream approach to songwriting that has worked to the band's benefit over the course of the past few records. Patterson Hood takes the lionshare of the songwriting this time around, as opposed to the more egalitarian The Dirty South. But Patterson also turns in some of his most engaging songs ("Little Bonnie," "Feb. 14") and Jason Isbel writes another of his bound-for-glory masterpieces ("Daylight"). If this is a set-back from their previous record, they're still lightyears beyond most bands. Played: "Daylight"

14. Josh Rouse - Subtitulo : Josh Rouse's evolution as a musician has been an unexpected one. From his debut's tendency to get him lumped in with the alt-country scene, on through his flirtations with 1972 and all that its music might imply, he has wound his own narrative through the ears of listeners. This album is no different, his first since leaving the United States for Spain, and it finds him channeling a lot of same energies that infected his 1972 album, but with something more. A Josh Rouse album is a Josh Rouse album regardless of the 'style,' and when songs like "Quiet Town," "Jersey Clowns" and "Giving It Up" come alternately softly across the porch or barrelling through the breeze, it's a warm delight that few other songwriters can match. Played: "His Majesty Rides"

13. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit : It might have a lot to do with me finally picking up If You're Feeling Sinister and loving it, but this is not a redux of that classic. The band behind every association Scotland has with the twee movement over the past decade has actually cranked it up a bit. The songs are punchy, poppy, gorgeously rendered and vibrant in their mash of blue-eyed soul, classic r&b and the twee-pop stylings that are their trademark. And I dare say they've created an album to match that far flung classic mentioned earlier. Played: "Another Sunny Day"

12. His Name Is Alive - Detrola : One of those early year records that ended up being ignored along the way, Detrola is one of His Name Is Alive's most engaging records in years. Being a sincere fan of the noise-pop experiments of Stars on E.S.P., it had been awhile since I'd heard an album that was as capable of drawing me in as this. But the quasi-stomp, little bit of glam of songs like "I Thought I Saw" and the gorgeous simplicity of "Send My Face" are not lights among the gloom, but lights among fireflies. Played: "I Thought I Saw"

11. Josh Ritter - The Animal Years : Finally, the breakthrough album Josh Ritter was bound to make. His pop and folk tendencies reconciled in blissful, triumphant harmony on a record that was made to break out. The instrumentation has finally swelled to match the epic vision of some of Josh's songs and the results are amazing. Now, where to go from here? Played: "Good Man"

10. Califone - Roots and Crowns : I've heard my share of things about Califone over the years, good and bad. But when the hubub began over this album earlier in the fall, I paid attention, and rightfully so. Roots and Crowns is a record that condenses fringe music elements from all over the map - country, electronic, noise, and so on. The results is something uniquely American, uniquely Califone and uniquely amazing. Played: "The Orchids"

9. the Roots - Game Theory : I'm not sure how I feel it stacks up to my favorite, Phrenology, but it's damn close, and the Roots are completely forgiven for the impotent let-down that was The Tipping Point. Roaring back to life in a way not heard since, well, almost Things Fall Apart, the Roots are as fiery as ever. The first 9 tracks of this album run almost as a continuum and that never-ending assault on the ears works for the album's mobility and power. It's telling that not long after the continuum stops, track 10, is when the record hits its first bumps, but considering how amazing the first ten tracks are, including two featuring the return of former Roots member Malik B., the bumps are ignorable. Played: "Long Time"

8. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood : Speaking of artists who seem to have hit their stride, welcome Miss Case. This makes back to back years with records involving her in the top 10 (2005 #2 - The New Pornographer's Twin Cinema) and it's no shock. Fox Confessor.. is a record of haunting visuals and voices, floating in and out of the ether of a country band on a sinking ship. Without a doubt she is one of indie-music's most dynamic and effective vocalists, but her songwriting has grown nearly to match the power of her voice. With a new New Pornographer's record due out next year, we probably won't see a new one from her for another bit, but when we do - I think it may just be the one. Played: "Hold On, Hold On"

7. Oakley Hall - Gypsum Strings : Oakley Hall wins the Ryan Adams award for this year - being that they released more than one record in the 2006 timeframe. The first one, Second Guessing was a tight, rollicking, studio-session player sounding country-rock record that just bowled me over. Then came Gypsum Strings. Far more loose, more noisy, sloppy and engaging than either of their prior two releases, Oakley Hall catapaulted their way into being a serious band to enjoy and watch. Live, their stage presence explodes - and with their connection to Oneida (member Pat was a founding member of Oneida), the noise connection becomes obvious, warranted and welcoming. Played: "Confidence Man"

6. the Minus 5 - The Minus 5 (a.k.a. The Gun Album) : Back for the first time since 2002, and their #2 spot inducing Down With Wilco, the Minus 5 produced another fine, outstanding album of the type of Beatles-worshipping rock and roll of which there is simultaneously too little and too much: too much bad Beatles worship, too little of the fine craftsmanship of bands like this. Wonderful spots abound: Colin Melloy's vocal take on "Cemetery Row"; the excellent re-working of the At the Organ track, "Hotel Senator." But above it all is the outright dedication to great melody, great pop, all the time. Never is there a let down. Played: "Twilight Distillery"

5. Big Ditch Road - Suicide Note Reader's Companion : These guys are this year's MP3 blog sweepstakes winner for my list, having been called to my attention by the venerable leagues of amateur music writers (such as myself) that clog the hallowed tubes of the Internet. Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota (there's one plus already), I took a listen to "Saint Lonesome" and was a fan for life. The way the album is recorded, all the instruments seeming more hollow and understated than they ought to be, leaves the album with an appropriately aching feel. It's hard to classify them - bar rock, alt-country, roots rock. Whatever. Good music is good music is good music. And this band is one of the best for this year. Played: "Saint Lonesome"

4. the Twilight Singers - Powder Burns : I knew if I just gave Greg Dulli a little more time, he wouldn't disappoint me. Blackberry Belle had pointed the way to an oustanding future - but the Dulli solo joint had felt lacking. Thus, the return of the Twilight Singers amounts to not only one of the best records of the year, but is, honestly, on par with some of the best of Dulli's former outfit, the Afghan Whigs, mid-90s heyday. An album that was built on the fury following Hurricane Katrina, Dulli having adopted New Orleans some time ago as his place of residence, the anger and pain is resonant in every note, in every wail on the album. This is what great rock and roll still ought to sound like. Played: "Bonnie Brae"

3. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar : If only rock and roll collectives were as loud and boisterous as some hip-hop collectives are - I'd love to see Elephant Six members dancing on stage somewhere, giving shoutouts to Athens, Gee-A. One member of the venerable pop collective is in Beirut, and that's not enough to alter a sound, but it's obvious that the main songwriter in Beirut has been taking notes. Instruments dance across the music like flipping fish. Brass, string and percussive, it's all there to be manipulated and plowed into an Eastern European folk sound that radiates the type of nostalgia that no one these people's age has a right to own. Still, what you have is without a doubt one of the best albums of the year and, similarly, the best live concert I saw all of 2006. Play on. Played: "Postcards from Italy"

2. the Hold Steady - Boys and Girls In America : Band #2 in the top 5 hailing from Minneapolis. It was a good year for the Twin Cities. This is, without a doubt, the best straight up rock record I've heard in years. Lyrics about drinkin', and druggin' and lovin' and hurtin' abound, but the scenes are so vivid, so lifelike, it's like you're down at the pub with them, watching it all play out. "Chips Ahoy!", one of the best singles of the year, barrells down the racetrack as you sit next to the girl who can always pick the horse that comes in first, just so she can spend the next week high off the winnings. And then there's "You Can Make Him Like You," home of one of the most heartbreaking lines in the history of rock and roll: "You don't have to go to the right kind of schools / let your boyfriend come from the right kind of schools. / You can wear his old sweater. / You can cover yourself like a bruise." Do you love Midwestern loser-rock and roll? Yeah, me too. Now go buy it. Played: "You Can Make Him Like You"

1. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies : The second album I've chosen for my #1 that came out in February or March and just held on all year. Destroyer is, of course, a vehicle for Dan Bejar, also of the New Pornographers. His quirky, strange and winding sense of pop music is archaic in one sense - forward thinking in other ways that we can't even imagine. There's nothing cloying or boring about this record. It opens with a 9+ minute song that doesn't bog down at any point - no small feat in itself. And it just goes on from there - including my #2 song of the year, and #1 guitar solo, the radiant "European Oils." The first time I heard it, and the solo kicked in, I nearly lost it. I had to rewind it immediately to play it back. It's just that transcendent. Music that is simultaneously challenging to the ears lyric wise (Bejar's words are a mystery in themself) and luring to the ear music wise is a rare event. Every inch of this record feels majestic in the way that pop music doesn't feel anymore. It rains down on you from multiple directions and culminates in one of the best albums, not only of this year, but of this decade thus far. I love this album. Period. Played: "European Oils"

Other Artists Whose Work Could've Made the List in Another Year:

the Lemonheads - The Lemonheads
M. Ward - Post-war
Lambchop - Damaged
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYoYo
the Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
Jolie Holland - Springtime Can Kill You
Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
Placebo - Meds
Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas
Nicolai Dunger - Here's My Song...
Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
Centro-matic - Fort Recovery
Scott Walker - The Drift
Mr. Lif - 'Mo Mega
Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
Daniel Hutchens - Lovesongs for Losers
Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Lightyears in the Belly of a Mountain

That'll do it for this year. I want to sincerely thank all of you who have listened or read me this year. Especially those of you who download the podcast each week. What was originally a simple experiment has turned into a great success and I have y'all to thank for it. 2007 is shaping up to be a great year, including an increase in content here on J's Indie/Rock Blog. I'll be continuing with the once a week show of course, but also beginning more regular album reviews. Have any suggestions about what you might want to see on the site? Drop me a line at qfsmayhem at hotmail.com or leave a comment here.

Lastly, I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday. Especially you, Charlie. This show was dedicated to you.

Take care.

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