My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 3 of 3)

Down to the final four. And so here they are.

#4: Gillian Welch - Hell Among the Yearlings

Well, I didn't say I couldn't have more than one. Darker and older than Time (the Revelator), this is Gillian at her best, singing songs with names like "The Devil Had a Hold of Me," "Whiskey Girl," "My Morphine," and "I'm Not Afraid to Die." If she had been born thirty years earlier, we be watching movies about her instead of June Carter.

#3: Margot & The Nuclear So & So's - The Dust of Retreat

I found Margot just browsing through emusic one day, and have been listening to their album ever since. Named after a Wes Anderson character, the word I've seen used most often to describe their sound is "chamber pop." They themselves call it "scarf rock." I would call it well crafted and complex songs with literate and sharp songwriting. It's a great album, and it's their debut. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

#2: My Morning Jacket - Z

Reverb heavy pop/rock. What sets MMJ apart is their totally unique sound, effortless passion and Jim James' outstanding voice. I've got some of their older stuff off of emusic, but for this one you're going to need to head over to iTunes. Absolutely beautiful music. Why they aren't on the radio is beyond me.

#1 Sufjan Stevens - Live at Lee's Palace, Toronto, 16 Nov. 2004

Like I said, no one said I couldn't have more than one. I love Sufjan's albums, but somehow this captures him better for me. The sound is great, the crowd engaged but quiet, and he plays songs off of all three of his major albums: Seven Swans, Michigan and Illinois. Highlights: "50 States," which has this great line: "Go to New Hampshire, Missouri too--it's not Virgina, but it'll do"; a subdued version of "Chicago," and an essentially perfect rendition of "Romulous," which is my personal candidate for most underrated Sufjan song ever. This is the album that's kept me company more than any other this year--it's now nearly an old friend, and it's also a free download available here.


My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 2 of 3)

Continuing to post my favorite new (to me) albums of 2006, here's a group of four more-again, in no particular order.

Joseph Arthur - Nuclear Daydream

I first heard about Arthur reading this post on Jeremy Huggins' blog. Seeing that his new album was available for a couple of bucks on emusic, I took the recommendation and downloaded it. I've always really enjoyed singer/songwriter kind of guys, and Arthur manages to be both a smart and skilled writer as well as musician. Read Jeremy's post for more info. I've really enjoyed the album--probably have connected with its lyrical content more than anything else I've heard this year. Hear Arthur's music here, and do yourself a favor and download his album.

Josh Rouse - 1972

All Josh does is make smart and polished acoustic pop. A little too sweet for continual listening, but great in small doses. Music your wife will like. Nashville is probably a better album to start with, but I found that one in 2005, so it wasn't eligible.

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker

If I had found Ryan earlier in the year he'd be part of my top four. Amazing. Definitely the artist I'm most excited about getting into in the coming year. Alt-country singer-songwriter, sort of a modern day Gram Parsons, but with a bit more edge. You can download a free Ryan Adams concert here.

Sufjan Stevens-Avalanche

The king of the indie pop just keeps on producing. This is an album of b-sides from Illinois that holds together well in its own right. If you haven't heard Sufjan yet, what're you waiting for? Join emusic now and get Michigan or Illinois. Seeing him live in St. Louis in September was definitely a highlight of the fall. You can download basically that same show performed a few days later in New York right here. Oh, and all the cool kids call him "Soof-jan."


My Top Albums of 2006 (pt 1 of 3)

My take on the whole "Top Albums" concept is a little different than what you'll see on most blogs. I guess I'm emphasizing the "my" part. Not all of these albums were released in the past year--actually most of them weren't. Essentially what I did was go into iTunes, set up a playlist to include all the music I've added since 12/31/05 and then chose those albums which I've really enjoyed over the last year, since discovering them. In other words, they're my top music purchases (or downloads) of the past year. These are the albums that I've found in the last twelve months that have shaped my soundtrack for the year as I've played them in the car, at home and in the library--basically anywhere I use my iPod, which is just about everywhere. It's fun for me to look back and remember all this great music I've been able to find--music gives me a great deal of pleasure and is one of the non-chemical substances I rely on to make it through the pressures of the day-to-day. All of these bands are great--maybe you'll find one of your top albums of 2007 here.

I'll post the albums in three groups, saving my top four albums for the last post. Beyond that, there's not really any sense in ranking them, so I'll just list them in alphabetical order.

Antony and the Johnsons-I Am a Bird Now

I found Antony on Emusic off of a "best of" list for 2005 and quickly fell in love with his passionate and well crafted songs. Most of his music is piano based, though he does use a band as well for a lot of his songs. Antony, who is a great, poetic songwriter, sings in a high falsetto voice that I'm sure is off putting for a lot people, but I think it's really beautiful. If you've heard Rufus Wainwright, you have a pretty good sense of the kind of music Antony performs. Like Wainwright, Antony is also a homosexual. Fine singer and songwriter, though. You can sample his music here, and read his wikipedia article here.

Bob Dylan-Modern Times

Bob. What can I say. Dylan's been my favorite musician for about eight years (Blonde on Blonde-greatest album of the 20th century), so I obviously had to get Modern Times the day it came out. I have to say that so far I don't like it as much as either Time Out of Mind or Love and Theft, though it does continue to grow on me. "Spirit on the Water" is a great track. If you haven't heard Bob Dylan, I can't really explain him to you in a blog post. I'm also not sure where you can go to hear free tracks of his music. Sorry.

Gillian Welch-Time (The Revelator)

I first heard Gillian on A Prairie Home Companion, singing sad songs with an acoustic guitar in a low, somber, understated voice that got under my skin. I finally got around to downloading some (well, all) of her albums this year and am now kicking myself for waiting so long. Until this year, Emmylou Harris was my unquestioned favorite female vocalist. It's neck and neck now. If you like good country music at all, you need to hear this voice. Unbelievable. You can hear (and buy) some of her music at her website. You can also read a New Yorker article on Gillian.

Great Lake Swimmers-Bodies & Minds

Another find off of that Emusic "best of" 2005 list. Amazingly haunting folk-rock. Kind of like the Cowboy Junkies but with a male lead singer (Tony Dekker, like Margot Timmons, also has a beautiful voice). Dekker is also a very solid writer who manages deep emotion without pretension. One reviewer said this about the album: "Tony Dekker's reliable, vaguely liturgical tenor still dominates the vast, barren landscapes of their sound, a fine, if sometimes frosty setting for his intimations about mundane tragedies and transcendental yearnings." Yeah. That sounds about right. You can hear the Great Lake Swimmers here.

One other thing--Antony, Gillian and Great Lake Swimmers can all be downloaded legally off of Emusic for a fraction of the cost of iTunes. If you're interested in a fifty song free trial, just leave a comment or email me and I can send you an invitation.

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