Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006: Best Of The Rest

Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope

Some years it’s very easy to make that cut at 10, but when you have an eccentric, varied, mysterious album like Begin To Hope, it’s almost painful! Witness the demented nostalgia of That Time, the heart-broken beauty of Samson and the irresistible bounce of Fidelity. If Bjork and Fiona Apple recorded an album together, this is how it’d turn out.

Biggest Disappointment:
Glen Phillips – Mr. Lemons

Last year’s number one artist took a frightening tumble with an all-too-appropriately-titled effort.

Biggest Surprise:
Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Every year seems to produce at least one left-field success story. Who would've thought it’d be Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse teaming up for an exceedingly weird vanity project that could have just as easily slipped into obscurity? If you’d told me that at the beginning of the year, I’d have called you, well, crazy. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Guiltiest Pleasure:
Corinne Bailey Rae – Corinne Bailey Rae

Why should I feel guilty? When you hear about an artist via VH1, she reminds you of the love child of Sade and Norah Jones and all of your female friends go ape the minute they hear her, the cool factor drops to an alarming low. But Ms. Rae’s breezy-summer-evening voice and cozy grooves are enough to ease my shame.

Best Cover Art:
Keane – Under The Iron Sea

Tapping the (admittedly limited) potential of the CD booklet, an amazing flat color drawing with waves and sea monsters folds out to reveal an undersea world of evil owls, castles, skulls, squirrels, an ice queen, whales, totem poles and flowers.

Best Cover Version:
Mary J. Blige & U2 – One

Technically this came out at the end of 2005, but it easily bests any cover I heard in 2006. Without the showiness that sometimes sinks R & B singers, Mary makes the melody her own and cuts to the heart of the lyrics. Listen to her get worked up on “You ask for me to enter / but then you make me crawl / And I can’t keep holding on / When all you’ve got is hurt.” And having U2 and Bono actually back her up doesn’t hurt a bit.

Best Album Title:
L.E.O. - Alpacas Orgling

Orgling is the mating noise of the male alpaca. It's always nice when an album title makes you giggle and expands your vocabulary at the same time.

Best Concert:
Semisonic, Minneapolis Aquatennial

It’s hard to top seeing Richard Thompson, Soul Asylum, Cake and Tapes N Tapes in one day. Or folk singers Teitur and Tobias Froberg giving their all to all of 40 people at a hip-hop club. But it was Semisonic reuniting for the Aquatenniel on a hot August night that ruled over all others. It was a free show, the excitement was as palpable as the humidity, and the band sounded tight, especially considering the three-year layoff. And could you believe no one would go with me?

Best Discovery:
The Old 97s

It wasn’t their Chili’s commercial or their appearance in The Break-Up that did it, but 2006 was the nevertheless year I succumbed to the Dallas quartet’s charms. I started the year owning nothing by the band and will end it owning 7 of their 9 albums. My faves: Satellite Rides and Fight Songs.

Best Trend:
Break-up albums

Nina Gordon, Sean Lennon, Jon Auer and The Secret Machines all put out impressive records about the end of relationships. As long as the romances keep going bad, that’s good news for music fandom.

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