My Top 15 of 2006 (w/ comments)

Date:2007-01-18 00:19:25
After doing the PM:X voting today, I decided to post my list here, along with some comments. So, without further ado:

1. The Mars Volta—Amputechture

My favorite band quite unexpectedly pares back its generous sound. Really, I feared more indulgences on the order of cricket field recordings and the threshold-testing intro to the “Frances the Mute” track (from “The Widow” single). However, tracks like “Tetragrammaton” and the amazing “Day of the Baphomets” show a band committed to the pursuit of challenging and stimulating music. I am thrilled with the results.

2. Scott Walker—The Drift

What can be said of this monolithic slab of psychosis and feverish, night-sweat vision? This is clearly one of the greatest achievements of the decade so far, so much so that whether or not you like it becomes a pointless question. I however, in some bizarre way, find it eminently listenable, perhaps even more so than ‘Tilt.’ ‘The Drift’ is a more integrated work than its predecessor, and “Clara” is the most disturbing, affecting piece of music released this year. If you need to be convinced that Walker can write an actual “song,” look no further than the poignant and brief “A Lover Loves.”

3. Katatonia—The Great Cold Distance

I can’t believe that this prodigious Swedish quartet released an album better than 2003’s ‘Viva Emptiness.’ Against all odds, they did just that, even if I’m in the vast minority of people thinking so (you’re with me, right, Tim?). Unlike ‘Viva,’ which suffered ever-so-slightly from a less-vibrant mid-section, ‘TGCD’ is blazing all the way through, and especially on tracks like “Soil’s Song,” “My Twin,” “July,” and “In the White.” And Daniel Liljeqvist is one of the best drummers in metal. A brilliant showing.

4. Estradasphere—Palace of Mirrors

2006 is the year of best-ever recordings for lots of bands, apparently! It could be argued whether or not ‘Palace’ is, indeed, Estradasphere’s best album, but it’s certainly its most well-constructed and consistent. Discharging the self-conscious goofiness of previous outings, ‘Palace’ combines a number of compelling sounds (technical metal, Eastern European folk, foreign film soundtracks, exotica, etc.), and does so with great virtuosity and taste. “Flower Garden of an Evil Man” and the title track are easy highlights, and “The Return” is one of the best tech-metal songs released this year. John, you should definitely hear this song; killer Balkan-tech!

5. Agalloch—Ashes Against the Grain

I know that a number of folks lament this record’s lack of adventure, but it’s still the most playable Agalloch yet. And, to be honest, I feel that its peaks (see “Falling Snow,” “Not Unlike the Waves,” and the gripping trilogy for evidence of these) are as high as anything the band has yet scaled. And certainly better than my awkward mountain-climbing metaphor! I love the packaging, the production, and the overall vibe of this album, and I revisit it often. That is more than I can say for ‘The Mantle,’ which is a brilliant but suffocating work that requires the proper conditions. I hope that Haughm can keep his demons away long enough to write another album as powerful as this.

6. TOOL—10,000 Days

As with the Katatonia, I’m REALLY in the minority here, and I’m fine with that. I will preface any praise by saying that this album is not as good as ‘Aenima’ (which is in my all-time Top 20) or ‘Lateralus,’ but it’s still quite excellent. Tracks like “Vicarious,” “Jambi,” “10,000 Days,” “The Pot,” and “Right in Two” show an inveterate band who’s still finding ways to make compelling, vibrant music. I think Baresi’s thick, mulched production lends itself to the material, though no one gets better drum sounds than Bottrill (and the awesome Siggi Bemm, for you Woodhouse fans!). I played this album today, and, for what it’s worth, it sounded fantastic some 9 months post-release.

7. Twisted Into Form—And Then Comes Affliction to Awaken the Dreamer

So, it’s not Spiral Architect. Good for them! I had no real expectations for this album, since the very lackluster “Torrents” was the only thing that constituted a preview. When I finally heard the disc, I was blown away in a number of respects. The packaging is second only to TOOL in terms of sheer sensory delight, and the production/mix (you go, Neil!) is just as stunning. The material, though, is what floats this monster. The peculiar singing, solid drumming (much steadier than Asegir’s sometimes-precarious time-keeping), sonic/textural playfulness, vibrant guitar work, and wide melodic development separate it from any other metal record released this year. I speak on behalf of my band-mates when I say that I am honored to be on the same label as Twisted Into Form.

8. Current 93—Black Ships Ate the Sky

I’ll spare you the gory details and tell you quite frankly that this album got me through one of the darkest nights of my life. It’s not merely because of my religious sympathies that this album resonates so profoundly, but because David Tibet can speak to the most difficult aspects of human experience. In my more lucid moments, I can appreciate the musical and artistic achievement of this record, which is fleshed out by a cast of outsider luminaries such as Ben Chasny, Antony, Will Oldham, etc. The various readings of “Idumea” will at once lift your spirits and drive you into the grave. Tibet is one of the few artists who can manage such paradox *and* make it listenable.

9. Dysrhythmia—Barriers and Passages

Four albums in and Dysrhythmia makes its best album yet! How many bands can say that, especially those who push themselves with as much vigor as this New York-based leviathan? I’ve been a fan for a long time now, and as much as I liked their last album, deep in my heart I wondered if they’d ever top the staggering metal science dropped on their classic ‘No Interference’ LP. ‘Barriers and Passages’ answers that question quickly, and beats the crap out of me for asking it. As for highlights, I’d point to “Appeared at First,” the acerbic “Sleep Decayer,” and “Will the Spirit Prevail,” the opening sequence of which is both mathematical and strangely moving. In Teddy Moller’s remarks on the album, he mentions the Ved Buens Ende influence, which I was never keen enough to detect. Teddy also mentions the galvanic bass sound, which bears my re-mentioning it here. And Kevin is just about the coolest guy you’ll ever meet and one of the most knowledgeable listeners I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

10. Peeping Tom—S/T

OK, so it didn’t quite live up to the impossible expectations. You can’t imagine the mythic proportions to which Tim (Killed_By_The_Tech) and I had built this album up. I mean, we’d been waiting since early 2001 to hear Patton’s “pop record,” which, in our imaginations, would have been the sweetest sound ever to issue forth from a compact disc. Well, needless to say, it isn’t all *that.* What it is, though, is a great, if inconsistent, experimental pop album that has gotten lots and lots of plays over the course of the year. And it works better through headphones, where all those auditory morsels can find their fullest expression. When this album rocks (as on “Don’t Even Trip,” “Mojo,” and “We’re Not Alone”) it rocks massively, and these moments more than warrant the purchase of the album.

11. Nachtmystium—Instinct: Decay

Finally, a really awesome black metal album in 2006. I was hoping for an album up to the dizzying standards of Deathspell Omega’s 2005 masterstroke, ‘Kenose,’ but that was just silly of me. That’s one of the greatest black metal albums ever, and even though ‘Instinct: Decay’ isn’t quite *that* good, it’s still a killer. Nachtmystium mixes black metal, rock, and experimental edges in an organic, effortless sort of way, which gives it a peculiar element of fun. I always find my head nodding at this record’s records dirty, deep grooves and third-eye wetting psychedelia. Beyond that, Nachtmystium writes successful songs, and with variety and atmosphere to spare. The final portions of “A Seed for Suffering” show some of the most musical and emotional choices made by a black metal band this year, revealing the group’s prog and traditional metal sympathies. Get this album!

12. Boxcutter—Oneiric

So one man makes a bid for dubstep as an album form (it’s generally a single and EP-dominated genre). ‘Oneiric,’ then, is a convincing and sinister audio-missive, corrupting ambient’s liminal planes and Garage’s twitching half-time with trigonometric Jungle maneuvers and pin-prick synth textures. And—it bears reiterating—‘Oneiric’ functions quite successfully as an *album,* which immediately separates it from the most of the pack. Mood-wise, the album adheres to dubstep’s bleak aesthetic, but Boxcutter works around the genres limitations and emerges with rich, musical results. Peep the jazzy flourishes of “Summer V.I.P.” and the grave-deep melancholy of “Brood” for proof that electronic music still has some ghost left in its machine.

13. Pharaoh—The Longest Night

I generally find one traditional metal record I love every year or so. Last year, Nocturnal Rites cleverly advanced its sound on ‘The Grand Illusion,’ but ‘The Longest Night’ pounds that album into dust with its deep learning and metal acumen. It would be difficult to imagine a metal song in 2006 more worthy of the descriptor “epic” than album opener “Sunrise,” whose final passage mingles sorrow and triumph in the most moving way. Elsewhere, songs like the formidable “Up the Gates” and “Endlessly” dig into flesh with rusty hooks and bloody teeth, always leaving me thrilled and satisfied (and mangled, too, of course!). I voted Matt Johnsen as “Best Guitarist” in this years PM polls, not because he is a dear friend of mine, but because there was no record released in 2006 with as much astonishing guitar playing as ‘The Longest Night.’ Smart, awesomely-produced, beautifully-played metal of the highest order.

14. Akercocke—Words that Go Unspoken, Deeds that Go Undone

Biggest surprise of the year? No doubt! I would have never believed that I’d one day have an Akercocke record on my shelf, but I never imagined that they would make such a vibrant, imaginative record as this. The mix of black and death metal is still there, but it’s sharper and deadlier than ever before. Add to this blend prog-rock, world music, and New Romantic (I’m thinking specifically of Japan-era David Sylvian-esque vocal sensuousness) overtones, and you’ve got a throttling, superb record. I could have used a more organic drum sound, of course, but that hardly slows down the rest of the music, which ranks as some of the best and most intelligent extreme metal work this year.

15. Hot Chip—The Warning

Deliriously catchy electronic pop that probably aspires to less than I’m reading into it. The production is the album’s ace-in-the-sleeve, and even if the songs were no good (and that is *not* the case), the record would still get a mention here. There is a physical, tactile quality to the album’s textures that elevates it well beyond its modest “electronic pop” tag. Glockenspiels shiver and pan, beats clip in the grittiest and most erotic ways, synths reach into the ear canals, and vocals do their best to act unimpressed with all that’s going on around them. Impossible, I say! This album shows, for any unbelievers, that pop music can be brainy *and* fun.


I gotta thirst to ball, try to knock a pimp's hustle be the first to fall.
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