Yes, I am a Tornado Chaser

Yes, I am a Tornado Chaser

2006 was a weird year for music. While a handful of really good records surfaced, the usual standout classics weren’t as apparent. They were there, mind you, but they took some digging. Likewise, there were a handful of records in ’06 that, by all logic, should have killed it. But for whatever reason, they just didn’t do the job. This week, the Tornado presents what it feels to be the 10 best records of 2006 and a handful of the most disappointing. List inclusion for the best was determined by time invested and originality. Also, no compilations, EPs, or reissues were included (hence no Boris, Tapes ‘n Tapes, or The North Atlantic…records that killed 2006, but were originally released earlier.)

The best…

Liars Drum’s Not Dead – I will admit, at first I didn’t like this record. I quickly dismissed it as an over-hyped, under-thought minimalist mess littered with too much drumming and funny accents. My friends kept telling me to give it another chance. If there is one thing this record needs, it’s a long gestation. Spend about two months with it before you make any decisions. Having said that, this record is one of the most interesting things I have heard in years. The production is unbelievable to the point where the songs might not actually matter…the sounds and how they are created become the focal point of Drum’s Not Dead. I’ve heard it described as avant tribal, but I hate the way that sounds, so I’ll just say it’s a really freaky record built on heavy percussion, background noise, and almost indecipherable singing/chanting.

Fiery Furnaces Bitter Tea – How is it that this record got by everyone? The handful of reviews I read claimed Bitter Tea to be a shadow of former Fiery Furnaces records…WHAT? This is by far the FINEST record this band has released, and that is saying a lot. As good as Gallowsbird’s Bark and Blueberry Boat were, the former seemed a little disjointed and the latter was way too long. With Bitter Tea, the Freidberger’s finally get all their ducks in a perfect row. From the opening stabs of “My Little Thatched Hut” the album tumbles and springs along like a haunted fun house laser parade. Creaky old pianos mix with moog synths and drum beats made out of question marks. Eleanor Freidberger’s voice stitches the whole thing together with glamour and inflection while her brother effectively takes the wind out of any would-be musician’s sails by capably displaying the fruits of his twenty-five hands (or so it sounds.)

Mission of Burma The Obliteratti – On The Obliteratti, Mission of Burma have mastered it all—aging gracefully, being political without preaching, sounding both heavy and beautiful, and remaining exceptionally relevant. Their drums kick, thier guitars bite, and their lyrics are delivered with the utmost sincereity. In short, they have crafted a perfect rock record.

Danielson Ships – As far as time invested in any record, Ships was number one for me in 2006. It is impossible to listen to this and not want to smile. Seriously, this record is 45 minutes of good times. That, and it sounds f-ing huge. There’s something like 30 different people playing about a bazillion instruments. Employing everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Deerhoof, Daniel Smith and his Danielson Famile clan have not only created a classic pop record, they have made something so beautiful that I am really at a loss of words to describe it. Though I’d hate to make an absolute claim, if I had to pick an album of the year, this would be it.

Destroyer Destroyer’s Rubies – Much in the same way Danielson expanded the pop blueprint to explosive portions, Dan Bejar and Co. mastered their respective brand of massive pop on Destroyer’s Rubies. However, while Ships is fun in its size, Destroyer’s Rubies is brooding and authoritative, like the last few months of a marriage. Bejar’s lyrics read like a Master’s Thesis in dysfunction poetry and fit perfectly among the elephantine (albeit dark) tracks contained here. Destroyer’s Rubies is the sort of album that people will be talking about as an “era-defining” 20 years from now. That’s rock-critic wind-baggery for really good.

Mastodon Blood Mountain – Mastodon is fast becoming the most uncompromising band in metal. On this, their third full-length, the Atlanta four-piece could have played it safe amid all the hype and turned out a record of across-the-board accessible metal…but instead they buried us all in this merciless blitzkrieg of hyper-metal. How human beings can play this fast and accurate and sing while doing it remains a mystery. This is the future of metal, kids.

J Dilla Jay Dee Donuts – Hip Hop’s (arguably) best producer at his absolute peak in an album so good it doesn’t even need an MC. While the world lost a true artist with the passing of James Yancey earlier this year, his first of two posthumous releases is about the best final statement anyone could ask for. Like a grindhouse reel of Dilla’s favorite records all bumping elbows with obscure samples to create the soundtrack to what I’m sure was the best party ever.

Russian Circles Enter – Chicago group’s debut is a heavy-as-hell take on instrumental music. While stodgy rock critics turned their noses up at post-rock long ago, the genre is still alive and well and boasting a mammoth powerhouse in Russian Circles. Like contemporaries Pelican, but without all the winter weather. Even though it’s not “cool” to like bands like this anymore, I’m fully backing this record.

Dosh The Lost Take – Anticon secret weapon Martin Dosh comes out of left field with the most refreshing electronic record in years. This record sounds just as fresh and surprising on the 30th listen as it did on the first. Mashing up live drums, analog keys, an archive of loops, hip-hop’s sensibility, and jazz’s good taste, The Lost Take is proof positive that there are still wholly inspired and committed individuals making music.

Elphaba Any Land but This – A close second for most time logged by any album this year. Seattle’s Elphaba rip the most intense post-punk since In on the Kill Taker. Seriously, these guys do not mess around. Reviews all compared Any Land to Blood Brothers, and I guess that’s apt, but Elphaba has something a little more…something kind of inspiring. It’s like Elphaba were the ones to finally reach that perfect blend of Northwest agitation and D.C. angularity.

Honorable mention must be given to The Evens for Get Evens, Planes Mistaken for Stars for Mercy, Grizzly Bear for Yellow House, and Ghostface Killah for Fishscale. Sorry, but I had to limit myself.


And now for the doozies…

Don Caballero World Class Listening Problem – What a colossal letdown. Not only were the first four Don Cab albums watershed, but What Burns Never Returns is quite possibly the best math rock album ever made…and easily in my Top 10 of all time. But where previous Don Cab albums were amazing feats of technical suspense, superb dexterity, and absorbing composition, World Class comes off as flaccid second-hand math wankery. The passion of the Don Cab of yesteryear is all but gone. Chalk it up to the three completely new members (all ex-Creta Bourzia) or Damon Che’s ballooning ego, but calling this a rightful Don Cab record is like saying The Gold and Silver is a classy meal.

Girl Talk Night Ripper – Was I the only one that thought this turd sounded like a Baz Lurhmann score of all things “cool” from the 90’s?

The Decemberists The Crane Wife – Four albums in and I still don’t get it. How can you listen to this and not get wise to the shtick? I can guarantee you this guy has never even seen a chimney sweep, plus when he sings, all I hear are cats meowing.

TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain – While this record wasn’t terrible, it was a far cry from the near perfection of Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. Tunde Adebimpe’s voice still resonates with the same conviction, but for some reason, the songs just don’t do it for me. Admittedly, I might need some more time with Return…I really wanted to like it.

But really, does it make any difference whether or not I gave a particular record a thumbs-up or down? Music is pretty much all relative to the listener. If something speaks to you, then go with it. If I left out (or even panned) one of your year-end favorites, then let me know about it in the comments. Educate my ignorant ways.