This page is a list of all the music I’ve reviewed originally released in 2006.
1. Scott Walker: The Drift (10/10)
Note: At the time of writing this, I still haven’t heard Tilt.
The vast majority of singer-songwriters, even those whose lyrics stray from tradition, operate within the singer-songwriter tradition, whether its the folk version of it or a more pop-rock tradition that emerged with the sixties. These singer-songwriters, even the most unconventional ones, are still recognizable as singer-songwriters.
Walker isn’t, at least not any more. His music is far outside of the interpretative pop music that birthed his career, as much as it is far out of the singer-songwriter tradition, now that he writes all his own material. Instead, Walker draws primarily from film scores and from other genres you wouldn’t normally associate with your traditional ballad singers (I hear a post no wave influence, I believe).
This thing he has made is utterly unique, to my knowledge, in the history of popular music. I compare it to Waits’ reinvention in the early eighties. Like Waits, Walker has created his own mini genre, where people are now forced to call things Walkerian.
One of the great releases of the decade.
2. Joanna Newsom: Ys (10/10)
Newsom’s debut introduced one of the best songwriters of her generation, with a sense of fun – and inaccessible voice – that was practically Dylanesque.
On her second album she takes a pretty big risk: she writes longer, less accessible songs, with only her harp and her voice, but then she has them orchestrated by one of the most idiosyncratic of popular music arrangers. The results are pretty fantastic, in fact I think I am willing to say they are great with a capital ‘g.’ I want to say that the finished product is one of the great works of art of our new century, but I haven’t quite yet decided about it yet.
3. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain (9/10)
I am pretty trend averse and, when this album got heaps of praise upon its release, I was likely going to resist. But the other reason I think I was so determined not to like this is that I thought TVOTR were really on to something on their debut; they seemed to have stumbled upon something relatively unique among the numerous people reviving underground eighties and late seventies music, namely a mixture of that with doo wop. Like doo wave post punk wop, or something. And I think I liked that more than I was willing to admit to anyone.
But with this record they definitely moved beyond that sound, if it was even a sound – rather than something I was just imagining – and I guess I held that against them for a long time, a year or more I think. I just didn’t want to like it. I did like it, but I was telling myself it wasn’t that good.
But with time (including many more listens), and with hearing the rest of their output, and with thinking about what exactly the ’00s were about musically, everything about this album feels more important than it did in 2006, and not only that, I actually do like it as much as Desperate Youth. But it’s certainly a more varied, more mature, more complex record. And so eventually I realized that this was indeed a near-masterpiece. It’s maybe not the masterpiece that so many publications claimed at the time – I’m still not sure it’s transcendent enough – but it is a great record – their best – and perhaps the best thing this whole revival of new wave and post punk produced. (I have to qualify that, as I deliberately avoided most of that music, preferring the originals, and so I don’t know what I’m talking about here.)
4. Battle of Mice: A Day of Nights (9/10)
“Post Metal” is a dubious term – as dubious as Post Rock, I’d say. My only experience with Post Metal is the kind of music that seems to combine sludge metal with shoegaze, i.e. not this. This is much closer to post hardcore, to my ears.
But all of that is just nitpicky categorizing. Though I might feel differently, had I gotten around to Made out of Babies or Neuroses, or one of the other bands associated with this “super group,” I fucking love this record. I mean, I love it. This is (nearly) everything I love about post hardcore rolled into one package, but it’s more “metal” – in that it’s more obviously informed by forms of metal (and “post metal”) and less informed by punk.
It’s also fucking disturbing, especially that 911 call. Jesus…
Anyway, this is my kind of music. I’m sorry I missed the boat and am 10 years late. I should really check out all their other bands. Awesome.
5. Pearl Jam (9/10)
What I said at the time: Pearl Jam is more in the mode of Yield and Ten than their most recent stuff (Riot Act, Binaural) which is a good thing in the sense that they’re changing things up (if only slightly). I’ve only listened to it once (and that, while falling asleep). But my initial impression is: decent. Pearl Jam is one of those bands I can listen to even though they don’t change much from album to album (see also: AC/DC, the White Stripes, Sabbath, for example). In any case, I’ll try and give you a better verdict after I’ve given it 10 or 20 listens.
January 2014: The thoughts I expressed at the time surprise me now because this has become my favourite late Pearl Jam album, both for its immediacy and emotion – something I think is lacking from Riot Act, for example – and for their willingness to do new things – not trendy new things, like on Backspacer or Lightning Bolt – but far less trendy things, like soul! (At least it wasn’t trendy in 2006.) I don’t really see the comparison to Yield either. (If anything, Backspacer is much more like Yield.)
This eponymous record is a great band showing they can still play like they used to, and delivering better than expected results. Honestly, they haven’t sounded this alive (in the studio) since, I don’t know, Vs. (And that’s not to disrespect my two favourite Pearl Jam albums, which were both released in the interim. But Pearl Jam went through a long, inward-looking phase and this record feels much more populist.) A near-classic.
6. Bob Dylan: Modern Times (9/10)
Dylan takes old songs and old styles and combines them into a sort of old rock and roll view of contemporary society. That is, he uses old music to speak to the present. If you don’t like Dylan’s self-mythologizing then you will probably be put off by the lyrics (some of them in particular are a little hard to take for someone no doubt as financially successful as him) but if you don’t care about that, the lyrics combined with this new found interest in his musical roots (and the musical roots of the music he is playing) results in this wonderful tapestry that I think few other performers could equal. It is, for me (and, I think a lot of others) the best album he has recorded in nearly 30 years.
7. Keith Jarrett: The Carnegie Hall Concert (9/10)
This is Jarrett at his improvisatory best. We can always wonder whether or not he truly conceives of these on the spot, or whether he mentally plans out what to do ahead of time (something he has denied); but it doesn’t matter. Regardless of the process – something we obsess over too much – this is among the best of Jarrett’s solo live performances (that I have heard) and honestly there are few (if any) pianists that can touch him when it comes to his solo shows. He remains the king of solo jazz piano post Monk and Evans. Nobody can touch him.
8. Ben Goldberg: The Door, The Hat, The Chair, The Fact (8/10)
I love klezmer jazz – perhaps a little too much – and whatever the stuff that I refer to as ‘post free’ actually is. And this has both.
Goldberg has written a fine set of tunes with features for every member of his band and there are opportunities for some strong unison playing as well. I always like it when composers / bands strike this balance; the balance between solos and ensemble playing that I feel is essential to most (but not all) great jazz.
Goldberg stands out as an excellent clarinetist, and a composer who both understands how jazz groups should work, and that both radical and traditional forms of music can be pillaged for ideas.
9. Oliver Knussen: Requiem: Songs for Sue (8/10)
Knussen’s most personal work sets poems from Dickinson, Auden, Rilke and Antionio Machado to mourn the loss of his wife. The music is typically inventive for Knussen, though slightly less full of the vivid imagery of much of his work given the presence of lyrics. Knussen’s music is so twisty that it’s often hard to hear what she’s singing. So, without seeing the actual poems, I don’t know what the lyrics say about Knussen’s deceased wife. I will say that the music he has provided is at times mournful but often a little more jubilant than many requiems. This is a feeling that I like to hear because I do like to believe we should remember the dead as they were. Anyway, worth listening to as a very different approach to requiems, or because it’s a decent (albeit very brief) song cycle.
10. Beck: The Information (8/10)
To me this feels like the most typical of later or mature Beck. It’s a little more restrained – polished – than his early releases but this uptempo pop rock (married to hip hop style production) is certainly more common than the balladry of Sea Change. Everything here is very strong and, as I said, though his idiosyncrasy is reigned in from the ’90s, there’s still enough going around that songs that might otherwise be pretty run of the mill sound interesting.
As an aside, I got the opportunity this version of his band live on TV through some concert show or other, and they were really solid.
11. Tool: 10,000 Days (8/10)
What I said at the time: 10,000 Days did not make much of an impression on me the first time through. I have to think about this….a while back, when Tool’s last album came out, Ryan had it on in the car all the time. I used to listen to it a lot (not by choice). I really got to like it. I never burned it off him. And I never bought it. And so, out of a liking of their second (I think) album a number of years back (when I perhaps had different music tastes and really hadn’t properly discovered by favourite metal band…FNM), I bought their new album. Now, I should not react so negatively so quickly, many albums take time to grow on you, and the band’s music is not what you would describe as catchy. There are some moments that were interesting…anyway, like the other two albums I bought with my tax refund, I will have to give it time. Interesting that there were no instant home-runs this time around.
January 2014: Again, I am kind of surprised at my ambivalence about a record I like quite a lot nowadays. Certainly Tool had one of the most interesting rhythm sections of any metal band of the ’90s/’00s. And I am amazed I didn’t latch on more readily to the whacky time signatures. I personally would much rather listen to a band that thinks about a genre differently than any number of bands determined to preserve some kind of “metal” essence. Frankly, I both get the my metal kicks out of this and my prog kicks, and that’s something to celebrate.
12. Johnny Cash: American V: a Hundred Highways (8/10)
When I first “reviewed” this I apparently thought it was VI.
I never used to like interpretive music; I think I believe it was a cop-out and that all performers should write their own material. This was and remains a ridiculous sentiment, but it’s a young person’s sentiment, so I think it made some sense that I believed it once upon a time. Cash’s series of covers with Rick Rubin curating was probably the first set of interpretive performances where not all songs were drastically rearranged where I realized that I could indeed like something because of a particular style brought to it by the performer. Some of Cash’s versions are indeed uniquely his, but many more of them are pretty traditional. But it doesn’t matter; this music is uniquely Johnny Cash and I think we should all be happy that this series occurred as it has left us with a series of great versions some classic songs – and some songs that probably not have been thought of as classics had Cash not covered them – and the whole thing was a great cap to his legacy. This, the second last of the albums, is considerably sparser than some of the earlier ones and has an elegiac tone to it that’s fitting given what soon happened to the man.
13. Drive-By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse (8/10)
The Truckers sort of confound me: they put out album after album of the same music but yet I still really like them. My theory is that it is their songs. Hood and Cooley are two of the best songwriters in rock music of the last couple decades. It is actually a shame that the band’s best singer – at least at the time of this release – couldn’t write stuff on a similar level.
But as usual, everything you would want from a DBT record is here: literate songs, guitars interesting enough to keep you from remembering this is just straight ahead southern rock, etc.
14. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (8/10)
The songs take some time to grow on you, but this is because they’re not exactly conventional in structure. And the hooks are subtle. I like subtle.
Her voice is fantastic and the backing musicians are uniformly good. I haven’t yet come to the point where I would regard this as any kind of masterpiece, but it’s a good album despite its length.
15. Topaz: Prowl (8/10)
This is some pretty excellent “chamber jazz” – for lack of a better term – with a really interesting line-up: cello, sax, bass, drums. The playing is excellent, the tunes are all solid enough, and it is always interesting to hear a band with such eclectic instrumentation – though the music is clearly jazz and there are tunes that remind one of jazz, the instrumentation is anything but conventional: no piano, no substitute for the piano (guitar, for example).
16. Converge: No Heroes (7/10)
Metalcore appeals to me because it combines things I like about metal and punk together, and skips on the excesses of metal (for the most part).
This is a pretty good example. The lyrics are shit (when you can decipher them), but the music grabs you and doesn’t really let you go, even when they go for an epic. Besides, what heavy band has good lyrics?
I find it a bit more successful – if less varied – than the previous release, You Fail Me. Perhaps it’s just more exemplary.
17. The Devin Townshend Band: Synchestra (7/10)
So despite my love of weird metal, particularly FNM, I didn’t seek out Mr. Townsend and knew virtually nothing about him (aside from that some of my friends liked Strapping Young Lad) until I got this CD, over eight years ago. And I got the CD simply because I went to university with Townsend’s rhythm guitarist (though on this CD he is primarily the keyboardist). And I have only ever seen them in concert because of that connection.
And I think I had a hard time fully appreciating this at first because Townsend’s idiosyncrasy didn’t seem artsy fartsy enough for me; i.e. it wasn’t weird enough. It seemed like he liked cheese a little more than I would have liked (though I was having these feelings at the same time that I probably would have tried to defend Dream Theater as a serious musical enterprise so take that for what it’s worth).
But nearly a decade on I think I really gave this record (and Townsend’s music in general) short shrift because it struck me as too commercial, something that seems kind of hilarious to me now.
I still think there is an element of cheese that is present, and which could have been extricated, and I do think that if Townsend wasn’t the sole creative force here, he might be moderated into a more consistent vision, that might be a little more up my alley.
But still, this is way better than I initially thought it was. And I really should listen to his other records.
18. Built to Spill: You in Reverse (7/10)
Like all their later stuff it is lacking in songwriting. However, the jams are great so it sort of makes up for it.
19. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs: Show Your Bones (7/10)
Well I like this. But the major problem for me is that, aside from the obviously surprising presence of the odd acoustic guitar, it sounds a little too much like the last one. That isn’t to say it sounds the same. It doesn’t. But it doesn’t feel like they are breaking enough new ground (at least for my tastes). I am utterly aware that this is the same band, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.
20. The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers (7/10)
I must admit that I only knew one of the two main songwriters of this band and was probably expecting something more in line with the White Stripes, though why I would want that, I don’t know.
I remember seeing them on Austin City Limits and loving their cover of “My Baby Shot Down.” But on record power pop is always less impressive to me, because I’ve never been one to prioritize hooks over riffs, for example.
And though it at times feels like the two songwriters wrote together, other times it feels like to competing voices, that I’m not sure mesh as well as we would like.
I would just so much rather listen to the White Stripes. I know, I know.
21. Jon-Rae and the River Knows What You Need (7/10)
At some level, it’s understandable why a certain section of Toronto’s (and Canada’s?) music critics lost their minds over this band back in 2006. There probably weren’t a lot of bands like this at the time, I suppose. And from listening to this record, I can imagine they are a good live band. I can imagine that, if you like energy in your shows above everything else, they are probably a great live band. But…
Revivalism is revivalism and this band revives others’ music. They revive it very well, and the energy translates a lot better than you might have guessed. But this particular breed “alt” roots has been done many times before, even if, normally, there isn’t a choir – and the choir only appears occasionally. And the lyrics leave a lot to be desired too. (They are obsessed with sex and rock and roll, as you might imagine.)
Still, it’s pretty damn good for what it is.
22. In Flames: Come Clarity (6/10)
Call me crazy, but of the two In Flames releases I’ve heard, I like this one more. It feels a little more varied than the other album of theirs that I’ve managed to listen to, and it feels like the band may have some (slight) versatility.
This is still not my favourite stuff – the melodic vocals too often remind me of post grunge, for example – but I can appreciate their attempt to expand their boundaries (if only slightly) more than when it sounded like they were resting on their laurels.
23. The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics (6/10)
What I said at the time: I read something a while ago where Wayne Coyne said the new Flaming Lips album would have a lot more guitar. I thought that was both a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing because the band seems to have pretty much abandoned the guitar rock focus of the ’80s and early ’90s, and a bad thing because I don’t like seeing bands (for the most part) return to their roots too much. That doesn’t sound right…what I mean is, I didn’t want them to return to sounding like the 1980s Lips. (Who does?)
So this new album does have more guitar. But it’s not what I was expecting. The band is still very much in the mode of production featured most prominently on Yoshimi but also the album before that. Now I like the previous two albums, but they’re not my favourite ones, and I really do think they’re trying too hard to be contemporary (I know, that could sound weird). My initial impression of the album is that it isn’t what I thought Coyne was promising. I may have misunderstood. Or this could just be one of those cases where bands make promises that don’t come true/make sense, like the time when REM said they’d finally release a “rock” follow up to Document (after two more poppy, softer albums) and then put out Automatic for the People instead…or Thom Yorke’s calling the last Radiohead album a pop album.
I’ve always thought Coyne was a really interesting and fun guitarist. But you don’t here much of that lately, even on this new “guitar-heavy” album. I think this has a lot to do with the production process that’s going on right now and the way it causes songs to be constructed on the computer rather than jammed out in rehearsals. I suspect that the 3-member Lips would have a very hard time performing this music on stage (just like the last album) without the help of programming.
Everyone loves programming so much these days (well, obviously there are those bands that don’t EVER use it too, but you know what I mean) and it just seems like it’s out of control. I’m not sure it’s necessary all the time.
In the end, my first impression is: it’s not that great. But I could change my mind. I often do with new albums. It’s different enough from the last album but I’m not sure the material is there. But most importantly, it’s time for a change of producers.
Wayne promised guitars. Wayne lied.
24. Jack DeJohnette with Bill Frisell: The Elephant Sleeps but Still Remembers (6/10)
I’m not really sure I understand this. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of using live tracks as the basis for studio tinkering – I’m not, some of my favourite prog rock was made this way. I just don’t always understand why it’s done. In this case, it feels like the “additional production” was added to give this set a greater unity, that it severely lacks.
DeJohnette is clearly a talented guy, and I appreciate the attempt to do everything, but here he and Frisell are trying too much and not succeeding at enough. The studio touches feel artificial and imposed, and feel like they are trying to make sense of what really isn’t that sensical: there are a lot of things going on during this set, and I feel like they could have been separate shows. Imagine the space in the music without the overdubs!
A bit of a mess; that being said, the two performers are still great.
25. The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America (6/10)
Springsteen’s influence hangs over much American 21st century indie rock. For many, this is good. For me, never a Springsteen fan, it is beyond annoying.
This is among the most Springsteeny of Springsteen-American indie rock albums I have ever heard. Maybe it’s the most. It’s so unbelievably in his shadow that I feel like I am listening to a different album than everyone else. People think this albums is fantastic. (Do they also think it’s original? That’s another question for most of you, I guess.)
Having just struggled through Born to Run, I find so many moments on this coming across as a (much) harder version of that album. (And, no doubt, if I knew his catalogue better, I’d find this record harder than other Springsteen albums too.)
But I’ll say one thing for this band: they are much, much louder (and rawer) than the mid ’70 E-street, which is eternally to their credit – fewer cheesy piano interludes, no cheesy sax.
Also, Finn is very much his own songwriter. He may be a Springsteen-esque songwriter, but he at least has his created his own world. Those two things make this…well, far more tolerable than some of the other, less literary, less rough Springsteen imitations.
26. Various Artists: Marie Antoinette (Motion Picture Soundtrack) (6/10)
I must say, first off, that I did not like this movie. It is one thing to use non-period music for your soundtrack when you are making a film (if the film has some meta quality to it, it makes sense), but when this film is a docudrama, it is hard to justify the decision. I know why she claimed it worked, but it didn’t…in any way.
So I must look at this soundtrack as music on its own, otherwise I won’t like it.
The first CD is a pretty good mixtape, all things considered, of (mostly) British post-punk / new wave. The only thing that throws it off is the Vivaldi. I don’t really know what Kevin Shields did to the Bow Wow Wow song. He probably just added ‘cred’.
The second disc is much more like a soundtrack you might expect and, despite the non-period music, much more appropriate to the film. But it is a lot less memorable than the first disc. It also features a godawful Kevin Shields remix of a Bow Wow Wow track. Can we please get over My Bloody Valentine already?
The whole thing isn’t quite as coherent as it could have been. Why not make disc one solely British post-punk / new wave instead of throwing in the more recent music? Frankly I like it less than I might have if it was more coherent, but I still like it a lot more than the movie.
27. Lee Ranaldo, Carlos Giffoni, Thurston Moore, Nels Cline: Four Guitars Live at Luxx (5/10)
And there are many times where I can’t really distinguish all four players.
This is the kind of thing I would gladly waste 45 minutes on if it was live, but as a home listening experience it just doesn’t work. Still better than Top 40 though.
28. Evanescence: The Open Door (5/10)
She has a nice voice, but we knew that already. There’s nothing really to recommend this. It’s very middle of the road, safe and boring. On the other hand, it’s not H.I.M., and it gets points for that.
Compilations, archival releases and new performances of old music.
Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane: The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (10/10)
I prefer these larger band recordings to the live Quartet performance at Carnegie Hall, as there’s a little more… variety I guess would be the best way of putting it. Coltrane sounds better here because you can compare him to this contemporaries and listen as he destroys them… not that it was a competition.
There is some pretty ridiculous music within, my favourite of which is probably their version of “Well You Needn’t” which blows my mind, especially Monk’s performance.
Boris Berezovsky: Ludas Tonalis; Suite 1922 by Paul Hindemith (9/10)
This collects two of Hindemith’s solo piano works, the most famous ones and those that are usually considered “essential.”
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton: Symphonies Nos 2 and 3 by Charles Ives (9/10)
This set pairs Ives’ middle symphonies with the “song” he orchestrated. Read the rest of the review.
Freiburger Barockorchester, The Choir of Clare College conducted by Rene Jacobs featuring Kerstin Avemo, Patricia Bardon, Lawrence Zazzo, Kobie van Rensburg, Neal Davies: Messiah by George Handel (9/10)
This is, by some accounts, the finest of the various available performances of Messiah. I have literally no idea if that’s true or not as I have only ever heard one other complete version and, moreover, I am not sure I yet at the stage where I can detect minute differences in orchestration. (Though my ears tell me there are some rather obvious differences between this and the other version I’ve heard so far.)
All I can say is that this is a deservedly famous piece of music performed quite well. I like a lot of Handel’s other music better, but there’s no going wrong with this, especially as a gateway.
Jean-Philippe Collard: Complete Piano Works by Gabriel Faure (8/10)
Various Artists: String Quartet; Violin Sonata by Cesar Franck (8/10)
Yvonne Kenny and Piers Lane: Songs by Frederick Delius (7/10)
Louis Armstrong: The Complete New York Town Hall and Boston Symphony Hall Concerts (7/10)
So this is box includes both the complete concerts of the title and some additional performances from around the same time, including a performance held before a movie premier for a movie Armstrong was starring in, and some other miscellaneous recordings Armstrong features on that don’t really feel apiece.