2006: The Year in Music

I thought 2006 was an okay year for the album, with plenty of my favorite artists releasing disappointing new ones, and nothing earth-shattering coming out of popular music. But skimming the year's biggest-selling records as well as the indie honor roll, I never felt this out of touch with what everyone else likes. So what do I know? Here are my ten most played new records and some other miscellaneous notes on the year in music.

10. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55
All the music here was written, performed, and produced by Air, which makes this the best possible appetizer while waiting for the French duo's next release ("Pocket Symphony," a shoo-in for my 2007 list). The star of the show, daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, is more charming as an actress (seen opposite Gael Garcia Bernal in THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP) than as a lyricist, but her voice is a perfect fit with Air, making for the best background music CD this year.

9. The Features - Contrast
How can five humble songs carry twice the punch of a band's major-label full-length? Experience; The Features are now maybe the longest living Nashville band of my lifetime, but this year they were beaten, bruised, and reborn. After getting dropped by their label hours after declining to record a Beatles tune for a major corporation's TV ad, the band lost their keyboard player and seemingly all their momentum. Then comes "Contrast," proof that Nashville's best band is still right on track and ready to roll with the punches.

8. Sean Lennon - Friendly Fire
A follow-up I've been waiting for since high school. Sean Lennon continues to fill his father's shoes with this dark and romantic record.

7. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That
This French group continues to set themselves apart from basically every other band out there with this collection of peppy, perfectly organized pop songs in which every bit of instrumentation punches, yet leaves room for the rest to breathe. If I ran the music industry, "Long Distance Call" would be a smash hit, containing more infectuous dancability and lovelorn passion than anything on the radio right now.

6. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Continuing through the dark alleyways beneath Kid A and Amnesiac; Thom's dream life.

5. The Dears - Gang of Losers
Home to the title track that rocked my world two years ago after a live show in Boston, now finally on record. The rest, starting with the climactic, aptly titled "Ballad of Humankindness," is damn good too.

4. John Mayer - Continuum
Haters be damned (and that includes just about everyone I know); Mr. Mayer, my chief homeboy since day one, finally finds the balance between pop songwriter and blues guitarsmith. There is no one out there, still, whose music speaks so directly to me and my life. "Belief," speaking to the paradoxical nature of religous wars, might be the best song he's written. Without a couple of its lesser tracks, Continuum would have topped my list.

3. Mates of State - Bring It Back
Husband and wife Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, on keys and drums respectively, move away from the stream-of-consciousness, key-changing, time-shifting songs of their career and make their most straightforward, accessible record yet. It sounds better than ever, and the lyrics, as usual, are mostly a mystery. But I've gotta wonder if my favorite indie-rock couple considers "Running Out" to be their final number.

2. The Privates - Barricades
Somehow in their busiest year as a non-band, Nashville's Dave, Keith, Ryan, and Rollum managed to record an album that, if they were to stop making music today (and they might), could fittingly preserve their legacy. But it's cohesive enough, and so incredibly tight, you'd never have guessed what a Frankensteinian endeavor it was. No band has ever sounded quite like The Privates.

1. Ben Kweller - s/t
Somehow I never got around to hearing "Sha-Sha," this Ben's debut that I'd heard so much word-of-mouth about. Ironically enough, the night of his Nashville show this fall I happened to be in another state in my band's van popping in his new, self-titled record. It was good on the first listen, and then a few hours later every single song was still in my head, begging to be hummed. Ben played all the instruments, never crowding the songs with anything other than the most essential parts. Since I haven't yet come up with anything, I'll re-submit the question posed by my friend Carl: Is there anyone out there today writing better pop songs than Ben Kweller?

Honorable Mention: David Mead - Tangerine, Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit, Beck - The Information, Justin Timberlake - Futuresex/Lovesounds, Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere, How I Became the Bomb - Let's Go!, Sufjan Stevens - Songs for Christmas

Mildly Disappointing:
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat, Lambchop - Damaged, Josh Rouse - Subtitulo, Guster - Ganging Up On the Sun, The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth

Big Letdowns: The Killers - Sam's Town, The Decemberists - The Crane Wife, Elefant - The Black Magic Show, The Flaming Lips - At War with the Mystics, Darkel - s/t, Zero 7 - The Garden

Didn't Get Around to it: Bob Dylan - Modern Times, M. Ward - Post War, Wolfmother - s/t, Tom Petty - Highway Companion, Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor, Kyle Andrews - Amos in Ohio, Ray Lamontagne - Til the Sun Turns Black, Asobi Seksu - Citruss, Damien Rice - 9

Just Don't Get It: Joanna Newson - Ys, TV On the Radio - Return to Cooke Mountain, Be Your Own Pet - s/t, Jeff - Castle Storm

Favorite song of the year:
The Dears - "You and I Are a Gang of Losers."

selections from my 2006 mix CD: Phoenix - "Long Distance Call," Ben Kweller - "Sundress," The Privates - "Heart's Got a Hole," Justin Timberlake - "Sexyback," John Legend - "Show Me," Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy," The Features - "Contrast," Regina Spektor - "Fidelity," Belle and Sebastian - "We Are the Sleepyheads," Jenny Lewis - "Happy," John Mayer - "Belief," Thom Yorke - "Black Swan," Sean Lennon - "Would I Be the One," How I Became the Bomb - "Killing Machine," Mates of State - "Running Out"

Guiltiest Pleasures: Christina Aguilera - "Aint No Other Man," The Fray - "How to Save a Life," KT Turnstall - "Suddenly I See," Katherine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, and Taylor Hicks.

Favorite pre-2006 songs discovered this year:
Snow Patrol - "Chocolate," Why? - "Gemini (Birthday Song)," Elbow - "Forget Myself"

Records I played drums on this year: The Comfies - Close to Me, Clayton Cheek - Duke of Rural, Syd - The Way We Found It (2007), The Boy Bathing - TBA (2007)

Best Record Store in the country that I know of:

Favorite Nashville bands in 2006:
The Features, The Privates, Gabe Dixon Band, Jetpack, How I Became the Bomb, De Novo Dahl, Girls and Boys (RIP), Slack (RIP)

Best major label release from a Nashville band / Best TRL appearance by a Nashville band: The Pink Spiders - Teenage Graffiti

Best local music I discovered here and around the US on tour:
Explorers Club, The Modern Skirts, The Empties, DJ Kidsmeal, Plex Plex, Ghostfinger

Favorite shows of the year:
1. Gabe Dixon Band, 12/31/06, Exit/In, Nashville, TN
2. The Privates, 12/16/06, The End, Nashville, TN

3. Mates of State, 4/2/06, The End, Nashville, TN
4. Sigur Ros, 2/14/06, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

5. Nashville Under the Covers, 9/13/06, Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN

Most anticipated records of 2007: The first quarter may be made a bit sweeter with new discs from The Shins, Cornelius, and all-time faves Air. Hopefully, the great new De Novo Dahl record will be released soon thereafter. Then (and if only upcoming records were as well-hyped as upcoming movies), come the heavyweights: Silverchair's follow up to their masterpiece Diorama, the return of the Smashing Pumpkins, and the seventh Radiohead album.

Your turn to talk: What were your favorite records, songs and shows of the year?


Syd said...

Holy mother of lists. You're outdoing yourself with all of this. Everyone---this is actually how Sam's brain works. He's like this.

Ok, so Charlotte Gainsbourg is in your top 10?!? You are such an Air-whore. And Mayer crowning in the top 5, even with the so-called "lesser tracks"?! Sam, those songs SUCK, they aren't just lesser songs and they drag the whole record down.

I'm working on my list now and man, we were just left with so little to work with this year, but there are some records you missed and probably just straight up didn't hear. For instance, Tom Petty's solo record which no hip friend of mine would ever put on (even ironically) but is one of his greatest, and Stars of Track and Field, another Snow Patrol/Coldplay-along UK act that may not even be from the UK--I've done ZERO homework on the record, but it's actually been one of my most-played. So,, it's not the worst year in music, but man, it's not the best. I'm actually really excited to listen to that Dears record, that falls on my never-got-around-to-it list--maybe cuz the last one was so fucking pretentious and disappointing to me. Maybe cuz I'm lazy, or maybe cuz I just moved. Whatever.

But let's just say 2007 is like whoa. My look-ahead records are much like yours Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, SILVERCHAIR.

Thoughts on Daniel John's "leak" that the album is more "dance-oriented"? Left turn into Disassociatives territory or horrible Panic! At The Disco moment?

Ok, so I think I just effectively started samsmyth.blogger.com/syd. Sorry about that. But you always make me excited about music---whether you're playing my drums or my skin flute Sam Smith you excite me.

here's to another year of obsessively collecting records.

Keith said...

I think Sean Lennon gets my favorite record of the year. I'm still disappointed that you found Jenny Lewis disappointing. And I thought the Guster record was their best ever, which is to say that it was halfway decent. There are 4 songs on it that I really like, and pretty much any album I get these days with that many songs I like is a winner in my book, sadly.

Malissa said...

I just love reading your reviews. This one was especially intriguing because music is such a huge part of my life. However, when I went back to review the year, I had not heard of (or taken the time to hear) half of the albums that were released. So in reality, I am definitely not as current on new or indie music as much as I would like to think.

When I first read that Guster made your disappointed list, my first reaction was “oh hell no“ but then I realized that you are right; That album is not one of my favorites and lacked the true Guster touch. I think I knew that the whole time but I just ignored it because I wanted to remain loyal to them. Maybe it’s because I had made peace with the idea that this was probably going to be their last album; that maybe they were just “cleaning out their mind” of all song ideas before they actually called it quits. I will admit, I didn’t like every song on this album and that is really hard for me to say.

Ben Kweller is freakin brilliant! He is probably one of the best kept secrets in the indie pop world. You described the album perfectly when you said it was okay the first listen through but you found yourself humming the songs the rest of the night. Anyone knows, if you can get your tune stuck in someone’s head, you have a hit.

The Fray is the one band that I want to turn off the radio when their song comes on, but I just can’t. I hear them at least 3 or 4 times a day on the radio. Although, I guess it doesn’t help that the only radio stations in the DFW area are top 40, country or tajono(sp).

I started to post my own favorites of 2006 but since it was a page and half, I went ahead and posted it on my myspace page. Instead of taking up space on your comments. Feel free to check it out if you are interested.

Steve said...

Yes! Finally someone else who doesn't get all the stupid TV on the Radio hype! I just don't understand why everyone around me seems to be all up in arms about this band... they are WAAAY over-hyped.

carligula said...

Alright Kweller!! I also had MoS at 3. Maybe if you had heard Wolfmother, we would have had the same top 3. Thommy and Phoenix also made the bottom half of my Top 10. Did I ever tell you you had great taste in music?

The Features will make my top local album list and I assume The Privates will, too, if I ever get my hands on it...

Jeff said...

I had a very sheltered year when it came to music and didn't get a lot of new stuff. I did, however, find some new bands i liked (Foreign Born and King of France jump to mind).
I had to do a top five list for singles and albums for '06 and had the following to add, in no particular order:
5 - Joshua Radin - We Were Here
4 - Ben Kweller - Ben Kweller
3 - Cold War Kids - Robbers and Cowards
2 - Two Gallants - What the Toll Tells
1 - Guster - Ganging Up on the Sun

5 - Two Gallants - Steady Rollin'
4 - Cold War Kids - We Used to Vacation
3 - Guster - One Man Wrecking Machine
2 - Rogue Wave - Publish My Love
1 - Death Cab for Cutie - I Will Follow You Into the Dark

I actually liked the Guster album, on the whole. But had i heard more new albums this year, i might have edged it out of a "Top 5" list.

Anonymous said...

strokes album ruled.
jenny lewis and the watson twins was good for a road trip.
can't get enough phoenix.
send me your 2006 mix and i'll send you mine.

love your blog myth

nate said...

yo sam!

nice list, dogg! i agree with much of it, disagree with some of it; but all in all a very nice. excellent writing with cool categories, and a lot of albums i've yet to discover.

i think the tv on the radio album is like a gilliam film -- people i know either love it or hate it. i fall on the side that loves it, and i still think there's at least a few tracks you could get into. also, though kweller isn't on my top ten this year, i wanted to thank you for getting me into the album. i spun 'sundress' on my radio show last week and gave you a shout.

here's my top ten real quick in case your interested. (from 10 to 1)

mew, adem, j.t., benoit poulard, tv on the radio, islands, phoenix, lupe fiasco, asobi seksu, belle and sebastian.

i also really like the new mojave 3 record, which almost but didn't quite make the list. i'm giving syd a run for the money on who gives you the longest comments!

Sam Smith said...

Syd, Nate, Keith, Jeff, Malissa, Vend2, Steve -- great having all you guys at my blog... please come back and chime in often!

Syd - Those songs do suck, and like I said, without them it would have gone to #1; with them it's stuck where it is. And I'll take a shitty John Mayer song over almost any song on the radio any day of the week. Also: You nailed it, I'm just an Air whore. And I love those wispy French girl singers, especially ones that are in Michel Gondry films. I listened to and liked Stars of Track and Field, but just never got to Tom Petty - I'm not too hip for it (please, I have John Mayer in my top five). Who knows about Silverchair, but I have faith it will be interesting, if not Diorama 2. How's your vinyl collection coming along?

Keith - to this day I am still perplexed by your taste; I can't figure it out. Friendly Fire is great, but #1 great? Rabbit Fur Coat is good, but not Rilo Kiley good (how pretentious can you get with the song title "Rise Up With Fists!!!"?) And I've always liked Guster, while you've always disliked them, so I'm stumped on our split. For me, the first Guster album with Joe Pisapia writing and producing should have been so much better: It's proof that when you add the two, Joe doesn't take Guster to the next level; Guster just waters Joe down.

Malissa - gimme that Top Ten!

Carl - I heard Wolfmother, I just didn't give it a full listen. It's fun, I just can't imagine it having lots of replay value. But I'll give it another fair chance, I definately appreciate it. And nice list; I love how similar ours are. And I hope we can dish on this stuff in person soon!

And Nate - nice list as well. So sorry I missed your Best of the Year radio show! Your 2006 mix got sent back to me but it will be back on its way shortly.

Steven - a Steven 06 Sampler? Can't wait.

I love you all.

Malissa said...

I tried to shorten it but I just felt I had to exlain each one. But here ya go, since you asked for it.

BTW, I loved the way you whored yourself out in the middle of your blog. I thought that was great (and rightfully deserved)!!

So following your forum, here is my review of this year’s music:

As close to ten as possible...
Death cab for cutie – I'll follow you into the dark (actually on Plan released in 2005): This song is amazing. I have heard it a million and one times and I still cry each time. This year they released a series of short films (videos) they called Directions that was inspired by their previous album. There were two videos made for this particular song. Although both are great, the one that is featured in Directions is just a tear jerker.

Two Gallants -What the toll tells: Just two good ole San Francisco boys that sound like they were picked up from the depression age and dropped into recent times. Their sound is not like any other. Las Cruces Jail is my favorite.

Joshua Radin – We were here: We first discovered him when his song Winter debuted on Scrubs. If you saw the episode where Dr. Cox's brother-in-law dies ( brenden fraiser ) then you will know what I am talking about.

Cold War Kids – Robbers and Cowards: We saw them at San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival in March. Their chaotic stage presence is so entertaining that you can't help but remember the show.

The Comfies - Close to me: I like what I have heard and can’t wait to hear more.

Best Shows: Rogue Wave at Noise Pop in March. The night before the show one of the band member’s father had passed and they dedicated the show to him. They all came out in white and they dedicated the last song (and the full show) to his father. I had heard that same song played several times before but it had never sounded like this. It was extremely touching.
Syd's live performance at Bate's. It was an honor to be invited and to be a part of this exclusive recording. I can't believe we almost missed this because of geographical hindrances.

The Whatnot – One more for pocket: I never like it when the second album sounds just like the first

Still in my everyday rotation but was released in 2005
Nada Surf – the weight is a gift

And my most anticipated release for 2007:

Syd- The way we found it

Adrian said...

Decemberists a let down? Really?

Raf said...

yeah john mayer is shit and i'm sure you could've found some other record to fill that spot.

yeah the guster record blew. joe makes them worse...or maybe guster just makes joe look bad. we will never know.

as for Sydeek's note on NO Cities Left...even the dears themselves hated how it was so produced and basically cut and pasted together. syd will probably like how the new one was done live. bon cabesa

silverchair will most likely blow. i did listen to diorama recently and it's really not all it's cracked up to be, but def. some moments.

i liked the first TV on the Radio album, but wasn't really crazy on the new one. i liked them live.

the watson twats ruined the jenny lewis record for me.

the pumpkins record will most likely blow since corgan hasn't written a good song in what seems a decade.

i didn't go through with it, but i almost listed The Comfies as one of my big disappointments of the year. is that wrong?

and also i ahte the word blog...please keep it to a minimum...i mean we're on a place called "blogger". it's enough. come home...lexington is boring.

Louis said...

Hi there. Just stumbled upon your blog when I found the movie posters entry.

Great, eclectic list. As someone from the UK I thought I should point you in the direction of Hot Chip and Richard Hawley, who both made the Mercury Award shortlist this year. Richard Hawley's album is the best of the year, for me.

Also a big fan of The Phoenix, Gomez, Breaks Co-Op, Jolie Holland, Belle & Sebastian, Thom Yorke and Gotan Project.

Interested to hear Ben Kweller though and Sufjan Stevens.

Sam Smith said...

Adrian -- yeah, as someone obsessed with fairy tales and folklore, the idea of the Decemberists doing a concept album based on a Japanese folk tale seemed like a frontrunner for my favorite album of the year. Other than the two "Crane Wife" tracks, it really didn't do much for me, and I think it kinda sounds unfinished. Like there were some overdubs needed to make it sound as epic as what they were going for. It's still pleasant to listen to and better than most, my expectations were just high.

Raf said...

when bands announce their next record will be a concept record...you know there's trouble. when bands are asked if it was there intention to make a concept record ..you know there's probably something good along the way. Radiohead's Ok Computer wasn't an intentional concept..it just all had to do with alienation and they think it's rubbish that it's a concept record to everyone else. I believe Kid A became a concept during the creation of the record which I appreciate. Only douchebags like Paul Mccartney make their band go into a studio to make a concept record. Sgt Pepper...wasn't really a concept album...just that song and reprise and the rest were just songs and just seemd to fit well together...thank god they didn't force themselves to go all the way with the Sgt. Pepper thing.

yeah...so i you're gonna have a concept record don't say you're going to have one. oterhwise you'll make some disappointing stuff. the end.

Sam Smith said...

I dunno Raf, I like "Rift" and "Tommy." Plus, I'm pretty sure Thom Yorke had in mind that both OK Computer and Kid A would be a concept albums, even if his other band members weren't in on it.

Jason M Jackowski said...


Thank you again. Yet another of your signature all-encompassing lists. Did you fail to mention a record you listened to/read about this year?

as always, our year-end picks differ widely, but are worthy of contrast and comparison.

Sean Lennon -- I still haven't heard this record. INTO THE SUN may be in my all time Top Ten, and I think you're the only person I know who loves that record on the same level as I do (okay, maybe not Top Ten). However, this is me nitpicking, I do take slight umbrage with you saying Sean fills his Dad's shoes. a John Lennon comes around once every millenia -- a Sean Lennon comes around once every seven years (I guess his initial signing with the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal company meant he'd be delivering records on the same schedule as the B-Boys). Still, looking forward to hearing this record thanks to your ringing endorsement.

I've got to say... post-Kid A Radiohead bores me. Sorry. by extention, so does Thom Yorker now. I'm sorry. Just had to get it off my chest.

I completely agree with your disappointment of Jenny Lewis' record, but completely disagree with your slight disappoint over Yo La Tengo's new record. There you've got a band with 20+ years behind them and still writing songs like their lives depend on it. "Sometimes I Don't Get You" sounds like a Burt Bacharach song. "Black Flowers" is the best Kinks song since the 1970s. And, have they ever written a song more gorgeous than "I Feel Like Going Home"?

"The Crane Wife" -- Honestly, give it one or two more shots. I was with you 110% until this past week. You know me, I hate overblown, overwritten prog-rock, but these guys manage to make it work somehow. Definitely not their best record, but a solid addition to their catalogue.

I'm squarely in the middle of the TV On The Radio debate. Half of their songs have me singing their praises, while the other half make me wonder how I got duped into listening to these overhyped, Williamsburg, U2/Peter Gabriel-wannabes. Check out their performance of "Wolf Like Me" from Conan and tell me they aren't worth keeping an eye on.

Dude, no mention of Cat Power???

Two omissions that I must speak to... no mention of Neko Case or Bonnie "Prince" Billy?

Bonnie "Prince" Billy (aka Will Oldham) recorded another batch of his beautifully melancholic songs this year in Iceland. On "The Letting Go" he's accompanied by a female vocalist and a string section. Easily his most streamlined and romantic recordings.

For my money, Neko Case made easily the best album of the year. Her songs are absolutely timeless. That voice. That fucking voice! It's exquisite. At times confident yet vulnerable; emotional yet completely stoic. I defy you to find a better song this year than "Star Witness."

oh yeah... and Robert Pollard recorded something like 60 songs (either on his own or with the Fading Captain Series) this year... maybe 15 or 20 of them great.

by the by -- Raf, I'm with you 110% on concept albums. they almost always suck if its a thought-out project (Decemberists being a rare exception).

and again, I agree with Raf. The new Silverchair record will blow completely. So the guys thought if they through strings into their songs that they might sound important -- big deal. the lyrics still suck (Tuna in the fucking brine -- come on?!). and, most rock-orchestra stuff really sucks (have you listened to a latter day Who album recently?!?! or better yet, Metallica S&M?!).

have I mentioned that 2006 wasn't a great year for music?


Raf said...

read interviews he hated the whole thing. concept records blows ass. tommy is a rock opera which i consider to be a lot different from a concept album. as for ok computer...a lot of those songs were written around the bends....lucky was written for a charity....no dice there. i had a nightmare and joanna newsom was in it. sound engineers should take her voice and sample it and put it in horror movies. i guarantee scares.

and straight up the WOrd Verification thing says "okxawmei"

Syd said...

I posted my top 10 here.

I couldn't keep Mayer out of mine, no matter how hard I tried. The list was pretty easy to make, there were only about 10 records I like this year.

2007 is already better: the new Shins album is totally incredible, and I don't even like them!