Okay. Music was released in the past 365 days [or there abouts]. And since this is my blog, I’m going to give you my opinion as to what the best of it was.
My top ten, in no particular order:
TOM WAITS — "ORPHANS: BRAWLERS, BAWLERS & BASTARDS"
This is ridiculous. Every time this guy releases an album, it's, at the very least, outstanding. Often it's groundbreaking. Usually it's genius. And this time around, he casually put out a three-disc set — the sort of thing that’s usually reserved for retrospectives and The Clash, when they decide they want to put out “Sandinista.” And “Sandinista” was pretty uneven. “Orphans” is pretty damn close to perfect. I recommend paying close attention to his rendition of “Heigh Ho,” which he first recorded about 20 years ago. Those dwarfs were pretty fucking creepy and he sings it accordingly. Other than that, it’s just Tom Waits being Tom Freakin' Waits. And that, ladiies and gentlemen, is a very, very good thing.
BELLE & SEBASTIAN — "THE LIFE PURSUIT"
I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for about ten years now, and they’ve almost never let me down. [Check out “The Boy With The Arab Strap.”] When I heard they had a new album coming, I just figured they were going to do the same thing they'd done in their past couple albums. And by "past couple albums," I mean "entire career." Not that that was bad. But this time around, they replaced delicate melodies with volume. I’d always presumed that it never would have worked. I was wrong. Sue me. G'head. G'head. My counsel says you don't have a leg to stand on.
SUFJAN STEVENS — "THE AVALANCHE"
Last year, Sufjan Stevens put out “Come On Feel the Illinoise!” which was probably the best of 2005. This year he released its outtakes. How is it possible that an album of outtakes can be this good? I ask you, how? HOW???? Don’t answer. It was rhetorical. No, really, how is it possible? Answer me. Why is it every time we start talking about this, you find an excuse to leave the room? What about MY needs? Is it too much to ask you to listen to ME once in a while?? Y’know what? Forget it. I’m moving to Fresno to live with my parents.
NEKO CASE — "FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD"
I'm a big fan of this one for several reasons. The first being that the tracks are just plain great. The second being that Neko Case has an outstanding voice. Maybe the second-best around. I say “second-best” because of the third reason this CD is so good. One of her backing vocalists on this one is Rachel Flotard of the band Visqueen, who, for my money, has the best female voice in rock. [Buy Visqueen’s catalogue on iTunes.] The combination of the two voices is deadly.
MIDLAKE — THE TRIALS OF VAN OCCUPANTHER
Not much to say about this one, except, damn! I mean… damn! A friend of mine sent me one of their tracks with the message, “this is your new favorite band.” And even though that’s not quite accurate…. DAMN.
CAT POWER — "THE GREATEST"
Ms. Marshall has put together a yet another package of songs. It's hard to top "We Are Free," but this one comes close. One thing, though: if you have a seizure disorder, treat the cover art like it's the sun. Reflective hot pink. Smart thinkin'.
JOHNNY CASH — "AMERICAN V: A HUNDRED HIGHWAYS"
The first music I can recall as a kid was Johnny Cash. I think it was “Live At San Quentin.” My dad has always been a huge fan. Anyhow, this one is an excellent farewell gift from the Man in Black. Worth it for "God's Gonna Cut You Down" alone. As much as I love his earliest work, an argument can be made that some of his best recordings were made in the last dozen years of his life. There’s something about the fragility of his voice that elevates the emotion and the meaning of the tracks.
CAMERA OBSCURA — "LET'S GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY"
Phil Spector's wall of sound meets kilts, haggis, and the Loch Ness Monster. That big, shiny sound hasn't sounded this great in years. Infectious tracks, seamless production. Camera Obscura used to be the stepsister to Belle & Sebastian. Not anymore. If you like hooky, smart songs, this is the CD for you. If you don't, I recommend Dave Mathews. Why? Because he blows. [Hey, I just calls 'em like I sees 'em. Admit it. You agree.]
BOB DYLAN — "MODERN TIMES"
There’s a reason Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan. It’s because he’s Bob Dylan. I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to the bands of the 60’s putting out new music today. I don’t think age should make a damn bit of difference. That said, it’s safe to say none of them is exactly in danger of topping anything they did in their collective prime. Nevertheless, I give ‘em a shot. Then there’s Bob Dylan [who, by coincidence is Bob Dylan]. I’m not a Dylan fanatic. But I do like him quite a bit. I own most of his albums; I actually like his voice; I think “Like A Rolling Stone” was one of the most important songs of the 60’s and it was a ballsy song to play at the Newport Folk Festival. But I’m not a student of the guy. HOWEVER! This album is tremendous. It’s a shining example of why Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of any era. [In other words, why he's Bob Dylan.] Even if you don’t like him, chances are, you’ll love this one. It would be the best of the year, were it not for…
TV ON THE RADIO — "RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN"
...this tremendous work of art. Okay. I lied. I guess there is SOME order to this list, because I’m ending with the very best of the year. This CD is remarkably good and unexpected. Completely different than any other album on this list. It’s a brilliant album front to back. And I’m proud to say that it features the track "A Method," which I used in the "Chloe" project. In fact, it's featured in the key scene. And I’m forever grateful to TVOTR. Hats off, gentlemen. Buy this. Now. Go to iTunes and buy it.
THE DECEMBERISTS — "THE CRANE WIFE"
Their first major label effort — often just what a band needs in order to suck. This one manages to escape sucking, and then some.
MORRISSEY — "RINGLEADER OF THE TORMENTORS"
I thought "You Are the Quarry" was great. This one is better. Plus, it has the lyric, "Take anyone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania just spare me." He hates Pittsburgh because we/they bitch about him. The problem is that we/they bitch about him because he always cancels shows there. But it still makes for a great lyric.
YO LA TENGO — "I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU AND I WILL BEAT YOUR ASS"
Great CD, but an even better title.
BAND OF HORSES — "EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME"
The track "Funeral" is featured in "I Remember Chloe" because… because… well, because I like it. This is a good'un. Buy it and you'll be happy.
ELVIS COSTELLO — "MY FLAME BURNS BLUE"
I had no choice. It’s Declan McManus and he’s gonna make the list no matter what.