Shanghaiist asked its contributors (and a few “music people” in town) to list their five favorite albums released (or yet-to-be released) somewhere in the world in 2006. Got a list of your own? Submit your favorite 2006 music as a comment to this post. Enjoy!
Neil Yeung (no, not that Neil Young), Shanghaiist contributor
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones: On their latest LP, YYYs dug themselves out of the dank and metallic underground warehouse and emerged into the open air of the countryside, equipped with a more organic approach to things. Although they are breathing fresh air into their formula, Karen’s shrieks can still induce goosebumps, Nick’s guitar still produces frenzied wails, and Brian can still make you hop around with his pounding beats. Softer, tighter, and nicer this time around.
- The Sounds, Dying To Say This To You: Unabashed and without shame, The Sounds bring a heavy dose of 80’s-tinged party “punk” to the front in a way that will make you want to bring out those dancing shoes. Their pop sensibilities make their songs dangerously addictive in a guilty pleasure sort of way, but you shouldn’t worry about pretention: you’ll be having too much fun jumping around and pounding your fists in the air.
- The Vines, Vision Valley: The warm sunny days and bratty defiance found on their first two albums have been snuffed on this third effort after a rough few years of disease and band tensions. In their place, themes of death, sadness and introverted reflection that are bolstered by their signature mix of beautiful psychedelic ballads and raucous blasts of aggression. A worthy addition to a solid catalogue, but it sadly might end up being this young bands’ all-too-early swan song.
- Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: While they are probably not the saviors of modern rock as the British mags have dubbed them, the Arctic Monkeys’ fresh blast of rock energy will no doubt secure them on the majority of 2006’s “Best Of” lists. As the beats bounce, the rhythms swagger and the clever lyrics weave their way around your head, they might be able to convince you the hype is warranted. Not a bad debut from a group of young English guys who just learned to play their instruments.
- JJ輿縑豌,羚紱 (Cao Cao): Blending an ample dose of R&B, modern rock, and classical Chinese instruments, JJ has created a solid 4th effort that balances soft ballads and high-energy dance tracks reminiscent of American counterparts Justin Timberlake and Usher. The album’s titular first single is a nod to the Three Kingdom’s icon, which JJ turns into a powerful lament on loneliness and struggle. It’s heartening to see a Mandopop artist focus so heavily on the substance without forgetting how to hit you where it counts.
- Links: Yeah Yeah Yeahs Website, Show Your Bones Review, Yeah Yeah Yeahs on MySpace, Video for “Gold Lion”, The Sounds Website, Dying To Say This To You Review, The Sounds on MySpace, Video for “Song With A Mission”, The Vines Website, Vision Valley Review, The Vines on MySpace, Video for “Don’t Listen To The Radio”, Arctic Monkeys Website,Whatever People Say I Am… Review, Arctic Monkeys on MySpace, Video for “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”, Video for “Cao Cao”
Shamus Sillar, Shanghaiist contributor
- Brightblack Morning Light, Brightblack Morning Light: I grew up surrounded by hippies and loathed most of them, but I’ll reassess the relationship if I continue hearing music like this: swampy guitar lines backed by shimmering layered vocals and a languid Fender Rhodes. It’s all very same-ish but who’d want anything different?
- Hilltop Hoods, The Hard Road: Nothing earth-shattering has burst out of the Down Under box this year, but the Hilltops can hold their hip-hop heads high with this tasty release. Great beats, fluid flows and a beery sense of Aussie humour.
- Howe Gelb, ‘Sno Angel Like You: There’s always been something of Lou Reed in the sound of Howe Gelb, but now that he’s added a “Walk On The Wild Side” gospel chorus to his meandering Americana, the comparison grows in strength.
- Thom Yorke, The Eraser: Despite the undeniable greatness of OK Computer, I find myself playing Kid A ten times more often. So it’s no real surprise that I love the excursions into blippery which constitute The Eraser, the debut solo release by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
- DragonForce, Inhuman Rampage: It’s not often you hear an album that’s both astonishing and cheesy. This extreme power-metal outfit from the UK is fronted by brutally talented guitarist Herman Li, and if you can stomach the hobbit-laden lyrics, you’ll love DragonForce’s frenetic, 80s-inspired riff-o-rama.
- Links: Brightblack Morning Light website, Reviews of Brightblack Morning Light, Brightblack Morning Light album stream, Hilltop Hoods website, Review of The Hard Road, Interview with the Hilltop Hoods, Howe Gelb website, Reviews of ‘Sno Angel Like You, Review of The Eraser, The Eraser website, Promo interview: Thom Yorke talks about The Eraser, DragonForce website, Review of Inhuman Rampage, MP3 for “Through the Fire and Flames”, Video for “Through the Fire and Flames”
Brad Ferguson, co-producer of GigShanghai.com
The best debut albums of 2006 …so far
- Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been written in countless other reviews? Arctic Monkeys aren’t the first or even the best of the chunky Brit-pop bands, but they’re certainly made the biggest impression on the rock scene this year. As a bonus, in a race to capitalize on their success, we’ve been treated to some good debuts from bands such as The Kooks, Mystery Jets, The Rakes, Test Icicles, and We Are Not Scientists.
- Howling Bells, Howling Bells: I’ll skip the inevitable comparisons to PJ Harvey and just say that Juanita Stein, the Howling Bells vocalist, can sing — from the haunting melody of “A Ballad For Broken Hearts” and smoky blues of “Broken Bones” to the powerful single “Low Happening,” nearly every track on this album is perfect.
- Infadels, We Are Not the Infadels: There’s so much going on here it’s hard to categorize without resorting to a dozen hyphens, but we’ll just call it disco punk-funk for now. The Infadels have received mixed reviews, alternately praised and dismissed for sounding too retro, but their catchy combination of synth-pop and electronic rock is pure dancefloor fun.
- Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet: Possibly the first real punk album of the 21st century (send all opposing opinions to editor at shanghaiist.com), Be Your Own Pet rocks Ramone’s-esque power chords from start to finish — although, with a run time of just 30 minutes that finish comes a little too early.
- Wolfmother, Wolfmother: While die hard classic rock fans may cling to their old albums, this Australian group’s self-titled debut proves that even with Jack White off working on his supergroup, The Raconteurs, there are still others keeping the legacy of bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple alive.
- Links: Arctic Monkeys website, Howling Bells website, Infadels website, Be Your Own Pet website, Wolfmother website
The Antidote, Shanghai underground DJ collective
Each member chooses one favorite of 2006 … so far
- Cut Chemist, The Audience’s Listening: This long-time collaborater with DJ Shadow and the Jurrasic 5, has produced my favorite hip hop album of the year. Brilliant cut and scratch edits that become finger-snapping dance floor ready funk bombs! (picked by Ozone)
- Radio Pyongyang, Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom: This great compilation album from North Korea contains synth pop, children rap, traditional folk, revolutionary rock and others. For me it’s like amazing toybox! Check out other series of this label at sublimefrequencies.com. (picked by AMNJK)
- Claude Vonstroke, Beware Of The Bird: This is the album I have listened to most this year. (picked by B6)
- Various, Qwartz Compilation Edition 2 (Label: TRAD.D): Just feel this music. Good feeling! I love the feeling. Music feeling! (picked by Emcore)
- B6, Box: Our very own B6! Buy his box set! (picked by MHP)
Evans, co-host of GigShanghai.com
- The Strokes, First Impression of the Earth: An awfully good album. More wiser and better lyrics than the previous album Is This It, and still the same giddy rush of excitement. As a shimmering guitar opens the album, every song can be the song of the year. Julian Casablances’ lazy-sounding voice is always sexy and pits perfectly to their tune. Few band nowadays has a singer who can actually sing.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones: A decent garage album. The melodic direction might disappoint some fans, but musically this album is fine as hell. “Gold Lion”, the first track of the album, is a thrilling hit while “Phenomena” can be THE track of all the songs they have done.
- Muse, Black Holes And Revelations: The biggest album title you can get. Emotional notes, distorted voice, orchestral synth make a sinister-sounding band. This is the reason why their music is so catchy, but also the reason why they never get as popular as they should be. The peak of the album? The breath-taking piano of Bellamy’s. That’s what completes a Muse album and makes the band genius.
- Tool, 10,000 Days: Let me list a few things you will find in this album: echno-laden bass riff, the mellow sound of a man, less cynical lyrics (mind you, still more cynical than most other artists), attacking media sensationalism… This album is a festival.
- The Vines, Vision Valley: This album is a super-surprise after the band announced their “holidays”. Being a collision of Nirvana and Sex Pistols, this band has been so immature, but now they have come along. We love their energy and their insist on what they play and what all people should be playing. It’s just Craig is born in the wrong time.
A. Robb Spitzer, partner at China West Entertainment
- Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere: Danger Mouse & Cee-Lo mix soul, funk, jazz, rap, and rock into the feel-good record of the year that you can’t help but enjoy!
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium: 28 sublime, subliminal, funked-up rock tracks that carry the trademark RHCP sound, but find them venuturing into overt punk, pop-psychedelia, and occasional restrained ballads.
- Sergio Mendes, Timeless: Brilliantly produced by Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am, Sergio Mendes — the bandleader of Brazil ’66 — reworks bumpin’ bossa beats and chilled out dance steps with featured artists including Erykah Badu, Justin Timberlake, India.Arie, Q-Tip, John Legend, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, and members of the Roots and Jurassic 5.
- Johnny Cash, A Hundred Highways: In the final chapter from Johnny Cash, and fifth album with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, the man in black dishes out his last portion of aged wisdom and emotional mileage with all the gloomy sincerity that made him a legend.
- Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The SeegerSessions: The Boss and a dozen pals — essentially Conan O’Brien’s band — interpret American folk legend Pete Seeger, channeling down-home stomps, earnest bluegrass, and dissatisfaction with American politics.
Aric Queen, host of GigShanghai.com
- Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, All The Roadrunning: Mark has always been country (despite that headband he wore in the “Walk of Life” video) and Emmylou simply is country. Their collaboration speaks for itself.
- Blue October, Foiled: Hard as it was to follow their two releases (debut was penned while lead singer was committed in a psych ward), these Dallas rockers (avec tuxedo clad violinist) came through. Whether or not being picked up on the American Pie 3 soundtrack is a good thing is still up for discussion.
- Snow Patrol, Eyes Open: Just a brilliant fucking album. Unfairly grouped with the OC soundtrackers, this Irish fivesome combined a church-choir-like backing with strong chords — all the while staying away from pretentious lyrics.
- The Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not: Should pretty much speak for itself — it’s the Mank Movement all over again, sans Shaun Ryder spitting on people.
- Matisyahu, Youth: Hasidic and a rapper. That should warrant at least some mention in the top five. For those that don’t believe, listen to his live show at Stubbs.
Dan Washburn, Shanghaiist editor
- The Starlight Mints, Drowaton: I got a weird look at the gym the other day because of this album. So I was singing on the elliptical machine — what’s wrong with that? This is infectious, catchy orchestral pop from the first place you think of when you hear the phrase “infectious, catchy orchestral pop” — that’s right, Oklahoma.
- Tapes ‘n Tapes, The Loon: I am going to try very hard not to say this debut album out of Minneapolis sounds like Pavement for the 21st century. Whew. Glad I didn’t say that. Listening to this album makes me wish I was drunk in a dirty bar. That is probably some kind of warning sign.
- Band of Horses, Everything All The Time: If you have been accused of listening only to “whiny indie rock” and you haven’t heard this album yet, then you, my friend, are no fan of “whiny indie rock”! I have listened to this album more than any other in the first half of 2006, but I have not listened to it much recently. Not sure why.
- Jason Collett, Idols of Exile: This not-quite-alt-country release from the Broken Social Scene member (seriously, name someone from Canada who isn’t in that group) is so relaxed and easy to listen to it scares the shit out of me: Does liking this mean I really am officially an old man? Have I totally lost my edge? And then Collett throws in a lyric like “I love it when my girlfriend calls me a cock-sucking faggot” — and I feel a little bit better about myself.
- Built to Spill, You in Reverse: Built to Spill and I go way back, so I put them here partly due to nostalgia. You in Reverse isn’t as good as the band’s previous efforts, but it is solid — and the opening track “Goin’ Against Your Mind” kicks so much ass it would make this list on its own. It’s an 8-minute 42-second song you never want to end.
- Links: Drowaton reviews, Starlight Mints official site, Starlight Mints @ Barsuk, The Loon reviews, Tapes ‘n Tapes official site, Tapes ‘n Tapes @ MySpace, Everything All The Time reviews, Band of Horses @ MySpace, Band of Horses official site, Idols of Exile reviews, Jason Collett @ Arts&Crafts, You in Reverse reviews, Built to Spill @ MySpace, Built to Spill official site