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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lars's Favorite Discoveries & Reissues of 2006

So here's the last of the year-end features. I was going to do a meta-list (a list of my favorite lists) like last year, but decided that was silly, boring, and redundent. BUT I absolutely must point out my favorite two: "A Few Sac-Ripping Cassettes of 2006" by Emerson Dameron and Webhamster Henry's Top 10 Imaginary Recordings of 2006, both hilarious fake lists, the first being a gut-busting take on Aaron Dilloway's own particular brand of gonzo noise criticism.

Anyway, here are the new-to-me discoveries and favorite reissues of 2006:

Twink- Think Pink [Polydor, 1970; Akarma, 2001]
I spent a good part of early 2006 listening to late '60s and early '70s psychedelic music, but it was Twink (née John Alder) that became an obsession. At this point, drummers weren't exactly an integral part of the songwriting process, but when you listen the many UK psych records to which he contributed (The Pretty Things- S.F. Sorrow, Tomorrow- Tomorrow, The Pink Fairies- Neverneverland, The Deviants- Ptooff!, all landmarks of the early UK scene) and then listen to the records the same bands recorded after he left, Twink's influence is obvious. His warped sense of the pop aesthetic sculpted the sound of UK psych and would even inspire the likes of Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan without ever being properly recognized. Think Pink is an acid-psych masterpiece on all accounts with the freakiest folk freak-outs and the fuzzed-to-hell electric guitar trips. Probably one the most revelatory discoveries for me in the last few years.

Roy Harper- Stormcock [Resurgent, 1971; Science Friction, 2001]
I asked John Fernandes (yes, of Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System fame - it's not really name-dropping if you saw him every other day) what record I should pick up last time I was at Wuxtry in Athens and he went straight for this one. "I heard some of your songs and thought you might really dig this, man," and then John bounced around like John bounces around when he gets really excited about a record. (How I miss talking music with John!) I don't know how Harper at all reminded him of my own music, but I've certainly moved more this way since owning Stormcock. Epic, yet intimate progressive folk music with songs seven to thirteen minutes in length that brings together Pink Floyd’s Meddle and Bert Jansch's late '60s material. One of the few records I actually just sit and listen to.

Patty Waters- Patty Waters Sings [ESP-Disk', 1965; ESP-Disk', 2002]
Phillip actually gave me a CDR promo for Waters's Complete ESP-Disk' Recordings, but I forgot that I had it and bought Sings at Tower Records's massive "going out of business" sale (15 CDs for $70? Amazing). No matter, I like to support the label when I can, even if it was only $3. Of course, it's important to mention her thirteen-minute vocal freak-out on "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" that's as disturbing as it is powerful, but I'm especially attracted to her more vocal/piano jazz songs that are deceptively simple and "traditional." They’re downright haunting, almost scary, as if Waters stalks the subjects in "Why Can't I Come to You" and "You Loved Me."

The Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble- Drumdance to the Motherland [Dogtown, 1972; Eremite, 2006]
The mere mention of the following words will make any jazz collector salivate: "long-lost" and "out-jazz." I thank Dusted Magazine for turning me onto this once rare piece of black psychedelic jazz. The opening cut alone rivals the ambient dub-noise of Human Animal (Wolf Eyes) with live reverb manipulation that swarms with bass clarinet and endless drums. In addition to being the most spaced-out free-jazz record this side of Sun Ra, Drumdance roots itself in African tribal rhythms as well as funk; thus, maybe creating the first dub-funk-free-jazz exploration (?). I delightfully grin every time I put it on. Love love this one.

Julie Tippetts- Sunset Glow [Utopia, 1975; Disconforme, 2004]
I listened to many Julie Driscoll/Tippetts albums in 2006 (notably, Streetnoise with Brian Auger, an amazing jazz/folk-rock album) in as close as a chronological order as I could follow. Her transition from a semi-pop-star to a free-jazz vocalist is a fascinating trajectory and it's on Sunset Glow that she's right in the middle. She began to experiment with improvisation, breath control, and phrasing, all of which would be fully realized with her husband, Keith Tippett, but on Sunset Glow she's still in a psych-rock and pop/folk format. The songs are modal allowing the remarkable line-up of musicians (members of the Canterbury avant-rock scene) as well as Julie to freely improvise on the loose score. In five minutes, she’ll seamlessly move from a soft coo to vocal acrobatics without breaking a sweat. If anything, I’m floored by the life-affirming handclaps in "What Is Living" every time.

Harvey Milk- Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men [Reproductive, 1997; Relapse, 2006]
Harvey Milk- Anthem DVD [Chunklet, 2006]
2006: Year of the Milk. Seriously. Preceding Special Wishes in September (my #2 album of the year), the Athens trio saw a re-release of the most confounding metal record of the '90s (Courtesy) and the already essential (and quickly out of print) Anthem DVD, a three-hour live concert documentary with performances from their humble barn-burner punk beginnings in 1994 to the unrelenting and emotional sludge of the band's reunion in 2005. The album, revered among its fans as the definite Harvey Milk release, is as weird as all of the metal freaks at Aquarius Records say it is: long passages of purposefully repetitive doom-metal riffs (to the point of no longer resembling metal at all), creepy piano passages, early '90s indie-rock aping, classic-rock guitar solos gone haywire, thick, disgusting & distorted sludge, an uncomfortable (in a good way) take on Leonard Cohen's "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong," and Creston Spiers's unmistakable bone-jaw howl. I don't how successful this particular reissue has been, but I hope that in light of all the doom and drone-metal craze, that some metal and/or avant-garde kids are taking to the Milk. Courtesy was way ahead of its time and, in many ways, still is. Here's to hoping that 2007 will see reissues of My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be and The Pleaser and the much-rumored new line-up of Harvey Milk including metal-weirdo visionary Joe Preston (as long as he just plays bass and doesn’t sing, I’m nuts about this).

David Crosby- If I Could Only Remember My Name [Atlantic, 1971; Atlantic/Rhino, 2006]
I literally just started listening to David Crosby's first solo record last week (thanks to an NPR "Song of the Day" feature), so I'm not all that well-acquainted with it, yet. My knowledge of Crosby extends to his time in The Byrds, but I have the feeling it's high-time (heh) for me to explore his work in CSN&Y, too. Totally lazy/hazy Californian psychedelic-folk/rock with cosmic electric guitar work by Jerry Garcia.

Kath Bloom- Finally [Chapter Music, 2006]
It's more than appropriate that Kath Bloom sees the collection treatment the same year as Loren Connors (Night Through, #7 on my top 30 list) as she spent the first half of the '80s as his vocal collaborator (rumor has it that Chapter Music will reissue those long out-of-print records, too!). Those collaborations were more on the avant-garde side of things with Bloom’s sinewy vocals wrapping around Connors's abstract blues. Finally collects from the straight folk and country career that Bloom's followed when she picked up the guitar again in the late '90s, but it's her uncharacteristic vocal style that leads you strangely in. Her voice warbles with an alto vibrato that trails off with sorrow like on the heartbreaking "A Homeless Dream" or "Forget About Him."

Josef K- Entomology [Domino, 2006]
Best-of treatment for the early '80s Scottish post-punk band with the 'tude of Gang of Four and the pop sensibilities of The Cure. The rhythm section is standard (funky bass, danceable drums), but necessary to ground the band because if this was a guitar duo, it'd be like Sonny Sharrock's overdubbed solo Guitar album for the new-wave. Man, the guitar work is totally out there with a matching vocalist to boot. Favorite song of the moment: "Chance Meeting [Postcard 7" Version]" (love the horns at the end, very unexpected).

Karen Dalton- In My Own Time [Just Sunshine, 1971; Light In The Attic, 2006]
I get miffed when someone suggests that because a musician doesn't write his/her own material that it's automatically of lesser value. Off the top of my head, I could rattle off ten names from the jazz pantheon alone that often out-shine the original songwriters for the hits which they are known. Jazz vocalists, Billie Holiday in particular, are a good reference point for Karen Dalton, a shy singer coming out of the late '60s folk revival. Unlike her debut, an acid-folk-rock record recorded unbeknownst to her, In My Own Time is a more country-tinged affair with a full-on electric band. Like Bob Dylan, who counts Dalton's voice as one of his favorites, she got flack for going electric, but when you listen to her interpretations of soul and traditional folk songs, there's absolutely no other way she could have gone about it. Listening to Time, I have to wonder if Chan Marshall (Cat Power) wasn’t profoundly influenced by Dalton as both radically reinterpret classics to the point where the songs are so different that they’re almost unrecognizable and newly canonized.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Lars's Top 30 Albums of 2006

Sparing you the lengthy introductions that often accompany these lists, I must preface this by mentioning that the top ten are solidly-placed. #11-#30 are up for position moving at any time because some days that NOMO record is better than Return to Cookie Mountain. It's just how I work.

Also, I'd be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge Pink by Japanese heavy-rockers Boris. They put out one of heckuva rock album that really gets me going, but it wasn't released state-side until this year. I heard it in '05 when it came out and, well, I never know what to do in those cases. Needless to say, recognition is due.

On with it!

01. Scott Walker- The Drift [4AD]
There is literally nothing like The Drift. No concrete precedent exists for its simultaneously flat and three-dimensional sound palette – a canvas being the best image to compare, albeit one of truthful horror. The architectural compositions of Iannis Xenakis give us something to work from, but even that's an intangible source. The "blocks of sound" are meticulously, and some would say, maliciously placed with long sweeps of strings, dark Ennio Morricone guitar, unconventional percussion (e.g.: a slab of meat), horrible silence, and Walker's voice, a fascinating, piercing instrument of its own. And the pulsating tension never gives way. The oddly compelling thing about The Drift is that despite its impenetrability it is overwhelmingly human. Such an ambitious and seemingly antagonistic work both presents and attempts to answer the purpose of music as the only genuine form of human expression. Nothing's explicitly laid out, mind you, but the subtext lies in these blocks of sound, of the bleak human condition in which the only way Walker can relate is through the death and dying bodies of Elvis Presley's twin brother and Benito Mussolini. For many years to come, The Drift is an album that will continue to dialogue with our conscious, even those unwilling to speak back.
This is the blurb I wrote for the Tiny Mix Tapes Top 25 Albums of 2006 article.

02. Harvey Milk- Special Wishes [Troubleman Unlimited/Megablade]
Special Wishes carries the gut-wrenching resonance I’ve always felt a heavy record should. It’s no coincidence that Harvey Milk occasionally covers a man of such emotional intensity as Leonard Cohen because the band’s detuned heaviness is not one for the sake of being heavy, but one that’s burdened and aching.
See my full review.

03. Josephine Foster- A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing [Locust]
I defer completely to Phillip’s exceptionally written review on this one. Out of all the neo-folkies, Foster’s actually doing something powerfully unique.

04. Joanna Newsom- Ys [Drag City]
I didn’t *hate* Milk-Eyed Mender, per se, or necessarily dislike it, but I certainly couldn’t digest it all in one sitting for all the excessive preciousness given in three-minute spurts. Then the 24 year-old harp-slinging elf comes out with a five-track, 55-minute concept album about… well, something to do with the title (pronounced “eese,” by the way) and I instantly take to it (hrm, what does that say about me?). Her compositions are stunningly crafted, then accentuated by Van Dyke Parks’s lush orchestral arrangements. And just when it goes over the top, Newsom magically grounds the song to earth. My love for Ys was confirmed tenfold when I saw it performed by a five-piece Appalachian folk ensemble. Someone please release a live recording of this past tour.

05. Califone- Roots & Crowns [Thrill Jockey]
Califone's been at the "New Weird America" folk movement longer than most. In fact, they were abstracting American music years before the annoying term was even coined. The trend has thankfully had its perks for the band and Roots & Crowns happens to be the most fully realized and exciting Califone album to date. It's spindly, alternate universe backporch-folk with some of the best modern interpretations of the Beach Boys sound ("Spider's House," for example) that I've ever heard. Love love love this one. I can't recommend it enough.

06. Keith Fullerton Whitman- Lisbon [Kranky]
Not too often you’ll find a live album on my year-end list, but then again, KFW has been on these lists for the last couple of years, so I can’t imagine one without him! I read somewhere (might’ve even been Whitman himself) that compares Lisbon’s musical arc to Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way, which, in some abstract way, makes complete sense (or at least makes for a great listening exercise). Whitman’s “playthroughs” system (to put it very simply, an acoustic guitar run through a laptop) sees a 45-minute exploration that brilliantly unfolds and deconstructs on itself around the 30-minute mark. Blows my mind every time.

07. Loren Connors- Night Through [Family Vineyard]
Essential 3xCD collection of his 7"s, compilation tracks, private CD-Rs, and plenty of extras. The attraction to his solo guitar work (and collaborations with partner/vocalist Suzanne Langille) comes in how one can visually hear Connors’s fingers on the fretboard, on the strings themselves. He stretches notes with a violently delicate vibrato both solo and in the on/off-again psych/stoner-rock band Haunted House (two unreleased jams presented here). One can see the notes right next to each other, like Mark Rothko’s paintings who Connors considers his greatest influence. The music is spare and simple, even at its most distorted, but intense and full of texture.
See my full review.

08. Juana Molina- Son [Domino]
Of the 30 albums on this list, four are solo female artists. All four reside in the top 10. Just realized that now. Anyway, this one in particular was a fast favorite, though very much a sleeper hit for most. The Argentine always seems to get positive press, but never much of a concrete fan-base, which is a shame because her organic/electric folk music (acoustic guitar with live loops and manipulation) is even more pronounced live. Son’s a bit more subtle in its electronic textures than past albums and shows off Molina’s songwriting.

09. Comets On Fire- Avatar [Sub Pop]
Cathedral was my #2 album of 2004, but whereas their Sub Pop debut was one of an endless cave of reverberating psychedelic freak-outs, Avatar is its bluesy, jazzier companion with honest-to-goodness songs and blue-eyed soul vocals. Is Sub Pop slowly taming its wilder roster (Wolf Eyes being the other) into some alternate pop universe? Might be one of the few shady Sub Pop business practices I can get behind! Hrmmm, who should they tame next?

10. Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood [Anti-]
Full disclosure: I actually bought this album because Kelly Hogan sings backing vocals on it (please, please, Kelly, record a new album!), but quickly fell for the Playboy-nominated female-indie-hottie’s spirit of the Grand Ole Opry. Not that it’s actually country or even “alt-country,” just that Neko’s recorded something heartbreakingly timeless.

11. Current 93- Black Ships Ate the Sky [Durtro]
It is on Black Ships Ate the Sky that David Tibet finally realizes the vision he began with Thunder Perfect Mind (1992), a gothic folklore that's achieved an underground mythology, a sound that is both harrowing and delicate. Loosely framed around eight versions of "Idumea" sung by eight different vocalists (Antony, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and Shirley Collins, to name a few), a song about God's judgment on the Edomites written by Charles Wesley in 1763, the album's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Well, at least in the narrative Tibet's built out of his reoccurring "black ships" dreams that challenge our conceptions of the sacred and the profane. The thing is, like David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower, Woven Hand), Tibet presents a God that's to be feared for His power to redeem, so his profanity becomes sacred. Once again, an outstanding cast of musicians joins him: newcomers Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and drone master William Basinski as well as the usual suspects Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) and Michael Cashmore. The guitar interplay between Chasny and Cashmore is particularly inspired: it drones with impending death in its strings, yet retains a redemptive melody like an Orthodox liturgy. Tibet's half-sung/half-spoken delivery has finally found its rightful accompaniment.
This is the blurb I wrote for the Tiny Mix Tapes Top Eureka Albums of 2006 article.

12. Wolf Eyes- Human Animal [Sub Pop]
The poster boys of noise writing actual songs? It’s not the definitive statement modern noise has waited for, but Wolf Eyes is getting there. Expect to hear more folks follow suit in 2007.

13. Rafael Toral- Space [Staubgold]
I’m actually still wrapping my head around this one, especially since I’m queued to write a review for TMT, but given the position on this list, it’s obvious that Space has struck me. The Lisbon experimental guitar pioneer ditches the six-string for his “space program,” an electronics-based medium that realizes a kind of space-jazz neither Bill Dixon nor even Sun Ra could have possibly imagined.

14. Liars- Drum's Not Dead [Mute]
Amazing what a change of location can do to a band. Germany turned these mediocre dance-punk Brooklynites into an emotionally compelling avant-rock band.

15. TV On the Radio- Return to Cookie Mountain [Interscope/4AD]
Am I little upset that TVOTR didn’t lay down as many sweet doo-woppin’ harmonies on their major label debut? Yeah, but it’s still one helluva rock album, one that still has a lot of soul behind it. I still have to ask, though: Trent Reznor? Really?

16. Marc Leclair- Musique pour 3 femmes enceintes [Mutek]
What I imagine Keith Fullerton Whitman would sound like recording a minimalist/ambient techno album (although he probably did). I love the story Leclair evokes through his instrumental concept album about pregnancy: the music develops more “life” as the album progresses and almost goes all-out “pop” (gross) once Musique’s child is born.

17. Create (!)- A Prospect of Freedom [Sounds Are Active]
I think a large part of why I never wrote about A Prospect of Freedom was because I was listening to it at a dark point in my life (this, by the way, is one of the few times I’ll be this personal on this blog): fresh out of college, spiritually decrepit, discouraged by unemployment, uncertain about my future, and generally doing a whole lot of nothing during the day. In many ways, Create (!)’s third album, a study in patience and meditation, was my musically inspiring grace during this time. I imagine someone could have had the same experience with Pharoah Sanders’ Jewels of Thought or Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock (both of which are good reference points for Freedom) when these albums were first released.

18. Xasthur- Subliminal Genocide [Hydra Head]
Unlike most of his black metal companions and influences, Malefic places his emphasis on atmosphere, an oppressive, funeral-paced, lo-fi descent. Guitar riffs are obscured by multiple washes of murky, buzzing distortion (riffs almost post-rock in their deliberate choices), gothic keyboards and synthesized choirs overtake the drone, and drums, if audible or even present, are only there to establish a basic rhythm.
See my full review.

19. Jack Rose- Jack Rose [aRchive]
Beautiful lap slide guitar album that, I believe, is already sold out of its 1000-copy limited pressing. Probably the best musician and songwriter of the emerging experimental folk guitarists looking back to the Takoma Records (John Fahey, et. al.) hey-day.

20. Herbert- Scale [!k7]
Herbert may not have broken through on his most accessible electronic-pop album to date, but he still made a more cohesive and exciting release than Hot Chip and Junior Boys.

21. The Goslings- Grandeur of Hair [aRchive]
Noise for people who don’t like noise: The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat re-imagined as distorted, droning bliss.

22. Melted Men- Rotten Hut Florist [Nerve Rust]
Besides having my favorite cover artwork of 2006, the Athens, GA wacky noise-sters finally manage to record an album that captures the bizzaro performance art of their live shows. It’s like fractured, broken-beatz hip-hop by the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ with lots of gongs and other assorted gamelan instrumentation. Yeah, that’s probably the best description I can muster.

23. Andrew Hill- Time Lines [Blue Note]
Hill’s third return to the legendary Blue Note label is nothing short of a minor jazz miracle. The pianist has never released a bad album, but he’s definitely been mining the same material over and over again in his older years. The compositions are meticulous, but never feel constrained. One of the essential jazz records of 2006.

24. Ali Farka Toure- Savane [Nonesuch]
King of the Desert Blues’ final album recorded in his native Mali. Strangely haunting and hypnotic. Even after his death, it still feels like no one knows about Toure.

25. Keiji Haino & Sitar-Tah!- Animamima [aRchive]
Japanese psych-rock legend playing the droning hurdy-gurdy with twenty sitar players (!) and a Tuvan throat-singer?! It’s like Haino pulled out a dream I never knew existed! The two discs run through your chest like hands made of barbed wire and goose feathers.

26. The Necks- Chemist [ReR/Fish of Milk]
The Australian kraut-jazz-by-way-of-Terry Riley trio never seems to do wrong. The addition of the electric guitar in their extended semi-composed improvisations was a long time coming and produces explosive results, yet doesn’t shine above the individual pieces.

27. Bizzart- Bloodshot Mama [Sounds Are Active]
Bizzart did the smart thing and went Soul-Junk-less on his sophomore full-length – not that the abstract hip-hop genius of Slo-Ro and Glenn Galaxy didn’t make Ear Drung a Soul-Junk clone, just that the influence loomed heavily over. You can tell that Bizzart chewed his lyrics grit, blood, and all on Bloodshot Mama –- his flow impassioned by the world failing around him. The music and production, too, take on the same issues much heavier and defined as ever with carefully controlled noise bedding Bizzart’s words.

28. NOMO- New Tones [Ubiquity]
Definitely brings out less of the "hipsters digging on Fela Kuti" vibe and more of a genuine vision that doesn’t really need or want to adhere to a specific style as long as the aesthetic jam remains.
See my full review.

29. Blame Game- Ask Someone [Stickfigure]
There were hints of greatness in this Atlanta quartet scattered throughout their evolving existence from a screamy hardcore band to some kind of jazzy Don Caballero/Ornette Coleman/Captain Beefheart monster, so this long-ish four-song EP is exactly what I’ve waited for. Blame Game ingests their influences, but come out writing/improvising seamless pieces with remarkable maturity. Even better heard live.

30. Owl Xounds- Toxic Raga [Colour Sounds]
Andrea Centazzo had Ictus Records, Derek Bailey had Incus Records, why shouldn't drummer Adam Kriney have Colour Sounds to release his own material and various collaborations? Owl Xounds has the biggest output and for good reason: disgusting, psychedelic freak-jazz in the spirit of the ESP-Disk' fire-music of the '60s and '70s. Featuring fellow New Yorker Gene Janus (upright bass) and Old Time Relijun main man Arrington De Dionyso (bass clarinet, voice), this particular incarnation of the revolving Owl Xounds unit hits pockets in all thewrong places creating harsh textures and an all-around racket. But it's a damn good racket. One that thrusts out of the grimy spaces of the room, hits the corner table, bangs the hell out of its knee, trails blood and scabs through the doorway, but convulses with delight at the bad-ass scar its gonna get. Lest you think this yet another punk-jazz sparring match, though, Kriney's got the chops and sense to let the racket swirl (or, to be nasty, maybe even swill) from time to time instead of the constant quarterback blitz of most punk-jazz. Too good to stay a limited edition release.
This is the blurb I wrote for the Tiny Mix Tapes Top Eureka Albums of 2006 article.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Et Cetera Lists of 2006

Instead of releasing a massive year-end entry upon the inter-waves, I'm doing so in four installments: singles of the year (already posted), the et cetera lists (today), top 30 albums of 2006, and favorite reissues and older discoveries. The last two, I hope, will be up by the end of the week if not by the end of the year.

Albums Not in My Top 30 Worth Mentioning

Anathallo- Floating World [self-released]
The band I once referred to as the "emo band with horns" completely took me by surprise with this more fully fleshed-out release. Rides a little on Sufjan Stevens's coat-tails (and Radiohead's, too, for that matter), but I keep coming back to its honest sweetness.

Kidd Jordan, William Parker, Hamid Drake- Palm of Soul [AUM Fidelity]
The seasoned New Orleans saxophonist Jordan simply does not have enough records as band leader, so to hear him in a more subdued, meditative environment (as opposed to his free-jazz blow-outs) is quite arresting. Would've made my top 15 had I heard the album when it came out in June.

Pernice Brothers- Live a Little [Ashmont]
I have a feeling Joe Pernice will never quite equal The World Won't End, but that doesn't stop him from consistently writing great pop songs. His voices gets a little more breathy on this one, which is a little annoying, but I can't deny songs like "PCH One" and "Zero Refills."

Lair of the Minotaur- The Ultimate Destroyer [Southern Lord]
Big, huge balls of ogres. See my review.

Jeffrey & Jack Lewis- City & Eastern Songs [Rough Trade]
A bit unfocused and maybe a little too produced for an anti-folkie record (though kudos on trying to finesse Jeffrey a little, Kramer, that's a tough job), but how can I not recognize the lyrical genius of "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror"?

Records I Still Need to Hear From 2006

Ornette Coleman- Sound Grammar [Sound Grammar]
Critically lauded by many as Coleman's best material in years. The bits I've heard really revved me up. Gotta hear it.

Converge- No Heroes [Epitaph]
This band is fifteen years-old? For some reason that makes me feel like an old, crotchety head-banger yelling, "These kids and their infernal screamo-metal. I remember when 'breakdown' meant windmill-swingin' riffs and a roundhouse kick to the face. Not some pansy-ass anorexic singing like a sickly pre-pubescent school girl!" *Ping!* in the spit can. Still, Converge has yet to make a bad record, especially since they continually explore their sound.

Burial- Burial [Hyperdub]
Phillip loves this record and he doesn't steer me wrong often. The clips I've heard online sound very intriguing.

Biggest Letdowns of 2006

Danielson- Ships [Sounds Familyre]
I'm hoping that this album will click with me somewhere down the road because I definitely understand what Daniel Smith's doing with it. I just don’t know if I want him to veer into the "precious" territory that his protégé-turned-indie-superstar Sufjan Stevens has combed over so heavily in the last year.

Sunn O))) & Boris- Altar [Southern Lord]
I actually had to illegally download this much anticipated avant-metal collaboration because Southern Lord has ignored my frequent e-mails informing them that they shipped my order to the wrong D.C. address, which I can't access (my sublet from the summer is being renovated). So minus ten points for Southern Lord (even though they've had a banner year). Altar sounds nothing like what I expected, which is good and bad, and it fails in places in which they should have shone. Still cool on most counts, though.

Isis- In the Absence of Truth [Ipecac]
The Danielson and Sunn/Boris records I still enjoy on some level, but this is by far my biggest disappointment of 2006. Isis's greatest attribute has always been their attention to restraint and with their slow-moving ambient doom-metal, it was like an epiphany, especially when they began to incorporate the cinematic twinkles of post-rock on Panopticon. Here Isis abandons restraint to the wind with busy drums in front of the mix, wanky guitar solos, and predictable vocal melodies that mimic the guitar lines. It's all very boring.