Tuesday, 26 December 2006

2006: A Year in Music [Part 3: Cutting room floor]

Here's the albums which didn't make the cut of my top 5 list this year, together with appropriate explanations. Some clearly deserve to be on the cutting room floor, but in my re-evaluation of 2006 next year maybe they will crack the top 5? Who knows, stranger things have happened.

Sorted alphabetically by artist name, as there is no order to these.

Bob Dylan - Modern times

High expectations can be nasty things. This is an album I had very high expectations for, so the most likely scenario would be that it would disappoint. Critics were raving about this album, calling it one of the highlights of his almost 50-year career. My skepticism radar needed servicing, because I didn't see through these rave reviews.

Truth is, it's a decent album. But c'mon, one of the highlights of his career? I don't see how any of the critics can sleep well at night comparing this album to his earlier masterpieces like Highway 61 revisited, Blonde on blonde and Blood on the tracks. There's simply no comparison. Even his two albums before this one, Time out of mind and Love & Theft were more interesting than this one.

My biggest gripe with this album is that so many songs follow generic blues structures, and the non-bluesy ones are just repetitive ballads. There are some exceptions, in particular Nettie Moore, Workingman's blues and When the deal goes down. But half of this album doesn't excite me, and that's disappointing.

Gomez - How we operate

My, my, my -- what has happened to my beloved Gomez? They used to be such an interesting band, and so different to many of their peers. On this album they've taken such a simple path, and to be blunt, this is a mighty bland album.

This is one of those albums that sounds pretty good on the first listen. It's their most polished and accessible album to date. For some bands, this approach works. All it does for this album is make each subsequent spin less rewarding than the last.

The originality of Gomez was in their ability to fuse blues influences with modern production techniques. It was their shtick, and they did it so well. But they've lost it here. For those who are new to the music of Gomez, I highly recommend checking out their debut album Bring it on. Then you'll realise how boring they have become.

Guillemots - From the cliffs

I bought this EP by the London band Guillemots after hearing the excellent single Trains to Brazil on the radio. Unfortunately, the rest of the EP doesn't live up to the quality of that song. There are some moments that get close: Made up love song #43 is a beautiful ballad with a passionate vocal performance by Fyfe Dangerfield. Guillemots need to develop a more unique sound, and it looks like they are still finding their way around the studio here.

Something For Kate - Desert lights

Initial reviews of Something For Kate's 5th album Desert lights called it their rockiest album since Beautiful sharks. While there is no denying the raw power of this album, there is also no rocker on this album up there with Hallways either. It's actually the ballads on this album which are the highlights for me, with Down the garden path and Washed out to sea up there with some of the best of SFK. All in all, this is their least impressive album since their debut.

Kelley Stoltz - Below the branches

Kelley's Stoltz's 2nd album Antique glow was one of my lucky discoveries of 2003. While the man had his influences, he managed to weave them into an album in which his own formula of quirky whimsy still managed to take centre stage.

Below the branches is his major label debut, and it's a perfect example of where injecting more money doesn't always yield better results. My biggest issue with this album is that Kelley seems to have lost a fair chunk of his originality here -- just listen to Ever thought of coming back, which could easily be confused with a Beach Boys song circa Friends.

There's still some great songs on this album, in particular the great sequence from The rabbit hugged the hound to Prank calls. It's just missing some of the magic from the previous album.

The Strokes - First impressions of earth

The Strokes managed to dodge a bullet with their 2nd album Room on fire, cleverly avoiding the dreaded "2nd album syndrome" (or as the Yanks love to call it, the "sophomore slump"). They managed to do this by pretty much releasing the same album as their debut. They realised that they probably couldn't do this again on their 3rd album, and I have to give them kudos for branching out and trying different things.

There are several problems with this album. Firstly, it's way too long. At 52 minutes it's way too long to sustain my interest over the course of the album. Their first two albums combined added up to only 68 minutes, making their new one almost as long as the both of them. Secondly, it's too top heavy. If they had edited this album by removing some of the average tracks from the second half, they could have turned this into a lean album under the 40-minute mark. And they could have done this without losing some of the tracks which take them in interesting new directions like Juicebox and the bizarre Ask me anything. This would have allowed them to miraculously dodge another bullet, but unfortunately they became a bit too self-indulgent on this album.

Thom Yorke - The eraser

I only purchased this album a few days ago, so unfortunately I can't really give a meaningful review yet. Standout tracks from the first few listens are Atoms for peace, Harrowdown hill and Cymbal rush.

Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

I only purchased this album today, and haven't had a chance to listen to it. But I'm very excited about this purchase as I am a huge Tom Waits fan and this has been getting rave reviews. This is 3 discs of rare previously-released material and new songs. Brawlers contains mostly bluesy rockers, Bawlers contains his trademark weepie ballads and Bastards contains the experimental stuff. Tom Waits is a genius, and I don't use that word lightly. Just writing about this album makes me want to listen to it!

Albums Yet (Or Never) To Purchase

Here's some of the 2006 albums that I may consider purchasing, but I haven't gotten around to getting them:

Beatles -Love
Camera Obscura - Let's get out of this country
The Drones - Gala mill
TV on the Radio - Return to cookie mountain

And here's some 2006 albums by artists and bands who I like, but based on reviews and feedback from friends, I'm unlikely to purchase them:

Badly Drawn Boy - Born in the UK
Ben Harper - Both sides of the gun
The Flaming Lips - At war with the mystics
Muse - Black holes and revelations
The Sleepy Jackson - Personality
Sufjan Stevens - The avalanche
The Streets - The hardest way to make an easy living
The Whitlams - Little cloud
You Am I - Convicts

Coming next, my top 5 albums of 2006!


  1. Didn't realise you had SFK, but I agree that the ballads are highlights, particularly washed out to sea, but I think there's enough here to make it a decent album. Clearly, though, their worst since "Elsewhere." You Am I's Convicts is especially disappointing; it hurts to say it, but I think they should give it away. Convicts is bland and formulaic. You listen to a phenomenal album like Hourly, Daily, and it's hard to believe it's the same band. It angered me that critics gave this one such ridiculous praise upon its release.

  2. hmmm, yes, i have to agree to with nomeat on Convicts, a huge disappointment. I think i have only listened to it twice, am going to give it another try again shortly, but i dont think that will change anything.

  3. I gave it a second go a while back, and found it no better, almost unlistenable.

  4. You're right on the money in regards to Gomez' How We Operate getting less interesting each listen. There's just no depth to most of the songs. I loved it so much it would have been in my top 3 of 2006 in August, but wouldn't make my top 10 now.

    I, too, found Convicts very uninspiring.

    I'll stand up for The Strokes though when I post my top 10 albums - although I agree they could have cut off some of the chaff quite easily.


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