Monday, December 11, 2006

Favorite Music of 2006 Part I

2006 was indeed a great year with music. I'm working up to my absolute favorites of year, but before then, here are some records I really enjoyed in 2006 that were released in 2005.

Against Me!, Searching for a Former Clarity
Searching for a Former Clarity came out in fall of 2005. I was curious to hear the album when it was released, but I heard all sorts of drastically mixed reviews. Some said this was a great step forward. Some said the demos were better. Others felt the band could never top their debut, Reinventing Axl Rose.

Fate stepped in by receiving the record to review for Punk Planet. I wasn't sure what to think of it based on my first few listens, so I kept listening to it again and again. I reached a point where I couldn't stop listening to the album (well after I had written and sent off my positive review). Why could I not stop listening? Well, the band has its own blend of harsh punk rock with pop-punk and folk (and they do it very well). Other bands do the whole folk with punk rock beats and it comes across as a novelty to me. Not these guys.

Gang of Four, Return the Gift
The idea of this record sounded awful: the reunited, original line-up re-recorded songs from their first few albums in conjunction with a worldwide tour. So many bands re-record older material and it just doesn't work. The charm is usually gone due to several factors (age, studio polish, etc.). Gang of Four proved this wrong, but that doesn't mean the coast is clear for everyone else.

Return the Gift sounds fantastic. The big-beat drums are way more pronounced, as are the vocals and guitar. Bassist Dave Allen puts his stamp of thwack on a number of great songs originally done after he left the band (like "To Hell With Poverty"). All this said, Return the Gift doesn't totally top the original recordings, but it makes the case that the reunion was not some walked-through, phoned-in, cash-in.

Modern Life is War, Witness
Modern Life is War play a kind of hardcore that is harsh, but not so harsh that it's an all-out assault on your ears. This is a fine album even though it's nine songs played in under 27 minutes. These guys don't muck around; they get in and they get out. I thank my editor at Punk Planet for introducing them to me (via his interview with singer Jeff Eaton that ran earlier this year).

Nightmare of You, Nightmare of You
Credit goes to Torr Leonard for spreading the good word on these guys. Consisting of members from the Movielife and Rival Schools, NOY go for something broader than what seems to easy. Yes, lead singer Brandon Reilly wears eyeliner and has a slightly melodramatic approach to singing. But that doesn't mean that the band's music is only for the teen goth vampire crowd. Nightmare of You is really poppy rock with hooks galore. Though there are parts that are a little too sugary for me, I can't help but hum along.

Editors, The Back Room
Released in England in 2005 and released stateside in 2006, The Back Room is a pretty fine debut. Driven by the singles "Munich," "Bullets" and "Blood," Editors do something right. Yet calling them a commercially-friendly mix of Joy Division and Interpol is very misleading. Yes, these songs sound dark, but they are incredibly warm and hopeful at the same. I don't know how a band can do this so well, but they do it.

Figurines, Skeleton
Released in Europe in 2005, but released here in 2006, Skeleton is a peppy little gem. The comparisons to certain bands that have put out records on Up Records really begins and ends in the vocals department. Songs like "The Wonder" and "Other Plans" really rocked my mind this year.

Sleater-Kinney, The Woods
A record I heard plenty of kudos for last year, I got this record in late-'05. So I didn't have any time to review it '05's wrap-up. I didn't think this big, dense record would be the band's final bow, but it was.

Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
I loved Transatlanticism, but I didn't like Plans very much. I listened to it a few times and brushed it aside. Seeing the Directions DVD this year, I realized what I was missing. Plans is something you have to sit back and enjoy.

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