On Power Pop

July 18th, 2008 - 3 Responses

Pitchfork finally chimed in with their Julie Ocean review today, nearly a month after their taser coverage, and it’s yet another piece pontificating on the cliches of power pop and anonymity of bands that play the genre.

Stephen Deusner writes:

Despite its effusiveness, power pop is a highly conservative genre, favoring a minimum of elements: infectious hooks, tight harmonies, driving tempos, and bittersweet brevity. A very few artists, such as the New Pornographers, can successfully tweak that formula without losing the immediacy of the form, while others, like Fight Songs-era Old 97s, distinguish themselves through their lyrics. But most power pop bands do it just well enough to risk becoming anonymous, following the formula so closely that they neglect to include themselves in their songs.

Remember, this is the same publication that said Weezer came along and changed power pop, making Matthew Sweet irrelevant. Yep, Weezer is apparently a power pop band. Thanks, guys.

What drives me crazy about this is that when we talk about power pop, what we actually mean is poppy rock music. To call poppy rock music a genre with staid conventions is essentially saying that a four-piece rock band that plays catchy songs is a staid convention, in which case 90% of the world’s bands should just call it a day. And, of course, this same standard is never applied to other genres. Fleet Foxes, who I do like, are doing nothing more than aping a lot of late 70s British psych-folk bands (Pentangtle, Fairport Convention, International String Band, etc.), playing to the conventions of that genre. The post-punk art crowd, who they have always loved, is doing nothing more than aping Wire, Gang of Four and PiL, as well as a few thousand early 80s indie bands who did the same, but somehow most critics never bother to complain that this is in essence the third time around for this exact sound.

So why the constant talk about clichés and formulas with catchy rock music and not with the five million other genres out there? Why am I supposed to credit Abe Vigoda for sounding like the second Orange Juice record or No Age and Times New Viking for sounding exactly like the Swell Maps—a trick Pavement beat them to back in 1989—and at the same time discount Julie Ocean for sounding like Small 23?

And that of course gets to the last point: Julie Ocean are not a power pop band, at least not as I would define that term. They are an indie pop band, an aggressive one, which is one of their huge strengths, but still an indie pop band. They sound like a band on Sarah records, recalling early Primal Scream and a lot of other early indie jangle bands, or, even more head-on, like any number of early 90s American indie bands. Hell, if you had first played me the album and told me it was a Chapel Hill band from 1993, I would have believed you. And I mean that as a compliment. A big one. That’s a great sound, and if someone can find something new and interesting in it, that’s incredibly worthwhile.

The true value in music comes from melody and from songwriting. If a band plays in the conventions of a particular genre, that doesn’t mean they are derivative, it just means they have a source to draw from. Their originality comes from their songs. Radiohead isn’t interesting because they play around with Can and Faust influences, they are interesting because they have really good tunes. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. This is Jack Rabid’s argument, but if a song still sounds amazing on an acoustic guitar with just the signer, then it’s a great song. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t. I don’t care that The Tyde sounds a whole hell of a lot like Felt; I care that I love their songs.

So engage with the music, please, critics. Is that too much to ask? And if you listen to Julie Ocean and hear the Raspberries, I can only assume you’ve never listened to the Raspberries.

On Print

April 1st, 2008 - 3 Responses

Punk Planet, No Depression, Harp and now Resonance.

Another print music magazine has left the building, the victim of declining label advertising, rising postal costs, ever-present distribution issues and a shift in the music discussion from magazines to blogs. While we would never consider ourselves technophobes, we can’t help but thinking something is being lost here.

Blogs are very good at spreading bands quickly, at helping them be heard, at creating a brush fire. They are terrible at sustaining that fire. This is where print comes in.

Mojo can give you a context around a record’s genesis that a 100 word post about a pre-sale for the Mercury Lounge simply can’t. The Big Takeover can give you a paradigm of the past six months’ albums that runs from late 70s punk icons to modern day baroque pop, while most blogs focus entirely on one narrow niche or the personal obsessions of their author.

They are incredibly valuable, but nowhere near as interesting as learning what Fred Mills, someone who has worked as a professional journalist for decades, is listening to these days. Music blogs allow new voices to appear, grant much-needed exposure to young bands and spread news and information quickly, but few of them engage in real music criticism, let alone insightful interviews or in-depth reporting, and few of them will ever have the revenues needed to support that kind of writing.

Magazines offer the benefit of time, of context, of serendipitous discovery. The fact that Magnet runs a cover story on, say, My Morning Jacket, sends a signal about their importance to this moment in music in a way that hundreds of blog posts simply can’t. When David Fricke gives Accelerate four stars, it means more than when hundreds of bloggers argue about whether it’s a return to form or more boring “Dad rock.”

Perhaps most important, print magazines create community: think of the passionate readership of Punk Planet, read by thousands of punk kids who were exposed to political ideas and a remarkably broad definition of “punk” meant. You can read a print magazine and know that others are reading too, that it’s a shared experience, that there is a worldview you share, or abhor, or at least engage with. Where’s the community in an RSS feed?

Here’s hoping Magnet, The Big Takeover and the other remaining few find a way to survive at least a little longer. The music world would be a much poorer place without them.

On Experimentation

April 1st, 2008 - 2 Responses

In which we re-publish our one-year old arguement as to why Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is one of the most beautiful records we’ve ever heard.

The reviews have begun to trickle in, and by tomorrow they will be flooding in, so we decided it was time for us to pipe up in defense and praise of what we think with 99.9% certainty will be selected as our favorite record of the year, come late December. Pitchfork has conferred a lowly 5.2 and labeled it “Dad rock,” while no doubt The Wire and the other lot who jumped on board with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be disappointed as well.

Yes, Sky Blue Sky has stripped away much of the surface-level sonic experimentation that defined Yankee and, to a lesser extent, Ghost and has been the band’s trademark since Misunderstood made us realize this was the best band in the world as far back as 1996. But five years removed, much of Yankee’s tinkering sounds like all too much noise, and the songs—with Wilco, it’s always about the songs—now shine brighter live with the flourishes embedded more deeply in the song structures, courtesy of guitarist Nels Cline. In truth, Yankee wasn’t quite the leap it was proclaimed to be at the time, as even a cursory listen reveals that it merely replaced Summerteeth’s Beach Boys and Elephant 6 layering with a different, post-rock layering. Don’t get us wrong, it is still a monumental album, as any record with songs as perfect as Jesus, Etc., Reservations and Ashes of American Flags must surely be, but those who focus on the experimentation are missing the point. To many ears, A Ghost Is Born traveled further down that road, but aside from the drone-rock inspired Spiders (Kidsmoke) and Less Than You Think, the experimentation was in the writing, in the inventiveness that has always defined Tweedy’s best songs. At Least That’s What You Said is in essence a Neil Young & Crazy Horse dirge, Hummingbird classic Beatles pop, The Late Greats straight-up alt-country-rock, Muzzle of Bees late-60s / early-70s British folk (there’s a reason Tweedy at the time took to covering Bill Fay), Handshake Drugs a Band-inspired groove.

Jeff Tweedy told Pitchfork in a recent interview that anyone who thinks Wilco is an experimental band probably doesn’t listen to enough records. And that’s the point. They have done more to explore music’s boundaries than any band of the past decade, but they have done it by mining sounds from the past—Neil Young’s guitar squall, the Band’s loose-tight dynamics and old Americana feel, Woody Guthrie’s minor chord folk, the Replacements’ romantic rock dream, punk’s scream—and updating it in service of Tweedy’s singular songwriting. Just as The Band did, Wilco have taken the past and pulled it into the present, following a long American tradition, the same trick Dylan, Springsteen and all the other giants have used. In the early 1990s, a common complaint was that most indie bands’ record collections didn’t seem to go back much further than Sonic Youth. Today, most indie bands’ seems to stop at Pavement, maybe Gang of Four. And that’s what is so powerful about Wilco, what has always kept them relevant, revelatory and even, at times, transcendent (there are few live music moments—or, for that matter, life moments—that can compare to Tweedy’s solo reading of The Lonely 1 or the band’s exquisite, controlled noise barrage on Reservations).

Jeff and Jay Farrar started their music careers as reactionaries, turning to the Carter Family, Guthrie, Creedence, Husker Du, the Mats and, again, Neil Young to find what they felt was missing in early 90s rock—early bootlegs reveal Uncle Tupelo to have started as the world’s best bar band—but they quickly transformed themselves, using the old to color what was thoroughly modern music. Has there ever been a braver, more current, more punk statement than March 16-20, 1992, a fierce and forceful all acoustic, all-live recording of classic and original folk and country songs? It felt like nothing else from that year, or, for that matter, anything since. A few years down the line, the Mermaid Avenue records achieved the same, but from a different angle, making most alt-country sound pointless in comparison. Why is it that those who see Tupelo now as simple revivalists seem perfectly willing to give such a long leash to the scores of indie bands doing nothing more than poor Wire and Joy Division imitations?

Which brings us to Sky Blue Sky, and why the initial view of it as some kind of retreat to AM-style alt-country and classicism is so off. Sky is, of all things, Tweedy’s soul album, and its strongest influence is clearly Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s late 60s work, especially the spacious, warm You’re So Beautiful. Hate It Here, Side With the Seeds and Shake It Off all owe a direct debt to Wright, a connection that few critics seem to have made, odd considering Tweedy has spoken of Wright frequently in recent interviews and the band covered his Comment on Kicking Television: Live in Chicago and at many shows over the past few years. Tweedy has always had a beautifully fragile voice, and here he does the best vocal work of his career, all cautiously hopeful, yet ragged nonetheless, best evidenced on Hate it Here, where a suburban husband tries desperately to fill his days with chores. Some critics have pointed to it as Example #1 of a retreat into safety and domestic concerns. Leaving aside for now the ludicrous contention that artists must exist on the edge of an abyss (as Tweedy surely did for some years) for their art to be relevant, how many seem to miss the choking, quiet fear the song paints with such simple lines is beyond us.

As always, Tweedy’s lyrics continue to tower above those of anyone else working in rock today. On A Ghost Is Born he showed us someone lost to the fear of insignificance, a narrator whose one goal was to be nothing more than an echo, leaving some tiny, lasting impression on the world and the lover who’s left him. On Sky, he’s emerged from that fear, at last opening himself up to the possibility of hope—“Maybe you still love me / maybe you don’t / I will try to understand”—and as always looking to music for a meaning and a collective embrace he can’t find elsewhere—“And our voices lift so easily / A gift given accidentally / When we’re not sure / We’re not alone.” And he continues to explore what remains his great theme: how accepting death is the only way to live life, to overcome meaninglessness, a lack of faith, a lack of purpose. In the remarkable closer On and On and On, one of the finest song he or anyone else has ever written, he sings “However short or long our lives are going to be / I will live in you or you will live in me / Until we disappear together in a dream.” It’s a simple thought, and it’s one the has occupied most great artists, but how wonderful that a rock singer is tackling it, and tackling it with such intelligence, such precision? Put simply, Sky Blue Sky is about what it means to be alive, to be human. If Tweedy sounds more content than he’s been in years past, that’s because he likely is, but he chronicles that struggle beautifully and, yes, poetically. It’s the farthest thing from “safe” possible. In an indie universe where the Arcade Fire gets praised for its lyrics about vague paranoia and few bands even bother to address the personal yet alone the political, it’s baffling that Tweedy doesn’t get more credit for his words.

But again, ulitmately this is a band that’s about the songs. There’s a reason a Tweedy solo show can be just as remarkable as the full band’s sonic assault: Strip away the noise, the screeching, the percussion, everything, and you’re left with simple, beautiful rock songs. Tweedy has always written unforgettable melodies, most with a breezy, late 70s AM feel, and in truth there is a tight thread running between the new album’s title track, Ghost’s Wishful Thinking, Yankee’s Poor Places, Summerteeth’s She’s a Jar, Mermaid Avenue’s California Stars, Being There’s Say You Miss Me, AM’s Should’ve Been in Love and even Uncle Tupelo’s No Sense in Lovin’. Jeff Tweedy writes rock songs. Great ones. And Sky Blue Sky has them in abundance, from the opening couplet of Either Way and You Are My Face, to the closing What Light and On and On and On, it offers 12 songs that sound better than just about anything else on our stereos right now. Indeed, the only (slight) misstep is what was left off. Late last year, the band began playing The Thanks I Get, including on Conan O’Brien, a joyful, simple soul number written for Solomon Burke that would have fit perfectly here, especially if it had replaced the somewhat turgid Shake It Off. But no matter. The record still offers up more memorable melodies than we’ve heard since, well, A Ghost Is Born came out.

Like all Wilco albums, Sky Blue Sky sounds like a record recorded to tape by a band sitting in the same room. It captures that organic, rich feel that defines Creedence, Beatles and other 60s bands’ records but which has mostly been in hiding since the advent of ProTools and digital home studios. It’s remarkable to be reminded of what a difference that makes. The sound of the album alone is enough to take your breath away, remind you of the power of rock n roll in a way that, say, Of Montreal just can’t. There are others out there who achieve a similar feel—most of the freak-folk records, for example, especially the recent entries by The Papercuts and Vetiver—but unlike Wilco, those bands tend to be true classicists, aping old styles that, so far, don’t feel derivative only because their chosen genre has yet to become overly obtrusive on TV and elsewhere.

On Sky, Wilco achieves a cohesive, fully formed sound that quiets its different assets in service of the collective whole—Cline and Tweedy’s complex, almost Television-esque interplay, Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen’s finely integrated piano and keyboard, Glenn Kotches’ deep, rich percussion and John Stirratt’s flowing bass and background vocals. The only real comparison is The Band at the top of their power, trying out new sounds left and right, pulling in classic rock touches and beautiful phrasing, yet doing it so naturally, so subtly that it can be easy to overlook. To our ears, the result is simply wonderful, a record that washes over you with its warmth. Far from being safe, it’s almost baffling experimental, but with such a delicate balance of dense and light that those who equate experimentation with the addition of strange noises will surely miss it. Tweedy has said that Sky Blue Sky is meant to be heard on vinyl, and he’s right: The warmth of the album seems designed for a turntable, not an iPod. It demands attention, it demands that you get lost in it, but not in the obtrusive hit you over the head way begged by Radiohead’s past few albums. It’s an album to sink into, to fall in love with slowly but irreversibly.

This is rock music, perfectly written and executed. What a sad statement that most critics today can no longer appreciate what a real achievement that is.

Martinis on the Roof

May 16th, 2007 - 2 Responses

Sad news came last night that Sean Silver, a regular contributor to the Superchunk message board, passed away this weekend. Sean recently organized the upcoming Eff Cancer Benefit at Chicago’s Metro on June 20, featuring his and very possibly our favorite band, Superchunk, to raise funds to fight Chordoma, a rare form of cancer with which Sean was diagnosed four years ago.

While we never had the pleasure of meeting Sean, he was part of a small, but extremely loyal group of Chunk fans who would fly to Maxwell’s, SXSW, Chapel Hill, wherever necessary to see what in our opinion is the greatest live band of the past two decades. If you happen to live in Chicago or nearby, please buy a ticket or make a donation. Thanks.

The Paper of Record

April 26th, 2007 - One Response

From today’s New York Times:

Phil Spector, the mastermind behind hit songs like “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” went on trial on Wednesday on charges that he shot to death a struggling actress.

We don’t know about you folks, but we’re pretty certain that adding cheesy string arrangements and a choir to one of the great rock songs of all time behind the back of the person who wrote, sang and played piano on said song does not make you the “mastermind” behind said song. In fact, it makes you the person responsible for butchering said song (along with John Lennon, who proved definitively that he was not born to be a bass player).

“No Big Beards!”

April 18th, 2007 - 4 Responses

A SXSW Round Up, Only One Month Late - Part One
In which the Other Ephemera staff finally gets around to filing its SXSW round-up, as we’re all about the timeliness. Deadlines, people, deadlines.

Wednesday, March 14
We have a request. A small one, really. It’s basic economics, so it’s not too difficult to grasp. If you’re in an indie band, one that plays mildly interesting, decent tunes fit for college campuses, iPod commercials and Urban Outfitters soundtracks, is it really necessary for you to bring all your friends every time you play? Sure, having your girlfriend’s best friend’s friend add a little French horn to your record can be nice, but dragging a full six piece horn section plus a second drummer and a violinist to Austin to play two 30-minute sets at two day shows plus a 45-minute set one night . . . let’s just say it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

OK, maybe it dresses up your tunes enough to cover the fact that your songs just aren’t all that good, but still, a little math is in order, which we’ll borrow from Todd Barry. $1,500 / [ (8 Band Members + 1 Roadie)*(3 Meals Each Day + Beer) + Gas + Van Rental] = You will still be sleeping in your parents’ basement when you’re 45. And if you happen to be in the Small Sins and bring along a guy whose sole purpose is to play tambourine and bounce up and down, well, don’t come looking to us for sympathy two decades down the line. Sure, it worked for Pavement, but, well, you’re not Pavement.

This year, SXSW offered up plenty of examples of the above, plus lots of beards, some great BBQ, more beards, beautiful weather, celebrity sightings, ridiculously long wristband lines, beards, shameless marketing attempts, rude hotel desk clerks, the worst venue ever, some more BBQ, lots of Shiner, some more beards and, most important, some good old proper rock n roll. Not that most in attendance were listening. They were too busy trying to get in to see The Pipettes or checking out the bands covering up for their lack of songwriting skill by stuffing all their friends in the van. We’re not trying to congratulate ourselves or anything. We just think Bob Mould, You Am I and The Figgs kick ass, and we find it a little odd that not enough other people agree.

One of the joys of SXSW is seeing old legends reborn, elder statesman trying to connect with the “kids,” so it was with a great deal of optimism that we went to the Parish the first night to see Charlie Louvin, who just a few weeks earlier had released a stellar record, produced by Mark Nevers of Lambchop fame, and featuring George Jones, Will Oldham, Jeff Tweedy, Eef Barzilay, Elvis Costello and Mac McCaughan, among many others. Maybe, we reasoned, some would show up to play with him. If not, at least he’d pull out some old country chestnuts—Atomic Power, This Little Light, The Christian Life. While the first did not come to pass—Charlie was joined by his competent, if dull backing band—the latter did. Still, one problem with elder statesman is the “elder” part, and Charlie, sad to report, can simply no longer sing. On the record, his fragile voice adds character; live, it just distracts, with him turning the mic over to his female guitar player on too many songs.

Next up was the lovely Emma Pollock over at Emo’s. We were of course devastated by the break-up last year of The Delgados, perhaps the least appreciated Glagsow band of the past decade, so the news that Emma would strike out on her own was at least some solace. Her set featured a full band and the familiar sweeping music that made The Delgados so massive. The tunes were as fractured as always, and as such it was a little difficult to judge, and afterward we ran out to catch Austin’s own Grand Champeen.

Grand Champeen play rock music. You know, four guys, two guitars, bass, drums, catchy as hell tunes, ringing chords, memorable choruses, smart lyrics, Replacements influence worn proudly on their sleeves, a little alt-country thrown in for good measure. They seem to enjoy playing it, too, which, we sadly realized as the set and the week wore on, means they don’t have a chance in hell. They deserve one, of course, more than all the bearded, French-horned legions combined, so here’s hoping we’re wrong.

Over at Antone’s for the Merge showcase, we discover that The Rosebuds have apparently decided to become a dance band, and while we later learn that this works wonderfully on their new record, live it’s a little scary, especially when lead singer Ivan Howard decides to push for a little forced spontaneity by coming into the crowd on multiple occasions then pulling the old Smiths / Stooges trick of inviting the crowd on stage to dance for the last song. The ridiculousness of this is nicely captured when we spy two Miller Lite promo girls, no doubt with a future in Girls Gone Wild videos, writhing on each other next to Kelly Krisp while they throw Miller Lite pins out to the crowd.

The Broken West hit all of our soft spots: Power pop hooks, SoCal attitude, real chops, great songwriting, Zombies and Byrds influences pouring out all over the place, fabulous sideburns, Rickenbackers and ba ba bah’s. They’re brilliant, reminding us of Velvet Crush, The Tyde and The Hang-Ups. As such, they don’t have a chance in hell.

Spoon is up next, but we’ll be seeing them in a few weeks anyway, we woke up at 5am on the West Coast, it’s now 1am, and we’re tired, people. There’s BBQ to eat tomorrow, beer to drink and about 20 more bands to see, so it’s off to the hotel for our first encounter with the world’s friendliest hotel desk clerk.

In tonight’s episode, we will discover that the hotel’s vending machines sell only soda, then ask him if there is anywhere in the hotel we could buy a bottled water. He will reply, Sorry, the restuarant just closed a few minutes ago, there’s a 7-11 about a mile away. Could he perhaps check if they have a bottle in the area where they serve the Continental breakfast, perhaps in that fridge we see over there? No, he will say, no he could not. He’d be happy to give us directions to the 7-11, though. This will be only the beginning.

April 16th, 2007 - One Response

An Observation: It’s only April, and the album of the year race has already been narrowed to two, and I have no idea which will win. All I know is that I can’t stop listening to both, neither of which has been officially released: The National’s Boxer and Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. No surprises there, but how wonderful that we have two bands doing this caliber of work right now. Almost makes up for all the pointless VW-commerical indie rock.

Ted de la Rocha

March 29th, 2007 - One Response

As I’m listening to the new Ted Leo this morning on the way into work—finally—it occurs to me that it’s a solid album, nothing great, but there’s some excellent tunes on there, especially A Bottle of Buckie, because, admit it, we all love it when Ted pulls out the old Celtic routine.

Sure, at over an hour the thing’s far too long, and too many of the songs cross the 5:00 minute mark, especially The Lost Brigade, which includes about three minutes of needless guitar repetition at the end, and indeed this is a bit strange, as Ted has previously been a marvel of succinctness, especially with the gloriously 40-minute long Shake the Sheets, and, yes, it does seem like Ted had too many ideas this time out and didn’t know exactly how to channel them, resulting in his placing 15 songs on the record, which is at least three too many, plus five more on the bonus disc, for about an hour and 30 minutes of music, and, I agree, we need to introduce Ted to Jeff Tweedy, who could likely teach him something about how it’s often better to leave even some of your best songs off the album (see: Shakin Sugar, Venus Stop the Train, Cars Can’t Escape, The Thanks I Get)—that’s what EP’s are for, Ted—but as all of this swirls around in my head, the one thing I can’t stop thinking is, Ted, Why did you invite the newly reunited Rage Against the Machine to record a song for your record? Bomb. Repeat. Bomb. I mean, what the hell, Ted?

2006: 12 Months of Eh, With Some Heck Yeah and Pretty Cool Thrown in for Good Measure

February 16th, 2007 - 12 Responses

Let’s be honest. 2006 wasn’t the best year in recent memory. Sure, there was some great stuff released, some wonderful albums that we’ll no doubt be listening to for years to come, but with a handful of exceptions, there wasn’t anything the grabbed us and wouldn’t let go. There was some things that grabbed us and let go very, very quickly—I’m looking at you Hold Steady, who managed to go from the number one position on this list on release day to out of the Top 20 altogether by spin number five—and there were others that didn’t grab so hard out of the gate but kept tapping us on the shoulder, saying, hey, look at me, I have some great tunes, nice melodies and cool lyrics. Please pick me. Please? And thus the Handsome Family’s remarkable Last Days of Wonder went from a handful of detached listens to something we couldn’t get out of our heads—”I can still see you there / In your grass stained underwear / Dancing crooked circles / Across the golf course green” . . . I mean, crap, that’s good, Rennie. But what’s most striking looking over our list is how 80% of it is not just from long-established bands, but from bands who came to prominence in the early 1990s. This year’s list is filled with the tentacles of the original US indie explosion, late 80s British indie pop and the first wave of alt country. In fact, it looks a whole hell of a lot like any of our Top 25s from 1993–1997—Yo la Tengo, Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), Cat Power, Sonic Youth, Portastatic (Superchunk), Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf), Pernice Brothers (Scud Mountain Boys), Lambchop, Tender Trap (Heavenly), Mojave 3 and Built to Spill all made appearances in those years, and they still dominate now.

We tried to correct this. Surely there was some great new indie band we overlooked, some blogger sensation we missed, some veteran reenergized by working with a new producer, but, no, alas, if we were honest with ourselves, these were the best records we heard all year, the ones we returned to again and again. And, in some ways, it makes sense. Most of these artists are entering their late 30s or early 40s, and they’re filled with confidence and an understanding of their craft in a way that, say, Annuals just aren’t. Plus, many of these folks invented indie rock in the first place, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they still do it better than the kids. Truth be told, some of us spent the year marveling at just how much better that generation of bands is live than the current crop. Let’s just say that watching Dinosaur Jr. fierce, exhilarating sonic attack after Broken Social Scene’s polite cocktail party music might not have been a fair fight, but still.

So please excuse us if we come off this year as being a trite bit antiquated. What can we say? Sonic Youth at this point in their career are simply a hell of a lot better than Beirut or The Figurines at this point in theirs. Plus, we threw in Voxtrot for the kids. After all, the kids dig their Voxtrot.

Top 25 Albums of 2006, as Deemed by the Othera Ephemera Editorial Staff
All staff members were permitted to vote for their top ten albums, and the results were tallied to determine the final top 25. All staff members voting for Lady Sovereign, The Rapture or Justin Timberlake were immediately shot. Really, it had to be done. For their own good.

1. Pernice Brothers – Live a Little

2. Mojave 3 – Puzzles Like You

3. Yo la Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

4. Eric Bachmann – To the Races

5. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped

6. Handsome Family – Last Days of Wonder

7. Cat Power – The Greatest

8. Portastatic – Be Still Please

9. Robert Pollard – Normal Happiness / Keene Brothers – Blues and Boogie Shoes

10. Voxtrot – Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives / Your Biggest Fan / Raised By Wolves

11. The Figgs – Follow Jean Through the Sea

12. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 - …tick, tick, tick

13. Eef Barzilay – Bitter Honey

14. The Tyde – Three’s Co.

15. Built to Spill – You in Reverse

16. The Essex Green – The Cannibal Sea

17. The Frames – The Cost / Glen Hanrad & Marketa Irglova – Swell Season

18. Jon Auer – Songs From the Year of Our Demise

19. Tender Trap – 6 Billion People

20. The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed

21. Nina Nastasia – On Leaving

22. Dirty Pretty Things – From Here to Waterloo

23. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America

24. Human Television – Look at Who You’re Talking To

25. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions


Honorable Mentions (Or Top 25–50, If You Prefer)
Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Letting Go
Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country
The Capitol Years – Dance Away the Terror
Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies
Drive By Truckers - A Blessing and a Curse
Golden Smog – Another Fine Day
Hazey Janes – Hotel Radio
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus Three – Ole! Tarantula
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegen – Ballad of the Broken Sea
Jennifer O’Conner – Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat
Josh Rouse – Subtitulo
Lambchop - Damaged
The Lemonheads – The Lemonheads
Loose Fur – Born Again in the
USA
M. Ward – Post War
Megan Reilly – Let Your Ghost Go
Neil Young – Living With War
Oakley Hall – Gypsum Strings / Second Guessing
Anders Parker – Anders Parker
Pipas – Sorry Love
The Sadies – In Concert: Volume One
The Whigs – Give Em All a Big Fat Lip
Vetiver - To Find Me Gone

The, Yay, The Kids Seem to Have Re-Discovered Indie Pop and Shoegaze Award
Pia Fraus – Nature Heart Software
Asobi Seksu – Citrus
The
Manhattan Love Suicides – The Manhattan Love Suicides

The I Can’t Believe I Waited Four Years for This Award, aka, Really, Guys, a Full Length, Any Time Now Award
The Ashford Breaks – Traitor ep

Most Astonishing Fun Fact Learned This Year
That Britta Phillips of Luna and Dean and Britta fame was the voice of Jem. Truly, truly outrageous.

Most Promising Neutral Milk Hotel Cover Band
Elvis Perkins

Coolest Live Band With a Ridiculously Tall Lead Singer
The Whigs

2006’s Winner of the 00s, Decade of Originality, Award, For in This Case a Truly Impressive My Morning Jacket Impression
Band of Horses

Best Cover of Love & Rockets’ No New Tale to Tell. Oh, Wait, It’s Not a Cover. Really?
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Gold Lion

The Continuing Gold Standard in Reissues Award, Are You Paying Attention R.E.M.?
The Cure – The Top, The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

The Yep, It’s as Bad as We Remembered it Being Award
The Glove – Blue Sunshine

Continuing the Pointless Trend of Releasing a Self-Titled Record Late in Their Career to Demonstrate a “New Beginning,” or Some Such Crap, aka, The Metallica Award
Pearl Jam – Peal Jam; And what’s up with the avocado, anyway?

Best Proof That We Just Don’t Like Outdoor Festivals Anymore, No Matter How Well Run
Lollapalooza

Best Proof That We Still Really Love Indoor Festivals, Especially if They Are in Austin
SXSW

Proof That Not Every Record Merge Puts Out Makes Our List
White Whale

Up With People, 2006 Edition, AKA, The Polyphonic Spree Award
I’m From Barcelona

The Super UK Award
To The Brokedown, who were forced to change their name to the Broken West by some punk band from Utah no one’s ever heard of, and to Mazarin, who decided to retire their name after being sued by a late 70s classic rock combo. This despite releasing 4 albums over 7 years. Lawyers, gotta love em.

Best Belle & Sebastian Record of 2006
The Essex Green – The Cannibal Sea

Most Welcome Return
The Bats, who blessed us with a 2006 tour following up on a wonderful 2005 new album. Come back soon, please.

Still Pretty Cool Despite Sounding Suspiciously Like the Oompah Band at the Germany Exhibit at Epcot Center
Beirut

Band We Thought Were Really Cool Until We Discovered the Lead Singer’s Predilection for Wearing Goose Feathers and Grass Shoots On Stage
Starling Electric

Obnoxious Trend
Cat Power – Diamonds, Old 97s – Chili’s, The Fall – Mercury, White Stripes – Coke, New Pornographers – Phoenix University . . . Christ, does anyone give a crap about integrity any more?

Proof That Marketing Works
Wolfmother, whose visage pretty much blanketed Austin during SXSW, despite being an utterly crap band.

Worst Good Songs to Crap Songs Ratio
Primal Scream’s Rot City Blues, which featured precisely one listenable song, the title track. It kicked ass, though.

Most Band Members to Quit in One Year
The Tyde, who lost Ric Menck, Brent Rademaker and Ben Knight right around the release of their third record, impressive when you consider one of these members is the lead singer’s brother.

Note to Pete Doherty: Look What Can Be Accomplished When You Don’t Waste Your Life Smoking Crack With Kate Moss
Dirty Pretty Things – From Here to Waterloo

Please, Someone, Next Time We Open Our Wallets to Buy a Tribute Album, Make Us Stop
Various Artist – Big Star, Small World

Managing Somehow in Comparison to Make The Streets and MIA Sound Not So Horrible After All, aka, The Crap British Rapper Award, 2006 Edition
Lady Sovereign, who sent us running from Waterloo during her SXSW in-store.

Could Have Been Very High on the List, Save We Don’t Count Being Released in Canada as Coming Out in 2006, So Look For It Next Year
Sloan – Never Hear the End of It

Ditto Australia
You Am I - Convicts

Best Show of the Year That We Saw, No Arguments
Sleater-Kinney - Making us forget how much we hate Webster Hall at their, sniff, last-ever NYC show.

Good, But Not Nearly as Good as We’d Hoped
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Blues
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
The Evens – Get Evens
The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics
The Hidden Cameras – Awoo
Sondre Lerche – The Duper Sessions
The Magic Numbers – Those the Brokes
The Minus Five – The Minus Five (The Gun Album)
Slumber Party – Musik

The Wait, Remind Me What I Like About These Guys, Award
Clap Your Hand Say Yeah, who put on the year’s most insipid show at Summerstage in September. They would go on to start 2007 with a bang by releasing a truly dreadful album. Way to go, fellas!

Least Likely Early 90s North Carolina Indie Band to Reemerge More Than a Decade Later as a (Shockingly Great) Freak Folk Collective
The Raymond Break, who morphed into Devandra’s pals, Vetiver.

Worst News of the Year
Grant McClennan, we will miss you.

Second Worst News of the Year
The best pure rock band in the land, the ladies of S-K, call it a day.

Best Reissues, Best-Ofs and Box Sets
Chavez – Better Days Will Haunt You
Karen Dalton – In My Own Time
The Delgados – The Complete BBC Sessions
The Eyes – The Arrival of the Eyes
Friends – Fragile
The Go-Betweens – That Striped Sunlight Sound
Gram Parsons – Complete RCA Sessions
Honeybus – She Flies Like a Bird
John Phillips – John Phillips
Jackie DeShannon –
Laurel Canyon
Jeff Tweedy – Sunken Treasure: Live in the
Pacific Northwest (DVD)
Jesus & Mary Chain – Reissue Series
Josef K - Entemology
Luna – The Best of Luna
Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend / Good Friend
Mortimer – Mortimer
Nic Jones – Game Set Match
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Live at the Fillmore East
Pavement – Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Version
R.E.M. – And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years – 1981-1987
Anything Put Out by the Numero Group
Sebadoh – III
Bruce Springsteen - Hammersmith Odeon London ‘75