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
Coolest Live Band With a Ridiculously Tall Lead Singer
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
Best Proof That We Still Really Love Indoor Festivals, Especially if They Are in Austin
Proof That Not Every Record Merge Puts Out Makes Our List
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
Band We Thought Were Really Cool Until We Discovered the Lead Singer’s Predilection for Wearing Goose Feathers and Grass Shoots On Stage
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
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