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Zimple Kind of Man (Tom Zimpleman)

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Dusted's Tom Zimpleman look back at the year in music.

Zimple Kind of Man (Tom Zimpleman)

2006…a hard year to judge, right? What with the war in Iraq, the developing Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the fact that the states had to sue the EPA to get it to enforce the Clean Air Act, and the ongoing struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, 2006 seemed at times like an endless parade of bad news. But there was always some piece of good news throughout the year, whether that was the November elections or just the Yankees suffering another playoff collapse. Whether that makes it a good year or not on balance is anybody’s guess.

Personally, music became a diversion to grad school and public interest law this year. So if you notice that escapism seems to be a recurring theme among a lot of these selections, you’re on to something.

VetiverTo Find Me Gone (DiChristina)
As I said when I reviewed this last summer, Andy Cabic seems to be the best-connected man in the San Francisco music scene. To Find Me Gone no doubt benefited from the instrumental and vocal contributions of Cabic’s many friends, but I’d argue it’s the songwriting that makes this the best album of the year. It’s uniformly slow and may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I can’t think of another album from this year that I’d rather listen to.

Yo La TengoI Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
I’m not one of those people who felt that the atmospherics and light jazz inspiration of their recent albums represented a drop-off from their ‘90s output. So when I say that this was the best album since I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, it’s meant as the highest of compliments.

Bonnie Prince BillyThe Letting Go (Drag City)
One of the biggest surprises this year – aside from Jeff Weaver becoming the sort of guy a manager would turn to in order to close out a World Series – is that Will Oldham is now a really great singer. It’s not just that he has a distinctive voice, or a voice with character, but that he has the range to really flesh out his always-great songwriting skills, and on The Letting Go he even holds his own with guest vocalist Dawn McCarthy. Maybe this has something to do with his new fondness for glossy production and full arrangements, but it’s made his recent work some of the best of his career.

BeirutGulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing)
If you had an irritating friend with a blog, you probably heard a lot about Gulag Orkestar this summer. But, unlike “Lazy Sunday,” Chuck Norris facts, and that guy from Bank of America singing “One,” I think this Internet phenomenon has some staying power. Yes, the idea of a 19-year-old from New Mexico learning about Eastern European folk music while living in Paris is almost impossibly precious. And yes, I’m not really in a position to judge how well this album compares to those that inspired it. Considered solely as a pop record, though, this was one of the most consistent and rewarding that I found all year.

Oxford CollapseRemember the Night Parties (Sub Pop)
At times, it seems like the Oxford Collapse are appealing solely to your id. Listen to a raucous shout-along like “Please Visit Your National Parks,” and flip through the liner notes, with their photos of long-past suburban rowdiness, and you could be forgiven for thinking that Remember the Night Parties is meant to be one of those things you’re supposed to enjoy without thinking about too much. If you did that, however, you might miss the trenchant commentary on “Lady Lawyers” or “Kenny Can’t Afford It.” Sometimes a ragged sound comes from a highly refined aesthetic sensibility.

Howe Gelb‘Sno Angel Like You (Thrill Jockey)
That observation would apply just as well to the latest album from Howe Gelb. ‘Sno Angel Like You has the unpolished, tossed-off sound of other Howe Gelb or Giant Sand albums; the real difference is the presence of the gospel group Voices of Praise. Now, the etiology of the rock song-with-gospel backing, traced from Elvis through Foreigner to the present day, reveals just as many hits as misses, but for Gelb it works perfectly. He doesn’t try to write gospel songs, and he doesn’t use the gospel singers to give his songs unnecessary gravitas; the choir is entirely complementary, to the point where you wonder why he didn’t think of doing this years ago.

Eleventh Dream DayZeroes and Ones (Thrill Jockey)
I spent a little bit of time earlier this year listening to Zeroes and Ones back-to-back with the much earlier Prairie School Freakout, and found each time that Zeroes and Ones could stand song-for-song next to that indie classic. Eleventh Dream Day may go a half-decade between releases these days, and they may not tour nearly as often or as extensively, but the albums are as relevant and immediate as ever.

DestroyerDestroyer’s Rubies (Merge)
He changes his working methods quite a bit – taping at home, forming a band, dissolving said band, recording on his own again, touring and recording with Frog Eyes, getting another band in place – but Dan Bejar’s albums will always be the same. Destroyer’s Rubies was another collage assembled from the music archives, each song made up of about four-or-five pop songs vying for the same spot, and accompanying sentiments such as, “All good things must come to an end, the bad ones just go on forever.” Yes, a typical Dan Bejar album, for better or worse.

I also enjoyed…

Early Day MinersOffshore (Secretly Canadian)
Six Organs of AdmittanceThe Sun Awakens (Drag City)
Mission of BurmaThe Obliterati (Matador)
NethersIn Fields We Will Lie (Box Theory)

By Tom Zimpleman

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