2006's Best Music: Albums, etc.
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Part 1 of our discussion of the best of the year, wherein Dan and Jordan discuss their favourite albums, and Jordan also lists his favourite songs. Sean's favourite songs of 2006 to follow tomorrow.

Jordan | Dan



The world's population can be divided into two distinct groups: List People and The Others.

There was a movie made about The Others starring Nicole Kidman as (spoiler alert) one of them, and the philosopher and cultural critic Edward Said wrote a great deal about Others. Anyway, I am one of them. Lists bring me no pleasure. I remember as a little kid asking my dad who the greatest baseball player of all time was, and him treating this as a deeply misguided question, explaining to me that there were a great many great baseball players and what made each one great was a set of qualities so abstract that it couldn't be meaningfully judged against another's. This made sense to me (though I knew for a fact that Jesse Barfield was the greatest player of all time). So it is too with music, of course. What does it mean to say that Coltrane is better than Fahey, Charles Ives better than Marvin Gaye? Their respective greatnesses are, in mathematical terms, incommensurable. Which is not to say that no kind of judgment of relative merit in music is possible (otherwise we'd be out of a job) - we can surely distinguish between the great and the very good (Coltrane is better than Modest Mouse, right?), the merely good and the not so good - just that at a certain point, when dealing with music of comparable value (leaving aside what exactly "value" means here), such judgments start to break down.

So why a list at all? Well,

  1. I made some perfunctory Utilitarian calculations which demonstrated that the pleasure that List People derive from reading a list likely far outweighs the discomfort that an Other, such as myself, experiences compiling one.
  2. With a site such as StG, where we write only about music we really like, I imagine our constant praise can sometimes appear vacuous. Of course, though we may not always do a great job of showing it, we do not like everything we post equally. So this list is an attempt to give you some perspective on the hundreds of positive reviews we've written this year. Finally and most importantly,
  3. Sean made me.


1. Joanna Newsom - Ys

And in no particular order:

Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Swan Lake - Beast Moans
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
The Red River – Some Songs About a Flood
Nat Baldwin - Enter the Winter
Richard Buckner - Meadow
Horse Feathers – Words are Dead
Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds


In no particular order:

  • Joanna Newsom – "Only Skin" (also "Emily" and "Sawdust and Diamonds")

    "Only Skin" is a song ostensibly about a bonectomy. As my grandmother used to say, "What could be bad?!"

    These are three of the most surprising, ingenious, and powerful songs my little ears have ever had the pleasure of receiving. [Previously]

  • Swan Lake - "The Partisan But He's Got to Know"

    All of Carey Mercer's songs remind me of "The Monster Mash," and there's nothing any of you can say to change that. The mechanism that causes this association is a subtle thing but has something to do with the union of the upbeat and the scary, the quick and the moribund. When I interviewed Swan Lake for Ukula, I asked Carey Mercer "Other than Bobby 'Boris' Picket, are there artists whose work you view as related to your own?" He responded, "I don't know who Boris Picket is, I hope he's not 'Monster Mash...'" I assume he's reacting against the frivolous nature of Picket's masterpiece. Perhaps he views "Monster Mash" as a novelty. And so it is, but so too is "The Partisan" a novelty. The former like alphabet soup, the latter like Fischer's against the King's Gambit - deep and sublime. [Previously]

  • Neko Case - "That Teenage Feeling" [Previously]
    The Red River – "The Mighty Tide" [Previously]
    Nat Baldwin – "Within Walls" [Previously]
    Horse Feathers – "Finch on Saturday" [Previously]
    Early Day Miners – "Sans Revival" [Previously]
    Beirut - "Postcards From Italy" [Sean previously on Beirut]
    Cat Power – "The Greatest" [Previously]


    BY DAN:

    For my list, I feel sheepish about trying to present this to you. I feel like every one needs to be justified, as if in a sentence or two, I could represent to you the reason these artists are vibrant, present, alive. All I can say is that they are to me and I just want to share with you. So, in reverse order, here goes 2006:

    12. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
    Brown paper songs that can tear and let loose a flood, a pink wind.

    11. The Low Lows - Fire on the Bright Sky
    Like flagless flagpoles that rattle their rings in the night breeze, and as you drive into an unknown town, the credits are always inching up behind you. (listen to "No Such Thing as Sara Jane")

    10. Swan Lake - Beast Moans
    Checking your pockets, what's been jingling there all day, three coins, each ornate and priceless, one gold, one made of wrought-iron, one of good ol' solid steel.

    9. Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
    Broken pianos, voices standing on their heads, and dance beats like heavy winter coats. A song from every genre, not a single one of which is a musical genre. (listen to "Oh Sweet Woods")

    8. Horse Feathers - Words are Dead
    Eat this album like a sad yellow breakfast. Unrelenting and surprisingly eternal for an album so deathly, so final. (listen to "Blood on the Snow")

    7. Parenthetical Girls - Safe as Houses
    Percussing and throbbing with treble and warble and writhing with angry-eyed love. (listen to "The Four Platitudes")

    6. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Etiquette
    Like a Mike Leigh film, a book of Hemingway short stories, and a sleep on a stranger's couch, all at once. Pure winter. (listen to "New Year's Kiss")

    5. Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
    If there were any woods left, any real woods, this would be a walk in that woods. (listen to "This Lamb Sells Condos")

    4. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up, I'm Dreaming
    This is where it gets difficult. It really is harder to write about the things you like most. If this album could be charted like a map (which it ought to be) you'd have to use a pair of dice to navigate it, and you'd need to take a lot of weapons. (listen to the Daytrotter version of "They Took a Vote and Said No")

    3. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
    Ever eat an omelette and think, halfway through, "why do I like omelettes?" but then when you're finished, you just feel great? Yeah, me too.

    2. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
    Look at a row of books on a shelf. Think about how many words are between here and here. Art is so much fucking work. (listen to "Razorblade")

    1. Joanna Newsom - Ys
    Without trying to be over-emphatic or sensational, one of the best albums I have ever heard in my life. Head and shoulders the best album of the year, and possibly the best album, as I understand an album to be defined, made by anyone ever.

    Posted by Sean at December 11, 2006 6:58 AM

    I am glad to see The Red River up there.

    Posted by Matt at December 11, 2006 7:30 AM

    It kind of bothers me from a music-snob perspective that Ys is getting all this love (particularly as I was so late to the JN party) but I have to agree that it is in the running for top spot in the "made by anyone ever" list.

    Oh and thanks for another great year STG!

    Posted by Andy at December 11, 2006 8:37 AM

    I have to admit, "The Partisan But He's Got To Know," was, on first listen, my least favourite of all the Swan Lake tracks, but it has indeed grown on me over time, much like a pleasurable fungus.

    Posted by Catbird at December 11, 2006 9:54 AM

    None of Jordan's linked songs, nor Blood on the Snow, nor This Lamb Sells Condos, will play on my computer.

    Posted by Caroline at December 11, 2006 10:17 AM

    Thanks for that note, Caroline. It seems that Himelfarb and Beirne are incompetents. I was able to fix all the links (yay!) except the Final Fantasy track.

    Posted by Sean at December 11, 2006 10:28 AM

    Destroyer's Rubies is a very satisfying omelette.

    Posted by Jeff at December 11, 2006 1:46 PM

    Jordan's links are still broken but Dan's are fixed.

    Posted by Bryan at December 11, 2006 2:07 PM

    I don't really get the "I can't make lists" thing; if evaluation is possible (which I think you must accept to be doing what you're doing), then you can rank, give stars, give grades, make pie charts, anything ... they're all just different representations of the same analysis. But, if you don't like 'em, you don't 'em. Great non-list, though.

    Posted by Eric at December 11, 2006 4:53 PM

    Eric - First of all, I don't deny that I can make lists. It's actually quite easy for me to do so. Get me started on the natural numbers, and I can go forever.

    Second, just because something can be qualitatively analyzed, doesn't mean that it can be usefully quantitatively analyzed. Or that any such quantitative analysis would yield a useful basis for comparison. My introduction was meant only to say that whereas lists seem to provide pleasure to many, they do nothing in particular for me, and also to explain why so many albums/songs on my list are tied, so to speak - because they are good in strange and wonderfully different ways that don't fit nicely into a pie chart.

    Posted by Jordan at December 11, 2006 6:02 PM

    I can only agree that Ys is probably my favorite album ever.

    Posted by Margot at December 11, 2006 10:50 PM

    I am very glad that I've been introduced to Said's Orientalism and am glad to be reminded of it. It also makes me think of Sut Jhally who made a video for that work, among other things. And this reminded me of how much I like Rubies. Thanks many things.

    Posted by Mark at December 11, 2006 11:19 PM

    never heard of horse feathers before, but i am in love with blood on the snow...thank you

    Posted by ellie at December 12, 2006 4:17 AM

    I love Ys too. One of my top three of the year. Easy.

    But possibly the greatest album of all time?

    *shoots self in the FACE*

    Posted by JT at December 12, 2006 8:23 PM

    Count me in with "the others" . . . and I'll quote DeLillo who said, "lists are a form of cultural hysteria."

    That being said, both contain some fine choices . . . .

    Posted by Jennings at December 12, 2006 9:36 PM

    One more in the other category... I will not be making a list on popsheep this year(nor did I last year). Down with lists! You should have been stronger Jordan. Don't let Sir Sean "List-a-lot" Michaels push you around!

    Get your pie charts out of my music!


    (nice bunch of songs though!)

    Posted by jay at December 13, 2006 1:36 AM

    what can i say, you described sunset rubdown and destroyer in such a way that i got it immediately, thanks for a great list

    Posted by wayne at December 13, 2006 5:45 AM

    um....tv on the radio anyone? if "young liars" was the sound of the streets, then "return to cookie mountain" is the sound in the minds of everyone walking those streets.

    Posted by that dude jeff at December 13, 2006 3:49 PM

    Great list -- I know this has been said a thousand times but I stil can't believe "Razorblade" pays homage to "Mandy"--- I can remember the album coming out way back in Jan. Brings a nice close to the year to see it on this list.

    Posted by fairest at December 13, 2006 8:33 PM

    Thanks, Dan, for mentioning "First Impressions of Earth" in your list. I liked it quite alot even though most say that this album wasn't as good, "the Strokes are just some rich-kid boy band", etc. A bunch of people even criticized me for liking the Strokes.

    Anyways, thanks.

    Posted by J.S. at December 15, 2006 5:10 PM

    THE RED RIVER is a great band!!! thanks for putting them on there!

    Posted by allison at December 16, 2006 12:59 PM

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