2006: Hope Springs Eternal

by Benjamin Ray

It was a very good year this time out. It feels like a sense of adventure has come back into rock, with musical desires trumping commercial ones, and I haven't felt that since the mid-90s. The indie scene burned bright, old favorites returned, new favorites appeared, and we are again turning to music to deliver the catharsis we crave. Bravo, 2006.

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10. Raconteurs -- Broken Boy Soldiers

No, they're not a supergroup, but this is what one should sound like (ahem, Audioslave). I wouldn't think Jack White would need a side project, since the White Stripes is all his, but where the Stripes draw an indie line, the Raconteurs are more classic rock in their sound, looking to the Stones for inspiration.  A great way to spend half an hour.

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9. Keane -- Under The Iron Sea

The best Coldplay meets U2 meets Radiohead album you'll hear this year.

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8. My Chemical Romance -- The Black Parade

This is the kind of music that every rock band seems to be making now. Or so I thought, until I gave this a few listens and realized that not only is it a concept album, it's inspired by classic rock albums like A Night At The Opera and The Wall. The band may not have a unique voice, but their ambition is welcome.

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7. Lindsey Buckingham -- Under the Skin

The songs that work here remind you of the underrated guitar skill of this former Fleetwood Mac leader; acoustic pieces awash in echo, finger-picking, melody and buoyed by introspective, personal lyrics. Buckingham sings most of these acoustic pop songs in his highest voice, but get past that and you'll find some beautiful, moving music, particularly when he drops an octave on the gorgeous "Someone's Gotta Change Your Mind."

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6. Muse -- Black Holes and Revelations

Speaking of classic progressive and hard rock, Muse delivers with a flair for the dramatic and an actual epic rock song in the towering closer "Knights of Cydonia," a mix of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Metallica.

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5. Gnarls Barkley -- St. Elsewhere

A great summer release. The music is a heady mix of soul, hip hop, funk and pop that doesn't resort to cliches. This is a forward-thinking disc that forges a new path, and the music herein is just as good as the single "Crazy," one of the best of the decade.

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4. John Mayer – Continuum

It's safe to say he's shed his past for a new sound, and we welcome him with open arms. No longer content to sing about daughters and wonderlands, Mayer embraces his blues roots, gets a little political and delivers probably the best studio album of his career. It's time to take this guy seriously.

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3. Pearl Jam -- Pearl Jam

The band's best effort since Vitalogy, their best single in a long time with "World Wide Suicide," and a solid journeyman effort. On the surface, this appears to have the same burnished self-important sound of every Pearl Jam album since 1996, but where those were cluttered with grandiose statements and needless experimentation, this is just straight-ahead rock that's a little more punk and politics than introspection. Eddie Vedder's lyrics are among his most passionate in years, and the band seems rejuvenated behind him. Plus, the gorgeous closer "Inside Job" is one of the group's finest moments.

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2. Neko Case -- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

You might think the confessional female singer/songwriter is a dying breed in the wake of pop acts like Britney, Christina and Ashlee Simpson. You might be wrong. Case writes and produces 12 moody, beautiful, ethereal songs that go far beyond the standard lyrical fare you'd expect. Good for a summer drive or a late night, Neko's acoustic songs are among the best of the year.

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1. Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Stadium Arcadium

A double disc of the Chili Peppers, who haven't been exciting since 1991, seemed a lot to swallow, but this one didn't leave my CD player for weeks. The reason these 28 songs succeed is guitarist John Frusciante and bassist Flea, who are truly alive on every track; the former uses every guitar tone in the book to wail on solos, crunch out power chords or engage in complex arpeggios for the songs. The guys also bring back the funk and a sense of fun, Anthony Kiedis is less annoying than usual, and the whole thing could pass for a lesser band's entire canon of hits. 


OTHER NOTABLE ENTRIES

Aerial Down -- Vision: An excellent indie rock release from a North Carolina band. Worth seeking out.

Andy Timmons Band -- Resolution: Little-known session guitarist Andy Timmons delivers a blistering set of guitar-based rock a la Satriani that guitar players will especially enjoy.

Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not: Much like Oasis, the Arctic Monkeys are better at creating an updated version of a classic sound. This was certainly part of the summer soundtrack for 2006 - punchy singles, straight-up rock with a British twist, will be forgotten by 2008.

Army of Anyone -- Army of Anyone: Two of the Stone Temple Pilots return, recruit Filter's lead singer and record a solid alternative rock album stuck in 1995. It sounds just like you'd expect, but sometimes going back in time is fun.

Bill Madden -- Gone: An idiosyncratic singer/songwriter, Madden is not afraid to branch out from the usual acoustic guitar stuff into world beats and psychedelia, which results in unusual singer/songwriter fare such as the stomping title track, the wistful "What in the World," the Tool-like "Art of Being" and the kinetic, kaleidoscopic "Everything and That." Jimmy Chamberlin of the Pumpkins stops by to drum, but the real treat is Madden's lyrics.

Cat Power -- The Greatest: Similar to Neko Case's Fox Confessor, this disc is a lush, warm homage to Chan Marshall's Southern upbringing. Playful and sexy yet dark and moody.

The Decemberists -- The Crane Wife: Literate, complex, interesting progressive folk.

Guitar Garden -- Secret Space / Pure Reason Revolution -- The Dark Third: The best Pink Floyd-like bands of the year. Modern prog-rock fans should be all over these; the edge goes to Guitar Garden, which dispenses with stupid lyrics and focuses on instrumental virtuosity.

Neil Young -- Living With War: Neil roared back to life with a stack of 10 electric songs recorded in three days, written in a flurry of patriotism and righteous anger. The basic rock and underproduction only enhances the lyrics, in which Neil rails against the administration, the war, our consumer culture and the entire political system. I like songs that are relevant. I like Neil Young. You'll like this album.

Sonic Youth -- Rather Ripped: I had no idea these guys were still around, but apparently they haven't gotten music out of their system. It's solid without being retro.


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

Beck -- The Information: *yawn*

Bob Dylan -- Modern Times: Rolling Stone called this the best album of the year, which seems like high praise until you realize that everyone who ever worked at Rolling Stone is required, under oath, to sign a document with their blood stating Dylan is the greatest artist who ever lived. If you cannot compare him to at least one great painter and poet from the 19th century in a review, you can't work at Rolling Stone. The truth is that this offers nothing we haven't heard before, and Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions did the old-time rock a lot better this year.

Tool -- 10,000 Days: Oh good, Maynard James decided to bless us with another Tool album, the fourth in 13 years. Look, Keenan, the kids who liked you when they were 15 now have children and jobs and can't be expected to sit through 70 minutes of dense thinking man's metal again and again until they "get it." We have lives.

David Gilmour -- On An Island: The problem with this one is that it's way too familiar: you know you'll get echo-drenched strummed chords, whooshing keyboards, ultra-slow drum beats, a feeling of lethargy and a handful of meditations on life or love that have been on numerous Pink Floyd albums. It's not bad, but it's hardly exciting or easy to embrace, and that's a disappointment coming from the man who helped write some of Pink Floyd's best music.




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