' erasing clouds film essay: favorites of 2006
erasing clouds

Yet Another List of Records: 2006 Edition

by paul r jaissle

1.Pernice Brothers - Live A Little (Ashmont)
Words really cannot describe the joy this record brings me. From the brisk, Beatle-esque melodies to Joe Pernice’s world-weary and self-deprecating lyrics, Live A Little is a work that I returned to over and over again. Just when I felt content I had listened and absorbed every detail of the album, I found myself re-listening to and rewinding each track discovering new sparkling moments of beauty each time. Every aspect of this album works so effectively and effortlessly: the production shimmers without smothering the songs, melodies are familiar yet unique and Joe Pernice lends the songs the sort of smart, literate wordplay he’s perfected over the years. At various points on the album, Pernice’s lyrics are hopeful (‘Somerville’), defeatist (‘How Can I Compare’), impressionistic (‘Microscopic View’), and nostalgic (‘High As A Kite’). It may sound simple at first, but there is a depth and precision to this album that will have you reaching for the lyrics and the repeat button at each listen. Is there a more perfectly sunshine pop song than ‘Somerville’? A prettier chorus than the one found on ‘Cruelty to Animals’? Once again, Joe Pernice offers a rewarding collection of intelligent pop that makes so much other music sound trivial and forced. Perfect. Best lyric: ‘Gonna take a lover, gonna take her back to Somerville/Don’t care if she’s pretty as we leave Suck City.’ –‘Somerville’

2. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)
Very few albums this year, or in years recent, have been so un-abashedly FUN as Boys and Girls in America. Sure, there are the usual Springsteen comparisons and lyrical pop culture references that seem to follow the Hold Steady everywhere they go, but the real charm of this album is its sweaty, smoky celebration of what makes rock and roll so powerful: big, loud guitars playing big, dumb riffs to make the kids move. Last year’s Separation Sunday was a high faultin’ concept album about the religious salvation of disenfranchised teens. Boys and Girls in America is a celebration of these same kids’ quest to get gloriously fucked-up on their favorite drug: rock and roll. The Hold Steady’s greatest asset is their unwavering love of all things rock: they never fall into ironic posing, but celebrate the power chord and all it’s glory. Lead singer Craig Finn’s marble-mouth delivery weaves tales of chillout tents, hopeless hipsters and lonely girls whose only ambition is to “walk around and drink some more.” Of course, rock and roll is also serious business: when the band slows the tempo and brings the mood down, they show that it’s not so hard to be both intelligent and rowdy. And if you ever doubt the redemptive glory of almighty rock, let me confess that the first time I heard the chorus of ‘Chillout Tent,’ I felt every hair on my body stood up. That’s powerful. Best lyric: ‘She said, “You’re pretty good with words, but words won’t save your life,”/And they didn’t so he died.” –‘Stuck Between Stations’

3. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti)
That voice…what more can you say? Case’s voice has served her well both on her own alt-country solo work and the power-pop of the New Pornographers. On Fox Confessor, Neko’s voice finds itself an integral part of her experiments with songwriting and lyrical narrative that defy categorization. The simple, understated arrangements (provided mostly by backing band, The Sadies) never intrude on the powerful yet tender vocals. Whether interpreting an old gospel tune on ‘John Saw That Number’ or weaving the complex, time bending narrative of ‘Star Witness,’ Case sounds both confident and curious. It is the balance of sure-footed expression and experimental wonder that gives this album its charm and it continuously delivers on all counts. At equal moments heartbreakingly sad and achingly beautiful, Fox Confessor is a wonderfully mature and complex album that refuses to rest comfortably in any genre and demands repeated listening. And that is quite an achievement. Best lyric: ‘Two girls ride the blue line/Two girls walk down the same street/One left her sweater sittin' on the train/The other lost three fingers at the cannery.’ –‘Margaret Vs. Pauline’

4. Destroyer - Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge)
There is something literate and familiar about Dan Bejar’s work: his lyrics weave allusions to other musicians, writers and eve his own Destroyer catalogue. Of course, Bejar’s catalogue is far from predicable in itself. Rubies may not be as succinct and enjoyably fun as Streethawk: A Seduction or as tirelessly experimental as Your Blues; instead, it strikes an even balance of Bejar’s strengths as a songwriter presenting itself as the most satisfying and accessible of his work. Jagged guitar lines settle into pop song structures, acoustic guitars soar nimbly over non-sequiturs and the whole album shambles along with a sort of gracefully weird charm. Rubies walks the razor-thin line of sophisticated and silly and luckily for the listener, is enjoyable smart without succumbing to pretension. Best lyric: ‘Now come on honey let’s go outside. You disrupt the world’s disorder just by virtue of your grace you know…’ –‘Rubies’

5. Robert Pollard - Normal Happiness (Merge)
The biggest downside of Pollard’s heroic yearly output is that most critics end up relying on the same old “ex-schoolteacher who drinks a lot and releases lots of really short, but catchy, songs” angle for their reviews. Those sorts of reviews always miss the fact that Pollard, despite the huge volume of annual material is still growing and experimenting as an artist. Among the five (!) albums he released in ’06, Normal Happiness is the best example of his continuous and consistent songwriting. The punchy guitars and pop melodies may recall the best of Guided By Voices, there is an experimental streak in songs like ‘Gasoline Ragtime’ and ‘Pegasus Glue Factory’ that reminds us listeners that Pollard still has a few new tricks up his sleeve even though he could easily rest on his laurels. His other solo album of 2006, the sprawling double album From A Compound Eye, felt like he was exorcising the ghost GbV and establishing himself as a solo artist. Normal Happiness has no such pretensions and delivers on all of Pollard’s greatest strengths: concise pop songs that twist and turn unpredictably yet always feel familiar. Pollard’s ear for vocal melodies serves him well as these songs swerve from the sunny pop of ‘Supernatural Car Lover’ to the wistful ‘I Feel Gone Again.’ And, you gotta love a 49-year-old who still effortlessly cranks out something as gloriously catchy as ‘Rhoda Rhoda’ with such consistency. Best lyric: ‘All of the stops at the top of my game/Don’t have to say that it’s over/Point out the chokes and the jokes unexplained.’ –‘Top Of My Game’

6. Grandaddy - Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2)
Because Grandaddy announced they would be calling it quits after this album, it would be easy to expect a flawless swansong from Jason Lytle and company on Fambly Cat. But, Grandaddy’s charm has always been their shambling inconsistency, and the band’s best work has usually combined childlike playfulness and curious experimentalism without being simply “cute”. While 2003’s Sumday was a focused and enjoyable effort, it lacked the sense of wobbly tension that was always at the core of Grandaddy’s music. Fambly Cat manages to be both a reminder of all of Grandaddy’s past glories and another example of their continuous growth. From the loud, rocking ‘Jeez Louise,’ to the sweeping, moody ‘Animal World,’ Lytle never lets the music sit comfortably or become predictable. Despite this, there are a few Grandaddy trademarks that we have come to expect: layers of fuzzy guitars, wheezing synthesizers, and gentle, lilting melodies. Throughout this album, Lytle sounds nostalgic, unsure, and ultimately hopeful: from the wistful ‘Summer…It’s Gone,’ to the bouncing and jittery ‘Elevate Myself’ there is a theme of optimism that ties Fambly Cat together. However, it is ultimately bittersweet that such an expressive and fun album is the last we will see from this great band. Best lyric: ‘I don’t wanna of all the quality that falls apart these days/I’d rather make an honest sound and watch it fly around, and then be on my way.’ –‘Elevate Myself’

7. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time (Sub Pop)
The comparisons are easy to make: big, sweeping guitar rock reminds everyone of My Morning Jacket and the fact they are on Sub Pop makes everyone think of the Shins smart indie-pop. The truth is, however, that Everything All The Time is an entirely unique and eminently understated album. The guitar lines are both spacious and raw and the drums are at once laid-back and driving. Calling to mind Neil Young’s work with Crazy Horse, Band of Horses are tuneful and melodic one moment and indulging in expansive guitar jams the next. The propulsive ‘Wicked Gil’ shows the power they are capable of producing and album closer ‘St. Augustine’ reveals a more tender, soft-spoken mood to the group. On ‘The Funeral,’ both textures are mixed with compelling, expressive results that suggests how much thought really goes into such effortless sounding music. Ultimately, the album may suffer from sameness at first blush, but it is a strong effort that holds up after repeated listens. Best lyric: ‘I know you tried/I know you're cursed/I know your best was still your worst/When Hollywood was calling out your name.’ –‘St. Augustine’

8. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)
It takes a pretty strong album to make me question my long-standing, and quite vocal, dislike of Fleetwood Mac. Yet, with Van Occupanther, Midlake have crafted an album of such strength. The rolling, driving opener ‘Roscoe,’ sounds surprisingly similar to something off of Tusk albeit, much more interesting. The layered, chiming acoustic guitars and soft string arrangements elsewhere on the disc call to mind the soft folk of the late ‘70s, and the harmonies of the vocals are as sweet and smart as anything America ever recorded. Thankfully, the group brings their own talent for sharp hooks and melodic songs to avoid sounding derivative. The secret charm of the album is the unassuming presentation that only reveals its catchy, tuneful side after a few devoted listens. Although I still won’t be picking up a copy of Rumors anytime soon, I can finally see the appeal of Stevie Nicks and company. Sort of. Best lyric: ‘Let me not be too consumed with this world/Sometimes I want to go home/And stay out of sight for a long time.’ –‘Van Occupanther’

9. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Geffen)
Aside from the humor of a group of forty-somethings still calling themselves YOUTH, there is a sort of strange contradiction to the work of Sonic Youth: a group founded of experimentation that has developed an immediately identifiable sound. They have basically navigated the same waters for about twenty years now, and even though their last two records sounded great, they were ultimately just more of the same we’ve come to expect. That’s what makes Rather Ripped such a pleasant surprise: it has all the elements of the band’s greatest work with very little of their more annoying experiments. The guitar tones are recognizable but the songs are almost all tuneful and memorable. The band even manages to come up with a few new ideas, especially on the gorgeously chiming ‘Do You Believe In Rapture.’ While not a masterpiece, Rather Ripped is one of the few Sonic Youth albums I find myself returning to and enjoying over and over again. A fine example of what this band is capable of when they are not content to rest on their past achievements. Best lyric: ‘Let me place you in my past with other precious toys/But if you're ever feeling low down in the fractured sunshine, I'll help you feel the noise.’ –‘Rats’

10. Bonnie “Prince” Billy - The Letting Go (Drag City)
This record was recorded in Iceland. Normally, that wouldn’t be important, but no other record I’ve heard captures the environs it was recorded in than The Letting Go. Here, Will Oldham’s gothic Americana meets icy female vocals, sparse, haunting strings, and simple, mechanic drumming. Oldham’s work has also never been better recorded: the production is as crisp and clear as winter air. Yet, even among the cold, Oldham delivers passionate tales that are at once heartbreaking and charmingly playful. The normally skeletal feel of his songs is fleshed out here without ever being smothered by the production. The result is as beautiful and melodic as anything he has produced. There has always been something unsettling to Will Oldham’s music, and this is no exception, but there is a beauty to the sadness of The Letting Go that places it among his finest work. Once you warm to it, this album is both rewarding and comfortable. Best lyric: ‘Hey little bird, thank you for not letting go of me when I let go of you.’ –‘No Bad News’

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