Saturday, December 09, 2006
If you only buy one CD this year (even though all my sources say you should buy at least five), you'd better make it Thom Yorke's The Eraser. In my opinion, this was hands-down the best album of the year. Yorke stays with his increasingly electronic theme with this album, only taking it a step further. This album was really creepy the first time I listened to it, if only because the disc burned improperly and skipped all the time. (It was also 1.30 AM when I first heard it.) Now, several months later, I can still listen to this album over and over again. Songs like "Black Swan" and "It Rained All Night" just never get old. It's such a clever sound that I can't help but recommend it to everyone I know. You can listen to snippets of it through iTunes or NPR's "All Songs Considered."
If you decide to buy two new CDs this year, though, you should consider picking up Beck's The Information. I was skeptical of this release, since I'd heard less than favorable reviews of it, but a friend of mine let me listen to it about a month ago and I was hooked. Beck uses really clever and innovative sounds in his music (like a dial tone in the opening "Elevator Music"), which makes it really intriguing in my mind. The album is really solid the whole way through. No problems here putting this as my number two album of the year. It's no Eraser, of course, but honestly, there aren't any musicians out there that can hold a candle to Thom Yorke (unless it's Radiohead, of course, but that's hardly any different).
If you decide to go out on a limb and buy three CDs this year, you might want to look into the Decemberists' new release, The Crane Wife. A lot of people found this release less accessible than their earlier albums (especially Picaresque), but I think it's very nearly their best. (Castaways and Cutouts still reigns supreme in my mind. Man, it's good.) The trick is that you can't listen to just one song at a time. For starters, some of the best songs on the album are over ten minutes each; "The Island," a three-part epic that conjures images of Led Zeppelin, is nearly twelve minutes long. Even better, the first and penultimate tracks are parts of the same song ("The Crane Wife 3" and "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," in that order). You have to listen to the album as a whole to really get the sense of it. It's been a long time since I've found an album that demands to be listened to as an album. It's worth the time. Don't be afraid to sit down for forty minutes and really appreciate it.
If you're willing to buy a fourth CD this year, you'd do well to make it Joanna Newsom's Ys. Nearly everyone I've introduced Joanna to has thought her music was creepy and strange. (Tolkien Boy, in particular, had a strong, bodily reaction to it.) That said, you really ought to give her a chance. You just aren't going to find a more innovative sound out there. What other recording artists play the harp? To make things better, she wrote an orchestral accompaniment to her music for this album - it's absolutely beautiful. This is another album that asks you to invest some time, however. There are only five tracks, despite it being a full-length album. (They average about twelve minutes in length. They're worth it.) This is easily the most original new release of the year. Do yourself a favor and try it out.
You're looking for more? If you're buying five CDs this year, you should take a look at Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas. We all know that Sufjan makes beautiful music; one only need look to his magnum opus, Come On Feel the Illinoise! from last year for proof. With this collection, though, he outdoes himself. Over the last five years, he has quietly been recording Christmas music, finally releasing an enormous five-album compilation this year. Don't be alarmed by the amount of music, however; he only released enough music to make an EP each year, so despite it being a five-disc set, the cost is still comparable to that of a regular LP. His penchant for amusing titles continues with songs like "Get Behind Me, Santa!" and "Did I Make You Cry on Christmast Day? (Well, You Deserved It)." His track record of making amazingly beautiful music continues as well, most notably with the ballad "Sister Winter," found on the fifth disc. It's not often that you find a Christmas song featuring the singer apologizing for his cold indifference, but it does the trick. Stevens has the album available for streaming at his label's website, so those who aren't sure they want to buy the album can listen to it before deciding that they really ought to buy it, after all.
There are plenty of other albums that you should probably look into purchasing this year, too. Sufjan Stevens' The Avalanche comes to mind, as well as Christopher O'Riley's Hold Me to This, both of which are beautiful. If you can only buy five CDs, though, this is a solid bunch. As one who has all five, though, you should buy them (or borrow them, or whatever) in the order I've listed. I didn't go to all the trouble of ordering them so you could just ignore it.