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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Not just another list of year’s best

The year 2006 was marked by momentous events in the music world: The one-billionth song (Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”) was purchased from the iTunes Store. Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett passed on (notice how I resisted making the “Great Gig in the Sky” gag). Paul McCartney turned 64.

As for the music itself, artists like Bob Dylan, Justin Timberlake and the Red Hot Chili Peppers achieved stunning levels of both critical and commercial success.

But many more artists have made great musical strides without all the hoopla. They created the lost albums and the forgotten songs, their work underappreciated by listeners, reviewers or both. Critics didn’t sing their praises in the traditional year-end inundation of top 10 lists, when everyone and his blogger brother celebrated the New Year by naming off the 2006’s best albums.


And as much as I hate to perpetuate the cycle of clichéd best-of lists, it somehow seems necessary to cap the year off with a look back. My best-of-the-rest list recognizes these overlooked albums of 2006.

Although the Killers’ sophomore effort wasn’t overlooked so much as underappreciated,

it takes the prize for most criminally underrated album of the year. Sam’s Town finds the band attempting to capture the city’s wayward version of the American dream.

From the windy sweeps of synthesizer and guitar to the newfound cragginess in frontman Brandon Flowers’ voice, Sam’s Town is an appropriately ambitious follow-up to their smash debut. But because the Killers don’t have the same instant charisma this time around, many critics dismissed the latest effort as a second-rate Springsteen rip-off.

Flowers, however, shows enough ballsy, emotive charisma as a singer to be considered alongside the greats. He slides from note to note like a horn player, stretching his voice to make out-of-tune vocal melodies somehow fall into line perfectly with the rest of the band’s steady gallop.

The band carries out any missteps with such convincing pomp and circumstance that you don’t give a damn: It’s more fun to listen and see what they do next as they jump deftly from the Sgt. Pepper’s Beatle-isms to hypnotic Van Halen-arena rock.

Whereas Sam’s Town encapsulates the seedy essence of Las Vegas, the Roots’ Game Theory depicts the gloomy reality of urban Philadelphia. On their first album for Def Jam, hip-hop’s hardest-working band keeps an independent mindset, bringing the heat with strong verses and beat-based sonic experimentation.

Lead emcee Black Thought has a lot of beefs, but unlike most rappers, they’re with heavy issues like police brutality, urban degeneration and violence in the Gaza Strip.

But the Roots are at their best as they marry foreboding, echoing instrumental tracks with equally grim lyrics about the mean streets of “Illadelph,” a “jawful of something awful,” as guest rapper Malik B describes it.
Even while waxing lyrical on gangsta life, the group stays socially conscious: “If you ain’t sayin’ nothin’, you a system’s accomplice/ It should play with your conscience, do away with the nonsense.” It’s a great blend of down-to-earth but intelligent rhymes that never get overly preachy enough to be called “messages.” The album is compelling musically as well, drawing heavily on atmospheric soundscapes and smooth soul grooves between sets of blistering hip-hop.

L.A. turntablist Cut Chemist's solo debut The Audience’s Listening also takes an atmospheric adventure into hip-hop’s unknown realms, only he uses samples almost exclusively, instead of the Roots’ live-instrument approach. The DJ plays the wheel of steel as if it were an instrument, though, tapping into a vast collection of samples that includes everything from swaying Bossa nova grooves to vocal incantations.

Cut Chemist is an artist you have most likely heard without realizing it — he was a founding member of eclectic L.A. group Ozomatli and contributed to Jurassic 5’s early catalogue — but his first long-player puts the DJ center stage. Chemist is extensive but not rambling as he unhurriedly celebrates the artistry of interweaving disparate sounds and textures.

He does it with a strong sense of musical humor as well. On the album opener, caricatured vocals provide tongue-in-cheek commentary as Chemist opens up his bag of tricks. And throughout the album, the DJ plays around like a rambunctious kid who just broke into his dad’s set of power tools.

Indie-rockers ¡Forward Russia! from Leeds, England, are equally rambunctious, replacing the playfulness with unadulterated and straight-faced dance-rock bombast. Their debut album Give Me a Wall garnered a distant No. 112,569 sales rank on as of press time, but the band incorporates elements from so many other bands that it’s a wonder they don’t have a wider appeal.

The percussive guitar attack of Mew, the electronic boogie of the Killers and the abrasive male vocals of the Rapture are all here in abundance, resulting in a whacked-out yet majestic body of songs. Wall plays like a rough-around-the-edges version of Bloc Party-meets-Be Your Own Pet as the group alternates between barrages of snarling guitars and floods of synth-driven beats.

Windy city quartet the M’s are slightly more widely known than ¡Forward Russia!, but their second full-length Future Women defies a plethora of comparisons with its lethargic but noisy garage-rock.

The unusual mixture of chiming bells and fuzzed-out guitars on many of the tracks recalls Iggy & The Stooges’ “Penetration,” and the album certainly has strains of vintage rock. Overall, however, the mixture is hard to place, comfortably familiar yet new at the same time.

The oddly titled Men, Women & Children have a similar old-school feel to the bouncing rock of their eponymous debut, but it’s more indebted to classic soul and funk, and steeped in the grandiosity of '80s icons like Prince.

Yet even as they swagger through floor-thumping tracks like “Dance in My Blood,” they somehow bring in Mars Volta-esque aggro noise-rock that would be horribly out of place in any other form of dance music. The resulting tunes are as offbeat as titles like “Photosynthesis (We’re Losing O2),” as outrageous as the Scissor Sisters and as enjoyable as a Timbaland backbeat.

The release of Tool's 10,000 Days was a momentous event of 2006 in itself, since the L.A. hard-rock group averages five years between albums. A mysterious “ailment” led the band to disappoint Madison fans by canceling their Kohl Center appearance this fall, and the successful album disappeared from the limelight just as unexpectedly.

While nothing can match the eye-opening originality of 1996’s Ænima, Tool’s latest freshens up their sound with new elements such as electronic drum beats, varied guitar textures and pronounced vocal effects.

Guitarist Adam Jones has completed his transition to full-fledged tonesmith, playing more like a protégé of the Edge than a hard rocker. Like the U2 guitarist, he has an uncanny ability to build similar washes of sound, but has no reluctance whatsoever to dismantle them with hard-hitting distortion riffs.

So while Britney Spears was stealing away the spotlight with consistently dumb and embarrassing behavior, these albums were bubbling up from underground, regardless of media attention. They received little credit for trying to bring the focus back to the music, staying mostly off the charts and critics’ best-of lists.

But while momentous events make music history, the music itself defines the year. Despite what the star-struck news outlets would have you believe, music is the most important part of the music industry, even more important than an ex-Beatle growing old or a bubble-gum pop star who has lost her flavor.

Alec Luhn is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Send any questions, comments or rants about his best-of list to [email protected].

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