Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album from 2006


Talk about tough competition! I don't even know where to start with 2006. I'll have to do my darndest.

I'm going to start off my talk of 2006 albums with one that is not only one of my favorites, it is also a great way to sum up the musical situation in the year 2006. 

In 2005 or 2006, I joined Myspace because that was the thing to do if you were a nerdy person who lived online, or even if you were a normal person. I'm thinking I joined in 2005 or early 2006 because I remember telling a white lie about my age (you had to be 15 at the time) to open my account. At the time, Myspace was for musicians and fans of those musicians. At one point, most of my top friends were just the musicians I liked. I was a fan of thenewno2, who released an EP that I used my allowance and borrowed my parents' card to pay for. While I was using the card, I also convinced them to let me buy an album by another Myspace artist I had discovered via thenewno2, The Heartstring Symphony.

At my friend Emily's moving party in February,
Heather Porcaro, the lead singer/songwriter was writing sweet, dreamy tunes with strange lyrics and subject matters (there's a song called "Space Monkey"). Her melodies were unique and catchy as far as I was concerned. I'd been listening to whatever I could find in the player on her profile. Heather Porcaro is the daughter of Steve Porcaro, keyboardist for Toto. I didn't know that at the time though. All I knew was that I liked the music of The Heartstring Symphony. There was something so strange and exciting about not being able to look up the lyrics, about listening to an independent band from California all the way out in Ohio. Porcaro has since rerecorded and reissued many of the songs on 2009's & The Heartstring Symphony album, which Steve Porcaro assisted with. But she's never rereleased all of them. The original versions are also more jazzy at times than the 2009 version. There are also disco elements to the original album that never made it onward. I still remember all of the original versions of these songs by heart. Sure, she improved on a couple of the tracks in 2009, but this album is still a solid accomplishment. I can't call it my album of the year though, because I'm probably one of the only people who remembers that it originally came out in 2006.

Regina Spektor had her first majorly successful album with her fourth album, Begin to Hope. "Fidelity" has been Spektor's biggest hit to date. I used "On the Radio" as the backing song for a project I worked on in film school, as well as quoting it in a wedding speech I did. Still, I think "Better" and "Sampson" are two of the best songs on the album. "Hotel Song" is really fun, and for some reason I've done it at karaoke a couple of times. Many people regard it as Spektor's best album, but I would rank it as possibly her third best.

Indie folk band The Decemberists released The Crane Wife, voted by NPR listeners to be the best album of 2006. The Crane Wife was produced by Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie along with Tucker Martine. It takes inspiration from the Japanese folk tale of the same name, as well as The Tempest. A couple of the songs are just about war. The Decemberists have a tendency to be somewhat theatrical in their albums, and of course do not stray from that formula in Crane Wife. Two songs are right around the 12-minute mark in terms of length.  My favorite tracks have always been "Sons and Daughters," "Yankee Bayonet" and "O Valencia!"

Amy Winehouse released her second and penultimate studio album, Back to Black in 2006, at just twenty-three years old. Winehouse had been rediscovering her love of '60s music as she was first dating Blake Fielder-Civil, the man she would eventually marry. She finished writing the album during a period of separation from her future husband. Winehouse also began to struggle with addiction after the death of her grandmother. As a result, the album is raw and emotional soul and R&B record. The songs range from accepting ones own flaws or blaming oneself (as in "You Know I'm No Good") to having a heavy heart over lost love ("Love is a Losing Game," "Tears Dry on Their Own"). "Back to Black" is directly a song to her ex/future husband, who left her for an ex of his ("You'll go back to her and I'll go back to black"). People have interpreted the "black" to be a reference to heroin, but as Winehouse's addiction to heroin didn't begin until 2007, the actual meaning is just a dark place. "Me and Mr. Jones" has possibly the most unusual plot on the album, being that it is about missing a Slick Rick concert. Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi produced the album. Ronson has said that he enjoyed working with Winehouse because she was blunt and honest when she didn't like his work.

Back to Black has had a significant cultural impact. The style of Back to Black paved the way for artists like Adele, Duffy, and the Kanye-produced Estelle who all sang female British soul. She and Ronson were among the first this century to emulate the wall-of-sound. A line from "Me and Mr. Jones" ("what kind of f***ery is this?") was a popular internet cliche in the coming years. "Back to Black" and "Rehab" are staples of the karaoke community. Back to Black reached #1 in her native U.K. and #2 here in the U.S. It's a must-listen, even if you just have to put it on your album bucket-list, you should hear it in your life.

Mark Ronson also produced a "Littlest Things," a track on Lily Allen's Alright, Still. Most of the album was produced by Greg Kurstin, the amazing producer who impressed Dave Grohl enough that he produced the album they put out this year, Medicine at Midnight. He has also produced Paul McCartney's Egypt Station, produced for P!nk, Tegan and Sara, Kylie Minogue, Devo, and Sia just to name a few. He's also half of The Bird and the Bee. But I digress, Lily's writing is the star of this album. At 21 years of age, she composed an album full of fantastic breakup songs, "Knock 'Em Out," about being harassed by guys you aren't interested in, and "Alfie," a song about her brother and future Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen back when he was a slacker teen. Allen gained a lot of traction on- you'll never guess this- Myspace! It was an interesting time for music because internet speeds were becoming fast enough to make streaming and downloading much simpler, and Myspace was connecting artists with their audiences in a way that had really never existed before. You could also find similar artists to things you liked by looking at your favorite artist's top friends or related music. Next time someone tells you Myspace was simply a precursor to Facebook, remind them of how important it was back in the day.

The Format released their second and so far final album (quite the theme for 2006), Dog Problems. Nate Ruess would later go on to form fun, while Sam Means would continue to write and occasionally release songs as a solo artist and would found HelloMerch, a merch site for independent artists. 

Dog Problems is an incredibly quirky album, the instrumentation taking some strange turns. "The Compromise" is a killer track about the band being asked by Atlantic Records to write a hit, prior to the label dropping The Format. It also references the length of time between the band's first and second albums and their growing desire to get away from the cogs of the music industry (I imagine that part was Means, but can't be certain). "Inches and Falling" describes the plight of the serial monogamist, who can't seem to stop being in love, even if the resulting relationships are toxic and end in intense unhappiness until the next relationship. "Dog Problems" and "Time Bomb" are open letters to a cheating ex-lover. The narrator of each song implies that he will be looking for a rebound and "She Doesn't Get It" seems to be about that attempted rebound, a younger girl who is also just looking for a hookup and can't really connect with anything the narrator says. 

The songs on Dog Problems are all great indie pop songs. Droves of fans of The Format are looking forward to the reunion shows, which were originally scheduled for 2020, but have been rescheduled for 2022.

I hadn't made my final decision even as I was writing this list, but in the end, I have narrowed it down to my favorite.

The final (and winning) entry into my favorite albums of 2006 is the first album of only two released by The Long Blondes, Someone to Drive You Home. I found The Long Blondes through a Google image search for Chrissie Hynde, which is probably the strangest way I've ever discovered a band. Lead singer Kate Jackson had a huge influence on my fashion sense for at least the six months that followed. She does sound a bit like Chrissie Hynde, but their music has plenty to offer on its own. The Long Blondes create music that is like incredibly poppy punk, and the lyrics are at times funny and empowering. "Weekend Without Makeup" describes a negative relationship in which the narrator can't seem to connect with her lover who always seems to be up to something, leaving her at home alone. In a similar vain, "Heaven Help the New Girl" was an important song after my breakup, with lyrics like "He never has to go behind my back again because I don't speak to him now" and the titular line, "Heaven help the new girl//if she has to go through what I went through." Instead of being sad about the breakup, the narrator is thankful for her swift release and concerned that someone else is now being put through the same cycle. On the other end of the spectrum is "You Could Have Both," in which the narrator offers themselves up for a mistress situation. "Swallow Tattoo" is an amusing and upbeat track about the discovery of a lover's tattoo. "Once and Never Again" describes a teenager being dramatic about a breakup while her (mother?) attempts to cheer her up. I could go on...I adore the stories in all of these songs. The band were inspired by noir films, which I assume impacted both their image and the subject matter of certain songs. I highly recommend you check out this album, if just for the guitar parts, but surely you'll stay for the clever lyrics.

Let's see that album up on the leaderboard! 

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album from 2007!

No comments:

Post a Comment