Aaaaand I'm back.

Not much to report from the land of Ronsonville. Just got back from Iowa only to find that my car was ticketed by the City of Cincinnati. Apparently, they cleaned the streets on Dec. 21 and I was selfishly out of town and left my car parked there. Foolish me. Now they're asking me to pay them 40 bucks. Thanks for the love, Cincinnati.

But that's about it. More drama from that to come, I'm sure. Happy New Year from Ronsonville...


Home for the Holidays

Hey folks!

Currently hanging out in Iowa, recuperating from this crazy year and counting down the days until I hit double threes. In the meantime, I suggest checking out how my music lists measured up to the (ahem) professional critics' selections by looking at the overviews at Metacritic.

I'm not too surprised (some of the stuff I deemed "overrated" has popped up alot), but the real news is that it appears there's no overall winner for "CD of the Year" -- the closest to anyone comes to a consensus about are Bob Dylan and TV on the Radio.

In one of the more disappointing lists of the year, Pitchfork.com dubbed The Knife's "Silent Shout" their CD of the Year. While I tend to disagree with Pitchfork (alot) they're usually right on the money about their #1 spot (previously honors have gone to Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire -- both brilliant and deserving pieces of music). I bought Silent Shout for $2 earlier this year just to see what the fuss was all about. While it's interesting, it's far from "CD of the year" (and personally wouldn't even make my top 100 of '06).

Anyway, more to come later in the week. Happy holidays from Ronsonville...


Top 20 CDs of 2006 (and more)

Now it's time for the big category: Top CDs. Songs are great, but the cohesiveness of an album (especially in this day of quick hits and single downloads) is especially remarkable. Since I've already talked about a lot of these CDs when I went through the songs, there won't be a lot of comments (except if the CD has not been previously mentioned). Also wanted to get this in before I was tainted by critics' opinions which will roll in about a week.

And just cuz I'm feeling list-y, I'm gonna throw in a few more, including a list of overrated critical darlings and some potential good stuff that I just haven't had the time to check out.

The Best of 2006

1. Tape 'n' Tapes • The Loon
While it was a tight race between The Eraser and The Loon, I give the edge to Tapes 'n' Tapes, with their well crafted debut. I love all kinds of music, but indie rock still tops the list. Sufjan Stevens, Interpol, The White Stripes and Arcade Fire have topped my past lists, and I feel like this disc stays in line with those past picks. It was a rough year for indie rock -- a lot of disappointments from big names (i.e. The Walkmen, Fiery Furnaces). This was the CD that reminded me why I'm such a fan of this music.

2. Thom Yorke • The Eraser
3. Ghostface Killah • Fishscale
4. Art Brut • Bang Bang Rock And Roll
5. Boris • Pink
Because of stupid international release date schedules, these CDs were already easily available in other parts of the country last year, and other review sites and magazines (because they're mean) have long reviewed them and put them on 2005's best lists. However this is the first year we, the common folk, had access to either Art Brut's brilliant debut or Boris' stunning drone masterpiece. Art Brut has a modern Sex Pistol feel, bratty and smart. Boris' music is so heavy, you don't even care that you can't understand what the singers are saying (oh yeah, that's because it's in Japanese).

6. Belle & Sebastian • The Life Pursuit
7. Prince • 3121
8. Lupe Fiasco • Lupe Fiasco's Food And Liquor
9. TV on the Radio • Return To Cookie Mountain
10. Beck • The Information
11. Morrissey • Ringleader Of The Tormentors
12. Jay-Z • Kingdom Come
13. The Black Heart Procession • The Spell
14. Heartless Bastards • All This Time
15. The Decemberists • The Crane Wife
16. Yo La Tengo • I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
17. Arctic Monkeys • Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
I nearly forgot about my two-month obsession with the Arctic Monkeys in early 2006 (so much so that I forgot to include "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" on my best songs list. It really deserves an honorable mention). Two things stun me about this group: First, they're all barely 20 years old. Second, their band name includes the word "monkey" and they're not completely annoying. Possibly the last great Brit post punk dance album...until post punk becomes popular again...in about 15 years.

18. Cat Power • The Greatest
19. Gnarls Barkley • St. Elsewhere
20. I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness • Fear Is On Our Side
Rounding out my top 20 this year was tough, but I thought I'd give the spot to another disc that I liked, but kinda snubbed in my song list this year. I Love You, But... definitely lives up to their name with a haunting Pink Floyd-esque vibe with a lot of beautiful moments in between.

I predict these will appear on critics lists everywhere this year. I wasn't so impressed:
1. Joanna Newsom • Ys
2. The Hold Steady • Boys And Girls In America
3. Clipse • Hell Hath No Fury
4. Mastodon • Blood Mountain
5. Destroyer • Destroyer's Rubies

Wild cards?

Since I'm only one person and don't get CDs advanced to me every week (terrible, isn't it? Please, feel free to pity me), I can only possibly buy, listen to (even sample) and enjoy so much. Here are ten discs that might very well be classics, but I just haven't gotten around to them yet:
1. Bob Dylan • Modern Times
2. Lilly Allen • Alright Still (to be released in Jan 07)
3. Chin Up Chin Up • The Harness Can't Ride Anything
4. Nellie McKay • Pretty Little Head
5. Nas • Hip Hop Is Dead (to be released Dec 18)
6. Jarvis Cocker • Jarvis
7. Albert Hammond Jr. • Yours To Keep
8. J Dilla • Donuts
9. Phoenix • It's Never Been Like That
10. Califone • Roots And Crowns

Honorable Mentions
Last but not least, here's a tiny list of stuff that I forgot about or liked, but for whatever reason, didn't fit into the rest of my 06 recap.

1. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – iTunes live session

While "Show Your Bones" was a respectable YYYs effort, it never really stuck out to me, especially when it came time to rank everything at the end of the year. This tiny, four song EP that includes a cover of the great Sonic Youth song The Diamond Sea and a slowed down version of their own "Gold Lion" took me by surprise. Probably the only worthwhile "iTunes session" to date.

2. Dean Wareham's cover of Distractions, Pt. 1
Dean (along with Stephen Malkmus) is the curator of obscure tastes for the 90s generation. Wareham has introduced me to a number of artists (Serge Gainsbourg, Dream Syndicate) through his beautifully arranged covers. This, off his EP with Britta Phillips available only at indie record stores, is a Bobby Darin song, during Darin's apparent folkie phase (this is the same Darin who sang "Splish Splash" and was a loungy Sinatra style crooner for awhile). The songs lyrics are eerily relevant and Dean's vocal delivery so completely owns the song that you'd think he wrote it.

3. Jens Lekman
While Jens didn't have a proper release this year, a compilation of his earlier stuff was compiled and released early this year (Oh, You're So Silent, Jens) making it technically my favorite reissue of the year. Plus, minus the Belle & Sebastian concert I saw, I don't think I saw a more entertaining live show in 2006.

4. Soundtrack of the year?
The excellent mix of 70s new wave, Spoon and Maxïmo Park and instrumental mood music that is "Stranger Than Fiction." Not only does it play a significant part in the movie, the music stands well by itself -- the obvious (but tricky) key to any truly good music soundtrack.

5. Sufjan Steven's Songs For Christmas
Not often do I buy or even recommend Christmas music, it's definitely more of an individual thing and pretty difficult to rate. Sufjan manages to put together five years worth of his Christmas EPs for those wanting to hear some Christmas tunes that don't involve belting divas or overdone crooning. It ends up working out pretty well with some of the songs having a shelf life beyond the holidays. Raise your eggnog to this one...

Hope you found all of this mildly interesting. Remember to consult at least one more music source before buying anything I recommend. Thanks for reading!

We were pop rocked

Above is the Beck poster I picked up at this year's Pop Rocked exhibit at Powerhouse Factories in Covington, KY (design by Boss Construction). It's now proudly displayed in my living room for all to see.

The event itself was a lot of fun, Rob showed his work, Dan took photos (including me posing stoically with my purchase), and then there's this video of the event (available via Gina's blog) which is hilarious beyond description (esp. for those of you who know Paul). You've gotta see it. I get kissed! Twice!!


Top 25 songs 2006, Top 5

Here are the top 5 songs of 2006, hand-selected by me. It was a tough call, but I'm mostly satisfied by this final lineup:

5. White Collar Boy • Belle & Sebastian (The Life Pursuit)
B&S continue their evolution from mid-9os masters of sad, 60s style indie pop to mid-00s masters of indie Thin Lizzy style pop-rock. It's amazing that Stuart Murdoch has led B&S for over 10 years now, especially in a genre of music whose critics generally don't reward people who stick around. This song, with fuzz bass, great lyrics and delivery by Murdoch and sunny feeling overall, proves they're not going anywhere.

4. Insistor • Tapes 'n' Tapes (The Loon)
Debut of the year. This band manages to take the best parts of Pavement and the Pixies and reinvents them for this indie rock suite. In a year that may favor "freak folk" and the "techno/electro experimental" movements, Tapes 'n' Tapes proved there's still some life in indie rock.

3. Lolita • Prince (3121)
Prince has still got it. His knack for writing catchy singles continues on his second decent "comeback" album in two years. This one throws a twist into the (surprisingly) often used "young girl" temptation song: He actually has no problem resisting it. This has got to be the hottest song about monogamy ever.

2. Ghostface Killah • 9 Milli Bros. (Fishscale)
I'm not really into the drug rap craze that seems to have the rest of the critical world in recent years. It appears that you have to be a street hustler rapping about your tough life to have a well-received album these days. It's surprisingly small-minded from people who are supposedly more open-minded and adventurous about music. That said, I really liked Ghostface's "Fishscale" this year. Ghost takes these raps to whole different levels using creative, theatric words and imagery and spending more time discussing the downside of the life. This is my personal favorite of the bunch though. It's a concise Wu-Tang reunion, that in 4 minutes, gives all nine members plus sometimes member Cappadonna (including a hair-raising, quick rhyme from beyond by ODB) time to take a verse over a celebratory MF Doom production. It's never boring and always feels over way too soon.

1. Black Swan • Thom Yorke (The Eraser)
This is really a vote for all the songs on Thom Yorke's debut solo CD. It's honestly too difficult to choose one song to represent the group. Critics generally set their sights way too high on this one too; they should've accepted it for what it was: a simple, modest, but nonetheless powerful collection from someone who always moves forward with his music. This song is a great example, one of the more accessible tracks, with an upbeat bassline offset by Yorke's fragile voice/lyrics. However, from the opener (The Eraser) to the stunning closer (Cymbal Rush), the album is consistently good and at 41 minutes, one of 2006's most concise statements. Definitely one of the best CDs of the year.

Vote for Kari!

Kari boldly puts her mad ballet skillz on the line in this video dance off versus musician Tracy Walker and Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell. I might be a touch biased, but I think she smokes the competetion. Check it out! Then go vote for her here!


Top 25 songs 2006, 15 to 6

My love/hate relationship with the list continues. Here's 15 through 6:

15. Steady As She Goes • The Raconteurs (Broken Boy Soldiers)
I think indie rock will be remembered by two singles this year. Number 9 on my list, and this little number by the Raconteurs. Jack White's cynical pop song about the fears of a long term relationship (how's that second marriage going?) is helped by the full band sound and Brendan Benson's calming backing vocals. This single was also boosted by having an hilarious video featuring Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman).

14. 9 to 5 • Lady Sovereign (Public Warning)
"Love Me Or Hate Me" is the perfect Lady Sov single, but it's songs like this one that explain why she's the number one UK Grime import. Lazy rhymes with unexpected twists, lyrics about the mundane life of an office job (which I guess she's read about?) and production with so many bleeps and background asides, you have to listen to it 10 times to catch them all.

13. Pharrell • Best Friend (In My Mind)
I think I expected too much from Pharrell. I was sort of hoping for the Prince for this generation, but he's not there yet. Right now, he's maybe the Jamiroquai. While "In My Mind" has flashes of brilliance, it's not really the classic I was hoping for. This song is an early highlight, Pharrell opens up a little lyrically and the cymbal crashing chorus punctuates the feeling of the song perfectly.

12. Nausea • Beck (The Information)
Step one: Beck reaches into his bag of Beck tricks and makes one of his upbeat Beck singles. It contains most of the usual Beckisms and a one word chorus. Nice try, Beck, but I've heard it before. Step two: The song stays in your head for months. Curse you, Beck! You've done it again!

11. At Last I Am Born • Morrissey (Ringleader of the Tormentors)
Morrissey wins the "Best Closer Award" this year with this finale from "Ringleader of the Tormentors." He continues to mix up his dramatic/dark humor dynamic to create yet another classic. Sample lyric: "I once thought that time accentuates despair/But now I don’t actually care."

10. Oh My God • Jay-Z (Kingdom Come)
While reviews for Jay-Z's comeback appear mixed, I think that it's an overall success. While there were some clunkers ("Hollywood" and "30 Something" come to mind), the return has mostly great songs, like this one which has Just Blaze using a sample of "Whipping Post" to great effect and Jay-Z attacking the song like he never left. Which, technically, he didn't.

9. Crazy • Gnarls Barkley (St. Elsewhere)
When a quirky song comes out by a couple of outcasts, and becomes a hot hit that you end up hearing on radio for the rest of the year, it's a rare and impressive feat. Seriously, listen to this song! The production is pretty dark and the lead singer has raspy chipmunk voice and is talking about being insane. I love it, but how did this get so popular?!

8. Smile • Lily Allen (Alright Still)
Lily Allen made one of the debuts of the year in 2006, and while we Yanks have to wait for the CD to come out in January, this song was available on iTunes for a little while. Think Nellie McKay only less loungy and more pop. A bright, happy song about seeing an ex-boyfriend squirm. Lovely.

7. Kick, Push • Lupe Fiasco (Food & Liquor)
Another amazing debut from 2006. I don't even skateboard, but this song makes me wish I did.

6. Tangled • Black Heart Procession (The Spell)
This is my choice for for "Opener of the Year." This song perfectly sums up the mood and atmosphere that's carried out through the "The Spell," the latest (and possibly best?) CD by the Black Heart Procession. You can feel yourself spiraling downward, clausterphobic and haunted. And it feels so good.

Top 25 songs of 2006, 25 to 16

In what's sure to be some of my more ambitious posts yet, I'm going to attempt to rank 25 of my favorite songs of 2006. The six people/editors of Ronsonville have compiled their lists, and this is what we've come up with.

Here's the criteria: Any song that was released in the calendar year 2006 (which means my favorites from late 2005 can't count. Sorry, Boris and Art Brut) and I have to have heard it. That's it. Whether it was a single or not is largely unnecessary. Sounds good, right? Here we go starting with 25 to 16:

Song • Artist (Album)

25. Chasing Cars • Snow Patrol (Eyes Open)
Slow build? Check. Huge chorus? Check. "I Give Up" lyrics? Oh yeah. It's another Snow Patrol hit!

24. Calling Me • The Rapture (Pieces Of People We Love)
Why did everyone stop liking indie dance music this year? Kinda depressing. Fortunately, nobody told The Rapture. Although this song is more eerie and rock-oriented than most Rapture tunes, it's still catchy and pretty frickin' great.

23. Dear Mr. Supercomputer • Sufjan Stevens (The Avalanche)
One of the leftovers from Illinois, this song stands out for two reasons: 1) Woodwind flurry and 2) Awesome (maybe too obvious?) Beatles ref.

22. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) • The Decemberists (The Crane Wife)
While the new Decemberists CD is best listened to in one giant chunk, this is my personal favorite song from the set. The harmonizing and call-and-response are nice, but it's the unexpected chorus that has me hitting the replay button.

21. Dirtywhirl • TV on the Radio (Return To Cookie Mountain)
I knew TV on the Radio weren't going to disappoint me again (not a fan of 2004's Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes) when I heard "Dry Drunk Emperor" earlier last year. Dirtywhirl is a great example of the goodness of coming from Cookie Mountain, a cyclical, catchy rhythm...and sleigh bells.

20. Blue Day • The Heartless Bastards (All This Time)
While "All This Time" showcases a softer side of the Heartless Bastards, I'm a huge fan of this song, which almost sounds like it came off their first album. It's really a toss-up between this and lead-off track "Into The Open," which I think best shows off the Bastards' newly discovered versatility.

19. The First Vietnamese War • The Black Angels (Passover)
Black Grease may have the hook, but I was really sold on the Black Angels on the power of this song, which sounds like the lead singer from Clinic fronting the Jesus and Mary Chain. Fortunately it's the best of both.

18. Ya'Meen • Method Man (4:21...The Morning After)
Method Man has probably done enough corny movies and UPN TV shows to sully his reputation for good. I think he's got a few good raps left, as evidenced in his 2006 disc, mostly about how he's mad at critics and ready to take his rap career seriously again. At the top of the list is this track, which has an infectious chug while Meth spouts how he's "the one shot killa one shot killin' it." Did I also mention that this is the year I discovered the power of a great gym song?

17. I Should Have Know Better • Yo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid Of You...)
In a disc bookended by epic 10-minute drones, I prefer this 3-minute energetic mini-drone from Yo La Tengo's latest. The vocals are understated and a perfect match to the music. I can only imagine that this song is amazing live.

16. Living Proof • Cat Power (The Greatest)
Cat Power is one of those artists that I really like, but can only get into when I'm in certain moods (read: depressed). Fortunately, "The Greatest" explores a ton of other emotions, like on this song which comes off as soulful and, dare I say, happy.


Coming soon...

Love copying the style of old cartoons from '50s ads. Brief blog announcement: In the new year, I'm planning more sketches -- only more autobiographical, so get excited about that.

By the way, the "guy" in question above is most likely me...

Further into the abyss...

So ends the story of Catman, but at least it's a happy one...