The 10 Best Debut LP's of 2006
10. Silversun Pickups-CarnavasThis LA group has taken a beating of late around the Internet. But people shouldn't be quick to blast the Eagle Rock-based quartet as another overhyped blog buzz band. The Pickups built their buzz the old fashioned way: building a sizable local fan base through relentless gigging and dedication.
Indeed you'd be hard-pressed to find someone east of La Brea who hasn't caught the Pickups' live show and its furious mix of shoegaze fuzz and Billy Corgan by way of Wayne Coyne vocals. Is Carnavas perfect? Of course, not. The songs run too long and the lyrics are often overly simplistic. Then again, songs like "Lazy Eye" and "Well Thought Out Twinkles" reveal an inherent knack for melody and pop songcraft, hinting of a brighter future to come. In the critical rush to knock down the latest blog wunderkinds, people seem to be forgetting one obvious but often forgotten fact: it sounds good.
Review of the Silversun Pickups Live
MP3: Silversun Pickups-"Lazy Eye"
9. Cold War Kids-Robbers and Cowards
It's fitting that Cold War Kids should sit by side with the Silversun Pickups. After all, both long-gestating LA bands finally had break-through years in 2006, enjoying a run of unchecked praise throughout the blogosphere before seeing the buzz partially quelled by nasty Pitchfork reviews. But like the Pickups, anyone who has seen the Cold War Kids play around town knows that they aren't just another flash in the pan. Lead singer Nathan Willet flails around stage like a whirling dervish (some might call him a Christian whirling dervish.) The rest of the band follows, displaying undeniable levels of energy that manages turns each CWK live show into an event.
As for Robbers and Cowards, it might have a few duds, but as far as debuts come, you won't find many first albums laced with as many great songs. The hip-hop flavored
stomp of "Hang Me Up to Dry" sounds like the work of veterans, while the jangly guitars of "Hair Down" sound damn-right anthemic. Meanwhile "St. John" and "Hospital Beds" might not be fully lyrically realized but both are catchy as hell and display bright flashes of promise. Cold War Kids might not be great yet, but I wouldn't bet against them.
My Stylus Review of Robbers and Cowards
MP3: Cold War Kids-"Hang Me Up to Dry"
8. Lily Allen-Alright Still
You were either with Lily Allen or you were against Lily Allen. Everyone seemed to have some sort of opinion on the galvanizing British pop star, whose debut Alright Still has yet to even hit US shores. But while she may seem smug and entitled at times, it doesn't change the fact that the singles from Alright Still might've have been the best songs all summer. Tracks like the Professor Longhair-sampling "Knock Em' Out" burst with humor and creativity. "Everything's Just Wonderful" showcases Allen's complexity and sense of sarcasm. Call her ska-lite. Call her overrated. But if every pop song could be as clever and catchy as Allen's, I'd be a happy man.
Review of Lily Allen Live
MP3: Lily Allen-"Everything's Just Wonderful"
7. The Artic Monkeys-Whatever People Say That I Am That's What I'm Not
You'd think the Brit press would've learned their lesson by now. But hype sells. Ask anyone. So when the Artic Monkeys were annointed the Next Big Things by Brit tabloids wowed by their Myspace Generation fanbase, eyes inevitably rolled. But now, months after the hype has died down, give Whatever People Say I Am That's What I'm Not another spin. If you do, you'll remember why people liked the band in the first place. For their witty slice of life sketches of London, for their infectious melodies that got the 18 and under crowd dancing in the first place. Is this band ready for prime-time? Not yet. Their live show is rough and at times their almost punk-rock thrashing feels a little more like Bleach-era Nirvana than the best of Brit Pop. But still, listening to the maniacal energy and sly humor packed into each track, it becomes abundantly clear why this band took off the way they did. Whether or not the hype will prove to be a career killer (see The Stone Roses) remains anyone's guess.
Review of the Arctic Monkeys Live
MP3: Arctic Monkeys-"Fake Tales of San Francisco"
6. Lupe Fiasco-Food and Liquor
There's a litany of good reasons to dislike Lupe Fiasco. The fact that he came up with the most obnoxious man in music: Kanye West. The fact that he decided to call out music writers for daring to criticize him. Or the fact that his live show still needs work. But in spite of those valid reasons, you cannot dispute this record
Like nearly every album on this list, Food and Liquor has its flaws. It's overlong and the fact that the last track is essentially a 12-minute thank you note seems ridiculous. But when Fiasco is on fire, like on the slow-rolling burner "Daydreamin'" or the ominous "The Emperor's Soundtrack," Fiasco displays the talent that makes this the best hip-hop debut since Little Brother's The Listening. With a masterful tongue-twisting flow and eloquent and smart lyrics, Fiasco proves that Common's stranglehold at the top of the list of best Chicago MC's might be over.
Review of Food and Liquor
MP3: Lupe Fiasco-"The Emperor's Soundtrack"
5. Band of Horses-Everything All the Time
In a year where My Morning Jacket didn't release an album of new material, this was the next best thing. You just can't listen to this record without thinking that Band of Horses lead singer Ben Bridwell bears an uncanny vocal resemblance to MMJ lead, Jim James. But that's a good thing considering the pair have two of the finest sets of pipes in rock. But rather than merely mimic a great band, Band of Horses seem to take their cues less from the Allmans and more from their Sub Pop label mates, The Shins.
The reason for Everything All The Time's success is the band's sense of pop melody, best evidenced on their hit "The Funeral." Building slowly with a rich vocal and shimmering guitar chords, the song crawls to a crescendo than descends with plummeting drums and waves of sound. Rather than the sad dirge you expected, "The Funeral" turns into a joyous celebration of life. Plus, how can you dislike an album with a song entitled "Weed Party."
MP3: Band of Horses-"The Funeral"
4. Tapes N' Tapes-The Loon Perhaps the year's best blogs to riches story was the Minnesota quartet, Tapes N' Tapes. In less than 12 months, the band went from being blog darlings to making the pages of Rolling Stone and The New York Times. The reason was their debut, The Loon, a collection of 11 twitching energetic songs that recalled Pavement, Wire and early Modest Mouse. Quirky in their construction, the tunes showed surprising complexity in a rough DIY sort of way.And the standout tracks like "Just Drums" and "Insistor" stayed in your head for weeks, filled with rifling drums and hard danceable bass lines. Slower contemplative numbers like "Omaha" showed an album with diversity. After seeing a lackluster live performance, I'm not ready to predict greatness in their future. But this album is certainly a step in the right direction.
MP3: Tapes N' Tapes-"Just Drums"
3. Benoit Pioulard-Precis
Who is this kid and why is he so high on my Best Debuts of the Year list? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. But every time I listen to this record, it gets better and better. In fact, #3 might even be a bit low for 22-year old Benoit Pioulard (real name: Thomas Meluch). Because Precis, his first non self-released LP, is a triumph of trembling acoustic chords buried in a frozen swirling wind. The sound of someone alone on a cold day up North, staring out of rectangular ice encrusted windows, trying to re-arrange the coordinates of a derailed life.
Burying his baritone voice low in the mix, Pioulard comes off like the little brother of Elliot Smith and Tim Rutuli of Califone, whispering graveyard confessionals into a homemade microphone. Every listen reveals another layer and stunning sonic complexity. Few artists ever produce albums this mature and polished, let alone 22-year olds, so it comes as no surprise that Pioulard has been making music since his early teens. However, Precis, is his announcement to the world that he is someone to watch.
Read Nerd Litter's Interview with Pioulard Part 1 Part 2
MP3: Benoit Pioulard: Ext. Leslie Park
2. Voxtrot- Mothers, Sisters , Daughters and Wives EP and Your Biggest Fan EP Technically, Voxtrot shouldn't be on this list since they haven't released a debut LP. But 2006 was certainly the year when the duo crossed the line from underground sensations to a Band To Watch. It's not hard to see why. With each EP, the band seems to be improving, to the point of where it doesn't sound like hyperbole to legitimately compare the band to Belle and Sebastian in their prime. No other lyricist on this list can match the poetry of Ramesh Srinastava's words or his atavistic knack for melody. The live show needs work, but it doesn't matter much. Voxtrot's music isn't meant to be heard live, as it is to be their songs can only fully be unpacked later, with repeated listenings that uncover each crisp transition, each graceful lyric and every polished and perfect melody.
Review of Voxtrot Live
1. Beirut-Gulag Orkestrar20 Year Olds aren't supposed to make records like this. 20 year olds are supposed to sound like the Arctic Monkeys, full of sneering, jagged guitars and attitude. But Beirut's debut, Gulag Orkestrar sounds world-weary, full of trumpets, mandolins and ukeleles, as though he'd spent the last 16 years mastering his craft while experiencing indescribable sorrows in a Russian Gulag. Paying homage to the Balkan Brass Bands that inspired him during a trip through Eastern Europe, Zach Condon, Beirut's mastermind, not only managed to re-create their sound, he managed to create a staggeringly good work of art.
Live, the album comes to life and everything seems to make sense, even as Condon sings in his deep, extra-terrestrial baritone that seems to come from ancestral lands. If you'd closed your eyes you'd have pictured an ancient gypsy, with them open you see your kid brother who failed his Chemistry 101 final.
If I had to pick any member of the class of 2006 to go onto greatness it would be be Condon, who seems preternaturally gifted with a sense of melody and depth that most musicians can never hope to access. Listen to Beirut's recently released Lon Gisland EP and you'll see a gifted artist evolving right before your eyes. Tracks like "Carousel" and "Elephant Gun" explode with fluttering strings and crunching accordians, seeming as rich anything on Gulag but even more fleshed out and lyrically developed. With things in the Middle East looking the way they are right now, I'd take bets that Beirut the band might have a longer shelf life than Beirut the city.
Review of Beirut Live
MP3: Beirut-"Mt. Wroclai (Idle Days)"