Now, to kick it off, a year-end retrospective, allowing for the fact that I've been remiss vis. seeing new films. Actually, the remarkable thing about 2006 was its slew of high-quality musical releases.
I wasn't alone in my analysis of that plain fact (this year ends with Eragon, The Good German/Shepard and The Fountain notwithstanding; oh, and apparently Little Miss Sunshine) but more on that later.
For now, the musical highlights, and being that it was such a banner year, I'm going to have no choice but to leave a lot out. This'll be in no particular order:
This one left me cold on the first several listens. What's with the distracting references to Britney Spears and George Bush? The Flaming Lips never struck me as a topical band of any kind. The music seemed all over the place, almost to the point of bearing little resemblance to the splendour of past Lips releases. Then a funny thing happened. After about a month of owning it, I discovered that it was indispensible. The topicality faded into the background, and the overwhelming force of their positivism took over. It's an angry piece of "space-age protest music" alright, but it still embodies every theme that sets apart this band: Perseverence, saving the world, and psychedelia. When Wayne Coyne argues that only a fool believes that we're different from the birds in the sky, you can't deny him his rock-philosopher king status. The Flaming Lips are ingenious storytellers, and if this album falls short of their past glories (quite a task not to fall short of), one can certainly stand back and revel in its new ones.
Lostep - Because We Can
This is about as no-holds-barred as the breaks scene has gotten in awhile, at least while retaining such vital musicality. This album rings loud and true as the ambassadorship from Australia to the entire breaks world. Australia is where it's at, and Lostep (Luke Chable and Phil K) create such a various and peopled landscape of rhythm, melody and cadence that you could easily believe you're experiencing dance music for the first time. This is going to be one of the most influential dance albums for many, many years. It's like hearing Hybrid or BT for the first time, only Uberzone came over to put peyote in the Kool-Aid, only, wait a second, it's not like any of those groups at all, because it's fuckin' Lostep, and nobody but Lostep sounds quite like this. The first half of the album is ambient, midtempo quirkiness, and the last half is dance music with as equally quirky a brain, foot and soul. Get this one. I cannot stress this enough.
From 2005, I got into this one this year, and I'm only going to say this: It's the damned Ulysses of indie-rock. Seriously. Had it for a year. On track 5, so far. It's really, really pretty, and well worth the ambition. 2006 saw a release of, I think, two discs of B-sides from this album alone, which in my mind warrants its mention here. Also, get on it Sufie. You're barely through the midwest, and you've got NE and the South before you make it to the Southwest. Hurry up. Lazy fuck.
For those of you who would completely dismiss this band (and their mopiness makes that totally understandable), a healthy introduction to them could well be this one, though it won't make you any more a fan of the old stuff. It's light, funny, danceable(!) and charming, and yes, the songs are all school-girl pop, as always, but somehow the lyrics work as a looser abstraction than that. This album is subtly infectious, and brilliantly dramatic in its compositions. A triumph for fans and non-fans. You won't hate me for selling you the "sad-sack" music. It's not anymore.
Tipper - Relish the Trough
Dirtiest breaks album ever. Also, more brilliantly produced than any breaks album you've ever heard. Seriously, if scorpions liked music, this would be their pick. Live free. Break well.
BT - This Binary Universe
Now this is emotional technology. After his pandering 2003 release, BT returns in full, wondrous form with a work that is destined to mark his turning point from the dance music ghetto to the equally ghettoized arena of modern classical composer-hood. If the response to his recent tour amongst lay-BT fans (crying over a lack of Dreamings or Mercury and Solaces) is any indication, new club album notwithstanding, this one could be the most alienating piece he's written. This is an album ostensibly composed as a series of lullabies for his daughter and the result is a lush, meditative piece (that only becomes apparently daughter-worshipping in its finale) that is overflowing with potential for what's lurking in his head next. BT might well be bursting at the seems to escape his current pigeonholing. He seems to be risking everything on his talent at the moment, so one can only hope that it results in a progression from this progression and not an Emo Tech recidivism on the upcoming clubber.
Honorable mention for the breaks scene must go to Habersham, D Ramirez, The Stanton Warriors, Nubreed, BLIM, Elite Force and Dylan Rhymes.
With that said, I have to say that for the breaks scene, it has been the year of Chris Carter. Between his releases with JHZ (Roxiller) and his abundant output under his own name (Panorama, One Time), he's consistently fresh whilst using most of the same production techniques. He's as durable as they come, and I can't wait for next year.
Having blown all poetical on Chris Carter, I would be crazy to leave out a good Andy Page fellatin'. He's a mad, mad man. He's had his hands all over the breaks scene for awhile, and it's about time he reigned supreme.
I've been told to check out this year's Chili Peppers, Killers, and My Chemical Romance (!!!) releases. That last one stopped me for a second, but your humble narrator has good sources, and he must heed them proper consideration.
The year in movies came down to The Departed, a real teeth-jangler, and Altman's Swann Song, A Prairie Home Companion. We lost Altman and we lost Nykvist. Michael Bay gets to keep making movies. And so it goes.