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    10 cds of 2006 (with mp3s): part 1

    Right around the time of Christmas and New Year's, I was travelling, and sick, and working on other writing projects, and trying to beat Armadillo Run, so I never got around to posting my "best of 2006" CD list. Working with the better-late-than-never premise, I thought I'd do it this week, ornamenting it with some MP3s as a bonus. Expect it in three installments, starting with the bottom of the list and working our way up:

    10. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
    Flawed and occasionally indulgent, but St. Elsewhere earns major points for managing to be both a record that I heard or played at just about every party I was at this year and an album-length meditation on mental illness and the fragmentation of [black] identity. Improbable, but the unsettling lyrical content consistently fit perfectly into the alluring vibe generated by Cee-Lo's charismatic croon and Danger Mouse's warm grooves. The most obvious manifestation of this trick can be seen in the way they took a song explicitly about madness and disintegration ("Crazy") and got it to pass as the feel-good pop hit of the year, but the pattern is repeated everywhere on the album, from the inviting cover of the Violent Femmes' menacing "Gone Daddy Gone" to "Necromancing," an ode to necrophilia. Impressive, fascinating.
    :: "Who Cares?," by Gnarls Barkley

    9. The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love
    Aside from "45:33," there wasn't a new LCD Soundsystem release last year, but this indie-dance release by the Rapture served as a decent stopgap, as long as you were willing to substitute Luke Jenner's sleazy charisma for James Murphy's subcultural wit. Pieces essentially updates the ideas of the disco-inflected post-punk era for an audience weaned on 80s power-pop: something like Loose Joints reinterpreted by Ric Ocasek. No claims to high significance, but definitely the most fun album I heard all year.
    :: "Whoo! Alright—Yeah...Uh Huh," by the Rapture

    8. Keiran Hebden and Steve Reid, The Exchange Session, Vol. 1
    Many, many talented people have attempted to integrate free jazz and electronic music, with outcomes that have ranged from the blandly respectable to the utterly dreadful. This disc, made up of three improvisations between sample-manipulator Keiran Hebden and longtime jazz drummer Steve Reid, avoids these fates, managing to at least partially scale the peaks that characterize the best of ecstatic '60s jazz. Hebden's body of solo work (as Four Tet) is impressive, but he seems especially freed up here by being able to hand off the rhythm duties to Reid; this allows him to stretch out and focus on the role that would normally fulfilled by an especially "free" saxophonist, namely, providing squall and color and noise. The album isn't perfect—there are moments when the pieces lose their way—but this disc provides the most substantial piece of evidence to date that these two branches of music can be successfully wed.
    :: "Soul Oscillations," by Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid

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    Tuesday, January 30, 2007
    11:34 AM


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