Ken Beck   PoOPlist 2006


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1. The Slip - Eisenhower (Bar/None)
Albums that soar like this one are truly an endangered species. For all I know, the black and white photo of the small gazelle-like animal pictured on the cover very well may be a rare breed itself. Take the best indie rock moments of Built To Spill, the occasional complex rhythms of Tortoise, and the arena rock of days of yore and you’ll begin to get half the picture. “Children of December” may sound familiar to those of you listening to WFUV or satellite radio. “Even Rats” may trigger the irrepressible urge to “air-guitar” to it, as the track has been radiating out of television speakers for nearly 2 years as the bonus-round song from the hit video game “Guitar Hero”. And the final sales pitch, “Life In Disguise” was used in the final minutes of a recent “Grey’s Anatomy” episode (“Six Days >Part 2”). This album fires on all cylinders and yet it seems so effortless.

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2. Grandaddy - Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2)
A sleepy little outfit that nearly had me cat-nap when they opened for Coldplay at Radio City decides to cash in their chips and exit on a brilliant high note. All six plus minutes of “Rear View Mirror” slay me. If this were 1984, the video for “Elevate Myself” would have catapulted them onto MTV knocking out The Cars’ seemingly pervasive play of “You Might Think”. Instead the video is relegated to the doomed Zune player and the 28 people who actually bought the damn thing.

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3. The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)
Finally a White Stripes record I truly “get”. I would love to give the full credit to Brendan Benson, but the other two dudes from The Greenhornes must have something to do with their added injection of British invasion, garage/blues-rock. How this album did not produce sales on the scale of Green Day’s “American Idiot” I will surely never know. Even though V2 sent out their best soldiers to fight for airtime and placement, the label has since been discarded and sold for scrap.

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4. Cat Power - The Greatest (Matador)
Normally I would strain to hear the lyrics and what wealth of knowledge emanates from the songwriter’s golden lips. Not so with Chan Marshall, for me. Her delivery is all that matters to me and she does no better job than on this record. It’s something I wish a solo Neko Case could do for me, but there’s something more convincing, much more visceral with Cat Power. “Love and Communication”, the grand finale to “The Greatest” (well 2nd to last if you bought the 1st version of the CD as I did) somehow perfectly melds Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley and PJ Harvey to wondrous effect. Keep em comin’ Chan.

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5. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)
This shall come as no surprise to any of you as I’ve been shouting the high holy praise of Rilo Kiley for the past few years. As much as the well deserved success this record has achieved (sales of well over 100k), I’m greatly relieved to know that it so far has not resulted in the dismantling of R.K. Now unlike Cat Power, Jenny has me savoring every last morsel of lyric she puts on the table. Her performance at Town Hall was utterly mesmerizing and anyone who left with any doubt in their mind about her talent needs to be skinned alive like those poor furry rabbits. Anyone who has the smarts to not only cover “Handle With Care” (The Traveling Wilburys) but to also use the accompanying voices of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), M. Ward, AND Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)… man does that ever win my vote.

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6. Field Music - self-titled (Memphis Industries Ltd.)
Picking up perfectly where Fugu, John Cunningham, and XTC left off, and currently where bands like The Shins and Belle & Sebastian reside, Field Music are perfectionists to the nth degree. There’s really nothing that comes close to this attention to detail, meticulousness of arrangement, challenging time signatures, and its orch-pop. Needless to say there’s a heavy debt owed to Harrison, Lennon and the other two. Started by the original drummer for The Futureheads, there are surely moments that reminds one of them (“Tell Me Keep Me”), though there’s little doubt in my mind that they will completely overshadow them. From what I’ve heard so far, next year’s PoOp is likely to include their just released follow-up “Tones of Town”.

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7. Built To Spill - You in Reverse (WB)
Perennial faves BTS return with an album certainly up to par with their earlier Warner Brothers releases. But, they could have done better. I can’t give them too hard a time, as the bar they’ve set can only be measured in light years. “Conventional Wisdom,” with its colossal guitar riff owed heavily to J. Mascis along with their mind-bending performance at Irving Plaza this past fall, earns them their PoOp stripes.

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8. Kelley Stoltz - Below the Branches (Sub Pop)
If Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson and Robert Wyatt all resided at the same Alzheimer’s unit in a sunny California retirement community, Kelley Stoltz would surely be the weekly music director. “Ever Thought of Coming Back” could easily by slotted onto the Beach Boys’ “Friends” or “20/20”. “Memory Collector” on the other hand has been surreptitiously lifted from Supertramp, though I have to at least commend him for leaving out those abhorrent saxophones and the slick synths.

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9. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (Matador)
Picking up right where they left off with 2003’s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress”, B&S keep the hooks a comin’ and retain their clever as all heck lyrics they’ve always been known for. They’re still raiding the medicine cabinet ingesting vast quantities of Thin Lizzy, T. Rex and David Bowie on this trek, but they managed to not OD from it. “Song for Sunshine” has the band straddling that Steely Dan/Stevie Wonder ground that could easily have run aground, but manages to just barely lift itself out from cheese-dom. They’ll have to mix up the modus operandi for the next record; otherwise they’ll end up in the rut that bands like The Flaming Lips have found themselves in.

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10. Neil Young - Prairie Wind (Reprise/WB)
There were a couple of albums from 2006 that should have bumped this 2005 release out from this slot, but somehow old Shakey managed to wrestle them out of the ring. And there was certainly no way in hell I was going to put “Living With War” up here though I’m bound to find a number of folks here singing the praises of that half-baked protest album (no, I am in no way a Bush supporter). Sure he can be faulted for that and some of the lyrics on “Prairie Wind”, but I was honestly struck by how soothing, honest and humble this record was for me this past year.

Ken Beck
Cranford, NJ