\ Hip Displeasure: The 2006 "Airing of Grievances"

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Monday, January 01, 2007

The 2006 "Airing of Grievances"

As the holiday season winds to a close, we here at Hip-D (at least those of us who weren't too lazy to participate) have decided to honor the annual Festivus celebration by posting our own "Airing of Grievances for 2006. Each staffer (again, those who actually played along) makes a case for their favorite 2006 album that did NOT make the Hip-D Top 20. Once we can figure out how to virtually pin each other to a mat, we'll add the "Feats of Strength."

Elvis Fu: Scott H. Biram - Graveyard Shift

If I weren't such a lapdog for Lucero, Graveyard Shift by Scott H. Biram might very well have topped my 2006 list.

This is Biram's fifth album, but the self-described "Dirty Old One-Man Band" had somehow never popped up on my radar until this year. "Dirty" isn't quite spot-on. "Truck Stop Toilet Dirty" is closer to what Biram churns out through a tangled mess of blues, roadworn country and enough heavy metal to scare off the more chaste fans of traditional blues & country. Oh yeah, Scott H. Biram also heads the self-established "First Church of the Ultimate Fanaticism" as a sort of whiskey smuggling Revival preacher following the blue highways looking for more than just salvation under the big tent.

This ain't alt-country. Sure, we get some pedal steel and a little harmonica over a twangy guitar backdrop, but Biram credits himself with just about every piece of his orchestra: lead and harmony vocals, CB radio, loudspeaker, breathing, harmonica, gut, all acoustic & electric guitars, Hammond B3 organ, homemade footstomp board, hi hat, tambourine, claps, hambone, table thump, special effects, random noises. It's not pretty. Graveyard Shift is unwashed, flea-bitten and broken down on every damn song. With his voice sounding like it's projected through an old coffee can, Biram kicks off the album with "Most times I can't sleep at night / I just walk the highway up and down / Sometimes I can't eat a bite at all / Sometimes I bite off more then I can chew," from "Down Too Long."

From there, Biram hustles through trucker life ("18 Wheeler Fever," "Reefer Load"), the big man upstairs ("Only Jesus," "Church Jesus"), punching a clock for The Man ("Work," "Graveyard Shift") and of course, women ("Long Fingernails"). And while "Plow You Under" is a better glimpse at the awesome horror that is Scott H. Biram, it was "Lost Case of Being Found", that made me stop and listen the first time. It's still my favorite since that moment, even though it is a more low-key number.

Mark H.: Chumbawamba - A Singsong And A Scrap

Occasionally a band will change gears or explore new sonic territory, raising an eyebrow or two and possibly pulling former fans back into the fold. Chumbawamba, however, have dared go the step beyond, and outright reinvented themselves for this new album. Stripped down to fewer members and fewer instruments, the once-predictable arrangement of horns, amps, synths, and thumping beats is nowhere in sight. Thankfully, the group has talent to spare, so even with just their multi-part harmonies, acoustic guitars, and other various folk/americana instruments, Chumbawamba has turned in a masterpiece.

One might think they’ve delved into the hipster neo-folk realm, but that simply isn’t the case. These are tunes that point confidently in the direction of The Weavers and The Kingston Trio. The album showcases folk revival-esque songs of war and protest, sung sing-along style and for the pop masses. In and of itself, a fine musical accomplishment, but the album cruised to the # 1 spot on my list for outstanding songwriting (granted, they cover The Clash – and well – but the other 12 originals are amazing). Every single song, even the ones with a specific historical reference point, seem timeless. Every blessed note would fit in perfectly in a small dark coffeehouse or an arena full of folkie anarchists.

This album deserves to be heard by all: old, dedicated fans (like me), past listeners waiting for something fresh, and even people new to the scene. A Singsong And A Scrap is not tremendously indicative of the band’s catalog, but it’s so good I can't help but recommend it to anyone and everyone I know.

stacey: Lily Allen - Alright, Still...

During a few driving excursions this year, something odd happened to me -- I craved cheap, mainstream pop. I hungrily fondled the radio dial on several occasions, reaching extreme heights of joy upon finding Gavin DeGraw, Nick Lachey and old Natalie Imbruglia. Needless to say, this worried me and I found myself questioning my very elitist-indie-fuck existence. Mid-soul search, I found Lily Allen and I thought all hope was lost.

Alright, Still... is granulated pop goodness. Ms. Allen is a sassy young Brit (think a female Streets) with a sweet, sunshine-filled voice and lyrics such as "You're not big, you're not clever, no you aint a big brother, not big whatsoever" from (what else) "Not Big," a (what else) breakup song. She also tackles the age-old problem of disposing of a creep at a bar ("Knock 'em Out") and hopes her lazy, drug-addled brother can make something of his life ("Alfie"). See, she doesn't only provide important public service announcements, she also still believes the children really are our future. Lily Allen is cheeky, she is fun and perfect for those days when all you'd like to do is bob your head in a carefree manner and drive along to a listen-all-the-way-through disc. Plus, it's much better than having someone catch Nick Lachey on your stereo.

jasmine: The Lilys - Everything Wrong is Imaginary

I'm assuming that the reason Everything Wrong is Imaginary by The Lilys is not on your Top 20 is because you haven't heard it. If you have another reason, I think you might be a little slow, or you simply have poor taste in music.

Okay, enough indie snob talk. Seriously, this is a great album. It's one of those albums where you feel like a bunch of different bands are performing on one album. Sometimes they sound like a shoegaze band, sometimes a plain old indie rawk band and on track three, "A Diana's Diana," you might just think that someone's slipped a funk album onto the turntable. My only gripe about the band is that their influences are very obvious. I've noticed hints of The Pixies and just about every 60s rock band I can think of. I hope you kick yourself, Hip-D staff, for keeping this album off the year-end list.

Patrick: The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

2006 was about fun music for me, and The Decemberists are the most fun (if not the best) band in America right now.

Hyperbole aside, they have put out four incredibly consistent full-lengths in the last five years, and while the current disc, The Crane Wife, lacks some of the originality of the 2002 debut, it is a much better listen overall than any of the previous releases. Gone are many of the shanties, pirates and villains, but the excellent storytelling and simple, yet continuously original, melodies remain.

Colin Meloy shares with Stephen Morrissey the quality of being either intolerable or phenomenal, considering your personal preference. I can see how one could have difficulty stomaching Meloy's nasal warble and tendency to wax poetic about 16th century Belgium, but I find a subtlety and innocence within the song structure and lyrics such as:

"Waylay the din of the day
Boats bobbing in the blue of the bay
In deep far beneath all the dead sailors
Slowly slipping to sleep"

from the best track, "Summersong," just flow so well, you would swear Meloy was a West Coast rapper in a former life. We still keep some of the butchers, bakers, candlestick makers and dead sailors (as referenced above), but we also have "When The War Came," a rollicking protest song, " or "The Island," a 12:26 montage that channels Yes, ELO, Steely Dan and pretty much 70's AOR in general, but still manages to be thoroughly enjoyable and not dirge-like at all.

There's no "July, July," "Legionnaire's Lament," or "16 Military Wives," but "O, Valencia!" and the aforementioned "Summersong" do their part as anthemic pop magic. This is some of the most fun I've had listening to pop music in a while.

FT: Sloan - Never Hear the End of It

Canadian power popsters Sloan have been around forever, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of time I've spent ignoring them. I'm not really sure why it's taken so long for me to give these guys a chance, but by starting with the double-length Never Hear the End of It, I certainly chose a quality point of entry. Emphasizing the "power" in power pop, Sloan adds a healthy dose of crunchy guitar throughout much of the proceedings, while grabbing your ear with their hook-laden harmonies.

Never Hear the End of It manages to never sounding dated, while still bringing to mind the power pop heyday of the late-'70s/early-'80s. It's that timeless quality of tunes that feel just as much at home today as 25-30 years ago, which sets Sloan apart from the glut of others who are still trying to carve out a niche in this genre. Take a tip from these guys, folks, and leave it to the experts.


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