Best of 2006
I saw a lot of Best of 2006 lists a few weeks ago. This is not an uncommon event around the end of a year, but this time it brought a thought to mind. That thought was that the job description of a professional critic apparently includes being constantly excited by new things.
To paraphrase Robert Fripp, only become a professional critic if there is no choice.
In 2006 I probably heard more new music than in any year since the early 90s. Quite a bit of it was very good, especially because independent musics endless need for variety has led it to become open to an increasing number of influences which once would have been shut out. However, putting together a list of the best ones feels like it involves something more than throwing together a few discs which gave passing pleasure. It feels like it should entail finding things which have changed the story of my interaction with music.
I used to have a list like that, although it was an all-time rather than single-year list. By the mid-80s there were starting to be quite a few 100 best books and magazine double issues out there, and I suspect that anyone who has wanted to become a critic of any sort (even, or especially, non-professional) has envied the folks who got the chance to submit their 10-bests to those lists.
However, my personal list fell by the wayside sometime, again, in the early 90s. Discovering the Grateful Dead, and its voluminous tape archive, may have had something to do with that. I remember the experience of discovering a particular Bird Song from 1972 or Scarlet-Fire from 1977 and reading fan remarks that it was the best ever. And then discovering other Bird Songs and Scarlet-Fires within days of those which werent all that different. The fact that I became more active as a musician myself around that same time probably affected matters, too.
In a New York Times Magazine profile I read last year, Twyla Tharp mentioned that she viewed her work as precisely that: work something she showed up to do each day. She resisted judging whether one day was better than the others. (Admittedly, the fact that her Dylan show was about to premiere may have put her in a frame of mind to discourage value judgments.) Relating to music has become something I do each day, without many occasions for setting one day apart from the rest.
That being said, I still think sometimes of the all-time list, for there are still a few records which have never lost their power to remind me why I got involved in this sort of work. And there were still several new CDs in 2006 which will probably still intrigue me with their secrets years from now, or have become a notable new part of my story.
So, limiting myself to the new CDs of 2006, a tip of the hat to: Umphreys McGee, The Decembrists, Midlake, Feathers, Joanna Newsom, Josh Ritter, Loose Fur, Tortoise/Bonnie Prince Billy, Glenn Kotche, Paul Simon, Robert Fripp, Mike Keneally Band, Metheny/Mehldau, Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, Trio Beyond, Exploding Star Orchestra, Keith Jarrett, Bob Dylan.