Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2006's Top 20 Albums

20) Neil Young - Living With War (Reprise)
When Living With War was released back in May critics came crawling out of the woodwork to slam Neil Young for his anti-war and anti-Bush sentiments. (“He’s Canadian, how dare he say ‘Let’s Impeach the President!’”) Six months later Young seemed somewhat prophetic as the Republican majority was ushered out of Congress. Written and recorded in just two weeks, each song on Living With War is like a dispatch from the frontlines that you won’t see on Fox News. Each track sounds as if Young and his rhythm section of bassist Rick Rosas and drummer Chad Cromwell had learned the final arrangement just before the engineer pressed record. The beats they supply are basic, blunt and brutally effective, which I’m sure is exactly the way Young wanted it. Young isn’t just singing about the frontlines of Iraq, but the American psyche battered by reports of death every day (“Looking for a Leader”) and the families with men and women serving overseas (“Families”). And while many of the songs are a bit heavy-handed lyrically (“Let’s Impeach the President,” “Shock and Awe”) and will sound rather dated in a year or two (I hope), tracks like “After the Garden” and “Roger and Out” deal less in specifics and could be written about any conflict. I must admit, I’m still puzzled by the 100 person choir that sings background vocals throughout the album. It’s a bit distracting at times—especially when I discovered that Andrew Gold, the guy who sang “Lonely Boy” in the ’70s, was a member of the choir. Thank you for being a friend indeed. Best Tracks: “After the Garden,” “Flags of Freedom,” “Looking For a Leader”

19) Ben Harper - Both Sides of the Gun (Virgin)
Oooh, the double album. The artistic high point for some (Rolling Stones, Prince, Hüsker Dü) and a giant misstep for others (Yes and every 70s prog rock band). Let’s place Ben Harper and Both Sides of the Gun squarely in the first category. All of the styles Harper has dabbled in over the years—acoustic balladeer, guitar hero, funky soul singer and gritty Stones-influenced rocker are on display here. The first disc consists of all acoustic-based material with nicely done orchestrations here and there. For a guy who’s happily married to actress Laura Dern, Harper sings an awful lot about heartbreak and mourning for lost loves and relationships (“Waiting For You,” “More Than Sorry”). On the second disc Harper cranks up the guitars (“Serve Your Soul”), gears up the funk (the title track) and directs his venom towards those steering this country down a bad path (“Gather ’Round the Stone”). Harper also learns to have a bit of fun on Gun’s second disc—“Get It Like You Like It” is perhaps the happiest and most humorous song he’s ever recorded. Hearing the usually very serious Harper crack, “Fire makes it burn and water makes it turn/We must still be here living on earth/They keep telling me Jesus walked on water/He shoulda surfed” is a pure delight. Best Tracks: “Get It Like You Like It,” “Morning Yearning,” “Please Don’t Talk About Murder While I’m Eating”

18) Gomez - How We Operate (ATO)
It took Gomez eight years, but they’ve finally come up with an album that lives up to the all the hype they received in England when their debut was released. How We Operate isn’t designed to change the face of music or be weirdly difficult for the sake of being artsy. It’s a collection of 12 well-crafted rock songs that in a decade will sound just as timeless as they do right now in my iPod. Vocalists Tom Gray, Ian Bell and Ben Otwell each have very distinctive voices and for the first time they seemed to have figured out how to intertwine their voices to create ear catching melodies and hooks on almost every song. “Girlshapedlovedrug” is one of those songs that sneaks up on you, grabs your head and forces you to bob it along, even if you might hurt your skull by banging it into the side of the subway car. And “See the World” is the most optimistic song of 2006, and maybe this century. Best Tracks: “See the World, “Girlshapedlovedrug,” “Charley Patton Sings”

17) The Ark - State of the Ark (Rebel Group/EMI)
Sweden knows how to produce bands that write catchy material. Joining the pantheon of ABBA and The Hives, I present to you The Ark. This five piece outfit has been cranking out over the top, humorous and pompous pop-rock tunes since 1990 in their homeland. State of the Ark is their third album overall, but first to be released here in the states. Singer Ola Salo delivers likes like “We gotta hurry with no worry to get done today/Cause one of us is gonna die young” with a sneer and chuckle in his voice while the music bounces along behind him. And how could I not like an album with a song that compares friendship to free computer programs (“Trust Is Shareware”)? Best Tracks: “Trust Is Shareware,” “Girl You’re Gonna Get ’Em (Real Soon),” “Deliver Us from Free Will”

16) KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope (Virgin)
Upon first listen KT Tunstall sounds like any one of the singers that have followed in the well trod footsteps of Sarah McLachlan. Eye to the Telescope’s opening track “Other Side of the World” features Tunstall aping that McLachlan-esque tick of jumping into her highest register to stretch out one word—each “you’re” she sings in the chorus goes for almost four seconds. Eye to the Telescope is also rather slick sounding in many spots, which I guess explains why “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” have made such inroads at American radio. Yet there’s something else going on with Tunstall, a couple of things that help her rise above the McLachlan comparisons. First (and this sounds odd) she readily admits that she’s over 30 (31 to be exact). In the music industry, being a new artist over 30 is a kiss of death. Tunstall makes no attempt to hide that she’s older than most new singer-songwriters. I think that maturity serves her songwriting well (and makes her a joy to speak with). Secondly, Tunstall is definitely is not as slick a performer as her album portrays her to be. Live she often plays as a one-woman band, sampling her own vocals and claps and guitar lines with what she calls the “Wee Bastard Foot Pedal” to back herself up. I find that watching her do this is just fascinating. Oh, and thirdly I think she’s incredibly attractive—and she speaks with a lovely Scottish accent. Oh yeah, that definitely seals the deal. Best Tracks: “Other Side of the World,” “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Under the Weather”

15) Ben Kweller - Ben Kweller (ATO/RCA)
Ben Kweller’s last album On My Way was recorded basically live in the studio with his touring band. This time out my fellow Brooklynite decided to take matters in his own hands—literally. Kweller plays every note on his self-titled album, and I must say the guy’s a pretty damn good drummer. His Ringo-like rock solid playing serves this batch of poptastic songs very well. Kweller has perfected his art of writing catchy tunes about hanging out, falling in love and the occasional heartache those things bring. And while Kweller still has that boyish charm in his voice, getting married and having a child seems to have brought a bigger world view into the 25 year old’s lyrics. The hard-rocking “This Is War” doesn’t seem like something the 17-year-old musical prodigy version of Kweller would have written. The moment where it all comes together on Ben Kweller is “Penny on a Train Track,” about as fine a power pop song you’ll hear this year. One listen and you’ll stop the disc, go back, and listen to it over again. Trust me, I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Best Tracks: “Penny on the Train Track,” “Run,” “Magic”

14) Beck - The Information (Interscope)
The Information opens with a drummer counting off, “One, two, you know what do.” And it’s for certain that producer Nigel Godrich knows what to do when he teams up with Beck. Their previous two collaborations, 1998’s Mutations and 2002’s Sea Change, were both low-key singer-songwriter affairs. The Information is far away from those discs, mining some of the same territory of Guero and Odelay with funky rhythms and quirky wordplay. The main difference between those albums and The Information is that Godrich focuses on getting the best sounding beats possible without resorting to drum programming. The drums and percussion sound crisp and clear and drive all these songs without all the distracting bleeps and bloops we’re used to from our favorite Scientologist. As for what Beck is singing about, I still have no idea. All I know is that the words sound good on top of those incredible rhythm tracks. Best Tracks: “Strange Apparition,” “Think I’m in Love,” “Nausea”

13) Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (Matador)
I know that many Belle and Sebastian fans miss the very mellow and almost wimpy sounds of their first two albums. Not me. I’ve enjoyed this evolution of B & S’s sound, thank you very much. Their last album with producer Trevor Horn (Seal, The Buggles and that oh-so-amazing Yes album 90125) pointed the band in a more uptempo pop-rock vein that they’ve continued to explore with The Life Pursuit. The first time I heard “Funny Little Frog” I ended up humming it for the rest of the day at work. And while this has nothing whatsoever to do with their music, I really like the fact that band spent more than half of their CD booklet answering questions fans submitted while they were recording The Life Pursuit. I especially like the question from a fan named Jenny: “Damn, string players do seem ‘sexually sophisticated,’ don’t they? Why is that?” Frontman Stuart Murdoch’s response: “They know how to fiddle from an early age.” (Cue snare hit!) Best Tracks: “Funny Little Frog,” “The Blues Are Still Blue,” “Another Sunny Day”

12) The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers (Third Man/V2)
Let’s see…Jack White, whose band The White Stripes has made my Top 10 with their last two albums, starts a group with Brendan Benson, whose last solo album made my Top 5 in 2005…I think the chances I would like this project are extremely high. And I do like them (obviously) but I had built up this collaboration so much in my head that I was a bit disappointed with my first few listens to Broken Boy Soldiers. To me it seemed like too much Jack White—all I could hear was his guitar blaring all over the place, while Benson’s pop edge seemed to be buried amongst all the rock. That all changed when I got to see them at the Austin City Limits Festival in September. On stage the band seemed to be much more than the sum of its supergroup parts. And my oh my, the harmonies between Benson and White were spot on. Their voices intertwined perfectly that day, which I found impressive considering it was a festival set on a huge stage in front of 30-thousand people. When I listened to Broken Boy Soldiers on the flight back it was as if a window into the album had been opened for me. I stopped trying to pick out who was doing what and just enjoyed the fact that two good friends were making some new and exciting music together. Best Tracks: “Hands,” “Yellow Sun,” “Steady As She Goes”

11) Josh Rouse - Subtitulo (Bedroom Classics/Nettwerk)
Josh Rouse’s 2005 album Nashville was his farewell to his adopted hometown, so I guess it’s only fair that Subtitulo is a hello to his new hometown in Spain. The influence of his new country is central to the sound of the album. “Summertime” and “Jersey Clowns” are driven by the sound of a finger-picked nylon string guitar, the instrument of choice for the flamenco music of Spain. And as if to make his point perfectly clear, the album ends with a song titled “El Otro Lado.” Rouse’s time in Spain has also brought him a new love, Paz Suay, who sings a cute as a button duet with him on “The Man Who…” That track seems to be Rouse’s way of poking fun at the sad man many fans though the became after his divorce. As much as I like the new happy Josh, I secretly look forward to some more heartbreak in his life so he can pen another album of sad sack songs like Nashville. Best Tracks: “It Looks Like Love,” “His Majesty Rides,” “The Man Who…”

10) The Minus 5 - The Minus 5 (a.k.a. The Gun Album) (Yeproc)
Scott McCaughey started the Minus 5 many years ago as an outlet for his darker songs that didn’t fit into the Young Fresh Fellows catalog. As the Fellows started playing less and the Minus 5 started touring more, McCaughey started writing more up-tempo songs for Minus 5 album. Many of these songs (especially the Minus 5 in Rock disc) wouldn’t sound out of place in the Fellows catalog. Well, McCaughey has pulled off a neat trick with The Minus 5 (a.k.a. The Gun Album)—he’s written a bunch of mostly up-tempo poppy songs with some of his darkest lyrics ever. Even if I didn’t know that he had split from his wife a couple years ago, it would be easy to tell with lyrics like these: “I’m going to be an asshole for the rest of my life/Aw shit man/I’ll never be forgiven by my daughter and wife/Aw shit man.” It’s a testament to McCaughey’s melodic gifts that instead of wanting to jump out a window after listening and reading through the lyrics on this album, I end up singing along and smiling as if nothing was wrong whatsoever. Perhaps the best part of the album is to finally have a studio recording of “Twilight Distillery,” one of my live favorites for the past five years. And that one isn’t that depressing. It’s a nice relief from all the lyrics about guns, booze and generally fucking up one’s life. I do enough of that myself. Best Tracks: “With A Gun,” “Twilight Distillery,” “Cigarettes, Coffee and Booze.”

9) Soul Asylum - The Silver Lining (Legacy)
I must admit it—I never expected to like a Soul Asylum album this much ever again. I detested 1998’s Candy From a Stranger so much that I never again opened the CD after two spins. So this return to form on The Silver Lining is nothing short of stunning. The band once again has a kick ass drummer, stealing Minneapolis legend Michael Bland from Paul Westerberg and Prince. His powerful drumming drives songs like “Slowly Rising” and “Bus Named Desire.” It’s also obvious that bassist Karl Mueller’s battle with cancer was a focal point for the band’s desire to make a great album. The opening track “Stand Up and Be Strong” was written long before Mueller got sick, but its positive outlook (“If your life’s a mess/Remember you’re blessed/Stand up and be strong”) in light of his passing is hard not to embrace. I hope that this creative rebirth inspires the band to forge ahead and continue to make albums. If they record anything else this good, I’m sure Karl would be very proud. Best Tracks: “Stand Up and Be Strong,” “Bus Named Desire,” “Lately”

8) Tom Petty - Highway Companion (American/WB)
Why is it that when Tom Petty works without The Heartbreakers, he seems to make his best albums? It doesn’t make any sense. The Heartbreakers are a great band. I’ve seen them 10 times over the seven different tours in the past 20 years and I’ve never been disappointed. So what happens when Petty takes the Heartbreakers name off the front of his albums? Almost all of the Heartbreakers play on his first two solo albums, so it can’t be the musicianship. Petty still has one of the best guitarists in the business, Mike Campbell, doing one tasty solo after another. I’m just puzzled by it. I guess it will go down as one of life’s mysteries, just like where all my pens went in college and why the hair in my ears grows faster than the hair on the top of my head. Highway Companion sees Petty reunite with fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne. Usually that would be a warning sign of slickness ahead. Apparently Lynne has mellowed out production-wise over the years, as these songs don’t feature 18 acoustic guitars taking the place of the highhat. Speaking of highhat, Petty plays all the drums on the album. They’re kind of basic and clunky at times but do serve this intimate batch of songs about traveling down life’s figurative and literal roads. Let’s just hope keyboardist Benmont Tench doesn’t get too pissed about being left out again and quit the band in a huff. Best Tracks: “Flirting With Time,” “Damaged By Love,” “Square One”

7) The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (Capitol)
So this latest offering (and major label debut) from Portland’s The Decemberists is a loose concept album based upon a Japanese folk tale. (Yes, even I don’t want to listen to the album after hearing that description—and I wrote it!) Somehow frontman Colin Meloy makes the tale sound pretty damn cool, especially when he indulges his prog-rock side on the multi-part epic (12:42!!!) called “The Island: 1) Come And See 2) The Landlord's Daughter 3) You'll Not Feel The Drowning.” Fortunately Meloy still knows how to create a magnificent three minute pop song like “O Valencia.” Much has been written about Meloy’s use of some flowery words in his songs, which I see has gotten him a bit ticked off in a couple of interviews. So I figured I would use the rest of this entry to point out some words he uses that don’t normally come up in a conversation: “threadbare,” “cormorants,” “asteraceae,” “fontanel,” “fuck stick.” (Okay, I made up that last one to make sure you were still paying attention.) ( Best Tracks: “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” “O Valencia,” “Sons & Daughters”

6) Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)
Rilo Kiley frontman Jenny Lewis indulges her country influences on her solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat. And to make those country leanings shine, Lewis grabbed Kentucky-born singers Chandra and Leigh Watson to contribute sweet bluegrass-type harmonies. Their three voices have a magical blend on “Rise Up With Fists!,” “The Big Guns” and “Born Secular” and take me back to all those country records my grandfather used to play quite loudly. It’s a brilliant move on Lewis’s part, as it takes away the focus from her tendency to cram too many lyrics into a song at one time. When she cuts back on the words the results can be truly breathtaking, especially on the ballad “Melt Your Heart,” which has melted mine numerous times. And while I’m not sure the world really needed a cover of Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care,” it is fun to hear Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Bright EyesConor Oberst take on the roles of Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. I do hope that Miss Lewis finds the time again to step outside her day job. Best Tracks: “Rise Up With Fists!,” “The Charging Sky,” “The Big Guns”

5) Guster - Ganging Up On the Sun (Reprise)
The opening line of “One Man Wrecking Machine,” the first single from Ganging Up On the Sun, is “I built a time machine.” That got me thinking—if I built a time machine and went back to 1999 to play a copy for Ganging Up On the Sun for a hardcore Guster fan, I’m sure they wouldn’t think it was those same guys from Tufts University. How could a band whose basic set-up was two acoustic guitars and congas be the same group that’s now a four piece rock act creating a lush pop epic (7:06) called “Ruby Falls” which ends with a lengthy jazz trumpet solo? To paraphrase another one of my favorite bands, “It’s evolution baby.” The leap Guster made from their earlier albums to 2003’s Keep It Together is tiny compared to the evolution between Keep It Together and Ganging Up On the Sun. The array of styles that they’ve mastered is astonishing: they can be pissed off hard rockers (“The Beginning of the End”) one moment, cautiously optimistic pop guys the next (“Hang On”) and country-influenced rockers (“The Captain”) elsewhere. This is also the first album with multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapa on board as a full-fledged member. Pisapa has made some fine music on his own as a solo artist and the leader of Nashville’s Joe, Marc’s Brother. The addition of his wide-ranging musical vocabulary is felt throughout the album. There are gorgeous harmonies and well-placed guitar and keyboard licks everywhere, yet it doesn’t seem slick, it just feels perfect. My only criticism is that we had to wait three years between two great albums. I hope I’m not writing about the next great hook-filled Guster album in 2009. Best Tracks: “C’mon,” “The Beginning of the End,” “The New Underground”

4) Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Ole! Tarantula (YepRoc)
When Robyn Hitchcock gets together with his old friends, we the listeners win big time. His 2001 reunion with The Soft Boys produced his best work in many years. This year he worked with The Venus 3—which consists of Hitchcock’s long-time pals, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin (a.k.a 3/4 of the Minus 5 and half of the touring lineup of R.E.M.). This comfort level with the band seems to have inspired Hitchcock to revisit his entire catalog over the span of Ole! Tarantula’s 10 songs. It’s not a greatest hits album, but it damn sure sounds like one, and it’s easily his best album since 1991’s Perspex Island. Opener “Adventure Rocket Ship” sounds like an outtake from the Soft Boys classic Underwater Moonlight, while the title track would fit in nicely with the mid-to-late ’80s albums Hitchcock made with The Egyptians and Buck on board as a second guitarist. “Belltown Ramble” could easily blend in with any of the great acoustic albums he’s made over the past decade. Hitchcock still writes about the odd creatures of life—spiders, locusts, various vegetables—yet the best tracks here are based upon two characters, one fictional, one real. “(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs” takes its title from the last line Clint Eastwood says in 1973’s Magnum Force, which is easily the best entry in the Dirty Harry series. “N.Y. Doll” is a sung from the point of view of the late New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane. I honestly don’t know much about Kane and his life, but I can’t imagine any man getting a finer tribute in song. It’s the perfect closer to great album. Best Tracks: “(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs,” “Ole! Tarantula,” “N.Y. Doll”

3) The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls in America (Vagrant)
A singer from Minneapolis with a quirky voice who’s a Replacements fan + a guitar player who rocks out like he listened to lots of Soul Asylum + piano and organ parts that sound lifted directly from Bruce Springsteen’s first three albums + a guest appearance by Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum (“Chillout Tent”) + songs about drinking (“Party Pit”) and betting on horses “Chips Ahoy!”) + one great ballad about how a relationship could never be as good as the first time you met that special girl at the bar (“First Night”) + it was all made by guys in their mid-30s = one great album + one happy Steve. It’s an equation that I didn’t think ever possible. The first time I heard The Hold Steady I thought, “What the fuck is up with this guy's voice?” Craig Finn’s vocals sounded somewhere between a throaty spoken word performance and a strangled cat. I had read on tons of blogs that this band’s previous two albums were “amazing,” “earth shattering” and “a drunken fest.” Even The New York Times got into the act one week with a huge one page spread in a Sunday Arts & Leisure section about the places named in Finn’s lyrics. Then one Monday night I was listening to the World Cafe and they had picked the band as their “Next Artist” for the week. So I sat there and checked out “Chips Ahoy!” And I realized that Finn's voice had nothing to do with murdering cats. It was more like a raspier John Easdale (the frontman of the great Jersey band Dramarama). And the song sounded like a pre-Born to Run Springsteen outtake. I was sold, and quickly fell in love with the whole album. “Party Pit” particularly (ooh, alliteration!) caught my ear upon first listen. It's a perfect snapshot of that reckless party time at the end of high school or beginning of college with a great refrain that carries the last third of the song: “Gonna walk around and drink some more/Gonna walk around and drink.” Yeah, I’ve done that in Brooklyn—maybe at some of the same places these guys have. I suppose I should mention that the album title was inspired by Jack Kerouac, but I’d rather grab a beer and crank this album up again. Best Tracks: “First Night,” “Party Pit,” “Southtown Girls”

2) The Long Winters - Putting The Days to Bed (Barsuk)
Long Winters frontman John Roderick writes such interesting and hooky songs and delivers them in such a unique and passionate voice that I’m amazed it took me this long to discover them (or that anyone I knew hadn’t yet turned me onto them). Putting the Days to Bed is their third album and best yet. One glorious pop song follows another, with guitars chiming all over the place, multi-part harmonies on every memorable chorus (of which there are many) and a bouncy, happy vibe throughout. And I’m not the only who recognizes the talent of Roderick. A veritable who’s who of Seattle musicians lend their talents to this power-pop songwriting clinic, including Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, The DecemberistsChris Funk and Young Fresh FellowsKurt Bloch. I wish I could accurately describe the genuine surprise I felt that one Friday afternoon I popped the Putting the Days to Bed advance into my CD player as I was tidying up my desk. When the chorus to “Pushover” came rolling in at 31 seconds in I thought, “Who the fuck IS this? Why has this been buried in my desk for three weeks?” Once the massive harmonies came in on the lines “I just want you to say, ‘Come on!’” I knew that I was going have to listen to this song over again as soon as it was over. Sometimes it pays to plow through all the discs that pile up on my desk. Best Tracks: “Pushover,” “(It’s a Departure),” Seven”

1) The Figgs - Follow Jean Through the Sea (Gern Blandsten)
How many bands have recorded what could be their finest album ever just as they’re about to celebrate their 20th anniversary? Well, there’s only one I can think of—The Figgs. I’ve been a Figgs fan for 12 of those 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve heard this band sound better on an album. Every single note of each instrument is perfectly placed for maximum clarity and impact. The band’s basic elements—Mike Gent’s distinctive guitar, Pete Donnelly’s melodic bass and Pete Hayes’ always in the pocket drums, along with Gent and Donnelly’s tight harmonies—are front and center throughout the album. Yet it’s the added touches to each track that propel this batch of songs to a higher level. There’s the little keyboard sounds in right channel during “Breaking Through These Gates;” Gent doing some mouth percussion noises (I don’t think you could call it beatboxing) during the bridge of “Regional Hits;” The Beatles-like stereo of “Don’t Hurt Me Again” with drums in the left channel and soaring harmonies behind Donnelly’s lead vocal; and the keyboard riff in the title track that only shows up for a few seconds after the first chorus, yet I can’t help but hum along to it every single time I listen to the song.

If there’s a thread that runs through lyrics on Follow Jean it’s one of restlessness, looking to break out of a rut and go somewhere, anywhere. The characters in these songs feel trapped by their lives (“City Loft Home”), or their loves (“I Won’t Go To Miami”), or their travels, and are always chasing something else. Sometimes the characters are the guys in the band themselves—“Jumping Again” sees Donnelly reflecting on a Figgs tour of a few years ago and reveling in the recuperative powers of aspirin and a good show. The chorus of this song is one of my favorite Figgs moments ever. Donnelly starts the first line of the pre-chorus, “Looked inside to a world within,” and is quickly followed by Gent singing “Looked inside,” and then they harmonize on the line “This time is no easy than it's ever been.” Donnelly then sings “Mike brought a couple extra aspirin,” with Gent harmonizing to fish the line with “for the pain—I’m jumping again!” I was sitting as my desk at work when I first heard the song on the band’s My Space page—and I had to restrain myself from pumping my fist in the air and yelling “Yeah!” when that 13 seconds ended. In a perfect world, an edit (Donnelly does sing “Hayes had the shits”) of this song would be burning up the airwaves on quality radio stations around the country. I suggest listening to it right now and experience the joy that this song inspires.

I’m amazed that after all this time The Figgs still have the ability to surprise me with what they create. Follow Jean Through the Sea is a sterling example of how great rock music can be when it’s done with care and intelligence. I’m sure that most people who have read the Top 20 for years are thinking, “Geez, what a surprise that The Figgs would be number-one.” Well, I’ve only given them the number-one spot once before, with 2002’s Slow Charm. As a matter of fact, I’ve probably knocked their albums down a couple of pegs over the years just so I wouldn’t be accused of extremely overwhelming favoritism. When I name one of their albums number-one on this list, it’s because they’ve gone far and above what I expect from them. I always expect great music with great hooks from The Figgs, but Follow Jean delivers so much more. If you’ve never bought a Figgs album before, there’s no time like the present. Best Tracks: “Jumping Again,” “Hobble Skirt (In Erie),” “I Won’t Go Back to Miami,” “Regional Hits”

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