2006: The Year in Music

Week of December 28, 2006

Candi Staton, His Hands (Astralwerks): For the last two decades, Southern soul giant Candi Staton has mostly devoted herself to sacred music, even as fetishists devote themselves to scouring eBay for her 45s. His Hands is Staton's unlikely return to semi-secular soul, although it's far from godless: Her gospel has an impure beauty, the sonic space — courtesy of Lambchop's Mark Nevers — so open and forgiving that there's even room for a tune by the ever-accursed Will Oldham.

Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (American): One can only hope that J.R. Cash's producer and confidant, Rick Rubin, will let this album be the man's final testament. There's nothing here as chilling as "Hurt" or as funky as "Rowboat" from the earlier American projects. Instead the record is modest and ruminative, mostly tender songs of love and a Christian faith so deep it deserves another name. The sounds, too stoic to be tasteful, too quietly rich to be spare, are just humble gestures before that cracking, leveling, essential voice.

Rosanne Cash, Black Cadillac (Capitol): She's been waiting her whole adult life to make this record, and by the end of the final elegy, she sounds deeply relieved. When Cash's father and mother died, part of the soul of country music — in June Carter, its vaudevillian gaiety; in Johnny, its gravitas — was diminished. Their daughter evokes them, especially her father, through interior recollections of flaws and virtues, and in music that's as inevitable and meaningful as the tragic sense of life.

Lupe Fiasco kicks, pushes, coasts.
Lupe Fiasco kicks, pushes, coasts.
Norma Jean
Norma Jean

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-): A friend likened this album to consuming an entire bag of organic malted-milk balls, and then licking the bag clean. (Like that's a bad thing.) Sweet and airy and not as good for you as the impeccable indie credits (musicians include Calexico, Giant Sand, the Sadies and Garth Hudson) might suggest, Case's melodies and voice sail just above a reinvented girl-group sound and her strange-noir obsessions.

Metal Health
Devil horns up, 2006

In the pale light of the false dawn, our lord lies dead and enemies surround us — so lamented the old woman in the final stanzas of Beowulf, the original heavy-metal song. Eight hundred years later, the song remains the same. But to all those who fear the worst, we advocate repeated listenings of the following albums. Best to put your motherfucking horns up and go out swinging.

Celtic Frost, Monotheist (Century Media): All the classical aspirations, esoteric mysticism and electronic twitchery the Frost flirted with in their long-ago youth finally come together, girded around brutal, beautiful thrashing metal. Magnificent from start to finish, Monotheist demands to be taken as a whole, like any other great work of art; one surrenders to the world and philosophy of the Frost once "play" is pushed. As the last strains of "Triptych: Winter" fade, the world you return to feels changed. Less interesting, less majestic, lessened on all counts simply because this wondrous sound has been stilled.

Khlyst, Chaos Is My Name (Hydra Head): Guitar sorcerer James Plotkin allies with Nordic warrior-seer Runhild Gammelsaeter to create a most-sophisticated vision of internalized, relentless torment. Gammelsaeter's phenomenal pipes serve as your eyes in the endless dark: She wails and screeches, growls and keens, chanting a saga of death and loneliness that festers in the pit of your stomach. Plotkin's guitar spurts and staggers into blind corners, scrapes against beslimed things, splinters fingernails on the unyielding stone of the sarcophagus the duo has built in the cold heart of a lost barrow. Essential listening for the inner-cosmic voyager.

Motörhead, Kiss of Death (Sanctuary): Lemmy is 60 years old, an admitted Viagra user and still — still! — the most metal person on the planet. Consider Kiss of Death: rude lyrics, killer riffs, Phil Campbell's finest guitar work in his long tenure with the band, and the boozy rasp that is Lemmy's head-toward-Valhalla vocal style. Fuck Dick Clark and his antiseptic "eternal teenager" shtick; Lemmy is the eternal teenager. Almost every song he writes is about booze, pussy, fighting or rock & roll itself — and they're all gloriously raucous and loud. In 2007, let's discard the term "rock & roll" entirely and simply use "Motörhead." Same thing, my friends. Same thing.

Harkonin, Ghanima (self-released): Meaner and more ambitious than anything Harkonin has done to date, Ghanima bristles and slays with inventive songwriting, drop-dead-killer riffing and the jawdropping drumwork of Clayton Gore. From the blistering vitriol of "L.ost C.ause" to the sardonic cruelty of "Caligula" to the epic "Sons of War," Harkonin have never sounded better — or more determined to bang your head. They've honed their blackened thrash sword down to a wickedly sharp edge. Glorious and profane, Ghanima is the finest metal album to come out of St. Louis. Ever.

Gorgoroth, Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (Candelight): Sathanas Gloriam is another maelstrom of whirling steel and steaming blood half-seen in the long twilight of the far North. Infernus' hack-'n'-slash guitar slows briefly during "Sign of an Open Eye," as he churns out a martial riff that kindles a fire in the liver. Of course, this is followed by the merciless "White Seed," a scything attack propelled by the hammers of demon drummer Frost. Gorgoroth's blend of sinister majesty and rawboned hate mark them as Satan's most zealous shocktroops, even after fifteen years in the trenches.

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