Rock Out, Baby!

2006 Year-End Music Wrap-Up

Virtual Release:If legendary 78-collector Joe Bussard could plug an iBook directly into his Victrola, he'd be making these. This is real ghostly stuff sourced from unreleased sessions, radio broadcasts, or repo'ed master tapes. That's all time-honored bootleg chow, sure, but virtual releases go straight from the source to the fileshares, skipping physical media entirely. For instance: WFMU recently popularized a Faust album that never made it past a few Virgin Records promo tapes until someone copied it up to MP3. Companion to this are homemade virtual compilations — a stack of uncomped funk 45s, say — issued direct from the collector's originals to the fileshares with some kind of searchbait name like "MY HOT FUNK 45s." These albums are aimed at audiences so microscopic that there's almost no profit in pressing up hard copies — and as such, they're usually pretty great.

Give It Away Now:Nobody can steal what you give away. A California band called Wooden Shjips put out its EP for free this year; all you had to do was ask and there was a real record in your actual hands. And it was really good too — blown-out Les Rallizes homage with vocals echoplexed to infinity. In fact, it was so good that I bought a copy with my own actual money, just for old times' sake.

AllOfMP3.com: In June, the U.S. government threatened to obstruct Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization if this site selling copyrighted MP3s at pennies on the dollar weren't shut down. And indeed, five months later, both countries agreed to shut down the site. As a bootleg site, AllOfMP3s success was baffling. The site charged by volume, not by song, like a record store with a butcher's scale at the register; it probably took less effort to get these songs for free. But it was a nice nostalgic nod to the foreign pressing plants of the '60s and '70s — music beyond the reach of international law. Chris Ziegler

The Atlantic Divide

Ten bands that weren't singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in '06

Another year, another wave of quirky British bands pouring into the States. It's got all the makings of a new British Invasion. Well, except for one thing — the invasion. For every Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand that succeeds in North America, dozens more barely make it across the pond — and dozens of critics stand ready to lump 'em all under the same "art rock" or "new-wave revival" categories. The thing is, many of these bands come from a different lineage, one that started at the end of the '70s, when groups like the Jam, the Specials, and Squeeze were deciding what to do after punk — but without forgetting it. There are plenty of new bands with this same attitude, that post-punk doesn't have to be mopey and melodramatic. And they've got the same problem too — an American audience far smaller than they deserve.

1. Ordinary Boys: Three albums into their career, the boys from Worthing have become a household name in England — literally; frontman Sam Preston's a bona fide TV personality, starring on the 2006 season of Celebrity Big Brother. On this side of the Atlantic, though, the Boys have barely got a foot in the door, and damn it, it's just not fair. The band's 2006 offering, How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps, shows that its sound has evolved from a straight-up Specials/Smiths/Jam mix to one that's more forward-thinking and experimental. Yes, that does involve electronics. But the Boys' use of blips and bleeps is more of an added flavor than a primary ingredient. And Preston's lyrics are as whip-smart and chastising as ever, calling out the usual cultural suspects (fame, the music industry, etc.) while not getting too serious ("Ballad of an Unrequited Self-Love Affair").

2. Maxïmo Park: On their 2005 debut, A Certain Trigger, these four blokes from Newcastle established themselves as the band to watch... in England, of course. That's why they can get away with releasing an "extras" album so early in their career. 2006's Missing Songs is just that — a collection of B-sides and demo versions of songs from Trigger. Whereas the Ordinary Boys built their foundation on ska-driven beats, Maxïmo Park has more eggs in the new-wave basket. And by new wave, we mean XTC, not a Flock of Seagulls. Though Maxïmo Park has the danceable tunes to please the Franz/Bloc Party crowd, its style is vibrant, pop-minded, and, at times, punk. There's no reason Maxïmo Park shouldn't be next year's big import. Besides, we Americans love bands with umlauts in their name.

3. The Holloways: Having formed in 2004 and with one album under their belt, these North Londoners are still new kids on the post-punk block. But you'd never know it judging by the stellar songwriting and sharp lyricism on said debut album, So This Is Great Britain? With two-part harmonies and a heavy dose of ska and '60s pop, the Holloways are one of the few English bands that serve their songs sunny-side up. That's not to say they're at all sugar-coated — far from it. The album opens with the title track, which shows the "land of hope and glory" in a none-too-rosy light, concluding that "We're all just a bunch of slaves." But they're slaves with good taste.

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