Best Albums 2006 (6-10)

10. Tom Waits — Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

Few cults have ever invited cynical commercial exploitation so greedily–completists would treasure the last few strands of Waits’ smoked-down butt-ends. So more power to him for refusing to slop together some half-assed rarities comp. Instead, misplaced old cuts are sorted in with enough new recordings and re-recordings to present an illusion of inexhaustibility that his regular releases dispelled years ago. The definitive testament of an oddball whose insouciance has only grown richer as he’s worked harder to conceal just how hard he works.


9. Todd Snider — The Devil You Know

The snarky yet empathetic leftism of a professional drifter that cohered on 2004 East Nashville Skyline here darkens and perks up even further. The show-stealer is “You Got Away With It,” which pins down what (policies aside) many of us found so reprehensible about George W. Bush. But Snider’s heart is in songs like “Looking for a Job,” about not caring if you lose one, which humanize rather than mythologize his fellow lowlifes. And the title track’s increased velocity doesn’t represent the freedom of nothing-left-to-lose but the lack of control into which “a war goin’ on that the poor can’t win” has plunged too many.


8. Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra — Boulevard de l’Indépendance

The kora is too beautiful an instrument to be entrusted to the tastes of western music buyers, who discern some soothing New Age air of the Celtic in its crisp pluck. (That goes double for the ones who cast Grammy ballots.) And yet, Diabate’s best recordings have been collaborative products with very different westerners (Taj Mahal and Damon Albarn) and here, a third–Pee Wee Ellis and his ingeniously Africanized horn charts–helps adapt a virtuosity beyond my understanding to a big-band setting with an air of grace beyond my expectations. Traditional in its way, and yet unlike any other West African pop.


7. The Coup — Pick a Bigger Weapon

No matter what hip-hop tells you, most black folks work shitty jobs. Like, shittier than dealing. Like, maybe shittier than yours. So for all the acuity of his rabble-rousing (“Head (Of State)” puts Bush and Hussein literally in bed), I like Boots Riley best when he’s explicitly anti-work, as on “I Just Wanna Lay Around All Day In Bed With You,” or equating a less glamorous criminal strain with anti-capitalism on “I Love Boosters!” And even “Babyletshaveababybeforebushdosomethingcrazy” is weirdly optimistic when you think about it. Yes, “revolution” is a tired word, bandied about as carelessly as “love.” Riley reminds you why some folks think it’s no less necessary. And he hardly considers love unnecessary either.


6. Love Is All — Nine Times That Same Song

The world can never have too much punk saxophone, querulous girlie chirping, or tunefully sprung impatience, if only because the world has far too little X-Ray Spex. Where their peers found in postpunk an excuse for fussy complexity, these Swedes found an excuse for enthusiastic amateurism, and Josephine O. wriggles through the din rather than darting her way to the top, with those lyrics that emerge (e.g., “I keep the one I love/ In the freezer”) assuring you there’s plenty wit submerged below. At times, it’s as though the band members are only coincidentally playing the same song. Nine times, in fact.

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