The Founder Speaks

top tens of 2006

#1: The Wire, Season 4.

Curious about how we’ve failed our children and our nation’s poor? Want to know why public policy rarely works well, and power never used wisely? Or do you just like compelling and often funny drama about realistic characters striving to rise above real and desperate situations? Some people watch ER for those reasons, but The Wire has ripped the artifice from every other social drama to get to the raw emotion underneath. They’ve also somehow amped up the brilliance with every season so far. This one moved the police drama to the background and focused on the campaign of a civic-minded guy running for mayor (on one side) and the trials and tribulations of four 8th-graders in an inner-city school (on the other). The mayoral story went about as well as you could imagine; on the 8th-grade side, I love teenage dramas when they’re done well, but Buffy and Veronica Mars have safe isolations from the real with their overriding metaphors. The Wire isn’t a metaphor; it’s life. I watched the whole season with my heart in my throat, knowing that things could not end well for our protagonists. I’ll skip the details, but say that weeks later, I’m still tasting my heart. This is why drama draws blood.

#2: Deadwood, Season 3.

Two HBO shows in a row? Why, yes indeed. HBO was kind enough to produce two of the finest shows ever created in Deadwood and The Wire, and unkind enough to cut the former down in its prime. Season 3 was the loopiest yet, with the odd focus on an acting troupe often shaving precious time off of our far-too-limited changes to watch Al Swearengen wrestle with the mad George Hearst. But such loopiness is right in line with the Dickensian ambitious of this monster of a TV show. There may never be a season 4, and this breaks me.

#3: Steven Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner, April 29, 2006.

My God, does he make speaking truth to power look sexy. We’d been waiting years for someone to wake the press corps up to the actual shade of the President’s new clothing, and Colbert stripped the Bush administration bare in less than 25 minutes. He’s still my fucking hero.

#4: Joanna Newsom, Ys.

There’s already been a lot of backlash against this album. Fans who put aside their reservations about her voice and preciousness to appreciate her first album still had an enormous pill to swallow with this one, which ratcheted the voice, the preciousness and the demands on the listener up to 11. Many a jaded music critic has invoked Ren Faires pejoratively, and Joanna Newsom has not done much to dispel the invocation with her harp, her stylized album cover, or her frequent use of “thee”. But the comparison is unnecessarily reductive; Ys is an amazing achievement, a combination of unlikely influences built on a wholly personal mythology. The influences I hear are Fairport Convention-style Britfolk, Robert Wyatt-style avant-folk, and Left Banke-style chamber pop. You may notice that these are all British artists (or Anglophiles): Newsom has created a uniquely American take on the Brits, who are often working from a long tradition of British folk music. America’s traditions are shorter in scope, and Newsom has stretched them to imaginary lengths. I fully believe that I will still be listening to this album in 10 years.

#5: Sam Peckinpah’s Legendary Western Collection DVDs.

It’s about damn time. This collection combines The Wild Bunch (which is now on one side of a disc, so you don’t have to flip it mid-viewing) with Ride the High Country, one of the finest Westerns ever made; The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which is sweet, funny, and kind enough to temper the damn butterfly song with images of Stella Stevens naked; and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which flirts with greatness, but the cuts included in this collection only add to the confusion surrounding it.

#6: Yo La Tengo, I am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

The finest work from YLT in almost a decade, and I say this as a fan of the last two. A few tracks rock like the band in their mid-90s prime, but most of the album is filled with sugary folk-rock that sound like the lost masterworks of John Cale. Nearly 20 years in, YLT can still find their bliss in new sounds, and they are still one of the most consistently exciting bands making indie rock.

#7: The Venture Brothers Season 2.

I liked the show the first season, which cultivated hyper referential weirdness and only slowly figured out that its characters were worth developing. I freakin’ loved the 2nd season, however, where the character development was front and center, sharing space with the spacey oddities of the stories. But that’s beside the point, because this show just keeps raising the funny bar like it’s nothing. The finale in particular was packed with 10-percenter jokes, many of which I didn’t even catch but still made me laugh until I cried and later called my mommy.

#8: Mastodon, Blood Mountain.

I really liked Mastodon’s last album, Leviathan, which opened my ears to metal for the first time since I was about 20, but I was late to the game and didn’t really embrace it until early this year. Still, I listened to a lot of great metal this year — Boris’s Pink, Isis’s Oceanic, Sleep’s Dopesmoker — but it was this album that spoke to my inner 16-year-old shredder and my outer 34-year-old fan of literature and indie rock. Some metal fans sneer about hipster metal, but indie rock fans know that it’s always tough when some other subculture decides that your thing is all right.

#9: My Neighbor Totoro 2-disc DVD.

Disney finally gave Miyazaki’s first great movie the long-overdue 2-disc prestige treatment. This movie is so sweet, moving, direct, and simple (and I mean that in its favor, not negatively) that my 2-year-old and I watch it periodically, and both of us love the hell out of it and get age-appropriate enjoyment from it. (Me: “I love how it captures childhood imagination and a reverence for and faith in nature without sentiment. ” Him: “Cat-bus! ”)

#10: Battlestar Galactica Season 3.

This is the topsy-turviest show on TV. It’s a remake of 70s cheese that is usually brilliant (but sure of itself enough to make major missteps), unrelentingly dark, and built around realistically flawed people in what seems to be an impossible situation. This season started out with most of the remnant of the human race (after the genocide that started the series) scraping by in a city occupied by the race of cyborgs who committed that genocide, the Cylons. Many of the major characters have been jailed and/or tortured without the pretense of a trial. While some conflicted souls join the Cylon organized secret police, the more militant humans turn towards guerilla bombings, and the Cylons, who thought they would be greeted as liberators, argue amongst themselv ... hey! Just whose side are they on here? The rest of the season has been typically spotty, but when it’s good, it’s the greatest television show not on HBO.

Bonus! Here's my full list of top 20 albums of 2006:

  1. Joanna Newsom, Ys.
  2. Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.
  3. Mastodon, Blood Mountain.
  4. Cat Power, The Greatest.
  5. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife.
  6. The Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea.
  7. Mission of Burma, The Obliterati.
  8. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit.
  9. Isis & Aereogramme, In the Fishtank 14.
  10. Boris, Pink (came out in 2005, but had wide release in 2006)
  11. The Pipettes, We Are the Pipettes.
  12. Bert Jansch, The Black Swan.
  13. Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies.
  14. Ratatat, Classics.
  15. M. Ward, Post-War.
  16. Brightblack Morning Light, Brightblack Morning Light.
  17. Six Organs of Admittance, Sun Awakens.
  18. The Hold Steady, Boys & Girls in America.
  19. Akron/Family, Meek Warrior.
  20. Scott Walker, The Drift.