Sunday, December 31, 2006

Shake Things Up: Choice Cuts Volume 5

For the fifth year in a row, I’ve thrown together some of my favorite tracks of the year into one final mix (under the “Choice Cuts” banner). This year’s edition, “Shake Things Up,” salutes our summer-long obsession with milkshakes (which, you may recall, was spawned by a Los Angeles Times feature on hotspots like Scoops and Lucky Devil’s).

Maria, as usual, did an awesome job designing the CD. (Hey, what’s the use of being married to a Grammy nominated designer if I can’t rope her into throwing together something for my own mixes?!)

As for the music, as usual, I tried to run the gamut from mainstream to obscure, while avoiding anything that was too overplayed. That’s why Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” isn’t here – sure, it was probably the song of 2006, but we’ve all heard it a million times. (As a nod to the track, though, I include Ray LaMontagne’s acoustic version.)

Some of the other picks are sure to be controversial as well. (A handful of these tracks weren’t actually released in 2006, but I included them because this was the year I first heard them.) And yes, I can’t believe I included that new version of “Jessie’s Girl” on my mix. Actually, I can: C’mon – that song rocked in 1982, and it still does.

Hip-hop is sorely lacking on this year’s mix, I know, although I include my other nominee for the year’s best track, Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push.”

I have a limited number of copies available – if you’re interested in doing a mix swap, e-mail me! Now, here’s my 2006 Choice Cuts CD, “Shake Things Up”:

1. LDN -- Lily Allen: OK, this is my third nominee for top track of 2006. I love everything about this song: The beat, Lily’s accent, the way she rhymes “Tesco” with “al fresco.” Why it’s taking so long for this import CD to finally be released in the States, I don’t know. But that just means one of the best CDs of 2006 will also be considered one of the best CDs of 2007.

2. Hard To Beat -- Hard-Fi: I first stumbled onto Hard-Fi by accident, picking up a free copy of the band’s “Stars of the CCTV” CD at work, where it was just sitting on a freebie table. I especially dug “Hard to Beat” – upbeat, romantic, and a very dance-y tune. What’s not to like? Soon after, the band hit it big. And although you could hear “Hard to Beat” all over the place after that, it didn’t get old.

3. Lazy Eye -- Silversun Pickups: Silver Lake’s gift to the indie rock gods this year. I’ll avoid the Smashing Pumpkins comparison, since everyone else is doing it. I love that singer Brian Aubert’s voice is so androgynous that I at first thought the SSPUs was led by a female singer. And bonus shout out that bassist Nikki Monninger is a co-worker of Maria’s at Rhino.

4. Out of LA -- The Dollyrots: Another L.A. band, The Dollyrots are on the famed Lookout! label; this track boasts a few of my fave things, all in one package: Female rock vocals on a song about Los Angeles. Score!

5. Kick Push -- Lupe Fiasco: Easily my fave hip-hop single of the year. The backing track. The unusual story about a skateboarder falling in love with the sport – and then falling in love with another skateboarder. It’s such a unique song; in a year when hip-hop failed to overly impress, this stood out.

6. Crazy -- Ray LaMontagne: I still remember the first time I heard Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” It made me want to immediately go home and make an entire CD mix, just so I could throw it in there. Over time, the song got a bit overplayed (I knew it was time to retire “Crazy” when Billy Bush bopped to it during the Emmy Awards pre-show). The cool stripped-down, slow Ray LaMontagne version is excellent in its own right, and a way to still recognize what should be remembered as 2006’s game-changing track.

7. Smiley Faces -- Gnarls Barkley: Of course, there’s a lot more than just “Crazy” on Gnarls Barkley’s excellent “St. Elsewhere” CD. Here, Cee-Lo’s crooning and Danger Mouse’s beats make for a powerful and urgent song.

8. Mama's Room -- Under the Influence of Giants: Yup, another L.A.-based band. How can you not love the funky falsetto in “Mama’s Room”?!

9. O Valencia! -- The Decemberists: I’ve loved the Decemberists for quite a long time, and it’s been nice to see them get quite a bit of notice as of late (even radio play!) I guess being signed to a major label – Capitol, in this case – does have its benefits. I still can’t get enough of Colin Meloy’s unusual voice.

10. St. John's Night (LAMACQ Live BBC Session Version) -- Every Move A Picture: Lamacq is a BBC1 DJ, and this track was one of his show’s “singles of the week” last summer. Catchy rock track with an electronica tone.

11. Numb -- Sia: Loved Sia from her days with Zero 7, and loved her “Colour the Small One” CD so much that I continued to listen to it into 2006. “Breathe Me” was a hot track last year, so this time around I selected “Numb” for the mix.

12. Like A Star -- Corinne Bailey Rae: I didn’t really care for her first track, “Put Your Records On.” There’s something more beautiful and even a tad haunting about “Like a Star.” Actually, I liked the track so much that I put it on two mixes this year. The original version in March, and then a stripped-down iTunes version in November.

13. Jessie's Girl (Acoustic) -- Rick Springfield: I took this off a 2006 compilation, “80s Hits Stripped.” 25 years later, the song still kicks ass, even in this new version.

14. Young Folks -- Peter Bjorn and John: Damn you, Sweden, and your ability to churn out such catchy pop songs! This one is both unforgettably groovy (love the drum line) and melancholy (the dramatic vocals by singer Victoria Bergsman, who duets here with Peter).

15. I Want To Be Buried In Your Backyard -- Nightmare Of You: Yeah, it’s a little too Smiths-y (nothing wrong with that, I dug The Smiths), but that line “you’re a shining star/You’ll do great in L.A.” was stuck in my head for weeks at the start of 2006.

16. Melt Your Heart -- Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Rilo Kiley has made a regular appearance on my end-of-year mix, so it’s probably no surprise that I included singer Jenny Lewis’ solo work this year. Her voice is just so smooth.

17. Throw it All Away -- Zero 7: Can’t get away from Sia Fuller. She leads this solid Zero 7 track, from their 2006 release “The Garden.”

18. Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me -- The Pipettes: Nice indie rock, female vocal track reminiscent of the girl groups of the 1960s.

19. Jerusalem -- Steve Earle: Not a new track (Earle released it in 2002 as the title song to his controversial album “Jerusalem”), but important nonetheless in these times. Earle remains optimistic that “one fine day/All the children of Abraham/Will lay down their swords forever/ in Jerusalem.” And so we end 2006’s Choice Cuts CD.