The Research
made one of my favorite albums of 2006, their debut Breaking Up. It's full of romance, humor, la las, bah bahs, and gritty-sounding keyboards. Since then, they added a fourth member, recorded and scrapped two versions of the follow-up (including one produced by onetime Eggstone frontman Per Sunding), dropped the fourth member, singer Russell hurt his arm and was no longer able to play keyboards and switched to guitar (that's what I heard at least), and got dropped from their label, EMI.

It's enough travails to bust-up most band, but The Research soldiered through and have finally released album number two, The Old Terminal, which, once you get past the re-jiggering of their sound from keyboards to guitars, is just as good as their debut…just kinda different. There is an adjustment period. That shitty keyboard (so memorably decorated with "Piney Gir [Hearts] Bearsuit") was the sound of the first album, but really it was Russell's songs that drove it.

Now, The Research sound a little more like Orange Juice, a little more country, a little more Pavement  but it's still them. It's still that slightly shambolic, lala-filled sound (thanks to rhythm section Georgia and Sarah)… just now it's mostly guitars. How can you not like "Treasure Every Measure," "Lost Souls in the Vapours," and single "She's the One I Love"?There's also "I Would Like to Be Forgiven," which features one of Wakefield's most-famous fillial trios and reeks, in a good way, of their cribbage. But mostly it's a Research album, which we've gone too long waiting for really. 

MP3The Research – Treasure Every Measure

MP3The Research – I Would Like to Be Forgiven

Buy The Old Terminal

Here's the video for "She's the One I Love":

The Research – I Think She's The One I Love from This Is Fake DIY Records on Vimeo.

SoundBites Best of 2006 | Albums

While my Top Ten remained pretty solid, I finagled with the rest of the list right up to this posting. Lots and lots of good music this year, some of it was even great. Brits dominated the list this year (I am an Anglophile for sure) with the USA, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and, in a shocker, Australia rounding things out. If you disagree with my choices, I offer this quote from Yukon Cornelius: "You eat what you like, and I’ll eat what I like!" (MP3s are expired, sorry)

Hot Chip
The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks) | Overflowing with ideas, melody and humor, The Warning had it all: killer singles (“Over and Over,” “Boy from School,”), slow jams (the affecting “Look After Me”) and whiteboy funk (“Arrest Yourself”). Hot Chip are like a modern day New Order, and they do it without imitating Peter Hook’s bass style. It’s the sound of real live people playing – not programming – sythesizers, and that human element shines through.

Buy It | MP3: Hot Chip – "No Fit State"

Never Hear the End of It (Murderecords) | Canada’s indie elder statesman return after a few years of trying to grab the brass ring and go back to doing what they do best – being themselves. The result is their best album in years; a sprawling, beautiful mess of 30 interwoven songs that never gets boring. Though you never really went away, Sloan, it’s good to have you back.

Buy It| MP3: Sloan – "Set in Motion"

The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union) | Yes, Midlake’s songs are often soft. But they’re not soft rock. Michael McDonald never sounded like this… or sang about 19th Century agrarian society. Bookish and beautiful, The Trials of Van Occupanther is a perfect album for Sunday mornings, drives through lush countrysides or doing research for that second doctorate.

Buy It | MP3: Midlake – "Roscoe"

Skeleton (Control Group) | Denmark’s Figurines sound like a Best of ’90s Indie Rock compilation all rolled into one band. A little Pavement, some Modest Mouse, with liberal splashes of Teen Beat and Flying Nun thrown in for good measure. More than anything else, Skeleton is loaded with fantastic songs. Great Danes indeed.

Buy It | MP3: figurines – "i remember"

Kelley Stoltz
Below the Branches (Sub Pop) | Here’s a record that took nearly six months to work its magic on me, but has now burrowed deep under my skin and refuses to leave. Below the Branches has a real timeless quality about it, and it’s not just the songwriting. It’s not retro, yet it sounds like it could’ve been recorded any time over the last three decades. Kelley Stoltz is also a real charmer in person — don’t miss a chance to see him play.

Buy It | Kelley Stoltz – "Birdies Singing"

The Knife
Silent Shout (Mute) | Certainly one of the most hyped records of the year, Silent Shout deserved it’s accolades. The Knife‘s music is like one of those sea creatures that lives in the deepest waters: spooky, phospherescent, undulating, mesmerizing. And you can dance to it. Yet for me, this is a perfect record to listen to while walking around the city at night.

Buy It | MP3: The Knife – "Neverland"

It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks) | Phoenix started as slick dance-pop and have been devolving their sound ever since. Though we know they are skilled musicians, Phoenix pull off the sloppy, Strokesy rock with much elan. This is just one of those records that just sounds great, and their songs are catchy as ever. One of the most fun albums of the year.

Buy It | MP3: Phoenix – "Rally"

8. Luke Haines
Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop (Degenerate) |
Like Mark E. Smith, I don’t think Luke Haines is ever going to run out
of bile. It fed four Auteurs albums, one by Baader Meinoff, three from
Black Box Recorder, and a flurry of solo work here in the last few
years. And all of it is awesome. That being said, I was a bit taken back
by just how awesome Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop is. Always looking on the dark side of life and England, this
time, Haines fixates on Serial killers, aging rock stars,
the art world, and the music biz — all wrapped up in glammy disco (not unlike Denim) and whispered vocals. This is may be one of the best things Haines has ever done. And that is saying something.

Buy It | MP3: Luke Haines – "Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop"

The Dears
Gang of Losers (Arts & Crafts) | Montreal’s perpetual underdogs are just starting to get some attention (aka play on Grey’s Anatomy) and it’s about time. After touring their asses off in 2005, gaining the reputation as one of the most firey live bands on the planet, the Dears finally nailed it in the studio. (Playing it mostly live with minimal overdubs helped.) Gang of Losers is the post-apocalyptic romantic pop album of the year. Not that there was much competition.

Buy It | MP3: The Dears – "Whites Only Party"

10. Dirty on Purpose
Hallelujah Sirens (North Street Records) | Maybe it’s that Mercury Lounge seemed to be playing this album before every band I saw there this year, but Hallelujah Sirens is one of my most-listened-to albums of the year. Or maybe it’s just that there is no filler here — every song is great. Dirty on Purpose are friends of mine, but listening to this album, I am a mere fan.

Buy It
| MP3: Dirty on Purpose – "Light Polution"

Albums 11 – 20 after the jump.

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Envelopes + The Research | Mercury Lounge | 3.14.2006

"I bought a pretzel. It was rubbish."

Capping a seven-day rock marathon was this excellent double-bill, two bands making their American debut. I guess everyone really had left for SXSW as the Mercury Lounge was half-empty. It was like the old days — you know, three years ago — when people didn’t give a crap about British bands and it would be me and a handful of expats shelling out ten bucks to see Razorlight or the Warm Jets or whoever.

The Research are about as cute as Paddington Bear, with all their "ba ba ba" choruses and a lead singer whose reedy voice and erudite accent — not to mention that blond hair tucked under a trucker hat — make him seem like a cartoon character. My friend Erinn said she wanted to take them home. It wasn’t the best of conditions for the show, as drummer Sarah was under-the-weather, and front-man Russell and bassist Georgia joked that they were worried she wasn’t going to survive the plane trip over (which was that day).

On their debut, Breaking Up, the band somewhat resembles the twee pop of Papas Fritas, but live Russell’s cheapo keyboard (which had "Piney Gir s Bearsuit" emblazoned on it) sounded like it was being run through a distortion pedal, giving gems like "Lonely Hearts Still Beat the Same," "I Love You But" and "C’mon Chameleon" a little bite. It’s a wonder it worked at all, the way he purposely banged it around and tossed it in the air. I was utterly charmed.

MP3: The Research – "C’mon Chameleon"

Music videos (Windows Media): "Lonely Hearts Still Beat the Same," "The Way You Used to Smile," "C’mon Chameleon"

Headliners were Sweden’s Envelopes whose album, Demons, is sort of a lovely mess, all off-key vocals and dissonant guitars hiding some lovely pop songs underneath. (Sort of a Swedish version of the Pastels.) Either they learned to play since making the album or they were just faking it, but the quintet — two of whom were wearing Envelopes t-shirts — really had it together Tuesday night.

Maybe it was just the three guitars, I don’t know. Singers Henrik Orrling and Audrey Pic (who looked like a tiny version of Kelly from Bad News Bears) didn’t say much beyond introducing the song, but they held everyone’s attention throughout the set. A lot of their songs feature spoken/shouted verses with super-catchy choruses — it’s a formula that works for songs like "Sister in Love," "Glue" and "Isobel and Leonard." It’s a truly beautiful racket, and I hope Envelopes play here again very soon.

MP3: Envelopes – "Sister in Love"

Music videos (Quicktime): "Freejazz," "Sister in Love," "It is the Law"

More pictures after the jump…

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