On the Download

Some of the best music of 2006 wasn't exactly officially released (wink, wink)

It's probably not the best thing to cop to owning all the tracks listed below; we don't wanna end up on the RIAA watch list. So, let's just say these things were all available, at some point or another, on the Web during 2006—most for as long as it took to read this sentence. But if nothing else, this annum proved the staying power of the MP3 blog (and the attendant aggregators, especially The Hype Machine and Elbo.ws) as one-stop shopping (uhhhh...) sources for impatient iPodists and radio rejecters who could turn the latest into the greatest with the right-click of a mouse.

Here, then, are a few download highlights from 2006. Some you can still find with great ease; others are just rumors now, like the first item on the list...

The Other Side of Norah Jones: As quickly as it came last May, it vanished forever—Norah Jones' punk-pop-rock side project known only as El Madmo, which produced two catchy, dopey, surprisingly curse-y songs ("Carlo" and "Vampire Guy") and some Interweb buzz before Jones went scampering back to the bright lite-rock sunshine. Gosh, if only I knew someone who had 'em on his iPod. Oh, wait.

Jeff Tweedy, performing "So Much Wine" at the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival, August 18, 2006: The Handsome Family original, which comes from the 2000 album In the Air, is a soft, slow moan—the give-up of a man tired of watching his woman drink herself to death. But Tweedy's solo performance, sorta strung out and amped-up all at once, suggests something closer to desperation than sadness; he sounds like he's gonna cry. "That might be the best song ever written, I think," Tweedy says at the end, wrung out with no place to go. "I think it's up there." His version makes it sound like it, anyway.

M.I.A., "XR2":Maya Arulpragasam, the girl from London via Sri Lanka, was gonna be the Next Big Thing with last year's stompin' "Galang"—Gwen Stefani with the politics, Nelly Furtado with the balls. Revolution didn't happen; she be a teensy bit too scary for the dance floor, most likely. So M.I.A. regrouped and resurfaced in 2006 with a freebie track (once again, with master ass-shaker-head-scratcher Diplo) full of nonsense lyrics ("MTV not ADD") and heart-attack-siren-scream beats with which only a discothèque spastic could keep pace.

Midlake vs. Jimi Hendrix:In mid-December, MP3 blog Stereogum got masher-upper team9 to produce a year-in-review featuring the annum's best, but with a bastard-pop twist. Hence, Thom Yorke joined the Beatles, Peter Bjorn and John went on a date with the Cure, and Your Local Fave Midlake found someone had dipped their "Roscoe" into Jimi Hendrix's "Gypsy Eyes." And, yeah, the result's a bit too discombobulating to actually enjoy, but it does make you wish that every now and then Midlake would ditch the empty-carbs Bread for something a little more filling.

"Crazy" covers:You loved the Gnarls Barkley original the first 983 times you heard it; now, it's one play away from becoming this millennium's "Funkytown." Oddly, myriad covers floating on the Internet keep the thing interesting—if only because every time somebody performs the thing live, it shows up the next day. Nelly Furtado did it nice, breathy, casual, cool. Greg Dulli covered it in grease and sweat; the Raconteurs gave it some grime, even better. The Kooks and Ray Lamontagne took it to the frat-house open-mike night, ugh. Cat Power even did it in Dallas; like, is that funshe's having?

Pearl Jam odds and sods:Hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with Eddie Vedder's "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," performed at Wrigley Field; a dozen listens later and it still sounds like he's moaning, "Give me some penis and crack," that kidder. Or maybe with the band's just-surfaced, on-the-nose cover of "Love Reign O'er Me," yet another addition to the Who-does-Eddie-Vedder-think-he-is catalog. Or, more likely, try to find yourself the live rendition of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's protest anthem "Hawai'i 78," performed on the island in December. Heartbreaking, even if you can't understand most of the lyrics—like most PJ tracks, come to think of it.

TV 2 MP3:Missed, oh, Beck and band bangin' the kitchen table on SNL? Or Stephen Colbert rockin' the vocoder with Mssrs. Frampton, Nielsen, Schneider and Funk on his TV-show theme song two weeks back? Or My Morning Jacket stringing up "Gideon" with the Boston Pops on Letterman? No worries, because, sho 'nuff, by the next a.m. some busy-body blogger had posted an MP3 of said performance to his/her site. Top vote-getter: TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" on The Late Show, proof that the band that can't play live can after all.

Love it Live:Almost all of Radiohead's next disc found its way onto the Web, courtesy concert-tapers smuggling "Arpeggi," "Naked," "Down Is the New Up" and so forth out of arenas across the globe. But the best live tracks to find their way onto the Internets in 2006 were the older gems worth official releases: a hyped-up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 1980; a hopped-up James Brown screaming across Switzerland in 1973; a strung-out James Taylor folkin' around in Oakland in 1972; a bummed-out Neil Young feeling helpless, helpless, helpless at Toronto's Massey Hall on January 19, 1971; even a dorked-out Old 97's setting fire to a time bomb at Knoxville's Bijou Theater on July 9, 1999. And that doesn't even begin to touch the decades' worth of classic rock emanating from Wolfgang's Vault, for streaming only (yeah, right).

 
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