Getting to Know Your LES Landmarks

If you've ever strolled along Essex St. between Houston and Stanton — and let's just assume that you have — then you've probably noticed the tag at right. Now, the Octopus tag is no stranger to New York City walls and doorways, but we have never seen one as complex as the instance that lives on the entrance to 161 Essex. How did the Octopus Man manage to toss that up in such a high-traffic area without the cops intervening? It's hard to make it out from the photo, but the detail on the tag is pretty g-darn intricate.

We always assumed that 161 Essex was an abandoned building or something, but thanks to the Times, boy oh boy do we now know better. Not only have we learned that the building owner granted permission for the tag, but we also learned a lot more about what's going on behind that door. And let's just say there's a beard involved.

so, folks, i'm a little late with my top ten list. sue me. i'm slow. i've started it at least two other times, the first about a month ago, and i guarantee that list looked different from what you see below. but probably not that much different. i still have a pretty long list of 2006 albums i want to hear, which makes constructing a top ten sort of agonizing. plus i did a lot of listening to old shit. ('member punk song of the week? i think i'm bringing it back....) but disclaimers are boring. let's get this over with:

top 10 greatest albums of 2006

1. the thermals, "the body, the blood, the machine": simply put, the most rockingest album of the year. every time i see them live they blow me away. thrilling live AND on record.

pick: "returning to the fold"

2. oakley hall, "gypsum strings": frankly i don't know if this is the best oakley hall album of the year, because they put out two, and i still don't have the other one. all i know is every time i hear this it is the exact perfect thing. weaves melancholy and joy together seamlessly; what more do you want from music? recently signed to merge and featured in rolling stone, i think they're on the way up. (p.s. another fantastic live band.)

pick: "confidence man"

3. belle & sebastian, "the life pursuit". i thought i was over belle & sebastian. went through a big phase in the late 90s where i bought all their albums, then lost interest. i heard "dear catastrophe waitress" was good but couldn't muster the will to care. when i heard this, though, it was like falling in love all over again. such masterful pop, and no song sounds the same. i listened to this a ton in '06, and still do.

pick: "the blues are still blue"

4. jenny lewis with the watson twins, "rabbit fur coat". she has the sweetest voice, paired with the sweetest melodies and just the right amount of emo angst.

pick: "the charging sky"

5. camera obscura, "let's get out of this country": so maybe i was just really into scottish pop this year? it's possible. or perhaps the scottish popsters just really upped their game this year. gorgeous pop. did you hear it? no? do.

pick: "lloyd i'm ready to be heartbroken"

6. ben kweller, s/t. i didn't even realize ben had released another album until late december. (not my fault: not even his website acknowledges the release!) thank god i did, because there just aren't enough straight-up pop-rock gems coming out these days. ben is the real deal. this album is one heady pop trip after another; it just doesn't quit. gives me the same giddy feeling as i got that night he opened for rhett miller at fez years ago. love!

pick: "i gotta move"

7. the yeah yeah yeahs, "show your bones": the yeah yeah yeahs showed their softer side this year, and it was awesome. there was also plenty of sass. what's not to like? i think this album was considered a disappointment, but not by me.

pick: "cheated hearts"

8. the gossip, "standing in the way of control". i always think the gossip are perfect party music for rock people. unfortunately most of my friends still want michael jackson when push comes to shove. but seriously, this band rocks hard and makes you want to move. and they just don't get enough attention. why not? beth ditto's voice could knock down a wall. this is a powerful, passionate rock band, very possibly the successor to the dear departed sleater-kinney.

pick: "your mangled heart"

9. cat power, "the greatest". i discovered cat power only this year. depressing, but good depressing. an exquisitely sad, beautiful album.

pick: "lived in bars"

10. robert pollard, "from a compound eye". this is the very definition of "grower." it took me months to get into this. it's sort of challenging. and loooong. but it has a ton of great songs on it if you're willing to listen carefully.

pick: "the right thing"

some of you may be wondering why "boys and girls in america" is not on the list. simply: i was not blown away. it has several total clunkers. like, cringe-inducing songs (part one of "first night"; "chillout tent"). michaelangelo, a longtime supporter and indeed the first person to turn me on to craig finn (via lifter puller), voices my sentiments in idolator's "jackin' pop" poll when he admits, "I rooted for the Hold Steady on principle, though I do wish their most acclaimed album wasn't also their weakest." of course, i'm sure they're going to churn out several more albums in the coming years, so i'm not worried.