HITS Daily Double
Spend some time with its aural sprawl and thrill to MVP John Frusciante’s guitar bursts, which give the Peppers’ the same hummable, melodic, chunky hooks that The Edge provides U2.


A Look Back at the Best of 2006 at the Halfway Point, Then Get Ready for Some Fireworks
Yeah, I know, naming your 10 favorite albums of the half-year is so 1999. In fact, it kinda went out with Robert Hilburn, right? Well, it was still an eventful six months, with plenty of great music, even if the public seemed not to notice. Anyway, my Top10 includes at least two best-sellers, along with a bunch of idiosyncratic faves, so here goes:

1. The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic): The great U.K. rapper Mike Skinner tackles the subject of fame and success, which is hard to believe here in the U.S., where he remains a virtual unknown, but his hip-hop vignettes are so well-drawn, they are universal. And the guy even manages to touch the heart on the tribute to his father, “Never Went to Church.”

2. Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador): Wrenching, cathartic, gut-revealing soul from someone who lives up to her album title, kind of an American version of PJ Harvey and an artist who would’ve been a star 15 years ago when the industry was more open to change.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones (Interscope): Like Power, in another, more hospitable time for rock & roll, Karen O would be a mainstream goddess…or burned at the stake. What if you made a pop move and didn’t get popular? Hard to tell what this New York band did wrong to fail to click with record buyers, but I thought the move to accessibility was a winning one. But then again, what do I know?

4. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino): Not quite the next big thing we were promised, but a series of very impressive little things nevertheless. Alex Turner can be a star, but only if he wants to be. And in this day and age, it may make more sense not to court the masses if you’re eyeing career longevity. Sharply observed street vignettes set to a similarly jagged, hairpin curve soundtrack, which defines the term “promising.”

5. Ray Davies, Other People’s Lives (V2): The role model for Alex Turner grows old gracefully, without losing the edge that made him so great, as he taps on the legacy of his adopted New Orleans home to make a plaintive, yet never less than cheeky, take on our mutual foibles. The title track echoes such British music hall satire as “Well Respected Man,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and “Sunny Afternoon,” while Davies’ own timing is impeccable in “Stand Up Comic,” as he channels both Noel Coward and Benny Hill.

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium (WB): The American commercial rock & roll record of the year. Spend some time with its aural sprawl and thrill to MVP John Frusciante’s guitar bursts, which give the Peppers’ the same hummable, melodic, chunky hooks that The Edge provides U2. Not to mention Anthony Kiedis' ability to wrap his chords around each, while tethered to the four-on-the-floor thump of one of rock’s best rhythm sections in Flea and Chad Smith. This is the sound of California dreaming.

7. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam/IDJ): Creates a universe as dense and intricate as The Sopranos, with scenarios that jump off the disc into your living room. This is hip-hop cinema of the head, a surreal mix of mind games that takes on a series of very un-gangsta rap-like topics, including bed-wetting (“Whip You With a Strap”), watching Larry King Live (“Crack Spot”), male-pattern baldness and the quality of the Knicks’ jump shots (“Barbershop”), Fat Albert (“Big Girl”) and Spongebob Squarepants (“Underwater”)

8. Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Banana Recordings/Fierce Panda): Unlikely U.K. novelty pop of the year that screams, “Anybody can do it!” Ya gotta love the totally un-rock star ethos of floppy-haired singer Eddie Argos, who actually seems to be having a grand old time, as well as a laugh at no one’s expense, reminiscent of yet another unlikely frontman, the FleshtonesPeter Zaremba. “Formed a Band” says it all, but so does the following lines from “Bad Weekend”: “Haven’t read the NME in so long, don’t know what genre we belong... Popular culture no longer applies to me.” Lucky for him.

9. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (Downtown/Atlantic): Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo created the year’s catchiest single, and a bunch of other tunes that are just cool enough for school. And while the success of “Crazy” has overshadowed the rest of the album, this MC/DJ combo has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve, including a very faithful, but no less impressive, cover of Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone,” which, if there’s any justice in the world, will give this album another Top 40 smash.

10. Wolfmother (Interscope): Heirs to a psychedelic metal tradition that includes Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin with a modern-day White Stripes neo-garage band touch that gives it its panache, from the sensual “Stairway to Heaven” build of “Mind’s Eye” to the Jethro Tull flute blasts of “Witchcraft” and the acid flashback of “White Unicorn.” Extra points for the latter’s lyrical refrain: “And I know it’s on your mind/We’ve been drinking on the wine/That we drank from the serpent’s vine/Now we live in another time/We could live together.”

Honorable mention
: Raconteurs, The Strokes, Matisyahu, Secret Machines, Panic! at the Disco, David Ford, Daniel Powter, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson

Gnarls Barkely, “Crazy”: You had us at Cee-Lo.
Arctic Monkeys, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”: And sound great on the radio.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dani California”: So what if it sounds like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” it’s still catchy.
The Raconteurs, “Steady as She Goes”: So what if it sounds like “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”...it’s Jack White.
Chamillionaire f/Krayzie Bone, “Ridin”: In your grill, thankyouverymuch.
Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous”: An image makeover fit for the hip, thanks to Timbaland cameo.
Rihanna, “S.O.S.”: That “Tainted Love” synth riff never gets old.
T-Pain, “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)”: Should come with a pole tax.
Dixie Chicks, “Not Ready to Make Nice”: And why should they?
Jimmy Parnell & Andy Samberg, “Lazy Sunday: Chronic of Narnia Rap”/Art Brut, “Formed a Band”: Best novelty songs of the year.
Daniel Powter, “Bad Day”: From his song to “Your Song,” thanks to Idol worship.
KT Tunstall, “Black Horse & the Cherry Tree”: Who cares what it means?

Jen Trynin, Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be: A cautionary tale about a bidding war babe who lived to tell the tale, though just barely.
Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Brit intellectual’s view of post-punk creativity shines the light on an era that is now history.
Lonn Friend, Life on Planet Rock: His penchant for name-dropping and new age spiritualism coalesces in a bittersweet “fly on the wall” memoir of growing up absurd in the Valley during the rock era.

United 93: Paul Greengrass’ real-time pseudo-doc is best viewed as a 24-style suspense thriller, the better to distance yourself from the wrenching implications.
Art School Confidential: Director Terry Zwigoff’s black comic spoof is both darker and broader than his marvelous Ghost World and Bad Santa, but no less welcome in this arid era of studio crockbusters.
Neil Young Heart of Gold: Jonathan Demme’s elegiac tribute to the artist is the best rock doc of its kind since The Last Waltz.

Cars: Maybe it’s because cars aren’t anywhere near as expressive as either bugs, toys, fish or elasticized superheroes, but the seventh and latest Pixar box office smash seems a step down from past efforts. The art direction and attention to detail remain, but in service of a rather pedestrian plot that echoes the Michael J. Fox vehicle Doc Hollywood, in which a big city fast-track racing car gets stranded in a small town, where he learns all about good old-fashioned values of friendship, community, commitment and, well, love. It’s all pretty heart-warming, though the cars themselves are mainly distinguished through ethnic characteristics, rather than their exteriors, which while hewing to classic automotive design, don’t seem to get at the actual humanity underneath. Like all Pixar attractions, this one’s about someone getting lost and finding their way home, and while the gorgeous vistas of the fictional Radiator Springs—with their nod to Cadillac Ranch in the backdrop—are stunning, and the soundtrack—especially Rascal Flatts’ version of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway”—worthy, the NASCAR stadium shots are disappointing, especially given the clarity of today’s high-def digital broadcasts. And, aside from Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, a goofy Larry the Cable Guy and an acerbic Jeremy Piven as the voice-box-squawking Ari Gold type agent, the voices aren’t very distinctive, and, for my Gripe of the Week, the credits role so fast at the end, you can’t even identify who’s who. —Roy Trakin

Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (American/Lost Highway):
“Put me in my box/On the 309,” solemnly intones the legendary Man in Black—the last song he ever wrote—for this Rick Rubin-produced epitaph, a knowing admission that he is ready for the hereafter, but not necessarily about to go gently into that good night. Unlike Ray Charles, who relied on guest stars to help pull him through on his own posthumous effort, Cash basically goes it alone here, though the savvy instrumental overdubs from Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, Smokey Hormel and others add a sympathetic, otherworldly tinge to the proceedings. As it is, it’s like Cash himself singing from the grave, giving covers like Larry Gatlin’s “Help Me” and Springsteen’s “Further On (Up the Road)” an eerie afterglow. He proclaims “God’s gonna cut you down” with a life force that seems defiant and vengeful, but when he solemnly intones, “You know that ghost is me” for his hoarse, croaking version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” you begin to realize, despite that resignation, his spirit has been preserved for eternity on this final missive to the living from the now-departed. RT

Last year by this time, my top three albums of 2006 were already in the bag—Beck’s Guero, Spoon’s Gimme Fiction and Coldplay’s X&Y. At the midway point of 2006, no album has proved to be as addictive or impressive as any of those, but in terms of individual songs I’ve compiled a playlist that is knockdown loaded (as Dylan once put it). But before I get to that, let me say that I’m with Roy on several of his selections.

Although The Streets remain a puzzlement to me, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs leave me cold, Cat Power, who I never “got” until The Greatest, now has me totally hooked. The Chili Peppers, a band I’ve never loved, showed on Stadium Arcadium that they were capable of raising their level of play after more than 20 years of existence. Individually and collectively, qualitatively and quantitatively, this massive undertaking stands as a zeitgeist-capturing landmark for SoCal music in the mid-’00s. I love “Crazy” and the very notion of Gnarls Barkley, but I’ve gotta admit that I have yet to play St. Elsewhere through from start to finish. I could say the exact same thing about Ray DaviesOther People’s Lives and Neil Young’s Living With War. And those are three good reasons why I can’t legitimately come up with a proper midyear top 10—not yet, anyway. And there’s no question that 20-year-old Alex Turner is a comer with an extraordinary descriptive gift…so why have I not felt compelled to play the Arctic Monkeys’ impressive debut LP after one top-to-bottom listen?

A couple of vets who have come through big-time are Paul Simon, who’s captured something emotionally authentic and musically sophisticated following an extended dry spell with Surprise, and Donald Fagen, who, on Morph the Cat, has married his signature high-style sounds to a timeless an anxious song cycle that represents the strongest writing from the Steely Dan camp in ages, that 2001 Best Album Grammy notwithstanding. I feel as strongly about the upcoming Highway Companion, on which Tom Petty shows he’s still got it after a 12-year drought—and on which secret weapon Mike Campbell totally rules, albeit in his brilliantly succinct and subtle way—and Los LobosThe Town and the City, which comes off as the long-awaited follow-up to the band's 1992 milestone Kiko, though they’ve done their share of good work in between. Also be sure to give a listen to Ray LaMontagne’s intensely beautiful (and vice versa) Till the Sun Turns Black, advances for which started going out this week.

Which brings up my gripe of the week: Why in God’s name would WMG start not only watermarking advances but slapping on copy protection as well? That proved annoying in the case of Muse’s latest album, which I was looking forward to dropping into my iPod and road-testing on a run (my preferred manner of checking out new music) and absolutely maddening in the case of the Petty, which I was attempting to review for Uncut. As one friend, who happens to be a publicist, replied after listening to me vent, “It sure would be good for EVERYONE if people didn’t spend so much time creating obstacles for other people to do their jobs in the very best way they can.” Amen to that.

So anyways, here’s my midyear compilation CD, sequenced so that the workout-motivating tracks (all thoroughly checked out during numerous Spinning sessions at the gym) take up the first two thirds, transitioning into the reflective and evocative stuff. Try it out at your next barbecue or pool party. —Bud Scoppa

This Is Us / 2006.5
Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
KT Tunstall, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”
Tom Petty, “Saving Grace”
Guster, “Satellite”
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, “This Is Us”
Rock Kills Kid, “Paralyzed”
The Raconteurs, “Steady as She Goes”
New York Dolls, “Dance Like a Monkey”
Muse, “Supermassive Black Hole”
The Strokes, You Only Live Once”
Wolfmother, “Love Train”
Starlight Mints, “Inside of Me”
Dnald Fagen, “Mary Shut the Garden Door”
Gomez, “How We Operate”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Hard to Concentrate”
Paul Simon, “Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean”
Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"
Cat Power, “The Greatest”
Ray LaMontagne, “Be Here Now”
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, “Warmth of the Sun”

Friday, June 30th
Dodgers vs. Angels @ Anaheim Stadium: Unlike the last time these two teams met earlier in the year, both are struggling now, but on of these teams will win this series. Hopefully, the blue crew can win this series and use as some momentum.

Goo Goo Dolls & Counting Crows @ Verizon Ampitheatre, Irvine
Zebrahead @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

Saturday, July 1st
Chicago Country Music Festival @ Grant Park: It's time to dust off them Frye boots, stick a little piece of hay between your teeth, and use the black cowboy hat to cover the bald spot. Ya-hoo! The Chicago Country Music Festival attracts a national audience of 600,000 Tim and Faith wannabes over two days

Dodgers vs. Angels: Newly acquired left-hander Mark Hendrickson will make his Dodger debut.

Nina Hagen & Gene Loves Jezebel @ House of Blues - West Hollywood, CA
Jack Wagner (Yes, THAT Jack Wagner) @ House of Blues (Downtown Disney), Anaheim

Sunday, July 2nd
Fourth of July Weekend @ Galluccio Family Winery

Dodgers vs. Angeles: Concluding game of the Freeway Series.

Nickelback & Hoobastank @ Conseco Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, IN / Doors @ 7PM

Hollywood Bowl July Fourth Fireworks Spectacular: Kenny Loggins performs for three nights of fireworks. That's right, Kenny Loggins...

Monday, July 3rd
Red, White and Boom @ Desert Breeze Skate Park in Vegas: The July 3 shows features L.A. punk band Social Distortion, Flogging Molly, with its unique mix of traditional Irish music and punk rock, and South African heavy metal band Seether, plus Saving Jane and local band Fletch.

July Fourth festivities:
SeaWorld's Fourth of July: A day-into-evening visit to SeaWorld is a swell way to celebrate the Fourth -- lots to do and lots to see, capped by one of the best fireworks shows in the county.

Newport Dunes Fourth of July and Fireworks @ Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort: With colorful rockets blooming across the sky and their shiny reflection bouncing on the water below, the annual fireworks display at Newport Dunes is one of the most spectacular in the county.

Diamondbacks vs. Dodgers at Chavez Ravine: Come check out the dodgers as they battle their division rival and then stay for one of the best firework shows in LA.

Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks: East River between 23rd and 42nd Sts in New York.

Superman Returns
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey
After a mysterious absence, Superman returns to Earth only to find that his beloved Lois Lane has moved on with her life. Meanwhile, the Man of Steel's nemesis, Lex Luthor, is ready to hatch a plot that will render Superman powerless forever.
Thoughts: I saw the early screening on Tuesday night and, let me tell you right now, this movie is visually stunning, and I really enjoyed it, apart from the quibble that it could have been shorter, but you can say that about a lot of movies. I know a lot of people wanted King Kong shorter, but I loved every minute of it. With Superman, I felt there were just some very unnecessary parts. Overall, though, I recommend this movie—it’s fun and worth seeing.

The Devil Wears Prada
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier
Andrea Sachs, a small-town woman, gets a job working in New York City for Runway fashion magazine, where she has to cope with a high-powered, dictatorial editor, Miranda Priestly.
Thoughts: You know, I never read the book (big surprise, right?), but for some reason I have serious interest in this movie. That may be due to the fact that my fiancé wants to see it, and she always goes with me to see my movies, so if I don’t go to this one, it may be the end of our relationship. Well, no, our relationship isn’t that shallow, but you understand my point.

V for Vendetta:
This is my favorite movie of the year so far, for many reasons. It's more than just a comic book adapted for the big screen; it’s a movie that makes a big political statement that we can all relate to these days. Definitely a movie that was slept on, and I advise everyone to check it out if you haven't yet.
X-Men III: The Last Stand: If this is the last one, it certainly satisfied my appetite. It had it all, including some incredible action sequences.
Mission Impossible III: OK, people are getting sick and tired of Tom Cruise, but if you can just get past him, this movie is actually really good. A lot of people are missing out because they’re so turned off by the star’s off-screen antics.
An Inconvenient Truth: The most important movie of the year… A MUST-SEE!!!
Nacho Libre: The funniest movie of the year. Jack Black rocks.

Je-c’s Two Top Albums to check out over the holiday:
Busta Rhymes:
Best hip-hop cd I have heard in years
Corinne Bailey Rae: This girl is truly amazing, and her CD is sensational. If you don’t know about her, go and check her out.