So here we are, well into January, and I'm sure the last thing you'd like to read is a reflective article about the ups and downs of 2005. Well, guess what: This isn't that. Because already there's a lot to talk about in 2006. Like, say, the Alito hearings. That wolf-in-sheep's-clothing looks like he's going to slide right onto the Fightin' Nine, which is bad news for women, the little guy, and pretty much anyone who doesn't carry a gun. And how about this Jack Abramoff business? That's some scary, tip-of-the-iceberg shit -- as are the Shrub's wiretapping schemes and Scooter Libby's indictments and all the rest, all of which only begins to allude to just how widespread and systemic and entrenched and meticulously planned this neocon movement has been. (The neocons are rather like the aliens in War of the Worlds, aren't they?) And good God, this James Frey and JT LeRoy business? It's Stephen Glass, Part Two: The Revenge, except in JT's case it's not that he made up facts, because, according to a growing number of accounts, he doesn't even exist. People, please: Do not suffer bullshitters and those who abet them lightly. Remember the words of Todd Flanders: "Lies made baby Jesus cry."

Phew.

As you can see, I'm a little worked up. Is it so much to ask that our trusted officials and best-selling memoirists simply tell the truth and nothing but the truth? Yes, yes it is. But I'll tell you something that doesn't lie: music. At least I'm pretty sure it doesn't. Oh, wait, yes it does: Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson, marketing in general -- they're all examples of how the music business distorts or bends or generally poops on the truth in order to move units. But there's hope. There's always hope. And with that in mind I offer you the second annual Group Hug mix CD. Indeed, Group Hug 2006 is a collection of Songs That Don't Lie, songs that spew truth and bring joy to my heart. As with last year's collection, if you e-mail me with a request, I will burn and send you a copy. (In the spirit of truthfulness: I made this claim last year and kind of slacked and some of you might not have received your CD and damn it if I'm not going to prove to myself this time around that I can mail a freakin' envelope or two [unless anyone reading this is a lawyer for the RIAA, in which case rest assured that I can't].)

Onward!

Rogue Wave*, "Eyes." I know, I know: I never miss a chance to shower Rogue Wave with love. Indict me. This song is the most touching thing Zach Rogue Wave has ever written. It's a simple acoustic ditty, and Rogue sings the chorus in falsetto, and there's this little timpani bit every time he tweets, "In your eyes [boomph]/ In your eyes [boomph]," and I just really love it. Best part is that it's hard to find; far as I know you can only get it on the Just Friends soundtrack, which I'm betting you're not going to run out and buy (additional tracks include All 4 One's "I Swear").

Joanna Newsom*, "Sawdust and Diamonds." We're all wondering what Newsom has planned for her new album in '06. Will she go dance-punk? A duet with Pink? Probably not. From the sound of this song (and others she played live in '05), her follow-up to 2004's Milk-Eyed Menderis going to be what you wish the Matrixsequels had been: simultaneously more mind-fuckingly complex andmore graceful. "Sawdust" is seven-plus minutes; she's got another new one that's more than 15! You heard it here first, folks: Joanna Newsom is the Peter Jackson of music.

Tapes n' Tapes, "10 Gallon Ascot." I'm not sure if it's possible to exaggerate how good this Minneapolis indie foursome is, or how overlooked its debut, The Loon, was in 2005. What I do know is that this Trojan horse of a song (its swaggering verse slithers in on a lounge-y beat before just exploding and blowing up your brainwich) is all you need to hear to know what I'm talking about.

Chow Nasty*, "Ungawa." Full disclosure: If they'd have me, I'd join the guys in Chow Nasty as their official onstage beer-sprayer and rabble-rouser. It's just that I love them so. If songs had demolition derbies, "Ungawa" would be the reigning champ. It's reckless and fun and flying all over the place, like Chow Nasty itself.

Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy."Well hello, what have we here, a collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and Dirty South soul singer Cee-Lo Green, aka "The Soul Machine"? This track is from their forthcoming release as Gnarls Barkley, which may be the first record ever to be named Album of the Year before it even hits shelves.

Oh No! Oh My!, "Jane Is Fat." I'm putting this song on here because it represents to me how wonderful music blogs are at the moment. What I can tell you about this group is a) it used be called the Jolly Rogers; b) it's got a knack for song-naming; and c) it has produced this perfect tune, energetic but not overzealous jangle-pop. I learned all this from the blog Music.For-Robots.com, which also provided the track for my listening pleasure. I could then go and send the band, via its Web site linked from MFR, $1.50 and be mailed a CD-R of its homemade record. This whole process eliminates the need for record labels, which, after all, leave only about $1.50 for the band per CD-sale anyway. Neat, huh?

Okay*, "Give Up." Not enough of you bought Okay's High Roadand Low Road last year, and this needs to change, especially since bandleader Marty Anderson plans to release something like three more full-lengths in 2006. You've got catching up to do! (A recent conversation with Anderson revealed that he's got "about 150 songs" lying around unreleased.)

Jose Gonzalez, "Heartbeats." An acoustic guitar and one guy's voice. How is it that this simple combination is so eye-gougingly annoying 99 percent of the time, and then some new guy tries it and for whatever weird and magical reason you feel like you're 7 again and hearing John Denver for the first time?

Wolf Parade, "I'll Believe in Anything." It bodes well that Wolf Parade at the Independent was the first show I saw this year. This band is remarkably talented at embedding hooks into its mangy, scraggly songs. You listen to its debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, a few times, and at first it seems like the music isn't sinking in, but then a few hours later you're talking to your girlfriend and it just comes out: "Give me your eyes/ I need sunshine!"

Birdmonster*, "All the Holes in the Walls." Birdmonster pulling a Noah's Ark back in December at a flooded Café Du Nord to deliver a scathing set was one of my favorite moments from 2005, and indicative of just how determined this band is. Well, its songs are no less steely-eyed. This one jumps from a hangdog lament to an overdriven charge that would make Frank Black proud. It is nothing to fuck with.

(* denotes local artist)

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