And now, from an easy chair in a warm Florida living room, my picks for 2006. Took my time this year, listened and re-listened, and tried to be as honest as possible without letting other internet rankers influence me too much. This year I went back to a “top ten” instead of last year’s fifteen, mostly because the greater-than-ten stuff just became too much “in the noise” when it came to subjective judging. I also shamelessly copied over albums that made both my halfway toplist and year-end toplist, word-for-word, without shame. So, here goes, my favorite albums of the year of our lord two-thousand and six.
10. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
The solo effort kept a secret until just before its planned release, Yorke’s Radioheadless foray into melodic-electronic took the music blogosphere by surprise. Then, it leaked over a month in advance, and the web collective had dissected and discussed the album to death before the law-abiding, CD-buying public ever even got to hear it for the first time. For me, I had to get it – couldn’t wait. I must say, I was leery from the moment I heard about the album. Could Thom’s genius shine as well without the group effort? In short: yes. Thom’s lyrical prowess and knack for eerie melody make a fine showing here; although I will admit the album is a little too ProTooled for me, and it drags a bit through the chewy center – it’s still a damn fine effort with some classic tunes.
9. The Fratellis – Costello Music
Every year has to have this album… the throwin’ darts in the garage at midnight half-plastered with a cocksure swagger rock ‘n’ roll album. Put this on and watch the uninitiated bounce around with the easy-as-pie beats and choruses. The Fratellis don’t require much attention to love, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – they come right out the chute with loud crunchy guitars that score near ten on the danceability meter – and their music doesn’t suffer too badly from that Brit-dancerock cliché. Oh, maybe a Ramones fan, or an Arctic Monkeys fan, or a Clash fan, or a Strokes fan, might say the Fratellis are biting their style – but when the album is packed with singles and is this much fun, who cares? Wanna get drunk with the crew and put on an album that’ll mix perfectly into the din of conversation while helping maintain everyone’s buzz? Then get this album.
8. The Islands – Return to the Sea
When I first heard the Unicorns album “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?,” I fell in love with it almost instantly. I was bummed, but not entirely surprised, when they announced their breakout shortly after the album’s internet buzz carried them to underground stardom. After all, I’d seen them on stage and they were young and insane with very distinct personalities – I could tell just watching them that they were a bubbling pool of varied talents… and sometimes that just doesn’t work out. But, when I heard that the two “creative” members of the group had formed a new band and released an album under the name The Islands, I was excited. Turns out, this album is only just shy of “Who Will Cut Our Hair…” awesome – and that’s pretty damn awesome. The songs are longer than what they did as the Unicorns, and a little more cohesive with less randomness. “Swans,” in particular, is a good example of why I consider this to be one of the best albums of 2006.
7. Phoenix – It`s Never Been Like That
Every summer deserves a summery album. Like a sweet, dripping ice-cream cone, “It’s Never Been Like That” plops perfect little circles of melted goodness all over your favorite Hawaiian shirt. Each track a self-sufficient pop gem, bouncy and singalong, with just enough rock sensibility and “rawness” to save it from being pure bubblegum indulgence. This album is 2006’s 95° summer-drive-with-the-windows down blarer; put it on and watch the sun move across the sky, maybe toss the frisbee with the hand not holding your beer while you wait for the meat to come off the grill. Oh, and chicks’ll dig the thing too… makes a great poolside swimsuit soundtrack.
6. Figurines – Skeleton
How this album can remind me of experiences I never even had is beyond me, but when I hear it I think about that summer when I lived in that ramshackle bungalow on the beach, spending my days surfing and my nights drinking. Mind you, I never actually had such a summer, but that doesn’t matter. It was crazy, me and the guys blaring this album from the house as we ate Taco Bell on the beach before smoking a joint and heading back out to catch another set. For real though, there’s good energy here, youth even. I realize that people might criticize me for picking albums that “feel” good yet lack lyrical or poetic depth – but fuck those people. You can sit in your room and cry tears over the beauty of some warbly, plucked-harp bullshit – I’ll be riding waves stoned and having sex in the dunes.
5. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther
The trials of what-who, now? Whatever you may think about the title of this album, what you’ll find inside is a loosely-cohesive narrative, set to some of the most tightly-cohesive, gorgeously-crafted music put on wax this year. Before 2006, I’d never even heard of Midlake – and I downloaded this album only after hearing the track “Roscoe” via the Hype Machine
. A haunting tune with lilting harmonies reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, it sets the tone for the remainder of this unbelievable album. This album, too, falls in my personal favorites partly because of the way it’s imagery gels with my personal fantasy world. Plaintive pastoral narratives about roving bandits, building rough homes, pioneering and falling in love talk right to the wanna-be naturalist-hippy that I think of myself as.
4. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
C’mon snobs, just because they’re in the majors now and they’ve got the production values of a “radio band,” doesn’t make them bad. In fact, in this case, it makes them awesome. Let’s explore: In the scant three years I’ve been making my own “best of” lists, the Decemberists have been in the top-ten twice, and even had two albums there in 2003. Not surprisingly, I’ve given Colin and crew the nod once again in 2006 for their progressive (as in progressive with regards to band direction and just straight-up King Crimson / ELP “progressive”) latest LP. This album once again talks to the things that are near and dear to my very own fantasy world: ships and hidden islands, homesteading, and the perils of love. Shutting my eyes tight and listening to “Summersong” with headphones on, I can almost feel the sand under me (and the the girl with the peppery skin above me) on the island.
3. The Most Serene Republic – Phages
Back in 2005, I ranked the Most Serene Republic’s debut effort as #3 on the year, with the subtext that it “could just as easily change places with #2 and I’d be just as happy with the list.” So, when I saw this tour-EP was only available on the ‘net – I went ahead and sent my virtual dollars on down the wire. Little more than two minutes later, the string of digits that represents the money in my bank account went down by $7 or so, and I was happily listening to what turned out to be one of the standout efforts of the year. Lavish instrumentation draped over stunningly complex beats and rhythms, and the kind of trembly falsetto voice that called me to indie rock to begin with. There’s so much going on in these tracks that, when I’ve played them to people, I’ve heard “I can’t ‘hear’ this” more than once. Kind of like trying to wrap your mind around the complex signatures on Brubeck’s Time Out, some of these songs can confound before they delight – but take your time, it’ll pay off in the end I swear.
2. Malajube – Trompe-L’oeil
Malajube is from Canada, and I don’t know if they speak English or not (I’d give ’em the odds tho), but they sure don’t on this album. So, right off, if you can’t get into an album that’s not in your mother-tongue you might wanna steer clear of this one. But I’m telling you now, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not giving it a try. If, however, you can get past the Frenchness of the thing, I think you’ll be nearly as joyous as I am every time I play this thing. Malajube are incredible. Malajube’s songs are dripping with the kind of shit that made the Arcade Fire’s debut so damn likeable – “fun” turned sonic, a band that’s happy making their art. This album for me… it would sound so gay to talk about how some of the choruses make my chest swell and inspire delusions of grandeur… but that’s about as close as I can get to telling you how much I love this thing. This album is it, album of the year… simply incredible; head and shoulders above the rest… well, all but the one below.
1. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America
She was a real cool kisser and she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian; she was a damn good dancer but she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend; he likes the warm feeling but he’s tired of all the dehydration.
This album so encapsulates some of my highschool-aged carousing, it’s hard to believe it was written by someone over 30. Then again, the lyrics are an immediate tip-off. It takes some word-prowess to write Springsteen-esque poetry about sneaking snootfulls from a girlfriend’s purse at prom – but it works here. To be fair to the haters, I’ll admit that this album does straddle the line, and if you called it butt-rock or bar-rock I wouldn’t have much room to take offense. Hell, I’ve even had a couple folks ask me if it was a Counting Crows album during some of the instrumental parts – so you know the line I’m talking about.
A lot of people hate this album, and honestly, I’m a little surprised I like it so much. Sometimes, though, you just like what you like. I put this album on, and I remember things like sneaking out at night and walking five miles to a party in the woods at a long-abandoned racetrack. As we left, we dropped our $20 sack in the long grass and couldn’t find it in the darkness. Out of spite for the party that ate our stash, we snatched a handle of rum that someone had left on the ground and took turns chugging on our long, dejected walk home. Turns out Joey had way too much, and passed out with less than a mile to go. Justin and I slung him between us like a dead body and carried him the rest of the way before roughly pushing his limp body back through my window. That night, he pissed himself while sleeping on my floor.
I might’ve though this album sucked if I’d heard it back in highschool, but it’s sure perfect for remembering it now.
Wow, heavy on the rock and light on the lite-rock, eh? Guess it was one of those rocking kinda years. No doubt that the majority of these albums will, one day looking back, remind me of when Keaton was new. Even going back and putting them on the headphones while finishing up this entry brought some memories back. But, let’s not harsh the buzz, yeah? Let’s keep this listmania going with the rounding-out stuff. For instance, what “best of” list would be complete without the safety-net of an “honorable mention” section? So, for 2006, here’s the albums that made my happy but just weren’t able to take one of the top spots, complete with one-sentence reviews:
The Dears – Gang of Losers
Was on the list for the longest time until the bubble-sort popped it off the stack (nerd humor).
Guillemots – Through the Windowpane
+/- – Let’s Build A Fire
Latecomer to the 2006 party, but much better than their last.
Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
Sunset Rubdown – Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Wolf Parade, just not as good.
Furthermore, the list of lists keeps going with the best old albums I “discovered” in 2006:
Stone Roses – Stone Roses
Near the beginning of this year I discovered the Stone Roses much-hailed eponymous debut album after reading that it was one of the late John Peel’s favorite records. It’s an album I absolutely love.
Ride – Nowhere
Shoegazing roots, get it if you haven’t heard it.
And now, the “back to the drawing board” awards… here’s my picks for 2006’s most disappointing follow-ups
Radio Dept. – Pet Grief
What happened here?
Killers – Sam’s Town
Oh boy, I promise commercialism didn’t ruin this for me – it’s just vapid.
Stills – Without Feathers
New rule: One dude from the old band shouldn’t be allowed to recruit a new band record under the same name.
Next, here are what I feel were this year’s most overrated albums. Those that got the internet all in a tizzy yet lasted all of a few days on my iPod and left a sour taste in my mouth:
Joanna Newsom – Ys
Are you kidding me? I turned off this album when I realized I was starting to grow a pussy.
The Knife – Silent Shout
Sorry, I like beats as much as the next guy, but this just didn’t move me.
TV On the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
Never liked ’em, never will.
And, finally, I would be remiss for not mentioning the absolutely glorious new Shins album, which isn’t due to be released until January 2007, but leaked to the masses sometime back in October. Suffice it to say that this album is outstanding, and I thought hard about ranking it amongst this year’s efforts. I’ll respect the street-date this time though, and let it hold its own next year – where, honestly, it’ll likely face a much stiffer set of competitors, that is, if the Arcade Fire and Radiohead make good.
Take it sleazy.
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