Okay, so I think that 2006 was a great year for music. I’ve started making this list every year, and this year was tough. The top five albums on the list could (and did) go in almost any order, but I think I’ve finally settled on an order I like and included most (if not all) of the albums I wanted to include. I’ll put a little commentary for the top 10 albums, and then give a list of ‘The Best of The Rest’. So, without further ado…
The Top 10 Albums of 2006
10) Girl Talk – Night Ripper
Greg Gillis is the DJ-of-the-moment on the mash-up scene, and it’s largely because of this record he put out. It sounds like he took your sister’s CD collection and threw it into a blender, coming out with a 42-minute smoothie of hip-hop dance music, driven by vocals from 50 Cent, Biggie, Gwen Stefani and the like, and flavored with samples of such bands as The Verve, Phantom Planet, and Elton John. Listening to this record unfold is compelling whether you like rap or not (but it’ll help some if you do). I found myself laughing out loud at some of the connections he makes between songs, and it’s pretty fun to hear it happen.
9) Thom Yorke – The Eraser
Okay, so it sounds like Radiohead b-sides. So what? I like Radiohead. It was a good year for dark electronica (see The Knife), but this isn’t so much ‘Haunted House’ as it is ‘Groaning Glitches’. Everything we love about Radiohead is here, but is somehow a little more grim. Thom Yorke knows how to use those electronics and more importantly, his ever-unique vocal box. These songs are a great showcase of his abilities as a vocalist and a songwriter, and I’m all the more excited for the next Radiohead disc after this.
8) The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
The pretentious prog-rockery that is Colin Meloy hit a home run with this record. The Decemberists have made their name through storytelling, and the story they’re telling here is compelling. Turning the record off halfway through is not an option. The songs aren’t quite as radio-friendly as those on Picaresque, but they’re magnificent all the same. ‘Sons & Daughters’ will be a mix-CD closeout track for years to come, and their grand opus ‘The Island: Come & See / The Landlord’s Daughter / You’ll Not Feel The Drowning’ is every bit as phenomenal as a 12-minute, three-movement indie rock song should be.
7) Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche
Okay, it’s a b-sides record… sort of. Illinois (far and away the best record of 2005, if you’ll remember) was meant to be a double-album, but Sufjan decided that would be too much for the populace to take. As it turned out, the original Illinois album blew everyone away. So when The Avalanche came out, expectations were sky-high. Did it meet those? Well… I think we found out that three new versions of Chicago were excessive (although the Multiple Personality Disorder version was pretty cool). We found that Sufjan probably shouldn’t attempt these wacky guitar solos that sound out of tune and then fall apart. But also, we learned that some of these songs are among Sufjan’s greatest work: ‘The Mistress Witch From McClure (Or, The Mind That Knows Itself)’ and ‘The Henny Buggy Band’ jump to my head, as does ‘Pittsfield’, which begs to be listened to at maximum volume with your eyes closed.
6) Big City Rock – s/t
Here’s my semi-pretentious out-on-a-limb selection. What’s so great about Big City Rock? They’re a Killers-esque synth-rock band with big guitars, keys, and a charismatic frontman. But the reason this record is in my top 10 is that every song is so damn catchy! It’s the kinds of songs that you find yourself singing along to at various times throughout the day and thinking, “I wonder who does that song?” Then when you look up the lyrics, you find that the same band does all of those songs. And, as a matter of fact, all of those songs are on this album.
5) Matisyahu – Youth
A Hasidic Jew making sweet, sweet rap/reggae music. I don’t know if there’s anything else that needs to be said here.
4) Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
I got the ‘Crazy’ single for KWRS toward the end of the school year last year. I listened to it and said, “eh. Bo-ring” and tossed it into our CD sale rather than our rotation. Then I heard it on the radio during the summer, downloaded a couple more songs, and ended up buying the album. The truth is, Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse have thrown together an album unlike any other – the hip hop/funk/rap/soul flows pretty flawlessly here, and every song opens up further on repeated listenings.
3) Taking Back Sunday – Louder Now
Taking Back Sunday knows what they do best, and they kept it up here with another intense album full of catchy songs that you just want to scream along with. Adam Lazarra and company have gotten better and better with each album, leaving listeners unable to carry on without latching onto some of their great songs. They started out with ‘Cute Without The E’ and ‘Great Romances of the 20th Century’ and went through ‘A Decade Under The Influence’ and ‘Set Phasers to Stun’, and Louder Now has many of those kinds of songs: ‘What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?’, ‘Liar (It Takes One To Know One)’, ‘Twenty Twenty Surgery’, ‘Miami’… Actually, all of them. That’s why it’s on this list.
2) The Knife – Silent Shout
Toward the end of last school year, I heard ‘Still Light’ and decided I needed more of The Knife. I listened to it on and off over the summer, but the new school year really opened up my love of The Knife. After repeated listenings, the stark coldness of the album sets in, and the darkness that this bro/sis duo puts out envelopes you… but not without a sense of electro-hope through it all. Missing their show at CMJ in NYC is probably my top regret from the year.
1) AFI – decemberunderground
Like I said, it was tough to pick a top album because there were so many good candidates. What finally did it for me, though, was a listen to several of the top albums. I think AFI has hit their stride. A lot of people like to say that they’ve ‘sold out’ or that their good albums ended after Black Sails in The Sunset and things like that, and I call BS. What they’ve done with decemberunderground is not sell out, but create a full album of great rock songs. AFI took what they learned from Sing the Sorrow and refined it, and I listened to the result all summer, pausing only to restart the album. The songs stuck in my KWRS playlists all semester, and I keep trying to buy the 7” box set version or the vinyl version. This album was so good, I wanted to buy it again and again just to have that rush of putting in a phenomenal album for the first time and listen to it all the way through, unaware at the twists and turns that awaited me.
Almost made the cut
Hellogoodbye – Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!
The Killers – Sam’s Town
Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
The Flaming Lips – At War With the Mystics
Wolfmother – s/t
Albums that I had in the Top 10 until I realized they were released in 2005
Mew – And The Glass Handed Kites
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – s/t
Loved when I got it, haven’t listened to it much since then
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
The Mars Volta – Amputecture
Beck – The Information
Guilty pleasure album of the year
Weird Al – Straight Outta Lynwood
Good, but I couldn’t bring myself to put them any higher for various reasons
Anathallo – Floating World
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Stadium Arcadium
Danielson – Ships
Saves the Day – Sound The Alarm
Mates of State – Bring it Back
Morrissey – Ringleader of the Tormentors
Bob Dylan – Modern Times
The Bronx – s/t (II)
DragonForce – Inhuman Rampage
The jury is still out: Good albums that I need to listen to more in order to make a judgment
Copeland – Eat, Sleep, Repeat
Heavens – Patent Pending
+44 – When Your Heart Stops Beating
Razorlight – s/t
The Format – Dog Problems
Annuals – Be He Me
The Zutons – Tired of Hanging Around
The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine
Norfolk & Western – The Unsung Colony
My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers