Thursday, January 04, 2007

Top Ten Albums of 2006

As promised, yet another list. Below are my top ten albums for 2006. However, seeing as this was a pretty damn fine year for music, I had some trouble narrowing my list down to only ten. So, I've included a small Runners-up list of sorts. The following are ten albums that I couldn't quite find a spot for in my official top ten, but desperately wanted to. All are amazing in their own ways, and any music lover who may have missed them this past year should seek them out.

Here you go:

The Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head
Asobi Seksu, Citrus
Justin Timberlake, Futuresex/Lovesound
Girl Talk, Night Ripper
Islands, Return To the Sea
Danielson, Ships
Man Man, Six Demon Bag
Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies

And now, on with the show.

Every album on this list affects me in a different way, but affects me nonetheless. On a personal note, it's been something of a rough year for yours truly and I reserved these ten spots for albums that, however recently, touched me and aided me through it. That's not too sappy is it?... It is? Oh. Sorry. Oh well. Enjoy!


10. The Pipettes, We Are The Pipettes

When I first heard The Pipettes, I was convinced there was no possible way they could be as clever as they thought they were. The bratty posturing, the cutesy, Polk-a-dot imagery, the Beatles trashing while militantly embracing the Specter model--I mean, it was all too good to be true. How could an entity so deliciously campy actually deliver when it came time to shine? Color me stupid. From a presence filled with substance, to a commanding pop delivery only surpassed by its own ambition, We Are The Pipettes is assured, loud, and ultimately intoxicating. The Wall of Sound is alive and well!

09. Cat Power, The Greatest

So, my favorite female artist went all Dusty on us this year. Good, I say. You can't say the results were lackluster. Among Chan's catalogue, The Greatest may not be...the greatest (aren't I funny?) but it stands up to just about any of her former releases. The Greatest is smoky and sad, yes, but it's also downright soulful and lively--which is not the usual adjectives you would employ when discussing a Cat Power record. When it's all said and done, you have a thoughtful, tuneful, and meditative piece from a conflicted artist finding herself yet again. If you didn't like it the first time, try it once more.

08. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

There is a part of me that genuinely hopes this album will achieve (for lack of a better example) Pinkerton like status in the time ahead to compensate for it being widely and criminally overlooked and underrated by just about everyone. Of course there is that other part of me that simply feels that if someone missed Show Your Bones and the power that it wielded, then tough shit. You could say that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or even specifically Karen O, matured on their Sophomore LP. You could say they gained perspective or got serious...even soft. All of that sounds kind of lame, though. The truth is that Show Your Bones is every bit as visceral and intense as Fever To Tell was--just in different ways. Karen O is a slave to her influences, and pays for it daily. However, the sheer honesty and electricity poured into Show Your Bones makes for a blend of originality that is refreshing, vivid, and blisteringly alive.

07. The Thermals, The Body, The Blood, The Machine

Ramones style guitar, thrashing drums, an odd John Darnielle vocal pitch belting out seemingly blasphemous subject matter? Yes, The Thermals have it all. The Body, The Blood, The Machine is something of a "concept" album, if one calls questioning the idea of a higher power and his or her affect on humanity a concept. It all sounds very pompous, but The Thermals are actually quite genuine. If not for the sense of wonder or the inquisitive nature prevalent through out the album, its sarcastic exterior might put one off. On a completely superficial level though, they bring the punk, they bring the pop, they bring that bounce, plus the bassist is way hot. The Thermals really DO have it all!

06. Peter Bjorn & John, Writer's Block

This Stockholm trio, boasting an acronym as misguided and tongue in cheek as the album title suggests, deliver one of the biggest surprises of the year. Building on the lovelorn dramatics of their previous Long Player, Writer's Block is a layered aural wonder traversing genre footsteps and tickling pop tid bits that must be crow barred from your subconscious. A tumultuous blend of 80's pop and shoegaze shadows, Writer's Block plays with expectations like few albums did in 2006. The result is a carefully conspicuous gem filled with romance, brains and moments of shocking perfection.

05. Hot Chip, The Warning

Hot Chip and their smoothly layered synth-pop is something that is both relentlessly simple and wondrously textured. The complexity within their compositions only takes a backseat to the general poppy easiness instilled by almost every track on The Warning. Faintly damaged vocals with sweetly morose implications, while sometimes crystalline sometimes-spastic drum machines tell the story behind the story and a synth accompaniment tops off the tale with a melancholic cap that only adds to the longevity. A grower, but a keeper.

04. Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye

This was quite the year for Electronic music. No, really. A group like Junior Boys, whose lauded LP in '04 served as little more than a statement of arrival for me, built upon the sonic tracks they laid with that album, and found themselves a softer side in 2006. So This Is Goodbye is melodramatic in all of the right ways. Completely self aware and unfettering, it melds a manic dance layout with a heartbreak manifesto that proves to be both club thumping and therapeutic. Its production is unimposing and, forgive me for saying, angelic (in a way). So This Is Goodbye soars and glides and never really comes back down.

03. TV on the Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain

The unmastered, tracks wrongly named and out of order, version of this highly anticipated Sophomore LP had been floating around for months before its much argued over release date. Yeah, I had it. So what? The thing is, while listening to that first version, even knowing it wasn't the finished product, it was hard to deny you were holding onto something special. Return To Cookie Mountain, in all its final cut glory, is probably one of the most brilliantly heartbreaking records I've ever heard. An odd, manacled offshoot of Astral Weeks, Loveless, and Pet Sounds all rolled into one, it uses its grand sonic presence to tell a singular story that is emotional, infectious and downright enjoyable. A fervent mix of genres, TVOTR quite imperfectly plod and trip in places never taking away from the purity of the album's resolve. This is the Break-up album of the decade.

02. Joanna Newsom, Ys

I was pretty late getting this album. Actually, I was pretty late getting into Joanna in general. When Milk-Eyed Mender hit I was predictably off-put by her tender but nonetheless Chippette style of vocalization. It's a hard door to open, however, when it does finally reveal the sad-eyed, spirit-filled world residing on the other side, it is an unforgettable turn of events. Ys is a different animal all together but far less laborious to listen to then some would have you believe. Five tracks long, but clocking in at well over fifty minutes in length, Ys is a delicate creature comprised of fantastical elements and somber reprieves that both fill and drain the heart. Newsom's guarded antics and dainty vocals dance with the careful strings and create a diluted neverland that warrants much pondering providing a stilted grace that is mostly indescribable.

01. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls In America

Did I listen to the Hold Steady because I was an alcoholic, or did I become an alcoholic because I listened to The Hold Steady? Eh, I try no to be so cynical. That's not Craig's style. It seems that after three years and as many albums that Craig Finn and his troupe have finally found something snappy. Granted, I've never had a problem with anything they've ever done. Stream of consciousness, spoken-word novel style vocals? Dirty rawk riffs with no hook in sight? I'm down. It probably had an adverse effect on others, however. So with, Boys and Girls In America, The Hold Steady's most confident and fully realized album to date, we get a tuneful Craig; a pensive Craig. Oh, the characters are still there. We're still reading this story with no beginning middle or end. Were still staying up late with Craig on those lonely, drunken Twin City nights. It's just that here, things are wider in scope. Everything is a little more bittersweet; a little more tragic without being tragic; a little more fun without being fun. These are slices of life in the most ridiculous way possible and you are always left wanting more in the best way possible. Boys and Girls in America is a universal album that reaches peaks and heights that none of us knew this band was capable, and it takes you places that no rock band has taken you in a long, long time. Boys and Girls in America is, quite simply, the best album of 2006.

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