Well folks, here we are again, teetering over the precipice of a new year, the expectations tearing at our collective jugulars like a pack of rabid wolves. There’s only thing to do: take refuge in the warm blanket of the past. Or at least attempt to categorize it, analyze it, and file it away in one nice, neat little unit. In that spirit, here I go up, up, and away, with a little recap from the last year.
The Cosmic Mixtape Presents…
A Completely Unobjective List of the Top 10 Albums of 2006
Here are the rules: a continental US release in 2006, only full lengths, no EP’s, no compilations (sorry, Sufjan). With that nasty little bit of business out of the way, let’s waste no more time and delve right into…
Number Ten: The Pipettes with We Are the Pipettes
Yeah, they have the whole image, they have matching polka dot dresses, and they’re cute as a bag of buttons, but below the kitschy exterior is a bedrock of some totally awesome pop songwriting and unfailingly fun execution. They sound sort of like what you might get if Phil Spector produced a Spice Girls album. But good. No, seriously, it’s really good. While I doubt girl groups are going to come back in vogue, I can certainly dig this mini-revival.
Standout Track: “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me”
Number Nine: The Walkmen with A Hundred Miles Off
These guys walk the fine line between soul and cool, and every time you think they’re leaning too far in one direction they manage to swing back with a rad lick, raw wail, or even the occasional drum fill to suck you back into their hip brand of rock and roll. What really managed to surprise me about this album was the way that the band could keep mixing the same musical ingredients (reverbed guitar, drums low in the mix, Dylanesque vocals) to new and interesting effect. Very tasty.
Standout Track: “Emma, Get Me a Lemon”
Number Eight: Matthew Friedberger with Winter Women
How good is this album? Let’s put it this way–it’s good enough to make me forget Holy Ghost Language School, the most wince-inducing musical journey of 2006 and companion LP to this gem. Winter Women is as accessible, tuneful, and interesting as that other album was painful. Friedberger indulges his pop sweet tooth in some of the most gorgeous melodies of the year without losing his lovable weirdness and love of sonic flourishes and texture. More, please.
Standout Track: “Up the River”
Number Seven: The Black Angels with Passover
Whew. From it’s subject matter to the cover art to the droney, druggy sound, there ain’t nothing light about this album. What Passover lacks in whimsy is more than makes up for with rock. While most bands that discover psychadelics are more than happy to pick up the ole acoustic and go all Syd Barrett, these guys prefer to pummel you with sweet riffs, ominous vocals, and drone that’s somehow catchy rather than sleep-inducing. It’s like the last thirty years never even happened.
Standout Track: “Manipulation”
Number Six: Sunset Rubdown with Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Standard adjectives fail me when attempting to decribe the sound of this album (well, adjectives other than “awesome” or “radtastic”)–there’s some yodeling, there’s some indie, there’s some weird instruments, there’s a little Arcadey Fieryness, but none of it comes together sounding like any one thing. Let’s just leave it by saying that this is one of the most passionate, desperate, and even just plain emotional (I know, I hate that word, too) albums I’ve heard in a long time (without being embarrassing, boring, or juvenile). It’s earnestness will convert even the most jaded black-wearing hipster. Is black still cool these days? I don’t know.
Standout Track: “Stadiums and Shrines II”
Number Five: Joanna Newsom with Ys
Okay, so a combination of early reviews, the album art, the freakin’ album name, and the fact that all the songs are really long had me convinced that I was going to hate this album (I’ve got a pretty poor tolerance for meandering of any kind with pop songs, which makes me wary of anything that creeps over five minutes). Still, I decided to pick it up since I mostly liked The Milk-Eyed Mender and because I have a subscription to Emusic and this album only counted as five downloads. Man–I’m so glad I was wrong. This album is totally spellbinding, with Newsom’s already talented songwriting skill leaping to new levels of creativity and her keen melodic sense kept firmly in place. The phenomenal strings don’t hurt either. So yeah.
Standout Track: “Emily”
Number Four: Neko Case with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Most of the people who talk about Neko Case’s albums tend to focus on her voice. Don’t get me wrong, Case’s gorgeous voice is certainly worth talking about, but the reason this album is so high on my list is due to the atmosphere, vibe, and songwriting as much as Neko Case’s incredible singing. Listening to this album is liked being sucked into a suburban spaghetti western film noir–Case has loaded the disc with twanging guitars, cryptic lyrics, and some of the most alluring, knotted melodies and song structures I have ever heard. Like most women, the weirder she gets, the more I like her (that’s a hint to all you silent admirers from the interweb).
Standout Track: “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood”
Number Three: The Decemberists with The Crane Wife
I need to preface this review by saying that no matter what happens, if a Decemberists album comes out in a given year, it’s gonna show up on my year end list. They bring me too much joy for it to be otherwise. Now, before all you digital haters try to step, know this–the boys and girl of this beloved band have really earned it this year. Colin Meloy’s songs are just as full of his trademark tales and hooks as ever, but this album sees the band branching out musically to incorporate prog, metal, funk, et cetera into their folk-rock mix. Not only do they not embarrass themselves, they manage to keep their sound fresh and never lose the Decemberishness that we (me) all love.
Standout Track: “The Crane Wife 1 & 2″
Number Two: Belle & Sebastian with The Life Pursuit
Let it be known that I would kill to write these songs. Seriously, just tell me who. Promise me that I’ll get the talent to come up with these gems, and I’ll make sure grandma comes down with a serious case of knife-in-the-back. Am I joking? No. This album was my first serious exposure to Belle & Sebastian, and I was absolutely floored by some of the best pop songs I have ever heard and was prompted to go out and buy the entirety of the band’s back catalog. When you have tunes like this you don’t even need lyrics, but Stuart Murdoch just keeps bringing the goodness with unique and engaging mini-stories. He’s even hampering my writing ability, since the best words I was able to come up with in the last sentence were “unique” and “engaging” and I’ve resorted to a startling amount of hyperbole. Whatever. I might actually mean it. Bastard.
Standout Track: “Another Sunny Day”
Number One: The Hold Steady with Boys and Girls in America
Okay, it’s about two in the morning and since the prospect of trying to find good words to describe my favorite album of the year is not particularly appealing, I’ll make this simple: if you like rock music in any capacity at all, please go and give this album your time. It deserves it. This album is somehow aching, fist-pumping, beautiful, playful, thoughtful, heavy, light, and so much else at the same time. Craig Finn is one of the great lyricists of our time–if there was a Mount Rushmore for songwriting, he’d be second from the left. This is a Great album with a capital G, and while I don’t have much power over the rock and roll canon I know that, for whatever it’s worth, this is one of those albums that will bring me pleasure for the rest of my life.
Standout Track: Um, all of them. Yep.
Man, it must be late. I’m getting mushy. Well, that’s it for now. If anyone has any thoughts or lists of their own, I’d love to hear/read them.