Thursday, December 28, 2006

Top 20 Albums of 2006

All the other Top 10 lists are wrong! Mine is the only correct list! In fact, I'm so sure about my list, that I've made it a Top 20 List! Some of you might think I made it a Top 20 List because I couldn't bring myself to cut most of the albums from the list but you are wrong too!

Ok, maybe there's a little truth to that.

Anyhow, I submit for your consideration, my list. Here's a few obligatory disclaimers:

Disclaimer 1: Because I do almost all my music listening at work, on my Rhapsody player, this list is made up pretty much entirely of albums available through Rhapsody. Therefore, since some labels aren't on Rhapsody (like Drag City Records), some critical favorites are missing from this list (sorry, Joanna Newsom).

Disclaimer 2: I spent a good portion of this year listening to Broken Social Scene's self-titled album. This album would easily be on my Top 20 list, except it came out last year.

Disclaimer 3: I spent a good portion of this year listening to Magnetic Field's "69 Love Songs". This album would easily be on my Top 20 list, except it came out like 10 years ago.

Now, on to the list!!

20. Girl Talk "Night Ripper"

My love affair with all things techno largely ran its course several years ago. But, still, this album deserves a nod. The entire album is effectively one long mash-up of over 160 different songs. From Notorious BIG to the Pixies, no one is safe. Imagine listening to all your favorite songs back-to-back and you begin to get an idea of what listening to "Night Ripper" sounds like.

19. The Streets "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living"

Mike Skinner's third release is easily his weakest album so far, but it's still better than the majority of stuff I heard this year. With this release we find Mike addressing the the price of fame. In the hands of lesser acts this usually leads to disaster; but Mike's tales of trying to date famous pop-stars and avoiding people taking pictures of him doing coke with their cell phones almost makes it sound fresh.

18. Chad Vangaalen "Skelliconnection"

This album benefits from the fact that I discovered it at the same time as Chad's first release, "Infinitheart." Alone, both albums are a tad uneven. But, together they are great. I don't like all of his songs, but tracks like "Dead Ends" are damned near perfect.

(Ignore the "Dig This" blob.)
17. Mew "And The Glass Handed Kites"

Mew is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I generally try to describe their sounds by saying they are somewhere between Sigur Ros and Queensryche, which is also a good way of pointing out who the effectively straddle the line between very cool and really dorky. I'm not a huge fan of their slower songs, but when they rock out in songs like "Apocalypso" its bliss.

16. Neko Case "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood"

Like the Street's album, this probably isn't my favorite Neko Case album. But still, come on! It's Neko Case, and she's still got one of my favorite voices in the business.

15. Viva Voce "Get Yr Blood Sucked Out"

You want some driving guitar? I got your driving guitar right here! This is another band that I sort of stumbled across this year and don't really know much about. What I do know is that this albums got some great music on it.

14. CSS "Cansei De Ser Sexy"

I was initially resistant to this album. I think I'm a little burnt out on the electropop sound. Plus, there is just something a little to "look at how clever and hip I am" about this band. But, at the end of the day, it is a kick-ass little party album with plenty of music to keep you dancing and singing along with.

13. Swan Lake "Beast Moans"

What do you get when you mix New Pornographers and Wolf Parade? You get a great album, that's what. What is it with Canadian musicians these days though? Not only are they all apparently super talented and prolific, but they all seem ready, willing and able to switch bands more frequently than I switch my socks.

Side Note: I probably could have and should included Destroyers' new album "Rubies." But, since Destroyers' Dan Bejar is also in Swan Lake, I decided to omit it, to keep the list to an even 20. Can't have Dan hogging all the spots.

(Again, ignore the "Dig This" blob.)
12. Cold War Kids "Robbers & Cowards"

Apparently, like the Strokes, Cold War Kids had a certain amount of pre-release buzz surrounding them, so that -by the time their album actually came out- they were hit with some backlash from the hipster community. Luckily, I managed to miss all that, so I just got to enjoy a great album, with a sound that fits somewhere between the White Stripes and (more accurately) the Walkmen.

(Again with the "Dig this" blob!)
11. Ratatat "Classics"

Ratatat's second album features the same winning formula as their self-titled debut, but with a filled out sound. This album deserves to be on the list for no other reason than the sampled panther roar on the track "Wildcat." Luckily, there is even more to it than that.

10. Band of Horses "Everything All The Time"

When I first listened to this album, I was expecting some alt-country along the lines of Uncle Tupelo. So, when it didn't deliver on that, I sort of dismissed it. Luckily I soon corrected my oversight and realized what an excellent, atmospheric album this was.

9. Dirty on Purpose "Hallelujah Sirens"

This album sort of sneaks up on you. Occasionally, I'll be listening to my MP3 player on random, and a song will come on that makes me think "this is good, but I forget who it is." And when I check, its inevitably Dirty on Purpose. In addition, when I listen to the album all the way through, I always start out thinking "why do I like these guys again?" But somewhere about halfway through the album (usually on the track "Always Looking"), I find myself going "this is such a great album!"

8. Ali Farka Toure "Savane"

This year's best Blues album was recorded by a 67 year old Malian man, who died of shortly after of bone cancer. Wonderful, high-spirited, soulful stuff.

7. Califone "Roots and Crowns"

Another band who I don't know much about, but who's album I love. I like picturing them wearing leather jackets, cowboy hats and not giving a damn what anyone thinks about it. Great stuff.

6. The Decemberists "The Crane Wife"

The Decemberists have always been one of those bands that I thought I should like... but never really did. That all changed with this album though. By the sounds of it, they must have kicked out a couple of the theater geeks and replaced them with some 70's rockers. And that change is just enough to win me over. If this album consisted only of the second track, it would make the Top 10 list. That track appears to be four separate songs fused together into one magnum opus that manages to be what many songs aspire to but few reach: Epic.

5. Asobi Seksu "Citrus"

I didn't discover My Bloody Valentine until their music was featured in Lost in Translation. But, since discovering them, I've officially overplayed their classic "Loveless" while at work. Since then, I've been searching for other bands with that same sound; and finally found what I was looking for with Asobi Seksu. Asobi Seksu's music is half English, half Japanese and all wall-of-sound, fuzzy-guitar joy for my little ears.

4. Gnarls Barkley "St. Elsewhere"

This was the one album that I listened to, and before I even got halfway through it, I thought to myself "oooh, this is good, it's going to be on my Top 10 list for 2006!" Few albums this year managed to have this much energy and fun, while still being smart and innovative. Retro-soul music for the future.

3. TV on the Radio "Return to Cookie Mountain"

I have to be honest, it took me a couple listens to really come to grips with this album. It's dense, occasionally challenging and sounds unlike anything else being produced this year. A little progressive rock and a little bit do-wop. Once it gets its hooks in you though, you don't want it to let go.

2. Tom Waits "Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers and Bastards"

You know a artist is in top form when he releases a three album box set, and any single album in the set can stand up against any other album on this list. Amazing. As Waits says himself: "Shake your fist and your poo-poo part!"

1. Beirut "Gulag Orkestar"

If you'd told me when I was 19 that in 12 years my favorite album would be by a 19-year old kid who sings like David Byrne leading a gypsy orchestra through the streets of Paris, I would have said that you were crazy. But, you'd be right! Beirut is, hands down, my favorite album of the year. You could shuffle around any of the other albums on this list, and I'd probably be fine with it, but not this one. Amazing, wonderful, hopelessly romantic (in the best sense of the word) stuff that can't help but snatch you away to some distant Eastern European country.

Well, that's it. My Top 20 List. I'll probably feel different tomorrow, but until then...

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