2006 was a relatively insignificant (by insignificant, I mean boring) year in my life. But that's okay, because it was not a boring year for music. 2006's music was certainly diverse. My top 20 has a debut by teenage punks, and it has the umpteenth album by an avant-bluesman. It's got Japanese sludge metal and blissful New York folk. But that's a good thing. Diversity, I mean. Without further ado, here are my 30 favorite albums from 2006. Enjoy.
1. TV on the Radio--Return To Cookie Mountain
With Return To Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio kind of crossed over into the mainstream, which was kind of peculiar because this album is kind of hard to swallow. Building upon the brooding, minimal psychedelia of their last album, TV on the Radio created a long, heavy beast of an album. In addition to long and heavy (this write-up is getting awfully sexual), Return to Cookie Mountain is amazing. It has plenty of brilliant hooks, but it's not a pop album at all. David Sitek's production is essentially perfect. He makes their chaos sound clear and personal. A true triumph.
2. The Knife--Silent Shout
I'll admit: I learned about The Knife when "We Share Our Mother's Health" was a free single on iTunes. Sue me. Anyways, shortly after downloading that song for free, it became my favorite song of the year. I got Silent Shout, and the rest is history. This is a brutally dark (except for "One Hit") and heavy electronic album steeped in European techno without sounding Eurotrashy. The vocals are haunting, but the songs are often catchy. It's not really big and energetic, but not really made for dancing. It's the best electronic I've heard in a long time.
3. Liars--Drum's Not Dead
It doesn't sound at all like Liars circa 2002, but that's perfectly okay. Gone is the furious dance punk. It's replaced by often falsetto vocals, droning and chiming guitars, and tribal percussion. The songs here are wild, experimental, and completely hypnotic. It sounds like basically nothing else without being too obscure, which is to say it's sort of accessible. The songs are repetitive in a good way, as we get to hear their beautifully untamed drumming patterns over and over again. It's not They Threw Us..., but it's actually (slightly) better.
4. Grizzly Bear--Yellow House
The top three albums on this list are pretty intense ones. This album is less intense. It's just really darn blissful and smart. The harmonies are lush, the guitars (mostly acoustic, which is nice) pluck along interestingly, and the songs build and then come back down, and then build up again. Without doing anything too unique, Grizzly Bear sound original because no one else executes as well as they do. This is certainly the prettiest album of the year.
5. Junior Boys--So This Is Goodbye
Picking up where Last Exit left off, Junior Boys put together another (and better) album full of synth-pop dance songs that are meant more for headphones than the dancefloor. This time around, the "pop" side of synth-pop is even more evident, and the songwriting is much sharper. Depeche Mode comparisons arose, which I suppose I see, but Junior Boys create much simpler, more charming music than Depeche Mode does. If Silent Shout is the best electronic I've heard in a while, this makes a claim to the second best.
6. Tom Waits--Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards
I can't say I've ever heard a bad Tom Waits album, or even just an okay one. They all seem to be somewhere between really good and classic. This one's somewhere in that range. It's different in that kind of a collection, as it combines some older, unreleased stuff with new stuff. It's also different in that it's 56 songs over three discs. The Brawlers disc showcases the heavy, avant-garde blues-rock side of Waits, Bawlers, understandably, is mainly ballads, and Bastards is weird experiments and spoken word pieces. Brawlers is my favorite disc, but all three are truly worth listening to.
7. Scott Walker--The Drift
First Tom Waits then Scott Walker? This was good year for old guys. Whereas Tom Waits has been going down a similar road for nearly thirty years, this Scott Walker is way different from your parents' Scott. The Drift is an intensely dark, intensely experimental mindtrip that's both weirder and better than Tilt. It's minimal, with Walker's voice being the centerpiece of most songs. It utilizes strings, horns, and guitars, all played with little form and little consonance. The Drift is wild and bizarre and awesome.
8. Ghostface Killah--Fishscale
Ghostface Killah might just be the best (well, most consistent) rapper alive, not Lil Wayne. And Fishscale is either his best or second (Supreme Clientele) best album. The production, handled by every one from Just Blaze to J Dilla to RZA (I think) is better than on any of his other efforts, showcased best on "Shakey Dog." He's still full of energy and Ironman references, and some of lines are as confusing as ever. I know I have typical white-man taste in hip-hop, but I can't help it. This is great stuff.
9. Beach House--Beach House
Told you it was a diverse year. Beach House's debut is a brilliant piece of low-fi dream pop. The Nico-esque vocals sit nicely atop minimal organ arrangements and occasional percussion. They pull off a sound that's difficult (because there's so little going on) because their melodies and production are practically flawless. It's melancholy, sure, but not overly so. There's not much to say other than this is an album rich in simplistic beauty.
The obligatory hip-hop album is out of the way which means it's time for the obligatory metal album. And like many other years, it comes from Boris. This album is Boris's best. The guitars are scuzzier than before and the vocals aren't as shouty (which I like. True metal fans might not.) In fact, some of the songs have pretty strong hooks. Some of the songs drone, but do so in a more poppy, shoegaze-y manner than usual. It may be their crossover album, but it's still heavy and fast and sludgy in all the right ways.
11. Joanna Newsom--Ys
I didn't really love this album until I saw her live at the Chicago Symphony Center over a year later. That was one of the best shows I saw that year, so it made me reconsider Ys. And I'm glad I did. Newsom's warbly, childish voice does a great job of storytelling, and her often ten to twelve minute songs pass by quickly because they're quite engrossing. That voice is accompanied chiefly by her harp (which, let's face it, is a beautiful instrument) and lush orchestral arrangements. It's interesting, and it's fun, and it's original.
12. Hot Chip--The Warning
This album is anchored by its two singles, "Over and Over" and "Boy From School," and, while those are certainly the two best songs (and two of the best of the year), this is a very good all around album. Hot Chip creates intelligent dance music (but not IDM) that possesses many elements of traditional rock and pop. Alexis Taylor's voice is innocent and meek, but still totally confident. This is an endlessly fun and often elegant dance album.
I'm finding it hard to write about this one. It's minimal, it's dark, it's eerie, it's peaceful, and yet it's still difficult to define. It's dubstep, but it doesn't sound like most other dubstep because it is so dark and minimal. When I first heard this, I didn't really know what to think. I liked it, but I wasn't sure why. I'm guessing it was because it's just intriguing. Thoroughly intriguing. It's an album that everyone should listen to, and it paved the way for the genius that is Untrue. There. I wrote something.
14. Fucked Up--Hidden World
I'll admit that the name was what drew to this album, but what kept me listening was the seamless blend of art-rock, hardcore punk, and that really gravelly, deep shouting. The shouting comes from lead singer (if you can call him that) Pink Eyes, and his voice is certainly the thing to talk about when talking about Fucked Up. But the guitar playing on this album is heavy and yet intricate. This is definitely a punk album, which is hard to come by these days, but it's also more than that.
15. Fujiya & Miyagi--Transparent Things
It took a few white British guys with a Japanese name to make the funkiest album of the year. But that's okay. Fujiya & Miyagi's extremely sleek brand of electro-funk is fresh and fun. The vocals are usually whispered, which adds even more funkiness and sensuality to the already Bootsy-inspired basslines. This album is perfectly polished in a time when it's considered cool to record an album on a broken, twenty-year old tape recorder.
And roundin' out the top 30...
16. LCD Soundsystem--45:33
17. Jay Reatard--Blood Visions
18. Beirut--Gulag Orkestar
19. Be Your Own Pet--Be Your Own Pet
20. Sonic Youth--Rather Ripped
21. Lily Allen--Alright, Still
23. Black Devil Disco Club--28 After
24. J Dilla--Donuts
25. Wolf Eyes & Anthony Braxton--Black Vomit
26. Eagles of Death Metal--Death By Sexy
27. Destroyer--Destroyer's Rubies
28. Spank Rock--YoYoYoYoYoYo
29. The Rapture--Pieces Of The People We Love
30. Girl Talk--Night Ripper
That's what I think. I don't really care what you think. Just kidding, comment away.