Ok, so here it goes. I’ve put on my armor. I’m ready for your biggest and best pot shots…
The point of this list is to single out the albums *I* enjoyed the most this year–this is not a list of what is cool in any way possible. It’s not an indication of what was the most popular or critically acclaimed. It may not even be my own definitive list of 2006–I don’t get to listen to every album out there, so who knows, there might be an album or two I’m missing. That’s what Top album and single lists are for right? Remember and discovering things… But just consider yourself lucky Fall Out Boy or Panic! at the Disco didn’t come out with an album this year…but just you wait for 2007…
10: First Impressions of Earth, The Strokes
It’s kind of obligatory for me to include a Strokes album on my Top 10 list every time they have a new record, isn’t it? The hometown boys thankfully redeemed themselves from their sophomoric stumble, Room on Fire, with this album full of “songs that sounds like Strokes songs…but not the annoying ones.”
Mainly produced by Grammy-winning producer David Kahne (after Strokes’ long-time collaborator Gordon Raphael removed himself from the project) this record tones down the band’s trademark low-fi, grungy sound in favor of a more refined, clean presentation–meaning the band no longer sounds like they have recorded with cheesecloth over all the microphones. The upside of the new production value is it causes the listener to pay more attention to the lyrics of singer Julian Casablancas, producing a more intimate and direct connection with the front man, but on the down side it makes the rest of the band feel like they are a removed, sterile session band dispassionately plinking and plopping down their notes. (Maybe guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. was just bummed Julian kept shooting down his songs.)
Wins on the album include the blistering “Heart in a Cage” which features guitar licks so slick they sound like they’re oozing out of your speakers and melting into your ears, and the upbeat pop number, “You Only Live Once”, is about…uh…well, does anyone ever really know what Strokes songs are about?
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: The Strokes at Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC. March 3, 2006
9: Show Your Bones, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Where Fever to Tell was a hot sticky mess, Show Your Bones is a nice cool summer breeze–slightly warm, but refreshingly crisp. Karen O, Nick Zinner, and Brian Chase prove that they definitely have lasting power in the rock world with their beautiful album full of tragically twisted love songs (think “Maps” x10). Best tracks included the effervescent-sounding song about giving up on a damaged love affair, “Cheated Hearts”, and down and dirty interplanetary rock tune, “Phenomena”, an ode to a mind-blowing somebody.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Maxwell’s, NJ. Feb 23, 2006
8: Through the Windowpane, Guillemots
I’m not sure what prompted me to go down to see Guillemots at the Bowery Ballroom on May 9th despite some impending death cold. I’d never heard one of their songs, and I’m not entirely sure how I heard about them in the first place. But all I know is that once I got a listen to the eccentric, ecelctic music of the multi-national quartet (members hail from England, Scotland, Canada, and Brazil), I instantly fell in love.
The song “Trains to Brazil”, sounds as though it was written and recorded by a roving band of incredibly enthusiastic tramps and scalawags as they travel by rail down the coast of some unknown land. “Quirky” doesn’t even begin to describe their sound, as they typically fill their songs with weird tweets and squeaks–all the while writing some of the most lovely melodies this side of the Beach Boys. A daring, richly layered album, Through the Windowpane gives you a glimpse into the up side of absolute musical madness.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: Guillemots at Bowery Ballroom, NYC. May 9, 2006
7: Spring Awakening, Original Broadway Cast Recording
The music to this album, written by pop star Duncan Sheik, with lyrics by Steven Satar, is beautifully touching, ungimmicky, and a joy to listen to–in or out of the context of its Broadway musical origin. I’ve found myself listening to this album non-stop since I’ve gotten it. Although appreciation for the music is heightened after seeing a live staged performance of the production, songs like the seductive “Touch Me” and explosive “Don’t Do Sadness” sound more like indie rock songs than they do “show tunes”. The songs’ main function is to conveyed emotion, not to show off the 8-octave range of the singer, therefore they ring truer and “straighter” than your typical Broadway fare.
6: Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
Jenny Lewis has the voice of an angel, and when bolstered by the smooth harmonies of the Watson Twins, her folk-country debut solo album simply soars. The melodies are simple and elegant, songs like “Rise Up with Fists” envelope listeners like your favorite comfy blanket–when you crawl up in them you instantly feel comforted and at home. Although Lewis does not have the most powerful or impressive singing voice and range in pop music, her delivery sounds honest and sincere–refreshingly removed of the hackneyed modern day crutch of self-mockery and irony. It’s a truly down-home record, and exactly the opposite you would expect from a girl who grew up as a child actress in LA, but Jenny Lewis dares to defy convention…and most importantly, dares to give us a little peek into her soul.
5: Broken Boy Soldiers, The Raconteurs aka The Saboteurs (AUS)
Homeboy Jack White of the White Stripes, and superbuddy Brendan Benson team up with pals (and Greenhornes members) Patrick Keeler and Little Jack Lawrence to produce an album of psychedelic 70s rock sounds and folky jams. In my personal opinion, the best songs are comprised of the “Jack White Show” songs–the slighly bluesy “Blue Veins” and the song that makes me want to blow my brains out because it’s so brilliant “Broken Boy Soldier”. With it’s use of hypnotic wailing guitar, jittery drum clangs, and Jack’s “crazy-man voice” it’s the perfect storm of ridiculously good music–a song that will haunt you in your dreams and provide the soundtrack to your most terrifying nightmares.
“Call It a Day”, a song about the painful end of a relationship, is probably one of the most heartbreaking songs of 2006–the “Dry Your Eyes” of this year. Sad, happy, angry, and lovelorn–this record has it all and shows that these four refuse to be refined to one genre of music or attitude.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: The Raconteurs’ first US performance, Irving Plaza, NYC. April 7, 2006
4: The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance
Who would have every guessed that My Chemical Romance was going to come out with an album that played like one big homage to Queen, resulting in one of the most surprising and satisfying albums of the year. My Chem manages to gracefully do a very tricky thing–stay loyal to their emo-loving fan base (the highly entertaining tongue-in-cheek anthem for teenage angst, “Teenagers”) while expanding their sound to entice an even bigger audience.
The songs are punky, but at the same time have a grandiosity that many of their peers would quiver at the thought of attempting. Gerard Way and co. went out on a limb with wacky guest singers (Liza Minnelli on “Mama” anyone???) and some crush-worthy ballads (“I Don’t Love You”) and win big time. The Black Parade is an incredible snapshot of a talented and versatile band with the completely attainable goal of becoming one of the biggest bands in the world… just wait and see.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: My Chemical Romance at Knitting Factory, NYC. August 31, 2006
3: FutureSex/ LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake
Just when you thought you’d gotten through all the crap, I whip out a double whammy, slapping you with the uberpop album of the year. Justin Timberlake DID bring “sexyback”, even though he admits that sexy didn’t really go anywhere, with his juiced up second album, where every track is a hit. It’s a non-stop booty bumper, with your favorite track changing every day. From the reverberating bass beats of “Summer Love/ The Mood Prelude” to the soul-flavored “Damn Girl”, to Mario-esque slow jams like “Until the End of Time”, to the instant panty dropper, “My Love” (featuring rising r&b star T.I.), there’s something for everyone on this record. It’s a crowd pleaser with innovated beats supplied by video cameo star of 2006, Timbaland. Cameron must be so proud.
2: Inside In/ Inside Out, The Kooks
From the moment I heard “Eddie’s Gun”, I was enthralled with The Kooks. Their catchy hooks and almost palpable nervous energy emanating from almost every measure. It’s simply just an infectious record of rock pop that doesn’t quite sound like anything else out there.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: The Kooks @ North Six, Brooklyn, NY. October 28, 2006
1: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys
Way back in early 2006, Arctic Monkeys was all the rage. Although they were unfortunately overexposed, and therefore a victim of backlash, a listen at their much awaited debut proved that you couldn’t deny the fact that the Monkeys had the musical chops worth the praise. Musically, the Monkeys might sound similar to many of their British peers, with vigorous guitar strumming (sometimes painfully tinny and out of tune) and spirited drumming, but who else but Alex Turner could come up brilliantly poetic lines like, “remember cuddles in the kitchen” (“Mardy Bum”) or the overtly working-class observations such as “Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks/ Or knackered Converse/ Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks/ But all of that’s what the point is not/ The point’s that there ain’t no romance around there” as described in the opening lines of “A Certain Romance”.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find an album with more unique and specific point of view of the world than the Monkeys’ first album–and to top it all off, they’re not even old enough to drink. It is for these reasons that I have to crown Whatever People Say I Am… as being the number one album of 2006.
RELATED CONCERT REVIEW: The Arctic Monkeys, Webster Hall, NYC. March 25, 2006
And honorable mentions to…
Yours to Keep, Albert Hammond Jr.
Duper Sessions, Sondre Lerche
Dying to Say This to You, The Sounds
Loose, Nelly Furtado
s/t, Ben Kweller
Don’t agree with my choices? Too bad, it’s my web site. Maybe some of these other top albums lists will fit your fancy:
Brooklyn Vegan’s Top 40 (In no particular order)
2006 Gummy Awards
New York Times’ Kelefa Sanneh
SPIN’s Top 40
Pitchfork Top 50
Best of NY Music: Gothamist
The 2006 Music Bloggregate on Heart on a Stick
Product Shops Top 58
Whatevs.org’s Top Singles
Music Snobbery’s Top 10
Kelly’s Top 10
The Guardian Arts Blog Top 50