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Best Albums of 2006

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Best Albums 2006

At the time of this writing Largehearted Boy had already compiled some 1346 year end lists ranking all things music. Alone this statistic offers enough evidence to suggest that producing yet another list would serve little purpose but that of self-gratifying fulfillment. However true this may be, doing so may also allow time to reflect on an interesting year in music, one which deeply impacted the personal tastes and preferences of thousands and thousands of music fans; myself included.

This determination of musical tastes has almost as much to do with the music that was heard as the music that went unheard. While scanning Pitchfork’s Top Fifty Albums of 2006 the realization began settling with me, that being that I had made a terrible mistake this year. Only having heard eighteen of the fifty albums on the list didn’t serve to condemn my own musical tastes as much as it helped me realize that I hadn’t paid enough attention to my own musical interests this year. Mistake number one.
Many times conversation with other music-focused “bloggers” revolved around the question as to why the majority of like-themed sites seemed opposed to genres such as electronic, hip hop, country or jazz. Though there are terrific sites dedicated to each of the just-mentioned styles the majority of the sites bearing the greatest amount of publicity and interest typically revolved around the curious term, “indie rock.” This too was a cause for another self-realization as the focus of my writing was on that suspicious “indie rock” despite my continual questioning of the like.

This past year found an interesting set of developments within the music “blogging” community, much of which surrounded an anonymous voice who began questioning the ethics and underlying motivations of many music “blogs.” As sincerely as I enjoyed the commentary supplied by “Gerard” it started serving a dual purpose, one which allowed me to question my own motives.

And finally, much of my listening habits this year were determined by external sources rather than my own personal tastes, much of which was done so out of a feeling of obligation to the companies supplying the music. Huge mistake. Despite discovering some amazing music along the way I occasionally found myself feeling as suspect as some more celebratedbloggers” this past year. So, as 2007 begins it is a hope that I can pay more attention to the music which I love. It is a hope that the year’s musical exploration isn’t hindered by either blogospheric or promotional hype. Before we get to that however, and despite how unnecessary it may be, here is a list of the albums which I feel stood out from the pack.

30) Be Your Own PET Be Your Own PET

As much as music blogs were deemed unnecessary and deluded by mainstream media due to their quick-to-act hype of certain bands, so too can music fans classify those major media outlets for their sometimes unreasonable hype. Outlets along the lines of Rolling Stone or the disheveled SPIN among others were questioned for deeming bands such as Be Your Own PET “the next big thing,” but just as groups such as the Bound Stems and Annuals proved “bloggers” to be right some of the time, sometimes – where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

29) Viva Voce Get Yr Blood Sucked Out

Get Yr Blood Sucked Out presents itself best through the first three songs, “Believer,” “When Planets Collide” and “From the Devil Himself.” The duo’s ability to displace the listener’s mind through acoustically distanced fuzz and reverb helped create one of the finest mood altering albums of the year.

28) Deftones Saturday Night Wrist

Get Yr Blood Sucked Out presents itself best through the first three songs, “Believer,” “When Planets Collide” and “From the Devil Himself.” The duo’s ability to displace the listener’s mind through acoustically distanced fuzz and reverb helped create one of the finest mood altering albums of the year.

27) The Tiny Starring; Someone Like You

It can often be discomforting when attempting to listen to a piece of unclassifiable music. Occasionally however, a side effect of your journey into the unknown can help expand your understanding of not only the beauty of music but the vastness of the world we live in. Starring; Someone Like You is one such piece of music.

26) Tom Petty Highway Companion

Some things in life are relative. Some may not perceive Picasso an artist when compared to his contemporaries, however when comparing his works to those of modern artist Banksy those same critics might just change their tune. If Picasso were alive today he might well adopt certain styles of a younger generation, proving both himself and new artists worthy of merit. Not to say compare Petty to Picasso, but his fresh album should quiet any of his critics and relative to a few of his prior works and those of his contemporaries, Highway Companion shows a slow adaptation to the tastes of a younger generation.

25) Rodrigo y Gabriela s/t

Listening to Ali Farka Toure’s Savane, Metacritic’s highest ranked album of 2006, invigorates its listener with a ripe willingness to reopen their willingness to explore world music. However its inaccessibility prevents its listener from truly exploring that world. Rodrigo y Gabriela are the commercial ying to Farka’s yang. Both provide beautiful insight to music less traveled by the average listener, but it is Rodrigo y Gabriela that honestly allow the listener to go further with the music, providing a sincere need to explore the world (or at least its music).

24) Kaki King …Until We Felt Red

Infatuation can blind even the most critical of listener. At the time of the release of Until We Felt Red my ears (and maybe eyes) had turned on me, unintentionally blinding me from some of the album’s inadequacies. However there are few to be found in King’s gentle voice and guitar, the album’s finest example being “Yellowcake.”

23) Bob Dylan Modern Times

In response to a post I wrote asking which classic musician still carries the most weight a reply read “Dylan: he’s still The American Songwriter.” After considering the man’s entire body of work and that Modern Times was his first release to reach the plateau on the album charts in some thirty years I have to agree; Dylan is still The American Songwriter.

22) Ghostface Killah Fishscale

Ghostface’s More Fish is as good a record as any and deserves its place on this list aside Fishscale. However, it and Clipes’ Hell Hath No Fury find themselves following Fishscale as the leader in one of hop hop’s most unexpectedly invigorating years. Utilizing the late J Dilla and MF Doom as producers in addition to the excellent use of classic soul on the album helped this decade long Wu-Tang fan remember that despite Nas’ words, hip hop is not dead.

21) Mastodon Blood Mountain

Metal fans were given a few curveballs this year, one being the development of Mastodon being quickly hyped as the genre’s savior. Not simply that but it represented metal in 2006 to indie fans the way that Clipse represented hip hop. Fortunately it served as a genuine look at the some of the best music of the year, let alone the year’s best metal.

20) The Decemberists The Crane Wife

In 2005 it was almost shameful to do anything but love Picaresque, but the overall feeling regarding The Crane Wife seems to have lessened since the album’s release a mere two months ago. While the album has its lulls it still fails to disappoint, offering, as expected, one of the year’s literary gems.

19) The Fever In the City of Sleep

Before the band’s unlikely split in September The Fever played a show just as surprising in Minneapolis with faux-new wavers Rock Kills Kid and the adult-contemporary version of electro-punk, Electric Six which I was able to see. While the other bands played their electro-fused sets The Fever delivered powerfully soulful music that channeled equal parts of both The Rolling Stones and New Order. In the City of Sleep conveys this perfectly.

18) LCD Soundsystem 45:33

Though the Crystal Method were the first to contribute to Nike’s Original Run series James Murphy has probably produced a piece as close to perfect as the series will see.

17) Teddybears Soft Machine

Originally a guilty pleasure, Teddybears’ Soft Machine slowly grew into an album that one can only be proud to listen to. In reference to the album’s “Yours to Keep” Idolator recently wrote “How often do you hear a song about ‘(driving) around with the top down’ that actually sounds good while driving around with the top down?” I couldn’t agree more.

16) Hank Williams III Straight to Hell

Though much of the album has been available through bootlegs, hearing official releases hits home with an unmatched power that refutes the merit given to country’s recent shift towards glossy, overproduction. All this from an album recorded in Williams’ home on a $400 Korg workstation. An album preaching a DIY ethic spouted from a modern day country outlaw, definitely something that should be give your attention.

15) Mew …And the Glass Handed Kites

2006 saw Denmark’s finest rock band embark on a voyage into North America and take over. While some were dissuaded by the band’s dramatic approach to prog they landed in the minority as the band invited and entertained a whole new base of fan; J. Mascis being one of them.

14) Pearl Jam Pearl Jam

The greatest comeback of the year comes from a band that many hate and even more loathe. Subsequently Pearl Jam has been my favorite band for years, but don’t let that get in the way of the music. After the band’s extended performance debuting new material on The Late Show with David Letterman the band proved that fans were in for a treat and the album did not disappoint.

13) Neil Young Living With War

Neil Young’s grittiest album in years peaked interest in members of both sides of the political spectrum through both its insinuations and its blatant accusations towards the Bush administration. Though I agree with much of Young’s message on its own merit and understand freestanding quotes to be somewhat tacky at this point in the game, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky

12) NOFX Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing

A strong album from a group of (almost) forty somethings who had to reclaim some youthful energy while finding a balance with searching for relevance in terms of modern punk. As such Wolves in Wolves’ Clothing is a success.

11) Priestess Hello Master

Though not delivering an album as heavy as The Sword or one as commercially viable as Wolfmother, Priestess deliver an amazing album that yields songs ranging from full blown metal to those that could pass on modern rock radio.

10) Sonic Youth Rather Ripped

Reemerging as one of American rock’s great groups, Sonic Youth proved that it is in fact possible for alt-classics to reinvent themselves for a younger generation (without actually going to the extent of reinventing themselves).

9) Wolfmother Wolfmother

Trust me when I say that calling Wolfmother the greatest band to emerge from Australia since Silverchair isn’t a bad thing…because they are…despite what Mike Patton might say.

8) The Black Keys Magic Potion

The Black Keys are one of the purest blues rock bands to have released an album this past year and despite complaints that Magic Potion is really nothing more that a mock rehash of second rate acts from the 60s, it deserves your love.

7) Silversun Pickups Carnavas

Silversun Pickups found a balance between indie shoegaze and mainstream rock with a sound reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins. Only without the faux-goth look and self-satisfying solos.

6) Gnarls Barkley St. Elsewhere

Heading into the year St. Elsewhere was one of the most anticipated albums of the year and despite its omnipresent “Crazy” Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse did not disappoint.

5) Midlake The Trials of VanOccupanther

Early establishing the band with the greatest single of the year, “Roscoe,” Midlake continued by providing a theme to every young-at-heart die-hard Doobie Brothers fan’s dream.

4) TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain

Though not my favorite album of the year TV on the Radio should have probably been given Pitchfork’s nod as the group broadly tested listeners without alienating them. The music is accompanied by some of the most baffling lyrics which reflect the exact same qualities as the music; unmatched, indescribable and incomparable.

3) Ane Brun A Temporary Dive

Though I thoroughly despise the new-age singer/songwriter Ane Brun defied my outlook with her songs that playfully touch on the emotions which most other artists don’t bother experiencing; sometimes even her words fail to describe the emotion that her voice represents. What cannot be said about her music is that it is characteristic of her time, however. Her words and music are universal, and A Temporary Dive is a classic.

2) The Majestic Twelve Schizophrenology

Schizophrenology is one of the most successful albums of the year. As far as albums that harmoniously criticize the woes of bipartisanship on the same level as it explores personal emotions such as love and fear, it is one of the most successful albums of the year.

1) The Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers

Leading up to its release Broken Boy Soldiers ranked as one of the most anticipated albums of the year. As the dust settled after its release the album failed to reach Jack White-levels of commercial success and its audience dwindled. With little news since the band’s phenomenal set of shows in the summer months it’s beautiful to see them even chart in Heart on a Stick’s 2006 Music Bloggregate, but I feel that people gave up on the band nonetheless due to obsessed “overexposure.” The funny thing about overexposure is it that the term itself is like much else in the world, relative. When attending the band’s show this past August I attempted to express to a lot of my friends how excited I was to see them. A band that, despite premature online rumblings of negative feedback due to this hype, they had not even heard of. Who had they heard of? Hinder. I love the band because it has star power. Its musicians have achieved their levels of individual success based on their talent, and not simply who they date (though I’m sure it hasn’t hindered their success). I love the band because they use a combination of sound that doesn’t seem watered down to me, it just sounds good. I love the band because I can get behind the lyrics, however non-literary focussed they may be.

This list had to neglect the Regina Spektors, the Lovely Feathers’, the Method Mans, the Margot and The Nuclear So & So’s, the Islands and the KRS-Ones (didn’t know he put out an album this year, did you?) of the world. While I was listening to The Majestic Twelve I neglected Yo La Tengo (whose album I have recently come to enjoy). While I was listening to Mastodon I neglected to bother with Converge. While I listened to Ghostface Killah I neglected to listen to Mr. Lif, Jedi Mind Tricks and even DMX (though I did listen to The Coup, but as it turns out I can only get behind a handful of songs).

The final result is a list that is pretty much, as previously thought, unnecessary. It is filled with overrated albums which I enjoyed but it also has at least one or two albums which (unless you’re one of my close friends) you’ve probably never heard (of). I still haven’t heard a lot of trumped up music from the past year (ex: The Hold Steady) but in it is increasingly difficult to not only discover solid new bands, but sample the recommendations of your friends, peers and media influences. Hopefully the next year will grant me the ability to explore music on a level which I never have before, scour genres which I was before only mildly familiar with, and even buy a vinyl album or two (to stay hip with the kids). But until then I ask of you to go download The Majestic Twelve’s album and listen to both it, Ane Brun and The Raconteurs. And if none of those acts are your thing, I hope (for your sake) that you’ve given TV on the Radio or Midlake a try by now.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]