Best Music Of 2006

Over the past year, the music industry has continued to struggle with the growth of digital media and the fragmentation of the listening audience. But that didn't get in the way of a lot of excellent music, beginning with, but not limited to, our selections for the year's 25 best albums. (Note: Because of deadlines, only albums released before Dec. 5 were in play. Music mostly goes to sleep in December, but late arrivals like Nas' Hip-Hop Is Dead will be eligible for next year's poll.) We assembled this list by polling 14 regular contributors to The A.V. Club's music section, plus the editors of our city editions. We used a weighted voting system—meaning passion proved nearly as important as widespread popularity—and tallied the votes using a highly scientific combination of computer spreadsheets, solar calculators, and an abacus, in a scientific formulation designed to ensure that only the finest albums would make the list. Beginning with our runaway winner…

 

1. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

Last year's Separation Sunday established that The Hold Steady had more wit, hooks, and ambition than any other half-ironic ultra-bar-band, but few expected these boys to maximize their potential so quickly, and make one of the most entertaining and compulsively listenable straight-rock records of the past 20 years. It'll be a truly banner day when Craig Finn learns to write lyrics about something other than getting loaded, but the dynamism and dull ache of songs like "You Can Make Him Like You" and "Chillout Tent" are nothing to nitpick. They're the kind of songs that rock fans hear once and instantly make a permanent part of their lives.

 

2. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

Already at a high creative level with the previous Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TV On The Radio pushed even further with its second album. Return To Cookie Mountain is more experimental, often abandoning ordinary verse-chorus-verse structure for a wash of drones and harmony-laden soundscape, and yet it's also more consistently engaging. TVOTR sets the sonic template with Mountain's opening track and best song, "I Was A Lover"—which lyrically evokes Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime," another song about postmodern dissatisfaction in a chaotic world. The two bands don't sound much alike, but they share an adventurous and unorthodox spirit. One's already a classic, and the other seems destined to become one.

 

3. Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

A quietly insinuating disc that feels instantly familiar—okay, it sounds a bit like The Eagles—Midlake's second full-length is packed with lilting songs (particularly "Roscoe" and the stunning "Head Home") that don't reveal how weird they are until after repeated listens. And then it's too late. Simultaneously sinister and almost medicinally pleasant, Van Occupanther tells lush tales about stonecutters, young brides, hunters, and the mysterious title character. That may sound over the top, but it isn't: Imagine The Decemberists with a Cali-pop jones and some serious lessons in the art of subtlety.

 

4. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)

Rabbit Fur Coat didn't make a great first impression: The album's radio hit—a cover of "Handle With Care" recorded with Ben Gibbard, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst—wins the Zach Braff Award for "yindie" superstar cuteness. But the rest of Rabbit Fur Coat (the parts written by Jenny Lewis, and not The Traveling Wilburys) is an absolute stunner, loaded with richly detailed country-soul songs that weigh the pros and cons of God, relationships, and twentysomething rootlessness. 

 

5. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Rough Trade/Matador)

For a while, it looked like Belle & Sebastian would never recover from a career that began with a pair of classics, Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister. After repeating itself too many times, the band pushed too far outside its comfort zone with 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. But The Life Pursuit sounds like a band that's long put jitters to rest. Filled with confident songcraft and characters rendered with the care of a portrait artist, it's simultaneously forward-looking and unmistakably a Belle & Sebastian album. Maybe they belong in the 21st century after all.

 

6. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam)

Rap's most cinematic storyteller returned with Fishscale, an album of mind-altering weirdness and coked-up intensity. Ghostface's dizzying pulp narratives firmly thrusts listeners into the center of drug deals gone bad, hyper-violent street tableaus, fond reminiscing about childhood beatings, and a trippy underwater fantasia involving a pimped-out Spongebob Squarepants. As always, Ghostface proves a master of telling, novelistic details, from what's playing on television (a Honeymooners marathon) to what his posse is drinking as they watch him record (a bullshit Budweiser).

 

7. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol)

The literate princes of indie-rock make their major-label debut with the most bizarre, visionary album of their career, full of grim, multi-part songs about death and how we deal with it, set to music more forceful than anything they've attempted before. It helps that The Decemberists keep their arrangements tight, their melodies bright, and their storytelling curiously gripping.

 

8. The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)

Forget Jay-Z's overhyped comeback: What hip-hop really needed in 2006 was the resurrection of The Coup's brawling, humanistic, hysterically funny revolutionary music. Frontman and producer Boots Riley rose to the occasion with another masterful set of heartbreaking character studies ("Tiffany Hall"), proletariat anthems ("My Favorite Mutiny") and irreverent social commentary fusing sophisticated sociopolitical metaphors with scatological humor ("Assbreath"). Boots, Pam The Funkstress, and an impressive roster of guest musicians and fellow travelers (including Audioslave's Tom Morrello) here reconfigure the Marxist dream of social and economic equality as one bodacious house party, a revolution you can dance to.

 

9. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti-)

Neko Case has that voice—soaring, velvety smooth, achingly beautiful. She's proven her talent on her four solo albums (and three with The New Pornographers), but never has she wielded such jaw-dropping power as on the masterful Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. No one released a better song this year than "Star Witness," a gut-punch that captured Case at her finest. Case has moved away from straight-up "alt-country" to an airy Americana that's uniquely her own.

 

10. Band Of Horses, Everything All The Time, (Sub Pop)

After wasting his songwriting talent as a side player in Seattle's un-spell-checked Carissa's Wierd, Ben Bridwell took matters into his own hands after the group's breakup, and did the next-to-impossible: He made a distinctly modern-day indie-rock album with songs that are almost guaranteed to sound great two decades from now. Band Of Horses' Everything All The Time is like The Shins deep-fried in My Morning Jacket—Bridwell is from South Carolina, so he isn't faking—but even if the whole thing were stripped down to an acoustic guitar and un-revered vocals, songs like "Wicked Gil," "The Funeral," and "The Great Salt Lake" would still sound like little nuggets of pop magic.

 

11. Rhymefest, Blue Collar (J Records)

Oh major labels, why can't you do anything right? Rhymefest's long-delayed debut lived up to the advanced hype with its down-to-earth lyrics, strong-but-not-overbearing production, and thematic cohesion. But label delays failed to capitalize on the early buzz, and in spite of tons of press hype, Blue Collar sold poorly.

 

12. The Thermals, The Body The Blood The Machine (Sub Pop)

Hands down, there was no better opening track this year than The Body's "Here's Your Future," though "A Pillar Of Salt" is an even better song. The trio wraps its bitingly sarcastic deconstruction of religious fundamentalism in loose, hook-laden garage-punk that's as instantly ingratiating as it comes.

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13. Mew, And The Glass Handed Kites (Columbia)

In spite of having been around for more than a decade, Denmark-born Mew is still working on name recognition here in the States, and with And The Glass Handed Kites, the group has done its best to make its rafters-reaching intentions clear. Jonas Bjerre's Ian Masters/Neil Tennant-like vocals mingle perfectly with the huge production and even bigger songs, which lean arty but contain enough hooks to keep pop fiends mesmerized.

 

14. Make Believe, Of Course (Flameshovel)

Tim Kinsella is the punk-rock equivalent of Corey Haim's character in Lucas: obnoxious, cerebral, and possessed of an insane surety that sees him through all manner of ridicule and abuse. But Kinsella has rebounded from Joan Of Arc's crappy The Gap in 2000 with some seriously stunning shit. Of Course takes the cake: Written and recorded in less than a month, the disc sheds his ingrown wordplay in favor of gasping weirdness and blunt sloganeering. (Yes, he really dares to scream "Kurt Cobain lives"—albeit in a structuralist kinda way—over some wicked U.S. Maple-on-Tussin shredding.) Speaking of guitar: Sam Zurick has finally become the post-hardcore Robert Fripp. Only better than that sounds.

 

15. The Dears, Gang Of Losers (Arts & Crafts)

Murray Lightburn wears his influences—and emotions—on his sleeve, but he celebrates beautiful loserdom with more passion and wit than anyone since idol Morrissey, so such pretension is easily forgiven. Gang forgoes the maudlin preening of The Dears' debut for a stripped-down sound married to clever lyrics, resulting in some of the year's most incandescent pop.

 

16. Lupe Fiasco, Food and Liquor (Atlantic)

Lupe Fiasco looked to ride the momentum of "Kick, Push" and "Touch The Sky" to multi-platinum sales with his ahead-of-its-time debut Food And Liquor. But rampant bootlegging, a weak Neptunes-produced single ("I Gotcha"), and an adventurous vibe far removed from rap's mainstream foiled his crossover dreams for now. Fiasco can take comfort, however, in the knowledge that his wildly imaginative tales of skateboard romance, giant robots, and surrealistic adventures will still be listened to and treasured long after his chart-topping colleagues are forgotten.

 

17. Phoenix, It's Never Been Like That (Astralwerks)

France's premier guitar-pop-dance band made a latter-day version of New Order's Brotherhood and Technique, combining moody music and charging rhythms into an insanely catchy collection of songs about being young, idle, and anxious.

 

18. Ricardo Villalobos, Fizheuer Zieheuer (Playhouse)

Fizheuer Zieheuer is all about sublime repetition and subtle modulation, which wage battle in two 35-minutes-plus tracks that run druggy minimal-techno rhythms under a Balkan brass band foreshortened to abstraction. Both are outlandish for their length, but they're also outrageous for how much variety they squeeze out of tracks that sound the same until you really hone in and get lost.

 

19. Cold War Kids, Robbers & Cowards (Downtown)

On Robbers And Cowards, Cold War Kids retrace the sonic steps of two indie-rock touchstones, merging the stark, tribal minimalism of The Velvet Underground with bravura vocals instantly reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. Charismatic frontman Nathan Willett propels the resulting suspension forward with a plaintive sincerity that feels almost evangelical.

 

20. Scott Walker, The Drift (4AD)

While 2006 was a banner year for the Left Hand Path (see John Zorn's Astronome and nearly every black-metal album licensed by Southern Lord), the year's creepiest release had nothing to do with Crowley-quoting headbangers. With The Drift, Scott Walker—an Ohio-born, 63-year-old former British heartthrob whose last album surfaced in 1995—tore pop music to its roots and fashioned harp strings from the nerve endings. Slow, deliberately paced, and as unnervingly dreamlike as a Kubrick scene, the album is horror cinema for the ears, with Walker's topical-yet-obtuse themes indicating that we don't need Old Scratch when humanity is the real devil.

 

21. LCD Soundsystem, 45:33: Nike+ Original Run (no label)

A digital-only release made to take along on 45-minute jogs, Nike+ Original Run finds LCD Soundsystem paying equal mind to its lust for punk-funk disco and celestial electro. The gapless sequencing illuminates links between parts that might not fit so well otherwise, and the chartable rising-and-falling action testifies to LCD's increasingly impressive range.

 

22. Califone, Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey)

For a band that pretty much bites live, Califone makes some amazing records. And while nothing it's released scales the same heights as There's A Star Above The Manger Tonight by its predecessor, Red Red Meat, Roots & Crowns strikes a similar accord between grumbled, husky twang and mixer-abstracted psychedelia. Country concrète? Sure beats yet another tear in the beer.

 

23. Pernice Brothers, Live A Little (Ashmont)

Joe Pernice pleads for "the rags, the neurotic, and the sweet lament" on Live A Little. But too many songwriters are trying to provide those things, so any listener's capacity for empathy can get strained. Live A Little is a sneaky cure, offering sweet detachment, but delivering unexpected uplift on songs like the bouncy piano sing-along "PCH One."

 

24. The Black Keys, Magic Potion (Nonesuch)

Two aging bluesmen disguised in young white bodies, The Black Keys have conjured in Magic Potion a thunderclap of back-alley blues so dark, wretched, and negatively charged with Mississippi Delta voodoo, it's easy to imagine Beelzebub leaving the Detroit basement in which it was recorded, carrying two bloodstained IOUs.

 

25. Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

With Destroyer, singer Dan Bejar assumes a persona so arch it makes Bryan Ferry sound like Bruce Springsteen. But if there's any irony to it, Bejar doesn't let it show on these strange, and unexpectedly rousing, art-damaged bohemian glam fantasias.

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The A.V. Club writers share their individual lists with additional commentary.

Christopher Bahn

1. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol)

A beautiful sprawl. the 12-and-a-half minute epic "The Island" sounds like some lost gem from the height of 1970s prog-rock, while staying modern enough to avoid being lumped in with the dinosaurs of that era.

2. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Rough Trade/Matador)

3. Elf Power, Back To The Web (Rykodisc)

The kid brother of the Elephant 6 collective has toned down the more overtly Hawkwind-esque fantasy elements of its songwriting, but dreamy psychedelia is still at its heart.

4. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope/4AD)

5. P.O.S., Audition (Rhymesayers)

With the political outrage of a hardcore punk and the lyrical dexterity of a born MC, the leading light of Minnesota's Doomtree collective makes an aggressive, witty, winning second album, with guest vocals from Atmosphere's Slug and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn.

6. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, Ole! Tarantula (Yep Roc)

All the English eccentric's best traits come together on this warm-hearted, funny, hummable, lyrically oddball disc, Hitchcock's best work in 15 years.

7. Subtle, For Hero For Fool (Astralwerks)

8. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Anti-)

9. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls In America (Vagrant)

10. Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Sony)

 

 

 

Andy Battaglia

1. Ricardo Villalobos, Fizheuer Zieheuer (Playhouse)

2. LCD Soundsystem, 45:33: Nike+ Original Run (no label)

3. Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

Destroyer's Daniel Bejar is the best lyricist in rock, and—not exactly typically for him—he sounds driven to make that less of a secret on an album as allusive and elusive as the best poetry.

4. Trentemoller, The Last Resort (Poker Flat)

Adapting haute techno sound-design to moody, methodical swells of post-rock, Danish DJ/producer Trentemoller made a capital-A album that upped the ante for what minimal-minded electronic music can do in a full-length format.

5. Scott Walker, The Drift (4AD)

No album this year had a better song with a guy singing while punching a slab of meat.

6. Various Artists, Superlongevity 4 (Perlon)

A two-disc compilation for the best and weirdest techno label in Berlin (and, for that matter, the world), Superlongevity offers up 17 hectic, humid, hallowed tracks by Pantytec, Melchior Productions, Cabanne, Luciano, Matt John, and more. Most of the year's best Perlon-stable stuff came out on vinyl 12-inches or on other labels (seek: Luciano & Melchior Productions' "Father"), but there's enough mystique here to go on.

7. Matmos, The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast (Matador)

8. Shearwater, Palo Alto (Misra)

9. Uusitalo, Tulenkantaja (Huume)

10 Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

This masterfully produced album sounds like high-period Fleetwood Mac. So why did the guys in Midlake go so far out of their way to angle themselves as just another lazy, shambling indie-rock band in their live show?

 

 

 

Aaron Burgess

1. Mastodon, Blood Mountain (Reprise/Relapse)

2. Converge, No Heroes (Epitaph)

3. The Melvins, A Senile Animal (Ipecac)

4. Enslaved, Ruun (Candlelight)

5. Tool, 10,000 Days (Volcano)

6. Scott Walker, The Drift (4AD)

7. Make Believe, Of Course (Flameshovel)

8. Gojira, From Mars To Sirius (Prosthetic)

9. Nachtmystium, Instinct: Decay (Battle Kommand/Southern Lord)

10. Deftones: Saturday Night Wrist (Maverick)

 

 

 

Scott Gordon

1. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

2. Pernice Brothers, Live A Little (Ashmont)

3. The Decemberists—The Crane Wife (Capitol)

4. The Thermals, The Body, The Blood, The Machine (Sub Pop)

5. The Black Keys, Magic Potion (Nonesuch)

6. Johnny Cash: American V: A Hundred Highways (Lost Highway)

7. Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor (Atlantic)

8. The Twilight Singers, Powder Burns (One Little Indian)

9. Hamell On Trial, Songs For Parents Who Enjoy Drugs (Righteous Babe)

10. Alejandro Escovedo, The Boxing Mirror (Back Porch)

 

 

 

Liam Gowing

1. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)

In many ways a flawless record, Rabbit Fur Coat captures an artist quietly stepping out from the comfortable dugout of an established act and knocking her crucial first solo pitch right out of the park. Critics far and wide have championed Lewis' spot-on cover of The Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" as the album highlight, but Lewis' country-tinged and Southern soul-drenched originals are the real gems, chart-toppers in some alternate universe where Wal-Mart offers its employees a dental plan.

2. The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon (Anti-/Epitaph)

A terrific record by one of the most courageous acts in hip-hop, Pick A Bigger Weapon comes spring-loaded with a rainbow coalition of sounds and emotions, from an alternately satirical and scathing rap-rocker ("We Are The Ones") to a funky celebration ("Laugh/Love/Fuck") to a sexy soul-jam ("Ijuswannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou")

3. Honeycut, The Day I Turned To Glass (Quannum Projects)

4. Cold War Kids, Robbers And Cowards (Downtown)

5. Persephone's Bees, Notes From The Underworld (Columbia)

A smart, retro-groovy Euro-pop record, Persephone's Bees' Notes From The Underworld plays like a funkier Cardigans or a straighter Komeda—it's danceable, tuneful, infectious fun that manages to be both kaleidoscopic and economical.

6. Wayne "The Train" Hancock, Tulsa (Bloodshot)

7. Califone, Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey)

8. Sean Lennon, Dead Meat (Capitol)

It's easy to criticize this ridiculously overdue sophomore effort from a limp-voiced trust-fund icon, but his songs remain pristine examples of classic pop songcraft, each one arranged and executed for maximum melodic impact.

9. The Black Keys, Magic Potion (Nonesuch)

10. Silversun Pickups, Carnavas (Dangerbird)

11. Bedroom Walls, All Good Dreamers Pass This Way (Baria)

12. Jay Bennett, The Magnificient Defeat (Rykodisc)

13. Pigeon John, And The Summertime Pool Party (Quannum Projects)

14. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti-)

15. Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)

The second full-length from the harp-playing princess of neo-classical Celtic wood-nymphery, Joanna Newsom's Ys is a staggering accomplishment: a sonic device that teleports listeners to the most outlandish image of Narnia (or Middle Earth) that they can conjure up. The album would rank even higher if Van Dyke Park's otherwise fantastic string arrangements actually corresponded to Newsom's underlying performance.

 

 

 

Marc Hawthorne

1. The Hold Steady, Boys & Girls In America (Vagrant)

2. Mew, And The Glass Handed Kites (Columbia)

3. Band Of Horses, Everything All The Time (Sub Pop)

4. Angels & Airwaves, We Don't Need To Whisper (Geffen)

5. Editors, The Back Room (Fader)

6. We Are Scientists, With Love And Squalor (Virgin)

7. The Raconteurs, Broken Toy Soldiers (V2)

8. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Matador/Rough Trade)

9. Kaki King, …Until We Felt Red (Velour)

10. Owen, At Home With Owen (Polyvinyl)

 

 

 

Jason Heller

1. Make Believe, Of Course (Flameshovel)

2. Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

When's the last time a new CD instantly struck you? Midlake's The Trials Of Van Occupanther is a plush, velvet-covered bowling ball of orchestral pop and mystic musing that feels unforced and overwhelmingly forceful at the same time. The disc just keeps on giving: After the majesty of the first track, "Roscoe," all manner of 12-string alchemy and bassoon-imbued beauty ensue. You might lose some breath keeping up with the denser passages, but the album always clears space for plenty of placid rest stops—including the pillowy, piano-lulled closer "You Never Arrived."

3. Pinebender, Working Nine To Wolf (Lovitt)

4. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

5. Califone, Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey)

6. Young Widows, Settle Down City (Jade Tree)

7. The Thermals, The Body The Blood The Machine (Sub Pop)

8. Planes Mistaken For Stars, Mercy (Abacus)

Planes Mistaken For Stars keeps cutting deep into hardcore to find that primal infection that set everything itching in the first place. And yet Mercy is far from retro: The band's third full-length—which came a hair's breadth from being released on Relapse—marries vicious punk and stoned metal in a frenzy of violence and lust that kicks harder than the collected Victory Records catalog. And Gared O'Donnell's gall-gurgling howl just keeps getting angrier, uglier, and more bloodthirsty.

9. Pink Mountaintops, Axis Of Evol (Jagjaguwar)

10. Red Sparowes, Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun (Neurot)

11. Centro-Matic, Fort Recovery, (Misra)

12. Daniel Higgs, Ancestral Songs, (Holy Mountain)

Daniel Higgs, Ancestral Songs (Holy Mountain)

After a blah disc of (no joke) mouth-harp jams, Lungfish's Daniel Higgs finally released an album befitting his shamanistic stature. Awash in circular chants concerning Jesus, the devil, and death, Ancestral Songs also shows Higgs-the-guitarist to be as adept at droning modality as John Fahey. (Okay, maybe Ben Chasney.) Lungfish fans have long felt the hypnotic gravity of Higgs' words, but who knew he was such an amazing musician? Even the mouth-harp finally makes sense.

13. Kind Of Like Spitting, The Thrill Of The Hunt (Redder)

14. Fucked Up, Hidden World (Jade Tree)

15. This Moment In Black History, It Takes A Nation Of Assholes To Hold Us Back (Cold Sweat)

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Steve Hyden

1. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)

2. Todd Snider, The Devil You Know (New Door)

Todd Snider might seem like just another stoner folksinger who hates George W. Bush, but The Devil You Know proves otherwise—no record this year was funnier, smarter, or angrier about the tough spot our country is in. The album's centerpiece, "You Got Away With It (A Tale Of Two Fraternity Brothers)," is such a sly takedown of the prez that even W. might find reason to chuckle.

3. Sam Roberts Band, Chemical City (Universal)

4. Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops (Reprise)

Secret Machines replaced fashionable influences (Can, Led Zeppelin) with unfashionable influences (Unforgettable Fire-era U2, David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd) on Ten Silver Drops, the less-heralded but more emotionally resonant sequel to 2004's Now Here Is Nowhere. Head music isn't usually so down-to-earth; "Alone, Jealous, And Stoned" explores the outer limits of a poor schlub's sanity as he waits for his girl to call.

5. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam)

6. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive)

With Justified, Justin Timberlake proved to all the older brothers out there that he didn't suck. With FutureSex/LoveSounds, he proved he could make a record not suitable for little sisters. But with "My Love"—the single of the year now that we're all sick of "Crazy"—keeping the little girls away was damn near impossible.

7. Mew, And The Glass Handed Kites (Columbia)

8. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

9. My Morning Jacket, Okonokos (Ato)

Radiohead comparisons aside, My Morning Jacket has always been a classic rock band, which is why releasing a career-spanning double live album makes perfect sense. As Alive! was for Kiss, Okonokos is the definitive My Morning Jacket album; capturing the group's live energy on record clarifies and beefs up its sometimes-sleepy guitar jams.

10. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Matador/Rough Trade)

11. Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador)

Chan Marshall is a beautiful woman, but nobody considered her sexy before The Greatest, a soulful late-night confessional recorded with Al Green's backing band. Now, Marshall has guaranteed a cameo in countless baby-making sessions.

12. The Championship, Dance Casador! (Bear Rifle)

13. The Life And Times, The Magician (Stiff Slack)

14. Great Lakes, Diamond Times (Emperor Norton)

15. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)

A lot of people gave up on Broken Boy Soldiers before it had a chance to grow on them. The initial consensus was that the album was "just" an unassuming collection of catchy, old-school rock songs, which was a letdown after all the "supergroup" hype, but ended up being a saving grace six months later.

 

15 Great Songs From Albums Not In The Top 15

Built To Spill, "Goin' Against Your Mind"

Camera Obscura, "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken"

Cheap Trick, "If It Takes A Lifetime"

Cursive, "Big Bang"

Bob Dylan, "When The Deal Goes Down"

Eagles Of Death Metal, "I Like To Move In The Night"

Film School, "Deep Lake"

Govt. Mule, "So Weak, So Strong"

Mylo, "In My Arms"

Jim Noir, "How To Be So Real"

Robert Pollard, "Serious Birdwoman (You Turn Me On)"

The Rapture, "Get Myself Into It"

Tapes N' Tapes, "Just Drums"

Pete Yorn, "The Man"

Video Of The Year

Many critics missed the humor behind the excessive bombast of Muse and its deliriously fun 2006 album Black Holes And Revelations. Like Queen, the band's obvious antecedent, Muse never takes itself too seriously, yet it oh-so-carefully avoids novelty status. The video for "Knights Of Cydonia," the ridiculous climactic cut from Black Holes And Revelations, is a brilliant visual aid illustrating Muse's spirit of silliness—it's a spaghetti Western set in space and starring a mustachioed martial-arts master. Yeah, Quentin Tarantino so wishes he thought of that first.

Worst Album Of The Year

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, So Divided (Interscope)

What the hell happened to these guys? Worlds Apart, Trail Of Dead's 2005 major-label debut, was a disappointment coming after 2002's monumental Source Tags & Codes. But while Worlds Apart was an overly ambitious epic salvaged by some memorable songs, So Divided marks an unwitting decline into self-parody. The most egregious offender is the wrong-headed cover of Guided By Voices' "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory," which turns a sparsely arranged classic into an overblown joke. Sadly, the same can now be said of Trail Of Dead.

What To Watch For In 2007: The N-Word

It will be interesting to see how rappers respond (if at all) to demands from black leaders that the word "nigger" be banned from the entertainment industry. Given how ingrained the word is in hip-hop culture, banning it will require an awful lot of rewriting. But comedian Paul Mooney, a writer for Richard Pryor and frequent guest on Chappelle's Show, has already agreed to the gag order post-Michael Richards. "He's my Dr. Phil," Mooney said of Richards. "He's cured me."

 

 

 

Josh Modell

1. Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

2. Band Of Horses, Everything All The Time (Sub Pop)

3. Eric Bachmann, To The Races (Saddle Creek)

4. The Dears, Gang Of Losers (Arts & Crafts)

5. Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador)

6. Maritime, We, The Vehicles (Flameshovel)

7. Pernice Brothers, Live A Little (Ashmont)

8. Arab Strap, The Last Romance (Transdreamer)

They're done, but at least they went out on a high. Scotland's dourest drunkards amped up the pop (not much, but noticeably) for their last disc, though it still begins with the line "Burn these sheets that we just fucked in."

9. Eef Barzelay, Bitter Honey (Spinart)

The Clem Snide frontman stepped away from his one-man band (huh?) for this solo set, which strips his beautiful, sometimes cynical love songs down to their bare bones. If the world isn't listening to "Escape Artist" now, it will be in 25 years. Hopefully.

10. Snow Patrol, Eyes Open (A&M)

The bombastic radio-rock band it's okay to like, Snow Patrol somehow marries indie-rock sensibilities with huge choruses and even a lyrical shout-out to Sufjan Stevens. Who cares that "Chasing Cars" is on a hundred TV shows? Next U2, anyone?

11. Editors, The Back Room (Fader)

Yes, it sounds too much like Interpol, but that doesn't detract from a slate of excellent, moody songs.

12. The Rakes, Capture/Release (V2)

13. The Kingdom, K1 (Arena Rock)

14. The Walkmen, A Hundred Miles Off (Record Collection)

15. We Are Scientists, With Love & Squalor (Island)

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Noel Murray

1. Phoenix, It's Never Been Like That (Astralwerks)

2. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti-)

3. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

4. Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

5. M. Ward, Post-War

6. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, The Letting Go (Palace/Drag City)

7. Figurines, Skeleton

8. Field Music, Field Music

9. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)

10. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol)

11. Lambchop, Damaged

12. Built To Spill, You In Reverse

13. American Princes, Less & Less

14. Lilys, Everything Wrong Is Imaginary

15. Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

 

 

 

Sean O'Neal

1. The Knife, Silent Shout (Rabid)

Swedish duo The Knife uses all of the trappings of electro, but with this loosely conceptual, creepily paranoid record, the brother-sister team achieves a singular sound all its own. Shout is a disturbing, undeniably catchy record, with an otherworldliness that's closer to Bjork's twisted experimentalism than the icy-cool posturing of Adult. It's also one of the most haunting things heard this year—or any other.

2. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (4AD/Interscope)

3. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (Jive)

4. Lansing-Dreiden, The Dividing Island (Kemado)

5. The Dears, Gang Of Losers (Arts & Crafts)

6. Matmos, The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast (Matador)

As with previous Matmos records, the group's use of unusual instruments and ambitious themes may seem like a critic-baiting approach, designed to outweigh all questioning of its musicality, but the surprising thing about Rose is how truly engaging it all is, full of moments as exhilarating as they are amusing. "Rag For William S. Burroughs" is so expertly plotted, his estate should commission it as an official biography.

7. Cold War Kids, Robbers & Cowards (Downtown)

Detractors have bemoaned the fact that Robbers' jagged rock essentially sounds like an amalgam of Spoon, The Walkmen, and The White Stripes, but so what? They just named three of the best bands of the last decade. Besides, pop this sinister and smart doesn't need to apologize. From the Raymond Carver-evoking "We Used To Vacation" to the rousing closer "Rubidoux," Robbers is an audacious, hook-filled debut that promises good things to come. Blogs don't know everything.

8. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

9. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam)

10. Liars, Drum's Not Dead (Mute)

Okay, so Liars don't really care about making you dance anymore, and they've released yet another album full of droning soundscapes and difficult, pretentious lyrical concepts. Listen to it again, cranky-pants: Under all that supposed art-school wankery is a record full of eerie beauty, and, with "The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack," a final payoff of pure, breaking-the-waves majesty.

11. Country Teasers, The Empire Strikes Back (In The Red)

B.R. Wallers' ironic, epithet-filled screeds aren't for everyone, but in an age where PC landmines abound, there's something strangely cathartic about a cranky misanthrope singing songs about how "all human life must be destroyed." Wallers even wrings considerable pathos from a Star Wars metaphor on "Mos Eisley."

12. Scott Walker, The Drift (4AD)

13. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, The Letting Go (Palace/Drag City)

14. The Thermals, The Body The Blood The Machine (Sub Pop)

15. Erase Errata, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars)

 

 

 

Keith Phipps

1. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

2. Regina Spektor, Begin To Hope (Sire)

3. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Matador/4AD)

4. Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther (World's Fair/Bella Union)

5. Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat (Team Love)

6. The Hold Steady, Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

7. Mates Of State, Bring It Back (Barsuk)

8. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol)

9. Rhymefest, Blue Collar (J)

10. Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

11. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam)

12. Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped (DGC)

13. The Dears, Gang Of Losers (Arts & Crafts)

14. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti-)

15. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Anti-)

 

 

 

Nathan Rabin

1. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam)

2. Rhymefest, Blue Collar (J)

3. Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor (Atlantic)

4. The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)

5. Pigeon John, And The Summertime Pool Party (Quannum)

6. Georgia Ann Muldrow, Olesi: Fragments Of Earth (Stones Throw) Stones Throw chanteuse Georgia Ann Muldrow released a lushly organic debut of hypnotic soul, wiggy jazz, and blunted soundscapes that was inexplicably ignored by critics and fans alike.

7. The Roots, Game Theory (Def Jam)

8. John Legend, Once Again (Good)

9. Lupe Fiasco, Touch The Sky Mixtape (Mixunit)

The year's best mix-tape.

10. Snoop Dogg, Blue Carpet Treatment (Geffen)

Call it a comeback: Blue Carpet is Snoop's best album since 1999's underrated No Limit Top Dog.

11. RJD2 and Aceyalone, Magnificent City (Decon)

12. Bubba Sparxxx, The Charm (Purple Ribbon)

13. Mr. Lif, Mo Mega (Definitive Jux)

14. Busta Rhymes, The Big Bang (Aftermath)

15. J-Dilla, Donuts/The Shining (Stones Throw/BBE)

Beloved producer Jay Dee went out on a high note with the revelatory beat odyssey Donuts and the stellar, star-studded production showcase The Shining, in addition to landing beats on huge releases from Ghostface Killah and Busta Rhymes.

 

 

 

Kyle Ryan

1. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti-)

2. The Dresden Dolls, Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner)

A creeper album if ever there was one, Yes, Virginia gets better with each listen. Pianist-vocalist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione reek of affectation at first, but their "cabaret punk" has real soul; Palmer's performances are always intense, giving her searing, literate lyrics the presence they need. And live, The Dresden Dolls are completely mesmerizing.

3. TV On The Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

4. The Thermals, The Body The Blood The Machine (Sub Pop)

5. Cursive, Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek)

It's a little surprising that Cursive's most ambitious album yet missed a lot of year-end lists. Perhaps the "emo" tag is still stifling, though the Omaha band has long since blossomed into one of the indie scene's most vital post-punk groups. Cursive added horns to the fold on Happy Hollow, a sort of concept album about life and deceit in Anytown, USA, with excellent results.

6. Converge, No Heroes (Epitaph)

Sure, Converge's blistering mix of punk, metal, noise, and hardcore sounds like unlistenable cacophony to 99 percent of the population. But for the remaining 1 percent, Converge is the best of the best, a band whose songwriting and craftsmanship can be overlooked because of its sheer intensity.

7. The Coup, Pick A Bigger Weapon (Epitaph)

Were there better hip-hop songs this year than "We Are The Ones" or "Laugh/Love/Fuck"? Answer: No.

8. The Roots, Game Theory (Def Jam)

A sadly overlooked gem from hip-hop's best collective, Game Theory is a succinct, straightforward album in a genre that doesn't know what those words mean.

9. We Are Scientists, With Love And Squalor (Virgin)

10. Rhymefest, Blue Collar (J)

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