Monday, December 11, 2006

My Top 10 Albums of 2006

Here we go. The following are my top 10 albums of 2006. I mainly went off of what I liked most, so feel free to disagree. That's what the comment section is for.


1. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

It opens with what sounds like some sort of bizarre Neptunes beat, and then the sampled horns and sitars kick in. That's the point when you know that this isn't your usual band, and that Return to Cookie Mountain, if you couldn't tell from the title, is not your usual album. I know I really like an album when I can't stop playing it, and that was certainly the case here -- I bought it when it came out in September, and didn't turn it off for almost two full months. Listen to what sounds like Van Morrison-meets-tribal funk in "Let the Devil In"! Listen to David Bowie join the band to sing that "love is the province of the brave" in "Province"! Words can't describe this album, and the excitement that every track brings; if there is one album to listen to this year, this is it.

2. Paul Simon - Surprise

I'd somewhat given up on Paul Simon; as much as I love the guy's work and back catalog, he seemed to have fallen into a funk. 2000's "You're the One" was solid writing, but it felt like "more of the same" worldbeat-influenced rock, and a mixed bag at that. But "Surprise" managed to, punnily enough, take me by surprise. Major credit to producer Brian Eno on this one, as it seems Simon has suddenly been inspired. At the same time, it's a very introspective affair, with Simon writing about the later years of life, love, and everything else, it seems, hearkening back to 1983's critically lauded, commercially unsuccessful "Hearts and Bones." "Surprise" is a marvelous new turn for Simon, worth a listen.

3. Loose Fur - Born Again in the USA

Loose Fur is a dream super trio consisting of Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche of Wilco, and Jim O'Rourke, producer/ex-Sonic Youth. While their self-titled debut from a few years back was a little unfocused, Tweedy and O'Rourke bared down with this year's follow-up. Examining religion in America like the title promises, the two songwriters turn in a set of alternating rockers and more introspective cuts, all the while demonstrating incredible chops on all instruments, with Kotche tying it all together with his impeccable drumming. "Born Again in the USA" is three incredible musicians commenting on the world we live in, for better or for worse.

4. Thom Yorke - The Eraser

"Please excuse but I've got to ask/are you only being nice, or do you want something?" Thom Yorke asks in the title track from his first "solo" release, and for a moment it seems like he might be talking about his life. But then you start to listen to the rest of the album, and you realize -- he's commenting on the world. Using beautiful lyrics and metaphor to comment on society, the most scathing blow comes in with the track "Harrowdown Hill," Yorke's slap to the British government for its mishandling of the David Kelly situation. Politics? Life? Love? Yorke covers it all. While the electronic elements may be polarizing for some, rest assured that everything is very subtle, so much so that it would be no surprise (and hasn't been) to see Yorke play these with just a guitar.

5. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

Stuart Murdoch and company return for what I think is their best album since (here we go) "If You're Feeling Sinister" (flame away). Combining perfect indie pop songwriting with fantastic musicianship, "The Life Pursuit" really caught my attention. At the same time, it also spoke deeply to who I am -- "Funny Little Frog," about unrequited love, is the perfect "I'm single but I can deal with it" song. And "White Collar Boy" is one of the best songs of the year, period. If you're looking for introspection and fantastic writing, this is it.

6. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

I was pleasantly surprised by the Decemberists' latest. Having never really listened to them, I was expecting some pretentious, literary, lyrically heady music. Yet when I started listening to "The Crane Wife," I realized it was like folk prog -- two genres that I tend to like. The combination was insatiable, and it kept this one fresh for a while. "When the War Came" is proof enough that some heavy, heavy rock can come from Portland.

7. Guster - Ganging Up on the Sun

Guster has very carefully matured over the years; they started as a very stripped down group, with just two guitars and congas, but over the years they've started to add instrumentally. "Keep It Together" was a radical turn, employing a host of new instruments for the band, but with "Ganging Up on the Sun" Guster has finally honed it. And there are some real gems here -- "Satellite" and "C'mon" both prove that you don't need to write complex music to write good music.

8. The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed

Jangly, melodic songwriting is John Roderick's name, and it's fantastic through and through. "Putting the Days to Bed" is a great "fun" indie rock record, and it doesn't get much better than this. "Fire Island, AK" is good to hear just how catchy a melody can be written today.

9. Josh Ritter - The Animal Years

One of the best new folk artists to appear on the scene in recent years, Josh Ritter writes from the heart. He performs that way too, whether it be in the studio, as he so eloquently demonstrates here, or in a live setting, where he pours his heart and soul into every performance. They say musicians sweat and bleed for their craft, and Ritter is no exception; "The Animal Years" is a stunning testament to that.

10. Weird Al Yankovic - Straight Outta Lynwood

"WHAT?!? IS THIS A JOKE? All those pretentious albums and yet you put THIS guy on your list?!?" No, it isn't a joke. And I need to have fun once in a while, after all. Weird Al goes through phases, but every few albums he hits gold. It seems he's done it again too. Never mind that he's got his first top ten album and top ten song, with "Straight Outta Lynwood" and "White and Nerdy," respectively. Never mind that he does that while parodying today's pop. It's the fact that he's able to so faithfully (and sarcastically) rip on every style of music popular on top 40 radio today that puts him here over more serious works from the past year. Weird Al turns in a fantastic set of parodies; there's no way it's even possible to not smile during the epic "Trapped in the Drive-Thru," while you think about how stupid R. Kelly really is.

So there you have it. My top ten albums of the past year. Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below.