Albums of the Year: 2006
For me, 2006 was the year of inconsequential hype. Wasn't this the year of Snakes on a Plane? And what ever happened to Pearl Jam's big comeback? And weren't The Raconteurs s'posed to be the best rock band ever? And don't even get me started on what the bloggers were telling you to like. Whatevah, you were too busy watching Journey on YouTube to care.
Despite the odds, this was a pretty good year in music. I've got 21 albums to prove it:
21) The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon
No one realized it at the time, but Party Music was probably the most important album of 2001 -- but like everything else after 9/11, it had to be sublimated for a few years. Boots Riley returned this year to "laugh, love, and make love" -- while wearing camo. When the apocalypse comes, you know The Coup will be playing the soundtrack.
20) Peeping Tom, Peeping Tom
The cast of characters alone -- Norah Jones, Amon Tobin, Kool Keith, Dan the Automator, Massive Attack, Kid Koala -- make this a seductive record. But even after the novelty wears off, Mike Patton's obstinate weirdness and whispering/screaming vocals make this album continually engaging, if not terminally perverse.
19) Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet
This is the kind of punk rock that your pre/post-cool skater friend in high school liked but you didn't understand. Then she made a mixed tape for you with a noisy mess called "Fuuuuuuun" on it, and even though it included a wink to "Stairway to Heaven" you still didn't understand, but you adored her for playing a song called "Fuuuuuuun" -- I mean, how couldn't you?
18) Sparklehorse, Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
I have no idea why people ignored this album, but I predict the hipsters will trackback to this release next year when DJ Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous collaborate on something called Dangerhorse (I'm not making this up). Linkous makes the kind of raspy pop static that everyone has forgotten is the reason that recorded music still exists.
17) LCD Soundsystem, 45:33
Run. Run fast, very fast.
16) Cold War Kids, Robbers and Cowards
The first four songs on this debut record are so ridiculously good that it makes you suspicious of their ability to maintain it, which causes you to unfairly judge them on the potential of future work that you've never heard, which is grossly unjust, but is also the strange state of music today.
15) Bob Dylan, Modern Times
He hates technology more than your grandma, but that's probably why he makes albums better than your kids.
14) Joanna Newsome, Ys
This will take a moment to digest: Diamanda Galas meets Bjork and June Carter Cash in a dark alley. They magically morph into a harpist who makes an album engineered by Steve Albini that has only five songs but is still an hour long. And yet you love it.
13) The DFA Remixes, Chapter 1 & Chapter 2
No one asked for another version of Fischerspooner's "Emerge" or NIN's "The Hand that Feeds," but you couldn't pick anyone better than DFA to reconstitute nostalgia as futurism.
12) Tapes 'n Tapes, The Loon
It's the strangest thing in the world to leave town and watch your friend's band explode like this. One second you're playing Katamari Damacy and listening to GNR, the next they're trying to get time off work to tour Japan.
11) Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
If you didn't know, fishscale is super-high quality uncut cocaine -- sparkly and glimmering like a fish's scales. This album is singularly obsessed with coke -- kilos and bricks, snorted and smoked -- all of it, in multiple different forms, which you can view as a metaphor of quality or race or economics... or not.
10) Lady Sovereign, Public Warning
We made way for the S.O.V. and she ends up on TRL. Didn't see that one coming.
8) Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Just when you think the dance rock thing has hit the windshield, along comes the best of the genre -- from a bunch of kids slamming on the gas pedal, no less. Two of the songs on this album include the word "dance," yet they're the least danceable songs on the album.
7) Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped
The only thing that makes less sense than these old-timers writing what might be the most relevant love song of the year ("Do You Believe in Rapture?") might be the same fogies writing the best rock song of the year ("Incinerate"). "Do you believe in a second chance?" Totally.
6) The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
At the beginning of the year, Mike Skinner was in rehab; at the end of the year, he was preparing to run the New York City marathon. This sums up The Streets -- slacking yet overachieving, a bad decision that always turns good, a big story yet a complete fuck up.
5) Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones
I'm likely rating this album higher than almost anyone else will this year, but it probably deserves even higher. Why do you all hate Karen O for wanting to make a Blondie record? Sometimes I think you're bigger than the sound, too.
4) Mickey Avalon, Mickey Avalon
Rock critics fucking hate Mickey Avalon -- my friend Missy thinks he's egotistical scum. But this is my kind of punk-rapping scum bag: he stylizes like Kool Keith, he narrates like Eminem, he snags the aesthetics of L.A. glam rock (but bi), and packages it all like Beck-on-meth-not-Beck-on-scientology. And despite that description, he sounds absolutely nothing like Kid Rock!
3) TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
Can you imagine the pitch to the record label? "Okay, we're gonna make a doo-wop punk album. But it won't sound anything like that. It will sound more like a lazy day in the Prospect Park. Oh, but you can sorta dance to it. Got it?"
2) Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
The second you heard it, you knew it was going to be the song of the summer. By the second bar, you could visualize the sin wave over the next couple months: the pre-buzz, the raves, the saturation, the backlash, the overhype, and the backlash to the backlash (because you read NY Mag too). It was a crystal clear moment, which so many will remember as defining the summer of '06, when everything seemed to have a thrilling predictability.
1) The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
During a year that I moved away from the Midwest, no other record could possibly top this list. I'm not sure what non-expats do with all the Lyndale, Penn, and Nicolet references (cross-check them to their Replacements records?), but this will always be one of those records that will be impossibly linked to my life in mysterious ways that make me equal parts sad and hopeful. Every time Craig roars "We walked across that Grain Belt bridge / Into a brand new Minneapolis," I wonder why every city can't be so lucky as to have such a perferct homage. And then I remember only one city deserves it. I miss ya, boys and girls.
This Year's Disappointments: Flaming Lips, At War with the Mystics, Emily Haines, Knives Don't Have Your Back, DJ Shadow, The Outsider, Thom Yorke, The Eraser, Beck, The Information, Outkast, Idlewild, Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head, Lily Allen, Alright, Still, The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers, Beyonce, B'day, Bjork, Drawing Restraint 9, Peaches, Impeach My Bush, Morrissey, Ringleader of the Tormentors, Prince, 3121, Kool Keith, Nogatco Rd.