Friday, July 2, 2010

Top 10 Albums of the Year 2006

Slogging through this at this point. Thanks Scott for being the only person reading/commenting as usual. 2006 was an interesting year. I remember my list heavily leaning on pop/indie pop. My top 2 records of that year aren't in this list, as you'll see. In fact, only 3 of my top 20 are going to be in this list and while I know that there are other records from this year that I deeply respect and enjoy, as with the other lists, this is based primarily on whether or not I've listened to these records a lot since they came out and how they have affected me in different ways. In retrospect, it was a decent year, not my favorite, not my least favorite.

10. Asobi Seksu - Citrus
(Friendly Fire)
Rank in 2006: 30

You can basically point to one thing and one thing only that makes "Citrus" an awesome album: the guitar. Sure Yuki's high-pitched, dreamily poppy, Japanese singing is a lot of fun, but the guitar sounds that James Hanna concocts on this album are incredible. Think of it as a sound that is about dense as your favorite shoegaze records, but twice as rooted in pop music. This is one of those albums where I remember the guitar crescendos more than the vocal hooks, anticipating the freakouts and washes with every listen. It's not overly complicated - but Hanna just does it RIGHT here. He makes me want to get a guitar, effects pedals and just bathe in distortion all afternoon. It's a very fun and accomplished record from a band that otherwise seems to never quite live up to their abilities. "Citrus" though may just go down in history as a landmark album in the all-time shoegaze list. Great stuff.

9. Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
(Big Dada)
Rank in 2006: N/A

Back when Spank Rock was making waves in 2006, I had this tremendous love/hate relationship with them. I re-downloaded and re-deleted the album upwards of at least 6 separate times throughout the year, trying to figure out why I didn't figure out why the album wasn't as fun as my peers were claiming. Then I realized I went much of 2006 without a car stereo. Once that was remedied, my opinion on the album was remedied and now we have the album that is responsible blowing 3 of my 4 car speakers over the years and yet remains one of my very favorite records to listen to on blast in the car. The bass is about as heavy as you can get, the misogyny disallows the album from being playable in just about any sort of public setting, and overall the album just keeps you awake, keeps you dancing and is just one of those "holy shit" fun albums. Listen to loud with a big subwoofer, or you're not doing it justice.

8. J Dilla - Donuts
(Stones Throw)
Rank in 2006: N/A

I've had this weird relationship with "Donuts" since it's release in 2006. Surely the music world lost a true pioneer and legend when Dilla tragically passed away right before his true vision as an artist was evolving to even more radical extremes than the rest of his already fantastic career. "Donuts" was his send off, one of the most praised and namedropped albums of the past decade. "J Dilla saved my life"...yea yeah, I know. Here's how I truly see "Donuts": I don't love it. I think overall - that it is a bit overrated and has become the singlular album that people who "aren't into" hip hop can point to and say "I wish hip hop was more like this". That's great, you do that. My appreciation of it? It doesn't run deep. I think the beats are dope, I think as a beat tape made into a complete album, there are not really any other that can compete with it (though I wouldn't necessarily call it my favorite instrumental hip-hop album), but sometimes throughout the album I find myself looking at my watch and being like "ok only 15 more tracks until it's over." I know it has to be taken as a whole, that's how it works. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I honestly don't think I am. I think it's a dope album, it's definitely one of my very favorite albums of 2006, but in my endless crusade to tell everyone I know about the music they find, I have to admit that I do not think it quite as dope as the world has made it seem. But don't get me wrong, I still have a positive view on it. After all, J Dilla changed my life.

7. The Format - Dog Problems
(The Vanity Label)
Rank in 2006: 46

If you can get past the coy vocals, the visions of Laguna Beach or The Hills or any other teenage-based MTV or CW reality show, and the heart-on-the-sleeve nearly uncomfortable lyrics, "Dog Problems" by The Format reveals itself to be one of the best (and most polished) pure guitar-based pop albums in a very long time. This is just an album that I can't deny. I was into the band back before they had released a full length, following some singles here and there and seeing the duo grow as songwriters and producers, but when "Dog Problems" came out in 2006, I just could not stop playing it. Ultimately catchy, almost to the point of annoyance. I can't think of another band that was writing more memorable hooks, or more poignant one-liners. Listening to The Format is like letting it all go, freeing all your grown-uppedness and just remembering what it is like to be a teenager with ranging emotions again. Broken hearts, angry breakups, putting yourself out there and ultimately not accomplishing what you want. It all sounds melodramatic, ridiculous and can be arresting upon first listen - I mean this sounds like real fun, out of control pop music. But it's not dumbed down, it's brilliantly arranged, and masterly composed. Shame they broke up.

6. Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
(Sub Pop)
Rank in 2006: N/A

It was no shock when "The Funeral" wound up in a car commercial. Listening to "Everything All The Time", you get this feeling at every song's climax that the entire album is one giant promotional tool for various different hip big-name products. It's cool music, with airy vocals and really loud guitars and quiet moments that build to huge choruses. Songs like "Part One" seem like they could accompany some scene in the early morning, "The Great Salt Lake" is played during some season finale of a teenage drama, one character happy and about to enjoy their sumer while the other is hopelessly miserable, wallowing alone in their bedroom. I enjoy Band Of Horses, I think that this is a very good album, it's inoffensive but not boring. Loud and quiet, it goes all over the place and tries to play at all our emotions without ever actually being emotional. Just something to enjoy, to accompany your life as you experience the scenes that we see so often in ads and television. Soundtrack to a generic life for the every person, and darn good.

5. Nicolas Makelberge - Dying In Africa
Rank in 2006: 13

It's a shame this album wasn't bigger. Even within the context of the huge Swedish pop revival of the mid-2000's, Nicolas Makelberge's debut was but a blip on the indie-landscape, when it should have been among the top-tier records. For my money, it might be my single favorite album from this new wave of amazing pop music. All amazing synthesizers and beats, hooks that go for days, three of the best songs of the entire decade "Too Young", "South America", and "Dying in Africa" and some good instrumental passages to connect them. It has this slight sleazy vibe as illustrated by the incredible (and c'mon this should be ICONIC) album cover. This album sounds like one of the best album that would've come from the whole new-romantic era of new wave when synth was taking over, and it would've been legendary then. It's an immensely enjoyable album where the charm of it only seems to grow on me.

4. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
Rank in 2006: 4

For "So This Is Goodbye", the Junior Boys updated their sound, added more of an underlying dance groove to their tracks and while the tempo was still slow and screaming of night overall, tracks like "The Equalizer" and "In The Morning" were born to be dancefloor screamers. The album still sounds little like anything else that was out at the time, all sort of cold synths and distant drumbeats, Greenspan's vocals all forelorn and cute. Perhaps more than anything, the updated and slightly expanded sound really harkens back to more popular synth-pop bands of the past, songs like "Caught In A Wave" are utterly beautiful, but the vocal delivery reminds me of many songs I've heard over the years. While some people argue that "So This Is Goodbye" was the Junior Boys harnessing their artistic potential into something more neat than "Last Exit", I must say I disagree. It's a good, if not great, album but doesn't quite live up to the legendary status that "Last Exit" achieved.

3. Brand New - The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me
Rank in 2006: Somewhere in the 30s

In high school, I had a couple of really good friends who obsessed over Brand New and were promptly made fun of by me. I thought it was a silly band name, I thought they were a silly band that didn't have anything new to offer that the hundreds of other pop-emo bands popping up at the beginning of the decade were already offering. I liked a couple songs here or there, but was nowhere near taking the band seriously. So imagine my surprise in 2006, when 2+ years after high school and conversations about this band I claimed to hate, they release an album that might very well be my very favorite record you can attach an "emo" tag to. The album shows a mastery of the genre by blending some traditional pop-emo lyrics and choruses with instrumental passages and song structures that allows the band to truly stick out from their peers. It's akin to what Radiohead did when they broke apart from the rest of the alternative rock crowd in the 90s, what Refused did by fusing nu-metal and pop-punk on "The Shape Of Punk to Come" and creating something better than anything else in those genres. Brand New just did something very correct with this album, it hits huge when it needs to, it has strings and quiet moments, it wears its heart on the outside, but god damn the album just WORKS. Maybe it requires repeat listenings, but it shouldn't - it's one of the best records of 2006 and one of the best of all-time for this "emo" based genre, and that should be apparent upon first listen.

2. The Radio Dept. - Pet Grief
Rank in 2006: Somewhere in the 20s.

Some albums just know how to perfectly capture a mood. They present an album that sounds unique from everything else and so cohesive that this one particular album is associated with one particular emotion/memory/season/event. For it's 37 minute running time, The Radio Dept's "Pet Grief" is the only album I know of that is made almost exclusively for a rainy day, yet wouldn't be considered downtrodden or sad. In essence, it's a pop record, and a glorious one at that. But the haze and dream-laden sound that permeates in, around, and through each song on this record makes it work best on those overcast days. It's one of those few albums where with every listen, you just sit back and say "yeah, this is exactly what I need right now." You put it on and you know it's good, you know it's great and it just keeps getting better. Nothign is going to blow your mind, it's subtle for the most part, but it is just unbelievably perfect in the right setting. A truly masterful record and one of the finest pop records of the 2000s.

1. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
(Star Trak)
Rank in 2006: 3

"Hell Hath No Fury" will go down in history as the 2nd best hip hop album of the 2000's. After a long hiatus with their label, a string of absurdly good mixtapes and guest spots, the brothers returned in 2006 with "Hell Hath No Fury", one of those rare albums that actually delivered on offering everything fans could have hoped for. Pharrell and the Neptunes are in top form here, with some of their best productions to date. I have this theory that while The Neptunes sound started to grow stale over time, they always saved their very best beats for Clipse, and this album proves that (c'mon - listen to "Trill" and tell me that isn't one of the most killer things you've ever heard). Minimal other than that, with hard pounding drums and synths, able guest spots, and the brothers spitting as good as they have ever spit. This is one of those albums that I can sing (rap) along to from front to back. One of the all time best car albums, the apex of the coke rap scene, everything in between. Just put simply: one of my very favorite hip hop albums ever. Period.

Bonus Comparison For Laughs: Top 20 Albums of 2006 in 2006:
1. Wolves In The Throne Room - Diadem Of 12 Stars
2. Math & Physics Club - Math & Physics Club
3. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
4. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
5. The Brother Kite - Waiting For The Time To Be Right
6. The Wailin' Jennys - Firecracker
7. William Elliott Whitmore - Song Of The Blackbird
8. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
9. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go
10. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
11. Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
12. Chris Smither - Leave The Light On
13. Nicholas Makelberge - Dying In Africa
14. The Elected - Sun Sun Sun
15. Amel Larrieux - Morning
16. Yasushi Yoshida - Secret Figure
17. The Roots - Game Theory
18. Ramblin' Jack Elliot - I Stand Alone
19. Arborea - Wayfaring Summer
20. Comets on Fire - Avatar

Dang there are some really great albums in there I never listen to anymore.