While my Top Ten remained pretty solid, I finagled with the rest of the list right up to this posting. Lots and lots of good music this year, some of it was even great. Brits dominated the list this year (I am an Anglophile for sure) with the USA, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and, in a shocker, Australia rounding things out. If you disagree with my choices, I offer this quote from Yukon Cornelius: "You eat what you like, and I'll eat what I like!" (MP3s are expired, sorry)
Hot Chip – The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks) | Overflowing with ideas, melody and humor, The Warning had it all: killer singles (“Over and Over,” “Boy from School,”), slow jams (the affecting “Look After Me”) and whiteboy funk (“Arrest Yourself”). Hot Chip are like a modern day New Order, and they do it without imitating Peter Hook's bass style. It’s the sound of real live people playing – not programming – sythesizers, and that human element shines through.
Buy It | MP3: Hot Chip - "No Fit State"
Sloan – Never Hear the End of It (Murderecords) | Canada’s indie elder statesman return after a few years of trying to grab the brass ring and go back to doing what they do best – being themselves. The result is their best album in years; a sprawling, beautiful mess of 30 interwoven songs that never gets boring. Though you never really went away, Sloan, it’s good to have you back.
Buy It| MP3: Sloan - "Set in Motion"
Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union) | Yes, Midlake’s songs are often soft. But they’re not soft rock. Michael McDonald never sounded like this... or sang about 19th Century agrarian society. Bookish and beautiful, The Trials of Van Occupanther is a perfect album for Sunday mornings, drives through lush countrysides or doing research for that second doctorate.
Buy It | MP3: Midlake - "Roscoe"
Figurines – Skeleton (Control Group) | Denmark's Figurines sound like a Best of '90s Indie Rock compilation all rolled into one band. A little Pavement, some Modest Mouse, with liberal splashes of Teen Beat and Flying Nun thrown in for good measure. More than anything else, Skeleton is loaded with fantastic songs. Great Danes indeed.
Buy It | MP3: figurines - "i remember"
Kelley Stoltz – Below the Branches (Sub Pop) | Here's a record that took nearly six months to work its magic on me, but has now burrowed deep under my skin and refuses to leave. Below the Branches has a real timeless quality about it, and it's not just the songwriting. It's not retro, yet it sounds like it could've been recorded any time over the last three decades. Kelley Stoltz is also a real charmer in person -- don't miss a chance to see him play.
Buy It | Kelley Stoltz - "Birdies Singing"
The Knife – Silent Shout (Mute) | Certainly one of the most hyped records of the year, Silent Shout deserved it's accolades. The Knife's music is like one of those sea creatures that lives in the deepest waters: spooky, phospherescent, undulating, mesmerizing. And you can dance to it. Yet for me, this is a perfect record to listen to while walking around the city at night.
Buy It | MP3: The Knife - "Neverland"
Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks) | Phoenix started as slick dance-pop and have been devolving their sound ever since. Though we know they are skilled musicians, Phoenix pull off the sloppy, Strokesy rock with much elan. This is just one of those records that just sounds great, and their songs are catchy as ever. One of the most fun albums of the year.
Buy It | MP3: Phoenix - "Rally"
8. Luke Haines – Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop (Degenerate) | Like Mark E. Smith, I don't think Luke Haines is ever going to run out of bile. It fed four Auteurs albums, one by Baader Meinoff, three from Black Box Recorder, and a flurry of solo work here in the last few years. And all of it is awesome. That being said, I was a bit taken back by just how awesome Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop is. Always looking on the dark side of life and England, this time, Haines fixates on Serial killers, aging rock stars, the art world, and the music biz -- all wrapped up in glammy disco (not unlike Denim) and whispered vocals. This is may be one of the best things Haines has ever done. And that is saying something.
Buy It | MP3: Luke Haines - "Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop"
9. The Dears – Gang of Losers (Arts & Crafts) | Montreal's perpetual underdogs are just starting to get some attention (aka play on Grey's Anatomy) and it's about time. After touring their asses off in 2005, gaining the reputation as one of the most firey live bands on the planet, the Dears finally nailed it in the studio. (Playing it mostly live with minimal overdubs helped.) Gang of Losers is the post-apocalyptic romantic pop album of the year. Not that there was much competition.
Buy It | MP3: The Dears - "Whites Only Party"
10. Dirty on Purpose – Hallelujah Sirens (North Street Records) | Maybe it's that Mercury Lounge seemed to be playing this album before every band I saw there this year, but Hallelujah Sirens is one of my most-listened-to albums of the year. Or maybe it's just that there is no filler here -- every song is great. Dirty on Purpose are friends of mine, but listening to this album, I am a mere fan.
Buy It | MP3: Dirty on Purpose - "Light Polution"
Albums 11 - 20 after the jump.
M.Craft – Silver & Fire (679 Recordings) | This is the "M" nobody talked about. Australian singer-songwriter Martin Craft is capable of everything from gorgeous, Nick Drake-style baroque melodies, to danceable rock, and jangly pop. Part of Silver & Fire's
appeal is the unassuming production that sounds like it was recorded in
his bedroom. Some have compared him to James Blunt, but that's a load
of crap. One of 2006's undiscovered gems.
Buy It | MP3: M.Craft - "The Soldier"
12. The Blow – Paper Television (K) | Lily Allen and Lady Sovereign have nothing on The Blow's Khaela Maricich, who wowed a crowed of bearded bloggers at the Fader's CMJ stage this year with little more than an iPod and style for miles. And that style comes across loud and clear on Paper Television. I expect big things in 2007.
Buy It | MP3: The Blow - "The Long List of Girls"
13. The Changes – Today is Tonight (Drama Club) | Smooth and '80s-ish in a way that I can't quite put my finger on (Style Council? The Police? Joe Jackson?), The Changes are nonetheless purveyors of rediculously catchy pop. I dare you to listen to "When I Wake" and not leave singing it. The whole album is like that. And yet, live they are rediculously loud... maybe they should look to fellow Chicagoian Steve Albini for their next album. Bonus points: they are snappy dressers, able to rock a sweater vest the way few can.
Buy It | MP3: The Changes - "When I Wake"
14. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (Matador) | Showing 2003's Dear Catastophe Waitress to be no fluke, Belle & Sebastian are back at the top of their game after a few shaky albums. (It's probably due mainly to Stuart Murdoch writing most of the songs again.) The Life Persuit finds them dabbling in '70s glam and funk, and it works. It also offers further proof that credibility doesn't end at 30. Or even 35.
Buy It | MP3: Belle & Sebastian - "The Blues Are Still Blue"
15. The Research – Breaking Up (At Large) | Cute as a button, sweet sounding with a bitter center, this trio from Wakefield, England deserved more attention (still no US record deal) than they got in 2006. Thier show at Mercury Lounge was one of my favorites of the year. Good songs, and that combination of three-part harmonies and distorted keyboards is hard to resist.
Buy It | MP3: THe Research - "Lonely Hearts Still Beat the Same"
16. CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy (Sub Pop) | It's always a party in Brazil, even for the art students. I really thought I would have tired of all this sexiness, but I haven't. "Alala," "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above" and "Off the Hook" were some of the more reliable dancefloor fillers of the summer and CSS deliver the goods live too (and more). Cansei de Ser Sexy fun from start-to-finish and anyone who says different is just a buzzkill.
Buy It | MP3: CSS - "Off the Hook"
17. The Wombats – Girls, Boys and Marsupials (The Kids Label) | This record is almost a cheat, as it's only out in Japan. But as long as it was released somewhere, legally, I'm counting it for 2006. One of the most refreshing things about the Wombats is that thier young, energetic, hook-filled pop doesn't have a trace of Gang of Four or The Libertines in it. And for an record that was written in a rush to pad-out singles "Lost in the Post" and "Moving to New York" so that the Japananese could have an album to buy, it's surprisingly excellent.
Buy It | MP3: The Wombats - "My First Wedding"
18. The Feeling – 12 Stops and Home (Island) | Full of the kind of '70s soft rock (REO Speedwagon, etc) that was everything I hated as a teenager, 12 Stops and Home has gone from being a record I initially considered a joke, to one I really admired and liked by year's end. I think it was seeing them at Mercury Lounge this summer, where they stressed the "rock" way more than the "soft," that turned the corner for me. If you can get around the gloss, this is one great album, with hit after hit after hit.
Buy It | MP3: The Feeling - "I Love It When You Call"
19. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time (Sub Pop) | As good as the songs are on Everything All the Time -- and they are good -- it's that sound that really makes this album what it is. Drenching the lovely tunes in reverb and echo is like dropping in three tablespoons of butter to an already rich sauce. Gilding the lily, for sure, but not excess. A record that came out at the very start of the 2006, Everything All the Time has stuck with all year long.
Buy It | MP3: Band of Horses - "Weed Party"
20. The Long Blondes - Someone to Drive You Home (Rough Trade) | 2006 has been a big year for Sheffield Rock City, what between The Artic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker's solo album, and this, the debut longplayer from The Long Blondes. They are definitely a band that understands the indie heritage of their hometown. You can hear the influence of Pulp all over Someone to Drive You Home, and not just because Steve Mackey produced it. They even throw in a Cabaret Voltaire reference on "Lust in the Movies." But it's the songs -- sexy, clever, heavy on attitude, and danceable -- that really win out. Plus, Kate Jackson is a hellavu frontperson, and they didn't screw up the early singles when re-recording them for the album. Well done.
Buy It | MP3: The Long Blondes - "Lust in the Movies"
MP3s will come down on January 1, 2007 so get them while you can, kiddes.
And the rest: Brakes – The Beatific Visions; The Divine Comedy – Victory for the Comic Muse; TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain; The Format – Dog Problems; Clearlake – Cedars; Film School – Film School; South – Adventures in the Underground Journey to the Stars; The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed; Jim Noir – Tower of Love; Amy Winehouse – Back to Black; Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra of Bubbles; Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis; Absentee – Schmotime; Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; The Whitest Boy Alive – Dreams; Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped; We Are Scientists – With Love and Squalor; The Pernice Brothers – Live a Little; The Legends – Facts & Figures; The Bicycles – The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly; The Ark – State of the Ark; The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers; Scritti Politti – White Bread, Black Beer; Malajube – Trompe L’Oeil