10) The Science of Sleep Soundrack
I think as a movie soundtrack, this might be against the rules. Anyway, its a lovely album that manages to actually sound like sleep... surreal, quietly beautiful, foreign and sometimes dreamy orchestration... zzzzzz..... then you are jarred awake (usually by the Willowz). "If You Rescue" me is a sweet ensemble cover that made it on to a mix or two of mine this year.
9) Beck - The Information
Including Beck makes me hang my head and feel like I didn't try hard enough, but what can I say, Beck went and did it again this year.
8) The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
This tremendous album was the least surprising great album of the year to me - meaning, I knew there was no way I wouldn't love it since I really do seem to like each Decemberists album better than the last. From the incredible first two tracks ('The Crane Wife 3", "The Island") I was smitten. Is minstral-ish a word? The album as a whole feels like an impossible homework assignment to interpret (rock for phD candidates or something?) but the songs do stand very well on their own, and that's what matters most to me.
7) The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
This most definitely would not have made it if I hadn't seen them play a last minute show at the Park West in Chicago on the day the album released last January, at which point I realized I had to give The Strokes another chance. I admit at first I had to struggle to make it through the entire album, but the energy, the raw edginess, the sincere rock-n-roll aesthetic, the fact that they are totally cute boys (sigh) ... I don't know, I just really like this album, particularly "Heart in a Cage" and "Ask Me Anything" which with its repeated "I've got nothing to say.." sounds like it could make it into the next Wes Anderson movie soundtrack.
6) Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Beautiful solo achievement by Jenny Lewis, and I wasn't even all that into Rilo Kiley. The Watson Twins' perfect, mesmerizing harmonies make me forgive them for looking like they are about to murder a poor unsuspecting Jenny on the album cover. To me she sounds like a youthful Neko Case meets a less-twangy Dolly Parton (on "Happy"), and her songs manage to somehow be heartbreaking and fun all at the same time. She blew me away in her live show recently at the Pabst Theater. I adore the song 'You Are What you Love' so much that I find myself trying to identify the lyrics with something in my life so I can justify loving it the way I do (but to no avail so far, which is good, I think?) She gets flack for the 'Handle Me With Care' cover featuring all her indie boyfriends - I too thought it was a little silly at first, but now I unapologetically enjoy it very much - I've done hours of unplanned driving lately and have hit repeat on that song and sung at the top of my lungs, alone in the car, more than once...
5) The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
Given that this doesn't release until January '07, including The Shins 'Wincing the Night Away' is not even slightly within the parameters of the rules under any circumstances whatsoever. But what if I promise not to include it next year? Anyway, having seen them live a few times within the last year or so and being devastated over and over again by the mediocrity of their live show (and that's being kind), I was that much more excited and impressed by this album, where they've totally redeemed themselves. It took more than a few listens, but over time it managed to make its way into the best albums I've heard in 2006, and I swear its not only due to the recency effect. As a whole, it feels like a real departure from their quick, lovable poppy Beach Boysie harmonies. 'Wincing the Night Away' has more of an 80s/synth/Morrisseyish feel on certain songs (Sleeping Lessons, Sea Legs, Pam Berry, etc), but don't worry, the catchy-as-hell songs from The Shins we know and love are still there (Turn on Me, Australia, my current favorite).
4) M. Ward - Post-War
I've been a fan of M. Ward for a while, and this is another instance where there was really no way I wasn't going to thoroughly enjoy this album. I can't be more erudite than this: I love this album simply because its full of beautiful songs. There's love songs (Poison Cup), sad songs (of course) and as a special treat, songs featuring some of my favorite musicians (like Neko Case, and Jim James of MMJ on the amazing Chinese Translation)... just really beautiful folk-inspired songs that feel like they couldn't be done by anyone but M. Ward.
3) My Morning Jacket - Okonokos
One of my favorite AV Club writers called My Morning Jacket part of "a fun new genre called Acceptable Jam Bands" - isn't that perfect? So, I know this is another mischevious rule-breaker because its a double live album, and one comprised strongly of songs from last year's 'Z' at that. My argument here is that until this year when I first saw MMJ live, I truly didn't realize how much of their wonder lies in the force of their live show, and Okonokos brings them to life over and over again.
2) Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Not too much to say about this that hasn't been said already. I've loved Belle & Sebastian for many many years, and this is the best album they've put out since my all-time favorite B&S album, Tigermilk. Yeah, Tigermilk. 2006 also marked the first time I ever got to see them live (at the Riviera in Chicago with The New Pornographers, my other favorite band, even when they are Neko-less like they were at this show) - it was everything I hoped for and more.
1) Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
I may have flirted with Jenny Lewis this year, but Neko's the one who really has my heart. In my eyes, she could never put out an album that was anything less than spectacular anyway, but this is hands down my favorite album of 2006. In my opinion what this album really showcases is her amazing songwriting ability - not to say that her voice isn't as soulful and heart-wrenching as ever (maybe moreso since she backed off the heavier country influence a bit on this album). Some songs are cryptic (like the title track), some are a little more obviously stated ("Teenage Feeling"), some make sense but only if you do enough research to know what they're about ("Star Witness")... Regardless, they all are wonderfully written and perfectly phrased poems. If I had to do a list of favorite songs of '06, "Hold On, Hold On" would probably be ..1, and I still haven't even figured out what she's saying in the chorus! But that's Neko - its the way she sings it, and the heart and soul and smokey voice behind it, that makes me feel like I know exactly what she's talking about.
Eagles of Death Metal - Death by Sexy
Easily the best named album of the year, but also one of the most fun (and at times funny - Jack Black has a cameo on "I Want You So Hard"). I never would have imagined I'd like it as much as I did, but thats what happens when you work with a bunch of 24-27 year old guys like I did when this album came out. "Cherry Cola" and "Don't Speak" are some of the catchiest/silliest/raunchiest songs on the album, and again, I can't believe I like them but I do.
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