First of all: Yes, I know that "Best Of..." lists are supposed to be completed in December or early January, which I did. I decided, however, that a 2.0 version was needed, since I have had much more time to get into all the albums since 2006 ended. Here is my 1.o list, from January.
Top Albums of 2006 v 1.0
- Ben Kweller- Ben Kweller
- Bright Eyes- Noise Floor
- Band of Horses- Everything All The Time
- The Decemberists- The Crane Wife
- Regina Spektor- Begin To Hope
- Tapes 'n Tapes- The Loon
- Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
- Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
- Islands- Return To The Sea
- The Arctic Monkeys- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
- Annuals- Be He Me
- Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out Of This Country
- Belle and Sebastian- The Life Pursuit
- Muse- Black Holes And Revelations
- Guster- Ganging Up On The Sun
- The Strokes- First Impressions Of Earth
- Jenny Lewis- Rabbit Fur Coat
- Isobell Campbell & Mark Lannegan- Ballad Of The Broken Seas
- Cat Power- The Greatest
- Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
- Bonnie "Prince" Billie- The Letting Go
- Beirut- Gulag Orkestar
Best New Artist:
Band of Horses
Tapes 'n Tapes
Bright Eyes- Noise Floor- Rarities 1998-2005
Best Outtakes Album:
Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
Elliott Smith- The Basement on a Hill Sessions
Best Albums that I already had, but got really into in 2006:
Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
Antony and the Johnsons- I Am A Bird Now
Best Song of 2006:
Ben Kweller- Thirteen
After re-reading this list, I realized how foolish it is to make a list that close to some of the albums' releases. I decided to redo it with a little more thought and perspective. Some of the albums listed above I listened to a lot then, but not now, some of them don't stand the test of a year's time, and to some extent, my musical tastes have changed quite a bit. So here is a new "Best of 2006" list
Best Albums of 2006 v 2.0
1. Ben Kweller-Ben Kweller
First of all, I'm really surprised this wasn't on any top 10 lists last year. I remember reading an interview with BK before Ben Kweller came out where he said (and here I'm paraphrasing): "No disrespect to my back catalog, but these are the best songs I've ever written." I was somewhat suspicious, because I couldn't imagine him topping "Lizzy," "On My Way," "Family Tree" and a slew of others that are among my all time favorite songs. I thought this was just a way to say he was excited about the new album. Little did I realize that it was I who was wrong. Touché, Ben, touché. This album far surpassed my wildest expectations. There isn't one song on the album I don't like, and the album includes masterpieces like "Thirteen," "Sundress," and "Until I Die." I would urge anyone who loves music to purchase this album. Incidentally, the album is called Ben Kweller because every note and sound you hear is played by the man himself.
2. The Decemberists- The Crane Wife
I'll admit that I was a bit skeptical that the Decemberists could maintain their phenomenal streak of excellent albums on their fourth long player. After all, they had jumped major, and major label dollars mean they expect major sales, meaning major meddling, right? I was slightly worried because of the last band that had also an album in my top 5 ever (Death Cab for Cutie with Transatlanticism) had gone to a major label and produced a pretty good, though not great album. Then they started getting some major label-funded airplay, the annoying teens took hold of them, and all of a sudden, their concerts were full of super annoying emo kids. This didn't happen luckily. The Decemberists are too weird and literarily savvy to attract a whole lot of radio play, and what shallow fourteen year old girl wants to listen to songs of sailors, Japanese folk tales, and excellent antiwar commentary? All said, this album was excellent, not better than Picaresque, but great in its own right.
3. Jacob Borshard- The Last Brontosaurus
Jacob Borshard is criminally overlooked. We have tried promoting him in the past, but simply put, Jacob Borshard is making the best bedroom pop in this or any other country these days. Period. The Last Brontosaurus is phenomenally simple; just our man Jacob and his four-string (ukelele), but has that quality that I would call devastatingly simple. His lyrics, from the hilarious opener "Brains, Brains" (Brains, brains, you can't kill a zombie with a wooden stake), to the standout "Grass Stains" (I've got a kiss here, with your name on it. And I've been thinking all day about this dream I had, where I never lost you, but the only mermaid that's flesh and blood is a bad tattoo), to the excellent "Ernest Hemingway" (I’m waiting, and waiting, you’re fading away. I still see, you at work, shelving books by Ernest Hemingway. And the girls round here just aren’t the ones for me, the last girl I was with was from Albuquerque. I got grass stains when she kissed me, but I know that she won’t miss me, the girls round here just aren’t the ones for me) are phenomenally poetic, and he can write a song about nearly anything. If you haven't heard of him by now, and you like twee pop or bedroom pop or anorak pop or any of the other numerous names for it, download his albums at his website. There's nothing to lose, they are both available for free.
4. Regina Spektor- Begin To Hope
A standout breakthrough album for the Russian born Brooklynite. I'm sure you already know about her, but if not check out "On The Radio," "Samson," and the contender for best video of 2006, "Fidelity." Also, she puts on some excellent concerts.
5. Joanna Newsom- Ys
This is an artist, and album, that you shouldn't expect to get into easily. The five songs here total over 55 minutes and prominently feature the lovely Ms. Newsom's harp, her quavering, childlike voice (which I typically describe as "about as easy to appreciate as early Conor Oberst, Jeff Mangum, and Colin Meloy singing three part harmony"), and the kind of songwriting where "thees" and "thous" are not at all out of place. That said, if you do get past those barriers, they become endearing qualities that only enhance this gorgeously layered, multi faceted album.
6. Beirut- Gulag Orkestar
Phenomenal debut from the (then) 20 year old Santa Fe native Zach Condon. Balkan-folk-pop in the vein of A Hawk and a Hacksaw (aka Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, who helped on this album) or Devotchka.
7. Islands- Return To The Sea
Ex-Unicorns Nick Diamonds (Nicholas Thorburn) and J'aime Tambeur (Jamie Thompson) return with a perfectly catchy summer album. Try "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" or "Swans (Life After Death)."
8. Sufjan Stevens- The Avalanche
An outtakes album with as many strong songs as the original (2005's excellent Illinois). Standouts include "The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)," "The Avalanche" and contender for best song name of the year "Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in his Hair," as well as three new versions of "Chicago."
9. Grizzly Bear- Yellow House
Great sophomore album for Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear. Try "On a Neck, On a Spit," "Lullabye," and "Colorado."
10. Band of Horses- Everything All The Time
Carissa's Wierd (sic) alumni Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke return with Best New Band (of Horses). Try one of the best songs of the year "The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake," or "Saint Augustine."
11. Annuals- Be He Me
Phenomenal debut from a young (average age was 19 at time of release) Chapel Hill band that aptly draws comparisons to the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. "Brother" and "Dry Clothes" are your best bets.
12. Final Fantasy- He Poos Clouds
Owen Pallet, the string arranger for the Arcade Fire, won the Polaris Music Prize for Canada's best album. It was well deserved. "This Lamb Sells Condos," and "I'm Afraid of Japan" are both excellent.
13. Belle and Sebastian- The Life Pursuit
Scottish twee pop band's seventh LP delivers in an incredibly fun and catchy package. "The Blues are Still Blue" and "Sukie in the Graveyard" are worth a listen.
14. Camera Obscura- Let's Get Out Of This Country
A different Scottish twee pop band delivers a similarly great third LP. Check out the title track and the perfect pop gem "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken."
15. Jenny Lewis- Rabbit Furcoat
Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis enlists the help of gospel singers the Watson Twins to make her triumphant solo debut. The best tracks are the Traveling Wilburys cover "Handle With Care" and country tinged pop ballad "Rise Up With Fists."
Albums Ruled By Me To Be Ineligible
Bright Eyes- Noise Floor (I already had most of these songs and they weren't new)
Tapes 'n Tapes- The Loon (The album was apparently released in 2005)