It took me awhile to get to the 2006 records this year. I spent a lot of time listening to a lot of earlier music, including what might have been an excessive amount of Bob Marley. I also was late to pick up a lot of 2005's records: Beck's Guero spent months in my CD player for several months and didn't wear out. I also became obsessed w/Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens, and I just started listening to Harlan T Bobo's "Too Much Love" recently. I bopped around on an exercise machine to the New Pornographers' "Twin Cinema" enough that I paid to see them in Central Park this summer.
Despite that, I did pick up some albums released in 2006. I don't claim that these are "the best" albums of 2006, but of those I listened to, my favorites were, in no particular order:
1. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
This album wasn't as good as "Separation Sunday" but I still love this band, and there are some great songs on the album: "You Can Make Him Like You," expresses profound truths about youthful indie-rock dating life, if that's not a contradiction in terms. "Stuck Between Stations" and "Southtown Girls" are awesome rock anthems with the usual brilliant lyrics "she was a real good kisser/but she wasn't that strict of a Christian/ She was a damn good dancer/but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend" Craig Finn's lyrics have branched out from vaguely Biblical songs about failed attempts at rehab to probe the depths of inebriated teen-aged romance. Musically, they are channeling the early Bruce Springsteen, in a good way.
2. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
I read about this band for the first time in Mojo magazine's best of 2006 issue and quickly got their album around New Year's. It lives up to the hype. They have a sort of groovy seventies rock-pop feel. Sweet melodies, great musicianship, that indefinable something that tugs at your heart. I wish I were wearing earth-toned bell bottoms and swooning w/a main squeeze under the soft lights when I listen to them.
3. Califone, Roots & Crowns
I just downloaded this w/my January "emusic" subscription and it was well worth the downloads. Though I admit I didn't listen to it in 2006, it still merits a mention as one of my favorite 2006 records. I'm a sucker for twangy guitars and loopy unstructured songs. This album has that, along with random sounds, dark undertones, and even some rocking riffs.
4. Alejandro Escovedo, The Boxing Mirror.
Confessional, orchestral, groovy, melancholic. This isn't my favorite of his records, and initially, I found some tracks odd "Deer Head on the Wall" is strange, right? but I even like that one now. When I saw him live this summer, he said he'd stopped playing "Castanets" because he read that it was in George W. Bush's ipod.
5. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
Tom Waits can't fail. "What Keeps Mankind Alive" reminds me of the best Kurt Weill songs and "Bottom of the World" is a great ballad. Three whole discs full of Tom Waits magic.
6. The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon
The Coup remains one of the few hip-hop groups that can blend funky sound, a raunchy spirit and political commentary. This is their best album since "Genocide and Juice."
7. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers.
Everyone complained about Jack White being dragged down by Meg's lame drumming in The White Stripes when their last record came out. Perhaps he paid attention. This record, a project with fellow-Detroit rocker, Brendon Benson has a much fuller sound, rocking drums, wacky harmonies, wild solos. It all works. Yay to "Storebought Bones" especially. * bonus, not on the album, but DJ A-Trak, whose track can be found on "the Rub's website" did a great mash-up of "Steady as She goes" with Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous Girl."
8. Kinky, Reina
I listen to more electronic music than I used to but mostly as "background." A lot of it sounds dead to me. These folks, however, stand out with their joyous spirit and samples of growling lions.
9. Calexico, Garden Ruin
I listened to a huge amount of Calexico this summer while I was writing my book. Mostly, I listened to "The Black Light," a much more typical "Calexico" album: mariachi horns, long winding western sounding guitars. It all makes you think of a car rattling down a highway strewn with tumbleweed. However, "Garden Ruin" shows they can infuse pop songs w/their signature Southwestern horn section.
10. The Roots, Game Theory
I always have high expectations when it comes to this group, and sometimes they are gratified. Definetely yes with this one.
OK, commenters, what were your favorite records of 2006?