2006 is the year that will go down in my personal history as being kind of “meh” in music. I think it’s actually kind of telling that I literally put off compiling my own “year-end” list until two days before the year actually ends. Sure, you had all sorts of new developments, scandals, and the continuing downward trend of the Major labels as their business models grew creakier by the hour to talk about if you wanted. Actually, industry-wise, there was all kinds of excitement, huh? But for me,while the year was marked by lots of solid albums, there just weren’t that many “sweet baby Jesus that’s AWESOME!” discs.
As a matter of fact, and this is probably a trend furthered by the whole downloading / mp3 blogger / consumer choice thing, 2006 was a stronger year for me as far as single songs were concerned. Indie-dance continued to rise in stature, and while albums from pop titans like Justin and Xtina failed as complete works, they dished out some killer tracks nonetheless. So maybe bands are spending less time creating albums and more time crafting tracks as a result of the mp3 revolution. I mean, my listening habits have certainly changed since I started carrying 10,000 songs around with me every day instead of a couple CDs worth of music. Doesn’t it stand to reason that most artists are undergoing this same change in habit as well? I’m stating the obvious here, but I think it needs to be said.
So with that in mind, I present you with the discs that were played most often in my ears. They’re not ranked in any particular order, and I’m not even claiming they’re all artistic masterpieces, but they are the albums I found myself digging through the constantly crashing surf of new music to return to.
My top twenty, after the jump.
Lily Allen – “Alright, Still”
Ah, the ubiquitous “it” girl that stole lady Sov’s thunder in 2006. Although, due to the ham-handed handling of her debut in the States, her actual sales may still suffer a similar fate. It’s Perfect pop for a breezy summer day. Biggest irony? An album perfectly suited to getting sweetly stoned closes with an anti-drug ditty.
Assassins – “You Will Changed Us”
Chicago’s Assassins have undergone so many false starts when it comes to the fame game, it seems fitting that they decided to reclaim their tunes from a Major Label and release their debut on their own dime. The result is an electro-rock album with soul beneath the sheen.
Bonde Do Role – “Melô Do Tabaco”
I honestly don’t know much about thjs band other than the singer broke her arm this year while performing at the Pitchfork Festival here, and this EP takes so many familiar tracks and up-ends them with playground chants and unexpected twists.
MP3: Melo do Tabaco
Bound Stems – “Appreciation Night”
I’m cheating here and am just going to quote what I originally said about this group in Chicagoist earlier this year. “Bound Stems don’t sound like they’re from Chicago. Actually, they sound like they should either be from the Pacific Northwest or D.C., since both of those areas seem particularly adept at teasing out the emo (and we mean Rites of Spring emo, not Flop Haired Boy mall-punk) and fusing it with jarring pop.”
Clipse – “Hell Hath No Fury”
Finally, an amoral hip-hop masterpiece all the white-boy bloggers can agree on. My only quibble is that the fucking thing took so long to finally get released.
CSS – “Cansei De Ser Sexy”
Brazil dance-punk that made love to Death From Above. Simple, quirky, sassy fun that proves that girl groups can kick the ass of any boy band with enough verve and moxy. Wait, that sounds slightly insulting doesn’t it? I didn’t mean it that way. I think I’m remembering an argument that was had over whether the girls write the songs or the guy writes the songs. I think it was Jessica Hopper who was having that argument, actually. And I think the answer to that is that a dude could not have written an album as hard and sexy as this one. Case closed.
The Flaming Lips – “At War With the Mystics”
While not weird enough for some, and too weird for others, I still have a soft spot for what I think was finally a grand meeting of early-era Lips and their more recent orch-pop. Plus, when it came out I was going through a major Pink Floyd phase (it happens to me every couple of years and I am unapologetic about my love of their whole oeuvre) so “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung” reeled me in right away.
The Hold Steady – “Boys And Girls In America”
Juliette & The Licks – “Four On The Floor”
A surprise, since I was set to really hate another actor-turned-rocker move. (See: Jared Leto.) However Juliette Lewis’ rock and/or roll heart seems to be just skuzzy enough to pull of these tunes with playful sincerity. Playful sincerity. What the fuck does that even mean?
The Kleptones – “24 Hours”
The BEST mash-up “album” of the year. Some might argue Girl Talk deserves that title, but his disc is more of a mix a la 2 Many DJs, whilst The Kleptones fashion an actual concept album around a mountain of inventive mixing and juxtaposition. The best part? It’s totally free.
The Killers – “Sam’s Town”
I may be the only guy to say this, but I like this disc. I still maintain that if you take this album on it’s own merits, and forget the fact that everyone but The Killers was trying to paint it as some attempt to become Bruce Springsteen, you’ll discover a scrappy pop album. I really believe this is a disc that history will look kindly on once the witch-fires of 2006 have faded away.
The Ladies & Gentlemen – “Ladies And Gentlemen…The Ladies & Gentlemen”
This Chicago glam-pop quartet deserves super-stardom since they kick out danceable rock gems that routinely clock in at under the 3-minute mark. This displays a mastery of economy and a knack for picking out the perfect hook. Plus, their live shows bring out that rarest of beasts: The Dancing Chicago indie-rocker!
The Like Young – “Last Secrets”
This husband/wife team pulled the plug on their (musical) collaboration and I was saddened that development followed on the heels of their best album yet. A little bit of The Who peeks out from behind their noisy pop and that just makes me love ‘em even more.
Lupe Fiasco – “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor”
Another disc that took far too long to come out, but once it did it met and exceeded all my expectations. Between Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest it’s nice to see Chicago hip-hop gaining national prominence. (And no, we don’t count Kanye anymore.)
Muse – “Black Holes And Revelations”
Because a) remember that Pink Floyd reference above and b) something needed to re-Radiohead my brain after the sorry excuse that was Thom Yorke’s solo disc. Also, the group mastered the whole stadium rock thing while still retaining the keening fey that made them endearing in the first place.
My Chemical Romance – “The Black Parade”
If you’re going to write this off just because you think it’s emo, you’re making a big mistake. Some of the hysteria is still their, but the band has sanded off most of their shriekiest moments and replaced them with good old-fashioned Queen-lite bombast.
Oxford Collapse – “Remember the Night Parties”
Again, I’m going to crib the following from my original Chicagoist write-up. “Remember when Modest Mouse rocked? Oh wait, that never happened. Well then, remember when they were interesting and you would think, “Wow, do I wish Modest Mouse would just rock the fuck out?” We do. In the years since we’ve gotten many promo packages from bands promising to bridge that mythical gap, but it wasn’t until a friend of ours turned us on to Oxford Collapse that we believed it was possible.” Quoting yourself is fun!
The Rapture – “Pieces Of The People We Love”
When this came out it got heavy airplay on the ol’ tankPOD, but as the months passed it sort of faded from view. It recently jumped back to the top of the playlist recently and I think that’s proof that this disc has legs, and the band has a future beyond James Murphy’s production. I mean, if a dance record maintains its fun after the initial sugar rush I think that’s a keeper.
The Riverboat Gamblers – “To The Confusion Of Our Enemies”
Fucking balls-to-the-wall punk rock tempered by the introduction of some killer melodies. These boys also put on the absolute best small-club rock and/or roll show in Chicago this past year. Every time they play someone gets hurt, much beer is spilled, backs are slapped, lips get meshed, and everyone has a knock-down drag-out great time.
Spank Rock – “YoYoYoYoYo”
Dirty, booty-bass, that gets all the girls and boys shaking and getting their swerve on. I have yet to see these cats live, since last time they came through I was DJing somewhere else, but they are on my must-see list of 2007. This is hip-hop in the old school vein (funny, fun, and sexy) with current earphone tweaking production and heav-ass beats.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Show Your Bones”
Karen O went pop and no one cared. This disc should have been eviscerated since the band took a left turn at Albuquerque leaving critic’s expectations of their maturity in the dust. So the fact hat the band cast off their art-band obtuseness, embraced melody and steady rhythm, and everyone still loved them proves that they have got “it.” Whatever “it” is.