2006 was the year I decided to be loyal. In past lists, I’ve awarded high placements to albums that I felt were Impressive, or Important — albums such as Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs or Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. (In fairness, at the time, I thought 2004 was kind of a bum year.) This year, I went with what I ultimately liked and listened to the most instead of some fictional objective “best” — so yes, there’s Rose Melberg and Math and Physics Club way up top over stuff like TV on the Radio, and Thom Yorke beat out Neko Case and Ghostface. It happens.
I’m a folkie at heart, and typically my lists are dominated by artists like Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine. This year was different: my tastes skewed more toward indie-pop (an old favorite like Melberg, new competitors like the Pipettes and Pants Yell!) and even hip-hop, with Clipse making the top 10 easily and Ghostface Killah placing high as well. Obviously there was plenty of indie rock, too.
Anyway, while there were a few less outright masterpieces this year than last (or the even-more-mind-numbing-in-retrospect 2003), this is a top 30 because I feel that all of these records are important and impressive. It’s a collection ranging from indie-pop to coke-rap to, uh, regular pop, each choice an excellent album in its own right. For more of my thoughts on 2006 in review, you can read this essay. Below the list, you’ll find a sampler/mixtape featuring songs from many of these albums — so if you haven’t heard some of this stuff, give it a shot.
1. Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies
This has been my album of the year since the day I heard it, and considering it leaked over a year ago, that’s quite an accomplishment. A fascinating, literate swirling of classic rock and Dan Bejar’s unstoppable yowl.
2. Joanna Newsom – Ys
If we’re going to call one album “important” this year, this is the one. I wasn’t quite sold on it for a while but seeing her live brought me back into the fold. This is an album of magnificent songcraft, epic storytelling and even better performances. She’s an angel.
3. The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes
The pop record of year, an incredible blend of Phil Spector and ’90s twee.
4. Fiery Furnaces – Bitter Tea
Wasn’t expecting this band to ever make one of my lists, much less be listenable. But Bitter Tea is a real triumph for these guys, the band’s best balance yet of accessibility and eccentricity.
5. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
If there’s a great folk record this year, this is the one. Cavernous and beautiful.
6. Rose Melberg – Cast Away The Clouds
Melberg’s back catalog already made me a fan for life, but this return after a five-year absence is full of gorgeous songs and singing that make it seem like she never left. Three of these songs — “Irene,” “Each New Day” and “Take Some Time” — are among her best ever.
7. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
This album is fire. The beats are dirty and surreal, some kind of Halloween horror show that makes a perfect bed for Malice and Pusha T’s bloody drug raps. At 50 minutes, it’s lean and brutal in a way few rap albums have the ambition to be.
8. Math and Physics Club – Math and Physics Club
These guys may sound a lot like Belle & Sebastian, but that doesn’t mean their debut album isn’t full of unbelievably catchy songs and soft charms all their own.
9. Maritime – We, The Vehicles
Perhaps the finest guitar lines of any indie-rock record this year. Who knew the Promise Ring could ever be so good?
10. Centro-matic – Fort Recovery
The year’s most rugged album. Centro-matic celebrate their 10-year anniversary with a noisy, blue-collar classic.
11. Sondre Lerche and the Faces Down Quartet – Duper Sessions
12. Lambchop – Damaged
13. Chad VanGaalen – Skelliconnection
14. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
15. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
16. Lily Allen – Alright, Still
17. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country
18. Shearwater – Palo Santo
19. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
20. Aloha – Some Echoes
21. The Magic Numbers – Those The Brokes
22. Division Day – Beartrap Island
23. Loose Fur – Born Again in the USA
24. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
25. Justin Timberlake – Futuresex/Lovesounds
26. Pants Yell! – Recent Drama
27. The Long Winters – Putting The Days To Bed
28. Ned Collette – Jokes and Trials
29. Evangelicals – So Gone
30. Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope
Destroyer – “Watercolours Into the Ocean”: mp3
The Fiery Furnaces – “Benton Harbor Blues (remix): mp3
The Pipettes – “Tell Me What You Want”: mp3
If you’d rather get straight to the point, I’ve cherry-picked the best songs from 22 of these albums (the ones I won’t get sued over) and put them in the handy zip file you’ll find below. Check it out!
Download: 2006 Albums of the Year Sampler (zip)