This list was going to be "in no particular order," as they say, but I thought that was a bit of a cop out. From week to week or even day to day, the albums on this list seem to re-shuffle themselves in my mind, with this record or that moving up or down a slot or two depending on my mood or the phase of the moon (not really). I will stand by my picks here though, even if no one is going to read this anyway. Also, my musical frame of reference is fairly narrow, as you'll find no rap, hip-hop or pop. There wasn't an electronic or dance album that stood out for me, and modern country music is just pop with a twang and basically unlistenable. Anyways, here are my favorite 15 albums of the past year. Enjoy!
15. Built to Spill-You in Reverse: Doug Martsch is truly an indie guitar god. Minute long intros and extended solos aren't really my cup 'o tea, but when they're this inventive and infectious, you can make mine a green tea with a little sugar.
14. Yo La Tengo-I Am Not Afraid of You...: These vets flat out know how to craft a catchy tune (see Beanbag Chair). I liken this album to last year's New Pornographers record-good indie pop without all the fancy haircuts, tailored suits, and trumped up bravado (see The Killers).
13. Peter Bjorn and John-Writer's Block: This Swedish trio probably didn't suffer too greatly from the malady of the album's title. PB and J (yeah, I know) made an album that is immediately catchy with hooks and harmonies that manage to sound familiar without ever getting stale and predictable. 'Young Folks' is one of my favorite songs of the year even if the video is a bit creepy.
12. The Evens-Get Evens: Full disclosure: I would probably book a flight to DC if Fugazi announced a Fort Reno show, so yeah, I'm a bit fond of Ian MacKaye's gang that is currently on a hiatus that has gone on long enough. That said, MacKaye's newest band, consisting only of him and Amy Farina have produced a pretty solid sophomore release. These stripped down songs maintain an edge and sense of urgency most bands only wish they could match.
11. Sonic Youth-Rather Ripped: These guys (and girl) truly sound as vital and energized as they did 20 years ago. They simply continue to put out one quality album after another.
10. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins-Rabbit Fur Coat: Perhaps a few eyebrows were raised when it was announced Ms. Lewis was going to venture out on her own to record an album of country-tinged "blue-eyed soul." Well, the aforementioned eyebrows (mine included) were immediately lowered upon first listen. Though she sometimes lacks a little something lyrically, that voice of hers can make up for a lot--and it does.
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs-Show Your Bones: Had this album came out a little later in the year I might have ranked it a little higher. It's one of those albums that's more a collection of individual songs than a cohesive unit. That said, there's really not a sub-par track to be found and there are some real gems like 'Cheated Hearts' and the wonderful closer 'Turn Into.' And to those out there who insist the first album is better, well, you're entitled to your opinion. But you're wrong.
8. Regina Spektor-Begin to Hope: This album is at times quirky, at times disjointed, and at times completely all over the place. And it all works brilliantly. Spektor mixes some earnest piano-driven ballads with drum machine laced pop tunes, and her beautifully distinct voice is front-and-center on all of them.
7. Band of Horses-Everything All the Time: Like many of you, my introduction to Band of Horses came in the form of standout single 'The Funeral,' which very well may be my favorite song of 2006. You know how things like this usually work out. You hear an amazing song, and, on the strength of this single track you either rush to your local record store to buy it, or fire up your computer to download it (legally, of course). And more often than not, you're disappointed to find that the rest of said album just doesn't hold up to the standard set by that first single. Well that didn't happen here, not at all. Every track is dripping with emotion and sincerity, two traits sorely lacking in today's indie music fashion contest.
6. The Hold Steady-Boys and Girls in America: This is just a great straight forward rock album. Blazing guitar riffs peppered with some well placed keyboard and of course Craig Finn's loose sing-speak vocals.
5. Camera Obscura-Let's Get Out of This Country: Like the Swedes and their garage rock a few years ago, the Scots have cornered the market on folky dream pop. And in my estimation, only one band is doing it better than Camera Obscura, though this album may have closed the gap a bit. Tracyanne Campbell's voice is angelic and her songwriting on this latest album shows a marked improvement over 2004's 'Underachievers Please Try Harder.'
4. M. Ward-Post-War: Of all the albums on my list, this may be the one I'm still listening to 10 or 20 years from now. M. Ward crafts songs with a timelessness that makes them seem familiar without being stale and boring. Not an easy thing to pull off. 'Chinese Translation' is one of the best songs of year.
3. Belle and Sebastian-The Life Pursuit: Belle and Sebastian fans seem to be divided into two camps: one that likes the early, more lo-fi stuff, and another that prefers the more polished upbeat pop tunes of the last two albums. I like it all. Where 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' was the sound of a band evolving and developing some new chops, 'The Life Pursuit' is the sound of confidence and self-assuredness. Hopefully the words "twee" and "fey" will no longer be used in stories and reviews about B & S.
2. Decemberists-The Crane Wife: Much like Belle and Sebastian, the Decemberists have been a band in transition over their last two albums. And much like Belle and Sebastian, fans have been somewhat divided over this transition. Colin Meloy's tales of times past are now accompanied by a fuller, more developed sound that many are calling downright prog-ish. While there are a few catchy single-like moments on this album, the best parts are the ten minute song-suites that take the listener through a range of emotions with seamless rhythm and tempo changes.
1. TV On the Radio-Return to Cookie Mountain: What TVOtR did with this album was deliver on the promise they hinted at with their debut, 2004's Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. Where that album was more a collection of random ideas, 'Return to Cookie Mountain' is a fully developed work of art that effortlessly melds genres and challenges the listener to see into the future of pop music. TV On the Radio is on their way to becoming the new Radiohead.