Thursday, December 07, 2006

Top Ten Albums of 2006

And here we have it: my picks for the ten best albums of 2006. Paul will have his picks up at 3 Minutes, 49 Seconds as well.

1. Teddy Thompson: Separate Ways
I’ve been raving about this album since the spring and still feel strongly about it. After discovering Teddy Thompson on the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, I couldn’t wait to hear more of his music, and he obliged by releasing this album early in 2006. It’s filled with wry, dark lyrics and catchy music that is as appropriate to a drive with the windows down as a quiet evening at home. The best song on the album may be “I Wish It Was Over,” but I’ve never had that feeling listening to this one.

2. Belle and Sebastian: The Life Pursuit

It took a while for this album to grow on me after I bought it in February, but I am now thoroughly convinced of its majesty. It takes the good things about past B&S albums and turns up the volume and the rock. The result is endlessly entertaining, hyper-literate, and will stick in your head for months.

3. Scissor Sisters: Ta-Dah
This album is, in words lifted from it, a party that ain’t over ‘til it’s through. I have no idea how I have avoided a wreck while dancing and singing in my car. If “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” isn’t the song of 2006, I don’t know what could be; it protests against toe-tapping but is guaranteed to incite full-body motion. “Paul McCartney” is a riot, “Might Tell You Tonight” a very pretty but up-tempo falling-in-love song, and closer “Everybody Wants the Same Thing,” while quite vague, is sure to be played in heavy rotation at gay marriage rallies. A rough patch in the middle precludes ranking this number one, but nothing closes the deal more effectively.

4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones
Talk about defying expectations. While their debut album did lay a trail toward this one, the shifts are still shocking. The band took “Maps” and exploded the concept of the song into an album, with a remarkable centerpiece in “Cheated Hearts” and a closing song, “Turn Into,” that manages to make the guitar sound like it’s actually weeping. Slays me every time.

5. Rosanne Cash: Black Cadillac

While other albums on this year’s list toyed with sad, this one dives in and swims around in it. Writing in the wake of the death of her mother, stepmother, and father, Cash poured out her feelings about loss, pain, anguish, memory, and moving on, and the results are so tender yet tough that I found them inspiring in a year when death touched our house. If you reach the clip of baby Rosanne talking to her father at the end and don't tear up a bit, I'm not sure you're human.

6. Bob Dylan: Modern Times
You've been expecting this one, haven't you? Another latter-day masterwork from Bob, whose catalog since 1989 has been almost uniformly brilliant. Not number one because, well, I got more excited by some other discs this year, and this isn't quite as splendid to my ears as Love and Theft was. But that's judging Bob against himself. From the hip "Thunder on the Mountain" to the soulful "When the Deal Goes Down" to the apocalyptic closer, "Ain't Talkin',"this is a rock-solid album.

7. Brahms: The Piano Concertos

Nelson Freire, piano
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
This one I bet you weren't expecting! And yet I'd bet that a survey of my daily habits would show that this two-disc set accompanied me to work more days than any other entry on this list. The recording quality is crisp and clean, the orchestra sounds remarkable, and Freire's piano is elegant and powerful. Oh, and I suppose some credit is due to Brahms...

8. John Mayer: Continuum
On this, his third proper solo album but fifth studio release, John Mayer grows up. No longer pondering his quarter-life crisis, Mayer is thinking bigger. The opener, "Waiting on the World to Change," laments his (and my) generation's difficulty in making an impact on the political and social culture, while later songs lament difficult relationships, the pain of living with a broken heart, and, in the album's most universal song, "Stop This Train," the ache he feels each time he pulls out of his parents' driveway knowing they won't be around forever. With his Trio album last year, Mayer proved he has chops. This one shows he's got staying power.

9. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Oh, to have the voice of Neko Case. On this short album, which Amazon called the top disc of 2006, she uses it to full effect, singing dark songs that suit her to a T. In 35 minutes, there isn't a moment of filler, just 12 songs that touch on small, everyday concerns and through the sheer force of voice make them grand. Best listened to in the dark...

10. KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope
It took me a while to accept just how much I like this album, which American Idol brought to my attention when Katherine McPhee sang "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." A pop-star cover, thank-yous in the liner notes that look like they were written under a desk during math class, and even an odd name (KT?) were working against it. But that's all marketing, I think. With a raspy voice, lyrics with depth (that she actually had a hand in writing!), and music that sounds like it was played by actual musicians rather than a computer, this album continues to amuse and surprise me just by being as good as it is. It will be interesting to see where Ms. Tunstall goes from here!

1 comment:

Richard said...

Just wanted to note that six of these ten albums received some sort of Grammy nomination today. The complete list is at