domingo, 31 de janeiro de 2010

Os Melhores Discos de 2006 - Pitchfork

2006 wasn't easily characterized by distinct seismic shifts in independent music's ever-changing topography, or by a select handful of burgeoning new genres. Instead, it was a year of true independence, in which listeners pursued broader palettes, spread music by word of mouth, and openly welcomed increasingly forward-thinking approaches to songcraft.

Even the artists seemed to approach the new year as a clarion call to abandon tradition and realize their own unusual visions: From Joanna Newsom's feudal harp odysseys and Scott Walker's claustrophobic night terrors, to the Knife's raven-black horror house and Boris' juggernaut grind, 2006 was a banner year for boundary-breaking. And yet, between 60s girl group revivalism, lovesick Swedish pop, and more homemade, meat-and-potatoes indie rock than anyone knew what to do with, perfect, chiseled melody remained the magnetic force that kept us crawling back for more.

And it's not over yet. Or at least, not quite: For those who didn't find exactly what they were looking for, or those who simply aren't content to quit exploring, Pitchfork closes out the year with its annual list of the year's finest full-lengths. Dig deep: The best may be yet to come...

50: Booka Shade
[Get Physical]
Between the hyperreal clarity of its production, the friendliness of its arrangements, and the diversity of its stylistic detours, Movements may have been the most deliberately inviting of 2006's dance albums. There's something intuitively dead-on about the German duo's exquisite production, the way their sinuous melodies and weedy synth riffs slide like plasma over the surface of their thick grooves, as if all recent German house and techno had been distilled into a single, charming sonic signature. True to the duo's restless form, Movements intermingled rousing anthems with atmospheric curios, but it's when the duo go in for the kill with expansive emotional juggernauts like the trance-inflected "Darko" and "In White Rooms" that enthusiastic comparisons to Orbital or Underworld suddenly make perfect sense. --Tim Finney

49: Ellen Allien & Apparat
Orchestra of Bubbles
[Bpitch Control]
More assured than Ellen Allien's solo work and more immediate than Apparat's, Orchestra of Bubbles is at heart a pop album, albeit one cloaked in techno's urgency. With both artists working at their moody best, the Bpitch Control label's typical stridency is tempered by an uncommon attention to warm, electro-acoustic sounds-- resonant strings, harpsichords, voices and analog synthesizers. Despite nominally four-to-the-floor cadences, Allien and Apparat layer long phrases in a way that creates a sense of suspended animation, with morphing tones extending to the horizon in undulating waves-- with the exception of one dubstep-inspired cut and Apparat's bashful foray into balladry, both of which usefully break up the record's horizontal sprawl. The whole album, ragged at the edges and bloody with tone, is swollen in the best way, and it crests from peak to peak across 13 tracks that are at once meditative and eruptive. --Philip Sherburne

48: The Long Blondes
Someone to Drive You Home
[Rough Trade]
The racks are cluttered with promising albums from British post-punk bands boasting charismatic singers, needling guitar work, and hollow, driving drums. But what separates the Long Blondes' debut album is lush-voiced frontwoman Kate Jackson's dexterity in exploring the complexities of women's relationships with other women. You'd have to reach back to the halcyon days of riot grrrl to find the subject probed this deeply. On songs like "Once and Never Again" and "Heaven Help the New Girl", Jackson is the wise survivor counseling her young, naïve sisters; on "Giddy Stratospheres" and "In the Company of Women" she competes for male affection; on "Separated by Motorways" she celebrates girl friendship. Turns out Jackson shares more with a certain Charlie's Angel than just a name. --Amy Phillips

47: Matmos
The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast
Physical objects have always played a central role in Matmos' music. On The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, the duo of M.C. Schmidt and Pitchfork contributor Drew Daniel use their typically esoteric collection of materials-- teeth, cigarettes, typewriters, a cow's digestive tract-- as instruments to embody their various biographical subjects. The album's resulting "sound portraits" draw links between cultural figures like novelist Patricia Highsmith, punk rocker Darby Crash, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Not that any of these high-concept reconstructions would matter much if listening to this record was not such an absolute blast. Tracks like the space-age surf instrumental "Solo Buttons for Joe Meek" or the mutant disco of "Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan" are entrancing even when heard apart from their contextual sources, and ambitious musique concrète narratives like "Rag for William S. Burroughs" are crafted with enough microscopic detail to foster endless fascination. Though directly animated by its two creators and 10 iconoclastic subjects, this brilliant and deceptively cohesive album contains multitudes. --Matthew Murphy

46: M. Ward
M. Ward is the kind of guy who seems to sneak his way onto lists like this year in and year out-- but he deserves it every time. Post-War is a move away from lo-fi intimacy that finds Ward entering a more polished widescreen world in which his guitar virtuosity lends itself as ably to ragged fuzz riffs as it does to delicate acoustic duets. Yet even with the big arrangements and production, he still sounds like your friend singing you a song. That comfortable, gravelly croak is one of the most disarming voices out there, and it's never sounded better than it does on "Chinese Translation", a song you could throw a thousand adjectives at without getting it quite right. --Joe Tangari

45: Camera Obscura
Let's Get Out of This Country
"You're not a teenager," sang Tracyanne Campbell on Camera Obscura's 2003 album, Underachievers Please Try Harder. And on follow-up Let's Get Out of This Country, she no longer acts like one. With percussionist/singer John Henderson now out of the picture, Campbell takes on full vocal duties, her sweetly crestfallen presence giving a cozy glow to organ-glitzed ballads about loneliness, yearning, and Lloyd Cole. The band's sound has grown up, too, leaving behind song-for-song influence-spotting to pour Northern Soul shimmy, country melancholy, and twee-pop bookishness into a single, half-empty glass. "I don't believe in true love, anyway," Campbell sighs. Point is, she's lying. --Marc Hogan

44: The Pipettes
We Are the Pipettes
[Memphis Industries]
The Pipettes admit they were a concept before they were a band. The polka dots, the dancing, and the re-appropriation of 1960s pop were all apparently set before the band began writing songs. But if the songs came second in the band's grand scheme, they come first on We Are the Pipettes. With few exceptions, each one is polished, clever, and miraculously poppy. Whether singing about a boyfriend's "slightly unnerving" cleanliness, confessing to murderous thoughts brought on by envy, or considering ripping out a mother's spleen, the lyrics are slyly self-aware, offering cartoony twists on modern love. Meanwhile, producer Gareth Parton puts the uniformly excellent harmonies upfront while adding just the right amount of iPod-friendly, DIY-Spector flourishes underneath. Love or loathe their charming nostalgia, but navel-gazing backlashes are wasted on the Pipettes. --Ryan Dombal

43: Sonic Youth
Rather Ripped
On Murray Street and Sonic Nurse, Jim O'Rourke pulled Sonic Youth out of a late-90s rut, spurring noise-rock jams that looked backward, forward, and somewhere in between. But even the biggest fan of those albums probably wouldn't deny craving a sequel to pop records like Goo and Dirty, and on their first post-O'Rourke effort, Sonic Youth offer exactly that: Twelve shiny, beefed-up rockers that funnel noise into melody at a level not seen since The Year Punk Broke. The surprise isn't so much that the quartet made this move, but that they pulled it off so sharply. There's hardly a wrong turn here, just reams of revved-up rock with all the classic pieces-- Kim Gordon's voice, Thurston Moore's writing, Lee Ranaldo's poetry, Steve Shelley's energy-- locked together as tightly as a jigsaw puzzle. --Marc Masters

42: Mastodon
Blood Mountain
After going major label in the wake of 2004's epic masterpiece Leviathan, Mastodon could've gone melodic and recorded the metal Nevermind that many fans expected from them. Instead, the Atlanta quartet crawled even further into their death-gurgle aesthetic and still managed to churn out a transcendently violent opus. On first listen, Blood Mountain is a heaving, spitting, seething mass of throat-shredding screams and serrated riffage. And after listening a while, the details really begin to creep out, like the scrabbling pseudo-jazz noise-boxes at the beginning of "Bladecatcher" or the way Brann Dailor's drums tumble all over themselves in a flurry of speed but still manage to find their own pocket. Throughout, the band walks a thin line between technical complexity and outright brutality, never letting one overwhelm the other. There's also a vaguely mythical storyline about a mountain populated by one-eyed sasquatches and blood-sucking flies, if you're into that sort of thing. This is metal, after all. --Tom Breihan

41: The Decemberists
The Crane Wife
The melodies are grand but stalwartly hummable, and Colin Meloy finds surprising soulful inflections in his reedy voice. Proggy epics blur seamlessly into poppy jangles, successfully drawing an implausible line between Jethro Tull and R.E.M. Meloy revisits a number of his favorite themes-- star-crossed lovers on "O Valencia"; imperiled children on "Shankill Butchers"-- but by drawing them together under the Japanese myth of the Crane Wife, he creates a more cohesive album than his erstwhile period pastiches. His well-heeled diction remains intact, but it's tempered now, more concerned with artfully framing the album's emotional payload than attempting to work turn-of-the-20th-century jargon into rhymed couplets. The Decemberists have always been an interesting band, but with The Crane Wife, they became a great one, and they did it without shedding an ounce of their oddball charm. --Brian Howe

40: Tapes 'n Tapes
The Loon
It was not a great year for guitars and drums. Bearing little flash, no licks, and too much story, Tapes 'n Tapes used a kitchen-sink approach to guitar'n'drums slack (nicking bits of Pavement, Modest Mouse, and Wire) and combined it with an angry-young-man urgency. When Josh Grier's voice gets a little too emotive over The Loon's nervous tunes, it's against his better judgment: "I'll be had if I'm in your dress tonight" he sings on "Insistor", as if his jealous hand-wringing was directly wired to his bandmates fingers. Who cares if the band boxed CDs in their apartments, and walked them to the post office uphill? Cut their bootstraps and you're still left with an album that's richer for its frugality: just drums, just guitars. --Jessica Suarez

39: Fujiya & Miyagi
Transparent Things
[Tirk/Word and Sound]
It shouldn't have worked this well. Somehow, the British trio behind Transparent Things managed to quote "Dem Bones" (possibly the least hip song ever written), rip Damo Suzuki's vocal technique (possibly the easiest-ever influence to spot), combine motorik drumwork and long, major chord vamps (possibly the most Stereolab concept ever demonstrated by someone other than Stereolab), and still came out sounding like nobody else in 2006. The band's singles "Collarbone" and "Cassettesingle" painted them as groove addicts, but the heart within the record belonged to tracks like "Ankle Injuries" and the gentle closer "Cylinders", sounding like a motive sunrise and sunset, respectively. The record's title clues me in: Analysis and dissection is fun and all, but sometimes it pays just to listen to the nice music. --Dominique Leone

38: J Dilla
[Stones Throw]
No, this is not a posthumous award for lifetime achievement. We wish James Yancey was still here, but we don't sit around crying over Donuts. We nod our heads. We tap our feet. We might even dance some. (Okay, a lot.) But more than anything, we marvel at the 31 tracks of synaptic soul Dilla left with us. Listening to Donuts is like listening to him daydream about his favorite records-- crackles and pops included-- each song a passing notion from a man in love with his sampler. He made plenty of better songs, but he never made an album like this-- one so personal it feels almost intrusive to listen to, and so generous it feels selfish to hold it up for glory. So yes, it makes a difference that he made this while he lay in bed dying. It should. --Peter Macia

37: DJ Drama & Lil Wayne
Dedication 2
[Gangsta Grillz]
As mixtapes continued their evolution from street corner myth to major-label marketing ploy, Wayne proved himself to be the medium's most riveting ambassador. Thanks to the peerless beat selection and pacing of Atlanta's DJ Drama and Wayne's magnetic mugging, Dedication 2 easily rose above all other tapes that hit over the last 12 months. The rapper's nonchalant dexterity works perfectly within the casual, anything-goes vibe of a mixtape.
"As far as this rap thing, I think I am better than everybody," he said on one of the record's confessional interludes. "I'm a competitor. I hope everybody else feels the same way about their craft. If you do it makes it better for the listeners." And when his ache to be the best involves flipping several silly flows over a tennis-ball beat ("Sportscenter"), contemplating calling a girl with the neurotic self-awareness of Woody Allen ("This Is What I Call Her"), and eloquently exposing government hypocrisy ("Georgia…Bush"), it makes you wish other rappers had a similar drive. Dedication 2 isn't a byproduct of fourth-quarter fiscal pressure as much as a gauntlet thrown down by a rapper who simply loves to rap. The difference is clear. --Ryan Dombal

36: Brightblack Morning Light
Brightblack Morning Light
Thick with swampy guitar twang, chocolate Rhodes organ, group chanting, deeply funky handclaps and flutes, and acres of smoked-out ambience, this was the record I turned to first thing in the morning and late, late at night. It feels so listenable, so effortless, and sooooo stoned that you don't notice how well sequenced and tightly constructed it really is: If Rachel's organ riffs are sneaking the instrument out of church and onto the corner, the soulful harmony singing is walking right back in and grounding the band in gospel's ecstatic discipline. Brightblack's ecological and Native American lyrical allegiances will garner curiosity from some corners and skepticism from others, but their musical momentum carries them beyond scenes and signifiers. The rhythmic upramp of Nabob's heavy riff in "Everybody Daylight" is one of my favorite moments in music this year, but it's tough to pick favorites because the whole album is just so damn foxy. --Drew Daniel

35: Herbert
Riding the momentum generated by his well-received collaborations with the likes of Björk and Róisín Murphy, Matthew Herbert hopped back into the lab and came out with one of the best albums of his career. Although it contained samples of a reputed 723 different items (including coffins, birds, gas pumps, mobile phones, and the sweet sounds of some unfortunate soul losing his lunch), Scale felt more like a digital composite of all the best parts from his own winding back catalogue. Combining the moody brass flourishes of his big band effort Goodbye Swingtime with the rhythmic invention evident in his remix collection Secondhand Sounds and the intimate, late-night murmurs of the lush Bodily Functions, Scale is joyously overpacked with one stunning moment after another. --Mark Pytlik

34: Girl Talk
Night Ripper
[Illegal Art]
Girl Talk's Night Ripper is not so much a compendium of the best bits from your favorite songs mashed up into an epic sample-a-thon as it is the best bits from your favorite parties. Remember that night those dudes in the back killed the keg to Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time"? Or how amused you and your middle-school friends were the first time someone played you 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy"? How about the college radio station mixer that introduced you to Pavement and Sonic Youth? Kind of blurry? Well, Gregg Gillis remembers them all for you, and vitally, makes you dance in the process. He cites Dr. Dre and Nirvana as his two favorite acts as if it was natural to mention them in the same breath. And, argues Night Ripper, maybe it is. --Joshua Klein

33: Mission of Burma
The Obliterati
Conventional wisdom says Mission of Burma first broke up in 1983 due to various logistical obstacles, but the high quality of Burma's output since their 2002 reunion suggests they were merely waiting for everyone else to play catch-up before moving the goalposts again. While art-punk progeny like Trail of Dead struggle to reconcile their aggressive and extravagant impulses, The Obliterati provides an exemplary model of tuneful atonality, with 14 songs that are as melodically precise as they are fierce. But what's really remarkable is that Burma aren't trying to play like men half their age; instead, they rage like the pushing-50 cranks that they are, seething at an American political landscape that sadly hasn't changed much in the past two decades. There's a big difference between reformation and revitalization, and The Obliterati makes that gap all the greater. --Stuart Berman

32: Lupe Fiasco
Food & Liquor
[1st and 15th/Atlantic]
Fairly touted as the great crossover hope by hip-hop reformists looking to reap philosophical gains from a repeat of the Kanye Effect, the heroically-delayed and oft-resequenced debut from Chicago's Lupe Fiasco ultimately scored a small victory by landing at #8 on Billboard's album charts. That it didn't sell much more beyond that was hardly an indictment of its content; stuffed full of rolling strings, lustrous horn samples, and bumping (if not slightly too tasteful) rhythms, Food & Liquor was one of the year's most decadent hip-hip albums. And at the core of it lie Lupe's impressively tricksy raps, equal parts virtuosic and virtuous, but never overly clever. What he does from here is anyone's guess. Lord knows, he's got the charisma and the Rolodex to full-court press for mainstream numbers, but I'd just as happily take three or four more records like this, provided he doesn't have 12 minutes worth of people to thank each and every time. --Mark Pytlik

31: Danielson
[Secretly Canadian]
A burning hard rock album disguised as a "Kumbaya", Ships didn't achieve the level of blog frenzy that Daniel Smith might have hoped-- but not for want of trying. With a cast of over 20 indie greats including Deerhoof and Why?, Smith delivered a majestic, melodic beast that's closer to Queen than to his better-known disciple Sufjan Stevens. The summer camp sing-along vocals-- which were probably the biggest obstacle to potential converts-- belie the rich arrangements and gigantic power chords that lift and heave the band: Dig the centerpiece, "Two Sitting Ducks", where they climb higher and higher until you think their metaphorical ship might break apart and spill uniformed twee-rockers into the sea. But Smith keeps their heads above water: He's always a step ahead of his massive ambition, and here, he doesn't falter for a second. --Chris Dahlen

30: Belle and Sebastian
The Life Pursuit
By the time of The Life Pursuit, most people probably thought they had Belle and Sebastian figured out. The Scottish group's sixth album followed within a few short months of a live recording of If You're Feeling Sinister and an essential 2xCD compilation of their seven Jeepster-era EPs. Then again, most people slept on those records the first time around. So The Life Pursuit was probably doomed to become the one-time D.I.Y. band's most misunderstood album, even as its exuberant soulfulness and L.A. polish also made it the group's most accessible. But rather than fade into the post-glory MOR that word implies, The Life Pursuit explodes with love-- for pop, insects, misfits, choirgirls, and a divine power that may not even exist. Stuart Murdoch's canny wordplay and bold melodies keep the faith, from the opening theatrics to the urban country-Stones ennui of "Mornington Crescent". Punk may be dead, but here are 13 frivolous reasons to believe in just about anything. --Marc Hogan

29: Lily Allen
Alright, Still
From MySpace rumor to gloriously gobby pop star in less than a year, Lily Allen's public profile at times threatened to eclipse her music. This would be a shame as Alright, Still proved to be one of 2006's most enduringly rewarding pop albums. It was a bawdy comedy of North London manners and romantic hangovers, with a soundtrack expertly sourced from the likes of Lord Kitchener, Althea and Donna, Shampoo, Terry Hall, and the Happy Mondays. While she'll always stand accused by some of being a mere stageschool style-biter of the rawer Lady Sov, the best of her debut suggested that Allen might actually turn out to be the heir of another mordant kitchen-sink pop storyteller (and daughter of a famous dad): Kirsty MacColl. --Stephen Troussé

28: Cat Power
The Greatest
When people go to Memphis to record, it's usually to escape into a simpler past; either from the coastal machinery of the music biz or personal turmoil. Chan Marshall doesn't sound like she quite succeeded in evading the latter on The Greatest; throughout the record, her own woozy vocal and ponderous piano seems somehow at odds with the Muzak-slick brass and strings. But rifling through a historical genre wardrobe (gospel, soul, brittle country) in search of a life preserver isn't a futile effort, whether she's coldly watching herself hit bottom on "Hate" or charting a path to redemption on "Living Proof" or "Love & Communication". By all accounts, Chan Marshall left 2006 in a much healthier place than she started it, but The Greatest lingers as an eerie souvenir of her emotional battle's homestretch. --Rob Mitchum

27: Califone
Roots & Crowns
[Thrill Jockey]
It didn't come easy: After touring behind Heron King Blues in 2004, Califone collapsed. Struggling with a lack of motivation and his place as a musician, frontman Tim Rutili moved to Los Angeles, where he busied himself with film scores until chancing upon a mixtape graced by Psychic TV's "The Orchids". Obsessing over the song, he began writing, fell back in love with music, and finally, resaddled the band. A paean to resurrection bathed in electro-acoustic manipulation and flanked by Jim Becker's violin, "The Orchids" is the sonic and thematic epicenter of Roots & Crowns, an album that ties the threads of Califone's existence. Rutili's songs have rarely said so much so freely, and here, the thoughts and melodies come rendered in perfect detail with conviction, clarity, and reignited devotion. --Grayson Currin

26: Hot Chip
The Warning
For all its sly tech-pop wit and style, Hot Chip's 2004 debut, Coming on Strong, suffered from the ancient English affliction of bathos. But with The Warning, they shook off all that irony and understatement, sincerely embracing British art-pop tradition-- from Robert Wyatt to Brian Eno and New Order-- and making good on their abundant potential. "Over & Over" was a smartly dumb, brilliantly addictive dancefloor juggernaut, while both the wistful "Boy From School" and the Willie Mitchell-style ballad "Look After Me" showcased Alexis Taylor's reedy but affecting vocals, tugging on heartstrings without sacrificing any of their hipster poise. --Stephen Troussé

25: Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake has a powerful, serpentine voice, but it's not suited for superhuman r&b pyrotechnics. It has a soft, timorous vulnerability, a lost-little-boy quality. When he sings about heartbreak, he sounds like he wants to crawl into a hole and die. When he sings about dancing, he sounds like he's seeing nightclub lights for the first time. When he sings about pimping, he sounds like a kid playing dress-up. But here, Timbaland takes that voice and traps it in a hall of mirror-balls, surrounding it with glistening strings, dizzy sci-fi synths, and itchy funk guitars. The result is a disco album both dazzling in its technical trickery and enormously satisfying in its emotional sweep. If an album this ambitiously weird can be one of the year's biggest sellers, we're in good shape. --Tom Breihan

24: Peter Bjorn and John
Writer's Block
One of the year's most misleadingly titled releases, Writer's Block is by far the most studiously crafted of Peter Bjorn and John's three full-lengths. Channeling romanticized 60s U.S. pop through the D.I.Y. filter of 80s New Zealand indie rock, the Stockholm trio's songs are more charmingly inventive here than ever: "Young Folks" fashions bongos and whistling into an elastic groove that's simultaneously soaring and navel-gazing; "Start to Melt" lays guitars and distortion like brick and mortar; "Let's Call It Off" shuffles on a floor tom/handclap beat and a goofily catchy chorus; and every last note sounds basted in liberal doses of reverb. So PB&J aren't fooling anyone with that title: Writer's Block evokes a sense of crippled creativity without falling victim to it, capturing the feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin and wanting to be anywhere but wherever you are. --Stephen M. Deusner

23: Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Even if home-run opener "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" were the only great track on I Am Not Afraid of You..., the album would still be among Yo La Tengo's best of the decade. That extended guitar blissout not only fits snugly in the Ira Kaplan Hall of Fame (right alongside "The Evil That Men Do" and "Blue Line Swinger"), it's also a loud, clear sign that Yo La Tengo have relit their own eclectic flame. Their winning streak might have seemed on the verge of running its course with 2003's spotty Summer Sun, but even if its final track claims to be "The Story of Yo La Tango", I Am Not Afraid of You proves this trio still has tales to tell. --Marc Masters

22: LCD Soundsystem
Dear LCD Soundsystem: Please break up. Ok, ok... just kidding. I'm probably one of the few Pitchfork writers who hasn't yet heard LCD's new album, but the first one is nowhere near as boring as everyone's post-facto making it out to be. And live, LCD smoke-- the hands aloft, ridiculous transition from "Yeah" to "Beat Connection" to Paperclip People's "Throw" was one those moments this year that's kept me from chasing bourbon with barbiturates. As of right now, though, I have no idea how James Murphy is gonna top this quickie exploitation number for a little-known shoe company. A multi-part "suite" that moves like a smoothly mixed DJ set and nods to Ash Ra Tempel mastermind Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4 along the way, 45:33 encompasses everything from an original space-disco re-edit of an original Foreigner-esque rock song to the prettiest microhouse this side of anything by actual Germans to spastic HI-NRG-- and it should finally silence anyone who thinks Murphy's just a cranky pastiche artist. Also, apparently you can jog to it. --Jess Harvell

21: Be Your Own Pet
Be Your Own Pet
[Ecstatic Peace/Universal]
Grumps might complain that the best thing about Be Your Own Pet is that their minor success helps bankroll the weirder stuff on Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label, now that it's part of David Geffen's empire. But c'mon: These scruffy-shoed, dirty-faced teen angels might not be the second coming of X-Ray Spex, but little else this year ripped shit up with such screechy formalist glee. Fourteen shots to the dome of bratty pop-punk, with only one dip into "ballad" territory, Be Your Own Pet is snot as high art. Singer Jemima Pearl sneers the way only a teenage girl can, and she sounds just as good shouting things like "We wanna be friends with you! Everyone wants to have a good time!" And I've spent the better part of a year hearing the bridge to "Adventure" as "From MySpace to my place to castles to highways." Which, right or not, is about as 2006 a sentiment as I can think of. --Jess Harvell

20: Man Man
Six Demon Bag
[Ace Fu]
Indie's finest nickelodeon act grew into a silver screen star on Six Demon Bag, maturing their sound beyond Zappa/Beefheart hijinks and delivering a surprisingly stark, cinematic mood. Not that frontman Honus Honus exactly spills his guts all over the record: Between mindfuck numbers like "Engrish Bwudd" and sweeping busker elegies like "Van Helsing Boombox", Man Man span both ends of the emotional spectrum. Plus, Honus seems to have a one-liner ready for any occasion. The countless Kodak moments here-- from the drunken lament of "Feathers" to the Noreaga shoutout on "Black Mission Goggles"-- only attest to Man Man's ability to power pawnshop ditties with a ramshackle classic rock bigness. --Adam Moerder

19: T.I.
[Grand Hustle/Atlantic]
Predictably lauded for its triumph, King doesn't really do anything Tip Harris' other albums haven't done before-- he just does it moreso here. "King Back" and "Talkin' to You" spoke to those who wanted the epic, Epicurian, and Eastern, while "Why You Wanna" and "Live in the Sky" held down women and the warm-hearted. And "What You Know" pleased damn near everybody-- DJ Toomp's production is one of the finest in years. But the rough-hewn backend of King-- especially the whistling "I'm Straight", the lock-jawed "You Know Who", and the near-perfect posse cut closer "Bankhead"-- provides the backbone of an album that was conceived as a something of a genre-hopping risk. Working with Just Blaze seems like a no-brainer, but for an artist as locale-specific as Tip, it was bold. All coronation gags aside, this is a marriage of attitude and atmosphere that stands up against nearly any other rap album released this year. --Sean Fennessey

18: Destroyer
Destroyer's Rubies
On the expansive and unhindered Destroyer's Rubies, Dan Bejar finally gave his innate musical strangeness some room to breathe. In a sense, it's the most accessible record ever released under the Destroyer moniker, elegantly produced and sharply melodic. But without the constraints of a deceptively "weird" aesthetic regime, the distinctiveness of Bejar's songwriting and performance is much more striking. I'm still not entirely sure how these songs make sense, but they do-- convoluted structures, lavish arrangements, vocal tics, and all. For the first time in his career (with the possible exception of the criminally underrated This Night), Bejar doesn't sound like he's fighting against his own instincts; even if his vision can be impenetrable, it's presented here with tremendous generosity and grace. --Matt LeMay

17: The Thermals
The Body, The Blood, The Machine
[Sub Pop]
When a rock group that's made it a point to keep things brutally simple tries to change its formula for success, there's naturally some cause for some concern. Yeah, the Thermals might've exchanged their balls-to-the-wall guitar attack for a more measured approach, and yes, some of their charming lo-fi grime and grit has been scrubbed away. But working with the subjects of God, war, and power, these high-brow brat-beaters show no mercy. And when Hutch Harris strikes his Jesus Christ pose on the album's opening blitzkreig, he launches a bloody crusade from which, in the heaving finale, the noble young band conquers all. --David Raposa

16: Beach House
Beach House
The house was clearly abandoned around the end of the second World War: These songs are empty, drafty, and lazy, with sand blowing up in the corners, late-autumn clouds blotting out the sun, and the seasonal power long disconnected. It doesn't hurt that Beach House paint with the barest of colors-- drum machines tick, organs drone, guitars slide, echoes wander-- or that their sweet, broken-down drawl has the same dead elegance as scratched-up waltz LPs, Nico, or old country music. But the album is more elegant than spooky, and when singer Victoria Legrand gets all "Blue Velvet" on "Master of None", it's like we've finally found the Atlantic-coast equivalent of Julee Cruise playing the "Twin Peaks" roadhouse. --Nitsuh Abebe

15: Sunset Rubdown
Shut Up I Am Dreaming
[Absolutely Kosher]
Much more than a "side project" or any other lo-fi, run-of-the-mill indie, there's something wonderfully naive about Spencer Krug's truisms, like a quiet wide-eyed child in the backseat absorbing everything. With its occasionally bleak picture of romance ("The Men Are Called Horsemen There"), Shut Up I Am Dreaming can make you somehow nostalgic and guarded at once. The album's dry, peculiar production and brief minor-key themes make childhood sound like a scary and dangerous time, and it's easy to picture the eccentric Krug behind out-of-tune pianos and toy keyboards, maniacally banging out his eccentric calliope shit. But take these grand statements, sung in his affected drawl, and add oddly flashy guitar tricks like speedy arpeggios and bottomless reverb, and the album becomes a poignant, unflinching portrait of growing up. --Jason Crock

14: Tim Hecker
Harmony in Ultraviolet
Separating Harmony in Ultraviolet into 15 separate "tracks" dampens Tim Hecker's blizzard symphony. What makes the album brilliant-- not merely gorgeous-- is the gradual accrual of power that occurs throughout its 50-minute duration: Submerged, sinking synths are steadily woven into stuck-between-stations radio static, floating from a patient, natural-world meander until, in the last 20 minutes, the dam breaks and angels swirl. This is the ambient album of 2006, one of Canada's most celebrated sound artists imbuing electro-magnetic b-rolls with humanity and grace. --Brandon Stosuy

13: Phoenix
It's Never Been Like That
Pitchfork's Rob Mitchum called Phoenix the "soft-rock Strokes," which is as accurate as it is damning. But where Julian and his boys are so self-consciously cool it hurts, Phoenix effortlessly walk the walk. Their songs work their foggy notions shamelessly, regardless of whether they take their cues from former dictators or Heloise, and what initially seem like inconsequentially doughy ditties turn out to be hearty pop-rockers that won't leave your head. --David Raposa

12: Band of Horses
Everything All the Time
[Sub Pop]
Listening to Band of Horses' big, hazy atmospherics feels a little like steering your 1987 Corolla through 100 miles of white-hot desert, blindly navigating a landscape that feels simultaneously comforting, strange, and infinite. Everything All the Time, the brainchild of Seattle's Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke (both formerly of Carissa's Wierd), is an unexpectedly epic collection of high, lonesome rock songs. But despite obvious comparisons to My Morning Jacket and the Shins, Band of Horses have carved out their own sonic niche: This is 2006's perfect comedown record, each lulling guitar and strained, earnest vocal hitting like a puff of warm breath on your cheek, reassuring and sweet. --Amanda Petrusich

11: Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye
Without the stuttering, r&b-influnced beats of their debut, it's harder to prop up So This Is Goodbye as bold or innovative pop. Rather, it aims for a distinctly different yet similarly difficult route: Music so smart, yet so obvious, that it must have been there all along, waiting for someone to snatch it from our collective subconscious and make it our soundtrack for late-night driving and pre-party preening. Not to say this isn't a dance-minded record-- one listen to "Double Shadow" or "In the Morning" firmly proves otherwise-- just a surprisingly classicist one. More than blazing a trail, Junior Boys are simply a half-step ahead on the same path, finding the most predictable and logical rubbery synth or icy croon just a moment before we think of it. --Jason Crock

10: Scott Walker
The Drift
Like a malcontent Santa Claus, Scott Walker's gift to the music world this year was a sack of coal-black art songs, dumped centerstage and set on fire. It's strong stuff: Ghosts of European and American political crimes howling from the grave, percussion constructed from gut punches to a side of beef, scary string arrangements that tilt the floor downward, and heavy guitar sludge that hits like first-wave Swans. Presiding over this palace of gloom is Walker's gnarled, throaty croon, a gallows moan that braids sweetness and violence. His trembling vibrato can be overwhelming, but Walker's histrionics are kept on a short leash of meticulous control. Amid the endgame of microscopic sub-genres and unconvincing pastiches that is contemporary music, Walker's hard slap reminds us that music can be both High Art and utterly new. --Drew Daniel

09: Boris
[Diwphalanx/Southern Lord]
Pink's liner notes peel apart into small individual squares resembling either Pantone chips or acid tabs, but the implication was surely meant to be ambiguous: Whatever you were looking for, you would find. This meant gauzy, billowing meditations; disembodied vocals and dirt-caked guitar tones; and an echoing thicket of colliding feedback and gong reverb. For a trio so ready to fall on its collective face, they found a way to make vertigo their chief strength. Attempting everything at once, all elements magically congealed; only on Pink will you hear three musicians committed so deeply to going exactly where their songs took them. --Zach Baron

08: Grizzly Bear
Yellow House
2005's Horn of Plenty earned Grizzly Bear a number of comparisons to Brooklyn brethren Animal Collective, but Yellow House outed the band as its very own kind of critter. The album was recorded in Edward Droste's mother's Cape Cod home, and that familial, clean sheets, cookies-baking warmth is weirdly palpable: Yellow House is cozy, nuanced, and lovingly produced, as delicate as a fistful of dried flowers. Tracks like "Little Brother", with its acoustic intro, wisps of flute, and slow descent into psychedelia, and vintage waltz "Marla" (written by Droste's own grandmother) are dense with dizzying vocals, plucked banjo, and dusty, room-filling arrangements, all showcasing Grizzly Bear's strength for imbuing scratchy, archaic sounds with a sense of safety and warmth. --Amanda Petrusich

07: Clipse
Hell Hath No Fury
You could file it in the last two years' "crack rap boom" if you want but you'd be selling Clipse's climactic second album short. Hell Hath No Fury might detail crack-dealing and all its ugly vagaries, but it's also an exercise in self-awareness: Its street tales follow two balls-of-fire rappers (Pusha and Malice) for whom the game-- and the society that helped them into it-- has turned frigid. Hardly a glorification of the drug dealer lifestyle, Hell Hath No Fury's immediacy, no-future misanthrope, and grim delivery feel borderline apocalyptic. Even tracks like "Dirty Money" and "Trill", which are supposed to be about "fun," ring like death knells for materialism. Pharrell's gruesome, impersonal space beats may sound futuristic, but these lyricists' tales are as old-- and maybe as effective-- as Greek tragedy. --Julianne Shepherd

06: Liars
Drum's Not Dead
Brooklyn-to-Berlin trio Liars have one of the strangest career arcs in recent memory, but even their staunchest champions couldn't have anticipated the avant-rock masterstroke of their third album, Drum's Not Dead. Following through on the murky promise of 2004's widely panned concept album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, the band hunkered down in an East German radio facility, using the varying acoustics of different rooms to naturally inform the atmosphere of each song.
The result is an album cut with dark, devastating simplicity, colored by ritualistic percussion, translucent guitar figures, and Angus Andrew's unearthly falsetto, which hovers like a phantom. The fabric of tracks like "Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack" or "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack" is rent with shadowy turmoil, depicting an ongoing conflict that finds fragile resolution in the exquisite album-closing ballad "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack". Gorgeous and unfathomable, Drum's Not Dead is a landmark achievement from a group that many had virtually left for dead, but whose prospects now seem more limitless than ever. --Matthew Murphy

05: The Hold Steady
Boys and Girls in America
Almost every description of the Hold Steady invokes alcoholic imagery: a bar band with drinking songs. But such condescension doesn't do Boys and Girls in America justice; it isn't so much a dashed-off, beer-soaked record as an unflinching and literary document of social intoxication, from its Kerouac-quoting thesis statement-- "Boys and girls in America/ Have such a sad time together"-- to the 11 one-acts that repeatedly drive the observation home.
Craig Finn fills his dioramas with characters using substances to stave off boredom and fuel desperate, fleeting collisions with people in similar states; in most songs, the drugs get equal billing. The only way to accurately depict these interactions was to reach back to an era of bigger rock sounds-- not just Bruuuuce, but also Thin Lizzy and the Band-- that do the alchemy of making the everyday seem momentous. If alcohol's most seductive effect is making one feel like they're the main character in a movie of their own life, the Hold Steady made the bombastically bipolar soundtrack for that feeling. --Rob Mitchum

04: Ghostface Killah
[Def Jam]
Fishscale was officially released in March, but unofficial versions were devoured and crapped out on blogs for months prior. Upon hitting stores, it was showered with praise by critics from your local paper to NPR-- trusted sources of hip-hop since never. In other words, no matter when you heard it or in what form, Fishscale became your favorite rap record, maybe for hours, maybe forever.
Exactly how it became Ghostface Killah's most lauded is more difficult to explain. It's not his most compelling album lyrically, nor his most progressive album sonically. Still, Fishscale most vividly displayed Ghostface's versatility. Even when forced into revision by his abiding (but impatient) fans, he retained his signature faculties-- ludicrous imagination, elaborate storytelling, tortured soul singing, and dirty jokes for days-- all while evolving into a wiser, gentler armchair hustler whose charisma spanned race, class and creed: He was still Ghost, but now he was everybody's. --Pete Macia

03: Joanna Newsom
[Drag City]
Ys is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious albums on this list, which is not always a good thing. But Newsom's ambition is the quiet, professional kind, and complaining about it feels a little like standing at the finish line of a marathon and pointing out that the runners look a little haggard. She's summoned up every shred of her compositional training, refined her voice from a curiosity to an expressive marvel, and shot past the average singer's confessionals into a complex personal mythology of manipulative circus animals, astronomer siblings, and one "awfully real gun." She directs arrangements that veer from shades of Chinese opera to a sort of Broadway baroque.
As fans and detractors talk about fairies, debate the validity of the pronoun "thee," and argue the aesthetics of it-- as if she's on her deathbed and can't just try something else next year-- what slips quietly, professionally under the radar are the triumphs of her songwriting and craft. In the middle of this record, she sits alone with her harp for 10 minutes, asking stuffed birds "Why the long face?"-- it feels like four minutes, tops, and you can spend at least two of them right up toward the edge of your seat. --Nitsuh Abebe

02: TV on the Radio
Return to Cookie Mountain
This could be the only record this year I never tired of. Each time I heard it, I liked it more-- and I heard it a lot. In one sense, it's a fairly conventional rock record, with big chords, hummable refrains, chorus hooks, and even a few bridges. Peter Gabriel, U2, and other none-too-hip references are spread out for everyone to hear, though the fantastic singing gives TV on the Radio their own spin on the rock anthem. Still, David Sitek's production-- sounding like nothing else out there at the moment-- wormed its way in between the songs' cracks, all thick and sludgy and opaque, ensuring that the biggest moments never hit all at once. Of course, even after all this time and so many listens, I still don't really know what the songs are actually about. But I guess that'll come in 2007. --Mark Richardson

01: The Knife
Silent Shout
Entering the year, could there have been a more unexpected consensus pick for 2006 than the Knife? OK, so the Swedish brother/sister duo got a boost from the Sony Bravia commercial featuring José Gonzalez' rendition of their brilliant "Heartbeats", and that exposure served as unintended cross-promo for Silent Shout, helping anoint them among the upper echelons of this year's blog-rock royalty. But nothing else on the blogs sounded like this. Masters of their own record label, Rabid, the Knife may be indie, but nowhere would their shuddering trance arpeggios and steely technoid programming qualify as "rock."
Vocals aside, Silent Shout is deeply rooted in contemporary European techno at a moment when techno remains deeply unfashionable among American listeners, for all but a few Europhilic holdouts. Retaining the merest echo of their last album's electro-pop perk, Silent Shout plunges into the darkest thickets like a Japanese horror flick, turning sunny-day steel drums into instruments of harmonic torture and processing vocals in a way that decouples the "human" from "expression."
Perhaps what stuck out for listeners, despite the shivering digital luster of it all, was the obvious attention to old-school notions of musicality: Here, no matter the synthetic nature of its source, a sound is never a static thing but a breathing, heaving presence that pushes air across the room helter-skelter. It didn't hurt that, no matter the studio-bred nature of their music, the Knife built their popularity the old-fashioned way, by touring-- embellishing their playback-heavy concerts with suggestive video projections and ominous theatrics.
Ultimately, Silent Shout thrives on its uncomfortable balance of mystery and transparency. The way they structure their tracks, every sound sticks out like a lone wire waiting to be stripped, but the more you tug on any given strand, the more all the rest-- unstable harmonics, queered pitches, android shanties, looping tales of forest families-- is plunged into the most addictive kind of inscrutability. --Philip Sherburne

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