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My 10 Favorite Albums of 2006 [version]

27 December 2006

I like creating best-of lists more than I enjoy deciding on just one list of 10-albums as my end-all-be-all. I’ve already published one genre-specific list, and submitted another general list for the same publication’s collective best-of. And come late January, after I’ve had the chance to mentally process even more music, I imagine I’ll be doing a more exhaustive sort of list for my own website. It’s impossible for me to say definitively what are the 10 most important albums of the year, or even my 10 favorites, without continuing to think “what about this other one?” Here, then, is another Best of 2006 top 10 albums list, one reflecting my thinking today as far as my favorite albums of the past year. The top three are the same as on my other general lists, because I have to have some standards, and there’s always a few albums that I know absolutely, without a doubt, were my favorites.

1. MOUNTAIN GOATS – Get Lonely (4AD)
The most exciting release of the year – musically and emotionally. It’s JOHN DARNIELLE’s most affecting recording, with its intimately detailed portrayal of loneliness, and also his most nuanced, sound-wise, with SCOTT SOLTER’s light experimental touch rounding out the atmosphere, and helping make it the most musical Mountain Goats album. To my ears, no other album this year related particular moods and circumstances so fully, or left its mark as permanently.

2. J DILLA aka JAY DEE – Donuts (Stones Throw)
Reviews may mostly focus on Dilla’s untimely passing, and that he recorded this from his deathbed. But this album deserves praise even outside of those factors, without any qualifiers. In recent years, there’s been plenty of absorbing instrumental hip-hop, but none so much as this, where classic soul is chopped up and reformed into a gorgeous, inspiring infinity-loop.

3. GHOSTFACE KILLAH – Fish Scale (Def Jam)
This album has been prominent in year-end lists so far, yet under-defended – witness the claim, on Pitchfork’s best-of list and elsewhere, that this isn’t Ghostface’s best, but still worthy just because he’s worthy. The truth is, this is his best album: the most confident, cohesive (in the completely random Ghostface style, of course) and detailed display of his storytelling style, set to his best collection of beats. The older, wiser persona suits him well, yet he still has an inner fire.

4. MATH AND PHYSICS CLUB – Math and Physics Club (Matinee)
Simple in all the best ways, Math and Physics Club’s debut album finds them breaking the pop song down to its essence: a feeling, a chorus, some harmonies. And they excel at every step. The album I’ve sung along with the most this year.

5. SONIC YOUTH – The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities (Geffen)
A B-side collection in name (and the songs’ genesis, I suppose), but it’s also the dreamiest, most compact distillation of the experimental side of the experimental/pop-rock axis they’ve been riding the last couple decades. Right now it sounds like my favorite Sonic Youth album, or at least the prettiest of their most challenging releases.

6. THE MEMORY BAND – Apron Strings (DiCristina)
A brilliant joining of English folk music styles (carrying with them memory and history and landscape) with future-oriented technology, and a beyond-time perspective. Very in-the-moment, yet filled with timeless sounds, stories, and settings.

7. TILLY AND THE WALL – Bottoms of Barrels (Team Love)
Their sing-along, stomp-along style of pop revolution is right up my alley, and this second collection of outlaw love songs is even better than their first.

8. THE LIKE YOUNG – Last Secrets (Polyvinyl)
I bid a fond farewell to the DIY ragged-pop that the JOE ZIEMBA and AMANDA ZIEMBA have been making (as this duo and, previously, as BUSYTOBY and part of WOLFIE), as they’ve announced their retirement. But what a note to go out on! It’s their best yet: angry and sweet, bitter and hopeful, and rocking in a more complex way than ever before.

9. CAT POWER – The Greatest (Matador)
I hesitated to mention Cat Power’s name for a while, because I was sick of hearing it, maybe partly because I thought You Are Free was way overrated, not as good as earlier albums. But this album’s lovely – in its restraint and slight soul/country focus, it presents her talents beautifully.

10. PRINCE – 3121 (Universal)
Other legends made great albums this year – Willie Nelson, for one – but today I’ll give the edge to Prince for this surprisingly sweet, surprisingly funky tribute to monogamy. (Never mind that in real life his marriage dissolved soon after the album’s release; just listen). It could be that I like this even more because my expectations, for one of my favorite musicians overall, are pretty low these days. But this sounds good to me.