December 5, 2006
I find year-end music lists a great and useful diversion, especially when I have found a common interest with the listmaker. Often I will revisit music that didn't grab me at first listen, or seek out new bands on a listmaker's recommendation.
This year I listened to more albums than any year my life. Rare was the day that I didn't put at least three or four unheard CDs in my messenger bag in the morning, only to repeat the cycle the next day. After listening to so much new music, certain albums stood out among the crowd. This music has stood the test of time for me, if only the twelve months since last January 1st. Not surprisingly, a couple of albums from my half-year list made the cut.
After many revisions, here is my list of eleven favorite albums of 2006, along with free and legal mp3 downloads (where available):
Asobi Seksu's sophomore album is an effort in shoegaze brilliance, with clever songwriting and reverb to spare.
When a band opens their album with an ode to Lloyd Cole, they have my attention. When they do it with the indie pop charm of Camera Obscura, they have my heart. Tracyanne Campbell's lyrics and voice will both break your heart (in the best way).
On this debut album, Casey Dienel has produced intricately crafted, timeless pop songs. Wind-Up Canary spent more time on my iPod nano than any other 2006 album.
"Doctor Monroe" [mp3]
see also: Casey Dienel's Note Books essay
Dan Bejar's most ambitious Destroyer album, yet.
Atmospheric and dense, Ed Droste and company have created a lush, folk vision. Right now, this is my favorite album of the year.
Considering the build-up to this successor to The Milk-Eyed Mender, and the hype surrounding its participants (orchestration by Van Dyke Parks, engineering by Steve Albini, mastering by Jim O'Rourke), I was dubious, but Joanna Newsom manages to outdo herself with this dreamy song cycle.
Josh Ritter gets a bit more serious on his V2 debut, and the singer-songwriter has produced a classic.
"Thin Blue Flame" [mp3]
Only John Darnielle could take an initial concept for a monster album and turn it into an aching panorama of loneliness. With a softer voice and the lush production of Scott Solter, this album proves the Mountain Goats are getting better with age.
With her major label debut, Regina Spektor utilized a bigger recording budget to polish the songs on Begin to Hope. Of the twelve wonderful piano-driven pop songs on the album I expected at least one to be a commercial hit.
The Norwegian band's self-titled album has been a regular in my car CD player, the distorted guitars cranked up make great driving music.
The War and Peace of 2006 album releases, Palo Alto is dark, deep, and in the end, very rewarding.