05 December 2010

Top Albums: 2006

{ In March of 2006 a certain Captain James Blunt (seriously, Blunt was in the military. Can you believe that?) released a single called "You're Beautiful" and really set the tone for insufferable pop songs in 2006 and beyond. Kelly Clarkson won a Grammy (...), the one billionth song downloaded on iTunes was "Speed Of Sound" by Coldplay (ugh), Three Six Mafia won an Academy Award for Best Song (well-deserved), two members of Aerosmith require throat surgery (maybe I should stop smoking...), and Shakira releases "Hips Don't Lie" (delightful). }

I'm pretty satisfied with my top albums of 2006. Sure, I missed a few great albums here but I don't look back on 2006 with a lot of regret. I wish I spent more time with Hot Chip's album The Warning. Apparently The Greatest by Cat Power is really great. Is it crazy to say that I only know "Crazy" off of St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley?

Two albums that could have made this list is Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit and Grizzly Bear's Yellow House. I dig those records now. Better late than never!

Here are the albums that kept my ears busy in 2006:

5. The Kooks - Inside In/Inside Out

The buzz over the Arctic Monkeys debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not dominated the headlines but over the years, Inside In/Inside Out by The Kooks has really stood the test of time for me. This may be a bit controversial as The Kooks have simply been passed off as a band simply taking off the style of the Monkeys, Razorlight and what not.

My rejection of Whatever People Say... probably stems from the fact that my ears prefer the rough-around-the-edges versions the Arctic Monkeys songs that circulated around the Internet a year before they released their debut. Their debut sounds far too polished compared to the songs that were scattered about the web.

The Kooks record is slick and polished but it works better with their '60s British Invasion and '90s Brit Pop vibe. Are they Arctic Monkeys-lite? Possibly. But their upbeat pop sound and catchy melodies makes their album more enjoyable.

You also have to enjoy a band that fully accepts that they have a wide range of influences that they wear on their sleeves and the arrogance confidence that they exhibit.

4. Muse - Black Holes & Revelations

The first single off Black Holes & Revelations caught me off guard. "Supermassive Black Hole" was not something that I expected from Muse and I summarily dismissed the song as shit for not being very "Muse." The cheesy R&B-esque falsetto vocals coming from the ultra-talented Matt Bellamy was cringe-worthy.

But the song grew on me. And the album turned out to be a brilliant piece of work. The out-of-this-world themes and the epic melodies were simply incredible. Matthew Bellamy is a musical genius.

3. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds

All is forgiven, Justin. We'll forget about that little pop-group called *Nsync. We'll forget about your debut solo record Justified which clearly pandered to your young fan base.

That all changed with FutureSex/LoveSounds. Singles like "SexyBack" and "My Love" were pretty incredible but the album isn't just propped up by these hits, the entire album stands as a quality piece of work.

Producer Timbaland and Timberlake crafted a sensual album without any frills, tricks, or loose ends. What is most impressive is how Timberlake and Timbaland fleshed out the songs. These aren't half-baked pop songs built for the radio. There are two songs that easily weigh in at over seven minutes. There are movements within songs, interludes. Dare I say it feels like a concept album?

Either way, my opinion of Timberlake has drastically changed with this record. And I hope he releases another forward-thinking and adventurous album soon before people start thinking of Beiber when people talk about "Justin."

2. The Killers - Sam's Town

The Killers are a polarizing band with many knocking their debut album Hot Fuss as synth-pop trash while many others embraced the album as a great restoration of that '80s New Wave aesthetic.

Sam's Town was also received with mixed reviews.

Of course, leader singer/songwriter Brandon Flowers didn't help things by declaring that Sam's Town would be "one of the best albums in the past twenty years." I appreciate this sort of boldness but this put the album right in the crosshairs of the critics.

Their first single "When You Were Young" didn't really impress me at first but it fits nicely within the context of the album.

And Sam's Town is a strong album.

Is there a guilty-pleasure sort of element to this record? Absolutely. But there is quality in this album. Their debut Hot Fuss really showed the glitz of their influences and their Las Vegas upbringing. They know how to put on a show. But it's their sophomore effort Sam's Town that really showcases the depth of The Killers.

1. The Hold Steady -
Boys and Girls in America

Powerful Bruce Springsteen-esque melodies and vocalist Craig Finn's half-singing-half-spoken delivery and the raw honesty in his lyrics makes Boys and Girls in America a brilliant record.

The Hold Steady's captures the fist-pumping energy of Springsteen with beautiful and timeless piano melodies, punchy horns, all with a splash of punk rock that punches you right in the gut.

But it's the lyrics that really makes this an amazing record.

Again, the Springsteen references are easy to make but there is a stark honesty in the lyrics that I haven't heard from a band in a very long time. And they are lyrics that truly capture middle America life. A life of suburban boredom, going to shows, doing drugs, smoking cigarettes, meeting girls. There is a sort of Simon & Garfunkel "America" and Jack Kerouac On The Road sort of vibe in all of their songs.

{ The Hold Steady - "Chillout Tent" }

Songs like "Chillout Tent" are representative of the lyrical prowess of The Hold Steady and songs like "Stuck Between Stations" are representative of the energy that they can bring:

If these two Hold Steady songs don't get you on the train, then I don't know what will.

2006 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • Fergie - The Duchess
  • The Fratellis - Costello Music
  • La Rocca - The Truth
  • Nelly Furtado - Loose
  • The Veils - Nux Vomica

{ Get your dose of good ol' fashioned American rock 'n' roll. }

Please be sure to read my post explaining this little project and, more importantly, the criteria that I'm using. Thanks!