My Favorite 20 Albums of 2006

Wow. This is the eleventh year in a row that I've posted my year-end lists on this site. Looking back, it's interesting (and sometimes funny) to see how my interests and picks have chosen. In terms of overall trends, there's nothing too crazy about this year. Perhaps there's a bit more electronic-influenced pop music than normal, but there's also stuff that dips into lots of other areas as well. There were a couple surprises that came out of nowhere, and some familiar faces as well. Also, because of the podcast review feature I started at the beginning of the year, it's possible to download and hear music from every single one of the picks below (along with spoken reviews of varying audio quality my yours truly).

As I have been for the past 5 years, I'm doing a Readers List again, so get on over and contribute! Now! Do it!

Also, thank you very much for reading this site.

1. Joanna Newsom - Ys (Drag City)
After hearing the names of the other people involved with this one (Van Dyke Parks, O'Rourke, Albini) alonside that of Newsom, I expected to enjoy this album. I didn't, however, expect to be completely knocked sideways by it. On first listen it charmed me, on second listen it wrapped itself even further into my head, and every listen after that I've found myself anticipating the small changes and words with a little catch in my breath. Yes, it's beautiful. full review

2. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing!)
I guess it's all downhill from here. Young Zach Condon came out of nowhere and really charmed me with this rough debut that sounded like a vagabond amalgamation of Eastern European influences and indie rock crooning all mashed together through some sort of seeped-in osmosis. The heart is on the sleeve often and the production leaves a bit to be desired, but the songs just shine right through. full review

3. The White Birch - Come Up For Air (Rune Grammofon)
I think I might have sneezed at an album like this a couple years ago, but it has stayed with me throughout the year like a comfortable piece of clothing that I keep going back to. Fragile lyrics and sparse, open songs with amazing production that lingers like a breath in the air on a cold day. I would say it's just the winter weather talking, but I liked this one throughout the spring and summer too. full review

4. Dosh - The Lost Take (Anticon)
An album full of 3.5 minute songs that all start in one place and slowly weave their way into another without making you feel like you've left everything behind in the process. Some songs on this release are so simple (sounding, at least) and familiar that they feel like they could have come from a children's show. Martin Dosh, a regular guy from the Midwest making great music. full review

5. Peter Bjorn & John - Writer's Block (Wichita)
With so many "pop" albums on my list, I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but this would be the one I chose if someone were to force my arm behind my back and make me choose. Song after song that makes you want to sing along, this one gets plenty of play every week and keeps my mediocre vocal chords stretched out. full review

6. Johann Johannsson - IBM 1401 - A User's Manual (4AD)
A late entry with staying power, this newest release from Jóhannsson is a stunner. Examining the connection between human reliance on machines (and likewise), he's created an elegant and even touching album that incorporates both the organic and electronic in gorgeous harmony. That's all we really want, right? full review

7. Burial - Burial (Hyperdub)
I'm a little behind the curve on this whole dubstep thing, but I tried to give myself a crash course this year and Burial was the cream that rose to the top. A little repetitive, a lot dark, and plenty of stuff that gets under your skin (in a good way), this is an album that will become your personal soundtrack to feeling a bit sinister. full review

8. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
The original group loses a member, tours the world with Mouse On Mars and Caribou while working on new songs, then comes back with a follow-up that beats the debut. More soulfull, less cold, and simply more enjoyable than their debut, the Junior Boys aren't letting anything slow them down. full review

9. Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche (Asthmatic Kitty)
Yes, this an album of b-sides. Yes, his original album could have been trimmed and been made better. The same goes for this release, and while there's a more than a handfull of filler, there's also much more than a handfull of outstanding, and sometimes even amazing tracks. I keep expecting to find myself getting tired of his music, but it hasn't happened yet. full review

10. Grails - Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (Important)
Another album created by a band who not only lost a member, but did so under extremely odd and eerie circumstances. In the case of Grails, the group came back together and poured out their feelings onto tape, resulting in a sweltering pot of heady doomed post rock that's an excellent left-turn from their previous direction. full review

11. Helios - Eingya (Type)
Floating somewhere in the ether between quiet, organic IDM and warm ambience, Eingya is an amazing debut under the name Helious from the young artist Keith Kenniff, who has released music under several other guises. Peaceful. Graceful. Lovely. full review

12. Benoit Pioulard - Precis (Kranky)
Like the album cover, this album sparkles. Voices and guitars and bells and a few sparse beats glimmer with iridescence. It's music made for the moments right after waking up, or during the moments right before falling asleep, where your senses can't quite focus on anything too specific and instead just move towards sharpening or dulling even more. full review

13. Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70 (Constellation)
After he reworked Arthur Russell into a 22-minute monster on the Kiss Me Again And Again EP, I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Polmo Polpo might have a hand in something like this. Dropping like some sort of lo-fi looping disco freak folk bomb, Glissandro 70 is all about getting your primal self down. Hypnotic and downright fun as well. full review

14. Trentemoller - The Last Resort (Poker Flat)
I seem to go back to the singles a bit more on this one (which are contained on a bonus 2nd disc), but The Last Resort as a whole still thrills me like I haven't been thrilled in awhile by a more pure electronic dance album. It dips into dub, slams the minimal tip, and works a discreet techno edge, all the while riding on a bed of fabulous production. full review

15. Islands - Return To The Sea (Equator)
This album contains what is easily some of the best pop song craft of any album released this year. This one might have been the CD that got the most road-trip (and I don't even take many of those) plays this year in the car. Totally fun, and the art history side of my brain gives them massive props for the Caspar David Friedrich cover artwork. full review

16. Charalambides - A Vintage Burden (Kranky)
It's probably no coincidence that one of the most accessible releases from this group is also probably my favorite of theirs. While I can appreciate (and sometimes enjoy) the downright mantra-like qualities of some of their past work, A Vintage Burden manages to keep casting its spell on me. So pretty. full review

17. Humcrush - Hornswoggle (Rune Grammofon)
Rune Grammofon is continually putting out some of the most forward-thinking music being created right now, and this release from Humcrush is no exception. Nothing less should be expected from members of the band Food and Supersilent, and they back up their names with a wicked android jazz that's sometimes so futuristic sounding I have no doubt it'll still sound completely fresh in forty years. full review

18. Mahogany - Connectivity! (Darla)
This is one of those rare releases that's both immediate and a slow grower at the same time. On first listen, it sounds like an distillation of about 10 different bands (everything from Cocteau Twins to Slowdive). It's also a layered and lush release that shows it's more than the sum of seeming parts on subsequent spins. This one keeps finding its way back into my player. full review

19. Triple Burner - Triple Burner (Madrona)
In a year when none of the bigger-name Canadian groups (like Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think, Silver Mt. Zion, etc) released an album, this workhorse duo put out this refreshingly invigorating little release that seems simple on the surface but is anything but. Percussion and guitars do the tango and sing the blues and do the shimmy and the shake and you feel like you're listening to the best back porch twosome you've never heard. full review

20. Ellen Allien & Apparat - Orchestra Of Bubbles (Bpitch Control)
After Allien's Thrills didn't hit me quite right, Orchestra Of Bubbles zinged me on first listen and has stuck with me since. All kinds of orchestral pad stabs and excellent programming and production are topped off with a couple of the best electronic pop songs of the year. I want an encore at some point. full review

5 Excellent EPs!
Black Devil Disco Club - 28 After (Lo)
Sandro Perri - Plays Polmo Polpo EP (Constellation)
Arthur Russell - Springfield EP (Audika)
The Twilight Sad - The Twilight Sad EP (Fat Cat)
Keith Fullerton Whitman - Lisbon EP (Kranky)

5 Radical Reissues!
Incredible Bongo Band - Bongo Rock (Mr. Bongo)
Phonophani - Phonophani (Rune Grammofon)
Steve Reich - Phases: A Nonesuch Retrospective (Nonesuch)
Tortoise - A Lazarus Taxon (Thrill Jockey)
Jean Claude Vannier - L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches (Finders Keepers / B-Music)

December 25th, 2008
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (Illegal Art) Feed The Animals

Studio - Yearbook 2 (Information) Yearbook 2

December 18th, 2008
Ursula Bogner - Recordings 1969-1988 (Faitiche)

Good Stuff House - Endless Bummer (Root Strata)

Silent Land Time Machine - & Hope Still (Time-Lag / Indian Queen) And Hope Still

Xela - In Bocca al Lupo (Type)

December 11th, 2008
Brethren Of The Free Spirit - The Wolf Shall Also Dwell with the Lamb (Important)

Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Continued (Kranky)

Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna (The Social Registry) Saint Dymphna

Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino)

December 4th, 2008
Averkiou - Throwing Sparks (Clairecords)

Fennesz - Black Sea (Touch)

Johann Johannsson - Fordlandia (4AD)

Murcof - The Versailles Sessions (Leaf) The Versailles Sessions

The Sea And Cake - Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)

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