It's never easy whittling down a year's worth of great releases to a couple handfuls of select music. Why these? What makes them stand out over the rest? This year, it was a combination of things: did it grab me when I first heard it? was it enhanced by a live show? did it get continued rotation? For all the albums on this list, the answer to all three questions was a resounding yes. There were other albums that I toyed with but for one reason or another, they got pushed down (EP? too young? not released in the US?). For those, I added an "honorary mentions" list. So, without further ado and in no particular order, the SomethingGlorious Top 10 Albums of 2006 (click the band name to buy the CD):
ARCTIC MONKEYS: WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM THAT'S WHAT I'M NOT
The Arctic Monkeys came out of nowhere. By the time anyone had any idea what was going on, they'd already broken the all-time first-week debut sales record in the UK. Then they hit America and their shows sold out faster than you could sneeze and say "bless you." Any band that could cause this big of a frenzy deserves to be mentioned. But on top of it, they're talented. When I interviewed Alex Turner in January (he had just turned 20), I expected to talk to a young, cocky kid. But he was smart and directed. The Monkeys music is fast, tight, thrilling and smart. WPSIATWIN is a solid debut from any band, but this is just the beginning for these guys. I expect bigger and better things -- especially now that the hype has died down. Look for release No. 2 in April.
RACONTEURS: BROKEN BOY SOLDIERS
When the White Stripes came up at the same time as the Strokes, I always leaned toward the Strokes. I appreciated what Jack and Meg did, but never really got into the band. But as soon as I first heard BBS -- Jack with Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes -- I was hooked. The sexy, sultry, engaging first chords of "Steady As She Goes" are as good as those of any great rock song ever written. Then seeing them perform at Lollapalooza solidified it. This is one of the tighest five-pieces around (yes, five -- Dean Fertita was a tour-only member). BBS is a witty collection of rhythmic, thinking-man's rock. The countryfied "Yellow Sun." Rubber Soul-era "Hands." The spooky "Level." Pure brilliance. When I ran into them at ACL, even Jack smiled. Something must be going right.
Plant. Ozzy. Andrew Stockdale. Anyone who graced the presence of Wolfmother in 2006 knows there are few live acts to hold a candle to this Australian trio, who re-ignited the classic '70s arena rock flame. Wolfmother's grandiose stage posturing combined with just the right amount of fantasy once again made it acceptable to hang psychedelic felt posters on your wall. Their music is a rolling thunder of stampeding elephants coming to knock you over -- and if you didn't get out of the way, you likely got swept up. It'll be interesing to see what else Wolfmother is capable of; but if this is it, they made an indelible mark.
KEANE: UNDER THE IRON SEA
This could easily be the year's most tortured album. Keane, riding high from a five-million-selling debut, sunk deep into depression, trying to figure out what the hell happened. The result was introspective songwriting and gorgeous vocals wrapped up in a package of 12 beautiful, dark and conflicted songs. Unlike Hopes and Fears, UTIS didn't showcase the sappy piano rock trio as a happy-go-lucky collective, rather a group on the brink of destruction. Case in point: singer Tom Chapin's extended stint in rehab. And UTIS produced one of the year's best singles in "Is It Any Wonder?" a lighthearted song that confuses with its peppiness; digging deeper into the lyrics reveals the essence of pain resulting from stardom. This is where true genius comes from.
120 DAYS: s/t
What is it with Scandinvia, particularly Norway, producing so much exceptional music lately? Even as a later-year release, 120 Days came across the Atlantic and tore the shit out of CMJ, which was followed by a tour of the rest of the country. When they came to Chicago's Empty Bottle, a stronghold of hipster heaviness, a dance party broke out. This Norwegian foursome goes big on its debut, but just when you think they're going to blow your speakers (and your mind), they contain the already-contained illusion. Taking cues from Kraftwerk, they brilliantly straddle the line between modern dance rock and space travel. 120 Days paints a flowing landscape created by morphing synths, expansive keyboards and throbbing drums -- and makes you feel like you're on the most thrilling rollercoaster ride -- for the first time every time.
PHOENIX: IT'S NEVER BEEN LIKE THAT
Phoenix is one of thoes bands that just can't do wrong. They're one of the few French bands that's crossed over and won the hearts of American music fans. This album is an extension of their last (Alphabetical) but points the band in a direction where they can continue to create upbeat, poppy music. The songs on INBLT all have a feeling of a '50s sock hop, where you just want to dance the night away. Most songs clock in around 3:30 -- and it's just enough to get you going, ease you down and then sweep you up again. It's like the soundtrack to the best summer of your life, but is relevant all year around.
TV ON THE RADIO: RETURN TO COOKIE MOUNTAIN
One of the year's most-anticipated albums from one of today's most-acclaimed bands did not disappoint. Taking indie experimentalism to a higher level, TVOTR delivered an eclectic basket of goodies dropped in a neat little package. The boys from Brooklyn really came into their own in 2006 -- playing numerous festivals here and abroad as well as a huge show in Prospect Park that ignited the entire borough. Their signature angelic-cum-mysterious vocals, high-pitched orchestral horns, popcorn-infused beats and fire-fueled energy (I mean, have you ever seen kyp, tunde and dave ever be mellow on stage?) made for a great follow-up to an incredible debut. No sophomore slump here.
THE LOW FREQUENCY IN STEREO: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF ...
From the opening beats of "Big City Lights," this Norwegian group (see what I'm saying about Norway?) transports you back nearly 40 years to Swinging London, with hip-shaking go-go girls in white leather boots and guys in shaggy cuts. The synth-heavy, percussion-filled, mostly instrumental eight-track album takes the best of the British Invasion and morphs it seamlessly with modern rock beats and occasional screechy-yet-inoffensive vocals. The album stands out among this year's imports for its creativity, balls-to-the-wall attitude and infectious, catchy tunes.
SAM ROBERTS: CHEMICAL CITY
I wish I could say Sam Roberts was on this list simply because he's a hot-as-hell, engaging frontman -- but that's only part of it. The rest is made up in pure innocent charisma channeled through a massive wall-of-sound. Chemical City is a pure road album that wears its heart on its sleeve. There's no pretense here; just honest-to-goodness rock musicianship. It's made up of equal parts classic rock ("The Gate"), sing-a-long folk ("Bridge to Nowhere"), sweet love ditties ("Uprising Down Under") and drawn-out prog rock ("Mind Flood"). Sam and his gang play off each other brilliantly in a live setting -- and sweat more than any other band I've seen in a long time. The album hasn't received as much love as it deserves; in my opinion it's the sleeper album of 2006.
EDITORS: THE BACK ROOM
I knew from the moment I heard this album back in January that it was going to be one of my favorites for the year. Then I interviewed Tom Smith in April and was taken by his laid-back attitude and sheer brilliant, if not somewhat conflicted, mind. But it was my virgin live performance that solidifed it. While Editors played for a tens of thousands back home in England, they stood before a room of maybe 1,000 fans in Chicago. It didn't matter. As soon as Smith sat down at the keyboards to play "Camera," he exemplified a man destined for huge arenas. Sure, he gets compared vocally to Ian Curtis (something I learned he loathes) but is less intense as a person. The lyrics: dark, painful and brooding. The music: spastic, searing and pronounced. The album: an instant classic. One thing Editors have going for them is that because they haven't exploded in the US, they actually have a chance of coming back with an equally engaging, if not better, second album without the unnecessary scrutiny.
- The Changes: Today is Tonight
- Lily Allen: Alright, Still
- Serena Maneesh: s/t
- The Gossip: Standing in the Way of Control
- Gomez: How We Operate
- Nelly Furtado: Loose
- Ratatat: Classics
- FabricLive: DJ Format
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