NOTE: I'll apologize ahead of time for the length, but if you're reading this you probably know already that I'm incapable of writing anything short and void of detail. From start to finish it probably took me 4-5 hours to write this entire entry. And in case you were wondering, yes, I do have too much time on my hands. If you just absolutely have no patience for reading long entries you can skip to the bottom where I simply listed my 10 favorite albums I got this past year, and also all the other ones I got that didn't make the cut.
By my own count I either bought or received as a gift 25 albums in the calendar year 2006. Now this list should not be confused as a "best of 2006" list because less than half of them were actually released in 2006, and the others were mostly from the 2 or 3 years before it. I got more albums this year than I have in several years, and it was an interesting mix. A couple were the full-length debuts of bands I became a fan of after getting their EP (Mute Math and The Hourly Radio), a couple were new releases by artists who hit their popular peak in the 70s (The Who and Neil Diamond), a few were popular indie artists I only became a fan of this past year (Sufjan Stevens, Snow Patrol, Editors, Ray LaMontagne, and Interpol), others were albums by acts I've been a fan of for a few years and just needed to fill out my collection (Elliott Smith, Pete Yorn, and Sigur Ros), and two were new albums by bands I've been a fan of for a long time and the new material did not disappoint (Jars of Clay and Switchfoot).
In compiling this list I found it easy to pick candidates for the top 10 but difficult when it came to leaving some off. I've known for a while what my top 3 albums were, since they were all masterpieces and in other years any of them might have been my top album. Picking the next 4 behind the top 3 didn't take a long time either, but finalizing the last 3 to round out the top 10 took a while and I really hated leaving out a handful of albums, so I designated these with "Honorable Mention" status. Even the ones that didn't make honorable mention were good albums, they just weren't in the running for the top 10 so I set them aside in their own category, so don't let that fool you into thinking that they're not worth buying as well. So, without further ado...Honorable MentionDerek Webb
- MockingbirdNeil Diamond
- 12 SongsThe Secret Machines
- Ten Silver DropsPete Yorn
- NightcrawlerRay LaMontagne
- TroubleFive Times August
- The Acoustic SessionsInterpol
- Turn on the Bright Lights; and Antics
All of these 7 albums have very good qualities about them but they all barely fell short. Mockingbird
had some powerful songs with very searching lyrics about modern day churches and many Christians' unfortunate tendency to eschew God's word for rules and commandments of their own making. "A New Law", "Mockingbird", "Zeroes & Ones", and "Please, Before I Go" are all great songs but I couldn't quite find a place for it and decided there were 10 other albums I'd rather listen to. Favorite lyric: "What's the use in trading a law you can never keep for one you can that cannot get you anything" - from A New Law12 Songs
didn't sound much like anything from Diamond's hit-filled catalogue of the 60s and 70s (save perhaps the bouncy, upbeat "Delirious Love"), and much of it is quiet and meditative, but it has several songs that grew on me over time. That said I liked it a lot but not enough to rank it higher. Favorite lyric: "And if your goldmine comes up empty I'll be there to work the claim / If you're a captain of a shipwreck I'll be first mate to your shame." - from Captain of a Shipwreck Ten Silver Drops
I was disappointed with at first but came to like it more over time, but still not enough to crack my top 10. It is notable because it contained "Lightning Blue Eyes," the one song I listened to more than any other in 2006. Favorite lyric: "And in your dreams you've seen it all / through a window so far off / remember watching when your lightning blue eyes reflected sunrise" - from Lightning Blue Eyes
Pete Yorn's 3rd album, Nightcrawler, was a confident and assured effort after the disappointment that greeted his sophomore album Day I Forgot
. I loved his 2001 debut album, musicforthemorningafter
and was let down at first by Day I Forgot but that one had some great songs and grew on me as I listened to it many more times. Nightcrawler on the other hand I liked immediately after I got it. The main knock against it, and the reason it's not in the top 10, is because while it's a very listenable album it isn't one I can listen all the way through without skipping (like Musicforthemorningafter) and it doesn't really have any standout "You gotta hear this!" tracks (like Day I Forgot). Still it has some good work on it, my favorite songs being "Vampyre", "For Us", "Undercover", "Alive" and "Ice Age".
I bought Trouble
after I'd fallen in love with his follow up album Till the Sun Turns Black (more on that later) and while it isn't very similar stylistically it's a very good album with songs in the soulful acoustic troubador tradition of Van Morrison. This album's title track was a minor hit and more-or-less put him on the map, and Kelly Clarkson has covered the 2nd track ("Shelter") in concert a number of times. Other standout songs include "Hold You in My Arms", "How Come", "Forever My Friend", "Jolene", and the closer "All The Wild Horses", a slow mournful song with strings that makes for a good segue into his 2nd album, which uses strings much more heavily than Trouble does. Favorite lyric: "Forever my friend / Forever my love / Forever the woman that I'm thinking of / I just think if we keep our hearts together / Just think if we build on this trust that we have for one another / Baby we can make this last a lifetime" - from "Forever My Friend"
I've been a fan of Five Times August
(the moniker Flower Mound native and current Austin resident Brad Skistimas performs under) for around 4 or 5 years now and I have every album he's released. The Acoustic Sessions, as its name suggests, is a collection of his best work all performed in solo acoustic fashion. I've seen him play pretty much all these songs live before and this set gives a good idea of what he's like in person. I don't rate it higher mainly because most of these songs have been released before on another acoustic album he did and I liked other versions of them better in some cases. The Acoustic Sessions comes free as a bonus disc when you buy his album Fry Street, in case anyone is interested. Favorite lyric: "I’m standing in the place we first kissed / There’s so much I miss / This I can’t resist cause I’m all over / Where we took our first photograph, and where I first held your hand and laughed /Awkward moments like that have passed, it’s over" - from First Time for Everything
I first heard a few songs by Interpol
early in 2005 but didn't buy their albums Turn on the Bright Lights
until 2006. They're both good, have songs with frequently infectious beats and atmospheric guitar licks, and are easy to listen all the way through. I just didn't quite like either enough to put in my top 10. Standout songs include "Untitled", "NYC", "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down", and Leif Erikson (from Turn on the Bright Lights); and "Next Exit", "Evil", "Slow Hands", "C'mere", and "Narc" (from Antics). Favorite lyric: "It's way too late to be this locked inside ourselves / The trouble is that you're in love with someone else / It should be me. Oh, it should be me" - from C'mereThe Top Ten
10. The Hourly Radio
- History Will Never Hold Me
I got into this Dallas band after I heard a few of their songs played on a weekend local music show on a Dallas rock station. I bought their EP Lure of the Underground soon after and bought their full length debut this fall. The band's echoing guitars and atmospheric rock style owes a lot to post-punk acts in the vein of early U2 and The Cure (whose influence is most easily heard on "Not a Victim", which seems to borrow from the Cure's song "Pictures of You"). They're definitely a band that deserves to be more popular than they are, and hopefully that will happen for them soon. Favorite songs on it include "Deaf Ears", "Please Forget", "Closer", "Not a Victim", "Means to an End", and "Stealing Off" (which begs to be used as the closing credits song for a movie at some point.)
9. The Killers
- Sam's Town
The Killers' debut album Hot Fuss was one of my favorites of the last few years and I listened to it many many times after buying it. I was disappointed the first time I listened to Sam's Town, but like many albums, it grew on me the more I listened to it. It's much more ambitious than its predecessor, and, while not quite hitting the heights it shoots for, it's a more mature work and is a fun and entertaining listen in its own right. Favorite songs: "When You Were Young", "Bling (Confessions of a King)", "For Reasons Unknown", "Read My Mind", "Bones", and "The River is Wild".
- Oh! Gravity
This album was released the day after Christmas and thus was one of the last that I got in 2006. I've been a fan of the band since I got their album New Way To Be Human
in high school, and of course they really blew up and became mainstream radio regulars after the release of The Beautiful Letdown
and its hit single "Meant to Live". I wasn't sure what to expect from Oh! Gravity aside from the fact that I knew I loved the bouncy title track. I listened through it a few times and it seemed that each time I'd run across a different song that provoked a "Hey, I really like this song!"-type reaction. As much as I liked New Way to be Human and The Beautiful Letdown, neither was an album I tended to listen to all the way through, but so far, Oh! Gravity has been just that. It has the group's typical strong lyrics and addictive hooks and might just be the most flat-out listenable album they've released. Favorite songs: "Oh! Gravity", "American Dream", "Dirty Second Hands", "Head Over Heels (In This Life)", "Burn Out Bright", and "4:12".
7. Snow Patrol
- Eyes Open
Another album I wasn't entirely enthused with when I first listened to it. I loved the first 4 songs, but after that I thought it was hit-or-miss. I remember telling a friend that I might actually have had buyer's remorse. However, as happens to me a lot, I grew to like the rest of the album as well. I'm seeing Snow Patrol in March so that was one reason I wanted to listen to all of their songs, and I'm glad I did, because "Open Yor Eyes" and "Set Fire to the Third Bar" are two of the best on the album. Other favorites include the opening foursome "You're All I Have", "Hands Open", "Chasing Cars", and "Shut Your Eyes", as well as "It's Beginning to Get to Me" and "You Could Be Happy".
6. Mute Math
- Mute Math
I've loved Mute Math since the day over 2 years ago that I heard their anthemic song "Control" on 89.7 Power FM while driving around Arlington. I bought their Reset EP as soon as I could find it and have been a fan ever since. Their major label self-titled debut was finally released in late 2006 and was well worth the wait. Their mix of pop, alternative, rock, funk, and electronica is very unique and has earned the band comparisons to everyone from U2 to The Police. Paul Meany's vocals are said to resemble what Sting would sound like if he fronted U2, and drummer Darren King is one of the best and most hyper you'll hear anywhere these days. I saw them live this past October and it was truly an awesome experience, one everyone who loves live music should have some time. Favorite songs: "Chaos", "Noticed", "Typical", "Control", "Without It", and "Plan B".
- The Back Room
I had never heard of the British rock band Editors until last year when I saw some of my MySpace friends name them as a favorite band. I checked them out sometime later and liked them immediately. They get compared to Interpol a lot but I think Tom Smith has a better and less whiny voice than Interpol frontman Paul Banks, and their music is more epic and arena-friendly than the club rock type of sound Interpol has. This isn't a knock against Interpol, it's just that I find the Editors album more interesting and compelling. Favorite songs on the album are "Munich", "Blood", "All Sparks", "Fingers in the Factories", and "Open Your Arms". Favorite lyric: "People are fragile things you should know by now, be careful what you put them through" - from Munich
4. Nada Surf
- The Weight is a Gift
Nada Surf is probably still best known for their decade-old hit "Popular", but since then they've put together a string of memorable pop/rock records most easily comparable to a more radio-friendly version of Death Cab for Cutie. As far as unpretentious pop bands go, Nada Surf is one of the best and The Weight is a Gift is full of the type of songs your ears will thank you for playing. My favorites are "Always Love", "What is Your Secret?", "Your Legs Grow", "In the Mirror", and "Armies Walk".
3. Jars of Clay
- Good Monsters
I've been a Jars fan for over 9 years and I have practically every album they've released. Their self-titled debut from 1995 was a masterpiece and while every album they've done since then has been somewhere between good and great, Good Monsters was the first that made me think it could be as good or possibly better than anything they'd done before. Once you've listened through it a dozen times or so, it becomes hard to argue against it being their best work. The style they use is similar to what they've done on past albums, particularly Who We Are Instead and The Eleventh Hour, but with a more pronounced rock influence and the songs just feel important and seem to posses that earnest quality that U2's best work is known for. I saw the band live in October and heard them play every song from Good Monsters except one, and hearing them in a live setting made me appreciate some of them more, especially the sad "Light Gives Heat", which references the plight of Africa and how there must be other ways of combating it than through the efforts of self-important Western activists (a U2 reference perhaps). Best songs: "Work", "Dead Man (Carry Me)", "Good Monsters", "There is a River", "Mirrors & Smoke", "Light Gives Heat", and ""Water Under the Bridge".
Favorite lyric: "Catch the rain empty hands, Save the children from their lands, wash the darkness from their skin. / Heroes from the West, We don't know you, we know best. But this is not a test." - from Light Gives Heat
2. Ray LaMontagne
- Till The Sun Turns Black
After I'd listened to this album a few times I thought it sounded a bit like an American modern-day version of Nick Drake's best work, with more strings and a higher recording budget. It opens with "Be Here Now", a gentle song with understated pianos and guitar sounds to go with LaMontagne's hushed vocals. It closes with the title track and "Within You", with the former seguing into the latter, and both sounding like something you just swear you must have heard at a wedding somwehere. In between its highlights include the soulful "Three More Days", the lonely-sounding "Can I Stay", the music-sounds-happy-but-the-lyrics-are-sad "Gone Away From Me", and "Lesson Learned", which sounds like it was written in the aftermath of a broken relationship. It's an album as beautiful as anything I've heard in the last few years and has songs for almost any emotion. The whole album is so great I won't bother to specify songs other than the ones already named. Do yourself a favor and buy this.
1. Sufjan Stevens
I'd heard of Sufjan Stevens a few times in recent years but never checked out his music until early 2006. When I bought his Illinois album in late May I knew it was the most remarkable piece of music I'd bought in a long time. His music is difficult to describe to people who have never heard it. Words I've used to describe it include big, folksy, epic, orchestral, and joyful. It's chock-full of textured instrumental and vocal arrangements and is one of the most unique musical listening experiences you're likely to have. I liked Amazon.com's review of it, in which they said, "Illinois sounds like The Sea and Cake collaborating with the high-school band from a Wes Anderson film on banjo-driven, pulsing meditations on Vince Guaraldi's music for Peanuts."
I've listened to it more than any other album I bought in the past year, and it's next-to-impossble to pick a favorite song from it. With song titles as quirky as the music itself, it's hard to even name favorites while keeping a straight face. Best songs include: "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!", "Jacksonville", "Chicago", "Casimir Pulaski Day", "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts", "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!", and "The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders". It's my favorite album I bought in 2006 for all the reasons listed above, and because of the memories it evokes. I hear it and remember driving away from the Best Buy I bought it from, waiting at DFW airport to board my first plane, driving around rural roads in Kentucky, browsing the bookshelves of a Borders in San Antonio, watching Little Miss Sunshine, and various other events of the past year of my life. For that reason alone it will always hold an important place in my musical collection.The whole list
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
2. Ray LaMontagne - Till The Sun Turns Black
3. Jars of Clay - Good Monsters
4. Nada Surf - The Weight is a Gift
5. Editors - The Back Room
6. Mute Math - Mute Math
7. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
8. Switchfoot - Oh! Gravity
9. The Killers - Sam's Town
10. The Hourly Radio - History Will Never Hold Me
honorable mention (in no particular order):
Derek Webb - Mockingbird
Neil Diamond - 12 Songs
The Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
Pete Yorn - Nightcrawler
Ray LaMontagne - Trouble
Five Times August - The Acoustic Sessions
Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
Interpol - Antics
the rest of them (in no particular order):
Snow Patrol - Final Straw
The Who - Endless Wire
Eric James & the New Century - The City Lights EP
Elliott Smith - Either/Or
Elliott Smith - Figure 8
Sigur Ros - ( )
Mew - And The Glass Handed Kites