Overall, I felt this was a pretty weak year musically – last year, I could probably come up with a top 20 list. This year, once I stretched beyond 5, it was pushing it. This could be in no small part related to the fact I haven’t been out and about in the music world so much, with Liam around now – bands tend to really sell themselves to me live, and I saw only a couple of shows in all of 2006. Nevertheless, here’s my top 9 albums of 2006 (It was going to be 10, but I realized that nothing else really drew me – any other album would be there just to make my list 10 items long):
|Band of Horses – Everything All the Time
Band of Horses is a Pacific Northwest-based band, and it shows through in their music. Epic, sad, earthy, earnest, indie-pop, every listen conjures images of listening to the rain pelting down on your tent, perched somewhere on the Olympic peninsula, the surf only occasionally sounding louder than the rain, the rainforest around you alive with scents and motion of water on trees. That curious feeling of fleetingness and the eternal when you’re alone, somewhat sad, in the woods. As a side note, this band formed out of the ashes of Carissa’s Wierd, and old favourite of mine from when I was at UBC
|Cat Power – The Greatest
Written and performed with some of the greatest souther session musicians, The Greatest is probably Cat Power’s masterpiece. The mixture of Chan Marshall’s sultry voice with the soulful souther blue music is fantastic. Like Everything all the time, this is sad, introspective music for the most part, but it is entirely beautiful.
|Chad VanGaalen – Skelliconnection
A monstrously eclectic album, Skelliconnection builds on last year’s Infiniheart in incredibly satisfying ways – continuing his trend of hard-hitting songs that switch on a heartbeat to something slow, moving, then back again. This is jazz-rock as I imagine it – endless inventive, restless, difficult and most importantly, rewarding each listen.
|The Decemberists – The Crane Wife
The Decemberists have become a band that can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ve seen them live a half-dozen times (though sadly, I missed their last show here in Vancouver, and have heard it was fantastic), and with every album, I enjoy their music more and more. With The Crane Wife, the subject matter remains similar (being somewhat archaic literary references), but they stretch their legs musically with the epic, very proggy “The Island”. All that aside though, I can’t get past the poppy “The Perfect Crime”, which gets stuck in my head for hours on every listen.
|Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
Final Fantasy is geek-rock. A classically-trained musician, Owen Pallett mixes violin,piano with obscure D&D, pop-culture references to fantastic success. The stand-out track for me (and reason alone to buy the album) is “This Lamb Sells Condos”. This album is the winner of the 2006 Polaris Prize as well.
|Girl Talk – Night Ripper
The most crazy mashup album of the year, this is a pure-party mix featuring every 80’s track you can’t remember with pulsing, distorting sonic layers and hard-pounding beats. It’s virtually impossible to sit still for this album, and nearly as hard to dance to its frenetic mixing.
|Grizzly Bear – Yellow House
This is more mellow, low-key artisanship. There’s an ephemeral quality to Grizzly Bear that evokes smoky chamber rooms with one’s uncle softly playing the piano. The vocals are all soft, almost muddy. When I listen, I imagine a smoke-filled bar room from another age, where hard, sad men sit and drink while listening to slow waltzes, off-kilter guitar blues and sad, sweet folk songs.
|The Knife – Silent Shout
Continuing the this year’s trend of quiet, atmospheric music, Silent Shout is eerie, spacey electropop. Oddly, I find this to create a similar emotional space as Everything All The Time, despite radically different instrumentation & genre. I used to think of The Knife as a hard techno outfit, but this album really changes that moniker for them – it’s a difficult album to describe, and I’ll readily admit that I didn’t like it my first listen. But then tracks would pop up on my shuffle, and every single time, I was drawn to it. It was only in September, when I put it on repeat for an entire day that I decided that I love this album, and it is probably my favourite disc of the year.
|LCD Soundsystem – 45:33
I feel dirty including this album, because it was a commission for Nike, to help promote the Apple/Nike+ running stuff, but this is just a flat-out fantastic mix album, that, not surprisingly, is perfect to run to. It also is a great track to code to, read to, lounge to – really, to do anything to. The mixes are smooth, it builds and slows easily. It’s certainly not a ground-breaking mix album, but it is the one I’ve listened to the most this year.