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The Top 25 CDs of 2006

wrangled, compiled and written by Brent Sallay, the Salt Shaker staff and whoever else showed up
Brent Sallay
    01 Yellow House, Grizzly Bear
02 For Hero : For Fool, Subtle
03 Body Riddle, Clark
04 Trompe-l'oeil, Malajube
05 Samme Stof Som Stof, Under Byen
06 Transparent Things, Fujiya & Miyagi
07 He Poos Clouds, Final Fantasy
08 Ships, Danielson
09 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
10 Ys, Joanna Newsom
11 Through the Windowpane, Guillemots
12 Everything Wrong Is Imaginary, Lilys
13 Coins and Crosses, Ryan Teague
14 Tears of a Clone, Icy Demons
15 Nine Times That Same Song, Love Is All
16 The Dividing Island, Lansing-Dreiden
17 Days to Come, Bonobo
18 Chosen Lords, AFX
19 The Grass Is Always Greener, Barbara Morgenstern
20 Donuts, J Dilla
21 The Eraser, Thom Yorke
22 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
23 The Heart of High Places, Goldmund
24 Real Life, Joan as Police Woman
25 Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio
26 Black Tar Prophecies, Vols. 1, 2 & 3, Grails
27 Sweet Beliefs, Cyann & Ben
28 Post-War, M. Ward
29 Fishscale, Ghostface Killah
30 Let's Get Out of This Country, Camera Obscura
31 Scale, Herbert
32 YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock
33 Son, Juana Molina
34 Be He Me, Annuals
35 Working for a Nuclear Free City, Working for a Nuclear Free City
36 Sorry Love, Pipas
37 Trans Canada Highway, Boards of Canada
38 Syntoptikon, Major Stars
39 The Gentleman Losers, The Gentleman Losers
40 Cê, Caetano Veloso
David Sallay
    01 The Grass Is Always Greener, Barbara Morgenstern
02 Scale, Herbert
03 Yellow House, Grizzly Bear
04 Chosen Lords, AFX
05 Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth
06 Everything Wrong Is Imaginary, Lilys
07 Poni Hoax, Poni Hoax
08 Samme Stof Som Stof, Under Byen
09 Sweet Beliefs, Cyann & Ben
10 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
11 Transparent Things, Fujiya & Miyagi
12 Shut Up I Am Dreaming, Sunset Rubdown
13 Roots and Crowns, Califone
14 So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys
15 Son, Juana Molina
16 Nine Times That Same Song, Love Is All
17 Trans Canada Highway, Boards of Canada
18 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
19 The Heart of High Places, Goldmund
Stacey Rabiger
    01 So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys
02 Silent Shout, The Knife
03 Paper Television, The Blow
04 Night Ripper, Girl Talk
05 Writer's Block, Peter Bjorn and John
06 Professor Murder Rides the Subway, Professor Murder
07 He Poos Clouds, Final Fantasy
08 Destroy Rock and Roll, Mylo
09 Scale, Herbert
10 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
11 Return to the Sea, Islands
12 Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
13 Shut Up I Am Dreaming, Sunset Rubdown
14 The Dividing Island, Lansing-Dreiden
Kelly Peterson
    01 Trompe-l'oeil, Malajube
02 Fishscale, Ghostface Killah
03 Age of Winters, The Sword
04 Cansei de Ser Sexy, Cansei de Ser Sexy
05 Pink, Boris
06 Ten Silver Drops, Secret Machines
07 Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
08 Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth
09 Son, Juana Molina
10 No One Leaves, DJ Signify & Six Vicious
11 Death by Sexy, Eagles of Death Metal
12 Working for a Nuclear Free City, Working for a Nuclear Free City
13 Still Point of Turning, Relay
Jeremy Mathews
    01 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
02 I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, Yo La Tengo
03 Modern Times, Bob Dylan
04 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
05 Roots and Crowns, Califone
06 News and Tributes, The Futureheads
07 Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth
08 Olé Tarantula, Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3
09 The Minus 5 (The Gun Album), The Minus 5
10 Poni Hoax, Poni Hoax
11 Ys, Joanna Newsom
12 The Information, Beck
13 Breathe, Dan Bern
14 Springtime Can Kill You, Jolie Holland
15 Post-War, M. Ward
16 Are We Not Horses?, Rock Plaza Central
17 The Letting Go, Bonnie "Prince" Billy
18 Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
19 Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio
20 Donuts, J Dilla
21 Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
22 Math & Physics Club, Math & Physics Club
23 Garden Ruin, Calexico
25 Fastman/Raiderman, Frank Black
Janean Parker
    01 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
02 Post-War, M. Ward
03 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
04 Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
05 Springtime Can Kill You, Jolie Holland
06 I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, Yo La Tengo
07 Breathe, Dan Bern
08 Modern Times, Bob Dylan
09 Sorry Love, Pipas
10 Bande à Part, Nouvelle Vague
11 Spelled in Bones, Fruit Bats
12 So This Is Goodbye, Junior Boys
Jordan Scrivner
    01 Ys, Joanna Newsom
02 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
03 Son, Juana Molina
04 Drum's Not Dead, Liars
05 You in Reverse, Built to Spill
06 The Spell, The Black Heart Procession
07 The Letting Go, Bonnie "Prince" Billy
08 Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth
09 Modern Times, Bob Dylan
10 Cosmos, Murcof
11 At War With the Mystics, The Flaming Lips
12 Trans Canada Highway, Boards of Canada
13 The Crane Wife, The Decemberists
Riley Booker
    01 The Eraser, Thom Yorke
02 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
03 Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
04 Post-War, M. Ward
05 Everything Wrong Is Imaginary, Lilys
06 Garden Ruin, Calexico
07 Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth
08 Yellow House, Grizzly Bear
09 You in Reverse, Built to Spill
10 The Greatest, Cat Power
    01 The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian
02 Return to the Sea, Islands
03 Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
04 Writer's Block, Peter Bjorn and John
05 You in Reverse, Built to Spill
06 Universo ao Meu Redor, Marisa Monte
07 Bring It Back, Mates of State
08 The Greatest, Cat Power
09 Post-War, M. Ward
10 Springtime Can Kill You, Jolie Holland
11 Cannibal Sea, The Essex Green
12 Sorry Love, Pipas
13 Ys, Joanna Newsom
14 Damaged, Lambchop
15 Strings and Things, Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
16 The Eraser, Thom Yorke
17 The Duper Sessions, Sondre Lerche & the Faces Down Quartet
18 Gulag Orkestar, Beirut
19 Cansei de Ser Sexy, Cansei de Ser Sexy
20 5:55, Charlotte Gainsbourg
21 Scale, Herbert
22 Jungle Soul, Dr. Lonnie Smith
23 The Trials of Van Occupanther, Midlake
24 The Animal Years, Josh Ritter
25 Tom Brousseau, Tom Brousseau
26 No Midnight, Birdmonster

Unexceptional years are always the most interesting. As opposed to, say, last year—when it seemed any trained monkey could make a list of the best albums of the year, just as long as the doodle at the top loosely resembled Sufjan Stevens—this year required the monkeys to work a whole lot harder. And for the first time since…let's say 2003, it required them to think--What did I listen to the most this year? What did I identify with the most? What do I most want to share with the two other people who will end up reading this article? What the hell does everyone see in the Hold Steady anyway? And are the other monkeys conspiring to give some cheesy girl band* the best album of the year spot?

And so we took nine different lists, nine different viewpoints, and threw them all at the wall to see which ones stuck. The results may surprise you (or not, fellow jaded list fanatic), but they also illustrate an important point--that in a year without the typical bullies grabbing all the attention (your Radioheads and Wilcoes, your Interpols and Modest Mice), the underdogs finally feel comfortable enough to shine. And shine they do! For example, this year's list contains five albums sung almost entirely in different languages: Spanish, Danish, German, French, and the international language of mindrape (see #17). Okay, maybe just four languages. That still beats Pitchfork's list.

Also, lists such as these can be a good time not only to (hopefully) introduce you to some great new music, but also to give you a chance to get to know us better--to see our hopes and dreams, our fears and shortcomings, all represented vicariously through real artists' work. So when you read our entry at #18, remember, that's not just any old album--that's Janean. And #4, well that's just Jordan. In fact, you may just want to read this list with your thumb covering all the numbers, because when you think about it, each album listed here really is, in its own special way, the best album of the year. Except don't actually do that. Because that would be completely gay.

Here's hoping 2007 proves to be just as unspectacular. Enjoy the list!

25. Everything All the Time - Band of Horses
I have an award to pass on. It's an award many artists attempt to receive each year, but I can only give out one. It may sound simple to attain but it is deceptively difficult. It is the award for the Most Popular Album of My Car's Passengers. No other album this year generated a more positive response from those who were fortunate enough to ride in my motorcar. Everything All the Time is well-crafted and its slow numbers allow strong melodies to grab ahold of you while the music sparkles in the background. It is strong after repeated listens and most have told me even on the first listen that it sounds familiar. If all that were not enough, the track "The Great Salt Lake" is also my nomination for the most name-dropped song explaining why Utah probably does not suck.—KP

24. For Hero : For Fool - Subtle
As I understand it, rap music was originally created in order to milk the best moments out of classic funk and soul tracks, taking those five-second breaks that you love and making whole songs out of them. (See also: J Dilla's excellent swan song Donuts). Granted, Subtle is only about as much of a rap group as Beck or the Gorillaz are, but its members certainly seem to have their mission statement down, and without even resorting to easily digestible samples. With For Hero : For Fool , the group has crafted the quintessential mixtape to insanity, alternating between moments of sheer chaotic horror and cathartic beauty, and offering countless surprises even upon multiple listens. (Plus, look Mom, no swears!)—BS

23. You in Reverse - Built to Spill
Built to Spill isn't the sort of band that reinvents itself. Perhaps this is due to its simple, small town upbringing. If you're raised in the mountains of Idaho, once you've got a good thing, you stick with it — be it potato farming, tractor sales or sonic, jam-based, aggressive indie rock. For Doug Martsch and friends, You in Reverse is just another day on the job. Good thing they do their jobs so well. There might be a little more studio polish in the office water cooler this time around, and that may turn away some customers, but the choices are judicious and every electronic touch only enhances the supersonic guitars and Martsch's meek yet powerful vocals.—Stewf

22. So This Is Goodbye - Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye is Junior Boys' second album, but it's vocalist Jeremy Greenspan's first album without the aid of fellow band mate and founder Johnny Dark. So This Is Goodbye stands true to the smooth rhythms, beats and vocals that create Junior Boys' distinct sound as first heard in their previous album Last Exit , but this time around with Greenspan's refined singing skills and the rhythmic help of Matthew Didemus, Goodbye is pushed to a new level. With tracks that will make you want to dance to the more subdued tracks that will make you subconsciously bob your head to the beats, So This Is Goodbye tickles your ears with pleasure, making it one of the best albums from 2006.—SR

21. Modern Times- Bob Dylan
Continuing the streak that started with Time Out of Mind and reached its height with Love and Theft , Bob Dylan continued his remarkable comeback with another collection of thoughtful, lively and sprawling songs with poetic lyrics and heavy roots in electric blues. The meandering beauty of "Spirit on the Water" or the reminiscent protest of "Working Man's Blues" would be enough to cement the album's place in Dylan history, but Dylan went ahead and made all ten of the songs great anyway.—JM

20. Rabbit Fur Coat - Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
On Rilo Kiley's ironically titled More Adventurous, the once great flagship of indie pop had lost their way. Captains Blake Senett and Jenny Lewis were already thinking about their solo careers and the album showed it. Fortunately, Lewis's new focus is also apparent in "Rabbit Fur Coat". Her knack for waxing intensely personal without drifting into sappy teen territory or dreary emo works even better than before. She nestles comfortably in her vulnerability, singing songs about disillusionment and God with the angelic cooing of the Watson Twins behind her. This is still the same articulate, clear-throated Lewis many have grown to adore, but she appears slightly more road-weary and definitely more mature in her Rabbit Fur Coat.—Stewf

19. He Poos Clouds - Final Fantasy
Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy attempted and successfully spawned an album that infuses a classic chamber ensemble with pop to accompany his obscure crooning, creating a genre of his own. With the album titled He Poos Clouds , it may be hard to take such an album seriously, even though it is the work of a classically trained musician. Listen closely to his lyrics and each song depicts troubled characters encased with neurosis and despair. With such dark subject matter you can understand how the childish antics in the title of the album can arguably show an intent for Pallett to lighten up the overall tone. This album rocks, but I think Pallett describes it best in his song "Arctic Circle" when he sings, "Your Rock 'n Roll has gone away."—SR

18. Springtime Can Kill You - Jolie Holland
With a voice reminiscent of Billie Holiday and lyrics that evoke a younger, simpler world, Holland mesmerizes from the first note to the final syllable. These are songs our parents' parents might have listened to. Hearing them, I become simultaneously older and more innocent. I'd like to stay in this space for a while but at just under 44 minutes, it's a short trip. (My boyfriend informs me that 44 minutes is actually an average length for an album.) Still, I wish Jolie would write more songs or make more of them longer. Then I'd be so happy.—JP

17. Chosen Lords - AFX
Most of us last remember Richard D. James making out with bearded women in the back of a limousine or superimposing his face on those of little children while threatening to eat our souls. But what has he been up to lately? In 2005 he released the Analord series, eleven hard-to-find and even harder to pay for EPs. In 2006 he made it easier on all of us by producing Chosen Lords , sort of a highlights of the best of Analord . But don´t kid yourself--this isn't a cop out for a man who hasn't produced a full-length album since 2001's Drukqs --this is the real deal. Only now it sounds like James has strapped a beard on you, the listener, and is making out with your soul, while he eats it, while drilling each song into your skull via your earlobe. Trust me though, that's a good thing.—DS

16. Transparent Things - Fujiya & Miyagi
Transparent Things is totally like "The Santa Clause 3" of albums this year. "SC3" makes you think it's going to be this completely awesome mix of "Home Improvement," "Batman & Robin," and the Rankin/Bass production of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," but ends up not featuring that delightful Richard Karn and only being kind of good. [Editor's note: huh?] On the other hand, TT (not to be confused with JTT) promises to be just another shiny coaster from your run-of-the-mill experimental Japanese band, but actually turns out to be both the most danceable album of the year and a sincere tribute to early '70s krautrock. Also, these guys aren't even Japanese. And I thought they were supposed to be transparent. —BS

15. Son - Juana Molina
Scenario: You're a successful Argentinean comedic actress with a hit sitcom and countrywide fame. You're approaching middle age and you've just had a daughter. Question: What do you do with your secret dream of playing experimental folk music? It's been about ten years since Juana Molina made the decision to leave television acting and become a musician. She has been compared to the foreign-tinged baby-talk of Björk and the guy from Sigur Rós. Her fourth album, Son , is a spacey, rhythmic thing that is perfect, quiet music for dancing in the kitchen. Juana Molina's voice transcends the language barrier, often expressing the feelings behind the meanings of songs. Her music, which she often plays live all by her lonesome with a panoply of electric instruments taking the place of an actual backing band, is sometimes spooky and sometimes fun, but always has the easy excitement to it of a little girl just messing around. Which is an interesting result of an older woman following her passion.—JS

14. I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass - Yo La Tengo
If the members of Yo La Tengo weren't intent on continuing to churn out albums, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass would be a fitting swan song to sum up the band's career of hypnotic melodies, ambitious noise experiments and raucous fun. The band seamlessly shifts from the irresistible grooves of "Mr. Tough" to the sparse but striking arrangement of "Black Flowers" and whatever else catches its fancy in between the two epic tracks that open and close the album. Consider my ass beaten.—JM

13. The Eraser - Thom Yorke
Was there a more divisive album this year? I am willing to bet that in the last few seconds you either just spit on your computer screen, or punched your fist through it with joy over seeing that The Eraser made our list. I suppose it's a testament to how high we've set the bar for that mousy looking guy with the radio for a head, that even if he just wrapped up this intimate little throwaway gift as a reminder that he loves us, we still expect another Kid A , OK Computer , or, if you're totally old school, The Bends (seriously people, not going to happen). Can't we all just get along?—BS

12. Writer's Block - Peter Bjorn and John
A year ago, very few outside of Scandinavia knew of Peter Bjorn & John. Suddenly, mere moments after the MP3 single for their sophomore album was unleashed, it seemed like all of the World Wide Webs were whistling along to the peppy, conga-infused "Young Folks". It is a catchy, carefree anthem that branded them an ABBA for the new pop generation. But bouncy uppers aren't all they have to offer. The rest of Writer's Block reveals their range: the haunting vocals of "Chills", the driving Morriconesque "Detects on my Affection", and the simple naiveté of "Paris 2004" that twinkles like something from Stars. One could also attribute the surprising Stateside success of this album to PB&J's charming Swedishness (which reveals itself on songs like "The Chills" with a refrain that sounds like "you're giving me the shills").—Stewf

11. Samme Stof Som Stof - Under Byen
I find Under Byen's music difficult to describe with words. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I don't speak Danish. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the common talking points (Björk, Mogwai, Portishead, Kronos Quartet) still don't come close to describing the power and beauty that unfolds over the course of this album. Or maybe it's just that there is no way to intelligently say "knives knives ooooooh evil crescendo drool ballerina hammers hammers oh mighty hammers twinkle evil alien drool smashing plates hernia epilepsy sweet light of death happy angel drooooooool."—BS


10. Scale - Herbert
A search for "Herbert, Scale" on will yield you several documentaries showing the sound pioneer recording tracks in a hot-air balloon, a cave, a moving car, and the English Channel. One might think these foreign samples might have to compete with the more familiar guitar, orchestra, and vocals but the mix is seamless, and we're left with an electronic record that could be played at a jazzy black-tie affair as easily as any dance festival in Ibiza.—DS


9. The Grass Is Always Greener - Barbara Morgenstern
I suppose the main reason you would pass on giving this album a listen is the fact the lyrics are for the most part in German. To contest that I would paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk: "what you don´t understand can mean whatever you want." When I listen to The Grass Is Always Greener , I imagine it´s an album about my life, my triumphs and my disappointments. In one song I'm a child getting stitches for the first time, in the next I'm traveling across Europe and I stop in a club in Europe where Morgenstern is playing. I ask her what her songs mean, but I don´t understand anything, cause it's still in German. So give this album a listen, and make it your own (unless, of course, you already know German. Then it only means what she tells you.)—DS


8. Everything Wrong Is Imaginary- Lilys
That title and artwork seem to be saying something profound about buying into a certain dogma so hard that you refuse to concede that there are other viewpoints in the world besides your own, even taking it to the logical extreme of an Our Fearless Leader rocket party. But I don't know. All I can hear is Kurt Heasley's best album since The 3-Way , an endlessly listenable concoction of indie pop, new wave, and shoegaze, with the mix always just a bit off-sounding (but in a good way). You may very well disagree with me. But then, you don't exist, now do you?—BS


7. Rather Ripped- Sonic Youth
Once when I was eight I used a carved potato and some green non-toxic paint to make a repeating design on contruction paper. It looked like a melting frog and it was still more interesting than the album cover for Rather Ripped . That's it. That's all I've got. That is the most criticism I can muster for this album. I want to criticize it. I really do. Why do I want to criticize it? I am nearly certain that when I am as old as Sonic Youth the rawk left in me will not even be enough to throw a decent devil sign, let alone create records which are consistently complex, exciting and inspiring. Rather Ripped is easily as beautiful as anything the band has ever recorded and it leads me to believe they will continue to create brilliant records for years to come. Wait! I've thought of another criticism! Usually Lee Ranaldo's song on a Sonic Youth album is my favorite. But this time the "Lee song" is not my favorite on the album. What's wrong with it? Unfortunately, nothing. It's still really, really good.—KP

6. Trompe-l'oeil - Malajube
Over the last few years we have been treated to several new artists from a magical city called Montréal. With each new record review comes another fun fact about this maple flavored city. Each record reveals a flavor of the city, but none of them come as close as Malajube. Why is that? For one thing, the band sings in French. Maybe you didn't read this fun fact in the other reviews but they speak French there. It's true. I lived there and I can confirm this fun fact. Beyond the language spoken on the record there are many reasons to love la belle province of Québec. The acoustic guitars sound like the traditional folk music you hear in the campagne and the electrics are as surprising and inspiring as the best independent rock of today. Add in some quirky synths, beautiful lyrics and incredible energy and you will understand why Montréal continues to be the capital of rock in 2006.—KP


5. Yellow House - Grizzly Bear
There are an elite few number of albums that remind me of the sun. Stars of the Lid's The Tired Sounds of .... The Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun , obviously. And now, Yellow House . In the hands of a lesser group, this album might merely have evoked its literal namesake--the quaint family home where it was recorded. But in Grizzly Bear's ample, ferocious paws, Yellow House becomes so much more, portending the demise of civilization on Earth, where the few survivors, already accustomed to the heat, enjoy a retirement full of wind-kissed melodies and scorching soundscapes on the surface of the sun.—BS

4. Ys - Joanna Newsom
Albert Einstein said that time was invented so that everything wouldn't happen all at once. Of course, Einstein was proven wrong this year when Joanna Newsom released her second album on Drag City, Ys (pronounced "ease.") According to Miss Newsom's music, time is a physical entity that can be watched, studied, dreamed of and lived in. Conveniently, Ys provides the window that one can peek through and witness time happening right before his or her ears (not to mix metaphors). Of course, all this has to mean that Joanna Newsom is a time traveler. I see very little alternative to this theory. How else could one explain an album so ambitious? The texture of her music and the tapestry of her words is so clearly from another time and place. Someone should really call the Nobel Foundation or, at the very least, write Scientific American a letter.—JS


3. Post-War - M. Ward
Upon hearing the first three tracks of this album I didn't believe it was the same M. Ward. With a sound louder and more rockin' than prior endeavors, most of these songs are less suited to bedtime and better for party background. Initially I resisted the lively sound but with repeated listenings I have become deeply fond of this album, the fast as well as the slow songs, and have even gone so far as to spend my own money on a real copy (from a local music store--buy local first!) Ward's voice is as wonderfully smooth as ever, his lyrics just as perfect, his guitar chords as dreamy. This is a brief little gem of an album.—JP

2. Gulag Orkestar - Beirut
If 2006 had a subtitle, it would be something like "2006: Who needs bands, anyway?" with ingenious solo acts to choose from, whether it be Joanna Newsom, Juana Molina, Bob Dylan, Murcof, Bonobo, or Goldmund. Certainly the musician who made the most impact is Zach Condon, otherwise known as Beirut.

Much ink has been spilled about the 19-year-old kid from Albuquerque and where he learned to play such strange, hypnotic music. After a 3-month trip to Paris with his brother, budding multi-instrumentalist and high school dropout Zach Condon returns home with the orchestral sounds of eastern Europe (which apparently all the kids in Paris are listening to these days) playing in his head. The album, not surprisingly, takes the indie world by storm. It's easy for music writers such as myself to write about it with such fascination, because the music itself sounds so world-weary to come from such a young man. Plus I'm five years older and can barely make an F-chord.

I will also say this, though I probably shouldn't: Beirut's Gulag Orkestar actually won Salt Shaker's best album of 2006, just like Al Gore actually got more votes for president in 2000. But, due to some majorly technical technicalities, the honor was given to another band that many decent, albeit misguided, folks seem to like. Ah well. Beirut's talent is matched only by his potential.—JS

*Author's Note

Though I acknowledge that there have been rumors circulating all over the internet regarding said rigging of this list, they have never been substantiated, and further, to my knowledge, politics had no play in the placement of any of the albums on this list. And now, without further ado, please enjoy our lovely, controversy-free pick for the best album of the year:


[Editor's note: The majorly technical technicality involved more people believing the best album of the year was better than the excellent second-best album of the year.]


1. The Life Pursuit - Belle & Sebastian
A burst of energy in the form of 13 perfect pop songs, The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian may not be the most forward-thinking album of 2006, but it does what it does with such defiantly joyful precision that it continually calls out to be listened to...just one more time.

*Author's Note

I actually do not think Belle & Sebastian is a cheesy girl band. They can often be quite lovely in fact, and I support their placement on this list.


The album is a bittersweet tour of lost people in England on a sunny day. The encyclopedic pop instrumentation features sometimes slick and sometimes raunchy guitars, creative percussion, delectable organ riffs and fantastic bass grooves. (Just play the album for a few seconds for an example in the intro to "Act of the Apostle.") And the vocals fly with soaring harmonies that transition to another hook before you have time to get over the last one. The band softly punctuates the lively sound--including the unadulterated rock of "Sukie in the Graveyard" and the ornate vocal and guitar arrangements in "We are the Sleepyheads"--with two stunning ballads, "Dress Up in You" and the album closer "Mornington Crescent."

Stuart Murdoch's lyrics about choir girls, runaways, rainy days at home, soccer games in June, tube stations, the chase for fame and lost love are witty, scathing and, when you least expect it, heartbreaking--sometimes all at once: "For the price of a cup of tea / You'd get a line of coke / For the price of a cup of tea / You'd be the village joke."

But for all the insight and thought that went into the album, The Life Pursuit 's greatest accomplishment is its reminder of the pure emotional impact of great music. It's hard not to fall in love with such lovingly produced songs.—JM

Honorable Mentions:

Body Riddle - Clark

Chris Clark has been on my radar since his debut Clarence Park came out in 2001, reminding the five of us that heard it why we loved Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada so much. And while I've always been fond of his work since then, it really hasn't been until now that his talents have completely, confidently overshadowed those of his influences. (Apparently the first name was holding him back?) Clark may very well make another masterpiece in his career (and I certainly wouldn't discourage him from doing so) but after Body Riddle , he doesn't really need to. Bring on the imitators. —BS

Tears of a Clone - Icy Demons

With the exception of two brief, weird interludes that kind of throw off the album's flow, Tears of a Clone provides, perhaps unexpectedly, a whole album's worth of delectably warped alternate universe cover versions of Smokey Robinson's Motown classic "Tears of a Clown"--replete with urgent rhythms, syrupy melodies, and eclectic instrumentation. Of course, there's also the topical sci-fi imagery, the deliciously melodramatic chord progressions, and the fact that this album saw wide release on Halloween. If I mention it's on Prefuse 73's record label will that make you buy it any faster? Then make it so.   -BS

Return to the Sea - Islands

I can't understand why so many national Best Of lists missed this wonder. For me, there was no more inventive, more rewarding record of the year. If The Life Pursuit wasn't so damn perfect from start to finish, this would be my pick of 2006. Perhaps people are afraid of "concept albums" these days, but no one should fear Return to Sea's complexity. The music — a constantly surprising mix of calypso, country, hip-hop, and jazz — is so engaging, you don't have to think about following the story. And then on the second or third or 15th listens you really begin to hear the lyrics and ask yourself, "Wait, is this song about cannibalism?" Yes! Yes, it is! The happiest, most head-boppable song about eating flesh ever. Islands are Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambeur, what's left from the one-album wonder The Unicorns. Midway through their ’06 tour Tambeur left the band, and now it is Diamonds (who has shed his goofy stagename for his original, Thorburn) who is left to lead. One can only hope he can sustain the magic on their upcoming album. I could play Return another hundred times and not tire of it, but I want more.—Stewf


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