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The year in review 2006


Best of 2006

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Bruce Springsteen

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

The mere idea of Springsteen covering folk standards is not that appealing, but the execution is what matters. Not only does he blow the dust off these old classics with a rowdy band and untraditional arrangements, but Springsteen’s emotional depth—long his strong suit—brings great joy to the sing-alongs and poignancy to the protest songs.

2. Cat Power

The Greatest

It may be Chan Marshall’s most accomplished album yet, or maybe it’s not, but the backing by Memphis session musicians works, adding punch here and lushness there, while a solid handful of tracks—“Could We,” “Lived in Bars”—are among her greatest.

3. Pernice Brothers

Live a Little

Pure pop for now people: Not many songwriters these days have the pop-song craft down as well as onetime Northampton, Mass.-area resident Joe Pernice does. This latest album ranks with the band’s best.

4. The Beatles


Some people think that tinkering with the Beatles back catalog to create a Vegas circus soundtrack is the worst idea in the world. But it’s not sacrilege if Sir George Martin and his son do it! It’s not so much the musical collage that makes this great (though it is a trip), it’s more about the sonic restoration that punches up the well-loved tracks and sends them charging out of the speakers in surround-sound glory.

5. CSS

Cansei De Ser Sexy

CSS, a band of five women and one man from Brazil, are the latest in a line of Brazilian new-wave-influenced bands. This is supremely catchy dance-punk with a Western-pop-culture bent, a sense of humor and charmingly mangled English; in “Artbitch,” the words “suck suck suck my art hole” had my friend laughing for at least a day.

6. Kamikaze Hearts

Oneida Road

The Kamikaze Hearts are a democratic band: Their latest album neatly alternates between the Troy- and Gaven-sung tunes (they say that wasn’t planned). But it works because the listener comes away with an appreciation for the songwriting skills of both; this would be a great album coming from anywhere. That they’re local only makes us more proud.

7. Fujiya & Miyagi

Transparent Things

For months I thought they were a mysterious Japanese band with a Can fixation. Turns out they’re a British band with a Can fixation (disco era). Not a bad thing at all.

8. Steve Wynn & the Miracle Three

. . . Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick

I don’t know why more people don’t know about this guy beyond his Dream Syndicate days. . . . His last few albums have been totally scorching. And I don’t know how this album fell through the cracks, but it rocks completely.

9. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

Ballad of the Broken Seas

This collection of duets between former Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and Seattle’s Mark Lanegan is an exercise in contrasting darkness versus light: sweet female vocals atop haunting lyrics and melodies, contrasted by Lanegan gruffness.

10. Wolfmother


Last year, Black Mountain was my torch-bearer for 1970s derived hard rock; this year, Wolfmother’s Black Sabbath simulation is doing it for me. Originality is overrated.

 Best of 2006

Critic: Bill Ketzer

1. The Sword

The Sword

An extraordinarily doom-laden bit of magic for the stoner set from these young Texans. A simple, flawlessly executed riff-o-rama, this is my pick for classic metal album of the year. The head swells with visions of black hooves galloping over conquered hinterlands, the cries of my enemies an afterthought as I slip in the shower, moaning.

2. Ignacio Berroa


A former skinsman for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Chick Corea, Berroa offers up smart, enthralling experiments here that weave his hardwired Afro-Cuban metronome into vibrant, swinging jazz masterpieces. It has been done many times before, but here the styles aren’t layered over each other insomuch as they become a single, porous and funky-ass bulletin. The message: Life is motion. Now get in the ocean.

3. Slayer

Christ Illusion

If it bleeds, it leads. Everything I expected and then some. Great for Sunday laundry schleps, crime fighting or draft dodging.

4. Mastodon

Blood Mountain

This unyielding juggernaut redefines metal with back-breaking time signatures, Tolkienesque folklore and downright frightening heft. Buy one for yourself and one for a friend in recovery from drugs, Catholicism or Russ Meyers.

5. John Coltrane


This collection deftly isolates the aural proteins that made Coltrane one of the greats into one steaming miasma. Coltrane bit the reed, blew too hard and tested the parameters of pitch like none other. This disc serves as an excellent roadmap for beginners as to why even Miles kept a picture of him on his wall.

6. Priestess

Hello Master

Scathing debut here from these Montreal metallurgists. Sure, they steal a page from Josh Homme’s playbook every once in a while, but not often enough to cry foul. I found this one in heavy rotation on the iPod far longer than expected.

7. The Hellacopters

Rock and Roll Is Dead

Just damn good rock & roll, despite the title. Pretty sad when the Swedes can out-rock the Brits.

8. Hank Williams III

Straight to Hell

If you claim to put the “dick” back in Dixie and the “cunt” back in country, you’d better be able to back it up. This charming little disc does exactly that. Spin Straight to Hell, take a shower and then put on something that passes for country in Wal-Mart, maybe Big and Rich or the like. You’ll want to wash again.

9. Celtic Frost


Amazing. Here’s a band who were destined to not age well, if their early-’90s spandex abominations were any indication. And then they come from out of nowhere, more than a decade later, with this majestic thing, putting all the MTV2 bands to shame.

10. Ani DiFranco


OK, so I like Ani DiFranco. Shut up. Let me guess, you think the Decemberists are just earth-shattering, right?

 Best of 2006

Critic: John Brodeur

1. TV on the Radio

Return to Cookie Mountain

There seems to be some consensus among critics over this album’s awesomeness. That’s because it’s awesome.

2. Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

Three against one? No fair.

3. Pernice Brothers

Live a Little

Fitter. Happier. More productive. And just plain lovely.

4. Brazilian Girls

Talk to La Bomb

The Girls’ idiosyncrasies are ratcheted way up for this lubricious second act. This is the real sound of New York City.

5. Mohair

Small Talk

Smartly appointed pop with plenty of glam kicks. Jellyfish, the Darkness, and Oasis rolled into one. Right on.

6. The Decemberists

The Crane Wife

Their most daring and complete release to date. Half of the tracks top 5 minutes—two break the 11-minute mark—and yet the whole thing feels concise.

7. The Long Winters

Putting the Days to Bed

His songs are just as wordy as the Decemberists’, but I get the feeling that John Roderick actually talks that way. Plus, as a craftsman, he’s at the top of his game.

8. Liars

Drum’s Not Dead

Pretentious twaddle, or avant-noise masterpiece: Can it be both?

9. Lisa Germano

In the Maybe World

This record is like a cloud made of cotton candy and strong drugs. Yum.

10. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s

The Dust of Retreat

This collection of emotionally stark pop-Americana boasts a handful of the stealthiest hooks in recent memory, bolstered by some righteous ensemble playing.

Best of 2006

Critic: Erik Hage

1. The Who

The Endless Wire

Few people know, care about, or understand the complicated cyber-punk lyrical narrative that Pete Townshend has relentlessly been working out in his head ever since the Lifehouse song cycle collapsed under its own aspirations to become one of the greatest rock albums of all-time, Who’s Next. But we all understand how the pulverizing socio-politics of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” can suddenly melt into the heart-crushing emotionalism of “Behind Blue Eyes.” On this album you can hear echoes of that Who, still very much alive in its two surviving members and still trying to say something that is too unwieldy for words and six-string. It is this and other tensions that keep the greatest rock band still relevant after all these years.

2. Centro-matic

Fort Recovery

There’s a world inside this album that I can’t adequately describe. A slow, moody burn and tumbling groove, like Levon Helm driving Yo La Tengo. A deep, crushing kind of beauty and some of the best lyrics ever plied against guitar snarl.

3. Neko Case

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Nobody crafts vintage yet timeless beauty like Case. You know those chills that went up your neck the first time you heard the La’s “There She Goes” or Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”? That’s the region where Neko dwells . . . constantly. The Sadies’ stately, reverbed Silvertones guide Case through the tragically beautiful “Hold On, Hold On,” while “Star Witness” contains the kind of rare beauty that people die for on occasion.

4. Gwen Stefani

The Sweet Escape

Gwen Stefani and I were both born in 1969. But while I largely string together aphorisms and think about music a lot, she has carved out the kind of ’80s-pop-meets-dance-club legitimacy that no amount of Kabbalah could provide for Madonna. “Wonderful Life” is clear evidence of this album’s brilliance: Hear how the song strings together the new romanticism of “Planet Earth”-era Duran Duran and SoCal dance-club cultcha.

5. The Hacienda Brothers

What’s Wrong With Right?

The Hacienda Brothers play deep, burnished country-soul, fulfilling the Cosmic-American-Music promise that Gram Parsons made to the world but only hinted at occasionally before becoming a smacked-out hippie-generation casualty. Country and soul are comfortable bedfellows here: Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Quiet Storm, and Muscle Shoals. The last time I saw guitarist Dave Gonzalez, he was pinned to the back corner of the Ale House like some feral cat—Brylcreemed hair in his face and slashing out mongrel roots & roll with the Paladins. This is different than that.

6. The Killers

Sam’s Town

The dance-pop group’s adult-onset discovery of Bruce Springsteen—and the influence of it upon this album—have been overstated. But they did learn a few things about energy and revival-meeting commitment from the Boss, and damned if “When You Were Young” doesn’t morph, for a few transcendent seconds, into the organ-rolling bombast of the E Street Band, just before lead singer Brandon Flowers butchly beats his chest (Bruce-style) against the words: “They say the devil’s water it ain’t so sweet. . . ”

7. Los Straitjackets with the World Famous Pontani Sisters & Kaiser George

Twist Party

This has all the food groups: burning rock & roll guitar, twisting go-go dancers, and a Scotsman who dresses like he’s in the Shadows, circa 1962. They toured off this album in October, and seeing them at Revolution Hall was a deliriously fun extravaganza. Every time I see Eddie Angel, we discuss property taxes and the like: Genius often hides behind normalcy and modesty.

8. Incubus

Light Grenades

Incubus could have ended up a footnote to the turn of the millennium like so many of their modern-rock contemporaries. But they have an ability to couch very straightforward, unchallenging rock songs in unique textures: Mike Einziger’s harmonic accents, Brandon Boyd’s theatrical and smooth vocals and the very subtle, trippy soundscape elements. “Anna Molly” is an inspired, exciting three minutes.

9. The Shins

Wincing the night Away

The Shins’ breathlessly clever indie-pop comes at you from odd angles. You think you’ve got them tuned in, and then someone turns the kaleidoscope a bit and there’s something else you hadn’t figured. In the 2004 movie Garden State, the Shins song “New Slang” was supposed to “change your life.” I question that (admittedly great) tune’s transformative powers. But the brand new (brilliant) Shins song “Phantom Limb”—now that’s a life changer. This album just came out, and with more time to absorb it, it probably would have scored even higher.

10. The Figgs

Follow Jean Through the sea

We’re Albany music critics so we’re supposed to root for the Figgs, right? We might have discovered them because we all crawled from the same primordial ooze, but we love the Figgs because they continue to be everything we want a rock band to be: smart, tough, hooky . . . and enduring. Being a Figgs fan is like having a good retirement account; it just keeps paying off year after year. The career-long push and pull between Mike Gent and Pete Donnelly is no better expressed than by listening to “Regional Hits” and “Jumping Again” back-to-back.

Best of 2006

Critic: David Greenberger

1. Ian McLagan & the Bump Band

Spiritual Boy

This is Mac’s tribute to his late friend and bandmate, Ronnie Lane. Among other notable moments, he rebuilt “Itchykoo Park” around a rich piano foundation, bringing out the spirituality and melancholy that was always there behind the original’s psychedelia.

2. Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

This three-disc set of music (either originally for other projects or just never previously released) is a mother lode of songs that are now vital entries in his catalog.

3. Tom Verlaine

Songs & Other Things

The long-awaited and triumphant return of the master of emotionally hypnotic cubist songs.

4. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins

Rabbit Fur Coat

Among Jenny Lewis’ many strengths and charms, I’m particularly enamored by the fearlessness with which she rhymes a word with the same word!

5. Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3

Ole! Tarantula

As a full-on rock album experience, better than anything since Element of Light.

6. Los Lobos

The Town and the City

Weariness, yearning, and broken promises are tempered with shades of hope by the sheer beauty of the music.

7. Greg Brown

The Evening Call

While Brown is marketed as a folk singer, he’s actually too soulful to be contained by any one label. If this album had contained only the song “Skinny Days,” it would have still made this list.

8. Dave Alvin

West of the West

Dave Alvin has once again set aside his own songs, this time for a celebration of the broad range of California-born songwriters. Such is his bearing that he now can lay claim to even “Surfer Girl.”

9. Fiery Furnaces

Bitter Tea

That art songs and experimental hijinks like this can find safe haven in the jagged marketplace is a good sign indeed.

10. Bob Dylan

Modern Times

Since his explorations of old blues songs on a pair of albums in the early ’90s, Dylan has regained his footing, making albums on his own leisurely schedule, but making the wait worthwhile.




Best of 2006

Critic: Carlo Wolff

1. Gnarls Barkley

St. Elsewhere

The best Parliament-Funkadelic update in decades, this weird hybrid dances great, sounds even better and features “Crazy,” hands down the best single of the year. Don’t miss the “Gone Daddy Gone” video.

2. Madeleine Peyroux

Half This Perfect World

“Blue Alert” (by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas) is especially alluring, the original “Once in a While” suggests Peyroux is getting bolder as a songwriter, and this features a killer version of “Everybody’s Talking,” making her third “official” album Peyroux’s best. For sheer sonic beauty, it’s the top production of the year.

3. Bob Dylan

Modern Times

One of Dylan’s most musical albums, it rocks like crazy and there are times it’s so romantic you swoon. The ominous—later Dylan packs a ton of threat and danger—has never sounded so engaging.

4. Frank Black

Fast Man Raider Man

This ambitious double album conjures Exile on Main Street in its darkness and unanticipated tenderness, but it’s decidedly clear-headed and perhaps more diverse. Lotsa pedigree and legacy in the musicians, along with a very modern point of view.

5. Tom Petty

Highway Companion

This embering, world-weary beauty signals Petty’s return to songwriting form in tunes like “Turn This Car Around,” the Southern Gothic “Jack” and “The Golden Rose,” surreal, romantic Americana of a particularly swashbuckling sort. Sharp, minimalist, memorable.

6. Bob Seger

Face the Promise

It sounds big, the songwriting is deft, and the working class gets its due again. Tunes like “Simplicity” and “Between” put the meat back in Seger’s powerglide motion.

7. Cheap Trick


Effectively sequenced and surprisingly lively, this rocks hard and boasts “If It Takes a Lifetime,” the song “The Flame” really wanted to be when it grew up.

8. Sonny Rollins

Sonny Please

The newly widowed Saxophone Colossus regains full-throated voice in his first independent release. This is supple jazz as swinging as anything Rollins has released in years.

9. Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet


Politically charged, aggressively conceived and gratifyingly gritty, Husky is the funkiest jazz album of the year.

10. John Legend

Once Again

Better than his 2004 debut, Get Lifted, this poorly titled effort sounds like the best Stevie Wonder album in decades. Beautifully sequenced, unabashedly affectionate and androgynous, it scores points on equal parts musicality and techno-savvy.

Best of 2006

Critic: Mike Hotter

1. Ornette Coleman

Sound Grammar

Screw Modern Times, here is a master still kicking on all cylinders. For the Ornette neophyte, this isn’t the place to start (Virgin Beauty is probably the most accessible intro to Coleman’s modernist blues), but the musically adventurous will still find a wealth of passion on this stellar live set.

2. Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

It’s going to take more weeks of intensive ear-digging to give this three-disc juggernaut its due, but the mixture of old ore (Skip Spence’s “Books of Moses”) and new gems like “Bottom of the World” already makes this one a classic.

3. Neko Case

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

The Riding Hood of noir-country creates music to keep the dire wolves of American politics and pop banished out in the reality-challenged dark. If you like her voice, this album is like being steeped in a loving cup of song.

4. Gnarls Barkley

St. Elsewhere

Yes, they played “Crazy” to death, but damn the backlash. If you listen with open ears, this is still a hell of an album. Fun, lyrically dark, soulful and damn funky, a one-hit wonder this band definitely are not. . . . Though it’ll be interesting to see how Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse traverse the sophomore slump.

5. Chris Whitley & the Bastard Club

Reiter In

Whitley refused to go gently into that good night. This testament, recorded last year at Catskill’s Old Soul Studios, was divided equally into the all-out rock and somber blues-folk that Whitley managed to make all his own. The song “Cut the Cards” is one of the most heart-rending I’ve ever heard.

6. Califone

Roots and Crowns

Upon first couple of listens, I didn’t see what the big deal was. If you look past the obtuse lyrics and let the sounds entrance, this strange form of electronica-tweaked Americana will grow on you like a spore in an incubator.

7. Sonic Youth

Rather Ripped

Their peers Yo La Tengo made a strong showing this year, but the Youth’s best record since Washing Machine was just a few cuts above. The Youth sounded fresh and radio-ready—and won the blue ribbon at the New York State Fair to boot.

8. Daniel Johnston

Welcome to My World

The recent documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the best movie of its kind since Crumb, called for a reassessment of the ultimate indie cult figure (though Roky and Jandek fans might take issue). This career retrospective distills the songwriting substance that Johnston’s mythic life journey is built upon.

9. Sunn O))) & Boris


In a year where the most heralded stoner albums offered little more than sleepwalking groove-music (OK, you can sit down now, Brightblack Morninglight and Grails), this pairing of the United States’ and Japan’s heaviest art-rockers wins hands down. It only makes real sense if you turn the volume up to neighbor-enraging levels.

10. Comets on Fire


Their previous album, Blue Cathedral, ranks with Fun House and Master of Reality as a freak-rock classic, so there was nowhere else to go but down from there—which still leaves the Comets miles in the sky above most of the bong-friendly horde.

Best of 2006

Critic: David King

1. Art Brut

Bang Bang Rock & Roll

I like my punk rock-art noise-Brit wave-dance pop with oozing helpings of sarcasm and dry wit, and nothing delivers on that like Art Brut. They brought the pure joy of rock & roll steamrolling back for me with choruses like, “My little brother just discovered rock & roll,” and “Look at us! We formed a band.”

2. Deadboy and the Elephantmen

We Are Night Sky

There is nothing like Dax Riggs’ soulful bayou croon. On Deadboy’s earlier albums, Riggs brought it home with a full backing band that produced haunting goth dirges. But on the band’s first proper national release, Riggs only has his plastic white soul (taking the form of his guitar) and drummer Tess’ plodding drumming to carry him. Riggs’ morbid lyrics and heart-filled glam singing breathe new life into the tired guy-girl garage-rock formula.

3. Cult of Luna

Somewhere Along the Highway

I love bombastic prog-metal. I love it even more when it’s delivered with the swelling, overwhelming beauty of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros. Somewhere Along the Highway, despite the menacing shouting of the lead singer, is a classic epic monstrosity of a rock album that surges like the ocean’s waves. Be ready to be emotionally drained.

4. Jesu

Silver EP

Justin Broderick of Godflesh fame is an overachiever. His many metal/industrial side projects all teem with experimentation. But his newest solo project Jesu delivers something none of his projects have before: shimmering pop hooks and catchy choruses. While Jesu’s self titled debut album was propelled by the racket of distorted samples and machines, the Silver EP could be the work of a stone noise rock band, except for the genius ending of the album where humming guitars give way to bleeping psychedelic electronics.

5. Mew

And The Glass Handed Kites

Listening to Mew is a lot like eating cookie dough. It’s sweet, and squishy, awkward and guilt-ridden, but way too satisfying to avoid. I saw these Danish fellows on a bright, breezy summer day in the McCarron Park Pool in Brooklyn opening for British dance-popsters Bloc Party, and Mew blew them away. The formula for Mew’s prog-dance, polyrhythmic, jagged, immaculately produced disco-guitar hymns is something like this: T. Rex plus Mogwai plus Radiohead divided by Depeche Mode multiplied by Sigur Ros equals epic pop-rock heaven.

6. The Secret Machines

Ten Silver Drops

Krautrock never got it so good from an American band. The title of the best song on Ten Silver Drops, “Alone Jealous and Stoned,” also functions as a to-do-while-listening suggestion. This hook-laden, long-droning work of self loathing is good for long car rides and for the nights you spend hiding from people.

7. Mogwai

Mr. Beast

This wasn’t Mogwai’s nod to their past that everyone wanted it to be. It’s something different, and in this case, something different is something good. Because Mr. Beast rocks in the spazoid, soundtrack-of-a-sci-fi-flick way that only the true heir to My Bloody Valentine’s throne could rock.

8. The Fiery Furnaces

Bitter Tea

I’m not going to pretend that the awkward brother-sister relationship of the Fiery Furnaces does not creep me out, and I’m not going to pretend that their recording sessions with their grandma and her old-people diatribes don’t give me the shivers. But man, the expertise of their keyboard pop is undeniable.

9. Mastodon

Blood Mountain

No, this is not the best prog-metal album of the last couple of years as everyone would like to have you believe. There are quite a few underground metal bands doing it much better. What it is, though, is an extremely competent, even catchy mountain of psychedelic rage that will bring together stoners and metalheads alike. Blood Mountain is the best mainstream metal album of the year. Out of all the major-label metal signings that happened this year, Mastodon hold the highest hopes of keeping artistry the first priority in a genre full of posturing and bullshit.

10. The Black Keys

Magic Potion

The Black Keys could have gotten on my Top 10 list on the strength of the single “Your Touch” alone. The bluesy yelp “It’s your touch!” with that torn-up guitar warmed my bitter heart (or something like that). And the rest of the album is just as tortured, soulful and entrancing.

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