Not every year can be a great year for music, and 2006 was just okay. It didn't help that this year was sandwiched between 2005—which gave us great albums by Kanye West, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Sufjan Stevens—and 2007, which promises new releases from Wilco, Arcade Fire, and Timbaland. While choosing my Top 10 for the year was a cinch, coming up with the bottom 10 was tough.
Thankfully, I managed to scour enough of the year's music to bring you this four-part series, BuzzSugar's Top 20 Albums of 2006. Now for the final installment: the Top 5! (Read yesterday's post on albums 6 to 10.)
5. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
After Justin Timberlake, possibly no musician this year utilized falsetto better than TV on the Radio, albeit to a very different effect. Floating eerily above the surface, the band's two vocalists—one with a high-pitched wail and the other with a Bowie-like croon—give the listener an entry point into the band’s dense, puzzling sound. With their skittish beats and bleating saxophones, TV on the Radio’s industrial jams combine elements of marching bands and electronica for a sound you'll be hooked on before you understand why.
4. Cat Power, The Greatest
Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power) traveled to Memphis to lay down the tracks for her newest record, which is easily one of her boldest and most beautiful. Fittingly evoking a steamy blues bar, the album alternately makes you want to gyrate in tune to the muted trumpets, then weep into your whiskey along with the mournful strings. With her lonely ballads and swaying piano-driven tunes like “Willie,” Power provides a lesson on creating jazz-inspired rock that’s gentle but not the least bit soft.
To see the rest,
3. Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Few people, besides me, seemed to dig Bob Dylan’s 2001 album, Love and Theft, but Modern Times is winning fans left and right. That's because, on the new album, Dylan uses many of the same elements from its blues-obsessed predecessor but improves on them exponentially. Though not as consistent as Dylan’s older albums, this CD runs the gamut of lyrical fodder to produce two instant classics: “Thunder on the Mountain” and “Workingman’s Blues,” which, when I heard it in concert, took me a minute to realize it wasn’t one of Dylan’s early masterpieces.
2. Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
When I first heard that Belle & Sebastian were releasing an album this year, I almost ignored it on the assumption that The Life Pursuit would be another fairly mediocre album from an increasingly irrelevant band (like 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress). But lo and behold, the band completely blew me away by breaking its usual twee habits and forging a refreshingly new sound. The Life Pursuit takes elements of classic Tigermilk-era B&S and organ-heavy mod rock. Particularly stunning is “White Collar Boy,” which mixes everything from deep fuzzy beats to girly choirs to growling guitar riffs for a pop song that’s extraordinarily weird and irresistibly danceable.
1. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
There is a distinct subset of music fans who grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen, graduated to punk and grunge in high school, and spent their 20s getting just a little bit too wasted. For that discerning generation, there is The Hold Steady. At its most basic, the New York-by-way-of-Minneapolis band plays pure, triumphant rock with a steady beat and the occasional piano bludgeoning. Then, there are the band's stellar lyrics, delivered in frontman Craig Finn's unique hybrid of singing, shouting, and slurring. But what sets The Hold Steady's rock apart is the band's ability to capture the drastic highs and lows of youth, lust, and indulgence. On the band's third full-length, the music makes you want to join the party one minute, and the next thing you know, you're being dragged into the dark and eerie comedown. That every part of the journey is a total blast makes this easily my top album for 2006.