I can’t make a mix tape—I just don’t have what it takes. I like albums, I am album-oriented. The record industry would be giddy if everyone were like me: Knowing the difficultly of trading entire albums of mp3s, they could depend on a lifetime of lined pockets. On the other hand, knowing they couldn’t depend on hit singles to sell records otherwise crammed with filler might tighten a few belts.
Most importantly, though, if everyone were like me, each of the below albums would have shot to the top of the charts in 2006. Also, there would be less jazz.
10. Lansing-Dreiden, The Dividing Island
Where Lansing-Dreiden the conceptual art project ends and Lansing-Dreiden the band begins is a murky space—though that territory does have a rich history of spawning great music. It’s here that music is made not for music’s sake, but for art’s sake. And that means target practice with genres, then executing flawlessly. Which is how you get an album that sounds like Brian Wilson shredding metal in Miami.
9. Silversun Pickups, Carnavas
Packing guitar rock heavy with early ‘90s nostalgia, Silversun Pickups arrive just in time for the end of ‘80s retro. Does this album signal a new Clinton era? Should you spread some Earth Day awareness? Do mean people suck? We cannot answer until the second coming of Fishbone.
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones
Until this album was forced upon me by a friend, I’d never really gotten into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Apologies to Karen O., that guy from Williamsburg, and that other guy who looks like a music theory professor—how could I have been so wrong, for so long? Just to be sure, I listened to the last two albums. Nope, not as good. But this, this is just grand.
7. Ratatat, Classics
As with their 2004 debut, Ratatat lays on the Frippertronics (as in Robert, as in Eno collaborator) thick. But this time around they’ve written in some unexpected genius: Throughout Classics the rhythm plays the melody; that is, the undercurrent of tone (guitars, synths, etc.) holds the song together, while the beats—and the occasional sample of a wildcat roar—do the heavy lifting in the songs. Very, very smart.
6. Peter Bjorn and John, Writer’s Block
For me, learning about PB&J (it never gets old) was a feat of marketing. I first heard feel-good-hit-of-the-year “Young Folks” in a viral YouTube video, then again while shopping at the Gap, then in my head over and over until I could get to a computer and punch in the lyrics to find out what it was. Since then I’ve learned that while the single is catchy, the album is unforgettable.
5. My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade
It’s difficult to take seriously a band that appears to take itself so seriously. But that’s beside the matter: This album deserves the hype. Using thick strokes of classic ‘70s glam, The Black Parade paints a gruesome caricature in duality: A carefree, careless young man finds his comeuppance in the form of a cancer diagnosis. Hey, but this is just dumb music for kids at malls, right? Right?
4. Candy Bars, On Cutting Ti-Gers in Half and Understanding Narravation
It could have—should have—been the year of the Candy Bars. On Cutting Ti-Gers… is a wonderfully nuanced album, simply arranged with a fierce restraint. So what stopped them? Was the album name too long to remember? Can one so un-google-able band name really do that much harm? And if so, is Gnarls Barkley onto something? Everyone I asked said it was the band name.
3. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
It’s a new year, which means there must be a new Decemberists album, and somehow, like the year before, it manages to outshine everything they’ve done before—while escalating what’s going to be expected of them next year. Haven’t these guys ever had a job? Haven’t they heard of working just hard enough not to get fired? I’m glad we’re not in the same industry. Otherwise, I’d have to frame them for killing the boss.
2. Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Pushing beauty through cacophony, Spencer Krug is not so quietly changing music as we know it—though it’s likely you wouldn’t have heard, since his output is overwhelming. He’s currently affiliated with four bands (that we know of), including Frog Eyes, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, and Swan Lake, and releases an album every morning, about an hour after he wakes up. This project, which began as a solo act, portends greatness, and probably a new record by the time you read this.
Album of the Year: Sound Team, Movie Monster
From the moment I heard it to this moment—right now—that I’m listening to it, there is no music I loved more in 2006 than Sound Team. What made it stick so well? For one, its lack of polish is refreshing; Things here are messy, the edges aren’t cut clean, it’s difficult in places, and there’s no time to try and fix it all. There’s an urgency on Movie Monster—these songs wouldn’t wait to be recorded. It’s experimental while it’s taut and poppy; it’s free-form, though the arrangements are meticulous. It’s obviously intellectual, but so instinctively, chaotically rocked out that misses being cerebral. It could be a new punk rock—except that has connotations, while this music presents a wholly new frontier. But there is for sure a different ethos, and it’s one that makes me uncomfortable, and unable to compartmentalize Sound Team. I’ve tried comparing it to myriad bands, genres, and eras, and every time I come up short. Because it’s just not that easy, and the best things never are.