While sifting through this year's releases to compile this obligatory list, one thing became glaringly obvious to me; I don't listen to very much new music anymore. I blame this mainly on my predominantly used-record buying habits; why buy the newest release when you can get 3 older albums for the same price? Sure, I sampled plenty of the buzz albums this year (care of the many high quality MP3 blogs now infesting the web), but I couldn't bring myself to spend the money to hear them in their entirety. There's always next year, right? In any case, here are my picks from 2006:
Born Again in the USA- Loose Fur
I always thought the first Loose Fur album was kind of a one-time deal, so it was amazing to me that this follow up even got made. Gone are the winding jams of their first release, replaced with concise songs that sound like outtakes from Jim O'Rourke and Wilco albums. And when you're as good as these guys, even your outtakes are killer.
Mobile- Glenn Kotche
I never thought I'd include a solo percussion album on my list, but his one really deserves to be heard. Kotche churns out some of his most accessible work to date, with "Mobile Pt. 1&2" easily nabbing the award for the year's catchiest riff. Also, who can argue with a consistently impressive 12 minute drum solo?
The Gun Album- The Minus 5
Who knew the Minus 5 could make a great alt-country album? While not as cohesive as their previous release Down With Wilco, this one has its moments. Scott McCaughy and Peter Buck draw an impressive group of collaborators (Wilco, Colin Meloy, John Wesley Harding) and go to town with the alt-country vibe.
At War With the Mystics- The Flaming Lips
I wasn't thoroughly impressed with this record when I first got it. But I think seeing these guys live on two occasions this summer helped me change my mind. Most of the songs on this album are just as over-blown and epic as the Lip's live show. It's not as consistently good as Yoshimi but as a whole, it's one of the more entertaining anti-war albums you'll ever hear.
Rather Ripped- Sonic Youth
It was kind of weird hearing Sonic Youth being played on the radio this summer, but it's a testament to the more pop-like tendencies of this album. And it's by no means a bad thing; it's reassuring to hear that these guys can still reign in their more noise-oriented tendencies and create a great accessible record.
Chulahoma- The Black Keys
While I couldn't really get into their Nonesuch records debut Magic Potion, I really dug the blues on their final Fat Possum release. A tribute to the late bluesman Junior Kimbrough, Chulahoma oozes with his signature slow-burning style. Auerbach turns in some really nice vocal work and surprisingly over-dub heavy guitar interplay, while Carney shows some restraint from his usual primal pounding. I can't think of a better send off to the label that launched these guys.
The Crane Wife- The Decemberists
Call me crazy, but I've never really considered myself a Decemberists fan until I bought this album on a whim and it changed my mind. A mix of prog-folk and a smattering of classic rock influences, The Crane Wife is a consistently interesting listen. While a few tracks suffer from production that leans too far towards generic indie-rock, the overall quality of Meloy and company's arrangements redeems the record.