The year two thousand and six was a strange one for music. No real discernable trends, little consensus on the best the year had to offer, and yet some astounding performances from artists across many genres.
A panel of This Magazine bloggers and contributors (Calvin, Krisztina, Lisa, Annette, Joyce and myself) have endeavored to make some sense of it all. I asked each person to send me their five favourite albums of the year — Canadian or other — and a few words on each. A seemingly simple task, but narrowing it down to five proved difficult for most of us. Still, I’m sure the others will agree with me when I say that I missed a lot this year, and reserve the right to scoff at my own list in six months. Last year I hadn’t heard the Sufjan Stevens disc Illinois, but when it started appearing on lists in December I had to find out what the fuss was about. I think spent the next several months listening to that album more than any other. I’m sure there are a few such records this year (I still have to go back and hear the Decemberists, Emily Haines, Beck, Thom Yorke, The Knife and so many other records for the first time).
So, enough yammering. Here are the albums this year that made our ears the happiest. Lists first, explanations after the jump — and since Krisztina sent me her picks first she’s at the top, and so on. Oh, and Lisa wanted me to mention that Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” is the single of the year. Hands down.
Krisztina: (1) Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds, (2) CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy, (3) Tapes ‘n Tapes – The Loon, (4) Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye, (5) Islands – Return to the Sea.
Annette: (1) Muse – Black Holes & Revelations, (2) Ministry – Rio Grande Blood, (3) Tool – 10,000 Days, (4) Eagles of Death Metal – Death by Sexy, (5) Defiantly, Annette only submitted four albums, the fourth being her “honourable mention.” Whatever, it’s number four.
Calvin: (1) The Knife – Silent Shout, (2) Thom Yorke – The Eraser, (3) The Rapture – Pieces of People We Love, (4) Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye, (5) Spank Rock – Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo.
Lisa: (1) Thom Yorke – The Eraser, (2) Beck – The Information, (3) Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped, (4) Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawler, Bawlers & Bastards, (5 – tie) Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Cat Power – The Greatest, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Knives Don’t Have Your Back.
Mason: (1) The Blow – Paper Television, (2) Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies, (3) The Dears – Gang of Losers, (4) CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy, (5) Joanna Newsom – Ys.
Joyce: (1) Scritti Politti – White Bread Black Beer, (2) Herbert – Scale, (3) Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country, (4) Beck – The Information, (5) Justin Timberlake – Futuresex/Lovesounds.
UPDATE: Our list would hardly be complete without the top 5 from the magazine’s main CD reviewer over the past year, Christine Davidson: (1) M Ward – Post War (“love it love it love it,” she enthuses), (2) Cat Power – The Greatest, (3) Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, (4) Beck – The Information, (5) The Hidden Cameras – Awoo.
1. Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
I saw him perform at UBC the night after he won the Polaris Prize. Best. Concert. Of. The. Year.
2. CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy
Dancey, sexy, sometimes even witty. “Let’s Make Love and Listen Death From Above” was the hot single of my summer.
3. Tapes ’n Tapes – The Loon.
Like Violent Femmes, only better.
4. Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye
A great combination of emo and mellow electronica. And from my hometown even.
5. Islands – Return to the Sea
Much more consistant than the Unicorns ever were.
1. Muse – Black Holes & Revelations
Intense, powerful, melodic, thoughtful. It’s no surprise Muse is huge across the pond. Great live band, too.
2. Ministry – Rio Grande Blood
Dubya fans should steer clear of this one. Fuelled by rage against the Bush admin, this is one of the bands heaviest albums in years.
3. Tool – 10,000 Days
Definitely worth the wait. Long, dark and lyrically intricate. Impressive album artwork, too.
Honourable mention: Eagles of Death Metal – Death by Sexy
EODM continue their spoof of/homage to cheesy cock rock. This gets my vote for most fun album of the year. Plus I love Jesse Hughes’ awesome handlebar mustache.
Calvin’s “Five That Mattered”
1. The Knife – Silent Shout
Brother-Sister art-electro Swedes cut so deep, it scars.
2. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
Blip. Blap. Blues.
3. The Rapture – Pieces of People We Love
Records From Hipsters I Love
4. Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye
Pleasant Hamiltonians make electro pop fantastic.
5. Spank Rock – Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo
When hip hop gets retarded, retarded gets spanked and rocked.
Calvin’s “Honourable Mentions”
1. Trentemoller – The Last Resort
Minimal and maximal electronica as it should be.
2. TV On The Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
Difficult never sounded so good.
3. Beck – The Information
World’s favourite Scientologist drops some serious folk-hop science.
1. Thom Yorke – The Eraser
Thom Yorke could be reading the phone book backwards and I’d still shell out money for it, which I guess doesn’t lend much credibility to my top pick. That said, while the world waits for a new Radiohead record, Yorke’s solo album of blips and beeps is a welcome substitute.
2. Beck – The Information
When Sea Change came out I worried, “Oh no, what if he just keeps making depressing as all hell albums like this. Is this what Scientology does to people?” I punished Beck for Sea Change by not buying Guero. The Information reminds me of Odelay, with “Cellphone’s Dead” being one of his catchiest singles to date. Plus, when Beck played in Toronto he had these cute little marionette versions of himself and his band on stage. This made me wish I had a marionette version of myself that could do all the things I don’t like to do, like taxes, laundry and conference calls.
3. Sonic Youth – Rather Ripped
This is their 20th album, yup, even after 20 albums they’re still so good. In a world of My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and that crap band with the guy that sings about the “lips on an angel” thank god for Sonic Youth.
4. Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawler, Bawlers & Bastards
It’s Tom Waits. If I try to say anything remotely intelligent about his music I’ll only embarrass myself.
5. A tie between Neko Case’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Cat Power’s The Greatest and Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back. I realize grouping all the women together in the number five slot isn’t very “feminist” of me. Forgive me, picking only five albums is pretty hard, plus Mason is going to kill me if I don’t send him this soon.
1. The Blow – Paper Television
Truly delivers a blend of smart lyrical metaphors, bouncy synth/drums electropop and Khaela Maricich’s unforgettably charismatic voice. Ably filling the void left by Le Tigre.
2. Destroyer’s Rubies
Dan Bejar writes some of the most insightful and intriguing lyrics around and wraps them in a colourful tapestry of original rock songs. Depth is the strength of this album, which withstands dozens of listens thanks to its astounding variety, sometimes within the same track.
3. The Dears – Gang of Losers
Not quite an album you want to turn to if you need a pick-me-up, but the nearly-upbeat folk-rock meets with Murray Lightburn’s brooding yet passionate voice for a stunning (and occasionally inspiring) juxtaposition.
4. CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy
If you can get over the slightly cheesy, broken-English lyrics (there’s a song about Paris Hilton I just never listen to), there’s no better music for an impromptu dance party in your living room.
5. Joanna Newsom – Ys
At first I avoided this album because it seemed like either a gimmick or something I wouldn’t be able to get into. Five tracks ranging from seven minutes to 17 minutes long. But the sweeping harp-and-orchestral-pop opus contains emotional swells, lyrical gems and more than enough memorable passages to keep me coming back. Plus, Newsom’s voice takes on a new maturity here while retaining its distinctive pitch.
Also considered: Meligrove Band, Bicycles, Henri Faberge and the Adorables, The Hidden Cameras, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beirut, k-os, Be Good Tanyas, Sean Lennon, Islands, Hot Chip, Camera Obscura.
1. Scritti Politti – White Bread Black Beer
Twenty years later, 80s critical darling Scritti Politti (Greer Gartside) re-emerged with an album that Pitchfork Media described as best heard “just after cleaning my apartment.” I couldn’t agree more. This is sugary, perfectly crafted synth pop, the kind of music Sufjan Stevens might make if he played the keyboard. I didn’t expect to like this album but it rewards multiple listenings, especially the “Boom Boom Bap” — which really was the beat of my heart this summer.
2. Herbert – Scale
Note-perfect R&B track “Something Isn’t Right” should have been on your 2006 chillout mixtape. Just try and not sing along.
3. Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country
This album reminds me of Prefab Sprout’s wonderful “Steve McQueen,” an album I couldn’t get enough of in my teens. Superb power-pop, this album boasts quite possibly the best ode to 80s music ever, the supremely uplifting “Lloyd I’m Ready to be Heartbroken.” I defy you to not nod your head and sing along, even if you didn’t wear out your copy of “Rattlesnakes” during Grade 13 exams.
4. Beck – The Information
Beck is one of those artists who exploits the fact that visuals build relationships with a listening audience, leaking home-made videos of most of the tracks before the album came out, and including a DVD and stickers (which I haven’t seen used to such good effect since The Smiths Panic EP) in the special edition CD. Take that downloaders! Stickers! Add to that an unforgettable appearance on SNL (puppets!). Beck makes Gen-X legit.
5. Justin Timberlake, Futuresex/Lovesounds
What can I say about the king of pop? Most imitated sample of 2006, Timbaland’s “yeaaahhh!”