Best of the Year

Our critics opine on their favorites from 2006

Every music critic in the world seems compelled to share with you, the reader, a list of his or her favorite albums or songs from the past year--and we here at the Weekly are no exception.

Here, then, is part one of our favorites from 2006. And just in case this doesn't cover all your list needs, sleep soundly knowing that part two will appear in next week's issue.

Annie Holub

(in order of release)

The Strokes, First Impressions of Earth (RCA)

Every song on this January record is a one-hit wonder, and as the tracks progress, you wonder, can this one beat the last? Yes. Yes it can. If you wrote this album off initially, go listen to it again; I can almost guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (Matador)

I am so predictable. But I like what I like, and I like Belle and Sebastian, especially this February record, and especially "The Blues Are Still Blue," otherwise known in my head as the Laundromat song.

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (ANTI-)

I never was much of a solo Neko Case fan, but March's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood won me over. Case's amazing vocals and contemplative songs get under my skin--I'll still be singing along to "Hold On, Hold On" years from now.

Band of Horses, Everything All the Time (Sub Pop)

It's always nice to be knocked down by a record from a band you've never heard of; even nicer when the guys used to live in Tucson. If I had to pick a No. 1 favorite record of this year, it'd be Everything All the Time, from March. Who cares if the new Shins record blows? We've got Band of Horses now.

Mates of State, Bring It Back (Barsuk)

I want to have Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel's child. Oh wait, they already have a child.

Built to Spill, You in Reverse (Warner Bros./Wea)

It may not have any standout songs, but from minute one to 54, April's You in Reverse is consistent guitar brilliance.

Calexico, Garden Ruin (Quarter Stick)

At first, I thought Garden Ruin was fairly unspectacular, and I missed the mariachi cool of previous Calexico records. But I can't stop listening to it, and I get chills when those first few guitar notes kick in on "Cruel"; even with less of a direct Mexican influence, Calexico stills channels the sound of Tucson.

Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam (Sony/J)

I've been in love with Pearl Jam since 1992, kiddos, and let me tell you, this is a love that will never die. Arena-rock anthems, Eddie Vedder's raspy-throat scream, lyrics that stick it to the man ... but what is with that weird avocado on the cover?

Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere (Downtown)

I think you're crazy if this May record doesn't give you the shiver-shakes. It's hard to make a song about necrophilia sound cool, but Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo manage to pull it off.

CSS, Cansei de Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)

Brazilian girls + dance beats + art school cynicism + lyrics about alcohol, dancing and sex = a record you can shake your ass to and mean it.

Michael Petitti

(in order of preference)

Band of Horses, Everything All the Time (Sub Pop)

The creeping throb of "Our Swords" and swelling catharsis of "Monsters" far surpass the instant gratification that is "The Funeral." Yet, really, all 10 songs are perfectly crafted gems. You can--and I did--play this album until it threatens to turn to dust without tiring of Ben Bridwell's reverb-soaked pipes or the band's pitch-perfect alt-country/pop/rock sheen.

Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (ANTI-)

Lines of cryptic poetry, guitars soaked in reverb, organ swells and those golden vocals--Case sticks to the bare essentials, and the result is an album that's all economy. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the chilling "Star Witness" is the year's best song; plus, that whole Tucson connection is pretty swell.

TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

This is one of those rare albums that actually pulls you in the more it attempts to shut you out. Cold, distant and ruminating--with that nutty title--TV on the Radio were making few concessions to those who stumbled upon their debut. With one exception: They got much, much better.

Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia/Sony)

He's the greatest. Although Modern Times failed to cause half the ruckus it deserved to--particularly baffling as it confidently blows the doors off the joint with opener "Thunder on the Mountain"--it still made for a superb listen time and again.

The Decemberists, The Crane Wife (Capitol)

The brilliance of placing the thrilling "The Crane Wife 3"--last in the titular trilogy--at the start of this album can't be denied: a slight dig at indie stalwarts looking to cry foul about the group's major label leap. Ultimately, it pales in comparison to the band's impressive grasp and execution of the often cringe-worthy (MOR, prog, metal)--the album's greatest feat.

Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

In a year that found lit-pop soaring, Dan Bejar probably ran away with the crown. Coming off like an Eno-Dylan hybrid (vox-lyrics), Bejar and cronies crafted an album that's unforgettable for its shiftiness.

The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant)

The third great album (in as many years) by this rowdy band of 30-somethings remembering what it was like to be 16. They added a little more polish and went the route of verse-chorus-verse, but Craig Finn's tales of youthful angst and excess still knock out the competition.

Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming (Absolutely Kosher)

Spencer Krug was among the year's most restless musicians, but, as this album proves, it was far from detrimental. Krug's fortunate enough to be able to match talent with ambition. Everything, from wailing ballad ("Us Ones in Between") to anthemic perversion ("The Men Are Called Horsemen There"), is brilliantly executed.

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia/Sony)

This album seems like a sleeping dog--a fun set of old ditties--but look at that title: Springsteen is still politically charged as ever. Bacchanalian in execution, Springsteen still grants these antique tunes the proper reverence, making the dirge of "Shenandoah" as affecting as the romp of "Pay Me My Money Down."

Cat Power, The Greatest (Matador)

For the year, the title is a misnomer; for Chan Marshall's career, it's dead-on. The sullen doo-wop of "Lived in Bars" and prickly desolation of "The Greatest" have already solidified their importance in Cat Power's repertoire. She didn't need Al Green's backing band to sell her soulful tunes, but it certainly helped.

Linda Ray

(in order of preference)

Calexico, Garden Ruin (Quarter Stick)

Our beloved duo has morphed into Calexico the band, a tight and talented unit that can do anything, and proves it here. My deep and wide pop-freak streak loves them all the more for the darned-near-perky "Bisbee Blue" that alienated their spaghetti Western fans.

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia/Sony)

I was hooked from the first time I heard "Erie Canal" on the radio, and I sat in the Wild Oats parking lot until the last note. In a year when the Kingston Trio put out a double-disc of their classic folk-revival material, and the Old Town School of Folk Music released their songbook, only Springsteen put these burnished workhorses across in a way that reminds us why they were embedded in our culture for generations.

Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (Columbia/Sony)

Time was these women would be falling all over themselves thanking country radio for their success. But in the iPod, Sirius and Internet era, who needs it? Good riddance, I say. They rock this time out, and they're telling it like it is.

Willie Nelson, You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway)

My Anytime, Anywhere, Makes Me Feel Good Record o' the Year.

Elf Power, Back to the Web (Rykodisc)

As accessible as they are super-smart, this collective has apparently been doing a lot of thinking about the Arab world. Maybe there's something in the music that will help us sort things out? Worth a try.

Patty Hurst Shifter, Too Crowded on the Losing End (Evo)

My garage pop/rock band crush of the year.

Howe Gelb, 'Sno Angel Like You (Thrill Jockey)

This little record turned out to be undeniable, even disregarding the hometown advantage. Gelb's gospel choir sings these ditties in my head at just the right moments, lifting my spirits and my day. Especially affirming is the reprise of Rainer's "That's How Things Get Done." Doggone it, you gotta just get up and do it.

Golden Smog, Another Fine Day (Lost Highway)

Phoo on those fans who wanted them to be scruffy un-frat-boys forever. Personally, I'm all in favor of growing up (if you could only stop sometime before growing old). This is a beautiful record, and I'll stand on a mahogany coffee table in Manolo Blahniks to tell the world.

Solomon Burke, Nashville (Shout! Factory)

He's the Man. And he's in great company here (Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller), breathing the soul back into these country standards.

The Yayhoos, Put the Hammer Down (Lakeside Lounge)

Get this if you wish you'd seen the Stones in a 200-person venue back in the day.

Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse, Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse (Self-Released)

In a perfect world, this would be the Saturday Night Live house band, and reason enough to start watching Saturday Night Live again.

Gene Armstrong

(in order of preference)

The normal activity for music critics in this season is to compile a list of their 10 favorite CDs. I don't own an iPod and have maybe downloaded three or four MP3s in my life, but I hear trends with all the young hipsters are moving in those directions. So is my attention span.

The following 10 tunes constitute the foundation for a great mix CD.

"Not Ready to Make Nice," Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way (Columbia/Sony)

Look to other tracks on the album (which counts as one of the year's best, if you're interested) for healing. Righteous indignation, honest-to-goodness pain, almost-stream-of-consciousness lyrics, catchy hooks and amazing production (by impresario Rick Rubin) make this the most compelling song of 2006.

"God's Gonna Cut You Down," Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways (Lost Highway)

Rubin's the producer again on this stark, short track--the tasteful arrangement includes acoustic and electric guitar, stomping, hand claps and maybe a Jew's harp against the vocal--from the Man in Black's posthumous masterpiece. This traditional meditation on retribution will chill you to the bone. Cash has never sounded so alive, even as he faced his death.

"Blue Alert," Anjani, Blue Alert (Columbia/Sony)

Written and produced by Leonard Cohen, this song about sexual obsession is an amazing example of film-noir piano jazz played and sung by the smoky-voiced Hawaiian singer. It ranks with Cohen's best.

"Blues From Down Here," TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope)

A shout from the depths of humanity, a plea for salvation from martyr to Madonna, this avant-garde, Goth-rock masterpiece bumps, burps and grinds in a whirling sea Halloween opera.

"Ready to Fall," Rise Against, The Sufferer and the Witness (Geffen)

Tick-tock guitar turns into a buzz-saw melody in this revelatory hurricane of old-school punk-rock. Youthful desperation meets genuine concern for the future of humankind.

"The Sinking Belle (Blue Ship)," Sunn 0))) and Boris with Jesse Sykes, Altar (Southern Lord)

Alt-country chanteuse Sykes guests on this remarkable collaboration by two of the most interesting acts in drone-grind music. This eerie lament is seven minutes of gorgeous.

"Lost Bayou Ramble," Weary Boys, Jumpin' Jolie (Weary)

This endlessly infectious Cajun fiddle tune, from the latest album by this acclaimed Austin roots outfit, will out-rock most metal and punk bands.

"Life Wasted," Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam (Sony)

The mighty Pearl Jam returns to form with the opener from an album on which it is hard to choose a standout track. But on this one Vedder's at his most passionate, and the classic two-guitar attack of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard rules.

"Man O' War," Eric Bachmann, To the Races (Saddle Creek)

Lovely, Keatsian lyrics in a wonderful, spare folk rock setting by the singer-songwriter from Crooked Fingers. Recommended if you like Greg Brown and Nick Drake.

"Revelations," Audioslave, Revelations (Epic/Sony)

More rock! The year's best kiss-off song is sarcasm incarnate. Tom Morello shreds pop-metal conventions, and Chris Cornell is the 21st-century Robert Plant.

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