This best of 2006 list was extremely challenging to come up with, if only because I’ve begun listening to new music at an even greater rate, and I just had a lot more to choose from this time around. The list below is one that, perhaps more than any other best-of-year list I’ve done, I feel could be significantly different a year, a month, or even a week from now. That said, I am definitely glad I waited a year to do this one, as I hadn’t even heard 40% of these albums by the end of 2006.
- Newsom, Joanna - Ys
Head and shoulders above the rest, Ys could be my favorite album of the decade, not just the year. Newsom’s voice, lyrics, compositions and harp playing are bewitching, and I’ve been listening to Ys regularly for the past year and never get tired of it. I expect this to be a long-lasting classic, and unlike many critics, I don’t use that word lightly.
- Tanakh - Ardent Fevers
I’ve become fairly indifferent to most new indie-rock out there, but this group plays an endlessly interesting meshing of styles that transcends genres. There’s post-rock and ambient music influences as well as straight-ahead melodic songwriting, and there are some wicked scorched-earth guitar solos to boot. Music that’s difficult to describe and pigeonhole is often very appealing to me, and Ardent Fevers is a perfect example.
- Zs - Buck
Perhaps the most interesting avant-rock band operating today, this live album shows the power that a telepathically tight ensemble playing formally composed, wickedly difficult music can have. A must for anyone interested in dissonant, rhythmically complex modern music.
- Decapitated - Organic Hallucinosis
Speaking of rhythmically difficult, this band’s nerdy death metal is occasionally jaw-dropping in its technicality, which makes the recent death of their drummer in a car crash all the more tragic. I was all stoked to see these guys live, but the death of their drummer and hospitalization of their guitarist was too much for the band to handle and they promptly disbanded. One of the saddest stories in music all year (2007, to be clear). RIP Witold “Vitek” Kieltyka.
- NeBeLNeST - ZePTO
I guess I do still like prog. ZePTO is the only original prog album on this top 10 list, though admittedly it’s no namby-pamby symphonic fairy tale. This album sees the French quartet dip into avant-garde waters; their music has always been dark, dissonant and amorphous, but never quite to this extent.
- Univers Zero - Live
Notable for many reasons, not least that it’s the first official live release for this 30-year-old band, but also because the performances are simply top-notch. “Xenantaya” especially absolutely comes alive compared to the studio version, and the inclusion of older pieces like the classic “Toujours Plus à l’Est” is a wonderful surprise.
- Om - Conference of the Birds
There’s only one transcendent song on this album, but then there are only two songs total. The 16-minute “At Giza” is an absolute triumph of repetitive, trancey, spiritual metal, still the best thing this band has ever done. In concert, three separate people exclaimed after this song that it was a “religious experience.” They may be overstating the case, but not by too much.
- Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Everyone’s favorite noisy indie-rock band gets back to the noise! The opening and closing epics on this album are the classic feedback-drenched workouts that, as much as their poppy vocal numbers, helped give this band their reputation. The best thing they’ve recorded since the glory days in the mid-90s.
- Espers - II
I was a latecomer to this acid-folk group, and this was my introduction to their music. Greg Weeks, formerly of New Sonic Architecture fame, and Meg Baird combine to make some of the most evocatively edgy folk music I’ve heard. Mellow Candle comes to mind; these guys possess an equally formidable melodic sense (and their vocal duets are equally as wonderful), but their vision is way darker.
- Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura - In Krakow In November
I love Fujii’s quartet albums and like her orchestra works, but it’s in a solo and duo setting that, in my opinion, she really shines. Her melodic sensibility is simply beautiful, and that really comes through in this recording with trumpeter/husband Tamura. “Morning Mist” is pure distilled beauty, but the whole record is a delight.
I seem to say this every year, but 2006 was a pretty damn good year. I suspect this will be true for every year as long as I continue keeping up with a wide depth and breadth of new music. Certainly 2007 — in which I bought more albums released this year than ever before — is shaping up to be fantastic. It’s certainly a good time to be a fan of underground, experimental music.
Just to prove the point — and this is probably a bit excessive — here are a bunch of other albums from 2006 that I really liked. Four or five of these could easily have been in the top 10 if I’d been in a slightly different mood.
- Aghora — Formless
- Christina Aguilera — Back to Basics
- Amon Amarth — With Oden On Our Side
- Atomic — Happy New Ears!
- Michaël Attias — Credo
- Tim Berne — Livein Cognito
- Iva Bittová — Superchameleon (DVD)
- Boris — Pink
- Peter Brötzmann, Marino Pliakas & Michael Wertmüller — Full Blast
- Burial — Burial
- Nels Cline — New Monastery
- The Core — Blue Sky
- The Coup — Pick a Bigger Weapon
- Damsel — Distressed
- The Decemberists — The Crane Wife
- Enslaved — Ruun
- From a Second Story Window — Delenda
- Nelly Furtado — Loose
- Genghis Tron — Dead Mountain Mouth
- Isis — In the Absence of Truth
- Isis — Clearing the Eye (DVD)
- Isis & Aereogramme — In the Fishtank 14
- Glenn Kotche — Mobile
- Magma — Epok II (DVD)
- Loreena McKennitt — An Ancient Muse
- Mogwai — Mr. Beast
- Simon Nabotov & Tom Rainey — Steady Now
- Nightwish — End of an Era (DVD)
- NIMBY — Songs For Adults
- One Shot — Ewaz Vader
- Peeping Tom — Peeping Tom
- Radio Massacre International — Septentrional
- Sunn O))) & Boris — Altar
- Justin Timberlake — FutureSex/LoveSounds
- Unexpect — In a Flesh Aquarium
- Uzva — Uoma
- The Vandermark 5 — A Discontinuous Line
- Yakuza — Samsara
- Dhafer Youssef — Divine Shadows
- Zaar — Zaar
There you have it. I’m planning a couple other posts, coming towards the end of the month, recapping my 2007 without actually doing a top 10 albums list, since, of course, that’ll be coming in a year. But I do want to talk about my favorite concerts of the year, as well as discuss the continuing evolution of my music tastes (in this case, this year saw me listening to more extreme metal and free improv than ever).