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Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
December 31, 2006
Recent Soapbox:
With all the solid music released in 2007, RMR thought that we would allow certain staffers to contribute their top albums of this year individually rather than collectively. These lists promise to offer unbridled opinions, rampant variety, and opportunities...
Dope Pope, King Self, and Negashi Armada are living a dream as Supreeme, a rap group consisting of three Atlanta natives recently drafted to Warner Bros. Records from the California based indie Record Collection.
GB Leighton is probably Minnesota’s best kept secret. Brian Leighton, the front man for the band, has been playing clubs in the Minneapolis region for almost a decade and a half, drawing huge crowds from an ever growing loyal fan base. He’s also one of the most productive songwriters coming out of the Twin Cities. His concerts are high octane parties that get people up and out of their seats, dancing and singing along.
For over three decades, America has been writing and touring, making it one of the longest running country rock phenomenons in the world. The band currently is touring to support their latest recording, Here and Now, that is a very forward-looking venture, produced in collaboration with indie artists Adam Schlessinger from Fountains of Wayne, and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins. They also will be touring with Chicago later this summer.
“Death Threat,” “Warrior,” “Vampire,” “Piston,” “Danger Girl,” “Headhunter,” “Aggressor.” There’s a common link between all of these DJ Hive track titles, and that link is his mantra and record label: Violence.
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Far too often, I have noticed that music websites offer massive introductions to their year-end top albums lists.

60. Six Organs of Admittance - The Sun Awakens (Drag City)

Another year, another shimmering Six Organs release. Ben Chasny forges the progressive stylings of Comets on Fire (his other band) with strong undertones of Eastern mysticism and folk. And yeah, as CoF fans would expect, some seriously bitchin’ psychedelic flourishes. This would fit well right between your Ravi Shankar albums and your patchouli. RMR does not advocate the usage of illegal substances, but it does advocate use of this album.

Recommended songs: The Desert is a Circle, Black Wall

59. Mission of Burma - The Obliterati (Matador)

These guys are STILL making music? Onoffon wasn’t a death throe, but a harbringer of things to come. The Obliterati is a document of a band not quite ready to go away and leave the music scene with tepid imitators. Post-punk and indie rock bands alike should be prepared to fall in line again if these guys keep going. Will we still see them next year? Who knows…but with the intensity and sheer attitude these stalwarts display, it won’t matter.

Recommended songs: Donna Sumeria, Birthday

58. Mellowdrone – Box (Red Ink)

Since I’ve last checked up on this duo earlier in the year, I have heard snippets of songs from Box in commercials, promos for new TV shows, and the gym. Shout "SELLOUT!" from the rooftops all you’d like; this is just plain good music. Fans of Stabbing Westward, Filter, and all those 1990s alterna-rock giants will take this pill and it will go down quite easy. For the rest of you, consider it angst that is both danceable and worthy of a few good headbangs.

Recommended songs: Oh My, Fashionably Uninvited

57. Thom Yorke – The Eraser (XL)

Frontman for a critically acclaimed and incredibly influential band releases an album with more of the same musical aspects diehard fans have come to know and love = a no-brainer success. Yorke’s solo debut is everything you’d expect from this world-weary poet, complete with desolate metaphors and dissonance in spades. Think of it as Kid A for Lovers. Put on a pair of oversized headphones and just let it all wash over you like you know it will.

Recommended songs: The Eraser, Black Swan

56. Ellen Allien & Apparat - Orchestra of Bubbles (Bpitch Control)

Two DJs use their differing approaches – direct and indirect - to dance music and electronica to bring EVERYBODY to the dance floor on Orchestra of Bubbles. Those who forcefully resist the pull of this amalgamation of acid-house, IDM, trance, and laptop funk will even find themselves bobbing their little wallflower heads while the rest of us just groove on it. All night long. In a year without a truly solid Basement Jaxx album, this was so very necessary.

Recommended songs: Way Out, Leave Me Alone

55. The Plastic Constellations – Crusades (Frenchkiss)

At the Drive-In may have splintered off and Fugazi may be on hiatus, but their penchants for jittery punk rock live on with this quartet from Minnesota. Forceful and immediate without managing to lose elements of catchiness, pieced together like throwing a few guitars and drum kits into a wood chipper and filtering it through a MTV2 friendly spectrum, their latest album is certain to make fans out of many. With only 10 tracks, it could stand to have been longer, but anyone who lets it seep into their ears will be craving more.

Recommended songs: Phoenix and the Faultline, Best Things

54. Bert Jansch – Black Swan (Drag City)

Probably the best folk musician you haven’t heard of, Scotland’s own Bert Jansch has been making great music since the 1960s. For his latest, he recruited indie heroes Beth Orton, Devendra Banhart, and even his own son to make an album full of blues, soul, and folk contemporary and classic. Hopefully this document will serve as an introduction to the rest of his stellar catalogue but if not, then at least everyone has a wonderfully spirited and tuneful folk release to put on for a lazy Sunday.

Recommended songs: The Black Swan, The Old Triangle

53. Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways (Lost Highway)

I know that sometimes if an artist passes away during a particular year, their album is placed on the year end best-of list as a sentimental favorite. However, for the Man in Black, his final release has firmly entrenched itself on this list on its own, free from the endless emotion of his passing. You won’t hear many alterations in the style he has been perfecting for ages, but you’ll hear echoes of his finest years mixed into the bellowing, aged, and unforgettable voice that lingers on even though his body has since been evacuated. A stirring end to an epic and storied career.

Recommended songs: Like the 309, I Came to Believe

52. OOIOO – Taiga (Thrill Jockey)

Wildly inventive percussionist from Boredoms seeks new vessel for untamed noodlings in African jazz, trance, and just plain musical madness. Experience in groovy outbursts preferred. Experimentation a must. Prepare to give birth to the bastard child of every genre under the sun. If interested, please call Taiga.

Recommended songs: KMS, SAI

51. Ratatat – Classics (XL)

Ratatat makes dance music for people too cool for the mainstream dance scene and too cool for Daft Punk. Synths, guitars, and riffs of every sort bounce every which way throughout this album, making even the most elitist person bob their head a few times. It will maybe even cause a booty shake or two. Whether the music is gliding along with lush acoustics, stirring itself up into a frothy mix, or leading itself on a driven march, Classics holds itself together as one of the more ingenious dance releases of the year.

Recommended songs: Lex, Tacobel Canon

50. Function – The Secret Miracle Fountain (Locust Music)

Function, on their Myspace page, describes their music as "a special gun made of heart that shoots non-conceptual poetic delicacies in the unpredictable manner of natural phenomena, leaving the willing participant happy and new." Forging a place somewhere between the sonic explorations of A Silver Mt. Zion and the quirky nature-riddled pop sensibilities of Akron/Family, this album has found a pleasing niche somewhere between music for the background and foreground, sounds that are only truly understood when heard repeatedly.

Recommended songs: The Red Hook Overview, The Wind Itself

49. Brazil – The Philosophy of Velocity (Immortal)

Muncie’s very own Brazil returned in 2006 to prog up the scene a little more. With The Mars Volta drifting further and further off into left field with songs that can hardly be classified as such, The Philosophy of Velocity lays down a template for what TMV should return to creating: a synthesis of progressive rock and punk that is both technically proficient, unique in scope and practice, and engaging as hell to hear without being dull and excruciatingly self-serving. Maybe those afro’d fellas will take note.

Recommended songs: Crime and the Antique Solution, You Never Know

48. Gomez – How We Operate (ATO)

How We Operate is likely the most unassuming album on our countdown and perhaps the most crafty. All facets of the perfect pop song are covered here, spread out amongst 12 well-crafted numbers that conjure up anyone from the Animals to Pavement. Tom Gray and Ben Ottewell share the vocal duties and "operate" with surgical precision here, allowing the stories to never overtake the music but still engaging the listener with everything from near-whispers and lovelorn crooning to jagged shouts and calls-to-arms. VH1 needs to get a hold of these guys so the rest of the country can hear some more fresh sounds from across the pond.

Recommended songs: How We Operate, See the World

47. The Black Angels – Passover (Light in the Attic)

This is a lumbering leviathan of a record. Dark to the point of smothering any passing light with a pillow (covered by a black pillowcase) and containing enough drone and fuzz to pacify fans of the Velvet Underground and all likeminded groups, the Black Angels allow every song to flow with enormous patience; of course, this doesn’t mean that guitar solos aren’t allowed to rise like haunting phoenixes from the ashes below. Fans of Boris and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club should clearly salivate here, but the rest of us shouldn’t be afraid of a little darkness.

Recommended songs: Young Men Dead, Black Grease

46. The Roots - Game Theory (Def Jam)

Yeah, I know, we haven’t had enough hip hop yet, but it’s going to change starting…now. The Roots, coming off a less-than-stellar reception for The Tipping Point, bring their A-game with this set of slithering, heady, and downright claustrophobic songs. In typical Roots style, the percussion always accentuates the song just right and the rhymes do just as much to stimulate your mind as they do to stimulate your groove cortex. We haven’t heard this tight of a package from these guys since Things Falling Apart so if you thought this group had lost their way, think again.

Recommended songs: Don’t Feel Right, Long Time

45. Bob Dylan - Modern Times (Columbia)

Even when he’s not at his best, a new Bob Dylan album is a Bob Dylan album. That fact alone is enough to warrant some listens. Here, music’s resident poet laureate for life is doing what he does best: being himself. We all know what to expect and he always finds a way to meet and exceed them. He hasn’t lost it. And that’s reason enough to spread the good word.

Recommended songs: Thunder on the Mountain, The Levee’s Gonna Break

44. Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche (Asthmatic Kitty)

With his meteoric rise to indie pop stardom and an album released nearly as often as Britney releases hellspawn from her loins, it was inevitable that Sufjan Stevens would fall prey to a collection of b-sides. Surprisingly, though, this is more than a passable set of songs. Taken from the Illinoise sessions, this group of songs contains remakes and unreleased gems in a style all Sufjan, orchestrated elegantly and without a moment of unused space. Don’t get too tired though, Mr. Stevens. You have a lot of work left to do.

Recommended songs: The Avalanche, The Henney Buggy Band

43. Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah (Universal/Motown)

Wildly energetic Bee Gees-esque falsetto? Check. A seamless mix of kitschy dance numbers and slow-dance balladry? Check. Kinky sexual acts, stories of vengeful murder, and nerdy wallflowers? Triple check. Possibly the most fun album you’ll hear all year? But of course.

Recommended songs: I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, Land of a Thousand Words

42. Asobi Seksu – Citrus (Friendly Fire)

Seas of reverb, stunning vocal echoes, and guitar tsunamis straight from My Bloody Valentine comprise Citrus, a listen that takes us all back to the glory days of shoegazing, when soundscaping was an art form and the depth of the musical atmosphere meant just as much, if not more, than the stories being told. Yuki Chikudate maneuvers the waves like a champion surfer and dots the landscape with her enchanting voice. And there’s even more icing on the cake as there are surprising pop elements that surface from various corners of the album (the one-two punch of "New Years" and "Thursday," for instance). If Blonde Redhead made sweet distorted love to Kevin Shields and let Yo La Tengo videotape, this would be that tape’s soundtrack.

Recommended songs: New Years, Thursday

41. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)

Listening to this was like hopping in my trusty Delorean and heading back to 1977…or, well, just turning on classic rock radio and waiting for the runs of Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young. Midlake have made a piece that sounds positively retro while still staying relevant and exciting. The sweet soft-rock guitars, the melancholy confessional lyrics, the haunting way that the songs stick with you long after you leave them behind: oh, to have been alive years before I was born. The wonderful thing is that with this release, I can experience some of the past in the present. Hopefully, we’ll be able to have some more of it in the future.

Recommended songs: Roscoe, Head Home

40. Beck – The Information (Interscope)

The Information nearly plays itself out like a Beck tribute album. Before you go running for the hills at the thought of reggae Beck (Odel’ay Mon) or bluegrass Beck (well, I guess One Foot in the Grave is a good enough title), realize that it’s an amalgamation of his entire back catalogue. Nowadays, artists are heavily criticized for being derivative, but when you’re Beck feeding off of your own top material..well, so many good things can come from that. Not to mention that "Think I’m In Love" is one of the catchiest songs of the year. Also, free stickers come with the CD. Win.

Recommended songs: Think I’m In Love, Nausea

39. Flying Lotus – 1983 (Plug Research Music)

If you’re one of those many college students who spends their late nights vegging out on Adult Swim instead of studying for finals, you will eat this album whole. Flying Lotus (AKA Steven Ellison) provided music for the cartoon block prior to releasing this album and it’s immediately clear how the music to the TV lead-ins is incredibly similar to 1983. Electronica, avant-jazz, and intellectual hip-hop are mixed together with a delicate touch to form this chilled-out piece of musical delight. When Aqua Teen is long dead and gone, this soundtrack for our late night generation will live on.

Recommended songs: Orbit Brazil, Unexpected Delight

38. The Format – Dog Problems (The Vanity Label)

RMR staff writer Rachel Nix summed up this album well in her review with the following line: "Don’t make the same mistake I did; give the Format a listen now." While this isolated statement doesn’t attest much to the sound of the album, it does say something essential. Dog Problems may be the most polished song on our countdown in terms of production and sheer execution and I do not say that like it’s a bad thing. Each minute is packed to the brim with sleek hooks and unforgettable lyrics. So just listen to Rachel. And listen to the Format. And listen to me.

Recommended songs: She Doesn’t Get It, Time Bomb

37. Arrah & The Ferns – Evan is a Vegan (Standard Recording)

One of the best new Indiana bands, Arrah & The Ferns have taken the Hoosier underground by storm with their charming acoustic melodies and inventive arrangements. Their music seems to draw much from anyone from the Danielson Famile to the Decemberists and while they may not be as refined and groundbreaking as the aforementioned groups just yet, give them time. Evan offers so much promise in such a quick-hitting package. A must-listen, proving once and for all that there’s more than corn in Indiana.

Recommended songs: Skylark, Southern Comfort

36. Josh Ritter – The Animal Years (V2)

Starting off with a swelling folk story involving Christian ethics in regards to warfare and ending with a delicate piano-driven number to convince us all that we can and will survive, Josh Ritter has put together an enthralling piece of music that will sadly go under the radar of many listeners in 2006 and beyond. One listen to "Thin Blue Flame" will convince anyone that Ritter is a musician and a storyteller whose aspirations for being the best at both will never be held in check. This is an album that is entirely aware of what it is trying to accomplish and it ends up sacrificing nothing along the way.

Recommended songs: Girl in the War, Thin Blue Flame

35. Parenthetical Girls – Safe as Houses (Slender Means Society)

Parenthetical Girls offer a fine mash of distorted childhood lullabies and jolting dissonance in their Safe as Houses. Zac Pennington channels the creepiness and jarring pop sensibilities of Xiu Xiu in his own mix of xylophone, falsetto, and quirky pieces of sound. The emotional damage is palpable and disturbingly catchy.

Recommended songs: Love Connection Pt. II, The Weight She Fell Under

34. Portastatic – Be Still Please (Merge)

Mac McCaughan, who has also gained notoriety for his work with Superchunk, has been putting together glorious pop albums for years and with Be Still Please, his work has come to a heady and appetizing apex. Each moment of this album is packed with expert production, hooks in spades, and Mac’s soaring vocals. It’s a bit slower and tamer than his previous efforts, but the focus and attention to detail more than makes up for the alteration in design and tempo. Plus, "Sour Shores" is without a doubt one of the top singles of the year.

Recommended songs: Sour Shores, Getting Saved

33. Beirut – Gulag Orkestar (Ba Da Bing!)

Beirut is to music what Snakes on a Plane was supposed to be for film: a blog-driven sensation that would spur a ridiculous amount of positive attention from all sides. However, where Snakes on a Plane flopped, Beirut managed to soar. Without a gimmick being the selling point, each song on this album plays itself out like a clan of gypsies improvising love songs to whatever their hearts desire. Neutral Milk Hotel is an obvious influencing point and if that isn’t enough of an attention-grabber, "Postcards from Italy" will stick in your head for weeks with its dulcet island strumming and swooping instrumentation. Believe the e-hype.

Recommended songs: Postcards from Italy, Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)

32. Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope (Sire)

Regina Spektor is not a one-hit wonder. For one, "Us" didn’t get much airplay in the mainstream sense of the word; nevertheless, she has strung together an entire collection of easily digested tunes that wouldn’t sound too out of place on Vh1’s rotation. Her quirky voice and exuberant piano playing may have been restrained a bit, but her pop wizardry shines through on songs about to moving and diabolical pieces with random interspersed points of French and Russian. The Fray may not have to worry right now but when their albums become tired and wasted, Regina’s latest will keep offering more.

Recommended songs: Fidelity, Apres Moi

31. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Madator)

As if the album title alone wouldn’t make you buy this, Yo La Tengo has made yet another texturally-driven pop landscape. Like the band’s previous efforts, the songs manage to blend together without concern and the guitar solos soar just enough to make the listener feel like a badass just for being a part of the overall experience. Not to mention there are some delicately-played, horn-driven AM radio ballads and aggravatingly addictive pieces involved per usual. This is dreamy pop at its finest. Simply put, they’ve still got it.

Recommended songs: I Feel Like Going Home, Black Flowers

30. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit (Madator)

Anyone familiar with indie pop is at least passively familiar with Belle & Sebastian, Scots with a penchant for huggably soft tunes that make even five year old girls feel hardcore. The Life Pursuit finds the band changing up its image a bit while maintaining elements of the sounds that gained them such a strong following. This is easily the band at its most accessible – radio-friendly songs in the vein of a 60’s retro collection are busting out of every orifice of this album – and most utterly enjoyable.

Recommended songs: Sukie in the Graveyard, White Collar Boy

29. The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine (Sub Pop)

Politically charged and extremely relevant to modern society and our culture, The Thermal’s most recent effort shows the band blooming further and moving from the uneasy and spotty sounds of their early days to a refined medium-core (not quite hardcore, but it’s no pushover) punk sound. Hutch Harris shouts out lines like "We were born to sin" with such insistence that we are happy to let him stay up on his soapbox for a while. The tight snaps of the rhythm section certainly do not hurt either. This isn’t Black Flag or the Clash, but it doesn’t need to be. It is punk for our modern generation: sonically palatable and surprisingly provocative.

Recommended songs: A Pillar of Salt, Returning to the Fold

28. Anathallo – Floating World (Nettwerk)

This album is best summed up by this reviewer’s assessment back in June: "As we traverse the Floating World, everyone from Mogwai to Erik Satie to Tripping Daisy guide us along with their collective compass to direct us down the path less traveled. The percussion provides the pulse to the journey, emitting tribal pulses and trickling down like rain (…)Floating World may not be a religious experience, but it certainly warrants exaltation. If you can find it and give it a chance, transfiguration is both a threat and a promise."

Recommended songs: Hanasakajijii Four: A Great Wind, More Ash, Ame

27. Beach House – Beach House (Carpark)

An elegant blend of shoegazing and dreamy electrosynthpop, this duo has put together a collection of music that goes down very smooth. As the December clouds part in the sky and you throw yourself headstrong into a snowdrift to create angelic indentations, look up at the moon while listening to Beach House and it will be instantly understood where this album belongs; not at the breakers, but wrapped up in scarves and blankets alongside the listener as both drift off carefree into hibernation.

Recommended songs: Saltwater, Master of None

26. Hot Chip – The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks)

These white guys are just plain determined to get everyone on the dance floor, regardless of whether you’re a lanky pale guy, a timid wallflower, or an amputee. Honestly, if you can hear the frantic synth slithers and pulsing beats of "Over and Over" or the slickly made "Boys From School" and not start moving one appendage in time with the beat, you need to clean out those ears. Infectious and excitedly inventive, Hot Chip have a winner on their hands. I can’t wait to get down with what they have next.

Recommended songs: Over and Over, Boys From School

24. Cat Power – The Greatest (Matador)

This may not be the greatest album you have ever heard but when it comes to Chan Marshall, does it really matter? Her voice is as enchanting and engrossing as ever while the poetic and lyrical bravado just keeps on coming. This one is an obvious choice.

Recommended songs: The Greatest, Where is My Love?

22. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol)

Colin Meloy and the Decemberists further establish themselves as the poster children for indie bookworms with The Crane Wife. Hearing their luminous folk tales spun with a pop edge makes one imagine medieval troubadours entering a recording studio via one of those classy time-traveling phone booths. The title tracks and "O Valencia!" make you want to hold on so they never leave.

Recommended songs: The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2, O Valencia!

25. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive)

In the year that was supposed to beset off by Prince’s triumphant return to sexy pop stardom, a Mouseketeer managed to bring sexy back (from parts unknown, we can only imagine) and claim the throne as this generation’s king of pop. Timbaland and others pack this disc full of slamming beats while JT rocks the falsetto like an oversexed Gibb brother. FutureSex/LoveSounds undulates spastically and infects the listener more than enough to induce the same.

Recommended songs: My Love, Lovestoned

21. Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere (Downtown)

A duo whose namesake is "The Round Mound of Rebound" has delivered an album of songs which are simultaneously schizophrenic and accessible. In case you were wondering, there are jams on this album that aren’t "Crazy" and, dare I say, they’re even better (if those obsessed with the aforementioned single could even fathom). A mashing of Cee-Lo’s soulful croon and Danger Mouse’s sleek production looked good on paper; pleasantly enough, the execution lives up to the hype.

Recommended songs: Crazy, Just a Thought

23. Liars – Drums Not Dead (Mute)

I think this is a concept album revolving around an anthropomorphic drum and a mountain called Mount Heart Attack. I think. With density enveloping the entire album, it’s often hard to tell what is really going on within the tribal percussion, distant vocal chants, and Black Dice-esque atmospherics. By the time you arrive at the unsettling serenity of "The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack," it is understood that the meaning doesn’t need to be deciphered for the experience to be edifying.

Recommended songs: It Fit When I Was a Kid, The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack

20. Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor (Atlantic)

Lupe Fiasco’s long-awaited debut is worth the wait. Comparisons to fellow Windy City ingénue Kanye West are bound to happen but Lupe’s razor-sharp flows and quick wit are more akin to streetwise rappers Nas and Common than "The Black Jesus." "Kick, Push" reels you in and the rest just falls into place, his distinctive style becoming ever more addictive. One of the great debuts of 2006.

Recommended songs: Kick, Push, He Say She Say

19. Grizzly Bear – Yellow House (Warp)

Grizzly Bear take an enormous step forward from their debut Horn of Plenty on their latest full-length, forming together Mercury Rev-inspired dreamy pop with an impeccable sense of melody and filtering both through a hazy and echoing prism of production in the vein of Animal Collective and Akron/Family. This will be nowhere near the catchiest album you hear this year, but it will manage to make an impression and stick with you a significant amount longer than most. Hear the duo of "Lullabye" and "Knife" to feel what I’m talking about.

Recommended songs: Lullabye, Knife

18. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (Def Jam)

This may not be Supreme Clientele, but it is a new album from perhaps Wu-Tang’s most cunning linguist, so who are we to complain? Brilliant and quirky classic samples are still omnipresent and Ghostface still sounds as hot as ever, spitting about anything from the standard hip-hop fare of braggadocio and bling to the less-standard being beaten by your parents. Unsurprisingly, he makes all the stories sound intoxicatingly smooth. You motherfuckers shouldn’t act like you forgot about Ghostface; he clearly hasn’t forgotten about how to please us.

Recommended songs: The Champ, Be Easy

17. Love is All – Nine Times That Same Song (What’s Your Rupture?)

To sum this up nicely, this is what The Pipettes would kill to sound like. Love is All are Swedish dance-rock ingénues in the vein of early Hot Hot Heat and The Rapture. They leave everything out on the dance floor and sound just gritty enough to have an appetizing edge. The drum/bass combination in this group is rock solid, kicking every corner into an appropriate fervor and breaking down at just the right moments. Josephine Olausson’s vocals blend eloquently into the rest of the musical mishmash. The saxophone is used expertly throughout the album as well. Why on Earth aren’t these guys the next big thing in every major blog and publication?

Recommended songs: Talk Talk Talk Talk, Busy Doing Nothing

16. Islands – Return to the Sea (Equator)

Out of the ashes of quirky Canadian popsters rose Islands, a band cut from the same cloth as the Unicorns but with a decidedly more focused modus operandi. The subtle yet sinister "Where There’s a Will There’s a Whalebone" may not win over your parents or your significant other, but skip to "Rough Gem" or "Jogging Gorgeous Summer" and the good times will start rolling. Even if you were not a fan of the Unicorns, you could find yourself tapping your toes to these tunes and singing along to the fractured yet whimsical vocals of Nick Diamonds in no time.

Recommended songs: Rough Gem, Swans (Life After Death)

15. Arizona – Welcome Back Dear Children (Self-Released)

For an album that will be released again in 2007 as a "more orchestrated" piece and one that was made after the band played only four shows together, Welcome Back Dear Children stands as a startlingly beautiful collection of songs. Their tunes range from driven and catchy AM radio rockers to airy weekend confessionals, all facets complete with captivating vocals that only improve with repeated listens. I don’t believe they will be releasing more versions of this album until the re-release so if you find this in your local record store, be certain to pick it up (or do so on iTunes). It stands as three things: a collector’s item (of course), a time capsule of a brilliant indie pop band in its embryonic stages, and one of the best damn albums you will hear all year.

Recommended songs: Some Kind of Chill, Diventa Blu

14. Girl Talk – Night Ripper (Illegal Art)

This is the most befuddling album to describe. It’s not necessarily something that you can bob your head to on a regular basis or something that makes you just rock out. It’s not full of ballads and it’s not "all about the benjamins." But it is. It is all of those things at the same time. Greg Gillis has thrown together so many songs into a blender and the juice he has gathered goes down surprisingly easy, each song allowing itself to be memorized by the listener in the most ADD-riddled way imaginable, each track building upon the previous to rise above other recent mashup albums. To hear anyone rapping over a Pixies song or Biggie flowing over "Tiny Dancer" is simply an experience you need to indulge in firsthand. Just put it on and smile as you say "Oh man, that’s RIDICULOUS" about 283 times.

Recommended songs: Hold Up, Smash Your Head

13. The Knife – Silent Shout (Rabid/Mute)

In a winter that has been obnoxiously warm for a majority of this country, The Knife exported some frigid Swedish beats to set things right. A brother/sister duo who make music that lies somewhere between synth-laden electro-pop, dissonant IDM, and dark wave are hardly the people you’d expect to make an enjoyable, let alone appealing, album, yet here we are praising its ingenuity and freshness. It may be a bit difficult for some to swallow at first but if given time, Silent Shout should invariably prove itself a record with staying power intertwined with some elegant soundscapes of glitchy tundra. Cheeseheads and aurora borealis not included, but headphones are just as good as earmuffs.

Recommended songs: Silent Shout, We Share Our Mother’s Health

12. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-)

Neko Case has proven herself to be of utmost importance in the independent music scene today. Last year with the New Pornographers and this year with her latest solo album, she continues to make engrossing and timeless folk music. Her voice remains as stirring as ever as it rises and falls with more force and majesty than the tides themselves. This time accompanied by members of the Band, Calexico, and Giant Sand, Case’s evocative stories unfold with more intrigue and passion than ever before, textured with precision and unfurling like a flower. This woman has nowhere to go but up.

Recommended songs: Star Witness, The Needle Has Landed

11. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time

Band of Horses often come off as a band that REALLY enjoys Neil Young, the Byrds, and Hüsker Dü but unlike some bands that don’t wear their influences on their sleeves well, they execute with surgical precision while making their own distinct brand of rock music. Tender pedal steel can share some room with slightly more raucous electric six strings throughout the album, summoning Sweetheart of the Rodeo to Zuma over the expanse of a couple songs. Ben Bridwell’s vocals seem a bit akin to Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everything All the Time is a damn enjoyable listen for all occasions, a disc to draw in all comers and music lovers of all ages.

Recommended songs: The First Song, Our Swords

10. Destroyer – Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge)

When an album starts off with ‘Dueling cyclones jackknife/they’ve got eyes for your wife,’ you know you’re in for an intriguing affair. Well, since this is a Dan Bejar album, of course that is the case. Multifaceted metaphors and slanted similes are available in abundance in this glam-folk call to arms. The imagery never ceases to amaze and the music builds itself a solid foundation, never buckling to the lushness of Bejar’s poetry, his propensity to self-reference, and the wiliest instrument of all: his voice, which sounds incredibly distinct in a sea of indie rock posturing. As the album waxes and wanes, everything starts to tumble together with ease and it all feels right. That in itself is the highest praise.

Recommended songs: European Oils, 3000 Flowers, Looters’ Follies

9. Danielson – Ships (Secretly Canadian)

Daniel Smith, his Famile, and a cast of thousands made one of the most polarizing albums in recent memory, a rapturous cornucopia of crescendos, inventive wordplay, and a sense of positivism and purpose that is sorely lacking in today’s music scene. Smith and most of his contributors are unapologetically Christian, but don’t let that scare away you if you want your coffee black and your music secular; Ships speaks universally about issues involving friendship – both complex and simple -, love, and literature. The sailor garb they currently don and the nautical metaphors serve as much more of a springboard than a crutch, allowing their themes to swell with the seas of wind instruments, bells, and entrancing choral sounds. Daniel’s voice takes some getting used to, but do not let that be an impossible roadblock: if navigated, this album offers more than anyone could imagine.

Recommended songs: Ship the Majestic Suffix, Did I Step on Your Trumpet?, Two Sitting Ducks

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones (Interscope)

After the runaway success of "Maps" and a spot in a commercial, who knew where Karen O and the rest of the clan would go next? It turns out that they decided to make one hell of a breakup album as the flip side to the love-driven Fever to Tell. This is no Fiona Apple style breakup, though; what we have here is a snarling kiss-off to the guy or girl who screwed you over, screwed around, or just plain screwed you up. For a great summary song, "Way Out" is an anti-"Maps" in a way, staying stripped down while Karen O yelps out about self-imposed distancing. And, like any breakup album worth its weight in Kleenex and angst, there are plenty of discouraged outbursts toward whatever comes around. Show Your Bones leaves us salivating for their next permutation.

Recommended songs: Gold Lion, Way Out, Phenomena

7. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (Vagrant)

Boys and Girls in America is the best rock album of 2006. It is rare to hear an album that is this immediate, this intent on gluing hook after hook together in an expansive rock collage, and this able to avoid all the pratfalls of cookie-cutter rock music. The Killers showed us this year how people that attempt to sound like The Boss can sound; the Hold Steady have taken elements of Springsteen’s iconic persona and have allowed their own styles to remain prevalent, classic rock organs and pianos appropriately relegated to supporting roles in the grand scheme of the conceptual album about, well, everyone. Craig Finn continues to do his sing/talk combo, shouting off stories from his Bible of the Everyman from his street corner pulpit to anyone that will listen. And when the hooks from "Stuck Between Stations" and "Hot Soft Light" kick in like burning, you’ll be all too eager to lend both ears to the preacher.

Recommended songs: Stuck Between Stations, Hot Soft Light, Southtown Girls

6. Augie March – Moo, You Bloody Choir (Sony/BMG)

"One Crowded Hour," the opening number on Augie March’s latest release, is one of the most jaw-dropping first tracks in recent memory, a near-five minute builder that builds upon itself after each verse/chorus combination, guitars underscoring everything with soothing simplicity as Glenn Richards spins a yarn about the immediacy of catching glances and refusing to release them. It is a perfect way to open up this assembly of novellas set to music. The lyrical prowess of Richards is on full display here, approaching topics such as alcoholism and fighting ruthlessly against the grain with verbal luster and literary appeal. The tunes have a plethora of scopes, sweeping one minute with strings and banjos, jabbing you in the heart and/or the stomach with drum kicks and angular guitars the next. Augie March are in a class all their own when it comes to their sound. Comparisons could be made with any number of other bands, but the comparisons will die once Moo, You Bloody Choir is heard. It is an album that may bust this band into the collective consciousness in America. As Martha Stewart would say, "It’s a good thing."

Recommended songs: One Crowded Hour, The Cold Acre, Bottle Baby

5. Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s – The Dust of Retreat (Artemis)

For Hoosier music fans, this may have been the year of Margot. The Naptown natives released their debut on Artemis and were greeted with impressive amounts of critical acclaim. After one listen to The Dust of Retreat, the reasoning behind the praise is obvious. All eight members of the band put their strengths together in miniature calculated symphonies of pop, feeding off each other voraciously, only letting what needs to shine through expose itself. Furthermore, their schizophrenic ability to sound like multiple different bands in a matter of seconds works surprisingly well. Elements of Cake, Failure, the Arcade Fire, and Calexico are tossed in liberally, perpetuating a strange balance of multi-faceted and hummable songs. Be very proud, Indiana: your sons and daughters are on the rise and the waves they are making will be felt further away than even the shores of Lake Michigan.

Recommended songs: Quiet as a Mouse, Talking in Code, Skeleton Key

4. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain (4AD)

Return to Cookie Mountain has solidified TV on the Radio as more of an entire genre of music than a mere band. Haunting and innovative as any band you’ll encounter, they released the power and the fury of Cookie Mountain onto an unsuspecting public, a glitchy, fuzzed out, raucous, and altogether intoxicating hodgepodge of genres. And, of course, Tunde Adebimpe’s velvety wails do much for the music. This is a rock album that will affect people for years to come. It hits you in the face, gently cares for the bruise, and then reflects upon its own ability and pain. Return to Cookie Mountain is a natural wonder of the independent music realm.

Recommended songs: Wolf Like Me, I Was A Lover, A Method

3. Subtle – For Hero: For Fool (Astralwerks)

The best hip-hop album of 2006 that people have never heard. It’s that simple and yet, there is so much more to it. Fans of Deltron 3030, Atmosphere, and any type of "intellectual hip-hop" will salivate ridiculously over Subtle’s latest effort. Doseone is more on his game than ever before, piecing together ridiculous yet intriguing metaphors and situations with a delivery all his own. However, even with the perplexing wordplay and flows that make you shake your head with an impressed jaw drop, this album wouldn’t be anywhere without the beats and surrounding music. Here, the grooves are sonically pleasing obstacle courses for only the best lyricists, throwing out percussion, winds, rocking guitars, and synths at random to coerce the words into slalom competitors of the highest caliber. It will definitely challenge the casual listener of rap but if given a chance, For Hero: For Fool will blow what you thought was your mind.

Recommended songs: A Tale of Apes I, Middleclass Stomp, Midas Gutz

2. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (Re-Up Gang/Zomba)

Damn, this is so worth the wait. Clipse’s latest (and greatest) full-length of originals hits from the opening gambit and does not let us until the last second ticks past. Each second is crowded with grease, grime, and sultry beats undulating and grinding along while Pusha-T and Malice talk about crack, cocaine, and other drugs. The focus and scope isn’t epic lyrically but when the music is this ominous and pulsating and the lyrics talk about "roosters in the duffle," being "trill," and being "P-noid," who’s going to care? "Wamp Wamp" and "Mr. Me Too" exist primarily to set moods to your party or Mercedes drive, one slithering softly while the other bashes heads in. Pharrell and the Neptunes bring their secret stash to this party on every track; even more surprising is the fact that Pharrell does not appear too out of place on these forceful and jolting street anthems. Then again, the aura surrounding this album just makes everyone around it cool, so Skateboard P may have gained himself half a street point. Put it on yourself and you’ll likely gain at least that many points.

Recommended songs: Mr. Me Too, Ain’t Cha, Trill

1. Joanna Newsom – Ys (Drag City)

Okay, admittedly, we all saw this one coming: harpist with Lisa Simpson voice makes an album involving astronomy and anthropomorphic animals, album burns rapidly in the blog circles, album gains nationwide attention for pixie artist, and album takes the top spot on the RMR top 60 of ’06. It’s entirely too logical, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that the 21st century, albeit young, may not have seen an album of more enthralling poetry and music to fit. Albums this lush just don’t exist anymore outside of our memories. Newsom’s quirky voice is spot-on, poignant and far more focused than her previous outing when blowing out smoke rings of elaborate metaphors effortlessly into her own quintet of atmospheric compositions, each at least seven minutes. "Emily" may be the most beautiful song ever about an astronomer family member while "Only Skin" is nearly 17 minutes of a skin-related metaphor. Joanna manages to make everything work. She has her harp (which gains enough notoriety as it is), ingenious wordplay and wit, and the album of the year.

Recommended songs: The entire album.