Hundreds of albums cross my desk every year. Then I download maybe 100 more from iTunes. Here are the 10 that really stuck with me in 2006. Feel free to leave your own picks when you’re done:
1. "Game Theory" The Roots: The Philly rap vets deliver their most focused effort to date. Fueled by ?uestlove’s muscular beats and Black Thought’s stark vision of the new millennium, it plays like a cross between Public Enemy’s "Fear of a Black Planet" and Funkadelic’s "Maggot Brain." But make sure you pick up the European or iTunes versions, which include the Katrina-inspired "Bread and Butter."
Sample: "Bread and Butter"
2. "Return to Cookie Mountain" TV on the Radio: On their major label debut, the Brooklyn quintet continues to draw from wildly disparate sources – post-punk, hip-hop, doo-wop – and distill them into the most forward thinking sound in rock. David Sitek is a mad scientist in the studio. No wonder they can count David Bowie and Trent Reznor are among their biggest fans.
Sample: "Dirty Whirl"
3. "Peeping Tom" Peeping Tom: Rock weirdo Mike Patton – of Faith No More, Fantomas and Mr. Bungle fame – brings his mad genius to the pop arena. And with a little help from Massive Attack, Kool Keith and a surprisingly potty-mouthed Norah Jones (among others) he produces an album that’s as wildly creative as people say that Gnarls Barkley disc is.
Sample: "How You Feelin’?"
4. "A Senile Animal" The Melvins: Pearl Jam ain’t the only group of grunge era survivors to craft their best album in a dozen years. Core duo Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover team up with Big Business for sludgy, two-drum mayhem. And you shall bang your heads.
Sample: “Civilized Worm”
5. "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" Neko Case: This former Tacoman and alt-country poster girl casts her sweet vocal spell over a dozen vignettes that are timeless, haunting and heartbreaking.
Sample: “Star Witness”
6. "The Information" Beck: The Beckster has definitely settled into a style after years as pop’s preeminent chameleon. But that’s not such a bad thing when he spends stretches of this concept album updating the post-modern hip-hop vibe of "Mellow Gold."
Sample: “The Information”
7. "Pearl Jam" Pearl Jam: Seattle’s resident rock gods dig deep for their most polished disc in years. "Worldwide Suicide" is the year’s most infectious protest song.
8. "Post-War" M. Ward: What’s up with Portland these days, anyway? The Shins picked up and moved there a while back. Ditto with members of Modest Mouse, the Gossip and the now defunct Sleater-Kinney. They’ve got the Thermals and the Decembrists. And now they’ve even got this singer-songwriter to brag about. Isn’t Seattle supposed to be the capitol of Northwest cool?
Ward’s songs are dreamy, romantic and moving. The joyfully nostalgic "Requiem" will make you all misty eyed for someone you loved who is no longer here.
9. "Supernature" Goldfrapp: Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory simplify their arty brand of dance music, but keep the synths nice and frothy; sexy, euphoric and decadent with just the right amount of camp.
Sample: "You Never Know"
10. "She Wants Revenge" She Wants Revenge: Derivative, yeah. Maybe a bit cynical when you consider singer Justin Warfield was a rapper before he mastered that Ian Curtis/Peter Murphy-style monotone baritone that came back in style with Interpol. But even if they are using their powers for evil, Warfield and partner in crime Adam 12 have minded the best of Depeche Mode, Bauhaus and early Ministry to come up with one thoroughly addictive, if guilty, pleasue.
Sample: "Out of Control"