It's time to make a top albums list for 2006, and I'll be posting all week. This has been a tough year to pare down. One minute I'm sure about my list, and another minute I wish I had backed up older versions. I have settled on this one, though, as the one that most captures my moods and listening throughout the year. These may not be the best albums of 2006, but of the ones I listened to, they are the ones that struck my fancy most and longest. It is probably telling that many of these sound dark and swirly, like they emanate from the depths of earthy chasms.
Keep in mind that this has been an unconventional year for me: I was in Spain from the beginning of January until the end of April, and I had no access to new music during that time. When I got back there was a rush to catch up, but I just let things grab my attention and hold until they fell. Most years I listen to many new things that people recommend, but I admit that this time I have not been careful to listen to everything. I've included a list of albums I have not given proper attention.
I cannot be too verbose about these albums (for lack of time), so I apologize in advance if I don't give more than a rough sketch of how each sounds. While I try not to be too Said-the-Gramophone-y, much of what I've loved this year has to do with moods and images associated with the music. If it is all too abstract for you, just keep in mind that this is a mere top 25 list, and 25 reviews would take quite a long time to write. I'll post a group of five each day in reverse order. The albums in the groups will be descending, so the final list should be in the right order when all five days are posted. You should, of course, go buy everything I post.
I'll start the list of studio albums tomorrow. Today I'm going to tell you my favorite various artist compilation, soundtrack, live album, and EPs. And they are...
KITSUNÉ MAISON COMPILATION 2
This little dude came out of the French Kitsune Maison label. If you want some really intense European dance, this is the perfect collection for this year. The compilation is void of dull moments. The MSTRKRFT remix of Wolfmother's Woman is very strong, and you should check out these songs: Christopher and Raphael Just - Popper (Shinichi Osawa distortion disco edit) and Simian Mobile Disco - Hustler.
Stworywodne - Black Muds, Bad Big Village
I'm sure someone would have guessed I would get into a Polish post-rock band this year. I found this EP online, and it's some of the best guitar-driven work I've heard this year. The songs range from expansive and thick to percussive and woodsy. Try Grasshoppers, for example. If you like these guys, check them out at stworywodne.com, and try to get a hold of the EP. I just want to mention that their name means "water creatures."
Justice - Waters of Nazareth, Part 2
This probably counts as a single, but it's fantastic. From the Ed Banger label, French "spiritual house" duo Justice makes your speakers sound like they're breaking. Quite a beat. The title track can genuinely get your adrenaline going. I saw these guys at the SMARTBAR in Chicago, and my arms almost fell off from pumping along. The DJ Funk track is particularly sweet, and the best remix is probably the one from Erol Alkan. Try Justice - Waters of Nazareth. Buy it here.
My Morning Jacket - Okonokos
This live album from Louisville, KY's My Morning Jacket is entirely representative of the band's live show. Last year's Z is one of those special albums that can take your through a spectrum of emotions and still be catchy enough to pull you back an hour later. Okonokos has the same effect, only imagine it live. The hazy stage and fluorescent lights on the cover convey something of the feel of the music, but you could buy this one without listening if you like midwestern rock with a big guitar soul.
Kronos Quartet and Mogwai - The Fountain
Just look at the artists who made this soundtrack. Mogwai is a top-notch post-rock band, masters of the dynamic shift. The Kronos Quartet is likely my favorite string quartet; you may remember their Hope Overture, one of the most emotional recordings in recent memory. This soundtrack was composed by Clint Mansell to accompany Darren Aronofsky's 1000-year quest film, a departure from Requiem for a Dream and Pi in some ways, but if the soundtrack is any indication, the film will not be short on existential angst--an Aronofsky specialty. Buy it here.
My Top 25 Studio Albums Will Not Be Fair To...
Ali Farka Toure, Swan Lake, Belle & Sebastian, Skream, Mew, Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Elf Power, Beck, Mastodon, Midlake, Liars, Xiu Xiu, Camera Obscura, Clipse, Pere Ubu, Kitsune Maison 3. I haven't given enough attention to those releases, so you won't see them. Maybe if I remake this list in hindsight next year, you will. I will probably not do that.