Now to unveil my top favorites of 2006. Not all of these records came out this year, but I've never quite understood why records of the year have to be records that came out that year. With the exception of the bottom three listed -- which denote my favorite favorite albums of the year -- there really is no ranking.
Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Reviewing the How Strange, Innocence reissue for Punk Planet, I realized that Explosions in the Sky is not some Mogwai/Godspeed toss-off. After listening to all of their recorded material (including the Rescue EP and some bootlegs), I kept coming back to The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. Way more hopeful and brighter compared to their other material, these five tracks are pretty damn amazing.
Converge, You Fail Me and No Heroes
You Fail Me was played many times in my car this year. Brutal and spastic yet incredibly thought-out, the record kept blowing my mind. When No Heroes arrived in October, I thought this record towered above You Fail Me. Way more in-your-face and punishing, No Heroes is still blowing my head off.
the pAper chAse, Now You Are One of Us
Nobody else sounds like the pAper chAse. The idea of twisted chords and beats with bits from obscure horror flicks may sound like something for the Hot Topic goth crowd. Yet the band doesn't pander to anyone. This won't have you dancing in your seat, but it's pretty damn head-turning (in a good way).
The Mars Volta may get more love from the press, but Sparta's music keeps evolving in a good way. Threes feels much different than their previous albums. It's darker, but not so dark that it's morbid and lifeless. It's a bit more toned-down, but that doesn't diminish its power.
Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit
A sweet little record that's worth a lot of listens. The Life Pursuit is more amped up than their earlier work, but that doesn't put a damper on things. I know people who feel that If You're Feeling Sinister is the only album worth having. I argue that if you're a B&S fan, you can't have just one or two records.
TV On the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain
I wasn't expecting this record to really grab me, but it did. Chris kept playing "I Was a Lover" when I would see him DJ, so I became very curious about the whole record. I never thought I could get into something that made me think of Prince and My Bloody Valentine.
Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
"Neeeeeeeeeeko," as some of my friends slowly say. Her voice has that kind of effect on people and it really hit me this year. Since her approach to her solo material is different from her work with the New Pornographers, I often forgot that she's that golden voice on songs like "Letter From An Occupant." Fox Confessor melds folk, country and gospel into something so special that even non-fans of those genres can enjoy it.
Killswitch Engage, As Daylight Dies
Not as groundbreaking as their previous albums, but As Daylight Dies is another worthwhile addition to the band's canon. The riffs are more involved and meatier, but so are the warm melodies.
Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops
I couldn't really sink my teeth into Secret Machines' debut, Now Here is Nowhere. Too much building with very little payoff. Ten Silver Drops has plenty of payoffs. A step-up sonically from their debut, but a major step-up in the songwriting, the record holds my attention over the 45 minute runtime.
Blackpool Lights, This Town's Disaster
Former Get Up Kids member Jim Suptic really steps up on his new band's debut album. Owing a lot of its sound to Sire-era Replacements and Reprise-era Paul Westerberg, these eleven songs make me want to sing along over and over again.
Cursive, Happy Hollow
The big one. Tim Kasher is on a streak and I hope this praise won't jinx it. Happy Hollow is a solid record with a defined beginning, middle and end. There's a story told in the lyrics, but it's not some story where graphic novels, 13-minute self-important videos, storybooks or bonus tracks are needed. Happy Hollow seems like the logical next step from The Ugly Organ, but it's not The Ugly Organ Part II. It's a tuneful satire that doesn't get stale.