Top 10 Albums of 2006: As told by Jameson.

As sort of an introduction for the new, forces combined, blog, I have decided to post my top 10 albums of 2006. This list has already been posted on my old Xanga site, but I have decided to move it here to get things rolling. Disclaimer: These are only Jameson's albums (and thoughts) of 2006, not necessarily yours, certainly not Luke's, and definitely not Rolling Stone's.

10. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
The fight for this last spot was a knock down drag-out, and really there are a number of albums that could have slid in here (2006 releases from Destroyer, TV on the Radio, and Damien Rice all held the spot at one point or another). I settled on Everything All the Time though because it just felt right. An album dripping with character, Band of Horses won't blow you away with parlour (studio) tricks or genre-bending tracks on Everything All the Time. Where the band pulls you in is with the approachability of their music. Reminiscent of a condensed My Morning Jacket, the band tip-toes the line between rock and alt-country magnificently, attracting both the indie faction and the festival crowd. Every song on this album would fit flawlessly on a summer evening in a friend's backyard, drinking, and enjoying the company of others. If that's not convincing enough though, just check out tracks like "The Funeral", "The Great Salt Lake", or "Weed Party", and I am sure you will have a change of heart.
9. The Dears - Gang of Losers

The Dears have scaled things back a little on this, their third full length release. In a year when so much has been said about grandiosity, Gang of Losers, is a slightly more restrained version of the Dears, which still fits them right in with this year's theme of going over the top. Are you still following along? Let me fill you in. In past efforts the Dears went for it all; orchestras, large, lavish arrangements. Here we still have extravagance, just in moderation. All of the albums' tracks fall under the 5 minute mark (with the album weighing in at 48 opposed to 66 minutes on their last effort), and the Dears rely more on their tight form of synthy brit-pop rock and the unchecked emotion of lead singer, Murray Lightburn, than on strings and complex composition. Speaking of Lightburn, he produces some of the best vocals of the year here, acting out every emotion (but mostly desperation, frustration, and is indie rock after all), and singing out against the perils of racism and ostracism. If you're part of the 1% of Americans who have never felt left out before, than this album isn't for you, but if you have ever spent the evening next to an idle phone, or sitting on an empty couch in a room full of people, than the Dears would be happy to have you. A little melodramatic? The Dears wouldn't have it any other way.
8. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade
Any album that's first track has a beeping heart monitor, finger snaps, and lyrics about wanting to "grow up to be nothing at all" is probably going to turn out to be a little dramatic. My Chemical Romance's third release, The Black Parade, has been my guiltiest of pleasures in 2006. I would not have been honest with myself if i had omitted this from the list though. I did not just enjoy this album, i rocked it out. Every track on the album is soaked in the band's influences (most notably Queen's grandeur of soaring guitar solos and swaggering front man...but listen carefully and you will hear Our Lady Peace, the White Stripes, and even Coldplay). It turns out to be just the right mix of lifting though. As i have mentioned before, i tend to have a soft spot in my heart for band's trying to go for the gold, and My Chemical Romance pulled out all the stops here (marching bands, concept album, Liza Minnelli guest vocals). When you get down to it though, The Black Parade is just a scream at the top of your lungs, arena rock album circa the late 70's. And like so many of those albums, you try and hate it, but you can't help but sing along when its playing.

7. Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That
With the opening seconds of the album (which always sparks memories of a hotel alarm clock) as the harshest thing to hit your ears for the entire 37 minutes, It's Never Been Like That is about as feathery as a record can get and still be dubbed a rock album. French band Phoenix has been a group primarily known in the past for music that is more suitable for the dance floor than the rock hall, but on this, their third full-length release, we find a group more concerned with their guitars than ever before. Musically, this album sounds to me like what the Strokes would sound like if they decided to play their brand of dual guitar assault rock (circa Is This It ) in the style of Belle & Sebastian (Scottish Pop). Throw in lead singer, Thomas Mars', "too cool for school" vocals and you have yourself a bona-fide power pop gem.
6. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Well, the dust has settled, and the Arctic Monkeys are still standing. Was it the album of the year? No. Was it one of the best albums of the year? I think so. Creating some of the greatest stir of the year in music 2006, the Arctic Monkeys' debut album sold 118,501 copies in the first week (making it the fastest selling debut ever, while selling more than the rest of the top 20 combined in the process). One of the greatest appeals of this album to me though is that it sounds like someone you know could have recorded it. It is a raw, youthful, surprisingly accessible, take on what the Strokes and the Libertines were doing a few years ago. The whole thing is high-energy, and feels like it was recorded (in one take) in a room two sizes too small to a group of 100 sweaty kids buying every ounce of what the Arctic Monkeys are selling. Monkeys' lead singer, Alex Turner, romanticizes those difficult to define years between youth and adulthood perfectly, with a british snarl and an honest wit, making it difficult not to enlist as well. Despite the band's denial, it looks like whatever people were saying about the Arctic Monkeys may have been true after all.
5. Josh Ritter - The Animal Years
Of all the albums on my best of 2006 list, I would guess that this album would be the most universally enjoyed. Josh Ritter's fourth LP, The Animal Years, was probably my most listened to album of 2006. While this can partly be attributed to its early release (leak), it is also a statement about the overall quality/staying power of the album. From start to finish, this is a fantastic album. In past efforts, Ritter's work has maintained a pretty standard folk structure, but on The Animal Years, Ritter decided to add the word "rock" to some of that folk, and has started expanding some of these tracks out. Don't get me wrong, we still have our fair share of "bare-boned" tracks on this one, but even those reflect a certain level of depth and maturity that Ritter lacked on previous releases. It all comes down to Ritter's passion though. Serving as the mortar to this brick house of an album, Ritter's voice carries the kind of sentiment that can transform you from a listener to a believer. It is that kind of devotion that can set you apart from the imitators and take you places (Bruce Springsteen anyone?). As for us die-hards out there, Ritter says it best, "It's hell to believe there ain't a hell of a chance".
4. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

In a year when most people thought the Decemberists would go commercial (The Crane Wife, their fourth album in five years, is their major label debut), it appears all of the quirks and aberrations are still in tact. In fact, im pretty sure there is nothing commercial about a ten track album with two songs clocking in at over eleven minutes in length, and a central theme that revolves around a Japanese folk tale. On The Crane Wife, band leader, Colin Meloy, sticks to his usual period pieces, bouncing throughout history in order to weave a literary web of lost love and regrets. For those familiar with the Decemberists' previous releases, you may be surprised to hear a little heavier side of the "prog-rock" darlings (akin to The Tain EP), but i find it a breath of fresh air, as the first three albums' homogenous sound was starting to feel repetitive. While the middle section of the album does feel somewhat forced, with bookends like these, one cannot help but overlook the momentary lulls. The three part story of "The Crane Wife", the epic rock opera of "The Island", and the pop punch rise of album closer, "Sons And Daughters", is some of the best music the Decemberists have ever produced, and with a supporting cast like "Yankee Bayonet", "O Valencia", and "Shankill Butchers", the album is fully equipped to stand amongst the upper echelon of albums released in 2006.
3. Albert Hammond Jr. - Yours To Keep
Sometimes great anticipation for an album can lead to great let down. Often the best medicine against such misfortune though is to never know about the album's release in the first place. It was not until Albert Hammond Jr. posted solo tracks on MySpace that i discovered the Strokes' enthusiastic guitar player was even planning to release a solo effort. The first thing i thought of was: Can he sing? Then i wondered: Are the Strokes breaking up? Lastly, i thought: Wonder if this will be better than First Impressions of Earth (the strokes 3rd, and very disappointing LP, also released in 2006)? As soon as i heard the tracks, the answers to my questions came quickly (Yes, No, Yes), and as far as the singing goes, i may actually prefer Hammond's smoother voice to Casablancas' grit (it at least works better than Casablancas' would have on this collection of sunshine pop songs). I read somewhere that this album could be described as Strokes-lite, and i have found that is the most accurate description of the music on Yours To Keep. This is essentially a Strokes album (confirming that Albert Hammond Jr. is the backbone of the band), but in a lighter/happier/more effervescent vein than we have ever seen on any of the band's releases. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, the whole album is Hammond showing off how easily he can compose his take on simple pop music, and he nails it via effortless melodies and textbook guitar work. This is easily the most fun album on my list, and will go down as my favorite pop album of 2006. At least one of the Stokes had a good year.

2. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - The Swell Season

Glen Hansard is one of those musicians that cannot function unless he is emersed in music. As lead singer of the successful Irish band, the Frames, Hansard has put out four albums since 1999 (including a pretty solid album in 2006 which did not make my list), as well as toured constantly, becoming one of the most (if not the most) popular live acts in Ireland. Furthermore, in downtime away from the Frames, Hansard would play solo shows (with Marketa Irglova) anywhere they would book him. During one of these solo shows, Czech filmmaker, Jan Hrebejk, was so impressed that he requested Hansard and Irglova record a couple songs for his upcoming film, "Beauty In Trouble". A studio was booked for four days. The ambitious Hansard (feeling four days was a little excessive for two songs) decided to record the requested songs, as well as anything else Irglova and him had previously played together, and so the The Swell Season was born.
I have almost been dreading writing this review, as this album is so sacred to me (intense, i know). The Swell Season speaks so strongly standing alone though, that I am not even sure there is much that I could say which would do it any justice. It is a quite simple (master)piece, consisting mainly of acoustic guitar, a sparse strings section, and piano. At the same time it so rich, never sounding hollow/empty. The music is primarily lighter (as the instruments listed would imply), but there is so much passion/devotion in the voice/words of Hansard, that almost every emotion can be found, hidden somewhere on this 43 minute treasure. Additionally, Irglova's beautifully captivating voice is found complimenting Hansard's on nearly every track, building a soft (yet solid) foundation for him to project from. However, Irglova does take the lead on the album's haunting finale, almost stealing the show. In the end, it is clear that this is Hansard's creation though, and i would argue it rivals anything he has ever produced with his band. I would speak of some standout tracks, but this is one of those albums where almost every song at some point or another has been my favorite, speaking volumes about the depth and breadth of The Swell Season. One final thought: In a time when it takes some bands over a year in the studio to record an album, I must say that i am thoroughly impressed, and encouraged, knowing that such a phenomenal album was recorded in one week, almost on a whim.

1. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America

While Boys And Girls In America is not a concept album, the whole thing revolves around a thesis taken from the Jack Kerouac novel, On the Road: "Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together." The line is first sang (half-spoken) in the rousing opener, "Stuck Between Stations" (my 2006 song of the year), and the rest of the album is lead singer, Craig Finn, telling tales about the good, the bad, and (most often) the ugly side of being a youth in modern America. Finn is more a storyteller than a lead singer though, and with such an open-ended premise like the Kerouac line to branch his vivid stories from, he paints an American youth that spends more time drinking under graffiti-filled overpasses than playing catch barricaded in their back yards by white picket fences. For first-timers, take note, the speak-sing style of Craig Finn may take some getting used to, but it serves his writing style perfectly, and is worth the effort.

While Finn's hard-hitting anecdotes should be enough to get anyone to listen to Boys And Girls In America, no mention has been made about the fact that this was the best rock album released in 2006. In a year when the Killers tried so hard to be Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band, this bar band from Minneapolis (technically Brooklyn, but 4 out of 5 members hail from the twin city, and most of Finn's stories make reference to the greater Minneapolis/St.Paul area) sounds more like the Boss and his cohorts than anything that four guys from Las Vegas tried to produce this year by throwing on some flannel shirts and growing facial hair. Pounding pianos/organs, soaring guitars, and a subtle horns section serve as the perfect canvas for Finn's everyman voice to spit and snarl his dark narratives over top of. Every track on the album is dripping with the band's blood, sweat, and tears, sounding more like a live recording than a studio release, further enhancing the Hold Steady's bar band integrity. Simply put, Boys And Girls In America is a modern rock classic with that classic rock feel. Anymore these days, people are scared off by terms like "indie rock", fearing that it will be too obscure for their tastes, and take too much effort. While the Hold Steady are often lumped into this conglomerate of a genre, make no mistakes about it ladies and gentleman, the Hold Steady are not an indie rock band, and there is nothing indie about this genuine rock release.