40 Essential Songs of 2006

With the advent of blogs, itunes, and You Tube, music has become extremely accessible.  Artists such as Lily Allen, Beirut, Voxtrot, and Tapes ‘n Tapes launched careers this year simply because their mp3s caught on fire in the blog-o-sphere reaching uncharted territory. Compiling a best of list is a daunting task as it’s difficult to even remember everything released in 2006. The Arctic Monkeys had an album this year? We’ve already forgotten about them. Longevity is the key to a good song or still liking a song after the hundredth listen. 2007 already looks bright with anticipated releases from the Shins, Bloc Party, and LCD Soundsystem in the first quarter alone. The following list encapsulates the songs that kept us rocking throughout another arduous year.

1. “In My Arms”/Destroy Rock & Roll/   Mylo
Hailing from Isle of Skye, Mylo’s first record Destroy Rock & Roll was released in February, but at the end of the year, it still resonates. Mylo experiments with mash ups and samples combining them into electro-pop mastery. “In My Arms” splices together ’80s hits Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Waiting for a Star to Fall” by Boy Meets Girl. Bouncy beats, record scratches, and thick basslines turned it into a club anthem and the feel good track of the year.

2. “Fraud in the 80’s”/Bring It Back/    Mates of State
Husband and wife duo, Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner have been around for a few years creating lo-fi pop music with only a keyboard and drum set. On their fourth album, they add more poppy melodies to their resume. Dual male/female vocals encompass this track with upbeat synths and harmonies leading up to the exciting chorus: “See the glow up above/See it glow telling us to reign the streets of London/And you will surely find this news pleasing to your ears.” And it was pleasing all year long.

3. “Cheated Hearts”/ Show Your Bones/   Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The song begins with pulsating instrumental rhythms, percussion, and Karen O’s searing vocals: “Cheated by the opposite of love,” she laments. “Now take these rings/stow them safe away/I’ll wear them on another rainy now.” The entire album emotionally reverberates love gone wrong, but on this track, the strength lies within the group’s guitar riffs and punk inclinations.    .

4. “Wolf Like Me”/Return to Cookie Mountain/    TV On The Radio
NY noisemakers TV On The Radio demonstrated once again why they are one of the best bands around. Their blend of psych rock and tribal soundscapes excel on “Wolf Like Me.” Tunde Adebimpe’s guttural chants and raves peak near the end when the pounding rhythms and beats go haywire. As the title indicates, the song is about transforming into a lycanthrope. “Howlin’ forever,” he sings.

5. “Young Folks”/Writer’s Block/    Peter Bjorn and John
On this Swedish trio’s second album, they’ve produced one of the year’s best records. Perpetual bongos. Check. Whistling. Check. Dualing vocals. Check. All the ingredients for an excellent pop song. Former Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman sings with Peter Moren as they touch upon some Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra dueting. They joyously sing: “All we care ‘bout is talking/talking only me and you,” and all is right with the world.

6. “On the Radio”/Begin to Hope/   Regina Spektor
Russian chanteuse Regina Spektor has her quirks. One minute her vocals transcend beauty, another moment they comically discuss buying a 99 cent Jesus statue. On her third release, solid songs encompass her descriptive lyrics. On this track, she pontificates good romance advice: “And then you take that love you made and stick into someone else’s heart/pumping someone else’s blood/and walking arm in arm/you hope it don’t get harmed/but even if it does you just do it all again.” Well said.

7. “Boy From School”/The Warning/   Hot Chip
Releasing one of the best albums of the year, this IDM British outfit generates breakbeats, electronic tinges, and funky basslines galore. Singer Alexis Taylor delivers his monotone lyrics as background beats rotate creating a dancey and emotional track. The song shifts at the bridge adding in melancholy keyboards and melodies: “I got lost/you said this was the way back.” Their other songs, “No Fit No State” and “The Warning” are equally good.

8. “Hold On Hold On”/Fox Confessor Brings the Flood/   Neko Case
Neko Case’s contributions to the New Pornographers make them a tighter group, so it’s not surprising her solo work is just as potent. On her fourth album, Case continues down the allegory alt-country route with her personal and vivid lyrics: “I leave the party at 3 a.m. alone thank god/in the end I was the mean girl or somebody’s in between girl/it’s the devil I love.” Honest, intense, and earnest with rambling guitars, Case leaves an indelible impression.

9. “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives”/Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP/   Voxtrot
The Austin quintet emerged from the SXSW scene and became instant blog darlings. This song juxtaposes impending death and the idea of embracing life. At the end, the pop melodies become frenzied with roaring electric guitars. Despite the death theme running throughout, the song is optimistic. Lead singer Ramesh Srivastava gives a spectacular live performance radiating more energy than a kid on Christmas. After a bevy of EPs, Voxtrot will release their much anticipated full-length in the Spring.

10. “Open Your Eyes”/Eyes Open/   Snow Patrol
Writing sappy love songs and selling songs to Grey’s Anatomy is what Snow Patrol do best. But their songs are the best kind of thoughtful ruminations. A soft guitar strums in the opening as singer Gary Lightbody pleas: “I won’t waste a minute without you/ I won’t feel these slices and cuts.”  Near the end, the song simply rocks out proving Snow Patrol is a genuine rock ‘n’ roll band. Not to be missed.

11. “The Greatest”/The Greatest/    Cat Power
Cat Power cleaned up her act this year reaching sobriety and her music shined because of it. On the commanding The Greatest, Chan Marshall writes songs about her personal experiences in the South. The title track is about a boxer, done with an increased amount of solemness and ineffable beauty. She plays piano over “Moon River” like strings. “Once I wanted to be the greatest,” she swoons. Well, she simply is one of the greatest female singer/songwriters to arrive in the past decade. Stay sober!

12. “One Time Too Many”/It’s Never Been Like That/   Phoenix
Listening to this Parisian band’s “One Time Too Many,” for some reason Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You” comes to mind. An oscillating combination of guitar/bass/drums plays in the background moving the track forward as Mars sympathizes:  “Slow down your tan/ I’m gonna miss you a lot.” Jangly and infectious, it’s the paramount track off their third effort.

13. “Razzle Dazzle Rose”/Let’s Get Out of This Country/   Camera Obscura
Finally breaking out from the Belle and Sebastian comparison, the Scottish outfit Camera Obscura follow up 2003’s Underachievers Please Try Harder with an even more remarkable album.  The last song quietly ends the record on a note of grandeur with sweeping orchestral delights, a tympani drum, and Tracyanne Campbell’s wispy voice: “Rose, I’m feeling older/Courage my love it makes me bolder/ Expecting softness can lead to foolishness/When I choose my colour it will be Razzle Dazzle rose.”
14. “Cosmia”/Ys/    Joanna Newsom
Folkster Newsom is an acquired taste singer with her screechy vocals and lengthy songs. Over seven minutes long, “Cosmia” features a medley of harp, accordion, and strings moving up and down like a rollercoaster, contorting from beautiful and dreamy melodies to starker lyrics. Causing such a polarized reaction to her music is a clear sign Newsom is doing her job as a musician. Just when the listener wants to turn Newsom’s music off, she beguiles the listener a little bit longer.
15. “FM”/So This Is Goodbye/   Junior Boys
IDM Canadian duo follow up 2004’s Last Exit with the similarly remarkable So This Is Goodbye. “FM” borders on light electronica with Johnny Greenspan and Johnny Dark whispering vocals and creating fractured beats. “One more year becomes one more year/and you’ll forget me soon I fear.” Traveling and life on the road are discussed in the downbeat track. Close to the denouncement, catchy beeps and boops ping pong. Sticking like glue, the tune lingers in the mind and heart.

16. “Smile”/Alright Still/    Lily Allen
Internet darling Lily Allen cutesied her way into America’s heart this year. Her album blew up on the blog-o-sphere and now she’s one of the biggest success stories of 2006. A mixture of reggae, pop, and hip-hop, Allen sings in her native cockney accent about a cheating lover who wants her back. Experiencing Schadenfreude at the expense of an ex-lover, she smiles because she knows she’s better off without him. Beauty, brains, and, sweet revenge. Lily Allen doesn’t hold anything back.

17. “After the Curtain”/Gulag Orkestar/   Beirut
Teenager Zach Condon’s old world style sounds evoke living in Prague. He uses an a accordion, his classically trained voice, and various other instruments to convey his poignant and indescribable music. With “After the Curtain” he poses the question: “What can you do when the curtain falls?” Apparently just keep playing heartfelt and stunning music.

18. “Smiling Faces”/St. Elsewhere/   Gnarls Barkley
Gnarls Barkley (a.k.a Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo) had a huge year with the unabashed accomplishment of their first hit single, “Crazy,” that ended up being covered to death by a myriad of musicians. But, the best track off their debut is “Smiley Faces.” It has soul and rhythm and Cee-Lo’s smooth delivery. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to throw up your hands in the air and forget all your worries for a few minutes.

19. “Heart in the Cage”/First Impressions of Earth/   The Strokes
The Strokes may have peaked in 2003, but occasionally these influential rockers record a diamond in the ruff. The song begins with crashing and gnarling guitar chords that lead into Julian Casablanca’s signature vocals. “I don’t want what you want, I don’t feel what you feel,” he states. Their third album stalled their trajectory, but they still know how to write a charming track.

20. “Alone, Jealous & Stoned”/Ten Silver Drops/     Secret Machines
Clocking in at seven minutes, this track is a sprawling epic. New Yorkers Secret Machines allow themselves to be inspired by The Who, with what is at first a methodical song wallowing in a piano instrumental. But before the languidness continues, the band’s space rock tendencies cut in skyrocketing the song to a completely different level. Brandon Curtis sings about how lonely he is sitting home waiting by the phone in his intoxicated state. Once the guitars and drums pounce, the song soars and the loneliness dissipates for a minute.

21. “Modern Love”/Today Is Tonight/    The Changes
Chicagoians The Changes finally saw their first full-length hit the streets, Today is Tonight, in 2006. They sound like early Wham centering the track around 1980s driven keyboards. The poppiness turns serious when lead singer Darren Spitzer offers: “If I say I’m wrong/then I’ll know I’m sorry/it would mean goodbye and you would not hang around.” Luckily, he and the song perk up. Expect more good things from these guys.

22. “Tony the Beat”/Dying to Say This To You/     The Sounds
Off their second album, “Tony the Beat” features punkish rock ‘n’ roll like a shot in the arm. “Hey, let’s kick it,” begins singer Maja Ivarsson. The song frolics and rocks and rolls with its abrasive drum beats and synths adding to the dance quotient. “Don’t stop pushing and I will give it all to you.” This year Sweden became a contender in the indie rock world, and with The Sounds making such good tunes, Sweden is even more relevant. 

23. “The Big Bang Jump”/Q & A/   Office
Like fellow Chicagoians the Changes, Office released their first album this year.   Lead singer Scott Masson and group croon about “the scene” and being a scenester or jetsetter: “From Detroit to Chicago/L.A Back to NY/This is your new scene,” Masson quips covering all the cool cities. New Wave keyboards, lots of hooky la, la, las, and pop harmonies intermingle for what was the feel good track of the summer. 
24. “Black Swan”/ The Eraser/   Thom Yorke
There wasn’t a new Radiohead album in 2006, but Thom Yorke released his first solo album satiating fans until next year. In the vein of Radiohead, The Eraser titillates with murky, electronic ambience. “Black Swan” is a somber track with electronic tinges and Yorke repeating the expletive fuck. The song was used effectively in TV shows and movies because of it’s mood evoking sounds. “And it’s fucked up, fucked up,” Yorke brazenly sings. Yorke is still master of the alternative genre.

25. “Goin’ Against Your Mind”/You in Reverse/    Built to Spill
Built to Spill finally released their much overdue new album in almost five years. Mainly an instrumental song, it contains eight minutes of sinewing jamming guitar anthems and Doug Martsch’s wailing vocals. Near the end the song, things gets bizarre when Martsch talks about aliens. Listening to this track will help one reach nirvana, or something like that.

Best of the Rest

“Special” Mew
“Free Stress Test” Professor Murder
“Dead Ends” Chad VanGaalen
 “2wice” Mission of Burma
“Summer Song” the Decemberists
“Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” Islands
“When You’re Away From Me” Favourite Sons
 “The Great Salt Lake” Band of Horses
“Stuck Between Stations” the Hold Steady
“God Knows (Gotta Give to Get)” El Perro del Mar
“Keep on Smiling” 120 Days
“Cherry Lips” Archie Bronson Outfit
“Another One Goes By” the Walkmen
“Parenthesis” the Blow
“3000 Flowers” Destroyer

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