erasing clouds

My Favorite Albums of 2006

by dave heaton

Between Erasing Clouds, two other websites and a print magazine, I write about a lot of music in one year's time. And I listen to way more than I ever write about. Collecting my feelings about a whole year's worth of music is tricky. Do I try and sum it all up, or just pick a few highlights? And if I choose to do the latter, where do I even begin?

I make it easier for myself by doing multiple lists, telling myself none is definitive. For 2006 I submitted one top 10 as a vote in Pop Matters' collective list, did another genre-specific list for them, and then did a variation of the first list for the Big Takeover web site. But now we're well into 2007, so this list will be my last word on 2006 what to do? At this point I'm tired of trying to decide, so I'll resist my impulse to write up a top 100 that wouldn't leave anything out (but still would, of course) and go with a simple top 15 (which, of course, still feels terribly incomplete to me, with so much left out). I'll also bypass re-reviewing these albums by summing up my thoughts in a quick-and-easy way.

1. J Dilla, aka Jay Dee, Donuts (Stones Throw)
Why? Not just out of sadness at his early passing. Donuts is a mystical experience, a deep infinity loop of hip-hop like no other, straight from its creator's mind.

2. The Mountain Goats, Get Lonely (4AD)
Why?: The best album yet by one of today's most consistently impressive songwriters, and the first Mountain Goats album where the music plays as strong a role as the lyrics impeccably formed, heartbreaking music.

3. Ghostface Killah, Fish Scale (Def Jam)
Why?: Ghostface's storytelling skills are sharper than ever, as are the weird detours he takes off in. The older, wiser thug persona he adopts is quite suited to him, and the new-take-on-classic-soul route the music takes is too.

4. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Etiquette (Tomlab)
Why? Owen Ashworth's smart/funny/sweet stories have especially attractive surroundings here: humble dance-party beats, stylistic divergences, and welcome guest vocalists help make this a seamless pop album ready for listening to on repeat.

5. Math and Physics Club, Math and Physics Club (Matinee)
Why? This Seattle pop band's debut is filled with memorable melodies, lyrics and emotions, and performed in an effortless, bare-bones Zen-like style.

6. Tilly and the Wall, Bottoms of Barrels (Team Love)
Why? Pure energy they create dance rhythms from the ground up (literally, with a tap dancer's feet), to support heartfelt songs about lost-and-found young rebels.

7. Masta Killa, Made in Brooklyn (Nature Sounds)
Why? I thought the Wu-Tang Clan was supposed to be dead, but here's two classic Wu albums in the top 10, with others not all that far behind. A laidback party album led by an MC with a completely distinct persona.

8. Lisa Germano, In the Maybe World (Young God)
Why? It has its own unmistakable presence: gorgeous, dark and mysterious.

9. The Memory Band, Apron Strings (DiCristina)
Why? Old-world folk with a lightly futuristic sheen; unforgettable.

10. Camera Obscura, Let's Get Out of This Country (Merge)
Why? Thankfully people are finally realizing they're no Belle & Sebastian rip-off; this is elegant, catchy, sensitive-pop that pulls from many places throughout music history.

11. The Blow, Paper Television (K)
Why? Got to love DIY introspective pop with such an overt hip-hop influence. Bright sounds for a better tomorrow.

12. Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea (Fat Possum)
Why? Experimental pop/rock with a light touch their most 'pop' album yet, but in completely challenging ways.

13. Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Turntable Matinee (Yep Roc)
Why? So rare that music this retro in style sounds so fresh and modern, or has so much raw feeling within it.

14. The Roots, Game Theory (Def Jam)
Why? Their best album yet: a hard-hitting tour through the darker side of their home town, Philadelphia, and by relation the country/world.

15. The Like Young, Last Secrets (Polyvinyl)
Why? This final hurrah for this super-talented rock/pop duo is their angriest and most complex album yet.

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