Picks 10 to 1



    10. “Push”

    Pharoahe Monch

    Desire [Universal]

    On the video for “Push,” the single released in advance of his 2007 album, Pharoahe Monch summons the legendary New York summer of 1977, when the city struggled through a massive blackout, a police-bribery scandal and the near bankruptcy of the city government. Sounds like fun, right? But few summers seem to be as fondly remembered, evidenced here by Monch’s breezy disco choruses, Tower of Power horns and soulful groove. Monch waits until the last minute of the three-minute groove to start rhyming, linking contemporary references to the upbeat, inspirational soul of a generation ago. ~Chris Sahl





    9. “Tapped (feat. JME)”


    Skream [Tempa]

    JME, best known for his Boy Better Know series that was probably the biggest grime development of ’06, and Skream, one of the biggest dubstep producers, come together here to bridge the gap, and it’s a great combination. JME’s stunted flow seems like it’s on a leash over Skream’s ringing synths, only occasionally let off to run free over this dark, sludgy mix of sticky drums and flying swooshes. It’s 2006’s best case for both styles at the same time. ~Matthew Gasteier





    8. “Moving Like a Train”


    Scale [!K7]

    “Moving Like a Train” is silky smooth. Like Walt Fraizier-in-the-’70s smooth. Between the funkiness of the drums and keyboard, the dramatic strings and horns, and vocals tailor-made for Studio 54, I listen to this and feel like stepping out into the big city for a night. ~Adrian Covert 





    7. “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby”


    Return to the Sea [Equator]

    Cutesy pop songs were in short supply this year, making Islands’ “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” stand apart from the crowd that much more. What on the surface is just a breezy, saccharine shot has undeniably serious undertones given the subject matter addressed. The dichotomy present in an all-smiles Nick Diamonds singing about anorexia (and possibly drug addiction, given the title) overtop bouncy guitar strumming has a certain black-humor aspect that, sadly, is smarter by far than most of the current pop landscape. ~Justin Sheppard





    6. “Wamp Wamp (feat. Slim Thug)”


    Hell Hath No Fury [Re-up Gang/Star Trak]

    A track that resides in the twilight of Hell Hath No Fury, somewhere between the 3 p.m. joyride of “Dirty Money” and the back-alley threats of “Ride Around Shining,” the Brothers Thornton wade through a strong Neptunes beat with such ease they almost sound indifferent. It’s not the pair’s most stunning lyrical performance, but Pusha T’s and Malice’s flow is downright intoxicating. Chad and Pharrell play their strengths, crafting a tune from the exotic sounds of steel drums bounced off the snake-charmer buzz of the chorus, all the while slapping you senseless with hollow, impatient drums. But the best moments arrive when everything drops out, leaving just Pusha, Malice and that clanging percussion. It’s two sets of professionals doing their thing, and it’s hard to argue with that. ~Mike Krolak



    5. “You Only Live Once”

    The Strokes

    First Impressions of Earth [RCA]

    “Juicebox” was the first song to leak from First Impressions of Earth, and nobody knew quite what to make of the “new” Strokes. The band’s laziest riff and most uninspired lyrics to date were certainly nothing to include in the Whiz Kid Christmas letter. But then “You Only Live Once” flooded the Interweb and washed away the bad taste: The Strokes officially still had something left in the tank. Casablancas and company muscled up a bit and threw some punches at the shimmering pop they’d managed to keep fresh in the face of innumerable imitators, leaving the fight bruised but not beaten, with a song that was something in between old and new: The band gave its sound some much-needed space, the vocal delivery was irreverent (and endearingly out of tune in its final gasp), and the slight over-production gave Fab’s drumming an authority that gave notice to everyone that even if the band members didn’t quite know what they were doing, the Strokes could still do it right. ~AJ Wolosenko





    4. “That’s Life”

    Killer Mike

    I Pledge Allegiance [Grind Time]

    Before 2006, Killer Mike was mostly known (apart from a cult Monster following) as the guy who stole “The Whole World” from Outkast, but he exploded onto the mixtape scene this year. Like Pharoahe Monch, Ras Kass, Wise Intelligent and just about every other intelligent rapper who refuses to water anything down, Mike has spent most of his career struggling to get his music exposed, or even released. “That’s Life” is the best song of his career: a pounding, in-your-face sermon on everything wrong with the current state of the nation, with a soulful, confrontational beat to match. All that and the best line of the year: “The comment Kanye made was damn near right, but Bush hate poor people, be ’em black or white.” Killer Mike is the most important emcee in America right now. ~Matthew Gasteier




    3. “Crazy”

    Gnarls Barkley

    St. Elsewhere [Downtown]

    If it hadn’t been so big, it might be at the top of this list, but no one near a radio this year could have made it through 2006 without taking a serious break from “Crazy.” It’s still a spectacular song, like “Hey Ya” before it, effortlessly taking the hip-hop aesthetic and molding it into a tasty pop song. This time, it’s a ballad of sorts, a remarkable Danger Mouse production that lets Cee-Lo carry the melody and throw his whole personality into his performance. That the rest of America finally recognized his brilliance is still icing on the cake, even if we’ve long since regretted that having four hundredth slice. ~Matthew Gasteier



    2. “Wolf Like Me”

    TV on the Radio

    Return to Cookie Mountain [Interscope]

    In a world without Timberlake, this would be untouchable. Fuzzed-out guitars and a driving rhythm section create the perfect backdrop for the most peculiar of anthems — one that’s filled with lust, anxiety and dread. Frontman Tunde Adebimpe’s golden pipes let loose fierce, hot-blooded vocals, and it sounds like the beast within him might consume his soul. When the guitars swell and Adebimpe’s howl reaches its crescendo, an almost primal feeling washes over you. The band sums it up nicely: “My heart’s aflame/ my body’s strained/ but, God, I like it.” ~Justin Sheppard





    1. “My Love (feat. T.I)”

    Justin Timberlake

    FutureSex/LoveSounds [Jive]

    From the second it hit the Internet back in August, this song had instant classic written all over it. Sure, Sexyback was pretty good and proved that J.T. was no fluke. Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous Girl” proved that Timbo could still knock out a radio hit. But nothing could have prepared me for “My Love.” Timbaland’s schizophrenic synth, pitch-black bass line and spacy horns ushered in the next big trend in pop production. Timberlake’s million-dollar falsetto brought the song together and turned it into the smash hit it was meant to be. Songs like this don’t come around every year, and although there were a lot of great singles in 2006, none managed to be simultaneously as progressive and accessible as “My Love.” ~Adrian Covert



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