We know. Constructing subjective lists out of art created with infinite room for interpretation during an arbitrary period of time seems useless and obscene, a bizarre ritual held afloat by tradition and industry types. But there has to be a reason people keep coming back to these things, and there has to be a reason not only that we put one out every year, but also that we agonize over it, argue over it, threaten to take lives over it and, ultimately, run out of time and hastily make decisions we hope won’t make us totally embarrassed a year from now.
Of course, there is. Because buried in between those records we all know, the ones that give us a point of reference for taste and trustworthiness, there are those records we’ve never heard, the records we’re about to discover. They’re the records that make these lists worthwhile. And 2006 was an especially good year for this, a year when high-profile releases were less than noteworthy and lesser-known artists and genres made life worth living.
So while you’re agonizing over why one blog’s favorite record is at thirty-eight on this list while another’s is at thirty-seven, take the time to get to know that record over there, the one you vaguely heard something about back in June but never got around to. Because we might be able to make a list and publish it, but you (we hope) get to discover good music. ~Matthew Gasteier
50. Xiu Xiu
The Air Force
5 Rue Christine (September 12)
Jamie Stewart sabotages more great pop songs in a single album than most artists write in an entire career. The Air Force doesn’t change the script, but it does see Stewart dial it down a notch, letting a few more hooks and melodies escape unscathed. The added sweetness makes the agony all the more satisfying. ~Justin Sheppard
49. Isobell Campbell and Mark Lanegan
Ballad of the Broken Seas
V2 (March 2)
I could listen to the vocals from this pair all day. The unlikely duo know this is their centerpiece as they wander, whisper, strum and cough through beautifully depressed folk songs, dusty Hank Williams covers and all kinds of existential strangeness. ~Jonathan Easley
"Ballad of the Broken Seas"
Allido/J (July 11)
Rhymefest helped write "Jesus Walks" with Kanye West, something that only hints at the working-man versatility in his major-label debut. The Chicago native may be as clever as Kanye, but, more important, he shows humility and compassion with his bravado. The album also shines with such ingenious production turns as the deftly chopped Strokes sample in "Devil’s Pie." ~Eric Solomon
Destroy Rock & Roll
Red Int / Red Ink (February 7)
Talent is all that matters now that studios have been shrunk down to the size of
pirated copies of Fruity Loops and artists have recorded every sound necessary
for sampling. Mylo knows this, and in this post-mash world he only needed a few
music-history classes to add to his already inborn skills to create this
definitively aughties document.
"Drop the Pressure"
XL (August 22)
Genre construction in ten tracks: Ratatat takes the soaring glory of an early-’80s U2 chorus, strips away all the vocals and all that pesky meaning, double-tracks the guitars and keyboards, and dumps underneath it all some seriously electronic thump. A hipster dance party without all the irony. ~Matt Liebowitz
45. The Blow
K (October 24, 2006)
Khaela Maricich might be best suited to sadly sighing over a minimal beat, but the charm of Paper Television is that the options are never limited. Hip-hop beats and dance-club sex jams also bend effortlessly to her frail voice. She may sound vulnerable, but she’s anything but meek.
44. Grizzly Bear
Warp (September 5)
Grizzly Bear beefed up for its sophomore full-length, adding two new members and numerous layers to what was once a lo-fi, bedroom aesthetic. But while Yellow House profits from added instrumentation and more intricate melodies, it manages to retain the intimate atmosphere that highlighted its predecessor, 2004’s Horn of Plenty. ~Justin Sheppard
43. Built to Spill
You In Reverse
Built to Spill is built for longevity and consistency. It may have taken the band half a decade to produce a new album, but when it came, it was like Doug Martsch never left. He’s still here, his signature sound intact, with his brand of guitar rock as epic as ever. ~John Zeiss
5 Rue Christine (July 25)
Synths, drum-boxes and ambient recordings combine to create the most cohesive and structured release by this Brooklyn improv troupe to date. Of course, "cohesive" and "structured" are relative terms here. Alternation is still a challenging listen, but it’s a challenge that more people might now be willing to undertake. ~Justin Sheppard
41. Sonic Youth
Geffen (June 13)
Rather ripped, indeed. This is what I like from these late-forty-somethings: Rather Ripped mixes the clean guitar muscle of 1992’s Dirty with moments of jangly Sonic pop. Thurston Moore is seriously underrated as a vocalist, and Kim Gordon sounds like she knows what she wants and isn’t leaving until she gets it. ~Jonathan Easley