2006: Tiny Mix Tapes Favorite Albums of 2006
25 Albums that Defined 2006 for TMT



Our primary economic obligation is to make money and spend money. With sleeping, eating, shitting, and having a social life, where does that leave music listening? Sure, listening to music is a social component, but some people don’t even have the leisure time — let alone the desire or resources — to experience it in the meticulous, often outlandish way we readers and writers do. But the so-called “leisure time” we devote to music listening is, in fact, “work” time. Sure, there is less direct economic impact when examining the lyrics to Joanna Newsom’s “Monkey & Bear” or discerning the best Magik Markers release of 2006, but there are surely worse things you could be doing with your time.

To criticize music listening as something negative is like saying it’s worse to posit an argument than to flip burgers or sell cars. Music is an articulation of culture. We can hear its reverberations in and through the music, pulsating, reflecting, sublimating, processing, prophesizing. A critique of music involves much more than whether or not we “like” an album (yet whether or not we like the album is just as significant), and if we step outside of music’s seemingly inherent logic and examine such things as the RIAA, iPods, OK Go, Impala, Beirut, or the Big Four, one can easily see the political, social, and economic forces that dictate how, when, where, and why we listen to music.

I guess this perhaps is a justification, a sort of self-reassuring statement born from guilt and cast as a generalization by repeatedly using the word “we” (sorry about that). But really, who am I to speak for other music listeners? And who is TMT to create the illusion of authority? How did we ever get the cultural capital? And where, oh where, did we get all this “leisure time”? Brian Eno once said, “Listening to something is an act of surrender.” If this is true, then we here at Tiny Mix Tapes have been in cultural captivity for a long time now. And it’s been great. Along with our Eureka! list, the albums below celebrate the music that defined what TMT was all about in 2006, and we implore you to forget your economic obligation and surrender to your cultural obligation.
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25. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
[Ba Da Bing!/4AD]
by munroe

Before the dawn of personal computing, Andy Warhol predicted that “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” While still philosophically correct, the internet has proven Mr. Warhol wrong by an entire unit of measure. Today, you’ve got 15 seconds. One second more and the “haters” conjure forth from the hate mist and declare what was once godly a pile of rancid donkey feces. Beirut’s hate-proof ponchos certainly came in handy when they wandered into the mindless abyss that is the “blagosphere,” because months after being declared the next Neutral Milk Hotel (impossible), they remain relatively unscathed. The album itself probably helped as well, with its Eastern European and Balkan-ish songs held together by the thick, molasses-y voice of Zach Condon. Everything compiled to an incredibly tragic yet uplifting album, most appropriate at a Bulgarian clown’s funeral — which seemed like an inappropriate place for the hype machine to be running, but when fueled by “Postcards From Italy,” a track with an infectious beat, simple ukelele, and glorious trumpeting, even the dead clown’s wife didn’t mind. It’s a standout track on a standout album. Also listen for Napoleon Dynamite makin’ babies with a Newfie on “Scenic World.” Good work music nerds, you done found yourselves a keeper.

Beirut - Ba Da Bing! - 4AD - Live Review
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24. Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
[Big Dada]
by Judy Ain’t No Punk

Baltimore, represent. I’ll tell you right now, I’m not an easy sell on hip-hop that features lyrics like “Oooh, that pussy gets damp.” And, yes, at first glance, YoYoYoYoYo appeared to be just that kind of album — roughly one mention of some lady’s vagina, breasts, or hindquarters every 30 seconds. But MC Spank Rock and producer XXXchange had more than just sexploitation on their minds. Their sound heavily referenced old school (the women that provide backing vocals sound like some high school girls from the neighborhood, rather than sanitized singers-for-hire), but with some of the best experimental dance beats in the business, they brought the future of the genre into focus. In what was, generally speaking, a pretty lame year for hip-hop, Spank Rock emerged as a real innovator. These are the kind of guys who might just succeed in bringing fans of both Jay-Z and Sage Francis together — on the dance floor, no less. Oh, and if you’re still worried about justifying your love of Spank Rock to your Women’s Studies prof, just queue up “Bump” and let her listen as Amanda Blank calls out, “I’m a treachy, boastful bitch MC,” and then goes on to take the piss out of Fergie.

Spank Rock - Big Dada - Music Review
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23. Comets on Fire - Avatar
[Sub Pop]
by Grant Purdum

After putting up with endless internet (not to mention TMT) discussions about how spine-tingling Comets On Fire’s Avatar was, I finally listened and found myself very surprised. This is a MUCH more compelling, cohesive unit than that found on Blue Cathedral. Wanking is replaced by banging, noodling by gnarl-ifying, and indulgence by flat-out transcendence — and I’m not sure a better bottom-end bass clinic was put on all year, Ben Flashman sliding up and down his fret like a ravenous lez tonguing a wet-hot snatch. Think that’s too dirty an image? Let this snake of an album slither its way up your spine, and you’ll be leaving snail trails all over your apartment too. Yes, even if you’re male. This is the sound of a staggering unit of artistic energy coalescing in the best possible way, sneaking peeks at Cream, Blue Cheer, Wishbone Ash, and (YES) Hawkwind, though it’s not as easy to pigeon-coop Comets On Fire as some seem to think. And what is this? Vocals? Where have they been all along (Cathedral could’ve used more of them!)? So there you go, you starry-eyed ball waxers, I’ve admitted Avatar’s great — no, flat-out ripe and rippin’. Can we move on? No? Fair enough… Just one question: Were the ’70s really this fun?

Comets on Fire - Sub Pop - Music Review
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22. Boris - Pink
[Southern Lord; Diwphalanx]
by Grigsby

After many years in the game, Boris have gone and made a masterpiece when the world was finally ready to hear it. Pink both alluded to their past (the micro-doom mini-epic “Blackout”) and pointed to a more melodic future (“Farewell”). The latter was particularly exciting, its chiming guitars and soaring melody posing the question, “Maybe shoegaze was always meant to be made with a sledgehammer?” That aside, Pink saw Boris journeying again to the well of the Stooges and Motörhead and coming out heavier than both. Lest you think Pink was an exercise in generic wankery, the album is full of genuine stunners; for starters, “Pink” is absolutely enormous. How can a song that starts so intensely build so much? Describing “Electric” will go nowhere; I’ll just say that it’s the best all-music argument I’ve ever heard for knifing the part of me that likes Belle and Sebastian, stealing a car, and living out the rest of my life in wanton decadence. As if things weren’t exhausting enough, the highlight comes at the tail end with the ferocious “When We’re Gone.” If they can keep this up, let’s hope they aren’t anytime soon.

Boris - Southern Lord - Diwphalanx - Music Review
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21. Cat Power - The Greatest
[Matador]
by Chadwicked

Heroes/heroines in America: not hard to come by nowadays. Cops, firefighters, security guards, bakers, cabbies, the woman in human resources: it seems they’re all branded with heroism. Cat Power has always been an American artist, but this year we saw her validate herself. She swam in a Bartlett, Tennessee ravine in cutoff denim shorts. Sang her songs with risk, the frailest of swaggers, and in a straw skimmer hat. She was humble enough for rehab, and to make herself the punching bag. Declared herself the greatest, y’know, with that hearty American confidence, and also with her sailing ships, table dancing, afternoon constitutionals, and galloping horses. She shed evils, like an exiled she-devil — evils like the eiderdown and the dregs of her bed. Wearing not opera gloves to the elbows, but loosely-laced boxing gloves, with that brummagem pink as a backdrop, gleaming like a gem. That honeyed boxing charm necklace and her gilded cheeks from the fight. Went from drunk in a bathrobe to a champion in a silk robe with gold trim and tassels, even if sobriety didn’t arrive until after the album’s completion. She’s indebted to the dented brass instruments of the Memphis Rhythm Band’s majestic groans: Teenie Hodges and company blowing soul, R&B, and jazz. Those horns like the spike of a compass into thigh flesh — puncture, puncture, puncture. Singing these songs is heroic.

Cat Power - Matador - Music Review - Live Review
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20. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
[Domino]
by NicoleMC99

2006 was supposedly the year Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. I disagree; clearly Junior Boys took that honor with So This Is Goodbye, a sophomore album that managed to exceed every expectation the superb Last Exit set for the down-tempo electronic twosome. Unlike JT, Junior Boys didn’t need overt sexual references and grind-inducing beats to turn their listeners on; they had subtle grooves and, most importantly, Jeremy Greenspan’s amazingly smooth vocals to delicately woo them instead. Most attention this year went to single “In the Morning,” a piece of total dance-pop perfection for sure, but slow-burner “Count Souvenirs” is the song that made me melt. Hearing Greenspan seductively beg, “Please, please don’t touch” — well, dammit, I wanted to touch! But I can’t, and that’s exactly the point. If JT’s idea of sexy is the girl at the frat party in the short skirt and tube top giving it away for free, Junior Boys’ is the mysterious stranger at the classy bar that gives you a sly smile from across the room. A little restraint goes a long way, and Junior Boys proved that in 2006 with this gorgeous album.

Junior Boys - Domino - Music Review
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19. OOIOO - Taiga
[Thrill Jockey]
by Papaya

One minute you’re doing jumping jacks in the coolest boot camp ever. The next minute you’re a bag of popcorn kernels held over an open fire. The next, you’re bouncing off fluorescent walls in a disco — and you’re just getting started. Such is the aural odyssey on which OOIOO’s Taiga takes you. Yoshimi and the gals graced 2006 with another bombshell of an album, lending even more credibility to the theory that they are incapable of dropping anything but. Taiga chose not to mimic styles from any of their previous works; but as always, OOIOO used their strengths to their advantage, primarily that they really know their way around a beat. With each listen, I found myself increasingly mesmerized by their ecstatic, pulsating rhythms that channel the primal spirit of ancient history while embracing the wildly exciting possibilities of the future. In a strange way I couldn’t help but wonder if I was listening to some sort of feral Charlie’s Angels given the keys to a recording studio, or one of the most dynamic groups around boldly breaking into uncharted sonic territory — but when that happens, I’ve found that it’s best not to think too hard about it, and instead just to turn up the volume and stomp along to the beat.

OOIOO - Thrill Jockey
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18. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
[Anti-]
by kern

Neko Case, the fire-tressed goddess of soulful twang, has delivered yet another package of dusty mana from the heavens with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which sees her expanding further on the haunting noir sounds she explored on her 2003 masterpiece, Blacklisted. Here Case spins a new batch of mysterious stories replete with mournful longing, quiet elegance, and a palpably cinematic feel. While there is a decidedly pulpy patina to this collection of songs, there is also a strong undercurrent of vulnerability in her elysian, velveteen vocals effectively filing down the sharp edges of the occasionally pitch black subject matter. Without question, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is one of 2006’s best: a gorgeous triumph that has captured not only a delightfully intriguing snapshot of Americana’s dark heart, but also the hearts of listeners everywhere.

Neko Case - Anti- - Music Review
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17. J Dilla - Donuts
[Stones Throw]
by Paul Haney

Jay Dee was a producer often taken for granted by the hip-hop community, but with his untimely passing this year came an outpouring of grief from all corners of the rap world that suggested Dilla was another talent perhaps sadly destined for posthumous admiration. Dilla had a knack for making even the most time-damaged and mechanical of samples sound very literally full of life, and while his production work for Slum Village and Common, among others, captivated a slew of minds within the hip-hop cult, Donuts, released the week of his death, was an experimental artistic statement that was bound to have blindsided the more cynical sects who had dismissed James Yancey early in his career (see the controversial final two A Tribe Called Quest albums). A cut-and-paste continuous mix of beautifully damaged patchwork soul and funk, Donuts unthinkably renovated the instrumental hip-hop paradigm and worked an almost-avant but never off-putting standard that will be hard for future generations to reach. That Yancey is no longer here to one-up this masterpiece is a tragic reminder that those who establish new artistry are sometimes not around to revel in their own spectacular achievements and concurrently spread their gospels. Hopefully, hip-hop’s commercial wasteland won’t overshadow powerful statements like Donuts.

J. Dilla - Stones Throw - Music Review
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16. Tim Hecker - Harmony in Ultraviolet
[Kranky]
by Rezound

During a year that brought superb full-lengths by other such fuzz-click wonders as Tokyo’s Chihei Hatakayama and New Orleans’ two-piece Belong, it was Montreal’s Tim Hecker who produced the most cohesive and well-sequenced of the bunch. Like a murky, unsettling dream, a foreboding nostalgia permeates the soundscape throughout. Melancholic melodies crash into waves of noise while floating in space. A ghost boat in dense jungle floats through a thick fog to be met suddenly by a bright explosion. It’s clear Hecker paid great attention to detail constructing the album; the arc and flow from track to track are meticulous in their design, while the individual passages seem to evolve organically and hold a certain autonomy as well. One could listen to Harmony In Ultraviolet dozens of times and continually draw a new understanding from the music. This is a form of sound sculpting made for personal interpretation. Each listen reveals a new layer, and I imagine Hecker himself is still exploring his own Frankensteinian creation. Wheezing distortion meets delicate piano plinks in the middle of a dark, cold ocean with no sight of land. And in this place, not only doesn’t land exist, it doesn’t need to.

Tim Hecker - Kranky - Music Review
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15. Herbert - Scale
[!K7]
by Dave Gurney

Whether you found it charming or treacly that he’s committed to forcing himself to work with new sounds and then theorize about the implications of that practice, it’s hard to deny that aside from any pretensions, Herbert’s Scale was a gorgeous slab of contagious melody and innovative rhythm working in dance-inducing harmony. Of course, the effects of his conceptualizing were obvious if you listened hard to any of the tracks, as it became apparent that they were obsessively sculpted sonic contours made up of myriad unique components. That such work could be so tightly woven out of so many fractured elements stood as a testament to both Herbert’s brilliance and the still unrealized potentials of electronic music. A point of contention for our initial review was Dani Siciliano’s contributions, but to many of us at TMT (and elsewhere), her finely tuned vocal cords were a distinctly disarming layer that helped bring needed attention to the lyrics. While the tuneful qualities of the tracks dominated, this was an album of unrest, and that was nowhere more manifest than in the lyrics. While we hesitate to call this Herbert’s masterwork, it’s only because we fully expect more astonishing feats in the near future.

Herbert - K!7 - Music Review
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14. Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
[Sub Pop]
by W.C.

Did Wolf Eyes save their best material for Sub Pop this year? Perhaps it was made with less haste than various other CDs, CDRs, lathe cuts, and you-name-its, but there was a greater difference between Human Animal and their other productions. In spirit, Wolf Eyes have always had more in common with MC5 than MEV, and they’d surely prefer to drink some beers than hang out at a pretentious art opening. Not that we would want anything other than a working-class Wolf Eyes, but spending time with the high-art brain of Anthony Braxton may have actually rubbed off a little. As opposed to roping chaos into somewhat memorable songs, or unleashing long unedited jams, they sculpted an album that flowed as such, embracing structure over immediacy. Its fidelity was more distinguished, and, although not as overtly abrasive as most other efforts, the self-consciousness found in Human Animal gave their music a sense of clarity and precision that we rarely hear from Wolf Eyes. Of course, those who prefer them barfing all over a funeral took comfort when Manchester Is Dead and other follow-ups found them immediately back to old tricks.

Wolf Eyes - Sub Pop - Music Review
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13. Keith Fullerton Whitman - Lisbon
[Kranky]
by JNHasty

One fateful day in Lisbon, Portugual, Mr. Keith Fullerton Whitman, belly full of swordfish, pulled off one of those rare live performances where, as he put it, “everything just clicked.” To say things “clicked” is a bit of an understatement. Lisbon is electronic catharsis. The fuzz that arises about 20 minutes into the piece sears away all the bad shit you’ve ever heard or had to listen to, exposing a fresh sonic palate upon which Whitman imprints gorgeous noises that sound more like stars forming in deep space or the hum of micro-particles resonating around an atom than a man running his guitar into a computer. Lisbon dances across the tightrope, bridging process and listenability that many computer music composers rarely approach, much less cross. Not only is the array of instruments, interfaces, patches and programs that make up his real-time guitar-processing system, deemed “Playthroughs,” a fascinating display of musical engineering, but the timbral palette generated by his system, especially the permutation used for Lisbon, are of such a quality and texture as will compel even those resistant to computer music to listen with mouth agape. Lisbon is the most rapturous 40 minutes of music recorded this year, and some of the most tasteful and awe-inspiring computer music I’ve ever heard.

Keith Fullerton Whitman - Kranky - Music Review
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12. Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
[Constellation]
by Leveer

I’ve tried in vain to convince people of the superiority of Roger Waters as a vocalist to any number of Geddy Lees or Freddie Mercurys or Robert Plants for time immemorial. But it seems that the two camps are irreconcilable, true believers both. They assert that the symphonious vocal chords of the latter group preclude there from being any comparison, with Waters being weighed down with his shoddily inadequate natural abilities. “But,” I exhort, “he sings with nigh infinitely more power and emotion!” This brings us to Carla Bozulich, one of those genetic wretches I can’t resist. On Evangelista, Bozulich managed to assault you and seduce you and tear out your heart and make you wish you never had a heart in the first place. She threw Diamanda Galas, Jamie Stewart, and Lisa Germano into a cauldron, distilling them into a concoction that was often more affecting than any of them. And it was because they’re cursed with beautiful voices, which served to alienate them from us. You can imagine your sister or lover or yourself screaming and mourning as Bozulich does; she stands in, offering us a cathartic kick start that an idol never could.

Carla Bozulich - Constellation - Music Review
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11. Magik Markers - A Panegyric To The Things I Do Not Understand
[Gulcher]
by JeffRoesgen

Religion, science, history: each a means by which we try to make sense of our circumstances and existence. On A Panegyric to the Things That I Don’t Understand, Magik Markers confronted this notion by asking: What does it all really matter? So this year, while much of the world pondered war, democracy, global warming, and Carl Jung, the Markers paid tribute to our incomprehensible realm with their expanses of squalling guitars, slow channels of grumbling bass, bursts of percussion, whistles, and manic monologues. The record, like the reality that we all confront each day, possesses confounding complexity and chaos. To have called it music may have been selling A Panegyric short from what it really was: a sonic ode to humanity’s illusion of structure and comprehension.

Magik Markers - Gulcher - Music Review
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10. Josephine Foster - A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
[Locust]
by Split Foster

Startling: four strangers shared a pew and a fruitful conversation. A German folk song, an electric guitar, a harp, a voice. They spoke cordially, meaningfully, and with just enough manners. How do you do? I’ll show you. They often got excited; their voices leapt over and around each other, instead of staying seated in demure patterns of discourse. No strained apologies weakened their speech; in fact, hardly any apologizing took place at all. They traded clever, indecent questions of origins: Do I come from you or do you come from me? Both? Both. We are beautiful and aggressive. We are peaceful and ugly. A room cannot contain us. Birthing is a violent business. It all went down in a church. A church! A church: where pulpits, texts, and banners all prop staid hierarchies, hammer histories into straight arcs? Yes. Where the embryos of pop squiggle in the rich yolk of German lieder. Where solos sprout and writhe from the dark turf and a voice rains sweet and thick on it all. Where we nearly forgot all that freak folk evangelism – where this smartly dressed wolf showed us just how rich the irruptive howlings of a frei Volk can be.

Josephine Foster - Locust - Music Review
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09. Califone - Roots & Crowns
[Thrill Jockey]
by Leah

At the top of Califone’s list of notable characteristics is their ability to effortlessly blend melody and lyrical substance with experimental elements and fancy studio wizardry. Roots & Crowns showcases this sublime talent more clearly than ever. All of the tracks on this record balance pretty melodies with expert arrangements and carefully needled noise and electronic elements that give the songs incredible depth and appeal. There is also quite a bit of range: the record opens with the percussive grooves of the Indian-flavored “Pink and Sour” and heads directly into the lazier, horn- and bass clarinet-backed “Spider’s House.” Each subsequent song has its own footprint as well — some are rollicking and noise-filled, others are gently melodic and sparse. Roots & Crowns is another sure step for Califone, who have unfailingly and consistently put out album after album of remarkable material. In an industry filled with fly-by-night indie rock transients who put out a good album or two before disappearing into the wild blue yonder, Califone’s steadfast presence is, too, remarkable.

Califone - Thrill Jockey
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08. Scott Walker - The Drift
[4AD]
by Lars Gotrich

There is literally nothing like The Drift. No concrete precedent exists for its simultaneously flat and three-dimensional sound palette — a canvas being the best image for comparison, albeit one of truthful horror. The architectural compositions of Iannis Xenakis give us something to work from, but even that’s an intangible source. The “blocks of sound” are meticulously and, some would say, maliciously placed with long sweeps of strings, dark Morricone guitar, unconventional percussion (e.g., a slab of meat), horrible silence, and Walker’s voice, a fascinating, piercing instrument of its own. And the pulsating tension never gives way. The oddly compelling thing about The Drift is that, despite its impenetrability, it is overwhelmingly human. Such an ambitious and seemingly antagonistic work both presents and attempts to answer the purpose of music as the only genuine form of human expression. Nothing’s explicitly laid out, mind you, but stored in these blocks of sound is the subtext of the bleak human condition, and the only way Walker can relate is through the death and dying bodies of Elvis Presley’s twin brother and Benito Mussolini. For many years to come, The Drift is an album that will continue a running dialogue with our conscious minds, even those unwilling to speak back.

Scott Walker - 4AD - Music Review
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07. Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
[Warp]
by Jay

Two years ago, some guys from New York made a couple waves with a dreamy lo-fi record that was “RIYL Animal Collective” (The Internet 2004). “Thanks,” we said. But the latent premonitions of Horn of Plenty’s pre-dawn semi-consciousness seem stupidly obvious today. It was as though they had it all figured out, with Yellow House almost narrative in its continuation of the debut. From the very opening piano lines, you could hear the band shedding their prior timidity like so much sleep from the corners of their eyes. And despite their rich and complex compositions, they managed an illusion of modest, inspired naivety through a grace and sublimity that few, if any, saw coming. It’s never easy to evaluate a musical zeitgeist when you’re so presently entrenched in it; perspective is difficult to come by before several years have passed. There’s no shortage of music these days, which makes it all the more impressive that Grizzly Bear can reflect such a broad range of contemporaries while remaining virtually peerless. In a couple weeks we’ll celebrate the 7th anniversary of this decade’s identity crisis. And Yellow House, incorporating so many elements of the last seven years of independent music — and to such acclaim — offers a rare glimpse of how we might come to define the ’00s.

Grizzly Bear - Warp - Music Review - Live Review
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06. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
[Matador]
by Paulb

Yo La Tengo swallowed a whole lot of unnecessary critical backwash after the release of 2003’s Summer Sun. You would think a band as important as Yo La Tengo would be allowed the occasional fumble, but critics came down on the album like it was Bush’s plan for democracy in Iraq. This year, we had the much-acclaimed I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Book-ended by its longest songs, the fuzzy “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” and the equally impressive “The Story Of Yo La Tengo,” there were countless highlights in between, far too many to mention here. Sure, I Am Not Afraid didn’t cover any new ground — as has been written about endlessly at this point — but what do Yo La Tengo really need to prove beyond sustainability? At nearly 80 minutes, the LP was a lot to get through, but I found myself endlessly replaying songs on car trips long after they’d been lodged in my brain for hours prior. Not everything works, and some sections are longer and more drawn out, but by the end, I Am Not Afraid is a collection you revisit regularly, share with those important to you, and display prominently on your dusty shelves at home.

Yo La Tengo - Matador - Music Review
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05. Juana Molina - Son
[Domino]
by Tamec

I get the feeling that Juana Molina is one of those good-at-everything Renaissance people that you find yourself cheering against from time to time, hoping for a normalizing flaw that might make her more human. The Argentinean former TV actress continued to carve out an outstanding career in music with her fourth record, Son, released by Domino this year. Although the lyrics, sung entirely in Spanish, may keep some Anglophone listeners at a distance, I found them helpful at drawing me into the music and mood; I can relax and take it all in rather than straining to make out a turn of phrase. Son was a wonderfully warm and inviting record that bundled electronics, found (and incidental) sounds, and acoustic instruments (primarily guitar) together with Molina’s rich voice. To my American ears, Son sounded something like The Books fused with a more understated incarnation of the recently rediscovered Antena. Molina is a singer and natural musician unlike any members of either band, however; one of Juana’s best qualities is a keen ear for which parts of a song bear repeating and which should pass just once. As such, Son held listeners’ interests without the usual tricks of dynamics. It was just good.

Juana Molina - Domino - Music Review
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04. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
[Def Jam]
by P Funk

The internet needs some douchebag like me to write another paragraph about Ghostface about as much as urbane twentysomethings need McSweeney’s to publish another pseudo-memoir from an up-and-coming novelists. Nevermind that Fishscale still hasn’t gone gold; in cyberspace, it was without a doubt the most discussed, shared, and unanimously approved-of album of 2006. So chalk this album’s appearance on our list up to middle school nostalgia, tokenism, bandwagon-hopping, or any other bullshit means of explaining away the fact that a staff of (mostly) white kids who (mostly) don’t devote a large percentage of their music-listening time to hip-hop records actually like this album. And maybe you’re right. But what else should we be listening to? That Juvenile album about Hurricane Katrina? No thanks.

Ghostface Killah - Def Jam - Music Review
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03. TV on the Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
[4AD/Interscope]
by C. Schell

There have been stranger major-label artist signings (Boredoms come to mind) than TV On The Radio. Still, it’s hard to believe Interscope released Return To Cookie Mountain this year. Honestly, the majors are all about singles, right? Did you hear a single? I didn’t. What could be heard was something that is in small supply from the big 4: a front-to-back, no-fucking-doubt-about-it, great album. Not a few cool songs, not a hit catchphrase or a sloganeering ode to nothing, but a true piece of art. A record that reveals its flawlessness over time, doling out little, amazing bits with each repeated listen. There were so many interesting elements, sounds, layers and styles stuffed into the tunes on RTCM it was near impossible, as a listener, to grasp its full excellence right away. It was still captivating, strange and fun enough that it kept your attention until you figured it all out. But once the record’s greatness hit you, full-on, you felt that sensation that only comes every so often when listening to music. The feeling that there are no other records, songs or groups; for the foreseeable future, this is all you need.

TV On the Radio - 4AD - Interscope - Music Review - Live Review
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02. Liars - Drum’s Not Dead
[Mute]
by Nunpuncher

One of the best moments of my birthday party this year (well, to be honest, one of the only moments I remember) was when some guy threw Drum’s Not Dead into the stereo and put on “Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack.” Pretty much every single motherfucker in the room threw their heads back as one and screamed out the opening “YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHH!” But, see, that’s the genius of Drum’s Not Dead: it manages to bring the vocabulary of a number of avant-garde genres (noise, no-wave, minimalism) to a relatively mainstream audience. It’s single-minded in its nihilistic, monotone trudge (sunlight only cracks through on a couple of tracks); it’s fastidious in its obedience to its own weird rules; it relies extensively on drones and strange, alien effects; and yet it’s never less than utterly human, and utterly entrancing. If God is in the details, then this album is Satan itself. There’s hardly anything to it. Every song is made up of the barest scraps of an idea, fleshed out through iteration. And yet somehow, with the most meagre of ingredients, Liars managed to make one of the most intriguing and rewarding albums of the year.

Liars - Mute - Music Review
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01. Joanna Newsom - Ys
[Drag City]
by Mr P

With over 4,000 words in just five songs, Ys showed us that content could, in fact, dictate form. Based on four autobiographical events, Joanna Newsom wrote Ys as a personal palimpsest, an elongated journey that twisted and turned almost as dizzyingly as Van Dyke Parks’ orchestration. Yet despite its daunting allegories and arcane language, Ys’ exquisite musicianship and commanding vocals managed to pique the curiosity of nearly every music listener. Obviously, Ys will never shape hipster identities like, say, Marquee Moon, so it’s quite the feat that Joanna Newsom landed the top spot by such a large margin. Ys was simply immune to apathy.

Such attention, however, is rarely met with universal applause. For every kind of praise, there was plenty of denunciation. (In fact, it took me awhile to get used to its coded gestures and emphasis on consonance, and I’m still grappling with its overwhelming reliance on aesthetics.) But how could such sweet, precious music be so polarizing? For one thing, to label Ys “sweet” or “precious” is basing judgment purely on semiotic superficialities. Sure, she sang metaphorically of beached whales and shelled snails, meteorites and meadowlarks, but her topics were ultimately freedom, mortality, and decadence. Second, there seemed to be an intellectual disjunction: While folk purists and proud culture vultures were wondering where the fuck the chorus was, Newsom was too busy plucking her Lyon & Healy harp, squeaking her voice in front of enraptured audiences.

This is probably where I should be framing an argument about Newsom subverting musical paradigms, or mentioning how iTunes only sells three of the songs individually (Ys would otherwise be only $5), or maybe even discussing the implications of her costly approach (Van Dyke Parks + Abbey Road + Jim O’Rourke + Steve Albini = not cheap), but I’ll save you the bullshit. It’d be a disservice to Newsom if I were to only bring my own ideas to Ys, when there’s so much in its lyrics, its sounds, and its execution that perhaps the old-fashioned approach to music listening (i.e., “extracting” the ideas “in” the music) just might have more significance in the long run. There’s something to be said about letting your immediate emotions dictate your response, and Ys reminded me of what it’s like to love, then analyze.

Joanna Newsom - Drag City - Music Review - Live Review

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