2006: Stickers Included

by Melanie Love

For the music charts, this was the year of Justin Timberlake and High School Musical, not to mention entirely too much attention given to Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline. American Idol continued its reign, Beck released an album with stickers for do-it-yourself album art and I still haven’t figured out the appeal of Fall Out Boy or Panic! At The Disco. But for me, on the other hand, 2006 was also the year of some fantastic indie debuts, follow-ups from old favorites and the odd supergroup who detested being termed a supergroup -- not to mention a lot of paychecks well spent on concert tickets. Paris Hilton aside, it wasn’t such a bad year after all.


Album Of The Year
Under The Influence of Giants -- Under The Influence of Giants

What was my album of the summer quickly managed to become one of my all-time favorite albums. Shamelessly poppy with an eye towards the rock gods of the past, the Giants’ debut is one of the best and easily the most enjoyable release to hit the music scene of late. Their self-titled album has been on rotation in my car since its release in August. Just the first chords of “Mama’s Room” make me block out all the Los Angeles road rage, but then that could just be how high I crank the volume.


The Album That Taught Me The Value of Vocabulary
The Decemberists -- The Crane Wife

No one does metaphors, alliterations and storytelling (not to mention indie-rock) quite like the Decemberists. Their latest, The Crane Wife, revolves around the theme of a Japanese folk tale of the same name. Seamlessly combining folk-rock with Irish jigs with some glockenspiel and dulcimer thrown in for good measure, The Crane Wife is the Decemberists’ most ambitious and realized album to date. It manages to be intelligent without being pompous, which casts it as a true win for us English nerds.


The Only Double Album I Stayed Awake Through 
Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Stadium Arcadium

So I may be a tad ADD, but come on, two hours of music on one album? Thankfully, the Red Hot Chili Peppers make everything from “Dani California” to “Death Of A Martian” enjoyable with their signature blend of funk rock, facing only its runtime as a pitfall. But it’s guitarist John Frusicante’s unique, ever-changing sound that truly anchors the album, helping Stadium Arcadium soar to thrilling heights.


The Best of the Brits 
Muse -- Black Holes and Revelations

Last year’s Absolution was a masterpiece that finally erased the dogged comparisons to Radiohead and solidified Muse as one of modern rock’s greats. And Black Holes and Revelations is no different, mixing the usual apocalyptic prog-rock with crunching power-pop and an anthem to end all anthems, “Knights of Cydonia.” I can pretty safely say that no one uses laser guns and horses quite so well.


Best Non-Supergroup Supergroup 
The Raconteurs -- Broken Boy Soldiers

So I may have missed out on the best bands of the 70s, but The Raconteurs’ debut could’ve just as easily been plucked straight from the golden years of Led Zeppelin and The Who rather than released in 2006. Broken Boy Soldiers is explosive from start to finish; what started out as a one-off single from Brendan Benson and Jack White has quickly turned into one of the most unique groups to hit the music scene lately.


Best Impulse Buy
Sparklehorse -- Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain

An album comprised of reprised tracks from previous albums, B-sides and new collaborations should sound absolutely piecemeal, but Mark Linkous defies that logic on Sparklehorse’s fourth release. Dreamt For Light Years features a balanced blend of deceptively morose sunshine-pop and abrasive rockers, every lyric bursting with evocative imagery. Melancholy has never managed to sound so triumphant.


My Guilty-Pleasure Album
Keane -- Under The Iron Sea

I know I already used up my lapse in taste for the year with an extensive James Blunt feature, but I’m going to try and sneak another one through. It seems like everyone had something nasty to say about Keane’s follow-up to their smash hit debut, 2004’s Hopes & Fears; even so, I can’t help but love this album. The product of bitter inter-band turmoil, Under The Iron Sea boasts lead singer Tom Chaplin’s distinctive soaring vocals and the usual catchy choruses along with a darker layer that shadows pop tendencies. And Chaplin’s cocaine addiction aside (which forced them to cancel their recent U.S. tour), Keane puts on a fantastic live show.


The Who Would’ve Thought Album 
John Mayer -- Continuum

Who knew that the guy behind lyrics like “One pair of candy lips and your bubblegum tongue” could come up with an album as brilliant as Continuum? Gone is the radio-friendly folk-pop and in its place are songs that groove with the best of the blues. With tracks like the silky-smooth “Gravity” and “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room,” an aching ballad that retains nothing of his earlier lapses into cheesiness, Continuum is not only one of the best of the year but surely the best of Mayer’s career. And plus, anyone who can do justice to a Jimi Hendrix song (Mayer tackles “Bold As Love” and nails it) is more than okay in my book.


The Album I Can’t Decide If I Like
AFI -- Decemberunderground

Not bad but such a letdown after the genius of 2003’s Sing the Sorrow. This record finds AFI abandoning most of the complex, often epic goth-punk sound of earlier releases, playing it safe with a more mainstream, radio-friendly sound. Where Decemberunderground does manage to shine, though, is on more experimental material; throughout the course of the disc, the California rockers try synth-laden dance pop, Depeche Mode new wave and U2 on for size. Sure, those tracks stray from their roots, but it’s without sacrificing any credibility just to sell records.


The Best Genre-Benders 
Islands -- Return To The Sea

Islands’ debut is the best kind of strange. They’re weird enough to come up with a pop gem by the name of “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” and to have a nine-minute opener about swans, but savvy or just insouciant enough to make all of it work. Who knows how long this constantly in-flux manifestation of the now-defunct The Unicorns will last, but Return To The Sea is sure keep you holding on as long as the ride lasts.

Honorable Mentions:  – Band Of Horses, Everything All The Time; Stars of Track and Field, Centuries Before Love and War; Golden, You, And Everything; Foo Fighters, Skin and Bones

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