2006 was quite the year. We’re saying “was” because with finals approaching and the semester coming to a close, it seems appropriate to cut ’06 off by a few weeks. Plus, it gives Spin It an excuse to do a year end column before the semester ends. But, nonetheless, 2006 was quite the year for music. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Paris Hilton to former Chicago Bull Ron Artest had an album come out. Timbaland managed to produce 95% of all songs and Jay-Z managed to end his retirement in a more embarrassing fashion than Michael Jordan on the Wizards. With all this in mind, Carlye and Brian present … the top albums of 2006.

Brian:

3. Under The Skin by Lindsey Buckingham

I’m one of those people,

I admit it. My mantra reads: “I love Fleetwood Mac, but only Lindsey Buckingham’s stuff.”

Under The Skin , Buckingham’s first album in a decade, starts off with the line, “They said
I was a visionary/but nobody knew.” From there on, he proves the claim. His reverb-laced vocal layering is reminiscent of Animal Collective. His guitar playing, on the other hand, is classical in style. With tracks surpassing those of Fleetwood, this album shows old-timers can make great new albums (sorry, Neil Young).

2. Boys and Girls of America by The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady is the best rock and roll band in the country. It is so rare when an album is both musically brilliant and innovative lyrically, but that’s exactly what The Steady’s third release is. If you were/are a young adult involved in (a) music, (b) drugs or (c) struggling with the faith you were raised in, then there are songs specifically written for you on Boys and Girls. If you aren’t one of the above (which I doubt), but you love organ solos and time-traveling guitar riffs, it’ll be just as phenomenal for you.

1. Gulag Orkestar by Beirut

Beirut’s debut is as perfect as albums come. Ukuleles battle with Russian lutes and ancient horns, as the 20-year-old Zach Condon croons like a gypsy minstrel. Describing the album is ridiculous, but each song is grounded in pop and rock so solidly that it’s perfectly accessible.

Every song is memorable and completely unique because the album draws from so many styles and genres, from across the world and across time. A great album stands alone in its own class, and thats exactly where you’ll find Gulag Orkestar.

Carlye:

3. Continuum by John Mayer

I hate “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” Really, I do. If a guy ever picked up a guitar and attempted to power-chord that shit out for me, I would run away as fast as I possibly could.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Mayer’s latest, Continuum. Before his last album Try! was released, he himself acknowledged his departure from the sickeningly-sweet poppy tunes that have been lovey-dovey mix-CD staples for the past five years. Between the bitter-yet-optimistic break-up track “I’m Gonna Find Another You,” the depressingly dreamy “Stop This Train,” and the jazzy, falsetto-ridden vocals of “Vultures,” Mayer proves talent knows no genre.

As a phenomenal studio album to complement Try!’s live tunes, Continuum exhibits Mayer’s immense jazz and blues skills while still catering to his pop-rock audience, a feat that few have yet to conquer.

2. How We Operate by Gomez

I may live in a sorority, but don’t assume that I listen to Gomez only because they were featured on the medical drama fluff-fest, Grey’s Anatomy. (I’m trying to break the McDreamy addiction with Scrubs’ time-conflicting recent return … let’s hope it works)

How We Operate deserves to be ranked as one of the best albums put out this year, regardless of not being as famous or acclaimed as other top contenders.

Gomez is slightly reminiscent of Guster, whose lackadaisical songs fall short of the addictive pop-rock niche into which Gomez has settled. With bands like Snow Patrol and The Fray monopolizing the airwaves, hearing similar tunes being performed by musicians with more than clichÇ guitar skills is a welcome change. Tracks like the calmingly dissonant “Charlie Patton Songs” and “See The World,” a strikingly obvious “second-single,” allow the album to live up to the drawl-ridden vocals and catchy melodies of its title track.

I know, I know – Gomez isn’t going to “change music as we know it” or anything, but for a band that’s improving a genre by making it their own and producing high quality music, Gomez definitely deserves recognition for this year’s release.

1. I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass by Yo La Tengo

Hands down, this is my favorite album of the year. It’s impressive, ear-catching and, most importantly, one of the greatest examples of creativity I’ve seen since, well, those face-fountains that regurgitate water on little kiddies in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Each of the 15 tracks exudes a completely different musical idea while still providing track-to-track fluidity. “Mr. Tough,” a jazzy dance-floor groove, melts right into “Black Flower,” an orchestral lullaby with soothingly ear-catching vocals. The last track, “The Story of Yo La Tengo,” makes me wonder how indie kids fare with an almost 12-minute song – as a veteran Phish fan, I’m used to it, and enjoy the calm, distorted guitar melody easily.

Yo La Tengo truly dips in and out of various genres of music, meeting success through each twist and turn their album takes. With each song it grows harder to peg their album into a hyphenated category – by the time I reach “rock with a little bit of jazz-disco-funk-pop-prog-classical,” it’s obvious that shoving them into a genre box isn’t a good way of explaining a band of this caliber.

Good thing their music is capable of speaking for itself.

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