2006 In Review:
Muse, Sleepthief, Bent Fabric
top Best CDs of the Year list

By John Everson


Fergie

Pop Stops reviewed or mentioned more than 200 albums in 2006, a couple dozen more than the year before. Until I sat down to write this year's retrospective, I didn't realize I'd given out three “perfect” 5-star album scores this year, as well as four “darned close to perfect” 4.5-star reviews. That's pretty unusual, since there have been years that I've not given out any 5 star ratings, and only one 4.5. So that made compiling the upper half of my “best of the year” list a pretty easy one this year.

I don't claim to have listened to every disc released this year, and generally I only have the space to mention one-third or one-fourth of the CDs that I receive to review. That means that the following is my distillation of around 600 albums released in 2006. There were some discs that didn't quite make my list, despite the fact that I found them a lot of fun, like the debut from Black-Eyed Peas' Fergie, the sophomore releases from Gwen Stefani and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the goth-rock of She Wants Revenge and local band Grigori 3 or they fun-ny outings of Ben Folds and Weird Al, (who independently lampooned Dr. Dre rap songs on CDs released this year). In the end though, the 25 albums below spent the most time in my CD player. Included with these thumbnail reviews are the original Pop Stops star ratings they received.


* * * TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2006 * * *


Muse1) Muse Black Holes & Revelations (Warner): Muse's fourth disc is an amazing rock experience, running the gamut from electroclash pound to roller-rink ready pop to the Far East flair of the three-quarter time "Ave Maria"-esque "Soldier's Poem," which features vocal harmonies so rich they would make Queen blush with envy.
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2) Sleepthief The Dawnseeker (Neurodisc): This is one of the most beautiful collections of airy, ambient female-vocal driven music you will find from this, or any other year. Masterminded by composer Justin Elswick, the album follows the same format as the Delerium/Conjure One projects, revolving around one or two songwriter/keyboardists and a variety of singers. This is heaven captured on a CD.
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3) Bent Fabric Jukebox (Hidden Beach): A wild amalgam of techno beats, vocal samples and boogie-house piano, this is the album that might have happened a decade ago if Fatboy Slim had gotten together with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.This was definitely the most “fun” album of 2006.
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Keane4) Keane Under the Iron Sea (Interscope): Two years ago, Keane stormed out of the backwoods of Britain with an astonishing debut, and Under the Iron Sea expands on the promise of that CD, mixing longer piano-bass-drum arrangements with the same rich layers of soaring melodies and gorgeous harmony. Most artists only wish they could craft music as rich and emotional as this.
( ½)


5) Nina Gordon Bleeding Heart Graffiti (Warner): After a six-year absence, the former Veruca Salt singer returned with her second solo album, a triumph of entrancing melancholy melody and pop-radio ready hooks. Nina could sing the phone book and make the listener tear up.
( ½)


6) The Trews Den of Thieves (Sony ): I f the Black Crowes merged with Collective Soul and featured guest appearances from Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam , the resulting high octane guitar rock fusion might sound a lot like The Trews. This album is a pounding, soulful, rock declaration that deserves to be played loud. And often.
( ½)


7) Dresden Dolls Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner): The sophomore release from this racy alternative rock cabaret duo is dominated by the pounding piano and provocatively sincere-to-sarcastic vocals of Amanda Palmer, and with clever wordplay tackles a range of subjects that would make most blush…but it will only take one listen for you to find yourself singing along.
( ½)


Morningwood8) Morningwood Morningwood (Capitol): Melding classic CBGB's era punk attitude, unapologetic pop-rock, some Blondie trashy disco glam and funnelling it all through a lead singer who's young, charismatic and unabashedly on the make, NYC's Morningwood rocked the charts in first half of this year thanks in part to their infectious hit “Nth Degree.”
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9) Wolfmother Wolfmother (Interscope): The hard rock album of the year features Black Sabbath-esque riffs and vocals and cover art from classic sword and sorcery fantasy artist Frank Frazetta; Wolfmother's debut is like a Frankenstein blast from metal's excess-ridden, black-lit, psychedelic postered, stadium rock past. Everything old can be new again!
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10) Cat Power The Greatest (Matador): Sometimes contemplative and vulnerable, at turns sultry and jazzy, and then again smokily country-esque with a k.d. lang twang, The Greatest spins a web of musical allure that begins slowly and ends with your utter captivation.
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Enigk11) Jeremy Enigk World Awaits (Reincarnate): Enigk made a name for himself as the singer of the critically acclaimed indie rock band Sunny Day Real Estate, and his solo album is rife with subtle string backgrounds and intricate instrumental and harmony vocal textures. This will please fans of classic Yes, ELP, Radioheadand Muse. Call it smart music for demanding listeners!
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12) Secret Machines Ten Silver Drops (Reprise): Bombastic, lumbering rhythm tracks, serpentine guitar leads, Brit-pop taut vocals and progressive art-rock vibe, The Machines returned in 2006 with another disc that proves that progressive rock lives.
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13) Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris All the Roadrunning (Warner): A surprising and rewarding collaboration recorded over several years' time, this is a rich, warm album of easy listening hearth music. Whether it leans toward Appalacian or Celtic folk, it offers instantly memorable melodies and harmonies that will make the soul stir.
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Goldfrapp14) Goldfrapp Supernature (Mute): N obody does new wave techno disco with a splash of glittery sex appeal like Goldfrapp. You don't often read Kraftwerk, Donna Summer and Julee Cruise all referenced as influences in a single review, let alone for a single album. But Goldfrapp makes a beautiful, sensual and unpredictable noise, and has recently gotten widespread exposure thanks to Target using one of Supernature's tracks in its TV commercials.
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15) Andy Bell Electric Blue (Sanctuary): Erasure's lead singer steps out for the first time in 20 years to pit his smoky vocals against electronic dance rhythms crafted by new songwriters. The result is a percollating swirl of pop that sounds familiar yet distinct. It's an effervescent, intoxicating mix.
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16) Tanya Donelly This Hungry Life (Eleven Thirty): From twangy love songs to moody modern fables, the latest solo disc of new material recorded in front of a live audience from the former Belly leader is hauntingly affecting.
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Sweet - Hoffs17) Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs Under the Covers Vol. 1 (Shout Factory): A delectable collaboration on a slew of ‘60s harmony rock classics, which move from Dylan to The Who to The Beatles to The Zombies.
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18) The Vines Vision Valley (Capitol): Back from the brink of extinction, The Vines return with a stripped down punk rock celebration, and rave through 13 songs in less than 32 minutes. But it's a stunning half hour!
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19) Persephone's Bees Notes from the Underworld (Columbia): This San Francisco band's major label debut features the whimsically seductive vocals and eclectic trans-world tunes of Russian transplant Angelina Moysov. Entrancing psychedelic hepcat pop.
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20) Delerium Nuages Du Monde (Nettwerk): Formed around the songwriting team of Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb, Delirium has been crafting astonishingly rich albums with a revolving cast of of female vocalists to turn their swirling keyboard compositions into entrancing, hypnotic affairs. Their latest offers yet another beautiful, ethereal exercise in pop dreaming.
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21) Hello Stranger Hello Stranger (Aeronaut): An electro-fresh combo that rides shimmering melodies and retro-simple keyboard lines into bouncy, grab-your-ear harmonies, which fans of the Cardigans will absolutely love.
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Elton John22) Elton John The Captain & The Kid (Interscope): John returns to the rich harmonies and jaunty piano of his youth with an older and wiser spirit. The result is magical – an ode to the sound that made him a star imbued with all the knowledge gained since.
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23) MercyMe Coming Up to Breathe (columbia): A stunning album of soulful rock that brings to mind Del Amitri and Collective soul – these songs are just begging to be stadium rock hits.
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24) Grant-Lee Phillips Nineteeneighties (Zoe): A rewarding “country-coffeehouse” tribute to the 1980s alternative scene, with covers of songs from The Cure, The Pixes, R.E.M. and more.
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Peaches25) Peaches Impeach My Bush (XL): Filled with lascivious songs that ride pumping electronic beats and growling synthesizer basslines, this is an irreverently eclectic CD, which is why Peaches is the current saint of the underground electroclash movement.
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