The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

7. Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit

The idea of an album from the likes of Belle & Sebastian leaving enough of an impression to last 11 whole months to land on a Top 10 list would’ve seemed an absurd proposition any time between, oh, 1998 and this past January. But that’s the thing about The Life Pursuit: even the smaller details of the album—that slide guitar on “Another Sunny Day,” that trumpet solo on “Dress Up In You”—somehow feel outsized, and the result is some of the year’s most spirited, memorable pop. And, suddenly, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and “The Blues Are Still Blue” is still even more buoyant and is still getting more iPod plays than most of the summer’s Top 40 hits, and there’s a fleeting moment of fear of having forgotten something obvious (Camera Obscura? Faded quickly. The Boy Least Likely To? Even more twee than this. The Long Blondes? A great single and a whole lot of blog hype.), but the stack of CDs still waiting to be shelved says otherwise, and here we are, surprised but nonetheless feeling pretty good about it.

8. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Following a few years in which one too many Ryan Adams soundalikes made alt-country passé, 2006 was the year that the indie kids “discovered” country music, thanks to well-reviewed, high-profile albums like Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins’s Rabbit Fur Coat, Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go, Lambchop’s Damaged, and Cat Power’s The Greatest, all of which cribbed from the genre either in form or content. But the fourth studio album from Neko Case trumped them all, displaying a deep understanding of even the most unpleasant recesses of the country genre, even as she traveled farther away from its basic conventions than on her previous albums. The voice, as always, drew the lion’s share of the accolades, but what’s ultimately most striking about Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is Case’s ongoing evolution into a first-rate songwriter, equally capable of a direct gut-punch or a dense nonlinear narrative. Nashville, of course, wouldn’t know where to begin with this, but listening to Fox Confessor, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Patsy, Loretta, and Emmylou.

9. Aceyalone, Magnificent City

Overshadowed in the early months of 2006 by Ghostface Killah’s also very-good Fishscale, then one-upped in the Underground Hip-Hop Artist Plus Trendy Producer department by St. Elsewhere, and finally bumped from much of the year-end listology hand-wringing in favor of late-year (again, also very-good) albums by Clipse and Lupe Fiasco, Magnificent City stands as perhaps the most unjustly overlooked album of a remarkable year for hip-hop. Which is regrettable but not hard to understand: Magnificent City is the smoothest, most subtle album of the lot. Its ambitious use of recurring tropes to explore various forms of modern isolation only appear when taking Magnificent City as a whole, which is, in turn, given further depth when considering that it’s the work of two men (Aceyalone with RJD2), each pushing the other to the top of his game.

10. CSS, Cansei de Ser Sexy

To translate for those who didn’t get on board with CSS’s pastiche of MySpace-style real-time pop culture: In Portuguese, it means, “Bring your ass on the floor and move it real fast. I wanna see your kitty and a little bit of titty. Wanna know where I go when I’m in your city? Girl, don’t you worry about all the dough, because a cat is coming straight out of the ’no, ready to rock those shows all the way to Rio. Bring that Brazil booty on the floor. Up, down, all around, work that shit to the funky sound. Going to see where I’m going, oh?” Lost in translation, alas, is that Cansei De Ser Sexy is funny on purpose and is actually something that right-minded people might want to listen to.

Singles

The Best Albums & Singles of 2006

1. The Pipettes, “Pull Shapes”

What makes a great single, distilled down to one line: “I just wanna move, I don’t care what the song’s about.” And it’s a good thing, too, since the Pipettes’s gimmick—a post-post-feminist reclaiming of classic girl group pop, in matching polka-dot dresses—collapses on itself if you so much as look at it sideways. But those three part harmonies? That final 12 seconds of orchestral flourish? “Pull Shapes” is just glorious stuff, and by far the year’s purest, most exciting pop.

2. Nelly Furtado, “Maneater”

Two theories to explain the failure of “Maneater” at radio: (1) With those eerie zombie drones backing Nelly Furtado’s nasal delivery in the verses and those voodoo ritual drums in the chorus, radio programmers took the song as a literal celebration of cannibalism; (2) Fergie’s lifting of the “love you long time” line for the execrable “London Bridge” robbed the single of its would-be money shot. I vote for the latter theory, if only because I’m willing to blame Fergie-ferg for just about anything.

3. Franz Ferdinand, “The Fallen”

...On which the swagger, which has always been the source of their charm, morphs into a vague threat, which the archdukes promptly follow-up by fainting at the sight of blood and falling to the floor. Which isn’t such a surprise, since getting into a for-reals fight might wrinkle their neatly ironed shirts. It’s the taunting wa-hoo!s that sell Franz Ferdinand’s “The Fallen,” but it’s the bit about robbing supermarkets that should give Alex Kapranos’s editors at The Guardian pause if they’re serious about releasing that cookbook of his.

4. The Boy Least Likely To, “Faith”

The Boy Least Likely To’s “Faith” is all banjos and handclaps, and just when you think it wouldn’t make a suitable soundtrack for drunken underwear-dancing on a hotel bed, The Boys break out the güiro and slide-whistle, and, really, it’s just not such a hard sell from there.

5. Kelis, “Blindfold Me”

Blindfolds are the gateway drug into edgier forms of sensory deprivation kink, so I guess this means we should expect Kelis’s next album to have singles on which she and Nas explore the sub/dom dynamics of mummification and breath control play. So long as the beats are as good as they are on “Blindfold Me,” only a real prude could complain.

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