While there is no accounting for other people's musical tastes, I like to think that my own is pretty discerning. Since great taste should not remain hidden, I offer up a list of the 10 albums I most enjoyed listening to in 2006, regardless of whether they were actually released this year or not.
But first, those that did not make the cut. If there was a Honorable Mention category, Pretty Girls Make Graves' Élan Vital, Sufjan Stevens' The Avalanche and The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, three decent albums from excellent bands, would all be in it. Despite the fact that The Avalanche is comprised of songs that failed to make it onto Illinois, my #1 album for 2005, it stands with the other two albums. Regardless, I refrained from putting any of these albums on the list. While all three of these albums are excellent, longtime readers of this site will already know of the aural joy that that are PGMG, Sufjan, and the Decemberists. Indeed, it is likely that you have already bought every album that these three bands have created.
If not, you should not start with the aforementioned albums. While they are respectable pieces of works, none of them represent the apogee of their respective bands' careers. As a result, I spent more time in 2006 trying to find new music than listening to the latest releases of my old favorites. To tell the truth, each of the following 10 albums probably deserves its own entry. However, considering the fact I was not able to write 10 entries in the whole of December, the odds that I would be able to write 10 in one day is ridiculously low. On the other hand, at more than 2500 words, this is one of the longest entries I have written.
#10 is Death Cab for Cutie's Plans (2005). Death Cab's major label debut, I initially refrained from listening to this album after hearing charges of overproduction and insipid poppiness. In retrospect, this was silly - their poppiness is what makes Death Cab for Cutie great. Best tracks: "Different Names for the Same Thing," "Your Heart is an Empty Room," "Crooked Teeth."
#9 will come as a surprise to those of you who are not stalking my Last.fm user profile - Australian twee pop band Architecture in Helsinki's Fingers Crossed (2003). While I realize that placing this album here could expose me to charges of excessive sentimentality (awed by this band's live performance when they opened for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah this fall; I bought the CD at the concert on impulse), this album was too cute not to include. Dreamy but grounded in reality, this album has made me put its followup, In Case We Die, on my list of must-haves for 2007. Best tracks: "Scissor Paper Rock," "To and Fro," "The Owls Go," "Fumble."
Clocking in at #8 is the first album on the list to actually be released this year. Muse's Black Holes and Revelations (2006) was sort of a guilty pleasure for me. The best thing I can say about Muse is that they are English and sound a lot like Radiohead. The worst thing I can say about Muse is that they are English and sound a lot like Radiohead. Unlike Radiohead, though, they use guitars more than laptops and they make pretty rocking music videos with okay lyrics:
Don't waste your time
Or time will waste you
#7: When I first heard songs from Bloc Party's Silent Alarm (2005) while listening to the radio, I knew that I would eventually have to listen to the full album. Best tracks: "Like Eating Glass," "Blue Light," "This Modern Love," "Price of Gasoline." I am a particular fan of "This Modern Love," in view of events not chronicled here.
Don't get offended
If I seem absent minded
Just keep telling me facts
And keep making me smile
For album #6 I return to more traditional rock roots with Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005). On the first track on the album, lead singer Eddie Argos boasts that they will "write the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along." Probably not, but they have some good songs anyway. Best tracks: "My Little Brother," "Emily Kane,"Good Weekend," "Stand Down." If any of their songs creates peace in the Middle East, it would be "Stand Down," one of a number of their songs dealing with Enrique Gatti's cell in the Red Brigades: "The bravest decision you ever make is admitting that you made a mistake."
#5: Back in late 2005, one of my friends invited me to a concert by Iron & Wine and Calexico. I dismissed his invitation, having no inclination to see some alt-country band from South Carolina play. Then I heard "Radio War" on last.fm radio and fell in love with its sparse instrumentation and apocalyptic lyrics. After having listened to Our Endless Numbered Days (2004), I rue my abrupt rejection. Sam Beam, the principal member of Iron & Wine might be from South Carolina and alt-country, but he is ridiculously good alt-country. Best tracks: "Cinder and Smoke," "Teeth in the Grass," "Radio War," "Free Until They Cut Me Down." While I still have not listened to their collaboration with Calexico, I found The Creek Drank the Cradle compelling enough that I will buy his next album, expected in February.
Don't fall in love with me yet
We only recently met
True, I'm in love with you but
you might decide I'm a nut
"Actually, it's sort of uneven."
Crushed, I pushed The Magnetic Fields out of the musical part of my mind until this fall, when I rediscovered them. Yes, the album is a bit uneven, but there are enough amazing songs to make it worth your time. Best tracks: too many to list.
#3: Arguably, I should have bought Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005) at least six months before I did. When I first heard two sample tracks from their first full-length album, I made a mental note to purchase their album before forgetting that they ever existed. Then I ran across a link to one of their music videos. Best tracks: "You Are a Runner, and I Am My Father's Son," "Fancy Claps," "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts," "I'll Believe in Anything." Yes, I realize that those four songs are a third of the album. I had six "best tracks" before managing to cull two.
Freshman year of college, I was all about The Moon and Antarctica, so it might not be a surprise that
Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004) is #2 on this list. But why now, when the album is more than two years old?
To tell the truth, the attempts at mainstream appeal turned me off of this album. There was a point during the summer of 2004 where if I had heard "Float On" one more time, there would have been homicide. It was not until I read an mini-review in some magazine that noted "Float On" was an anomalous happy song nestled in an album full of normal Modest Mouse tracks that I listened to it. Best tracks: "Bury Me With It," "Blame It on the Tetons," "One Chance."
#1: I actually refrained from listening to Neutral Milk Hotel's On Avery Island for more than a year because I was afraid it would live up to the majesty of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally did.
If you had asked me in December 2005 what the most perfect album I had ever heard was, I would have claimed it was Aeroplane. Now, I am pretty sure that it is On Avery Island. While I would not have previously considered it possible, the album is even more melancholy than Aeroplane. While a large part of the album deals with suicide and the afterlife, it is not morbid as much as an accurate portrait of the quiet desperation that defines the modern condition.
Follow me through a city of frost covered angels
I swear I have nothing to prove
I just want to dance in your tangles
To give me some reason to move
But to take on the world at all angles
Requires a strength I can't use
 Not that I made a list in 2005, but if I had, Illinois would have been #1.
 To quote from the Arctic Monkeys, one of a sundry group of artists whose album did not make the list, "Anticipation has the habit to set you up for disappointment."
 "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." I realize that cribbing from Shakespeare is not the most original way to create song lyrics, but it works in context.
 I was going to add "Supermassive Black Hole" to this list, but then I realized that my list of best tracks would exactly correspond with the singles from the album. Thus is the nature of guilty pleasures, I guess.
 Freshman year, my musical acumen had not fully developed. Besides respectable indie bands like Modest Mouse, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and the Flaming Lips, I listened to an awful (no pun intended) lot of metal.