Best of 2006
1. The Damnwells: Air Stereo (Zoe)
The Damnwells have followed up 2004’s Bastards of the Beat with Air Stereo, a collection of songs so good that it’s baffling to me this band isn’t a household name. You can have your U2’s, your Coldplays, your Fall Out Boys. You can have all your classic, Jurassic rockers. You can have all your cool, here-today-gone-tomorrow indie rock bands. At the end of the day, Air Stereo measures up to just about anything you can insert into your CD player. And while the Damnwells can rock out (“Accidental Man”) they are clearly at their best when turning down the volume as they do on “Louisville” or “Heartbreaklist.” If you yearn for simpler times when rock bands put out records bursting with great songs, you’ll find something to like about Air Stereo.
2. Gomez: How We Operate (ATO)
You might picture the dad from the Addams Family instead of the British rock band when you hear the name Gomez. You might even picture a Mexican dude serving you some combination of cheese, beans, guacamole and sour cream along with a Corona. And all of that might taste just fine when you’re listening to this stunning album from a band that has slowly been paying its dues and finally tastes the commercial success it deserves. Among a great set of tracks, “How We Operate” and “Girlshapedlovedrug” are the two best.
3. Dave Barnes: Chasing Mississippi (Ripley)
Like a shot of sunshine, Nashville based singer/songwriter Dave Barnes delivers an uplifting, melody drenched album that showcases his soulful voice and gifted songwriting chops. He’s like a throwback to the seventies pop of Stevie Wonder and early Hall & Oates, and had a little help from folks like Amy Grant and Vince Gill for this effort. And though he’s not signed to a major label, Barnes has sold 12,000 units independently – proof that you don’t have to take just my word for it that he’s something special.
4. Joseph Arthur: Nuclear Daydream (Megaforce)
Joseph Arthur is one of those artists who doesn’t have to try hard to be cool. He just is. He fits somewhere on the musical landscape between Neil Young, Nick Drake, and Radiohead, and this album is a continuation of an under-the-radar career full of some pretty great songs. And on here the best tracks are “Black Lexus” and “Electrical Storm.”
5. Amos Lee: Supply and Demand (Blue Note)
Certain singers have a voice that distinguishes them and separates them from the pack. Amos Lee has one of those voices. He also has the element of Philadelphia soul, courtesy of his Eastern Pennsylvania roots. Lee’s sophomore effort is even better than his debut, which was pretty freaking good. He combines roots, soul, and blues into an accessible product of pop/rock that accurately pegs him as a male version of Norah Jones. Supply and Demand is so good that, even though I bleed New York Giants blue, I can let go of the fact that Amos Lee is an Eagles fan.
6. Lisa Papineau: Night Moves (Reincarnate)
Like a movie that you don’t expect to like, Lisa Papineau’s Night Moves has this way of sucking you in after you spend some time with it. With a sultry voice and super-cool arrangements that include elements of pop, electronica and alternative rock, this record is so mesmerizing it might just get stuck in your CD player for a few months. It’s also the kind of stuff to play when you want to impress your friends, or when you want to get with that girl with the nose ring and dyed black hair.
7. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s: The Dust of Retreat (Artemis)
When an album doesn’t have to work hard to make your ears dance, that’s usually the first sign. Then there is that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you hear music you like. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s’ debut did that for me. Combining elements of everything that’s cool about the alt/pop genre, this Midwest band is like a good pizza because every bite is good. But if forced to pick one song, “Quiet as a Mouse” is just a cut above.
8. Apollo Up!: Chariots of Fire (Theory 8)
How this Nashville based indie rock band is not the next big thing is beyond me. But maybe that’s because most of you have never heard of them. Well, I’m here to tell you that this band’s new album absolutely, unequivocally, fucking rocks. Their bio says it’s like Elvis Costello fronting Gang of Four, and that’s pretty accurate. You’ll want to turn up the volume to around 15 for this one.
9. Mute Math: Mute Math (Warner Bros.)
Alternative rock bands have had a hard time finding their own identities lately. I mean, is alternative rock even a genre anymore? But New Orleans rock band Mute Math likely fits into that category, incorporating elements of Radiohead and ‘80s rock band Power Station, and it’s all capped off by the riveting vocals of front man Paul Meany. I mean, this dude gets my vote for best new vocalist of the year. And the song “You Are Mine” might just have the ability to make a man float in the air, the same way a date with Scarlett Johansson would.
10. Eliot Morris: What’s Mine Is Yours (Universal)
When I saw Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz come out from backstage at Starwood Amphitheatre to introduce the evening’s opening act and give him props, I knew he was worth paying attention to. Morris has a voice that’s a lot like Duritz’s, and he’s one hell of a songwriter. And in today’s musical landscape, we need more guys like him to carry the torch. The Jackson Browne-ish “The Moment You Believe” is the best track on Morris’ major label debut.
Keith Urban: Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing
Zero 7: The Garden
John Mayer: Continuum
Butch Walker and the Lets Go Out Tonites: The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites
Stefy: The Orange Album
Dropping Daylight: Brace Yourself
As Fast As: Open Letter To the Damned
Stereophonics: Live from Dakota
Breaking Laces: Lemonade
Mindy Smith: Long Island Shores
Josh Rouse: Subtitulo
Magnet: The Tourniquet
Snow Patrol: Eyes Open
Keane: Under the Iron Sea
The Brightwings: Stay
Toby Lightman: Bird on a Wire
Random Great Songs from 2006 Not From the List Above
“Song 3,” the Appleseed Cast
“Crooked,” the Umbrellas
“Good Days, Bad Days,” Richard Butler
“Wish You Well,” Bernard Fanning
“Another Place to Fall,” KT Tunstall
“Meet Me in the Memory,” Sister Hazel
“Via Satellite,” Slow Motion Reign
“Can’t Look Down,” ZOX
Hottest Female Newcomer of 2006
Stefy Rae, Stefy