Monday, January 08, 2007

My 10 Favorite Albums Of 2006

The hardest part of making a year-end list such as My Favorite 10 Albums of 2006 isn't picking the worthy albums. It's narrowing them down. When I sat down and listed my favorites of the previous year, I came up with 15 albums. I won't say it was easy to whittle the list down or that I won't want to change my mind in the future, but I am happy with this list as 2007 gets started.

In no particular order:

St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley: “Crazy” hooked many onto the Gnarls Barkley bandwagon but, fortunately, it was far from the only good song on St. Elsewhere. The minds of singer/rapper Cee-Lo (formerly of Goodie Mob) and producer Danger Mouse combined to create an album that was relentlessly inventive, unusual yet still accessible, and something that bridged the ideas of “urban” and “alternative.”

Fishscale by Ghostface Killah: For all the calls to do something “different,” there's something to doing what you do best and doing it well. Ghostface Killah's Fishscale didn't break new ground in the slightest. It followed the blueprint of many a Ghostface Killah album: vividly told stories of the street, wordplay that can be as great as it is hard to digest, solid soul-sampled production, and the unique personality that is Tony Starks. What made Fishscale stand out is how it was almost polished to a shine.

Future Sex/Love Sounds by Justin Timberlake: When an ambitious artist and equally ambitious producers work together, great music is usually the result. Justin Timberlake's collaboration with producers Timbaland and Danja on most of Future Sex/Love Sounds resulted in a fun, wide-ranging album that managed to win over this *NSYNC hater. Pop melded with everything from electronica to R&B without skipping a beat and Timberlake got the boybander monkey off his back.

Game Theory by The Roots: For their first outing on Def Jam, leave it to The Roots to make a real, every-song-should-be-heard-in-sequence album. While the sum of its parts was nothing to laugh at, Game Theory's real power was as a whole. It was at times hard-hitting, angry, cutting-edge, incendiary, and thoughtful. Whether Black Thought talked about the state of the country or the state of his hometown of Philly, he was on top of his game. The musical backdrops were innovative and stayed true to what the group has done in the past. The Roots can stay on Def Jam as long as they like if they keep putting out albums this good.

Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse: Despite the almost sadistic way their record company delayed their new album, Clipse did not disappoint with their sophomore effort Hell Hath No Fury. The Neptunes brought some of their best beats of 2006 on this album while Clipse's lyrics and delivery actually lived up to the great beats. We may have heard songs about the coke game before, but it's rare to find songs that are as well-made as these.

King by T.I."": If T.I. wasn't the “King Of The South” before releasing King, he certainly made his case with that album. T.I. showed his range here whether it's the sweet-natured guy of “Why You Wanna,” the angry, explosive guy of “I'm Talkin' To You,” the playa on “Stand Up Guy” or the reflective man on “Live In The Sky.” King was quite simply a very good mainstream hip-hop album that effectively introduced more people to the King.

Once Again by John Legend: Whenever you make something that's retro in style, it's very easy to screw it up and very difficult to get it right. Once Again had John Legend doing the latter. It sounded like something artists from 1960's and 1970's would do if they had the technology from today back then. Legend wisely didn't try to imitate those artists and just did his own thing in their spirit. This is the current R & B album that your parents will want to borrow.

Food And Liquor by Lupe Fiasco: Lupe Fiasco's Food And Liquor showed that seeming contradictions are not weaknesses but strengths instead. You can be from the west side of Chicago, skateboard, and like anime. You can name an album Food And Liquor and not make a “hood” record. You can be a “backpacker” rapper and still be entertaining to the larger hip-hop audience. Lupe and his album defied expectations and as a result, they both stood out from the pack.

The Eraser by Thom Yorke: Although it was not as good as a proper Radiohead album might have been, The Eraser, Thom Yorke's solo debut, was very good nonetheless. Unlike some of Radiohead's previous albums, Thom Yorke's voice was front and center on The Eraser. Frankly, it was just nice to hear his voice on tracks like “Black Swan,” “Harrowdown Hill,” and the title track. If this album was just a stopgap before a new Radiohead album then it was a nice stopgap indeed.

Donuts by J. Dilla: If I were to name my favorite album of 2006, this would be it. The final album released before J. Dilla's death in February, it's a superb collection of 31 hip-hop instrumentals. There's more variety in this collection of beats than most producers have in their entire careers. When I sit down and compose my thoughts about this album, you'll have a better idea why it's so great. However, I will say that it breaks my heart every time I listen to it because of how much potential was lost with Dilla's passing.

Now, the best of the albums that didn't make my top 10:

Release Therapy by Ludacris: Luda plays it a bit more serious and people finally realize how good an artist he is.

Ten Silver Drops by Secret Machines: This was the only rock album I bought in 2006 and that alone should tell you that it's a good album.

The Warning by Hot Chip: A solid (and better) follow up to their debut album Coming On Strong.

The Breakthrough by Mary J. Blige: Technically released in 2005, this album was Mary's best in a while.

Honorable Mention to Trans-Canada Highway by Boards Of Canada: This would most certainly be on my list if it were a full-length album and not an EP.

These are the albums that I'm still in review mode on and were not considered for my year-end list:

Hip Hop Is Dead by Nas: So far, so good.

Kingdom Come by Jay-Z: Not so fast, Jay-Z.

The Evolution by Ciara: This one has a fun sound to it.

Fantasia by Fantasia: Pretty good, actually.

More Fish by Ghostface Killah: Haven't listened to much yet but I'm guessing it's not better than Fishscale.

Tha Blue Carpet Treatment by Snoop Dogg: Same situation as More Fish.

Varcharz by Mouse On Mars: The return to the bleeps and bloops is surprisingly good so far.

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