Nellie McKay was one of the more original and idiosyncratic artists to make an interesting album in 2006.
In keeping with the increasingly fragmented, multi-media world in which popular music is disseminated and heard, some of the year's best music wasn't released in the familiar CD format. While the album — conceived as a suite of songs meant to cohere as an aesthetic and sometimes narrative whole — has not completely disappeared, CD sales dropped five percent in 2006, as did the notion of the album as many performers' primary mode of expression. Increasingly, music is being distributed in new formats such as single songs for computers and iPods, tunes plucked from MySpace, music videos available on YouTube, as well as ringtones for cellular phones.
Here, in alphabetical order, is the best music of 2006:
Citizen Cope, Every Waking Moment (RCA) — Cope (real name: Clarence Greenwood) makes a swampy, funky rock with slurry vocals that convey clear, concise emotions.
Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia) — Big juicy songs written, sung, and performed with shocking urgency.
Eagles of Death Metal, Death By Sexy (Downtown) — Insanely catchy hard-rock, with choruses you'll be singing along to the first time you hear them.
Fiery Furnaces, Bitter Tea (Fat Possum) — Siblings Matthew and Elinor Friedberger turn in another knotty, pretty, passionate collection of art songs that never veer into dull artiness.
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (DefJam) — Street stories told with grimly articulate humor.
James Hand, The Truth Will Set You Free (Rounder) — Hand has got that old-fashioned/new-fangled country music dichotomy down in a way that few performers can imagine, let alone execute so smoothly.
Ben Kweller (ATO) — Twenty-something singer-songwriter delivers spritely, yet mature, power-pop.
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head (Black Dove) — Endlessly inventive, eclectic singer-songwriter who draws from everything from Tin Pan Alley to hiphop.
My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade (Reprise) — hard rock/emo downer that's an elating upper.
Willie Nelson, You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway) — Decades-old honky-tonk tunes, most under three minutes, stuffed with witty, poignant wordplay.
Scritti Politti, White Bread Black Beer (Nonesuch/Rough Trade) — Almost 30 years on, Green Gartside is still mustering post-punk intensity within his one-man, plays-all-the-instruments, pop scenarios.
Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A** (Matador) — Framed by a pair of long, magnificent feedback rave-ups, this album also contains some of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's finest concise pop tunes.
Reissue of the year:
Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Legends of Country Music (Columbia Legacy)
Beyonce, "Ring the Alarm" (Columbia)
Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy" (Downtown)
T.I., "What You Know" (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack" (Jive/Zomba)