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12.24.07 Staff Picks: Top 50 Albums Of 200712.27.06 Staff Picks: Top 15 Of 2006
12.27.06 Top Albums Of 200608.28.03 Staff Picks: Top Albums of 2009

Top Albums Of 2006

Highlights from the alternative world. All des criptions come from relevant soundoffs.
1The Decemberists
The Crane Wife

Many associate major label debuts by indie bands as a form of selling out. They don't want the uniqeness of the band dumbed down for the masses, or even worse, they don't want to lose the indie chic of being a dedicated fan of a relatively obscure band. But for the Decemberists, their move to a major label has actually improved their sound. Although the minstrel tinged voice has predictably become more mainstream, the Decemberists feature some of their best songwriting yet, and perhaps more importantly, begin to show a breadth lacking in their previous albums. In the three part track "The Island, Come and See, The Landlord's Daughter", the Decemberists surprisingly display a classic rock influence, while the vocal melody in "When the War Came" sounds eerily like a Led Zeppelin song. While there are some typical Decemberist's songs on here like "Yankee Bayonet", they begin to branch out on song's like "The Perfect Crime", and display surprising musical skill in the process. All in all, the Crane Wife is not a story of a band selling out, but of a band growing up.
2M. Ward

A crackling radio spits out snatches of Western tunes, accompanied by a cracked baritone. It's 'Post-War' by M. Ward, and it's an absolutely stunning album that feels both old and new at the same time. This isn't necessarily singer-songwriter folk; it heralds back to an older tradition (think Johnny Cash minus the country). In any case, it's superb. Check out 'Poison Cup' and 'Chinese Translation' especially.
The Trials of Van Occupanther

Midlake's music is instantly disorienting. Although other indie acts such as the Decemberists have freely adopted older musical styles, few have embraced these musical influences to the degree present on "The Trials of Van Occupanther." From the opening notes of Roscoe, the listener is transported back to 70's folk rock and perhaps even more confusingly, immersed in the lore of the late 19th century. Surprisingly, this odd approach is a stunning success. Each song feels handcrafted, and contrary to expectations, indie music, Steely Dan, and the Doobie Brothers work together in harmony. Highly recommended.
4 Office

Office is one of those bands that sort of took me by storm. After sampling one of their tracks, 'Wound Up', I wasn't overly impressed. It was basically general indie pop rock, albeit with a nice hook and a fresh sound. I'm not quite sure what led me to check out the rest of the album, given the initial lukewarm impression. But I'm glad that I did -- 'Q&A' is an exceptional album in every sense of the word, possessing unique vocals and lyrical hooks, along with a very fresh type of indie sound, (think the Magic Numbers and some of the more whimsical and polished Belle & Sebastian tracks). Almost every track here is a quality listen, especially the atmospheric 'Q&A', the driving 'Oh My' and 'The Big Bang Jump!', to the technoish 'Busy With Other Things.'
5The Knife
Silent Shout

I don't normally like Electronic music. Although it's often shiny and brilliant on the surface, it usually disguises a shallow musical base that expires after about 3 listens. Fortunately, Sweden's The Knife have managed to break the mold by crafting a cohesive, fantastic album that sheds pop hooks for long lasting appeal. The synth tones here are simply beautiful, especially when contrasted with the apparent harshness of the vocals. Check out the first two songs and you'll be hooked.
6Grizzly Bear
Yellow House

At first listen, "Yellow House" is almost inaccessible. A dizzying maze of song structures and moods, it sounds as if Pink Floyd and My Morning Jacket combined and decided to go Indie. But if you can get past the initial audio barrage, you'll find a gem of an album filled with fantastic moments. The dazzlingly beautiful outro on 'Knife', the acoustic breakdown on 'On A Neck, On A Spit' and the climbing choruses on 'Lullabye' show that Grizzly Bear know exactly what they are doing. Highly recommended.
7Silversun Pickups

Ever heard of mixing indie with.... grunge? That's the approach the Silversun Pickups take to this album, and surprisingly, it works. The haunting, slightly Corganesque vocals and pounding rhythms are perfectly offset by indie song structures and melodies that would be catchy even in an indie pop context (albeit with some angst). I highly recommend this album - check out 'Lazy Eye', 'Well Thought Out Twinkles', 'Melatonin', and 'Rusted Wheel'
Return to the Sea

Most bubble gum indie pop gets old after a few listens. Even though it's 'fun' in the beginning, it has little musical depth, and as a result, little staying power. Islands, the side project from the Unicorns, breaks this mold pretty well. Although the music is quintessentially 'happy', with calypso beats, high pitched humming, and bouncing rhythms, it's also sophisticating enough to remain interesting. Check out the beautiful 'Rough Gem' and you'll see what I mean.
9The Format
Dog Problems
10Regina Spektor
Begin to Hope
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