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Top Ten Albums of 2006

Eyewear is not immune to the worthless desire to tell total strangers what the best of the year (in any number of categories) was, and has one advantage in not trying to sell anything (well, except perhaps for some poetry from time to time) - so, 'tis the season to launch the lists. Today, we shall have naming of albums - the top popular music that, while maybe not the best, most tickled the fancy of mine ears (and so on); all albums listed have been reviewed here previously, except for the first place winner, and all quotes are from Eyewear reviews:

1. Ys by Joanna Newsom
Newsom's masterwork has the advantage of being produced in consort with Steve Albini and Van Dyke Parks but it sounds more like Walt Disney teamed up with Bernard Hermann - the enchanting, off-kilter harp and string arrangements do what is so often promised but rarely delivered - transport. The listener of this album is taken in hand to a different world, one vastly more imaginative and whimsical. Spelunking animals and lessons on meteorites rivet, amuse and utterly estrange - the lyrics veer towards genius, the voice amazes and dismays, and the whole tapestry becomes the most innovative soundscape of the year - perhaps signalling a new, female Dylan for these hard times. Eyewear calls it medievalia.

2. Modern Times by Bob Dylan
Of Dylan's three great albums of the decade begun in 1997, this is the second strongest, the least cryptic, and the most romantic: deeper, socio-political losses figured as absenteed women on the road of a lonesome cowboy band.

3. Show Your Bones by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The last time three members of an American band sounded this good was maybe 15 years ago, and that was Nirvana.

4. Sam's Town by The Killers
The Killers have aimed for a truly odd husbandry, breeding new pop out of dry lands, by attempting to fuse early Springsteen and recent Arcade Fire.

5. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not by Arctic Monkeys
Okay, what makes the recipe work: one part Streets-geezer-lingo; one part Beatlesque one part Smiths jangly guitar excellence; one part Nirvana stop-start energy; and generally hyper-witty-yet-down-to-the-kebab-shop-sharp lyrics. It is really good.

6. Stadium Arcadium by Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Rick Rubin has now mastered a sound that suits the band to a T, and makes them simultaneously dangerous and "white as snow" - safe for middle-class consumption, timelessly well-crafted, and yet still subversive enough (all the drug and sex imagery) to attract and impress.

7. Eyes Open by Snow Patrol
The best thing about Snow Patrol's ambitious fast-paced, persistently and sometimes achingly sweet new album, Eyes Open is the 8th track, "Set The Fire To To The Third Bar" which features Martha Wainwright on vocals.

8. Surprise by Paul Simon
His new album is all about that sort of pristine, polished excellence that American entertainers of a certain caliber achieve and exude. The product, which is this album, impresses even as it pushes away. It is, alas, slick as a magazine. But not just any magazine, friends: Atlantic Monthly, or The New Yorker. For this, surely, is one quality magazine - one that is liberal, decent, but pragmatic - rational humanist, you might say.

9. The Drift by Scott Walker
To be admired, and frankly, at times feared, The Drift is likely to be the goth-spiral-into-madness-soundtrack of choice for intensely pensive readers of 20th century German philosophy and early Eliot; for the rest, it simply remains the most daunting and persuasively conceived anti-pop-album of the 21st century.

10. An Other Cup by Yusuf
This grave, solemn, and at times preposterously upbeat recording, with its 12 songs (only nine original to the artist, and two brief spoken word poems, really homilies), sounds a bit like Dylan or Marley at their most fundamentalist, at their moments of greatest conviction.

(plus)

11. Black Holes and Revelations by Muse
This is not a subtle sound, but one prone to grandiose utterance. But it is thrilling, and oddly fresh, despite the "Mr. Roboto" vocoder effects in places and the endless invention.
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