Best Albums 2006 (21-25)

25. TV on the Radio — Return to Cookie Mountain

I did not reach the end of Young Liars wanting more (OK, maybe more doo-wop Pixies) and nothing about TVOTR’s first full length changed my mind. But from the hesitant drumming and distorted brass contortions that announce “I Was a Lover,” this record was as ugly and uncertain as 2006 itself, with lyrical moments that splutter from the intricate blare, gasp for hope, then sink again into the murk. Not only is “Wolf Like Me” as desperate and bloodthirsty as previously promised, but Tunde Adebimpe moves as far beyond meaningless verbal density as he does beyond Peter Gabriel impressions: I prefer the forward-looking “Love is the province of the brave” to the elegiac (and overpraised) “I was a lover before the war.” I’m glad they didn’t establish permanent residence in this swamp, but I’m also glad they lingered a spell.

24. Cat Power — The Greatest

Chan Marshall’s commitment to languor isn’t what limits her range — after all, melancholy can offer an artist as broad a tonal pallet as any other human emotional experience. What limits Marshall’s range is her commitment to a limited range, her insistence on expressing “sad” as monochromatically as a third rate Disney starlet does “happy.” So while collaborating in Memphis with Hi Rhythm’s finest hardly transmogrified Marshall into Dusty Springfield (let alone Ann Peebles), her new band’s funk bottom makes it impossible for her to nod off, jolting responses that sound refreshingly unpremeditated. Her greatest, anyway.

23. Kékélé — Kinavana

On disc number three, the revitalized Papa Noel wasn’t the only marquee name anchoring these Kinshasa rumba heavyweights–Madilu System, Mbilia Bel, and Manu Dibango each make prize cameos. And the songs of Guillermo Portabales, translated into Lingala to accentuate the Afro- over the Cuban, offer a substantial pool in which Kékélé expand their exquisite guitar ripples. Maybe Congolese kids hear a fogeyish retread of their parents’ music here. But personally, I’d love to hear my parents favorite music recreated with such graceful charm.

22. Yo La Tengo — I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Not to you-kids-today anyone to sleep, but 2006 was the first year of my “professional career” I thought the jig was genuinely up–no wonder everyone was gushing over the Arctic Monkeys and “Crazy.” Would I limit my intake of “new music” to the latest releases from bands I’d committed to two decades past? The sheer ordinariness of this disc underscored my fears–having mastered ambient intricacy (Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out) and understated experimentation (Summer Sun), these old folks just went and wrote some songs. But if there was nothing unprecedented about those songs, repeated exposure confirmed that they were still better–more lively, more shapely, more catchy–than more celebrated songs by more celebrated young folks like Beach House or Sunset Rubdown or Tapes ‘n’ Tapes. Not to mention the Arctic Monkeys. Or “Crazy.”

21. Clipse — Hell Hath No Fury

Deep inside, most MCs, however hard they front, want to be loved–maybe not by some specific woman, but by that great big You that we used to call the “record-buying public.” So most every rap star, soon as he’s secured his hard-ass rep, offers a heart-tugging peep under the battle armor. But Malice and Pusha T are some cold motherfuckers, seemingly more determined to funnel their obnoxious wit into killer rhymes than to get paid in full. For once, a compelling depiction of the crack trade torpedoes any hopes that so grim a life exacts no spiritual toll, with distrust between the sexes collateral damage rather than personal pathology. Also for once, the Neptunes’ funk sheen revels in its role as upscale camouflage for new-money lowlifes.

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