Best Albums 2006 (16-20)

20. Salif Keita — M’Bemba

Like Youssou N’Dour, his Senegalese counterpart and sole rival in vocal beauty, Mali’s premier male singer has long been dogged by the legacy of his stiff ’80s crossover moves–never as disastrous as claimed, but compromised enough to provide synth-phobes, Boomer-baiters, and the like their sought-for excuse to shortchange Afropop’s universalist dreams. Alongside Youssou, Salif returned to Africa and valiantly began to reconstruct his career over the course of the ’00s. M’Bemba is the finest of a solid batch of albums, all recorded in Bamako, all tucking barely noticeable U.S. and Euro influences into the traditional acoustic instrumentation, all offering little to distract from the glory of his voice — for better or for worse.


19. Jay Reatard — Blood Visions

After a decade of never quite fruitful enough collaborations, Jay Lindsey formed his own one-man band, apparently the only way he could squeeze these 15 sloppy but never careless tunes out into the world. Brit accent or no, he’s as Memphis as Alex Chilton, rocking to the beat of a pop-punk primitive heart as afflicted with the new wave jitters, and he mastered that most timeless of rock and roll gimmicks: convincing us that the music will devour him from the inside if he doesn’t get it out fast enough. (“Fast enough” apparently meaning “under a half hour.”) Real talk: “Oh It’s Such a Shame.”


18. Lupe Fiasco — Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor

Successful sociopaths could glibly dismiss earlier conscious rappers as nostalgic grandpas out of step with the kids. But Lupe’s young enough that the elements of hip-hop he most deplores are inextricably part of his culture, of his life–after all, Nas’ It Was Written reportedly turned him on to rap. That non-classic disc proves a shoddy sonic blueprint for the production palate here, their overblown orchestrations an ill-fit for the decidedly non-transcendent tale of one decent guy’s life in hip-hop. And yet, because he’s ultimately more interested in honesty than reality, Lupe grinds past these musical limitations when he doesn’t justify them–though that’s not to say that livelier beats from Kanye and the Neptunes aren’t welcome.


17. Be Your Own Pet — Be Your Own Pet

Punk will never die. The kids got something to say. Anyone can do it. Sigh — it should be that easy. Like most not-quite-lies, those hopeful assertions hardly come true as often as promised. But these Nashville teens weren’t just offering wish-fulfillment to their indulgent adult fans. Guitarist Jonas Stein slashes all over the place like he’s inventing this shit, and rebel girl Jemima Pearl is a genuine post-whatever-you-got heroine, accepting anarchy as empowerment with an ease her punk godmothers should envy. “I’m wicked rad, and I’m here to steal away your virginity”? Sigh. It should be that easy.


16. Tokyo Police Club — A Lesson in Crime

With every U.S. indie-rock outfit auditioning for an iPod ad via mp3 blog about a week after relocating to Brooklyn, metro Canada is our closest analogue (however unlikely) to the sheltered Midwest of yore where tuneful smartasses could bang about on their guitars without any clear ambition of world takeover. Good news: From Dave Monks’ introductory yelp (“Operator, Get me the President of the World! This is an emergency!”), these seven wiry, almost-perfect spasms, clocking in at just a hair over a quarter-hour, are far too excitable for Strokes comparisons to hold. Better news: If you were as disappointed in their first full-length as you should’ve been, you’ll be as excited about their 2010 return to form as I am.

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