The Top Ten Albums of 2006

Looking back on the year of 2006 music, I won’t be able to forget some of the disappointments from proven standouts like The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, The Strokes and The Walkmen which all made the first half of this year’s music scene seem quite underwhelming. However, the second half of the year changed that, with some special help from a certain Tuesday in September. By the time December was here, we had been blessed by solid efforts from some promising newcomers, witnessed preferable changes in style and general improvement from artists that have shown promise in previous years, and also saw our faith in the longevity of old-time favorites gain a new sense of hopefulness. Through the middle of December, these were my favorite albums of the year (in order, of course).

JUST MISSING THE TOP 10:

#15: The Futureheads/ News and Tributes- The British punk-rock group followed up their self-titled debut with an album that demonstrated a lot of improvement, adding more depth musically and not simply settling for an album full of two minute punk tracks. Check out “Burnt” for proof.

#14: Mylo/ Destroy Rock and Roll- In a year where we saw electronic music take a bit of a step to the background, this collection of samples a la The Avalanches added an 80s feel that made this album one of the year’s catchiest dance collections.

#13: Destroyer/ Destroyer’s Rubies- I still prefer leadman Dan Bejar with the massive collective The New Pornographers, but this album showcased some of his own unique Dylan-esque vocals and songwriting capabilities. “Your Blood” was a great late summer anthem.

#12: Danielson/ Ships– In making one of the year’s most delightfully unaccessible albums, leadman Daniel Smith’s new project certainly didn’t lack any intensity, mixing folkiness with opera rock in a style all his own.

#11: The Rapture/ Pieces of the People We Love- In creating a dancier, more upbeat sophomore album, it is safe to say that The Rapture didn’t match the complexity of their debut Echoes, one of the best albums of the decade. Instead, they wisely chose not to take themselves too seriously, and the result is a catchy party album for the ages.

THE TOP TEN

#10: Liars/ Drum’s Not Dead

After spending the early part of the decade as a louder part of the now defunct dance rock movement, Liars return with a superb concept album that is in a genre all its own. With Drum’s Not Dead, Liars have created perhaps the darkest album that I can remember since Massive Attack’s epic Mezzanine. Complete with chanting, tribal drumming and generally scary musical effects, this is not an album for everyone. Picture Animal Collective leading a ritualistic ceremony on the eve of the apocalypse, and you’ll get the idea.

Actually, I don’t mean to convey that the album is evil, or more specifically, satanic in any way, shape, or form; it is just cohesively, consistently and beautifully dark. As stated above, this is not a collection of songs as much as an album built on concept. The individual tracks certainly do not stand alone but instead blend as if recorded altogether in one take. The song titles themselves seem to make this clear, as all of them are essentially complete nonsense. What on earth is Mt. Heart Attack?

Given the nature of the album, it is difficult to comment on individual songs, but I will do my best. Opener “Mt. Heart Attack” opens with the soft, eerie tribal drumming elements that really set the tone for the album, eventually building into the chaotic “Let’s Not Wrestle Now Mt. Heart Attack”, complete with perfectly discordant melodies. “A Visit From Drum” is a brilliant, ritualistic midnight campfire chant while the terrifying opening drum beats of “The Drum and the Uncomfortable Can” lead into feedback-laden electric guitar and more familiar vocal work. I saw Liars open a set with this track over the summer and I was completely captivated–not to mention moderately terrified.

Adding to the album’s complexity are tracks like “Drum Gets a Glimpse” and the impressive closer “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”, as Liars really step outside their comfort zone, providing some of the album’s strongest moments with soft, well-orchestrated harmonies that are painfully beautiful. On “The Wrong Coat For You Mt. Heart Attack”, more harmonies and a simple but decidedly dark electric keyboard line provide the album’s eeriest moment.

This is not an album for a bright sunny day and I imagine it playing more effectively in a dungeon or, more realistically, at dusk. It is mood music to be sure, heavily instrumental and far from accesible to the average ear, although I cannot stress enough how perfectly Drum’s Not Dead works as a hypnotic blend of musical genius. In any event, it is an innovative achievement for a band that knew it had more up its sleeve than punky dance rock. The very sounds of the vocals are enough to send chills up anyone’s spine, and using musical experimentation that veers toward post-rockiness allowed for a level of creativity that I couldn’t have imagined these maniacs were capable of.

#9: Love Is All/ Nine Times That Same Song

On first listen, I found this poppy, punky indie rock album to sound like a collection of indescernable noise. However, repeated listens brought out a certain underlying charm from this Swedish band. Sure, lead singer Josephine Olausson’s high pitched, decidedly foreign voice takes some getting used to, but in the end this is a rocky, upbeat album with its fair share of highlights.

The album opens with a monotonous chant of “One more time!” before catchy guitar riffs, horns and unintelligable lyrics come to the forefront as Olausson shrieks “Talk Talk Talk Talk” repeatedly. From the opening track, the intensity of the music becomes evident. On the dancier album highlight “Ageing Had Never Been His Friend”, Love Is All uses another catchy guitar riff reminiscent of beachy 60’s rock and combines it with bigger beats, an effective sax line and a smart key change on the chorus as Olausson attempts to keep her love “fresh and young.”

The band showcases its diversity on softer, sweeter tracks like “Turn the Radio Off”, “Felt Tip” and “Turn the TV Off”, all of which demonstrate the heartache and time spent getting over a lost love. As a whole, the album centers around this common, universal theme, just as the band’s name would have you believe. These slower tracks provide a nice change of pace from the intensity of their surroundings.

On standout “Busy Doing Nothing”, Love Is All takes it up a notch, with squealing electric guitar and heavy dance bass line as Olausson laments, “Five movie marathons! Nine times that same song!” As with much of the album, Olausson is really not singing, but just yelling the lyrics over impressivley catchy music. The theme of love’s struggles is well intertwined into the comedic singalong “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” the title of which speaks for itself and in which Olausson decides somewhat optimistically, “I think I’ll spend all day in bed.”

The same catchy vintage guitar riffs are present on album closer “Trying Way Too Hard,” an action-packed two minute ditty that couldn’t be titled any better or placed more perfectly. The album’s intensity never takes itself too seriously, because when it comes to love, sometimes there isn’t much more you can do than take what comes your way with a grain of salt, and not try too hard.

#8: The Hold Steady/ Boys and Girls in America

For one, I grew tired of The Hold Steady’s debut album Seperation Sunday (7.9. 2005) upon repeated listens. Sure, it was great party music with fun guitar riffs and leadman Craig Finn drunk-talking well-crafted party lyrics. That album, as fun as it was, lacked lyrical depth and feeling and grew redundant as it progressed. A drunk guy talking over great guitar riffs is fun enough, but after three or four songs I required a bit more. On their sophomore effort Boys and Girls in America, references to drinking, getting high, and getting laid are still present with often hilarious frequency, but are strengthened with a bittersweet reminiscence that adds depth to the lyrics.

Opener “Stuck Between Stations” opens with a classic American rock-n-roll sound complete with pounding drums, electric guitar riffs, piano, and, of course, that talking voice. This track is one of the album’s strongest and immediately captures attention, as intensity builds into the chorus. The next three tracks progress with a similar rocky feel, highlighted by the rocky “Hot Soft Light”, a subtler but no less hard-core American rock song.

In “Chips Ahoy”, Finn sings of a week of partying following a winning day at the racetracks. “Party Pit” tells the story of a drunken romp at a familiar gathering, where Finn recalls, “Well I’m pretty sure we kissed…Can I walk around and drink some more?” And the triumphant standout ”Massive Nights” recalls previous evenings of good ole debauchery.

I know what you’re thinking. Anybody can come up with a great guitar riff and mumble unintelligable lyrics about how much they love to party. I would agree with you, except that this album eventually amounts to much more. Finn begins to attempt vocals this time around on prettier, painful tracks such as “Citrus, ” where Finn sings, “Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/ I’ve had kisses that made Judus seem sincere.” Bittersweet love ballad “First Night” enters new musical territory for the band, as Finn reminisces on a first meeting with a long lost love. Probably the best song on the album, “First Night” evokes goosebumps. Wait a second, isn’t this The Hold Steady? Finn demonstates some vocal range on this one while remembering the girl that “Slept like she’d never been scared.” And album closer “Southtown Girls” finishes in the same manner that Boys and Girls in America opens, with classic American-roots rock and catchy guitar riffs.

Overall, this is not an album that I would argue will change the world of music with its innovation, but I doubt that The Hold Steady would have it any other way. As somewhat of a sentimental person, I connected with this album, recalling all of the great times I had back in those summers where there was nothing to worry about and nothing to do other than the things Finn sings about on these tracks. The songs are fun, yes, but there is an underlying sadness that the times of these tales have long passed and are now gone forever, only existing in a memory. A great escape for worthy recollections to be sure, and a decidedly impressive step up musically, lyrically and conceptually from their still very listenable debut.

#7: Junior Boys/ So This Is Goodbye

Among others, one element of musical creativity that 2006 was lacking was a great electronic album. Mylo, Thom Yorke and The Knife all provided above average attempts at this broad genre, but not until So This Is Goodbye did the year see its first truly classic electronic example.

Junior Boys derive their style from smooth, well-integrated electropop with a bit of early 80s pop synth that approaches but never quite reaches melancholy. What seperates their sound from other successful electropop acts such as the Postal Service and the Notwist is an underlying continuity of sound that is almost angelic in nature. This is the ultimate “chill” album, and this will turn off some, but on the whole, the album works incredibly well as a sum of its parts.

The songs blend together quite well, from the opening synthesizers on the dancier ”Double Shadow” all the way through the album’s prettiest track, brilliantly placed closer “FM”, which plays like a soft lullaby. Highlights in between include standout “Count Souvenirs”, where bittersweet synth and minor keys showcase some of vocalist Jeremy Greenspan’s best work. The first single, “In The Morning” follows, with probably the album’s most upbeat electricity. Complete with electronic keyboards, peppy beats and a killer synthesized riff, the track rocks but still never comes anywhere near “cheery”.

The title track doesn’t disappoint either, rolling steadily along in the darkness with some of the best lyrical work seen here. The track that follows is “Like A Child”, which begins with an immediately enthralling stand-alone beat that continues to pick up all of its more complex instrumental pieces one at a time. This particular track demonstrates Junior Boys at their most atmospheric, and might be my all around favorite song on the album.

Some will argue that this album is too soft or too depressing to be enjoyed, especially towards the end, but they are the ones who have trouble seperating what is beautiful from what is simply bland and melancholy. What makes this album work so well is that the songs can play so softly together without ever seeming like a downer. This is certainly mood music on the surface, but beneath, repeated listens will reveal much more. With their sophomore album, Junior Boys have nearly perfected their art.

#6: Yo La Tengo/ I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

This Hoboken New Jersey duo has been around since the early 1990s, and with this album have seemingly delivered a collection of experiments that fail to blend together with any continuity but meanwhile allow for creativity that we have never seen from this accomplished band. I actually prefer it slightly to their first release of this decade, the more cohesive but less exciting And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (8.6/10).

This is not to say that I Am Not Afraid does not have its own re-emerging themes. For one, Yo La Tengo exibits piano and horn based elements in a manner that we have never seen, and these are some of the album’s most memorable tracks. The poppy “Beanbag Chair” brings images of Belle and Sebastian, and sets the tone early in the album for a level of cheeriness and cuddliness that most had forgotten after some of the admittedly brilliant but often drab tunes of recent releases. Never has Yo La Tengo been as bright and cheery as on the piano-heavy sing along “Mr. Tough” which repeats as carefree as can be, “And we’ll forget about our problems if only for a little while.” The sweet, simple honest lyrics of “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” are complemented perfectly by the added piano element and “The Weakest Part” takes cuddly to a new level with softly grinding piano chords in the album’s prettiest arrangement.

Aside from these four piano-heavy tracks, nothing sounds even remotely the same, and at times it almost seems as though the stronger and weaker tracks alternate. Admittedly, the album is probably overlong at fifteen tracks, especially with two of them coming in around the ten minute mark. Nevertheless, with half of these songs extremely strong, that still makes for quite an album.

Unconventional opener “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” begins with a thunderous bassline that is repeated through the duration of the ten minute song backed by horns, electric guitar feedback and softened vocals. “The Race Is On Again” is probably the most familiar sounding song on the album, with soft, rolling guitars and Simon and Garfunkel-eque minor chord shifts. To add to the diversity of the conglomeration of material, Yo La Tengo gets wildly rocky towards the end of the album with “I Should Have Known Better” and “Watch Out For Me Ronnie.” The former shows late 1960s rock characteristics backed by feedback-laden 7th inning stretch organ sounds, while the latter exhibts energetic, intense garage rock fit for the White Stripes.

On the whole, this album is far from perfect, but in an odd way that is what makes it as good as it is. At times it almost seems like these guys just decided to record every different song in every different way that they had ever wanted to, with reckless disregard for the consequences. Of course, there are moments where these experiments fall short (although never completely flat), but the moments where they succeed provide us with, amazingly and impressively, some of Yo La Tengo’s greatest work to date.

#5: Tapes’ N Tapes/ The Loon

One of this year’s most surprisingly enjoyable indie rock albums came from this Minneapolis band on their debut. The Loon exhibits raw energy, focusing more on acosutic guitar strums than electric guitar riffs. The result is a rough-edged rock sound backed by drawling, often unintelligable lyrics.

Rocky opener “Just Drums” is immediately enticing, as rolling drums and catchy guitar work progress nicely as leadman Josh Grier snarls over it all. I remember seeing Tapes’ N Tapes perform this summer, and when they opened with this track, I was astounded by how crisp it sounded. “The Iliad” is a simpler, foot-stomping tune while highlight “Insistor” showcases a grinding rhythm into the building, anthemic chorus.

The Loon gains complexity from tracks such as “In Houston” and “10 Gallon Ascots”, both of which mix initially soft melodies with surprising bursts of energy. The former combines xylophone notes with shrieking electric guitar and drumming, while the latter integrates a smooth melody with a pounding chant-chorus that provides the album’s loudest moments. “Manitoba” follows in similar fashion with a simple, smooth, warm melody that never wavers and eventually builds into a pounding refrain complete with chaotic drumming and synthesized squeals.

But for all of the intrigue of these tracks, nothing compares to album centerpiece “Cowbell”, one of my favorite single songs of the year. The hard-core guitar strum begins with Grier trash-talking, “I’ve been a better lover with your mother” and rolls along effortlessly and recklessly for two and a half minutes that are over way too quickly. The album concludes on its rockiest note with more riff action present on the anthemic “Jackov’s Suite.”

On the whole, the album is rough around the edges and borders on bluesy roots rock at times, but turned out as well as I can imagine Tapes N Tapes hoped it would. Inconsisent at times, yes, but more often than not The Loon is a huge success, complete with in-your-face, raw guitar strumming and a carefree, unique vocal style. This is probably the best pure example of simple, old-fashioned rock music this year, and I am anxious to see what else these guys have up their sleeves.

#4: Band of Horses/ Everything All The Time

The best debut album of the year also comes from the new band with the best name. On Everything All The Time, Band of Horses combine atmospheric, echoey vocals reminiscent of My Morning Jacket with sweeping guitar work to create a collection of songs worthy of high praise. The tracks exert a great deal of emotion both lyrically and musically, and leadman Ben Bridwell’s unique vocal wails combine beautifully to create a collection of powerful, yet incredibly pretty tunes dispersed among jammier numbers in addition to soft lullaby tracks.

Band of Horses demonstrate the range of their talents by doing just that–dispersion. They achieve nearly perfect balance, as they don’t let the album get too gloomy, even though the darker tracks arguably show more depth and emotion. After the bittersweet, jangly opener eloquently titled “The First Song”, the album goes right into the pounding “Wicked Gil,” a catchier, poppier example not without the same atmospheric qualities that run rampant throughout the album. The simpler “Our Swords” provides a nice rolling rhythm in its two and a half minutes to set the stage for the album’s finest moment.

That moment, of course, is the entire duration of the epic “The Funeral”. Bridwell begins to sing softly before roaring guitars and pounding drums enter as he howls, “At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral.” This is one of those songs that exudes an amount of emotion that is difficult to bear. Other album highlights follow, including the pleasantly upbeat “Weed Party,” which catches Band of Horses in their most rocky, almost home-on-the-rangey form.

Rolling guitars open the album centerpiece “The Great Salt Lake,” which initially seems to draw influence from the Beach Boys. That is before the album’s most transcendant guitar line sails over the chorus and builds into an anthemic crescendo with that same echoing vocal that becomes so addictive as the album progresses. One of my personal favorites is the penultimate track “Monsters,” which opens with twangy country guitar behind Bridwell delivering lyrics like a man who has much to share about life. As the song picks up speed, all of the elements come crashing in marvelously as the album’s greatest lyric, “If I am lost, it’s only for a little while” is wailed with unparalleled hopefulness.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been sorry to see the album go off on that note, but Band of Horses has another trick up their sleeve, and they choose to end their masterpiece with the softer, more harmonic “St. Augustine” which seems to kiss us goodnight. As a whole, what holds Everything All The Time together so well is its impressive balance. With undeniable elements of country and moments of gloom not shy, this is an album that could have quickly put me to sleep. Instead, Band of Horses created an album that packs emotion balanced by elements of both sadness and hope, all the while demonstrating a musical range that I look forward to enjoying for many years to come.

#3: Belle and Sebastian/ The Life Pursuit

These relative old-timers refined their style and nearly matched some of their greatest work with the release of the nicely integrated The Life Pursuit. More complex than 2003’s overly cheery Dear Catastrophe Waitress (8.0)while working in new elements of piano and jazziness, this work was pretty much the lone bright spot of the early part of the year. The album is still incredibly bright, but adds a bittersweet element while focusing on more personal issues, especially faith and the loss of youth.

The Life Pursuit is incredibly solid from start to finish, but begins on an immediately engaging note. Opener “Act of the Apostle” struck me from first listen as innovative, with repetitive minor piano chords that are uncharacteristic of this band combined with impressive tone shifts from foreboding to cheerful. The next track is “Another Sunny Day”, easily the album’s standout, combining the band’s classic cheeriness with a beautiful touch of bittersweet remorse. More than ten years into their career and on their sixth full-length, I am not sure that Belle and Sebastian has ever written a better song.

The album continues on in an upbeat manner, with groovy beats moving “White Collar Boy” along convincingly and twangy notes dominating the accesible “The Blues are Still Blue.” These aren’t my favorite tracks, but manage to carry the album along nicely. The only true resemlance of the band’s prior form comes on the soft, sweet “Dress Up In You”, which progresses with the oxymoron of complex simplicity that has made this band great for over a decade.

Belle and Sebastian really step out of the box musically on jumpy, catchy biographical tracks like “Sukie In The Graveyard” and the bright but oddly atmospheric “Song For Sunshine”, both of which shine on this work. The last few tracks on this album really capture the magic, turning the foreboding elements into optimism on the hopeful “To Be Myself Completely,” which sounds oddly like some of R.E.M.’s poppier work. First single “Funny Little Frog” seems bright as well, a silly love song demonstrating a similar reliance on piano. It doesn’t get any more carefree or fun for Belle and Sebastian than on the resolving “For The Price of a Cup of Tea”, a cheery, nonchalant ditty that assures us that everything is going to be fine.

The Life Pursuit builds in an intersting manner, as it begins questioning life with uncertaintly and seemingly becomes more optimistic towards its conclusion. This is certainly an album that tells a story, the writers of which undeniably understood the importance of ordering the tracks. Having stated that, Belle and Sebastian throw us another loop. Instead of finishing the album on an up note as its progression would indicate, The Life Pursuit follows the previously mentioned track, which would have been a great closer in its own right, with the attractive but bittersweet and uncertain “Mornington Crescent.” Perhaps this is an even better ending, as the band demonstrates that even a life filled with thoughtfulness and cheer can never be without uncertainty.

#2: The Decemberists/ The Crane Wife

Colin Meloy has already established himself as one of America’s best pure up-and-coming songwriters in the company of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Badly Drawn Boy. On this, their fourth album, The Decemberists step up to the big leagues, popping out of the indie rock doldrums and signing with prestigious Capitol Records. How would the music adjust fans wonder? Thankfully, Meloy and company used this promotion as an excuse to upgrade not only their salaries but their musical and lyrical determination as well. This is easily their best album to date, and I say that having loved last year’s Picaresque (8.7) like it was family.

There is an element of tightness to this album in regards to the way in which it is wound. The Decemberists don’t forgo their psychedelic folk-rock backbone on this effort, but rather use it as layering for musical experimentation and expansion. The 12-minute second track “The Island” is actually three songs blended with perfect regard for tone. Beginning with the foreboding “Come and See”, the epic evolves into the more upbeat yet terrifying “The Landlord’s Daughter”, an intense rape tale with electronic keyboards and Meloy wailing. The climax of this song is absolutely possessive. Wow. After going through that, the track cools off into sad acoustic guitar ballad “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning”, as Meloy pleads, “Go to sleep now, little ugly/ Go to sleep now, little fool.” I’m pretty convinced that as 12-minute folk-rock tracks go, this one couldn’t be any more perfect.

Innovation doesn’t stop after the epic, as standout ”The Perfect Crime #2″ exhbits upbeat bluesey notes that work incredibly well as the band enters completely new territory musically and Meloy sings of thievery and murder. Tales of war aren’t exactly new territory for The Decemberists, but this time around they dive deeper and more specifically into their story-telling and musical choices. The slowly progressing, softly pounding “When The War Came” would play perfectly over a field of wounded and dead bodies from the front line, as Meloy professes “When the war came, the war came hard.” With almost Led Zepplin-esque characteristics and unprecedented darkness, this track rolls on into completely new musically territory as Meloy moans “With all the grain of Babylon!” into the finish. Scary stuff. Cool.

War tales aren’t isolated to this track, however. In possibly the greatest song they have ever written, the Decemberists really rock on “Yankee Bayonet”, as Meloy and guest singer Laura Veirs rotate verses as a pregnant wife and a probably dead civil war soldier/ husband. The track is absolutely incredible musically, lyrically and emotionally, and is probably the best single song of 2006. Even the familiar sounding tracks, such as opener “The Crane Wife 3″ and the amazing “Summersong” soar on this effort. “O Valenica” has a tough act to follow after “Yankee Bayonet”, but provides familiar lyrics in regard to tragic love.

The slowly building “The Crane Wife 1 and 2″ works as another epic, layered with more electronic keyboards before moving into its softer, beautiful and apologetic second part. The anthemic, optimistic ”Sons and Daughters” is perfectly placed as the closer, sounding off with Meloy singing the inexplicably warm lyrics, “We’ll build our homes of aluminum/ We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon/ Here all the bombs fade away.”

I still have no idea what a Crane Wife actually is, but I have a feeling we all need to have one.

#1: TV on the Radio/ Return To Cookie Mountain

2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (8.6/10) was enjoyable enough of an album for a band’s first attempt at a full length, but many considered it a bit of a let down after TV on the Radio’s Young Liars EP had shown so much promise the year before. While certainly innovative and interesting with unique style, Blood Thirsty Babes seemed to drag at points. With their sophomore effort Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio has succeeded in making the album that we all knew that they were capable of after Young Liars, and it is the best album released in 2006.

On the whole, the album is much more crisp and a bit rockier than its predecessors with the addition of actual drums. Opener “I Was A Lover” is a much more immediate way to begin an album than “The Wrong Way” was last time around. With syncopated drums, horns, electronic keyboards and heavy guitar feedback, the song progresses softly but with authority. It is with the next track, “Hours”, that we begin to see TV on the Radio’s more focused direction. Eerie, repetitious drumming opens the track along with a hummed harmony from lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, a technique that the band uses throughout the album in its melodies. The drumming becomes quite intense as the melody soars on this more upbeat but moderately dark track.

The next song is “Province”, which is already better than any song on the last album after only three tracks. We haven’t heard anything this deep from TV on the Radio yet; “Province” moves along slowly with one of the album’s most impressive repated piano riffs, more hummed melodies and a crescendo-esque chorus complete with Adebimpe straining in falsetto that “Love is the province of the brave.” The band gives us a break from the first three amazing tracks with “Playhouses”, probably the album’s only disjointed moment. Perhaps this is planned, as the song that follows, “Wolf Like Me” is the clear standout sitting in the middle of this collection of incredibly diverse musical arrangements. Pounding drumming and heavy electric guitar feedback prevail in this raucous, foot-stomping rock song. The song even slows down towards the middle, giving the listener break while still leaving him anxious for the beat to pick up again and overall demonstrating the band’s progress in arranging their music. This song is an instant classic.

Normally, I would not break down each song on an album individually. However, the album’s songs do not ever seem to blend, and it is often hilarious how different each song is from the one before it. Nevertheless, this is to the band’s credit, as successful experimentation and innovation are what seperate this work from most of what we have heard this year. The chanting, tribal drumbeat of “A Method” provides the closest to a cappella that the band attempts as the drumming is the only instrumentation, and is an improvement over Desperate Youth’s eventually redundant “Ambulance” which was made in a similar style. ”Let The Devil In” is an anthemic, circular jam that seems to carry the album’s most care-free energy.

TV on the Radio have plenty of juice left for the album’s final four tracks, none of which have a single weak moment. “Dirtywhirl” is perhaps the most accessible song on the album, but this is not to say that it is not a step forward for the band musically. Sure, the melody is redundant, but in a manner that fails to tire the listener’s ear. Adebimpe seems as involved vocally in this song as any he has ever recorded, delivering an added intensity. “Blues From Down Here” features a new vocal from the deeper throated Kyp Malone, along with instense, rolling drum work that make this track the album’s darkest moment, and possibly one of its most underrated. As I look back on the year, it is this song that probably seperates this album for me as the best that 2006 had to offer, as it comes out of nowhere to showcase how far this band has truly come from their beginnings.

“Tonight” would have been a fine conclusion to this work as it slows down the pace noticeably with more beautiful vocal harmonies and undertones of light cymbals. Instead, Return To Cookie Mountain concludes perfectly with “Wash The Day”, a slowly building, progressive finale reminiscent of but superior to previous album closer “Wear You Out.”

Overall, what seperates this album from their last work is indeed a combination of the drumming additions and the soaring melodies, but mostly the incredible diversity from track to track. There is never a lag. The album’s intensity builds until the last track concludes in a manner which seems almost as if the album is exhausted and out of breath from its journey. They certainly still sound like TV on the Radio, but with much more focused direction.

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