In a given year, there are always ten new albums that really move me. It’s never all that difficult to figure out which ones mean the most to me and each December, I find those ten albums and I list them here, usually in no particular order. It doesn’t make too much sense to me to try and rank something from 1 to 10 anyway – at some point during a given year, any of the ten albums listed would have been my favorite of the year.

2006 was a different animal. I’m having a really hard time trying to limit my list to only 10 albums. There was SO MUCH good stuff out there that really hit me in 2006. It is the first time in probably ten years that I have really struggled to put together this list. Maybe it means that I’m really ramping it up again in terms of music pursuit, or maybe it was just a damn good year. I won’t know until next year I suppose. But I will miss 2006. In many ways, it is (or was) an extremely transformative 365 days for me.

Not only that, but I do have a #1 choice this year and it’s far and away my favorite release. The rest are not in any order whatsoever. Hope you enjoy the list and discover some good stuff.

NOTE: You will see little “play” icons next to all the MP3’s – all you need to do is click on the little icon next to the song and it will begin playing and you can continue reading the site. If you want to save the song for your own library, right click on the actual song title and “save as.” I did not secure any permissions to post these – if for whatever reason a band, manager, etc wants me to remove the MP3, email me and let me know.

The favorite:
The Whigs “Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip” may just be my favorite debut album from any band in the past ten years. That is a pretty heavy thing to say, but if this album is any indication, we may be on the cusp of something special. Recorded in a borrowed frat house in Georgia, this release has so many knockout songs that it has completely reduced me to a blabbering fool. I’m telling anyone and everyone I can find – multiple times – that if you’re looking to discover a new band this year, you can stop looking because this is it. The trio have a unique sound – some have said it’s a touch of Nirvana, but that’s misleading. I mean, keyboards wander in and out of these songs and occasionally play a big role. The Whigs sound nothing like Nirvana. The only similarity is that the band has that knack (like Nirvana did) of delivering hard-driving songs with terrific pop music sensibility. It makes you remember these songs. Sample: Half A World Away.

The rest:
I don’t know how much longer you people are going to continue listening to me gush about Anders Parker here. I realize it’s bordering on obnoxious. I know. Really, I do. But I am determined to convince people that Parker’s output is on pace for him to artist-of-the-decade caliber material. He’s that good. So If I can just get one person who has never heard this guy to listen to him and appreciate how talented he really is, then I’ve completed my mission. The problem is that no one song can do it, because he’s a five tool player. Loud rock? Check. Acoustic balladry? Check. Mid-tempo pop songs? Check. Ho-hum – another STELLAR effort in 2006 with this self-titled recording. No more words – just listen to the quieter Circle Same. Then ask me for more. Go ahead. I dare you.

The Band of Horses album “Everything All The Time” kinda came out of nowhere. A friend recommended them back in the late spring and I took a cursory listen and thought, “hey, not bad.” It languished there until a few months later when “The First Song” popped up on shuffle on my IPod and I was like “who the hell IS THIS?” That’s the beauty of shuffle. Get a new album, get it into rotation and eventually you’ll get comfortable and familiar with it. I owe my appreciation for this band to “shuffle.” Anyway, I have decided that the best way to describe this band is to imagine if Built To Spill did an album of mellow songs instead of their usual 6-8 minute guitar burners. There’s also a pinch of jam-band here, too. Of course, if it were any more than a pinch, it wouldn’t have made my list. I’m probably not doing it justice – this is a terrific album. Sample the cool video for “The Great Salt Lake.”

Tim Easton continues to fly under the radar as one of America’s best pure songwriters. His 2006 album “Ammunition” was yet another strong statement from the unheralded Easton, who’s been in this game now for well over ten years – and he just keeps getting better and better. Each of his albums are filled with a mix of endlessly hummable acoustic pop and Dylan-esque harmonica-driven rock songs. He came through Boston with a full band during over the summer summer and proceeded to deliver the best show of the year, where he showcased his impressive range – from the extremely loud and fun “Just Like Home,” he would then turn on a dime and unleash the acoustic and controversial “Jesus, Protect Me From Your Followers.” The room got so silent that you could hear everyone breathing. It screamed with silence. That song deserves a seperate post anyway – and it will get one soon. Sample the imminently catchy Not Today.

When I heard that the dude from The White Stripes was assembling a second rock band called The Raconteurs, my gut reaction was “ugh – the world really doesn’t need any more Jack White songs.” I guess you all know how I feel about The White Stripes now, huh? However, on a total whim I saw it available on EMusic and I just picked a song called “Level” and I was hooked. This is nothing like The White Stripes, thank god. Instead, it’s an album that just so happens to be filled with solid, workmanlike 1975-ish rock. The presence of Brendan Benson has done wonders for Jack White, I guess. The band falls flat with a couple of clunkers, but 75% of this record is surprisingly awesome. Have a listen to the bass-heavy, derivative, but excellent Level and you may agree.

1990s college radio heroes Built to Spill took a few years off from the studio in this decade, but came back like a triumphant elephant in 2006 with “You In Reverse,” an album full of jabs and uppercuts that sent me sprawling to the canvas in a heap of delight. Simply put, this is a thunderous album featuring the standard Built To Spill fare: fuzzing and buzzing guitars, Doug Martsch’s distinct and nasal vocals and the ‘ol soft/hard dynamic, which BTS have truly mastered. This time around, they shortened the songs a little bit, which was music to my ears, literally and figuratively. Their show here in Boston back in early October can only be classified as an absolute nuclear assault on the ears. Tremendous! Now listen to Gone and turn it UP UP UP!

I was never a fan of Belle & Sebastian’s wimpy, whiney, melancholy Brit-pop until their last two albums. I can’t explain why. Since then, they’ve muscled up a little. For fans of the band, that statement might make you laugh a little bit, though. They still sound like the 85 pound weaklings from grade school, but the last two albums have just been… much better. 2006’s “The Life Pursuit” was a step in a terrific direction, with a fuller sound, well-crafted pop songs and the obligatory and lovely British melodies. A surprise entry on my list this year. Check out the insanely memorable The Blues Are Still Blue.

A note to whomever decided to call their band Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s: please change the name of the band. As soon as possible. You are too good for that. Your 2006 album, “The Dust Of Retreat,” has a strike against it before it even gets played – nobody wants to tell people about a band they like called Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s. OK, now that that’s out of the way, this is another one of those bands recommended to me that I downloaded from EMusic and just threw it into shuffle and every time it came on, I’d take my eyes off the road and look quizically down to the IPod, only to see……that name. Really good stuff, evidenced by the song Dress Me Like A Clown.

The Bottle Rockets bounced back in 2006 after a few tough years with “Zoysia.” The casual BRox listener probably hears this album and thinks it typical of Festus, Mississouri’s most famous residents. But probe a little deeper and what you’d find is a bit of a deviation from the normal dirty-handed rock the band usually offers. They’ve actually matured. Before 2006 the subject matter was largely intelligent-cum-trashy tunes about radar guns, beer, trailer fires and drinking. Zoysia introduced version 2.0, the grown up phase, where our main character is still intelligent, only taking things a little more seriously with the exploration of relationships, the government, celebrity worship or the plight of feeling lost in your professional life. A really impressive and surprising piece of work, seeing as though I thought the band was heading south. Not so. Sample the very fun Mountain To Climb.

I know absolutely nothing about Elf Power. In fact, I have never been to their website. I just found the link right now so I could put it here. In fact, I’m not even sure if the singer is a man or a woman. I think it’s a dude. But thanks to EMusic for recommending the album “Back To The Web” as something I might like, because I do. A lot. It’s just solid pop music that has a nice tempo, the occasional violin which adds a nice richness and music/melody that can either stand at the forefront of your attention or serve nicely as some background music for a good dinner. Have a listen to King of Earth.

So there’s your ten. For once, I need to list other just missed the cut, because there were too many excellent releases this year and these deserve some attention as well:

Catfish Haven – “Tell Me”
Gob Iron – “Death Songs for the Living”
Sloan – “Never Hear The End Of It”
Ben Kweller – self-titled
Black Keys – “Chulahoma” EP
Bruce Springsteen – “The Seeger Sessions”
Drive-By Truckers – “A Blessing & A Curse”
Kelley Stoltz – “Below The Branches”
The Pernice Brothers – “Live A Little”
Beirut – “Gulag Orkestrar”
Hem – “Funnel Cloud” (this just missed top 10)
Bobby Bare Jr – “The Longest Meow”

All in all, one of the best years for music in recent memory. I’d love to hear what you liked and even moreso, I’d love love love to hear what you thought of any samples you might have listened to from these ten great artists.