The Best Records of 2006 

Funky Mushrooms, 40-water, Fishscales, Fambly Cats, and Cookie Mountains kept our critics alive this year. Dig in.

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Kathleen Richards

Blood Mountain
Just when you thought Atlanta's purveyors of rhythmically complex and sonically dizzying metal couldn't stretch their skills any further, Blood Mountain not only lives up to the standard they created, but surpasses it, too. On its third album and major-label debut, Mastodon unleashes a more focused, dense, and rich tapestry of progressive metal, thrusting its songs into a heady realm that totally rocks. An intensely focused and thoroughly realized effort. (Reprise /Relapse)

The Information
Say what you want about the Scientologist, but Beck may be the only contemporary songwriter consistently releasing albums of the creative magnitude that others dream of achieving just once. On his eleventh album, Beck reunites with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich for a reinvigorated concoction of jungle funk, guitar-slapping blues, futuristic soul, and entrancing, cosmic folk employing every sonic detail except the kitchen sink. That may sound like every Beck album, but that's hardly a bad thing. (Interscope)

Kelley Stoltz
Below the Branches
Kelley Stoltz hearts the Beatles in a big way. But luckily, the San Francisco troubadour has the musicianship and depth to expand that crush into an authentic pop masterpiece all his own. Driven by ooh-ooh harmonies, dance-worthy staccato piano chords, and thoughtfully crafted flourishes, Below the Branches is a dynamic, coherent, and invigorating vision of modern sound. Stoltz not only has the vocabulary to imitate his idols, but also the arsenal to put himself among them. (Sub Pop)

Black Wings of Destiny
Initially, it's hard to take sinister-looking forty-year-old dudes outfitted in leather harnesses, spike collars, and creepy face paint seriously. But you don't have to. Though it's not their intention, Dragonlord — the ode to Norwegian black metal from Testament guitarist Eric Peterson — comes off as ridiculous but also simultaneously thrilling. From the horse-snorting, chest-pounding, battle-cry intro, Black Wings ... embarks on a nonstop crusade of lightning-quick drumming, thrash-guitar shredding, gothic effects, acidic yowls, and the occasional Ray Manzarek-inspired keyboard solo. Sweet. (Escapi Music)

Gram Rabbit
Like falling down the rabbit hole, Cultivation is a trippy, psychedelic, countrified, disco adventure through the high desert. Led by the sexy, bunny-eared Jesika von Rabbit, who alternates monotone speak-singing with shouting and purring, Joshua Tree's Gram Rabbit executes its strange, somewhat cartoonish aesthetic quite convincingly. "Bloody Bunnies (Superficiality)" juxtaposes a techie dance beat and flashy rock, while "Angel Song" takes a desert country ballad with ''60s folkie harmonies and inserts distortion-soaked guitar riffs. A fun, bizarre trip. (Stinky)

Sean Lennon
Friendly Fire
Eight years after the release of his debut album, Lennon returns to the limelight with a collection of rainy-day, lovelorn, piano-driven pop songs. Abandoning the eclectic bossa-nova jaunts of Into the Sun, he inches closer to the sound his father was famous for despite prior attempts to avoid just that. Lennon's unearthing and melodramatic expounding of the T. Rex demo "Would I Be the One" makes this album entirely worthwhile. (Capitol)

Eagles of Death Metal
Death by Sexy
While some bands toil away for years trying to create their magnum opus and inevitably failing, Eagles of Death Metal crank out a thick album of cocksure Southern-rock pastiche in just eight days. Picking up where Peace Love Death Metal left off, Jesse "Boots Electric" Hughes and Josh "Baby Duck" Homme continue to embrace rock's clichés with a silliness that's completely endearing, such as rhyming "cherry cola" with "rock ''n' rolla." Good times. (Downtown/Rekords Rekords)

The Black Keys
Magic Potion
There's something about the stripped-down, unadorned styling of distorted guitar and drums that makes the orthodox blues-rock of Akron's Black Keys so damn fresh. On its fourth album, the duo sticks to what it knows best, and the results are thick, dirty, and raw. The two touch off a blazing, butt-shaking groove on "Your Touch," and guitarist Dan Auerbach makes his riffs smolder on "Black Door." Crank this shit. (Nonesuch)

Mojave 3
Puzzles Like You
Grab your towel: You'll be crying tears of joy or running to the beach (or both) like a giddy teenager when you pop in this disc from Mojave 3, its fifth album in ten years. From the sunny, ''60s guitar pop of "Truck Driving Man" to the shimmering harmonies and country twang of "Big Star Baby," it's clear that the trio has departed from the melancholic ballads they were known for. There's little to dislike. (4AD)

Just Like the Fambly Cat
For its last hurrah, Modesto's Grandaddy convinces us it'll be sorely missed. There's nary a stagnant moment on this album, from the laser firing keyboards and chugging guitar rock of "Jeez Louise" to the spacey jam of "Rear View Mirror" that coalesces into a crunchy groove. But by the time singer Jason Lytle wistfully longs to transcend fame with the homey drum machine beats and pluckiness of "Elevate Myself," we're rooting for him. (V2)


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