It's incredibly difficult to pick the best albums of 2006, but one thing's for sure: The Grammys blew it this year. Again.
Save for the Dixie Chicks' stellar "Taking the Long Way," the Album of the Year nominees sound like a 101.9 WTMX playlist, not a rundown of the essential listens of 2006. John Mayer? Gnarls Barkley? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Justin Timberlake? All decent-to-good, but far from great and certainly not Best-Of caliber.
In alphabetical order, here are 10 albums that deserve your attention, if not awards.
Arctic Monkeys: "Whatever People Say I am That's What I'm Not."
An exciting and surprising debut by clever Brits who know the ins and outs of a wanker's night on the town.
Band of Horses: "Everything All the Time"
Extremely smart and intimate for a first album--probably because Ben Bridwell and Matthew Brooke previously played in Carissa's Wierd--Band of Horses' debut does My Morning Jacket's style better than My Morning Jacket.
Belle and Sebastian: "The Life Pursuit"
Another winner from the group that makes writing catchy pop songs seem easy.
Neko Case, "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"
The versatile singer, talented songwriter and veteran New Pornographer crafts another album best enjoyed out on the road, under the stars.
Cold War Kids: "Robbers and Cowards"
An indie debut with the ability to rock in a manner that's both straightforward and strange.
The Coup: "Pick a Bigger Weapon"
Political hip-hop with enough funk and topical firepower to keep your mind and your booty hard at work.
Dixie Chicks: "Taking the Long Way"
Not willing to "Shut Up and Sing," the fearless country girls deliver their most passionate, poppy and political album to date.
The Format: "Dog Problems"
A break-up album that never sounds depressing, with hooks that bury into your mind and won't go away.
Ghostface Killah: "Fishscale"
Hot beats and rhymes guaranteed to make your head nod, courtesy of the Wu-Tang Clan's best solo MC.
Ray LaMontagne: "Till the Sun Turns Black"
Gorgeous ballads and the occasional cathartic rocker from a singer-songwriter who couldn't care less what you think of him.
Others: Beck, "The Information"; Lindsey Buckingham, "Under the Skin"; Dirty Pretty Things, "Waterloo to Anywhere"; Bob Dylan, "Modern Times"; Benjy Ferree, "Leaving the Nest"; Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, "Rabbit Fur Coat"; The Knife, "Silent Shout"; Sean Lennon, "Friendly Fire"; Joanna Newsom, "Ys"; Pearl Jam, "Pearl Jam."
Matt Pais is the metromix music and movies producer.