My 16 favorite tracks of 2006

    This year, I made mixes until my drag/drop finger blistered over. I skipped songs until the “”next”” button wore through. A tornado tore through my once-immaculate music library. I threw compact discs in my gym bag until they scratched each other clear through – and didn’t shed a tear.

    It’s not that 2006 lacked great music – quite the opposite, really. But the best part was that it could all be celebrated at once, by everyone – old timers like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Simon threw their two cents into the pot (or at the president), and newcomers like MySpace-spawn Lily Allen found the path to success shorter than ever. Pop became cool again, both with the return of clear melody to indie fuzz or in the critics’ warming to the top 40, as Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and the Neptunes made “”best”” lists next to lesser-known unconventionals.

    Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) released Night Ripper, proving that – officially – no one cares about the RIAA and no obscurely paired mash-up can shock us anymore. Ghostface released Fishscale to wide props, proving that we can love the dirty South, the yay area and the Shaolin temple all at the same time.

    Since few beginning-to-end recordings really did it for me in 2006, I’ve ditched the albums-of-the-year tradition to offer up some tracks I really dig. It’s not all here, and I’ll find something I like better tomorrow. What a golden, golden age!

    16-“”Hollywood Divorce””

    Outkast

    Outkast is so consistently outdoing everybody else that we often take them for granted. “”Idlewild”” brought with it a powerhouse of swingin’, down-home hip-hop, and track 12 also boasts killer verses from mixtaper-of-the year Lil’ Wayne and always-fly Snoop Dogg.

    15-“”Chips Ahoy!””

    The Hold Steady

    “”How am I sposed to know that you’re high if you won’t even dance?”” asks this ballad at the racetrack (Chips Ahoy is a horse), woozy with painkiller guitar and heavy with the album’s title Kerouac sentiment: Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together.

    14-“”O Mary Don’t You Weep””

    Bruce Springsteen

    Since the Hold Steady took care of good old-fashioned Springsteen this year, the real thing was freed up to burrow in some old Pete Seeger and get my hoedown pulse pumping with this violin-laced folk explosion – especially groovy on the live DVD.

    13-“”Aliens””

    Dr. Octagon

    It’s no Dr. Octagonecologyst, but Kool Keith’s got some strange-ass Eurotrash up his sleeve with this one. Fascinating.

    12-“”Smiley Faces””

    Gnarls Barkley

    There is life after “”Crazy,”” and it’s called “”Smiley Faces.”” Sing it, bump it, love it.

    11-“”Wolf Like Me””

    TV on the Radio

    There were more resounding songs on their album, but the toe-tapping restraint of track 5 mightily prepares us for the upward trek to the top.

    10-“”Ain’t Cha””

    Clipse

    Thank heaven Clipse didn’t get the Neptunes beats Gwen got. Stompy drum-circle-meets-back-alley production drives Malice and Pusha-T’s earthy gangsta flow right through the bullseye.

    9-“”Ring the Alarm””

    Beyonce

    I almost forgot why I miss the ’90s – luckily, Beyonce broke out her sleeveless turtlenecks and high-swinging ponytails just in time, for the “”Alarm”” video. Fiercest shit on MTV (or anywhere).

    8-“”Poison Cup””

    M. Ward

    Yes, there’s also a Daniel Johnston cover with Neko Case on the album, but I couldn’t stop listening to track 1 long enough to get to that. This is the kind of happy-sad that makes your cheeks hurt.

    7-“”How It Ends””

    DeVotchKa

    “”Little Miss Sunshine”” is doing for DeVotchKa what “”Garden State”” did for the Shins – in other words, it’s all downhill from here. But this is as exotic as American music gets, and the best slit-your-wrists score of the year.

    6-“”Ghost Ride It””

    Mistah F.A.B.

    As annoying as stunna shades and thizz faces have become, F.A.B. can revive hyphy love in every hater – includes Ghostbusters beat and “”Get out the way, let Casper drive/ Ghost ride, go crazy/ Who that drivin? Partrick Swayze!””

    5-“”Lloyd, I’m Ready to be

    Heartbroken””

    Camera Obscura

    It was either this or Mew’s “”Zookeeper’s Boy”” for prettiest indie pop, and, well, Camera Obscura is far better than Mew. Wedding bells, messenger’s trumpets and everything else wonderful.

    4-“”The Island: Come and See/ The Landlord’s Daughter/ You’ll Not Feel the Drowning””

    The Decemberists

    A woozy sea chanty in three parts over 12 minutes, reducing the listener to a bayonet-slinging, starry-eyed romantic.

    3-“”Lived in Bars””

    Cat Power

    Cat Power’s unmatchable howl propelled her to much-deserved fame. “”Bars”” is a jazzy showcase of her new big-band backing.

    2-“”Lie to Me””

    Tom Waits

    From a triple album of rugged gems, it’s tough to pin down the high point – but Waits did make a music video for track 1 disc 1, and it’s cute as hell.

    1-“”What You Know””

    T.I.

    Your slow ride don’t mean nuttin’ if T.I.’s buzzed-out drawl isn’t vibrating the side mirrors beyond visibility. And I know all about that!

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