PopMatters Picks: The Best Music of 2006

Each year around the holidays, music critics regress and become children all over again. We get colicky and overexcited, often an unbearable combination for those who choose to remain within close proximity to us. I won’t make excuses for our opinionated, list-making dispositions, but I do apologize, on behalf of my canonizing brethren, for any amplified insufferableness. Please, do not forget that while it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, we really like it — like, really like it — enough to dissect the ever-lovin’ life out of a multitude of recent releases, place them within the appropriate historical context, and come running to you with the results.

Sure, you can argue that music is a finitely subjective pleasure, which is only partly true; there is a rhyme and reason to it all, to what makes a good record a good record, and no number of precious personal sensibilities can defy such cold logic. You can also argue that numbered lists are reductive, that they oversimplify the entire experience down to a meaningless series of sequential, Ebert-esque thumbs-ups. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is: there is just so much to share at the end of a year, so many albums that have both infiltrated cultural radars and soared below them, that it’s necessary to deliver the information in compacted form. Each of these albums mattered to at least one person, so they’re all worth your investigation or at least a paragraph’s worth of your time. You’ll likely see a number of records that you, too, held dearly during certain weeks in the past 12 months, some that you vehemently disliked (see, there go your precious personal sensibilities again), and, with any luck, many that you have yet to discover. In the case of the latter, allow us to possibly introduce you to some of your favorite records of the year. See, it’s worth having us around after all.

This week and next, PopMatters is running an extensive series of genre-specific lists penned by some of our genre experts, highlighting the best electronic music, jazz, country, indie pop, R&B, hip-hop, world music, folk, and singer-songwriter albums of the year; a new list will be published daily, so be sure to check back often.

On Monday, 18 December, we’ll reveal our big official list of the best albums of the year, followed by our list of the year’s best reissues on Tuesday, 19 December, and our big wrap-up of the year’s best musical events on Friday, 22 December. So go on, dig in — there’s plenty of familiar and foreign experiences awaiting your discovery.

— Zeth Lundy