Best Albums of the 2000s: 2006

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Reader’s Choice: Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Was anyone shocked to see Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not win the popular vote for Best of 2006? If you were, you were probably born in 2007… just woke up from a 4 year coma.

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The album is stunningly simple. Its guitar work and lightening quick vocals are basic, but there’s genius in that simplicity. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not feels rough around the edges, but its sharp lyrical wit and slap-face pace seamlessly work. The Arctic Monkey’s have a strikingly British sound, and in a time where music is so cross regional and border-less, the band managed to create an album that feels uniquely local. It‘s the kind of music you expected to hear at a live show in Leeds or Manchester, and even if you’re not from England, there’s a certain amount of comfort associated with the home-ness of it.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was released in January of 2006 to Britain’s collective hysteria. Since it’s initial debut, the album went quadruple platinum in the UK and won that year’s Mercury Prize (best album from the UK or Ireland). Without any context, that award doesn’t sound like much to the average American, but when you look at previous winners like Badly Drawn Boy, Pulp, and Franz Ferdinand, or even runners-up (Thom York, Muse, Hot Chip) you clearly see the prestige.

One of the most interesting things about this album is that despite much of the album having already been leaked online (or previously released), it still ended up becoming the UK’s fastest selling debut album of all time (360,000 copies in its first week). It’s an interesting point to those that say music piracy is ruining the art of the “album.” Clearly, the Arctic Monkey’s proved that you can certainly sell records to an audience that had access to the leaks on the Internet. Turns out that good records sell themselves.

PMA’s Choice: TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

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I initially heard TV on the Radio in 2004 on the recommendation of a friend. The first time I heard ‘em, I hated ‘em. I was annoyed with all the yelling. I felt unsettled by the free-flowing genre. It made me uneasy and I felt like I would never wrap my head around the music’s pacing. I was totally wrong.

TV on the Radio (“TVotR”) initially entered the scene with their two member OK Calculator. Being a self released demo, it didn’t make much of a splash, and the band remained relatively unknown outside of Brooklyn. Shortly thereafter, the band’s first legit work was released, an EP called Young Liars. It was different from OK Calculator and even though it didn’t make a large commercial drop, critics embraced it. Still, it wasn’t until 2004 when Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was released that TVotR truly enjoyed success. Musicians, fans, and critics alike loved it. Still, it was an avant-garde album and it didn’t take as naturally as more mainstream band’s music did. It wasn’t until Return to Cookie Mountain that TVotR truly enjoyed their long deserved coming out party.

Return to Cookie Mountain felt like a breath of fresh air in the music world. It took people off guard and people were happy to find a band that took them to new places. Make no mistake; there are people that hate this album. It’s rough and tumble. The thing is, I can truly say there’s nothing else like it, and that’s what turns certain people off and others on. It’s always been hard to nail down exactly what genre TVotR is, but that’s why their music is so good. Elements of jazz, rock, turntablism, and soul weave their way throughout the album. It’s a melting pot of sound… testified to by the various guest appearances included: David Bowie (a huge TVotR fan), Blonde Redhead, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Nick Zinner) and Celebration all leave a mark here. I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about musicians by who chooses to work with them, and for my money, you can’t get a more star studded cast than this. 

Return To Cookie Mountain didn’t go platinum. It didn’t sell out in record stores across the nation. None of its songs broke the top 10 (or 50 for that matter). It was released somewhat quietly (by mainstream standards), so if you judge an album solely by its popular appeal, Return to Cookie Mountain was nothing more than a blip on the music landscape’s radar… however, when viewed through a more aesthetic lense, the record blew minds. Long time fans were elated with the progress of the band, songs like Wolf Like Me reigned in first time listeners, and critics heralded its release. By the end of the year it adorned almost every best-of list on the scene. Spin put the band on its cover and declared it album of the year. Pitchfork ranked it #2 on its top 50 of 2006, and Rolling Stone called it 4th best of the year.

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