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The Best of 2006: Music

2. Low and Death Vessel at the Black Cat, Feb. 4. Low's performance of Neil Young's "Down by the River" was breathtaking, but the Minnesota trio was almost upstaged by opener Death Vessel's captivating croon of "Break in the Empress Crown."

3. Josh Ritter, "Girl in the War." No one really needs another opinion about the war, but Ritter finds a way to make his chilling take relevant in this song, framed as a conversation between Peter and Paul.

4. Billy Bragg reissues. There's much to rediscover among these eight albums, reissued with bonus tracks and live footage. Bragg's feisty political rants and working-class struggles still seem fresh after two decades, and it's easy to get lost in his exuberant bellow, "There is power in a union!"

5. Colin Meloy at the Birchmere, Jan. 28. Meloy has such a knack for stripping down the Decemberists' lush orchestrations into heartbreaking solo numbers. The great relief of 2006: The Decemberists' move to a major label wasn't the sellout it could have been.

6. The Mountain Goats, "Woke Up New.""Get Lonely" is a whole collection of devastating breakup songs, but nowhere does John Darnielle sound more vulnerable than on this track. His voice quivers perpetually on the verge of tears, and his loneliness intensifies on his closing, chilling "What do I do / Without you?"

7. Old-school rockers. With Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma and Yo La Tengo each releasing solid albums this year, it's easy to see that some things really do get better with age.

8. Isis & Aereogramme, "In the Fishtank 14." Konkurrent's "Fishtank" series is full of surprises, and this edition is no different: Boston metal band Isis and Scottish indie rockers Aereogramme make strange bedfellows, but their collaboration is stunning, particularly the hypnotic 10-minute "Low Tide."

9. Tower Records, R.I.P. We all scored a lot of great deals during its going-out-of-business sales, but this overpriced, overbearing chain was long overdue for its play date with the dodo.

10. Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago, July 29-30. This festival had it all: a killer lineup, affordable tickets and reasonably priced food and water. I'm surely a bit biased (my name's on the masthead), but it's great that music's indiest webzine still lives by the DIY spirit.


1. Gnarls Barkley had the song of the year with "Crazy." Between Danger Mouse's skillful sound creation and Cee-Lo Green's haunting vocals, no song better captured the zeitgeist or your ears than this one. And it instantly created a cottage industry of covers by such artists as Nelly Furtado and Ray LaMontagne.

2. Rhymefest's "Blue Collar." On the most soulful rap CD in a long time, Rhymefest, who co-wrote Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," delivers punch lines and punch-hard put-downs with a voice that's authentic and charismatic. Plus, you get to hear O.D.B. sing "Build Me Up, Buttercup."

3. Shelby Lynne at the Birchmere, Oct. 1. In an intimate show, Lynne's smoky voice was as mesmerizing as ever, singing songs ranging from candid vulnerability to cool control. She even hung around afterward to meet fans and was charming and amiable.

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