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Best Albums of the Year, 2006 Part II

Hellogoodbye, Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! (Drive-Thru):

Few modern emo/punk/whatever

whippersnappers

capture the essence of the decade when keyboards ruled the world -- largely because their view of the

1980s

comes secondhand via

VH1

or retro-radio hours. However, an exception to this rule can be made for the young

Cali quartet Hellogoodbye,

who display serious synth-smarts (and a mean Vocoder!) on Zombies!, an exuberant collection of punk-pop that nods to

New Order

,

blink-182

and �

80s Top 40 radio hits

.

Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Ole Tarantula! (Yep Roc):

The absent-minded professor of

Nuggets-style psychedelic garage rock

continues his creative resurgence with

Tarantula

, a

kaleidoscopic

album of melodic gems drenched in harmony and surrealistic imagery. Recorded in conjunction with the

Venus 3

— a.k.a. Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin of

R.E.M./

The Minus 5 — and featuring a track co-written by

XTC majordomo Andy Partridge

("�Cause It's Love [Saint Parallelogram]"), the album trades in fizzy fuzz-jangle that more often than not belies lyrical melancholy.

"N.Y. Doll"

is a somber remembrance of the late New York Dolls bassist

Arthur Kane

, while Hitchcock wrote the effervescent pop burst

"Underground Sun"

for a late friend.

Muse, Black Holes and Revelations (Reprise):

Muse traded in

pretentious prog bombast

long before it became trendy on their first three albums — and creates the Platonic ideal of the form on

Revelations

with "

Knights of Cydonia,"

a galloping, apocalyptic single gnarled with doom-metal riffs and robots-in-space vocals. But the

supercharged UK trio

wisely expands their worldview to include sci-fi funk,

stompy goth

and even

Rufus Wainwright-

esque balladry on

Revelations

, their poppiest and most emotionally affecting outing yet. Just

try to avoid shedding a tear

during the longing

"Starlight,"

where a glassy piano intertwines with diffracted synths and vocalist

Matt Bellamy

croons

"I just wanted to hold you in my arms"

like an anguished astronaut about to be lost forever in space.

The Shins, Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop):

Physical copies of the Shins' third album aren't in stores until

2007

, although its presence on any number of file-sharing services means that, more or less,

it may as well have already been released

.

More sedate and less accessible

than the band's first two discs,

Wincing

is an album for those outgrowing twentysomething-borne uncertainty and settling into careers, relationships and

(gasp!)

maturity. Nevertheless, the

Flaming Lips-esque

psych-dreamscape

"Sea Legs"

displays sonic adventurousness, and the wistful relationship-analysis

"Turn on Me"

has a

hollow nostalgia

reminiscent of R.E.M.'s early mysticism.

Gwen Stefani, The Sweet Escape (Interscope):

Save for the yodel-tastic "

Wind It Up"

and a

Pharrell

-featuring game of "

disco-Tetris"

called

"Yummy,"

the

No Doubt

vocalist wisely chooses to focus on

songcraft instead of flamboyance

on

her second solo effort

. This makes her

staunch girl power

all the more

effective

, whether she's channeling

Madonna'sLike a Prayer-

era balladry ("Early Winter"), embracing her inner goth ("Wonderful Life") or doing her best

Sheena Easton

impression (the sunshine-soul title track featuring Akon).

Thom Yorke, The Eraser (XL):

Thom Yorke's

seduction

technique with

Radiohead

has always revolved around mystery — so it's no surprise that

The Eraser

, his solo debut, also explores

misty vistas

. Although built on a foundation of

repetition

and detailed sonic atmosphere (

fragmented electronica loops

, stuttering beat-blips and skeletal piano),

Eraser

derives its power from

Yorke's feathery falsetto

. He croons half-formed phrases and

whispered slogans

like an

otherwordly siren

, creating an eerily romantic

song-cycle

full of enigmas that stir the

heart and brain

. -

ANNIE ZALESKI

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