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's Like 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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