Best Albums of the Year, 2006 Part II

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

Few modern emo/punk/whatever


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


comes secondhand via


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



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


, a


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


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


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


, their poppiest and most emotionally affecting outing yet. Just

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try to avoid shedding a tear

during the longing


where a glassy piano intertwines with diffracted synths and vocalist

Matt Bellamy


"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


, 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,


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


maturity. Nevertheless, the

Flaming Lips-esque


"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


-featuring game of "





No Doubt

vocalist wisely chooses to focus on

songcraft instead of flamboyance


her second solo effort

. This makes her

staunch girl power

all the more


, 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


technique with


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


and detailed sonic atmosphere (

fragmented electronica loops

, stuttering beat-blips and skeletal piano),


derives its power from

Yorke's feathery falsetto

. He croons half-formed phrases and

whispered slogans

like an

otherwordly siren

, creating an eerily romantic


full of enigmas that stir the

heart and brain

. -


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