10 Best CDs of 2006 Page 7

0607_music_chili_peppers.jpgKen Richardson's Top 10 of 2006 Best Sound on CD

1. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium (Warner Bros.). The dilemma: How to make a real rock record that still sounds immaculate? The solution: Hire producer Rick Rubin, king of precision and bluster, who can give vocals the coziest warmth and then render guitar solos so sharp that - well, why do you think they call 'em "axes"?

2. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (Capitol). "They don't make records like they used to"? Here's one, straight from a fair port, where all sorts of instruments - cello, Hammond organ, glockenspiel, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, and lots of acoustic guitars - conjure a natural, nautical sound.

3. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino). Vividly brings all the charisma of their stage act to the studio.

4. The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics (Warner Bros.). Everything the studio can do, the Lips can do bonkers: dirty, sweet, full-bodied, squeezed, down-to-earth, spaced-out. An intentionally overloaded exercise for the ears.

5. Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.: The Land of Pure Imagination (Cordless). Homemade, but often as lush as some big-studio pop masterpieces.

6. Donald Fagen: Morph the Cat (Reprise). Produced by Fagen and engineered by Elliot Scheiner. What else do you need to know?

7. David Gilmour: On an Island (Columbia). Produced by Phil Manzanera, Chris Thomas, and Gilmour himself, it has all the classic depth and drama. And that guitar has never sounded more clear.

8. Yusuf [Cat Stevens]: An Other Cup (Ya/Atlantic). The richness of that voice slips right back on like a well-worn coat. And the appropriate touches of guitars and keyboards are the essence of organic recording.

9. Nellie McKay: Pretty Little Head (Hungry Mouse). Basically, a girl and her piano. And the most intimate of voices. Having learned at the hands of the legendary Geoff Emerick, Nellie now produces herself, stripping things down for a cabaret in your listening room.

10. My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade (Reprise). Or, The Sheer Heart Attack of a Night at the Opera and a (Bit of Green) Day at the Races, deliriously over-the-top. The bakers here include a Who's Who of studio whizzes, from producer Rob Cavallo to mixer Chris Lord-Alge and all the way to masterer Ted Jensen.

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