Top CDs of ’06 from young acts

Talk about differences. If 2005 was all about oldsters, 2006 is ringing out as the almost polar opposite. These past 12 months, it’s been all about young bands that seemingly materialized out of nowhere. On the surface, everything felt like business as usual, with Paris Hilton’s bid (plea?) for dance-diva legitimacy, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ motion for continued relevance and the gradual transformation of Bruce Springsteen from coliseum gladiator into boxcar-hopping hobo.

But beneath the sheen, plates were shifting, with the emergence of scrappy new contenders like the Kooks, Rakes, Brakes, Grates, Guillemots, Noisettes, and the Down Under answer to vintage Black Sabbath, Wolfmother. The kids had curiously catchy songs that weren’t safely echoing their elders.

It was one helluva great year to be a rock journalist. This Top 10 is based not on any hipness factor, but on the actual amount of play these albums received on my sound system.

Counting down to No. 1:

10. TOWERS OF LONDON, “Blood Sweat & Towers” (TVT)

We’ve witnessed this shag-haired Hanoi Rocks shtick before. But Britain’s trashy Towers of London do it so well, they’ve earned their own reality show in their homeland.You can’t fight the force, or goofy fun, of shout-alongs like “I’m a Rat.”

9. RICHARD ASHCROFT, “Keys To the World” (Virgin)

The thinking-man’s rock star, you either get this brainy ex-Verve leader or you don’t. This isn’t his strongest solo outing, but it’s commanding nonetheless.

8. THE SAW DOCTORS, “The Cure” (Sham Town)

Call them The Anti-U2. But this little neo-traditionalist outfit from Ireland makes a big folk-rock noise whenever it convenes. Led by the raspy vocals of Davy Carton, every track feels like a Guinness-glugging party, jigs and reels optional.

7. PETE YORN, “Nightcrawler” (Red Ink/Columbia)

Detractors might’ve written Yorn off as just another folk-circuit hopeful after a so-so sophomore set followed a brilliant debut. But this third release puts him right back on the creative map.

6. ARCTIC MONKEYS, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” (Domino)

Alex Turner was barely out of high school when his band started to break, thanks to Internet word-of-mouth. But that doesn’t mean this whippersnapper doesn’t have the chops for stardom. Or staying power. Yes, it sounds like he’s channeling circa-’70s Buzzcocks. But his utter devotion to his punky frenetic tunes pushes the package across.

5. DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, “Waterloo to Anywhere” (Interscope)

UK rocker Carl Barat wasn’t looking for the Cask of Amontillado. But he found it, courtesy of Pete Doherty, his reckless, drug-addled ex-partner from once-fiery hopefuls the Libertines. Instead of allowing himself to be walled up and suffocated, he fought back with a new band, new combo and new outlook on life.

4. BERNARD FANNING, “Tea & Sympathy” (Lost Highway)

In Australia, a little Brisbane group called Powderfinger has ruled the national charts for a decade. Not the Anti-U2, but literally bigger than U2 down under. So it was surprising when rustic frontman Fanning used some band downtime to knock out this deeply personal, mostly acoustic solo disc.

3. BE YOUR OWN PET, “Be Your Own Pet” (Ecstatic Peace/Universal)

It’s a brilliant teenage group that actually manages to channel that teenage angst/frustration into adult-crafty punk-pop songs. Frontfox Jemina Pearl doesn’t so much sing her thoughts of pent-up hostility as shriek them.

2. SNOW PATROL, “Eyes Open” (Fiction/Interscope)

Singer Gary Lightbody can’t seem to find a relationship that works. And that’s good news for fans, who have clung to his every last misanthropic word this year through sad-sack hits like “Hands Open,” “Chasing Cars” and “You’re All I Have.”

1. EDITORS, “The Back Room” (Kitchenware)

The absolute last thing any rock fan might’ve expected: a dark-toned British quartet that plugs into the same pulsing socket as classic quasi-Goth outfits like Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy and Echo and the Bunnymen. The album doesn’t mimic the past; it updates it, thanks to the somber vocals of Tom Smith and the effects-shrouded guitar of Chris Urbanowicz. On the album, hear the start of an illustrious career.

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