Our music writers pick the yearís national bests.

A good friend of mine -- a fellow critic, someone whose work I admire -- recently confided that he's tired of seeking out new music. Just the thought exasperates him. Everything these days sounds hackneyed and derivative to his finely tuned ears. Worse, listening to music has become a job. He's reached a point where he'd rather just play his twenty or so favorite albums than exert any additional effort to find something new that moves him. And that's understandable. He has a connection to that music; he's emotionally invested in it. It makes him happy. Or sad. Sometimes both. It pushes the plasma through his veins. It makes him want to break shit. Bottom line, it makes him feel something.

And my buddy's not alone. There are plenty of folks who don't have the time or the energy to wade through the deluge of new releases in order to find something inspiring. Instead, they stick with the tried and true.

For guys like me, though, the possibility of feeling something more keeps us chasing that initial high. I'm always looking for the next album that will strike a chord, spike a nerve, make me want to break shit. Albums like the ones listed below, which Backbeat scribes all found memorable in 2006. Fair warning: Not all of these releases changed lives; some just made those lives more interesting for an hour or two. -- Dave Herrera

Ahleuchatistas, What You Will (Cuneiform). Ahleuchatistas' Sean Dail, Shane Perlowin and Derek Poteat confirm that legions of white-jacketed sonic scientists and laboratories filled with advanced gear aren't required to make arty rock. Armed with nothing more than technical skill, a bold vision and the most basic musical tools (guitar, drums, bass), they assemble searing instrumentals equally capable of opening minds and inspiring headbanging. -- Michael Roberts

Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino Records). Say what you will about the hype that lifted these British shorties up like elevator shoes -- the fact is, they deserve it. Simple, rump-shaking grooves and pub-crawler verse meet at the drafty door between the club and the garage. Your grandkids will discover this in decades and still think it's cool. -- Eryc Eyl

Nicole Atkins, Bleeding Diamonds (Columbia). Nicole Atkins's multi-faceted compositions, replete with quasi-orchestral elements and reach-for-the-balconies passages, serve as the ideal showcase for her wonderfully unusual vocals, which often begin quietly before ripening into tones that hang in midair like ready-to-pluck fruit. The Diamonds EP clocks in at just over twenty minutes, but it's more satisfying than many recordings three times as long. -- Roberts

Benevento/Russo Duo, Play Pause Stop (Reincarnate Music). Marco Benevento and Joe Russo are category-busters. Using only organ and drums (with an assist from some subtly applied electronics), the two create an unexpectedly opulent sound epitomized by the witty "Echo Park" and a widescreen epic dubbed "Hate Frame." Their work is not quite rock, not quite jazz, not quite chill-out music, but entirely seductive. -- Roberts

Bitman & Roban, Musica Para Despues de Almuerzo (Nacional). This CD's moniker, which translates to "Music for After Lunch," isn't especially accurate. Led by Jos Antonio Toto Bravo (aka DJ Bitman), the effervescent Chilean crew blends electronic, dance, lounge, hip-hop and other assorted aural ingredients into a tasty confection guaranteed to hit the spot no matter what the time of day. -- Roberts

The Black Angels, Passover (Light in the Attic). Considering that the Black Angels hail from Austin, home town of crazy-genius Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators, and hang out with Anton Newcombe -- another unhinged mastermind -- it's fitting that the six-piece likewise composes neo-psychedelic, acid-fueled jams that jaunt through experimental instrumentation and warped effects pedals. Totally crazy, man. -- Tuyet Nguyen

The Blow, Paper Television (K Records). Ever since their debut release, 2002's Bonus Album, Khaela Maricich and Jona Bechtolt have been crafting lo-fi indie electro-pop that borrows elements of experimental hip-hop and weaves them with long-obsolete musical ideas in innovative ways. In the process, the pair has provided foundational music for a new generation of weird, artsy kids. -- Tom Murphy

Boris, Pink (Southern Lord). A rock opus that puts the heavy back in metal, Pink lashes out with aggravated guitar solos. Although they've lightened up a bit, the Japanese doom bosses in Boris still have plenty of dirge left in them. Pink proves that numbingly slow noise goes well with blast beats. Bow down to the masters. -- Nguyen

Brandtson, Hello, Control (Militia Group). Program around the couple of soft-rock duds on this underappreciated release to uncover a sassy gem of swaggering dance rock -- complete with thumping bass lines, punchy synths and even the occasional vocoder vocal. Alienating its emo following of nearly a decade, the Cleveland-based Brandtson successfully transforms itself from punk pouters to party princes. -- Eyl

Brightblack Morning Light, Brightblack Morning Light (Matador). Brightblack is the love child of Rachael Hughes and Nathan Shineywater (yeah, Shineywater), who both dive headfirst into the deep end of minimalist psych-folk. Revolving Brightblack members are too numerous to mention, but collectively these spirited bodies make up the fretted backbone of this hypnotically enchanting and shining Matador debut. -- Nguyen

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