It’s time for my traditional round up of the best albums of 2006. This year I’ve chosen 32 albums, one for every tooth in my mad, mad head! The shortlist was around 70 so every album below is a winner, no matter where it is on the chart. Buy them all!
32. Spinform – Bryter Tystnaden
It’s very hard with instrumental electronic music to communicate what it sounds like. I could try and describe the sounds of this album (bit guitarry, bit glitchy) but I think it’s better to say it sounds like a forlorn mouse in a rusty metal box playing a tiny guitar. Yep.
31. These Arms Are Snakes – Easter
‘Easter’ didn’t grab me instantly like ‘Oxeneers’ did but it’s a grower! Loud, proggy and defiantly idiosyncratic, it’s a sprawling, ambitious album. From the mantrarock opener ‘Mescaline Eyes’ through the worryingly-titled ‘Perpetual Bris’ to the flailing, hammering closer ‘Crazy Woman Dirty Train,’ this is an uncomfortable journey. But rewarding, if you stick with it.
30. Giant Drag – Hearts And Unicorns
Is Annie Hardy nuts? Has Micah just left the duo? Who knows? All I know is that this album is deliciously unhinged, veering from grungey singalongs to outright shrieking barminess. But always with some ultra-catchy melodies in there. Excellent!
29. The Knife – Silent Shout
I remember DJing the title track in the Bless and seeing indie kids start tapping their feet. That’s when I knew that The Knife would succeed in crossing over where so many other electropop bands have failed. In the same way as every indie kid has Aphex and Boards of Canada tucked away in their collection, they’ll now have The Knife. And they’d be right to as this is simply a great album. Go on… stop being miserable, stick it on and throw some shapes in your front room!
28. The Ladies – They Mean Us
What do you get if you cross Pinback with Hella? You get something that sounds like Dinosaur Jr. with Venetian Snares drumming and perhaps one of the most startling pop albums of 2006. This album is for all you jaded hipsters reading this: go and buy it and then tell me you’ve heard it all before. I dare you! This album isn’t a novelty, however, the songs are very catchy even if the framing is sometimes… challenging. Just listen to ‘Nice Chaps, Buddy’ – how great a song is that? Bizarro pop!
27. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
B&S deliver another seemingly effortless slice of pop pie. How do they keep doing it? Anyone who doesn’t feel like dancing when ‘Funny Little Frog’ comes on needs a hefty dose of anti-psychotic medication.
26. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
Is it really 13 years since ’36 Chambers’ came out? Bugger! In that time, the Clan have produced some of the finest hip hop albums in history. Think about it: how many rock bands from ’93 are still going and still cutting it? Just listen to ‘R.A.G.U.’ to hear that GK hasn’t lost the fire in his belly.
25. Les Breastfeeders – Les Matins De Grands Soirs
Les Breastfeeders remind me of the much-missed Bristols. They make jumpy, speedy garage pop that is equally singy and dancey, no mean feat. Look how many bands try to aim for garage pop and fail miserably. Well, LB hit the mark song after song on this album. Definitely an album to put on when you’re getting dressed up to go out and fancy singing into your hairbrush.
24. Pascal Feos – Synaptic
Have you ever wondered what it sounds like to be a tiny metal foetus in a robot’s womb? Then buy this album and stick on ‘Brooklyn Style.’ And while you’re at it, don’t start robot dancing round your front room forgetting that the neighbours can see you. Not that I’ve ever done that. Nope.
23. Steve Lawson – Behind Every Word
First a disclaimer of bias – I know Steve as a mate. That being said, if I didn’t like his music, his album wouldn’t be here. He is, of course, a fantastic player but what’s made me return to this record is the composition, melodies Satie or Debussy would have smiled at. Again, it’s hard to label his music, it’s solo bass but it sounds more like floaty electronic music (to my limited ears!). Standout track for me is ‘Jimmy James,’ simply beautiful. Buy this album and drift away.
22. Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra Of Bubbles
It sounds like some of the finest electronic music I’ve heard. There are songs, there are more abstract pieces, it’s the kind of album that you find yourself returning to. I even re-ripped it at a higher bitrate just in case I was missing any clicky goodness. Funky, poppy, classical. Lovely.
21. Swollen Members – Black Magic
If you’re a hip hop fan and haven’t latched on to Swollen Members yet, you’re missing out on some bloody good music. They haven’t ever delivered a less that impressive album and ‘Black Magic’ continues that track record. I love the production, I love the loops (immaculately arranged with an almost Prince Paul deftness) and the rapping matches up to the other ingredients. ‘So Deadly’ should be on the radio. Fab.
20. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – Fear Is On Our Side
I don’t know why this album isn’t more highly regarded. It’s a goth classic! Not modern, rubbish, panto goth but proper goth, you know 4AD, existentialism, Herman Hesse. Relentessly bleak, powered by icy, chugging guitar riffs, FIOOS melds brooding lyrics with scintillating melodies. Scintillating in the sense that dark stars also shine. If you’ve ever danced or sung along to The Cure, This Mortal Coil or Modern English, this album is an essential purchase.
19. Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
Sparks. How do I review a new Sparks’ album? This band made some of the most fantastic, widescreen pop records ever!
Well, if you’ve ever been a fan, there’s a good chance you’re going to love this album. From the opener, ‘Dick Around,’ it’s got those classic Sparks trademarks: operatic looniness, amazing harmonies and lyrics that are never easy. For a band to be producing material of this quality so far into their career is stunning. They could easily just be milking their old standards on karaoke tours. But, nope, they’re messing with our brains instead! Mad bastards.
18 Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country
This is a lovely little poptastic indie album. From the opener, slyly nodding to Buxton’s finest export, through to the end, it’s a singalong fest. Is there anything wrong with that? Nope!
17. Islands – Return To The Sea
Yep, there are links to The Unicorns (although that’s less now Jamie’s buggered-off), yep the album has guest appearance from indierati like The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. But ignore the hype and the hipness, this is simply a great pop album. Inventive and melodic, whimsical and often downright contrary. Give it some of your time and it’ll give you a big lick on the face.
16. Kelley Stoltz – Below The Branches
Along with the Islands album, this has been one of the most sunny, Beach Boys-y albums of ’06. Stoltz has an unnerving command of melody, winding it round till you think it’s going to snap but instead it resolves like sinking into a warm bath. A top pop album from a supremely accomplished musician, singer and songwriter. ‘Ever Thought Of Coming Back’ is pure gold, that descending bass part in the last few bars is a sprinkle of stardust.
15. Durutti Column – Keep Breathing
What can I say about Vini Reilly? I’ve been listening to his heavenly music for the last 20+ years and he continues to surprise and charm me with his art. Liquid guitar lines weave through KB, bound with Reilly’s elegiac melodies. Beautiful!
14. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor
Lupe has deservedly got a lot of coverage this year. I watched him progress from being a net hype to appearing on telly and it was good to see him get that exposure because this is someone who needs to be in the pop charts. This is a rapper who isn’t afraid to show he has a brain and a heart. His breakthrough hit, ‘Kick Push’ crossed over because it’s a glittering hip hop song with lyrics that connected with millions of people. His album proves that song wasn’t a fluke: tracks like ‘Sunshine’ and ‘American Terrorist’ showcase Lupe’s immense flow and lyrical flourishes. He’s a star. A true star.
13. Miwon – Pale Glitter
’06 has been a bumper year for electronic music, there’s a load of albums I had to leave out of this list to keep it short. But I had to include ‘Pale Glitter’ as it’s kept me company for many hours. Whether it’s the supreme whisper-along of ‘Brother Mole’ or the clicky ambient sky-trails of ‘Rain Or Shine,’ this album hits the spot. Mmmm… I’m expecting to hear this album over loads of BBC gardening / house progs in the next year or two.
12. Dresden Dolls – Yes, Virginia
Why don’t Dresden Dolls get more acclaim? Is it because they’re too poppy, too talented? I haven’t seen this album on any hipster best-ofs so I’m guessing it’s unfashionable to like it? Well, fuck fashion! YV is a glittery, over-the-top romp. Whether it’s the piano-down-the-stairs stagger of ‘Alcoholic Friends’ or the genius lyrics of ‘First Orgasm,’ this is a band both enjoying themselves and connecting with the listener.
11. Braintax – Panorama
Now, here’s an artist that lives in the now. While British rock music continues to fuck the ghost of some dead decade, Brit rapper Braintax tells us about the real world. If this album just consisted of one track, ‘Syriana Style,’ it would piss all over any of the angry punk / metal albums released this year. They have zero content, 100% bluster, Braintax has an irrefutable flow and lyrics that burn you as they amaze you.
And while crappy pop r’n’b / hip hop continues its escapism, Braintax continues to confront the fucked and fuckers, real life.
If you’ve ever, ever, liked any hip hop whatsoever, you must purchase this album.
10. Euros Childs – Chops
Gorky’s were one of my fave ever pop bands. Fabulous songs! So, I’m sad that they’re gone but I’m happy to have Euros’ first solo album in this best-of. It’s poppy, it’s mental, it’s partly in Welsh, everything you’d expect from Mr. Childs. Please, let’s have another one soon!
9. Mikkel Metal – Victimizer
Another artist that I played when I was DJing. I was amazed at the response. As minimal and uncompromising as ‘Align’ is, every time I played it, someone would come and ask who it was. Pure electronic music like this rarely gets that response.
‘Victimizer’ is dark and wide, you have to give it a bit of quality time. It isn’t as immediately infectious as, say, ‘Silent Shout.’ But when it gets its claws into you, it’s vicious. The music is hypnotic (without ever being trancey), open without being empty and very, very tuneful.
8. The Tyde – Three’s Co.
I know The Tyde used to get slagged-off for wearing their love of Felt perhaps a little too prominently on their sleeves but this album escapes those shrewish critiques. Songs like ‘Too Many Kims’ are deceptively simple-sounding but it takes a great deal of skill to make pop this breezy, this infused with summer. It’s a great singalong album. And come on, anything with Ric Menck drumming on it is worth buying. ?
7. Victor Scott – Happy Days
The story goes…
I download an album, totally illegally. Then I fall in love with its majestic pop oddness, the clash of genres and the sublimely addictive melodies. I investigate and discover that I can buy the album for about 2p. And another! Then I get in touch with the creator himself who turns out to be as witty and friendly as he is insanely creative. Here’s a word about the album from the man himself that he kindly emailed me yesterday:
“Its been an amazing year since I released my record. I was worried when I was mixing the record that it would be too varied, but that hasn’t happened at all and I’ve been overwhelmed with all the support I’ve gotten from folks all over the world … especially all the love and kisses I’ve gotten from Jyoti.”
Isn’t music (and the cyberwent) wonderful?
6. Jeans Team – Kopf Auf
Jeans Team scored highly in last year’s best-of. And ‘Kopf Auf’ keeps that up. I only bought this album from iTunes this morning but it’s vaulted nimbly into my top ten, leaping over other albums I’ve lived with for months.
Because it’s great pop. Because they’ve got a whole song about pooping:
“Take your time to… SHIT!”
“He can’t shit in Paris, he can’t shit in Rome, the only place for him to shit is at home.”
Who said German electropop was all dour and funless, eh?
5. Mystery Jets – Making Dens
Mystery Jets have been a beacon for me in an otherwise totally dark and benighted English indie land. They have the songs, they play like absolute bastards and they have a live energy that, having seen them twice, I can tell you is rare. Whether it’s the Betjeman wistfulness of ‘Dennis’ or the Monochome Set-ish stomp of ‘Zoo Time,’ ‘Making Dens’ features some of the best guitar pop around.
There’s something magical about this band and I don’t say that lightly. I only hope that they convert their previous underground and current NME-cred into huge pop success. Because this is a pop band who should be in everyone’s collection.
4. Vapnet – Jag Vet Hur Man Väntar
When I got this album, I thought Vapnet had recycled a melody from one of their earlier singles. So I went through them and realised that they hadn’t – I’d remembered it from last year when I was lucky enough to play a gig with them at Cosy Den in Gothenburg.
This album is that poppy. ‘Thoméegränd’ alone is worth buying it for, soaring indie pop with a melodic sense that just doesn’t exist in the British indie scene any more. Yeah, it’s all sung in Swedish but don’t let that make you miss out on hearing some of the poppiest pop ever.
3. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murray’s Revenge
This collab between rapper Murs and producer 9th Wonder has produced a mischievous, happy little baby. Where a lot of other rappers are merely pretenders to someone else’s throne, Murs appears to not give a shit about all that:
And you say I’m backpack, cause I don’t have a gat
Man I just love life, and I’m dealin with the facts
I’m young, I’m gifted, I’m beautiful and black
And my momma didn’t raise no fool like that
There are simply too many great lyrics on this album to quote all the buggers. But the thing I most love is that, unlike some self-consciously “conscious” rappers, Murs never comes over as preachy or holier than thou. Yeah, he fucks up, yeah he isn’t perfect, that’s all there in his lyrics.
There’s also tremendous heart here. I can’t think of any other rapper that could pull off a track like ‘Dark Skinned White Girls,’ a tribute to those, both black and white, who don’t fit into their ethnic niches neatly:
Now she like The Smiths, The Cure, really into Morrissey
Heavy into rock, never fooled with the Jodeci
Notice she was never really welcomed by the others
Hard to find a date when it was only 10 brothers
In the whole damn school
And they thought she was weird
Cuz she wore her hair different and she never joined cheer
But girl it’s okay
Ya black is beautiful
No matter how you dress
Or what you think you like
Forget what they say, you doin it right
No more grabbin on ya pillow as you cry through the night
Stand strong, hold ya ground at any cost
And know that everyone who tries to put you down is lost
What else do you need to know? Just a great hip hop album.
2. Akir – Legacy
I’ve ranted on about Akir here. Please read that first.
Having lived with the album, I can tell you that it just gets better. ‘Politricks’ is, of course, the monster track, a juggernaut of precise fury rolling over Bush’s Empire while standing up for its victims, both home and abroad. Here’s a snippet from the final verse:
I got a letter from my brother
Said the media confuse ya
The Army Navy game
Was slippin’ Quarters from Fallujah
No proper armor when they move us
Damn we trapped
Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis surround us in Iraq
Colin Powell threw in the towel
Ashcroft assed off
The shit is even getting more foul
Network, of elected delegates
Are all derelicts
Look how shiesty Kerry get
Damn it’s all relevant
It’s never how they tell it is
So I gotta get my shit straight
And handle my biz
The next time we have to go vote
I might go
Plus I heard there’s a lot of jobs
And lot of fine ass hos, in Ohio
‘Politricks’ has some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a brutal mix of humour and horror, despair and hope. Reading them above doesn’t do them justice – you have to hear Akir’s incredible flow. His timing is immaculate, surreal. And it’s set in a spooky, oppressive beat that frames it perfectly.
But it’s equalled by songs like ‘Mood Music,’ which just rocks along over piano and Akir’s perfect flow. And ‘Kunta Kinte’ and… well, you get the picture.
This album isn’t easy listening hip hop. It’s relentless and often disturbing. But in a world of lush videos and empty hype, Akir is the real deal, an artist who is as uncompromising as he is talented.
1. Kante – Die Tiere Sind Unruhig
Full review of the album here.
There’s nothing that I can add to that. I’ve listened to this album far too much this year. It’s been cathartic and inspiring, disturbing and calming. Everything that great art should be. Kante are probably the finest rock band on the planet at the moment.
Please buy their album, email them and tell them you love them. We need more bands this sharp, this involved.