SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2006
Late, very late, I know, but hopefully forgiveably so - the acquisition of a number of albums around Christmas having justified delaying the list so it reflected a broader survey of what the year had to offer.
As with most years, though, I spent much time catching up on what I missed out on last time around - as well as albums from much further back in time. LCD Soundsystem, The Duke Spirit, REM, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Silver Jews, Editors, The Wedding Present, Yourcodenameis:milo and The Vaselines have all been among those whose non-2006 albums I played to death.
And as ever, there is a shamefully long list of records I haven't heard which, judging by what I've read of them, might conceivably have made an impact on the Top 10 had I done so. Deep breath...
ABSENTEE – Schmotime
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD - So Divided
ARCHIE BRONSON OUTFIT – Derdang Derdang
BARDO POND - Ticket Crystals
BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY – The Letting Go
CALEXICO - Garden Ruin
CAMERA OBSCURA - Let's Get Out Of This Country
CANSEI DE SER SEXY – CSS
DEAD MEADOW – Feathers
THE DEARS – Gang Of Losers
THE DELGADOS – The Peel Sessions
DRESDEN DOLLS – Yes, Virginia
EVENS - Get Evens
THE FIERY FURNACES – Bitter Tea
FORWARD RUSSIA! – Give Me A Wall
GUILLEMOTS – Through The Window Pane
ALBERT HAMMOND JR – Yours To Keep
HOT CHIP – The Warning
THE HOT PUPPIES – Under The Crooked Moon
ISIS - In The Absence Of Truth
KELIS – Kelis Was Here
LCD Soundsystem – 45:33
JENNY LEWIS WITH THE WATSON TWINS – Rabbit Fur Coat
LIARS – Drums Not Dead
THE MAGIC NUMBERS – Those The Brokes
THE MELVINS – (A) Senile Animal
METRIC – Live It Out
MIDLAKE – The Trials Of Van Occupanther
MISSION OF BURMA – The Obliterati
MUSE – Black Holes And Revelations
PINK MOUNTAINTOPS – Axis Of Evol
THE PIPETTES – We Are The Pipettes
PRETTY GIRLS MAKE GRAVES - Elan Vital
THE RAPTURE – Pieces Of The People We Love
RED SPARROWES - Every Red Heart Shines Towards The Sun
SERENA-MANEESH – Serena-Maneesh
SOPHIA - Technology Won't Save Us
TAPES 'N' TAPES – The Loon
TILLY AND THE WALL – Wild Like Children
THE VICTORIAN ENGLISH GENTLEMENS CLUB – The Victorian English Gentlemens Club
JAMES YORKSTON – The Year Of The Leopard
YOU SAY PARTY! WE SAY DIE! - Hit The Floor!
You might well be wondering what I DID hear in 2006. Well, here are the honourable mentions, those albums which I enjoyed in part or wholly, some of which grazed the Top 10:
BECK – The Information
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – Broken Social Scene
ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN– Ballad Of The Broken Seas
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
CLINIC – Visitations
THE CONCRETES – In Colour
GRAHAM COXON – Love Travels At Illegal Speeds
DEATH OF FASHION – Hello Movement
THE DRONES – Gala Mill
ENVY – Insomniac Doze
THE FLAMING LIPS – At War With The Mystics
THE FUTUREHEADS – News And Tributes
THE GOSSIP – Standing In The Way Of Control
THE GRATES – Gravity Won’t Get You High
THE LONG BLONDES – Someone To Drive You Home
LOVEMAT – The Fearless Hair Days Of Youth
MOGWAI – 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait' soundtrack
PETER BJORN & JOHN – Writer’s Block
SECRET MACHINES – Ten Silver Drops
THE SHORTWAVE SET – The Debt Collection
SPOTLIGHT KID – Departure
THE STROKES – First Impressions Of Earth
TV ON THE RADIO – Return To Cookie Mountain
VARIOUS – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The 22 Of Us
WE ARE SCIENTISTS – With Love And Squalor
THOM YORKE - The Eraser
YOU & THE ATOM BOMB – Shake Shake Hello?!
THE YOUNG KNIVES – Voices Of Animals And Men
Of those, News And Tributes was probably the biggest disappointment, lacking the bite and vivacity of its predecessor (though perversely the quieter more reflective songs like 'Thursday' and the title track were the ones to make the greatest impression) - but a few spins of the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album have not been enough to divulge the magic it's alleged to contain; the robo-funk nadirs of At War With The Mystics continue to leave a bad taste in my mouth; Clinic seem content to repeat the trick of previous records; and Voices Of Animals And Men never matched up to my (admittedly high) expectations, the clutch of excellent singles dragged down by the truly horrible 'Tailors' in particular.
Most frustrating? Both Broken Social Scene and Writer's Block have moments of brilliance, but I found both rather too patchy for real satisfaction. Meanwhile, it took me a long time to decide I did actually like Ten Silver Drops, its proggy pomposity eventually either being excused or winning me around - I'm still not sure which.
Closest to scraping into the Top 10? That would be Someone To Drive You Home, The Long Blondes' sharp and stylish debut packed full of art-pop magic. The fruit of Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan's unlikely union came close too, though it wasn't quite dark enough for my tastes. And I seem to have been alone in admiring the Strokes' third album, on which they edged away from the template and Julian Casablancas' lyrics became more intriguingly self-lacerating.
So, to business...
10. YEAH YEAH YEAHS – Show Your Bones
The NY threesome's sophomore effort took time to bed in, lacking anything as riotous as 'Date With The Night' or as unexpectedly sublime as 'Maps'. But, with bands like The Grates queueing up to fill the void, YYYs withdrew from the cheap, loud thrills of Fever To Tell and discovered texture and tone - and in the process created an album with hidden depths, rather than just glassy surfaces in which to admire one's reflection and off which to snort Columbia's finest.
Key track: 'Dudley'
9. GIANT DRAG – Hearts And Unicorns
In an NME photoshoot, Annie Hardy (Giant Drag's one remaining member now that Micah Calabrese has left) was captured with a Love Heart reading "Fuck" on the tip of her tongue. Rather appropriate, really - after all, her band's breakthrough album featured a song called 'You Fuck Like My Dad'. Hearts And Unicorns is eleven potent rock songs clad in a thick jumper of guitar fuzz of the sort shoegazery types like me would love to have got for Christmas. And that's not to mention the bonus track, an incendiary cover of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'...
Key track: 'Kevin Is Gay'
8. YO LA TENGO – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
There's often a late gatecrasher - last year it was Field Music, this year veteran trio Yo La Tengo, to whose charms I was finally awakened by their gig at The Point in November. Of course it helped that they had an excellent album to showcase - from the serene sweep of 'I Feel Like Going Home' and the gently propulsive 'The Race Is On Again' to the joyous levity of 'Mr Tough' and the equally unexpected rockabilly gallop of 'Watch Out For Me Ronnie'. And all bookended by two brilliant excursions to the outer limits of their art. Where have they been all my life?!
Key track: 'Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind'
7. MOGWAI – Mr Beast
Glaswegian noiseniks Mogwai released not one but two albums in 2006. With much of the quieter, more languid and experimental material portioned off for their soundtrack to 'Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait', Mr Beast had a mighty roar. If songs like 'Glasgow Mega-Snake' and 'We're No Here' were a cartoon superhero, they would be the Hulk, stretching, ripping and bursting their way out of their clothes, the trappings of civilisation not quite able to contain them. That said, the likes of 'Team Handed' indicated they still had a firm grip of poise and elegant restraint. My lukewarm Vanity Project review was rather premature - consider my placing it seventh equivalent to donning a hair shirt.
Key track: 'Glasgow Mega-Snake'
6. SONIC YOUTH – Rather Ripped
After Yo La Tengo, another bunch of nearly-pensionable Hobokenites - and you're probably well aware where this lot have been (nearly) all my life: in my heart. Rather Ripped (their twelvtieth, by all accounts) took 2004's superb Sonic Nurse and compressed it into an even more concise - and, yes, poppy - form. And did it brilliantly. Was it really just six years ago that they opened their All Tomorrow's Parties headline set with a half-hour-long unreleased song called 'New Drone'? It could possibly have ranked higher, but, unfortunately for them, their consistency has bred my complacency: I expected - or rather knew - it would be great, and indeed it was.
Key track: 'Incinerate'
5. ANATHALLO – Floating World
The person who first introduced me to Anathallo, Simon of Sweeping The Nation, would probably regard the inclusion of Floating World in this list as rather contentious for the simple reason that it is still awaiting an official UK release. Certainly there can be no quibbling as to the quality of the record itself, astounding in its ambition and scope, frequently breathtaking in its execution. Surely Floating World won't be allowed to sink without trace on its way across the Atlantic?
Key track: 'Hoodwink'
4. SEMIFINALISTS – Semifinalists
Like Floating World, Semifinalists' debut LP was an extraordinary feat of imagination. With Wayne Coyne and company handily sidetracked by the sort of pastiche funk for which Beck was briefly lambasted, the trio - who met as students at film school (of course) - stole in and turned out this near-masterpiece which, like The Soft Bulletin, lies on its back looking at the heavens, humble and awestruck. And yet, far from being a series of ponderously lengthy meditations (see Secret Machines' Ten Silver Drops), the record weighs in at just over half an hour. It's only dissatisfying in the sense that the listener is left thirsty for more.
Key track: 'Show The Way'
3. CAT POWER – The Greatest
When it came to the stateliness and subtlety of the instrumentation, no other record in this year's Top 10 could match Cat Power's The Greatest. Chan Marshall's search for the perfect musical foil for her wonderful voice took her to Nashville. Just a shame she didn't bump into Mark Lanegan on the way, and that, on 'Hate' in particular, she couldn't help herself from drifting into an unnecessarily maudlin and melodramatic self-loathing. So, The Greatest wasn't quite the greatest of 2006 - but it certainly came very close.
Key track: 'The Greatest'
2. MY LATEST NOVEL – Wolves
As with Anathallo, it's to a fellow blogger that I owe my acquaintance to My Latest Novel - so step forwards and take a bow, James. Such was the quality of the Scots' startling debut that even that indier-than-thou name and over-familiarity with the works of Belle & Sebastian couldn't stop me from succumbing to its strange charms. The sound of The Arcade Fire, Arab Strap, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, a marching band and a children's choir meeting in the woods at night for a screening of 'The Wicker Man'.
Key track: 'Sister Sneaker Sister Soul'
1. HOWLING BELLS – Howling Bells
A debut LP released by former Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie's Bella Union label with something of the night about it? It's fair to say that Howling Bells' self-titled album had a lot in common with Wolves, the record it narrowly edged out for the top spot. So why did it triumph, what made it so special? Well, it conjured up the dusty highways of their native Australia without any attendant emotional aridity; they looked like the house band from the bar in Nick Cave's 'The Proposition'; Joel Stein's guitar-playing was perfection; and his sister Juanita had the sort of voice that could lure sailors to their death, even if Chan Marshall was sat singing on a neighbouring rock. But the fact that the album's centrepiece was called 'A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts' pretty much told you all you needed to know. Scuffed, bruised, battered, bittersweet - but beautiful with it.
Key track: 'A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts'
Lest we forget - this being the fifth year of the SWSL Top 10...
10. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB - BRMC
9. THE HIVES - Your New Favourite Band
8. CAVE IN - Tides Of Tomorrow
7. IDLEWILD - The Remote Part
6. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - Songs For The Deaf
5. GODSPEED! YOU BLACK EMPEROR - Yanqui UXO
4. ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD - Source Tags & Codes
3. SONIC YOUTH - Murray Street
2. INTERPOL - Turn On The Bright Lights
1. SPARTA - Wiretap Scars
10. EELS - Shootenanny!
9. CAVE IN - Antenna
8. HOT HOT HEAT - Make Up The Breakdown
7. RADIOHEAD - Hail To The Thief
6. YEAH YEAH YEAHS - Fever To Tell
5. THE STROKES - Room On Fire
4. MOGWAI - Happy Music For Happy People
3. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY - The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place
2. THE MARS VOLTA - De-Loused In The Comatorium
1. THE RAVEONETTES - Chain Gang Of Love
10. CLINIC - Winchester Cathedral
9. KELIS - Tasty
8. PJ HARVEY - Uh Huh Her
7. THE ICARUS LINE - Penance Soiree
6. INTERPOL - Antics
5. THE FIERY FURNACES - Blueberry Boat
4. FRANZ FERDINAND - Franz Ferdinand
3. SONIC YOUTH - Sonic Nurse
2. THE FUTUREHEADS - The Futureheads
1. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus
10. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - Lullabies To Paralyze
9. FIELD MUSIC - Field Music
8. EELS - Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
7. FRANZ FERDINAND - You Could Have It So Much Better
6. BLOC PARTY - Silent Alarm
5. THE RAVEONETTES - Pretty In Black
4. MAXIMO PARK - A Certain Trigger
3. SIGUR ROS - Takk
2. LOW - The Great Destroyer
1. THE ARCADE FIRE - Funeral