Recap:  The Records of the Year, 2006

22 Dec 2006

for the first time, a hierarchical list of the fifty albums deemed most worthy of praise by rockfeedback staff over the past 365 days. we're taking a break so we can return refreshed in early 2007, but we'll see y'all at new years, right?

#1 - TV On The Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

'Return to Cookie Mountain' is rock'n'roll, it's sex. It is physical, beautiful, music that is felt as much as it is heard. Washes and tendrils of urgency and depth one nearly drowns in, bleached-boned deserts - something atmospherically stark, but with this sense of power and humanity emanating from it that pounds our arthritic, decayed joints, insisting from them the rust that has built and leaving us to writhe loose-limbed and near unconscious. A human album, one aware of existence now and demanding it of us. It is neither out of synch from current music nor of a type: TVOTR are there and we are glad of it.

#2 - Scott Walker - The Drift

Why's this placed so high? Because it was the one thing that no other record we heard this year was - a new kind of music, the kind that one would only sound like a pillock imitating. Scott Walker used his incredible voice to pull this concoction of crushing percussion, grating noise and the most unnerving of orchestras up from the very depths of his soul, a place so gloomy and complex that even he hasn't got it figured out, and in to our record collections, where it will remain as one of the most unique, disturbing and rewarding pieces of work for all time.

#3 - Hot Chip - The Warning

There's a face that I do when I hear this album. It's a face that often comes up in the sincere enjoyment of music. Krist Noveselic was doing it when he was playing with Flipper the other night, you sort of form a kissy face but make a serious concentrated expression with your eyes. You know the one. 'The Warning', sadly deprived the Mercury Music Prize, is one of the best party albums ever. I didn't like parties before I heard this record. I used to hate other people and the way they are at those things. Now I can just listen to this. I don't need to talk anyway.

#4 - The Young Knives - Voices of Animals & Men

The gleefully unhinged eccentricity of vintage Pixies, Syd Barrett's provincial oddball-ness, XTC's quintessential Brit pop nous...and you're about a quarter of a way to comprehending the world of The Young Knives. Sometimes bonkers, occasionally unsettling, always fascinating: not least the Mike Leigh-meets-Salvador Dali domestic drama madness of 'She's Attracted To' and paranoid pop wallop of 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill.'

#5 - Liars - Drums Not Dead

No one does it quite like they do. This album is a particularly special one this year because it sees a band developing a completely new type of sensibility. They have mastered the art of memorable drum beats on this, an album which creates it's own sort of bizarre plateau, one that you have to become acclimatized to, but once you're used to exploring it, you'll notice quite how many things there are to discover on 'Drums Not Dead'.

#6 - Muse - Black Holes & Revelations

Like any established rock band, at some point you have to admit that you can't hack it anymore and face an inevitable decline to a U2 like state of unconsciousness, but if this is anything to go by, Muse will still be around making the worlds biggest anthems long after man has ceased inhabitation of the planet. You get the sense from this that Muse won't just be playing at the apocalypse but that they're the bastards responsible for its onslaught.

#7 - Tom Waits - Orphans

You should be grateful, because two historical examples of Joanna Newsom's (more on her later) type released albums this year. Both were good, but one was as wacked out as junkyard scrap on the kitchen table. Bob Dylan's 'Modern Times' was, sadly, nowhere near as relevant, exciting or shit-me screwy as 'Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards' by TOM MOTHERF**KING WAITS, who had his throat scoured with acid by God himself in order to gain that voice, and who has obviously spent his life in broken down seaside arcades throughout America with bums and whores in order to produce the sound of a thousand 70s opt-out cinematic antiheroes drunk on gin for an entire career. This was better than usual because there were three CDs instead of one.

#8 - Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Doggedly pursuing an individualistic furrow in the months since this seismic, seminal debut, nothing can detract from its magnificence. What the future holds, only time will tell, but if you were young in '06 these songs more than likely distilled the very essence of your being.

#9 - Beck - The Information

Longer, messier and simultaneously more tuneful and more challenging than he'd ever been before, 'The Information' revealed nothing more about the enigmatic Mr Hansen as a person, but, like a particularly frustrating episode of 'Lost', ensured we'll happily keep coming back to discover only more questions than answers every time. If 'Stereopathetic Soul Manure' had the production values of 'Midnite Vultures', it might have sounded a little like this. And if you didn't like it, at least you had those lovely stickers to play with, and that DVD to watch. Generous bunch, these scientologists.

#10 - Sunn O))) & Boris - Altar

Far, far from the impenetrable sludge monster many predicted it to be, 'Altar' saw two of underground metal's finest bands join forces to create something full of recognizable riffs, melodies and - gasp - choruses. One of the most hypnotic, claustrophobic and ominously rumbling records we've ever heard, it raised the bar for heavy music whilst not shoving its head up its own devilish backside.

#11 - Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis

This was the kind of record you got so excited about that it made you say silly things like 'the best thing he's done since 'Different Class'' to your mates. Months on now, and we still stand by that statement. And if the pleasure we get from listening to these witty, deftly melodic and sharply political masterpieces each time continues to grow at the rate it's currently on, we might even extend it to 'best thing he's done since 'His 'N Hers'.

#12 - Beirut - The Gulag Orkestar

An honourable mention has to go to the laconically seductive spinning, dancing, naked and hairy traditional eastern European women who must have inspired prodigy Beirut's album 'The Gulag Orkestar'. This also showed how being of one's own this year would produce something remarkable other than headlines. Hearing an orchestra on a pop record is always a pleasure, but when it falls in to such a comfortable and accessible pop vicinity, it can also open your ears somewhat. Mixing far eastern string sections with an inimitable New York charm, 19 year old Zach Condon has created a startlingly original piece of work which has to be heard to be believed.

#13 - Joanna Newsom - Ys

Joanna Newsom produced the record I don't think I'll ever listen to enough with 'Ys'. It is a delicate thing. It is also preposterous, grandiose and ever-so-slightly silly, compelling and off-putting. This is an old Master's painting, rich and convinced of itself. That she is a pretty little thing who plays a harp adds to it all. More than anything, the reason I adore this record is for how it proves to me there can still be artists who live in music and need it to live, who see nothing except for what it has the power to do. They are music lovers and they are always surprised and validated in their own lives by it. Joanna Newsom will always be with us making music because she sees no other place to be. You should be grateful.

#14 - Mogwai - Mr. Beast

Never was an album more appositely named: 'Mr Beast' was truly a monster. A blistering, fangs-out aural assault; but via 'Emergency Traps' and the majestic 'Auto Rock', also touched on moments of iridescent beauty. Mogwai reached for the sky and, by gum, more often than not found themselves touching it. Absolutely immense.

#15 - CSS - Cansei De Ser Sexy

What can you say about this band that hasn't been said already? Fears that 'Lets make Love and Listen to Death From Above' could be their only good tune were dispensed in spectacular fashion. Plus it contains the lines "Lick my art tit, suck my art hole," which alone surely makes it a shoe-in for anyone's top ten list. 'Cansei de Ser Sexy' is responsible for a persistent stream of lascivious thoughts all too vile to even type, let alone publish

#16 - The Melvins - (A) Senile Animal

This album sees not only the band but the world accepting that you can make insanely heavy and innovative music that is also good natured, charming and up beat - just think how much better off we are now with this knowledge. I'm not talking those simplified half baked ideas of catharsis either, this is actually it what it sounds like feeling happy to hear other people being happy.

#17 - Thom Yorke - Eraser

One odd thing about this album was that it proved that there are some things that Radiohead cannot do. No, we're not talking about there being limits on their talent, just that there are things like this that Thom Yorke has to do on his own. And what with it being such a remarkable piece of work, allowing him to write some of the most challenging electronica and intriguingly melodic songs of his career, here's hoping it got the rest of the band insanely jealous. Jealous enough to write another classic. 2007 is waiting, boys.

#18 - Two Gallants - What The Toll Tells

Oh the perils of releasing a great album in January - everyone's forgotten by the time it comes to the end of year list! But whilst this received across the board rave reviews upon its release early in 2006 and has since been shunned from all end of year lists, we're privileged to include the first five star record of the year in our run down. Proof that arts such as story telling, nine minute epics and blistering punk rock catharsis weren't dead, 'What The Toll Tells' delivered on early promises and set both the Gallants up for a career of spinning tales that should last decades.

#19 - Jeremy Warmsley - The Art of Fiction

Jeremy Warmsley is a composer, one with no preconceived ideas of the way music should be, and his debut is really one of the best albums released this year. Every song on it has very much its own personality and quality to it, something largely due to the varied instrumentation, and with those different instruments come different ways of writing melodies. This has some truly emotional pieces of music on it.

#20 - Nina Nastasia - On Leaving

A short open letter to every person of dubious talent who has ever been moved to pick up an acoustic guitar at an open mic because a pretty girl once told 'em it was a good idea: YOU ARE BORING, there are millions of people who sound like you, and you should stop. People like Nina Nastasia prove that there are things that can be done simply by strumming the guitar and singing words (OK, it helps that her voice is immaculate) that haven't been done before, and it's records as superb as this one that point out what an alien idea that is to most singer songwriters on the planet.

#21 - Larrikin Love - The Freedom Spark

There's so much diversion to this that I wonder where in the scope of pigeonholing to put it. Indie-punk-folk-hillbilly-reggae sounds about right, but if high street stores had such a section I think it's time to call it a day, don't you? Every track on here, from the bouncing 'Happy As Annie' with its witty and quaint tellings of rape and death to the thunderstorm of REM like drama that 'At The Feet Of Re' achieves, has a dazzlingly affectionate, genuine and ramshackle feel to it and can boast Larrikin as one of the most creative bands of the year.

#22 - Graham Coxon - Love Travels At Illegal Speeds

Indie's favourite quirky uncle struck melodic gold on his most accessible LP to date. Unremitting melodic greatness abounds on 'LTAIS': and in amongst the blitzkrieg of hits ('Standing On My Own Again', 'You and I', 'I Can't Look At Your Skin', 'What's He Got?') Coxo was even able to tuck 24-carat gems like 'Tell It Like It Is' away as a mere album track, for goodness sake. The motive for the music is simple and the songs are about simple things, yet they're perfectly articulated to the point that the real subject becomes the feeling in the chords. And that, that's clever.

#23 - The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home

By the time 'Someone To Drive You Home' eventually got a proper release in November, we already knew many of its choicest cuts - 'Weekend Without Make Up', 'Once And Never Again', 'Lust in the Movie's- by heart. But what a treat to finally have them all gathered on a single long player of such immediate, knowing pop thrills. Proof positive that a few extra years honing your craft can truly pay dividends, this was almost greatest hits standard.

#24 - Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

If not blinded by the past and instead confronted with this album as one from a debut band, surely Belle & Seb fans would have take this to heart a little more? Yes, Isobel Campbell's gone (and she makes great records on her own now, as 'Milkwhite Sheets' proved), but look at what's left! Songs like 'We Are The Sleepyheads', 'Sukie In The Graveyard' and 'The Blues Are Still Blue', that's what. And that's one heck of a lot of quality. Stop moaning, or if you must continue, at least do it as tunefully as these guys do.

#25 - Guillemots - Through The Windowpane

An album, a trip, and a double finger salute to this iTunes shuffle age, this was a band demonstrating how an album is something you can 'do' on a reflective Sunday afternoon. There are definite Prefab Sprout moments, like on 'Red Wings', which is a song you want to skip through cornflower fields with, at least if your friends aren't watching. His voice is different in every song and the arrangements generally sound non-remixable. There are moments of threatened indulgence, but that these songs generally clock in at the 4-minute mark demonstrates restraint. If 'The World Ends Now' doesn't sound like how I imagine Simple Minds wanted to sound like, then I'll simply be content to start a campaign to have it played from speakers on the Government's newly ordered Trident missiles, as they arc over the globe to certain destruction of our race. Phew, there's one to discuss as the Tea Maid brews the day to a start.

#26 - Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope

Swapping what some viewed as the irksome vocal tics n' hiccups of yore for beguiling widescreen heart-on-sleeve atmospherics, 'Begin To Hope' was Regina's ticket to the mainstream. And what an entrance - bigger, bolder and soaked in bittersweet emotion and gorgeous tunes. 'Fidelity' alone could melt a heart of stone.

#27 - Wolf Eyes - Human Animal / Post Civilization Music

Wolf Eyes probably released about 50 albums this year, and 'Human Animal' was the commercial one. Most of the album is actually pleasantly subtle, although the real focus is creating a very strong overall aesthetic, as more and more Wolf Eyes seem to be honing a very post-apocalyptic feel. This is much more of a typical Wolf Eyes album than 'Burned Mind' and is a nice reassurance that they haven't left behind all their hard work. This brings me nicely to 'Post Civilization Music', one of Wolf Eyes' self released records. Although it's far from seminal, it's very good stripped back noise. Don't try to find it, just simply go and see the band and buy one of the many small crusty recordings of them jamming that are usually made in runs of about 50 and hope you get a good one. The trick is to pick the best artwork.

#28 - Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

Possessing a rare timless quality, not conveying to any trends or genres, Midlake concentrate on writing bloody good tunes. Suffice to say they do this effortlessly, 'Roscoe' and 'Head Home' are as good as anything you've heard all year.

#29 - Clark - Body Riddle

Chris Clark exists in a true class of his own, one where he sounds like himself and nobody else sounds like him. He has an incredible ability to just make you feel so warm, and as far as I can tell this album has enjoyed some genuine commercial success which is fantastic because although the aesthetic is very friendly a lot of the music is still quite hard hitting. It really isn't the simplest of albums in the world, there's so much untamed power on this that it really does feel like a force of nature.

#30 - Neil Young - Living With War

In a year when Dylan and Springsteen scaled the heights of their former glories, it was left to another old timer- the grizzled old Canuck veteran Neil Young - to kick against the pricks with a passion. Less than a year on from the gentle twilight renaissance of 'Prairie Wind', this was an entirely different yet equally gripping record. Angry, resilient yet optimistic, 'Living With War', was protest music with heart, soul and tunes aplenty.

#31 - Cats And Cats And Cats - Sweet Drunk Everyone

This forty-five minute glimpse into an ambitious, complex yet immediately welcoming fantasy world was an enchanting statement of intent from one of the most promising British bands of recent years. Proving themselves masters of both widescreen instrumental crescendos and gleefully chopped-up squall, the icing on the cake was Ben George's skewed yet often strangely touching lyrical imagery. Definitely ones to watch for 2007 - they plan to record an album made in accordance with Dogme95 style rules governing things like song length and language - should be a walk in the park for these kids.

#32 - Akron/Family - Meek Warrior

Who doesn't want to listen to album that makes you feel like everything in the whole world, if not the whole universe, is amazing? Space, love and infinity are the main themes, and yes it sounds like cheesy hippy nonsense, but what does that matter when it puts you in a mindset where you think everything is amazing? And what a diverse little piece of fun it is too - they make you wait at points, which I respect in the context of this album because it has an incredible ability to build up all your tension and then flush it all away. Everything really is amazing, you just have to look at it in the right way. This will help.

#33 - Love Is All - Nine Times That Same Song

Seemingly coming from nowhere to make one of the most ramshackle, charming and downright ace albums of the year, Love is All were undoubtedly one of the revelations of the past 12 months.

#34 - The Mystery Jets - Making Dens

That the best tracks on it were the singles didn't matter, as Mystery Jets singles were worlds unto themselves, pieces of sound that could be epic or brief and always contained a story that would make you want to explore even further. If, as many had claimed, this was prog music, then it was the most communally rewarding prog music we'd ever heard. If it wasn't, then we can stop worrying about what genre to put it in and rejoice because, believe it or not, this is the kind of thing kids are listening to at the moment. The future's bright.

#35 - The Futureheads - News & Tributes

This year has seen the return of first-batch modern indie-rock bands but where the likes of The Killers and Keane have failed to make any inspiring waves, some have gone on to better themselves in a way we never dreamt of. The Futureheads are quite plainly one of the greatest guitar based bands around, you pretty much can't fault them and this, their 'tough' second album, is by far their more exemplary work. 'Favours For Favours' and 'Yes/No' steal the show and thrust some acrimoniously raw oomph into an album that's already teaming with significant classics. Alas, they were dropped, because not enough of you bought this record. And we blame their current status as unemployed musicians on you.

#36 - Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped

OK, so the only thing that was particularly noisy about it was that Thurston wore a Merzbow T Shirt on the inlay cover, but wasn't it nice to hear a Sonic Youth record that sounded so free, so open, so tuneful, one that had enough room for the band to display their other talent - other than generating squall - their songs? In things like 'Incinerate' and 'Do You Believe In Rapture?' they'd created the most soothing guitar compositions of their entire career.

#37 - Encyclopedia - So Hot Right Now

I saw a few negative reviews of MIDI-poppers Encyclopedia over the course of the year, and all I can say is - lighten up! How anyone can fail to take a shine to the Yeovil-based duo's electronically boosted tales of teenage labours of love is frankly beyond me. 'You Can Say No' set the tone both lyrically and musically as Weezer-esque pop-chuggery, synthetic handclaps and analog wooshes provided a suitably excitable backdrop for the spot-on awkwardness of lines like, 'We finished our pizza and ice cream/And now we're gonna see a movie'. 'So Hot Right Now' managed to cover pretty much every aspect of adolescent love from flirtatious friendships to messy break-ups, whilst the references to MSN Messenger, Nintendo and the modern life's other ubiquities never seem tacked on or gimmicky. A totally joyful gem of an album that was pretty much unequalled for guitar-pop thrills this year.

#38 - The Hidden Cameras - Awoo

Be it puppets or glowsticks, 2006 was the year that everyone seemed to desire a gimmick. Strange then that The Hidden Cameras, whose blatant homosexuality seemed to be the only thing anyone ever mentioned about them, would choose to ditch theirs and record an album that featured no references to jail-sex or weeing on people, but instead had melodies so luscious that listening to it felt like bathing in it.

#39 - The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers

..or 'Now That's What I Call The Best Album To Listen To During Summer Whilst Sitting On A Porch In The American Mid-West 2006.' Refreshingly unaffected, Jack White's other lot's debut inspired admiration for concise retro-blues-pop perfection ('Steady, As She Goes'), encouraged Pete Townshend-esque air guitar windmilling ('Hands'), and quiet reflection on how occasionally it occasionally sounded uncannily like Hundred Mile High City by Ocean Colour Scene ('Broken Boy Soldier.')

#40 - Prince - 3121

I know, you all want to see these words written - 'his best since 'Sign O' The Times'. That would be something, but instead we'll have to settle for 'his best since 'Parade', which in itself is quite the achievement. Simply with the opening title track he managed to set Outkast and The Neptunes back ten years, and though there was filler, with things like 'Black Sweat', 'Lolita' and 'Love' he wrote the best pop songs that nobody played all year. The git still didn't tour, though.

#41 - The Sunshine Underground - Raise The Alarm

This has truly been the year for dance and rock to join forces and though sometimes we've ended up with rock music we couldn't dance to and dance music that rocked as much as Baby Spice played at half speed, TSU showed the country how to do it. 'Raise The Alarm' is as mega sounding as it is vigilantly constructed and unashamedly psychedelic. Its influence and riffs are immense and at times, a wee bit scary.

#42 - Razorlight - Razorlight

'We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful', crooned Morrissey back in the day. Substitute the word 'friends' for 'underachieving yet aspiring London post-punk pillagers', and you have a fairly accurate summary of many people's view on J. Borrell and the gang. Not that Razorlight would mind too much. Plundering the best bits from the best of the 80s enormo-fillers from either side of the Atlantic (Smiths, U2, REM, Springsteen, Tom Petty) this was unabashed stadium rock that actually worked, and included a number one hit single, 'America', to boot.

#43 - Anamanaguchi - Power Supply

8bitpeoples, the visionary label that specializes in releasing music from the burgeoning chipmusic scene put out some cracking records this year, but this was arguably the finest and certainly the one that went furthest in suggesting the possible cross-over appeal of this remarkable strain of electronic music. Combining sawtooth synth lines that will sound familiar to anyone who played video games in the '80s and '90s with controlled guitar noise interjections and exuberant drum machines, Anamanaguchi's sound was fizzing with limitless energy and melody, recalling everything from speed metal to Megaman (the game, not the So Solid head honcho). Now that they've evolved from a bedroom project into a fully-fledged rock band, I'll be praying that they retain 'Power Supply''s combination of glorious nostalgia and fearless forward motion in whatever they do next.

#44 - Lily Allen - Alright, Still

This one really doesn't get the love and respect it deserves, often shunted as a novelty national-radio spun piece of nonsense, but the oddball and magnetic lyrics plied over some tripping and taunting ska beats have to make this one of the best female penned releases of 06.

#45 - Tapes N Tapes - The Loon

Had we had more time to listen to it, it's probable that this would be a top ten record. But what 'The Loon' needs is time. Even though we've had most of the year, we still haven't truly figured it out. What we do know though is that with each listen it gets better and better, and having listened to it a hundred or so times now both on record and in a live setting, this isn't something that's about to change. This will be the number one record of 2008.

#46 - Pet Shop Boys - Fundamental

The odd couple continue to plough their increasingly distinctive path through the pop landscape. No one else really seems to do what they do anymore, perhaps they never did. They tend to polarize opinion, but this album was, in that glorious cliché, a return to form. From the ethereal, undertaker imagery, to songs, particularly 'I Made My Excuses and Left', which is so close to the heart you could see it's shirt beating beneath the restrained Trevor Horn production. Minimal not only brought spelling back into the charts, but a dirty great Peter Hook bass-line coda to boot. Their commitment to one-word album titles is commendable and with a record as lush and well written as this, they deserve to step out from the gay-tag they have been labelled with since Neil Tennant 'came out'.

#47 - Duels - The Bright Lights and What I Should Have Learnt

A brutal stab in the industries side, Duels at last capped conclusion of their much anticipated debut album this year and fraught with fiercely capturing and menacing guitars and keyboards the 11 tracks of pure young believing sex fuelled brilliance is an absolute treat of orgasmic proportion... if you like that sort of thing. Heck, who doesn't?

#48 - Forward Russia - Give Me A Wall

What a bitch of an album... I can honestly say that I've not danced as hard to an LP since I was a small kid and I found my mums Meat Loaf vinyl. The production and mixing across all confusingly titled 11 tracks of the Leeds band's debut is near on perfect, and possibly the best shaped album since Floyds' The Wall (funny that). When I first heard it I nearly had a seizure from shock and the more this bad boy sinks in the more I understand the workings of it, and the intricacies that masquerade themselves behind a front of noise and confusion.

#49 - Faithless - To All New Arrivals

Gorgeous, almost organic electronics, beats, acoustic guitars, lush harmonies and slightly self-important raps lead to unified voices delivering surprisingly touching lullabies to the children, and other new arrivals. As the thumping strobe-slashed memories of their past recede, replaced with bleeps, harmonies, acoustic guitars and the superb understated vocals of Cat Power and Bliss' groove, this is one to listen to on your own, preferably in headphones with the technical studio capability this album was doubtlessly recorded in, which might mean you'll need to be lying down and heavily insured.

#50 - Embrace - This New Day

A band rejuvenated, with a fifth studio LP that saw Embrace retain the momentum initiated during their unlikely, yet welcome comeback a couple of years ago. Forget their slightly underwhelming World Cup song (and the highly underwhelming England World Cup performance), here was a collection of poised, buoyant, unifying anthems.

REVIEWS BY: Michael Lewin, Tom Hocknell, Alex Lee Thomson, Gareth Roberts, Charlie Potter, Matt Thomiak, Chris Pratt, Tom Hannan.

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