Top Whatevers

Sorry about the couple of days delay: Christmas-related busying I suppose. Anyway, review of the year is to make up for it with a bunch of stuff you don't care about, rambling on for far too long. Enjoy!

Song Of The Year

(photo be joshc)
If I was going to pick a song that I've discovered this year as the soundtrack to my life, then it would certainly be Clue To Kalo's As Tommy Fixes Fights. But my life is nothing without arbitrary rules, and technically that song was released last year. So the award for 2006 goes to one of the more disappointing bands of the year, Band Of Horses. Most peoples' first encounter with BOH was via their single The Funeral, a frankly astonishingly great song, incendiary in the heights it soars to - Ben Bridwell's voice flies high over a dynamic backdrop that threatened to breathe new life into the somewhat lacklustre American indie-rock output of the year. But aside from The Funeral, Band Of Horses only scraped along for the rest of their releases, their patchy and occasionally annoying debut (Everything All The Time) exemplifying this, a particularly sad case in point.
In general chaps, must try harder, must write more songs that are as good as The Funeral.

The Music
Band Of Horses - The Funeral (mp3)
Band Of Horses - The Funeral (video)

The 'fo
Band Of Horses/buy

Guilty Pleasure Of The Year

(photo by rustovision)
I hadn't had a guilty pleasure all year, really, hence the hanging onto the last vestiges of the Natasha Bedingfield bandwagon, the shame only really starting to tell towards the end of this year. Apparently there's a yet younger Bedingfield in the pipeline, something to look forward to. Anyway, NB's place has been taken by the almost terrifyingly mental Amy Winehouse, a local girl (you can kind of tell, if you know Southgate - Amy looks very Southgate, maybe with all the characteristics exaggerated to charicature), with her - admittedly not as guilty as Natasha - song, Rehab.
All ba-woop horns and big band chorus, this is singalong, it's funky and it's great, and it'll get so firmly ensconced into your head that an army of claw hammers won't be able to prise it out from there.

The Music
Amy Winehouse - Rehab

The 'fo
Amy Winehouse/buy

Live Show Of The Year

(photo by distantbombs)
Every inch of my body is telling me to put Mogwai in this award, for their ICA residency in January. And they were mindblowing, incredibly loud and opening up all sorts of experiences I didn't know existed. Certainly the support for this show (Gruff Rhys) was better than that of the show I've actually picked (which was Bat For Lashes), but still... The winner is Low. I love Low almost as much as Mogwai, but I think the gig just pipped it. For fantastic as the 'gwai were, Low's extra special show at Koko playing back the whole of what is a contender for my favourite album of all time (Things We Lost In The Fire) held me awestruck. At the time I think I wrote that Low were one of the few bands that allowed their music the space so few bands dare to produce, and their show only amplified this feeling. I could stand and watch Alan Sparhawk wait and wait to play a chord for ages and ages, and it would always, always be exactly perfect, exactly on the button. The harmonies, oh, the rapturous harmonies, the songs, the playing. Yes, I have no qualms picking Low.

The Music
Low - (That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace

The 'fo

Label Of The Year

(photo by japanese_forms)
There's but one record company that's been at the top of my list this year, only one contender. Last year it would've been Leaf with their volley of big hitters, but this year no label has consistently impressed me so much as the revitalised 4AD. From celebrating their 25 th anniversary last year, they've gone on to have one of their strongest years in an age, releasing several big, big albums, and signing a slew of great acts that manage to fit in with the label ethic and style while retaining their own originality. They've got a good 2007 coming, with Kristin hersh pencilled in early on, but for 2006 how about some of the following:
TV On The Radio - having settled into the label for their first album, TVOTR's follow-up was one of the records of the year, a devastating and fascinating rock album.
M Ward - another contender for record of the year, Matt Ward's warm rock'n'roll acousticana impressed me much.
Beirut - beloved by blogs in general rather than by me, but at least an album of poise and individuality.
Add to that Scott Walker's dense The Drift, and great releases by Cocteau Twins, Johann Johannssen and Mountain Goats, that's a fancy roster right there.

The Music
TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me (video)
M Ward - Chinese Translation (video)
Beirut - Postcards From Italy (mp3)

The 'fo
TV On The Radio/buy/M Ward/buy/Beirut/buy

Prospect Of The Year

(photo by l fletcher)
You know what I'm going to say, it's undoubtedly Kristin Hersh. Kristin's solo albums are invariably amazing, whether they're the incredibly sparse, almost bleak, snow-capped feel of The Grotto, or whether they're the fuller, luxurious arrangements of Sunny Border Blue. The woman is a genius, and not only that but hellbent on giving away as much of her music as she can for free, as evidenced by 50 Foot Wave's method of distribution. Learn How To Sing Like A Star is bound to be just ace, and may the first lady of heart-on-sleeve alt.rock ever reign supreme.

The Music
Kristin Hersh - Snake Oil
The 'fo
Kristin Hersh/buy

Artist Of The Year

(photo by Toni Blay)
Despite being pipped at the post for best live show, Mogwai still manage to capture the glory with best artist, simply because they are one of the best bands in the world. It sounds so passé to describe Mogwai as noise terrorists these days - that era was c.1997, with Young Team just out and audiences' ears being shredded by the likes of Like Herod and Tracy. But 2006 was the year when Mogwai set out to recapture The Rock from the dreamy, ethereal (if still excessively wonderful) stylings of Happy Songs For Happy People. Mr Beast was the Ronseal of Mogwai albums, it was exactly that: a hurtling, raging monster of a record with some of Mogwai's biggest riffs ever, and the occasional heart-stoppingly huge drumbeat. All that being said, Mr Beast sees the band distilling its expertise into some of their more accessible numbers - Friend Of The Night, Acid Food, Auto-Rock...
But then, of course, Mogwai released two records this year - taking a look a little down the line at the monstrous rock of Mr Beast, Stuart Braithwaite et al took the band's more eery, atmospheric side and made a soundtrack to the artisan film about the inimitable Zinedine Zidane. So whichever Mogwai you prefer you've been satisfied this year, whether it was kicking the year off with that ICA residency, or releasing a contender for best album of the year in January, or fostering their football side with a pet project commission. Good job dudes.

The Music
Mogwai - Glasgow Mega-Snake

The 'fo

Albums Of The Year

This is it, the big rundown. If you've waded through the rest of it to reach this bloggers' staple, then thanks, and hope you enjoy the music.

10. Amy Millan - Honey From The Tombs

Loads of new music came to my ears this year, and I hadn't been familiar with Stars, or Amy Millan or any of the Arts & Crafts stable until this year. To be brutally honest, I'm still not, but this is an album worthy of inclusion on a top ten anyway, and I don't think I've seen it anywhere else yet. Honey From The Tombs is an album positively dripping with Millan's warm, sensuous yet comforting voice, the same one that made Stars so inviting. The songs are pretty much pop.alt.country in basis, but with a few more uptempo numbers, taking a similar sort of approach to the two as M Ward has this year. Not all of the songs are as memorable as Skinny Boy or Losin' You, but they are all a pleasant enough listen and really lower you into a calmed-down mode, so for that one can be ever thankful.

Amy Millan - Skinny Boy
Amy Millan/MySpace/buy

9. Arab Strap - Ten Years Of Tears

I kind of surprise myself with this inclusion, but the fact of the matter is that Arab Strap had more of an impact on my life this year than the vast majority of other bands and musicians that I heard. I discovered (sadly belatedly) that Arab Strap have a knack for creating music that's emotionally resonant but not sappy, heartbreaking but certainly not emo, indie but by no means stagnant. From the classic The First Big Weekend to the x-rated folk of Packs Of Three to the thrashy punk stomp of Islands, this breaks my rule of not including compilations because it's so lovingly compiled - it's not just hits (what hits?) but it's demos, alternate takes, songs that mean something to the band. Interesting things. It's a great document, and a great listen in itself quite aside from anything associative.

Arab Strap - Preface: Set The Scene
Arab Strap/buy

8. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Etiquette

One of the few albums from the earlier part of the year that has retained my attention, Owen Ashworth's one-man-band (minus drum on back and cymbals between knees) has got sophisticated. The days of extremely minimalist Casio-tickling have been replaced by bigger arrangements, and bigger songs to warrant them. That's not to say anything on this album has had the MTV treatment, it doesn't sound like Queen just yet, but these are songs which are crying out for a wider audience. Which is ironic given the extreme introspection and self-loathing going on throughout. Etiquette would certainly make any random emo kid's dreams come true, but would also introduce them to a world of quality and class that Panic At The Disco will never be able to give them. Plus, y'know, CFTPA has one extra word so he's obviously better.

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - I Love Creedence
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone/buy

7. Daedelus - Denies The Day's Demise

Another one I ummed and aahed about, because this was a very late addition to the year's best. But I think it certainly warrants its place here - in a year where I spent a disproportionate amount of time listening to electronica, this was the pick. Herbert, Adem, Triosk, these were all excellent albums but they didn't grab me so immediately, nor move me in the same as Alfred Weisberg-Roberts' did. There was a real warmth about this record when I first listened, whether it's from the banks of synths on Like Clockwork Springs or the oboe on Viva Vida (a track which, on first listening, grabbed me gently by the throat and refused to let go), and if you add to that sultry samba beats and the odd blast of glitch-hop, this is a great record.

Daedelus - Samba Legrand

6. Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country

Camera Obscura were introduced, in a haze of blog buzz, as a band that sounded like Belle & Sebastian. As a new found devotee of those most literate of Scots indie-poppers, I thought great, and found another bunch of literate Scots indie-poppers, this time with the pretty, affecting, female vocals at the front. So yes, Camera Obscura don't really win any prizes for groundbreaking originality, but when you kick off an album with a heartbreaking ode to Lloyd Cole that's a serious contender for song of the year, who really cares? Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken is sad but sweet and gorgeous, and so is the majority of the rest of the album. In a year spent trying to be avant garde, this album feels like a step back for me, but really, what does that matter? Music's in the heart, not the head.

Camera Obscura - I Need All The Friends I Can Get
Camera Obscura/buy

5. Steve Adey - All Things Real

Out of the blue is how I'd describe this. I get so so many random, mostly awful, acts trying it on in MySpace World, that it really took me by surprise when I heard Adey's rich baritone fully nailing the beautiful Find The Way for the first time when Grand Harmonium Records sought me out. Mr Adey is a very talented man indeed and has created an album of warm, beautiful songsmithery to go with his wonderful voice. Great combination, great result.

Steve Adey - Tonight
Steve Adey/buy

4. Mogwai - Mr Beast

It's the top four that has been set almost as soon as I heard the records, but it's also given me a lot of trouble. Mogwai are, by default, the best band in the world (see above) and since Alan McGee's outburst that Mr Beast would be the best thing since Loveless, I was expecting monster things from Mr Beast. And in some ways, I got that. In some ways. Because where Mr Beast worked (Glasgow Mega-Snake, We're No Horses, Auto-Rock) it was beyond incredible, but there just wasn't the usual connection. Sure, there was plenty of Rock, and this is a good thing, but it didn't at the heartstrings as well like it's predecessor. I think maybe if Mogwai had combined elements of this record, the huge riffs, the unbelievable volume, with the tact, restraint and explorations of this year's other release, the Zidane soundtrack, then they would have had a hit on their hands. As it is, Mogwai are still top four material despite this not being their strongest record, which says a lot about them - although I'd love to put them top, I just wouldn't be being honest to myself, so. Number four.

Mogwai - I Chose Horses

3. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain

A record that keeps on getting better with every listen is an album that's worth listening to. And when you listen to Return To Cookie Mountain, you'll start to appreciate the delicacy and intricacies within such a complex, yet feral-sounding album. The band manage to fill every space with a rushing noise that's not really there, and for all the joy minimalism gives, this is extremely exciting. Live, the band are a sexy beast, and on record, they're no less so. Highlights like Province, Wolf Like Me and I Was A Lover sound like nothing that was released this, or any other year. A one off band.

TV On The Radio - I Was A Lover
TV On The Radio/buy

2. M Ward - Post-War

Our number two record is the most old-fashionedy on the list. Post-War revels in it's retrospectivity (a new word?), bringing to mind massive radios, big radio microphones, band's playing all at once to record, for a change, good ol' fashioned rock'n'roll. When Matt rocks it up, the sound is a joyous boogie, a record chockful of singalongs and 5th-6th chord progressions. But it's not just that, it's more diverse, with songs like Chinese Translation playing foil to Magic Trick's life-affirming groove. Maybe life-affirming would sum up the whole album pretty well actually - you certainly end up in a better mood at the end of it, having had great fun along the way. I don't suppose you can ask for much more out of an album than this.

M Ward - Magic Trick
M Ward/buy

1. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

I've since come to realise that I did know one Belle & Sebastian track before I heard The Blues Are Still Blue on the radio, maybe even at the end of last year. The Boy With The Arab Strap is actually that nagging, familiar melody that's been at the back of my mind all year. But anyway, I was under the impression for the most part that despite B&S having been within my wider conciousness for maybe ten years, I didn't really know their material. In fact, I dismissed them as fey, twee, any weak adjective you care to mention.
But in the rare event of a single that makes you go and buy an album, The Blues Are Still Blue got stuck in my head. Then after that, Jeff goes and picks Sukie In The Graveyard as his perfect three-minute pop song on the Contrast Podcast and the wheels are set in motion. The album is purchased and the songs are absorbed, and blow me if I didn't know right then that it would have to take something incredibly special to knock this off it's best-of-the-year podium. And nothing was that special. I don't think 2006 was the greatest year for new music, to be honest, and although there was some good bands around there wasn't anything that came out of nowhere and rocked everybody's socks. So this little Scottish band, eleven years after their debut, and perceived to have their best days behind, proceed to put out an album that's potentially the best of their career. To me, it's more focused than If You're Feeling Sinister, less patchy than Tigermilk (obviously, I've gone on to explore the catalogue) - it's simply one of the best pop albums to have been released in a good few years. Nearly perfect in every way, it's witty, classy, extremely tight and immensely good fun. It's heart and head music, which ticks all my boxes.

Belle & Sebastian - Sukie In The Graveyard
Belle & Sebastian/buy


Roland said...

Nice picks, although I'm sorry to say that I should give more listens to most of them.

Keep up the good work!

Rachel said...

I knew you would have one of the best lists of the year. You have been the only one to introduce me to 2 different bands; Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, I Love Creedence and Daedelus, Samba Legrand has really sparked my interest.
And you know I was oh so close to including Steve Adey on my album list, but I settled on including him on a different list...But it really is a wonderful album indeed.

It is always a pleasure Oh Simone. Thank you.

Tristesse said...

'Welcome to all things Scottish, our slogan is if it's not Scottish it's crap!'

That's half your album pick either Scottish by birth or Scottish-based!

Well done my man - you are granted the keys to the City of Glasgow!


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