All entries for Friday 22 December 2006
December 22, 2006
Well, it’s not been a year rammed full of earth shatteringly amazing albums, but it has been quite good, and there were at least two albums which really should be heard by everyone as they pushed the limits of what can be sneaked into the charts these days. If nothing else this list shows three things:
- Indie is not dead. It is still diverse, still interesting, still relevant and still good.
- Girls. One good thing to arise this year has been a wave of female fronted (indeed, some female only) bands who have brought something new to the table.
- Dance and electronic music is no longer dead. Rap however isn’t looking too good and is capable of much better. Gnarls Barkley aren’t rap. Nor is Lily Allen.
Top Twenty Albums
1. Muse – Black Holes And Revelations
At first it seemed like Muse had dropped the ball, gone too far and not far enough at the same time, that their fourth album was a little lacking. But these were the sort of songs which didn’t go away, which stayed in your head until you had to accept that they were up there with Muse’s best, and up there with the best of the year. From the adventurous madness which fuelled ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ and ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ to the heaviness of ‘Assassin’ to the Depeche Mode gone gigantic of ‘Map Of The Problematique’, it was all beautifully put together, and worked better and better with each listen. It also deserves credit for bringing the trumpet back into music without utilising it for ska purposes.
Best moment – “No one’s going to take me alive!” from ‘Knights Of Cydonia’.
2. The Knife – Silent Shout
The sort of album which could easily get lost in this modern age and its microscopic attention span, Silent Shout at first listen sounds like someone throwing a pile of synths down the stairs and then allowing a girly voiced mad woman to screech over the top. Not good in other words. But after five listens it sounded like someone throwing a pile of synths straight at your soul and then allowing a girly voiced mad woman to conjour up inspired and sometimes cuttingly intense lyrics. Anyone able to give it the time was well rewarded by a dense but rewarding album which took all the tricks electronic music possess and turned them to new purposes.
Best moment – ‘Forest Families’s twinkly first verse and the line “They said there’s a communist in the family/I had to wear a mask”.
3. Delays – You See Colours
Swirling indie sounds with a shot of disco bass and synths, Delays took a leap forward with their second album. Rather than rehashing the swooning sounds of their debut they beefed them up taking their harmonies and chiming guitars to that most unlikely of places – the dancefloor. The more chilled out tracks still manage to be a step up from the normal jangly indie offering thanks to the passion they are performed with.
Best bit – The moment the digitised bassline kicks in at the start of ‘Valentine’.
4. CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy
Bonkers Brazilian pop coming across like the result of a bizarre attempt to crossbreed Girls Aloud with Le Tigre and a huge bucket of assertive smut. Unashamedly flirty, flighty and possessed of better lyrics than a lot of bands singing in their first language (like the gloriously foul mouthed and silly ‘Meeting Paris Hilton’) it may not have been an album to change the world, but it didn’t want to be. This was a party album you actually could put on at a party and have no one wanting to skip a single track.
Best bit – The seductive and saucy sneer of ‘Alala’s first refrain.
5. Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home
Long awaited and worth it when it arrived, this is what could have happened if Britpop’s two best bands – Elastica and Pulp – had had children. Intelligent pop music, played out with a thrift store glamour which informs a lot of the best music to come from Britain. They make the small things, singing about A roads (‘Sperated By Motorways’), 1960s actresses (‘Lust In The Movies’), and bedsit evenings in (‘Giddy Stratospheres’), sound like major issues, and in Kate Jackson have a truly charismatic and distinctive vocalist unafraid to be a bit of a star.
Best bit – The sexually ambiguous lyrical sting in the tail of ‘Once And Never Again’.
6. Brand New – The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me
Whilst the music world seemed entranced by My Chemical Romance’s move away from identikit emo, it was once more Brand New who pushed the boundaries of American rock. Often lumped in with the emo movement as they don’t seem to fit anywhere else, Brand New are a considerably more complex proposition, contrasting passages of almost inaudible quiet with roaring guitars and vocals. Lyrically brooding and atmospheric, it’s late release means it will be unfairly overlooked by a lot of end of years surveys.
_Best bit -
7. Ladyfuzz – Kerfuffle
Mates with Bloc Party and displaying the same level of inventiveness across an entire, debut, album, Ladyfuzz were the surprise package of the year. Unexpectedly good at churning out mind invading hooks, both musical and lyrical, they were unjustly overlooked despite being able to conjour up little gems like ‘Bouncy Ball’ and ‘Oh Marie’. Never likely to set the world alight but they make their little corner of it more fun. They also managed to write the best German language love song I’ve ever heard.
Best bit – ‘Bouncy Ball’s lyrics. And bounce.
8. Seafood – Paper Crown King
Back to the noisy indie rock after a chilled out last album, Seafood continued to entertain indie kids and have no impact on the mainstream. All this despite more of the same in the best possible way, more melodic noise, more angst battling with optimism in the vocals, more big songs exploding through the speakers. They called one of their tracks ‘Between The Noise pt.2’. Part 1 being their entire career before then, of course.
_Best bit – When ‘Between The Noise, pt.2’ roars into life.
9. The Gossip – Standing In The Way Of Control
When the NME went for the unexpected and declared Beth Ditto the coolest person in rock they were looking for a response more than anything else. The music might not yet be chart topping but at least their confrontational disco punk was more coherent and interesting than some of the ‘cool’ crap which was found elsewhere in the poll. Bush baiting from the heart of Bush country, it’s message was delivered to the dancefloor.
Best bit – The staccato chorus of the title track.
10. The Organ – Grab That Gun
Possibly the most indie record in the list, sad women singing sad songs about empty lives. Derivative – stealing tricks from the Smiths, the Cure, Interpol and a load of other post punk bands – but the quavering voice of Katy Sketch came across as so honest, so emotionally raw, that it cuts through any thoughts of other bands, if only for the duration of the album. ‘Basement Band Song’ is a rare example of a band describing themselves perfectly. And then they split this month. Typical.
Best bit – Identifies itself, the line in ‘Brother’ where Sketch laments “Here’s the best part of the song/Where I admit/That I am wrong”.
11. The Futureheads – News And Tributes
Edging forward from their debut, The Futureheads continued to plough their own route through indie. Although most of the album stuck close to their jerky indie template, but they ventured into heavier stuff (‘The Beserker’) and more reflective stuff (the heartbreaking Munich 1958 eulogy which is the title track). No great advance, but in field of one The Futureheads succeeded by not stagnating.
Best bit – The harmonies in the chorus to ‘News And Tributes’.
12. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I Am Not
Too obvious? Well sometimes there’s good reason for the hype, sometimes the hysteria has good cause. I’m not the only person I know who doesn’t listen to this album as much as others from this year, but when it does go on, or tracks from it appear on random play on my computer, the inventiveness and lyrical brilliance come across perfectly. More than anyone else they are creating a portrait of Sheffield in 2006 using monsterous riffs to fool people in wanting to dance to it.
Best bit – The lyrics. Pretty much all of them.
13. Howling Bells – Howling Bells
Dusty desert rock sounding like it was played by a bunch of vampires, what is it with Australians, like this lot and Nick Cave, and their gothic imaginings? Less terrifying than Cave’s serial killer schtick, Juanita Stein sounds like she’s stood on the porch of her outback house watching the listener arrive on her patch, fresh meat for her surreal twilight land.
Best bit – The guitar work on ‘Setting Sun’.
14. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
The two halves of Karen O continued their adventure in sound. Brash, confident Karen strutted through tracks like ‘Gold Lion’ and ‘Phenomenon’ elbowing aside her rivals for the spotlight, each whoop and squeal as articulate as the expanded musical palette her bandmates had brought to the table. But this was bettered by sensitive Karen who managed to match the magisterial beauty of ‘Maps’ on the equally vital ‘Cheated Hearts’.
Best bit – “Sometimes I think that I’m bigger than the sound”, ‘Cheated Hearts’.
15. Pendulum – Hold Your Colour
Drum and bass came back with a vengence this year, and Pendulum were at the forefront. They pissed off purists by going for the most populist, obvious sort of drum and bass, which as we all know is the type that can be enjoyed by anyone, not just people off their faces on pills. Epic and heavy, sometimes playing to the crowd is the best plan. The fact they were also responsible for the best Prodigy song in a decade. Nuff said.
Best bit – Any of the drops.
16. Metric – Live It Out
A more intelligent take on wiry indie, Metric didn’t always go for the safe otion of verse-chorus-verse. Showing one of the best uses of quietLOUDquiet dynamics this year, they managed to sound both sweet and menacing at the same time which is no mean feat. And then, just to prove they could, they would throw in the occasional uncomplicated pop song. Like any generous band would.
Best bit – “Stop for the love of God!” ‘Monster Hospital’, sounding genuinely imploring.
17. Hope Of The States – Left
Still taking the epic stylings of post rock, but this time using them in a more indie, more accessible way, no five minute epic instrumentals to open up (this one was just over two) and no more enormous codas, but HOTS would still throw in every instrument and the kitchen sink. The sound of desperation on record, not an easy listen, but rewarding enough if you try. They’ve split now, dammit.
Best bit – Hard to pick just one from the melee, but any which involve the violin kicking in the beef things up were good.
18. Nicky Wire – I Killed The Zeitgeist
The non singing bassist from a band who had gone a little off the boil… it was never really going to work was it? Nicky Wire’s solo album couldn’t have been anything other than a disaster, could it? So why was it the shock of the year? Why di he completely ditch the bass guitar? How did Wire manage to find the top guitar riff from ‘The Shining Path’, and the rather sweet bounce of ‘You Will Always Be My Home’? And he did all of this without losing his occasionally tortured, often impressive lyrical streak. The biggest shock of the year.
Best bit – When the guitars and drums in ‘The Shining Path’ lock in together.
19. Forward Russia – Give Me A Wall
The drummer thought she was in a funk funk band. The guitarist thought he was in an art metal band. The bassist thought he was in heavy rock band. The singer wasn’t entirely sure where he was but he had some At The Drive In records and they seemed like as good an idea as any. This really should not have worked (on some tracks it didn’t) but there were a fair few awesome tunes on here which made up for the filler they were carrying with them. Unfortunately a few were lessened by being produced differently (i.e. slower) than the demo versions.
Best bit – The squiggly synth halfway through ‘Thirteen’.
20. The Dears – Gang Of Losers
Stripping back their lavish orchestration in favour of a more direct indie rock may have sounded like a bad idea but The Dears had more to them than that – incisive, sometimes bitter, lyrics and a new found sense of urgency, this was a surprisingly in your face record which tackled racism and heartbreak with equal panache. Less in thrall to their inspirations too which was a good thing.
Best bit – ‘Death Or Life We Want You’s ghostly middle eight.
21. Stellastarr* - Harmonies For The Haunted
I ranted about this earlier in the year when the NME gave this album a shockingly bad review on the basis it wasn’t by the Arctic Monkeys. It was a stupid decision by them then and it remains such as this still sounds like a bloody god example of American indie rock, unambitious but interesting. It was still a matter of how much you could stand the singer’s voice, but I liked it, and the wall of sound behind him was always good.
Best bit – The start of the album, woozy paino and guitars all building up to a crescendo.
22. Hot Chip – The Warning
If dance music was dead (and let’s face it, it wasn’t looking its best) then few could have imagined that sensitive indie geeks would be the ones to drag people back to the dancefloor. Hot Chip located the emotion in electro and pushed it forward, bolting on inventive beats and some unstoppable hooks along the way. They told no lies either, with them repetition was good.
Best bit – “Every year, about this time of year”, the vocal in ‘Careful’ kicks in.
23. Datarock – Datarock Datarock
Lewd indie dance shuffling from the Scandanavians. Anyone who calls a song ‘Nightflight To Uranus’ is not taking anything seriously. Anyone who does that and then uses their opening track to announce “BMX is better than sex” is really really taking the piss and the only response is to smile and go along with it. It’s uncomplicated fun which will not change anyone’s life but will make you want to move your feet a bit.
Best bit – “BMX is better than sex!”, ‘Bulldozer’.
24. The Young Knives – Voices Of Animals And Men
Packed with potential, like Maximo Park two years ago, The Young Knives have made an album which should make any record label want to nourish them and give them all the time they need to develop. What shows through are songs which sometimes reach giddy heights of brilliance – ‘She’s Attracted To’, ‘Here Comes The Rumour Mill’ – and showcase an acute lyrical sense as well as some wonderfully taut riffs.
Best bit – The almost literal lyrical punchline to ‘She’s Attracted To’.
25. Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis
He’s back and it suddenly seems like the end of Pulp was one of the worst things to hit the music industry in a long time. Less glam and more brooding musically, but the old wit was perfectly intact and he produced the usual blend of the amusing but relevant (‘Fat Children’) with the timeless but pertinent (‘Big Julie’). Like stepping into a world of kitchen sink dramas.
Best bit – The hidden track. Wait for it.