I sat down to write introduction on December 28. Last year I wrote my entire end-of-year summary in one sitting, but this year I’m starting my introduction before having actually finalized my choice of the top ten albums of the year. This year was not the greatest year for new releases, in my opinion. But in the absence of an excess of new albums for me to buy, I have managed to fill some shocking gaps in my music collection. I bought The Flaming Lips
’ The Soft Bulletin
, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
, Sigur Rós
’ Agætis byrjun
, Nick Drake
’s Pink Moon
’s OK Computer
and Kid A
– to name but a few old classics that I finally got round to purchasing. Unlike this time last year, there are not many albums that have been released that I wish I had before compiling this list. However, 2006 has by no means been void of great new releases, as my top 10 albums will show!
Firstly I would like to revise my top five albums of 2005
, as I have got a few 2005-released albums since making the list in January, and my opinion on some of the albums has changed. So, here is my revised list (with the album’s previous position in square brackets):
1 Sufjan Stevens
This album’s still just as great as the first time I heard it.
2 The Mountain Goats
: The Sunset Tree
This album has grown on me immensely: whereas last year my favourites were the accessible, catchy numbers such as “This Year” and “Dance Music”, now my favourite song is probably the chilling “Pale Green Things”. Though, of course, anthems such as “This Year” and “Dance Music” are timeless!
3 Wolf Parade
: Apologies To The Queen Mary
At the time of writing last year’s list, I was awaiting this album’s arrival in the post. Despite the fact that it was supposed to arrive within a week of ordering, I had to wait a good couple of months (last time I use Virgin Megastores online store!). But it was well worth the wait: these crazy Canadian kids make some of the best indie rock around. Highlights of the album include the emotive anthems “This Heart’s On Fire”, “I’ll Believe In Anything” and “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” (the line “Now we'll say it's in God's hands / But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, does he?” is delivered with particularly intense conviction).
4 Bright Eyes
: I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
This album is also just as good now as it was when I first heard it.
5 The Decemberists
Pretty much every track on this album is pure gold: from the heartfelt folk of “Eli, The Barrow Boy” to the crazy swashbuckling epic that is “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, Colin Meloy
is a master song-writer and The Decemberists are a fittingly grand and versatile band. Though some of the songs (such as “From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)” and “The Infanta”) sometimes wear a little thin, the magnificence of songs like the ardent mini-epic “The Bagman’s Gambit” more than makes up for it. All the songs tell stories (except the short closing love song, “Of Angels and Angles”), and in most of them I really feel for the unique and charming characters.
So, now to look in detail at the releases of 2006.
1 TV on the Radio
: Return To Cookie Mountain
To an extent, I think I had already decided that I would love this album before it had even arrived on my doorstep. There has been so much hype, but to me it didn’t sound like the usual hype that surrounds the blogosphere’s favourite of the moment. I couldn’t resist but order. And I am not disappointed. This is an album of epic proportions. To me it echoes Radiohead’s OK Computer
– not in sound but in sheer magnificence and diversity. From the attention-grabbing first line (“I was a lover before this war”) of opening track “I Was A Lover”, along with its dark beat and unsettling chords, right through to the rumbling drone that ends the album, I was gripped. This album seems to skilfully blend the catchy, the experimental and the emotive to create a masterpiece. Somehow TVotR manage to incorporate countless influences and styles, but still have all the songs feel like they belong on the album. Every single element of every one of the multi-layered songs is near-perfect. And I have to mention that both singers, Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe, have fantastic voices. And although the song-writing and musical structure is phenomenal, it wouldn’t be the same without such talented singers.
In conclusion, this is easily the best album of the year. It’s an album that successfully avoids pigeonholing and categorization, and greatly challenges anyone trying to describe it. Basically, you have to listen to it yourself.
2 The Mountain Goats
: Get Lonely
Despite the fact that a lot of people seemed disappointed with this album, dismissing it as “too mellow”, “not easy to enjoy” and, ultimately, “not as good as The Sunset Tree
”, I decided to buy this album. This decision was made largely as a result of my love for the only song I’d heard off of the album, “Woke Up New”, a touchingly realistic tale of post-break-up blues. I’m really glad that I did go ahead and get this album; although this album probably isn’t
as good as The Sunset Tree
, it is sufficiently different that it’s hard to directly compare. This album lacks any hard-hitting numbers like Tallahassee
’s “See America Right” and “No Children” or The Sunset Tree
’s “Lion’s Teeth” and “Dilaudid”, but instead uses The Mountain Goats’ recently-acquired full-band resources to a much different end. Apart from the revelation that is “If You See Light”, which sees john accompanied by piano, brass, bass and drums, the songs on Get Lonely
are simply John’s gentle strumming and soft falsetto accompanied by lush strings. This record is definitely mellower than any of John’s previous output (that I’ve heard); but this is by no means a bad thing; it allows his fantastic songwriting to shine in all its glory, and puts his raw emotion out there for everyone to see. Admittedly, this record lacks the emotional diversity of his past albums, but on this album John truly masters the mood that he is going for.
I got this album back at the start of 2006, which seems an awfully long time ago right now. When I first got it, I pretty much ceaselessly listened to it. Maybe one of its main appeals to me is that it is much more of a frenzied assault on the ears than anything else I listen to. Aside from the shoegazing opener (which is in itself fantastic), this is an album of crazy noise-punk. The frantic Japanese lyrics taking the backseat, behind the screaming guitars and aggressive drumming. The closest I usually get to this is Death from Above 1979
; and while Pink
isn’t as catchy a record as DFA1979’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine
, it is no less enjoyable. Everything about this album is fantastic – and, unlike their art-metal peers such as SUNN O))
, Boris’ appeal is broad. Although this album is certainly left-of-centre, it doesn’t forget how to just plain rock.
4 Thom Yorke
: The Eraser
At the end of 2005 I was eagerly anticipating the new Radiohead
release. I’m still waiting. However, The Eraser
appeased my appetite for a while. The album was completely different to any of Radiohead’s releases: although I am sure plenty of people will have compared it to Kid A
as they’re both electronic records, the similarity is somewhat superficial. The Eraser
is an album that focuses primarily on Thom’s lyricism, which is perfectly complimented by the exquisite, intricate and complex beats laid beneath his familiar, eerie, falsetto. Although the album is no OK Computer
, it’s not trying to be.
: Mr Beast
Mogwai is a band for whom I have a great love. They are one of my three favourite “post-rock” bands, alongside Sigur Rós
and Godspeed You! Black Emperor
. However, Mr Beast
is, in my opinion, hard to call a post-rock album. The longest track (closer “We’re No Here”) clocks in at a scant 5minutes 39seconds, compared to the longest track on Young Team
, the 16minute 19second-long “Mogwai Fear Satan”. And, while many of the album’s songs (such as the monstrous “Glasgow Mega-Snake”) are loud and noisy, in a similar vein to Mogwai’s Young Team
-era work, the songs to not build up to crescendos in traditional post-rock manner. So, I think this is a rock album rather than a post-rock album. And when viewed as a rock album, while still nowhere near as good as Young Team
, it is an excellent album in its own right.
So, as I said before, 2006 was not the greatest year for music. The Thom Yorke, Sonic Youth
, Xiu Xiu
and Mogwai albums were not as awesome as they could have been (though they were all enjoyable), the promised Radiohead album never arrived, and there weren’t as many good debuts as I would have liked. However, some bands that did make particularly good debuts in 2006 are Beirut
(who makes some great Eastern European-influenced music, slightly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel
) and Plan B
(a London rapper). Artists such as those are showing great promise, and I hope that 2007 is a better year for music than 2006 was. The new Radiohead songs that have been previewed live sound really good, so I hope they get their act together and release an album.