2006: The Best of the Music

I started this list thinking that I hadn’t listened to enough new albums this year to come up with a top ten, but in the end that wasn’t the problem: the problem is that so many are from the same old bands I always go on about. Blame it on the iPod, and on the copious ripping of CDs I didn’t do as a result. Note for the benefit of lawyers that I said didn’t do, because ripping CDs is illegal in Britain, so the only legitimate way to fill up a 60-gigabyte iPod is to spend approximately £15,000 at the iTunes Music Store. Thus, I didn’t rip twenty years’ worth of CDs to the 250GB external hard-drive I didn’t buy specifically for that purpose, didn’t spend six months of the year revisiting old music I’d forgotten about, and haven’t been shuffling through it at random, album by album, on the device specifically not bought for doing so. M’lud.

Apart from not doing to any of that, here’s what I have been enjoying.

10. Futuro Flamenco (2002)

Number ten was the hardest slot to decide. I almost went with a CD of Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite, which I’d never heard in full before and enjoyed cranking up loud to annoy the neighbours. But this compilation of flamenco-tinged dance music—a kind of up-tempo chillout—has been getting quite a few spins around here. Even better, it rates highly on the “Enjoyment per Amount Spent” scale, because I picked it up for 350 yen in Tokyo. You need at least a few of those to compensate for all the full-price purchases that get knocked out for five quid in Fopp a few months later.

9. The Pinker Tones, The Million Colour Revolution

More Spanish dance music, this time from Barcelona. The Pinker Tones are a lounge/techno hybrid that will be familiar to fans of Ursula 1000, the Karminsky Experience, and even Röyksopp. As a fan of all of those, I was pretty pleased when the Pinker Tones found and befriended me on MySpace, because the mix of different Euro-pop styles on this CD, all with tongue firmly in cheek, is right up my alley.

8. Snow Patrol, Eyes Open

They put on a fantastic show in August, and their new album was good, too, though not quite as good as their last one. Something about the Martha Wainright duet didn’t sit right with me; maybe it’s bad memories of all those duets in the mid-1980s. Other straightforward rock albums I’ve enjoyed this year have been The Strokes’ First Impressions of Earth and both of The Killers’ (their debut more than the new Sam’s Town).

7. Beck, The Information

I liked Beck’s last album, but I love this—almost as much as 2002’s Sea Change, although the two of them couldn’t be more different (while still featuring the same artist and producer). As Nigel Godrich-produced releases go, this wipes the floor with Thom Yorke’s The Eraser (though I’ve only just heard that, so it’s really too early to judge; let’s say it wipes the blackboard with it). In a similar indie/techno/hip-hop vein, but from last year, Gorillaz’ Demon Days was a good listen, although I got sick of hearing the Dennis Hopper narration over and over.

6. Divine Comedy, Victory for the Comic Muse

As praised previously. Still brilliant. Shame I didn’t get my act together to see them in the Liquid Room a few months ago. While we’re talking Britpop, this was also a good year for Bluetones fans, with a tour, a singles compilation with two bonus discs of B-sides, a new EP, and a new self-titled album—all of them as listenable as all get-out.

5. Juana Molina, Son

One of those albums that fully deserved the buzz surrounding it. This number five slot really represents her last three albums, though, because after Son I picked up Tres Cosas (2004) and Segundo (2003) and listened to them all for a few weeks. Unusually, Molina is a female Latin vocalist outside the jazz tradition: acoustic folk and electronica are more her style. If you like the Kings of Convenience remix album and/or impersonations of mewing cats (it’s one of the best tracks), you’ll like Son. And if you like that, you’ll probably also like José Gonzáles’s Veneer and Nouvelle Vague’s Bande à Part.

4. Muse, Black Holes and Revelations

If this entry is any kind of surprise, you just haven’t been paying attention. I suppose the fact that it’s only number four could be a surprise... but as I said before, it tails off a bit in the second half.

3. Keane, Under the Iron Sea

Um. Look, I know I wrote all that stuff about Keane being a pleasure centre experiment, but the fact remains that their music is pleasurable, has pleasured me often, and this new album is pure pleasure pleasure pleasure. Given that my iPod doesn’t contain 55 gigs of not albums, it’s amazing how many times its scroll wheel hasn’t un-settled on this one. Better than their debut—and better than Coldplay’s latest, and Snow Patrol’s, and a hell of a lot else.

2. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005)

Yes, I’m late to the party; but now that the Sufjan backlash has come and gone, I thought I’d finally see what all the fuss is about. Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s Case Against Sufjan Stevens rails against his “50 states” conceit and high-school lyrics, but I couldn’t care less about those, or the tricksy titles. Nope, for me it’s all about the “clever-clever and showy” “fruity baroque arrangements”; I love ’em. As one of the few who not only notices when Stevens name-checks Mike Oldfield but can actually hear his influence throughout the album, I suppose I was bound to. But the key musical influence on Illinois, at least to my ears, isn’t Oldfield but Steve Reich, whose 1976 minimalist masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians I bought for a couple of bucks in a charity shop ten years ago, with Enjoyment-per-Amount-Spent points aplenty. Illinois sounds like Music for 18 Musicians chopped up into pop songs with vocals over the top; and “Concerning the UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois” is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful sounds you’ll ever hear through your iPod headphones.

1. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (2005)

Thanks to Bill thrusting this into my hands a year ago, 2006 was my year of Spoon. This entry should actually read Gimme Fiction, Kill the Moonlight, Girls Can Tell, Loveways, and A Series of Sneaks, because I love them all (and Telephono is okay, too). If you haven’t heard them yet, go and see Stranger Than Fiction, which has a soundtrack that’s 90% Spoon, then go out and buy all of their back catalogue like I did. These guys deserve to be huge.

Honorary Mention: Cosmonaut

Courtesy of Cosmojock himself, I’ve had a sneak preview of his electronic-ambient-indie long-player, full of Cold War vocal samples and big swirling finishes, and it’s great. Watch out for it next year—but first, get thee to a record label, Dr Rock!

29 December 2006 · Music

heeeeee hee hee hee.

gareth was reading over my shoulder saying, "I bet Muse will be number one! I betcha! I betcha!" so, in your face, Dr G. The last bit was a nice surprise :)

Added by shauna on 30 December 2006.

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