Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top 50 Songs of 2006 (5-1)

5. The Pipettes - Pull Shapes (Memphis Industries)

One of the most crushworthy bands of 2006, The Pipettes, also released one of the most joyous pop singles of the year. Not that it gained them tons of mainstream press attention or anything, but 'Pull Shapes', with its built-in dance movements and girl-group glamour should have been one big unifying pleasure. The reasons behind why it wasn't lay at the door of the indie underground, who kiboshed The Pipettes from day one for not being 'real' enough.

The fact that the musical version of CAMRA should put a hex on The Pipettes was totally galling. The same people who will extol the virtues of Phil Spector's production, were also haranguing and putting down Becki, Gwenno and Rose for their assumed fakeness. In actuality, The Pipettes' conceit of having shadowy men do virtually all the music just came across, to me at least, as a perfect pop statement, flying in the face of indie convention for calling it how it was.

But let's focus on the music; 'Pull Shapes', with it's swoonsome strings, three-part harmonies and forceful, commanding presence is the closest that The Pipettes have come to perfection thus far and a song that they'll do well to top. And for all those still carping away at the back, with their beards and their pints of Guinness, you know you fancy them. Slagging The Pipettes is the modern day, music criticism version of pulling that girl you like's pigtails in the playground.

The Pipettes - Pull Shapes (mp3)

4. Escort - Starlight (Escort)

I'm a big fan of disco in all its forms and 2006 saw a little bit of a resurgence in all things that sound better when there's a mirror ball in the room. Whilst most of the notable disco tunes from this year were prefixed or suffixed with something or other, be it 'space' or 'punk' or 'italo', Escort's brilliant debut single, 'Starlight' was the purest of the pure. Uncut, un-fucked-with, unabashed D-I-S-C-O!

In fact, such is the chastity of 'Starlight' that people think that it was made in the '70s, myself included. When I did hear that it was contemporary, cynic that I am, I just assumed that it had been put together on a laptop using a raft of samples. Then I heard that they were actually a fully functioning band, so obsessed with the disco sounds of old that they wanted to recreate them, without any mod cons whatsoever. These facts make 'Starlight' all the more impressive. There must have been, at some point, a suggestion to maybe throw in some elements of modernity, if only to tip the wink to the listener, but Escort decided to stay true to their ideals and its to their credit that it doesn't feel anachronistic in anyway. Escort know that good music never goes out of fashion and that's the coolest, chic-est statement anyone has made this year.

Escort - Starlight (mp3)

3. Sunset Rubdown - Us Ones In Between (Absolutely Kosher)

Sometimes just a simple piano ballad will suffice. I'm looking at the full list of my songs of the year and pretty much all of them, to a tee, have got some kind of attention-seeking edge to them, be it through studious retro poses or head-spinning futurism. 'Us Ones In Between' bucks the trend with understated grace. It's the kind of song that could easily pass you by. Actually, I think it did just that on my first few listens through of Shut Up I Am Dreaming, seeing as it was swallowed up by Spencer Krug's more bombastic, fanciful moments (something that he does extremely well, might I add).

It's only when the album has had its fourth or fifth spin that the lingering beauty of 'Us Ones In Between' comes to the fore. When you turn the record off and you're still haunted by that beautiful, simplistic melody and you go back for more, that's when you realise how special it is. It's the type of song that makes you want to learn the piano, so that when you go in that dusty old pub with the piano in the corner, you could sit at the stool and gently hammer it out, impressing your friends and winning over the girls. It also became my comfort song earlier this year; the song that I put on when I was feeling down or a bit put-upon. Isn't that the best kind of song there is?

Sunset Rubdown - Us Ones In Between (mp3)

2. Justin Timberlake feat. T.I. - My Love (Jive)

Only Justin Timberlake could make drippy mush like "I could see us holding hands/Walking on the beach, our toes in the sand" sound so completely perfect. It helps, of course, when you've got Timbaland doing that slow/fast thing he does so well (cf: 'Pony', 'Try Again', 'Oops (Oh My)'), with the skittery percussion and all the outlandish whistles and bells he sticks over the top of it (this time around; trancey synths). For anyone with any interest in r'n'b and pop music over the last decade, this is all you need to know.

What of the haters though? A lot of my friends have an irrational hatred of JT, purely because he's JT (the fact that I constantly refer to him as JT probably doesn't help and maybe leads them to think I have some sort of hetero-man-crush on him), but you know that they're secretly grooving away to 'My Love'. Even if it's just the T.I. verse that they like (and who can blame them, as he exudes easy charm), because, y'know, it's okay to like hip-hop. They're missing the point though, and I know that you can't really compare them, but JT, with this single and the accompanying album, has become the new Prince, and I have an instant mistrust of anyone who professes not to like Prince. So, in short, hate Justin Timberlake, hate music.

Justin Timberlake feat. T.I. - My Love (mp3)

1. TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me (4AD)

Pre-Return To Cookie Mountain, TV On The Radio were renowned mostly for their cerebral approach to indie-rock, sometimes cynically injecting disparate influences into the framework, like doo-wop, soul and Autechre-style electronica. While that didn't quite change completely in 2006 - TVOTR still wear their intelligence on their sleeves - there was something of a sea change in their new material. They had become more direct, more crowdpleasing, if you will.

No more so is this evident than on 'Wolf Like Me', a pulsing, throbbing, meta-sexual tour de force that goes for the jugular from the off with Jaleel Bunton's chugging, express train drumming. The lycanthropic imagery of the lyrics is a barely-disguised metaphor for the power of lust, a metaphor that Tunde Adebimpe gleefully hammers home, while Dave Sitek's fuzz guitar provides the orgasmic endorphin rush. Adebimpe perfectly conveys the futility of denying your urges in lyrics like "We could jet in a stolen car/But I bet we wouldn't get too far/Before the transformation takes and bloodlust tanks and crave gets slaked".

Before the end of the gloriously messy climax, TVOTR takes things down a notch, with Tunde begging to be satisfied, and as he intones that he'll "Show you what all the howl is for", before the band attempt re-entry (oo-er!), divebombing towards the ground before everything crumbles around your ears in a cloud of carnality and release, with Celebration's Katrina Ford repeating the line, "We're howling forever, oh-oh". Here's hoping they do as this four minutes, thirty-eight seconds of seething, blustery, sex-rock is as good as music got in 2006.

TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me (mp3)

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (10-6)

10. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming (Absolutely Kosher)

A bit of a drop-down for Spencer Krug from last year's number two placing for Apologies To The Queen Mary. Wolf Parade's debut was a stupendously dynamic clash of two different songwriting perspectives though (Krug and Dan Boeckner), where Shut Up I Am Dreaming is more of a singular vision. Krug excels in marrying the everyday with the fantastical (a trick he pulls off with more aplomb than his mentor, Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer), and in doing so works at creating his own miniverse inside his lyrical flights of fancy and off-kilter musical motifs.

At its best, Shut Up I Am Dreaming betters most of Apologies..., and while there are few moments as jaw-dropping as that album's 'I'll Believe In Anything', the overall effect of the record is one of startling narrative cohesion. Plus, it rocks pretty hard from time to time too. While the album's more immediate moments are drenched in pathos-eking fuzz and lo-fi accoutrements, the need to sweep away the dirt and pick through the imperfections makes this a thoroughly rewarding listen.

'Stadiums And Shrines II', the wind-blown opener, sounds like it takes place in the middle of that twister at the start of The Wizard Of Oz, but when the house comes crashing down on the band, they just dust themselves off and keep playing, against all odds. The towering, 'The Men Are Called Horsemen There' seems not to have any discernible structure, thus creating a freeform looseness that works against Krug's often impassioned vocal. Best of the bunch, 'Us Ones In Between' is a careworn piano ballad, filled with precious metaphor (very 'indie') but the truth at the heart of the song comes through all the same. Krug is quietly becoming one of the greatest songwriters around today (his songs were the best on that forgettable Swan Lake record), his eccentric, individual way with a song being as strange as it is inviting. Come on in.

Sunset Rubdown - Stadiums And Shrines II (mp3)

9. Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye (Domino)

So here's the thing; there's not a lot separating Junior Boys from The Postal Service. Both groups take indie-rock formats and templates and recast them in an electronic setting. Both groups are also duos and both feature frontmen who wear their emotions on their sleeves. But, Junior Boys tend to send critics into raptures, whereas The Postal Service, while they haven't been completely laughed off, are much more likely to be derided than praised.

So why is this? Well, TPS have, in Ben Gibbard, a frontman who was already well known on the indie underground as the main man in Death Cab For Cutie, a band who skirt around the boundaries of emo, but appeal to kids who will more likely listen to Pavement than Quicksand. So he was a target already. Here's the main difference between the two bands though; the sentiments in Postal Service songs (and don't get me wrong here, I really like The Postal Service) can sometimes be cloying and obvious, whereas JBs have more of a tendency towards the opaque and the realist. That's not to say that Junior Boys don't hammer home the sap every now and then, as on songs like 'First Time' or 'Like A Child', but their lachrymose leanings are balanced out by more battle-weary, embittered tracks like 'In The Morning', or the superb, 'Count Souvenirs'.

To be honest though, what sets Junior Boys out from the pack is the fact that 'soul' just comes a lot easier for them. Whether it's Jeremy Greenspan's gorgeous croon, the subtle, crisp beats laid down by partner, Matthew Didemus or that they aren't averse to paying homage to the king of heart-bruising, Frank Sinatra, on their cover of 'When No One Cares', but they just do this kind of thing better than anyone else.

Junior Boys - In The Morning (mp3)

8. Fujiya & Miyagi - Transparent Things (Tirk)

Krautrock is an often austere subgenre, more concerned with the mathematics and structure of song than with the actual physical reaction that comes from the listener. While krautrock is inherently based around rhythm and repetition, seemingly built for dancing, most of its practitioners in the 70s early days approached it in more of a cerebral manner. This isn't a bad thing, especially when it produced such great music from the likes of Can, Neu! and Amon Duul, the wit and humanism was often lacking.

Which is where Fujiya & Miyagi come in. Three guys from Brighton who have been kicking around in obscurity for a while, they came to the fore this year with Transparent Things, an album that was a marked improvement on their debut and just the right record that was needed this year. Fusing Can-like modulations with a looseness that brings to mind Happy Mondays, F&M have put the fun into krautrock after all these years.

So we end up with Dave Best's often hilarious, highly quotable epithets, spoke-sung and cut up over the top of metronomic beats and driving electronics and guitars, making for a memorable, infectious listening experience and one that you can't help but go back to, if only to hear 'Photocopier''s "We're just mon-key-ing a-round with your furniture" refrain, or the insidious, meta-sexual throb of 'In One Ear & Out The Other'. It was also the only album this year to feature a song based on 'Dem Bones', which is reason enough to have you reaching for the repeat button.

Fujiya & Miyagi - In One Ear & Out The Other (mp3)

7. Grizzly Bear - Yellow House (Warp)

Yellow House was one of those surprises that we should have seen coming. Horn Of Plenty, Grizzly Bear's debut full-length was an overlong record that showed flashes of things to come in the fuzzy, lysergic 'Deep Sea Diver' and the close harmonising of 'Fix It', but I think that most people thought Grizzly Bear would be one of those bands that would always record interesting stuff but never really make something fully realised. If Yellow House is one thing though, it's definitely a rounded, enjoyable statement.

The fluttery folk of opener 'Easier' sets the scene with its flutes, cascading acoustic guitar and brushed drums. This is a more instantly memorable and likeable album than its predecessor and while the directness is offset by queasy electronics and the odd scything, rousing guitar (most effective on the brilliant 'Lullabye'), the album's idiosyncrasies are there to serve the melody, rather than obfuscate it.

Like that other great psych-folk group, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear succeed with their latest album in creating something that sounds both 'native' and approachable. Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than on the ghostly doo-wop of 'Knife' or the shifting, melodic 'On A Neck, On A Spit'. Never forbidding, always natural and instinctive, Yellow House is a subtly adventurous delight from start to finish.

Grizzly Bear - On A Neck, On A Spit (mp3)

6. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (Def Jam)

After six years of coasting since 2000's Supreme Clientele, Ghostface pulled up his socks this year and delivered an album that not only stands up to his first two, but is also, in many respects, better. Fishscale is an album that sees Ghostface grandstanding, showboating and rendering a lot of modern mainstream hip-hop irrelevant. On Fishscale, Ghostface dips in and out of different guises, trying on multifarious hip-hop styles from club bangers ('The Champ', 'Be Easy') to blunted surrealism ('Underwater') and from lovesick emoting ('Back Like That', 'Jellyfish') to Scarface-enamoured thug-hop ('Kilo', 'Shakey Dog'), excelling in all of them.

But this doesn't at all surprise me, because everyone with a passing interest in rap music and a pair of ears has known forever that Ghostface is one of the most versatile, commanding, intelligent MCs in the game. What is surprising is the amount of hunger that Ghost shows here, as though he is an upstart with something to prove. We're talking about a 35 year-old man here, with two of the greatest hip-hop albums ever under his belt, not to mention the fact that he steals pretty much every Wu track he's ever appeared on (and also his many upstaging collaborations), so why so fiery and desperate?

It's because Ghost has an innate understanding of what makes great hip-hop music. The smarts will always be there as Ghost is too clever to not drop head-spinning science, but the sheer red-eyed conviction and assuredness that he essays here is mind-blowing, never once getting lazy. That's something that the hip-hop old guard could learn from.

Ghostface Killah - The Champ (mp3)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Top 50 Songs of 2006 (10-6)

10. Clipse feat. Pharrell - Mr Me Too (Jive)

Either Jive Records really are the numbnuts that Pusha and Malice claim they are or they really do have unbelieveable faith in the duo. Only the most forgiving label, or, indeed, the stupidest would allow a diss aimed at the label on the lead-off single from a high-profile album release, but that's exactly what Jive did here. Pusha proclaims, "I'm sorry to the fans but them crackers weren't playing fair jive" at the end of his verse. It's hardly subtle, but sometimes that's the beauty of Clipse; that they can't help but open their mouths when they feel wronged. I guess this makes them the Larry David of hip-hop.

It makes for great listening though, as Pusha and Malice are two of the most fearless MCs in hip-hop and 'Mr Me Too' is a fantastic, thrilling throwdown track to the new pretenders, who've been "dunce cappin' and kazooin'" while Clipse have been away. The simmering violence (almost never fully resolved in Clipse songs, creating a powderkeg tension) and gritted-teeth braggadocio is matched by the soupy, slo-mo synth track laid down by Pharrell and Chad Hugo, making for one of the most perfectly realised hip-hop tracks of the year.

Clipse feat. Pharrell - Mr Me Too (mp3)

9. Mission Of Burma - 2wice (Matador)

Peter Prescott owns this snarling monster of a track from the kick-off by hitting his drum kit like it's just tried to molest his mother. The fun is then had by hearing Clint Conley and Roger Miller try to wrest control of the song from him. Conley's depth-charge bass pummell and fierce, spitting vocal try gamely to top the relentless, marching beat, even going so far as to throw in a well-timed "fuck", with the "f" and the "ck" body-slamming each other in mid-air.

Miller mutilates his guitar, creating a vicious squall and tries the tender persuasion trick by backing up Conley with sweet falsetto and wonderfully incongruous "la-la-la"'s, but Prescott still hammers away in the background. The three end the song on the floor in a bloody mess, laughing at each other through the loose teeth, clearly too old for this shit, but loving the adrenaline rush all the same. In three-and-a-half merciless minutes, Mission Of Burma prove themselves tougher and more relevant than most other rock bands in 2006.

Mission Of Burma - 2wice (mp3)

8. Field Music - In Context (Memphis Industries)

A past Single Of The Week on these very pages, 'In Context' was one of those songs that I thought I'd be really hyped about for a short while, before cooling on, purely because I get excited about songs that are seemingly indie-rock, but subtly fuck around with that genre's very framework. Then, the more I listen, the more said framework looms into view and I end up conceding that, actually, it isn't very different at all. But, here we are, at the end of the year, and 'In Context' takes its completely deserved place in my top ten.

That's because, on repeat run-throughs, 'In Context' doesn't take familiar shapes at all, in fact, it becomes even weirder and more startling. Essentially, it's just a nice groove and a winning melody; a clipped, sustainless bassline anchors the song, while violins swoon and sway all over the place and the backwards/forwards beat messes with your receptors. Half the time, you're just won over by the loveliness of the hooks, but the other half you're wondering what the hell is going on. Above all else, 'In Context' is more natural, less calculated and methodical than anything on their, admittedly brilliant, self-titled debut. And you know what? The new album has ten more songs just like this.

Field Music - In Context (mp3)

7. Love Is All - Make Out, Fall Out, Make Up (Parlophone)

Dripping in remorse, but dancing away the hangover, 'Make Out, Fall Out, Make Up' is one of those morning after the night before songs, but rather than wallow in the stale cigarette smoke and self-loathing, it makes that feeling of "Oh, what did I do last night?!" seem like something worth celebrating. It's mostly down to Josephine Olausson's brash, bratty vocal that perfectly complements the unreconstructed, messy music from the rest of the band.

I say messy, but that's just shorthand for saying that it sounds like a bit of a riot. What's really going on here is Phil Spector by way of Life Without Buildings and it's completely, utterly addictive. I first heard this twelve months ago, but just too late for last year's list (so I'm cheating, sue me), but it has been one of the few constants on my mp3 player since then. A rambunctious, but ultimately quite touching gem.

Love Is All - Make Out, Fall Out, Make Up (mp3)

6. T.I. - What You Know (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)

The best hip-hop, it seems, is created whilst completely mashed in the studio. At least that's the only reason I can give for when producers come up with something that sounds so not-of-this-planet as 'What You Know'. DJ Toomp pulls an absolute what-the-fuck stormer out of the bag here, that led someone on ILM to tag it as "shoegaze crunk". This might seem a little wide of the mark to most, but there's a nugget of truth to it. The buzzy synths that never die out from the first note to the last, just changing pitch and key, as if playing one long note, not totally dissimilar to the guitarwork of Kevin Shields.

Maybe that's disgustingly rockist to use a rock reference point when writing about a rap track, but the production here is totally outlandish and new-sounding for hip-hop. Not that rap producers haven't been pushing the envelope for years, they have been at the vanguard when it comes to new sounds, but there's a seriously fuzzy, druggy edge to 'What You Know' that we haven't really heard before. What of the vocal, though? Well, T.I. rips it, even when he's getting nonsensical (I still don't know what the fuck all the "squarey cube" business is about), purely by just detailing the mundane (for him at least) and going drawl-for-drawl with the aforementioned synths. The most forward-thinking and enjoyable hip-hop tune of the year and also one of the most ubiquitous.

T.I. - What You Know (mp3)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (15-11)

15. Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (Atlantic)

A man seemingly at odds with the current hip-hop landscape, Lupe Fiasco manages to come across as both thrillingly new and ineffably old school on his brilliant debut release. He seeks to renounce the sexism, drug-taking and general crass largesse of the current hip-hop scene but clearly wants to be a part of it. Maybe his endgame is change through subversion, but it makes for Food & Liquor being a bit of a conceptual headfuck.

There are tracks that hark back to hip-hop's true golden age in the rose-tinted 'Kick, Push' and 'Sunshine', but he can get pretty scabrous at times, dissing Jay-Z's entrepreneurial streak and his name-checking of John Gotti, but he's thankful that Hova gave him a leg-up after all. 'Daydreamin'' rips the oldest, most tired sample in the book in The Gunter Kallman Choir's 'Daydream', but his nous and skill on the mic injects it with enough verve and vitality (with the help of Jill Scott) that brings to mind his mentor. He also fancies himself as a bit of a Mos Def in the strain of consciousness that runs through the album. In fact, he could fulfill the promise that Mos doesn't seem to want to, if the searing 'American Terrorist' is anything to go off. At his best, Lupe was better than a lot of mainstream rap acts this year and the fact that he's a walking contradiction could end up working in his favour. If he decides to keep the sleevenotes to the inlay booklet in future (the woeful 'Outro' is ten minutes of shout-outs and production credits), he might yet make the classic that he clearly has in him.

Lupe Fiasco - Hurt Me Soul (mp3)

14. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (Jive)

The general feeling when people got a hold of Hell Hath No Fury was one of relief; Pusha T and Malice were obviously glad that it was finally out there and the fans that had waited and waited and waited wouldn't have had much to complain or be disappointed about. This is one of the best kinds of hip-hop albums, or, in fact, just albums in general, in that it's a lean, 12-track beast that practically defines 'all killer, no filler'.

Hell Hath No Fury highlights what makes Clipse one of the great rap duos of our time (in fact, OutKast aside, they're pretty much peerless); the rhymes are concise, ruthlessly direct and brutally delivered and both Pusha and Malice can be as unshowy as often as they are unconventional. Never stooping to hurried or slurred delivery when the lyrics need to be heard (as Clipse really want the world to know how they see it), it results in a bleak, claustrophobic, eminently 'street' but inclusive gangsta masterpiece. Sonically, it's also easily one of the year's best-sounding records, with The Neptunes pulling twelve of the best productions they've delivered in years out of their arses, from the thick, resonant steel drums in 'Wamp Wamp (What It Do) to the compressed, nasty Blade Runner synths on 'Trill'. A complete success on all fronts.

Clipse - Wamp Wamp (What It Do) (mp3)

13. Burial - Burial (Hyperdub)

I'll be the first to admit that, up until a few months ago at least, I knew absolutely nothing about dubstep. I could probably fathom from the subgenre's moniker that it was a more dubbed-out version of 2-step (a genre that I'm also pretty ignorant about), but beyond that, I've got nothing. So I was slightly blindsided by the brilliance of Burial's debut record. He came out of nowhere, even for the dubstep hardcore, to craft something that whilst at a remove from the dubstep that's come before, paves the way for bringing the bass-heavy, club-specific music to a wider audience and, more importantly, works better in the living room than it does in a cramped back room.

Burial sprinkles the bass rumbles and clipped, skippy percussion with highly evocative samples, both vocal and atmospheric noises. A keening reggae croon peppers 'Broken Home', while wind howls mournfully in the background, while 'Night Bus' samples the incessant pitter-patter of urban drizzle to act as the beat. If all this sounds just too foreboding and despairing for you, the hope and warmth definitely shines through in the glinting synths and the romanticism injected by the samples. It's not faultless and Burial will probably make better albums, but as a glimpse towards where this exciting genre is heading, it bodes very well indeed.

Burial - Distant Lights (mp3)

12. Boris - Pink (Southern Lord)

There was talk among hardened Boris fans of Pink being a bit of a piss-take; an album made purely because they wanted to show people that they could do a full record of technicolour, full-bodied, Melvins-style sludge rock, rather than focusing on the more esoteric, droney black metal that they'd perfected. This record is more akin to Black Sabbath than Sunn O))). If Boris' heads are down, it's because they want to shake their hair, rather than stare into the abyss, while serving up mogadon rumbles.

While the purists may be irked by the bluesy elements of the loose, groovy 'Afterburner' or the shoegazing bent of opener, 'Farewell', there were fewer more unalloyed pleasures than the heads-down rawk of the likes of 'Pseudo Bread' or 'Woman Of The Screen' for those who like their music loud, nasty and high octane. The accompanying EP, Akuma No Uta showed us more of the same, which points to Boris giving it some for the foreseeable future. Long may they rock.

Boris - Pseudo Bread (mp3)

11. Man Man - Six Demon Bag (Ace Fu)

While no-one other than the five members of Man Man were ever quite sure just what Six Demon Bag actually was, one thing it wasn't was weird for the sake of being weird. A rootless morass of sounds and shapes that plays with the listener in that just when you think you've got a handle on where it's coming from (a bit of Beefheart here, a bit of Zappa there, some Tom Waits thrown in for good measure), Man Man pull the rug to leave you bewildered as to just what the hell these guys are on.

There's a certain internal logic to Six Demon Bag that belies its willing freakishness and means that you totally buy each and every curveball they hurl your way. So, for every high-tension wigout like 'Tunneling Through The Guy' or 'Push The Eagle's Stomach', you get surprisingly tender noirish torch songs like 'Van Helsing Boombox' and 'Skin Tension', or practically straight (for Man Man at least) poppy tunes like 'Spider Cider' and 'Ice Dogs' (featuring the best girl group shoo-be-doos of 2006, sorry The Pipettes). The beauty of this remarkably offbeat album lies in its honesty and sincerity, despite the fact that on the first few listens, it's misinterpreted as wilfully strange. Man Man don't do fake. You can see it in their eyes.

Man Man - Ice Dogs (mp3)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top 50 Songs of 2006 (15-11)

15. Shit Robot - Wrong Galaxy (DFA/EMI)

DFA in 2006 has all been about the drip-drip-drip of anticipation and tantalising glimpses of what lies ahead. There has been the curveball of minimal punks Prinzhorn Dance School, LCD Soundsystem's disco workout, '45:33' (not to mention the early leak of their forthcoming sophomore album) and Tim Goldsworthy has been branching out on his own, turning shit into shine-o-la for Wolfmother, Radio 4 and The Rakes as The Loving Hand. The most exciting new thing to come from their stable this year has been in the everyman shape of Marcus Lambkin, a.k.a. Shit Robot, who at the start of the year, turned in a fabulous 12" which hinted at him being as equally adept at turning his hand to different shades of dance music as James and Tim themselves.

On the flip to this, 'Triumph' takes a more disco-not-disco approach, throwing in guitar and cowbell, but the real banger on this particular slab of vinyl is this, 'Wrong Galaxy', which while it isn't straight-up techno, it's as close as the DFA have come to Detroit thus far. The shuffly, crisp beat and synth burbles bring to mind Carl Craig's recent adventures (see below), but the breakdown, that comes in surprisingly early, is a damn sight more crowdpleasing and immediate than he would ever stoop to. That'd be too crass or cheesy, but as far as crass cheese goes, 'Wrong Galaxy' is as classy as it comes. Bring on the album.

Shit Robot - Wrong Galaxy (mp3)

14. The Long Blondes - You Could Have Both (Rough Trade)

You could cut the tension here with a knife. The only band with two songs on this list weigh in with their best tune yet, this alluring slice of high drama. It starts out pretty standardly with Kate Jackson spinning a tale of wishful polygamy, as per the title. It's when that spoken breakdown, with the male vocal coming in to issue a counterpoint that 'You Could Have Both' really takes flight though.

Cast as adversaries, Jackson and her male complement argue the toss over whether having your cake and eating it is as easy or as rosy as it seems. The conflict winds up unresolved, but the song is all the better for it, detailing the seedy side of life and love by highlighting its attractions. This plays out over the top of The Long Blondes' most polished production thus far, lending further weight to the Pulp comparisons as the synths buzz and the guitars chop. One of the few upcoming Brit bands of recent years to justify the hype.

The Long Blondes - You Could Have Both (mp3)

13. Hot Chip - Boy From School (EMI)

For a band who style themselves as geeky pranksters, 'Boy From School' saw Hot Chip step into the realm of honesty for five minutes. On other songs, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard carp on about monkeys with miniature cymbals and blazing out Yo La Tengo, but Taylor's winsome vocal on 'Boy From School' speaks of detachment and isolation, with the keening, "We tried but we don't belong" refrain owning the power to soothe and break hearts from twenty paces.

Musically, the crunchy, rippling filter-disco beat that seems lifted straight from the Daft Punk copybook (at least from back when they were worth ripping off), with the sprinkling of twinkly wind-chime effects proved to be as winning and addictive as most other things released this year. Also, for the record, 'Over And Over' was out last year originally. I prefer this anyway.

Hot Chip - Boy From School (mp3)

12. The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health (Rabid/Brille)

It surprises me just how popular The Knife have become in the past twelve months. Maybe Jose Gonzalez has something to do with it, but even at their most prosaic, like on 'We Share Our Mother's Health', they're pretty fucking weird. Perhaps that's the attraction, along with the vulture's beaks (above), that the stranger and more evil The Knife sound, the more interesting they become.

'We Share Our Mother's Health' set's a ping-ponging, distorted synth line against pulverising, ragga bass and Karin Dreijer-Andersson's incrementally, increasingly insane vocal and lets the mayhem play out. It's completely, utterly danceable though, despite the obvious quirks and the fact that it's slayed dancefloors the world over in 2006, just goes to show how sick some people can be.

The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health (mp3)

11. Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - Relevee (Carl Craig Remix) (DFA/EMI)

Although I'm compiling another mini-list solely for remixes, I deemed it appropriate that this track should make the big list. Carl Craig's do-over of Delia & Gavin's somnambulant epic was something approaching a phenomenon. As soon as Tim Sweeney dropped it on Beats In Space, internet message boards were alive with chatter, with some techno heads going as far as to proclaim it as one of the best tunes of all time. In particular, the now-defunct YSI thread on ILM was rife for months with requests from noobs and vets alike, prompting one wag to post the theme to The Benny Hill Show, under the pretence that it was 'Relevee'.

Too much hype and anticipation can completely kill a song's impact, but this just plain refused to roll over and die. It's just too damn good for that. Okay, it's not world-endingly brilliant, but Craig's pulsating, menacing, physical take on the original's melody was one of the most insistent, hypnotic, freight trains of a tune that was delivered in 2006. I'll let you all find that out for yourselves though. YSI?

Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - Relevee (Carl Craig Remix) (mp3)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas: is shite.

Only joking! I love christmas, me! Just wanted to say merry christmas and thank you to all who've read this blog, commented on this blog and hated this blog in 2006. It's been a pretty decent year for Yer Mam!, in terms of recognition and such like (how many blogs out there can say they've won an award?!) and it's all thanks to you guys. You lot are the reason I keep posting and the reason I'm still interested. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Here's some pressies for you. Come on then, open them...

C-3PO with R2-D2 - What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)? (mp3)

Low - Just Like Christmas (mp3)

Rudolph And The Gang - Here Comes Fatty Claus (mp3)

Sonic Youth - Santa Doesn't Cop Out On Dope (mp3)

The Fall - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (mp3)

The Ronettes - Frosty The Snowman (mp3)

Was (Not Was) - Christmas Time In Motor City (mp3)

I'm taking a couple of days off because, y'know, it's christmas, but I'll be back in full flow on Boxing Day. By the way, regarding the photo, I do have other t-shirts, but I don't have any other poses.

Have a good one,


Top 50 Albums of 2006 (20-16)

20. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds (Jive)

I was one of the people who felt that while Justified, Timberlake's debut solo record, was better than most mainstream pop music around that year, it was disticntly singles-skewed. Other than the singles, there wasn't a hell of a lot else to write home about. Timberlake has managed to sidestep the killer-filler deficit with astonishing aplomb on his follow-up, FutureSex/LoveSounds; an album that has garnered as much critical acclaim as actual sales.

This comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever, as FutureSex/LoveSounds is one hell of a pop record. The only gripes are that it is front-loaded a little, but said front happens to last for eleven songs and, although I've warmed to it slightly (in that I no longer hit the skip button when it comes up), I will never truly love 'SexyBack'. There are a good ten songs here though that are pretty much peerless when it comes to pop in '06. Taking some of the most eminent male pop stars of all time (Prince, Michael Jackson, '80s Bowie) as his guiding lights, Justin jacks up their blueprints with a few flourishes and nuances of his own, giving the templates a modern sheen. 'What Goes Around...' is on a par with 'Cry Me A River' in the devastating sexual betrayal stakes, while 'Damn Girl' is the best thing that Will.I.Am has ever produced, full stop. The title track's metallic funk lurch is complemented by JT's suitably pervy vocal ("Tell me which way you like that" goes the chorus) and 'My Love' is the best pop song of the year, without a shadow of a doubt. All this and he mastered the lost art of the interlude too, with '...Comes Around (Interlude)', in particular sending a shiver down the spine. One of the very few pop stars around today who deserves his status as a million seller and long may he continue to do so.

Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around.../...Comes Around (Interlude) (mp3)

19. The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home (Rough Trade)

Despite what fans of Arctic Monkeys and Jarvis might think, Someone To Drive You Home was definitely the best album to come out of Sheffield this year. A record full of confident, angular, indie-disco songs that seems to have been eclipsed by lesser albums, The Long Blondes' debut is consistently thrilling and continues to reward the more you play it. Not ones to go for style over content, even though they are effortlessly stylish, the lyrics are actually worth listening to, but something tells me that I'd still like them even if they rolled out the standard rock 'n' roll lyrical tropes.

The Long Blondes are just the complete package, a band who spin tales of sex, both bad and good, love and all the paranoia, self-loathing and general ill-feeling that often goes with it. 'Swallow Tattoo' speaks of the futile jealousy we all sometimes harbour for our other half's ex, 'Giddy Stratospheres' does the "what's he/she doing with them" thing as good as Joe Jackson did, while 'Once And Never Again' casts Kate Jackson as a deceptive predator, giving a girl power-style pep talk while trying to persuade her to, ahem, bat for the other team. Best of the bunch, 'You Could Have Both' sets a lover's tiff to pulsating disco-drama. While dull, male-fronted bands like The Automatic and The Fratellis sold records left, right and centre, The Long Blondes languish in that hinterland where bands get the critical raves but still can't really get arrested. Maybe they're too good to go platinum.

The Long Blondes - In The Company Of Women (mp3)

18. The Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes (Memphis Industries)

Nobody divided opinion this year like The Pipettes, but it isn't surprising when what they do feels so false and studied, from the choreographed dance moves and polka dot dresses through to keeping the all-male backing band silent and the music's reverent subservience to the Brill Building pattern for girl-group pop. Carefully considered artifice it may well be, but We Are The Pipettes still pushes all the buttons and ticks the boxes and is imbued with enough heart from Becki, Gwenno and Rosay to render any carping from the campaign for real rock ridiculous.

We Are The Pipettes is a genuinely unabashed record that's more interested in making you move than making you think, but The Pipettes never go for the lowest common denominator when sass and smarts are way more appealing. The music may well be an early-60s throwback, but the sentiments of the lyrics are, in fact, pretty modern, with SEX (just like that, in capitals to enhance the aggression) never being too far from the ladies' minds. 'One Night Stand' and 'Sex' are the most obviously sexual songs; songs in which the women hold the power, especially in the case of the pushy, assertive former. The Pipettes, like The Long Blondes, have paid the price for their upfront, literate nature in the form of poor showings in the unit shifting stakes. They deserve better, but the haters don't deserve them.

The Pipettes - Because It's Not Love (But It's Still A Feeling) (mp3)

17. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies (Merge)

Dan Bejar's masterpiece, Destroyer's Rubies comes off as a precocious, bookish indie kid's wet dream, with its circuitous, intricate wordplay and shaggy reinventions of classic rock musicality, which makes me want to hate it. The compelling way that Bejar loads his songs with tricksy abstractions and oodles of references (mostly of his own past work, but occasionally the work of others, as evidenced by 'A Dangerous Woman Up To A Point''s, blink-and-you'll-miss-it nod to 'Losing My Religion') makes any attempt to dislike the album pointless, because there's lots of fun to be had in just hearing Bejar twist his voice around words like "profitous", "gazelles" or "hitherto".

The extent of Bejar's self-referentiality is enough to put less hardier souls off (Christ, there's even a Destroyer Wiki that attempts to tally up all the refs in Destroyer's Rubies), but they'll be missing out on one of the most edifying releases of the year. Not just in the lyrics though, as musically, this album is eminently likeable in the jangle and thrum of '3000 Flowers' or the escalating raucousness of 'Painter In Your Pocket'. Regardless of what you think of him, Bejar certainly doesn't just rifle albums off and when a craftsman as talented as this puts his all into each album it's difficult to not at least have some semblance of respect, even if it's begrudging. I'm sold though, as are many precocious, bookish indie kids.

Destroyer - Painter In Your Pocket (mp3)

16. Mission Of Burma - The Obliterati (Matador)

While critics got a bit priapic about Mission Of Burma's 2004 comeback album, ONoffON, I thought it was a little disappointing. Sure, just the mere presence of a MOB record in the 21st century was reason enough to hang out the bunting, but ONoffON just wasn't all that great. It was good, decent enough, but not, y'know, mind-blowing like everyone wanted it to be. The Obliterati is the real reason that they reformed, because this is a blistering, pummelling, powerhouse of a record that commands and demands the listeners attention.

The highest compliment I can think to pay The Obliterati is that it never, at any point sounds like the work of three fortysomethings, one of whom suffers from tinnitus, as Clint Conley, Roger Miller and Peter Prescott (with Bob Weston on tape manipulation duties) play with the verve and energy of young bucks hammering out their debut. Juddery, muscular opener, '2wice' sets the tone and the pace, which they never let up, all the while injecting humour into their vicious noise, as heard on the wonderful 'Donna Sumeria' which tips its cap to 'I Feel Love' with the guys cooing the refrain in falsetto before Miller snarls "And now it's all gone wrong", and also on 'Nancy Reagan's Head' which offers a contender for couplet of the year in "I'm haunted by the freakish size of Nancy Reagan's head/No way that thing came with that body". Mission Of Burma may not better this album in the second phase of their career, but in The Obliterati they've put out a record that rivals the classic Vs.

Mission Of Burma - 1001 Pleasant Dreams (mp3)

Friday, December 22, 2006

No rest for the wicked.

I'm taking the night off from my lists. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm not foisting my opinions on people elsewhere though, as I've pitched my soapbox up on The Console and told them a few of my miscellaneous best and worsts of 2006.

Normal service will resume at some point tomorrow, most likely.



P.S. Leave comments, yer bitches!

P.P.S. Please.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 50 Songs of 2006 (20-16)

20. Lupe Fiasco - Kick, Push (Atlantic)

For someone who prides himself on being a bit of a militant (although you could arguably prefix that with pseudo), Lupe Fiasco's first hit doesn't really say anything at all. It's a paean to skateboarding that's both unabashedly sappy and gloriously unostentatious, free of the bling-y trappings of modern mainstream hip-hop, but way too straightforward and prosaic for the underground.

What 'Kick, Push' definitely is is a refreshing throwback to the golden age of NY hip-hop (though Fiasco himself is Chicagoan), full of sweeping, soulful strings and honest sentiment that plays a little like a kindred spirit to Keith Murray's 'The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World'. No-one had a bad word to say about 'Kick, Push' and for that alone, it surely has to be one of the best things to happen to hip-hop in 2006.

Lupe Fiasco - Kick, Push (mp3)

19. Midlake - Roscoe (Bella Union)

Midlake's second album, the much-acclaimed, The Trials Of Van Occupanther just didn't take for me and I think I know why. The cocaine cowboy schtick is a schtick worth doing once, maybe twice, but any more than that, and unless you're The Eagles or CS&N, it gets a bit weary. 'Roscoe' hits the spot though, a meandering, expansive exercise in rugged country-rock, with lashings of 70s sheen.

'Roscoe' is one of those songs where you gain a new favourite bit with each listen, from the "ooh-aah-ooh"'s in the faux-chorus, through the ever-so-slight tempo shift when Tim Smith's keening vocal takes on a little urgency at the "1891" towards the end, on to the gorgeous, ghostly piano solo, it rewards differently each time. Who'd have thought, however, that Fleetwood Mac, post-Peter Green, would have made for such a perfect touchstone in 2006? What's next? Loggins & Messina?

Midlake - Roscoe (mp3)

18. Man Man - Van Helsing Boombox (Ace Fu)

The baleful melancholy of 'Van Helsing Boombox' works as a marvellously out-of-place sore thumb on Man Man's exhilaratingly unbalanced Six Demon Bag album, as it's the straightest, soberest song they've ever written. The woozy barrelhouse piano hiccups and sways while Honus Honus growls each word as though he's one the verge of choking on it.

The lovesick lyrics lend further weight to 'Van Helsing Boombox''s air of frustration and desperation, with Honus portraying the hurt, broken rejectee who could "sleep for weeks like a dog at her feet" before admitting the futility of the gesture, then choosing to just howl at the moon. The resigned ambiguity of the chorus is the heart of the song though, with Honus intoning, "When anything that's anything becomes nothing, that's everything and nothing is the only thing you ever seem to have", getting increasingly more desperate with each repetition. Man Man wow the brain and stir the blood with their frenetic Beefheart-isms, but it's here, with the Tom Waits-y 'Van Helsing Boombox' that they win hearts.

Man Man - Van Helsing Boombox (mp3)

17. Band Of Horses - The Funeral (Sub Pop)

This is one of those songs that even hardened indie-phobes have to admit is something a little special. 'The Funeral' is a cartwheeling, hyper-emotional wringer that demands you feel and rejoice in spite of its pain. It's also a near-perfect summation of no-frills, country-tinged, modern American rock in its knowledge of dynamics and the power of a quick build, before taking it down and building it up all over again.

The elliptical, broken lyrics of the verses, where almost each line after the first begins with a run-on from the previous line (e.g. "Really too late to call so we wait for/Morning to wake you, it's all we got"), further enhances the clear, crystallised poignancy of the chorus' theme of loss. All the while though, Ben Bridwell and his Band Of Horses fight off the sadness by taking flight with rousing guitars and crashing drums. Bluster never sounded so good.

Band Of Horses - The Funeral (mp3)

16. Jarvis - Running The World (Rough Trade)

While lesser artists choose to wrap their rage at the world today up in riddles, subterfuge and poeticism (Bloc Party with 'Helicopter', for example), not Jarvis Cocker. No, Jarvis prefers to cut to the quick and call a spade a fucking, cunting spade. Written in the hollow afterglow of the impotent bombast of last year's Live 8 concert, 'Running The World' casts Cocker as the bullshit filter, gleefully telling us all how it really is.

"Did you hear there's a natural order/Those most deserving will end up with the most/That the cream cannot help but always rise to the top/Well I say, shit floats", is possibly the year's strongest, most enduring opening gambit, which Jarvis then proceeds to hammer home for the rest of the song, getting more fervent and intense as it goes. For anyone questioning the need for Jarvis to be releasing new material in 2006, this was a fantastically unsubtle putdown. The cunts are still pulling the strings, but Jarvis is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.

Jarvis - Running The World (mp3)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (25-21)

25. The Emperor Machine - Vertical Tones And Horizontal Noise (D.C. Recordings)

I've just looked at what I wrote about Vertical Tones And Horizontal Noise back in September and cringed. I said then that the album was "like Moroder, Carpenter and Levan on a sequinned rocket-ship, headed for the vampire planet with nothing on board but class-As and a mirrorball". *shudder* My embarrassment at that rather nonsensical trope is tempered by the fact that, actually, I think I was pretty much on the money. Although I would have made Holger Czukay captain of that ship with hindsight.

The Emperor Machine, a.k.a. Andy Meecham of Chicken Lips, Sir Drew and Bizarre Inc. fame, pretty much ploughs his own musical furrow by throwing all those influences and refs into the pot and winds up with a heady, intoxicating stew (cliche ahoy!). Whilst everything that had a slo-mo disco beat and a vaguely psychedelic feel in 2006 was tagged as space-disco, The Emperor Machine was the real thing and Vertical Tones... is his 2001: A Space Odyssey a paranoid trip to the stars that just happened to be as accessible and re-listenable as it was strange.

The Emperor Machine - Roller Daddy (mp3)

24. Lily Allen - Alright, Still (Regal)

There were few burgeoning pop stars who got up people's knicker-legs as much as Lily Allen in 2006. There were accusations aimed at her for being a prissy, well-to-do princess whose street credentials don't run deeper than the treads of her trainers, whilst others were just turned off by her incessant gobbiness and her need to publish her opinion on anything and everything via her MySpace blog. The grumbling was rendered irrelevant for most people who fell in love with her music though, as Alright, Still stands as one of the most fully-formed, essential mainstream pop statements of the year.

While she may take more than a few cues from Mike Skinner, she doesn't display one iota of the self-loathing that peppered his 2006 album. Alright, Still is a cocky, confident, commanding record from someone who refreshingly refuses to be manipulated in favour of doing things her own way. Maybe she gets her ebullience from her dad, but each and every song here (save the half-arsed 'Take What You Take') shows that Allen has the pop nous and the wit to back up her indiscrminate mouth.

Lily Allen - Knock 'Em Out (mp3)

23. Jarvis - Jarvis (Rough Trade)

For some, Jarvis was a letdown. I don't know what these people were expecting, but the general feeling amongst a lot of people was that Jarvis Cocker's comeback album was a little on the ho-hum side. For me though, the very existence of a record full of new material from one of the sharpest songwriters Britain's ever had was cause for celebration. Sure, at times it felt like listening to a grumpy old man shaking his fist at the world and its foibles, but, y'know, that grumpy old man is Jarvis! Jarvis fucking Cocker!!

It's always a lot of fun to hear someone as imperiously cantankerous as Jarvis kick against the pricks, as he is always never less than trenchant, even if the targets are obvious (see 'Running The World'). Also, with the likes of 'Fat Children', 'From A To I', 'Big Julie' and the oddly tender 'I Will Kill Again' he's crafted some damn fine pop tunes that, in years to come, will stand proud alongside his best work with Pulp. As long as the cunts are still in power, Jarvis Cocker will always be a relevant force in pop music, so we should be grateful he's still making music.

Jarvis - From A To I (mp3)

22. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Geffen)

More old hands that are as pertinent as they've ever been, Sonic Youth looked around and saw their legacy in countless amounts of noise bands and decided to be contrary. So they made a pop record. Sure, it's a pop record with lots of coruscating noise and effects on, but it contains some of their most melodic, immediate and infectious songs to date.

In Rather Ripped we have a beautifully realised set of songs that is their best since Washing Machine and could still teach the young bucks a thing or two about invention. Take the superb 'Do You Believe In Rapture?' for instance; essentially it's a blissed-out chunk of psychedelia (albeit one that's concerned with indicting the Bush administration), but SY double up a drum machine with Steve Shelley's live kit to give the song a more determined pulse, while Thurston Moore's deliberately off-key, spare guitar lines chime out. Mostly though, Rather Ripped is the sound of a band who feel they have nothing to prove, and rightly so. In fact, after this, one of the most slyly addictive albums of 2006, they have even less to prove.

Sonic Youth - Rats! (mp3)

21. Asobi Seksu - Citrus (Friendly Fire)

One of the finds of the year, in my opinion, Asobi Seksu's Citrus takes the shoegaze blueprint laid down by the likes of Slowdive, Ride and, of course, My Bloody Valentine, but offer their own take on it, which is both anthemic and intricate. Never descending into bluster, these twelve tracks take the wall-of-sound approach so favoured by the above bands and imbues it with a disarmingly direct way with melody that make the guitar harmonics strike that little bit harder.

In songs like 'Goodbye' and 'Thursday', there's a certain new wave edge that suggests Asobi Seksu grew up on a diet of both Spacemen 3 and John Hughes films, while lead singer, Yuki Chikudate proves a perfectly charming conduit, switching from English to Japanese whenever the mood takes her. The most heartening aspect of this excellent record is that you imagine Asobi Seksu have even better albums than this in them. I, for one, look forward to that with great relish.

Asobi Seksu - New Years (mp3)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Top 50 Songs of 2006 (25-21)

25. Reverso 68 - Tokyo Disko (Eskimo)

Or, to be more specific, 'Tokyo Disko (Part One)'. A bipartite disco odyssey, Reverso 68 give it both sides of the same coin; the second part is the more direct, dancefloor-driven of the two, but it's the super-spacious first part that gets your jaw a-dropping. So vast that you could live in it, bringing spouse, kids and pets along with you, 'Tokyo Disko (Part One)' lets each part breathe and allows every element its moment in the sun.

So the synths swirl and ebb like whirlpools around the natural push and nudge of the persuasive bass, while the multifarious percussion clips and clops away in the back of your head, causing it to move forward in time to the beat. And that's before I mention the exotic stabs of Spanish guitar. Not enough people make dance music as meticulous and well-crafted as Pete Herbert and Phil Mison and they don't make enough music themselves. Call it perfectionism or just plain sloth, but be sure to relish in whatever they deem fit to put out. It's all good, but 'Tokyo Disko' is the pinnacle.

Reverso 68 - Tokyo Disko (Part One) (mp3)

24. The Rapture - W.A.Y.U.H. (Mercury)

I think I've written the title of this differently each time I've mentioned it on these pages this year. The album says, 'Whoo! Alright...Yeah! Uh-huh!', but the single is 'W.A.Y.U.H.', with a subtitle of '(People Don't Dance No More)' especially for those people who wander into HMV looking for that song where the guy sings "Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, ow!" in the chorus. Let's not get bogged down in semantics, because in 'W.A.Y.U.H.' (so much easier to type than the other version), The Rapture went and made the cheekiest, most in-your-face ode to the politics of dancing in 2006.

Mattie Safer is probably everybody's second favourite vocalist in The Rapture, but his thin reedy voice perfectly counteracts the aggressive feel of the lyrics here. In fact, his protagonist even gets to refer to a woman as a "cunt" at one point and he gets away with it. If nothing else though, 'W.A.Y.U.H.' gave us all an excuse to get cheesy on the dancefloor, coming up with our own ways of acting out the lyric, "They just stand there like this/They cross their arms and stare you down and drink and moan and diss". Don't look at me like that, you've all done it!

The Rapture - W.A.Y.U.H. (mp3)

23. Destroyer - Rubies (Merge)

You can spend hours, days, months even picking apart the hyper-literate lyrics to 'Rubies', with all the self-referencing, self-mythologising, self-everything that Dan Bejar injects into each carefully chosen word, picked as much to suit his nasally timbre as to serve the song's narrative (check out the sharp 'z' sound he puts on each "is" in the line "It is now and it is never" for proof of this). It's better just to let the song, as a whole, wash over you, whilst letting your attention focus on whichever word jumps out of the speaker at any given moment, like pulling names out of a hat ("Pulled", "hassle", "park", "dock").

It's easy to get too wrapped up in what Bejar is trying to tell the listener, so it's best to just sit back and let the plosives and fricatives work their magic. 'Rubies' is a sprawling, lyrical beast of a song that improves on every listen, beautifully delivered, but strangely anthemic. Just don't think too hard on its meaning.

Destroyer - Rubies (mp3)

22. Liars - The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack (Mute)

Well, I never thought they had it in them. Masters of harshness and bewitching tribalism, Liars prove themselves equally adept when it comes to beauty. A spare, plucked electric guitar and minimally-used tom-tom are pretty much the only backing for Angus Andrew's soft, hurt drawl, save for some cooing "ahh"'s from the rest of the band. Andrew's vocal speaks of loyalty and faithfulness in a way that doesn't involve any allusion to witches or drums.

In fact, it's pretty much a pure love song, with the lyrics gently intoning, "I won't run far...I will stay by your side". Coming at the end of the heady fug of percussion and rough guitar of Drum's Not Dead, it was the calm after the storm. An eerie, disquieting plunge into tenderness, but a starkly beautiful one at that.

Liars - The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack (mp3)

21. DJ Shadow - Backstage Girl (feat. Phonte Coleman) (Island)

DJ Shadow's 2006 album, The Outsider was a mixed bag to say the least. There was a smattering of decent hyphy, the blistering soul-funk of 'This Time' and an abominable collaboration with Kasabian. Oh, and this. 'Backstage Girl' is probably one of the single best tracks that Josh Davis has committed to tape in his career and it's definitely his best hook-up yet. Little Brother's Phonte Coleman acts as a perfect front for Shadow's dense, Southern rock-inflected backing, spinning a yarn about the mindlessness and helplessness of lust with just the right amount of wit and detachment.

'Backstage Girl' is full of little curveballs, like Coleman's lyric, "I don't even know your name, it feels wrong even though I don't show it/She said, wish I could tell you the same, but I won't tell you my name 'cos I want you to fuck me like you don't know it", so brilliantly apposite, the wonderfully incongruous Jon Spencer sample and the even more out-of-place harmonica and drum solos. It deserves a better album to be the centrepiece of, but taken on its own terms, it rocks like a mother. It almost excuses Davis' decision to look like a complete fucking douchebag in press shots like the one above too.

DJ Shadow feat. Phonte Coleman - Backstage Girl (mp3)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (30-26)

30. Belle And Sebastian - The Life Pursuit (Rough Trade)

Arguably the best album of Belle And Sebastian's career, The Life Pursuit is also their most adventurous. I mean, there aren't any timpani solos or free-jazz workouts involved, but The Life Pursuit sees B&S taking cues from some of the best styles of music from the last fifty years and also, more importantly, sees the band take their heads out of their books for 40-odd minutes of pure pop ecstasy.

So we get appropriations of Brill Building pop ('Act Of The Apostle'), northern soul ('Funny Little Frog'), glam boogie ('The Blues Are Still Blue') and even rough, itchy funk ('Song For Sunshine'), all of which deviates from the meticulously studied indie-pop of their last six albums (disregarding Dear Catastrophe Waitress that saw them take baby steps in this direction). The muscular, punchy production and focused pop nous of this album has saw Belle And Sebastian gain fans who previously reeled from their precious nature, while vindicating the true believers. Now where did I put my cardigan?

Belle And Sebastian - Sukie In The Graveyard (mp3)

29. The Horror The Horror - The Horror The Horror (Tapete)

If this list was of the most unpretentious albums of 2006, then The Horror The Horror's self-titled debut would stand proud at the top, quietly wondering what all the fuss is about. This one probably passed most of you by (although eagle-eyed readers would have spotted a few tracks on this here blog's mixtapes earlier in the year. I think I even wrote about it once too), largely due to it being released with absolutely no fanfare, but even if it had been trumpeted by Pitchfork and released by EMI, it still would have come across as unassuming. If truth be told, The Horror The Horror is massively derivative and probably around four years too late, but none of that matters because the songs are often pretty spectacular.

A near-perfect approximation of the garage-rock revival of the early '00s, The Horror The Horror is one of those records on which every track has an obvious touchstone. 'De-Evolution According To THTH' is their Strokes song, 'This Is A Love Song' has the clipped high-wire guitar and drama of Franz Ferdinand and 'Twice In A Lifetime' reworks the shaky riff from Television's 'Marquee Moon' to stunning effect. Don't let the easy referencing put you off though as The Horror The Horror just happens to be one of the most unabashed, straight-up rock thrills of the year.

The Horror The Horror - Twice In A Lifetime (mp3)

28. I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness - Fear Is On Our Side (Secretly Canadian)

Fear Is On Our Side is a goth record. There, I said it, it's goth, but goth that's refreshingly free of all the affectations and silliness that goes with it. ILYBICD are just ordinary American joes who just happen to have taken early U2, The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees as the jumping-off point for their music. They don't scream "I'm an outsider" in their sartorial choices or feel the need to wear mascara or hairspray (Goth Juice, anyone?), and there's certainly no defecating on swans going on here.

Fear Is On Our Side is full of dark majesty, from the cavernous, solar plexus-punching basslines through to singer, Christian Goyer's ghostly croon, but it's the songs, not the image that takes centre stage. When they're as good as the songs here often are though, it'd be crass to take the attention away from them. 'According To Plan' wouldn't have sounded out of place blasting out of the PA at The Batcave club, circa 1982, while the towering, glassy pop of 'At Last Is All' could be an off-cut from In The Flat Field, but like I said, the shimmering blackness of Fear Is On Our Side is shorn of goth's artifice. All the grandiloquence of the music but with none of the pomp that goes with it, and it's all the better for it.

I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness - At Last Is All (mp3)

27. Spektrum - Fun At The Gymkhana Club (Non Stop)

Note to Basement Jaxx: this is what Crazy Itch Radio should have been like. Spektrum came on leaps and bounds from their fitfully brilliant debut to craft a fully-formed album of beat-laden, spaz-disco that's gleefully all-over-the-shop and packed with ideas. It's also superbly filthy and pure, uncut fun. Sexy to the point of intimidating, frontwoman Lola Olafisoye commands your attention from the get-go and never lets go her vice-like grip.

So you get unfettered sex-funk like 'Don't Be Shy', 'Horny Pony' and 'Sugar Bowl' that while forceful, never actually feels forced. Olafisoye is the real deal. Where Fun At The Gymkhana Club really excels however, is in the more tender moments like the gorgeous 'Fit Together' or the ominous creep of 'Oh Build An Army'. Proving themselves more than just a party band, Spektrum have gone and delivered a pretty great second album, surpassing a lot of the acts (Jaxx included) that they were first likened to.

Spektrum - Fit Together (mp3)

26. The Rapture - Pieces Of The People We Love (Mercury)

I guess that the laughter comes after the tears sometimes. After the bleak, modern classic death-disco of Echoes, The Rapture went and turned into day-glo merry pranksters on Pieces Of The People We Love. Some fans turned off halfway through the chirpy opener, 'Don' Gon' Do It', but Pieces... got a worse rap than it deserved when all's said and done. Granted, there are some missteps ('Callin' Me' and 'Live In Sunshine' don't really work and 'First Gear' just downright stinks), but the highs are often dizzying.

Take the Talking Heads-y Afro-funk of 'The Devil' for instance; it's a pure adrenaline shot with added cowbell and a (hopefully) fake orgasm from Luke Jenner (you wouldn't have got that on 'Killing'). Then there's the bright, shiny singles, 'Get Myself Into It' and 'Whoo! Alright...Yeah! Uh-huh!', both of which should have been massive hits. Maybe the world wasn't ready for a Rapture devoid of cynicism and darkness, but we'll soon catch up and label Pieces Of The People We Love the flawed gem it is.

The Rapture - The Devil (mp3)