Top 50 Albums of 2006 (25-21)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.