Top 50 Albums of 2006 (30-26)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.