Saturday, December 16, 2006

Top 50 Albums of 2006 (35-31)

35. Unai - A Love Moderne (Force Tracks)

Unai is Swede, Erik Moller and this, his second album, was the record entrusted with giving the once-venerable, now-borderline-defunct Force Tracks a shot in the arm. A Love Moderne hasn't exactly caught fire this year, but it does give it a certain air of future lost classic. This is music that doesn't deserve anonymity though, as this is pop music disguised as minimal electro, disguised as a soul record.

Moller's soft, hushed vocals almost act as part of the melody rather than being up in the front of the mix, but when they do occasionally come to the fore, as on 'I Like Your Style', where he affects a Mayfield-like falsetto, the songs really take off. The squelchy, static-y Prince-funk of 'Lucky Bastard' and the (new) romance-pop of 'Moderne Love' also stand out, but the album is best served as a whole and it's then that you realise that maybe, just maybe, with the title and the glitchy, clicky machine funk of the music, Moller is making a statement about technology's role in modern romance. Or maybe he's just some dude with a laptop. Either way it doesn't detract from this floaty, sexy, emotive record.

Unai - Lucky Bastard (mp3)

34. Parts And Labor - Stay Afraid (Jagjaguwar)

These three guys make a fucking righteous noise. Parts And Labor (I hate having to drop the 'u') stay true to the blasting concept of the early SST bands like Husker Du (and then I have to drop the umlauts), Minutemen and Black Flag, but with added layers of Wolf Eyes-like keyboard squall, P&L create walls and walls of noise, but with ingrained melody and, y'know, 'proper' tunes to make the scree more palatable and, indeed, powerful.

I tend to just appreciate noise bands, without really 'getting' what they're trying to do, other than making me deaf, so P&L are like manna from heaven for me. 'New Buildings' has a bass hook that you can hang your coat on, while the likes of 'A Great Divide', 'A Pleasant Stay' and the title track are positively infectious and hummable. But it's the sheer ferocity and viscera of the colourful, explosive sound the band create that keeps me coming back. Stay Afraid blows the cobwebs off and sorts the men from the boys, but it sure has an ear for a tune.

Parts And Labor - A Pleasant Stay (mp3)

33. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant)

I'm a fickle bastard when I want to be. I wrote this about Boys And Girls In America, back in October after having listened to it only a couple of times. I frothed, gushed, fawned and raved about it in a manner more befitting of some spoddy indie-rock kid on a message board, as opposed to my usual calculated objectivity. That's what this album can do to you. If I'd have compiled this list a week after hearing BAGIA, it would have easily made the top ten, probably even top five.

I've cooled on it since then though and, alongside rediscovering their earlier, better albums, saw through some of the record's contrivances. But, and it's a big but, those same cheap thrills still manage to put a smile on my face. The corny lyrics, the shamelessly overdriven guitars, the rousing anthemics still make me buy into it every fucking time. Common sense tells me that I should be dissing the "woah-oh-oh-oh-oh" backing in the chorus of 'Massive Nights', but it wheedles its insidious way into my brain, side-stepping my well-developed irony chip and sets off all the right endorphins. Boys And Girls... is unabashed, card-carrying blue collar rock, reinvigorated by throwing the correct shapes in the correct order, but with just the right amount of passion as to give the impression that Craig Finn, like, means it, man.

The Hold Steady - Hot Soft Light (mp3)

32. Booka Shade - Movements (Get Physical)

Dance music, at its essence, is a purely functional form of music. The clue is in the genre name, it's music for dancing to. When you get dance music artists making albums, be they from a techno, house, electro, whatever background, a lot of them forget this, ditching the art and politics of moving your body in favour of something a little more esoteric. This can sometimes be a good thing, with the more talented artists glorying in showing another side to their art than just making club tunes (this year's Trentemoller album being a case in point), but others falter, shedding light on pretentions that fans and clubbers wish they wouldn't.

Booka Shade manage to bridge the gap with Movements, creating a record that is funky enough to groove to, but texturally complex and sonically pleasing enough to captivate in a home setting. It's strengths lie in flexing its dancefloor muscles, as on the headrush of 'In White Rooms', or the gently percolating build of 'Wasting Time' (featuring, gasp, vocodered vocals!), or the techy, melodic surges of 'Darko'. In making an album for the headphones and the bassbin, Booka Shade have heroically succeeded on both fronts.

Booka Shade - Pong Pang (mp3)

31. Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time (Sub Pop)

I pondered and pondered about whether to include this at all on this list, because I have my reservations about it. The two things that nearly worked against it were that it doesn't really do anything new and that it's seriously front-loaded. Then it hit me; Everything All The Time doesn't have to be an original record because Band Of Horses pull the standard indie tricks with such grace and accomplishment that any hint of pseudo-experimentation would have been mere window-dressing. Also, so what if the best songs are all in the album's first half? It's a hell of a first half.

The RIYLs are all completely obvious (My Morning Jacket being a big one, while fans of The Shins, Modest Mouse and Magnolia Electric Co. will all find something they like here), but that matters absolutely fuck-all when they've got songs as breezy as 'Wicked Gil', as anthemic as 'The Funeral' and as ridiculously epic as 'The Great Salt Lake'. Guaranteed to be soundtracking future episodes of The O.C. (that is if they haven't already), these songs are seemingly tailor-made to appeal to fans of whiter-than-white, country-hued, American indie rock, but Band Of Horses are just so likeable and their songs have so much repeat value that it never feels cynical. I shouldn't have doubted including them for one second.

Band Of Horses - The Great Salt Lake (mp3)


Blogger Jaime said...

Close enough about Band of Horses and The O.C! They did a cover of The New Year's 'The End's Not Near' for one of the episodes. Nice prediction

2:31 am  

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