Top 50 Albums of 2006 (40-36)
In a pretty lean year for British guitar music (despite what you might read in the NME), The Young Knives' debut stood out as an idiosyncratic, but never alienating (they left that to Mystery Jets) beacon of catchy pop tunes. Granted, it's not a particularly original record and the influences are often obvious (Pulp, XTC, The Stranglers, The Kinks), but Voices Of Animals And Men has enough humour and lightness of touch to stop it from ever feeling completely derivative.
It's a quintessentially English album, but The Young Knives know how to rock out, as 'She's Attracted To', 'Part Timer' and 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill' attest. They are at their best, however, when they try something a little off the beaten track. 'Tailors' is a vaguely eerie folk number, while 'Another Hollow Line' has an off-kilter gentleness to it and flashes of psychedelia that marks it out from the rest of the album. Quite where The Young Knives will go after this is uncertain and their eagerness to play the game (constant touring, re-releases and countless TV appearances) is slightly worrying, but as it stands, their first full album gives glimpses of a bright future.
39. My My - Songs For The Gentle (Playhouse)
Songs For The Gentle, My My's debut long-player, is one album that I didn't really have any expectations for this year. Having heard a few of their early 12s and not being massively impressed, there wasn't a lot riding on the album making this list. It only took one listen through to change my mind though, as Songs For The Gentle is a gleefully up-for-it house album, albeit one that's dressed in minimal clothes.
Imagine Basement Jaxx or Derrick Carter gone microhouse and you start to get the picture. From the crisp, streamlined, boompty-boomp of opening track, 'A Clean Break' through to the restrained euphoria (not an oxymoron) of 'Swiss On Rye' (one of those early releases that didn't bowl me over. All I can say is that I must have had cotton wool in my ears), this is a subtly manic, immediately danceable album with an ear for the leftfield, but with its heart throwing shapes on the floor.
38. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
Yo La Tengo are one of those bands that you suspect will always be around. They also seem like they never get bored of writing and playing music. This was their eleventh studio album in twenty years and while it often sounds like a Yo La Tengo record, it's hard to pinpoint exactly which one it does sound like.
The trademark YLT sense of adventure is at its wildest and most magpie-like here. Sandwiched between the feedback-laden, epic opener, 'Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind' and the, um, feedback-laden, epic closer, 'The Story Of Yo La Tango' (both coming in north of ten minutes), you get swinging soul-pop ('Mr Tough'), technicolour twee ('Beanbag Chair'), narcotic, VU-meets-Suicide drone-rock ('The Room Got Heavy'), Nuggets-esque garage rock ('Watch Out For Me Ronnie'), lolloping country ('The Weakest Part'), and all points inbetween. Except gangsta rap. It's all done with such flair and breezy, effortless execution that YLT never come over as ageing dilettantes. One of the most consistently surprising albums of 2006 and that title is just killer.
37. Ellen Allien & Apparat - Orchestra Of Bubbles (BPitch Control)
Although this is not the first album that Ellen Allien (BPitch Control boss) and Apparat (aka Sascha Ring, co-head of the Shitkatapult imprint) have collaborated on (Ring produced Allien's 2003 release, Berlinette), it's definitely a career high for both. Anyone who knows anything of the work they've done on their own wouldn't have them pegged as an ideal partnership, but the push/pull that their disparate styles create is what makes Orchestra Of Bubbles so frequently stunning.
The way that Allien's jacking, simplistic, melodic approach to electro-tech is tempered by Apparat's detail-heavy, cerebral minimalism makes this an inviting, dynamic listen. 'Turbo Dreams' is rushy and gratifying, but also intricate and deep (emotionally and texturally), while 'Jet' has the musical appropriation of the albums title under mounds of melody. Orchestra Of Bubbles is a warm, vivid, energetic record that has had certain areas of the electronic underground praying that Allien and Ring never work apart again.
36. Rhymefest - Blue Collar (J/Allido)
The overriding feeling you get about Rhymefest is that he's not quite sure who he is. A veritable walking contradiction, he reps for the working man but can't help brag about his bling from time to time, meets with David Cameron and appears on Nick Cannon's Wild 'N' Out, and blends conscious elements with straight-up pop hooks. He also can't (or maybe won't) break out of the shadow of his bessie mate, the one and only Kanye West.
For some, Blue Collar was just Kanye-lite, but there's a lot of fun to be had here if you don't overthink it. For instance, some of hip-hop's most commercial, hooky producers all bring their a-game to the table; Just Blaze does his explosive, bombastic thing on 'Dynomite (Going Postal)', Cool & Dre do pleasurable variations on their increasingly well-worn theme on 'More' and 'All Girls Cheat' and, of course, West himself goes all soul-funk on 'Brand New' (sampling Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, of all people). So while the effect of Blue Collar was less than seismic, but 'Fest is a charming presence and the beats are pretty hot, so what more do you want?