Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Top 50 Albums Of 2006 (50-46)

50. Erase Errata - Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars)

Nightlife saw the girls of Erase Errata develop their sound from that of their previous albums. Out went the brittle dryness of Other Animals and At Crystal Palace in favour of a fuller, more muscular sound. The choppy, agit-funk guitar sound is still there but there's more fluidity this time around and less herk-a-jerk for herk-a-jerk's sake. Which is not to say that EE have compromised their aggression in any way, on the contrary, this is a more fiery record than they have put out in the past. The complete contempt for the Bush administration is still at the forefront of their thoughts, as is the mores of Middle America. In fact if there's a gripe, it's that the politics are too unsubtle (check the nailbomb-discreet 'Tax Dollar' for proof).

However, what EE lack in obliqueness, they more than make up for in dynamism. The stop-start rhythm of a lot of the songs here bring to mind an itchier, more restless Sleater-Kinney (and I don't use them just as an easy comparison; you listen to 'Dust' and tell me that it's not an outtake from The Hot Rock). Sonically speaking, this is easily Erase Errata's best album to date, from the spindly malevolence of 'Rider' through the tribal toms of 'Wasteland (In A...)'. It will be interesting to see where they go from this.

Erase Errata - Hotel Suicide (mp3)

49. Liam Frost & The Slowdown Family - Show Me How The Spectres Dance (LaVolta)

There was a fair bit riding on Liam Frost and his band earlier this year, especially in his native Manchester. Guy Garvey (Elbow), Marc Riley (Lard) and various other members of the Manc music scene had all backed him for big things and the fact that Show Me How The Spectres Dance didn't break big can only be put down to the shoddy publicity, rather than the album itself, as this collection of ten country-tinged vignettes is a hell of a lot more heart-rending and gorgeous than the rest of the blanded-out singer-songwriter pap that flooded the charts this year.

Bitter yet hopeful, downhearted but also optimistic, Frost's songs touch on personal grief, lost love but almost always balance this out with a winning optimism that made The Slowdown Family's live shows so exhilarating. For instance, one of the more joyful songs here is 'The Mourners Of St Paul's' about the deaths, ten years apart, of his father and brother. You get the feeling that Frost will make better albums, given the chance, but there's a likeable naivete and a confident directness on display here that deserves a wider audience.

Liam Frost & The Slowdown Family - The Mourners Of St Paul's (mp3)

48. Rekid - Made In Menorca (Soul Jazz)

One of the hardest working men in music, Matt Edwards is almost sickeningly prolific and it's pretty much always good stuff that he puts out. Whether it's the remix work he does for major artists under the Radioslave moniker or the beardo, cosmic output of Quiet Village Project, his many guises are always a mark of quality. Rekid is pitched somewhere between his other two projects, taking the dubbed-out disco leanings of QVP and alloying it to the steely house rhythms of Radioslave. His first album in these clothes, Made In Menorca, is a tough beast to fall in love with but you can't help but be bowled over by its strangeness.

Nearly all the tracks here sound like they've been recorded as straight-up disco or house tracks, then fed through an echo deck and slowed to a crawl until they take on a cold, narcotic edge. Even when the pace picks up, like on 'Retroactive', the intermittent ambient backwashes and bursts of fuzz detract from the inherent warmth of the Balaeric beat. This is music for robots. On mogadon. And it's all the more thrillingly forbidding for it.

Rekid - Retroactive (mp3)

47. Skream - Skream! (Tempa)

Not so much a dubstep record as a magpie-like appropriation of a myriad of urban music styles (grime, r&b, jungle, garage), Skream! has been long-awaited within that scene since Ollie Jones first burst on the scene five years ago, aged just 15. He's spent those intervening years constantly recording tracks on his laptop, the cream of which is collected on this debut album.

Skream! is a brighter album than his early output suggested it would be and acts as an intermittently sun-dappled contrast to, say, the Burial album, which was the other most prominent dubstep release of 2006. There's a minor complaint that in condensing some of the tracks a little too tritely (ie: the liberal use of fade-out), he fails to let some of the better tracks breathe, but this is nit-picking when most of what's here is as fresh and vital as music in 2006 got. The pop undercurrent comes to the fore on the barnstorming 'Check It' with Warrior Queen on vocals, and the closing 'Summer Dreams', with its vibrant trumpet lick. The genre-defining laurels are handed to 'Midnight Request Line' with its ominous, fluttery synth line and crisp, clapping beat, backed up with some offhand gun-cocking and gunshots. If Burial is the sound of urban decay, this is about inner city life flourishing.

Skream - Midnight Request Line (mp3)

46. Girl Talk - Night Ripper (Illegal Art)

I had my reservations about incuding this in the albums list, as it's essentially a continuous mash-up/mix, but listening back to Greg Gillis' audio collage, it's obvious that it's a work all of his own. Taking sampledelia to new heights, whilst building on the 2ManyDJs blueprint, Gillis fashioned something that can be taken purely as a brilliant party album (it is), but also as a Dadaist critique of the 'shuffle generation' (it might be).

While there's fun to be had in hearing Young Jeezy drawling 'Soul Survivor' over the top of 'Scentless Apprentice', or 'Hollaback Girl' being cut-and-shut with The Rentals' 'Friends Of P', you suspect that Gillis is making a statement about the impermanence of music today and the dilettantism that mp3 players breed. Like I said though, there's a hell of a lot of fun to be had here and that's what endures about Night Ripper, regardless of what Girl Talk's trying to say.

Girl Talk - Bounce That (mp3)


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