Top 50 Songs of 2006 (40-36)
I don't know what it says about Dean Meredith and Andy Meecham that the least interesting thing they released in 2006 was together, as Chicken Lips (the ho-hum Making Faces album), but they sure hit the back of the net elsewhere. Meecham garnered huge critical acclaim as The Emperor Machine, while Meredith spent the first half of the year as White Light Circus, before switching focus to the earthier, more organic Goat Dance in the second half.
Initially drawn like a moth to the blue-and-yellow flame of the cover art, I was pleasantly surprised to find that what lay inside was as vibrant as the sleeve, with 'Sizzle' being the crowning achievement of GD's debut EP. It starts out as lo-slung space disco, all trippy synths and walking bassline, before taking an unexpected turn into Clash-y punk-funk about halfway through. One of the most aesthetically pleasing releases of the year, both visually and sonically, a few more like these and it might be best for us all if Meecham and Meredith part ways permanently.
Goat Dance - Sizzle (mp3)
The fact that Robyn is a great pop singer (arguably one of the best around) is one that I've spent most of 2006 hammering home, but there wasn't much in the way of new material from her this past year. There was pretty much just the Basement Jaxx collabo and this, a team-up with veteran producer, Christian Falk and The Ark's lead singer, Ola Salo.
What makes Robyn a great pop singer is the way she conveys desperation and frustration (check her own 'Be Mine' for evidence of this) and Falk taps into this brilliantly on 'Dream On', a hymn to all the scum of the earth to just relax, stop watching their own back for a night and enjoy life. Falk's skippy, crisp production is simultaneously languid and frantic and Salo does the gentlemanly thing by not getting in the way of Robyn's sterling vocal performance. In fact, she pretty much drowns him out, but when he can be heard, he acts as a capable counterpoint. This is most definitely Robyn's song and her status as Pied Piper of Bumtown is cemented in three minutes and ten seconds of pop perfection. "Thieves and muggers/Tricks and hustlers/Cheats and traitors/Scum and lowlives/Rest your weary heads, all is well...".
38. Lily Allen - LDN (Regal)
La Allen has been a veritable example in how not to make friends and influence people, but still get what you want this past year. Taking the internet route to fame that everyone in the know (ie. every cynical industry suit) claimed was a sure-fire way of ensuring you'd be a here today, gone tomorrow, one, maybe two-hit wonder, she seemed to have a built-in me-against-the-world complex from day one.
The fact that, by the end of the year, Allen's situation hasn't done a volte-face to a world versus Lily Allen-type scenario is testament to the strength of her songs. 'LDN', with its cheeky, cheesy rhyming ("alfresco" and "Tesco", anyone?) and summery ska bounce (finally released at the end of September. It was if she knew there was going to be an Indian summer) was the crowning triumph of her Alright, Still album, purely for the fact that, despite the depictions of granny-bashing, pimping, whoring and that it was generally a pretty nasty place to walk the streets, it still made London seem appealing.
37. Booka Shade - In White Rooms (Get Physical)
There's something very methodical about the way Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier do things that lead their detractors to harp on about Booka Shade's records being mechanical and lacking soul. This viewpoint has been seen as utter bollocks by fans of both BS and their label, Get Physical for quite some time now as Merziger and Kammermeier have shown that their sonic pallette includes room for emotion with the likes of 'Body Language' and 'Mandarine Girl' from 2005.
With 'In White Rooms', it became clear that Booka Shade were master emotional manipulators, tugging at the heartstrings with the merest ascending chord progression, while keeping your feet moving with a metronomic, pulsing house beat. The synths purl further skywards as 'In White Rooms' unfolds, the tear-stained aura of the whole thing making this the closest that non-vocal house music came to a ballad this year. They may push all the right buttons in the right order, but very few do it with more feeling than the two austere Germans in Booka Shade.
36. Junior Boys - Count Souvenirs (Domino)
The recurrent theme of Junior Boys' superb sophomore album, So This Is Goodbye is travel (specifically as part of a band's touring schedule) and the feelings of loneliness and homesickness that being on the road can invoke. This is typified by the album's most heartfelt and bruised moment, 'Count Souvenirs'. Jeremy Greenspan's deeply-affecting croon lends this synth-pop ode to endless hotel rooms and shopping malls "that we'll never see again" a torch song air, which may seem anachronistic but comes over timeless.
By blending the futurism of the late-70s/early-80s (think The Human League, Depeche Mode or New Order), with brooding, beautiful, blue-eyed soul, Junior Boys have created an anthem for gazing wistfully out of tourbus windows, wishing you were back at home. Let's hope their continued success, minor though it has been, further fuels their muse.