10. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
I struggled to love TVOTR's debut Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, but this album is a different matter altogether. It's more accessible for sure, but that doesn't mean they've gone pop. Their music's not particularly immediate, but is dense, complex and beautiful, There are finely blended, harmonised and looped vocals, but most of it’s about Tunde Adebimpe's wonderfully rich voice. There are swathes of layered guitar and deep, pounding bass, and the beats threaten to become just plain funky. But always, TVOTR just stop short of categorisation. And I think that's the way they like it.
Download: TV on the Radio - Blues From Down Here
Buy Return to Cookie Mountain.
9. Beirut - Gulag Orkestar
One of the most overused phrases in the UK music press in the latter part of the year was ‘Balkan wedding music’. So what’s that then? Sure, Beirut’s music borrows heavily from the folk tradition of Eastern Europe, but why Balkan? And why wedding? Anyway, this aside, the kid from New Mexico has immersed himself in something other-worldly for some time to come up with an album like this. Maybe because it sounded like nothing else on the indie scene this year made it stand out. Whatever, it did stand out, not least due to the haunting vocals of Zach Condon, the perfect accompaniment to the Balkan wedding music.
Download: Beirut - Prenzlauerberg
Buy Gulag Orkestar.
8. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
In many ways, 2006 was the year of Lily Allen. Over the summer, certainly she was ubiquitous – from the tabloid gossip columns to the geekiest blogs. All of which would have been worth nothing had her album not have been totally great. Sure, it’s reggae-lite, but the samples check all the right boxes, and the songwriting’s more than up to scratch. A fine summer pop record which still sounds good come the winter chill.
Download: Lily Allen – Friday Night
Buy Alright, Still.
7. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
This year, Amy Winehouse blasted back onto the music scene with fresh tattoos and attitude, leaving behind the patchy jazziness of 2003’s Frank for full-on retro soul on Back to Black. And what a result! It's a fantastic album. From the rolling grooves of You Know I'm no Good, to sublime ballads like the title track and the full on ass-shaking funk-pop of Rehab. In a year when celebrity residential drug treatment was all the thing, it was quite refreshing to hear the north London gal protest – “They tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go!” So, you won't see her in the Priory with Doherty and Chaplin then.
Download: Amy Winehouse – You Know That I’m No Good
Buy Back to Black.
6. Hot Chip - The Warning
This album was long awaited (I was looking forward to it this time last year) and certainly didn't disappoint. The promise suggested on the release of Over and Over last year was fulfilled in an album of fizzy electronic goodness. Over and Over (released a further two times in 2006) and Boy from School became indie anthems, The Warning was nominated for a Mercury Prize, and Hot Chip rose into the major league. All totally deserved too. The only disappointing thing was that I didn't get to see them play live this year. Hot Chip in full effect - bobbing up and down behind their synths is truly a treat that needs to be experienced.
Download: Hot Chip – No Fit State
Buy The Warning.
5. Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
Even if it were just for the lead track Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken (surely one of the indie anthems of the year), this album would be worth including in the top 10. but they’ve only gone and recorded a whole album full of indie-pop gems. Though not as good as Lloyd, they’re still lovely things and Traceyanne Campbell’s effortlessly sweet, pure and clear vocals glide beautifully above the band’s sweeping sounds. At last, Camera Obscura have stepped out from the shadows of Belle and Sebastian, and have made an album worthy of far more praise than their more illustrious Glasgow peers’ effort this year.
Download: Camera Obscura – Dory Previn
Buy Let's Get Out of This Country.
4. Jeremy Warmsley - The Art of Fiction
A few months ago, someone at Drowned in Sound said that that this album was the best one released by a solo artist this year. And now, looking at this list, by ‘eck they were right. Jeremy Warmsley specialises in a pleasingly complex type of pop music. He has a great vocal range, as well as an impressive range of musical styles, often within the same song. It starts with a blast on Dirty Blue Jean, and then proceeds to weave its way through different styles, complex arrangements and literate lyrics. It's not straight pop then, but there's something immensely satisfying about immersing yourself for a while in this fine album.
Download: Jeremy Warmsley – Dirty Blue Jeans
Buy The Art of Fiction.
3. CSS - Cansei de ser Sexy
OK, we've had all the blog-hype. We then had the subsequent music press hype. Now they sell out shows all over the land. But rightly so. Sometimes bands are just in the right place at the right time, and CSS have come as a blast of fresh air across the scene this year. Maybe the fact that they're a (mostly) girl group from Brazil, and because they've got a mad but loveable singer all helps the cause. But maybe they're good because they have put out an album of sparkling electro-pop-rock without a bad track on it.
Download: CSS - Off The Hook
Buy Cansei de ser Sexy.
2. Absentee - Schmotime
This year, I’ve been finding that Schmotime is an album I’ve kept coming back to again and again. And not just because it’s near the top of the artists list on my iPod. It's because of their songs, all scuzzy pop and lovely warm guitar riffs. These are good in themselves, but they also give me a whiff of nostalgia, reminding me what Teenage Fanclub might be these days if they hadn't lost the rough edges, and added boy/girl vocals. Oh, and there's singer Dan Michaelson’s deep, grizzled vocals, and the lyrics – gloriously shot through with an earthy pessimism and grubbiness are well worth listening out for. There's only a certain type of band that would write a song called There’s a Body in a Car Somewhere, and that band is Absentee. All things considered, this isn't really an album that you'd call original, but its rough hewn charm and great songs are enough for me.
Download: Absentee – Getaway
1. Danielson - Ships
It was hard to come up with a top album this year. Unlike last year, there were no clear front-runners. It wasn't until last week, when I was writing my review of Danielson's Luminaire gig and listening to Ships again, that it hit me. Yes! This is totally brilliant! Not that I hadn't realised it before. So I'm not sure what it was. Maybe the live experience helped enhance the recorded one. Maybe because it's such a mad, joyful album, full of fantastic tunes. Maybe having been inaugurated into the Danielson (Familie) sound, I've forgotten how odd it all sounds at first. Now I just think it's great pop music. I love the way that Two Sitting Ducks collapses into controlled mayhem at the end. I love the wide-eyed childlike happiness of Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up. I love Did You Step On My Trumpet? - just one of the most poptastic songs of the year. And all in, there's not a duff track in sight. Not even close. That's the sort of thing that makes an album of the year.
Download: Danielson – Two Sitting Ducks