Well, here it is. I've deliberated long, but not particularly hard, and come up with my top 20 albums 0f 2006. This is they. One thing I've noticed is how little there is between these albums, and how much this list has changed, even while I've been writing it. The top 10 was relatively easy (that should come tomorrow), but the next 10 a lot less so.
I've been ruthless this year. In a year that Sufjan Stevens released two albums, neither of them are considered because (a) The Avalanche is by Sufjan's own admission, a compilation, and (b) Songs for Christmas contains material that goes back all the way to 2001. Those that narrowly missed out include Coldcut, Isobell Cambell and The Early Years. Who knows, this list may well be ranked differently in a couple of week's time, but for now, here they are.
20. The Rogers Sisters – The Invisible Deck
It’s perhaps odd that an album which is essentially full of short, fuzzy punky songs with guy/girl vocals should take a while to grow on me. Surely that sort of thing is usually pretty instant? Maybe, but somehow this one crept up on me over time, and forced my hand, slowly but surely. And my appreciation was surely enchanced by seeing The Rogers Sisters live. Despite the appealing briskness of most of this album – the crunching bass-pounding energy of the likes of Why Won’t You, Never Learn to Cry, and The Light –my album favourite is a bit of a departure from most of the other tracks. It’s the six-minute, dark brooding epic Your Littlest World, with guitars menacing like dark storm clouds on the horizon.
Download: The Rogers Sisters – Your Littlest World
Buy The Invisible Deck.
19. Barbarossa – Chemical Campfires
A very recent release, but still managing to sneak into my top 20 is this London-dwelling member of the Fife-based Fence Collective, purveyors of fine off-kilter folky goodness. Barbarossa, named after his red facial hair (it’s Italian, innit), does a nice line in beautifully simple melodies, with fragile vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar and electonics bubbling away in the background. It may well fit under the much abused term 'folktronica', though there's more of the 'folk' and less of the 'tronica'. This album may well be here because it’s fresh in my mind. Time will tell whether it’s going to be a long-lasting one. I think it will.
Download: Barbarossa – Love and You
Buy Chemical Campfires
18. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones
This is an album that has faded for me somewhat over the course of the year (it was clearly in the top 5 of the year so far at the end of June), but that’s not to deny its goodness. Failing to catch the whole Karen-O-in-full -effect Yeah Yeah Yeahs live show probably didn’t help its case either, but I still remember the excitement that accompanied the release of Gold Lion at the start of the year. This fine tune, along with the likes of Cheated Hearts, Mysteries and particularly the brilliant Turn Into are enough to push it on its way to being a fine piece of work, worthy of being here.
Download: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Turn Into
Buy Show Your Bones
17. The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes
Here’s another album that burned brightly for a short time then faded from my top listening pile. I was mildly obsessed by The Pipettes for a few weeks in July, when I saw them live a couple of times and got the album. Since then, my love has been somewhat less strong, and I wasn’t even tempted to the Roundhouse for their special Christmas show (though there’s still time I suppose). But listening to it again, there are some great tunes. And for someone like me who’s always been a bit of a pop kid at heart, they still do the trick for me. Somehow, I can still never get enough of Judy. Ah, girls and harmonies. Gets me every time.
Download: The Pipettes – I Love You
Buy We Are The Pipettes
16. Cat Power – The Greatest
In which Chan Marshall follows in the footsteps of Dusty Springfield down that well-worn path to Memphis to get an injection of soul power into her music, from the old session boys in the Memphis Rhythm Band (including Al Green cohort Teenie Hodges on guitar). And although this album isn’t in the same league as Dusty in Memphis, like Dusty before her she's a white girl without a classic soul voice, who simply sticks to her vocal style and benefits from the depth of musical experience round her. The arrangements are superb and there's a depth of soulfulness, married nicely with the country twang of Nashville. From gorgeous piano ballads like Where is my love to the parping horns of the almost danceable Could We and the glorious title track, it comes together into a beautiful whole.
Download: Cat Power – The Greatest
Buy The Greatest
15. Joanna Newsom – Ys
This is maybe a bit of an odd place to put this album. From what I’ve seen so far, either Ys is right at the top of people’s 2006 lists, or it’s nowhere to be seen at all. Putting it in such an apparently middling position surely undermines my love for Joanna Newsom and her orchestral harp epics. However, in my defence I’d say that I reckon that if this album had been released slightly earlier in the year, it would be much higher. Heck, it’s climbed a few places since I started on this list, just by listening to it again. Maybe by the time I’ve been to her much anticipated concert with the LSO at the Barbican in January, it’ll be my favourite album of the year.
Download: Joanna Newsom – Sawdust & Diamonds
14. The Knife – Silent Shout
I have been more than a little entranced by this oddball Swedish electronic duo with the penchant for hiding behind masks. This album has been the one to launch The Knife into the realms of indie super-stardom. Still keeping their live shows to a minimum, you get the impression they’re happier sticking to the safety of the studio, where they can expertly craft these glacial, beautiful, and utterly compelling tunes. But when the songs (and they are proper songs) are as good as this, they’ve nothing much to fear.
Download: The Knife – Silent Shout
Buy Silent Shout
13. Tilly and the Wall – Bottoms of Barrels / Wild Like Children
A bit of a cheater here. Tilly and the Wall really made an impact on the indie world in Britain this year, with their all-singing, all tap-dancing live shows. And they had the advantage of not one, but two albums to back them up. Bottoms of Barrels was the official 2006 release, but it was preceded by the official UK release at the start of the year of their 2004 album Wild Like Children. I’ve had that one lying dormant on my computer for a couple of years, but it was their first visit to London in February that made me digitally dust it down and listen again. It’s definitely the better album of the two (less of the bloke on vocals and more of the girls please) but they are both such poptastic delights that they’re both here for good measure.
Download: Tilly and the Wall – Sing Songs Along
Buy Bottoms of Barrels and Wild Like Children
12. Various – The World is Gone
This year, the artists formerly known as Various Productions (but known to their mothers as Adam Phillips and Ian Carter) potentially confused unaware record store employees across the land (so where do I file this then?), as well as thrilling the rest of us with their heady mix of thundering dub, swirling beats ‘n’ glitches, twisted strings and gorgeous vocals. It’s a bit like Mezzanine-era Massive Attack, but without the celebrity vocalists, and updated for the 21st century whilst being given a shot of folk melody. The production is amazing for sure, but what elevates this record way above its peers is that at the heart of all the special effects, there are great songs. They transcend dubstep and all other genres to make something so current and essential that if you had to make a time capsule which contained a representation of music in 2006, I’d skip past the skinny boys with spiky guitars and head straight to The World is Gone. I reckon that when listening to it in 10 years time, it’ll still sound as fresh as it does today.
Download: Various – Circle of Sorrow
Buy The World is Gone
11. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat
Jenny Lewis should give up the day job. That, as you know, is fronting Rilo Kiley, who have never produced an album as good as this. It’s a gorgeous record, full of beautiful acoustic ballads, country-tinged gems, seemingly autobiographical stories and secular hymns. Jenny’s voice is lovely, and the Watson Twins' backing just pushes the whole thing into the realms of pure loveliness. That’s pretty much all I need to say.
Download: Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – It Wasn’t Me
Buy Rabbit Fur Coat