albums of the year - 2006
er, happy new year.
1. forest giants "welcome to the mid-west" (cherryade)
selecting the album of the year was a real bastard. at different times we were tempted to go for the brevity of narcosis or pipas, the excitement of tinchy or scorcher, the winning pop qualities of the hit parade, the sublime fuzz-noise of the manhattan love suicides, the no half-steppin' of zygote, the eclectism of the beatnik filmstars, the consistency of taskforce or math and physics club... you could make a case for anything really, except body count's "murder 4 hire".
where we eventually settled was on an album, (more in here), that has hung on in our playlist all year, by virtue of the simplest quality - being a record with a uniform feel, that doesn't flag, but that has a touch more weariness and anger than some of the newer bands could quite manage. so,
"the year's brightest reminder that guitars can still sound great and ache and echo and contort and dance and summon up all kinds of feelings to reflect love and life and pain. Yes, guitars, the same instruments used by Dirty Pretty Things, Kaiser Chiefs et al: I certainly needed reminding of it. And "WTTMW" is a dense, fuzzy er, forest of the things... "In Sequence" saw them feeling their way, and had some great songs, but "Welcome To The Mid-West" attacks in formation, hints more at darkness, and well repays a few listens ... When a whole generation is giving up on guitar music because of what the NME is pushing these days, it's as well to have such moments of rediscovery."
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: closure. namesakes. so you think you're unhappy ? planes fly overhead. stars. etc...
2. zygote "beats to make you frown" (boot)
this is just marvellous, frankly. while the cd version, with the full 19 tracks, is the proper "full length", the only thing you really need is the 8-track lp which has all the previously unreleased cuts: as dj zygote, once of diversion tactics, lays down a series of very old-school backing tracks - an open goal for the various guest mcs, who include bobba fresh (a nom de plume of the great chubby alcoholic, one of our favourite uk rappers of all time), old pal hug, kashmere, verb-t and lewis parker, who all rise to the occasion, with good grace and bad language: the baddest on the splendidly entertaining tim dogg / chubby alcoholic collabo "spit fast".
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: spit fast (remix). bobba fresh. zygote on the beat.
3. the manhattan love suicides "the manhattan love suicides" (magic marker)
an offputting name, which conjures up images of an nme-friendly combination of spiky-haired kids doing tenth rate new wave. but hold your horses, for it appears that m.l.s. are arisen from the ashes of glamorous leeds feedback popsters pop threat, authors of "filth", "amarantal meltdown", "ingrained"... these credentials enhanced even further with a production credit for matt robson aka the great randomnumber. and this eponymous debut lp is cracking old-skool indie fuzz pop, the golden dawn of "my secret world" taking tea with jamc and the shop assistants, that brew being sassy girl vocals (think bubblegum splash! after assertiveness training) and many hues of smouldering guitar. it is a sign of their confidence that even beat happening!'s lo-fi standard "indian summer" becomes a pacey three-minute indiepop thrash. the slower tunes lack a little of the instant apeal, but the record as a whole is pretty much what you've heard it to be, a refreshing cobweb-blaster par excellence, a great companion piece to the forest giants' guitar paintings. and, having given us that marvellous tullycraft lp last year, magic marker are really going for it right now.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: kick it back. suzy jones. things you've never done. negative push.
4. taskforce "music from the corner volume 4" (music from the corner)
the modest album titling might suggest there is nothing all that essential about taskforce's fourth "official" lp outing, but volume 4 is a terrific, andy tillson-consistent set of dark, cold, thoughtful hip-hop from the kings of the simile. much as we think that sway, from the listed candidates, should have walked away with the mercury prize, "mftc 4" is the sort of thing that the broadsheets should really be wetting themselves over, but which is probably just too subtle - and too far from the shoehorned mass-appeal template of homegrown rap music today - to register. a plague on their overpriced landor road flats.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: 3 fingers. house of the flying pens. better off dead. cyanide sound.
5. tinchy stryder "i'm back u know!" (boy better know)
"there is at last a tinchy stryder mixtape, which wiley [edit: we meant jme] has got into the shops, and it is refreshingly raw - a point driven home when tinchy hits kano's "mic check" with a style about three galaxies to the left of the much tamer territory which kano now inhabits. best tunes "stryder", which loops back wiley's "next level", on which he previously guested a bit, "ground-under" and "new mc's" are all unencumbered by production values and much the better for it - and wiley turns up too, on a copyright-defying "uptown girl". the main thing about "i'm back u know" is that it's odds on that if a proper label had signed up tinchy, he'd no doubt have released the usual lily-livered sell-out record that all the other grime mcs have done. as it is, you get to hear him while he's still street, and the sinking basslines reiterate that this is still garage at least as much as hip-hop..."
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: new mc's. stryder. 1 of them days. hustle grind.
6. scorcher "simply the best" (adamantium)
while bragging won't get you nowhere, "simply the best" is pretty exciting stuff. to the scenesters, its main selling point is probably the wiley-produced promo "chance us", scorcher's story of the 'proper' labels that cluster uncertainly around vocal grime artists, but there are a slew of other songs that would easily have justified 12"s of their own (do tell us if they actually did, as our inside knowledge is on the low side), like "what we do", "no base", the menacing "do me a favour", or one of 2006's classic tunes "talk of the ghetto", where scorcher goes up against the brilliant ghetto himself - yes, it's the same version as also turns up on one of eskiboy's mighty "tunnel vision" mix outings.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: the ones we mentioned just there.
7. boyracer "a punch up the bracket" (555)
we need to do a bit of a u-turn here, because our praise of "a punch up the bracket" was perhaps pretty faint, yet it's turned out to be an album which has rarely left the cd player here.
to these ears, the drums do still clatter, and we'll still take feedback over keyboards every time, but while there are a fair few tunes we can't really get into, we can't overlook that there are at least a dozen brilliant songs here, which is a dozen more than on many a new album in 2006, and that it is a disgrace that the alleged worldwide sales of this are in the low hundreds. so if you haven't bought this, you should, and we hereby promise that you will not be disappointed.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: contradictions. second hand youth. pleasantries. the toilets of northern europe. the man the myth. yr silent years. tactile. yr love it lies to you.
8. beatnik filmstars "in great shape" (the track and field organisation)
having said what we've said about hardnoise and caveman recently, there's a little great scratching on this lp too. but again, the real detail is in here somewhere.
again, after giving us the fine comet gain record, props to track and field for going out on a limb and chancing a 23-track comeback. in quality, if allegedly not in sales terms, it came off.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: really quite bizarre. when you're dead. ocean breeze. wonky music. the greatest of minds.
9. life ? "realities of life" (zebra traffic)
like taskforce, phi-life cypher's life ? has been overlooked by the media kingmakers, but this is the best record he's been involved with. the trilogy of battle raps, "you know who", "come on" and "rebel soul" are all really strong, but that's even before you get to all the conscious choons - "bush and blair" and "i really care" from previous 12"s are reprised, domestic violence, child abuse, crack use and paedophilia are treated with fairly withering anger, and the bruising "what our estates have become" remains a landmark protest record, relentlessly depressing though it is.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: what our estates have become. you know who. come on. rebel soul.
10. the hit parade "the return of the hit parade" (jsh)
in other 'old band' news, it's the return of the hit parade, with "the return of the hit parade". now unlike some others in this game, we have not always been a particular fun of straight-down-the-line pop, or "Pop!" as some would have it, as opposed to shambling popsongs in a fuzzy stylee - but again this album has crept up on us, because it's self-conscious yet witty, determinedly melodic, and has great tunes like "sugar" that are nearly as cute as "in gunnersbury park" ever was, as well as rockier outings like "you're bloody rubbish" and "my stupid band" which is - well, tuneful and smart and knocks spots off razor-lite.
while there are some records that make you dance like a maniac, some records which make you feel like you're the luckiest or the most important persons in the world, some that make you sigh or go sad or reflective, some that make you want to mosh insanely, some even make you want to emit wry smiles, many many which make you feverishly excited or hyperactive (tinchy stryder we mean you) "the return of the hit parade" just makes US want to *smile* and oddly enough that's quite rare these days.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: my stupid band. you're the girl who always gets her own way. you're bloody rubbish. the new woman. sugar.
11. math and physics club "math and physics club" (matinee recordings)
apparently voted "best band" in the twee net year-ends, math and physics club are really very good indeed, and have delivered an optimum lp - just the right length, with ten spiffingly constructed, dreamy pop songs and no filler, and should be commended for not plundering their previous eps to make up the numbers. it's an album with the rare consistency of "george best" or "kettle", even if there aren't maybe so many sherbet highs. more importantly, although some tracks more obviously betray a legion of influences ("cold as minnesota" is hewn squarely from the same rock as belle and sebastian), they are starting, we think, to develop a sound of their own, typified by the sumptuous opener "darling, please come home" which builds on last single "movie ending romance" (their high point to date - if you like, their "train not stopping"). and we would also defy you to find a better pure pop song in 2006 than the "escort crash in marston street"-evoking "april showers".
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: april showers. darling, please come home. la la la lisa.
12. ruff sqwad "guns and roses volume 2" (ruff sqwad recordings)
very, very eagerly awaited by all kinds of randoms, we're certainly not going to take the risk of observing that last year's "volume 1" was, possibly, a little better (although it was). on the other hand, when dirty danger, fuda man, slix, rapid, shifty, maxi and stryder, amongst others, are congregating around the same microphone, it's always worth giving the results the courtesy of a few listens. so while the "da 2nd phaze"-lite slowies, the wailing 'soulful' hell of "wot would u do ?" and the crossover bastardisations of wack tunes like eighties horror-show "i died in your arms" help deny them a place in our top ten, ruff sqwad can still light the place up when they pick up the pace, pick up the momentum and lock into something a bit more punishing: like "f'in riddim", where the garage loops loom high over their interweaving voices, or "rebore". "sound man" gained them points by sampling musical youth, but then squandered them with an inappropriate reference to voluntary phil collins-listening.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: the fast ones.
13. napalm death "smear campaign" (century media)
latest from a band that needs no introduction to you our readers!
"the m.o. of "smear campaign" is still political anger, channelled mostly through alternately high speed, and groove-heavy, metal epitomised by the tracks listed below - but as a sign of the band's power right now, the willingness to keep testing their audience is welcome. i hope they don't find us wanting."
ilwttisott standouts: fatalist. freedom is the wage of sin. shattered existence.
14. pipas "sorry love" (long lost cousin)
though released to little fanfare, "sorry love" is a pinpoint demonstration of the duo's talents, another petite and welcomely winsome collection of whispers and happy melodies, continuing a tradition of less-is-more that seems to us more in the mould of "pink flag" (utterly concise, and not a second wasted) than the greyer indie-popsters who pipas are often inexplicably compared to. "sorry love" shows they haven't lost any of their uniqueness: and while there is, wrongly, a distinct lack of mark's vocals, the likes of "windswept room" still display most compellingly the acceptable face of 21st century feypop.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: windswept room. boxes. basements.
15. blade "guerrilla tactics" (691 influential)
"Don't be fooled by the only ok-ish, too eager to please taster single "It's Your Time": "Guerrilla Tactics" is really very strong, w/ tonking production throughout from Baby J, the odd guest spot from the likes of top-drawer up-and-comer Manage (on the posse cut "Army Of Barmy Rappers"), [note: ironically, mr manage's own solo album just somehow wasn't that strong, despite the greatness of "rise up" and "riot"] and adorned with some proper uptempo slamming samples (opener "Mumps"). The last cut, "UK Hip Hop", a history lesson from one who knows, actually reminds you how UKHH has actually been pretty brilliant for 20 years odd (and how it's a bastard that you can't get any Hijack, Caveman, Hardnoise, etc etc on CD for love, money nor threatening record store employees). "B.L.A.D.E.", where Blade gets to go on about how great he is, is frankly spot on: I would encourage him to big himself up even more in future, as he has done as much for UK Hip Hop as anyone. Like he says, he just wants to rhyme."
actually, we notice that the bbc used "it's your time" as the play out music after manchester (united) fluked past aston villa the other day - some well overdue royalties for mr. blade we trust. best choice of match of the day music since joy division's "atmosphere" was used to preview england vs portugal - fairly obvious they knew what was going to happen.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: B.L.A.D.E. uk hip-hop. system of a damned. mumps. army of barmy rappers.
16. frisco "back 2 da lab vol. 1" (boy better know)
like so many mixtapes, "back 2 da lab" was punctuated only intermittently by real highlights, but what highspots those were. strongest, perhaps, on the tracks where he hooks up with skepta - "we don't believe you" (as produced by plastician) and "dare you" are particularly searing. wiley turns up for vocals on a clutch of tracks, including the fiery "can't test me", and frisco's own strongest performance is probably on the freestyle, "crash", one of the handful of tunes actually produced by wiley - there is a host of production talent in frisco's laboratory. while we're joining up the dots, it's worth mentioning that this is also where you can find "fully grown" (again with skepta), which also turned up as a bonus track on jme's "poomplex" set.
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: all the ones with skepta.
17. horowitz "frosty cat songs" (kitchen records)
standard-bearers for a new kind of feisty homespun indie-pop, stoke-on-trent's horowitz came out of the shadows in '06 and, despite its lengthy gestation period, their first lp (proper 180mg vinyl and every ting) sparkles with fresh, tune-filled popsongs like "meet me after dinner" and "making time", as well as the kitten-cute 'wonky music' of the addictive "sister" or the very fabulous "i need a blanket".
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: we just said them.
18. c-mone "the butterfly effect" (son records)
"While most albums these days would only really justify an EP, the rest of the songs here would have made, ooh, a great Sarah 10"... C-Mone's East Midlands lilt gives the songs a bit of extra range, a homely dynamic which stateside accents can't provide in this genre any more... as she later cheerfully admits, "I'm not quite ready yet... but I got a lot of heart". Aah. And yes."
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: inside out. article 5. second after second. catch me if you can.
19. tender trap "6 billion people" (fortuna pop!)
"the new tender trap record also feeds in to the recent, very welcome tradition of albums that are actually solid all the way through. purged of the electro experimentation that fosca-ised their first album, the easy hooks and winning harmonies make me think of marine research, whoever they were - the single "talking backwards" is an obvious highlight, but it fits seamlessly in to the other would-be hits ("fahrenheit 451", "ampersand", "applecore") nestling in a lovingly crafted mix of scrummy girl group wiles and more modernist swooning indieness. the only disappointment is that the title track is merely a sly update of "c is the heavenly option" rather than a cover of the great song by doom."
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: ampersand. talking backwards.
20. narcosis "romance" (calculated risk products)
"..."romance" is an instantly appealing record, a score of songs in as many minutes, a high-speed collision of a.c., flyblown and "reek of putrefaction" that rarely settles into a groove for more than about 4 seconds before its stop-start drums and breakneck guitars regroup and then recommence battle with the shrieking vocals. invigorating, challenging and most of all fast, i commend "romance" to your record players utterly."
in love with these times, in spite of these times standouts: close your eyes. a work related murder spree. an accident wanting to happen.
21. jme "shh hut yuh muh" (boy better know)
first instalment of the four this year, with plenty of flourishes. our tune: don't get rude.
22. demiricous "one" (metal blade)
"old style slayer thrash worthy of serious veneration". our tune: withdrawal divine.
23. supar novar "from the beginning" (kemet entertainment)
laid-back and sometimes scintillating north london ukhh debut. our tune: what do you wanna hear.
24. tinchy stryder "lost and found" (boy better know)
mail order only, i think, but then was c86. and that was before stryder man was even born... our tune: nah fam.
25. jme "poomplex" (boy better know)
this was volume two of jme's world domination enterprise. our tune: the meridian / westwood clips.
26. newham generals "best of newham generals volume 1" (hotheadzpromotions)
dizzee's proteges' mixtape - alleged preparation for an album proper. our tune: prang man ft bruza & eskiboy.
27. eskiboy "tunnel vision volume 2" (boy better know)
"tv3" tailed off badly, so "tv2" outranks it we think - oddly, but distinctly, more satisfying than the big-selling "da 2nd phaze". our tune: trim freestyle.
28. stig of the dump "the homeless microphonist" (beer & rap)
entertaining debut from exiled geordie stig - much more focussed and less cartoonish than you'd fear. our tune: the journey.
29. terrorizer "darker days ahead" (century media)
"a thick, earthy, hulking mass of death metal... terrorizer are laid to rest having covered all the bases". r.i.p. our tune: victim of greed.
30. wretch 32 "learn from my mixtape" (self-released)
bold and pretty slick mixtape from north london, built around the sampler 12". our tune: combo and chain gang, featuring y.wizz and mumbles.
31. morrissey "ringleader of the tormentors" (attack)
some kid from north-west england. we like his style. our tune: i'll never be anybody's hero now.
32. dj twister presents... fire camp "living legends volume 1" (lethal bizzle records)
chaotic bizzle shoutfest, free of r&b filler, although not free of the rakes. our tune: if i couldn't buss.
33. syer "boy with the fire" (self-released)
roll deep's syer with very bullish solo mixtape - varying quality but some real fire. our tune: rag n' bone man.
34. pete dale and the beta males "betrayed by folk" (fortuna pop!)
optimum folksy politicking from underexposed wimpshake mastermind. our tune: music rules.
35. deicide "the stench of redemption" (earache)
a torrid, torrential hail of guitars - the quintessential "return to form". our tune: homage for satan.
36. sway "this is my demo" (dcypha)
cheering but overlong statement of intent from verbally supah-dextrous ukhh posterboy. our tune: hype boys.
37. slayer "christ illusion" (columbia)
entertaining polemicism which veers between pseudo-comedy and real, brutal laceration - the contrast makes the latter all the more powerful. our tune: flesh storm.
38. east river pipe "what are you on ?" (merge)
still occasionally engaging tales of lowlife from queens' lone ranger. our tune: absolutely nothing.
39. darkthrone "the cult is alive" (peaceville)
dogged scando riffmongering from alleged death metal duo. our tune: cult of goliath.
40. eskiboy "tunnel vision volume 3" (boy better know)
a few more slamming specials from the ubiquitous wiley kat. our tune: nightbus dubplate.
41. pariz-1 "uncomplicated vision" (self-released, we think)
mouthy, spirited mixtape from relocated-to-london gal (though some duffers). our tune: notts city.
42. the elementz "elementz universe volume 2" (eu entertainment)
more from nottingham featuring the ace mr 45 - karizma, taskforce and others also star. our tune: warriors, featuring shifty spirit.
43. decapitated "organic hallucinosis" (earache)
former child prodigy metallers from poland, with more grown-up though slightly barking concept metal. our tune: day 69.
44. jme "derkhead"(boy better know)
accompanying the summery house instrumental set "tropical", "derkhead" loaded yet more new jme melodies on us. our tune: 96 bars of jme.
45. minimum chips "lady grey" (baked goods)
doyens of melbourne indie-art-pop scene, still laying sultry post-stereolabisms on us. our tune: cold afternoon.
46. jeff walker and die fluffers "welcome to carcass cuntry" (in grind we trust)
country and western covers album. yep, you heard. our tune: the end of the world.
47. manage "(live) in protest" (merciless)
sporadic headnodders from speakers corner veteran, south of the river's mr. manage. our tune: rise up.
48. asaviour "the borrowed ladder" (lowlife)
while still sounding like he could do with some honey menthols, there is at least a top ep in here. our tune: borrowed ladder.
49. beaumont "no time like the past" (siesta)
lush latest from brighton's breathiest should get you dancing (well, swaying) louchely on yr coffee tables, even if the slower numbers make it sound like your batteries need recharging. our tune: closer.
50. the berzerker "world of lies" (earache)
rawest yet from the lucksmiths of 909-metal - edging out cannonball jane, tvps, sick of it all and public enemy! our tune: all about you.
over and out.