Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: End of Year Last Minute Panic Best Of Extravaganza

Hello dear reader.

Sam and Richard and I finally woke up from the Sugar and Noise Office/Bunker Christmas Party and we realised it was almost 07. We all have parties to be getting to so this will not be In Depth or particularly Extensive. Pull up a chair, open a bottle of your favourite non-alcoholic beverage, throw on that Pitchfork's Top 50 mix you downloaded and see which of your favourite releases of the year we've cruelly ignored. And be sure to Right Click and Save As on those mp3 links.

Miles' Top 5 Albums of the Year

Ok, I did not buy very many records that were actually released this year but here are the best five of those that I did. If that makes sense. Sorry everyone who's albums I did not buy!

5. Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
Oh yes I did. Yes it's "more of the same" and yes they are just out takes and alternate versions but who cares when they're this good? Also: Three versions of Chicago, one of my favourite songs ever? SOLD.

4. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat
Divine god-bothering alt-country indie-pop (I love hyphens) from everyone's favourite indie songwriting godess. Harmonies tighter than your younger emo brother's jeans and lyrics sharper than his razor blade collection. New Rilo Kiley record in 07? Hell yes.

3. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Oh yes I did AGAIN. Look, bloggers/critics - I don't care that it doesn't sound like If You're Feeling Sinister. Are you still doing exactly the same thing as you were ten years ago? I hope not. It's fun, it's summery, it's floaty-light and Dress Up In You is some of Mr Murdoch's finest writing yet. If you've spent most of the year telling everyone how good The Drift is, cheer the hell up, throw this on and let the good times roll.

2. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
"The Crane Wife at two? TWO?!" Yes, I hear you. Believe me it was an extremely close call between this and the first place. The Crane Wife is in places a masterpiece. A few of the songs on it are so good that it gets to be the second best album of the year whilst still having songs I don't really like that much on it. The Crane Wife Parts 1+2 and 3, O Valenica, Sons and Daughters, The Landlord's Daughter, Yankee Bayonet... Just absolutely fantastic. Epic, moving, warm, hyper-intelligent, unmissable.

1. The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed
Catchier than SARS and much, much more fun this is my favourite album of the year. Every song is a little bundle of melancholy power pop perfection. The horns on Teaspoon, the guitar riff of It's a Departure and the lyrics... The lyrics are brilliant throughout ("You should've been a Rich Wife") on what may be John Roderick's best record to date. I dare you to listen to this all the way through and not fall madly in love with it. To hook you in, here's the opening song "Pushover"

(Honourable Mention: Harvey Danger - Little by Little... whilst initially released last year it was reissued by Kill Rock Stars in 06 and were it that this were it's initial release, it'd be number 1. You can still get it free at www.harveydanger.com but go and buy the thing unless you hate Good Music in which case go die in a hole. And take your Justin Timberlake/Nelly Furtado/Sam's Town CDs with you)

Sam's Top 5 Films He Actually Saw This Year
1.The Departed
2.Brick (Miles nods vigorously)
3.Hidden
4.The Proposition
5.Miami Vice (Miles looks aghast)

Miles' Top 2 Live Music Experiences of the Year
1. Death Cab for Cutie at Leeds
2. Summer Sundae (Espescially: Belle and Sebastian, The Boy Least Likely To, Calexico)

Sam's Top 5 Films He Really Should Have Seen This Year
1. Pan's Labyrinth (Miles will be seeing this in the next few weeks)
2. Marie Antoinette
3. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
4. The Death of Mr.Lazazrescu
5. A Cock and Bull Story (Miles says it's absolutely freaking brilliant)

Miles' Most Overrated Bands of the Year
The Killers - The Arctic Monkeys - Kasabian - The Kooks - The Fratellis

And now, over to Richard

1) The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home

A giddy blast of pure glamour, akin being sprayed in the eyes with Chanel. Despite losing out on the NME’s cool list to superblimp Beth Ditto, Kate Jackson and the Long Blondes are one of the coolest bands to emerge for a long time. Marrying rich, varied vocals to some killer post-punk guitar lines and witty lyrics that cross gender boundaries, this debut brings Blondie into the 21st century and sticks them at the back of a Sheffield dole queue. Responsible for more than just scarf trends, the Long Blondes are a truly great new band and in the slightly out-of-character words of [an S+N staff member]: "NME's Under the Radar award? I'd get under HER radar" What more needs to be said?
(Miles Note: Hell yes!)

2) The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America.

Shouty Kerouac-rock about drugs and drinking, and occasionally fucking, but mainly just the drugs. His voice shouldn’t work but it does, and once you get hold of the lyrics there’s no going back. I took a while to warm to it, but one full concentrated listen/read of ‘Chillout Tent’ and there’s no going back. Long live ‘America’s best bar band’.

(Miles Note: Amen!)

3) My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade

I didn’t want to like this record. I don’t like the band and I don’t like their fans, so I thought I didn’t like their music. The Black Parade bitch-slapped my prejudice away. MCR have been carried by such a wave of eyeliner and hype, that it’s easy to miss just how much their songwriting has developed. The album abounds with an odd amalgam of speedy punk, brass instruments, Brian May-style guitar heroics, Britpoppish la-la-las, and silly concept lyrics about cancer. But I have to admit: it’s really good. Nearly all the songs have memorable hooks, and an appealing dark drama. And one more thing: it’s not emo. Listen to this compared with something like Hawthorn Heights, and you’ll see what I mean. A closer take would be Queen-punk, which is blatantly rubbish, but there’s nothing I can say about this record that it doesn’t say for itself. Fuck the haters, and fuck the identikit fans – much to my surprise, MCR have truly impressed me.

(Miles Note: No, it's not emo. It's mall punk. Which is far worse.)

4) Taking Back Sunday – Louder Now

A pretty accurate title, by all accounts. Lazzara and co returned with ‘What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost’, a taut riffathon imbued with powerful melody – which pretty much describes the whole album. Having been hyped enough by the major rock rags, you’ve probably already heard what I have to say about this: ‘muscular’, ‘confident’ etc. And to flog the dead donkey just a little more, it raises them above the scene and right onto the stages of the stadiums. ‘Nuff said.

5) The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely

In some ways I feel guilty about putting this in, having previously dissed it enough as ‘not their best’ and ‘a bad starting point’ etc. However, John Darnielle is still God, and even when he’s whispering over the gentlest of guitars, so softly that you don’t realise how good his writing still is, it eventually reveals its own particular treasure. Basically a concept album about lost love, it’s not fast and angry but that’s a conscious choice, not a design fault. And the Babylon Springs EP, to be mentioned later, shows that the Goats have still lost none of their fire.

6) Dirty Pretty Things – Waterloo To Anywhere

So two years after the end of The Libertines, what have we learned? Essentially that Pete is a better lyricist than Carl, but as a result of not spending most of 2006 on crack, Carl is musically a lot more consistent. This album contains sucker-punch after sucker-punch of martially-tight guitars and general indie-punk cool. It’s not The Libertines, but it has its own merits, and as the NME has probably said already, Carl’s done a good job of rescuing his own legacy from the mess of blood and drugs surrounding Pete. (Who is still fantastic, when sober…)

7) Larrikin Love – The Freedom Spark

Taking the Libs format and running with it, picking up influences from ska and Irish folk along the way, Larrikin Love are among the best of the post-Bracket bunch. This debut album focuses their sound and beefs it up, while retaining a good deal of their whimsically weird charm. Edward Larrikin’s gasping camp is still an obvious focal point, but the album has more to it than a strange pale man twatting around with a cowbell. Top tunes.

8) Morrissey – Ringleader Of The Tormentors.

Twenty years after ‘The Queen Is Dead’, the Pope of Mope is still cranking out flawlessly gloomy anthems of love, loss and despair. Morrissey is a singular performer, and while his backing band may not be the Smiths, it’s clear they understand him enough to make the music a perfect fit to his rampantly idiosyncratic lyrics. Featuring a riff or two from glam-rock, the usual jangly guitars, and just a smidgen of ‘minaret music’, the musical palate is diverse, but the voice is the same. I’m not going to analyse this record; suffice to say Moz has a certain job to do, and he’s still doing it well. Yo, Attenborough – go fuck a dolphin.

9) Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Though in constant danger of being devoured by their own hype, the Internet’s most famous creation haven’t made too bad a job of it. Like Pulp without the dancey bits, there’s a dismally funny working-class core to the Monkeys sound, and whether you think they’re gifted with lyrical madness or just a bunch of scruffy oiks with bad grammar who look like fat mechanics, you’re unlikely to be able to escape them any time soon. If I were Miles are this point, I might chip in ‘people say they’re good. Hey, the title works!’ But I’m not. So pretend that sentence never happened.

(Miles Note: They're alright, really. I like them as people (I was converted by a particularly entertaining Q interview) but musically they don't interest me)

10) The Killers – Sam’s Town

Another polarising record. Maybe I’m just blinded by the Vegas glitz, but I think The Killers have cemented their reputation as one of the best pop bands around today. Moving from thumping indie-dance to Springsteen impersonation, Brandon Flowers and crew tick all the cliché boxes: highways, hurricanes, Grandma Dixie. But although it’s pretty stupid, it’s enjoyable. There’s some lyrical deficiencies, but the music is big enough to flatten the odd note of dissent, and garrote it with the Stars and Stripes. This is the sound of The Killers reclaiming America, for better or worse. As the album is named after a casino, the most apt advice is to simply hang up your brain with your hat and coat at the door, and submit to the showmanship of Sam’s Town.

... MCR? Sam's Town? Richard, you're fired.

S+N's Songs of the Year
The following have all been in heavy rotation on the office stereo. Dig it:
The Long Blondes - Lust in the Movies
-M: MUCH better than Once and Never Again. EDIE SEDGEWICK! etc.
Guillemots - Trains to Brazil
Flaming Lips - The Yeah yeah Yeah Song
- M: I really liked At War with the Mystics and this is a gloriously silly highlight.
Regina Spektor - On the Radio
Pipettes - Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me
-M: Actually just that little bit better than "Pull Shapes"
Calexico - All Systems Red
-M: Epic, majestic, heartbreaking
Mates of State - Fraud in the 80s
The Divine Comedy - To Die a Virgin
Thom Yorke - Harrowdown Hill
The Starlight Mints - Inside of Me
Muse - Starlight
-M: You're humming the piano line right now. I can hear you.
Viva Voce - We Do Not F*** Around
The Polyphonic Spree - Lithium
-M: Best Nirvana Cover EVER.
Bound Stems- Andover
Ben Kweller - Penny on the Train Track
Cold War Kids - Hospital Beds
Chin Up Chin Up - This Harness Can Ride Anything
Beck - Cellphone's Dead
Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy
The Mountain Goats - Woke Up New
Jarvis - Black Magic
-M: Most of the Jarvis album really. But it's this one that I just can't stop playing.
Snow Patrol - Hands Open
Gnarls Barkley - Smiley Faces
-M: Actually quite a lot better than Crazy.
Bishop Allen - Flight 180
-M: Possibly the best song of 06, from their April EP. If you do not go to www.bishopallen.com and get every free mp3 they have going then you are Missing Out.
Sparks - (Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?
The Divine Comedy - Lady of a Certain Age
Oxford Collapse - Please Visit Your National Parks
The Thermals - A Pillar of Salt
-M: Impassioned, witty indie-punk goodness.

So there you have it. That was 2006.

Next Year Miles is Looking Forward to: Radiohead, The Shins, Bloc Party, Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright, Arcade Fire, Rilo Kiley, The Good The Bad and The Queen, Of Montreal, Modest Mouse, The Pixies, Air, Interpol, The Cure, Nick Cave's Grinderman and on the off chance: BLUR, THE POSTAL SERVICE. PLEASE?

Next Year Richard is Looking Forward to: Radiohead.

2 comments:

Meaghan said...

i feel like the format's 'dog problems' should have gotten at least a mention. maybe i'm horribly biased but it is a highly enjoyable album from beginning to end, and a serious improvement from their debut in 2003.

T.J. said...

I saw Viva Voce in concert and was surprised I liked them. I think they headlined over Silversun Pickups.