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Albums of 2006

Well, here we are again and this is the fifth time we’ve come together to let you, the reader, know what we, the writers, thought were the best albums of 2006. It’s been a strange one, this year – we agreed on our choices much more despite usual faves Deerhoof and Sonic Youth coming nowhere near the top ten. The number one album was pretty much decided after only a few submissions with practically everyone listing it somewhere and nothing else came remotely close. Despite this you’ll see there’s still a lot of dissent in the ranks with few albums managing to escape a slagging. Two other things that makes me happy: after last year’s disaster I am glad to see the top 3 are albums I voted for and there’s also a high rate of females in the top ten. This is also the fourth time our friends have won best album but, y’know, that’s why they’re our friends – they’re awesome and THEY ROCK.

Your panel consists of Marceline Smith, Chris Summerlin, Tom Coogan, Ian Scanlon, Simon Minter, Andrew Bryers, Pascal Ansell, Alex McChesney, Simon Proffitt, Jon Goodwin, Dave Stockwell, Joe Luna, Stu Fowkes, Alasdair Rothin and JGram.

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1. Lords – This Ain’t a Hate Thing It’s a Love Thing (Gringo)

Ian: Every mother’s favourite, one almost suspects that the noiseslaught of Wolves! was specifically tailored to make this outfit sound all the sweeter. A winner and I don’t care if my buddies are in the band.

Jon: The Lords gig at Chinchilla Festival in Leeds in April was amazing, coming at the exact moment that the brilliance of this record sunk in. Sure, I always enjoyed watching them live, but hearing the songs at home made me realise what clever, fun, euphoric tunes they are. Well done to all concerned!

Marceline: So good even my team-mates openly enjoyed it rather than being insulting. The combination of good time party rock, excellent song titles, bright colours and monkeys makes it pretty darn irresistable to most sane people.

Simon P: I haven’t heard this, but Mrs P has and she assures me it’s really good.

Dave: I really did wonder if Lords would be able to adequately recreate the convulsion-inducing energy and ear-shredding ROCK riffs in a studio. Silly old me, I’d forgotten that there are songs underneath all that racket, and all the catchy riffs, funny lyrics and crazy ideas a-plenty are what will keep you coming back to this record long after you’ve given up and gone deaf from seeing them live once too often. Everybody should buy this and remember what makes music so joyful in the first place. Go and do it now.

Stu: Reasons I didn’t vote for Lords: i) I thought it came out in 2005; ii) I knew everyone else would so it’d win its (richly deserved) spot in the top 10 anyway. So I voted for Bat For Lashes instead. Do you see that in the top ten? Nope. Presumably everyone else thought that was cack. Hey ho. Still, this Lords record is a proper treat and no mistake. Is it high enough praise to say they could stage a riff-off with the DC and run them close?

Chris: Thank you for voting for this. Every time I have reason to hear it I just want to grab hold of Elv and Phil and kiss them for doing this and letting me be part of it. Sorry if that sounds sickening but it’s completely sincere and if I said the only things I don’t like are my contributions then hopefully you’ll see I am not being a big head.

2. Joanna Newsom – Ys (Drag City)

Chris: Spazz voiced harpist

Ian: She look funny, she sound funny but it’s not funny; it’s lovely.

Alex: When I was a child, my (now departed) granny McChesney would bake me a birthday cake every year. Every year it was the same – a huge, dense, thick fruit cake, with marzipan an inch thick, and as much icing on top of that. One slice felt like a full meal itself, but it was great all the same, and it’s the thing I remember, and miss, most about her. This album reminds me of one of her cakes.

Simon P: I have a really hard time listening to her voice, but I’ll support anyone that plays a harp.

JGram: I finally warmed to the old hag this year as she appeared to give up on the premise of being an extra from Lord Of The Rings. And despite the silly record cover. I still think this record would be better suited being released by Disney rather than Drag City (which is where I feel it is all headed)

Dave: I keep telling myself that one day I’ll be bothered to buy this and spend the necessary time to get to know and love it. Then I see the front cover and realise it’ll be a while until I can bring myself to spend money on it yet…

Marceline: My album of the year though that’s not really saying enough. Since the day I bought this, back at the beginning of November, it has been pretty much daily listening to such an extent that I have listened to virtually nothing else. It’s become as much a part of my daily life as catching the number 18 bus, watch ing the skies darken and the birds leave, feeling the cold creep in and standing looking at the christmas lights. What Joanna Newsom has done is nothing short of perfect; her voiced mellowed and expanded to an astonishing range of emotion, the harp still so clear and expansive and now with an orchestra so exquisitely matched that there are at least two occasions where I catch my breath and hug myself. She spins her stories like they’ve only just come to her but with a phrasing that so obviously delights in the mere wonder of words. It’s just beautiful, like all your rainy Thursdays come at once.

Jon: I’m still getting my head around this one. My first thought was ‘oooh’, followed by ‘urgh’. I gave myself a month away from it and listened again last night. I think I might like it. Ask me again in December 2007.

Stu: I came late to the Joanna Newsom party, but I’m glad I got there in the end. I’m not sure about all that ‘not-like-anything-you’ve-ever-heard-before’ talk-up, but it is bluddy grate as any fule kno.

3. CSS – Cansei de Ser Sexy (Sub Pop)

Dave: And this year’s Go Team! Token ‘Fashionable’ Band In A Diskant Poll award goes to…

Chris: Here we go again, another diskant end of year and another load of records I haven’t heard by bands I have seen live! I saw CSS play to a rammed, very small club a short while ago and I enjoyed it lots but I’m not overlooking the presence of what seemed like 50 hot Brazilians and my own body weight in Grolsch in this conclusion.

Simon M: A big disappointment to me, this album. It’s just too forced and too cool for its own good. At heart they sound like Bis to me, but with the lovableness replaced by awkward posturing and posing.

JGram: Despite the silly song titles and dopey lyrics, CSS were like a shot out of the blue this year. Probably the best band from Brazil since Sepultura, they sound like Le Tigre without the shitty attitude with fresher faces and an attitude towards fun. This will be cheesy indie disco for years to come long after they lose their looks.

Andrew: Good filthy fun for all.

Simon P: Facile

Marceline: Fun, catchy, knowing and a little bit silly, CSS were basically the Lily Allen it’s okay for hipsters to like. IT’S STILL POP MUSIC even if it’s in a cute Brazilian accent. Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above was such a great song that I kept forgetting to listen to the rest of the album for weeks after I bought it but when I did there were plenty more songs almost as good. Taking Le Tigre’s riot girl dance fun as a starting point they rack up the sleaze and the bitching but in a way that’s so cute and charming you can’t help but fall in love with them. However, I fear they are also this year’s Go! Team in that it all sounds great now but when they re-release it next year and everyone at work ‘discovers’ it and plays it every single day for 6 months you will wish it had never been recorded.

Stu: Perhaps the epitome of all those bands that get picked up on by particularly smug music correspondents from national papers and hyped up as the must-listen band of the year, i.e. not bad, bit lightweight, hard to see what all the fuss is about, will sell bucketloads regardless. But hey, they’re from Brazil. Isn’t it nice that they have bands in Brazil too? Hmm.

Alasdair: CSS are brilliant. In broken English they mange to articulate my inability to communicate (or deal with) my feelings on a day to day basis – see “Fuckoff Is Not The Only Thing You Have To Show”. “Art Bitch” summed up my art school experience pretty well, while “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above” almost makes me sex wee.

4. Uzeda – Stella (Touch & Go)

Chris: The stereotypical Touch & Go sound seems so impersonal to me at the moment, I’m not sure why. I used to love that almost coldness or that knowingness and cool that T&G bands had but recently I want to see people fail more, or at least seem like they might. Uzeda’s sound is, at first, completely T&G. I’ve started getting into this one more and more. They could be playing through Shellac’s gear on a tea break. But what they have is a looseness and a heartbeat that’s their own and in Agostino they have maybe the finest living rock guitarist there is. Seriously, the guy is phenomenal and conveys the message that this is a band that is open and living and untethered, much like this record.

Dave: Great band. Solid album. I’m not sure it moved me any more than that.

Simon P: Tremendous and long overdue follow-up to the stunning Different Section Wires. It’s like all the best bits of Shellac but with a deranged and unhinged Mafia mob Mama at the helm instead of an unhinged and deranged Minter lookalike. One of the most underrated rock bands around. The tension they create through semi-controlled chaos, like having a pot constantly on the verge of boiling over, is awesome.

Jon: This is awesome. If this doesn’t win record of the year this website should be renamed deafkant. I was just thinking that I hadn’t heard any good, awkwardly rocking guitar music for ages and then this came along and reinvigorated my love for restrainedly noisy bands like this. There’s a precision to this music which makes it more attractive to me than AIDS Wolf, Magik Markers or even Comets on Fire, any of that semi-improvised or just unrestrained rock that I’ve seen a lot of this year. On more than one occasion, this record’s awesome rhythms have had me dancing round the house like a twat, and it’s the incredible guitar lines not the vocals that I’m singing along to. My neighbours, I suspect, don’t like me. Or Uzeda. For some reason I get the feeling that their next record, if they do one, will be even better. Top band!

5. Comets On Fire – Avatar (Sub Pop)

Chris: My favourite of the year by a mile. Previous Comets albums ticked the right boxes but proved, on repeated listens, to be somehow shallow and lacking in meat. Like the sounds were all totally there and perfect but what they were playing wasn’t as good as it should be. Great riffery was often let down by a lazy piece of writing or a note that seemed shitty, like they were so wound up and ready to go that what they were actually playing didn’t matter. Avatar is all the good parts of Comets focused right down and the fat trimmed off to make an album that will stand up as more than just a loving tribute to the bands that influenced them. I’d hate to use the word ‘mature’ so I won’t as Avatar might have some subdued moments but when Comets rip it out they really rip it out!

Dave: I first heard this album at full volume in a car with messrs Chris Summerlin and Gareth Hardwick and it sounded mental, even to someone who has a handful of their earlier stuff. I’ve got to admit that I prefer ye old days of gonzo guitar free-for-alls in a garage with everything running through an Echoplex (i.e. before Sub Pop started picking up their studio bills), but now they’ve got pianos, song structures and discernable lyrics and everything. It’s what …Trail of Dead should have become a couple of years back. It’s also probably the second best ‘rock’ album you could buy in 2006.

Simon P: Oh come on, boys, it’s 2006. Two thousand and SIX. This might have justifiably been one of the records of the year in 1971, but why now? Do we really need this kind of music to still be made? Hasn’t the world got enough Lynyrd Skynyrd albums already?

JGram: I can’t fucking believe this made the top ten and the Cat Power record didn’t.

6. Battles – EP C/B EP (Warp)

Simon M: Did these come out this year? Or is it the compilation we’re talking about here? If so, pff, it’s a compilation. I had the original singles waaaaay before you losers.

Pascal: This is the future of instrumental music, dark tones and bleeps from Don Cab’s Ian Williams with relentless pounding from superbly tight John Stanier on drums. A revelation in music, confusing at first but utterly rewarding.

Stu: Yes! Battles! If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to see Mark Eitzel play practically in my living room this year, Battles would have been my live highlight of 06. Totally exhilarating. It was particularly good to see the two or three Oxford bands who do their best to carbon-copy parts of Battles songs live at the Truck Festival, then go and see Battles play afterwards and KILL them. All the best bits of recent experimental music rolled into one band.

Dave: Not entirely sure how this one got past the ‘no reissues or EPs’ censor – it’s a compilation of 3 EPs released on American labels waaay back in 2004 – but there you go (It’s because I don’t have a clue and lots of people voted for it – ed). It was nice of Warp to gather them all in one place, even if the Fantasy ‘beat’ tracks are exceptionally annoying and all the other tracks could have been collected on one CD if they’d left them off. I did listen to these songs on a very regular basis for a month or so, but I have to say that I’ve no inclination to come back to them any more. The ‘remix’ tracks get really boring, and there are only three or four real ‘songs’ worth bothering with. Unfortunately these are all based around rigid loops and the intricate constructions around these can only interest for a few listens. It was good the first few times, but I’m hoping a real step up from the new album coming in 2007.

Andrew: I do like this a lot – attempts at punk jungle must always be applauded – but to me it sounded like they were still finding their feet. I imagine the next album will kick all kinds of ass.

Alex: Taking up the reins from Slint (Mogwai who?), and taking guitar-based rock in a new direction inspired by the anything-goes attitude of their electronic labelmates. Ace.

JGram: Coming on like Tortoise if they still cared and were slightly masculine, Battles were a truly fantastic proposition this year not least at the show where they supported and blew Animal Collective off the stage.

Simon P: Cold and boring. Substantially less than the sum of its parts. I’ve listened to this a few times, and still have no idea what it sounds like.

Chris: Battles at ATP were amazing. They shone. It was like they were taking the genre of math-rock – the worst, most bullshitty, masculine, sick genre ever – and wiping it clean. They were so complex and dense that it forced you to ignore the composite parts and just absorb the whole and in doing so found that, deep in the complex heart of the band, there was a loose and flowing funk. You can bob your head to the Battles live experience. And to do so you don’t need to be a quantum physicist. Which makes the shitty records they have made all the more agonising. I admit I downloaded this EP collection in preparation for a long journey. I am not exaggerating but I threw it out of the window of the car as it just did my head in so much. It STINKS. They need to capture some of the baffling quality of their live show quickly or they’re going to be to math rock what Navio Forge are to emo – Soulseek them and you’ll see what I mean. A million shitty bands are going to be formed because of this record.

7. Keiji Haino & Sitar Tah! – Animamima (Important)

Alex: The most dramatically unbalanced ratio of love to number of plays this year belongs to this record. It’s probably the best album I’ve bought in the last twelve months, but I’ve only played it from start to finish about twice. Beautiful, ethereal, ambient and yet demanding of a reasonable level of attention. That it’s spread over two CDs doesn’t help, either, but where else are you going to hear 20 sitars and an electric hurdy-gurdy all thrumbing away at once? Nowhere, that’s where.

Simon M: This is a superb set: Keiji Haino’s typical wailing and carrying on backed up with a magical, rich and awesome wall of sitar noise. It’s not the easiest listen but it’s incredibly rewarding.

Chris: Keiji Haino makes me piss myself. He can’t be serious right? I think it’s the fringe, I’m actually quite surprised I don’t fancy him.

Simon P: 80% of the vast output of Haino is amongst the most thrilling music I’ve heard. The other 20% is some of the worst, but all of it is unmistakably him. This is one of his better ones – a staggering work of mesmerising beauty and depth. Starts off fairly slowly with just some meandering sitar, but builds and builds, such that when his keening vocals first enter the fray after 33 minutes of Disc 1, it’s such a glorious release, like the morning’s first micturation. A triumph of spiritual energy.

Dave: Orchestra of sitars = good. Ring modulation = bad. Sort it out Keiji.

8. Magik Markers – For Sada Jane (Textile)

Dave: Just about the only thing you could predict about Magik Markers was that no matter how great their live show, the albums barely compared. For Sada Jane thankfully redresses that balance, but still manages to confound by serving up four lengthy songs that sound nothing like anything you’d even dare to tentatively expect from their live performances. I like this album a lot, and for virtually none of the reasons why I like seeing them live.

Simon P: Is this a joke? Is Sada Jane a hapless, incompetent halfwit of the kind that used to get bullied at special school? Because I’d be pretty insulted if someone had dedicated this to me. Everything I’ve heard by the Magik Markers has left me feeling embarrassed for them, and this is no different. Even Sunnyvale’s excruciating first demo was better than this.

Chris: I have seen the Markers loads of times now but somehow the leap between being blown away by them live and actually wanting to buy a record isn’t one that I have made. I have never heard them recorded, almost to the point of swervingly avoiding doing so in the worry that it will make me want to not see them live again. Elissa gets to me so much when they play that I want to keep that option open to me and never pigenhole this band by their records. However! That people have voted this so highly makes me want to change that so I’m going to go and get this and listen to it – thanks!

Stu: I still can’t decide if I think Magik Markers are brilliant or absolute nonsense. Certainly I think they make loads more sense live, when the tension is all the greater due to a) volume and b) the very real possibility of being hit in the face by a guitar and screamed at. The first time I saw them live I thought they were pretty amazing, but I’ve not come across any recorded output that does them justice, ever. Is this any better? I can’t tell ‘cos I haven’t heard it, but my money’s on it being mostly nonsense with a few good bits.

JGram: How shit is this record? Did anyone actually listen to it on the way to voting it into this top ten? Taking ineptitude to new levels of indulgence, I can only imagine that these guys are really heavily into drugs and listening to the sound of themselves banging their instruments in a uniquely clueless way. Sada Jane must be embarrassed.

Simon M: Haven’t heard this, but I just don’t get Magik Markers. They’re just screaming and petulantly/artlessly creating a load of noise for noise’s sake?

Joe: I’m bored of trying to “convert” people to this band. If you don’t get it, sucks for you, means plenty more space to dance for the rest of us. Just don’t throw about your wildly misconstrued hatred for the band – if anything it proves you feel threatened by the gargantuan meteorite that Markers ride through the atmosphere of sound. They don’t need a context. Have you SEEN their eyes when they play? Magik Markers improvise with such attention to each sound and a wild desire to find their true souls that watching the live ritual is both emancipatory and terrifying in its ferocity. If you don’t like Magik Markers then you’re not listening to them enough.

9. Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)

Ian: A massive return to form. Saw them touring this recently and they are fat, old and funny looking but very good.

JGram: Not many bands could get away with opening their record with an almost ten minute long first song but Yo La Tengo display the strength to pull it off here. This was a really frustrating album but ultimately pretty rewarding if not always enjoyable as Yo La Tengo continue to experiment and expand on their own sound.

Simon P: I’ve never liked Yo La Tengo. Their brand of American Indie Rock has always left me cold – either boring meat-and-two-veg college rock by numbers, a particularly cloying transatlantic version of shoegaze, or stodgy not-very-noisy noise rock. I’ve seen them live twice, and both times wondered why I was there. I can’t bring myself to listen to this, because I have no reason to believe that it’s anything other than more of the same dull tripe.

Andrew: Dug them at Indian Summer. Meant to check out the album. Maybe I will now.

Dave: Hurrah, 2003’s sleepwalk of an album, Summer Sun, was just a blip. We’re back to the old YLT of yore; aping a different band with every song on the album to joyful effect. The rock songs are fantastic gonzo guitar workshops; the funny songs are hilarious and heartwarming; and the sad songs are proper poor little indie boy with a wistful heart songs. Service as normal, and it’s great to have them back. And has anyone been to www.iamnotafraidofyouandiwillbeatyourass.com? It seems like a great idea for a marketing campaign until you realise it’s entirely populated by videos of dweebs thinking they’re being amusing. Makes me think of the famous Onion article.

10. Erase Errata – Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars)

Chris: Yes! What a great record! I’ve always liked Erase Errata but I never really connected to them solidly or had a desire to listen to them over and over. Night Life seems to be similar to Avatar by Comets in that it’s a band taking the good parts of themselves and working on them until there’s just that. It also seems like they are looser and free-er about taking from their real influences. The over riding one on Night Life seems to be the Minutemen in that it’s 3 people’s idiosyncratic playing styles fitted together in perfect harmony. And that cow bell! Even I’ll dance to that.

Simon P: 100% pure sex. Their best record yet. Why are CSS so popular when music like this exists?

Tom: I was worried that Erase Errata would lose something as a three-piece, but they are a phenomenal trio and this is a phenomenal record. It sounds really new wave to me (mainly due to the vocals) but that’s no bad thing.

Dave: I can’t work out why anyone would vote for this if they were lucky enough to witness Erase Errata play live in the last year. Their gig in Nottingham was brimming with positive energy and invention, and their drummer Bianca pounded the drums harder than John Bonham. They made a very sick man (me) feel rejuvenated and inspired that night. Unfortunately the record sounds nothing like their live show and comes across as over-produced and listless in comparison. Still, it’s been a couple of months, so maybe I should give it another listen.

JGram: I thought this record took a little while to get warmed up but its most definitely Erase Errata moving onwards and upwards rather than sideways even if the cold hard reality is that less than a dozen people really care.

Jon: This is the best Erase Errata record yet, I reckon. Utterly danceable, utterly catchy, and some of the riffs they pull out are stunning. I think the closest thing I have to ‘claim to fame’ is that Jenny used my crappy guitar at their Nottingham gig and it still sounded awesome.

Now read about our favourite films of 2006
Individual top ten lists by contributors