10. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
Though I haven’t listened to Fox Confessor Brings The Flood as much as I should have, everytime I do play it, I’m amazed by her beautiful voice. Like Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan’s Ballad of the Broken Seas (no. 19), this isn’t my usual choice of music – it’s mostly countryish with some acapella gospel thrown in. But I’ve really quite enjoyed it. I think that’s what makes for a good album – when you listen to something outside your usual genre range, and think ‘shit, this is pretty good!’
KEY TRACK: Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
9. The Panda Band – This Vital Chapter
What an odd little album. Strange little ditties about ghosts and ‘lovely shoulders’ come together to make one of the best Australian albums of the year. I think what made this album special was the way The Panda Band is able to jump between genres. For example, Lovely Shoulders is a bit of a country singalong, with slide guitars and stuff, but follows on from Sleepy Little Deathtoll Town, a song held together by a ragtag bunch of trumpeters. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying here. If anything, they are 2006’s Sleepy Jackson. And that’s not a bad thing to be.
KEY TRACK: Ghosts Have The Best Time
8. Islands – Return to the Sea
When a band comes up with a jaunty little pop song about anorexia, with lines like Where are the hidden folds? Where is the meat? Did you eat it?, and gives it the title Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby, you know you’re onto a good thing. But this isn’t all about the novelty factor. Oh no. It’s about the sound. Quite simply, this is one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard. Everything plays a part, there’s no obtrusive guitars overshadowing the vocals, and there’s quite a bit of pipe action. There’s some surprises hidden away in here as well – Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone seems like a regular little song, then it ramps up and some rapper jumps out and starts going on about stuff. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
KEY TRACK: Rough Gem
7. The Grates – Gravity Won’t Get You High
OK, I admit it. I bought this largely because of the incredible cuteness of Patience Hodgson, The Grates’ singer. Though I did like their songs, she pretty much sold it for me (disregard the fact that you can’t see the band through your ears). Gravity Won’t Get You High can really only be described as ‘fun’. It’s simple guitar-drum-singer rock. Nothing incredible. But that’s all they need to be. The songs are simple, but they’re catchy, and you can jump around to them without hurting yourself too much. It’s perfect for jumping and air-drumming and singing really loud at the top of your voice when nobody’s around. That’s really why I like this album. Plus, they’re super-happy. That wins me every time.
KEY TRACK: Lies
6. Beck – The Information
Ah, Beck. He always produces good stuff. And, The Information, I think, is his best album. Better than Odelay. Yeah. How do you like that? With producer Nigel Godrich, Beck created soething nearing a mini-epic, fusing old-school rock and gospel and a bit of funk and hiphop all into one. It’s like he stuck all his previous albums into a blender, and this is what came out the other end. I did, however, find it a tad confusing. Some tracks contain elements of other tracks, and it’s quite discombobulating. This isn’t helped by track 15, entitled The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton, which does throw the album in the pot for a ten minute travel through Beck’s mind, complete with commentary from a few of his chums. I think the extra DVD that came with The Information deserves a mention as well, since Beck intended it to be an integral part of the album. On this DVD are videos of all the album’s tracks, starring Beck and whoever happened to be at his house at the time. They’re poorly filmed, with 1980s effects, and usually don’t consist of much other than people making asses of themselves. But I’d like to think that they’re a sign of what’s to come.
KEY TRACK: Strange Apparition
5. The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics
Though Wayne Coyne does get a tad political here, which I don’t like in music, generally, it’s hidden by the grand scale of production which The Flaming Lips have become known for. On At War with the Mystics, the Lips went rock. Big guitars riffs and a more minimalist production on many tracks (see The W.A.N.D and Free Radicals) really separated this from their previous works, sound-wise, but then there’s others like Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung, which joins their new-found guitars with the strings and futuristic soundscapes from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, to create a chugging mini-epic which I don’t understand, but enjoy immensely.
KEY TRACK: Free Radicals
4. Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
I don’t know how it’s possible not to like this. I don’t think there’s a band around at the moment that can produce such good glam-disco tunes as Scissor Sisters can, but not make them completely inaccessible to those who don’t wear bumless chaps (OK, I’m exaggerating here. But you know what I mean). This is all funk and disco, with a bit of vaudeville theatre thrown in for good measure (Intermission), as well as some huge, chugging, 1980s hair-metal guitar (see Kiss You Off). Their production skills are also top notch, meaning that this is a perfect sounding piece of work.
KEY TRACK: Paul McCartney
3. The Boy Least Likely To – The Best Party Ever
Easily the most charming album of 2006, and probably the history of the world. Most of the lyrics come from the viewpoint of a child, or, at least, a childlike mind, full of innocence and wonder at the world around him. Oh, and one track from the viewpoint of a turtle (Fur Soft As Fur). Of course. Adding to the childlike innocence of The Best Party Ever is the instruments used. Most involve recorders, the instrument of choice for most primary schools, and those acoustic wooden snakes that you scrape with a stick are in a few songs, and there’s plenty of xylophone, but pretty much anything will do. But it’s kept simple and bright, soundwise. Even songs about fears, such as Monsters or I See Spiders When I Close My Eyes are bright and bouncy pop songs, with lines like ‘I’ve got the blues, I’ve got lifts in my shoes, and I’m scared of the countryside. You could almost say this is an album about the ‘manchild’ – someone who is physically adult, but who refuses to grow up mentally. Whatever it all means, it’s a brilliant album. And that’s why it’s number three in my list.
KEY TRACK: Monsters
2. The Sleepy Jackson – Personality: One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird
At first, I’d thought Luke Steele had lost it. He’d created an alter-ego for himself, named ‘Luke Blonde’, whom he turned into by wearing a blond wig and strange futuristic glasses like the guy from X-Men. The Sleepy Jackson only consisted of him and the drummer, as the rest of the band had either left or been fired. And there were reports that he had created a choir by multi-tracking himself 32 times, or something. And when Personality: One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird was released, it seemed that my concerns were right. I didn’t much like it. But that has changed. I really love this album now, after a few months of listening to it. It’s nothing like the previous album, Lovers, but that’s not a bad thing. Whereas that was a mishmash of styles, this is pretty much a coherent bunch of beautifully orchestrated tracks, bursting with strings and choirs, and Luke’s unmistakeably unique vocals. There are a few oddities in here, however, like God Knows, which, though it does have the strings and choirs, also involves Luke’s old friend, Mr Slide Guitar. Then there’s Play A Little Bit For Love, in which The Presets add some disco elements. Of course, I have to mention Don’t Say here as well, which was mostly written by The Veronicas. This is the only case in which I can say that I like their work. It’s a decent, tight little pop song, and does fit in with the rest of Personality. One criticism I’ll make of this, though, is the multiple religious references. I’ve never known an album (outside of the usual genres of ‘religious’, ‘gospel’ and ‘country’) to have so many song titles to do with God or the Devil (For the record: Devil Was In My Yard, God Lead Your Soul, God Knows, Higher Than Hell). Nevertheless, this is another beautiful album, and one that has a clearly defined vision for itself.
KEY TRACK: I Understand What You Want But I Just Don’t Agree
1. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit
And so we come to number one. I’ll admit, it’s not a huge surprise. But I truly love this album. It’s such a development in their sound, even when compared to Dear Catastrophe Waitress, but loses none of the qualities that made them so great. I’m not even sure I can do it justice in describing it. There’s The Blues Are Still Blue, a bit of a 1960s funker, with a chorus revolving around laundry tips (Well, that’s what I can gather). There’s We Are The Sleepyheads, with its hyper guitars and drums, and echoing ‘ba-dah ba-dah’s, which sounds like it ought to soundtrack a chase scene. I’ll probably end up namechecking all the tracks, so I’ll stop there. It’s just such a cheery record, and most (if not all) of the songs are perfect sounding. The songwriting skills of Stuart Murdoch are still up there with the best. I’m glad that they’ve returned to a focus on Murdoch and his own songs, as that’s where the original charm of the band lay, not in little flights of whimsy from the others, which, while good, detracted from the better material. It also makes for a more coherent album, with a clear progression. The Life Pursuit was my most played album of the year (some tracks have playcounts of almost sixty in iTunes), and I’m not yet bored of it. So that makes it my number one album of 2006.
KEY TRACK: Sukie In The Graveyard