Top 50 Albums of 2006 (Part One)
Contrary to the opinion of many of my friends and various other naysayers, 2006 was not a barren, musical wasteland. It was, in fact, a great year for new music. Really. This list marks our fourth attempt at summarising the year in Top 50 format and I'm pretty confident that this list is our strongest yet. You'll have to let us know if you agree.
A less contentious argument would be that this our most diverse end of year round-up, featuring albums that span the full musical spectrum from black metal to, well, Joanna Newsom. Oh come on, that lukewarm review didn't fool you - you knew she'd make the cut...
Finally, this year is the first time that I've been totally surprised by the #1 pick.
The first 25 albums (that's #50 to #26 inclusive) are displayed below.
Part two of our feature (the top 25 albums of 2006) can be accessed by clicking here.
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50. I'M FROM BARCELONA
"Let Me Introduce My Friends" (Dolores)
"A cheerful, twee-like record from a 29-piece chorus. Guess where they're from? No, it's actually Sweden (yes, the Swedes are taking over because they are better than you), and these guys will have you romping through meadows with your childhood sweetheart. A breath of fresh air from the deep and melancholy, without feeling trite." - Gabbie Nirenburg
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"Skeleton" (The Control Group)
"Why does a Danish band in 2006 sound like an American indie-rock outfit from the 90's? I don't know, but I'm not complaining because Skeleton is better than your average well disguised tribute record. If you can forget the fact that every review under the sun compared them to Built to Spill and judge Figurines on the strength of songs like The Wonder and Rivalry, you won't be disappointed." - David Coleman
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48. THE FUTUREHEADS
"News And Tributes" (679)
"Their record label may have been immune to its charms - they unceremoniously dumped the band last month - but the second album from the Futureheads certainly impressed our staff, marking them out as the best of the current British post-punk inspired set." - David Coleman
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47. SECRET MACHINES
"Ten Silver Drops" (Reprise)
"Ten Silver Drops is an album with all the ambition and excess of their first outing but with an additional and welcome sense of direction and entertainment. Evidence can be found in the inclusion of cuts that might even pass for singles - sinuous, bittersweet rocker and opening track, Alone, Jealous and Stoned, and the thunderous, populist live favourite Lightning Blue Eyes. There are fewer lyrics about elves, fairies and spaceships. There are still, of course, the Can-inspired drum sequences, the swooping lyrics, the distinctly kosmische musik arrangements, and the occasional tendency to allow songs to drift at the beginning and end. There's a further and very welcome influence added to this excursion, specifically the French keyboard aces Air and their ability to compose the epic ballad, one imagines teased out by former Smashing Pumpkins Producer Alan Moulder, as on the Gothic, windswept closer 1,000 Seconds." - Ben Bollig
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46. GRIZZLY BEAR
"Yellow House" (Warp)
"Lo-fi in manner but upgraded in terms of production, Grizzly Bear is no longer Edward Droste on a 4-track in a bedroom. Now a fully-fledged crew, they have seemingly relocated to a cosy log cabin in the woods to have endless fires. Dusting the rich earth into the pores of their woodsy, graceful, melodies; they have found a new habitat basking below the light rays that penetrate the dense tree-line. Routinely capricious, the folkloric subtlety of Yellow House ties its saccharine moments into a roller-coaster of hidden charms." - Tara Campbell
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45. TIM HECKER
"Harmony In Ultraviolet" (Kranky)
"Tim Hecker, like the majority of ambient artists, is subjected to endless, often pointless interpretation. However, criticism of his work is for the most part unvarying - his five previous records produced beatless, textural ambient soundscapes delicately communicating a comfortable loneliness with disintegrating transmissions simmering just beyond the capability of our senses. His sixth, Harmony in Ultraviolet, marked a shift in emotional tone, but did not lack in intensity. In fact, it is perhaps Hecker's most intense record to date, relentlessly attacking our ears with explosive fissures of gorgeous white noise. It's no coincidence that Hecker was inspired by Arthur Kroker's "homages to the posthuman joys of the machine" - massive steel structures seem to bend and rotate in cyclic patterns amongst flushes of burning colour. Perhaps his most accomplished, cerebral record yet." - Neil Insh
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"Blood Mountain" (Warner / Reprise)
"In the age of indie, in the age of skinny fit jeans, sculpted hair and angular guitars, metal has become an unpopular odour amongst the MySpace generation. But here is a record that may just stand up and be counted when the dust settles and the hair gel runs out. An expansive mix of Melvins-like slow dirge and King Crimson-like pomp, Mastodon's major label debut is as complex as it is raw. It says a lot about a band when the likes of Josh Homme and Cedric Bixler-Zavala come running to lend a hand as guest appearances. It appears Mastodon have emerged, reverb, flanger and all, to bring black back to the masses." - Peter Houghton
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43. THE KNIFE
"Silent Shout" (Rabid)
"Yet another nigh-perfect Swedish pop group. Synth-power-pop with a calypso backing and a haunting, sexy sound. Imagine a bit of Ratatat, Kraftwerk and maybe even the Cure, but with a lot more reverb and softer about the vocals. Original, interesting and fun." - Gabbie Nirenburg
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"Our Worn Shadow" (Acuarela)
"Three years after his slow-burning mini-album debut on Moteer, Chris Coles' aka Manyfingers' follow-up finally emerged on Acuarela - and what a follow-up (New Year's resolution: never use that ridiculous word 'sophomore' ever again)! The lonely life of the multi-layering multi-instrumentalist was tempered slightly by the inclusion of a few nice girls voices and a smattering of lyrics that teased at the edges of revelation without ever actually supplying it: 'the time I gave for measured shores', 'our worn shadow' and 'rain' (sum total). But for the most part this was just, unbelievably, a one-man show, packing a merry welter of instrumental diversity to match its treasure-chest of musical ideas." - Paul Roylance
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41. VARIOUS ARTISTS
"Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound" (Soul Jazz)
"In the late 1960s, Brazilian musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, shook off the stereotypes of national music such as the bossa nova style or the constraints of the political folk song, and looked towards psychedelia and rock 'n' roll as a rebellion against their musical peers and the conservative sectors who took control in the 1968 coup. Meanwhile plastic artists found inspiration in the fabric of the modern Brazilian city, in particular the beaches and favelas of Rio de Janeiro: the result was Tropicalia: crazy, colourful, funny and subversive enough to see its principal protagonists jailed by the army and exiled to the UK." - Ben Bollig
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40. BOB DYLAN
"Modern Times" (Columbia)
"Nothing makes our cultural decay plainer than the fact that this crusty old bloke's record is so much richer than nearly everything else released this year. Here is an artist intelligent and engaged, revelling in tradition yet entirely au courant. And even though his voice is shot he sings better than ever. Listen to the pathos on When the Deal Goes Down. Case closed. " - Alan Shulman
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39. GIRL TALK
"Night Ripper" (Illegal Art)
"Girl Talk is Greg Gillis, a 24 year old from Pittsburgh (incidentally, my home town) who weaves together the absolute best of every hit you were embarrassed to listen to in the 90's. Because of its steady beat and seamless transitions, Night Ripper sounds more like one long track - the mash-up to beat all other mash-ups to a pulp." - Gabbie Nirenburg
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38. MARCONI UNION
"Distance" (All Saints)
"The juxtaposition of the words 'ambient' and 'classic' will, most properly, trigger the result 'Music For Airports' in most discerning ears. Equally proper, then, that this superb album should emerge on the illustrious All Saints label, founded by Brian Eno himself. It's really nothing like its thirty-year-old predecessor, but, as nocturnal, rhapsodic, and chilled to perfection as it is, contemporary concept electronica comes no finer." - Paul Roylance
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37. BAND OF HORSES
"Everything All The Time" (Sub Pop)
"I remember questioning Sub Pop's A&R policy at the start of the year when I heard a track from these guys. Then I heard The Funeral and was forced to eat my words. Although nothing else on this record matches that outstanding lead single in terms of emotional power, there are enough other highlights (Great Salt Lake springs to mind) to suggest that the makers of this encouraging dÃ©but have a bright future." - David Coleman
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"Hello Everything" (Warp)
"Tom Jenkinson's 11th Squarepusher album combines all the usual ingredients (frantic bass guitar, bizarre rhythms) to good effect. Hello Everything won't transform electronic music in the way his 90's output did, but Jenkinson deserves credit for continuing to produce interesting and challenging music." - David Coleman
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35. PETER, BJORN AND JOHN
"Writer's Block" (Wichita / V2)
"Those pesky Scandinavians are at it again! Whether marrying the greatest (AKA the noisiest) moments of Jesus & Mary Chain with marching drums (Objects Of My Affection) or just giving you a gentle nudge in the ribs to let you know how beautiful a truly great a pop single can be (the whistle-delic beauty of Young Folks), Writers Block is an album that proves that often the kids at the back of the club wearing the horn-rimmed spectacles and the brown corduroy are the ones who come up with the ideas that keep you moving. A beautiful album that improves with every listen." - Peter Hayward
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"Snow on Moss on Stone" (Fat Cat)
"Mauri Haikenen released his second album this year on Fat Cat, and in doing so managed to create an album of post-Sufjan warmth and clarity that has matched anything similar anyone else tried to do this year. Don't let the thrashy acoustic singalong of opener Bakery put you off, pursue the record and you'll find charming, pretty and evocative songs, redolent of Finland's chill mornings and breath hanging in the air, yet with the same sort of satisfaction you get from being out in said morning with a set of really great gloves and scarf. Good warm music." - Simon Briercliffe
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33. FOUR TET
"A 2-disc remix spectacular. Disc one sees Kieran Hebden remix artists as diverse as Bloc Party, Madvillain and Beth Orton, while disc 2 features reworkings of Hebden's own work as Four Tet by the likes of Manitoba and Koushik. Like everyone else it seems, we enjoyed Hebden's remixes the most." - David Coleman
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"Ships" (Secretly Canadian)
"With the usual concoction of boisterous multi-instrumental schizophrenia that we have come to know of the Danielson Famile, Daniel Smith and his clan of all but timorous forces once again layer concepts like a jawbreaker changing flavours. By no means more cohesive than his past works, on Ships Danielson proves that ebullience lives in structural chaos. Like a circus-captain that meets his trapeze artist's grace for occasional, unforeseen duets, this album's fragmented attention span and sterling revelatory proclamations leave Danielson perfecting his musical dialect." - Tara Campbell
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31. THE DECEMBERISTS
"The Crane Wife" (Capitol)
"After three brilliant albums and two equally impressive EPs, it's perhaps no surprise that the Decemberists have slowed down a little. The Crane Wife is good, but not a great deal different from last year's Picaresque. If you enjoyed that record, you'll like this too, but if you were expecting a bold new direction from Colin Meloy & co then I'm afraid you're going to be a little disappointed." - David Coleman
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"Roots and Crowns" (Thrill Jockey)
"This record took us out on the back porch on a late summer evening, surrounded by the humidity and the mating crickets, illuminated only by the flash of the electric insect killer and the drifting lightning bugs, and pretty much left us there to ruminate on where we came from and where we're going. We didn't really figure out anything, but it was a nice night just the same." - Alan Shulman
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29. THE RACONTEURS
"Broken Boy Soldiers" (XL)
"Anglophiles Jack White and Brendan Benson give us a dose of good old fashioned rock and roll picked straight from 60's AM radio with blatant cap-tipping towards Zeppelin, Cream and the Beatles. With members of the Greenhornes providing rhythm section, white and Benson are let loose on their pet sound - stomping bluesy guitar licks (that's right i said "licks" and I'm comfortable with that), three part harmonies and quite enough corduroy. Groundbreaking this is not, but while the young pretenders are still busy deconstructing the Strokes and Marquee Moon, this seems like a breath of fresh air. Fresh hazy marijuana filled air." - Peter Houghton
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"Matthew Herbert picked up the funk-soul-tronica baton from Jamie Lidell this year: where the latter's Multiply earned him massive plaudits in 2005 for it's heartfelt grooves, Herbert's altogether more cerebral offering sees just as much heart and soul poured into its creation as Multiply, but scattered amongst that is his own caustic political slant, commentary on war in general and Iraq in particular, and a righteous indignation distinctly incongruous among the sultry sounds. Herbert allegedly used 635 different instruments (not counting his wife's lead vocals) to create Scale, and the result is a diverse and often fascinating album." - Simon Briercliffe
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27. MAN MAN
"Six Demon Bag" (Ace Fu)
"If Tom Waits ever had a cat-and-mouse chase with Satan drinking Jager, Man Man would be it. That is alongside the assumption that the following are in close proximity: a large sum of accordions and brass, some drunken field mice consuming only the darkest of ale, and a quantity of testosterone equal to a barrel of medieval men. Throw this all in a cauldron to send up the ether of time travel, reheat with global warming, and you'll have the best holiday dinner this side of Hansel and Gretel." - Tara Campbell
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"Love & Other Planets " (Domino)
"Two or three years ago Domino earned themselves a well-deserved reputation for scouting one of the most striking rosters of new artists. Alongside the headline-grabbing antics of Franz Ferdinand, Adem came across as almost excessively quietist and retiring. At a showcase gig at the ICA, I witnessed him berate the audience for talking so loudly that his instruments could not be heard. That year's album, Homesongs, was beautiful, precise and moving. But unless you paid an awful lot of attention, it was quite possible to miss it. Love sees Adem bulking up his sounds, hitching up the emotions, and giving it his all. On a couple of occasions this might even sound like the record Coldplay would produce with the benefit of a brain and a soul. " - Ben Bollig
. . .14 December, 2006 - 23:09 — No Ripcord Staff