Thursday, December 14, 2006

Olly Wehring - Top 10 Albums 2006

10. Joanna Newsom – Ys

A very, VERY late entry. Would probably be higher had I heard it earlier, but even after only a handful of listens it’s clear that something very special is going on here. A harpist from the US, who sounds like Lisa Simpson, produces an album of only five tracks, the longest of which goes on for over a quarter of an hour. Sounds hateful, I know, but this is magical stuff. I’ve never heard anything quite like it before.

9. Thom Yorke – The Eraser

Anyone who knows me will think that, should Radiohead fart on record, it’d make my top ten every time. Until they do, however, that will remain just a theory, for this is as good as anything they’ve done since OK Computer.

Granted, this album is not without its challenging side but, like all Radiohead’s output, your patience is ultimately highly rewarded.

‘Harrowdown Hill’ – which deals with the suicide of Dr David Kelly in 2003 – carries the lyric “Did I fall, or was I pushed?” In one line, Yorke prompts more food for thought than all of the mainstream media has on this matter – we need people like him to keep us all sharp.

This side project was released with little fanfare, for Yorke’s fear was that many would suggest the end of Radiohead. If it is, then that may be no bad thing – this is an excellent listen that brings music bang up to date.

Just don’t go looking for any singles.

8. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not

What to say that hasn’t been said before? The hype almost got too much – almost. “Don’t believe the hype,” they said. So, don’t.

Seeing them live early in the year, however, sealed the deal. Not a weak track on an album that is - obviously - the strongest debut album since Definitely Maybe. Don’t argue, it just is.

7. Guillemots – Through the Window Pane

Without meaning to gloat, I knew them first, having seen them at both King’s College and Scala prior to the release of this (their next stop in town? Brixton Academy). They were my private little treat, and I’m thrilled this year has been so good for them.

Their Mercury nomination was richly deserved, having dragged my musical palate into a direction it had never been before. A double bass, a Brazilian death metal guitarist and some mild weirdness at their live stage shows (marching through the audience on their way to the stage, a wooden ‘throne’ for lead member Fyfe Dangerfield) suggests a hodge-podge of an album.

That would be fair. Adjectives like ‘eccentric’, ‘irreverent’, ‘out there’ and ‘whacky’ – all overused by critics to describe them - are also fair. The lack of quality control, however, lets this album down in places (‘Blue Would Still Be Blue’ is utterly pointless), and yet, with two of my tracks of the year on one album, Guillemots (oh, and it’s a stupid band name) have been a treat of a discovery.

6. Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope

A turn-up for my books, this one: My sexist, indie-white boy guitar textbook gets blotted by this fantastic album. Hailing from New York (you can tell by her drawl at times), this piano-based songwriter has introduced a few extra layers to some pop nuggets. The strength of the songs balances neatly the ‘quirkiness’ (for want of a better word) of moments where ‘better’ is pronounced ‘be’er’ and the odd burst of Russian and French. Hearing her sing “Summer in the city means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage” pricks the interest as well.

A great album either for late evening or on a train, this has one of the strongest opening salvos of any album this year – the first four tracks are all excellent.

5. The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home

Keeping up the angular, edgy pop end, this is Franz Ferdinand with a rose and a flick-knife. According to NME, lead singer Kate Jackson is incredibly ‘cool’. I think they’re all pretty good to go. Similarities to Pulp are fair, not only because they’re also from Sheffield – it’s no longer grim up north, but don’t ask them – they’ll probably cut-cha.

A cross between Franz Ferdinand, Sleeper (good Sleeper, mind) and Echobelly (ditto), this is great guitar pop with girls – superb. And ‘Separated by Motorways’ would be ace to hear on a dancefloor - bounce, bounce, bounce.

4. Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis

There are certain creative people that are sorely missed – folk who are so incisive, so funny and oh-so clever. Bill Hicks is one example. Jarvis Cocker is another. He’s been hiding under a bushel in Paris for the last few years but, the odd side project notwithstanding, he’s clearly been hard at work, as this debut solo album shows.

Too much has been said about the secret track, download-only single ‘Running the World’ (particularly the line “cunts are still running the world”), because elsewhere on Jarvis, there are rallies against the asbo-collecting ‘Fat Children’ who murdered him for his mobile, the police, who were busy elsewhere “putting bullets in some guy’s head for no particular reason” and the plastic non-fantastic vision of life embodied by Disney.

Hearing this confirms one thing – he should never go away for that long again.

3. James Dean Bradfield – The Great Western

A pretty obvious point, but if you don’t like the Manic Street Preachers, then you probably won’t like this. Then again, if you don’t like the Manics, then you’re already on a hiding to nothing, aren’t you?

This is a superb album of guitar driven melodic rock - it’s not too heavy, it’s not too political, and it’s not too angry, alienated or full of despair. In fact, it’s what any man JDB’s - or, indeed, my - age is.

The only real common ground with the MSPs is that the voice is the same - peel off a layer of the ‘issues’ the Manics used to bring to the table, and add a sprinkling of tuneful sensibility, and you have one of the surprises of the year. James Dean Bradfield has been unshackled and he’s skipping along happily.

2. Keane – Under the Iron Sea

Don’t flash me that withering look. And don’t call this my guilty pleasure, because it’s not. Keane have struck a chord with me since their first hit almost three years ago. This second album is supposedly a view into the “dark world of Keane”. Maybe a bit much has been made of their quarrels, and the rehab thing is just funny (“Christ, if Keane sound this bland when they’re boxed and battered, how staid would they sound sober”), but Under the Iron Sea has done it for me since day one.

This is pop as it should be.

1. Panic! At the Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out

Dismissed by many as ‘Emo’, this has been my discovery of the year – it’s guitar-based pop for the 21st century, and I can’t stop listening to it. They’re sickeningly young, they’re from Las Vegas, they wear eyeliner and the girls’ screams when I saw them at Brixton were deafening.

What’s not to like?

With song titles like ‘Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off’, and ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage’, many reviewers dismissed P!ATD as pretentious - that’s as maybe, but what fun this album is. The kids are all right, it seems.

Make hay now, though, because, with so many ideas bouncing around on one album, the brightest sparks tend to shine only briefly.

Top 10 Songs of the Year

10. James Dean Bradfield – Say Hello to the Pope

9. Mew - Special

8. Morrissey – Life is a Pigsty

7. Keane – A Bad Dream

6. The Long Blondes – Separated By Motorways

5. Keane – Leaving So Soon

4. Guillemots – Made Up Love Song #43

3. Pet Shop Boys ft. Rufus Wainwright – Casanova in Hell

2. The Killers – When You Were Young

1. Guillemots – We’re Here

The 2006 ‘It’s Not That Good’ Award

The Killers – Sam’s Town

This second offering has appeared in almost every ‘Top Albums of 2006’ chart going. The first album, Hot Fuss, should have acted as a warning, however – four or five killers, the rest was nothing but filler.

Sam’s Town works in exactly the same way, yet tilts more in the wrong direction. When You Were Young is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the year - the rest of it? Humdrum at best, pretty painful at worst. Brandon Flowers’ vocals on ‘This River Is Wild’ are pitched high enough only for dogs to hear, and the clunky faux-rudeness of ‘Bones’ (“Don’t you wanna feel my bones, on your bones?”) grates more than it titillates.

Thankfully, this hit-and-miss approach to albums doesn’t stretch to their live performances – in the flesh, The Killers remain formidable.

Runner-Up: Muse - Black Holes and Revelations.

The 2006 Emperor’s New Clothes Award

The Feeling – Twelve Stops and Home

Within one week of this offering being awarded album of the month status by Observer Music Magazine, I’d not only bought a copy, I’d also forked out for gig tickets.

This bland slice of pap has been made for one reason alone, and that’s to give ‘Fifty-Pound Man’ something to acquire on his annual trip to a record shop. Claiming it’s okay to embrace the cheese is one thing, but writing lyrics like “b-b-b-b-b-baby, you’ve got me going c-c-c-crazy,” and “I want you now, I don’t care how, we’re far too young to be saying a vow,” is lazy, fatuous, pointless and demeaning to us both.

Katie Melua has described this album as the best thing she’s heard all year.


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