2006 - Top 12
Mike Rea's top 12 albums of the year.
Every year, it gets harder to compile a 'Best Of' list. With more music, and more great music, being released with every new year, the albums that make it to the top are pretty special. Despite the mediocrity that lives in the charts, there has never been a better time to love music (especially if you go abroad for it), and these twelve albums are only the tip of an excellent iceberg.
There may be a finer band on the planet, and there may be a finer songwriter, but if there is, I haven't heard it. This, the band's seventh album, may just be their best work, opening with the glorious Covered Up In Mines, and proceeding through songs that, at turns, display crunching Crazy Horse rock, and then sweeping elegiac beauty. It is impossible not to use the word 'masterpiece' in any review. Repeated listening is not just desirable, but essential.
Ba Da Bing
An album whose comparisons run to Neutral Milk Hotel, Andrew Bird, Tom Waits, Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens and infectious Russian folk music suggests a work of rare genius, with utterly compelling rock mixed through a few centuries' worth of music. It rewards from the first listen, but is more habit-forming than nicotine. There is no pigeonhole that would do this album justice, such is its level of creativity and surprise. No fan of Waits or Sufjan could resist this album, but it should have a place on every right-thinking listener's shelf.
The Black Keys
One man and his guitar, and a drummer with the stage presence and attack of Animal from the Muppets, The Black Keys have cool (and an analogue sound) that The White Stripes could only dream of. With that sound echoing the dirtiest blues you have ever heard and a funk that seems to target your gut rather than your head, Magic Potion is the band's best studio album to date, pulling off the task of capturing the raw electricity that characterises their live sound, and throwing in some of the best songs the boys have penned. This is real soul food. It stays hooked onto the pleasure button in your brain (or your groin) mercilessly. Anyone who has seen The Black Keys live has the music's visceral intensity burned into the memory - Magic Potion is the album that comes closest to that experience.
4. Bruce Springsteen
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
With music inspired by folk singer Pete Seeger, and covering some of the same classics Seeger reinvented, this is an album created by putting great musicians in a house and letting them have a wild time with some folk classics. Literally. Recorded in 3 days, the looseness and enthusiasm is audible. The music can't be described better than Bruce himself manages in the liner notes: street corner music, parlour music, tavern music, wilderness music, circus music, church music, gutter music.
Orphans (3 CD set)
30 new songs, including his own versions of tracks previously given out to other artists, and covers of artists from The Ramones to Leadbelly, there's not another artist on the plant capable of a career with these highlights. Waits is often called enigmatic for his refusal to follow any kind of prescribed pattern or fit into any pigeonhole, but the music on display (the rhythms, the passion, the guts and thunder) underpins any call for the man to be labelled simply as a genius. The breadth is as astonishing as the depth of quality.
Built To Spill
You In Reverse
There are moments on You In Reverse which remind of 20 years of alternative rock, from the Cure through The Smiths to REM, but mostly what there is is some riveting, vibrant rock, routed through some classic guitarsmithery. You In Reverse is spacey, catchy and spun from woven melody lines. Two listens will have you waking up with at least one of these songs playing in your head. It is addictive stuff, intelligent rock with crunch and soul.
The Trials of Van Occupanther
Although Midlake are often compared to Grandaddy and the Flaming Lips, their musical style is closer to OK Computer's Radiohead, mixed through a healthy dose of 1970s Crosby Stills Nash and Young. This is a gorgeous album, filled with classic and elegant songwriting, beautifully performed, and will hearten the soul of anyone for whom Grandaddy were just a little bit weedy. Midlake are a handy reminder that there are some remarkable bands around, just off the normal radar.
This is what happens when you steep kids in their dads' Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Deep Purple albums for 20 years. The music is pure seventies hard rock. Recorded in the same studio as Nirvana's Nevermind, the feel of the music is captured beautifully, warts and all - the way Jimmie Page always preferred it. Perfect for the kids, and perfect for any 40-somethings whose Zeppelin itch has needed scratching for a while.
Band of Horses
Everything All the Time
Into the singer-songwriter/ angular rock world of Iron and Wine and the Shins, Band of Horses is a fantastic addition. The music is anthemic, dreamy and gorgeous - one listen to The Funeral suggests some great world in which Yes and Feeder combined for one great song - it is one of 2006's best songs. Everything All The Time has nods to classic Neil Young throughout, but is more consistently accessible and just absolutely gorgeous in its sweeps and early-Coldplay aching tension.
Tokyo Police Club
A Lesson in Crime
Paper Bag/ IODA
You may think 7 songs and 16 minutes is an EP, but actually it is a perfect statement from a genuinely exciting rock band. While many over-hyped bands claim new, fresh rock ground for themselves, this Canadian band serve up the freshest album heard this year - like The Strokes, but with the excitement notched up to 11, and none of the irritation. The songs, wonderfully, clock in around 2 minutes - there is no spare air, never mind any wasted space. For now, we should be grateful that 16 minutes this great can still find their way onto a disc, and that guitar-based rock does have plenty of space left above the Arctic Monkeys.
Ok Go are one of those bands whose rock comes so perfectly formed, so perfectly packaged and so perfectly infectious that you wonder why other bands don't just give up. With a tight hard rock feel, like say Weezer, but combined with a British wit and sense of humour, as well as some nice spikiness, this is the Arctic Monkeys turned up to 10 and in full command of their songwriting and playing. Oh No mixes up the styles a little, with Prince-style R&B mingling with catchy power pop, and a Kendal Mint Cake level of energy throughout.
Be Your Alibi
Clearly learning from the best of American indie, the sound of bands like Arcade Fire, Interpol and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is in evidence, but mostly The Race sound like Coldplay's Chris Martin taking over The Cure from Robert Smith or early U2 from Bono. The music is anthemic, huge and constantly exciting - Edge-like guitar and great drumming. Goodness, there is no suggestion anywhere that this is a debut album - its ambition is tantalising and electric. The best British album of the year.
Compiled by Mr Mike Rea.