Similar to last year, here are 13 new albums I listened to this year, in order of most appreciated to least appreciated. I am laughably inept at this sort of writing, but I’m putting it down in the hope that someone will listen to something new because of it. If you prefer, just scan down the list.
1. Night Ripper – Girl Talk
Mashups are becoming more and more popular, and Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) might just be the man to bring them into the mainstream. I heard that he’d made an album containing samples from hundreds of different songs from the 60s to the 00s, but I got it more as a curio than anything else. The mashups I’ve heard in the past have occasionally been worth repeat listens, usually drab (though clever) after you’ve played it once. Night Ripper is a lot more than clever, though. It flows seamlessly from one sample into the next for over 40 minutes, layering them on top of each other, slowing them down, chopping them up, and sometimes using two or three conjunction to create some sort of delicious irony. In my head, all the samples contained within will forever be associated with this record, even the ones that I knew and loved before hearing it for the first time. It’s fresh, it’s now, it’s great.
Favourite track: 03 – Hold Up. It isn’t right to play favourites with an album that continuously segues (and that I can only listen to all the way through), but if there’s one track that best demonstrates Gillis’ ability to throw seemingly disparate sounds together and make them sound like they should have been heard that way before, it’s this one.
2. Return to Cookie Mountain – TV on the Radio
Into my African-American section now, and first up are the Brooklyn rockers TV on the Radio. This is somewhat less experimental than their excellent debut Desperate Youth / Bloodthirsty Babes, but it is a better record because of its more focused sound. While there’s nothing as spectacular and unusual as that earlier album’s Staring at the Sun, there’s still plenty of messing around. There’s nobody else that sounds like these guys, truly; combine that with lyrics as poetic as anything creeping its way into the mainstream, and you’ve got pretty much my favourite musical group of the moment.
Favourite track: 02 – Hours. The shortest and most straight-ahead track on the album – I love it because it provides the best vehicle for Tunde Adebimpe’s incredible voice and songwriting ability.
3. St. Elsewhere – Gnarls Barkley
DJ Danger Mouse topped my list last year by producing Gorillaz’ Demon Days, and he came very close to doing the same again in 2006 with this effort. Another I have to listen to from start to finish, DM and Cee-Lo Green’s first collaboration doesn’t really sound like rap, or rock, or pop. Yeah, I like things that are different and defy categorization (which is mostly fruitless with music anyway). Crazy was the song of the year and possibly decade, something so odd yet soothing as to captivate me whenever and wherever I hear it. If anything’s wrong, the album is very short at just over 37 minutes.
Favourite track: 02 – Crazy. Definitive.
4. Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco
Setting aside the absurdly self-indulgent namedrop-fests that are Intro and Outro (‘outroduction’ isn’t in the dictionary anyway, rappers take note), Lupe Fiasco’s debut was what Kanye West fans such as myself turned to this year to provide them with their hip-hop brilliance. Every track is catchy and innovative from the first listen, and lyrically he’s almost as smart as West, rapping about subjects more of us can relate to – particularly on the Kick, Push tracks. There’s no clear theme that runs through it all, but pretty much every track from 02 to 15 has wizardry of some kind.
Favourite track: 15 – Kick, Push II. Came a long way from dirty ghetto kids, yeah.
5. The Warning – Hot Chip
NME named Over and Over as the track of the year, and I’ve to agree it’s not far off. I was enamoured with it immediately, being as it was the most catchy song I heard all year, but it took me a while to warm up to the rest of it; once I did, I discovered something I liked very much. They’re a pop/electro mixture that is unusual yet strangely relaxing to the ear – often seemingly unstructured, but always knowing where they’re going. I have since obtained their first album, 2005’s Coming On Strong, which is of similar (though less daring) quality.
Favourite track: 11 – No Fit State. The darkest and most introspective on the album, with a driving beat/synth mix that you can’t shake from your head, and lyrics that will either delight or frustrate (in my case, the former).
6. Peeping Tom – Peeping Tom
Whether or not you’re a fan of Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, numerous other projects) shouldn’t matter in this case. It’s pop music as he’d like it to be, and it has a dirty, grimy feel that appeals to me very much. Each track is a collaboration between Patton, with his unmistakeable glam metal voice and unique musical innovations, and a different well-known musician or group, ranging from Amon Tobin to Massive Attack to Norah Jones. Despite that, it’s consistent all the way through, and there’s no real dead weight.
Favourite track: 11 – We’re Not Alone (Remix) feat. Dub Trio). I love a good closer, and this is a very good one – it stands alone just fine, but gives extra coming at the end of all the other tracks.
7. Taiga – OOIOO
Definitely the oddest thing I branched out to this year, this is the fifth album from Yoshimi P-We (subject of The Flaming Lips’ most well-known album) and her fellow female experimental punk rockers. I gave it repeat listens solely on the strength of the opening track, UMA, which had the most kick-arse drumming of any song I heard this year; as I got to know the rest of it better, it began to resemble something more interesting than a rack of confused sound. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I certainly enjoy and admire it a lot more than I expected to.
Favourite track: 01 – UMA. More than anything else this year, I’d love to see this performed live.
8. Confessions on a Dance Floor – Madonna
Yeah, I can’t believe it either. Lyrically she’s worse than ever (“I don’t like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork”), but das Queen of Pop reinvents herself better than anyone else. I never thought she’d do anything better than 1998’s Ray of Light, but she topped it pretty comfortably with this no-mucking-about dancehall extravaganza. It flows better than anything else this year except Night Ripper, and whoever she’s got producing now really knows how to churn out a good synth hook.
Favourite track: 02 – Get Together. Chosen as the third single; I particularly love the way it segues out from Hung Up, into this, then into Sorry.
9. Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound
This was my introduction to Brazilian music, and it’s great. Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil and Caetono Veloso are now names that will always prick up my ears when heard. I don’t think it’s cheating to put a compilation on here, especially when everything on it is good and quite alike-sounding.
Favourite track: 05 – Alfomega – Caetano Veloso. Supposedly the man is reviled by some in Brazil for his general pretentiousness, but he makes interesting music, so he gets a pass from me.
10. Scale – Herbert
Politically charged electronic music from the man who, from his lofty perch, looks down on anyone who uses non-original samples. He doesn’t fit well on a list that has Girl Talk sat at the top, but he’s always done pretty good stuff, and there are some very interesting tracks here. Unfortunately, there’s an equal amount of filler; he doesn’t seem imaginative enough to produce consistently intriguing music. Definitely worth a look for the standouts, though.
Favourite track: 01 – Something Isn’t Right. Extremely catchy, and vocally superior, anti-war / anti-Bush / anti-Blair / anti-establishment track – one of the best on any album on this list.
11. Black Holes & Revelations – Muse
Everybody’s favourite hilariously overblown rockers (or, as Ed would say, metallers in popular disguise) returned with another ‘more-is-more’ effort this year. I like Muse a lot, but I’m not getting behind any of the critical acclaim for this album, and certainly not for the much-vaunted second single Supermassive Black Hole. There are some very good tracks, as always, but as a whole it’s a pale imitation of Absolution or Origin of Symmetry, and a little way off the quality of their debut Showbiz. Matthew Bellamy remains, however, one of the most talented musicians working today – he is Muse.
Favourite track: 02 – Starlight. For a change, they toned their WORLD IS ENDING shtick down a bit here, and it worked wonderfully.
12. Half These Songs Are About You – Nizlopi
I listened to this on the back of the delightful JCB Song and its great video; the rest of the album is mostly not up to much, except for a couple of very good tracks. This is the sort of music I thought could be very, very successful, that inspired-by-Coldplay brand of wailing and gentle orchestration that everybody seems to love. Nizlopi haven’t hit it big yet, but they may yet do so; if they do, I will applaud respectfully, but with reservations. One thing the singer does extremely well is use swear words: sparingly, startlingly, in a way that makes you sit up and pay attention.
Favourite track: 08 – Freedom. A good song for feeling unhappy to; actually, just a good song.
13. The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living – The Streets
After two masterpiece albums about generally being an average yob, Mike Skinner turned to his now massive fame and fortune and tried to make it funny and interesting to us, his adoring listeners. Bzzt! No good, mate. It isn’t that his rhymes and flow have dried up; the stuff just isn’t nearly as inherently interesting, and it’s barely half as clever as what he’s put out before. On top of that, the hooks and beats are much more dull. File under ‘disappointment of the year’, apart from a couple of lights in the gloom. Hopefully he makes amends next time by returning to what he knows best.
Favourite track: 01 – Pranging Out. Falsely heralds the album as being as excellent as its predecessors, but the poorness of what follows shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is one fine track.
That’s it. Artists/groups that I discovered for the first time this year, but who did not release albums in the same year, included NoMeansNo, Modest Mouse, The Bravery, The Wrens, Benjamin Diamond, Masters of Reality, Hüsker Dü… and モーニング娘。Don’t laugh at me; I was once like you.