Every music geek loves to make up a good list, and I am no exception. I know, how predictable is that, eh? It seems like everybody with a blog is putting out a top whatever of 2006. It’s kinda cool, because inevitably you get turned on to something you totally missed in the past year. Largehearted Boy is keeping track of all these lists over here. Seeing how many lists there are is a little overwhelming, but overwhelming or not, I’m adding to the cacophony.
1. Blumfled – Verbotene Fruchte
Blumfeld have been around since the early 90’s quietly putting out superb records in their native Germany (with a one leaking out to the US, L’etat et Moi back in ’95). This could be the best record they have made in their career. It has the familiar elements of the 50’s garage rock, but their sound has developed over the years to incorporate piano, keyboards and even prog-ish elements like in Atem und Fliesch. No matter the genre, Blumfeld like to sink their teeth onto a good riff and ride it, while Jochen sings in German, dropping in a English phrase here and there. Though the entire album is sung in German, language should not be a barrier to you listening to this record, cuz it’s the language of rock and roll that Blumfeld use!
2. The Whitest Boy Alive – Dreams
You may have heard of Erlend Øye from his main band Kings of Convenience. Apparently Erlend got tired of the electronics, because this band consists solely of guitar, bass and drums. It’s a soup of American Analog Set, Steely Dan and Joe Jackson and is totally different from anything he’s done. It’s a soulful, funky, and anxious record with a simplicity you don’t find in a lot of stuff these days.
3. The Fine Arts Showcase – Radiola
Not really a band but a vehicle for Gustaf Kjellvander to amaze you. This is such a gentle melancholic record. It’s actually down right sad, but his soothing voice and pop hooks carry you through it. He’s a Swede that grew up in Seattle and now lives in London, and you can hear that excellent pedigree in his songs.
4. Kelley Stoltz – Below the Branches
Kelley moved into an apartment that had an old abandoned piano in it. He decided to write the songs for Below the Branches on it and he came up with a masterpiece. It’s sparse, spartan, percussive yet has a warmth and playfulness to it that conveys his on stage personality. The songs are catchy as hell. Listen this a few times and you will be humming the songs throughout the cold winter months.
5. Figurines – Skeleton
The reviews I read most about these guys was that they were carrying the torch of grunge. But they are oh so much more than that. I hear a bit of Dire Straits, Elbow, a bit o’ country, a little Beach Boys, some Creedence and some emo. The Figurines defy the grunge categroization, by drawing on a lot of musical history for Skeleton. I wholeheartedly agree with the Danish government in giving them a grant to make this music!
6. The Essex Green – Cannibal Sea
On their third record, the voices of Sasha Bell and Christopher Ziter has totally clicked, hearing them sing these songs will put a smile on your face. Think the Mamas & Papas, Free Design and the Byrds, or for a contemporary reference, Sweden’s Acid House Kings. Bell’s voice really makes this record a winner, her timeless voice just sounds divine. This jem is out there just waiting for you to pick up and give it a home.
7. Mojave 3 – Puzzles Like You
I had nearly lost hope for these guys, their last record was a total snooze. But never lose hope (that’s what I say), they totally re-thought what they were doing and came up with beauty of a pop record. It still has that easy60’s SoCal sound, and Rachel Goswell’s not to be missed harmonies. This is hands down the best record in Mojave 3’s career(and the #7 best record of my year).
8. Brakes – The Beatific Visions
Leave it to UK band to put out the best war protest record of the year. Brakes record #2 surpasses their first by being a bit more refined, but still spewing loads of vitriol. The music is still a combination of punk, country and rock, but everything seems a bit more fleshed out this time. With the first lines of the record, ‘I woke up late and found my liberty lost, it had been written down in lore as a security cost’, you can tell that Eamon Hamilton is still good and mad at the U.S. government. He uses his anger as a muse throughout Beatific Vision to excellent effect. If you’re not mad as hell about the Bush administration and their bogus war, you will be after listing to the Brakes.
9. Human Television – Look at Who You’re Talking To
If you remember stuff by Dumptruck, the Feelies, the Bats and early REM and wonder why nobody makes records like that anymore, then this record may be the thing for you. It’s got jangling, chiming guitars and wistful lyrics that evoke that era, but put a modern day spin to it updating the sound with a bit of feedback and a nod to shoegazing. You’ll feel like your back in 1987… or 1992.
10. Babybird – Between my Ears there’s nothing but Music
Stephen Jones was somewhat of celebrity in his native England back in 1997 with his hit “You’re Gorgeous”. He was also very prolific, releasing 5 records in the span of a year. As it is in the UK the excitement died down and everyone moved on to the next latest thing. Jones kept recording sporadically under both the Baby Bird moniker as well his own name, but had been exceptionally quiet the last 3 years. This record combines the best of his early low-fi records with his later better produced, major label stuff. Between my ears reminded me how unique and catchy his songs can be.
You can keep reading (if you want). #’s 11 through 20 are availble after the leap!
11. Ryan McPhun & The Ruby Suns
Lil’ Chief Records down in New Zealand has picked up the torch from the defunct Flying Nun and is releasing some great records down under. Ryan McPhun & The Ruby Suns evoke the old flying nun sound a bit, but owe just as much to the Beach Boys, Bif Bang Pow, and High Llamas. They could even be mistaken for their UK band and label mates (They’re on Memphis Industries in the UK) Field Music. These songs are like tiny teenage symphonies to god, if ya know what I mean!
12. Howling Bells
Juanita Stein has a voice that reminds me a bit of the Sunday’s Harriet Wheeler, but the Howling Bells have a darker, more bluesy sound. I’m actually really surprised that this record didn’t get more recognition, the NME seemed to be the only place that really liked this album. It’s got an american friendly sound of wide open desert spaces, a bit of Nick Cave and an epic grandness that only a Texan could love.
13. iLiKETRAiNS – Progress Reform
Dark would be the first thing to describe this record. It’s not really full length but a compilation of singles, their debut full length will be out in 2007 on Beggars Banquet. In the mean time this seven song mini record is a fine intro to their dark, textured sound. Dave Martin has a voice reminicent of Mark Burgess of the Chameleons and the band’s songs are nearly as epic.
14. Math and Physics Club
Math and Physics Club are a band that disarm, and immediately put you ease. With James Werle’s jazz influenced guitar leads, the lovely use of organ and violin and Charles Bert’s tender, lovelorn vocals, it’s hard not to be enchanted by their songs. They’ve been lumped in with indie, twee set, being compared to the Lucksmiths, and Belle & Sebastian. Actually, that’s not such bad company. This is the perfect soundtrack to your rainy Saturday afternoon.
15. Boat- Songs that You Might not Like
These guys write intelligent, self deprecating, smart, and sometimes goofy songs. You would never know that they hail from Seattle, a city with a reputation for being a bit reserved and a little uptight. The songs will ‘climb into your ears’ and maybe not leave. Once you hear this record you’ll be singing the songs around your house with the people you live with giving you weird looks, but you won’t care because you’ll have been smitten by sound of Boat.
16. Mahogany – Connectivity!
I imagine that Mahogany approached Robin Guthrie to produce their first record in 7 years by saying something like, we wish that the Cocteau Twins never broke up, but since they did, we’ve been holed up in our bedroom writing the next Cocteau’s record for you. We can’t quite get that signature Guthrie guitar sound so we’ve come to you as a last resort. Truth be told, the Cocteaus were a great band, and any band that can conjure up their sound without totally ripping them off gets my admiration. It’s not all Cocteau Twins, you can understand the lyrics, there’s pieces of New Order and a heavy Stereolab influence as well. The song Supervitesse will have you on the nostalgic dance floor.
17. Hot Chip – The Warning
I wasn’t sure about these guys, at first. Not until seeing them live did the record really hit home. Live, they don’t just hit a few buttons and try to look busy, they actually play. It’s a totally organic experience that actually conveys itself to their record. The Warning has some killer singles in Over and Over, and Boy from School, but it was songs like the title track, No Fit State and Careful that kept me coming back to this album.
18. Amy Millan – Honey From the Tombs
Singer from Stars, Amy Millan records a country flavored album and I swoon. I’ve said it before and I’ll stand by it, she has best voice in indie rock, and everyone I know thinks she is the best thing about Stars. So why isn’t this record getting more props? It seems like she should be huge, well at least in my mind. She throws a few bones to Stars fans with the poppy Headsfull and Skinny Boy, the rest is folk and country tinged bliss.
19. The Radio Dept. – Pet Grief
At the beginning of this year, Pet Grief was the album I was anticipating the most. Their debut was a splendid Swedish interpretation of the Jesus and Mary Chain and I couldn’t wait to hear what they came up with next. Apparently they scrapped an entire record, because they just didn’t like the direction they were going. This time around they’ve traded in the bits of feedback for a more electronic, cinematic feel to their sound. It took a while to adjust to the change, but this spatious, dream-like, music evokes images of short bright summers and wide open winter landscapes. A beautiful record.
20. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block
I keep hearing that Sweden is the new Canada, at least the in the terms of cool music. Fact is, Sweden has been pretty damn cool for the last 10 years or so, it’s just now they’re getting a bit more recognition for the great bands coming out of their country. Peter Bjorn and John had one of this year’s best and most hyped singles in Young Folks, but they also put out a mighty fine album as well! It has its heart in the 60’s with it’s melodies that owe a bit to bands of that era, especially the Mama’s and the Papa’s, and guitars that owe more than a passing nod to the Shoegazers of the early 90’s. Young Folksis just the tip of the iceberg.