Good music certainly abounded this year. 2006 was definitely packed with hits in Conorland with big releases by big artists such as Paul Simon, Damien Rice and Tom Waits ……. and big releases by the lesser knowns like Camille, M Ward and Guillemots…. The Beatles released yet another repackaged/rehashed CD but this time it was worthy. A very special collection of slightly juggled Beatles tracks that make them shine as if brand new – you can almost pretend that it’s your first time hearing these foundations of modern music!I’ve had a year to enjoy and digest it all and I’m ready to announce my nominees for the best in Conorland 2006. I need another week or so to choose the overall winner but it will be one of these – Are you sitting down? Here it comes ………
Best Album (in no order as yet)
1. Bell X1 – Flock
At the start of the year I would have put money on them conquering the word – in fact I have an awful feeling I might have. It would seem the world is going to make them wait a while longer and yet again I remain baffled. Madonna releases an Abba song and is declared a genius while Bell X1 release a masterpiece and are made plod along almost forgotten. Flock is a ridiculously strong and infectious album. From the perky funk of Flame to the superbly smooth Bad Skin Day this album never lets you down. Plus it has one of my favourite rock/pop songs in years Rocky took a lover written about a homeless man the band knew (called Rocky) and his homeless girlfriend – it’s a modern non-christmassy Fairytale of New York and it’s exquisite! Oh and it contains the fabulous line ‘I don’t believe in any old Jesus – if there was a god then why is my arse the perfect height for kicking’.
2. The Essex Green – Cannibal Sea
Ahhhh this was the secret jewel of the year. I have yet to meet anyone who has even mentioned this great group to me and yet they are a wonder! I got this album after a gushing review in Uncut and boy was it worth it. Kind of like a poppier Innocence Mission they really know how to write a good and catchy song. Plus I am always a sucker for mixing a man’s voice with a lady’s (Damien Rice/Lisa Hannigan, The Chalets etc) and I love the way they swap lead vocals. Their tunes are so melodic and uplifting it can’t but put a spring in your step – or at least make your ears tickle! Don’t Know Why, Rue de Lis and Slope Song particularly suck you in – from which there’s little chance of escape.
3. Cortney Tidwell – Don’t Let Stars Keep us Tangles Up
Who is this lady who seemingly arrived from nowhere with this incredibly special album. You don’t know where she’s going to take you from one song to the next. Don’t try to compare her to anyone because just as you’re about to imagine it might be Bjork she wrecks that idea and leads you up the Stina Nordemstam path only to ditch you at a sharp corner to Morcheeba meets Vic Chesnutt – ah to hell with it – she’s just Cortney and I can’t imagine any star getting her tangled up. I totally fell in love with Our Time, La La and Society (a duet with Kurt Wagner).
4. Neko Case – Fox Confessor
After listening to this it’s tempting to think that Neko should just quit now for she could surely never again create an album this great. It is a classic – pure and simple and one that will keep us happy for years. The tunes just keep coming, with this haunting and powerful voice that lifts them from simply being great songs to American anthemic hymns. Star Witness, the absolutely perfect Hold On, Hold On and Maybe Sparrow being my personal favourites. Ahhhh Neko ……..
5. David Kitt – Not Fade Away
I was absolutely not expecting this. Little did I think Mr Kitt would ever rise to such heights as to grace my best of year list but with this album he most certainly deserves his place. He’s a quiet star really and it’s perhaps his subtly that I have always found so appealing. Not fade Away however knocks some of that subtly away and what we get is gloriously catchy tunes that have been going round and round in my head for way too long. It took me a couple of listens before I fell in love but when I did it was passionate! One Clear Way, Up to You and Nothing Else had me sending Valentine cards.
6. Kila & Oki – Kila & Oki
Now I have loved Kila for years and years – ever since I first heard On Taobh Tuathaill Amach. Their lively blend of Irish trad music with other world music has always been miles better than all the other imposters. Their musicianship is unparalleled and to top it all they know exactly what a good tune is. And because of my long term admiration I bought this new album which features the Japanese musician Oki as soon as it came out without listening to it. To say that it blew me away is an understatement. The words best Irish album in years springs to mind. Kila & Oki rock, they sing, holler, rap, make their instruments soar and their rhythms delicious. They have produced such a fine selection of tunes that my only sore point is that they really really really leave me wanting more. These songs are perfect. Topattumi, Ni Liom Fein and Ororo Raha are good indications of how great this is.
7. Cansei de Ser Sexy – Cansei de Ser Sexy
These ladies scare me – honestly. They also make me laugh, a lot. They know how to party that’s for sure. They also know how to create fun, poppy brash songs. Just who could think up songs like Let’s Make Love and Listen Death From Above? As if it wasn’t obvious enough that they don’t take themselves seriously they even have a track called CSS Suxx. It works perfectly as a package for me because of their stompingly good tunes – and you can have hours of fun trying to figure out what it’s all about. Thank god for CSS I say – man cannot live on Waits alone. Fuckoff is not the only thing you have to show, Music is my hot Sex and Alala are particularly ace.
8. Cerys Matthews – Never Said Goodbye
and thank God that she never did because we still need her. While her first solo album was sweet and sound this one gets the chance to be a bit rougher – which suits her voice so much more. She hasn’t lost the ability to write a great song and this time gives herself the chance to rock out a wee bit again. It’s a solidly good album that rewards with repeat listening. She might not still be all over the front page but she certainly hasn’t lost it! Streets of New York, Oxygen and Ruby are giving me road rage!
9. Anna Ternheim – Separation Road/Naked Versions II
I am including the extra cd that came as a package because without it the album would not make my list. If you consider the two together though they provide enough to thoroughly merit their place here. It’s actually quite baffling to me why some much stronger tracks were relegated to the second bonus CD. Regardless, the fact is that Anna has produced another bunch of perfect tunes. She brings these songs to life with her unique spark that makes it clear that she is not just another singer/songwriter. With a voice that sounds innocent and almost naive she sings words that are anything but. If I hadn’t seen her in person with my own two eyes I wouldn’t believe she is so young. No Subtle Men, Black Widow and Highlands are my personal highlights – although they change regularly as befits songs this good.
10. Howling Bells – Howling Bells
Again I picked this up from an Uncut review having previously known nothing. Almost a throw back to my Pixies, Breeders, Belly, Throwing Muses student days this is a rock album to play loud and rejoice in loud melodic tunes. God I love rock chicks! This is a thrashingly good indi-ish album. Low Happening, Setting Sun and Broken Bones will have 4AD weeping.
So there you have it – my ten for 2006. The ones that are just bubbling under are Josh Ritter – The Animal Years, Beck’s The Information and Sufjan Steven’s The Avalanche. There were many other good albums with some amazing tracks but that I felt were not consistently great such as Basement Jaxx, Junior Boys, and Koop. Ane Brun’s – A Temporary Dive, The Chalet’s – Check In and Andrew Bird’s – The Mysterious Production of Eggs were among my favourites this year but seeing as they were all 2005 releases I’ve been a good boy and resisted the urge to include them. If I could and would though they’d be there because all three are excellent!
Best Song (in no order as yet):
1. 9 Crimes – Damien Rice
2. Rocky took a lover – Bell X1
3. Hold On, Hold On – Neko Case
4. Hey You – Basement Jaxx
5. Our Time – Cortney Tidwell
6. Within You – Ray LaMontagne
7. Valentine – Delays
8. LDN – Lilly Allen
9. Music is my hot sex – Cansei de ser Sexy
10. Girl in the War – Josh Ritter