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Wednesday, Sep 26 , 2007
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Top 50 Albums Of 2006
 
 

 
     
  Top 50 Albums Of 2006  
   
  The Subculture staff : Daniel, Nick, Adam, Solinas, Alex, Vivien  
     
 

2006 has been, at the very least, a 'solid' year for music. Great albums may be somewhat on the sparse side surely none would dispute that we’ve been absolutely with good ones. Arctic Monkeys' award-winning, record-breaking Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and rightfully so. 

Yet despite such monumental success the year will not be remembered for what we listened to but how we listened. No longer can downloading be regarded as something that 'other people' do. 

In March, Gnarls Barkley became the first act to top the UK charts without a single hardcopy pressing of the track released as 'DL' sales alone took "Crazy" to the top of the tree. And kept it there. 

The phrase 'Download Only' is now as established a part of the musical lexicon as 'limited edition'. Even the most established acts now use the web to discretely impose tracks into consumer culture. Whether it's merely to test the reaction or to remind us they're still here, it's incredibly cost-effective and it works. (By the way, Jarvis Cocker's "Cunts Are Still Running The World" is our 'Download Only' of choice.) 

And then we have Myspace. If you don't have one, your dad probably does; if not him then grandma. Your favourite band most certainly has one and are probably your 'friend' (but not really; do not expect them to come to your birthday party even if you invite them very politely.) But Myspace has democratized music, exposing bands, musicians and their music to an almost unlimited potential global audience as the costs of getting your band heard have plummeted. 

Myspace won't turn a crap band into a great one but it can help turn a good unsigned band into a signed one, a second tier act into a major label priority, as Lily Allen demonstrated. 

Does all this mean, as people are increasingly listening to songs not CDs, that the album - as a conceptual entity, 50-odd minutes, 12 or so tracks of unceasing music - has been read its last rites? Perhaps it's still a little too early to tell. In the meantime trends will continue to live and die like supernovas - is nu-rave over already? - and as long as records are being released, we're gonna keep talking about them. These are our favourites from the past twelve months.  

 
 
 
     
 
 
The Vines
Vision Valley
EMI
 

Vision Valley came as a surprise this year, especially after it looked as though The Vines had split due to Craig Nicholls's illness. But despite the setback, Nicholls's wrote Vision Valley whilst being treated and also found a new bassist for the band after the original walked out. The result is this half-hour of blistering post-punk that returns The Vines to form. It's raw, it's unpolished and it jumps out at you; everything that made the band rise to prominence 4 years ago.  Nicholls's vocals are at their most extreme. One minute they're lively, energetic and just plain mad, the next they are soft, emotive and thought provoking. Songs like "Fuk Yeh" and "Gross Out" are two tracks that bring across the pure energy and frustration of Craig. What makes the album especially good is the fact it has two sides to their sound. "Candy Daze", "Vision Valley" and "Take Me Back" all showcase the calmer and mellower side to The Vines which they do just as well as the mad punk side. Definitely this year's best comeback album. 

   
The Vines Web site
   
 
 
 
Lily Allen
Alright, Still
Regal
 

Had it been up to her label we would have no right to put this record in our Top 50. A year ago Regal weren't really all that bothered about the little madam who would become the tabloids' 'pint-sized, potty-mouthed pop princess'; they had Gorillaz, Kylie, Coldplay to think about and Alright, Still could come out.... whenever. But as her myspace friends multiplied and the music mags started knocking the a+r's were jolted The result was the only thing worth listening to last summer. Lily Allen's sneak attack proved the perfect antidote to those smarmy self-obsessed indie boys. Fuck The Kooks. Fuck Razorlight. Fuck The Killers. In fact: bollocks to boys. I want to listen to music that really doesn't give a fuck, that doesn't think it's going to change the world but is no less valuable, stimulating and engaging for it. Who cares what genre it fits into, or even if it fits into one at all, from the beam of her "Smile" to the fondly fraternal "Alfie" this is as complete an album as 2006 has seen. My housemate's and I have been asking: 'Lily Allen – would ya?', for months now. Ooooooh yes we would.

   
Lily Allen Web site
   
 
 
 
The Pipettes
We Are The Pipettes
Memphis Industries
 

Okay, so when it comes to The Pipettes I am more than a little bit biased. Three years ago I had my first encounter when they were bottom of a bill of three Brighton-based bands. When they took to the (teeny weeny) stage the place was full, by the time the headliner arrived the venue was empty. Then about eighteen months ago, before they supported the Magic Numbers in a one-off show, I interviewed the threesome. A month later they finally signed the record deal. I'm not saying the two things are related but.... This summer the album came out; we met them again; and fell in love with them again. A British 21st Century Shangri-Las, singing pistol-punch pop songs The Pipettes are simultaneously girls-next-door and unattainably entrancing. We Are works because it does what it wants to with love songs of 'they just don't make 'em like that any more' mode. Except they do. And aren't we delighted.

   
The Pipettes Web site
   
 
 
 
Midlake
Trials of Van Occupanther
Bella Union
 
Midlake made a little-known debut with their first full-length album, Bamnan and Silvercork. Fortunately they made more of a splash with their second, The Trials of Van Occupanther, an endearing mass of sparkling Grandaddyish indie folk-rock. Midlike opens it with the driving guitar of "Roscoe", which seems like an ideal single to get people 'roped in',  only to change back to their tried-and-true sound with the songs that follow -- rippling piano folk, hymnlike pop full of heavy Hammond, whimsical guitar folk full of 'whah whah' synth, and pastoral prettiness. And their sound has grown even more polished than before, tripping lightly over Tim Smith's wistful voice and the lyrics about 'walking with no one', empty streets near the ocean, thieves, a scientist seeking escape from the world, and a girlfriend who lives 'in some branches', which prevents an eager young man from marrying her. It's a dreamlike experience, in an album that never seems quite real.
   
Midlake Web site
   
 
 
 
Sparklehorse
Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
Parlophone
 

Mark Linkous has always been one of the more mysterious indierockers, with his spellbindingly eerie albums and songs about near-death experiences. And he doesn't disappoint in his fourth full-length album. It starts off with his poppiest and most appealing song since... well, ever. "Don't Take My Sunshine Away" is a shimmering, fuzz-addled little pop tune with a catchy rhythm, and exquisitely romantic lyrics. Having lured people in with the eeriest, sweetest pop tune of them all, Linkous segues into a series of fuzzy, haunted folkpop tunes laced with synth and fuzz. He dabbles in some folky rock, ghostly folk, and even a driving indie-rock tune that blazes with a kinetic riff. But by the end he's returned to the shimmering mix of rock and psychfolk, culminating in the ten-minute finale, which is also the title song: A haunting, atmospheric blend of piano, synth, wavering guitar, and soft blips. It's a rollercoaster ride through the world's prettiest haunted house, and is definitely worth the price of admittance.

   
Sparklehorse Web site
   
 
 
 
Starlight Mints
Drowaton
Barsuk
 
Oklahoma is not exactly the last bastion of midwestern indie-rock, but they did produce the 'pop mutants' from the Starlight Mints, a gloriously bizarre band that gets better with each successive album. In this case, Drowaton, a bizarre little collection of catchy, fun pop with classical edges -- uncommon, and never dull.
It kicks off with the grinding, horn-speckled "Pumpkin", a song best described as fuzz-funk. It's followed up with a dramatic chamberpop tune that veers from mood to mood, riding on a jagged acoustic guitar riff... and then getting caught up in buzzy synth and a piano melody. The Starlight Mints then veer happily off on another series of songs: driving indie-rockers, psychedelic classical pop full of wobbling violins, the aptly named "Rhino Stomp", poignant guitar pop, raucous blasts of guitar, and shimmery psychpop... ending up with a little synth-violin number. This is the most rock-oriented of the Starlight Mints' three albums, and fortunately they know how to keep the basic riffs and lines from ever getting dull -- lots of classical violin and hesitant synth, with the occasional blast of horns to add a more colourful atmosphere. It's a charming ride from beginning to end.
   
Starlight Mints Web site
   
 
 
 
Love Is All
Nine Times That Same Song
What's Your Rupture?
 

A breath of fresh air from Scandinavia’s finest new band, Nine Times That Same Song fits perfectly with the influx of female lead driven bands. This is by far the best cheery-pop indie record of the year and uses a unique blend of raw danceable beats and lo-fi/punk guitars, finished off with the odd splattering of saxophone that leaves you feeling smiley and liberated.   The jangly vocal driven indie-pop that makes up this album was noticed by the late John Peel who showcased them on his influential radio-cast sessions. He saw the potential and the album does not disappoint. "Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk" is a superb energetic, shouty pop fest that leaves you wanting more and "Ageing Had Never Been His Best Friend" is a stand-out track and "Busy Doing Nothing" showcases the sax at its best. Lead singer Josephine’s broken English may sound strange at first but it helps shake off the comparisons with Karen O and is very unique; this is an essential album of the year, maybe even the best. 

   
Love Is All Web site
   
 
 
 
The Strokes
First Impressions Of Earth
Rough Trade
 

This third attempt from the most influential of New York bands was an album that was highly anticipated and took a slightly different direction than before. Much like 2003's Room On Fire felt different to the defining debut Is This It?, First Impressions Of Earth brought The Strokes sound to 2006 where Indie music became very much apart of the mainstream market.   The first single from the album, "Juicebox", was an example of this new approach, a cleaner more produced sound that when I first heard it, sounded nothing like The Strokes everybody knows. It worked however and was one of the best singles of the year as was "You Only Live Once" which opens the album. The album is almost double the length of the previous releases and so gave space for more experimentation with songs like "Ask Me Anything" which grows on you the more you hear it. Tracks like "Heart In A Cage" and "Red Light" show you that The Strokes are still capable of producing great guitar melodies and are right back to their best.  

   
The Strokes Web site
   
 
 
 
Muse
Black holes and revelations
Wea
 

Epic has taken on a completely new meaning.  With Black Holes and Revelations Muse have not only managed the almost impossible task of matching the masterpiece that was Absolution, they have also managed to reinvent their trademark sound whilst still staying true to their roots.  This albums wails, screams and amazes like the Muse of old, but in a more sexy, dirty and funky way – the dance infused beats of "Supermassive Blackhole" and "Invincible" sit perfectly alongside the delicate "Starlight", whilst the incredible "Knights of Cydonia" is clearly an anthem in the making.  This album proves Muse are at the very top of their game, and there is nothing anybody can do to stop them. 

   
Muse Web site
   
 
 
 
Ray Lamontagne
Trouble
14th Floor
 

Definitely the surprise hit of the year.  Ray Lamontagne has the most enchanting and powerful voice to hit the music scene in decades, and luckily he also has the songs to match.  This album weaves through heartfelt and emotive tracks at a rate of knots, leaving a relaxed tranquillity in its wake.  Where he goes from here is a good question, but for now we should all just kick back and enjoy the ride... 

   
Ray Lamontagne Web site
   
 
     
 
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