If I were choose any of the top tens as the best, then 2006 would have to be the one.
BARDO POND – Ticket Crystals (ATP)
Probably the best yet by the psychedelic sludge rockers with four of the eight tracks exceeding ten minutes, and none the worse for it. I’ll even forgive the Beatle tune.
BOXCUTTER – Oneiric (Planet Mu)
One of the two bright new dubstep artists who appeared in 2006, Barry Lynn’s take on the music was relatively sharp and clean with definite nods to Artificial Intelligence era Warp as well as the grime scene.
CARLA BOZULICH – Evangelista (Constellation)
The title of her first solo album for Constellation morphed into the name of her band for the next two. Bozulich’s bruised, harrowing album featured a number of the usual Hotel2Tango suspects, but it’s the astonishing emotional range of her voice that dominates the record. Not one for dinner parties.
BURIAL – Burial (Hyperdub)
As you get older, there’s less and less new music that genuinely takes you aback. It’s not that music becomes less important, it’s just that you’ve heard so much that it’s hard for something to be genuinely startling. Burial’s first album completely got me on the first listen. Unquestionably my artist of the decade.
CLOGS – Lantern (Talitres)
Violinist Padma Newsome has been increasingly busy as the National’s unofficial sixth member and guitarist Bryce Dessner is also a member of both bands. But Clogs are the equal of their more illustrious associates, although operating in a very different field. The violin, guitar, bassoon, drums format is an unusual one, but there’s nothing gimmicky about the music. Although mainly neo-classical instrumental pieces, the highlight is a vocal track, the beautiful, folky nocturne “Lantern”.
JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – IBM 1401 A User’s Manual (4AD)
An elegaic suite to an obsolete mainframe computer, with the giant beast contributing its own ghostly melodies. It’s a modern symphony of epic melancholy. As a bonus, there’s also a moving rendition of a Dorothy Parker poem, “The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black”.
JOANNA NEWSOM – Ys (Drag City)
It took a long time for this to melt my heart even though I could recognise it objectively as something of a masterpiece. Newsom’s voice is not something many people feel neutral about. Her Grimm-like fairy tales eventually weave their spell. A beguiling and unique record.
BJ NILSEN / CHRIS WATSON – Storm (Touch)
I can count the number of non-music CDs in my collection on the fingers of, erm, one finger. As a child, I was always absolutely fascinated by the sea. Living in the suburban Thames Valley, I didn’t get to see it that often. When I did, I used to weird out my parents by sitting on a breakwater and just watching the waves. Storm is simply two tracks of field recordings made by Watson and Nilsen of a single storm system that passed across the UK and on to Scandinavia. Wind, waves and wildlife – nothing added.
SCOTT WALKER – The Drift (4AD)
TOM WAITS – Orphans (Anti)
Two albums I still haven’t completely got to grips with for different reasons. Sometimes I wish everyone would stop making new stuff for a year to allow me time to give some older records the attention they deserve. Waits’s album is a bulging triple helping of old songs, new songs and other stuff he’d not got around to putting out before. Unlike anything else of this kind of provenance, it’s definitely not something you could whittle down to a single disc without losing some real quality. Walker’s set is dense and difficult. It’s like going through a computer game with tons of levels. Each listen reveals a bit more, but I’m not sure I completely get it yet.
Just to highlight how good 2006 was, no room here for some brilliant stuff by Clark, Pan American, My Latest Novel, Ali Farka Touré, Prince Valium, Camera Obscura, Bob Dylan or the London Sinfonietta’s Warp release.