Another year goes by....

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Jan 8 2007, 23h36

On every other end of year list I’ve read, everyone has said how bad a year 2006 was. Well, I guess that’s relative. I don’t look back on it in the same way as I do other years – 2003, for example, was a terrible year for me. 2006, on the other hand, wasn’t. I visited three countries I’d never visited before (Italy, Portugal and Holland). I fell in love, fell very quickly out of it, wondered what the hell I was doing and was lucky to meet someone that I really really hope is The One, a person that has captured my heart in ways I could only imagine before. I took on more responsibility at work, lost weight, put it on again, left a gym, joined another, joined yet another. I made some new friends, took more holidays, saw Madonna live in concert three times, started to learn the piano and listened to more music than I ever have in my whole life. And I discovered LastFM. So, to quote my favourite artist, 2006 was a “pretty good year”. And in time-honoured fashion, it’s only right that I, too, should tell whoever might listen about the wonderful music I discovered this year.

1. Pretty Scary Silver Fairy
Indulging my passion for new millennium electropop and sweet angelic vocals, this sophomore set from 2004’s Norwegian Idol Runner Up rocked my world in 2006 and is my CD of the year. Where 2005 brought me more-complex material, “Pretty Scary Silver Fairy pretty much sums up my taste in 2006. Like a sillier follow-up to the amazing Anniemal, this album showcases just how well the Scandinavians “do” pop, even if it does come from “search for a star” reality TV. Standout track and first single Samantha, one of this year’s best songs, is a good indication of where this record is at – smart, electronic, insistent, those “ooooh ooooh” hooks demanding that you pop your hip and “lift your head up” like the lady says. Saccharine follow-up single Will You Remember Me Tomorrow? also convinces, icy synths backed with a chugging bassline make for a heartwarming ode to the morning after. The album veers from the sublime (the two singles) to the silly (Robot Song, where Margaret utterly convincingly tells us that she’s “in love with a robot!”) to the downright sexy (Seek I'll Hide – “I’ll let you into my inside” – need I say more?) with Margaret addressing the eternal question of love and her relationship with it. Poppy it may be, silly it may be, but it’s one of the questions I myself have wrestled with this year and this, had I more of a pop producer’s brain, might just have been the way I would have approached it in music.

2. My Italian Greyhound
More Scando-pop (have I just invented the name for a new genre here?) from the twisted world of Norwegian Ice Queen Bertine. You never know where you stand with this lady. Take the first words of this record, for example: “I’ve got something stashed behind the shed”. What? A lawnmower? A dead body? A fur coat? Who is she obsessed with in the slinky electro track Obsession? I’m glad it ain’t me that she’s made a “home for in [her] heart” if she has something “stashed behind the shed”. Is she a lyrical genius? Or a good fairy storyteller? Or does she just choose words at random, mocking her command of the English language? Decoding aside, this album offers some succulent, sophisticated pop in the shape of singles 500 and Midnight as well as some uncharacteristic downbeat moments on Get What You Deserve and This Time, both sounding like throwbacks to parts of Sweet Injections from 2003. Perhaps lacking the freshness of 2004’s Rollerskating, this album still serves up enough great material to make it one of this year’s highpoints.

3. Silent Shout
It took a while for me to appreciate the genius of this record. I discovered it early in the year after reading a review or two and gave it a couple of listens, but I was largely unimpressed. From Off to On struck me as it was rather a spooky listen, but the rest was, well, silly. Or so I thought. As the year wore on, it began to get under my skin. The sinister, “no escape now” claustrophobia of the title track haunts my mental ear, We Share Our Mother's Health is all discordant silliness teamed with a funky bassline and some block-rocking beats, Forest Families is a trance track that never takes off but never needs to. This is one of the most original records of the year, which by default makes it a highlight of the year, even if it wasn’t necessarily on my iTunes all day, every day.

4. Intercept!
A welcome return from the wonderful Bent. Amidst rumours of terrible illnesses and this being their last album, Intercept! comes as a progression from previous albums without compromising that which makes Bent a great band. Some of the tracks here could have been plucked from either Programmed to Love or Ariels but others show a harder, more beat-driven edge than previous work: To Be Loved explodes in a wall of yearning male voices backed with uplifting synths (weak melody notwithstanding), Waiting for You picks up the Always baton, stopping off at Basement Jaxx central en route and Tired of the Show piles on the breakbeats for a funky house workout. While overall, it doesn’t live up to its packaging (depictions of war and helicopters allude to something quite different), it’s still nice to have them back, but there’s no Swollen here.

5. The Sweet Escape
As someone very disappointed with the r’n’b by numbers of
Love Angel Music Baby, this is one album that I really wasn’t looking forward to, but I gave it a chance after the cover image of white hot Gwen caught my attention. And surprised I was. While I can quite happily leave half of this album (I have never been convinced by modern r’n’b and throwing in a sample from “The Sound Of Music” isn’t about to change that), the standouts really are standouts: Early Winter is a beautiful, yearning ballad that shows that Gwen can still do forlorn as well as she did on Don't Speak, 4 in the Morning boasts a killer chorus, while Fluorescent is a slight, fluffy, synth-laden treat. These tracks, when played alongside the wonderful Cool and The Real Thing from her debut, would make for a marvellous EP. But I can leave the rest.

6. Fur and Gold
I’d heard nothing of this band/lady before reading a glowing review on Launch.co.uk. She/they sounded like my cup of tea so I decided to check out the album and I’m very glad I did. Packed with interesting, earthy ideas, this work wears its influences on its sleeve: Bjork, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, to name but three, three of my favourite artists as it happens. Horse and I is a dramatic harpsichord meditation on self-empowerment (and one of my favourite songs of the year), Trophy is a spooky incantation that could have come straight off of Debut while What's A Girl To Do is the album’s poppiest number. While this album lacks the accomplishment of its mentors, it shows passion and a fertile imagination which, in a world populated by reality TV and celebutards, is worth shouting about.

7. Fires
Despite its title, this record was definitely a slow burner. Originally a gift for my 28th birthday in May, I didn’t get into it until much later in the year during a long drive back from London. It boasts clever lyrics, wonderful vocals, smart production and a passionate heart but is ultimately a whole lot safer than my earlier choices. That’s not necessarily a criticism, however – look at my Dashboard! I’ll be seeing her live later this month. Damascus is the album’s standout – a beautiful love song with clever biblical references, although I hate the line “depression is only desire deprived”. Don’t speak in absolutes, love. Everyone's Going To War is the intelligent anti-war song for the year, accompanied by a superb tongue-in-cheek video. Halfway Home is a sweet, affecting piece, yearning for love in a lonely world. Overall, Fires is an interesting retread of a well-worn concept (the girl singer-songwriter) but one that is made even better by the intelligence it displays.

8. Wholeness And Separation
Another discovery from earlier this year, this is possibly what Portishead might sound like if they made a record now, except Portishead have a better singer. Wholeness And Separation is that most curious of things – the ambient album. All too often those records skirt the fine line between ingenious, wrap yourself in the soundscape textures of great music and, well, dull, put me to sleep muzak. Happily, this album is a whole lot more of the former. Weaving organic instrumentation against clashing electronic walls of sound, Halou present intelligently-written songs about love (my theme of the century) and relationships, nowhere moreso than on standout tracks Honeythief (a paean to a soulmate) and Everything Is OK (a meditation on those people that look for problems where there aren’t any – me all over, it has to be said – hence I love the song). There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or new here, but it’s nice to know that there are still purveyors of pleasing ambient music out there.

9. The Eraser
I was never a big Radiohead fan (booo! I hear you say. Actually, my friend keeps goading me to listen to OK Computer…should get round to that) so it was with trepidation that I listened to this record, yet I found myself really liking it. Not all of it, but a sizeable portion. It reminds me of Vespertine at times, the beats are so delicate, the sounds so fragile. The title track is the best track, all skittering beats and howling vocals with an amazing synthesised outro as the song dies in a chorus of Thoms. First single Harrowdown Hill is similarly styled – cool breakbeats, Thom’s slight voice drowning in a whirlpool of electronic sound. It’s an interesting, sometimes thrilling listen, which sounds great turned up loud. Those fragile beats turn into earth-shattering sonic booms, which was perhaps the desired effect, at least lyrically.

10. Who Made Who
And so, my Top 10 ends on a happy note with more pop from Scandinavia, this time courtesy of Danish band Who Made Who. Again, another whim acquisition, some of this record is stellar. Standout track (and one of my staple songs of the year) is Space For Rent, a taunting, funky floor-shaker that lambasts a would-be lover for not having the capacity to love: “Your flat is empty and your heart is too, there’s space for rent but not enough for two”. The over-the-top campness of the chorus grabs you by the throat and makes for the perfect end to my top 10 of 2006. While it doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, it’s still a lot of fun.

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So that was 2006. Granted, there was a lot less to shout about musically than in 2005 (it must be said, I was still playing most of last year’s albums throughout the year!), but there was still a lot to discover and, no doubt, a lot of stuff I didn’t discover. There’s only so many hours in the day unfortunately. Moving on, and as we slope into 2007, here’s what I’m excited about already, for anyone that’s interested:

Hopes for 2007:

1. The Modern/Matinee Club
When The Band Formerly Known As The Modern released Industry early last year, I was decidedly underwhelmed. While the video was rather cool, the song felt a little like style over substance. Then in September, I heard a track (Sometimes) from their forthcoming album and I was hooked! What’s this? Cool gothic electropop with great lyrics and wonderful melodies? Melikey! Since then I’ve harvested as much of their material as possible – Jane Falls Down, Discotheque Francais, Seven Oceans and the afore-mentioned songs all allude to an album PACKED with top notch music, perfectly suited to my taste. Let’s just hope it sees the light of day: the band have recently gone through a lot of changes (line-up, management, record label) and one fears that their boat may have been missed. As release schedules continue to slide, I really hope that they don’t disappear!

2. New material from Tori Amos, Madonna & Sophie Ellis Bextor

Some quotes to whet your whistle:

Tori Amos on her new album (rumoured to be released in April):
“I’m in the thick of it,” Amos says of the follow-up to 2005’s The Beekeeper “Without giving anything away, I have my high heels on. I like the way that feels.”

Stuart Price on further collaboration with Madonna (from DrownedMadonna.com):
There was a brief comment from Stuart Price on the US television station E! in their weekly news segment. He stated that he is working with Madonna on a new record for the New Year and that it is going to be quite a work of art, that they are building the sound on dance, r & b, and some rock n roll, a totally different sound from their previous collaborations and that they were very excited to finish. He also said she has collaborated with some top producers that are in fashion right now.

Trip The Light Fantastic(scheduled for release in February) is being hyped as her best work, high praise indeed following the wonderful Read My Lips and the great-but-patchy Shoot From The Hip. Whatever the hype, Catch You, the album's first single, is a piece of electropop heaven, borrowing heavily from Xenomania. It'll be nice to have some sophisticated British girlpop again.

3. Sarah Nixey
Having heard her forthcoming album Sing Memory (scheduled for release in February), I can safely say that we have the follow-up to Supernature from 2005. Time to finally check out that Black Box Recorder back catalogue I think!

4. Robyn
I detested 1997’s Show Me Love. I found her 2005 Robyn album overhyped, containing only one decent track (Who's That Girl?). Last year’s Rakamonie Ep was immensely disappointing and actually quite rubbish. Being a regular visitor to Popjustice, I began to think I was really missing something, as they heap praise on this woman there. So, it was a very pleasant surprise to hear her collaboration with Kleer-Up. With Every Heartbeat is glacially cool with a warm heart. It’s catchy, wistful, fresh, retro – everything good pop should be. This bodes well for the future – one can only hope this isn’t the only good track on a forthcoming album.

5. New discoveries...
I’m always looking for new music, new genres to enhance my understanding of music and develop a fuller, more eclectic taste. Thanks to my special someone, I’ve recently discovered Within Temptation and The Gift. Both belong to musical genres that I’ve only vaguely explored before. If you’ve got to the end of my post, then you must surely want to recommend something.

Thanks for reading :o)

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