John Donnelly's Review of 2006

So first things first (let's start on a negative note and work our way up): what happened to the established acts this year? Primal Scream's Riot City Blues was, bar a couple of tunes, an average LP which saw them ditch their experimental electronic edge in favour of rock 'n' roll cliche, Thom Yorke's The Eraser was boring (and this to someone who loves the direction Radiohead took on Kid A and Amnesiac), and Muse's Black Holes and Revelations was a bit meh, especially after all the hype, proving the mainstream music press' ability to get worked up over very little. I didn't even attempt this year's albums by The Streets and DJ Shadow. Dragging in Pete Doherty for a re-rub of Prangin' Out could possibly be 2006's lowest point, but at least no-one can now consider Mike Skinner the worst British "rapper".

2006 was also the year Radio 1 ditched The Blue Room, their weekend morning chill-out show and arguably the finest music programme on any of the BBC stations. For many, it would have been the first place they heard The Knife, Annie or Peter, Bjorn & John. Its musical eclecticism is sorely missed. Those still not up on what the fuss was about might want to have a listen to Chris Coco and Rob Da Bank's excellent Listen Again compilation.

And now to more positive things. I'm not a huge gig goer, but this year thoroughly enjoyed live performances from Guillemots and Husky Rescue, both acts which you should be able to catch in 2007. Albums and tracks of the year follow.

Albums Of The Year

1. zerodB - Bongos, Beats & Basslines

zerodB’s often stunning debut brims with latin percussion and jazz influences. There's a vibrancy and sunniness here quite at odds with most other current dance music. But Strictly Coming Dancing it ain't, with bass designed to hurry your dinner down its exit route. More...

2. Bent - Intercept!

Granted, Intercept! might seem a fairly unremarkable record on the first few listens, but futher exposure reveals it as something of a gem. An unpretentious mix of dance, pop and chill-out, with occasional guilty pleasures stylings, this comes in at a perfect 45 minutes and, for this reviewer's money, marks Bent out as better than the similar Hot Chip. (Also try if you like Röyksopp.) More...

3. Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid - The Exchange Session Vol 1

The coupling of electronic whizz kid, Kieran Hebden (better known as Four Tet), with veteran drummer, Steve Reid, paid off with a record harking back to the golden days of freeform jazz. Ranging from meditative to mental, this is music to get your head round. More...

4. Booka Shade - Movements

German producers Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier deal in moody, atmospheric techno and with Movements have made a record which thrills as much at home as it no doubt would in any decent club. It includes three of the year's best dance tracks: a new version of Body Language beefed up with dub hooks, gorgeously intense electro number Wasting Time, and the trippy, trancey In White Rooms.

5. Hardkandy - Last To Leave

It's been a while since Massive Attack released a good album. This end of night mix of trip-hop, soul and funk will more than do in the meantime. More...

6. Bat For Lashes - Fur And Gold

The stunningly-voiced Natasha Khan has been compared to Björk and Kate Bush. Add some odd imagery and unusual arrangements and you have an arresting debut. I can only hope 2007 brings Bat For Lashes to a wider audience.

7. Liam Frost & the Slowdown Family - Show Me How The Spectres Dance

Hard-bitten indie-folk from a man who - it’s hard to believe - is just in his early twenties. And his Slowdown Family. More...

8. Guillemots - Through The Windowpane

Sprawling, ambitious debut. Includes perfect indie pop, the occasional Spiritualized-style jazz-gospel freak-out, and even a multi-part epic in the shape of Sao Paulo.

9. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Even if it occasionally feels a bit Lips-by-numbers, this is a far better and more imaginative proggy album than this year’s overrated Muse record. At least it never sounds like Keane. More...

10. The Knife - Silent Shout

Electronica as if filtered through the mind of Jan Švankmajer. Super catchy and sinister.

20 Tracks Of The Year (in no particular order)

1. Justice vs Simian - We Are Your Friends (Edison Remix)
Edison upgrade Justice's ubiquitous dance tune with guitar licks, shouty backing vocals and handclaps.

2. Simian Mobile Disco - Tits & Acid
Every bit as mad as the title suggests, this dance track is all over the place in a good way. This is what "new rave" should be (rather than just shouty indie kids with a few keyboards).

3. Muse - Supermassive Black Hole
R 'n' B meets crunchy rock. According to some, SBH sounds like Britney Spears, but it's a shame the rest of Black Holes and Revelations isn't this good.

4. Primal Scream - Dolls (Sweet Rock 'n' Roll)
Ridiculous rock 'n' roll and by far the best thing on Riot City Blues

5. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Another great track from a somewhat disappointing album. Johnny Greenwood's uplifting piano chords undoubtedly play a big part in its success.

6. Bat For Lashes - Trophy
Begins in a way remisicent of PJ Harvey's Down By The Water before going all Björk-y on us. Fans of great female vocals rejoice! Intriguing lyrics too.

7. Freeform Five - Home Wit U (exclusive to Kitsuné Maison Compilation 3)
8. Isolée - Initiate II
Two tracks which bring to mind an on form New Order. Pop/dance heaven.

9. José González - Hand On Your Heart
Better than his cover of The Knife's Heartbeats because this one actually improves on the original. Sorry, Kylie.

10. Paul Oakenfold - Faster Kill Pussycat
Hasn't Brittany Murphy got a sexy voice?

11. Boards of Canada - Dayvan Cowboy
Featuring some of the best fuzzy guitar in a long time, this gorgeous slice of chill-out is perfectly matched in its video by footage of a man slowly parachuting to earth.

12. Booka Shade - Wasting Time
Intense, expertly produced electro number.

13. Peter, Bjorn & John - Young Folks (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation)
The underground feel good hit of the summer. Yup, it's the one with the whistling! Try this groovy mix.

14. The Knife - Silent Shout
Cheap trance meets distorted, Exorcist style vocals. Beautiful in a strange way.

15. zerodB - Te Quiero
Hot 'n' sexy latin dance which'll have you longing for summer and a sweaty body to grind up against.

16. Sigur Rós - Sæglópur
Thanks to the trailers for Planet Earth, Sigur Rós this year became a household name. This is another epic slice of loveliness.

17. Layo & Bushwacka! - Life2Live
Infectious, bouncy house track featuring the weird vocals of Green Velvet.

18. M. Craft - You Are The Music
Perfect guitar pop from down under.

19. Bodyrox feat. Luciana - Yeah Yeah
The one that sounds like Put Your Hands Up For Detroit, only good, and proof that adding vocals to an exisiting dance track isn't always a bad idea, especially when they're unexpectedly grimy.

20. X-Press 2 - Kill 100
Unusually dark offering from X-Press 2, referencing Donna Summer's I Feel Love and with that-bloke-from-The-Music on vocals.

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