Not the usual kind of post for this site, but here are my top 10 list of the things that have occupied me this year ..
Albums of the Year
Picking my favourite 10 albums of the year was actually very hard this year, whilst 7 jumped straight in, there were then about another 10 that were all worthy of taking one of the final 3 spots in my list, so a pretty good year on that evidence. However, to keep things to 10, my list (in no particular order) is:
1. Bruce Springsteen – The Seeger Sessions
Who would have thought that an album of Pete Seeger covers would result in one of the finest albums of Springsteen’s career? This album is just a joy. It really is impossible to play this and not end up singing along with the likes of ‘Oh Mary don’t you weep’ and to do so with a big smile on your face. Quite probably my album of 2006.
2.The Flaming Lips – At War with the Mystics
From the sing-a-long joy of ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah song’, ‘It Overtakes Me’ and ‘Race for the Prize’; through to the psychedelic wonderfulness of ‘The Wizard Turns’ and ‘Pompeii am goetterdaemmerung’ this is just a fantastic record, indeed maybe the band’s best – just edging out The Soft Bulletin in my view. [Also one of the live highlights of 2006]
3.The Dresden Dolls – Yes Virgina
I’m taking back the number of the beast, cause 6 is not a pretty number, 8 or 3 are definitely better, a is for the address on the letter, to my alcoholic friends … Punk rock cabaret? Who knows. What I do know is that, in songs like ‘Backstabber’, ‘My Alcoholic Friends’, ‘Delilah’ and ‘Shores Of California’ Amanda and Brian delivered a handful of the best songs of 2006.
4. The New Cars – It’s Alive
Considering this was recorded when they had only played live together a couple of times, I think this is a pretty decent record. I come at this as a fan of both the original Cars and of Todd Rundgren, and not only is it great to hear these songs live – and a number of them sound much better live than they ever did on record – but also the surprise is actually what a good fit Rundgren is vocally – although he does perhaps try a bit too hard on a couple of numbers to be Ocasek-ish. The three new studio cuts all grown on you and give a hint of possible things to come if they so decide to record a full ‘Cartopia’ studio album. Highlights for me are: ‘Let’s Go’, ‘You Might Think’ and ‘Not Tonight’.
5.Union of Knives – Violence & Birdsong
It is really great to see another Glasgow band on the scene and making a quite exceptionally good debut album. A fantastic blend of dance beats and rock music result in one the essential records of the year. “You won’t be disappointed, easily one of my favourite tracks at the moment… bit of Radiohead, DJ Shadow, Aphex Twin, The Eels… incredible” – Zane Lowe (Radio 1) on ‘Operated On’
6.Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
Suddenly that classic 60s soul sound is back with this very retro sounding album by Winehouse. What makes it work is that the quality of the songs; from the brilliant opener (and first single) ‘Rehab’, through the fuckery, tongue in cheek fun of ‘Me and Mr Jones’, the class of the title track and the lovely ballad ‘Love is a loosing game’. This album was perhaps the biggest surprise of this year, and one I would never have predicted liking.
7.Giant Drag – Hearts And Unicorns
I love this record. I love Annie Hardy. I love Giant Drag. Take one part My Bloody Valentine (Kevin is Gay) add to one part Pixies/Breeders (Pretty Little Neighbor , YFLMD) add a bit of insanity and Voila. ‘This isn’t it’ is one the songs of 2006. They were also bloody good live too. Although there is some sad news, founding member and drummer/keyboardist Micah Calabrese has departed the band for unspecified reasons, which just leaves Annie in ‘the band’.
8.Thea Gilmore – Harpo’s Ghost
Just piping The Lemonheads into the final pace in my list, Gilmore’s latest album, most of which was co-written with Mike Scott (Waterboys) provides apple evidence of why she is one of the best singer songwriters in the UK.
9.Neil Diamond – 12 Songs
What does Rick Rubin put in the water when he goes to work with people? It had been about 30 years since Diamond had made an album which was even remotely listenable to, and suddenly out of nowhere he delivers a piece of work equal to anything he did in his late 60’s early 70’s prime.
10.Killers – Sam’s Town
Ah, difficult second album time. Not to worry, the band seem to have decided to rock a bit more. Kicking off with Sam’s Town, followed by the brilliant ‘When we were young’ this album hits the ground running. There is a little bit of filler, buy with other tunes such as This River Is Wild and Bones, it is mostly killer(s).
Honourable mentions, and lots of them too: The Lemonheads – The Lemonheads (The return of Evan Dando just misses out on my top 10. I wasn’t sure about this album when it first came out, but as the year has gone on I have found myself listening to it more and more); Jarvis – That Jarvis Cocker Record (Disney, fat children, Live-8 …Jarvis takes a pop at them all in this very welcome return by the ex pulp front man); Bob Dylan – Modern Times ( just a great record ); Camille – Le Fil (whilst re-released, this really came out in 2005, otherwise it may just have made the top 10); Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Show Your Bones (very close to making the top 10 list. A very fine record); Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Stadium Arcadium (hard not to like this record, but also hard to get overly enthused by it) ; Muse – Black Holes and Revelations (one part spinal tap, one part prog rock sad bastards, one part genius); Graham Coxon – Love Travels At illegal Speeds (fun punchy rock); Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (weird and wonderful); Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways (a fitting tribute); OutKast – Idlewild (by all accounts the film sucked, but the album was full of pleasing tunes); Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; (certainly not even half as good as people and hype would have you believe, but still a strong debut effort); Shawn Colvin – These Four Walls (I just love Colvin’s voice, and frankly the woman doesn’t make bad records) ; Allison Moorer – Getting Somewhere (enjoyable songs from the latest Mrs Earle); Basement Jaxx – Crazy Itch Radio ( Just a great dance record ) ; Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac (moving stuff); The Like – Are you thinking what we’re thinking (no, not an album of Tory party tunes, but a surprisingly good pop debut); Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam ( a good, if slightly disappointing album); and Lady Sovereign – Public Warning (not actually released in the Uk until February, but already out in the US, I have to confess to actually quite liking our very own queen of chav rap. A Little Bit Of Shh is just fabulous.
Singles of the Year
1. Christina Aquilera – ‘Aint No Other Man’
2. Union of Knives – ‘Operated On’ EP
3. The Lemonheads – ‘Become the Enemy’
4. The Killers – ‘When We Were Young’
5. Amy Winehouse – ‘Rehab’
6. Pearl Jam – ‘World Wide Suicide’
7. Nerina Pallot – ‘Everybody’s Gone to War’
8. The Dresden Dolls – ‘Backstabber’
9. Giant Drag – ‘This isn’t it’
10. Depeche Mode – ‘Suffer Well’
Best TV of the year
1.Deadwood (RIP) – Swearengen, cocksucker. Need I say more, the best drama on TV bar none.
2.Life on Mars – Time travel (or is it) nonsense that gave the BBC an excuse to make a 70s cop show ala The Sweeney. Great fun.
3.Veronica Mars – The third helping of VM contin
ues to hit the mark with smart dialogue and interesting story lines.
4. Shark – of course it is formulaic but James Woods remains eminently watchable
5. Studio 60 – It was written by the man who invented the West Wing, what more do you need to say.
6.Gene Simmonds’ Family Jewels – like many I expected this to be a second rate Osbournes, but in truth – and for all its obvious staging in places – this is much much better. His Kids are ridiculously sane and er , nice; and they do not take their Dad too seriously.
7. When the Levee Breaks – A quite brilliantly put together documentary about the New Orleans flood. Spike Lee wisely realises that the story is best told using film footage and photographs and interviews with those involved, and doesn’t spoil this by a needless linking voice over. Powerful stuff. Essential viewing.
8. Dr Who – David Tennant’s first year as the Doctor was certainly an inconstant one, but a handful of excellent episodes kept the series flying high.
9. Extras – What it lacked in consistency it made up for with some of the best comedic moments of the year.
10. Lost – I loved the second series – which I watched in batches of about 7 episodes at a time.
Films of 2006
As I sat down to write this list I realised just how few films I had seen this year, and how bad my cinema going had gotten. So in no order we have …
2.Good Night & Good Luck
3.Walk the Line
7.Lucky Number Sleven
8.Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Books of 2006
1. Marilynne Robinson – Gilead
2. Daniel Handler – Adverbs
3. Paul Auster -The Brooklyn Follies
4. Edward St Aubyn – Mother’s Milk
5. M.J. Hyland – Carry me Down
6. Meg Rosoff – Just in Case
7. Seb Hunter – Rock Me Amadeus
8. Stephen D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics
9. Anne Tyler – Digging to America
10. Alan Alda – Never Have Your Dog Stuffed