Ben Ward

Two Thousand & Six

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I have bad news. The 2006 years review is no-where near as good as 2005. I know this because my preparation has been rubbish and therefore the output can only suffer as a result. Last year I actually had my music collection available to listen to while preparing the shortlist, for example. This year it’s just 20 gig of iPod with the rest stowed away on a hard disc 110 miles away in Birmingham.

So, with disclaimers and apologies made I would offer one last chance to hop ship and read Colly’s more eclectic and inspiring version. But the man hasn’t published it yet, so there is no escape for you.

I’m unimpressed with my listening habits of 2006. I keep catching myself in situations where I should be playing some music, but for some reason am working in silence. I don’t listen to as much music at work as I did at uni, and the evenings are now rather busy that I haven’t been giving albums as much time as I’d have liked. Topped off, I ran out of money midway through the year and went months without buying anything.

But whilst the review quality might be questionable this year — and the fact it’s January 25th and I’ve still not posted — the shortlist is still pretty not.

And the nominees are…

I’m almost a little surprised that Arctic Monkeys made the cut. When the album came out at the start of the year I loved it, but it had that nagging feeling that it was going to get real old, real quick. But unlike The Libertines, whose magic wore off me after a bit — still great, though — Whatever People Say I Am… still gets played in full. Not every day, nor every week but it’s always there. These are not songs to skip.

From The Ritz to the Rubble stands out as my favourite.

I wasn’t that fussed about Muse’s Absolution record. It had some moments but I’m struggling now to write anything defining about it. By contrast, Blackholes… does something that’s very important in a memorable record: It starts very well; Take a Bow, the singles Starlight and Supermassive Black Hole, the outright fantastic Map of the Problematique is a strong 4-track opening. But it also ends. Oh does it end.

Knights of Cydonia. Holy fuck. I’m not sure I’ll hear a more absurd piece of music for a long time. You’re pulled in by the epic madness; the sit-up-and-wake-up intro, the ominous building verse and your socks knocked off by the a cappella ‘No-one’s going to take us alive’ refrain. What’s most ridiculous about this song is that at this point, three minutes of preposterous prog guitar solo still remain.

Union of Knives are strangers to me. Which means that sadly, I can’t say much about them. I pinched the CD from Dad, who had in turn bought it by accident; muddling it for The Young Knives — which he’s still not bought.

Violence and Birdsong is the sort of genre-straddling electronic record that I absolute cannot describe with the words in my possession. I’ve always been an outsider to electronic music; just plucking out some gems when other people tell me to, enjoying it immensely but being none the wiser to go find more. In fairness to me, their description on the Last.FM wiki won’t leave you any the wiser.

I swerves from percussive, jagged vocal verses to float-in-the-air moments of clarity. In short, it’s anthemic, it’s got rhythm and it’s got tunes. It’s got a fantastic variety of vocals (male and female), it’s got guitars and it’s got bleepy noises. It’s a bloody wonderful hot-pot of eclectic brilliance.

On the subject of eclectic brilliance, Radiohead didn’t release an album last year. The bastards. I did see them live though. That was mind blowing. Again. In their absence though, the Easy Star All-Stars put out their second opus. Following the incredible track-for-track reggae remake of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, they give OK Computer the same treatment on Radiodread.

It pulls together big stars of the reggae world like Horace Andy, and produces songs so good, you completely forget that you’re essentially listening to cover versions.

I have to call out Let Down as a track of the year; the final refrain (‘You know, you know where you are…’) achieves a euphoric majesty that I dare to rate above the original.

And finally, I’ve always been a fan of Brendan Benson’s power-pop tinged records. I’ve always quite liked the White Stripes too. The discovery that Benson and Jack White are buddies and formed a band is therefore a very happy thing.

The Raconteurs album stands alone as the five star album of the year. It starts fantastically (Steady as She Goes is instantly good), but then gets better and better. Hands, Broken Boy Soldier, Intimate Secretary (with its crazy lyrics), Together… Song after song the album is blindingly good.

Maybe it takes a few listens to click, but if you only bought one album last year then you made a mistake if it wasn’t this one.

Runners Up

Rounding up quickly as this has become longer than I imagined it ever could — I need to offer a nod to the following:

And was 2006. I’ll blither about the live shows some other day.

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