Saturday, January 20, 2007

singles of the year - 2006

(i know, like buses, isn't it ?)

after last year's round-up by the turncoat agogo, which we managed to do before having tracked down great records by lowkey, comet gain, martyn hare, tullycraft etc, we vowed to hold on a bit longer before bringing the 2006 round-ups to you. 2006 maybe edged 2005, if not quite as mighty as 2004 (looking at that list of top singles makes us shiver with excitement even now)...

should you wonder why we labour so over the year-ends, well it's basically a great excuse to remind ourselves that in any given 365 there are hundreds of songs that inspire, and gives us something to look back on in our dotage when we'll be way too feeble to plough through the blog properly. the final ranking points for these (and the albums) were fiercely debated over some lager tops in the devereux arms off fleet street, and painstakingly assembled in the highbury barn t'other night. all proceedings were, of course, observed by the electoral reform society, and the lists moderated by a crack team of external advisers.

1. harper lee "he holds a flame" (matinee recordings)

if this is, as we understand, really their last record, then we should cherish it all the more.

""he holds a flame" is actually pretty uptempo, even if tightly corralling familiar, controlled layers of misty keyboards and a handful of carefully picked, repeating guitar notes.... and so, tied up in the trademark harper lee melancholy, we have a pathetic, aching paean to the girl who's moved on, a theme not unknown to us avid harper lee monitors. the hopelessness of the sentiment doesn't make the song a scintilla less moving: indeed, the "longer" second version of the tune is much the better, simply because you need more time to fully bask in the joyous glow of a new harper lee single before it gets laced with the acres of regret hewn by keris howard's relentlessly determined and unrequited words..."

never quite achieving the respect they deserved, harper lee signed off with this upbeat (musically) gem of a tune, although the beautiful "william blake" would have been an equally devastating single. we'll miss them.

2. television personalities "all the young children on crack, all the young children on smack" (domino, 7")

"Love it or hate it, as surely all who listen to it will, this is an extraordinary single... [Like the LP] it's as if Mark Perry got really really hammered and then met up with Vic Godard and then they both set about roughing up Gregory Webster around the pub piano. In 1986. And somebody was recording it on the least expensive condenser microphone ever commercially available."

in other words, essential. listening to it, you do need to put behind you past tvp standouts / standards like "where's bill grundy now ?", "a sense of belonging" or even "paradise is for the blessed": this is a different dan treacy, stripped to the core and defiantly frail. but still as remarkable a record as it appeared to us on first listen.

3. chris liberator and k.n. featuring dj cydeboard and dj 2003 "soba grey" (maximum minimum)

when chris liberator was knocking out indie tunes with we are going to eat you - we even dug out a copy of their video for "heart in the hand" from snub tv of yesteryear, which shows them all smiley and miming to fireworks - you wouldn't have put much money on him ending up as a mainstay of the london techno scene, bashing out singles every other week at a rate only matched by jme (well, and guy mcaffer). but anyway, in a mildly disappointing year for such records - those in this list honourably excepted - "soba grey" not only bucked that trend but boasted both top-drawer "maximum" and "minimum" sides, which run perfectly together: the former, featuring japanese rising star k.n., is a simple coarsing, pulsing riff, which sounds like a number of tectonic plates doing pirouettes - the latter, which as with the excellent "classic silver" on the same label sees dj cydeboard and dj 2003 turn up, kind of rolls into deep house territory. with chris lib's own label max / min tending to press up only about a thousand copies of singles (a bit like matinee recordings), it's worth keeping your ears to the ground in 2007.

4. the butterflies of love "orbit around you" (fortuna pop!, 7")

this, slightly unexpectedly we are ashamed to say, proves to be as good a grown-up pop song as we've heard all year - pace and poise and panache, a very go-betweensy feel, careful lashings of reverb. the fact that you can get it on 7", the perfect format for such treats, only doubles the joy: yes this record can still be found at our local hmv, inamidst quite a lot of major label tosh, and we need not say more, surely ?

5. secret shine "elemental ep" (razorblade, cd-single)

as you know, we are still great fans of secret shine and, catching them live, noted that "the decade of inactivity doesn't seem to have done much to dampen the impact of their double vocal attack and spiralling guitars, and the mix of delicacy and fire in their songs remains, um, untouched. hurrah for that..."

our personal favourite on this their 3-track comeback ep was the mid-to-early mbv fuzzing vocal collision of "evermore", but lead track "you are inside" also hits home with powerful, driving guitars. their subsequent "beyond sea and sky" ep was still pretty good, we thought: but just not this good. there's an album in '07.

6. kryz "return to libc (dysconform)" (wah wah, 12")

i'm from barcelona weren't actually from barcelona, of course, but kryz is. more importantly, he knows his way round a 303. these days there isn't enough instrumental music that goes for the jugular, that messes around with frequencies and key changes, that basically aims to rise above the modern curse of dance music as background noise. but "return to libc" squirms and messes admirably, sounding in the process not unlike squarepusher shoving the chemical brothers off a cliff, even if the geezer remix on the flip - while it would make a perfectly good RAW a-side - doesn't do enough with the same ingredients. kryz now vies with another intensely exhilarating recent discovery, madrid's looking for an answer in being our favourite music of spanish origin since vacaciones...

7. deicide "homage for satan" (earache, download-only)

we've always hated reviews of the "this will blow you away" ilk, but it's hard not to be struck by the ferocity of this particular comeback record.

"glen benton's guttural rasp makes the tom araya of 2006 sound like amelia fletcher in comparison... "homage" comes roaring out of the blocks in a way that not many lps of this ilk manage, and even manages to incorporate some overextended guitar solos without causing me to rush for the exits (while guitar solos, in general, are of course a *BAD* thing, there are exceptions: carcass sneaked some in to later releases, while there's even one of sorts in bubblegum splash's "the 18.10 to yeovil junction", and that's one of the finest tunes kind of ever. drum solos, on the other hand, are unacceptable, unless you're lindy morrison). anyway, brilliantly produced, with the hooks and clean lines to the fore notwithstanding the onslaught of benton's gargled growls, this single was a very pleasant surprise."

deicide are no less dogged than the aforementioned bubblegum splash! in sticking to their guns and pursuing their trademarked themes: and the production here removed any trace of the mud or sludge that can mask some death-type tunes (hello scott burns, goodbye "harmony corruption" for example). forget the demonic stuff - deicide, like slayer, even let catholics in now - but this is just a powerful rock record, at a time when rock music seems otherwise to have retreated almost entirely into self-parody.

8. dj geraldine and d.a.v.e. the drummer "untitled (hydraulix 35A)" (hydraulix)

the a-side here is again the pick, despite being described by one of the in love with these times, in spite of these times cliqua / squadra as "shit" (they have since been disciplined). minimalist and very modern, "untitled" is a great example of the alchemy of the techno underground, taking very simple phrasing and converting it into music that really coarses through yr veins.

9. darkthrone "too old, too cold" (peaceville)

if any of you remember lorimer (the band), in which case you were probably in them or mates with them so please could i borrow all their stuff, well that's basically what darkthrone sound like to us, and that's why genre labels in music are teh suck. this is the highest placing a black metal tune has ever achieved in our end-of-year rankings, but then that's because we never realised before that black metal can sound like thrilled skinny! going toe to toe with slayer in a dark alley.

10. chris liberator, k.n., dj cunt, dj cydeboard and dj 2003 "classic silver" (maximum minimum)

not far short of the easy attraction of "soba grey", "classic silver" goes slightly more overboard on the wheezy catherine wheels of sequencer and hence ends up being another eight minutes of music which could happily have soundtracked any new year fireworks display. it also rehashes the neat trick of fading almost to oblivion not long after halfway through, before regrouping and pulling the drums back in for a final attack.

11. arab strap "speed date" (chemikal underground)

they threatened to achieve minor success every so often, but in the end were a little too sharp and knowing for their own good. but arab strap have provided plenty of happy memories over the last decade, and we will wave goodbye to them with fondness too after this single, a busy, wedding present-ish thrash, with lyrics detailing the desperate and depraved sides of modern relationships but that still turn out, typically, to be rather romantic too.

12. paul langley "sexual predator" (4x4)

this is here mainly for the excellent "hard" version of the tune (in patented 4x4 style there are of course a quartet of interpretations), which is a killer techno throb of a bassline that goes BOING BOING BOING and joyously pulses its way through a gradual, layered, unremitting build-up of beats. it will be very interesting to see where mr. langley goes from here.

13. the lucksmiths "a hiccup in your happiness ep" (matinee recordings)

"the title track we already know, but any excuse for new Lucksmiths product in this particular very small corner of south west London is worth raising a VB to..."

the 'smiths repay every repeated visit, and should never be taken for granted: we fear that they will never get the credit they truly merit until they lay down their instruments and retire, but we earnestly hope that will not be for some time yet.

14. forest giants "planes fly overhead" (cherryade, download-only single)

we overdid the verbiage on the review, and it's in the context of the album that you really need this, but yes, it's

"a three minute runway of sound: a huge hulking fuzz of reverb, brilliantine keyboards and faintly hazy guitars, anchored only by some staccato Fall riffs and a pacy throb of a bassline, which culminates in an extended fade, hewn from a mazy tagliatelle of frazzled chords and vocal "aahs".... a marginally more boho younger brother to "Postcards", still identifiably an indie-pop song rather than a head-in-the-clouds shoegaze anthem, mainly thanks to the matter-of-fact timbre of Tim's voice. "Tell me once again what constitutes failure", he asks, possibly mindful of a world in which getting a street team to rustle you up a few thousand downloads might catapult you into the mid-reaches of the top 40 and (ephemeral) success in the eyes of your fickle coterie, whereas simply making great records to fervent but limited acclaim, as frankly many bands are doing on a semi-regular basis, is regarded as something akin to eking out the bins round the back of Sainsbury's."

15. lovejoy "england made me ep" (matinee recordings, cd-ep)

like arab strap, lovejoy have flattered to deceive from time to time (and have been teasing us now over a longer period than you might think) but thankfully they are still churning out new releases even when some of their labelmates seem to have fallen into extended hiatuses (hiaiti ?)... you'll be hard-pressed to find a more perfect mix of electronics and indie-pop than lead tune "brightness falls" - nor an epic like "made in england", all churning and yearning. we even called this ep 'delectable':

""brightness falls" is the epitome of this, a thoroughly modern apotheosis of indie-pop topped off by richard preece's ever-vulnerable vocals, which manage to sigh and swoon at the same time. around them, beaumont-ish acoustic guitars (presumably paul stewart himself ?) trip in and out of softly layered beats, and trim little guitar motifs that could have graced any indie classic of the last quarter century caress yr ears, like waves lapping on the shore at hove."

16. sarandon "the june bride" (wrath, 7")

seven tracks of the sort of thing we would call "angular bite-sized post-c86 bastard pop", if that meant anything - it doesn't, mind. the pug-funk jangle of "kitten" typifies its minimal splendour, but any record boasting star turns from phil wilson and alan brown is always going to appeal to sentimentalists like us. "virginity", "dance", "meet warren"... a cavalcade of could-be 'a' sides, all in a row.

17. jamie taylor "robin hood" (cluster, 12")

more probing than taylor & gold's "sycophant" on the b-side, "robin hood" is a merry sherwood forest of sweeps and beats which also breaks down halfway through to standing pace, before resuming its skittering way. coming out only in november, "robin hood" helped with the late, if partial rescue of what was not proving to be the greatest year for minimalist dance music.

18. morrissey "you have killed me" (attack, 2xCD, 7", etc, etc)

lightweight, inconsequential and obvious, but still somehow a work of easy genius, more so than much of "ringleader of the tormentors" or any of the other singles spawned by it.

"it wasn't so long ago I was talking about how Jim Reid and how that even at his most pedestrian, he still seemed to have a warm songwriting knack that he couldn't shake off, no matter how he tried. And now Morrissey, a potential treading-water gold medallist, returns with minimal effort, with a song that he could have easily have penned in a bored moment or two whilst blithely plucking gladioli from his windowboxes, or perhaps gazing reverently into a mirror. And yet its ineffably easy majesty is handsome and arresting, his voice still a beautiful instrument more than a blunt one..."

as such, we're not ashamed to have spent good money on seeing him twice more this year.

19. the slits "revenge of the killer slits ep" (only lovers left alive, 7")

were you expecting this to be any good ? us neither, but it was, even if in 1978 it might have struggled to make an end of year best 100... resplendent on pink vinyl, all three tunes have something to offer (us, at least). "slits tradition" is basically a foundation-shaking bassline tethered to first chapter feminist theory delivered by combination of nursery rhyme chant and v. basic rapping. "number one enemy" is utterly bog-standard pistols / rejects fare, but as such is still several notches above much "nu-rave", and anyway after watching "the filth and the fury" again recently we are starting to think we haven't been aggressively pro-punk enough recently. track three "kill them with love" is probably the best of all, a kind of original slits / rip rig / maximum joy / dennis bovell jungle-funk dub workout thing which could almost be a dreamier out-take from "cut".

20. shredder "32930 miles there and back" (cluster, 12")

while chris liberator was smilingly bashing out the drumbeats for certain indie hopefuls, guy mcaffer was in grim crusties back to the planet, and we'd have found it hard to believe we'd ever be bothering with any of their solo projects. but "32930" is our favourite of his this year, over 8 minutes of carefully layered drum n'drum topped off marvellously by humming bees and sirens.

21. supar novar "all the way" (kemet entertainment, 12")

our first knowledge of north london's supar novar came courtesy of an interview by that not-quite legendary new music journal the islington tribune, who picked up on him about the same time as hip-hop connection: anyway, we've since heard some tunes, "all the way" being one of three slept-on singles sneaked out during the year as a preview to the "from the beginning" debut. as you can tell, our view is that "all the way" trumps "reppin'" and "tomorrow": a neat hello which hovers not too far from the territory of his alleged mate skinnyman. of course, if supar novar had released the joe buhdah-produced "explosive", or our personal favourite, from his album, the excellent "what do you wanna hear" as singles, he'd have been much higher up our list: like lowkey last year though, he has implanted himself firmly on the (famously unreliable) i.l.w.t.t.i.s.o.t.t. radar.

22. monkey swallows the universe "science" / "happiness" (thee sheffield phonographic corporation, 7")

folk-pop (surely the easiest genre to do wrong) is not, these days, always our sort of thing, but this elegant, thoughtful double-header, on deep blue sea vinyl, showcases two really charming tunes, disarmingly so, that succeed in whisking you away from the travails of the daily commute and the increasing stresses of modern office life. this is beautiful stuff, and together with the recent 7"s from the likes of champion kickboxer and smokers die younger, it is clear there are some very interesting things going on in sheffield, even if we'd still file most of them under "promising", rather than "amazing". bearing in mind that we file most records we hear under the nearest steamroller (the reason the kooks or the paddingtons or the subways or razorlight or the feeling or babyshambles aren't in here isn't some administrative oversight, you know: we do listen to their tunes as well, just without any glee whatsoever), we hope they'd take that in the spirit we intend...

23. the gresham flyers "shiftwork" (barryland, 7")

"a keyboards-to-the-fore indie pop song of seemingly indeterminate vintage that starts with the clean melodies of early mighty mighty and, when the boy vocals come in, seems to jump back through time to become a new wavey paean to the listlessness of clocking on, and off, and on.... but always informed by the more contemporary knowing pop wiles of the likes of bearsuit. a highly enjoyable single."

24. slayer "cult" (columbia)

the best single from "christ illusion" would probably have been "flesh storm", or at least the vaguely contemporary "jihad", but "cult" was one of the more entertaining tracks, and you still can't really argue with the guitars. or, of course, the somewhat amazing drumming.

25. lethal bizzle vs test icicles "mind your head" (v2, 7")

a guitared-up remix of one of "against all oddz"'s bearable moments: on the down side, this was a precursor to 'grindie', one of the worst musical movements ever-coined by the japing, joshing, joking juveniles at new musical express. still, apart from dj twista's mixtape, this was all we got to hear from the fire camp stable in 2006.

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26. wiley "eskiboy" (white label)
27. secret shine "beyond sea and sky ep" (razorblade, cd single)
28. terra firma "new era" (kemet entertainment, 12")
29. ant and ddr "part of the union" (super conductor, 12")
30. fanfarlo "talking backwards" (fortuna pop! 7")

31. kelman "the heart is a useless ally" (linear, cd single)
32. micall parkinsun featuring dubbledge "hungry" (sit tight records, 12")
33. ninehundredand9 "x-force" (powertools, 12")
34. the loft "rickety frame" / "model village" (static caravan, 7")
35. kektex "i kill everything i fuck" / "i fuck everything i kill" (apex, 12")
36. scratchy "shangooli" (dumpvalve, 12")
37. skepta "duppy" (white label)
38. jim reid "dead end kids" (transistor records, cd single)
39. wiley "gangsterz" (white label)
40. syer "syernide ep" (white label)

41. scorcher / wiley "chance us" (white label)
42. the nightingales "let's think about living" (fake product, 7")
43. camera obscura "let's get out of this country" (elefant, 7")
44. dcoy ft. wiley "johnny was a bad boy" (white label)
45. ant and nick grater "our broken toy" (cluster, 12")
46. moorish delta 7 "levels ep" (7even entertainment, 12")
47. give up all hope "nowhere to hide from yourself" (never healed, 7")
48. d.a.v.e. the drummer and k.n. "work the groove" (apex, 12")
49. mr. ti2bs "inner city rap" (kemet entertainment, 12")
50. tiger force "syntax error" (marquis cha-cha, 7")

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