Thursday, December 21, 2006

The 2006 Review

1. JOANNA NEWSOM: Ys (Drag City)
This album sounds like nothing else. On Ys, Joanna Newsom lays her wandering folk songs onto lush orchestral backdrops. With Steve Albini recording, Van Dyke Parks arranging and Jim O’Rourke producing, she creates here a work of incredible substance and density.

Highlight: Only Skin
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Drag City

2. SVALASTOG: Woodwork (Rune Grammofon)
One half of Norwegian duo Information, Per Henrik Svalastog swaps electronics for acoustic instruments and creates an evocative soundtrack with strong folk overtones. Processed and assembled into beautiful sonic vignettes, this album, his second solo work, is impressionist music at its most compelling.

Highlight: Mouse Tracking
Review | Buy CD | Svalastog | Rune Grammofon

3. GEIR JENSSEN: Cho Oyu 8201m: Field Recordings From Tibet (Ash International)
Geir Jenssen steps out of his Biosphere guise to present a realistic document of an expedition he joined in 2001 to climb Mount Cho Oyu, in the Himalayas, the sixth highest summit in the world. Field recordings collected throughout the ascension are assembled into an intimate and personal sonic diary, while the accompanying booklet gives an insight into the complete expedition.

Highlight: Palung: A Yak Caravan Is Coming
Review | Buy CD | Geir Jenssen/Biosphere | Ash International

4. CLARK: Body Riddle (Warp Records)
Now going under his sole surname, Clark came back fighting fit with his third album, his most accomplished to date. Gritty, greasy and textural, Body Riddle saw Clark assembling a string of unashamedly electronic compositions and affirm once and for all his place amongst Warp’s greats.

Highlight: Herzog
Review | Buy CD | Clark | Warp Records

5. VARIOUS: The World Is Gone (XL Recordings)
Mysterious duo Various emerged out of nowhere with a handful of intriguing EPs released between last year and this year, followed by this extremely convincing debut album. With elements of dubstep, electro, ambient, electronica and folk colliding all the way through, The World Is Gone was certainly a disconcerting record, but definitely one that continues to captivate.

Highlight: Hater
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Various | XL Recordings

6. THOMAS STRØNEN: Pohlitz (Rune Grammofon)
Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen took time off from his duties with Food, Humcrush and various other outfits to release his debut solo album. Pohlitz captured the imagination of many with its rich layers of sounds and textures and dense melodic patterns. .

Highlight: Heterogeneous Substances
Review | Buy CD | Thomas Strønen | Rune Grammofon

7. SVARTE GREINER: Knive (Type)
Svarte Greiner’s Knive could most definitely claim the title for darkest album of the year. There was very little of the soothing tones of Deaf Center, the band he usually officiates with on this stark collection. Instead, he exposed on his debut solo effort a series of dismembered soundscapes and broken ambiences which definitely put a chill in the air.

Highlight: Easy On The Bone
Buy CD | Buy LP | Type Records

8. MAX RICHTER: Songs From Before (Fat-Cat Records)
Contemporary composer Max Richter followed his hugely successful The Blue Notebooks with Songs From Before, a collection of pieces inspired by passing time, and sourced in music from various eras. The album features extracts of poems by Japanese author Haruki Murakami read by Robert Wyatt. Deeply moving and evocative record.

Highlight: Autumn Music 1
Review | Buy CD | Max Richter | Fat-Cat Records

9. COLLEEN & LES BOITES A MUSIQUES: Colleen & Les Boites A Musiques (The Leaf Label)
Last year, French radio station France Culture commissioned Colleen a series of compositions for their Radiophonic Workshop programme. She presented this collection based entirely on music boxes of all sizes. Sampled, treated and reassembled into thirteen ephemeral pieces, these compositions were a fascinating addition to Colleen’s already impressive discography.

Highlight: What Is A Componium Pt. 2
Review | Buy CD | Colleen | The Leaf Label

10. MOUNTAINS: Sewn (Apestaartje)
Brooklyn-based duo Mountains returned with the follow up to their 2005 eponymous debut. Made up of more compact and structured compositions, Sewn retained the pastoral mix of acoustic instrumentations and electronics of the pair’s first offering, but set within delicate pieces, these soundscapes took a totally different dimension.

Highlight: Bay
Review | Apestaartje

11. GRIZZLY BEAR: Yellow House (Warp Records)
With its multi-faceted psychedelic tones and its superb layered melodies, Yellow House was a triumphant follow up to last year’s lo-fi Horn Of Plenty. Now in full formation, Grizzly Bear hinted at anything and everything from the Beach Boys to early Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band. And, was there a more exhilarating song than Colorado all year?

Highlight: Colorado
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Gizzly Bear | Warp Records

12. BENOÎT PIOULARD: Précis (Kranky)
Last year, a very limited 7” single drew a lot of attention on Benoît Pioulard, AKA Thomas Meluch, a young musician from Ann Arbor, South Michigan. This year’s debut album, Précis, with its delicate scintillating melodies, acoustic motifs and treated textures, proved an even more substantial and enchanting offering.

Highlight: Needle And Thread
Review | Benoît Pioulard | Kranky

13. BURIAL: Burial (Hyperdub)
2006 was the year when dubstep was on all the lips and on all the playlists, and Burial was certainly at the forefront of the offensive with this self-titled debut album. The music ethic recalled that of early Photek with its clean cut grooves, sparse soundscapes and clinical sound treatments, yet there was a hell of a lot of life in there. This was the sound of the underground rising.

Highlight: Gutted
Buy CD | Hyperdub

14. VETIVER: To Find Me Gone (Fat-Cat Records)
Leading his band from gracious indie folksters to poetic acoustic pop without loosing an inch of credibility, Andy Cabic certainly hit the jackpot with this colourful selection of disarmingly simple gentle songs.

Highlight: You May Be Blue.
Review | Buy CD | Vetiver | Fat-Cat Records

15: NICO MUHLY: Speaks Volume (Bedroom Community)
Vermont-born composer Nico Muhly presented his first solo work following a string of collaborations with Philip Glass, Antony And The Johnsons and Björk. Making the most of rarefied instruments, Muhly’s take on chamber music gave this superb collection a truly modern feel.

Highlight: Honest Music
Buy CD | Nico Muhly | Bedroom Community

16. ADRIAN KLUMPES: Be Still (The Leaf Label)
Triosk Member Adrian Klumpes ventured on his own and presented his debut solo album, Be Still. Built entirely from one improvisation on the piano. Sliced, manipulated and reassembled into nine compositions, the original recording became dense and atmospheric in Klumpes’s hands.

Highlight: Unrest
Review | Buy CD | Adrian Klumpes | The Leaf Label

17. HUNTSVILLE: For The Middle Class (Rune Grammofon)
Norwegian trio Huntsville’s blend of improvised experimental jazz, noise and pop, sprinkled with flakes of country music is not only surprisingly accessible, but truly infectious.

Highlight: Add A Key Of Humanity
Review | Buy CD | Huntsville | Rune Grammofon

18. TIM HECKER: Harmony In Violet (Kranky)

With Harmony In Violet, his sixth album, Tim Hecker crafted an incredibly dense and layered organic textures with deep emotional scope as melodies drift in and out of the thick fog of treated noise.

Highlight: Dungeoneering
Buy CD | Tim Hecker | Kranky

19: JOHANN JOHANNSSON: IBM 1401 – A User’s Manual (4AD)
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s father was Iceland's chief maintenance engineer for the IBM 1401, the first affordable mass-produced home computer. He was also a keen musician and learned of a way to play music on the computer. With this album, Johannsson paid a moving tribute to his father and to the machine itself with orchestral swathes and discreet electronics.

Highlight: The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black
Buy CD | Johann Johannsson | 4AD

20: SQUAREPUSHER: Hello Everything (Warp Records)
Tom Jenkinson appeared all fresh and revived with this latest offering. While his trademark drum’n’bass was still shaking the very foundations of electronic music, Squarepusher turned his world on its head and collected here his most accessible piece of work to date.

Highlight: Planetarium
Review | Buy CD | Buy LP | Squarepusher | Warp Records


20 more albums, EPs, compilations and others things worth mentioning, in no particular order.

CALIKA: The Bright Spot (Benbecula Records)
GLIM: Aerial View Of Model (Karate Joe Records)
BROADCAST: The Future Crayon (Warp Records)
CONSOR: Mesantropia (Creaked Records)
MATMOS: The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast (Matador Records)
GESCOM: MiniDisc (OR)
OCHRE: Lemodie (Benbecula Records)
BATTLES: EP C / B EP (Warp Records)
TRIOSK: The Headlight Serenade (The Leaf Label)
SICKOAKS: Seawards (Type Recordings)

SOFALOFA: Melifluous (Bathysphere Recordings)
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG: 5:55 (Because Music)
VIZIER OF DAMASCUS: Badshadi (Rednetic Recordings)
RICHARD H. KIRK: Fear (No Evil) (Dust Science Recordings)
JIMMY EDGAR: Color Strip (Warp Records)
STEREOLAB: Fab Four Suture (Too Pure)
MARSHALL WATSON: Maths And Other Word Problems (Highpoint Lowlife)
EL PERRO DEL MAR: El Perro Del Mar (Memphies Industries)
ALOG: Islands Of Memory (Creaked Records)
KIERAN HEBDEN & STEVE REID: The Exchange Session Vol .1&2 (Domino Recording Co.)

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