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2006 Year End Best Of


It is with great pleasure that i present to you an EvilSponge first, guest writing from Colin Newman. Mr. Newman is the vocalist for post-punk legends Wire, and is also plays guitar in Githead with his wife Malka Spiegel. He is also associated with PostEverything.com, a website that serves as a sort of clearing house for many smaller avante-garde record labels.

Mr. Newman offers his thoughts on the 2006 Music Year.

          Year End Thoughts

by Colin Newman
(Wire, Githead, Pink Flag Records, PostEverything. com, etc.)


It's come to that time of year again when the "Best Of's" for the year get trotted out. Perhaps I'm not the only one who is finding the question "What were your favourite albums of the past year?" an increasingly absurd one.

During the year, I've discovered music both new and old without really considering its year of release, quite a lot of which didn't come from albums, and some of it hasn't even been released in any conventional way. Only a small percentage of the music that ended up in my iPod actually got there by me hearing stuff on radio or TV or reading about it in a magazine (although that doesn't mean I didn't get some good recommendations).

I found music by somehow getting involved, as a remixer or collaborator, or through my duties with PostEverything. Also I found a lot through friend requests to the various MySpace pages I maintain (yes -- I try to give everything at least 10 secs and I've found some real gems that way!) and also by ripping old promo CDs I'd never listened to (before putting them on E-Bay), and of course also through stuff that people we know just send us.

So instead of a list of real albums I'm going to invent a set of "virtual compilations", presented in no particular order, each of which hopefully capture a mood that I've picked up on through the year.

2006 Year of Pop
One of the really significant aspects of 2006 is the way that good and interesting pop music has made its way back onto the agenda. There are times when pop seems to have no relevance at all, and other times when everything is somehow touched by and striving towards a kind of pop which is perpetually redefining itself.

For me, pop tinged with pathos supplies can be a killer combination which is why I and a lot of other people (many of whom wouldn't admit to it) gave The Feeling's album Twelve Stops and Home some serious attention this year. In spite of it being both retro & cheesy, the album somehow escapes the tragic Coldplay/Travis/Keene trap of mawkish sentiment couched in early 70's stylings by just so perfectly nailing the aesthetic that defined what was special about early 70's Brit pop without actually evoking any nostalgia!

Of course pop comes in many guises, but if you wanted perfect indie pop in 2006 you could do a lot worse than checking out Swedish act, The Concretes, who managed to turn a few heads by being the first band daring to inhabit Carpenters territory. However for me the pop discovery of the year was Samabassadeur, who I found through the Labrador label's free downloads. They manage to be both cheerful and "autumnal" at the same time which is just how I like it! The track Kate is the one that does it for me.

Then again, pop can also come in pretty leftfield varieties too, as in my view something can be characterized as pop by what the voice does regardless of the arrangement. In rock the voice and the instruments tend to inhabit the same space whereas pop can often be defined only by the voice, so there has emerged a whole set of artists who are both pop and experimental at the same time. I guess a prime example would be a band like Psapp. I loved both albums, but the second, The Only Thing I Ever Wanted even more than the first. The music is often quirky with a range of peculiar instruments, toys, and funny noises in with the more conventional sounds. Often the rhythms are no more than skeletal, yet it's Galia Durant's voice that pulls it all together. As instrumental music it's leftfield, but with the voice it's pop!

But it gets weirder than that... You have artists like Like a Stuntman who manage to cram catchy melodies and some pretty off the wall stuff into their tunes (best heard on their Stan Places EP). But perhaps my weirdest discovery of the year is Mrs. Tanaka, who is on the Osaka Based label Towntone and whose "Traffic Tune" manages to be cheerful, poignant, charming, extremely lo-fi, and catchy in that way that only Japanese girls can be. And no I haven't got a clue what she's singing about, even though I suspect it might be in English!

Electronic Music Ain't Dead
The other major theme of 2006 is that electronic music refuses to die in spite of the fact that MTV 2 (in the UK at least) is awash with young rock bands thrown up in the wake of the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon. Right across the board from the post dubstep dark urban atmospheres of Burial's self titled debut album to the massive dancefloor success enjoyed by the drum & bass revival, most notably pop-junglists Pendulum (who's Hold Your Colour album contains some of my favourite air punchers) to the classic electronic beauty of Redpoint, whose debut EP Stay at Home is available for free download from the label Hidden Music.

Others who have been slaving over their synths for many a year have discovered a penchant for pop and some of the best "outsider pop" I've heard in 2006 came from people who, instead of throwing out their computers and getting into rock bands, are staying the course and re-inventing the genre from the inside. Artists like France's Laudanum (who's Left Handed Right Mind from the Your Place & Time Will Be Mine album is just one of the catchiest and unlikeliest tunes I've heard this year) and Belgium's Styrofoam, who does his own singing as well! Check out A Heart Without a Mind from his I'm What's There to Show That Something's Missing album.

But my absolute discovery in electronic music in 2006 was someone who released his last album in 2003 and that's the king of "shoegaze electronica", Ulrich Schnauss, who's second album A Strangely Isolated Place is somehow prescient of a style which may be a coming one for 2007: the one man pop/rock band, the effect somehow achieved without the obvious guitar/bass/drums axis. I guess he's a Todd Rundgren for the modern age (which in my view is a good thing!) and On My Own is just a fantastic piece of work.

Oh My God, It's the 80's Again
I guess you will have had to have been living in a box for the past few years to notice just how much 80's revivalism there is around. Apart from all the bands that sound a bit like The Smiths, the punk-funk aesthetic still keeps on keeping on, delightfully personified in 2006 by CSS, who are Brazilian and bored with Sexy(whatever that means). Still, Let's Make Love & listen to Death from Above manages to strut its funky stuff, be charming, and have a great title all at the same time -- which is more than most can claim.

More absurd are Geyster who are either German or come from Los Angeles (or both) and who audaciously revive 80's glam disco, and actually sound a bit like Illusion (which is a lot funnier than Scissor Sisters sounding like Elton John and, errr, The Smiths of course).

But if you want to get really serious about your 80's revivalism then you should check out France's Celluloide, who sound like early Depeche Mode, only insanely catchy and NOT weedy. Track down People Like Me.

Interestingly enough, stuff that is actually from the early 80's also sounded at times alarmingly contemporary. Old track of the year must go to Gina X's No GDM which Malka has DJed with to great effect and we have featured on our occasional radio show (tip - speed it up!) I have no idea what she's going on about but she does it with great conviction! And it's just a thumper of a Teutonic beat. Runner-up spot has to go to Kleenex with Heidi's Head, a song which is willfully obscure yet manages to combine harmonic sophistication with totally naiveté! Genuine post punk in a Swiss chocolate!

Acoustic Is Here To Stay (At Least For Now)
There has been a huge "folk" revival in the UK over the last few years which has seen the absurdity of forgotten 60's hippy Vashti Bunyan swept into the public eye (and into a T-Mobile advert) as well as the dubious charms of Davendra Banhart, et al. However this has also meant that Bert Jansch has received a timely revival. People often talk about music being timeless, but it seems crazy to imagine that his self-titled debut album was released in 1965! It speaks as much to today as much as it did to its time of release, and makes all those Third Millennium Hippies sound like just that!

Of course, there have been people doing smart things with acoustic instruments (played or manipulated) this year. Notably there was Tunng who combine acoustic guitars, folk melodies, electronic atmospheres, and glitch to great effect on their Mother's Daughter and Other Songs album. Also Silver Pyre, who's Sovereign combines a kind of bawdy traditional folk with electronic drone.

Then there's Phelan Sheppard, who manipulate a lot of "real instruments" into the sound pictures on their debut album Harps Old Master. Stretching the line of influence a bit further there is Modern Institute, who on the surface would be classified as Electronic but who feature real cello and guitar in the mix. It would seem that acoustic instruments and "real instrument" textures have a lot to offer to music styles well outside the realm of "folk".

The Album of Me & MySpace
2006 was the year in which MySpace turned from being a thing that hip 20-somethings mused about and that PR people co-opted into their publicity strategies for the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Lily Savage, to being a piece of virtual real estate anyone with a public name HAD to at least check out to see who is claiming to be you. Having discovered 20 or 30 Wire's (most of whom appeared to be giving away our music) along side various Colin Newman's (one of which was using my picture and biography to attract dates), I didn't have much choice but to weigh in with the Identity Theft thing and ended up taking over the most popular Wire page. This started of what has come to be a daily ritual of dealing with the endless friend requests for Wire. I'm conscientious, so I at least try to check everyone out (see the blog on Wire's MySpace for more about this) and in spite of the constraints there have been discoveries. Some of the more obscure artists above I first found through MySpace, and there are others to add to that list.

Often I just like one track but that's not to devalue the artist, IMO one good track is more than 95% of all recorded artists achieve! So here's a list – track 'em down on MySpace:

More added daily.

Of course, I don't just spend my days dealing with MySpace friend requests. Most of this year has been spent working on the second Githead meisterwek Art Pop which of course exemplifies all the best in contemporary music.

Elsewhere I've done a few little collaborations. I mixed a band called Celebricide from Brighton. I think Resist or Serve comes out as a single next year. I also remixed the Japanese band Polysics. I know it came out, but I never got a copy. I also did a collaboration with Tauchsieder one third of which is Frenchbloke, I sing on a track called Herd the Shadows for their next album, this should also come out next year.

The last couple of months I'm re-immersed in Wire studio work but that, as they say, is another story!

Related Links:

Return to the End Of Year Lists menu.

Wire on MySpace.
A good Wire fan site, for informational purposes.
Githead on MySpace.
Githead's official website.


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