A depressing year? Yes! But with landmark albums from the likes of Burial and TVOTR.
Whether it's fist-pumping to UK garage in 2001, before half of So Solid were in prison, or openly liking Kings Of Leon without people snort-guffawing at you in 2004, Noisey asks our writers what their favorite year for music has been so far. To kick us off, here's John Calvert talking us through his best (if a bit somber) musical landmarks of 2006.
The Bronx - "History's Stranglers"
A coke-snorting, disturbed-marine of a tune, "History's Stranglers" is Sunset Boulevard's river of filth syphoned straight into your jugular, in waves of beery power-punk. And the chorus goes...."These beads of sweat feel like a flood..."...(altogether now)..."MUTHAAAFUCKER, I WANT YOUR BLOOOOOOOOOOOOD!" Feels better than kicking your boss' ass...in front of his wife...and his children.
BEST GIG (sort of?!)
The Pogues, King's Hall, 23 December
It's a sight to behold when every festive season the London-Irish swill-punks come to Belfast. Pissed up post-Christmas office parties, 9,000 barbarians descend on the King's Hall to launch gob, beer and fag ends around an arena usually reserved for Daniel O'Donnell concerts.
So, in 2006 I followed my big brother Davey into this writhing den of iniquity. Behind us in the crowd a girl poured beer down the collars of every medieval-looking gym-freak passing by. It was only a matter time before someone got the wrong idea. Sure enough, it had to be the meanest, Uncle-Fester looking knee-breaker in South Belfast who took the bait. So he stops, turns around and silently squares up to my brother, despite the fact that the perpetrator, beer bottle still in hand, was giggling behind us. Now, my brother's a big ted himself, and pitbull-guy only comes up to his chin. But fuck it if his neck muscles weren't the size of John Holmes' dick. For a tense few seconds, while I wondered if my family would ever speak to me again if I totally ran away, the combatants made their respective assessments. "Shit, I'm going to miss having a face" my brother was probably thinking. The other guy? A loose string of vowels and squeaky fart noises probably. After what seemed like an eternity of nose-to-nose staring, eventually he sidled off, roid-engorged thighs chafing with an audible velcro sound.
To this day the memory of my brother standing his ground against Ma Fratellis' mangled ear still brings a tear to my eye. Everything was again right in the world by the time the mandatory finale of "Fairytale In New York" brought the house down. People stopped their eye-gouging and knife duels and instead hugged tenderly and cried over their dead mammies, and the boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay.
TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
For shame, you Guardianista socialists, banging on about political apathy in music. You want protest music? Press play here and blow your mongrel mind.
Writing on the subject of Bush-era musicians, The Salon's Stephen Deusner recently observed "Instead of vocalizing opposition to the [Iraq] war, they worked to document life during wartime and to examine their own uncertainty and alienation." Making a mockery of the rule that hipster bands have nothing of substance to say, the Brooklynites' opus gave a voice to the urban liberal, who, horrified by rule under a war-mongering corporate-Christian oligarchy, were withdrawing from society in mass exodus to the zion-like "Cookie Mountain". Which, if you're hungry, also sounds like kind of a big deal...erm, and politics and stuff.
Like every great political album, RTCM artfully used metaphor and magical-realism. Which, in the history of protest music - from Wyatt's "Shipbuilding" to Suicide's "Ghost Rider", has been a way to conjure darkening times in your guts, as opposed to your in the grey matter. In Suicide The Ghost Rider is a motorcycle hero, and "Baby, baby, baby he's screamin' the truth / America, America's killin' its youth" A jillion times scarier than Joe Strummer and his white riots.
The "jumbotronic" production that made a temporary star of David Sitek, by the finish TVOTR's big vista post-punk had eerily conjured up images of an occupied state hurtling towards disaster. Which, in 2006, in the shadow of a double-front war, and with 9/11 still fresh in the memory, felt like nothing less than prophecy. Cut to four years later, and you're six miles from the US-Mexican border with a van-load of Afghan gak, your wife's left you for the personal trainer, your daughters making one of those "art films" and in the brothels of Morocco your son's known to the tricks as the Make-out King of Marrakech. Yay, financial freefall!
After RTCM, they were dubbed the new Radiohead and appointed poster boys for the champagne left. Songs from the album soundtracked pretty much every liberalist film ever for several years after, like "liberalism in crisis" drug movie, Half Nelson. That's the one when Ryan Gosling goes full Yo Teach! saving the soul of a poor black girl, while coaching basketball and while taking drugs, 'cos he's amazing and into jazz and shit...while taking drugs. A rebel, yeah?
Meanwhile, lead singer Tunde Adebimpe appeared in cloyingly Blue-State drama, Rachel Getting Married, the film equivalent of being patronized to death on extortionate Native American furniture. A far cry from drippy liberalism, however, RTCM was warrior-like in its tooth and claw passion. "Wolf Like Me" presented sex as a political victory, coursing with post-coital wrath, Adebimpe's "We're howling forever" formed a war cry for the bohemian-romantic lifestyle; an anti-establishment declaration of intent beamed straight from the 60s. Return To Cookie Mountain was 2006 at its most vital, making the rest of the year's albums seem frivolous.
Burial – Burial
Except, maybe, this one. William Bevan's decade-defining sound had entered the world more or less fully formed, in the shape of his 2006 debut. Of course this was years before Skrillex turned up, looking like a smug IT technician you could easily punch in the face until your knuckles were gloved in what looked like an inside-out rabbit.
Set in a world of eternal darkness, Burial's genius lay in the marriage between millennial urban music and the spectral (and in some cases a vague sense of loss, as in a mourning for rave's 90s adolescence, it was speculated). It was a winning double helix that since has birthed legions of imitators, from Salem's horror-trap to The Weeknd's analgesic R&B-world. While The Weeknd's theater plays out across the topside of gleaming cities, Bevan's nightscapes played at the concrete bottom of the city.
The album's loose concept centered around a submerged future London, which (incoming literature reference guys) similar to Ballard's London masterpiece The Drowned World, implied a kind of comfort in the apocalyptic. As bleak as it was, the album's sensuality conjured up feelings of safety. And also perfect for snoozing to. I mean, analyzing from a critical standpoint...(CLASSIC nap-material).
But for all the reams of musings on the South Londoner, the best description of Burial was provided by the producer himself, discussing the motion-tracker from Aliens he said:
"It's eerie...the sound of something tracking something else through total emptiness… I love it."
To this day Bevan remains, appropriately, a ghost-like figure; an urban myth. Though the impression in 2006 that his art garage was music's future, was very real indeed.
The Knife - Silent Shout
Meanwhile, in the cold winter before Burial, and from elsewhere in inner city Europe, came 2006's other electronic masterpiece.
Before The Killers shat years of depressingly retro synthpop onto our unwitting faces, Swedes Olof and Karin Dreijer Andersson gave the genre its first makeover since the mid 80s. Neither Sheffield '81 nor New Romantic nor rave-derived, the duo twisted synthpop using a mix of minimal techno, coldwave and the scariest vocal pitch-shifting since Dave Thomas caught his knackers on a chainsaw.
Silent Shout coursed with restlessness, filtering a monochrome, very north European nihilism through catchy yet utterly haunting songs, harking back to the glory days of Scandinavian post-punk, on tracks like "The Captain", Cronenborgian synths throbbed under lady-Andersson's surreally double-tracked, helium-ated vocals. Terror never sounded so sweet.
THE OTHER BEST SINGLE
Gorillaz - "Feel Good Inc"
Of course, Burial wasn't the only one dealing with rave's passing.
Released in the US in 2006, "Feel Good Inc" threatened to break Gorillaz in America, when the single went top ten. However, despite its pop chirpiness "Feel Good Inc" represented an early example of the "after-ness" state that would, in the ensuing years, come to be known as "hauntology". See also: every semi-confused Ariel Pink article ever written.
Between the machine funk and De La Soul's rapping was a chorus packing a melancholy uncommon in the charts. A subtle nod to rave, the chorus' Balearic acoustic guitar held a stung nostalgia for golden-era Ibiza. Which for Albarn's age group had become an unreal, sun-bleached hallucination of another Britain. Like pre-Coalition Wales, or Britain back when ITV scheduled Bullseye right after Super Granny.
The Club 18-30 halcyon days Blur affectionately lampooned in "Boys and Girls" were by 2006 fading into a daydream. "It is tinkling, falling down / Love forever, love is free," he cooed longingly, "Let's turn forever you and me / Is everybody in?" But, after the chorus, with the arrival of MC Trugoy's bullish rap comes a cold smack of reality. After years spent in utopia, Gorillaz 2D awakens in the "Feel Good Tower", incarcerated and desolate. As Albarn later explained: "For a while it was great to be on the inside, but the party got out of hand. The Feel Good Tower represents this. The palace we built had become a prison."
2006, you were bleak, but your music was great.