Graham’s soundtrack to 2006

Disc 1

1 Serena Maneesh – Drain Cosmetics
2 Yo La Tengo – Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind
3 I’m From Barcelona – We’re From Barcelona
4 Tilly and The Wall – Nights Of The Living Dead
5 Camera Obscura – Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken
6 M Ward – To Go Home
7 Tuung – Woodcat
8 Nina Nastasia – Jim’s Room
9 Cat Power – The Greatest
10 My Latest Novel – Pretty In A Panic
11 Brightblack Morning Light – Everybody Daylight
12 James Yorkston – Summer Song
13 Jarvis Cocker – Fat Children
14 Grandaddy – Jeez Louise
15 Califone – Pink And Sour
16 Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
17 The Aliens – Robot Man
18 The Pipettes – Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me
19 Charlie Alex March – Goodbye Penny
20 Low – In Metal
21 The Delgados – Last Rose Of Summer

Disc 2

1 The Radar Brothers – Faces Of The Damned
2 Peter Bjorn & John – Objects Of My Affection
3 The Flaming Lips – The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
4 OOIOO – UMA
5 Nina Nastasia – On Teasing
6 Yo La Tengo – Black Flowers
7 Bat For Lashes – Trophy
8 TV On The Radio – Wolf Like Me
9 M Ward – Magic Trick
10 Lambchop – Paperback Bible
11 Califone – The Orchids
12 Sufjan Stevens – Casimir Pulaski Day
13 Grandaddy – Elevate Myself
14 Tunng – Bodies
15 My Latest Novel – The Reputation Of Ross Francis
16 Tilly & The Wall – The Ice Storm, Big Gust, & You
17 I’m From Barcelona – Barcelona Loves You
18 The Longcut – Vitamin C
19 Jarvis Cocker – Quantum Theory
20 Hem – Eveningland
21 Eels – Losing Streak (live)

‘It is so clear I realise / That here at last have I have my eyes’

Summer camp days over, it was time to get a proper job. Luckily I found one pretty quickly – 17 days after saying my goodbyes to Camp Mason, and very temporary thoughts about turning to teaching, I got a week’s temp work operating the autocue in a signing studio for signed programmes on the TV. I quickly branched out to being a ‘live assistant’ helping with subtitling. I’d lucked out into a job I really enjoyed and quickly realised that this was a job I wanted to stick in for a while – and I got the job permanently in January 2006. That meant a move to London a couple of months later, to the basement of a flat-share between Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush.

In spite of all of this, the music here doesn’t buzz with the vibe of the city very much, and in fact is a continuation of the acoustic-y, folky stuff that cropped up on 2005’s collection. Not that you’d know that from the first couple of tracks, the noisiest pair I think I ever opened a soundtrack with. Serena-Maneesh’s ‘Drain Cosmetics’ was discovered by accident flicking the music channels late at night, while Yo La Tengo’s ‘Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’ was the opening track of the brilliantly titled I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Having only really got into Yo La Tengo at the turn of the century when they were specialising only in very hushed dynamics, it was only the previous year’s retrospective that woke me up to the fact they were a band that could rock out like the best of them. And the 10-minute ‘Pass The Hatchet’ – edited down to seven minutes here – is one of my favourite all-out rock songs ever, just the same, relentless riff over and over with Ira Kaplan’s cool-as-hell vocals over the top.

After that incongruous opening, things settle down a little bit with I’m From Barcelona, the 25-person ensemble not from Barcelona at all, but from Sweden. The gimmick of such a huge band hadn’t worn off at that point – I was still a big fan of the Polyphonic Spree then – and I’m From Barcelona’s gig I saw at the ULU was one of the funnest I’d been to in a while. And their most famous song, ‘We’re From Barcelona’, still sounds great, although I could quite happily give much of the rest of their output a miss these days. Talking of bands with gimmicks, next in line is Tilly & The Wall, a band that replaces a drummer with… two tap dancers. ‘Nights Of The Living Dead’, a tale of teenage excess, is quite a way to announce yourselves.

A little more straight-laced, but no less joyous-sounding, is Camera Obscura’s ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken’ – a reference to a song by Lloyd Cole – and M Ward’s ‘To Go Home’, a more expansive and commercial effort than his previous work and the point where the general public (and Zooey Deschanael) became a little more interested.

Then, with a bubble of electronics to send us on our way, we’re into the acoustic heart of the record, starting with Tunng’s ‘Woodcat’, a mysterious tale of courts and trials out in the forest (or at least that’s what it sounded like to me). Next up is old Peel favourite Nina Nastasia’s ‘Jim’s Room’, beginning alluringly with an acoustic guitar and the words ‘In the back of the house, in the room I used to sleep’, and then jolts you back with some screechy strings, and the next line, ‘I woke up and smelled burning wires’. It’s an unsettling song.

After the title track from Cat Power’s otherwise-disappointing album The Greatest, we have a track from my favourite album of the year (at least at the time) and the one that most reminds me of moving to London, not least because my order of it was waiting for me there when I moved in. My Latest Novel were outliers in the Glasgow indie-pop scene but I was hooked in by their early singles. ‘Pretty In A Panic’ is followed by mysterious northern Californian act Brightblack Morning Light – whose ‘Everybody Daylight’ is probably the song in this disc that I’m least likely to skip past on shuffle. Its pitch-perfect combination of sensual organ chords and nocturnal flute lines make it sound like a freak-folk cousin of the theme from Shaft – and I can testify to it being a great song to drive the streets at night to make you feel like a bad-ass. As that drifts away, it flows effortlessly into ‘Summer Song’ by James Yorkston, the man who got me started on the whole folk scene in the first place.
Jolting us right back though is Jarvis Cocker, who decided to grace us all with a really good debut solo album, whose high points easily touch anything produced by him during his later Pulp days (we’ll ignore the rubbish second album though). ‘Fat Children’ is him at the top of his game, while ‘Jeez Louise’ is one of the last hurrahs from the great-in-their-time Grandaddy.

With a couple of years’ hindsight, the classic album released in 2006 was ‘Roots & Crowns’ by Chicago experimental band Califone. I’d got into the odd track by Califone a couple of years before thanks to John Peel’s show, but ‘Roots & Crowns’ was bought off the back of an outstanding review in Pitchfork – which in the absence of Peel was beginning to become my primary source for new music. ‘Pink & Sour’, with its found sounds and percussion of processed bongos, was a brilliantly otherworldly introduction to the album.

More familiarly, we have the big pop hit of the year, ‘Crazy’ by Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green’s Gnarls Barkley project, famously the first song to hit number one in the UK from download sales alone (you rather think that’s a genie that won’t be rebottled now, although I would fight the good fight for the physical format for another few years yet). ‘Crazy’ doesn’t seem to have dated very well, but maybe that’s just overfamiliarity. Songs that should have got far more attention was the fun ‘n’ funky ‘Robot Man’ by The Aliens, the band formed by the parts of the Beta Band that weren’t Steve Mason, and the no-more-60s-girl-group-homage the Pipettes’ ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me’, whose second chorus still sounds absolutely huge and joyous.

But things then wind down towards the end, with the pretty electronic piece ‘Goodbye Penny’ – the only track I’ve ever heard by Charlie Alex March – and then an old track by Low, to reflect my growing love for their back catalogue. It was a close-run thing between including Things We Lost In The Fire’s ‘In Metal’ and Trust’s ‘Point Of Disgust’ – I ended up plumping for the lighter former track, and it works all the better for segueing into the final track. The Delgados had been defunct as a going concern for a couple of years, but they did see fit to release their Peel sessions as a compilation in 2006, which seemed a fitting epitaph to one of Peel’s favourite band. ‘Last Rose Of Summer’ comes from the same all-covers session as their version of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ that made it on to my soundtrack to 2003. The song came about from the Delgados offering Peel the choice of song for them to cover, and his choice was a doo-wop track by Joe Becerra & The Symbols. Doo-wop seemed like a good choice, given the 3 / 4 structure that most Delgados songs fitted, but instead the band took the track in a completely different direction, giving it a beatless, ambient quality, backed with perhaps Emma Pollack’s finest vocal performance. It all added up to a great lesser-known track from one of Britain’s most under-appreciated bands.

And so to disc two of the quietest, gentlest soundtrack I ever did make. I’m really not sure what happened to me in 2006 – I can’t think of any real reason that acoustic music dominated my listening that year.

We kick off with a far more representative track than disc one, the very short ‘Faces Of The Damned’ by the Radar Bros, and then we’re into a short run of loud tracks – they’re few and far between on this disc. Peter Bjorn & John have achieved total ubiquity with the frankly quite irritating ‘Young Folks’, but the album it came from, Writer’s Block, deserves a little more respect, containing on the whole a set of perfect pop songs, of which ‘Objects Of My Affection’ is the very best. It’s followed by the Flaming Lips’ ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, a takedown of the Bush administration wrapped up in the last pure pop song (to date) that they’ve written. Their previous album had been named after the Boredoms singer Yoshimi P-We – it was only when researching this piece that I discovered that Yoshimi also fronted OOIOO, whose cacaphonous ‘UMA’ conveniently enough follows the Lips. ‘UMA’ is an extraordinary thing – shouty, squealy Japanese vocals being shouted over the top of percussion that fits that old NME line about a band sounding ‘like a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs’.

For no discernable reason, ‘UMA’ is edited brutally at the end, which seems a good point to start to begin a run of quieter songs that takes up much of the middle of the disc – broken up only by the utterly brilliant ‘Wolf Like Me’ by TV On The Radio, which isn’t really done justice in this company (it needs to be somewhere near the start of the disc). I’m working my way slowly through Breaking Bad at the moment, and the use of the later ‘DLZ’ on one of the episode just emphasised what an utterly fucking cool band TV On The Radio can be when they’re on top form. And they don’t really sound cooler than right here on ‘Wolf Like Me’ – and their performance of the track on the Letterman show is sensational.

Anyway, I digress – that run of quieter tracks begins with an early Nina Nastasia track, ‘On Teasing’, included as I was still catching up on Nina’s genius, and is followed by a touching Yo La Tengo track, ‘Black Flowers’, and the best track from Natasha Khan’s debut album as Bat For Lashes, ‘Trophy’, starring Josh T Pearson on backing vocals.

Following the aforementioned TV On The Radio, and the very brief ‘Magic Trick’ by M Ward, you come to the three tracks that form the beating heart of the 2006 soundtrack. The first of them is ‘Paperback Bible’ by Lambchop. Though I was a massive Lambchop fan, I was beginning to get a vibe of diminishing returns from them following the peerless ‘Nixon’ album. Their album Damaged did not exactly arrest that decline, but it did at least give us their very finest track – ‘Paperback Bible’ is a stunning ballad about, of all things, a radio programme in East Tennessee that sounds vaguely based on the premise of Noel Edmonds’ Swap Shop.

Second is not only my favourite song of the year, but probably one of my favourite three or four songs of all time – and it’s a cover. The original, Psychic TV’s ‘The Orchids’, is a beautiful minimalist electronic thing – showing a sensitive, spiritual side to its creator, Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis P-Orridge, the man who wrote the terrifying ‘Hamburger Lady’ (I can’t even bring myself to link to it, it’s too unsettling). But in Califone’s hands, it’s reinvented as a campfire singalong. I can’t explain why I find it so powerful – maybe after spending most of my twenties listening to what you might deem ‘melancholy’ music, the message of clarity and purity in the lyrics seem to permeate into the music. Or maybe, like ‘Paperback Bible’ before it, my love of it was influenced by where I was when I gained an appreciation of it – sitting in the village of Belaye in France, looking down at the beautiful Vallee du Lot.

And third is the affecting ballad ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ by Sufjan Stevens – the Illinois album was released the previous year, but I developed a love for this track too late to make it on to the 2005 soundtrack. Through experience, I can assure you that this song sounds great stood on a deserted, snowy railway platform at night. ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ and the two songs that precede it are the very essence of 2006 for me – a time of great optimism.

After that, we come into the very long home straight. When I put together a soundtrack, I like having a few good ‘end tracks’ – stuff that sounds particularly great (musically and thematically) when sequenced towards the end, to at least give the impression to the listener that I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what order to put things. The problem with 2006 was that I just had too many end tracks…

And so that end starts with Grandaddy’s ‘Elevate Myself’, a track that basically explains why Jason Lytle was imminently to break up that band, then it’s Tunng’s ‘Bodies’ – weirdly only included on their second album as a CD-only bonus track when it would have otherwise been the been the best track on said album. It’s followed by three album closers from My Latest Novel, Tilly & The Wall and I’m From Barcelona, before a rare dose of electronica from the Longcut – in hindsight, maybe just a glimpse of the direction my music taste would go after this year was over.

The final three tracks, though, exist in their own little bubble and form the perfect way to end. Jarvis Cocker provides a surprising turn in hushed balladry with the closing track from his debut, ‘Quantum Theory’ (I’m ignoring the infamous hidden track ‘Cunts Are Still Running The World’ here). After that, we have a track I very nearly stuck as disc 1, track 1 as a mood-setter – the stunning Hem instrumental ‘Eveningland’ – though it fits better here, running into Mark Everett’s optimistic (by his standards) ‘Losing Streak’, rendered for piano for his stripped back Live At Town Hall album. And at the track’s end, there’s a really touching moment for anyone who has even a passing interest in Everett’s tragic history – the moment when he says ‘Did you hear me? I said my losing streak is done’ and the crowd cheers and applauds, as if he was beating his own demons in front of a live audience.

And with 2006 all done, my personal circumstances (and my music tastes) would take a sizeable shift in 2007. All that to come later.

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