Top 10 of 2006: 1. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

1. Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook


Album of the year. This album has soundtracked my year, all my ups and downs, left and rights, the laughs, the dancing, the silliness, the sadness, every moment.

I’ve had it just about all year. It only really hit me in March, when the first song, Don’t You Think It’s Time, was basically on repeat play every day, after work, walking to the bus stop. It’s simple acoustic hymn to future, better times, seizing the day, and I used to leave work every day thinking I had to do more with my life.

Later in the year, when the album came out, I was in love with it. The hidden track, Me & My Friends, had lines about sitting alone while everyone else is sending text messages. I loved the line, and it reminded me I was the only single guy in a five piece band and I was the only one not going home to someone.

Friend, the second track, I would listen to walking around Enmore in Autumn, thinking about the line “It’s true everybody knows/people come and people go” and realsing some friendships fade and that’s okay.

I saw Bob play a few times over the year and I remember synchronise dancing with a friends to I’m Coming Around at the Annandale. And discussing how Sadness & Whiskey, my favourite song, sounded a bit like a Weezer song at Newtown RSL.

I would sing harmonies openly and loudly at my desk to the new mix of Nowhere Without You and when work, life and everything got too much in the winter, I would listen to the Battle of 2004 with it’s sad refrain of “I’m coming down..” over and over again.

In September I would listen to Rocks In My Head when I thought maybe I had made a stupid decision. And every time it rained, I would think of The Great Unknown‘s middle eight, the stupidly simple “I guess I’m stuck in the rain again.”

When I finally left Australia and I felt like singing Darlin’ Won’t You Come (“…run away with me”) and make somone come with me. And now that I’m here, tonight, I was walking through Covent Gardens, Don’t You Think It’s Time came on the ipod, and it was like walking through a silent crowd, as the remains of Christmas lights withered the streets.

See, you had to be there to appreciate it – and you weren’t. And I don’t really mind if you never hear this album, and if it means nothing to you. It meant a lot to me, and you had to be there to really get it. Oh, I can recommend it on it’s musical merits or something. But that’s not why I treasure this record. It’s because it was my year in song.

Danny Yau
London

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Top 10 of 2006: 2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

2. Darren Hanlon – Fingertips And Mountaintops

I only barely got this record before I left Australia. And it only just missed out on being number one. It’s got everything, beautiful songs, insightful lyrics and also one of the last Australian musicians who to write about Australia.

The towering highlight is Elbows, a simple story that unfolds so carefully unfolds about dancing at a club next to a movie star and touching elbows. From it’s man-walks-into-a-bar type introduction (“On a warm night in March, on a dark disco floor/I danced up a storm like I never before), through to the punchline (See we only touched elbows, it’s the plain naked truth/And I can’t even back up my story with proof), all the way to how we all bump and knock eachother all the time, then back to the dance floor, then the wonderful conclusion – “Some take others home, waking up to regret it/We only touched elbows and I’ll never forget it.”

It’s Hanlon’s way with words, and he’s getting more expressionist by the minute. He’s turning into a great song writer, and his jokes are turning into charm. The album even opens on the sad note of Hold On, followed by an almost angry People Who Wave At Trains (They way they pass through every moment/with nothing on their brains/Like the people who wave at trains). Manilla NSW features school hall piano, the title track sounds like the Modern Lovers and Fire Engine doesn’t have Darren singing on it at all.

Two things hold this record back. One is Couch Surfing, an amazing song by all accounts, but it’s so jokey that it’s going to do nothing to save Darren Hanlon crowds. Last few times I’ve seen him, when Hanlon sings one of his new ballads, the crowd stares like they are waiting for a magic trick. And the slightest whiff of a pun or wit is greatted by a loud cheer. Anyway, I find his shows almost unbearable these days, and a song like this doesn’t help. It’s like the squash song on his last record. Some dumb fuck will yell out “squash” all through a gig.

The other is the production. It’s fine but not great. Imagine the production of a Youth Group album on these songs! If only. And what’s with the cover?

Still, I’m completely in love with this record. It’s completely subjective, but I can’t stop listening to it. So many great lyrics, great musical moments, and so varied and never boring.

Danny Yau
London

Top 10 of 2006: 3. Belle And Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

3. Belle And Sebastian – The Life Pursuit


I’m a recent convert to Belle and Sebastian. This is the first B&S album I’ve bought as it came out, and it’s not really what I expected. This sounds more like a glam rock Bowie album.

Two things make this record better their best since If You’re Feeling Sinister, which is now ten years old. 1) The record began without lead singer Stuart Murdoch, with the band just mucking around. The result is it never sounds like a band backing a songwriter, but rather a full band. 2) Stuart wrote all but one song in the end, anyway. So it doesn’t sound like a mix tape of singers and songwriters.

The band are simply on fire. It’s fun, it’s groovy and heck, even a little sexy. It’s 70s rock and 70s soul. There’s a bit of Thin Lizzy, Stevie Wonder and plenty of sing-alongs. And the bass is right up the front and funking everything up. The singles – Funny Little Frog, White Collar Boy and The Blues Are Still Blue are the best singles they’ve ever released. They, god forbid, rock.


They aren’t the only ones. There’s at least three other songs that would sound great on radio. But thanks to Murdoch, they will never be considered cheap knock offs. He fills the songs with his unique point of view. Funny Little Frog is love song to an imaginary lover. And there’s plenty of stories about lost and lonely young men and women. There’s no way you can figure them all out in one listen.


Then there is the really out-there stuff. Song for Sunshine and We Are the Sleepyheads are almost psychedelic. Only two songs – Another Sunny Day and Dress Up In You sound like B&S of old – sensitive, poetic story songs with many verses. They give the album much needed space.


So I’m going to stop describing an album you may never have heard and just say, somehow, Belle And Sebastian of all bands has made my favourite party album this year. There’s only one low moment – To Be Myself Completely, written and sung by guitarist Stevie. It just doesn’t compare to the wonderful multi layered fun that Stuart Murdoch has come up with.


I’ve had this album since February and I still listen to it regularly. It may lack the bittersweet reflections they are known for, but who cares? Sometimes you need to stop thinking and just dance.

Danny Yau
London

Top 10 of 2006: 4. Youth Group – Catching And Killing

4. Youth Group – Catching And Killing

The last Youth Group album, Skeleton Jar, was such a big record for me. It was the soundtrack to some big years in my life. And it’s so often you wear out a band by doing that. So, I wasn’t that excited about a new Youth Group record. I was ready to like it but not love it, add it to the collection, listen to it for a couple of months, see them live a few times, and move on.

So I was nicely surprised by how good this album is, and how it just slowly won me over.


First thing that’s striking about this record is the confidence, and then second is the economy and the cleanliness. It’s just a solid, not-flashy album. Sometimes it gets very pop, very catchy and at others it’s beautiful and intimate, but it’s never cheap sounding, everything is warm and precise.

Start Today Tomorrow sums it all up. It’s a simple Dylany/Donovany acoustic finger picked thing, and they’ve put the perfect string arrangement behind it. This is not the sound of a mid level indepedent Sydney four piece. It sounds like a classic cut from million dollar record.

But if that was all, then it would hardly make this a special record. What makes this album so special is Toby’s songs, and the things he writes about. Skeleton Jar was coated in sadness and regret. Casino Twilight Dogs is about release and in some ways, being reborn.

And this hit me on a deeply personal level this year. I listened to tracks like Let It Go, On A String, Daisychains and Sorry, and realised that I needed to change my life. And it gave me support and confidence to see those changes through once I did. Listening to Daisychains, and the sorrowful pleading of the line – “I could have spent all summer sitting here making daisychains” – it puts a lump in my throat as think of people I could have happily wasted more time with, but didn’t.

There are so many moments like that. Let It Go‘s full of them – “I will hold you as you start to slip/This will feel like dying”. And Toby Martin is still one of the great literate lyricists, referencing Panasonic, Napoleon and other random things to make his points. Still, as much as I can ramble on here about how good this album is, in the end, this album just ended up meaning a lot to me.

If you need more convincing, check out the glorious Under the Underpass, which reminds me of Springsteen’s Thunder Road with it’s sense of living young even when we might not be anymore. Or Catching And Killing, the oddest single of the year with it’s fumbling bass line and spitting surreal lyrics. It’s a great album by anyone’s standards.

One final word on Forever Young, the cover that ends this album that has exploded in Australia. It’s not their best song but it’s a spooky version of a very disturbing song. It doesn’t truly fit on this record but it’s hardly a terrible track. It ends the album on strange note – the optimism that fills the record is undercut by the idea the singer is about to kill himself and his partner. And maybe the whole album is that naive too.

I’ve worn out Skeleton Jar. It was a time and a place that is over. Casino Twilight Dogs will probably remind me of 2006 forever.

Danny Yau
London

Top 10 of 2006: 5. You Am I – Convicts

5. You Am I – Convicts

For a band renowned for being a great rock band, it could be argued that they haven’t really rocked out in years. So after a break, You Am I release an album that’s almost nothing but rockers, with some of their shortest, sharpest, heaviest work. No ballads here. There’s barely a sparkly pop song a la Cathy’s Clown. It’s pedal to the metal.

So are we down to loyalty buying here? Maybe. But more than their last two albums (and the last 30 Tim Rogers solo albums), it’s a record that has actually won them some new fans. And it’s not You Am I reconnecting with a classic sound – it’s the sound of a band playing louder and and angrier than before.

The first track hits you in the face. Under two minutes, Thank God I’ve Hit the Bottom sounds like hardcore punk, frantic screaming and just riff after punishing riff. In fact, it’s like You Am I have rediscovered the love of the riff. Friends Like You and Constance George has two of the best that You Am I have ever done. If there’s one big gripe about this album, it’s that sometimes you miss Rogers the great songcrafter, the man who can write Gasoline For Two and Sugar.

Tim is still pretty much writing about himself. There’s a bit more anger here, as evident in the tongue in cheek album title. Nervous Kid, a driving rocker, is about being picked on as a kid. It’s a theme Rogers has visited time and time again, but it packs so much more punch. Rogers still plays the lovable failure, declaring him and the band “the last gunslingers in town.” The album ends on the charming I’m A Mess (“I know that it’s a crappy excuse”).

I’ve grown up with this band, and something in the core of what they do just agrees with me. But if that was enough for a good record, then Rhett Miller, Golden Smog, Sloan and the Fauves would all be here. This record is a step forward for the band, one that made me more excited about them than I’ve been for a long time. Let’s hope another record comes soon.

Danny Yau
London

Top 10 of 2006: 6. The Sleepy Jackson – Personality – One Was A Spider One Was A Bird

6. The Sleepy Jackson – Personality – One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird


In Barney Hoskins book Hotel California, photographer Nurit Wilde has this to say about Neil Young: “I thought that the ones whose lyrics I loved must be really smart. And I found out that some of them weren’t smart, they just seemed to have some sort of instinctive feel for words. Neil was one of those.” Reading that quote made me think of Luke Steele.

So let’s get right into the meat of it – Personality is a huge album. The name Brian Wilson was bandied about alot in reviews (along with George Harrison). Lots of strings, keyboards, backing vocals, whistles and bells. But it’s all done for emotional resonance, and backed up by some of Luke’s strongest and most coherent songs.

The big title, the big album cover and the big sound actually do too good a job at hiding what are really simple songs and simple, evocative and beautiful lyrics. Like Neil Young, Steele does in very few words what others take albums to do. “I gave you everything you needed/You needed more” says it all, so simply. In one of the album’s highlights – the stunning Miles Away – when Luke sings “I couldn’t tell you why I was so cold,” you don’t have to know what the hell the story is, it’s just a great line of regret. That song, like so many on this album, evokes the soaring ballads on After the Goldrush.

Again, the singles are the strongest songs. God Lead Your Soul and Devil In My Yard are pop classics, the later sounding like later era T.Rex, and far more guitars than a decade of Beach Boys records put together. But it’s the brilliantly titled I Understand What You Want But I Don’t Agree, with it’s nod to Raspberry Beret, that really shows how inventive Steele can be. For all his misses and experimentation can be forgiven for the slices of pop bliss that he finds. No other Australian musician would go so far for a song.

To the charges of overproduction, I will say, yeah, maybe. It’s no more produced than All Things Must Pass, most baroque pop bands (Left Banke etc) or even Beck and Elliott Smith. It’s lush, but it’s hardly symphonic. And it’s so much better than being a cliche driven four piece, like the oufits that ex-members of this band tend to form. It fits nicely next to Wilco’s Summerteeth and Phoenix’s United.

It’s sad that this album wasn’t a hit like Lovers. It’s possibly better. So much more coherent than that record, Personality should have done for the Sleepy Jackson was Unit did for Regurgitator. Stelle is still the only artist in Australia capable of making something on the level of OK Computer, because he’s the only one willing to go so far, and so loudly.

Detractors can stay in your fucking little indie band and write your fucking little indie songs.

Danny Yau
London

Top 10 of 2006: 7. Paul Simon – Surprise

7. Paul Simon – Surprise
I get annoyed when artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young etc make these sorts of lists. Modern Times was good, but is it realy one of the best albums of the last 12 months? The most interesting musical work? Relevant? Will we look back at 2006 and think of Modern Times?

Bob, Neil, Bruce, Elvis Costello and a bunch of others all released albums this year but there was one old fart that made a record that I thought truly breath-taking, truly 2006, and truly one of the top albums of the year.

Simon is a great songwriter, singer and an acoustic guitar player. But his best work has always had stunning production. The darkness of Sound Of Silence, the huge Phil Spectorness of Bridge Over Troubled Water and the world music colours of Graceland all make Simon one step above, say, James Taylor. After a couple of samey low-key albums, Simon has found a collaborator that bring his sound into 2006 and beyond. His name is Brian Eno.

The album starts How Can You Live In the Northwest? Not a political critique, but a wonderful circle of questions we ask of eachother (“How can you live in the northwest? How can you live in the south?”) but it’s the sound of the thing. Distorted e-bow’ed guitars, humming and buzzing…it sounds like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

It’s a gorgeous sounding album. I can’t think of a Paul Simon album that has this much guitar, this many keyboards or this much distortion. It’s not Nine Inch Nails, but it’s not James Taylor either. Look, it sounds like Actung Baby, ok?

In interviews for this album, Simon said that now, being 64, no one wanted to hear about him having sex. So that was the challenge…no love songs. Or at least conventional ones. Fathers & Daughter is, as the title suggests, a touching song about his daughter. Another Galaxy is about the freedom felt by a woman who runs away on her wedding day. His lyrics are playful and insightful as always. The premier Paul Simon site, Lasers In the Jungle, has essays on the first few songs and it’s pretty easy to get right into them and unravel the wealth of images in there. It’s a delight!

Last year I loved Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds for it’s maturity. That’s a big selling point for Surprise too. It’s a gentlemanly album, about looking at the world of the past and future, with tenderness and hope, from an older age. Simon himself sings on Outrageous: “It’s outrageous a man like me standing here and complain/but I’m tired/900 sit ups a day/I’m painting my hair the colour of mud/mud ok?” Later he asks “Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?”. It’s definitely not a flower power pop song like Mrs Robinson. That was a long time ago.

And the cover? Simon just has no sense of design. Bad album cover after bad album cover. Still, it’s his best work, I would say, in 30 years.

Danny Yau
London