Some of this year’s best releases were actually re-releases, compilations or collections of some kind or another. If I had decided to include them in my main list, most of them would have made my top ten of the year. But there’s only so far you can stretch the concept of a ‘2006 release’. So I’ve separated them out in their own little list. They are in no particular order, other than alphabetical, which is quite a particular order, but not a meaningful one.
NB. Where I have included audio clips, you have to press play every thirty seconds.
Battles — EP C/B EP
A collection of the band’s previous releases, EP C, B EP and the single Tras / Fantasy, this is the revelation of the year for me. I haven’t been as excited by the noises guitars can make in years. This is the album I hoped Tortoise would make following Standards. Battles are definitely a band to keep an eye on. Let’s hope they don’t mess it up with their first proper album. The promised autumn release date has come and gone, though the band’s MySpace blog says that a single will be out in February with an album coming in early spring. I can’t wait!
Brian Eno + David Byrne — My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
This classic album was digitally remastered and re-released for its 25th anniversary. As an extra special treat, seven tracks that didn’t make the original were included (although ‘Qu’ran’ was removed). Two tracks were even available to download for people to remix under a Creative Commons license. So an old favourite given a very 21st century twist. The best thing about this album is the fact that — despite its heavy reliance on technology — it simply doesn’t sound twenty-five years old. Just incredible.
Broadcast — The Future Crayon
A fine collection of Broadcast’s B-sides here. Some of these are brilliant tracks. The fact that ‘Illumination’ was not included on an album was criminal. That is rectified here. ‘Unchanging Window / Chord Simple’ is also not to be missed! All-in-all, this is an essential album, even if (like me) you already had many of the tracks on previous EPs. And if you’ve always wondered what the fuss about Broadcast was, but never got round to investigating — well, there couldn’t be a better place to start.
Field Music — Write your own history
Another collection of B-sides here. Field Music only have the one album out, and they’re already getting the retrospectives out there. Ker-ching! I thought this album was a bit bland at first. Unlike Broadcast’s album, you could really tell that these songs were B-sides. Often there is a little something lacking. Having said that, this album, presented in chronological order, has grown on me a lot. A lot of it is dangerously close to ripping off The Beatles. But if you can get beyond that, this is a charming and sometimes surprising collection, just like their album. If you liked their first album then you should get this. If not, hold back.
Gescom — MiniDisc
“Groundbreaking” is a word that’s spread around rather liberally. But Gescom’s MiniDisc possibly deserves the tag. It was said to be — by none other than Sony’s MD — the world’s first ever MiniDisc-only release, way back in 1998. It seems to have been an attempt both to take advantage of and thwart the various pros and cons of the MiniDisc format. In particular, MiniDisc’s seamless shuffling was utilised, allowing listeners to shuffle and loop the MiniDisc’s eighty-eight short tracks to their heart’s content — without having to endure those painful gaps you get with CD players.
Of course, the MiniDisc format is pretty much obsolete now, so MiniDisc has been re-released on CD. Not that it matters too much, as iTunes 7 can do the whole gapless shuffle thing anyway. As for the music itself, people’s general reaction is usually mixed. But I think there are a lot of really great tracks on this. Gescom probably works best as a way for Autechre to let their hair down, and they certainly do that here (I know one person who particularly loves the fact that one of the tracks is called ‘Helix Shatterproof’). I particularly like ‘Polarized Beam Splitter’, ‘Pricks’ and ‘Le Shark’.
John Cage — Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (Maro Ajemian)
This is a re-release of the first recording, made over fifty years ago, of John Cage’s incredible Sonatas and Interludes. It is interesting, but nothing more. Infact, some parts of it are painful to listen to — not because of John Cage’s wizardry, but because the recording is so poor. Could they not have remastered it or something? Save yourself a few quid and just buy the Naxos version.
Steve Reich — Phases: A Nonesuch Retrospective
In celebration of the hugely influential composer’s seventieth birthday, Nonesuch have put together a huge five CD box set of Steve Reich music. And some of his best work is all here — ‘Music for 18 Musicians’, ‘Different Trains’, ‘New York Couterpoint’, ‘Electric Counterpoint’, ‘Triple Quartet’, ‘Drumming’. All jaw-droppingly amazing. There are a few mediocre pieces though. How many times can he get away with re-hashing ‘Music for 18 Musicians’?
The set also misses out the literally pathfinding ‘It’s Gonna Rain’. Still, you can’t complain. I got my hands on this for eighteen quid, which is not much more than what I paid for ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ alone, and the same as what I originally paid for ‘Drumming’. The great value is the best thing about this set. And there couldn’t be a better place to start your Steve Reich collection.
Tortoise — A Lazarus Taxon
Tortoise certainly have plenty of great tracks hidden away in the dustier corners of their catalogue, and it was about time some of these tracks got a good airing. There are many highlights such as ‘Gamera’, ‘A Grape Dope’ and ‘Waihopai’. There are also a few fairly boring tracks. This album is unusual in that I have actually become less fond of it over time. Still, I am grateful that this set of three CDs and one DVD was released. What a treat for Tortoise fans. Let’s hope that their next proper album isn’t as duff as It’s All Around You!
My top ten proper albums of new music of the year will appear next week!