Albums of the Year 2006

For the sake of neatness this really should have been posted yesterday but I got stuck with the list. A quick count in iTunes shows I've bought 49 new releases this year and it wasn't easy to choose a top 20. I got 27 pretty easily and from there I was soon down to 21 but it took me ages to decide which one to drop. Anyway, here's the final list. I've linked each artist to their MySpace page where you can hear sample tracks. The album title links to Amazon.

1. K'naan, The Dusty Foot Philosopher Any of the top three could have been number one but I chose this for two reasons: first, I think it's the album that I've listened to the most this year and I still return to it now and second I think it's been criminally overlooked in the music press. Not that my vote for album of the year will make much difference but every little helps I suppose. It’s a fantastic album, fusing American hip hop with African beats and occasional reggae influences. The lyrics are intelligent and witty, frequently contrasting the portrayal of ghettos in US hip hop with K'naan's own experiences growing up in Somalia. Highlights: Soobax, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, I Was Stabbed By Satan, What's Hardcore

2. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers Another that could easily have been number one on this list. The Raconteurs should be too much of a 'classic rock' outfit for my taste but there's something about the passion with which Jack White and his collaborator Brendan Benson throw themselves into this project that lifts them above the status of mere Led Zeppelin revivalists. They mix rock, blues and power pop together to make insanely catchy songs. Even the occasional lyrical clanger ("I've got a rabbit he likes to hop/ I've got a girl and she likes to shop") is forgivable. Highlights: Steady As She Goes, Broken Boy Soldier, Store Bought Bones

3. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain This is the one I would have picked for number one if I wanted to be trendy. The second album from New York art-rockers TV on the Radio is stunning and towers over their debut - which was a decent record in its own right. It's a dark, intense and messy record, reminiscent of Brian Eno in its joyful experimentation - there are electro beats, hip hop flourishes and jazzy touches throughout. On top of all that, the vocals are superb. I'm listening to it as I type and I'm beginning to wonder whether I should have made it number one after all. Highlights: I Was A Lover, Province, Wolf Like Me, A Method, Dirty Whirl

4. The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon Think of Outkast circa Stankonia and add a sharp political edge and you've got a sense of what this album is like. The Coup make funky hip hop with Marxist lyrics. Amidst the hilarious - and well-placed - attacks on Bush, there is also time for a song praising shoplifters and another attacking the tyranny of social beauty standards. But the political material isn't abstract, it's hung around touchingly human stories and music so catchy that you can ignore it all and just enjoy the funk if you prefer. Highlights: We Are The Ones, Ijuswannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou, Head (Of State), Get That Monkey Off Your Back, I Love Boosters

5. Cat Power, The Greatest This is Cat Power's seventh album and its name is appropriate; this is the greatest thing she's done. Hooking up with a band of Memphis soul veterans has added a classy polish to her sound and this record sounds like an album of lost late-night standards. Her voice sounds amazing and there isn't a duff song on the album. Highlights: The Greatest, Lived in Bars, Could We

6. Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass This record sweeps through so many different styles that it's hard to believe they're all being performed by the same trio. Whether it's ten minute guitar freak-outs, three minute radio-friendly indie or downbeat chamber pop, the standard is uniformly high. Highlights: Pass the Hatchet I Think I'm Goodkind, Beanbag Chair, The Room Got Heavy

7. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale The Wu Tang member returns to form with Fishscale, the first of two albums released this year. He lyrics are frequently excellent and the album's best tracks are built on great soul samples. Highlights: Kilo, Back Like That, Be Easy

8. Liars, Drum's Not Dead Utterly deranged, this is a concept album about the battle between self-doubt (Mt Heart Attack) and creative energy (Drum). It's an intriguing slice of art-rock featuring, as you might expect from the title, astonishing percussion. Highlights: Be Quiet Mt Heart Attack!, Drum Gets a Glimpse, It Fit When I Was A Kid

9. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black This is a cliche but in this case it's true: Back To Black takes a classic soul sound and gives it a contemporary edge. I liked Amy Winehouse's first album but she sounded too close to her influences. This time she seems to have found her sound. Highlights: Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, Love Is A Losing Game

10. Quantic, An Announcement to Answer This is more of the same from Brighton-based producer Will Holland but it's no worse for that. Hip hop, funk, electronica and world music are all blended into a very enjoyable set. Highlights: Absence Heard Presence Felt, An Announcement To Answer, Bomb In A Trumpet Factory, Politick Society

11. Jarvis Cocker, Jarvis The best thing the former Pulp frontman has done in ten years. 12. Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit Scottish indie act continue to mature with Seventies-influenced songs, beefier production and a heavier sound. 13. Herbert, Scale Fantastic soulful electronica shot through with politics. 14. Thom Yorke, The Eraser A continuation of the work Radiohead did on Kid A and Amnesiac: fractured and fragile electronic ballads. 15. Ellen Allien and Apparat, Orchestra of Bubbles Collaboration between two German electronic musicians. Very listenable. 16. Howe Gelb, 'Sno Angel Like You Giant Sand frontman takes his alt.country sound and adds a gospel choir. 17. Tom Waits, Orphans Three albums set from a legend. Brilliant downbeat Americana by turns experimental and traditional. 18. Dani Siciliano, Slappers Jazz-tinged electronica, produced by Dani's husband (and number 13 on this list) Matthew Herbert. 19. Scritti Politti, White Bread, Black Beer First album in seven years from intellectual pop/rock/rap/reggae experimentalist. This one is home recorded, stripped-down and atmospheric. 20. Clark, Body Riddle Atmospheric, deep and wildly imaginative electronica.