The Best Thing I've Heard All Year - 2006

"Regard art critics as useless and dangerous" -- Manifesto of the Futurist Painters

With that stark warning ringing in your ears, here's my list of the best albums I've heard during 2006:

Neil Young - Living With War

If I had to pick one person to write a protest album about the Iraq war, it would definitely be Neil Young.  I blogged about this scathing and visceral attack on the Bush administration back in October, and my opinion of it hasn't diminished over the past couple of months.  It remains a strong collection of work with an energy and quality that has been lacking in Young's work since, ooh, at least 1994's Sleeps With Angels.

Snow Patrol - Eyes Open

Just a few albums ago Snow Patrol were indie plodders putting out the kind of records that would only be bought by people like me.  Now they've broken into mainstream by releasing anthemic radio-friendly tracks such as Chasing Cars, You're All I Have, Set The Fire To The Third Bar, and (my personal favourite), It's Beginning To Get To Me.

And look who they namecheck:

"Put Sufjan Stevens on, and we'll play your favorite song,
Chicago bursts to life in your sweet smile remembers you"

...which brings me on to...

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

I realise that this was released back in 2005, but I didn't get round to hearing it until early this year!  This is the second in Sufjan Steven's grand plan of releasing an LP for every state in the US, and it's an absolute corker.  Beautiful, melodic piano-led tunes that will be seeping out from my late-night headphones for many years to come.

Belle And Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

Belle And Sebastian never fail to deliver the goods, and this Tony Hoffer-produced follow-up to 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress is no exception.  Brilliant lyrics once more from Stuart Murdoch and the band are sounding tighter than ever, combining to make a deliciously upbeat seventh album.

Pipettes - We Are The Pipettes

The Pipettes are on a mission "to turn back the clock to a time before The Beatles ruined everything", and their weapons of choice are polka-dot dresses and mesmering hand-jives.  I'm a sucker for female-fronted bands singing bubblegum pop songs about love and disco dancing, so there was never any doubt that this would end up on my favourite LPs list.

Long Blondes - Someone to Drive You Home

Hooray, another female-fronted pop band!  And they hail from Sheffield!  And quote Morrissey!  How could I resist their charms?

Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country

Camera Obscura are a Glaswegian indie who came to my attention when I heard their fantastic single Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken (an answer song to Lloyd Cole's 1984 (Are You) Ready To Be Heartbroken?).  The video to that single is quite cute too - check it out on YouTube.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the entire album (their third!) is of a similarly high quality.

Guillemots - Through The Windowpane

The Guillemots' album makes it onto my list primarily because it includes my favourite track of 2006, Trains To Brazil.  The title is a reference to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the subject matter of the lyrics concerns the ongoing spate of terrorist attacks, suggesting that we should "live and be thankful we're here" whilst we have the chance.  Soulful vocals and decorative horns help to make this the most joyous, life-affirming pop song I've heard in many a long year.

Honorary mentions to the following other fine opuses: