The Zaw Towers Review of 2006

2006 was a very topsy-turvy year indeed for me, particularly as the last three months really have been a welcome change and helped me rediscover the real me a lot more than I ever thought possible, and I've rekindled a few passions, one of them being the music that I love so much. This therefore means there's probably more here in this review than in previous years, but that's no bad thing. So what shaped the year and what did I really like?

Best Single of 2006 - "Supermassive Black Hole" - Muse
Even though I'm not the biggest fan of Muse, as soon as you heard the guitar riff intro to this one, and that completely brilliantly dirty guitar at that, you just knew that this song was going to draw you in. It's addictive, it's inviograting and a perfect way to really get out there and rock. It's also in essence quite simple, but that's where its addiction lies, as you can bounce around happily to it and go mental. If their live performance of this on a Top of the Pops special was anything to go by, seeing this lot live would have been a top live gig for a lot of people!

Also recommended:
"Standing In The Way Of Control" - The Gossip
- There's so much attitude in this track that it really grabs you by the proverbials and makes you listen. Beth Ditto's vocals are spot on in terms of passion and slight anger, and the guitar riffs just add the power to her voice. Brilliant stuff.
"We Are Your Friends" - Justice vs Simian - Take a Simian album track, remix it with some French funky style, give it the title of one of Simian's albums, and make a cool video, and you're so there. It's one of those songs that you know you shouldn't dance to, but addictively you do because it's so cool.

Best Album of 2006 - "Howling Bells" - Howling Bells
Forget the hype that other bands had, feel the quality that you get here. It's lush, it's beautiful, it has some really melodic songs and to top the lot an absolutely luscious angelic voice in the one and only Juanita Stein. It's a dark and lonely place in a lot of their songs but yet at the same time it's also comfortable and safe. I absolutely love the gritty guitars that just set the whole tone to "Low Happening" and the gentle softness of "Broken Bones" where the broken bones may hurt, but a broken heart will never mend. And that's so painfully true but delivered with just the right touch of emotion and feeling. It's just a welcome change from all the "we're so indie" posturing and deep, reflective and thoughtful. The best thing to come out of Australia since Nick Cave, and that for me says a heck of a lot.

Also recommended:
"We Validate!" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - And you thought proper British indie-pop with witty lyrics and instantly singalongable tunes were dead? No. Not when you listen to this absolute gem. It's full of cute little songs that just really become addictive. "The Lesson of the Smiths" is something we should all learn from, and as for the sentiments on "The Gay Train" it has a great blend of feeling and warmth. Get it. Now.
"Continuum" - John Mayer - I'd just like to wonder why the hell John Mayer is so bloody under-rated over here. His brilliant guitar playing, songwriting and above all more bluesy and reflective mood on this album creates some lovely soundscapes. "Waiting On The World To Change" sets the tone really well as does a killer of a cover version of "Axis Bold As Love".
"Fast Man Raider Man" - Frank Black - An ambitious double CD of some twenty seven tracks, yet it doesn't feel wasted one bit. Frank's gone a little more acoustic and even at times countrified with some of the tracks on this release, but that's no bad thing. "John Barleycorn" is a neat little track and there's also at last on record his great version of "Dirty Old Town". But that's just scratching the surface of the wonderful mood set here.
"IBM 1401: A Users Manual" - Jóhann Jóhannsson - Now this is something different. Imagine the minimalist style of Philip Glass set to more beautiful scenery and some absolutely lush orchestral and electronic arrangements? Well that's exactly what you have here. It's utterly inspiring and gorgeous, and it makes you sit up and listen and enjoy, all at the same time.

Best Concert of 2006 - Marion - Manchester Club Academy
To see a band you loved and respected back in the day not only reform but play a gig in your home town is the sort of stuff you dream of as a fan. I was lucky enough to see the incredible PWEI in Birmingham last year, and for me this gig invoked those same sort of feelings. The vibe was completely brilliant, everyone was really set to enjoy themselves, and despite a slightly shorter set than I'd like, they certainly didn't waste any time and rocked the place not only with classics such as Let's All Go Together and the utterly magnificent Sleep, but new stuff got an airing as well, possibly suggesting that there could be another single or album on the way. It also made me realise just how much I appreciate indie music or what it is, not what the corporate label whores try to make you believe. I'm just going to have to play Violent Men right now in tribute actually...

Best Film of 2006 - Cars
I know, I know. I love animation. Quite a few people were disappointed with this, but not me. It's very much a different style of Pixar film, and all the better for it. Having animated cars with characters might seem a bit odd at first, but once you get into it all, it really works well and is thoroughly enjoyable. It's also a voyage of discovery for the lead character as he realises friends and family are crucial to you rather than glory, something which I'm sure a lot of us really relate to. The two Italian cars who work in the village as the garage repair shop are fanastic, and having them fix Michael Schumacher at the end (with guest appearance by Schumi) is fantstically funny. And there's so many little homages to other Pixar films that the adult in you can go "ah yeah, that Lightyear blimp is a cool thing!". It's so worth watching - get the DVD sort of nowish.

Best DVD of 2006 - Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2 disc special edition)
Wallace and Gromit could do no wrong, especially with this top notch quality DVD release of the film. It had absolutely stack loads of extras, including hard to find things now such as some of the Cracking Contraptions shorts (I have them anyway, but still..), lots of behind the scenes stuff, interactive games for the kids, a DVD-ROM portion where kids can design their own W&G printable stuff, and just oodles more stuff for all the family. It really is an essential purchase and one that I've watched quite a few times over the last seven months or so. Cracking!

Best TV Programme of 2006 - Life On Mars
I'll be bold here and say this wasn't just the best TV programme of 2006, but of the last three or four years. It has everything you want in a good drama: two lead characters who are complete opposites to each other but work well when needed to (and brilliantly played by John Simm and Philip Glenister), action and gentle moments all at the same time, particularly during the dream flashbacks for example, lots of gritty dialogue along the way, and a story that you can actually believe week on week. What makes it all so memorable is the fact that it takes all the best bits of police shows over the last 20-odd years and blends them all together in a wicked concoction of Northern wit, Ford Cortinas and sheer bloody mindedness. All the characters make sense (Nelson the barman is criminally under-used) and the fact I was prepared to stay in every Monday night to watch it should tell you all you need to know. Second series is next year where all the answers are given to the lead character's plight, I just hope it's as good as this series. Don't mess with the Gene Genie!

Best Sporting Moment of 2006 - Europe's Ryder Cup Victory
In a year when most of English and British sport did rather badly, the one shining light of the year was the European team retaining the Ryder Cup at the K Club in Dublin, and eventually with some style too. Too many moments to mention during the three days, but Paul Casey's hole in one at the 14th to win one of the matches he was in was brilliant, as was the resurgence of Sergio Garcia who seems to love the Ryder Cup. No greater moment though than the victory of Darren Clarke and Ian Woosnam over Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara. For Clarke, coming back after his late wife passed away and being such a pivotal role, holing the winning chip and having his good friend Tiger Woods (who himself had lost his father last year) embrace him in a truly sporting and genuine moment of appreciation showed that despite the intensity of the Ryder Cup, there's a more human side to all sport where you strive to be the best but make friends along the way. And it's those sort of moments that make watching sport so humbling.

Best male personality of 2006 - Philip Glenister
As brilliant as Life on Mars is (see above) one actor above all else shone and made it the series that it was. In argubaly his finest role, Philip Glenister being Gene Hunt (The Gene Genie) gave a flawless performance that was full of power, passion and real Northern grit. And that just came across brilliantly to the view, the old school 70s policing matched with a proper "don't mess with me son" hard attitude was really the sort of thing that had people hankering back to life as it was then. And he had a heck of a lot to do with that. I can only hope he's as good in series two, but it showed that when you're a proper professional actor, and not just someone who can recite a few lines on telly, then that real passion comes through and shines. And didn't it just folks?

Best female personality of 2006 - Karen Hardy
Could it be anyone else? Absolutely not! Persuaded by her husband Conrad to take up dancing again after a seven year retirement hiatus in 2005, and doing decently enough with Bill Turnbull that year in Strictly Come Dancing, this year being partnered with Mark Ramprakash she was determined more than ever to push herself and Mark to more difficult new levels every week. And wow! We enjoyed her outfits, we enjoyed her emotions as she really wore the heart on the sleeve, and most of all every time she got on that dance floor she just looked like she was having the time of her life. And that's how it should be - having fun, enjoying yourself and most of all giving 110% in front of prime time television. I'm really chuffed her and Mark won, she's a real woman with real warmth. Now, I wonder if she can teach me a few killer steps to snaffle the ladies?