It looks likely that 2006 will be another great year, with the early part of the year already promising some treats. I'm hoping for some great debut albums from some of the great new acts to break through in 2005 - The Pipettes, The Long Blondes, Twisted Charm perhaps, but there's no word on any full length releases from these acts as yet. Here are some of the confirmed releases that look most exciting.
In January, Cat Power returns with an album recorded with the legendary Hi Records rhythm section, backing band to Al Green and Ann Peebles among others. It sounds like a fascinating combination. Another peculiar, but perhaps more predictable collaboration comes with the covers album promised from Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. 'The Brave and The Bold' features radically deconstructed versions of Elton John's 'Daniel' and Bruce Springsteen's 'Thunder Roads' amongst other less ubiquitous choice cuts. The Gossip return with 'Standing In The Way Of Control' and tour the UK in February. The sadly underrated Clearlake release third album 'Amber'. Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis ventures out alone with 'Rabbit Fur Coat'.
Not much confirmed for February yet, but a highlight is definitely the new album from the prolific In League With Paton favourites The Broken Family Band. I've already got a copy of this - a review will follow shortly. Apparently not an official follow-up to 'Surrounded in Silence', but more of a stop-gap, 'Security Screenings' is the latest project from Prefuse 73. Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint continues in its valiant quest to issue the complete home-recorded works of the wonderful Ariel Pink. 'House Arrest' promises to be his best yet. Erstwhile New Pornographer Dan Bejar returns in his Destroyer guise for 'Destroyer's Rubies'. After the outstanding 'Your Blues', this is one of the albums I'm most looking forward to in 2006. There's also a new record from OutKast, which will no doubt save hip-hop for a while.
In March, there are some absolute gems from the other side of the pond. Quasi return with 'When The Going Gets Dark'. Their last LP, 'Hot Shit', divided opinion somewhat. The increasingly bizarre Liars release third LP 'Drum's Not Dead', which may well be excellent. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a lot of expectation to live up to when they release 'Show Your Bones'. Former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan joins forces with Isobel Campbell to release 'Ballad Of The Broken Seas'. The inevitable Lee HAzlewood/Nancy Sinatra comparisons are already becoming somewhat tiresome. Most exciting of all is the return of Loose Fur, the collaboration between Glen Kotche and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Jim O'Rourke. 'Born Again In The USA' surely can't be anything other than superb. Neko Case returns with 'Fox Confessor Brings The Flood' - no doubt more along the reverb drenched lines of recent studio efforts. Back in Britain, it will be impossible to avoid the return of Morrissey, who releases his brilliantly titled 'Ringleader Of The Tormentors' and also promises a massive UK tour, about which I am tremendously excited. Moz claims not to be a performer, which is of course nonsense - he is just about the best performer in the business.
April brings the long-awaited 'At War With The Mystics' by The Flaming Lips. It can't really be better than The Soft Bulletin - but let's hope it won't irritate as much as the worst bits of Yoshimi... Also, Calexico are back with 'Garden Ruin', which will no doubt be dependably controlled. I'm lucky enough to be seeing both acts live over the weekend of the 22nd-23rd April.
There are also lots of vaguely promised record which as yet do not have confirmed release dates. Toronto's finest gay indie types The Hidden Cameras return with 'Awoo', which may well up the silliness factor at the expense of the sensitive. Also, there's new records from the likes of Grandaddy, The Shins, Sonic Youth, TV On The Radio.
There are some long-awaited releases to look forward to. Solo albums from Steely Dan's Donald Fagen don't come around that often (the last was in 1994), but when they do, they are always full of fascinating ruminations and biting insight. 'Morph The Cat' should be an unmissable slice of wry irony set to perfectly constructed lounge backings. Now signed to 4AD, there's a new album scheduled from Scott Walker, although it would not surprise me if his reclusive tendencies lead to this being delayed. It's hard to believe, but the gap between Portishead albums has now stretched to nine years - it sounds like their third will finally arrive in 2006.
In a completely different style, the return of The Lemonheads reminds us only that The Lemonheads were always a revolving cast of musicians. This is not a reunion as such but rather the first recorded output from the new 'heads line-up Evan Dandon took on tour last year. Obviously the solo album didn't sell enough records then. It also looks as if The Notwist will finally release a follow-up to the exquisite 'Neon Golden'. Surely, this is the year for AC/DC to come back with the long-promised 'Strap It On'.
Prince looks set to return on another major label contract with '3121', which may or not be good. Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields has finished his album of original Show Tunes and it will be released in April.
Most exciting hip-hop release looks certain to be the new album from Cannibal Ox, a band who previously announced their split only to immediately reform again. If it retains some of the menace and grit of their masterpiece 'The Cold Vein', it will be a definite top 10 contender by the end of the year. Further underground contenders come from two wunderkinds of modern music - Patrick Wolf, who is currently hard at work on 'The Magic Position', his third album in as many years and Khonnor who will follow up the beguiling 'Handwriting' this year.
In jazz, look out for new albums from Chick Corea and Roy Hargrove particularly. No doubt the F-IRE collective will continue their tremendous momentum - hopefully with a full - length from Jade Fox.
Watch this space for the first reviews of 2006 - coming very soon!