Well it’s not quite as though I’ve actually chosen Adele, is it?
If one song took my attention whilst trying to otherwise ignore the office radio it was this one. Sia has cemented her reputation as an expressive, inventive, fascinating talent, and with “Alive”, brought to my mind the image of a woman holding commercial radio by the dangly-bits whilst laughing her head off. As brave as commercial radio can be under its many layered constraints, their decision to playlist “Alive” – with Sia’s broken and cracked voice, the sheer weight of emotion bursting through each chorus – really did seem to represent something significantly different.
This was not a woman forced to have her voice rubbed away to resemble the smooth surface of an egg. At times, and from quite early on, her voice cracks and breaks. You don’t just hear the breaths between the lines in the empowerment choruses, there’s the sheer force of effort too. And it works. It really works.
Sia has already proven her worth as a creative woman who ignores the raised eyebrows of doubtful audiences. Her default setting appears to encourage questions, debate, discourse, and I’ll always be attracted to artists who wrinkle the surface of mainstream media. This song was originally intended for Adele’s consideration, as you may already know. It would have been a great loss (maybe literally, tucked away on disc 2 of limited-edition Japanese re-release CDs sometime around 2018) had Adele accepted the offer.
Singing with his wry eyes glancing off to the right, as though the flippant poetry of his lyrics are just coming to him through a spirit guide, Richard Lomax has the great contradictory combination of puppy-dog innocence in the eyes and old-soak wisdom in the lyrics. It’s a great way to singer-songwrite.
‘Hôtel X’ is lyrical in the grand tradition of that word. World-weary without the aftertaste of bitterness, it’s undercut by what I suspect commercial radio would demand be more obviously blues-tuned guitars. Here those guitars are spiky and dismissive, countering the tone of the song up to the cluttered, tumbledown conclusion. As commentary pieces go, it’s far more enjoyable (and brief) than anything by Owen Jones.
With a new full album released at the tail end of the year Grimes has topped-and-tailed my chin stroking about the tracks which have taken my ears by surprise this year.
The industry-wide emotional blubbering about this song heralded its release as the first true sign of 2015 being ‘the year of…’ followed by as many buzz words as allowed by each publication’s house style: “women” was by far the most popular, followed closely behind by “synth”. This particular woman and this particular track became the measure by which I measured many subsequent song releases. It’s still a high bar.
Floaty and distinct with 80s style electronic beats chugging along in the background underneath the current trend for brittle melodic cuts and slivers, ‘REALiTI’ was released as an unsuccessful demo left out of this year’s album release: it’s a great little layered song, pop-princess in the middle shrouded with indie cred material. As predicted by the mags at the time, many women and synths did come together this year and Grimes should be considered the invisible influence behind much of them.
Back in 2013 I had an idea. You can see the Index for that idea here. Very pop-orientated. Very mainstream. I have pop sensibility and like a chorus strong enough to use as ballast, but really, I’m surprised by my choices coming across as more Radio 2 than 6Music. I would not choose the same list, nor put it in the same order now.
One year later is my 2014 Index . It is certainly less mainstream, maybe not organised quite how I would if doing it again (opening with Katy B, now there’s a misunderstanding about drawing in readers).
This year has seen my Spotify, SoundCloud, and ‘tucked in the back of the brain’ longlists growing by the week. Soon I will confirm the results of all that here – and as ever, the chosen 24 songs are presented in no particular order. In so many ways, this ain’t a chart.