Tracks of 2015: #22 ‘Disappointing’ (John Grant ft Tracy Thorn)

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“There’s nothing more beautiful than your smile as it conquers your face.”

What a line. And what a line at the start of a chorus following so many wonderful lines, a shopping list of wry observations undercut with dark and rich irony. This is dark as the most bitter of chocolates and just as delicious. It’s John Grant being as sweet and romantic as he can possibly be, and it melts my heart as he does so.

It would be remiss of me not to be candid about the other reason for choosing this song as a track of the year. Chief amongst all the choices on the rundown this year for reasons of pure selfishness is this because it’s the early frontrunner for designation as ‘our song’ by my boyfriend and I, and yes, it does say a lot about our relationship that we’re thinking of confirming as ‘our song’ such a darkly ironic and arch lyric as this.

Soppy/slushy justification aside, “Disappointing” is such a standout song. The swagger it holds is a masterpiece of songwriting, grabbing me the moment I heard it quite by chance during lazy weekend YouTube surfing. It should be one of the great big earworms of the year. That it has struggled to break out of ‘cult’ status is so……well okay, I’ll do it…..disappointing.

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Tracks of 2015: #21 ‘Tom’s Diner’ (Giorgio Moroder ft Britney Spears)

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“Tom’s Diner” is a curious track with a fascinating history. The version most of us know is a dance remix, and at the time was an unofficial dance remix under the threat of being banned for not having cleared rights to the Suzanne Vega vocal. That vocal has been cited as being the final test for mp3 compression during its creation. Here it is reinvented again as an androgynous sex-robot electronic stomper of a track, the narrative untouched but yet with the story utterly reinvented.

Of course the piece of paper on which I had written songs for consideration on this blog has great big lines of scribble through some choices. This is the most scribbled. I remember feeling genuinely conflicted about the song when I first heard it, uncertain about the great big neon light reinvention and in particular Britney’s pop robot vocal treatment. The song has not truly stood up without the 90s dance reworking with which we’re so familiar, so why should one tinkering be accepted while another is not? Perhaps I will remain conflicted for some time yet.

Tracks of 2015: #13 ‘Stonemilker’ (Björk)

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What becomes of the broken hearted?

Brutal, harsh, devastating: the ‘Vulnicura’ album is a breakup album quite unlike any other. The sheer force of the emotive punches she delivers upon herself caused Björk to falter during the live performances, often breaking away from the lyrics and turning away from the audience.

In an album of such emotive content, the songs are special indeed. These are sessions in therapy and catharsis, among which “Stonemilker” is my stand-out. Singing of certainty and uncertainty in broken English, honesty and heartache burns through. Accompanied by a staggering 360° video (which you can move with your fingers across the screen to follow her around if you wish, or you can stay put and watch the Icelandic beach for five minutes), “Stonemilker” includes of Björk’s strongest abilities: the soaring strings with their underlying brittleness, the understated control of her vocals, the unexpected imagery in the lyrics. (“All that matters is/Who is open chested/And who has coagulated”).

In difficult personal circumstances, one of her strongest ever ballads.

Tracks of 2015: #10 ‘My Amsterdam’ (Then Thickens)

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Groggy, woozy, attacking, grungy. That’s my dating profile bio *and* a few words which spring to mind when thinking about Then Thickens.

Chorley’s down and dirty rock band Then Thickens just keep on producing gloriously sludgy music, thick with both melody and menace. “My Amsterdam” has its drug themed lyric and a spaced-out druggy guitars chasing one last punch before its closing wig-out reminds you that this is no ordinary ride. Songs don’t have to finish like this one does, but be not mistaken, this is bloody does with all hell raised.

I included Then Thickens on a previous end-of-year rundown for similar reasons to this: words like “honest” and “authentic” mean little in music reviewing because they have always had the whiff of obviousness about them. However it may be measured, “My Amsterdam” has the honesty of people’s poetry about it, and I would wager Then Thickens would appear next year if they wish to keep up sounding this good.

Tracks of 2015: #9 ‘Style’ (Taylor Swift)

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Well she was going to appear at some point, wasn’t she?

So here we go. No this choice is not ironic, it’s not trolling, it’s not supposed to be ticking the chin of fate or fortune. I bloody love Taylor Swift, and I bloody love “Style”.

When Shania Twain’s body grew old and grey, she regenerated to become Taylor Swift. Or so one theory goes. Maybe that’s just something gleamed from Reddit some lazy Tuesday night, I forget. The thing is, there was once a time when female singers with sass and attitude appeared to zoom up the charts with one or two sharply worded power anthems before being slowly (or otherwise) dropped from great heights. Give a sassy songwriting woman a guitar, give her one top 10 single, then bury her in obscurity: such did the theory go to my observing eyes ten or so years ago.

“Style” would have slayed the opposition back in my youth. It has – and continues – to kill most in its path today. The slight electro background, the attitude in the chorus, its smart and slightly obscure sentiment in the verses, and all with an ear-worm melody so strong it could be classed as positively unhealthy.

“Why not choose ‘Shake It Off’?” I hear you ask. Well…here’s the thing. Were it not for the clumsy spoken word middle bit, then I would have called “Shake It Off” the worthy successor to ‘Call Me Maybe’ as pop event of the year. Alas it was not to be. “Style” has the whole package.

Tracks of 2015: #8 ‘Full Circle’ (George Fitzgerald ft Boxed In)

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I remember the nodding head that accompanied hearing this track for the first time. Satisfaction. Delight. Pleasure. The sense of feeling good about the world, if only for five minutes, through the medium of Spotify.

“Full Circle” itself goes full circle. It builds – sort of – into compressed electro beats and soulful heights – before a slow release winding down into its opening introduction. The circular motion is hypnotic, placed in a chilled-out middle ground between ambiance and techno. I’ve been somewhat cruel towards Years and Years this…er…year: there’s something in ‘Full Circle’ which speaks of what they could be without the full neon-light mainstream gloss and shine. The underpinning maturity of ‘Full Circle’ is the central reason why it’s on this list while, for example, “Shine” is not. I like my melodic dance-influenced mid-tempo ballads like most people, but I prefer them sounding like this.

Tracks of 2015: #7 ‘Strange Combinations’ (Teleman)

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Still being a sucker for the catchy and melodic.

No idea what this song truly means. Certainly no idea about the video (I had this track only on SoundCloud until approximately 30 seconds ago). You may not have much knowledge about this song either. Well listen, please. You’ll get it stuck in your head….instantly.

Insofar as it can be summarised “Strange Combinations” is an 80s/90s love-in stuffed to the brim with indie sensibilities, topped off with nodding to Hot Chip (at the very least). I’m not calling this song original because it’s not: what Teleman do have is the spirit of a hundred haunted houses and all present in almost a perfect three-minute pop slammer.

The folks at Speedy Wundergound, for it is they, sell out of their much loved new releases as fast as the records are pressed. It’s no surprise for something like this: simple and very effective pop, twisted as a telephone wire, all delivered with gusto. Sodding love it.

Tracks of 2015: #6 ‘Ship to Wreck’ (Florence & The Machine)

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The perfect companion track to ‘Tell Me Where It Hurts’ from Garbage.

Give me a whammer of a chorus and I’ll give you a smile. Give me Florence (and her machine) bashing out a very 21st century take on Fleetwood Mac at their most groovy and I’m yours for life. What darn tooting, no nonsense song writing this is: every element perfectly formed and timed in a pop-package undercut by the biting lyrics and chilling accompanying video. And who does videos very well these days? Florence certainly does.

Some songs just hit me right where it matters. Instant hit. This is one of them, and it doesn’t come at the end of a long line of Florence songs with the same impact. Yea I like what I’ve heard, thought the Glasto performance was satisfyingly bonkers, like to see a band like this doing well with commercial and less-so media. Thing is, I haven’t always turned my head towards the next single with hyperactive joy across my face. Until now. Brittle and bold as the lyrics may be, gorgeous as the video might happen to look, this song works because each of its parts combines so brilliantly. Old fashioned pop sensibilities do win out.

Tracks of 2015: #5 ‘Interference’ (Holly Herndon)

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Warp(ed).

I cannot recall the first time hearing ‘Interference’. Was it through random Spotify musings? A playlist? A recommended SoundCloud account? No idea. No memory. Like the slivers of voices, sounds and beats in the track itself, its origin remains obscured.

‘Interference’ is abstract as all hell. My innocent first impressions waited for the jigsaw pieces to fall together, for something clear to form through the mesh of noises. Nothing as obvious as a chorus appears, of course. The track hints at its insides and cheekily flashes its origins and then, tide-like, washes away towards the horizon. Or indeed numerous horizons.

Instantly sent back through my memory to times when I gobbled up Warp-records’ less approachable obscurities through an aching (and annoying) desire for only music from the fringes, the more mature (honest) version of me takes this track for what it is: challenging, magical, musical, and beautiful.

Tracks of 2015: #4 ‘Patriarchaeth’ (Gwenno)

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Pobol y dystopia.

Just when I thought this year couldn’t get more like the inside of Tumblr, I heard today that an obscure group of numpties have been handing out so-called “fat shaming” cards on the Underground. It just gets harder to argue against the motion that all men are creeps, doesn’t it?

Society may be on its way to repairing the gap of opportunities and respect between men and women but ‘on its way’ is measured in ‘perhaps’ rather than ‘for certain’. And that stinks. Former Pipette Gwenno knows it stinks, and with “Patriarchaeth” she has her say on the matter. Within the swirling electro and pop-sensibility is the ‘soul’ of those who don’t yet realise that their time is up.

Political and relevant, yes, although don’t misunderstand either this track or the album from which it comes as heavy or introspective. In very real terms “Y Dydd Olaf” is a concept album with emphasis on ‘concept’. Heritage (personal and linguistic), identity (personal and global) and the human condition approached from all angles all come together with celebratory synths and jagged melodies. There is seriousness here, only not thickly layered.