Tracks of 2014 — #23 Thumpers “Tame”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 22
>>>Track 24

 Oh I might end up regretting this. Two entries left this month, and my remaining shortlist of cracking tunes of the past twelve months is tumbling out of my Spotify account, leaking all over my internets. I can’t swipe clean, let alone left or right, without another belter suddenly leaping into my ears. Darn you, arbitrary cut-off points.

“Tame” has been chosen because, ultimately, it’s daft. It’s got all the characteristics of a 2014-vintage indie tune; knowingly vintage, hardly a chorus to speak of, folksy off-mic harmonies. But what’s that running all the way through? Well, contemporary references abound, that’ll be a new take on the tribal chanting from “Little Britain”, that is. No, the song, not the…never mind. Are all Thumpers songs like this? I hope so. This one is nuts, certifiably mad, and I just know it has to push aside the clump of nearly-not-quite-sorry songs I’ve been tossing and turning about recently.

Not to say that “Tame” is a lucky loser. Like so many of the songs of this year, there’s a great respect of pop sensibilities here without losing any cred under the surface. Heck, this is entry level Arcade Fire, this is, with quite a bit of Gruff Rhys’ psychedelia too, and that’s always going to prick up my ears. As t’were.

Tracks of 2014 — #22 First Aid Kit “My Silver Lining”

Tracks Of 2014
<<<Track 21
>>>Track 23

If there’s an equivalent to last year’s list, I’m looking at First Aid Kit as this year’s Haim. The track “My Silver Lining” is a charming track with an undercurrent of bite and attitude, as flowing and ‘Americana’ as something like yesterday’s choice Real Estate. I have quite the personal thing for this kind of multi-layered song, simple on the surface with a lot content running along underneath. With all the dangers of being full of quaint “new country” charm, “My Silver Lining” has a full-on punch which runs through the entire song, picking out influences from far off in its family tree (there’s enough Fleetwood Mac and Dolly Parton to keep Radio 2 happy for years) without ever sounding out-and-out-retro.

Like Haim, First Aid Kit successfully manage to be a band of women without the big neon arrows pointing out how darn tooting feminine they happen to be; there’s no tokenism here, and how refreshing to look back over the past few years at the growing number of all-female bands whose gender is far in the background behind their music. Just the one tiny little teeny-weeny issue………that band name is shyte, no?

Tracks of 2014 — #21 Real Estate “Talking Backwards”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 20 
>>>Track 22

Softly spoken, day-dream like, and with a cunning loosening of melody, “Talking Backwards” is the great effortless indie track of the year which fits the term “shimmering” so often attached to songs of this kind in years past. Real Estate have been busying themselves for a tidy while without causing too many bleeps on the cultural radar: this year’s Atlas album has changed all that, with this song perhaps being the great stand out push from underground to mainstream attention.

It’s the softly-softly approach I like the most; somewhere tiptoeing around Weezer and REM, very clearly “Atlantic” in its phrasing and character. It is as winter-warming as it is summer tune, light in tone whilst being of significant weight. I’ve had it humming away around my head for months, which can’t be too bad a thing.

Tracks of 2014 — #18 The Sunshine Underground “Don’t Stop”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 17
>>>Track 19

Let’s be very clear here. This is a TUNE (capital T, funny hand gesture) and no mistake (frantic nodding).

I’m at the action end of the 30s these days so my visits to dancefloors have all but dried up. Had I heard “Don’t Stop” more often this year on my jaunts out to the hotspots of Lancashire, I would have found it difficult to leave. It’s just one of those great indie belters, a slab of funky groovy goodness all served up on a proper plate, none of this polished slate nonsense. I know that ‘indie’ is going through yet another of its inner turmoil moments of late, and it’s difficult to turn to even 6Music without being swamped by neatly fashioned types with a couple of chords and a whoah-ho-ho chorus or twelve, so chancing upon something like this little number is all the sweeter.

The Sunshine Underground have been getting on with various shades of peaks and troughs for many a moon. “Don’t Stop” is one of the better examples of their current swagger and I hope it’s going to pay off eventually for them. Hardworking, yes. Recognised for such? No. Harsh.

Tracks of 2014 — #17 Röyksopp and Robyn “Monument”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 16
>>>Track 18

Hold my hand up time. I did not know when (or for that matter, how) Robyn became such an icon amongst the hip, happening and trendy set. Maybe she always has been, and I’m the clueless chump. There could be a whole shelving unit of music I’ve ignored and dismissed, I wouldn’t know. And for that, although I don’t know to whom, I apologise.

“Monument” is quite the introduction, if that’s the right word to use. Not merely dream-like, but ethereal, a quality I recognised from something yonks ago from Björk’s “Headphones” (although, of course, contemporary references are available). The prevailing mood is quite stark, as all Scandi-dance should be, with the pop sensibility I’d expect from the Robyn I assumed was trapped in the charts of my youth. Shows how much I know.

Tracks of 2014 — #16 Neneh Cherry “Blank Project”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 15
>>>Track 17

Unless I miss my guess, music commentators of December 2014 have all but forgotten about Neneh Cherry’s highly praised comeback album from the earliest breaths of the year. Maybe they’ve got short memories. Maybe they didn’t really like the album after all. It does appear that she will be leaving the year somewhat frustrated and deflated: “Blank Project” is no embarrassment and this track is certainly not best left on the shelf forgotten.

An usually structured song, with a great whammer of anger throughout, “Blank Project” is a good reminder about Cherry as a woman who knows her talents and how to build on them. Maybe history has been cruel to her, maligning her as something of a one-hit wonder, when she is anything but. This song has all the energy and spark of a newbie singer attempting to make a splash on the radio, yet bubbles over with a character so bonkers you’d consider crossing the road rather than standing with it under the same bus shelter. I hope somebody somewhere has remembered about this song for their own end of year rundown, because it has all the elements of a cracking little “known unknown”.

Tracks of 2014 — #15 St. Vincent “Prince Johnny”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 14
>>>Track 16

Among the scattering of glossy mag fashion shoots is a story of a damn well talented woman who intrigues and delights with every song she releases. I can read all manner of coverage and profiles about Annie Clark (for it is she) and still feel satisfied that there’s so much left to discover. It is no surprise that the top 40 lists of the year from more reputable music commentators than I place St. Vincent at the summit, praising her creativity and playful spirit. I join that praise; in much the same way I am attracted to Björk, so I find St. Vincent intriguing and interesting.

“Prince Johnny” is the great character piece of her recent album. Who is this Johnny, and is the tale of snorting bits from the Berlin Wall artistic apocrypha or much polished anecdote? Is he, as I first thought, a gay man having feelings for St. Vincent herself? Whatever the back-story,and doubtlessly the Internet would tell me were I to ask, the song’s majestic hypnotism is enough to have me swooning quite ungentlemanly-fashion at its feet. It seems harebrained at the very least not to champion such a cracking song.

Tracks of 2014 — #14 Altar Flowers “We Still Can’t Be Friends”

Tracks of 2014
<<<<Track 13
>>>>Track 15

Selling a bowl of Special K at £3.20 a pop is the work of deranged loony-tunes, as we all know, so for true vintage fun with a new age feel, don’t involve yourself with coiffured numpties with no care about the poverty on the streets outside their tasteless cereal flimflam, get your ears wrapped around Altar Flowers instead. (What do you mean, I’m making it obvious that I find horrific the idea that selling breakfast cereal at a hypergazillion percentage mark up is somehow acceptable in this day and age? No politics here, chums, I’m all about the music doncha know.)

Regular readers will doubtlessly know that my choices for Tracks Of 2014 are cut on a distinct bias. I ruddy love solid pop written with melody running all the way through like Blackpool rock. Not cheese (although heaven knows I like a slice of that) and not just taken from one style (because I’m open minded and don’t work for Radio 1). Altar Flowers’ “We Still Can’t Be Friends” is a great example of what I listen out for: rich and raucous and full of great pop sensibilities whilst carrying itself with more than its fair share of cool-for-school swagger. Altar Flowers have a certain curious side to their output I’ve liked for a while and there’s no suggestion yet that they’re about to turn away from this quite yet.

The former LVLS have been busying themselves with EPs and gigs of late, with more to come next year. “WSCBF” should help you get the feel of them while we’re all waiting for more: everything a neat little chart botherer should be without the danger of choking on a plastic toy at the bottom of the bag. YES I’M GOING ON ABOUT THAT DAMN CEREAL PLACE TONIGHT THANKS FOR POINTING THAT OUT.

Tracks of 2014 — #13 Rae Morris “Skin”

Tracks Of 2014
<<<<Track 12
>>>>Track 14

Leaving Lorde to one side (not least because she is currently sitting behind Björk’s throne muttering “Just abdicate already, I’m Queen Kooky now, bitch!”), the one great name in slightly off-piste females this year has been Rae Morris. Educated in Preston and now famous in ALL THE PLACES, Rae was attached like a jigsaw piece to Bombay Bicycle Club during their residency at 6 Musi….I mean, the new album launch thing they did at some point, but now she’s all on her own and making quite the name for herself.

“Skin” certainly is the song in sang-froid, if you know what I mean. It’s such a fragile lyric, and yet such character and emotion. It’s not easy putting such an icy frost over what is, ostensibly, mainstream pop, yet Rae manages to do so without over-production or under-selling. Coupled with one of the great stand-out videos of the year, “Skin” has certainly justified the BBC’s shortlisting her as one of the sounds of next year: I am confident in naming her one of the female voices of this.

Tracks of 2014 — #11 Espher “To The Sky”

Tracks of 2014
<<<Track 10
>>>Track 12

Espher on Moses Gold duties

Espher on Moses Gold duties

Espher is a quiet genius, a feature of Manchester’s musical fringes if you’ve ever been out for more than an hour or so in the see-and-be-seen places. His new EP “Insular” is released this month, and the title stands as a rock solid ironic punchline to the expansive mass of its contents; sweeping electronica and dance beats drift to-and-fro, the complex inner workings of love (and lord knows how many left-over pieces there are once you’ve tried sticking them all together again) spilling out in all the contradictory patterns that emotion tends to enjoying doing from time-to-time.

“To The Sky” is the stand-out track for me; immediate and subtle, familiar and alien, the track builds on skewed techo foundations in the only way possible, slightly twisted but nonetheless structurally sound. No, it’s not perhaps a track to throw in the middle of a house party (not that I’ve hosted one for a while), but if you do have a gathering of folks at short notice, I’d consider pressing ‘play’ on this one, there’s bound to be a positive reaction from them. Cultured, in all senses, “To The Sky” is the great curious unknown of my month-long run down.