Forward to Track 1
Backward to Track 23
End of year lists are right bastards, eh?
I catch up half way through December with Top 10s, Top 100s, longlists, shortlists, look-backs, retrospectives and recommendations, missed highlists and overlooked gems, and then refer to the 30-odd songs I’m using for the month with conflicting feelings of inadequacy and independence. No matter how personal and heartfelt and honest, there’s always that nagging feeling of getting the final list hopelessly wrong.
AND THEN there’s choosing Daphne and Celeste. You see, I remember “German Bold Italic” from Kylie and Charlotte Church’s “Glitterbombed”. Utterly cuckoo-bananas both, and in their own special ways, sublime bits of musical adventure. I have sneaking regards for these complete – and who knows how calculated – sidesteps to the fringes, which perhaps underlines just how uneven my lists can get sometimes. If something takes my ear for the right reasons from the ‘wrong’ sources, then whatever ‘wrong’ means doesn’t matter.
Maybe I’m trying too hard here to defend my choice. Maybe, indeed, I’ve misunderstood the reality, that Daphne and Celeste have always been industry injokes designed within an inch of their lives to hook in sappy wannabe journos and music snobs. Possibly I’ve fallen for a double-bluff, and in fact D&C are innocent popsters who just want to try something new once and a while. Whatever. Here’s the headline. “You & I Alone” might well be polished to within an inch of its life by way of an unsubtle point about the industry, or it’s just a great unexpected bonus in life, I dunno. I just smile each time I hear it – an ice-cool on-point sound worthy of any list, hip-and-happening or otherwise.
Forward to Track 24
Backward to Track 22
Discovering new music doesn’t mean what I thought it did many moons ago when fear gripped me into anxiety filled nightmares over the inability to find the edgiest, newest, most hip-and-happening new talent on the streets. Turns out that discovering new music can just mean exactly what it says on the tin: hear something new to your ears and decide whether you like it or not.
I say all this because my ears pricked up so sharply when they first heard “A Berry Bursts” from Twin Hidden that I could have used them to halve citrus fruits. As I’ve made quite clear this month, I’m a sucker for the kind of melody you’d call an aural hallucination if faced with your mental health therapist. There’s two very specific moments in this song which just kick out the worries in my head and replace them with stardust and rainbows. Exactly the kind of discovery I love to know, and share.
Who on earth Twin Hidden are (and where they’ve been, you know, hiding) is a mystery to me. I stopped thinking about the hard facts as I dived further into the sweet waters of their charming lyrics, so sweet and, yes, twee, but all sharply defined. You may find it folksy, even kooky, and I can understand how close it sails towards both those things. The water seems fine to me though, I hope to discover just how deep things go with Twin Hidden from here…
Forward to Track 21
Backward to Track 19
Here’s the thing. I added Slow Readers Club to last year’s rundown (on the fourth day that time) for the same reasons as I’m adding them this year: no nonsense indie with gusto, not perhaps the most fashionable or groundbreaking, but all the better for that. Last year’s “Forever In Your Debt” and this year’s “I Saw A Ghost” are both solid indie/rock stompers of a kind I’ll always like, unfashionable as that may be.
“I Saw a Ghost” has a list of influences as long and obvious as your arms, of course. I believe that Slow Readers Club are great live (I missed a recent Preston gig unfortunately) and that certainly seems backed up by this song. I know it’s not the done thing to use words like “honest” about bands or their songs these days, so I’ll just invoke it here: there is an authenticity and accent about this band I’ve liked from the moment I first heard them, and it continues with this song. As the podcast presenter who introduced me to this band would so often say “‘ave it”.
Forward to Track 20
Backward to Track 18
Listing these songs in no particular order gives me some freedom to vary things up a bit. Either that or “make things up as I go along”, if you want to see it that way. I had to choose something from New Order this year after their brilliant album so why not choose a belter of a track in the closing few days of the process, and why not have the word ‘plastic’ appear twice in a row?
New Order have been one step ahead of young whippersnappers for their entire career. You’ve been able to hear their influence in new bands every year since, perhaps no more obvious in the last few years with another surge in synths in the charts. I’m certain fans will sigh at their only commercial radio airtime being “Blue Monday” these days but if you’re going to be known for one song, that’s not a bad epitaph is it really?
“Plastic” would make a good companion piece to Pet Shop Boys’ “Axis” from a few years ago, both love letters to the dance scenes bands like theirs helped create. It’s a song of great strength and heft, and by God, does that “I Feel Love” bass not make you want to boogie all night? Course it does. From one of the albums of the year, a sure fire nominee of songs of the year.
Forward to Track 19
Backward to Track 17
If yesterday’s choice was somewhat last-minute, today brings a choice of such certainty that it was amongst the first to be jotted down for inclusion. It has stood there like a spare stone from Stonehenge from the moment I heard it on the work radio, and as anybody who knows our office at all, having a song like this on the radio is a miracle in itself.
Let me count the ways I love this record. It’s short, sharp, hi-tempo, low-brow, good old dirty punk attitude bonkers fun. On stilts. And on fire.
The title is a mystery, the lyrics are delivered in a style somewhere between Jack White and Sparks, it’s all over before it gets going and I can’t get enough. More please.
Forward to Track 18
Backward to Track 16
This article was going to be something different until approximately three days ago.
Doubts set in. Chins were stroked (I’m a big lad these days, there’s much chin to stroke). Whilst sticking to my long held system of having no system at all (these lists are always in no particular order, give-or-take occasional blips mostly for narrative purposes), the order is not set in stone. Something had to give. And so [TRACK I WON’T IDENTIFY] found itself off the list at practically the last minute. Cruel, cruel world.
From cruel to cool, though. Good heavens, “Poison” is a cracker isn’t it? It’s slick and sharp, as polished as a plate on which once sat a butter pie with red cabbage, and yet the song has a touch of giddy abandon about it. Maybe – and this being me, it’s very likely – the attraction lies in that chorus. “Earworm” doesn’t even come close, that’s an implant sewn beneath the skin and wired directly to the brain. Retro to its core, yes, with an ultra-cool hip and happening edge. I bloody love that chorus.
As it happens, this is the beginning of the end for my rundown. I suspect this closing section will look like the most overtly commercial and mainstream. I just wish that a band such as Girl Friend *had* more mainstream coverage, if only for a stand-out whammer of a song like this. We can dream.
Forward to Track 17
Backward to Track 15
Sorry Django Django. So sorry.
See, at the front end of this year I was all over “First Light” from Django Django. Then this happened. And I had to chin-stroke, coin-toss, umm and aah, and other two-worded considerations occurred besides until the choice was confirmed. Maybe it was the unusually cluttered ending to “First Light” which did it for me, because if there’s one thing anybody can say about “Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread”, it’s that the song is one straightforward experience.
While everybody went totally bananas for ‘Distant Past’ I remained unconvinced. Not that I am only sold by nursery rhymes or ice cream jingles, you understand, but for sheer joy it’s this later release which stuck with me for being more than just the rush to the title. Maybe it’s the part of me still tapping my foot at Bastille’s “Pompeii” (he says with a straight face.)
Forward to Track 16
Backward to Track 14
Dozens of tracks on Polypores’ bandcamp page and I go for a single song from a loosely-linked series showing only on SoundCloud. Truly I’m more predictable than I thought.
To give it the full name “The Sleep Department Advise You NOT to Leave the House” is one of a series of ‘Sleep Department’ electronic tracks linked by the themes and experiences of insomnia. Some tracks contract and envelop, others expand and pulsate. This is the most immediate of the songs for me, as menacing as the others but with great narrative heft too.
Recently performing his sets live, Lancashire-based Polypores specialises in building tension and melody through repetitious, brooding electronica. The “Sleep…” series may not feature prominently but they give a good taste of the weird, wired, and wonderful world elsewhere.
Forward to Track 15
Backward to Track 13
“Plucky little Belgium has a point at last”
He marches around, gurns, pirouettes, face-grabs and even lies down on stage for a bit. He’s possibly bonkers. He’s possibly letting everything go after spending months in an office job. Maybe his drinks were spiked before hand. Whatever happened, I know one thing – this is a cuckoo-bananas song more twisted than a telephone wire and I bloody love it.
Of course it’s got layers of influences showing itself like the fabric of a cheap coat. It’s Eurovision, there’s no originality here. What it has works all the contemporary and current on-trend influences into something genuinely endearing. The Lorde-style introduction kicks off a very different kind of Eurovision pop song, one which experts in this sort of thing might say, “Hang on, that’s Germany’s winner from 2009.” I have a sneaking regard for pop with even the slightest hint of subversive character about it. I know where it comes from, I know what it is, but for me, “Rhythm Inside” and the curious Loïc singing it are two stand-out highlights of the year.
Forward to Track 14
Backward to Track 12
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.