What is slightly peculiar about this collection of some of my favourite songs of the year so far is how tangentially it reflects the nowness of now... yes, I love them all (and I'm certain to have missed out even better ones through ignorance or forgetfulness) but I don't know if anyone casting an ear down this list would know for certain what an odd moment in history they were spawned in. Except for Plan B and M.I.A., which are immediately recognisable as the offspring of the current historical situation, most of these songs are apparently politically neutral, which obviously says as much about who and where I am as some general zeistgeisty truth about how music relates to historical events, but... I wonder if a similar list drawn up by a similar person in 1968 or 1977 would've been so unconsious of its significance to posterity. And I wonder whether the rest of the year will be any different.
I'm still waiting for the click...
Chairlift – Met Before
Love the spangly crunch of the guitars and the way the vocals gasp and soar. A full-on golden rush of a song about that archetypically pop moment of giddiness at first glance "among the buzzing of billions" (lovely image!) mirrored in the archetypically pop "bah bah bahs" and "ooh ooh oohs" of the backing vocalists. Look out for an understated but brilliant flute solo.
The Shins – Simple Song
Songs about songs that are songs about love, part 12,003. Is a pop song the ultimate love gift? Does music operate on the same resonant frequency as love? Can it conjure the same lift of the heart, the same ache, with sympathetic harmonics of chords, heartstrings and groin? Maybe, maybe not, but this song certanly knows a trick or two.
My life in an upturned boat, marooned on a cliff/You brought me a great big flood and you gave me a lift/Girl, what a gift./You tell me with your tongue/And your breath was in my lungs/And we float up over the rift...
Here We Go Magic – How Do I Know?
Only a simple song… but there’s something about the rolling relentlessness of that riff, the way it chang-chang-changs on determinedly below the cascading vocals which hang on over the edge of bars like pooling water before being reeled back on track. Works for me.
Poliça – Lay Your Cards Out
I happen to know how irritating some people find her autotuned-to-distorted-fuck vocals, but I like the way they slide into alien shimmers at the end of phrases, how they slip like quicksilver over the notes, how the rhythm track batters away in the background like a gathering storm and how the restlessness depicted in the lyrics is echoed in electric buzzes, skitters and whirrs; it’s like someone on a too-hot night caught between flushed finger-tapping and languid lolling…
Beach House – Myth
It’s on the very edge of being too sweet (I got to the point where I could no longer listen to BH’s ‘Zebra’ after falling for its prettiness last year) but there’s a buttery androgynous grain to Victoria Legrand’s vocals that I find myself unable to resist. Ideally this'd be listened to this at dusk, lying on the grass, under a gently erupting volcano.
Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
Sparky, desperate, rough-edged, delirium-fuelled, defiant, shouty boy pop. There’s a place for it, you know.
Plan B - Ill Manors
Song of the year. So, it didn’t stomp over the country like Godzilla in the way it shoulda done, upsetting applecarts and stirring up shit but still… it is perfect rage-pop. You think there aren’t any protest songs outside the crusty folk-singer at student demos? You need to listen to this. Its darkness and sharpness and violence and clattery messes and satisfyingly meaty hooks. This sounds like now, not like some simultaneously over-optimistic and under-ambitious conjuring up of the spirit of long-dead 60s rebellion. Course, it's uncomfortable to be that middle-class Guardian-reading oldie who loves a call-to-arms for youth which is out on Megacorps Records and is whole-heartedly feted by the meeja establishment, but there you go; it’s what there is.
I wish there were more songs like this. I wish that the music world would respond with an almighty roar to the creeping horror of reactionary rule, which is flicking out the switches on civil liberties and extinguishing the life of our best national institutions like a kid throwing stones at light bulbs. They are scum. They are all scum, whichever country you're reading this in. There should be a FLOOD of noise about it. A deluge.
SoKo – We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow
A fragile thing, this, with its flickers of strings and faraway keening, minimal percussion and a guitar motif you wouldn’t notice in a crowd… but it’s the perfect wrapping for SoKo’s aching plea for her lover to give in and give it up. Echoes of Marvell’s time’s winged chariot; life’s too short, love’s too desperate: "Let’s love fully and let’s love loud, let’s love now; cos soon enough we’ll die, cos soon enough we’ll die… "
Metric – Youth Without Youth
A big red synthy sneer, Emily Haines sounding fierce and righteous, a almighty glam racket beneath her breathy drawl. Shiny shiny.
Santigold – Big Mouth
I wasn’t sure if I was gonna fall for Santigold’s new stuff as hard as I did for about a third of her bright and beautiful debut but 'Big Mouth' is a rousing chaotic triumph, a rattlingly sharp collage of sounds, styles, samples that manages to cram more inventiveness and verve into its three minutes that most albums do over 45.
AK/DK – Lost: Eric
This track came out last year and I missed it. But then I saw AK/DK twice in a week, once backing Damo Suzuki (along with Add N to X’s Ann Shenton on rock’n’roll theramin) for an hour and a half of unrehearsed awesome, and once at an impro-avant free all-dayer where they got the nodding floor-sitters up and bouncing. Two men both playing drum kits and keyboards (a nicely symmetrical band!) they’ve got the driving clank, the electronic hit, the shit hot tumble of Holy Fuck or Three Trapped Tigers. Live you get a pinch of LCD Soundsystem to add to the mix but on this track it’s all about the rush. It kinda makes you want to do maths and lick scientist’s faces. Kinda.
Shrag – Show Us Your Canines
I saw Shrag a couple of times on their crazy double-headed tour with Tunabunny and loved this song at first chorus. It’s a nicely judged combination of desperation and threat, with Helen’s spidery vocals creeping all over the indie-funk guitar chuntering. Plus there’s that killer hookline. Feral is the way to go. RAH!
M.I.A. – Bad Girls
When this video was posted on Stereogum there followed a stream of barely literate dismissive grunts from their (apparently almost entirely male) Facebook followers. M.I.A. was a stirring self-publicising bitch, the song was unoriginal, the lyrics were shit, how could Stereogum stoop to give it coverage? Etc. It baffled me because this is clearly a great pop song. The deadpan vocals, the itchy/sweet flutters of flute, the percussive drive, heavy and flat and slinky, all the hip-swung swagger and attitude… The lyrics pull off the trick of being ostensibly dumbass rock’n’roll simple ("Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well") while making reference to the fact that M.I.A. is playing (in both song and the utterly glorious video) with images of freedom and rebellion and commenting on the lot of women in the Middle East, where transgressive women ("bad girls") put their lives in danger, sometimes just for the freedom of being able to drive.
I can only conclude that the existence of an outspoken, anti-Imperialist, confusingly successful, politically-active woman of colour who makes smart pop music is too much for some people to handle and they have to reduce all the confusion and complexity and subtlety she represents to the level of their own base stupidity.
Spoek Mathambo – Control
Another one from last year that only caught up with me in this one but is more than worthy of inclusion for being such an extraordinary cover of such an iconic song. Rooted up and repotted in fresh soil, this Control is both more jittery and more spacious than its progenitor; you gotta relish the fact that South African producer/musician Spoek Mathambo has managed to recast a song that has long been held precious as a canonical white boy post-punk anthem as clattery electro dance (‘township tech’, apparently). Kudos for that.
And the video is brilliant.
Human Don’t Be Angry – Asklipiio
Malcolm Middleton’s new project, Human Don’t Be Angry, is based on largely-instrumental Roy Montgomeryesque (if that name doesn’t mean anything to you look it up) effects-soaked guitar scintillations. This track, which meanders over seven languorous minutes, has Middleton’s usual way with words and all the hazy torpor of a too-hot holiday afternoon spent in bed, all daydreams and memories and promises and sticky sensuality. Here's a live version which isn't quite as lush as that on the record but does at least a third again as much sprawling...
Death Grips – Hustle Bones
Yes, I know everyone’s been going on about them. Well, they have a point, don’t they? Fast, furious, switchback thrilling, this is the sound of driving games at the arcade and too much Tizer. Scary good.
THEESatisfaction – Deeper
Seeing these two women in a small sweaty room above a pub was a highpoint of my spring. Although it was disappointing that they sang to a backing track - the sound they made should’ve been bigger, should’ve been overwhelming, should’ve blasted our ears clean off – they certainly had the moves. This track is reminiscent of the hugely over-looked (but newly reformed) Luscious Jackson, that same brilliantly nonchalant combo of sass and swing, deft beats and sweetly odd harmonies.
US Girls – The Boy Is Mine
Distorto-magick cover from the end of last year. Much dirty warped noise behind a gorgeous sepia voice that seems to have come, quavering and wailing, through a portal from the Sixties. Irresistible.
Riz MC (ft Plan B & Aruba Red) – All Of You
Ah, Riz! Sigh. OK, so my Riz-crush is fuelled by admiration for his acting smarts (Four Lions, Road To Guantanamo, iLL Manors) but this sharp-witted track from his new album is unquestionably superb. It oozes disquiet with every sleazy beat, ripping the covers off the nastiness, the power-plays, the hot cruel greediness of lust. Uncomfortable, unbalanced and unkind, not a song you’d really be advised to accept a drink off but with which you'd be sorely tempted to lose a grimy weekend or two.
Berangere Maximin – Knitting In The Air
Here’s a strange beauty, a witchery of noise. Maximin, who works with Fred Frith and Rhys Chatham, weaves an uncomfortable quilt from drones and static, chilly vocals and tiny scraps of colourful prettiness. Like EMA all grown-up and mindful of her mess.
Dirty Projectors – Gun Has No Trigger
I’m with Wallace on this one. Can’t resist the sound of those voices. The fucking NOISE they make! WAAAAH!
Miike Snow (ft Lykke Li) - Black Tin Box
More chilliness, this time from Miike Snow. It’s got some of the pomp of a Genesis number (all those echoey vocals and portentiousness) which might get my goat good and proper if it weren’t for the addition of Lykke Li’s whispery slink and some really rather lovely electronica pop.
BoA – Hurricane Venus
This is REALLY old. Like from waaay back in 2010. I don’t care if I’m late to the K-Pop party, I got there in the end. This titan of a song is all shiny and tinny; you’ll probably hate it. It prowls and spits and sprinkles words like ‘supersonic’ and ‘bionic’ and ‘automatic’ around to mark its territory. It’s got the Guetta-ish full-throated Metallic Overwhelm fader up to max. And at precisely two mins in it has a strange little off-beat break that judders down your spine, bouncing notes and words like so many tennis balls pattering down the stairs to trip you up. It’s awesome. And it does that remarkable thing once and once only and then ploughs relentlessly, mercilessly, magnificently on. The pop-est pop in the universe.
Here's a Spotify playlist for those that use that kind of thing.
Originally published on Collapse Board.