Is there ever a bad year for music? I doubt it. This year seemed particularly difficult in the choosing. There was so much to love. I shed some genuinely beloved tracks to get to this utterly arbitrary fifty. I just love lists and I love all these songs like wayward and beautiful children. But first off…
I fell pretty hard for James Vincent McMorrow’s cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’ (from the lovefilm advert). Once you hear it you sort of can’t credit that it wasn’t done before. Then tucked at the end of Ane Brun’s astonishing album I found a tinsel and ice version of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’. I thought this would not be beaten, and then I heard Glen Campbell singing ‘Hold On Hope’. It’s my very favourite Guided By Voices song and it’s there like a little pearl on the last album that Glen will ever record, because he has Alzheimer’s. ‘Everbody’s gotta hold on hope. It’s the last thing that’s holding me…’ Are you crying a bit? I did. Listen here.
A nice warm boot up the arse was given to Corona’s ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ by Manolo. Likewise, RAC turned Foster The People’s otherwise humble ‘Houdini’ into a rollicking digital handraiser. In a nice bit of synchronicity I played the latter at Clique this year and then the Clique boys themselves delivered my third favourite remix of the year: ‘Wooden Heart’ by the Kill Van Kulls. If only the Hurts album had been as good as this track is. Magic.
And here are my songs proper. I hope you find something here that you love, it’s the only reason I do this. The Spotify list is right HERE...
50. Jonathan Johansson – Stockholm
49. Holestar – The Insider
48. Björk – Crystalline
47. Fingersnap – I Wanna Rise
46. Statement Haircut – Barely Legal Lover
45. Florence + The Machine – Breaking Down
44. The Sound of Arrows – My Shadow
43. Jay Z – That's My Bitch
42. Help Stamp Out Loneliness – Angelyne
41. Jonas Alaska – In The Backseat
40. Ford & Lopatin – World Of Regret
39. Little Dragon – Summertearz
38. Anna Calvi – Blackout
37. Quiet Company – The Confessor (You Could Exist Without It)
36. Washed Out – A Dedication
35. Those Dancing Days – I'll Be Yours
34. St Lucia – All Eyes On You
33. M83 – Midnight City
32. Low – Especially Me
31. Summer Camp – Brian Krakow
30. Dum Dum Girls – Bedroom Eyes
29. EMA – California
28. Justice – Civilization
27. In Flagranti – Hollow Discourse
26. Tennis – Marathon
25. Radiohead – Codex
24. Beirut – East Harlem
23. The Vaccines – Wetsuit
22. Will Young – Come On
21. Frank Ocean – Nature Feels
20. The Antlers – Putting The Dog To Sleep
19. Sbtrkt – Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon)
18. Bright Eyes – Ladder Song
17. Azari & III – Manic
16. Lykke Li – Sadness Is A Blessing
15. Discodeine – Synchronize
14. Jens Lekman – Waiting for Kirsten
13. Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)
12. Hercules & Love Affair Featuring Shaun J. Wright – My House
11. Lana Del Rey – Video Games
And my top ten …
10. Azealia Banks – 212
Hands down the dirtiest thing I heard all year, in every sense of the word. It’s hip-hop, it’s a bit grimy, it’s a total skank-fest and she’s utterly adorable. It’s like being excited about the first M.I.A record all over again. Dancefloor it to death.
9. Junior Boys – Banana Ripple
I think this is the best thing they’ve ever done, and I’m including the epic ‘Parallel Lines’. It’s almost ten minutes long and that’s not long enough. As simple as the simplest pop can be, that first ascending bassline manages to carry your pulse with it. The Field remixed it and it was a bit dull really, there’s nothing you can do to polish something so perfect.
8. PJ Harvey – On Battleship Hill
It’s probably everyone’s album of the year even if they haven’t heard it, and it’s a fair cop. Only Stories From The City… held so completely and cohesively as Let England Shake and here is that latter album’s finest moment. After a minute or so of skiffling the song grinds to a halt and Polly pulls some kind of falsetto medieval madrigal from the air. It’s audacious. ‘Cruel nature has won again…’ But it hasn’t, art has won again. I feel like the whole record is a call to arms for something passionate and brutal that I can’t quite put my finger on.
7. Joe Goddard – Gabriel
I went to a Hot Chip gig this year. It was pretty dull. Who called it ‘coffee table House’? Yeah that. I wasn’t massively interested to hear Joe Goddard had put out one of his rare solo singles. But this is unbelievably good. It was actually written by John Beck of It Bites! which is so unlikely I can barely believe it. I haven’t been able to find the original anywhere. I guess this might count as a cover except that the epically tribal production number Goddard has done here is all his own work. That weird tremor on vocalist Valentina’s vowels is an actual knee-trembler. Magnificent.
6. Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
It’s advert music I know, but I loved it first. This makes a great pair with the next track on this list, they are like little dancing sisters, I always play them together. There are oodles of great and not-so-great remixes of this, it’s completely infectious. Do they still have Number Ones? Well this should have been Number One.
5. Metronomy – Corinne
I nearly chose ‘The Look’ and that would also make the top ten if not for my stupid ‘one band, one song’ rule. But ‘she just wants to dance all the time’ is the best line in a song probably ever isn’t it, and anybody named ‘Corinne’ should telephone me because I love you and I would like to be your boyfriend.
4. Nicola Roberts – Beat Of My Drum
Before this record I wouldn’t have known Nicola Roberts if she stood up in my dinner, and truthfully it’s not that important who’s singing this (Annie could’ve done an admirable job). But it’s brilliant. The shave-and-a-haircut intro, the military drums, the dramatic pause, the Daphne and Celeste shouting, the childish deep breaths she takes between lines, the amazing spelling-out-the-words dance; it’s just unavoidably and chronically brilliant.
3. James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream
Based on a song that his Dad wrote which is kind of touching, this is the track that I crave to hear when I crave to hear James Blake. I heard it live before the recorded version and it stuck with me like a weird virus. It’s a bulging sonic mantra, it almost suffocates you after a while, I keep taking my headphones off when I’m playing it because I think I can hear something else. It’s majestic. It’s technology and soul.
2. Elbow – lippy kids
Elbow previewed the track before Christmas last year in a live video session from Blueprint Studios and it was remarkable on first listen, all woozy and hypnotic with that lilting metronomic piano. Nothing can ready you for the swell a minute and a half in though. ‘Do they know those days are golden?’ When you go back to it, the swell is always there waiting, like when you meet someone who’s so beautiful you can’t quite summon them to mind afterwards, then you meet again and blush from the neck up. That’s what it’s like.
Cut to Glastonbury and we’re drinking beers in the sunshine with the Elbow boys on the morning of their first ever performance on the Pyramid Stage. Katie has found a snazzy pair of discarded sunglasses which in true Glastonbury spirit she donates to Guy. The boys are a little nervous. We talk about Polly Harvey and Glastonburys past and we agree to try and stay relatively sober for the performance that evening.
When showtime comes the sun is beginning to dip and everything and everyone is glowing and we’re all so happy to be there. The band take the stage and the camera immediately cuts to Guy wearing Katie’s shades, projected across giant screens. ‘Those are my shades!’ says Katie. No doubt somebody else in the crowd is saying the exact same thing. About halfway through a magical set the piano refrain begins and when the line comes, ‘Do they know those days are golden?’ with the light just so and everyone together, I have a little cry.
A couple of weeks later Simon Pegg Tweets: ‘The more I listen to the song 'Lippy Kids' by Elbow, the more I'm convinced it's one of the most gorgeous songs ever written.’ He’s right of course. By then the song is like an old friend. One day I’ll be all alone, remembering that beautiful weekend, and the colour of the light, and that line will come back to me: ‘Do they know those days are golden?’ Can you imagine it?
1. Bon Iver – Beth/Rest
There’s a very real danger that Bon Iver is the album of Justin Vernon’s career. It’s certainly the best album I heard this year. I mean hands down. I think he knew how good it was going to be, I think that’s why he called this album Bon Iver, and not his first one. How do you go about closing such an album? An album where tracks are named after American states and geological epochs such is the scope and feeling of their huge sonic reach. Basically you close it by writing ‘Beth/Rest’. The opening seconds are a steal from REO Speedwagon’s ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ and there’s a distinctly John Hughes soundtrack feel to the rest of it, but actually I’ve never heard anything quite like it. It dissolves into something so poignant it’s almost too much. The lyrics have a weird tumbling occasionally meaningless, and therefore terribly potent, feel, like a Melville poem: ‘I know that you'd offer, would reveal it, though it's soft and flat, won't repeat it, cull and coffers that for the soffit, hang this homeward, pry it open with your love…’ Did you hear that? Pry it open with your love… After three minutes it almost goes away entirely and then it comes back…. with soft rock guitars. Pry it open with your love… Beautiful. So so beautiful. Words fail me.