Here it is then, my musical year in review. I was initially planning to do a top ten albums like last year, but when I started making a list I quickly realised what a truly awful year for albums this has been. The only two exceptional albums I’ve heard in the last twelve months were Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion. If you have ears and £20 of Christmas money left to spend, I suggest you go and buy them now, or you will be shunned when I encounter you on my travels. Decent efforts like HEALTH’s Get Color, The Horrors’ Primary Colours and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz abounded, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to celebrate albums that I feel are merely good rather than transcendental. And as for The XX, sorry indie credibility, but I just don’t understand them and I fear that I never will. But this being the season of goodwill, I must shed my Grinch-like demeanour for at least a few hours. Regardless of my personal worries about the whole ‘death of the LP’ thing being heralded in music publications the world over, there have been plenty of fantastic standalone songs to concentrate on showering with hyperbole, so here without further ado are my top 20, starting today with 20-11 and continuing at some point next week with the eagerly anticipated 10-1 countdown. Eagerly anticipated, that is, if you are no good at forming subjective opinions of your own, or just feel like bitching me out for not including ‘Dominos’. Shit, that’s a spoiler, sorry.
20. MSTRKRFT – 1000 Cigarettes
Best one-sentence youtube review I’ve ever read: ‘This track really punches you in the balls’. I couldn’t have put it any better myself. MSTRKRFT have translated the gut-vibrating energy of their DFA1979 bass driven sucker punch into a yet more frenetic bass driven electro-skronk. And for those of you who didn’t know, I don’t ever use the term ‘skronk’ lightly. And that’s all that I have to say about that, apart from the fact that I have probably thrown my arms in the air and danced to this song more times this year than anything else.
19. The Maccabees feat. Roots Manuva – Empty Vessels
Bit of a late entry, this one. I heard this on the radio last week (6music really does perform a valuable public service by being the only vaguely tolerable radio station out there), and since then I must have listened to it about thirty times, which is usually a good sign. For me Roots Manuva is the forefather of what NME would call the ‘urban poet’ explosion (just FUCK off) of recent years, and Mike Skinner, Arctic Monkeys et al owe him a huge debt of wry, grittily humorous gratitude (Jamie T doesn’t get included in that list because he’s not an ‘urban poet’, just an urban twat). Anyway, it’s good to see him back kitchen-sink philosophising and cramming as many celebrated musical references as he can into his verses. The Maccabees, for their part, deliver a handful of pleasantly downbeat cooing hooks that make the whole thing entirely suitable for daytime, before going all ‘The Chain’ for the coda.
18. Destroyer – Bay Of Pigs
So, instead of an album, Muse decided this year to put out a bloated wreck that somehow managed the neat trick of being impenetrably pretentious to even the most hardened Yes fan, whilst simultaneously containing some of their laziest, most insipid ballads yet (seriously, note to Matt Bellamy: you are a very, very good guitarist, but your lyrics are awful, so please stop forcing us to focus on them). Anyway, someone had to fly the flag for prog, and they came in the unexpected form of Destroyer, who went for a sort of ambient 9 minute take on ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ with lyrics by Neil Hannon. It takes a whole 5 minutes for the bass and the beat to come in, at first glitching before resolving themselves into a pleasant Flight of the Conchords style singalong which, just as it gets into its stride, fades out. I don’t care if you don’t think this is prog at all, it infuriates and amuses me like the most indulgent half hour gong solo ever, and I bloody well loved it.
17. Manic Street Preachers – Peeled Apples
This is probably my equivalent of one of those best director gongs handed out for lifetime achievement rather than a particularly life-changing piece of cinema (I’m looking at you Marty Scorsese). But hey, Nicky Wire’s bass sounds filthier than it has done in years (now if we can just get him making inadvisable, unsolicited comments about famous people again we’ll be in business), and it’s the first Manics track to be blessed with Richey lyrics since ‘Kevin Carter’, plus there’s a really emo Christian Bale sample at the start, so let me have this one.
16. Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words
Radiohead decided this year to trade in their frankly ludicrous long-player conversion rates for a more scattershot flurry of download single releases, but if that means more regular doses of Radiohead, I guess I can’t complain to vehemently, right? This is far from the best thing they’ve ever done, but let’s face it, Thom Yorke farts out songs that most UK indie bands would be quite content to build an entire career around, and sometimes it’s just refreshing to hear Jonny hitting up the whammy pedal again, even if it is in a little more subdued manner than on 'Just'.
15. Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind
However fed up I am of Jay-Z’s increasingly targeted cross-promotional sales pitch flows (and it’s clear that he’s not really even trying here), there was no other hook this year more likely to make me pull diva-like vocal performances in my kitchen when it came on the radio than this one. So shut up.
14. Fever Ray – If I Had A Heart
Criminally, I still haven’t heard the Fever Ray album, despite ‘kind of like Kate Bush produced by The Knife’ sounding like possibly the best musical elevator-pitch ever (actually, after writing that sentence I realised what a fool I’d been, took a break, walked into town and bought the thing). It was a toss-up between this, the lead track, and its Fuck Buttons, steam-powered remix for inclusion in the list, but the original wins out in the glacial lovely/creepiness stakes, assisted by the fact that otherwise I could be accused of going on about Fuck Buttons a tad too much.
13. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll (A-Trak remix)
All the best bits of the original, but with more sexy Karen O yelping and a decent portion of squiggly bits that sound a bit like a synthesiser jizzing its pants. Also, mad love for being the only BIG HOUSE KEYS revival track that’s even vaguely listenable. Well, not just listenable, bloody brilliant, and with my favourite mentalist middle-eight break down ever.
12. Shakira – She Wolf
First off, big English graduate props for creditable use of the word ‘lycanthropy’. But honestly, I was already addicted to the intoxicating blend of flamenco guitar, eighties synths, string breaks and husky vocals before I even saw that video, which needless to say only propelled the thing even further into the stratosphere of genius. Awoo!
11. Thom Yorke – Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses
Isn’t life amusing? 2009 brought us the sheer ridiculous glee of witnessing Thom Yorke and Flea sharing a stage, surely the strangest musical personality mismatch since Morrisey teamed up with the fat one from Bowling For Soup (not really). Of course, with hindsight it all made a crazy kind of sense, when you consider the proportion of the Thomster’s basslines that really bring the funk. Like this here, created from an early version of the In Rainbows track ‘Reckoner’ (if you listen really carefully I think you can just about make out some of the chords), but warped into something like the most mental cut off The Eraser via skittery beats and one of those basslines that makes you pout like you’ve just smelt a bad smell (that’s why they call it ‘funk’, kids).