Now then, on to the serious business. The auditory sprinkles on the fairy cake of popular music, if you will. It’s part two of my musical year in review, the top ten, the big boys, the best of the best of the best. Have yourself a cup of tea/tumbler of brandy/speedball (delete where applicable), and listen to some tunes, stupid.
10. Fuck Buttons – The Lisbon Maru
The epic centrepiece of by far and away the most exciting album of the year, ‘The Lisbon Maru’ showed Fuck Buttons delivering on the noisy promise of 2008’s debut Street Horrrsing tenfold. An exercise in suspense and release, every tiny development in its relentless march is plundered for maximum impact, from the gradual introduction of the drums, cymbal by cymbal, to the eventual heartstopping wall of feedback that drenches all before it in euphoric drone.
9. HEALTH - We Are Water
A track that gives the impression HEALTH just want to liquefy your brain, by any means necessary. With no let up in the breakneck beat (I personally nominate BJ as one of the most technically gifted rock drummers around) and constant, shuddering screeches of pure noise jettisoned from mangled guitars and keyboards, the track plays itself out across three minutes of amphetamine-riddled lunacy to a point where you would expect most bands to call it a day, before going even more insanely furious and stepping things up still further. And then it does the most effective half-tempo shift you’ve ever heard, to give you a chance to digest the complete awesomeness of what you’ve just experienced.
8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
I’m leaving the video up for this one, partly because I love them for ripping it out of Jared Leto’s tremendously self-indulgent promo for ‘From Yesterday’, and partly because you need to look at Karen O in this video. Look at her. Isn’t she brilliant? And I want that jacket. Oh yes. Anyway, the song is three minutes of pop awesomeness better even than Blondie, and just goes to show that guitar bands ‘discovering’ synth doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Unless of course, the guitar band in question is Snow Patrol. Or The Editors. Or… okay, it’s only a good thing when Yeah Yeah Yeahs do it.
7. The Big Pink – Velvet
‘Dominos’ may have got all the indie club airplay, but it was this, the first single from The Big Pink, that really grabbed the attention with its printer jam rhythms and layers of guitar squall. Okay, you might accuse them of doing epic-by-numbers rock, but since when was that a bad thing? Please, oh please, let this herald the start of a shoegaze revival. Then in a couple of years time, when all the scene kids are buying Fender Jaguars and stacks of FX units, we’ll be able to say “Thanks, Big Pink – you may have been insufferably over-hyped by your friends in the music press, but at least you fought the good fight against the landfill indie jangle.”
6. DOOM – Gazillion Ear (Thom Yorke Remix)
The accumulation of wealth has proven such fertile subject matter for hip-hop for so long, but ‘A Milli’ this most definitely is not. In retrospect, Thom Yorke’s wandering, skittish beats provide an ideal complement to DOOM’s labyrinthine, arrhythmic flow – loose, unsettling, never anything less than intense. Yorke opts to use a more frantic, ranting delivery than the original cut, serving only to heighten that sense of claustrophobia with its breathlessness. But nothing detracts from the lyrical dexterity of the man in the mask as he throws the thesaurus at the usual range of bizarre pop culture references from Jake the Snake, to ‘Ernest Goes to Camp’, to the Large Hadron Collider, throughout a third person verbal deconstruction of the “villain man” who “won’t stop rocking ‘til he’s clocked in a gazillion grand” and “had his PhD in indiscrete street haggling”. As usual, it would take a sharp ear, an encyclopaedia and a few hits of mescaline to pull out every double meaning and fractured reference in there, but then, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?
5. La Roux – In For The Kill (SKREAM’s Let’s Get Ravey Remix)
Bass! How low can you go, as a wise man once asked. The answer, if I’m any judge, is very low indeed, because it will sound awesome. I know I’ve put the youtube player above, but seriously, don’t waste this shit on laptop speakers, it’s just not right. The best thing to come out of the ‘girls with synths’ explosion of ’09 (well, apart from lots of girls suddenly owning synths, which is, obviously, brilliant) was the rich seam of remix-ready lady vocals, once the annoying casio tones were stripped away. La Roux became this year’s answer to The Gossip by following their lead and producing a string of pretty awful singles which magically became fantastic the second a good producer got their hands on them, the epitome of this trend being SKREAM’s take on ‘In For The Kill’. All huge dubstep growls and bravely isolated vocals, the track is almost nothing but anticipation, the point of release held off for as long as humanly possible, audaciously pausing, even, for a few seconds of complete silence before the drop finally arrives, authoritative and driving, bringing home the final rush of endorphins.
4. The Horrors – Sea Within A Sea
Ah, krautrock. Is there any more nourishing morsel in the goth selection box? Easy to imitate, difficult to master, beloved of ‘difficult second album’ers everywhere, it’s one of those Marmite genres, not just because people tend to either love it or hate it, but because it almost seems to deliberately provoke that divide. It can be truly awful repetitive dreck, the rock equivalent of minimal techno, or, as here, manifest itself as a staggering work of genius. Brilliantly, seamlessly weaving its way across eight minutes, shifting moods and textures right across the spectrum, ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is first downcast, then hopeful, expectant, and finally, triumphant, as glorious arpeggiated trills and vocal chanting showers everything with unexpected revelation. Who cares if it’s a trick ripped straight out of producer Geoff Barrow’s Portishead how-to guide, when it works this well? Good on The Horrors. If you’re going to do art-rock cliché #1, then at least do it right. Incidentally, against all received wisdom, I’m actually pretty ambivalent towards Marmite. Gotta love that krautrock, though.
3. HEALTH – Die Slow
Second entry in my top ten for HEALTH, and much of what I said above for ‘We Are Water’ goes for this track too, but it achieves a higher ranking purely by having a slightly catchier chorus and also by sounding more like several angry robots having cathartic group sex.
2. Animal Collective – My Girls
The genius of Animal Collective is their ability to take digitally manipulated and synthesized sounds, and somehow make them sound completely organic. And of course their Beach Boys-esque harmonies and exuberantly joyful delivery don’t hurt either. Swelling from a primordial soup of noise, the good vibes are layered on top of each other thick and fast in an aural hug of swooping, cheering sound. The sentiment of the lyrics are no less slushy, as Panda Bear vows to build the “four walls and adobe slabs” of a house for his wife and children, his girls. Much like a good Spielberg film, it’d all be almost nauseatingly twee were it not for the craft, enthusiasm and sheer ecstasy of life displayed in the music, urging you constantly to join in with handclaps, harmonies and synchronised whoops of delight. Listen, experience, and be moved. It’s what music is all about.
1. Fuck Buttons – Surf Solar
7-inch Single Edit:
The full ten-minute album version:
EH eh-eh-eh eh-eh-EH!!!!! 2009 – The Year of Fuck Buttons. They made the best album, and with this cacophony of whirling loops, shrieks and good old-fashioned distortion, they made the best song. Listen to either the epically scaled album version, or the three-minute ‘pop single’ version above depending on how long you like your ears to be assaulted for - both are, simply put, total brilliance. It’s something of a tired line in music journalism to describe artists as ‘noise terrorists’, and it’s not a cliché that I would ever think of using, I’m just saying that if ever there were a song to soundtrack both the literal and metaphorical ‘fucking-up-of-shit’, this baby is it. Every time it comes on I lose all control and just start running into things, doing jumping jacks, smacking the floor with my outstretched hand over and over again – anything to express the relentless outpouring of energy that comes with hearing that cyclical, twisting beat and those huge blasts of depraved white noise. There was nothing else that sounded quite like this in 2009, but then there’s probably nothing else that sounds like this ever. 2010 better have something pretty special up its sleeve.