Best of 2017 so far…

Slightly later than usual, due to a much later Easter than normal, here is a quick rundown of my favourite tracks of the years far.  Eighteen in total, which is actually slightly more than in my 2016 ‘Q1 report’ at this point last year, so things are shaping up well. Apologies for any typos or spacing issues, but the latest wordpress ‘improvement’ lurches around like a drunken uncle at a wedding reception.

Public Service Broadcasting’s last album was a concept album about the space race, their next is about the rise and fall of the coal industry, so this lead track, ‘Progress’, probably needs to be heard in that context as opposed to taking it’s wide-eyed lyrics literally. As with ‘The Race For Space’ and ‘the War room’, the album will have a tale to tell..

This is a simply stunning track by Tom Adams. No video, just close your eyes and float away. Yet another Nils Fram collaborator, hailing from Cambridge, this is from his imminent debut album. In a perfect world this would be number one for five weeks. Sadly as 2016 so painfully demonstrated, this is not a perfect world, but ‘hold on, keep breathing…’

This next one is ‘Babes Never Die’ from Scottish duo Honeyblood, the title track of their second album.

Slowdive are back. With new material! and it is fantastic. I saw them live stream a concert from the Islington Garage a couple of weeks ago and was as mesmerised as ever. This is ‘Star Roving’ from the imminent album ‘Sugar For The Pill’. Again, no video, but it really doesn’t matter…

This is ‘No Reason’ from the latest Bonobo album, featuring Nick Murphy on lead vocals

Here’s another track without a video (well a proper one anyway) . This is  the catchily titled ”Transient Program For Drums & Machinery’  from Belgian Duo Soulwax. This is taken from their album ‘From Deewee’, which was recorded in one take and as a result has a pleasing sharp rawness to it reminsicent of German electronic pioneers like DAF and Connie Plank.

Another proper video – Isle of Arran by Loyle Carner. I heard an interview in which he said her grew up in Croydon but used to enjoy family visits to Arran. How that relates to this song I am unsure, but I’m a sucker for a gospel choir…

Earlier we had the first new track from  Slowdive in 23 years and following in its shoe (gaze)s is the first single from Ride for 20 years – ‘Charm Assault’. First time I heard this I really liked it but assumed it was indeed something from the 90s. Nothing wrong with that of course…

Less of a gap since the last Gorillaz music, just five years – this is my favourite track so far, Andromeda:

“We’re going down like BHS, while the able bodied vultures pick at us’ – A 2017 anthem for Brexit Britain from Sleaford Mods:

From the excellent ‘Drunken Songs’, I give you Julian Cope’s answer to ‘Heart Big As Liverpool’ by Pete Wylie, which is called ‘Liver Big As Hartlepool’. Shame the director of this User Genetrated Content couldn’t get in focus, but the sound quality is great.   “Never got to flirt with Polly James/ never took a trip down Carla Lane/ When two sevens clashed on Merseyside”  Saw him at The Roundhouse on this very tour back in January. 60% music, 40% monologuing, but in his defence he does give good banter  .

Next up ‘Give Me A reason by Ibibio Sound Machine. It preserves the unique sound of their first album, but adds in some 80s sounding synths very reminiscent of William Oyeabor

Talking of the Eighties, this track from De La Soul features a prominent sample from Musical Youth. I wonder if it is as obvious to American listeners as Pass The Dutchie was such a massive number one hit over here, but only top 10 in the US – at least according to wikipedia.

A slight swerve in musical direction now with Grandaddy, who have featured in our musical reviews of the year, but not chosen by me up till now. Excellent song based on a nice scrunchy keyboard riff, but not much effort gone into the video sadly…

This is a band new to me – The Amazons with ‘Little Something. Our second live performance video, this one shot with proper cameras and all, taken from a Radio 1 session. Does Radio 1 really play this sort of music any more though?

Nice to see Guy Garvey cropping up in a cameo in Peter Kay’s Car Share last week. it seemed a good fit. This track, from their Little Fictions albums kicked off their set with them performing it in front of the curtain – a nice stripped down feel, fairly representative of the album, which is less overtly ‘anthemic’ than recent efforts.

The XX have finally released an album I actually like. I tried hard with the first two as I definitely approved of the concept of the band and some of the singles, but perhaps Jamie XX’s solo work has introduced a more dancey feel to this album and this lead single is certainly very accessible…

Finally, to wrap things up, some new Numan. From the upcoming new album, this is from the Ghost In The Shell soundtrack. I have heard it before as I am signed up on pledge music as a ‘sponsor’ of his new album, which means I get sent demos and reports on tracks as they arrive. Do check out the excellent ‘Android in La La Land’ documentary that aired on BBC 4 recently, which was almost painfully candid, yet ultimately uplifting.

So that’s it. Thanks for making it this far. If we do get through nine more months of Trump and Brexit we will see how many of these make it into our year end lists.  If you feel I have missed anything out please do feel free to post it below.

Top tracks of 2016 – Our Number Ones: Michael Kiwanuka, Teleman & David Bowie (again)

We’ve been exchanging these lists of our favourite tracks of the year for a couple of decades now and decided to do this more recently in a daily online format in the hope it may encourage readers to get into artists and bands they might otherwise have missed alongside the obvious ‘heavy hitters’.

Whilst we play with the conceit of a TOTP style countdown, to a certain extent that is really just to make things interesting for us and hopefully for you, dear reader.  That said it is always fun to see what single track we reckon is our favourite of the year.

This year that has been a real challenge for me, because we work to an entirely arbitrary self-imposed rule that our individual lists can’t feature multiple tracks by the same artist, whereas in reality both the top two slots in my list would have been by Michael Kiwanuka. I agonised over the merits of Love & Hate and Rule The World and eventually plumped for the latter on the grounds it has less YouTube plays and I heard it less on the radio.  Please do check out the album.

So after a quite tempestuous and dark year, reflected in some of our choices, it feels appropriate for my final track to be something a bit more contemplative and hopefully uplifting. Here is a fantastic live take on ‘Rule The World’ from the excellent album ‘Love & Hate’.

Happy Christmas to one and bugger off 2016, you won’t be missed.

Over to Andy:

“And so to my number 1. First, a heartfelt preamble. 2016 had the potential for being the most disruptive and depressing year in recent memory for me. We all have busy lives but when one’s very existence is thrown into uncertainty the future seems a very scary place. I felt like I was in a tunnel and there was no way out. And then one day everything changed. I could see a future, I was having fun and as is so often the case, music was at the centre of this emotional rollercoaster. I went to the Cambridge Junction to see this band, and this was the first song this band played. It was a hugely enjoyable evening for many different reasons. Who knows where 2017 will take any of us, but I can certainly say that that night changed the whole complexion of how I felt about the last two months of 2016 and how I felt about certain people (you know who you are!).”

Merry Christmas to all, and here’s to a better 2017.

And finally over to Roy:

“Only  one choice for number 1 this year of years.

After Bowie’s passing in January, a theory started doing the rounds that Bowie was the cultural glue that held the universe together. Post Brexit/Trump I’m inclined to give it some credence.”

 

So that’s it – except to say that you can review the full 20 days of choices here.

Top tracks of 2016 #2 – David Bowie, The Wedding Present, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Yesterday Andy described what David Bowie meant to him and chose ‘I Can’t Give It All Away’ from the amazing Blackstar album. My choice today is the lead track, ‘Blackstar’ which I was intrigued by when I first heard it last December and it led me into the album.

I don’t think I am as big a diehard fan as Andy or Roy, I tracked his career mostly through singles rather than albums and the many of my favourite artists he influenced from Numan to Kraftwerk to Suede amongst many many others.

I know that some Bowie fans find this album very difficult to listen to, particularly Lazarus, but it is one of the very few albums released over the last few years that sounds entirely ‘new’, music beaming in from a different place and the title track in particular arguably achieves more in nine minutes than most artists will manage in an entire career.

It is such a cliche to call this album a fitting epitaph, but I really can’t think of a better way of putting it.

Over to Andy for his fine choice today:

“Oh no, they’ve fallen at the final hurdle again! David Gedge and his cronies had the number 1 within their grasp but let it slip in the final analysis. The accompanying video is taken from a Seattle radio station live acoustic session, the entirety of which I heartily recommend checking out if you’re a Weddoes/Cinerama fan. I should add that this is a completely different version of the song from their “Going Going” album, but I think it captures what I’ve loved about this band for the past 30 years. This contains my favourite lyric of the year…”The pain of failure is so much greater than the pleasure of success”. Wise words, Gedgey, and so I hope he isn’t too disheartened by once again being the bridesmaid…”

Meanwhile Roy’s penultimate choice is below, plus the list so far is here.

Top tracks of 2016 #3 – Radiohead, David Bowie & Underworld(again)

Some music becomes irrevocably linked to the year or the events it accompanied –  Ghost Town, Shipbuilding, What’s Going On, Ball Of Confusion, even Nessun Dorma. We’ve questioned on this blog before where all the political pop has gone, but  ‘Burn The Witch’ by Radiohead really is 2016 in four minutes. The video in particular perfectly captures that chilling moment (at exactly 3 minutes in) when you realise that the country you live in has gone completely and irrevocably insane  That guy is me.

Apparently Radiohead did not get permission for this obvious Trumpton homage, presumably on the grounds that it would have been denied, given it fuses cosy childhood nostalgia with The Wickerman to stunning effect.

Musically it’s one of the best things Radiohead have ever done, the edgy strings accompanying subtle lyrics –  presumably written before this car crash of a year – perfectly anticipating the  ‘low flying panic attack’ that has been 2016.

Abandon all reason
Avoid all eye contact
Do not react
Shoot the messengers

This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes:

Burn the witch
We know where you live

Sure, as Roy has pointed out the album could not follow up on the promise of the single, but really how could it? There is also a great live version posted by Roy as his number 5 pick here.

Talking of Roy, his number 2 is below along with Andy’s.

 

Top tracks of 2016 #4 – Primal Scream, The Wytches, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

 

Earlier in the countdown, Roy nominated Primal Scream’s ‘100% Or Nothing’ from the ridiculously named but ludicrously good ‘Chaosmosis’ album. I usually allow myself at least one album track in my Twenty and this is it – the stunning Burning Rope. No video and hardly anything on Youtube, so here for the first time is a soundcloud embed, so you can just focus on the glory of the audio without any distractions.

For me Primal Scream are never better than with gospel choir assistance. I remember seeing this live at the London Palladium and still recall having to duck as Roy flung his arms (very) wide at around 3:14 to sing along, perhaps preparing for the exultation he would feel at the European Championships in the summer.

Scroll down for some interesting choices from Roy & Andy, plus the countdown so far is here.

Top tracks of 2016 #5 – Suede, Massive Attack & Radiohead

Into the all important Top Five with a track from my favorite album of the year. This is a tricky one. A recent GQ list has Night Thoughts as one of its albums of the year and comments that it succeeds because it sees the album as an art form in its own right as opposed to a collection of very good songs. The album tells a strong story, has recurring musical and lyrical themes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. As a Suede fan of long standing I would say perhaps controversially it is their best album. They may have recorded  better individual singles, but as a piece of work it is flawless. Here is ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’ but really I could have nominated any of the tracks as indeed another contributor may perhaps do…

Scroll down for Andy and Roy’s choices, whilst the list so far is here.

Top tracks of 2016 #7 – Pet Shop Boys, Mogwai & Last Shadow Puppets

Something a bit more upbeat for my number seven choice, a great  pop song and classic Pet Shop Boys. I play the ‘Super’ album a lot and there are some great tracks on there, but this is the obvious choice and the first single. There is no official video, but hidden deeper in YouTube is this rather lovely fan animation by Caranella. It picks up on the point that the couple in the song clearly aren’t Neil & Chris, as they were well over a decade into their career in the Nineties.

So after a couple of choices from me very relevant to the 90s, let’s head back to the 90s…

Roy & Andy’s choices for today are below..,

 

Top tracks of 2016 #6 – Underworld, P J Harvey & Black Mountain

My second British synth duo in a row.

My first ever music post on this site, when we started doing these lists online in 2012, was Underworld, who were at #20 in my Festive Twenty with their ‘Caliban’s Dream’ from the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Four year’s on it’s great to have a new album, ‘Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future’. This is ‘If Rah’, performed on Jools Holland.

I have seen a couple of live Underworld sets on TV this year – 6 Music Festival & Glastonbury and it’s strange how mesmeric a couple of fifty something blokes and a keyboard can be…

Top tracks of 2016 #8 – Daughter, Syd Arthur & Jaguar Ma

Twenty eight tracks nominated so far by three pundits across twenty-eight different artists and finally we come to our inevitable artist overlap. As nominated by Roy at #10, this is the sublime Daughter, but a different track from the same album.

I’ve gone for ‘How’, for the simple fact it is slightly more shoe-gazey than Numbers and I also like the video more (shallow I know).

Still no overlap on actual tracks, but as our winding roads converge towards the top of the charts surely that is inevitable?

Scroll down for Andy and Roy’s choices, whilst the list so far is here.

 

Top tracks of 2016 #9 – James, Toy & PJ Harvey

I am sticking with the political theme of my last choice with this video for the James track ‘To My Surprise’.

The video was made much earlier in the year, so the dystopian world it depicts seems far more real, looked at in the cold light of December . Whatever the pink liquid that the heroine is carrying, we certainly could do with some of that in 2017 – you will see what I mean.

A brilliant animation, directed by Chris Merc and a fine song from the underrated James, with that trademark awkward danceability. No idea whether it charted, but its repeated use of the word ‘arsehole’ may have limited its plays on Radio 2…

By the way who is Donald Trump kissing at 3:20? It can’t be Birmingham’s new manager surely?

Scroll down for Andy and Roy’s number nine choices.

 

 

 

Top tracks of 2016 #10 – DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels, DIIV & Daughter

We are into the top ten.  I can hear the TOTP countdown music in my head as I type.

I first heard this track over the closing credits of an episode of the fabulous Silicon Valley and was intrigued, so went to a handy website that lists music used in TV shows.

This is a collaboration from this year’s DJ Shadow album with Run The Jewels on vocals. It reminds me of the debut Fun Lovin Criminals album, which is no bad thing and it’s another track that seems very 2016, amplified by the video which is an interesting fusion of Dr Stangelove and Frankie’s Two Tribes. Lyrically very dark and definitely NSFW, but it seems to chime perfectly with the very strange times in which we now seem to be trapped..

Excellent choices from Roy and Andy below, whilst the list so far is here.

 

Top tracks of 2016 #11 – The Kills, Temples & Primal Scream

Are videos still a ‘thing’ now? This year I saw the wonderful film Sing Street – all about a young Irish band in the 80s and their Duran/Cure inspired attempts to shoot mini epics on the streets of Dublin, which left me wondering how many videos nowadays don’t always make much of an effort, tending to be either performance based, or increasingly the artist is not in the video at all,  as it is handed over to a film-maker mate to do a video that echoes the song (or not).

I guess this is because there is no real broadcast place for videos nowadays, no TOTP exclusive – TV is obsessed with live performance now, so promos exist in the hazy non-linear world of YouTube.

With that in mind it is nice to see The Kills making an effort with this one – not least being bothered to turn up and actually be in it as well. I also liked the follow up single, Heart of A Dog, but the video shades it for me, which has a ‘can’t have been cheap’ 80s vibe to it.

Contributions from Andy & Roy below – our best day yet? Also the list so far is here

 

 

Top tracks of 2016 #12 – Beck, Slaves & Trentemøller

No stranger to our lists over the years, Beck released what seemed to be something of an ‘orphan’ single earlier in this year which apparently indicated a return to his poppier phase. I have been keen to hear more, but this has been it so far. Beck seems to float around (rather like this track), being influential, moderately commercially successful and tastefully chameleonic:  winning Grammies but being unlikely to turn up dueting at the X Factor finals, for which we can be grateful.

Scroll down for today’s choices from Roy and – joining us for the final dozen – Andy. Check out the countdown so far here.

 

Top Tracks of 2014 #13 – Herizen Guardiola & Two Door Cinema Club

The best soundtrack of the year has to be that for ‘The Get Down’, the Netflix series in which fictional protagonists become entwined with the Bronx disco scene and the birth of rap in the hot summer of 1977.

Alongside classics from the era are new tracks  ( including from my number one artist for the year, but more on that in 12 days).

Contributed by Nile Rogers, ‘Set Me Free’ is performed with pep (sorry!) by Herizen Guardiola as her character Mylene Cruz. It becomes her breakthrough hit, from which her boyfriend appropriates the drum break to launch his own crew’s rap career.

The series got mixed reviews but I loved it and I’m looking forward to series two next year. I certainly don’t think that Mayor Koch is up to any good…

Roy’s selection is below….

 

Top Tracks of 2016 #14 – A Tribe Called Quest & Chemical Brothers

This one is a current favourite , as heard only this morning on the excellent Huey Morgan Show – ‘We The People’ by the legendary A Tribe Called Quest.  Featuring less obvious samples than the seminal “Can I Kick It’ –  which may be a reflection of our more litigious times –  this is from  their first album of this century, which they claim will also be their last.

The chorus is certainly on point for America 2016, but again amplifies Roy’s earlier point that the musical commentary in this year of geo-political meltdown seems to be coming from older artists. This may reflect this correspondent’s own age and I would love to be proven wrong:  could some kind soul can point us in the direction of some less wrinkly protest music being played on Radio 1…?

However in the meantime this will do nicely…

Roy’s choice – which does have a connection- is below….

Top tracks of 2016 #15 – Steve Mason & Palace Winter

From Steve Mason’s wonderful ‘Meet The Humans’ album this is ‘Alive’.  I could have picked any number of tracks off the album, but this has an actual video and a great one it is too,  so here it is for your delectation and delight.

Watch cute aliens wipe out the population of earth in four minutes and do check out the album. Albums are still a valid art form you know, even more so in this attention-deficit era.

Roy’s choice for today is below, the list so far is here.

Top tracks of 2016 #16 – Jean-Michel Jarre, Edward Snowden & Warpaint

 

After a tranquil visit to an Icelandic church yesterday it’s time to dive back into the global madness of  2016 with this track from Jean-Michel Jarre’s excellent Electronica 2 album.

It’s a second album of collaborations featuring many fine songs with the likes of Gary Numan, Pet Shop Boys, Julia Holter, The Orb, Primal Scream. For me, I put Jarre in the same category as Numan in that they changed music radically, were largely derided at the time for their commercial success and only recently are now hailed in hindsight as the pioneers they were all along. The Oxygene/ Equinox / Magnetic Fields trilogy is one I often return to.

This track is a project with Edward Snowden that, you guessed it, focuses on data and surveillance. To further add to its edgy sense of paranoia, let us reflect on who is going to be in charge of the NSA from January 20th…

” Saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different to saying that you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say…”

Scroll down for Roy’s nomination for today and see the list so far here

Top Tracks 0f 2016 #17 – Ólafur Arnalds & Life

It’s been the year from hell, but just for 4 minutes lets head to a church in a remote Icelandic valley and seek sanctuary from a year that took Bowie and Prince from us and gave us a scary future of Brexit and Trump.  I hope you enjoy this instrumental collaboration between composer Ólafur Arnalds and local music teacher Dagný Arnalds as much as I do. It’s part of a seven week project ‘ Island Songs’ in which Ólafur travelled around Iceland collaborating with local musicians on new compositions. I heartily recommend the website www.islandsongs.is.

1995 refers to the year when a devastating earthquake hit the area and the church stands next to a memorial for the dead. If Olafur sounds vaguely familiar, chances are you have heard his soundtrack music to Broadchurch, or may even have come across Kiasmos, his EDM side project.

Scroll down for Roy’s more boisterous choice and catch up on the list so far here.

Top Tracks of 2016 #18 – Prophets of Rage & Jamie T.

At number 19 we had a supergroup made up from three other like-minded groups (Minor Victories) and at 18 we also have.. a supergroup made up from three other like-minded groups. In this case it’s Rage Against The Machine, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. As the first of these are the only ones who actually play instruments, it’s no surprise that the resulting first single sounds like Chuck D rapping over an RATM song. Effectively it is a rocked up version of the PE track from ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions…’,  stylistically  not a million miles away from the PE/Anthrax version of ‘Bring The Noise’ back on the ‘Apocalypse 91’ album.

So effectively if you add this to this you get the following.  Musical DNA splicing.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. If there is a year to be twice as angry, then 2016 certainly is that year.

Scroll down for an excellent choice from Roy. You can also see our choices so far here.

 

 

 

 

TOP TRACKS OF 2016 #19 – Minor Victories & Shearwater

Three pretty convincing reasons ensured this track would be in my Top Twenty for the year:

a) The band features members of Slowdive, Editors and Mogwai (and sounds exactly as good as you would expect that to sound)*

b) The video has giant cats with lazer beams shooting out of their eyes destroying a city. I’ve been a sucker for giant cats and cityscapes ever since that chilling scene from The Goodies. For kids in the 70s that was every bit as terrifying as ‘Threads’ was in the 80s.

c) The track is subtitled ‘Song For Richard’ . In a world of addressable advertising and targeting, they certainly know their audience.

So here it is ‘Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)’ by Minor Victories…

Did I mention it has cats? Giant cats? and lazer beams?

*spoiler: Number 18 will also feature a three band supergroup that sounds exactly as good as you would expect it to.

Meanwhile Roy’s Number 19 is below and a fine choice it is…

 

Top tracks of 2016 #20 – Bat For Lashes & Green Day

I am going to get our 20 day musical advent calendar underway with Bat For Lashes and Joe’s Dream.  I first heard it on Mary Anne Hobb’s Sunday show whilst surfacing on a Sunday morning and had to track it down.

It has a nice Twin Peaks feel about it, slightly reflected in the video, and specifically the ‘I’m Falling’ refrain which has echoes of the Julee Cruise vocal version of the Angelo Badalamenti main theme.

Scroll down for Roy’s Number 20…

Trans Europa Express – It’s a Wrap

Well ladies and gentleman we made it. The list is complete. Thanks for all your comments and suggestions – we are nothing if not eclectic.

You can see the final list of all the artists for each day in one handy page here. Thanks to Gerard for helping sort the headings out.

We’ll be back at the end of the year with our infamous end of year lists and I will post from time to time – I can feel an art-related post coming on soon.

In the meantime any suggestions for a theme for next Spring? Just to remind you I have re- indexed a page for the last three themes we have done. Just click below to have a look ( or remind yourself ).
Remember you have to click on each heading to see the comments underneath.

Monkees2013: The Pleasure Principle (guilty pleasures)

 

 
LIT

2014: Lost in Time (overlooked classics)

 

SG    2015: Sounds like Summer

 

 

Dury 2Plus ‘‘Killer B’s (Some  B-Sides I snuck out while no one was looking)

 

 

..the blog