Sunday, January 01, 2006

Assistant Blog Singles of the Year 2005

OK: Single Of The Year time from me - am sure I won't be the first or the last:

1. Damian Marley – Welcome To Jamrock
Easily the best single of the year, and a track which seemed to be playing out of every car and every window when I came up to London this summer, although sadly not so much down in Brighton. But no wonder it was so popular: it's a magnificent piece of political reggae from the son of Bob, somehow combining anger, energy and warmth in a way that only reggae can. "Come on let's face it / our ghetto education's basic / and most of the youths them wasted / and when they waste it / that's when them take their guns, replace it / and they don’t stand a chance at all". My pick of the year's crop - stunning.

2. Babyshambles – Fuck Forever
If all the Babyshambles records sounded like this, I think I'd understand what everyone was going on about when they hailed Pete Doherty a genius. This is invigorating and beautifully shambolic, badly recorded and lovely. They tried to improve it for the album version and failed completely, even though this original version stumbles along without any clear momentum at all. It's partly, or wholly, to do with Doherty, who drawls lyrics like "What's the use between death and glory" (or indeed the beautifully spat "New Labour or Tory") and is the closest he's come to describing the thought process which explains the odd, reactionary libertarian position he's somehow manouvered himself into: "They", he declares, "they have a way, they have a way to make you pay. And a way to make you toe the line", something he obviously has no intention of doing. He even goes some way to acknowledging the many complications of his position; "It’s one and the same. One and the same. No, it's not the same, it's not supposed to be the same". A real punk record and a mess of contradictions.

3. DARE by Gorillaz
You get the feeling the perenially competitive Damon Albarn must finally be feeling pretty happy with himself, as the latest stuff by Gorillaz has pretty much put paid to any argument that he's not one of the cleverest and versatile songwriters we have. I don't remember a song that everyone loved quite so unanimously as the hit of the summer, 'DARE', although that probably has more to do with the lovely Shaun Ryder. Either way, it's utterly irrestistable. Even more so when you realise that Shaun was trying to sing "It's there".

4. The Coral - In The Morning
Every now and again a song comes along which is just achingly perfect and poignant. 'In The Morning' appeared in the spring and sounded like the summer. If it had been released at the same time as 'DARE', and capitalised on the summer surge, it could have been twice as successful. As it is, it's short, sweet, romantic and absolutely perfect.

5. The Cribs – You’re Gonna Lose Us
A late contender for single of the year, this offering from the Cribs is a super, raucous Fall-style anthem, all surly northern attitude and zippy guitars. The vocal melodies, if infrequently very melodic, are some of the most memorable of the year. And the vocals are ace: "When I'm drunk I can be an asshole", they howl. Not heard much else by them but if this is indicitive of what they can do they could be a really valuable find.

6. M.I.A - Galang
Again, I could have easily picked 'Bucky Done Gun' instead, which is just as good (that ace horn break!) but Galang just about edges it on account of the fact that it really sounds like a number one single in some other dimension. If only. Everything about M.I.A is just perfect; the crunchy, glitchy beats and sirens, her confident, rough delivery and the insouciance of her lyrics. 'Galang' is the kind of record Missy Elliot used to make a few years ago, but Laandon.

7. Maximo Park – Apply Some Pressure
So good we had this single twice - one of the real pleasures of 2005 has been watching the Park's transformation from obscure arty types into bona-fide popstars. Their appearance, second time around, on Top Of The Pops this autumn was a real treat, and 'Apply Some Pressure' is a great example of what they do; ultra-tuneful guitar pop, clever arrangements, and maximum enthusiasm. And Paul Smith is the new Jarvis – clever, wry and so uncool he's ultra-cool. Watching him twist his body fiercely around the final lines on TOTP was thrilling, "You know that I would love to see you in that dress! I hope that I will live to see you undressed!". Ace.

8. Futureheads – Hounds Of Love
Granted this one came out so long ago that it seems like it should belong to 2004 not 2005, but there's no point underplaying how great this song is. It showcased everything that is unique about the Futureheads, their excellent taste, their playfulness, their arranging skills and their singular way with a melody. It took me a bit longer to learn to love the winter's underplayed 'Area', which suffers by comparison, but is still pretty great.

9. Josh Rouse - Winter in the Hamptons
I know absolutely nothing about this, other than the fact that Vic told me about it ages ago and it's been stuck in my head ever since. The most musically pretty song on the list with a guitar line which recalls Peter Buck, a yearning Smiths style chorus and a divine 'ba ba ba ba ba ba' hook. If someone could tell me more about Josh Rouse without me having to use google I'd be grateful.

10. Spoon – I Turn My Camera On
It took me several years longer than everyone else to get into Spoon, but this year's Gimme Fiction, sometimes reminiscent of Bowie, Steely Dan and Pavement, really grabbed me. But it was the album's stand-out track and single, 'I Turn My Camera On', which I kept coming back to; a gorgeous Beck-like slice of indie-funk, all space and bass and a beautiful vocal to boot. Genius.

11. Young Knives – Junkymusicmakesmefeelbetter EP
Can't remember offhand which track led this E.P, but assuming it was the best of the four: a beautiful looped guitar line riding on a metronomic drumbeat and a crisp bassline, 'Trembling Of Trails' is the best thing from the terrific Young Knives yet. Most impressive is the yearning, youtthful vocal, occasionally tearing into momentary violence. The lovely "got my papers, and my ticket for the train / To anywhere" refrain was stuck in my head all winter. I predict a dazzling debut album from this lot.

12. Mystery Jets – Alas Agnes
I saw the Mystery Jets supporting British Sea Power this year and thought they were either tremendous or terrible and couldn't make my mind up; it seems awfully soon for a progressive rock revival. Nevertheless, their magnificent remix of The Futureheads' 'Hounds Of Love' and this single made my mind up – they're one of the most interesting new bands in Britain. 'Alas Agnes' is a lunatic stomp through about six different genres, finally settling on sounding somewhere between Ian Dury, Cud and Dexy's Midnight Runners. The most unaccountably bonkers single of the year, but one of the best too.

13. Good Weekend by Art Brut
I absolutely loved the Art Brut album this year; it's absolutely fantastic, totally focussed and enthusiastic where the likes of Babyshambles are shambolic and nihilistic. 'Good Weekend' is the best by far, a lovestruck descendent of the Buzzcocks, the Television Personalities and The Streets, where Eddie Argos's studied cool falls apart and he exclaims, in a rush of frenzied excitement, "I've seen her naked TWICE! I'VE SEEN HER NAKED TWICE!!!". Pure Joy.

14. Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
I always felt slightly upset that my inbuilt music snobbery meant that I could never enjoy 'We Will Rock You' by Queen as much as everyone on Gladiators, or wherever it was played. But finally I have a stompy, anthemic song which I can sing along to when people want a bit of pomp and ceremony. And this, crucially, has a refrain which goes "this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S". It's also courageously stripped down; Stefani constructs some lovely synth washes for the chorus but holds off from using them every time; when they do appear it's shiver-down-the-spine stuff. Her best song of the year, mind, was the wonderful Jacques Le Cont remix of 'What You Waiting For', which re-imagined the original track as a nine-minute New Order house homage. But it wasn't a single in its own right, so never mind.

15. Stephen Malkmus – Post Paint Boy
Steve Malkmus seems to be that dreaded thing, an albums artist, these days, but that doesn't mean he hasn't released a couple of really great singles this year – 'Pencil Rot' first, which was a strange delight with a welcome rap middle section, and 'Post Paint Boy', which was a straightforward delight for anyone who has come to admire Malkmus's skewed, languid and melodic songwriting style over the years (and regular readers will note wearily that, erm, I have). The lyrics, as ever, are an utter delight. "Post-paint boy, with your art / you're penny rich and dollar dumb / in a world that has become / so American". I can follow it 'til he starts talking about "seventeen anteaters, sequestered in a room / with the sisters and mothers of famous gluttons I don’t know", at which point I lose track of things. Great song, though, and I dunno whether Steve is being genuinely tender, but the bit where he sings "I'm really really really really proud of what you did" gets me every time.

16. The Wedding Present – I'm From Further North Than You
The return of the Wedding Present, the band that got me into indie music, was always going to be a marvellous nostalgia trip. What I didn't expect was that, in late 2004's 'Interstate 5' and 2005's 'I'm From Further North Than You', the reformed WPs would produce two of the finest singles of the last few years. This latter was exceptionally lovely, Gedge at his finest, lovelorn and a little bitter. "Yeah, we're the same, in many ways", he sings, "and I admit we had some memorable days", before the pay off. "...But just not very many".

17. Roll Deep Crew – The Avenue
I was so dissapointed that Wiley's career didn't really took off last year, and it looks like the likes of Kano and Lethal Bizzle are only faring slightly better, so it's little surprise that he returned to the scene with a pop record rather than something inaccessible and strange, and so far the strategy seems to be paying off. In At The Deep End is a peculiar, hodge-podge album, as is the lead-off single, 'The Avenue', which finds the crew trading verses over an old Marionettes record. It's such a lovely, straight-forward concept coming after all of Wiley's astonishingly dense production to date, and it works brilliantly.

18. Love Me Like You by the Magic Numbers
Victims of a lot of criticism this year for being, depending on who you believe, another bunch of post-Pet Sounds california pop soundalikes, or just too fat to be worth bothering with, no-one seemed to notice that the Magic Numbers were as indebted to the lovely, frantic indie of The Wedding Present and their C86 comrades as they were to Brian Wilson. For precisely that reason there's lots to love, and 'Love Me Like You' was a fine and underrated pop single.

19. 22 Grand Job by The Rakes
There were few records as unlikeable as the Rakes' disappointing debut this year, but in 'Strasbourg' and '22 Grand Job' they created two excellent, itchy singles. The latter is a minute and a half of ironic angst and is ludicrously exciting. "22 grand job", they chant, "in the city, that sounds nice, that's alright, that's alright".

20. Movement by LCD Soundsystem
Yeah, I know, horribly fashionable and strangely outdated already, but the LCD Soundsystem record was awesome in places and this strange slab of Fall indebted punk rock was a brilliant, savage, singular tune. Nothing on the album to compare with the first couple of singles though.

21. The Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot
Yes, they're kind of rubbish, yes, everything they do seems horribly calculated, but the Kaiser Chiefs have two undeniable qualities; their live show, which is genuinely very good indeed, and the fact that they occasionally get that boundless enthusiasm over into their music with good results. Their debut single, 'I Predict A Riot' is so much better than the rest of their material and a sign that better things may yet be to come. Funny lyrics, odd melodies and this was a great single.

22. Franz Ferdinand – Do You Want To?
The album was a big disapointment, and Liam Gallagher is right to say that Alex Kapranos sounds like Richard Fairbrass, but that doesn't stop the lead-off single, 'Do You Want To' being utterly brilliant and terrifically catchy, riding as it does an addictive rhythm and a vocal harmony that Duran Duran are presumably proud of. Franz Ferdinand have created some decent songs but in 'Take Me Out' and 'Do You Want To' they’ve created two masterful pop singles – no mean feat.

23. British Sea Power – It Happened On An Oily Stage
This year BSP were supposed to break through, and I suppose in retrospect they didn't quite manage it, but they still had a pretty good year, and remain by some distance the most interesting band around right now, even if they only really manage it on a conceptual angle. The first single from their second LP, 'It happened On An Oily Stage' treads a familiar path; Yan's half-whispered vocals, a lead guitar line which echoes the vocal melody and a propulsive bassline which carries the tune. There's still a sense that BSP could be really popular, I think. Whether they want to is another matter. But we need hits with lyrics like "He found god in a parking lot / and you did not".

Honorable mentions:
Rachel Stevens - Negotiate With Love / But Said Never Again (And Here We Are).
Both ace. Rachel Stevens still can't sell any records. Mystifying.
New Order - Krafty
Almost heralded a complete return to form; there's some fab stuff on the album too.
Mylo – In My Arms
Brilliant album and several brilliant singles too.
Le Tigre - After Dark
Wouldn't it be great if Le Tigre made the leap from underground darlings to pop heroes? On the evidence of 'After Dark' that isn't such an unlikely proposition. It'll never happen though. Ah well.
Bloc Party – So Here We Are
A crisp, beautiful single.
The Killers – Mr. Brightside
Or, the theme to Jamie’s School Dinners, as I now think of it. Overplayed, overplayed, overplayed, but it's still very good.
Sugababes - Push The Button
Lots of great pop single this year but this was one of the best – when the Sugababes do a greatest hits record it'll have a surprising number of brilliant tracks.

Some others: I'm sure I've missed some really great stuff. Comments box please if you spot something I've failed to include, or want to tell me that I'm wrong to deliberately exclude something you rate.


Blogger Ben said...

Wot no Arcade Fire? ;)

Some overlap with my list (up on SWSL, and will be appearing here soon), but plenty I haven't heard too.

1:57 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Oh, a couple of other things: 'Pass It On' was last year I think.

And I didn't realise 'Post Paint Boy' had been released as a single - better adjust my own post...

1:59 pm  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Ah, well spotted - I'm getting my Coral tracks mixed up: I meant 'In The Morning', not 'Pass It On'...

You are making me doubt my assertions about Steve Malkmus though. I'm not convinced I'm right about that - I can never figure out his single releases: I've heard rumours of Baby C'Mon and Mama both being singles too and I never saw them.

Off to SWSL now to read yours...

2:09 pm  

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