Friday, 24 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 05-01

Oh wow. Here we go. It's Christmas Eve and snow is falling neck breaking amounts of sludge are everywhere. As I walk the streets of this humdrum town I can see families huddled around computer screens. What are they looking at? What can unite all these people like this? Oh cot damn. It's my twitter feed and they are all waiting for a tweet to say that this blog post is up. Happy holidays.

05 Rihanna - 'Only Girl (In The World)'

" my prisoner for the night."

I'd say the same thing about Gaga but I'm really thankful Rihanna is around. You know by now that pop stars of her magnitude are unavoidable in everyday life. Regardless of your age, gender or anything else you will be hearing songs by artists like Rihanna on approximately a thrice daily basis. In the launderette, in the bakery, on the car radio on the way to work, from the annoying girl singing in the office. Rihanna and Gaga, though, are different to the rest. Why? Well, I find them both genuinely interesting for one. I find a vast majority of their music really very listenable for two. Perhaps you could say that this has more to do with the people behind the scenes than the actual artists themselves and perhaps you could be right. I'll tell you one thing about that though, I don't really care either way.

'Only Girl (In The World)' initially sounded like a bit of a cash in on this recent R&B/dance crossover trend. Originally, I heard it two or three times and dismissed it as a bit of a dissapointment and got on with my life. However, as the days and weeks rolled on and I kept hearing the song through my own choosing or otherwise, I started to dig it more and more with each listen. As always with Rihanna, the song is shot through with a high voltage sexiness but its a sexiness that is edged with some yearning and some real innocence. It's like reading the diary of the hottest girl at school and finding out that she's got it bad for some kid that couldn't give a shit about her. Something like that anyway. Either way, it's fantastic.

04 Freddie Gibbs - 'National Anthem (Fuck The World)'

"All my shit still be bumpin'..."

Aside from the song at #02 in this list, this is my most played rap song of the year and it takes few listens to work out why. Gibbs really works with LA Riots' beat here so much so that you really cannot imagine them as divided entities. The way in which he slows down to a thug crawl for that chorus and shifts up to a blinding Twista speed for his verses really is spellbinding. As is often the way, Gibbs has really been through a lot in his short life but it's moments like this that make you thankful he came out the other side.

Freddie Gibbs has a lot of material out there. He's a mixtape fiend and filtering this slew of content down to its rawest and purest form can be difficult. I mean, where to start? Well, the easy answer to that is to start with "National Anthem...," because this isn't just Freddie Gibbs' best track, it's one of the best rap tracks of the year. Perhaps more importantly, it marks Gibbs out as a true contender and one to watch very closely come 2011 and beyond.

03 Laura Marling - 'Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)'

"True love is frail and willing to break..."

I posted about Laura Marling earlier in the year when 'I Speak Because I Can' was first released. Back then, I was reeling at how good that album was and how amazing it is that Marling is 20 years old or whatever. Since then I've listened to ISBIC and more specifically 'Goodbye England...' many, many times and with each listen I've realised how irrelevant it is what age Laura Marling is. This is a song that just sounds completely classic. It could've been released at any time over the past fifty years, it really doesn't matter.

Marling has written a song that reads as well as it sounds. It could be read to you as a poem and you'd have nothing to say other than to praise its beauty. You've probably never read a sentence that includes both Freddie Gibbs and Laura Marling before but much like that guy at #04, it's songs like this that mark Marling out as a different breed to her competitors.

There's nothing I like more than being surprised and at no point in the past did I think Laura Marling had a song this good in her. It's simply beautiful and I have my hand on my heart when I say this placing is in no way influenced by it being Christmas nor snow falling in and around this country that Laura and I were born in.

02 Kanye West - 'Monster'

"The best living or dead hands down, huh?"

Who on earth saw this coming? C'mon, hands up. Naw, me neither. When Kanye launched back into the world with his weekly G.O.O.D Friday series no one really knew what to expect. What I didn't foresee was the actual content of these free, weekly released, songs. Firstly, the vast majority of them were pure fire and secondly, the guests Kanye roped in weren't just session musicians or anything, it was stellar major players of (mainly) the rap game. I'm talking Jay-Z, Lupe, Common, Mos Def, Pusha T here. Some of these GF tracks (albeit reworked versions) were later used for 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' and 'Monster' was one of these. It's just too undeniable to be left as anything else.

It's a difficult track to describe to someone without them listening to it as you do. The basics are that it features Rick Ross, Kanye, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver (!). Other than that, the shit's plain ridiculous. Kanye quite typically came up with an entirely untypical beat that jumps all over the place and the rest is down to the respective artists and their verses. Ross is on damage control and only gets a couple of bars (how he is best used) and Kanye's swagger is set on ultra high. Jay-Z's verse I don't actually like very much at all but abide for one reason - it sets up Nicki Minaj to stomp through and rip everyone's balls off. Nicki's verse is my musical moment of the year. It's all crazy voices chasing a beat that just doesn't know where its going to go next. She sounds like Godzilla wearing skyscrapers for stilettos. Her verse forms part of a song that is quite simply, if you'll excuse my language, a motherfuckin' monster.

01 The Walkmen - 'Angela Surf City'

"You took the high road..."

I've hinted at how much I adore this song at several separate occasions this year. This adoration was cemented when I got to witness it performed live last month and it did not dissapoint in any way. This one, dear reader, soars.

The Walkmen never get their dues. They do the rounds, tour incessantly and for an indie band in 2010, are pretty prolific too. Even then, I don't feel they get half the press they deserve. For me, they should be spoke about as loftily as The National are. Now I'm aware that The National aren't exactly U2 but even so, there's a big difference in between being in that band and being a member of The Walkmen. Album sales, gig revenues, merchandise. It all counts in a pretty important way. The reasons why I dig this band so much are right there, a mile high, for all to see in 'Angela Surf City'.

To get the obvious out of the way first, they're incredible musicians and if you can't hear that in this song then you're either an idiot or deaf. The most obvious example of their musicianship is the drumming. Always incessant yet strictly melodic, Matt Barrick could just be the best drummer around. It's clear that rest of The Walkmen know this and Barrick often finds himself at centre stage. 'Angela Surf City' kicks off with him rolling out a typical drum beat, for example.

The Walkmen's finest and most famous hour was a song called 'The Rat' which was released in 2004 to raptourous acclaim. Since then, it's often been a case of "yeah they're alright but they'll never top 'The Rat'..." and if the band we're honest up until the release of 'Lisbon' then they might've just agreed. 'Angela Surf City' changes all of that. It shows that 'The Rat' wasn't just a one off. It shows that its possible to go from sounding almost bored in an opening verse to launching into a chorus that's as unstoppable as a runaway train. It shows that you can really achieve something amazing in three minutes and nineteen seconds.

So, that's it. List over. Hope you all enjoyed reading, a spotify playlist of the complete list can be found here*. Have a good christmas and I hope next year is better than this year for all of you.

*some songs aren't on spotify. They've been substituted in a 'next best' sorta way apart from Jeezy and Arcade Fire who are just plain difficult and not on there at all.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 08 - 06

We are now one post away from the top five. That's simple mathematics right there. If you can't work that out then you probably can't read anyway so this blog is completely lost on you. No, I don't do screen readers, braille or large font translations.

08. Arcade Fire - 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

"I need the darkness someone please cut the lights..."

When it comes to indie releases in 2010, they didn't get much bigger than 'The Suburbs'. When it comes to disappointments in 2010, yeah, you can use the second half of that first sentence again. Again, my problems with 'The Suburbs' were much publicised on this blog and on my twitter but if there's one thing I couldn't be accused of, it's not trying enough. I gave that record listen after listen, hour after hour and it just never happened. Amazing if you consider that after hearing 'Funeral' and 'Neon Bible' I couldn't conceive of living my life without those records. They were just that big to me. Epic statements of heart, inspiration and perseverance they are albums that are now four and six years old respectively. They are albums I still listen to on a weekly basis. That says it all, I think.

My problems with 'The Suburbs' may have been plentiful but in 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' I found a saving grace that knocked me off my feet and carried me away. It's a song that you swear you've heard before. It could be Kate Bush. It could be Blondie produced by The Knife. Whatever. It's the kind of song that makes mountains beyond mountains seem entirely surmountable.

07. Young Jeezy Ft. Plies - 'Lose My Mind'

"My house stupid dumb big, my rooms got rooms..."

My God this is a banger. There's no other way to put it. In many ways you can hold it up as the archetypal Young Jeezy song. By that I mean it's big, it's dumb and it smashes you in the face like a sledgehammer. As the lead single from the eagerly awaited 'Thug Motivation 103' 'Lose My Mind' did exactly what it was meant to. It banged and made you think "Man, that new Jeezy album is going to be some ridiculous shit." The only issue, OF COURSE, is that there is no sign of that album at the moment and the release date seems to change with the wind direction.

This is all to take nothing away from the song though. Clocking in at just under four minutes, Jeezy bosses his two verses just as we've come to take for granted whilst Plies spits his out like he's been chewing on concrete and barbed wire for the past coupla weeks. Plies is Plies, I'll give you absolutely nothing if you guess the content of his lines, let's put it that way. Again, God, this is a banger.

06. Robyn - 'Call Your Girlfriend'

"And then you let her down easy..."

Much like Drake, 2010 has been truly a year to remember for Robyn. In a year that saw her release two EPs and a full length, she is now reaping the rewards and also finds herself at the business end of just about everybody's end of year lists.

The biggest compliment I can pay to Robyn is that this song could've been one of about five. If I was intending to include more than one song per artist in this list then she would've had multiple entries. 'Indestructible', 'Hang With Me', 'Dancing On Your Own' and 'Cry When You Get Older' could all be substituted in place of this song I've chosen here quite easily. 'Call Your Girlfriend' is different though. It's simply the most mature, most accurate and incisively written pop song I've heard this year. In her first verse Robyn sings "Tell her not to get upset, second-guessing everything you said and done..." and man, that's a hell of a line. We've all been there haven't we? One thing goes wrong and there you are left wondering if the whole thing was a sham from day one. This is something Robyn does better than anyone. She can take minute details of life, of love, and she can retell them in these amazing songs so they sound anything but small. Oh, and all this to tunes you can dance to. The best way to put this is to say that, at the moment, there is no one making music who can soundtrack tears on a dance floor better than Robyn.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 11 - 09

Computer has contracted a virus to end all viruses which has greatly impacted my ability to post on this blog and observe hardcore pornography. Yet, we journey on, in spite of all, we journey on.

11. Lady Gaga Ft. Beyonce - 'Telephone'

"Sometimes I feel like I live in Grand Central Station..."

Lady Gaga really understands the concept of the music single. She understands that singles were once real events. Memorable events that you could map your years and decades by. From a rough count I just conducted in my head I reckon she's head seven in this country now. Seven singles and each one stands as tall as the one that precedes it. It's quite a run and when 'Telephone' was released earlier in the year it was a run that you couldn't really ever see coming to an end.

From a song that starts so sweetly 'Telephone' has a hook so massive and so dirty it sounds like it turned your stereo up on its own. This hook is one of many aspects of this song that play exactly to Gaga's strengths and for me her main virtue is her voice. It's powerful and it works for these massively commercial singles that sell millions yet it still retains a lot of character. Give the tune a listen, she even eats Beyonce off the track and by and large, that isn't too easy to do.

Not a bad video either. 34,668,998 views* can't be wrong.

*and counting. Safely say I'm responsible for the 98.

10. Big Boi Ft. Gucci Mane - 'Shine Blockas'

"All the ladies say 'Hooooeeeee'..."

The second entry on my list that owes a lot to a great, great sample/beat. Here it's a sample of Howard Melvin's 'I Miss You'* that sets 'Shine Blockas' up to be a summer staple for years to come.

It's not a great leap to be reminded of 'International Players Anthem' when listening to this slab of southern magic because all the hallmarks that made that song so colossal are here too. This is a slick tune that just rolls and rolls and get this - even Gucci Mane can't ruin things. I think I've been pretty vocal with my opinions on Gucci but in case you missed them, I'll repeat briefly here. Yeah, I find him really boring. Still, on 'Shine Blockas' he really fits and I can't actually think of another rapper who could take his role here and do something better. For that, I say hats off Gucci Mane, hats off.

*Yes, I had to google it, hater.

And we move into single figures. The excitement is barely containable! This is as exciting as HTML code gets you worms. Show some love.

9. Big K.R.I.T - 'Hometown Hero'

"Not a day off but I'm still Ferris Bueller..."

Big K.R.I.T is the artist that got me more excited than any other this year. He sums up all I love about discovering new music and in this case, what I really dig about the internet too. I'd never heard of BK three months ago. I mean that too, never heard his name or anything about him. Then I started hearing things here and there online. The usual suspects saying that this guy was something special and the fact that Sha Money XL made him a top priority when he took up his Def Jam seat started to pique my interest. I downloaded the cleverly titled 'K.R.I.T Wuz Ere' and was astounded. The mixtape and debut album is as tight as anything I've heard this year in rap aside from Kanye's record and genuinely stands up with any debut I've heard in at least the past five years.

'Hometown Hero' samples Adele's 'Hometown' to great effect. That is, there's touches of it here and there. It's used when it needs to be used in a way that only adds to the song. It really is an ingenious piece of sample selection that does seem to come from way out in left field whilst B.K's vocal sounds like UGK at their most mournful and reflective.

The K.R.I.T stands for King Revealed In Time by the way. On the strength of his debut record and songs like this one, that title might turn out to be a pretty good prophecy come a few years down the line. King revealed.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 14 - 12

The list continues apace. Three more pieces of solid gold.

14. Josh Ritter - 'The Curse'

She asks "Are you cursed?" He says "I think that I'm cured."

I still have a lot of time for good old fashioned songs and that's exactly what 'The Curse' is. It's nothing much really. There's little more than a repetitive piano piece, a lone trumpet and Ritter's well pronounced crystal clear vocal but it's truly a beautiful listen.

I'm not really sure what this song is about. Love, fame and ego perhaps. No one other than Josh Ritter can tell you that but since the release of 'So Runs The World Away' I've been really enjoying trying to decipher this one over and over again. Fantastic video too. The sort of video that you watch once and know that you will forever think about it when listening to the accompanying song in the future.

13. Drake - 'The Resistance'

"I'm living inside the moment, not taking pictures to save it."

I can really see why people dislike Drake. He's an actor, he's riding on Lil Wayne's coattails, he ain't 'real', some of his lines are just so goofy/hammy. Truly, I understand all that. 'Thank Me Later' though, is a record that I've returned to time and time again this year. I've come to the conclusion that (for a change) it's all down to those beats. Drake's long term bro 40 produced a fair chunk of 'Thank Me Later', including 'The Resistance', and it really is wonderfully done. That withdrawn almost isolated beat backs up Drake, who sounds as conversational as ever, fantastically well. It's barely there, I mean, you've really gotta listen out for it but what it does is just so vital.

Lyrically, Drake's got issues man, he doesn't know whether he's coming or going actually. He's carrying his city's weight like a cargo ship but he can't find the time to call his Gran who's just gone in the nursing home. That sort of thing. If you listen to the record you'll discover that finding this balance between blowing up yet staying 'normal' and a relatively decent man is a recurring theme and I dig that a lot actually.

2010 has been an enormous year for Drake with his debut album selling 447,000 copies in its first week and his profile going stratospheric but when success sounds like this, it's hard to begrudge.

12. The National - 'Afraid of Everyone'

"Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul."

The National stick to the 'write about what you know' maxim better than anyone else I can think of. Fears, worries, anxieties, doubts. The murky sides of the human condition, the things we'd all probably eradicate if we could, that's the bands bread and butter.

Since its release, I've gradually come round to the thinking that 'High Violet' is a record of two halves. The second of which ('Afraid of Everyone' onwards) is of such a high quality it's almost scary. In fact, if the first half was as good as the second, album of the year questions would be little more than foregone conclusions. Perhaps it's this consideration - that this song is the start of something amazing - that has assisted me in growing so fond of it. Either that or I've simply fallen in love with a very good song that reassures me that it's alright not to be so sure of everything all the time.

After listening to the song again a minute ago, I think its those ghostly backing melodies that do it for me. Strip them away and this'd probably sound a bit like a demo of a really great song. Leave them in and you have one of the best songs of the year.

Oh, you also definitely have the best outro of the year

All together now, Your voice is swallowing....

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 17 - 15

Without further ado, songs 17 - 15 listed below. I must say writing a list like this certainly has a big influence on what you listen to as you write. Below a screen grab of my listening as I typed up songs 20 - 18 yesterday.
Variety is the spice of life.

17. Wild Nothing - 'Live In Dreams'

"I'd rather live in dreams and I'd rather die..."

Music really doesn't care for geographical boundaries. It happily spans oceans and continents touching all that it crosses on the way. Now, at some point during the 80s a few heavyweights (Cocteau Twins, The Cure even MBV) of the UK indie scene released some records that over time found their way to a guy called Jack Tatum in Virginia. Jack Tatum took this music, channeled his influences and started releasing music under the moniker of Wild Nothing and whilst its not strictly fair to say that 'Live In Dreams' and the rest of WN's fantastic debut, 'Gemini', is little more than a run down of what was good in Manchester in 1985, it does sound very much that way. That, of course, is completely a good thing.

I think people have been calling this sort of thing dream pop which sounds about right. Yet with that said, it's probably easier to just say that this song reminds you of times you can only just remember and bands you'll never forget.

16. Mavis Staples - 'You Are Not Alone'

"Every tear, on every face, tastes the same."

I'll be straight: I only sought out Mavis Staples' record 'You Are Not Alone' when I heard about Jeff Tweedy's involvement in it. There you are, I said it. Wilco are one of my favourite bands so when the lead singer lends himself to a project like Tweedy did with Staples, it's only natural that I'm going to check it out. I didn't know what to expect, I definitely didn't expect a song like 'You Are Not Alone'.

'You Are Not Alone' is as tender and warm is they come. It's a comforting song, it's the sort of song you listen to when you think the title is a complete and utter lie. If someone you cared about played you this song, you'd probably care for them a bit more afterwards. It's all of those things but one thing that struck me when I heard it was how much it sounded like a Wilco song. I mean no disrespect to Mavis Staples there and I know that Tweedy wrote it and played on it so it's not a surprise but shit, this would slot right into 'Sky Blue Sky'. Thing is, if Tweedy sang it you might think it was nice, pretty or whatever. When Staples sings it, you feel like you've known it your whole life.

15. Cee Lo Green - 'Fuck You'

"Now ain't that some shit?"

This song had to be included at some point, didn't it? 'Fuck You', quite simply, just works in every single way. It's so much fun, most people can relate to it and at some point everybody has found themselves singing it. It's all in the juxtapostion of those heartbroken jealous words vs the ludicrously joyous R&B, it's all in the "..and I'm like" that precedes each 'fuck you', it's all in that smile that crosses your face each time the chorus rolls back around.

I've not heard Cee Lo's new album but I'd be astounded if there's another song like 'Fuck You' on it. You know what though? Cee Lo Green made one of the best singles of the past decade and with this song he's made one of the best of this brand new one too so, well, fuck you.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Listasaurus: The Top 20 Songs of 2010: 20 - 18

There's a time and a place for clever, witty or lengthy post titles and this, I believe, is not it. Now, I've spent the past few weeks doing a couple of things:

a) Not posting on the blog. This is clear for all to see. I offer no excuses. "November spawned a monster..." Morrissey once sang. He neglected to mention that it definitely doesn't spawn blog posts, the nimby little fop.

b) Whittling a long list of songs down to twenty entries so I can post a list of them on this perverse little corner of the internet.

A disclaimer of sorts first though. I don't think 2010 has been a vintage year by any means and I fully expect my list to overlap with other sites and blogs. Anyway, here goes. Lists are serious shit people. Serious. Shit.

20. The Hold Steady - 'The Weekenders'

"She said 'the theme of this party's the industrial age,'...and you came in dressed like a train-wreck."

'Heaven Is Whenever' really didn't last very long in my CD player. Regrettably, it didn't hook me like The Hold Steady records have in the past and by that I mean fish hook in your mouth that will never let go hooked. I remember the artwork being incredibly cool yet I barely remember five songs from the actual record. Still, 'The Weekenders' is one of my most played songs of the year.

Craig Finn opens proceedings with "There was that whole weird thing with the horses..." and from there on in you find yourself living in a Hold Steady dreamworld. As powerful as it is unsure of itself, 'The Weekenders' just begs to be played over and over again because it simply has everything you want from rock song. That irresistible soft/loud verse to chorus pattern, those big riffs and all those lines you just wanna tattoo on your skin. The Hold Steady do what they do and when they do it right, it's unforgettable.

19. Rick Ross (ft. Styles P.) - 'B.M.F (Blowin' Money Fast)'

"I built it ground up/you bought it renovated..."

I'm not writing a separate list on the best beats or producers I've heard this year. I mean, I'd love to but I've got a job and stuff.
Even so, I don't mind admitting that the main reason that 'B.M.F...' finds itself in this list is the absolutely ridiculous beat Lex Luger pulled out for this joint. I can't remember the last time I heard something that just breathed enormity. This thing is like Godzilla with skyscrapers for feet pounding down the street. With backing like that Ross could've done pretty much anything on this beat and it would've sounded monstrous but he steps up to the plate pretty well too. It's Rick Ross after all, it's going to be big and it's going to be dumb but that beat, well, it's two things; irresistible and undeniable. Just listen to it man. Listen to it loud and then get someone to help you up off the floor.

18. Broken Bells - 'The High Road'

"Come on and get the minimum..."

When I first heard about the Broken Bells collaboration I was excited and worried in equal measure. On one hand you had one of the best lyricist and singers in indie rock and the most sought after producer going working together. Yet, in the other negative and dirty hand you have that nagging doubt that Dangermouse tries to do too much sometimes. He can really suffocate songs and albums with too many ideas, that one trick too far. Hey, there's a reason no one remembers any Gnarls Barkley songs aside from 'Crazy'. Yes, I agree that once you have made a song like 'Crazy' your talent should never really be questioned ever again but whatever.

Still, on 'The High Road' everything fell into its right place. Mercer was given space to breathe, the drums were perfectly paced and stated and that "'s too late to change your mind" coda could sing a sunburnt baby to sleep