Monday, 21 December 2009

The Final Countdown

Da-na-na-naaaa, da-na-na-na-naaaa....
Yes yes indeed, with lesser competitions such as the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and BBC3's Young Butcher of the Year already falling by the wayside, it's time for the most hotly talked about contest of the year to slam it's final axe stroke in to the craggy mountain of music that's been piling up this year, and haul ourselves over the apex to reflect upon the marvels on offer.

I'm already busy at work in the lab, conducting devious genetic experiments so that I can offer myself a shoulder to sob on as I begin to realise the gems that I've missed off the list. There are two that I'm thoroughly kicking myself over, which I missed off for various careless reasons but would have easily been bothering the top 10 - 1. Memories by Pangaea, a track that the wider population (or at least, the demographic of the population who listen to down-beat soulful dubstep) had been enjoying for the best part of half a year before Muggins McPhee here latched on to it, and 2. the hugely fun and danceable Why Don't You by Gramophonedzie, a song that I love greatly but for some reason thought was from several years ago.

And THEN there are the various tracks that Chris, Tom and Richard listed in response to my appeal for your own favourite songs lists (suggestions still warmly encouraged by the way!), so mad props to the aforementioned badmen, their lists can be found in the comments section of the previous post and are all well worth a listen.

Despite these exceptions, this top 10 is a good reflection of what I've been enjoying on a whole other level of enjoyment this year. Each one is the kind of song which lures me into putting it on again straight after it's finished, because I just can't get enough of its goodness. You may well take one listen/look at the list and emit a big fat WTF (c'mon guys, how could I NOT include Fight For This Love??), but I'd like to think that if you welcome these tunes on to your hearth and in to your hearts then we'll soon be reading from the same hymn sheet.

Unlike the YouTube links of ye olde sections of this countdown, all the ten songs have got download options, as a Christmas present from me to you. You can even download the whole lot in one fell swoop by clicking here, and choosing 'Select All' from the options at the top and then clicking 'Bulk-download Selected'. That should work. I think.

10. Florence & The Machine - Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)

Although I'm not a wholly devoted F&tM fan, they've been really good whenever I've seen them live and there are a few tracks of theirs that I greatly enjoy. This, the second track off 'Lungs', is my favourite. A stirring, vocally wonderful song, full of mythical and mystical imagery, Rabbit Heart is a cryptic battle cry that will have you throwing your hands up in the air and saying "Lord I just don't care" much more emphatically than certain other Florence tracks that have just been released YET AGAIN.

9. Fever Ray - Seven

A voice that's instantly recognisable from her work as one half of The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson flew solo this year under the name Fever Ray with the release of her bloody excellent album, also entitled Fever Ray. Chock-a-block with great songs, Seven is the pick of the bunch in my eyes. The lyrical content is superbly simple and mundane - "we talk about love, we talk about dishwasher tablets", "I ride my bike up, I ride my bike down" - but there's an ever present sense of nostalgia and longing in the song, which could readily relate to romance, or death, or both. Seven has also been remixed well by Martyn, and less so by Crookers - or should I say, Crookers have cut up the vocals and plopped them on top of the same beat they use for every song.

8. Joker - Digidesign

The future's bright - the future's purple. Apparently Joker 'hears' purple when he makes his music, which means that his sound is now referred to as 'Purple Wow', he makes songs with purple in the title, he wears a lot of purple etc. So, dubstep's answer to Prince then? Well Digidesign is certainly sultry and sexy enough to tick at least some of *unpronounceable symbol*'s boxes, with a luuuurvely synth pattern that will have any dance floor 'bom-bomming' along when dropped. You'll know what I mean when you listen to it. Hopefully. Digidesign was released on a 12" with 2000F's You Don't Know What Love Is (#12 in this list), which surely makes it the sexiest EP of the year, possibly ever. If most dubstep doesn't convince you, GO AND FIND THAT EP, it's an absolute delight.

7. Few Nolder - Chika

This track from oddly named Lithuanian producer Few Nolder contains one of the cutest and most infectious tunes I've heard in a long time. The track is minimalistic techno, without actually being minimal techno -  it provokes a feeling much more euphoric than your bog standard minimal, and even has hints of dancehall throughout. When the quivering little tune finally drops after the build up, it never fails to leave me with a smile on my face.

6. Deadboy - U Cheated

In the year that saw UK urban music getting increasingly funkier, this is probably the finest example to date of the 2-step revival. A great R&B-esque vocal hook that injects a soulful mood in to the track, combined with tropical drum patterns and a funkier-than-thou bassline all make U Cheated one of the great songs to have emerged from the UK underground this year. Lovely stuff.

5. Dance Area - AA 24/7 (Diplo Remix)

I was pretty surprised when I was compiling this list to find that this song was only released this year (admittedly the original was released at the end of 2008, with the remix dropping in January), as it seems that Diplo's high-powered reworking of Dance Area's infectiously child-like AA 24/7 has been slaying dance floors for an eternity now. I believe the story behind the original goes thus: someone (quite likely to be Erol Alkan) recorded the bathroom attendant of London's The End club, Austin Boston, doing the 'rap' that features in this song on an iPhone, then Dance Area (also quite likely to be Erol Alkan) used it to form AA 24/7, a tune that was then widely played in clubs around the planet (largely by Erol Alkan). Diplo's remix crunks the track up in to a huge electro banger, even greater than the original. Never have the words 'DO IT' been such a trigger for mayhem.

4. Dusty Kid - Nemur (Wall of Guitars)

I probably shouldn't like this song as much as I do. Two things in particular should really point to it being utterly naff - the 'European singing emotionally in English' vocals, and, er, the pan pipes. Yep, that's right - pan pipes. An instrument which has sensibly been left out of the majority of songs since the likes of E-Rotic's Max Don't Have Sex With Your Ex walked the earth. But I feel that Nemur has managed to emerge triumphant, despite giving itself these two notable handicaps. The constantly pulsing beep throughout the track is what first attracted me towards it when I heard Dusty Kid use the song to close his set at Fabric in the summer, and when I went home and tracked down his album Nemur grew and grew on me. The lyrics are certainly a bit pants and don't make a whole lot of sense, but the singer (I'd guess Dusty Kid himself) sings them with a good level of feeling, and combined with the gentle guitar strumming it makes for a very sweet little track. Even the pan pipes are A-OK in my book, adding an earthy sound to the song. Could Europop vocals and pan pipes be THE sound of 2010? This excited blogger certainly hopes so.

3. Crystal Fighters - Xtatic Truth (Xtra Loud Mix)

Given the ever dwindling quality of the Kitsuné Maison CD series, this track was a real delight to find nestled on the seventh edition of the French label's compilations. This song is truly remarkable - it starts off with a kind of traditional folk guitar melody, before the ecstasy starts to kick in, hard. First with the hushed vocals reassuring us that "there's nothing left here to worry about", and then with the soaring rush of synths that come thundering in, inducing a genuine sense of rave love. If the government were to take a dab of MDMA and put this song on whilst coming up, they'd soon be on their BlackBerrys busy sending texts to Prof. David Nutt along the lines of: "David, man.... i love you. ur just such a fucking sound guy. soz about sacking u and all that, u were totally right all along man. i'm in fucking outerspace right now nutty, there's like totally nothing left to worry about. we should go to fabric sometime yeah? i fucking love you david, peace out xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx"

2. Gui Boratto - No Turning Back

No sooner have we finished with one entrancingly euphoric beast of a song, but another one pops up. No Turning Back is somewhat like the 'Green Mile' of the music world - it's not the subtlest when it comes to piling on the emotion, but the end result is a thing of beauty nonetheless. The melody rises optimistically with synthetic distortion before mournfully sinking back down with a feeling of inevitable despondency, with this sense of melancholic futility reflected in lyrics such as "I can show you the way but I know that you'll never be there". However the track still maintains a euphoric atmosphere, in the kind of way that you can imagine it closing a set in a club and you'd leave feeling thoroughly contented and at peace.

1. Joe McElderry - The Climb
    Florence & The Machine - Drumming Song (Boy 8-Bit Remix)

So, here we are. This, ladies and gentlefolk, is my favourite song of 2009. And what better song to top the list than this outstanding reworking of an already excellent song - Joe's voice compliments the lyrics of Hannah Montana's original perfectly, and he really makes the song his own in - oh wait, I'm confusing myself again.

No, my favourite song of the year has actually been the superb Boy 8-Bit remix of Drumming Song, a track which showcases both Florence Welch's vocal prowess and David Morris' masterful production skills, both of which have been a regular fixture on my stereo throughout the year. Boy 8-Bit slices out the finest vocal cuts of the original - which although good in its own right will plod along painfully slowly when listened to in the aftermath of the remix - and forges them in to an exhilarating force that seizes and drags you in to the world of Florence's inner emotional conscience, with Boy 8-Bit's commanding drums holding you firmly fixed in place as the drumming noise inside her head gets louder and LOUDER. It's that bit, at the heart of the track, that really pushes this track from great to truly amazing - the loop of "it fills my head up and gets louder, and louder" steadily grows in volume and strength until it's one of the most gripping things you'll ever encounter in any song. With each repetition it builds in fortitude - if it had continued any longer then it'd probably have been classed as a realistic threat to the nation.

Boy 8-Bit's had a great year, with other highlights including the Baltic Pine EP and a remix of La Roux's Quicksand, but for me this his finest work, and the finest work of the year FULL STOP.

So there we are, that's the end of my Top 50 Favourite Songs of 09 list. All that's left to say is that I hope you agree with at least some of my choices, as well as WELL BLOODY DONE TO RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE AND MR AND MRS MORTER, definitely one of my favourite music-based days of all time.

And I've just realised I uploaded some songs the other day which haven't been used yet, so here's a quick Classic Track + Songs I'm Currently Loving...

Classic Track: J Dilla - Workinonit - this blog would have a lot less musical content on it if it wasn't for the influence that J Dilla has had on artists in the Flying Lotus mould, he was a true master of innovative hip-hop who tragically died of blood disease in 2006. Genuinely up there with the biggest in terms of losses to music, but his legacy looks set to be manifested long in to the future.

Songs I'm Currently Loving:

  • Rustie - Inside Pikachu's Cunt - it's immediately obvious why it would be an abomination if I didn't post this song, fortunately it's also a very enjoyable listen.
  • Inside Out Boy & Vogel - Cazzo! - what do catchy electro bleeps and the operatic stylings of Andrea Bocelli have in common? Answer: they both feature on this track by Inside Out Boy & Vogel, which is one of two tracks from their newest EP which, in keeping with the festive spirit, they are gift-wrapping for free download: Cazzo! / Adrenochrome EP. Adrenochrome is equally great, this time deploying a Fear and Loathing sample on top of a sinisterly creeping beat that could easily soundtrack one of Hunter S. Thompson's more spookier trips.
  • Movado - Neva Believe You - soulful Caribbean vocals? Check. Downbeat dancehall riddim? Check. 90's-rave-sounding piano riff? Check. Lazy 'end of blog' unimaginative use of a check list to replace writing a proper summary of the song? Check.
An End of Year albums list has been compiled, but probably won't be along til the start of 2010. So if the magic of Christmas is waning for you, then that'll be something to keep your heart pumping and eyes eagerly wide open as you lie in bed at night. Merry Christmas one and all, I hope you all get what you want in your stockings. All I got last year was feet.

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