Friday, 10 December 2010

Monty Don

Is there a rapist in Linkin Park?, asked worried Yahoo Answers member Zack Garrison earlier this year. While they may be his favourite band, he made it clear that, should Chester Bennington or one of his companions prove to be a sex criminal, Zack could not condone such behaviour. Although there is almost definitely at least one rapist in Linkin Park, poor little Zack was getting himself confused with one of the year's biggest viral videos, Antoine Dodson being interviewed about an intruder who had snuck in to his sister's bed the previous night - in Lincoln Park. The clip quickly began filling inboxes and Facebook walls the world over, and it wasn't long before this followed hot on it's tracks:

The song became possibly even bigger than the original clip, and was even packaged up and released as a genuine single (oh go on then, have a download). While usually a staunch cynic when it comes to such gimmicks - I find the rest of the 'auto-tune the news' videos gratingly unfunny - I was rather smitten with the 'Bed Intruder Song', and it became one of those songs where I'd find myself reaching for the 'play again' button as soon as it had run it's course.

And here, eventually, is where we've reached the point of that intro. While 'Bed Intruder Song' - perhaps shockingly - doesn't feature at all on my list of favourite songs of the year, the tracks that comprise the top 10 have, on more than one occasion, been hastily scrambled back to the start so that I can listen to them two, three, four times on repeat. While some eyebrows may be raised over the course of this final section of the list, you can be assured that it's my sense of enjoyment for these tracks that prevails over any kind of deep critical dissection of the songs themselves - a fact that should be made abundantly clear when you see what enters in tenth place. That, of course, is not to say that these songs are anything short of masterpieces in their own right.

Finally, before I begin the final push towards the end, I'd like to say that it really would be lovely to hear what you have to think. I know the majority of you don't have the free time or will-power to trawl, as I have, through all the songs you've heard this year and then arrange them in order of preference, but if there are a few stand-out tracks that you feel have been highlights then do let me know, as I always enjoy discovering new sounds. Drop a comment at the bottom of the page, send me a message on Facebook, post me a sheet of papyrus inked with your own blood - I'm not fussed how you do it, it'd be greatly appreciated no matter what.

Anyway, as the Sex Pistols once almost said: 


10. Rihanna - Rude Boy

"giddy up, giddy up, giddy up babe"

While I'm generally a fan of much of Rihanna's work, this has surely got to be the best song of her career to date. A departure from anything else she's done, 'Rude Boy' took a splash of dancehall, a drop of ragga, and a pinch of M.I.A. to conjure up one of the summer's biggest anthems. You could turn no more than two corners at this year's Notting Hill carnival without hearing the sassy lyrics blaring out of some float or soundsystem. It's been embraced and remixed by all corners of the music world, and you'd be just as likely to hear Rihanna's teasing challenge oozing out of the speakers of a drum 'n' bass night as you would on a Saturday night Oceana dancefloor. The video - 'inspired', let's say, by M.I.A.'s promo for 'Boyz' - is captivating to say the least, and reaffirms the song's status as a real temperature-raiser. 'Rude Boy' is one of those rare gems in pop music that's a refreshment rather than an imitation, and a moment that Rihanna may never top.

9. Tensnake - Coma Cat

"can I get, can I get-get?"

When a track becomes such an anthem as Tensnake's 'Coma Cat' has, it's no surprise to see attempts at criticism springing up from various quarters. Suddenly, every snide music critic became a fan of obscure '80s funk jam 'What I Like', pointing out that the infectious bassline from Tensnake's banger was in fact just lifted from the Anthony And The Camp semi-hit. Such comparisons and critiques are completely pointless: the fact of the matter is that 'Coma Cat' is a brilliant song in it's own right, regardless of what's been fed in to it to make it so. One of the greatest talents electronic music producers possess is the ability to pluck just the right sample out of music's murky vaults, and turn it in to a thing of modern-day beauty. From the wailing call to prayer that opens the track, to the simply effective vocal sample that peppers the track, to the gorgeous, ecstasy-inducing chimes of the melody, this is a tune that cannot fail to affect the listener in some way. And that 'way' is usually a sense of euphoric, unbridled joy.

8. Swindle - Airmiles

"bom-bom-bom-bom bom-ba-dom-bom"

There's little point these days in trying to define many of the tracks that emerge around the edges of the worlds of dubstep, funky and grime, as some producers treat pigeon-holes as if they're actually just spaces to put pigeons in. While 'Airmiles' definitely falls in to the minuscule midpoint that a Venn diagram of musical genres would create for it, there's at least one way to describe it: savage as fuck. Leading in with a misleadingly contemplative and calm synth opening, it doesn't take long for the underfed pittbull terrier that lies at the heart of the track to break free from it's leash. A ragged rave riff comes hurtling in, swiftly followed by some domineering beats to leave no-one in any doubt that this track don't take no shit from no man. You'll either be left cowering behind your couch, or jumping around like a loon. Or you could combine the two, and create a kind of eccentric new dance. Yeah, do that.

7. Aloe Blacc - I Need A Dollar

"I had some good old buddies, names is whiskey and wine"

I'm yet to meet anyone who actually first discovered this fantastic neo-soul treat through watching US show 'How To Make It In America', but apparently that's how it found its fame. The song is a throwback to Depression-era blues, and is poignantly befitting of these times of current financial woe. Telling the story of a young man's struggle to find and secure employment - possibly based around Aloe Blacc's own troubles, if I remember correctly - the track is an observational narrative of the difficulties and pitfalls that face America's underprivileged. As with all the best blues tracks, this troubled tale is set against a soulfully groovy backdrop, with the hints of hip-hop that you might expect to find on a record released on Stones Throw. 'I Need A Dollar' is a kind of fable for current times, highlighting the struggles that arise in the world's most advanced Capitalist society. The fact that it does this in gloriously swinging fashion does it no harm, either.

6. James Blake - CMYK

"look I found her red coat"

Kelis may have already found approval earlier in this list for her electro make-over in 2010, but it's her work from way back in 1999 that's to thank for one of this year's most brilliant and iconic moments. Plucking a sample from the ex-Mrs Nas' early hit 'Caught Out There' (the one that goes "I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!"), fast-rising producer James Blake has tweaked it to perfection to create an irresistible vocal hook that has kept lovers of bass music addicted since it's release. Opening in entrancing style, 'CMYK' eases in to existence with a set of halcyon keyboard strokes that sound like they should be used as sound effects for raindrops in an animated Beatrix Potter cartoon, rather than forming the start of an innovative dubstep instant-classic. Then, with the track still as sparse as Vince Cable's Christmas card collection, Blake ushers in Kelis' "look I found her *damn* red coat" snippet, before gradually elevating proceedings with a hazy set of synths, and then - W-W-W-WOMPH. With crashing bass thuds a lot more subtle and calculated (and better) than the kind found in much of the terrible, Nero-style dubstep, James Blake burns a lasting CMYK imprint on the listener's brain. It's a shame that he seems to be heading in a bit of a naff new direction - 'Limit To Your Love' is decent and all that, but at the end of the day it's just a man covering a Feist tune, but a bit stripped-back. 'CMYK' is a lot more exciting.

5. Gyptian - Hold Yuh

"gyal you give me the tightest hold me eva seen in my life"

Long before it was officially released on these shores as 'Hold You' (rather than 'Yuh'), I first discovered this track by reading an article dedicated to it in the Guardian. I know that my choice of newspaper may now leave my credibility in tatters as far as judging dancehall/reggae is concerned, but seeing the author exalt 'Hold Yuh' to the ranks of such modern reggae classics as 'Welcome To Jamrock' and 'No Letting Go' piqued my interest. Described as a "slowburn hit", I prepared myself to not be blown away upon first listen - and I wasn't. In fact, it took a few listens for the understated genius of this track to sink in. But when I eventually 'got it', woah - I adored it. While my ears are a bit too Caucasian and Guardian-reading to actually decipher many of the lyrics, it's the manner in which they're sung - brimming with soul and passion - that makes the impact. The enchanting piano pattern could just as easily belong to an early rave anthem if sped up a bit and plonked on some house beats, but as it is it's bewitchingly simplistic, holding the whole tune together with effortless class. The lack of any major other accompaniment, save for some restrained bass and percussion, ensures that 'Hold Yuh' is a dancefloor classic that's actually fairly hard to dance to.

4. Letherette - In July Focus


While there are obviously words being sung, they're tantalisingly indecipherable in Letherette's sublime 'In July Focus'. Or at least they are for me, do feel free to have a crack at them yourselves. I find it hard to write about this song without descending in to gushing, sickly-sweet clichéd superlatives, but it really is just that blissfully disarming. The primary description that comes to mind when I try to detail the nature of the vocals is that they're like a chorus of golden angels whispering sweet nothings in my ear, which is hardly the kind of inventive language that's going to land me the job of Music Editor at The Independent on Sunday. But seeing as I'm not actually applying for that job at this present moment in time, I may as well persist with my shiny happy descriptions. This sounds like the kind of music that Bambi would produce had he not descended in to a life of drugs and crime after his mum died, and instead chosen to make instrumental hip-hop. In case you're still wondering, yes, I was talking about Bambi the animated Disney deer there, not some obscure rapper from Queens that I'm expecting everyone to have heard of or anything like that. Just get off my back, OK? And hurry up and give me that Indie on Sunday job, I needs the scrilla aiight?

"beam me up, beam me up, beam me up, beam me uptown"

Permanent Vacation should really give themselves a jolly good pat on the back. They're the label responsible for 'Coma Cat', Azari & III's 2009 belter 'Reckless With Your Love', and this, possibly my favourite so far from their gloriously chic catalogue. While reports that in hidden Fijian bunkers teams of narcotics peddlers are busy compressing this song in to ecstasy tablet form are still unconfirmed, you'll definitely need some pretty potent sleeping aid to bring you down after the uncontainable euphoria of this re-rub of Midnight Magic's 'Beam Me Up' enters your bloodstream. If you've read everything up to here in this post you'll probably be weary of my incessant superlatives by now (these are my utmost favourite songs of the year, after all), but nigh on everything about this track is brilliant. If I had to pick the most brilliant part, I might say that the piano riff, which dances steadily and irresistibly along throughout, was the most brilliant. Or I might say that the soulful rapture of the vocals, soaring to heady crescendos before floating "back downtown", were the most brilliant. Or maybe the most brilliant bit is the trumpet part in the latter half of the track, reaffirming the song's status as a bona fide disco-house sensation. Nah, it's too hard to choose - it's just brilliant from start to finish.

2. The Hundred In The Hands - Dressed In Dresden

"you be bombed Berlin, and I'll play Stalingrad"

I've listened to a hell of a lot of music over the past year, so it takes something really quite special to make it in to this Top 10, let alone at number 2. There's also always the danger with lists such as these of falling in to the trap of favouring the more recent releases, as they're fresher in the mind. However, 'Dressed In Dresden' is a song that I first heard right at the end of 2009, and its appeal over the past twelve months hasn't waned in the slightest. Featured on the '2010 From Warp Records' promo that the label released as a kind of sampler for the year ahead, this was a song that very much had me at "hello", if "hello" translates in to musical terms as "a tight, catchy guitar riff". My full-on indie-loving ways may now be a thing of the past, but here was guitar music that got me really excited. Of course, it's not just your bog-standard indie fare here - with only two members of the band, there's evidently some electronic trickery at play to create such a layered sound. On top of the pulsating, techno-y drum beat there are a number of fluttering polyrhythms that bound around the track under the jagged guitar and WW2 references of the lyrics, which themselves are engagingly cryptic but strikingly ardent nonetheless. This initial offering from THITH was pleasingly followed by a solid album around the middle of the year, but while the new tracks did nothing to disappoint, 'Dressed In Dresden' still blitzes them all - if you'll pardon the pun.

1. oOoOO - NoSummr4U

"maybe, we can fall in love"

It's been quite an interesting year for pop music. Dubstep has "gone pop", courtesy of Magnetic Man, Katy B, et al (unfortunately that 'et al' is just used in the regular sense, and isn't an abbreviation of Hyetal, who's great but is some way off making an imprint on the mainstream). Pop has been gifted arguably one of its defining albums of all time this year, in the form of Kanye's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', while the current Queen of Pop, Lady Gaga, has smashed all number of different records over the past twelve months. There's a strong prospect that not one, but two tracks of complete silence will have featured in the UK Top 40 by the time the clocks tick over into 2011, and this year saw The Beatles launch an assault on the charts for the first time in 40 years thanks to their eventual deal with iTunes.

"Yeah, what's ya point?" I hear you murmur, wearily. Well, the point is that 2010 has also seen pop music start to be dragged down from its glitzy perch in to the murky depths of the underground. R&B in particular has found its glamorous mansions being pillaged by eager dubstep and garage producers - we need look no further than number 6 in this list to spot evidence of such antics. But now seems as good a time as ever for the admission that I'd been trying to prolong as much as possible: I don't actually know how the hell you say the name of the artist responsible for my favourite song of the past year - oOoOO. I've read somewhere that it's simply pronounced 'Oh'. Let's go with that. Known outside of his ridiculously unconsumer-friendly moniker as Christopher Dexter Greenspan (but even then that's not his real name), this is an artist who has invariably been shoved under the 'witch-house' label to describe his music. Even if you're aware of what the term means, ignore it. I'm not a fan of the constant genre-bashing that goes on - "you can't call that dubstep!"; "how is this techno?!" - as often it's quite nice and useful to be able to group various pieces of music under one umbrella term, but oOoOO's is a style of music that's best defined by the man himself, rather than by others who are insistent on witch-housing him. Labelling his music, "pop music for the unconscious", and stating an affinity closer to Britney and Christina than with any other witch-house dwellers, this is a man who clearly has a love for the mainstream.

'NoSummr4U' is a stupefying song. Squirming in to existence with a dank smothering of synths and brooding kick drums, it sets out its stall as the most distortedly despondent 'pop' you're ever likely to hear. A series of tumbling arpeggios shoot from the gloom, brushing it with flashes of illumination like distant fireworks in an industrial wasteland. Then the vocals: take me, take me to the water, summertime, summertime, maybe, we can fall in love. Perhaps a little flat when read in print, but when they're seeping out of your headphones, in one instant haunting, in another comforting and silky, you can quite easily forget where you are. As further lyrics emerge, the end sound of "I listen to the rain outside" reverberates ad infinitum back in to the shadows from whence it sprung, as if consigned to a life of perpetual resignation. This is a running theme of oOoOO's work: with a deep love for that which fills commercial radio, his music is a mournful, reflected take on pop music, like an echo that's destined to always linger in the shadowy depths of the cave rather than leap directly from the source.

As this is getting rather lengthy and I've essentially just been paraphrasing myself for the past few lines (from a review I wrote of his 'oOoOO EP', which doesn't even feature this track), I'll wrap things up there. If you've read the entirety of this post in one sitting, then by God you deserve the several bottles of wine that I'm gonna buy you through sheer amazement. If you've ploughed through it all in several bite-size chunks then that is still no less of an impressive feat, and I really am extremely grateful and appreciative to anyone who's bothered reading everything on this page. The sane ones among you will probably have scrolled straight to the bottom to see what was number one, probably contorted your face in to a mixture of bemusement and disinterest, and then got outta here sharpish. In which case you're probably no longer reading this, so it's suffice to say that I went down on all your mothers last night.

Once my hand has recovered from the extreme cramp and agony that it will find itself in once I've finally put this post to bed, I'll compose another entry in a bit about my Top 10 Favourite Albums of the year. So that's something to look forward to, eh?



  1. Jack: yes mate. Pleased to see almost nothing I know on this, next week'll be one of joyful discovery and accidentally dancing on the street. I made the error of looking for my keys last week as the drop to 'Regret Making Mistakes' kicked in and ended up sliding around my doorstep like a surprised, gurning crab. S'been exhausting getting to all this gold while the links are still fresh, but worth it. Good job. As far as additions go, I've no idea when these were released but Cricket Scores by Boy 8-bit and Tu M'intruigues by a man called General Electrics made my year between them.

    Oh and you owe me a case of wine.

  2. yes jack! thats a bad boy list, that oOoOO tune is massive, as are most of them. check the eldoko remix of CMYK aswell if you havnt already. not to sure about kele and tine tempah though, they're most definately both waste. also no ramadanman? glut? work them? put it back remix? void 23? and yeah rude boy is a big tune, produced by pendulum, didnt think they were capable of writing anything non cunt. my 10 no order. homework - i got one (mercury remix, girl unit - wut, crystalised (jamie jones remix), falty dl - my friends will always say, crystal castles - empathy, james fox - put it back (ramadanman remix), TEED - garden, beam me up (jacques renault remix), husky rescue - they are coming (warrior one remix), Tomika - del cielo (rene bourgeois remix), coma cat STANDARD. is that 10? i dont know. see you at christmas. safe.

  3. I have thoroughly enjoyed going through this list and feel as if my ears have been filled with quite a few tiny nuggets of gold.