You know, I don’t write about music much, even though I write reams about comics, tv, films and webcams given half a chance. It’s probably because I don’t read much music journalism these days, and even when I did, I didn’t. Still, since I largely rely on the recommendations of others to guide me to music I like, here are some of my recommendations. The links are almost all to YouTube – I was going to make a Spotify list, but half of my choices aren’t even on there, so that’s a waste of time.
Also, the fact that Kieron Gillen’s latest indispensible (and, sometimes, indefensible) top 40 tracks of the year went up today is largely a coincidence – I wrote most of this before Christmas, but his going up today made me realise I should finish my own similar offering before 2011 gets too far in. Although, I was kind of pleased to share a couple of choices with him, since his musical taste is far wider and more developed than mine can ever hope to be, and I haven’t even heard of 90% of the bands on his, let alone listened to the actual songs. Still, without further disclaimer, here are my favourite 10 tracks from 2010:
1. Empire Ants – Gorillaz
I loved the last Gorillaz album from the get-go, but Plastic Beach burned more slowly. It’s a cut & paste affair, and the working title of “Carousel” accurately describes the way the album defies attempts to really understand it all in one go. It takes a few spins before you can really build a picture of what’s going on. The moment I knew I was going to like the album came in this track, seventh on the album, about halfway through the song. It’s one that, for me, pulls together all the themes of Plastic Beach, covering environmentalism, urban decay and isolation. Stick some headphones on, turn the volume up and give it a listen. You’ll know the good bit when you get to it.
MORE: Broken, Rhinestone Eyes (Gorillaz, Plastic Beach) / Revolving Doors (Gorillaz, The Fall)
2. Rainbow in the Dark (Anamanaguchi Remix) – Anamanaguchi / Das Racist (My Skateboard Will Go On Single)
Having grown up with my head nailed to a Commodore 64, I love chiptunes without any pretense. Good chiptunes are hard to find, but Anamanaguchi produce some of the best. Das Racist, meanwhile, embody my love of intelligent, alternative rap music. Admittedly, it does have its tongue so deep in its cheek that it’s a wonder they can speak at all, let alone rap, but their reference-laden, stream-of-consciousness style makes for a rewarding listen, particularly if you’re as lyrics-obsessed as I am. Full of swerves and fake-outs, this track works through such topics as Saved by the Bell, french cheese, Harold and Kumar and Donkey Kong Country, and directly references several other tracks on their album. Far from being a simple remix, Anamanaguchi’s new beat actually adds to the track’s context, being referential in itself. Brilliant.
MORE: Airbrushed (Anamanaguchi, Single) / All Tan Everything (Das Racist, Sit Down Man)
3. Celestica – Crystal Castles
Like many of my favourite records, Crystal Castles’ second album didn’t really click with me until I saw it live, but when it did – wow. Best gig I went to this year, easily. The one thing that hooked me straight away was Celestica, which was the first single and thus a bit more tuneful than its album-mates. It’s also unusually ethereal and sparse, and the lyrics have an almost expressionist, poetic simplicity to them. That’s what keeps it interesting for me, inviting interpretation with every listen. The whole album is good, but it’s this one I’m most likely to pick out for a solo listen.
MORE: Baptism / Empathy (Crystal Castles 2010) Not In Love [w/Robert Smith] (Single)
4. 70 Million – Hold Your Horses!
Uhoh, look out! French rock music! I was introduced to this track through Adam Buxton’s music video showcase, BUG. The promo is based on a clever idea, and is brilliantly executed. In fact, it’s such a good idea I’m a little surprised not to have encountered it before (and it makes me wish someone would do a version using comicbook panels). Look out for my personal favourites, Caravaggio’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Does it bear much relation to the song? Not really, but luckily I like that too. It might be just because the lyrics are English written by French speakers, but every time I listen, I chip away at an interpretation. It’s like a puzzle I want to solve.
5. Ready to Start – Arcade Fire (The Suburbs)
The Arcade Fire are really good at songs containing barely-concealed subtext (See: Antichrist Television Blues off Neon Bible – working title, er, “Joe Simpson“) and I like getting the additional context that sort of thing brings. Want to hear the Arcade Fire deliver a message to their fans while they work out how to deal with their exploding popularity? Of course you do. The interesting thing about this song (and The Suburbs in general) is that it’s about twice as long as it wants to be – and yet it works, because that’s sort of the point. The whole album is about living in an oppressive cultural landscape, so of course it has to make you suffer a little bit when you listen to it.
MORE: We Used to Wait / Empty Room (The Suburbs)
6. Black Sheep – Metric (Scott Pilgrim OST)
If I was doing a top 10 films list for this year, Scott Pilgrim would probably place five times. Metric’s contribution was the high point of the film’s already strong soundtrack. I really want them play it live whenever I next see them, just so I can pretend, for one moment, to be watching The Clash at Demonhead. That said, there’s something about it, musically, which is just pure Metric. I think Fantasies saw them really grow into themselves as a band, and Black Sheep is like everything they learnt on that whole album distilled into one song.
7. Potato Cakes – mc chris (mc chris Goes to Hell)
More alternative hip-hop! mc chris (lowercase, no dots) does lots of things well, but his best songs are almost invariably the ones which translate relationship angst (in this case, highschoolers working at a fast food restaurant) into comic tragedies. It’s possible his sense of humour might turn you off. Or his cartoonishly high-pitched voice. Or his electropop beats. But if it does, that’s your problem, because I love it. Plus, it’s got an X-Men reference. How could I not like it?
8. Favourite Food – Tokyo Police Club (Champ)
It’s a long way from songs about robots enslaving humanity, or burying yourself alive next to your mother’s grave, but Tokyo Police Club’s second full-length album is original and imaginative nonetheless. The song itself is about aging, although at a level that Tokyo Police Club (or, indeed, I) have yet to reach, which is what makes it so good – it translates an experience I’ve never actually had into a song, and delivers it fully-formed into my brain. Also, opening your album with a song that takes this long to get going takes confidence, and I love it for that too.
MORE: Breakneck Speed, Bambi (Champ)
9. Tik Tok – Ke$ha (Animal)
Like about 30% of the music I’ve listened to over the last 5 years, this one started life in the “ironic” pile after I caught it on some godawful late-night freeview music channel, and slowly worked its way into my regular rotation. By the time the Simpsons used it for their intro, I was already enough of a fan to find it fucking hilarious, while other people were massively outraged (although, if you’re watching the Simpsons these days, massive outrage is the only emotion you should expect to feel anyway). Everything about this song (lyrics about partying, gratuitous use of chiptune, vocals that are halfway between speaking and rapping, vocoder/autotune, Lady Gaga-lite chorus, a breakdown that has NOTHING to do with the rest of the song, MOBILE PHONE REFERENCES) means it should be unambiguously awful, but for that reason, I kind of can’t resist its utter horrendousness.
MORE: Your Love is My Drug (Ke$ha, Animal) – but only so you can understand: I heart Drugs (mc chris, Single)
10. Ready to Go 2010 – Republica (Single)
BACK AND READY TO GO. STILL. As one of the few people stupid enough to be a Republica fan and buy their second album for full-price, I was glad to hear the band had re-formed to re-record their big hit so that it could continue to be re-mixed after the original masters were lost. Truly, there is no purer artistic reason for a band to get back together. I almost went to their sole London gig for old time’s sake / just to see what a fucking mess it was going to be, but it fell in a 4-day period when I was going to a Den of Geek Quiz, and to see MF DOOM and Crystal Castles, so I bailed out. God help me, I somehow acquired a bootleg of it though.
MORE: Please, no more.
Oh, and if you enjoyed this (or, at least, if you made it all the way to the end of this) you might also like to read mine & Seb’s TOP COMICS OF 2010 series.