A typical year.
For most of 2015, I didn’t think I was going to write this.
As we moved increasingly into 2016, I suspect you didn’t think I would either.
But no, I’m not just listening to Radio 6 and tap-tap-tapping my curated playlists, though for most of 2015 I thought otherwise. Pleasure was bleached from my neophile leanings in pop music. I didn’t want to do that any more. I hated that part of me. Part of me smiled at the irony – that I had created WicDiv as a ritual to get over my own sorry ass, and it was working. As I said last year, Be Careful What You Wish For. I was never careful about my wishes. I suspected that was it. There wouldn’t be another tracks of the year.
There was a moment about ¾ of the way through 2015 when I heard a record. I stared at the speakers in sheer amazement that this was possible and realised… no, that is beautiful, and you have need to write about that experience, if only for the last time. And if it IS the last time, that’s also okay.
It is inevitably #1, as these lists are always tracks of THE YEAR rather than any pretence of objectivity or that this should mean anything else to anyone else other than yours truly. At least part of the slowness is just that, even with the epiphany I describe above, my heart hasn’t been in the place for this. If I need to relax – and most of my year, I have guarded that peace with paranoia – unlocking Pandora’s beatbox hasn’t been my first instinct.
Also, because it would be work. I was aware that even with my scratch list needed work, and I had to do the research to see what else I was missing. I ended up deciding that was never going to happen. As such, this list is even more ramshackle than usual. But it is a list, and exists, and that counts for something.
(Hell, by accidentally clicking on a friend’s 2015 list, I realised I forgot to include Sleater Kinney’s No Cities To Love, and thrown it in. There is a lot of No Cities To Love, I suspect. But hey – this is a bunch of fun music.)
The rules remain. 1 track per artists. Artists who have multiple tracks I love gets one picked and boosted. Artists who collaborate with multiple people can have multiple places (So Robyn could get it for her solo work and her work with Royksopp, back in the day). It has to have been ACTIVE last year in some way, so singles that released in 2014 and only came to my attention in 2015 when they dropped on an album would get in. And “tracks” doesn’t mean “Any bit of music” not just “Singles” though it usually does.
It is written quickly, to ensure it is happened, and is insufficiently proofread (i.e. it has not been proof-read at all. Hell, it has not been RE-read at all.)
I also cheat a lot to keep flow of argument. Also, being as late as it has been, 2016 has warped 2015 more than usual. Hell, I’ve just had the wonder of Thought Bubble’s dance floor. I am broken.
One more time, at least in this format.
The Spotify Playlist is here. 39/40 are on it, I believe.
40) Delirious – Susan Sundfor
I love this, but not enough to work out how to do a strike-through “o” on this keyboard. Also, when I failed to write “23” by it when going through and numbering all the essays, it meant to give it its correct position I’d have to re-number everything else, and that sounds like a lot of work. Let’s start this as we mean to go on – completely incompetently.
She’s actually one of the artists who I wished I played much more this year, as what I’ve played I’ve adored, so going first in the list is perhaps appropriate. I’ve been in the pop witch mode a lot this year, and Sundfør haunts that cave elegantly. Yes, I cut and pasted that ø directly off the electric internet. I am the worst.
39) Bitch Better Have My Money – Rihanna
I’ve gone off this so much that it almost slipped off this list. It simply no longer convinces me… but I liked it a lot at release, and it’s not fault time has done tricks. The aggressive slump towards the end is a powerful aural drone though. Yeah, you can stay.
38) Carrion Flowers – Chelsea Wolfe
I don’t think I was writing Uber to this, but I probably should have been. A brutal melancholic drone, a funeral march for a casket called hope. File in that Fever Ray space of songs for playing on the road to hell.
37) Should Have Known Better – Surfjan Stevens
I may have been listening to a lot of Radio 6 this year. I told you I was giving up on music.
(The bit from about 3 minutes to four minutes where it unravels. Oh yes.)
36) Rainy Day Record – Mercury Rev
I really HAVE been listening to a lot of Radio 6.
35) Last Year – Joanna gruesome
I think any year Joanna Gruesome release a track they’d end up on this list, solely on strength of their pun name. For the part of me which is perpetually falling down the steps in a shitty indie dive, at some point between 1983 and 2006.
34) Go Out – Blur
A self-parodically blur blur record, smartly leaning to the ancient lethargy of their finest early work, which was always a better bet to age better. They were always a band who understood the power of taste.
33) Persephone Dreams – NZCA Lines
32) Bad Place For A Good Time – Kate Tempest
I fell in love with Circles this year, but that was 2014, so let’s do this to get my local girl Kate a mention. Circles structurally was its best when its form married its purpose, chasing itself in circles, but this is more a framing and a mood. Brings to mind the Specials doing Say Nothing, the Streets kicking rubbish down the street wishing it was garbage, and I think of the skip across time and how nothing changes as long as there’s a Britain to drown you in dog piss.
31) Air – Waxahatchee
Actually, I think this is going to get kicked off the list as much as I like its plaintive mildly-country-mode, it features the lyric “I left you out like a carton of milk.” No, you don’t get to do that and get on this list.
Actually, it does. The band who were clearly trying to “do” the Sleigh Bells got kicked off when I realised that they were also dressing as them, which just made it weird.
30) Ship To Wreck – Florence + The Machine
Until this year, the latest I’ve ever done one of these was Glastonbury weekend. The last time that happened, I wrote half of it while it was playing – primarily the Arctic Monkeys, which prompted a particularly rambling vintage of nonsense. In 2015, the only band I remember watching on Glastonbury was Florence. I watched the set, and saw what this rapture in a summer dress was doing to the crowd, the relationship between her and her smallest gesture and thousands of people and I didn’t even smile. It was a simple nod, a recognising of what she did, and that was the place of it, and Stadium Rock’s purpose can be glorious if engaged with sufficient belief, and she had enough belief to power a sun.
Ship to Wreck’s recorded version is a shadow of that live incandescence – but a shadow by an atom bomb burns itself into walls.
29) Sharks – Best Boy Grips
I’m a fan of songs which delve into the universal issues we can all understand. Relevantly, what bastards those Sharks are. They JUST WON’T LEAVE MY FRIENDS ALONE. What is WRONG! With those SHARKS! WTF!? WTF!???! PISSED OFF WITH SHARKS!
28) I Don’t Wanna Wait Til Christmas – Summer Camp
Despite the new album, this is what I came back to with Summer Camp, even way before Christmas, even way afterwards. For those who are perpetually Christmas Single.
27) No Cities To Love – Sleater Kinney
Oh, I nearly forgot you, you beautiful feminist punk rock shouty thing, you. But you’re here now, safe in the list, and I will care for you, now and for always.
26) The Answer – Savages
A rumble deep in the throat which acts as John the Baptist to 2016’s Adore – a shoe-in for Top 2016’s list, if I ever did it – but carries that confident stride which inspires Certain Characters in Certain Popular Comics About Gods. It sweeps over my skin, and I feel like I’m made of PVC and truth.
25) Shame – Young Fathers
A cheat, as I only got into them after the Massive Attack gig this year, but hearing this in front of a big crowd a few days after Brexit, complete with a dedication aimed at those responsible, was one hell of a thing.
In passing, just to make sure I write it somewhere, that gig was a surprise. You go to any band who’s been operating for 25 years and you expect in some way to work in nostalgia. This was a sharp reminder of exactly why Massive Attack worked, their implicit and extrinsic politics. Of all the British bands I’ve loved in my life, Massive Attack at their best embody the very best of what I love about Britain. It’s also the part of Britain was voted against in 2016. Shame on you.
24) The Generation That No-one remembered – Indelicates
Similarly this, in the same week of 2016 and the opposite in aesthetics. A gig with a Kenickie covers band, a gender-flipped Sisters of Mercy cover band and the Indelicates. Anti mass culture. The micro-scene. I talked to Eddie Argos about it a few months later. He was over from Berlin for the night, and noted that basically everyone he hoped to see was in that cramped Camden room. Put it like this: I suspect 75% of the people who ever bought a copy of the Vichy Government’s Luke Haines Is Dead were in there. The Indelicate are, as always, smart in a way to exactly express their anger, with the extra two-inches of smart which has always prevented them ever being bigger than one of my favourite cult bands on the plant. The light, we see where it’s going, and all we can do is rage.
The Massive attack kind of gig is why anyone cares about Phonogram. The Indelicates kind of gig is why I had no choice but to write Phonogram.
23) Mission Desire – Jane Weaver
Midnight tossing of a record, with possible stress on the word “tossing.” That sort of joke is 100% against the song’s sexual, dreamlike intent. How it moves between soft and hard, with tiny keening infections.
22) Head and Shoulders – Leftfield/Sleaford Mods
Leftfield doing their inevitable act with the Sleaford Mods. They were one of the bands I finally got around to exploring in the year, and their street doggerel poetry mode obviously after ideal for the Leifieldian mode of marrying unique pop voices to their electronics (First obviously being the peerless-but-now-I-think-of-it-that-actually-got-peered-a-lot Open Up with Lydon.) I like this a lot, but was pretty much indoctrinated into it via the medium of listening to 6 Music too much. Have I mentioned that?
21) Learning To Relax – Dan Deacon
This makes me imagine a remake of the Snowman, when rather than some dude shaped snow, a child is taken by the hand by the fevered ghost of Britain’s industrial revolution and taken on a soaring journey across a country laced by railtracks, like corsettary for a country.
So I’ll go with “evocative.” And “Kieron is on the metaphorazine again.”
20) Tutti Fruitti – New Order
First heard on (surprise) Radio 6, when Sheret and I were doing some of our hipsterhammering. New Order have never exactly been one of my bands, in terms of deep knowledge, so I just presumed it was something I didn’t know. And then La Roux comes in her updated femme take on Sumner’s inspired bored doggerel and we both go “OH!”
I know that La Roux is the band name, btw. It’s Elly Jackson. I’m lying, I had to google it. I’m the worst! FAKING BEING CLEVER ABOUT MUSIC FOR 29 YEARS AND COUNTING!
19) Black Magic – Little Mix
Good to see that in the year of Phonogram being led to the guillotine that Pop Idol’s finest did a tribute record. Thanks, Little Mix. You’re the greatest.
18) You & I Alone – Daphne & Celeste
The loudest pop-related yelp of the year was birthed from waking up in an Emerald City Con Hotel room and Jamie telling me that Daphne & Celeste had released a new single, and more so, it was produced by our friend Max Tundra, and he had somehow avoided telling us about it at Sleater Kinney the month before. We are a long way from Ooh, Stick You here, and I like that.
I also like that this would be on it without history, if I had just randomly came across this. Micro-indie pop, like Sugababes’ first album stripped of the budget and doused in the shredded fragments of mid-90s British Sonic The Hedgehog clones. Imagine If Magic Pockets was actually a good game, and became a cult classic, and then the Bitmaps did a credible reboot for 2015. This would be the soundtrack.
Okay, no-one but me is going to get that mass of references, right?
17) Sorry – Justin Bieber
The smartest move in a song full of smart moves is stressing how much that Bieber’s not just missing her body underlines that it’s almost certainly only her body she’s missing, or if not that, maybe her body and how amazing her head was. There are some things that if you have to say, only draws attention to them. “Fuckboy” was one of the words that haunted 2015, and this is pure fuckboy. I don’t believe it for a second, but I love how the act is performed, how the production sells it, the soft swell of the beat’s arousal and so on and so forth.
16) Hotline Bling – Drake
I only realise when writing the list this is the aesthetic opposite of Sorry – Sorry being a song that stresses at length that it’s not just about the sex, which only makes it clear that it’s about the sex, and Hotline Bling being a song entirely concentrates on the hedonism and the sex, only to make it entirely clear that she’s a splinter beneath Drake’s skin that nothing can get out. In terms of a compare/contrast examination, it seems very 2015.
I may actually prefer Sorry to this, but I’m putting it afterwards so that essay makes sense. I’m also oddly only writing about lyrical concern and performance rather than sonics, which seems odd when that’s so much of the appeal here.
15) Levitate The Pentagon – Publicist UK
Biggest pop regret of this year so far was not going to see the reformed Lift To Experience, just because I was too fucking tired, and if there’s one thing which I can be sure of nodding off in is a seated gig with instrumental 10+ minutes apocalyptic post rock records. Lift were on my mind in part of Publicist UK, brought to my attention by Tim Seeley, who are actually much closer to the Killing Joke/Sisters of Mercy axis than anything else, but do their attempt at an Eldritchian monologue in the middle, and it brings Lift To Experience’s own visionary rants, curdled into basic cynicism. “Your tombstone will read: I tried. I failed. Only god and everyone else can and should judge me.”
So – er – a happier year than 2014, but not alwys. Inevitably, also jumped immediately onto the WicDiv playlist.
14) When I Rule The World – Liz
Candy-overdose dominatrix pop, and that’s my sentence’s way to avoid writing something properly about SOPHIE again. I am the worst.
13) WTF – Missy Elliot
This beauty did precisely what you’d hope Missy would be dropping this year. Jamie played it last year at Thought Bubble, far too close to its release to get full effect, but still tore the place up.
I’m also reminded of the second moment I think from last year’s Tbubz DJ set. The first was the playing-music-for-DMC-to-rap-over aspect, which was basically a once in a lifetime experience. The other was, about an hour before the end, someone requesting something. I don’t remember what it was, but we didn’t have it, and I was apologetic. She then said “Can you play something someone could fucking dance to?” At which point, I just froze.
Missy’s Get UR Feak On was playing.
My brain went to “I’d like to explain how this is one of the best pop records of my lifetime. Give me half an hour of your time” place, but I actually just said “No, I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to play you’d like”
So yeah. That Seth bingo guy. Where did he come from, eh?
12) Kill vs Maim – Grimes
Talented cover artist turns out to be a pretty good pop star. Who’d have thunk it?
11) I Really Like You – Carly Rae Jepsen
As 1989 was to 2014, this was my haircut friends’ choice for pop album of the year. By the end of the year, was even pushed into “actually, it’s much better than Tay” position. It was safely not a huge hit by then, so it’s always an easy bet.
But still: I really really really really really really really like it.
10) No-one’s Bothered – Sleaford Mods
I’m bothered, Sleaford Mods. I really really really really really really really like you.
9) Bad Blood – Taylor Swift
The joy of the long-campaign model is that I can get stuff I love two years in a row. Of the singles from this year Bad Blood and Out Of The Woods were my Manichean jams. Which one to include? Well, I mentioned Out of the Woods in passing last year, which means it was in last year’s list. So let’s include a song which proves itself ideal for the times when your toxic friendships needs an upbeat sound-track.
8) Pedestrian At Best – Courney Barnett
Trashy insouciance of the kind that you have to practise extremely hard to convince so well at not giving a fuck. The rambling flow of thought, half-ideas, snarls, eye-rolls, and guitar that doesn’t even bother to aspire to be sloppy. Glorious. Kim Pine’s Solo Project writ large, making Scott Pilgrim all kinds of jealous by how much of airplay she’s getting on Radio 6.
7) Baby Love – Petite Meller
I’m glad I don’t have to have professional opinions about music any more so I don’t have to say whether I think the video is problematic or not. I came to this as a pure burst of sound which I dug from literally the first half second, and was in love by the eighth second, where Meller breathes that first word.
This rehydrated me every time I’ve heard it, and I have absolutely no idea why I haven’t dropped it into a DJ set yet.
6) The Devil In His Youth – Protomartyr
Forwarded from Rossignol, thinking it was my kind of thing. Jim is not often wrong. Big rolling post-punk rumble which recasts Lucifer into standard suburban ennui, the great adversary kicking his way down crappy streets, and trying to process that that sullen resentment into weaponized uranium.
Clearly, found its way onto the WicDiv playlist in about three seconds.
5) On The Regular – Shamir
Yeah, a cheat mode inclusion, but pvery much the sort of song you can’t believe they released in October 2014. Drop it in April. BIG SUMMER HIT. If Al Ewing doesn’t play it at the weekend, Jamie will. If Jamie doesn’t, I will.
I wrote that bit before the party. Al did. Al knew exactly what to do.
4) Leave a Trace – CHVRCHES
Would be included for one of my favourite lyrics of the year, but it’s so much more. The stately control of it, the power of turning away, of speaking, of looking in the eye for the last time and moving on. A fuck you song which admits its own flaw is just precious, and the build towards the chorus in deep breaths, and the statement, and oh god yes, pop music. POP MUSIC!
The line? “You speak too much for someone so unkind” which I’ve used as a go-to mantra to keep in my head when I’m counting to ten.
3) Go! – Public Service Broadcasting
I didn’t have a playlist for writing Darth Vader, except a joke one consisting of the Imperial March about a dozen times. But if I connect any song to writing it, it’d be this, which I had a tendency to put on repeat when I was doing the final tweaks on a script (usually on a Friday.) Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
Clearly, it tickles my Telstar itch, which is basically my G-spot.
2) Ha Howa Ha Howa – Sexwitch
I believe I opened my set at Thought Bubble 2015 with this.
(I did the opening set, at about 8pm, before anyone should be dancing in the venue, so was all about setting mood, so figured fuck it. Except by 30 minutes in, people were already on the dancefloor, forcing me to abandon my “Hey, let’s play the PeeChees plans.”)
Natasha Bat For Lashes teams up with TOY, and oddly gets her first position I can think of in this tracks of the year list, which seems a surprise. I’ve tended to come to her relatively late. Anyway – this was an instant crush, from the second it saunters across the room. I can’t think of another song that is so full of sex and love and treats it so ambivalently. The core endlessly circling mantra “He addicted me/I addicted him” sounds simultaneously like the best and worst thing in the world, and simultaneously doesn’t want it and craves for it with every molecule in their body.
It sounds like exceedingly good sex music, but for the sort of sex that can only end in disaster.
1) Alright – Kendrick Lamar
The song as mentioned in the intro, causing the head turn and just stare in amazement at the speakers, overwhelmingly aware of what sound was capable of doing, and the knowledge that, no, things are not the same, but “not the same” is not something to be afraid of, and that humans can create things like THIS means that whatever the future holds, it holds things like THIS, and you don’t need any more than that. You don’t need to write a list like this to prove your love. You have nothing to prove. It’s mistaking going to church for faith, a retired cartographer thinking that not making maps any more means that the mountains any less inspiring, the chasms any less terrifying.
Ironically, the moment which reminded me that it was love of art which matters not writing my usual mass of scripture, made me realise that I did want to do this. Clearly not THAT much – I’ve been busy, but if I wanted to, I’d have found time if it was fun. Put simply, the part of my brain which writes music criticism is not part that I find relaxing any more – but another part of me would be dissatisfied if I simply didn’t do it. I am a creature of ritual, and I end rituals with another ritual, or it feels incomplete. Part of me thinks that’s reasonable – we have funerals for a good reason. The other part of me knows that an over-ritualisation of life leads me into places which are not necessarily good or sustainable, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.
So, that’s all a work in progress, and that’s fine, as that’s all anything will ever be. I actually prefer King Kunta, but these lists were never really about objective merit. This was an important, quiet moment, and when I say that pop music saved me, I’m thinking of moments like this, when I heard a song and the world re-arranged in a way which improved my life in ways which words can never quite express, though god knows I’ve tried.
It was playing on Radio 6.
Thanks for reading.