Category Archives: music

Top 10 Singles of ’10

Like every self-respecting pop anorak I have been doing this for years. Writing lists of my favourite records at the end of each year, that is. Now, at last, the Internet has made it possible for me to share this information with you – the whole world! (Aren’t you lucky?) So here is my Top 10 for the year of our Lord 2010.

And they’re singles, ok, not ‘tracks’.

10. GOLDFRAPP ‘Alive’

Easily the best thing on the rather ho hum I-love-1980 Head First album.

9. JANELLE MONAE  ‘Tightrope’

I could take or leave all the conceptual I am-an-android baggage that came with her album. The single though was a hip-swivvlin’, finger wagglin’ delight

8. TINIE TEMPAH  ‘Pass Out’

One skittling hook, a dash of Auto Tune and that immortal line about Scunthorpe. So good it makes you want to visit Scunthorpe.

7. AVI BUFFALO  ‘What’s In It For?’

Ahh, remember May? Those languid early summer evenings when we still thought England might win the World Cup, it looked like we might actually get a summer and for three weeks Avi Buffalo were the future of indie rock?

6. BIG BOI  ‘Shutterbugg’

The most surprising thing about the Sir Luscious Left Foot album was that people were surprised how good it was. Nice to hear Soul II Soul’s Back To Life referenced too.

5. FUGATIVE   ‘Crush’

I know of no one else who likes this, but frankly it’s the everyone else’s loss. The most insanely, brilliantly catchy song of the year.

4. KELIS  ‘Acapella’

Is it about finding God? Or having a baby? (Ye-uck!) Who cares? Like all good pop songs, Acapella is lyrically open ended enough to interpet as you wish and adapt to your own life. I know I did.

3. MINI VIVA  ‘One Touch’

A single so commercially disastrous it not only sunk the diminutive pop duo but may well have ended its producers’ glittering career into the bargain. Xenomania’s best song not recorded by Girls Aloud.

2. ARCADE FIRE  ‘The Suburbs’

I’d always despised Arcade Fire, largely for the way critics endlessly fawn over their tune-free barrage of misdirected bluster. With The Suburbs though the Montreal septet sounded like they’d finally discovered subtlely. There is a strange dislocated sense of loss and non-specific melancholy to the title track, a faded Polaroid of a song that looks back with regret and doesn’t exactly greet the future with a great deal of hope either.

1. PRIMARY 1 featuring NINA PERSSON    ‘The Blues’

Most pop is too obvious by half. So songs like this (and indeed the Number Two) that nail those confused, incoherent feelings that have yet to coalesce into thoughts are truly worth their weight in gold.  Against motorik drums and what sounds like a distressed clockwork toy Joe Florry and Persson intone wistfully ‘oh it’s me and it’s you, it’s just the blues.’ And sometimes it is, nothing more serious than the ache of time passing, of feelings, friends, life gradually receding day by day, week by week, year by year. No pop record this year, or even perhaps this century, has articulated this so accurately, so perfectly and so beautifully.

Hot Chip/ LCD Soundsystem @ Alexandra Palace 10/11/10

How do you grow old gracefully when you make dance music, a genre that more than any other is predicated on all that is youthful, reckless and carefree? It’s a question that many of us have (and will) continue to ponder, not least these two groups, whose members are all unlikely to see 29 again.

Hot Chip are dance music’s eccentric uncles; five (or six with drummer Rob ‘Grovesnor’ Smeaton) odd-looking fellows who bob excitedly behind their keyboards, sashay around between instruments and genuinely look like they’re having a lot of fun. The Chip template is well worn now and it’s all about grooves. They establish one, gradually build it up, embellish it with nagging little figures until resistance is utterly futile. Tracks like One Life Stand and Ready For The Floor are now as comfy as good pair of slippers and go down as easily tonight as a warm mug of cocoa.

While Hot Chip slip cozily into their dotage, James Murphy has come up with another, rather more drastic solution to impending irrelevance. Split up and leave ‘em wanting more. It’s a courageous move, especially as on tonight’s evidence LCD are still at the top of their game. Murphy complains about his croaky voice, but he more than rises to the occasion. All My Friends is wheeled out early, You Wanted A Hit sounds enormous and Someone Great brings a tear to the eye to many around me. Alas, the 11pm curfew means that whatever grand finale Murphy was planning is cut short and the set ends unsatisfactorily (but perhaps appropriately) with Home. And then LCD Soundsystem are gone, perhaps forever, to whatever afterlife lies out there for sardonic dance outfits.



Everything Everything @ The Scala 06/10/10

One of the more amusing verbal lashings the Gallaghers dished out a few years back was to Kele Okereke. The Bloc Party frontman had recently described a new band that had taken his fancy as being “interesting”, to which Noel guffawed ”‘it’s either good or bad. It either makes sense to your brain or it doesn’t. There’s no such thing as interesting.”

Noel would doubtless hate Everything Everything. He probably already does. This bunch of fookin’ students are the archetypal ‘interesting’ band and as such are being talked up as one of a clutch of newcomers attempting to forge a new path for the guitar band. A future that, you know, involves something a little more imaginative than adding a synth player.

They do try. Not one of the tracks aired tonight (all from the recent album Man Alive) have what you would describe as a conventional structure. Instead of trusty ol’ verse-chorus-verse Everything Everything have ‘interesting’ bits that are bolted together in some sort of sequence. Sometimes this works. But often it doesn’t, most notably when frontman Jonathan Higgs goes through his paces. The frontman has an impressive range, which goes down, UP! and tries-to-fit-too-many-words-into-one-line. He’s trying. But most of the time he’s just aggravating and his vocal gymnastics detract from the music. Despite being one the few indie vocalists who can actually sing there’s precious little soul here, with the exception of the gorgeous, stirring Weights. Most of these songs have an impressive surface but very little feeling.

One shouldn’t be too harsh though. One plus point is that unlike virtually every other new group you can’t immediately spot their influences. There’s a bit of XTC, a sprinkle of Peter Gabriel. Apparently, the guitarist has a background in (whisper it) jazz. And you get the feeling they’re going to be around for the long haul. Maybe once they stop trying so damn hard to be totally original they might ally their rhythmic nous and considerable arrangement skills to a decent tune, something that engages the heart rather than just the mind. Being merely interesting is hardly ever enough.

Paul McCartney @ Hyde Park 27/06/10

Ah, England in the summer time… Tonight has been the hottest day of the year so far. It’s also the day the national football team have been dumped unceremoniously out of the World Cup and I’m here in the centre of London watching another icon of ‘66 reprise his glory years, singing the songs that changed the world.

For that’s what we’re all here for. Hard to remember now but there was a time when Macca fought shy of his status as a member of the most succesful band of all time. Live, Wings hardly ever played any of his previous work and when he started touring again in the 90s Beatles tracks were only dropped in sparingly, as titbits for the fans.

Now they dominate the set. How could they not? Paul turned 68 last week. There won’t be many more chances to catch to see a living breathing Beatle in the flesh. And in his dotage he seems resigned to his role as a piece of living breathing history. To warm us up the preshow tape is cover versions of Fab hits, All My Loving is accompanied by scenes from Hard Day’s Night of the four laughing, running, inventing what a pop group is about.

Yet this being Paul McCartney the brilliance will always come served with a side dish of embarrasment. He greets us by asking ‘are we gonna have some rockin’ fun tonight?’He introduces one song in Jamiaican patois, and then at the end of every song raises his arms in the air in some sort of Macca victory salute. It’s hard not to wince a little. He knows he’s good and he’s always found it very hard to hide it. It’s why those attempts at coming over as the average joe are always so toe-curling, why he came up with the whole wacky thumbs aloft persona.

But then if I was able to dash off effortless-sounding pop at the drop of a hat maybe I would find it hard to hide my smugness. Unlike other legends the McCartney back catalogue is so extensive that forgotten corners of it can be still excavated and produce gems. Middling album tracks like I’m Looking Through You and I’ve Got A Feeling are dusted down. Even Let ‘Em In and Ob-La-Di Ob La-Da, the song that so enfuriated his old bandmates, sound great tonight. Granny friendly? Of course. In fact there’s a granny adjacent to me dancing to it. And sons, mums, twenty somethings and foreign students a-plenty.

Time and again this evening my thoughts were dragged back to the prediction Derek Taylor made on the Beatles For Sale sleeve that the kids of 2000 would still be listening to them. If anything Taylor was hedging his bets, for it’s now clear that theirs is a body of work that will resonate with us for as long as our species survives. In that context to see these songs performed by their author in the city where he wrote them was an absolute privilege.

The Drums @ Heaven 9/06/10

Back to Heaven again for the final date of the three night residency by one of the official ‘next big things’ of 2010. The Drums are a hideously young looking bunch of Americans whom I recently interviewed for Guitarist. I even gave their debut album 4 and a half stars out of 5. After tonight I feel like retracting that score, for this was one of those rare gigs where one particular aspect of the evening has almost completely put off the group.

Urgh, his name is lead singer Jonathan Pierce and tonight was one of the most cringemaking performances by a frontman I have ever witnessed. I should have known something was amiss when they started the show backlit, only for Jonathan to announce in exaggeratngly theatrical style ‘hello we’re the Drums and we’re from New York’.

Aren’t all bands from New York supposed to be cool? You know like the Velvets, Ramones and the Strokes (the band who drowned in a puddle of their own cool). Not this lot. The Drums come over as four tweebs with an unfortunate fetish for mid 80s UK indie pop. The worst offender by far is Pierce who has clearly wasted far too much of his time Youtubing The Smiths. He minces, sashays and generally camps around the stage like a young Morrissey on heat.  It’s truly excruciating and actively detracts from the music – snappy streamlined guitar pop that’s really quite catchy.

He doesn’t seem to realise that to pull this sort of persona off you need a little bit of distance from yourself. Morrissey of course had a showbiz wink to make us realise that it wasn’t for real. Jarvis Cocker always let the audience in on the secret and anyway his persona drew on the archetypes of the Northern working men’s club/ TV game show host. But when Pierce finishes waving his arms around after each song he thanks the audience from the bottom of his heart with what sounds like deeply-felt sincerity. He looks like he means it. He actually looks like a bit of a dick.

It’s a pity as the music is great. It’s still one of my favourite albums of the year. But if I was a member of the Drums I’d have a serious word with my singer and tell him to tone it down a bit. Either that or someone should shove a copy of Notes On Camp under his nose – this is a frontman who badly needs to acquire a pair of inverted commas.

Beach House @ Heaven 1/06/10

Don’t know about you but sometimes I like the idea of a band better than the band itself. I love Beach House’s central conceit: quirky-looking boy and girl conjure up woozy, languid drug music with little more than a battered old organ and a slide guitar. Tonight though that image ran up against a brick wall in the shape of a poor sound and a setting that was all wrong wrong wrong. Ideally, the best place for Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s fragile wistful dreampop would be a Victorian theatre in some peeling down-at-heel seaside resort. Coney Island, after a three day binge. Not some sweaty night club in central London. As people chatted around me and all the nuances and subtleties that are so sublime on record got lost in a muddy PA, the magic slowly dissipated and they just sounded…a bit boring. The crowd didn’t seem too bothered either – only Used To Be and Zebra (from their recent, third and best album Teen Dream) garnered much of a response this evening. I’m sure I caught my friend stifling a yawn at one point.

The best pop provides a tool to unlock your own imagination. But all too often real life is unable to repay the debt run up by such idle reverie. Somewhere deep inside my mind the waves are lapping, the sun is setting and Beach House are playing their fantasy gig. But it’s not here, not like this, not tonight.

Fantastic new record alert!

This is what blogs are for, aren’t they? Bigging up records that you like? I find it hard to believe that Radio One haven’t playlisted Crush, the current single by young UK rapper Fugative. Quite simply, the British public won’t hear a catchier single all year. One play and the chorus will be bouncing round your head from now til Christmas. If you listen to it too much (and I’ve had to ration myself to just one Youtube viewing a day) you feel like you’re overdosing on Refreshers.

I had never heard of Fugative until the other week when he turned up on Radio One’s Review show and tried to play it cool, claiming that he didn’t like most of the records and only listened to hip hop. The sign of a guilty conscience, methinks. Well, he shouldn’t feel guilty. If there’s any justice, and crucially, if Radio One do the decent thing, Crush will be huge this summer.

My favourite bit? ‘Workitoutworkitoutworkitout gurl!’

Blimey, does this now mean I’m a blogger?  And I’m part of (yeuch! Ugly phrase) the blogosphere? Oh dear.