The best singles of 2009: 21-30

21. Diversion Tactics "Can't Swim" (Boot, 12")

Interesting, really, that surely the UK's most winningly consistent hip-hop crew blaze not from Notts or inner London, but outta relentlessly suburban Guildford: kinda proof of the adage that it's never about where you're from, always where you're at. Anyway, after our appetite for their upcoming LP, "Careful On The Way Up", was whetted by last year's preview of the fearsomely good "No Collaborations", it was about time the mighty DT gave us a single, and this platter handily twins the uberdextrous lager-fuelled lyrical stomp of "Can't Swim" with an overdue return to MC Chubby Alcoholic's schooldaze, "Back To School".

"Swim" sees Jazz-T, whose "All City Kings" was one of the best LPs of '08, and Zygote, whose "Beats To Make You Frown" was one of the best of '06, produce as the inestimable Chubby fronts another fairly complete examination of alcohol addiction which knowingly plays off the confident - "the pub raconteur with the wit to embarrass you" - against the self-examining - "the functioning addict / guilt trip and bouts of panic". "School", meanwhile, will ring familiar enough to any of us revisiting their (strictly non-academic) secondary school curriculum (sample line: "if you can't stand the heat / then you faint in assembly"). Chubby's personality, as ever, fair bubbles into the grooves, but the key to Diversion Tactics remains the construction of the beats. This time it's none other than J-Zone who guests to provide the kinda pounding, funky beat you got on Cube's early "storytelling" cuts.

Looks like the LP should now be out early this '010, meaning it will join a long list of this fanzine's most anticipated (which also currently include Tender Trap, Standard Fare, Richgirl and Looking For An Answer...)

22. Kryptic Minds "768" (Tectonic, 12")

Clever, spinning dubstep from KM, especially when the nervy stringed synth chords propulse around its clicking, hypnotic groove and reverb-happy mid-bass. The flip is worth investigating for its typically considered take on Pinch and Moving Ninja's Tectonic Plates wonder, "False Flag".

23. Beatnik Filmstars "Slow Decay" (The Satisfaction Recording Company, 7")

"The BFs have been knocking out largely left-of-centre pop hits from their Bristol centre of gravity for decades now, but continue to mature like the finest of wines, and their latest slinky 7" ranks - but of course - with most of what they've done since "Maharishi" first crossed our path around the time of the Great Reform Act... a fantastically depressing lyric about the inevitability of disappointment sweetened - no, leavened - by the kind of vintage indie-folk that grows and grows on you until your record player is buried under creeping pop ivy. Or something... The natural follow-on from the mellow harmonics of their brilliant "Fez 72" album last year, this is another very special single."

Yes, Bristol no longer rocks, so much as shimmies by in a slo-fi haze. We mentioned the Inane's vulnerably tuneful "Touched By Time" the other day - a lost gem from 26 years ago - well, "Slow Decay" is also the sort of song we may yet bewail as a lost gem in 2035. So don't sleep on it until then.


24. The Hillfields "Afterburn" (Underused, download)

As is this.

"warm, brooding, with prowling bass and only faintly jingle-jangling guitar before post-thirlwall vocals swoop to decorate the cake with enigmatic slivers of verse, just as on their "a visit" cdr single on cloudberry, it reminds us a little of that first beloved album, indeed so many overlooked late 80s masterpieces..."

Can someone now please release a Hillfields single on vinyl ?


25. DJ Honda featuring EPMD "Never Defeat 'Em" (DJ Honda Recordings, download)

Here's something. Apparently none other than Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith (i.e. the legends that constitute two-man East Coast rhyme machine EPMD) played... wait for it... All Tomorrow's Parties this year, thanks to My Bloody Valentine's reliably eclectic tastes rather than those of ATP's normal catchment. We don't think it would be going out on a limb to install EPMD as the best band *ever* to play that august event, even in the company of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and MBV. Hell, if only we'd known, we'd probably have gone, given that EPMD seem generally to give these shores a wide berth: tragically, the warm-up gig they were going to do in London fell through (as all decent-looking hip-hop shows, it seems, do).

Anyway, in '08 we mentioned - somewhere in here - their "Blow" single and how excited we were about their forthcoming album. That record, in the end, flattered to deceive, but it did contain the Honda-produced (and Method Man-featuring) "Never Defeat 'Em" and there's no doubting that when let loose on the mic over something nicely old skool, Erick and Parrish have still got it. DJ Honda is the man for that, and so this "Never Defeat" gives them an extended verse each, winding up in less than two-and-a-half mins with a curt "it's all over: see ya!".

Contrary to what you might think, we don't salivate at the thought of tearing apart today's more saleable hip-hop artists: if Jay-Z or Eminem were releasing exciting albums we'd be more than happy to shout their names from these pages. But until that happens, we have no qualms about pointing you to songs like this, which *won't* change your world, but *will* make you greet E&P again and make you glad they're still IN BUSINESS.

26. Free Loan Investments "The Last Dance" (Fraction Discs, 7")

Gosh. Is it really seven years since "Ever Been To Mexico ?"

Anyway, the best indie-pop is always worth waiting for. The sort of music that gives you summershine rushes, goosebumps and an inner grin, that makes you feel like you're sprinting through a cornfield shouting "Death To Corporate Rock!" while gaily flicking fingers at The Man. The sort of music that makes you feel *special* that you're in the indie-pop camp, even though none of your friends understand.

"The Last Dance" is a five-tracker which shows, unsurprisingly, that FLI's sound has "matured" over the last few years, but not in a "slowed-down balladry" or "we've incorporated elements of folktronica" sense, oh no. Instead, they are still injecting immeasurable *excitement* into two minute POP songs, but without feeling so constrained to stick to the template Talulah / Tulips trajectory that held "Mexico" together. "BBC", for example, rings with the trebly dynamism of those early Heavenly singles, right down to some gorgeous Amelia-isms, while "Emanuel" positively bounds along, the guitars a little more feral, more *fractious* than before. And the closing sorta-title tune "Anyone Can Dance", despite an offputtingly jitterbugging verse, then assails you with a splendiferous chorus designed to echo between your ears long after you've taken the record off.

27. Pinch "Attack Of The Giant Robot Spiders!" (Planet Mu, 12")

"a biiig plate from Rob Ellis... still lowkey rather than in-yer-face 'step in which the march of the oversized arachnids (a kind of lurching metallic clanking, bringing to mind robot spiders with a collective limp), is broken up by a battalion of bass that rolls in around 2 mins 45."

Later in the year the wheels came off fairly horribly with "Get Up", Pinch and Yolanda's apparent attempt to rival Geiom's um, unrivallable "Reminissin'", but "Attack!" is the perfect showcase of Pinch's signature sound, a song built with constantly developing motifs (the undercurrent of bass, then the plinking eastern synth) but retains the same rich, percussive structure. So there's no doubt that Pinch is a player for real. The real question for us now is whether he's a Gashead, or an '82er.


28. Newham Generals "Head Get Mangled" (Dirtee Stank, download)

It didn't exactly occur to us, when talking with genuine positivity about Dizzee Rascal in '05, or Tinchy Stryder in '06, or Chipmunk in '07, that there would soon come a time when they notched up six genuine UK number one hit singles between them in a matter of months. The tragedy, alas, is that - despite the fact TS produced his ace "Cloud 9" EP as recently as last year - all three have switched between the only two genres of music that count, by moving from the type we commonly know as "good" to that we usually label as "rubbish". In which context it seems no surprise that Newham Generals' surprisingly excellent "Head Get Mangled" (despite being on the good ship Dirtee Stank and under the tutelage of Dizzee Rascal) failed to trouble the scorers.

""Head Get Mangled", especially when coupled with the hundredweight of pure old-style "Run The Road"-esque grime that is "Merked Again", could easily be the single of 2009 so far: interpolating sidewinder rhymes with washes of d&b and experimental instrumental, like a grime "Levitate", it makes having your head mangled a true pleasure. They're probably best known for being proteges of Dizzee Rascal, but DR hasn't made a record this exciting since "I Luv U"."


29. Chris Liberator and Sterling Moss "The Cult" (Neuroshocked, 12")

"The good ship (Chris) Liberator hoists Mr (Sterling) Moss on board for a single on Polish label Neuroshocked, "The Cult", that cuts a fine swathe through the tremulous waters of hard LDN techno, more subtle than melodious, and nowhere near as down-yr-throat as the offerings from A.P. & Mr Farley... a strangely soothing bombardment."

"The Cult" is clean, disciplined, determined, a nice companion piece in feel and tempo to maybe our favourite techno tune this year, Jamie Taylor's brilliant "Loophole" (second best song ever of that title, on the Toyfriend "01" compilation), with the former's energetic to-ing and fro-ing and Victoria Falls drop substituted with a swishing drilling sound which emerges a few minutes in to haunt your inner ear.


30. King Midas Sound "Dub Heavy - Hearts and Ghosts EP" (Hyperdub, 12")

"Unfurls as if labelmate Burial had decided to meld his modern 'urbantech' sonics with the in-day sensibilities of old masters like King T. On palpably heavy-gauge 12" vinyl and oozing with predatory sub-bass, the soooooothing lead track "I Dub" is maybe the most magical, even if the cut-up vocals and distant klaxons that intrude more obviously on "Ting Dub" on the other side provide a little more light and shade, echoing the progression that Burial himself made between "Burial" and "Untrue". "Long Dub" completes the EP, a shimmering haze of elfin, late-evening vibes, this time hung around a deconstruction of a fuller Roger Robinson vocal... Word."

Don't really understand what any of that means, and anyway over the course of the year "Ting Dub" has evolved into our favourite song on this excellent single, a bold, brave new world record that in our view could only have come from this our capital city.