We're falling, we're falling, we're following our heart: singles of 2010
Dedicated to the memory of Anthony Price
Look at us, a nation within a nation. By day, as plodding grey skies encircle weeping grey buildings, we grimly sketch out a life as slaves to watercoolers and office gossip. But by night, in our own indie-pop republic, we still scurry excitedly in search of bloodied yet unbowed perfection, dancing to both right and utterly wrong notes with equal pride. This is *our secret*. And within this warming cocoon, we *live* music that's ever-effervescing, always wide-eyed with joy.
So each of the songs in this list (this list compiled *today*: forget those "best ofs" put together when the year's only eleven-twelfths through, for they're the POP-chart equivalent of leaving the match after - quick maths here, hang on - yup, 82 and half minutes, meaning you miss half the goals), yes each of these songs from the softest, plumped-up pillows of prettiness to the fastest, hardest blur of migraine-pricking amplifier abuse to the most urgent and fuzzingly sinewy buzzsaw serenades, is really an ANNOUNCEMENT, a loudhailer exhortation to put down your i-phone and your blackberry and your unhealthy introspection ***seriously, PUT THEM DOWN. now*** and indulge the you that wants to actually RELATE to people, to places, to pint-sized brews of merry melody that induce heady drunken rushes and honeyed hangovers, to travel to tiny rooms and feel them flood with pop noise and pop nous. Not as drearily academic token rebellion, some cub scout badge of "revolution", but for the kind of puckering serial frissons of resistance to the out-there EVERYDAY that indie-pop and all our other loves thrive on and ultimately devour. For when the ingredients fall into place and our heroes hit it *just right*, everyone knows that a blushing popsong can do anything. And so it is that when we hear any of these records, our hearts are replenished with a faith in the future, begin to *throb* with POSSIBILITY...
Oh, the best groups, producers, singers, MCs, labels... they aren't guzzling in the limelight, following well-worn "career paths", hanging in the "right" (i.e. wrongest) bars; they aren't self-congratulatory, self-defined "auteurs". They're sporadic, organic, never contrived, ever-angling to be someone's new favourite artist. Each record is a tiny grenade lobbed out from a new hiding place before they spring back to their lair and start brewing up the next gobbet of pop or techno or bassline loveliness. These grenades EXPLODE into our consciousness. They show music as it *should be*, fallible yet despite... no, BECAUSE of that, potent and ever-able to provoke squeals of surprise and delight, the irresistible nodding of head, an air-punching FIST, as if the quarters had bulged the net in full sight of the madding clubhouse terrace. We might burn down the disco, but we won't stop dancing.
So stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, muzzle the dog, slam down the piano lid and bring out the coffin, because *their* music is now OFFICIALly dead and ours is ALIVE. You'll know by know how we value POP and PUNK and SOUL and define them in ways that make complete sense to us, that MAKE IT REAL to us, but make no sense to those who see them with dry, dead-eyed prejudice as cramped compartments that must never overlap, but however you personally draw the lines we promise you there is no fat here, but there *are* one hundred little grenades, each a pouting postcard from the year that was 2010 (um, before we forget, our albums of 2010 are here, in unusually short form, and our last club playlist here, ooh and last year's singles here) and putting this little post together is when we pull the pin out, stand back, and urge you to join us in our escape from the vie quotidien. Let the panegyrics begin.
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1. Phobia "Unrelenting EP" (Relapse, 12")
Although it was a superlative year for singles overall, there maybe wasn't any one song that was truly breathtaking in the way of "English Electric Lightning" or "Train Not Stopping" or "Dry Land", say, and we had found ourselves thinking that there wasn't really any record that genuinely stood out from the crowd, but then we realised that there was one EP, of chasteningly severe quality, that really did stand out, not least in that it that over its 14 minutes it gave us a hearty 17 tracks and all with that same pure *rush* of adrenalin that we got from the start-stop speeding of the Rosehips over twenty years ago. In short, it was PUNK.
Punk meaning much more than middle-aged Exploited aficionados on London Piccadilly postcards, or the waves of nostalgia-seekers who assemble at Blackpool every summer to watch their fave icons from '77 grow old with them. For Sarah Records (unlike some of their paler imitators) were punk. Napalm Death are punk. Scorn and Klute were born from punk. "Straight Outta Compton" and "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted" are punk. The legendary JP was punk even before punk happened. On its day, you know, this fanzine is punk. It's an ideal and an ethic and an attitude, essential for music to be of any consequence. Phobia know all this and more, which is why they write should-be karaoke standards like "If You Used To Be Punk, Then You Never Were" and accept that sentiment as TRUTH in this world of sellout *sellout* SELLOUT.
And Phobia know of what they speak: they've been around as long as Milky Wimpshake now, but while there were some doozies on last LP "22 Random Acts Of Violence" ("varying in places from HC-inspired tunes with choruses to straight blast-beat blood and thunder, but overall catching a single mood"), "Unrelenting"... Is. Just. That, the band decamped from SoCal to Insect Warfare's own Texas to record these songs, ending up with a fearsomely kinetic EP of glittering distinction that filters olde world grindcore and surging d-beat through modern eyes - it's Kill The Client (with whom they share a drummer) meets "Leaders Not Followers" - while lyrically distilling pretty much every injustice and pain the *sensitive* likes of you and I could ever feel. We bow down.
2. Jamie Ball as Action Bastard "Love Song" (Teleskopik Music, 12")
No, no, no, no, no. This is so wrong. And yet so right. If you're acquainted with the music of Jamie Ball, you'll be expecting an adrenalin-pumping, borderline insane, assault of bounce-techno. If you haven't come across Jamie Ball, you might be expecting that this "Action Bastard" persona is some kind of noise maverick: a purveyor of harsh frequencies, maybe of harsh guitars, certainly of enforced chaos. But "Love Song" drowns any preconceptions in still, lakeland beauty, in stately ascetism and *extremely* repetitious minimalism: it's a looped, stubbed, faststep pulse around which clipped synths oscillate like patterns on the mere, the kind of bountiful near-classical plaintiveness that we'd expect from the Remote Viewer were they gracing us with new records today. And then, a mere seven or so minutes in, that unchanging pulse is overtaken by distant, beautiful piano, like a cold mist hovering above Tarn Hows, a dreamy coda that brings us to the end of a rather blissful whole. "Love Song" is a rare groove, and to be honest is no more hard-techno than your favourite indiepop band. It is, however, confusingly good: despite breakneck pace, it's a brave, dignified and (whisper) even romantic single, the like of which you will not regularly trip across.
3. Ryuji Takeuchi "Vital EP" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
Us having fleetingly compared his last 12" of 2009 with none other than Sven "I Stay Hard" Wittekind, it seems fitting that this February release from Osaka-born Takeuchi came out on Sven Wittekind Records (yes relation). "Vital" builds organically, rolling drums subsumed in turn by layered strands of percussive noise, but within minutes it has completed a grim mutation into a seamless warp and weft of futurist techno, rattling synths criss-crossing darkly industrial soundscapes to create a bleak yet brisk dystopian void echoing with what sounds like a CS canister being let off at regular intervals (a sound that was de rigeur in minimal techno this yr). "Critical" on the other side sneakily reassembles the lead tune from its component parts into something a scintilla more thoughtful, but it's the A-side which is the killer: "Vital" is austere, constructivist, monochromatic and brilliant, and you'll rarely find 7'43 whoosh by you so quickly.
4. Manatee "Indecision" (Slumberland Records, 7")
So some of the best "indie" music of the year has come via bands that no longer exist: there was the wonderful Black Tambourine gatefold LP (if "Lazy Heart" 2010 had been released as a 7" it might be up here too), there was Cloudberry Classics' CDr-EP release of seven snappily arranged, over-the-speed-limit yet melody-*crammed* recordings by the simply magnificent Sainsburys, and there was this out-of-time single - apparently recorded at the tail-end of '08 - from defunct Oakland / SF quartet Manatee (like the BT LP, it features label supremo and tastemaker extraordinaire, the one and only Mike Schulman, on axe duties).
By rights, a band monikered after the beautiful, elusive, lugubrious and sadly endangered manatee should probably sound really slow-paced, mysterious and kind of bulbously mournful, but no danger of that here: this Manatee are delightfully feral, rooted in what sounds to us a very UK-inspired indie sound, let's say the old-school tunefulness of the better C86 bands allied with the spikiness of the Weddoes' guitar stylings back then, all topped off by high in the mix wide-eyed vocals (with some rather splendid lyrics) that work *perfectly* as the song pounds away, refusing to flag, and we dance around the kitchen air-guitaring to it. Indeed, around 2'05 "Indecision" gets very Close Lobsters to these ears (also a Good Thing). So, a find, for sure. Oh, and happily, the single is on clear, aquatic blue vinyl, providing a link to the real manatee's own preferred environment.
5. Cappo "Loyalty" (Son Records, download)
Nottingham's Cappo carried on not so much rising above as simply floating above, hovering serenely in some mad kind of inspiration-fuelled hip-hop jetpack device or something. We've discussed "Loyalty" before in its broader context, but with that rolling piano, carefully selected sampling and righteous lyric, it worked so so well as a single too. "Loyalty" is positively clinquant, and as importantly, it is also *great British urban music* - yes, it does exist - which might be worth the Observer bearing in mind next time they waste time trying to show they're down with lazy eulogies of tame grime-pop pap, an obsequious interview with fucking N-Dubz, or getting a hopelessly out of depth Paul Morley (of whose writing and outlook on music we generally remain huge admirers) to attempt to sum up the UK grime scene...
6. Masta Killa "Things Just Ain't The Same" (Nature Sounds, 12")
Well, as a statement of the obvious, the title is up there with "Love Don't Pay The Rent", "Once A Prefect, Always A Prefect" or maybe even "I Don't Like You (Cos' You Don't Like The Pastels)", but this is a fabulous single from "Loyalty Is Royalty", as dosed up on the spirit of Wu as Raekwon's recent Only Built... II meisterwerk (i.e. to the fullest), with Killa's sprawling chat unfolding grittily as PF Cuttin superglues a clipped Grace Jones sample onto repeat.
And while we don't usually fall for lazy equations of rap with poetry, the lyrics and their delivery here are outstanding, painting street pictures with ease ("Late night summertime jam, we in the park / DJ cutting, MC spitting his dart / a Sergio Tacchini brown suede ballet"), the fluttering reminiscences the neatest fit with Killa's rise and fall cadences. Or drawing out an all-too palpable sense of menace, offset by the bravado of youth: "Gazelle frames matching with the Kangol hat / You couldn't have that, brothers might snatch that... Mama cried tears of fear when I was wildin' / sayin' 'please don't wear that, people getting killed for that'". Plus, a minute or so in, the *real* MK Don (hmm, can we copyright that ?) handily reels off a checklist ("Slick Rick, Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay / Wu-Tang Clan, Scott LaRock, KRS-One / damn, brothers like Pun... Cold Crush, M-O Dee, Treacherous Three, Spoonie G, Busy 'Killa' Bee") of rap artists of whose fullest repertoires YOU MUST LEARN.
7. Gold-Bears "Tally" (Magic Marker, 7")
This feels like falling in love. The beautiful, pinkish Sarah-style sleeve for this 3-track 7" on snow white vinyl - MMR 55 - instantly made us regret not having bought more of Magic Markers 1 to 54, and the compellingly thrillsome music contained within the grooves reinforced that thought: three tracks of wonderful, freewheeling, indiepop for fans of the Wedding Present, Boyracer and half the Sarah roster, and it's great at our advanced age still to have the joy of hearing a record like this, by a band who came at us from out of nowhere (although they were of course already on the radar of many of indiepop's more discerning scene-monitors): this is an EP that the phrase "crashing through" could have been invented for.
"Tally" springs into being with chiming pop melodies before noisily hurtling through its verses with unerring excitement: the stylus is being lifted from the record almost before it landed on it. On the other side, "Jezzer" is another hurricane of pop noise, featuring guru of the genre Stewart Anderson, which barges into "HK Song", suddenly sweet and slow, but still glinting with the pop nous which the earlier tunes tried to bury in distortion. You know how upset we were by the Faintest Ideas split last year, but the mere existence of Gold-Bears is proving significant consolation. Indeed, their version of "Skyway" on the Tullycraft tribute comp was nearly as ace as these three. Plus, they've a Cloudberry 7" out soon which from what we've heard is equally, um, seismic. Mind you, the point of offering a free download and then furnishing it in .rar still confounds us somewhat: for people as technologically unsavvy as us, you might as well say "free download, only you have to collect it from the Sea of Tranquillity".
8. The Declining Winter "Official World Cup Theme 2010" (Home Assembly Music, CD single)
Comfortably the best World Cup record since Jules Rimet's prize comp kicked off in Uruguay eighty years ago (incidentally, does anyone else agree that Uruguay's rather pretty national anthem knocked spots off the dirges of most other teams in the summer ?) Anyway, Richard Adams' plaintive half-whisper optimistically implores our overpaid timewasters to "bring back the old silverware" over a typical Declining backdrop, an exquisite rustic knit of gently tumbling guitars and aching violin, all broken twigs and twisted bracken underfoot, with production stalwart Choque Husein serene at the controls.
This, and last year's wonderful "Haunt The Upper Hallways", remind us a little of the former Creation Records band, the mysterious Pacific, who despite being rather maligned in their day managed to release two excellent, multi-instrumental singles that straddled traditional and modern rather acely. Indeed, "Official World Cup Theme 2010" is *such* a tizzingly beautiful record that the obligatory sampled commentary (in this case of John Barnes' mazy run in Rio), however tongue-in-cheek, rather takes the edge off the magic. Still, a further demonstration - along with the gorgeous second track, "Red Kite", as majestically rare as the endangered bird that's its subject - that the Declining Winter have flowered, with typical pastoral grace, into being one of England's very finest bands. In sharp contrast to the England team, they deserve our (and your) support.
9. Newham Generals "Bag Of Grease EP" (Dirtee Stank, download)
The streets of London in '010 are positively littered with the debris of lame crossover attempts by MCs who are capable of - or have, in the past, delivered - so much better: Devlin ("Runaway" is unspeakable, an affront to his talent), Chipmunk, Riko Dan, Kano, the once-mighty Skepta, Professor Green, the longtime ilwttisott-sanctioned Tinchy, the now integrity-free zone that is Dizzee Rascal, the disgraceful, shameful abominations that were Roll Deep's two summer singles). But we must once more grant an honourable exemption for Newham Generals from this hall of shame. As if "Hard", on Breakage's LP, wasn't a good enough example of how *real grime* should be, er, brung, then "Bag Of Grease" should convert any remaining doubters.
The lead track is "I'm A General" and - we never thought we'd get the chance to say these words again - *it's a proper grime tune*. Lesser fanzines have been drawn to mention it by only dint of the guest spot from the late Esco Bars (or, more to the point, by the fact that he was half-brother to a certain England centre-forward), but we'd like to right the balance by pointing out it is simply a cracking street rekkid, as such making it a phat two fingers to the cabal of musical sell-outs chronicled above. In fact, Footsie's remix of it, which rounds off the EP, is possibly even better. The title track keeps the levels high: Skepta turns up for a verse halfway through, and hopefully learns a little about how you don't have to water something down just because it's a single. The third and fourth tracks, also produced by Skitz Beats, are maybe marginally more accessible, with clubbably dubsteppy synth lines: our only gripe is that by the time we reach "Getting It In" the synth sounds just a little bit too obviously "eerie": it reminded us of the Midsomer Murders theme, which is not something a street grime record should really be doing.
10. The Lucksmiths "Get-to-bed Birds" (Matinée Recordings, 7")
A few idle reviewers of the Matinée Grand Prix comp, from where this improbably piquant little gem sprang (although in retrospect it might have been better had it been saved up just for this piece of plastic) somehow let the greatness of this track get away from them, as if understatedness wasn't actually always one of the Lucksmiths' many rare gifts (our take on it was: "subtle but superb - lyrically, a synthesis of so many past Lucksmiths themes, touching tenderly as it does on new year regrets and wanders past old haunts - and yet all this quiet, downbeat contemplation is set off by a heartliftingly trilling guitar line that refuses to be bowed... it fades out, all too quickly, but that's something you could say about the band's whole legacy"). How wrong any doubters were, though, as this dreamy goodbye settles so easily into the grooves of their last ever 7" (and the B side is an almost equal treat). Wipe a tear from your eye, mourn their beauty, *celebrate* that legacy.
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11. Tex-Rec "Kill The Dream EP" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
For Tex-Rec's homeland of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the dream was killed in the World Cup play-offs, but defiantly he unleashed this smiling assassin of an EP which seduces you with rhythmic patterns as sleek and glinting as the bonnet of a newly polished Countach while at the same time moving in for the kill with dancefloor-massacring intensity. "Detonator" is an imperious opener, with each curving whoosh of sound unleashing a new layer of jinking, Stan Matthews-esque synth wizardry, before "X.O.P." eschews "layer and build" in favour of serving up a fat plateful of nervy, edgy yet bouncy hi-tec skitter. The title track proceeds to rather majestically patrol the boundary fence between moody and minimalist, sharing with "Detonator" a whizzing two-note motif and careful build, and finally "Polarized" goes for a buzzing, tinnitus vibe: initially it's not as endearing as the three predecessor tracks, but the last three or four minutes see it unfold into a shimmering, even pretty, comedown to ensure we end on a high. At a healthy 36 minutes all told, this may be the longest EP of this quality since Eric B & Rakim's Don't Sweat The Technique remixes, or maybe that Boyracer one which had half an hour of feedback on. Plus, there really seems to be something about SWR at the moment that makes its charges up their game: "Kill The Dream" is streets ahead of the frankly annoying "Black Capital", for example. Immense.
12. Math and Physics Club "Jimmy Had A Polaroid" (Matinée Recordings, 7")
From the really rather very good long player: it wasn't that long ago that we were lamenting the end of Matinée Recordings on vinyl, but Allah saw fit to put that right and the "absolutely bombing" "Jimmy Had A Polaroid" celebrates with "two and half minutes of indie-pop righteousness that was born - luckily enough - to be a 7" A-side, a pacy and catchy number in which delectably jangling guitar elides with skidding, bouncing rhythms which both then collide head-on with slipsliding, lump-in-throat lyrical nostalgia". On azure vinyl, with blue-printed sleeve pic that's just as cute and nostalgic as the song.
(NB: for all Matinée Recordings fans, i.e. anyone out there with functioning synapses, we've archived about 30 reviews of old-school Matinée classics here and the best part of another 20 here. Hope they bring back the same warm memories as they did for us!)
13. The Garlands / The Sugarplums split (Atomic Beat Records, 7")
As mentioned here this nicely rounded slab of pure vinyl goodness was a superfly extended play for real, but right about now it is worth emphasising that given the brilliance of "Open Arms", even if the EP was a one-tracker it would still bestride 2010 as a colossus. "Open Arms" is a testament to true indie-pop's stubborn refusal to subside, a soundtrack to a year's worth of ups, downs and sideways scuttles, a never-blinking celebration of clanging chords and soaring girl vocals which peaks with that death-defying leap from the verse into the chorus. Quite, quite brilliant.
14. Sven Wittekind and Andy White "Bass Junkies" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
This is buried treasure, a 12" that takes us straight back to those days of staying up late on a schoolnight, listening to teasing techno tremors on John Peel to offset next-day lesson dread. Slowly bubbling bass from the German pair sets the scene for a couple of minutes before the tune starts to build, but it's only really around the six-minute mark that "Bass Junkies" properly springs into life, pivoting on a single, sampled operatic held note before the percussion busies itself in more traditional Wittekind style, but the track still keeps things close, more minimal than hard tech, just gently nibbling away at your ears, resolutely refusing to swing and instead keeping it metronomic, hypnotic, *close* for its blissful, subtly ever-undulating second section. It's not short - if, as Cloughie observed, it only takes a second to score a goal, then you could feasibly bag about 700 in the course of its near 12-minute duration - but it's the kind of song that begs you to make that time.
15. Zipper "Visions" (Cloudberry Records, 7")
What more can one say about Zipper, who daily realise their own Talulah / Buzzcock / Ramone visions of producing accessible but never chintzy high quality indiepop ? Well, what we're going to say - and this is in a year when we've been reminded of the glory of Looking For An Answer, *and* Nashgul have come up with their breakthrough record - is that they must be the best band in the whole of Spain right now. "Visions" was of course one of three unutterably skill Zipper singles in 2010, as nippy and intelligent as Xavi and Iniesta combined, but without their propensity to dive. As an aside, the EP title is a meld of the titles of the three component songs: a game you can play at home with all your favourites (you know, "Spirea Velocity Crystal", "Never Mother's Favourite Dress", "Pleasantly Whole Wide Everything", that kind of thing).
16. Zipper "Lunes Por La Mañana" (Elefant, 7" EP)
So yeah, forget grenades, for here are four more bouncing bombs of galloping pop goodness from a band whose joyousness brings us close to (happy, happy) tears on occasion. The title track may already be familiar to you, while "Hoy Estoy Muy Pop" reprises a right charmer from their album, but the two we'd *really* pick out, "Siempre Es Lo Mismo" and "Hoja De Reclamaciones" are - ach, words failing us so early in our review - utterly *electric*, shimmering along with a vigour and life-grabbing ZEAL that only Phobia, no less, have truly matched this year. Zipper, we are in awe of you.
17. Boyracer / The How split (Slumberland Records / 555 Recordings, 7")
Slumberland deliver, not for the first or last time in this post. For after penning what we thought was the last of our many tributes to Boyracer, we find that band hadn't quite breathed their last, with two tracks here, on the other side of The How's respectfully joyous hayride, "Polly", which show how the Racer *still* effortlessly pack churning, gnawing emotion into short, burning popsong form. "Vanity Is Sanity", a little like the Lucksmiths' swansong being so 'essence of Lucksmith', is in many ways a distillation of All Things Boyracer, both lyrically and musically: Stewart laments his lot ("my 25 fans will go sick for this / better get it on iTunes, quick") but deep down you know he's sufficiently proud of his songwriting + back catalogue that he doesn't really need to hurt so. "Use A Bank I'd Rather Die" is not a cover of McCarthy's typically sarcastic third-album response to their haters, but instead a post-"Nottingham Grindcore Scene" punch of indiepunk cynicism: and both songs, peppered with feedback, thumpingly fuzzy bass and dollops of lyrical disdain, neatly bridge 'old' Boyracer with the punka-ethic of more recent solo project Tricia Yates Fan Club, in doing so giving us yet another precious 'racer single to cherish (oh, it's nestled in our fave 7"s box at the moment, along with "Present Tense", "B Is For Boyracer", "Racer 100", the split with the Beatniks, the "Boyracer" flexi, a Rocket Racer radio session EP, "Go Flexi Crazy", the one with "Katherine" on it...). Damn, as Chuck would have it: we shall not see their like again.
18. AZ "Feel My Pain" (can't remember the label at this hour, download)
So Brooklyn *is* still teeming with great music, but which those celebrating the terrible local loft-apartment indie hipsters over a grim-faced veteran like AZ are tragically missing out on. "Feel My Pain", with Frank Dukes production and scratches by Statik Selektah, but riding a musical vibe not too far from DJ Honda's, shows that AZ is still not a man to rock a party (thank heaven) when he could be riding low on the streets, spitting on the corner and dropping multi-syllable verbal gems. He's clearly got eyes on Rakim's mantle as the lord of the internal rhyme: "Feel My Pain" is veritably littered with them. Also, you can tell *true* hip hop singles because they still have a load of proper shout-outs at the end - in this case making up a good solid quarter of the whole song - instead of a radio friendly-fade or an extra chorus. Finishing with a nice little dedication in memory of Guru. Busy B[ee] gets his second shout out from a song in this list, too.
19. Roc Marciano "Scarface Nigga" (Fat Beats, download)
Following his hands-across-the-ocean (East Coast to East Midlands) work with the great P Brothers on "The Gas", "Scarface Nigga" sees the Roc furnish further evidence that he is, as Johnson once allegedly described Garrick, "a gamester, a pimp and a player" (although it turns out that this, and the other stuff about Garrick being blackballed by SJ from the Literary Club was actually made up by Sir John Hawkins and Mrs Piozzi and that actually it was Sir John that was basically chucked out of the club and anyway to the extent Johnson had any major beefs they were really with the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau and as such were beefs that far outrank most of hip-hop's falling-outs over the years). Um, anyway, stripped-down and skeletally pure, lyrically murky and unforgiving, and eschewing any kind of hook, break, change of style or pace, this single positively reeks of the same street corner intimacy as Ed209 and Imam THUG's stunning "Karma 360".
20. Ryuji Takeuchi "Option EP" (Toyfriend, download)
"Option", on Ukraine's Toyfriend label, is another back-of-the-net piledriver from Mr Takeuchi. Patiently and painstakingly constructed, it builds in brittle fossil layers, occasionally building up to siroccos of sculptured sound that briefly engulf the listener before dying down as suddenly as they started). There's no mistaking the class on show here as Ryuji wanders imperiously around the park every inch the libero, like Beckenbauer in his prime (or John Terry in his dreams).
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21. A.P. "Hydraulix 40" (Hydraulix, 12")
Like Atomic Beat et al, D.A.V.E. The Drummer's Hydraulix label may not exactly overcrowd the release schedule, but that might just be *why* it boasts a catalogue of such pure gold. Think of past in love with these times, in spite of these times year-end top twentiers like the gleaming Hydraulix 37 (the Drummer vs the Anxious, an 'A' which was "two sublime techno adagios linked by a gently simmering interlude, is quite enchanting, and should probably be bought by you", apparently), or the aceness of Hydraulix 35 (the Drummer plus DJ Geraldine, untitled, "minimalist and very modern, a great example of the alchemy of the techno underground"), or the propulsive charm of Hydraulix 29 ("D.A.V.E. the Drummer and S P Groove team up for two toe-tappers rooted in samples that could almost be throwbacks to the heady days of Donna Summer disco, propelling more mechanical sounds into a heady blissed-out oblivion"); think of D.A.V.E.'s top-drawer A-side Mark Ankh refit on the Hydraulix 13 spin-off remix imprint.
Well, fresh from that bracing tradition, this - somewhat appropriately "XL" - Hydraulix 40 is Welsh techno doyen Allan Palmer's best single yet, intricately deploying synths, fills and tricks with pinpoint accuracy but also retaining towering, thumping, headache-inducing power, making this single much *harder* than some of the SWR releases, for example, that we are majorly bigging up at the mo. "Get Down", in particular, unleashes gouging polyrhythms that pound furiously at your ear, a stormy maelstrom of cascading, roof-battering hard rain.
22. Terror Danjah "Acid" (Hyperdub, 12")
Sounding very different to the squintingly grimy "Hardrive" of only a few years back, "Acid" sees TD assemble a glutenous aggregation of swerving chocolatey riddims that you'll be lapping up like the caramels in a box of Quality Street, as he maxes out some squiggly loops to blissfully meld acid house and rave-singed dubstep for a mere three skidding minutes or so, including a brief lizard-lounge interlude in which he slips in twenty seconds of oldskool 4/4 and a couple of bars of dislocated home computer bleeps for no reason at all, which of course is the best reason (cf. the Japanese drinking song in "Beautiful Day"). Naturally, the Danjah-man also manages to *bring the grime* (and his trademark "gremlin" noises) throughout, although these are beats too precious to be disfigured by an MC. All in all, proof that erstwhile grimesters can crossover into Hyperdub's hipsterly chinstroking, yet often majestic world without missing a beat.
23. DJ Honda and M.O.P. "Gun Hold" (DJ Honda Recordings, 12")
Hip-hop seems to reach improbable new nadirs daily, so it's tremendously pleasing to report all these singles that buck the trend, even when they are still as far from "conscious" rap as the Earth is from the sun. Yes, this is the very same M.O.P. that had two UK top ten hits almost a decade back (although we treasure them most still for their contribution to Gang Starr's fairly supreme "B.I. Vs. Friendship" off "Moment Of Truth), and "Gun Hold" is a wonderful, real-school record, with M.O.P. cuss-spitting growlers from the days when you still got those kind of chewing-glass rap voices, and they *launch* themselves at Honda's no-prisoners 90s-throwback mix with all the vigour (lots) and finesse (little) of Paul Scholes attempting a tackle in the vicinity of the centre circle.
In fact, "Gun Hold" is so good (and vieux-ecole) that it could almost be an out-take from Onyx's "Bacdafucup": if like us, you reckon that hip-hop these days has too much singing, and not nearly enough SHOUTING, yet recognise that professional bawlers like DMX are nothing more than the poorest imitation of Sticky Fingaz, then M.O.P's incessant yelling should help to rebalance things somewhat. As for Honda, well he had a great World Cup, although we reckon his team-mates Endo and the battling Matsui were even better. (Remix fans may wish to note that a swell Ain't Gonna Change remix of this turned up on DJH Recordings later in the year).
24. Magrudergrind "Crusher" (Scion A/V, 10", CD and download)
New 6-tracker from the DC trio, following on from their lyrically thoughtful, musically *sledgehammer* eponymous full-length, although interestingly the anger at them having "sold out" by signing with Scion has yet to abate. Musically, thankfully, they are still in the right place: the first five songs all impress as they bludgeon away, mixing stop-start grind riffing with uncommonly furious blastbeasts, some hardcore vocals (on "Stagnation"), and even rapping (on the props-to-graf "Heaviest Bombing", the inevitable and - literally - superlative sequel to This Comp Kills Fascists' "Heavy Bombing" and the LP's "Heavier Bombing"). Sixth track "Cognition", nearly as long as the first five put together, sees them stepping away from what they do best (a little like "Burning Bridges" did on the LP), but helps lend the EP a little more balance and variety. We also love the sleeve, which pays unapologetic homage to the artwork for Earache's murderously seminal "Grind Crusher" compilation. All in all, Magrudergreat.
25. Luca and Rossi B "E10 Riddim" (Planet Mu, 12")
Despite the postcode (E10 is Leyton, really - hence the name of Orient's matchday programme - plus the further real-football heartlands of Hackney and Walthamstow marshes), Mr Ross is of South London stock, and this one sees him taking a JCB to the dancefloor yet again. While the vehicle here is prime leftfield-step imprint Planet Mu, the music is infused with clattering grime overtones, especially when Killa P rolls up for the vocal version on the B-side and turns it into the clanking, raggatastic "Police Ar Come Run" (not since Riko's dazzling double CD have we so fervently yearned for more headmashing ragga stuff of this ilk), instrumentally pretty much the same but they've added in some sirens for good measure. Your GP, if he's worth his salt (and extravagant trust-cushioned salary), will confirm that it is medically impossible to listen to this and *not* nod your head like a mad one.
26. Tender Trap "Do You Want A Boyfriend ?" (Slumberland Records / Fortuna Pop!, 7")
Earlier in the year we'd had the fabulous "Girls With Guns", as twangy as Heavenly, as sprintingly quick as Talulah Gosh at their furious steaming-train fastest, Amelia upping the ATTACK as fur flew to a rollicking, almost cartoony (check the vid) soundtrack: plus, there aren't enough indie-pop bands repping gun crime, so that was novel too (albeit that only an indie band would march with a mere pistol these days, instead of a semi-automatic). But "Boyfriend" is the great leap forward, probably their best ever single, clad in a great sleeve too and housed on fresh Dulux-white vinyl.
Even more than on last year's diamond-bright mmm-muscular pop gem "Fireworks", "Boyfriend" has the guitar sound *just right*: the harmonies *just so*. Indeed, when Amelia sings "heaven, perfect heaven" in the chorus, it's as if she's giving you a glimpse of that very place. The B-side, too, "The Sum And The Difference", is a spirited stab at properly exhuming Talulah G: enjoyably tumultuous, it rattles along like a shopping trolley on a badly paved street. All with a video that stars the Lexington, the Betsey Trotwood AND the rather marvellous Union Chapel, the heart of the old Compton estate, which they managed to get to before all the scaffolding went up. It would be good if we could get someone to put Tender Trap on there: maybe our good friend Jo Whiley, when she next commandeers it ? A band that deserves *so* much more than to keep getting confused with the Temper Trap.
27. Cortechs "Cologne" (Herzschlag Recordings, download)
As they actually do hail from Cologne, calling a single "Cologne" feels a bit odd, like a London band calling a single "Londres", unless they're referring to cologne as in the splash-on stuff, and that's still called "cologne" in Cologne and not "Koln" too. Or maybe they recognise that "Koln" doesn't mean much to those outside Germany, except those of us who remember that Pierre Littbarski played for them around the time of the '82 World Cup. Whatever, but we'll let it go, as the record is exceedingly fine, a pitter-patter of syncopated techno percussion underpinned by heart-monitor beep and cuddlesome synth dynamics. They also managed to crash onto the galactico SWR roster this year with "Slow Wave Sleep", a steady droning hum of Wittekindish drum and drum which showed another side to their game.
28. Cappo "Genghis (The E Side)" (Son Records, download)
In which Caps unveils three tracks that missed the cut for
the mighty A to D sides of "Genghis", and to these ears they are just as strong. Indeed, the production on "Million", "Honour" and erstwhile bandcamp freebie "Psychological Warfare" is more compact, more striking than some of the stretched-out sparseness of the original LP: the first two tracks, in particular, could credibly be single A sides at least as much as album E sides.
29. Zipper "Last Chance For Friday's Badge" (Bubblegum Records, CD EP)
Yes, again; plus they do that weird "combined title" thing on this one too. But really, this is the *essence* of pop: bottled, tumbling, smiling, simple, pricking recollections of that upstairs room in that unglorious pub where this very band buzzed, entreated, uplifted, lit the place up and lifted the roof. Two sparklingly furious straight-up speed pop songs with occasional and super-endearing rough edges, then one marginally slower, addressing the not entirely original topic of a Pastels badge, but with a chorus to end them all. Addictive, engaging, near perfect.
30. Bonne Idée "A Dream Of You" (Cloudberry Records, 7")
Five from Gothenburg and by God, this is good. Sounding unlike any other single in the rarified air of this top thirty, "A Dream Of You" is almost unbearably tender, a beating heart of fragile indiepop so flutteringly weightless it could hitch-hike on a butterfly's wings, but with the vocals hinting at a darker story. For some reason the bit around the start of the second verse, when our heroine sings "the room is shaking / 'cos someone is waking" and picked guitars sound pinpricks of dawn light, makes us shudder, but in a kind of inexplicably happy way. Weepingly, beautifully, lambent.
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31. Rotten Sound "Napalm" (Relapse, CD EP)
From Vaasa, Finland - original home of Cats on Fire, if we've read the "Dealing In Antiques" sleevenotes properly - yet well-drilled in a glorious tradition created in Birmingham, England, Rotten Sound render this one subtly different from most grindcore output by making it an on-the-record tribute to, rather than unspoken rip-off of, the granddaddies and masterly progenitors of the genre, i.e. their (anti-)royal highnesses Napalm Death. A trio of self-penned Rotten numbers in guttural ND-stylee - the peak of which is the longest, the trim and frankly *triff* "Dead Remains" - are followed by a hat-trick of actual Napalm covers: the choice of "The Kill", "Missing Link" and "Suffer The Children" shows taste, and the versions are pretty much as strong as one could expect, given the sacred cows that are being slaughtered here. Do you think there's any chance of a split release with their old Vaasa brethren ?
32. POTO "Rose Tinted" / "Do You Know" (Tremors Recordings, download)
"Rose Tinted" and "Do You Know" were the first fruit of a collaboration between Peel favourite Martyn Hare and electro arriviste Paul Wheatcroft, but the originals of these two tunes sadly live down to the press blurb comparisons with Pendulum and Daft Punk, being serviceable but blandissimo dance concoctions guaranteed to go straight over your head next time you're in some haunt on Clapham High Street, fighting off chinlesses in a doomed attempt to get served at the bar. The reason this single places is not because we're lowering our standards, but because somehow the *remixes* of the two tunes - one from Martyn Hare and one from Jamie Ball (Hare's erstwhile partner in crime in the unavoidably named Hareball) - are absolutely stunning: well, we say "remixes", but really these are obliterations of the originals. Hare's "Rose Tinted" rework bins all the tame electro bounce and mangles the song into five minutes of coursing, typically unforgiving techno: and Ball's piledriving "Do You Know ?" raises the level even more, a crashing wave of mechanised chaos which ignores the pedestrian subtext of the original by kidnapping it, surrounding it with cardiac-arresting percussion bedlam and then pulverising it to within centimetres of its very being. Mighty.
And here's something weird - later in the year POTO released another single, "To The Last", and the A-side was a bit... you know, Canonbury Lane wine bar. But, just like "Rose Tinted" and "Do You Know ?" all was SAVED by a great remix, in this case by Lukas, which also achieves with flair a wanton destruction of an inessential original.
33. Weekend Nachos "Bleed" (Relapse, 12")
Well, there were a couple of clues in the slower and more experimental passages on their exceptional (and thematically so-bleak) "Unforgivable" album (#11 here), but all in all we would never have guessed how Chicago's Weekend Nachos would follow up that short (12 songs in 24 minutes), blistering set. Certainly not with a two-track single running in at around a quarter of an hour, the pace of the LP decimated entirely into a compelling slowcore sludge: only the existential anger remains.
"Bleed", a scuttling drone of chugging guitar hewn from granite rock, has a little bit more variation, even briefly accelerating to a trot at one point, and towards the end, just when you think the battering has receded, huge thudding, true power-chords judder into view, a final attempt to beat down the listener into submission. "Observer" on the other side is a more relentless one-trick grinding chord shuffle, a grim-faced hybrid of "Budd" (the underrated 12" by Albini's crassly-named and uncoincidentally short-lived Rapeman) and ND's "Evolved As One" which even ends with the sound of laughter, something we never expected to hear on a Weekend Nachos record. We probably wouldn't want to listen to "Bleed" every day for the rest of our lives, but it's somehow very important that it's there, and the band deserve immense credit for confounding fans and foes alike with this one.
34. Phil Wilson "I Own It" (Slumberland Records, 7")
Phil Wilson has proved himself as consummate a songwriter as any others in this list - Henry, Collins, Hannon and Godard included - and he outdoes them all here with "I Own It", a very different proposition from the tentative, mysterious beauty of his previous Slumberland single outing, "Industrial Strength". Showcasing some wonderfully jinking guitar plucking, plus a chorus that makes no secret of going for the pop jugular, this could merrily be the Brilliant Corners or Phil's own mighty June Brides in their ineffable prime.
35. Odessa Soundfreaks "Goblin" (Toyfriend, download)
Mention of Odessa still makes us think of the Odessa Steps, which in turn brings to mind Potemkin, which then makes us think of Eisenstein, and before too long we're in reverie once more over Sergei's overlooked "October 1917" and wondering idly what the Bolshevik head honchos of the day would have made of rattling Ukrainian techno from the former Russian fiefdom close to a century later, alongside the impudence of both the Orange Revolution and Shakhtar Donetsk's infamous aviary (or, even more idly, what he'd have made of hosting the World Cup a century after the Revolution). But given Vladimir Ilyich's pronouncements on music as beauty inamidst "vile hell", we're hopeful that he would have enjoyed "Goblin" as much as us: it's excellent, as well structured in its way as any of Sergei's filmic narratives. Like us, though, we're sure that V.I. would have had gulag-sized reservations about the duo's somewhat terrible name.
36. The Fall "Bury" (Domino, download)
Not the most obvious Domino signing, one would have thought, but surely it's the secret dream of every label to release one Fall single + album before the inevitable parting of the waves. After the grave disappointment of Gorillaz' "Glitter Freeze", which "featured" M.E.S. for about a quarter of a nanosecond (if that), this is a full-band return to form(ula) i.e. wizened musical legend freestyles for three full minutes an unhinged but ultimately entertaining train of thought over unsubtly combative angular guitar lines played by freshfaced and soon-to-be-sacked young people.
Yes, "Bury" may be musically unimaginative and unvaried, but who cares ? It's still vibrant POP music in that its very existence, its strange conviction (the Fall's absurdity is never wilful) makes you feel that all is right with the world, gives you a smile, paints utter contrast with the sub-Britpop proto-rawk "indie" graveyard of 2010. Oh, our eyes veritably *mist* as we recollect Mark on TOTP, riding roughshod over the Inspirals' "I Want You": what a perfect three minutes that was. Well, "Bury" isn't far off that. There was a limited 7" of this, too, but sadly we're no longer as "in the loop" as we might once have been. As you've probably all spotted by now.
37. DJ Honda featuring Lord Tariq "30 Some Odd (Remix)" (DJ Honda Recordings, download)
Admittedly this is a reworking of a tune from "Honda IV", albeit happily twice as long as the sub-two minute original, but there really seems no end to the number of truly quality collaborations that centre around DJ Honda. In this guise particularly, blessed by Honda's horn-heavy, 70s funk tinged, indelibly New York style, "30 Some Odd" has the feel of E A Ski's "Blast If I Have To" - one of our eight things for Marianthi - in the way that the Bronx's Tariq really does sound, as one in a hundred MCs do, that he is genuinely a very dangerous and scary person (i.e. as the vernacular has it, he's true gangsta). All this makes the otherwise preposterous, super-sweary lyrics here sound compelling, whereas in lesser hands they would amount to meaningless self-bigging. Indeed, if you poured equal parts "Blast If I Have To" and Honda and Mos Def's "Magnetic Arts" into a test tube, this is what would be created: it's not quite as good as either, but then that's always the thing with hybrids.
You may also recall that Tariq's click is Boss Money, whose work with P Brothers not too long ago caused our gentle hearts to require some serious stilling. Thankfully, unlike Honda's other LP remix single this year, "KGR v Honda" (and yes KGR there does indeed stand for none other than Kool G Rap), this doesn't sound overloaded by distortion and compression: god, listening to that KGR remix is as painful as listening to the Go-Betweens ruinously-mastered "Oceans Apart"...
38. Kryptic Minds & Youngsta "Cold Blooded" (Osiris Music, 12")
Kryptic Minds were probably the discovery of 2009 for us, the way they had opted in to the dubstep world and instantly put themselves at the heart of it with matchless records like the "Life Continuum" and "768" 45s, and the album "One Of Us". Here, the boys team with Youngsta for a plate of darkside half-step on their own label. "Cold Blooded" is certainly full-blooded, with the legendary downwards lunge at 3'20 that feels like a falcon dive, but it's "Surge" on the other side that sweeps us off our size 9s, as verses built on sheer, unnerving bass chasms (hell, it has more drops than Lukas Fabianski) are separated by a refrain that pivots on a call-and-response of string and woodwind sounds, a little more like the uplifting eerieness of "768" or "Distant Dawn", and without a vocal sample to be seen. Both tunes help to cement their thoroughly enviable position as the Joy Division of dubstep.
39. Virgil Enzinger "Phlogiston EP" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
It's so hard, through the imprecise medium of language, to properly capture the arcs, ebbs and contours of these songs we love: to sketch out how shades of melody and rhythm combine to form colours that are just as indescribable. Scientists had struggled similarly, in the 1600s, to tame and explain the properties of fire: it was also so vivid, so magical, that they ended up having to invent an explanation, the so-called element "phlogiston". And following earlier singles "Darkness" (ludicrously pretentious press intro, suite of high profile remixes) and "Psychonaut" (nicely echoey clattering drums, unafraid to have appropriately queasy ascending and descending scales at the same time), this EP from the Austrian superproducer spoils us by happily combining such taut, description-defying music with the truly excellent title track track title's nod to the travails of those scientists many centuries ago. No wonder that he was also recruited to contribute the remix of "Bass Junkies".
40. Adriano Giliberti "Riot" (Dirty Planet)
Italy exited the World Cup even before England, leaving only the excitement of the last quarter of the Slovakia game to remember them by, although their dismal displays overall made Donadoni's sacking after Euro 2008 seem all the more harsh, given that it turned largely on losing a penalty shoot-out. Anyway, our Adriano cares <1 jot, for "Riot" is the sound of your neighbours having a party next door - playing techno turned up loud so that you can hear constant, unyielding kick, snare and synth through the wall - at the same time as every single car and house alarm on yr street goes off. Yes, that good. The first two or so minutes are sadly a little bit timid, but after that this is ripplingly essential, thematically melding the energetic chaos of his native Naples with the capital city savvy of his adopted Rome, especially if you want to annoy your neighbours (or indeed your own family). There's something noble, almost heroic, about the tunnel vision repetition at play. Oh, and as if that didn't sufficiently sate, heavy US hitters Takeuchi and Zawodny (q.v.v) drop in to deliver mixes: the former's is amazing, a gritty and subterranean "morning after" re-work.
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41. Joell Ortiz featuring DJ Premier "Project Boy" (E-1, download)
This is more like it: Orteeez, like many, only shines in the right company, but his face certainly fits this malevolent beast of a record, anchored by some of Premier's better, and most menacing, backing for quite some while (indeed, since his heyday) while still finding time for unlikely simile ("my name got weight in the hood / like elephant's legs"). The kneejerkers who would have it that this is a "celebration" of all that is murkiest about projects life are missing one crucial point: that Joell's narrative over the four minutes here does far more to indict than glamourise. Saying that he wouldn't want to be anywhere else doesn't change that message: all of us feel kinship with where we, our friends and families are from. We've long set ourselves an annual quota on the number of US hip-hop tracts we're prepared to give house room to that bang on largely about how tough the rapper is / how hard his district is, but without fail there are always a clutch of tunes which are just so tight and compelling that we're happy to let them in to our twisted hearts. This is one. As another illuminating couplet has it: "it's like I went celibate / cos' no-one's fucking with Ortiz this year."
42. Pariah "Detroit Falls" (R&S, 10")
From (a Scotsman in) London via a Belgian label, this was a marvellous Starkey-esque deconstruction and reconstruction of a single soul sample - a sample which opens proceedings, just to give you a blinkingly quick unedited glimpse of the raw material - to produce three and a half minutes (part of a welcome current trend: less noble artistes would have tried to stretch this to twice that) of searching, evolving, *involving* dubstep soundscape. Think maybe Dilla, think of a squinting Detroit sunset, think of night falling on that distinctive city skyline.
43. Kryptic Minds "Badman" (Swamp 81, 12")
If "One Of Us" and its surrounding singles for the most part saw Kryptic Minds execute their soundscapes with the pinpoint precision of Bobby Moore dispossessing Pele in Mexico '70, then this follow-up single on Loefah's Swamp 81, clad somewhat oddly in a black-on-deep red print sleeve of a beaming PC and WPC, has the duo laying down a much more straightforward construct of battering-ram sub-bass, eschewing subtlety almost entirely more in the manner of Ben Massing "dispossessing" Claudio Caniggia in Italia 90. But just as Massing's attack was in its own way just as satisfying as Moore's phlegmatic control, "Badman"'s pulverising judder (the locked repetition of a four-note bass drop) is no less enthralling than the Minds' more cerebral work (mind = cerebral, see ? It might be late, but we're cooking with gas here). Indeed, bits of "Badman" could be mistaken for a tube train rumbling directly below your floorboards. There's a bit of a pointless speech sample, though (still, what other kind is there ?) for which we've marked them down appropriately. Also, not quite as essential as the Cockney Rejects single of the same name, although to be fair that's a high hurdle.
44. The Hobbes Fanclub / Young Michelin split (Cloudberry Records, 3" CDR)
Despite our renowned sunny disposition, cheerful demeanour and beaming countenances, there are times when we *will* every new band we hear to be terrible. It makes life so much easier if we can just dismiss them out of hand, save the effort of tracking them, stalking them, saving pennies up for them, eventually being disappointed by them when they *fall off*. Yet many bands still have the impudence to be actually rather good. Young Michelin, as we'll mention again anon, have become one of our favourite French pop bands already, and "Obscene" shows them enjoying themselves greatly, with gtr FUZZ and shoutiness giving it an extra edge: but the Hobbes Fanclub were *completely* new to us.
They are, however, ace. Original no, somewhat derivative yes, but sparkling all the same, "Outside Myself" being a rush of fuzzy-enough guitars, little-boy-lost vocals, just grooving along hoovering up any hooks and rushes in the general vicinity. The only thing we weren't initially too keen on was the minute-long guitar "break" in the middle, but then we realised it increasingly reminded us of the rather yummy "You Should All Be Murdered", and that we were extremely comfortable with it after all. "And Just Like That" provides a different twist, slowing things a little for some moody but ultimately romantic girl/boy vocal interplay, but both tracks show the band drawing from the same workbook as the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, say.
45. Andre Walter "Infrasound" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
Apparently, "infrasound" is sound below 20 Hz, the normal range of human hearing. As we're human, and yet can still hear this EP, we can relate that "Infrasound" is not *actually* infrasound but a rather intricate exercise in techno pointillism that oscillates rolling, ricocheting rhythms with jacking spring-heeled hydraulics, all sprinkled liberally with pitch modulation. On the lead track (er, "Infrasound Part I": there are three in all, running time 25 mins) Walter basically establishes a taut eight-minute framework of busy, gnawing percussion and steadily populates it with unerringly, *defiantly* bouncy slivers of superminimal techno until you start to forget quite where you came in or, indeed, when you might get out. A more-than-pleasantly diverting mindmeld of contemporary beat manufacture.
46. Frenkie V. "Exclude" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
Francesco Varchetta is still only 20, but already making a pretty serious mark, and "Exclude" is a hugely enjoyable instrumental frolic through the (far) left-field which after a *completely* insane beginning (more unhinged than "Riot" and "Bury" put together!) gradually recasts itself into an equally captivating hunk of somewhat gleefully obscurist techno, defying the genre's usual "layer, build and dismantle" tradition with a frankly liberating "er, what's he going to next ?" approach to song structure. The prospect of more like this from him in future is not unwelcome.
47. Northern Portrait "Life Returns To Normal" (Matinée Recordings, 7")
Something of a SWR / Slumberland / Cloudberry and of course Matinée-fest, this list, a state of affairs for which we proffer zero apology. While this sits easily amongst the singles of the year, it was probably only about sixth or seventh best track on the long-player, which shows what a tremendous EVENT that album was. As you'll all be aware already, "Life..." is another clever, slick, melodic, smart piece of poppermost post-J. Marr jangle from this terrific discovery of a band. A shame in a way though that they chose their most Smiths-like track as a single: like Stefan's admittedly surreal dalliance with the tentacles of Murdoch, it just gives any haters (who are, of course, idiots) more ammunition.
48. Uzul "Ruffneg" (Dub Technic, 12")
Starts a little apologetically, bashful dubstep stylings that are as pleasant as an autumnal afternoon on the heath but that don't stand out from the madding crowd: yet soon enough Uzul decides to go a-genre mashing and this excellent record starts a bouncing techno pound while drawing in elements of glitch, warp, electronica, wobble, rave and even trance around it. A bold attempt to mix the 140bpm intricacies of hipster DS with both unhinged mechanical burbles and unharnessed dancefloor shenanigans, which frankly we'd have admired even if it hadn't come off.
49. I, Ludicrous "Clerking Till I Die" (Old King Lud presumably, download)
Much as we expose ourselves as unreconstructed Peelites each time we rep for yes-they-are-still-going southwest London modern music-hallers I, Ludicrous, there is method to our continued torch carrying. Like so many bands oft renowned for something they did twenty years ago, the Ludicrouses have in fact settled into a more consistently impressive career autumn, delivering downbeat drones on the human condition (miserable) that are avenues away from the tumbling, banter-fuelled shoutalongs of nerd history. "Clerking" is another of their surefooted, but assurably bleak, takes on working life: heavy bass and iron-bar guitars pull it along, while an unremitting pallor clings to Will Hung's increasingly funereal narration. There is pathos dripping from every pore here, and much as you might want to call them a joke band - and much as there are as ever lines in here that invite wry, if thin and nervy smiles - the joke has always been, as I, Ludicrous once themselves sang, "that we were serious". In a world of fluffy novelty and short attention spans, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more serious, depressing, *necessary* record than "Clerking Till I Die".
50. The Hillfields "Come Outside EP" (Underused, download)
We've huge admiration for the Hillfields (just as we have for I Ludicrous, come to think of it) for unashamedly foisting moody, downbeat indie wares on an audience attuned to more mindless, darewesay on occasion aimless, saccharin indie pop fare. The downside on a six-tracker like the (offering-you-out ?) "Come Outside", especially as it comes on the heels of the equally morose but totally A1 "Afterburn", is that by the end of it you're half-wanting to hug them and say "come on, buck up now" before they're asking you for directions to the nearest suspension bridge. All the tracks benefit from repeated plays, especially at the moment the winsomely dolorous "Mix Tape", but "Colour It In", the first track here, is still the most imposing and successful: it shakes with imperious Joy Div-isms and carved descending basslines, while Rob Hillfield summons up ghosts of childhood past. Really very good indeed. Again.
* * * * *
51. Comet Gain "I Never Happened" (What's Your Rupture?, 7" EP)
A return to form: despite its clean and simple lines, it doesn't take long to realise that "I Never Happened" the song really is prime Comet Gain (think "City Fallen Leaves"), all tingling and heady, a warm vial of pent-up love, a tribute to giddy teenage sensation and the fact that you don't have to *be* teenage to fall under its spell. Best of all, it means we can now treat "Herbert Huncke" as the temporary aberration it no doubt was. A clue as to where they're coming from on the lead track is provided by a charm-drizzled turn on New Order's ever-startlingly adorable "Love Vigilantes": in between though, there are halfcut collaborations with the Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts which are just as good as you would expect (i.e. not really very good).
52. For Ex-Lovers Only "Coffin" (Magic Marker, 7")
Sounding exactly as you might hope a band named after Black Tambourine's third or fourth best song to sound, FELO finally explode onto wax with this scratchy, brilliant, distracted sub-two minute pop noise scree of indeterminate vintage. Along with Gold-Bears' single, this also finally cements Magic Marker's place in our hearts (and charts) and yes, this is overdue: the fault all on our side.
53. Kulvinder Johal featuring Raman Aujla "Johal Boliyan" (VIP Records, download)
Now we pretend that we know about some genres, but when it comes to bhangra - um, if this is bhangra and not some subtle microgenre akin to the indie pop vs indiepop vs indie-pop debates (to be continued in the White Swan sometime) - even attempting to bluff is a non-starter. All we know is that we wish that all the weddings we'd ever been to had bounced to this kind of thing rather than the usual dry paint dross, but then we've never been to a Panjabi wedding, which is probably where we're going wrong. There were a couple of weeks where we listened to nothing other than the likes of Kulvinder and PBN, at which point it seemed likely that this top 100 singles list would suffer a serious bhangra invasion, but in the end we tacitly decided to shove all the votes in the direction of a couple of our justified favourites, starting with this one in which Derby-based veteran Johal trades vocals with teenage law student Aujla (the *actual* sound of Leamington Spa). There's quite a squelchy bassline hidden underneath, while the instrumental hook is a killer, as jangly as Close Lobsters, as feral as P.E. We are given to understand that all this is down to Tru-Skool's production skills.
54. Potential Badboy "Fast Cars" / "My Sound" (Ganja Recordings, 12")
We can take or leave "Fast Cars" - it's not in the same league as the song of the same name by the Buzzcocks - but "My Sound" is one of our favourite D&B assemblages of the year, a meld of "champion sound" sampling and ribbiting jump-up hooks, a song that leans much more towards the junglist end of jump-up (see also Jaydan's puffingly fine "Original Rudeboy" on Smokin' Riddims). And that then got us into...
55.Direct Feed & SiXfOoTuNdA "Johnny Flys West Side Grade" (Warlord Dubplate, download single)
56. Krumble "Ultrash Talker" (Jungle Therapy, download)
"JFWSG" is one "side" of Warlord Dubplate eight, a share with Ragga Scum. It's unafraid to be engagingly chaotic, an amalgam of leisurely skank with wild, unrestrained junglist drum passages, although we still maintain there's an apostrophe missing in the title. While "Ultrash Talker" is Jungle Therapy five, and does just as nicely: the Frenchman makes like Teenagers In Trouble and early Squarepusher before mixing in straight-up mad skank, scrambled ragga vox, sleek samples and industrial-strength laser sounds, and just when you think he can't top that, in come some sirens, a Flavor Flav sample (infinitely more uplifting than Flav's contemporaneous non-sampled "Can't Do Nuttin' For You" reprise on Noreaga's dismally misogynist "Nutcracker" single) and rumbling Northern Line-deep Shane Embury-esque bassology. A pleasure to listen to. (A later Jungle Therapy from Krumble, "Ticket To Grind" also merits uncovering, if only to enjoy its pelting, happy-go-lucky B-side, "Rave Destruktor").
57. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart "Say No To Love" (Slumberland Records / Fortuna Pop! 7")
"Higher Than The Stars" was a difficult proposition: it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination *bad*, but the emasculated sound, the multi-format horror and a dated St.Etienne remix combined to make it something we couldn't bring ourselves to linger on, discretion being the better part of valour and all that. "Say No To Love", however, is identifiably a searing, gutbusting and terrific song, thrillingly arranged, longingly sung, pacily strummed, and issued on gooey green vinyl. It also sounds not unlike early Ash in places (don't worry, this is good: that band's later misdemeanours against music should not deflect from the teenage kicks of "Jack Names The Planets", "Petrol" etc). It's true that the thoroughly, er, modern production sheen still strikes us as less than ideal for this achingly feral band - at least when Archie Moore was harnessing things for the LP the rhythm section was upfront and pounding, the whole shebang somehow a little more *urgent* - but maybe, if this is what it takes to get this excellent band pumping out of a few more radios, then it's still all worthwhile. Later in the year came "Heart In Your Heartbreak", and that was good too: not great, but good enough that we're still caught by a certain jealous sadness, that bittersweet feeling as they slip (up, up and) away from us.
58. Mark Zaraboy "Growl" / "Disease" (Toyfriend, download)
Aka "The Growl" / "The Disease", which prompted some discussion as to the merits and demerits of the definite article in songtitles and a slight altercation when someone suggested that Echo and the Bunnymen's best single would have profited from being called "Cutter" (and their second best "The Silver"). Zaraboy's record, whatever yr linguistic preferences, is a terrific single from the can-be great, can-be-dodgy Toyfrienders, both sides of which tease with skybound pararhythms and fluffily attractive beats, which "Growl" supplements with occasional clacking drum machine fills. Still, ultimately "Disease" is the one which we can't shake.
59. Falling and Laughing "Bunnyhood" (OddBox, CD-EP)
In the neatest of printed cardboard sleeves, this comes with its own fanzine making some very salient points on Kitty Empire's view of the indie wars (although that's the least of our own ongoing and increasingly personal beef with the Observer's music pages). But "Bunnyhood" is worth getting ultimately for the tunes, recorded and mixed with some care by the legend that is Pete Off Of Horowitz. The slower passages, all smoothed guitars that occasionally unravel, as if the Sugargliders had formed at art school, easily recall a more modish Tompot Blenny, but there is much more to F&L: the sudden, frazzled Field Mice-ish flurry of noise at the end of "Roly Poly", the poppier, more shambling "Stockholm Archipelago", the more wilfully feral "Kim's Song".
Few bands have sounded so comfortable switching between fast and slow, quiet and noisy, light and dark textures since the urgently perfect Hood. Crucially, each track also benefits from a rare innovation in indie-pop (or, indeed, music): interesting and original lyrics, epitomised by fine lead track "Feral Fanzine Frenzy" and its take on the many failures of modern music journalism, before it evolves into a paean of love for the naked honesty of the fanzine.
60. Steppa & Kitcha "Belly" / "Jaws" (Calypso Muzak, 12")
We sourced an unmarked Nu Urban promo copy, but worked out which track from the northern more fire mavens of jump-up was which quickly enough, given that one of them contains fairly obv references to a certain killer shark movie's theme tune, as well as a sample of some bloke going on about the general scariness of said beasts. But despite the majorly insane riff that defines "Jaws", it's "Belly" that's the kicker, a downward-spiralling hook that sounds not unlike the "point deducted" buzzer on Fighting Talk, interspersed with surprisingly beatless interludes that will no doubt be MASSIVELY confusing a jump-up dancefloor near you approx. now.
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61. Chris Liberator and Sterling Moss "United Colours Of Rave" / "True Colours Of Techno" (Maximum Minimum, 12")
If their acid-flecked "We're On The Outside" collaboration on Stay Up Forever perhaps tended to cater a little too completely for the "largin' it" constituency, then - just like last year's "The Cult" - this single from the ex-WAGTEY man and his sadly-not-named-after-Worrell compadre spreads the net, boasting plenty of nuclear hi-jinks for the old-man ravers but also enough drilled beat-discipline for us more puritanical, "in it for the music" got-into-techno-through-Peel consumers of London techno. In the early 2000s, Maximum Minimum were responsible for some of the best singles around, and this is therefore a welcome return for a label that at one point was matching Matinee and co stride for stride in this fanzine's year-ends. "UCOR" ultimately pivots around a timeless, not-many note rave motif, but the groove is as compellingly clean and high-bpm as the best of Chris L's past fare. "TCOT" flows naturally, dispensing with any hands-in-the-air credentials by locking in to a modern, thoroughly crafted and reasonable-octane tech groove, enlivened by the occasional intrusion of those gradually elevating "whooshing klaxon" noises we all love so.
62. Cooly G "Up In My Head" (Hyperdub, 12")
The opinion has been ventured within the catholic and usually of-one-mind in love with these times, in spite of these times organisation that "Up In My Head" is a bit... coffee table, an accusation based in part on the evidence that it received a positive write-up in the Guardian Guide, the bastion of all that is good-but-not-threateningly good in music. It's certainly true that unlike last year's seedily dark "Narst", a soundscape which brought to mind the kind of dystopic vision that Ice-T christened "a hellish habitat of shanks and steel", "Up In My Head", with its swooning vocals, feels somewhat more *commercial* (or, as the young Razorcuts had it, "COMMERCIAL!"). However, the majority view here remains that so long as you listen to it through a system with sufficient BASS, "Up In My Head" not only falls the right side of the coffee table, but proves rather stylish to boot, a more stripped-down approximation of the joys of "Reminissin'", the epitome of how a modern soulful dancefloor concoction should BE. And if the upshot of it having a club-friendly lyrical hook is that ppl who would normally only listen to stuff from the *wrong* side of the coffee table also cock an ear to this (and thus potentially to the whole Hyperdub roster), then we would venture that the more, the merrier.
63. Pale Sunday "Shooting Star" (Matin?e Recordings, CD-EP)
Deconstructed in more detail here, it became increasingly clear to us over the year that the stand out track was "Are You Scared To Get Happy ?", now a formal member of the same pantheon of greatness as older Pale Sunday hall-of-famers "The White Tambourine" and "The Girl With Sunny Smile".
64. Public Enemy "Say It Like It Really Is" (Slam Jamz)
They remain better than you think, and taking into account that this single celebrates Chuck's 50th (gulp!) birthday, they deserve at least a little ongoing kudos for retaining the kind of fire which is simply unknown to most musicians of that age. It's true that "Say It" doesn't truly set the place on fire, pull up trees or any other euphemism involving actual criminal damage, but it fully merits its place in this list not least because the fact remains that when Chuck opens his mouth, you *listen*. Flav has clearly been persuaded into the studio too, and from time to time Chuck lets him grab the mic just to let you know WHAT TIME IT IS BOYYYYYYYYYY, but thankfully the bulk of the song is devoted purely to furious scratching, a tankingly great repeated "trunk of funk" of a hook (as if the Shocklees, as a birthday present, had returned to cut and shunt Chuck's solo single "No" with PE's "Revolverlution"), and Chuck's confirmation that he's still more interested in bringing hip-hop to the world ("I just got back from SO-WE-TO") than "popping champagne", or having singing on his records. So long as Chuck D is in such imperious form, the idiots have no chance of winning.
65. The Hit Parade "I Like Bubblegum" (JSH Records, 7")
It's a measure of the greatness of the Hit Parade in more recent years that JSH Records is one of the best British record labels over that period, given that to our knowledge it has released works only by the one and only Julian Henry (of "See You In Havana", "In Gunnersbury Park" or "My Stupid Band" fame, depending on your age), and ipso facto one of the most reliable songwriters in Christendom. You may remember one JSH release from a past trawl of these very pages: the Parade's last LP, "The Return Of", which was top ten in our 2006. But now, in a neat Corbusier-showcasing sleeve, and with all profits going to the renovation of Porthmeor Studios in St. Ives, "I Like Bubblegum" sees JSH reunite with none other than Cath Carroll to give us a delectable slab of electro-tinged white funk indie-pop which frankly only they could pull off. If this had sold as many records as it ought to have, those studios would now spread over about a thousand hectares AND be awash with snooker rooms, swimming pools, an indiepop rehab centre and a garageful of Bentleys.
66. Kashmere "I Am Galaktus" (Boot, download)
A top record. Not *just* Kashmere's record - from the opening bars you will be in little doubt that the decks are being marshalled by the beatbuilding genius of Diversion Tactics' Jazz-T and Zygote - but there's no doubt that the Iguana Man's flow continues to suit these momentous, bassy, blue note productions, and "Galaktus" is prime brag, three minutes of pure stepping on the sickest of beats. The Galaktus alterego becomes a cyber companion to Chubby Alcoholic's Robot Boy (on whose self-titled single Kashmere guested), and either of them remain more than welcome to grab the mic from us anytime they roll by N1. If you check the LP, by the way, you get "Supreme Being", a not-to-be-missed Kashmere / Chubby collabo (actually, it's mostly Chubby).
67. Hell Razah "Kids In The Street" (Nature Sounds, download)
Another sterling slice of East Coast hip-hop. Brooklyn boy (another one) and former Killah Priest collaborator HR is mourning the death of innocence as well as the deaths of kid after kid on the corner, and he's entitled as anyone to ruminate on mortality having thankfully emerged from the coma suffered following a brain aneurysm. Razah recounts his own broken childhood without rancour, along with knowledge-of-self lyrics: "Shorty, you feel alone like Macaulay Culkin / that you won't make it to see 40 before you see a coffin / but don't rush to sell your soul for that fame and fortune / If it ain't a bigger portrait then it ain't important", cracking piano and chipmunk sampling production from Ayatollah and plenty of dramatic reconstructions with appropriate sound effects. Plus, like the AZ tune, some authentic shout-outs at the end.
68. Jesu "Christmas" (Avalanche, download)
Shoegaze's centre of gravity has moved not just geographically - i.e. from Morse's own Thames Valley, basically, to the rest of the world - but also by genre, the best shoegaze now coming from the "metal" side (check French band Alcest) rather than the "indie" side (notwithstanding the likes of A Sad Day For Puppets' recent Cloudberry single). Back in the early 1990s, when shoegaze was *RIFE*, we used to actively malign it, partly because our modus operandi was - and possibly still is - v. much "rebel against yr peers, not yr parents", but on reflection the bandwagons that shoegaze replaced (baggy) and was superseded by (britpop) were *much, much* more rickety.
Our main reservation now is only that so many claim to like "shoegaze" or "dreampop" without recognising that the likes of Justin Broadrick are now the colossi of the genre, a truth o'erlooked in part because of the way he mangles fuzzy sonorous dreamscapes with industrial / metal influence (so "Christmas", after a tender-ish first four minutes, detours into a more ponderous next five of jarring and juddering guitar noise - just the thing to scare away the doubters). But that shouldn't detract from the myriad attractions of this single, most of which come from the way that the appropriately pained-sounding vocal is surrounded by a sweep of part-ethereal, densely-layered, um, itself-celebrating guitar distortion. Nothing stops this "Christmas" being one of the better festive-flavoured singles we've encountered, and just hearing the main man from Godflesh crooning sweetly about sleigh bells and Christmas trees - much as the lyrics are tempered with real sadness - is a treat indeed.
69. Saqi Roadshow featuring Miss Pooja and Meet Malkit "Pariyan" (VIP Records, download)
Another danceable, boy / girl vocal gem to emerge from our autumn immersion in a very British branch of "world music". And so the musical renaissance in the West Midlands, a place which ought to be known for more than *just* inventing metal (apart from black metal of course, which we all know is a Geordie invention), continues apace.
70. Roman Zawodny "Seres EP" (Sonic Mind, download)
If his "So You Said" single (NOT a Brighter cover version) was maybe a little... *plain*, the EP title track restores order and justice with zeal and aplomb, a cracking and appositely silky funky/tech homage to the Chicago sound from this stalwart of the NorthWest (er, that's the US NorthWest, rather than Carlisle, or for the really parochial of you, Maida Vale) warehouse scene that bubbles, effervesces, oozes honey into the grooves. Smashing handclaps, too: a minor marvel of sleek, modern techno.
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71. Raffertie "7th Dimension" (Planet Mu, 12")
Raising Mark Ankh three, "7th Dimension" silkily updates last year's soothing, prog-step "Antisocial" single into a radiant meld of Jamie Vex'd's "Miracles" remix and the strange screeching noises that helped make Ant's "Homemade Discord" one of this century's better singles so far. Perky vocal samples give this Dimension a warm, housey feel, like a nervous kid brother to Skream's "Burning Up", but there's definitely a rave / trance influence in there too, with super-skittery beats combining to *maxed* effect all the while before a comedown last quarter in which a whispered calm o'ertakes as the alien chatter quietly subsides.
72. Nicol & Majistrate / Harvest "Age Of Aquarius" / "Wild Bunch" (NAM Musik, 12")
The AA-side is our pick, a breath of new life as (Birmingham's) Harvest ministers a festival of suitably agricultural wheat-from-chaff jump-up that does our world the world of good, in part through a thankfully restrained use of *exactly* the Wild Bunch sample that you'd be expecting. Murderous. Back on the A-side the label proprietors, the Forster & McLennan of the genre, intersperse their tale of Apollo 13 with groovesome enough sound effects, but over 5 minutes 30 it drags a little compared to the simple joys of "Pussy Killa", or their half of "Mission Statement Pt 6", last year.
73. Serum "Souped Up" (Co-Lab, 12")
Serum's first for Co-Lab, apparently. We've nothing specific to say about it, other than that it's very good.
So, the World Cup Final. Comfortably the best one since 1986, and anyone telling you otherwise (we appreciate this includes basically all media outlets and JCL footy fans) didn't watch any of the finals inbetween. Tense, a bit aggro (at times like the breathless & insane Holland v Portugal game in '06, or Uruguay in every game in '86), outcome in doubt 'til late, a few golden opportunities to seal it not taken, a totally action-packed half hour of extra time, the inevitable red card that was impending all game, a late goal saving us from the ignominy of penalties. The referee, incidentally, got far more right than wrong, and produced a performance far better than any of England's despisable players managed.
We really enjoyed the tournament as a whole, too, probably more than at any time since the halcyon days of the early 1990s when Romania, Yugoslavia, even Bulgaria were making the later stages. Germany, Ghana (Gyan's miss as dramatic as anything from previous tournaments) and, a tad surprisingly, Chile were terrific value. With the first division and the Champions League having become as boring as it gets, the World Cup, a bit like the coming 3rd division season, served as welcome respite. And while we're selfishly upset we won't get a World Cup on our doorstep in 2018, FIFA made the right decision (for the wrong rea$on$, obviously): England's top tier continues to ruthlessly export its brand, strangling other countries' domestic leagues whilst plundering their better players. Along with other such countries in western Europe, we're the last people you should give the tournament to.
Plus, Russia will make fascinating hosts. Their win was worth raising a glass of Stolichnaya to, and so we did (hint we learned in Russia: ice cold, it's a top-one chaser for a jar of Baltika).
74. Spiros Kaloumenos "Stay Focus EP" (Focus Records, 12")
And Otto Rehhagel got all sorts of grief for his stewardship of Greece in said World Cup, but against Argentina they were pretty professional and well organised: as usual, idiot commentators would much prefer that they'd tried to play like Brazil '70 and got mullahed than play the percentages and hope results elsewhere went for them. Sad to see King Otto go, then, but his leading Greece to Euro glory is unlikely ever to be forgotten.
As for the tune, well Piraeus-born Kaloumenos introduced himself to us with the sprawling bundle of pacy techno that was "Status Quo" (Greek with a little Latin, ha): like the Garlands' 7", it got a little overexcitable with the drum machine fills, but it would not be the last single of his we eagerly devoured. Then there was "Shortcut", even better, a 12" on TechHead Recordings, marginally more bite-sized, a single, propulsive groove that gets into its stride, gets its head down and then just carries on in a straight line, like Franz Carr. Or Adie Mings. And then there was this EP: lead tune "Keygen" is the one, adorned as it is with a shimmering, futurist glaze: while there's an Axel Karakasis remix on the other side, the original does the real business, a veritable ciabatta of wholemeal techno goodness toasted lightly with glittering synth.
75. Oh! Custer "Forget It" (Cloudberry Records, 7")
Cuter than a nest of baby robins, gnawing away at us each time we re-listen and inexorably winding and wending its way deeper under our skin, "Forget It" is an unassuming, only sort-of produced, lo-fi CORKER of le pop indie from the Swedish duo that despite its many rough edges and unspeakably tinny drum machine has more than enough, just in the way that the guitars insistently chime and clang around hug-invitingly hesitant vocals, to help it sneak in under the wire and coax us to well-up completely. Right now, as we write, those giddy, swirling, nervous opening instrumental bars TOTALLY hold us to ransom.
76. Brilliant Colors "Never Mine" (Slumberland Records, 7")
It took a second dip of our toes in the water before we gave Brilliant Colors their due, but the trio here deliver a dizzying sub-two minutes of straight-from '78 Girls At Our Best-ish shedazzle, a worthy sister to Summer Cats' similarly no-nonsense fuzzpop from earlier in the year on the same label. As with many ace bands of the recent moment (Cause Co-Motion, Sugarplums) we're convinced there's some early-14IBs in there too, at least in those sections where the guitars briefly attempt to collapse in on themselves. And the groovy bass run that intrudes towards the end makes you feel like grabbing the nearest trampolene and just *bouncing*.
77. Lifeless "Wytches Hammer" (Pay For The Piano, download EP)
Because the post we wrote on Darkthrone's "Circle The Wagons" LP - a post which we for some reason entitled "Circle The Wagons, Raise Your Flagons, Make Like Foggon And Spraggon" - still rests lonelily in the "drafts" pile, Lifeless provide the only obvious link to Middlesbrough in the blog this year. "Wytches Hammer" is a 3-track EP that follows up on their "Full Chill" set and continues the band's attempts to rehabilitate thrash, or at least stop us Brits looking across the Atlantic for it all the bloody time (we're as guilty of this as anyone, given our occasional slaveless devotion to Municipal Waste). "Wytches Tyt" rocks into view first, before "Nss" burns things up (even including a vampin' solo) and "Nuclear Bore" finishes off: it's only a demo (which is why the drums don't seem to have been properly miked up, making it sound a bit like the midnight shift at Rich Bitch circa 1986) but it shows there's nothing wrong with their ongoing songwriting skills.
78. Sven Wittekind "Dangerzone" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
Eleven ambitious minutes of neoclassical post-techno from the oft-unassailable Sven, on his own label. The prelude is a clattering, trebly rattle which eventually moves over to allow a clean percussive pulse, after which the song traces a line somewhere between Takeuchi's "Option"'s ear-bending siroccos and the more rooted techno sound of "Bass Junkies", but never quite matching the heights of either (possibly because it could have benefited from being two or three minutes shorter). Still, however, never less than pretty great.
79. Murder Construct "Murder Construct" (Relapse, 12")
So long as "noise" bands are making records this seductive then I suspect we're going to keep voting them in to these lists whether you scroll straight through them or not, and from brute opening salvo "I Am That" it's clear that newly created supergroup Murder Construct are going to have their cake *and* eat it as they segue whipcrack grind passages with sludgier breakdowns, the odd solo, and even something (loosely) approaching a chorus to create a three-minute minor metal masterpiece. Not all seven tracks can muster quite the same quality, but there's no doubt that Murder Construct have installed themselves failry forcibly on that "ones to watch" list.
80. Summer Cats "Your Timetable" (Slumberland Records, 7")
And here is that Summer Cats 45. Never thought we'd necessarily find ourselves liking a record by this lot *quite* so much, although as our past year-end singles rundowns appear to include everyone from Saxon to Rachel Stevens, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by anything. Anyway, "Your Timetable" does everything right - celerity, being *doused* in fresh and welcoming feedback (cf. the way that the Legends album showed how Club 8 + feedback = better than Club 8) and sub-two minute duration - and shows not for the first time how Slumberland can really pick an 'A' side. A neat package, too, with a geometric, gently neoplasticist sleeve as minimalist as the song, bearing only the name of the band and the name of the tunes. Bravo for that, too. Plus, the sleeve (not the song) reminds us a bit of Airport Girl's "Salinger Wrote".
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81. Majistrate "Plank Bass" / "Spiral" (Lowdowndeep, 12")
Bass bin-baiting, uptown top planking Jaydanesque jump-up jujitsu from Nicol's mate his Maj, on Logan D's lowriding Lowdowndeep label.
82. Dub Pistols featuring Rodney P "Ganja" (Sunday Best, download)
83. Skitz featuring Rodney P, Kardinal Offishall and Skibbadee "Struggla" (Dragon Drop, download)
Over the years, music introduces you to many distinctive voices, drawls, barks and croons, from Hackett's tearstained longing to Gedge's guttural moan to Smith's demented yelp. Yet occasionally the tones you hear over many years have such a comforting, reassuring, welcoming burr that you really feel like it's a reunion with an old mate every time you cue the vinyl. High on this list of "music blokes that we'd love just to go down the pub with", along with legends like Gregory Webster, Chuck D and Blak Twang, is the completely undisguisably unique Rodney P, the original riddim killa formerly of the incontestably splendid London Posse. Without him, "Ganja" would be the usual mindless student tribute to da herb (the Dub Pistols, bless their hearts, genuinely seem to be labouring under the apprehension that calling the record "Ganja" makes them edgy, dangerous, and subversive) but with him it is entertaining and enjoyable (if still mindless): Rodney's chatty rhyme skillz going up and down the register. "Struggla" is musically a little tighter, courtesy of Skitz's ever-so wide skills at the controls: here, Rodney shares vocal duties with the Kardinal and Skibbadee while police sirens occasionally intervene. Although very 21st century, what both records have in common is a certain spirit, a true-to-reggae feel, that puts us in mind of one of the great south London labels, Lavender Hill's too short-lived Fashion (once home to Smiley Culture, Tippa Irie and the like).
84. Aswad featuring Sweetie Irie "City Lock" (Rhythm Riders, 12")
At their peak, Aswad were simply one of the greatest British bands ever. That peak may have been thirty years ago, but history won't erase (and yes check out the collected Peel Sessions). This 3-tracker consists of three remixes of the title track from their LP last year - from Breakage (a fairly mentalist jungle rework), Roska and the band - although the download release added the original too. Without Brinsley Forde, "City Lock" is not, and could never be, a glorious throwback to Aswad's first "new chapter", but it has just enough - namely in the vocal harmonies and the most gorgeous brass motifs - to remind you of the band's mighty skills. As Aswad traditionalists, we'd obviously have preferred more singing on this rather than rely on Sweetie Irie's dancehall-flavoured vocal, but the band's own (Ladbroke) Grove remix, in particular (yet more sirens ahoy!) still has just enough hints of the band they once were.
85. Young Michelin "Elle M'Oubliera" (Holiday Records, download)
Now that Domenech is gone at last, our usual Francophilia can properly resume, after his disgraceful treatment of Giuly and Trezeguet and that was even before leaving out Ben Arfa, Benzema and Nasri yet still picking the likes of Gouvou, one of the worst international players we have ever seen (he's had about as many good games for France as Gerrard or Lampard Jr Jr have for England). At least when Jacquet displayed similarly eccentric wiles, playing Guivarc'h as lone striker in a World Cup final, he had Zizou in midfield to win the game single-handed.
Er, no excuse for not copping this single, given that it's free: this scamp of a chiming popsong sees Aline's YM marry merry pace with sweetly dovetailing jangly guitars and there's even a slightly unexpected but still welcome intrusion of some rather random fuzzy noise before the tune fades away. Indie in an old-fashioned, but sincerely a very good, way.
86. Peverelist "Better Ways Of Living" / "Fighting Without Fighting" (Punch Drunk, 12")
Reviewing Bristolian artistes always throws up a moral conundrum for us: the sure knowledge that they are either (1) Rovers, (2) City or (3) neither, and that two of those outcomes are unacceptable. We know that most of the Beatnik Filmstars are Rovers, that Tramway were, that the Hi-Life Companion have put their money where their mouth is by sponsoring Jo Kuffour. Cary Grant was from Horfield, so he's definitely Rovers too (by contrast, the Norman Mailer rumour was sadly a Wikipedia hoax). Massive Attack and Banksy are City, and we're given to believe that Secret Shine are, too (if that's wrong, it's probably actionable). We have no idea about Pinch, Brilliant Corners or indeed Peverelist, and reserve the right to adjust this placing as necessary should we find out. But, until we do, our line is that Peverelist has produced this brilliant if subtle single, both sides of which do him all-round credit, justice and honour, the latter featuring a bit more clattering echo, which is how we like it right about now. Records like this are almost a bridge between the most forward-thinking dubstep right about now and the equally minimalist techno emerging from stables like Sven Wittekind's (a stable which we may just have mentioned a few times).
87. Pinch "The Boxer" (Tectonic, 12")
Excellent single from fellow BS-postcode resident Pinch, who can be relied on for at least one such annually. Despite the pugilistic theme, the song is sensuous and contoured, immersed in bongo-heavy but progressive percussion and translucent, lilting wraps of sound. The boxer in question sounds punchdrunk, bursts of wobbly synth swaying around and crashing onto the ropes, with the choral sample then suggesting a ghostly choir of angels urging him back into the ring. There's a Darqwan remix on the other side, for all you Darqwan remix fans out there.
88. Dub Zero "Ragga Hammer" (Lava Recordings, 12")
At our school, there was this band called Sub Zero, chancers whose daddies had all bought them quite expensive "rock" instruments. Middle school assembly was once ruined by the "treat" of us all having to listen to the band, fronted by a midget with a mullet, perform a cover of Metallica's "In My Darkest Hour": frankly, given the choice, most of us would have willingly goldfished the usual church hymns instead. Also, when our band later "supported" them, they refused to let us use their amps, which counts as diva behaviour round our way. (Although, interestingly, the bass player later ditched the plodding metal and went on to become a certain hugely successful electronica bloke and Warp Records mainstay). However, as we all know, the joys of language mean that a single letter can make a big difference, so Dub Zero is as far removed from Sub Zero as the Fall from the Call, Cex from the Ex, Garth Crooks from Garth Brooks or Kevin Campbell from Tevin Campbell. (Mind, should it transpire that Dub Zero is the same person / people as Double Zero, who we've slagged off in the past, then we're going to look mighty silly). Anyway, "Ragga Hammer" is really all about the verse - an excitable and frankly fearsome gloop of chattering synth-drops - but the bass and FX are sprinkled into the loop just at the right times, meaning that you can withstand the repetition. Just cushty.
89. Andy White "Stereophony" (Sven Wittekind Records, download)
It always seemed the ultimate irony that stereophony, a technique for achieving the ultimate three-dimensional sound, is a word forever tainted by association with one of the most one-dimensional bands ever to have existed. As such, it may be too late to reclaim it, but Andy White does what he can with this typically ambitious, meticulously constructed single, on the only label right now that can house such ambition. Over ten minutes, the A-side epitomises the progressive, organic new wave of instrumental music as it builds gradually, eschewing traditional structures, unfolding its textures like patterns on a kaleidoscope as they turn from image to image, and each melds into the next. Yet, like his collaboration with the label owner, "Bass Junkies" (q.v.), there is still a pulse at the centre of it all, a heartbeat underlying every single nuance, every slight change of direction. In fairness, it's not a tune you could hum, but you can have fun trying...
90. Ian Void "Distraction" (Tremors Recordings, download)
Bet his nickname's "Dystop". A tide of curving, sinewy, syncopated syne waves that lap against acidtech beaches before coming ashore and being garlanded by grateful natives. Best of the four remixes is probably label overlord Martyn Hare's: otherwise, we'd suggest you plump for the original.
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91. The Blanche Hudson Weekend "Hate Is A Loaded Gun" (Squirrel Records, 7" EP)
92. The Blanche Hudson Weekend "Rats In The Cellar" (OddBox Records, 7" EP)
Very loosely speaking, if the Manhattan Love Suicides were Psychocandy then the Blanche Hudson Weekend are Darklands, and the best tracks on each of these EPs (respectively "Song For Kristen" from the former and the horribly dark, subject-wise, "Grip Of Fear" from the latter) play to their strengths by being girl-sung hymns of Mary Chain adoration: as such it's virtually impossible to separate the two singles, but the "Hate" EP gets the nod simply because of the way that "Kristen" draws to a glorious close with not one but three variants on the "Darklands" guitar melody criss-crossing each other.
93. This Many Boyfriends "Getting A Life With" (Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, CD-EP)
Lead tune "I Don't Like You (Cos You Don't Like The Pastels)" is on the side of the angels: it's a beautifully shambling piece, a parcelled-up celebration of grinding guitar fuzz and ramshackle Subway Recs flair from the Leeds combo. A little like Murder Constuct, the Boyfs get a little stretched at times over seven tracks, but finish with the other standout tune, "It's Lethal", a canny and dinking piece of thoughtful indie troubadouring with a quite *severely* hummable hook. Comes in a paper bag package with all sorts of goodies: badges, stickers, and a fanzine with a fun page (we particularly liked the maze: shades of seventies hardback pop annuals).
94. Edwyn Collins "Losing Sleep" (Heavenly, download)
We were a bit worried we might have to *pretend* this was great, but actually it *is*, instantly and obviously, very great. At least as charming as "Gorgeous George" and nearly as sweet as "Rip It Up", but with a deliciously introspective and inevitably moving lyric given his recent travails, "Losing Sleep" sees Edwyn straight back to what he invented and does best: a kind of yearning, nostalgic indie-pop soul.
95. Liechtenstein "Passion For Water" (Fraction Discs, 7")
Latest single from pop's favourite principality, last seen entering into some new tax treaties with our very own HMRC, sees them crank up a somewhat trebly (but nonetheless very welcome) Siddeleys revival tip, mixing swooping harmonies that recall the feyer flair of their own "Survival Strategies In A Modern World" with bold, (literally) brassy dollops of Johnny Johnson's sassy band.
96. High Roller "Prior Engagements" (Digital Terror, download)
When we hear the phrase "High Roller", of course we think of only one man - Ice MF T ("schoolboys admire / young girls desire / very few live to retire" and all that). This High Roller is no west coast old schooler, more a throwaway jump-up merchant, but remember that throwaway is just how jump-up should be, ya get me. (Glances at wall clock: only four more to go).
97. DMC "I Got More Songs Than You Do" (label doesn't spring to mind, download)
This fanzine stays true to the memory of Run DMC. They changed the game forever and they did it with purpose, humour and style. Hey, they're the main reason why we still rock Adidas today (well, that and our admiration for der Kaiser who, incidentally, was right about the England team. Again). If you check out Run DMC videos from day, they'll make you grin as well as make your feet move: plus, without them, you'd never have had that hugely enjoyable set-piece in CB4 where Chris Rock and co mime to them in their ride. As for the senseless death of JMJ, that was a huge loss not just to the hip-hop game, but to music full stop.
Yes, it's a shame that Run DMC's two worst ever releases are probably their two best-known: "Walk This Way", the song that (wrongly) relaunched Aerosmith as a going concern, and the fenland-flat "It's Like That" remix (frankly, they'd have done better getting in Pat Nevin than Jason Nevins). And it's a shame that their classic logo is currently nearly as ubiquitous in high street fashion as Franklin & Marshall. But these things should NEVER be held against them.
Anyway, DMC lets us know that he is still around with this single, a quaint enough ode to the i-pod - over a snarling, dirty New York rock riff allegedly produced by Freddie Foxx - that will hopefully top up his pension fund a little. Like KRS, like Rakim, like Gregory, Amelia or the Gedge, he is forever ORIGINATOR and *legend* to us.
98. DJ Honda featuring Group Home "Group Home Gangsta" (DJ Honda Recordings, download)
Brooklyn's Group Home pair up with Honda for this experi-gangsta single that sees the latter veer off on a tangent production-wise, letting Big Dap and er, the other one rhyme portentously over a spectral series of drum rolls, which together with the chipmunked vocal samples give this almost the feel of a stripped-down Starkey tune. The more we think about Honda's last album ("IV") the more we realise how great it was - "Magnetic Arts", "Never Defeat 'Em", "30 Some Odd", "KGR & Honda" *and* this - if only there hadn't been that Fred Durst collabo.
99. The Divine Comedy "At The Indie Disco" (Divine Comedy Records, download)
We are opening ourselves up to yet more ridicule from the cool here, in the unlikely event they frequent this URL, but there is still a place for well-carved three-minute melodic vignettes in our musical imaginings, and this worked just fine. We're old enough to remember when the Divine Comedy were a scrawny up-and-coming teenage Norn-Irish indie trio in tracksuits, light years from being the modern day vehicle for rich man's Morrissey Neil Hannon's overarching er, archness, so we're quite happy to give praise when the man comes correct, and this song, capturing as it does rather smartly the quintessential pathos of the indie disco, ticks all necessary boxes.
100. Shuttleworth featuring Mark E. Smith "England's Heartbeat" (Yip Yop / Minder, CD single)
The idea that every record has to "feature" someone, probably the guy or gal on vocals, is one that we trace back to the 80s, starting with Paul Hardcastle and other instrumental types who felt that "with" didn't do their singer enough justice, and then Soul II Soul came along and suddenly every record needed to "feature" someone. Nobody, however, in the history of featuring, has been a better, er, featurer than Mark E Smith: we refer you to DOSE featuring Mark E Smith, Mild Man Jan featuring Mark E Smith, Inch featuring Mark E Smith, even - somewhat memorably, as we mentioned earlier - Inspiral Carpets featuring Mark E Smith. So it was a deep sadness when Gorillaz' "Glitter Freeze", in early '010, managed to "feature" Mark E Smith only by letting him bark about five words down a fuzzy telephone line, leaving the rest of their instrumental wibblings untouched by his erudite whimsy and maniacal musings (and yes we know that's the second time we've complained about "Glitter Freeze" tonight, but then it *was* a grave disappointment, a bit like the "river of fire", which we're also not going to stop complaining about any time soon either).
Luckily "England's Heartbeat" redresses the balance, some almost-indiepop guitars with mournful chorus chords over which Smith sounds surprisingly tender, setting out fairly non-specific thoughts on the World Cup odyssey, although the song is also pockmarked with distorted loudhailer edits of his more familiar stentorian bark. All this makes it, while no "Kicker Conspiracy", the best footy song since I Ludicrous' "We Stand Around" (er, and that isn't by the Declining Winter).
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Bubbling under (hang on... rustles various bits of paper):
Pale Sketcher, Jaydan, Insect Guide, more from Virgil Enzinger, the Noisear / Arson Project split (second best split 7" of the year, with Noisear = the Garlands), Outdoor Miners (at least as much Midway Still as J. Mascis, but still pretty *grate*), more Krumble, the Sunbathers / Los Lagos de Hinault split, more Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the Foreign Beggars remixes, A Sad Day For Puppets ("Again": not "Touch", that was terrible), Tony Montana, Meow Meow (sweet, really well put-together Cub / Gaze-echoing number with duck & dive boy / girl vocals, but still ne'er a patch on S.S.S.), POTO (that Lukas mix), the other ones we mentioned from Spiros Kaloumenos, Cortechs' "Slow Wave Sleep", Aias, DVA (the sort of looping, discombobulated, glimmering Eastern-tinged flow that Trim might well covet for any "Monkey Features Vol 2"), Abraxas, Bubblegum Lemonade, the Orchids, the Notes, Killing Joke, Vic Godard, Cooly G vs. Scratcha DVA, Sadat X, D Double E, Purified In Blood (you can't beat a bit of battling Scandinavian folk song-morphing into metallic / hardcore crossover in the morning)...
... one of Jammer's ("Back To The 90s"), Ikonika, more Terror Danjah, more Steppa & Kitcha, Talib Kweli, the Rotted, A Smile And A Ribbon, Pleasure vs. Heist (nothing annoys fellow commuters quite like drum and bass at this pace), Wiley, more Kryptic Minds, Houdini (they're no Whodini, though), Motorhead, Majistrate again, Folk & Stress featuring GZA (even if the first 2'45" is spent drumming fingers on the table, gently browsing copies of Country Life while waiting for the GZA to actually turn up to the studio and deliver his verse!), Sometimes Always, White Town, Memphis Bleek, Allo Darlin', more Adriano G., D.A.V.E. the Drummer and Sterling Moss, Birds Of California, DJ Pleasure again, DJ Hazard, Just Ice and KRS-One, Singing Bridges, KRS-One on his own, Honda featuring Kool G Rap, Tantrum Desire & Cabbie, Standard Fare, Martyn Hare, Stig of the Dump, JME, Canibus, King Midas Sound...
... two from Ice Cube ("I ain't Sinatra, I ain't tha Carter" indeed), one from Snoop (mind, it was a Cube cover), Hexicon, World Atlas, Distance and Benga, Sterling Moss v A.P., the Whatevers, Beanie Sigel, Sambassadeur, Raffertie again, more than one from Starkey, Redmist Destruction (but why oh why is nothing on their EP in the same league as their Terrorizer Grindhouse cut, "Fucking Destruction" ?), James Blake, Tinie Tempah's "Pass Out" (seriously - it's pop not grime, obv, but for a UK no.1 record to have a sense of humour, not too much auto-tuning, hardly any background wailing, and musically some vaguely interesting things going on, including switches of mood to both reggae-skank and dimly furious d&b...), DJ Itchy and Guy McAffer, Television Personalities, Big Troubles (a kind of "Swan Finer" to Outdoor Miners' "70s Manual Worker"), S.Kalibre (but really, nothing on a par with this), the Vaselines, Big Twins, Dum Dum Girls, Greg(o)rian, DJ Honda featuring Ras Kass...
... though we didn't include the otherwise excellent A-Bomb and Klute "singles", as in the end we reluctantly accepted they were really tasters for their (rather good) albums...
Right. Now, that, surely, really is it. Our "swinging" cover star today, by the way, was Francombe House, Redcliffe, Bristol, shot in balmy April 2010.