Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Junior Agogo Says
Hi, I'm Junior Agogo. It's not been a bad 2005 for me, especially when I can be bothered (witness my absurdly good performances at Roots Hall and Brisbane Road). But what sort of year has it been for music ? Let's find out, by looking at the best 100 songs of 2005.*
1. Hood "The Negatives..." (Domino, CD single)
From probably the strongest "alternative" album of the year, "Outside Closer", this was not only a landmark Hood single..." with its massive, crunching hip-hop beat and atmospheric strings... but also featured two cracking, blissful indie-dub B sides. To limit this to 500 copies is a crime not seen since Sordide Sentimentale so cruelly hid away "Dead Souls" and "Atmosphere" all those years ago...
2. Ant "Midnight Black" (Max side) (Maximum Minimum, 12")
Favourite Ant single of the year has changed on a virtually daily basis, but "Midnight Black" ends up top of the pile, fighting off stiff competition from the intriguing, in-yer-face "Homemade Discord", the linear "Limehouse Green" (with 'Mark Verso' - a nice pseudonym but I've no idea who for), … the Prospero's Island of glittering repetition, "The Tempest" and perhaps the most immediate of them all, "Surge". It's rare that a record, especially an instrumental record, can keep the attention for so long, but the layers to Midnight Black just keep building ... instantly adorable, a tight, chatty hook counterpointed by sprightly bleeping and swooshing drums to create an unforgiving sirocco of sound.
3. Ant and Rackitt "Surge" (Powertools, 12")
A terrific, relentless rhythm, with the beats simmering, then sizzling, reaching boiling point and then cascading smilingly back down through your ear canals. Or, to use metaphors from the summer… It works itself up into a mild lather at first, and then the frequencies become higher and more prominent. Then they go slightly mental, topple like a pile of cards and back in comes the banging beat. Surge! Indeed.
4. Lethal Bizzle featuring Fire Camp "No" (single on V2)
I like to think we'll look back on Lethal B's run of nr-grime floorfilling singles ("Pow!" aka "Forward", "No", "Uh-Oh" and of course More Fire's "Oi!", the granddaddy of them all) as a run to match the first few McCarthy or Wedding Present releases, even if not attaining quite the dizzy heights of the Buzzcocks' run of 45s on United Artists. Anyway, each of Bizzle's hits are simple, unchallenging but utterly addictive (and it would have been even better if he'd added "Fuck You!" to the list, instead of the extremely lame "Fire"). But "No" is probably still the pick, possibly because the riddim is the fastest and polysyllables are at even more of a premium than usual. Also because this was a rare occasion of hearing something ace on 1Xtra (which happens a lot) and then actually being able to track it down (which happens v little). The title track of his "Against All Oddz" album was later to prove that Lethal can go for the Dizzee-style atmospheric, slightly haunting slowie - but overall, it's the enervating "No" that has given me the biggest grin over the past year.
5. Forest Giants "Beards" (from "UFO Stories" CD-EP on Breaking Down)
Should have been a single and almost was. "Beards" has cemented itself in my mind as "Postcards" part two, the best song about regret for many a time, sung so wistfully and played with such caresses, again just the right mixture of grit and delicacy in the guitars that slide around against each other while Tim R. evokes the haziness of lost days and worlds turned upside down. So pleased I got to see them play it this year in one of Camden's dusky pub back rooms. And that they are apparently Rovers not City.
6. Salvo featuring Conspicuous "Dead Moths" (from "Cooking The Books" 12" on Last Minute)
A brilliant EP from Salvo, with this and "1000 Possibilities" being the cream - a teenage UK take on the kind of thing that Gang Starr were doing with samples and scratching a decade or so ago, albeit with less bravado. Salvo and brother 182 have pretty much hit their stride now as a team, and "Dead Moths", a celebration of the joys of vinyl that will ring true with any of us whose cupboards are full of records and, well, dead moths, is about as good a UK hip-hop track as I've heard all year. I'd like him to have had rather more competition, mind.
7. Manage "Rise Up" (12" single on Defcon)
So good I bought it twice… Typical Chemo production with great crackle and Mobb Deep piano. Manage then comes in and turns it into a hard-hitting, aspirational joint.
8. Dynasty Crew "Bare Faced Dynasty" (from "Run The Road 2" CD album on 679)
Right. Explanations required. Why have I not heard of Dynasty Crew ? Are they south or East London or, as is rumoured, west Lond, or what ? Why can't I buy all their records ? Why aren't they in the charts ? I mean I can do a Google search and find out that they consist of DJ Showdown, DJ Wizz-Kid, DJ Danos, Marcie Phonics, Hyper Fen, Diablo, Speedy Rex, Hitman Twister, Do-Be, Naughty Gangster and DB1 - but why aren't those names as familiar as the surviving Wu-Tangers or the So Solid first XXII ? Anyway, "Bare Face Dynasty" is another dancefloor stormer, a debut as wonderfully explosive as J&MC's "Upside Down", and a track that remembers that a crucial element of classic grime (er, for me) is a slamming and v. garagey bassline - if I want straight hip-hop, there are plenty of other, good places to go (including, it would appear, some of the other selections on RTR2). Over the aforesaid bassline, various likely lads - presumably the above-named minus the ones with the "DJ" prefix - brag and caper. It's easy while listening to this to imagine the crew jumping around the studio, the engineer's thermos flask being tipped all over the mixing desk as the place succumbs to all the kinetic energy on display. "This is the best thing since Pow!" they shout. Well, they got their reference points damn straight - it's not far off.
9. Pale Sunday "The White Tambourine" (from "Summertime ?" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
…there's more to exotic Brazil than Dunga, Denilson and death metal. For a start, there's Pale Sunday, whose "The Girl With Sunny Smile" EP started and finished with two quite brilliant indie-pop numbers. Their latest gem, "The White Tambourine" is a taster download from the label website: the lyrics trace the engaging silliness of being entranced by a girl's "la-la-la's" and yes, white tambourine, which once upon a time was certainly enough to draw me to Amelia Fletcher. But this is a song made not by its happily sherbet verses, but by the exhilarating bursts of noise that then kick in, at just the right time, and just loud enough to irritate the drearier indie-pop aficionados...
In fact, Pale Sunday's album, which the mp3 trailed, doesn't, throughout, scale the heights of this wondrous song, although "Never Say Goodbye" is a close-to-sublime indie ballad and the likes of "Mary" more than adequately trace the tracks of "Sunny Smile". But there's just something about Pale Sunday's singer which screams out "loveable" and "huggable", in the same way that on his new single Richard Ashcroft, say, screams out "punchable", and we all know from basic algebra that: supremely fey delivery of a verse + wall of sound that bundles in afterwards = our new musical crush.
10. No Lay "Unorthodox Chick" (from "Run The Road 2" CD album on 679)
Although "RTR2" was named best compilation LP of the year in Observer Music Monthly, which is normally a sign that something is the epitome of cosmetropolitan f(l)avour (of the month) and hence generally useless, it is, entirely coincidentally, the best compilation LP of the year, and like "Bare Faced Dynasty", this tune is relentlessly brilliant. Well, after the unnecessary intro. When it gets going properly, No Lay floors you with the most maxed-up lines of all (the "heads I win / tails you lose" conceit matching the confidence of the "put you in BUPA" threat spat out to kickstart last year's classic prequel, "Unorthodox Daughter"), and her well, elegance and arrogance then set fire to everything. From thereon in, the garagey riff stays the same, she keeps rapping, doesn't take a breath, and you can't help but quicken your pace to keep up with your heartrate. This is, quite clearly, not much more than "...Daughter" revisited, but then that was the best song ever**. On the bonus DVD, the freestyle she does shows that she's obviously up with the best of them at the moment, which does rather beg the question, where do I hear more ? Answers on a postcard. Or an e-mail will do.
11. The Wedding Present "I'm From Further North Than You" (Scopitones, CD single)
Yes, them. What ?
A genuine top 40 hit, and one that has actually improved over very regular plays this year. It's the sort of thing I can almost imagine Matinee releasing - at times extremely Windmillsy, the Windmills being the only band who've ever really reached the parts of me that both the Weddoes and the Smiths once could. Anyway, back to "Further North": I'm still less than convinced by "Take Fountain" as album, but this and "Interstate 5", though utterly contrasting, are classic TWP singles ...a more conventional tune, somewhere between the better Hit Parade singles and the carefully-balanced Saturnalia set, but it's still a really rather lovely single, mixing regret and mewling guitar lines with some catchy stabs of melody and a hook which sees him observe, "we had some good times, too.... but just not very many" as the drums clang back in. Aaah. And the romance and softness and melody of this, combined with the way that the guitar volume spirals upwards whenever required so that things never get too drippy, really make it one of the best pop songs of 2005. So there.
12. Ant "Homemade Discord" (Powertools, 12")
Strange, exciteable sounds flit around, squirming like tadpoles searching desperately for the bank, but being bombarded by a sensory assault of techno pulses, Ant relentlessly tinkering with the rhythms in case anyone tries to make sense of things: the greatest moment, as ever, is when the beats fall through a trapdoor halfway through and Ant fills the listener's ears with screeching, half-cock, half-siren loops. Way to get stared at on the Tube. This was my favourite tune of the year for ages, and is still one I'd spill blood for in the right circumstances, even if the drumbeat is distinctly similar to the underlay they use on "Surge"...
13. Math and Physics Club "Movie Ending Romance" (Matinee Recordings, CD single)
Now known as "Math and Physics" to me, as they seem to be to the bloke at Rough Trade who apologised with only mild grace for flogging copies of their singles in the wrong sleeves, the band formerly known to this blog as M&PC fulfilled with this tune the not inconsiderable potential of their first "Weekends Away" EP, whose title track dealt squarely with the true undercurrent of relationships in a nutshell, frankly ("you've got your baggage / and I've got mine… you do all the driving"), even if some had it down as just a jaunty popsong. With "Movie Ending Romance", both musically and lyrically there are sprightly, poppy passages and wonderful, sadder, reveries, the latter lit up by some lovely, baby guitar lines that just pop up in an early-Belle & Seb way inamidst the singer's gentle Mozzerisms... yet you can still somehow tell that for once you're listening to a like-minded group of friends rather than the usual lonely bloke with a drum machine. "Movie Ending Romance" is just one of those singles that chooses to delight, rather than plod, at every turn, as they show off how much their songwriting has come on in such a short space of time: but without losing an ounce of the charm that made their first EP a breath of fresh air.
I haven't been abused for a while for slagging off the Beach Boys, so as it's Christmas - a time for brutal truth, in my eyes - I will point out here that Math and Physics do not need to be doing BB covers ("You're So Good To Me") when their own songs are frankly much better. That, and the possibly irrelevant observation that "God Only Knows" is the most overrated song ever not recorded by the Beatles, should start up the e-mails again...
14. Lethal Bizzle "Backwards" (white label, 12")
"God's Gift - you grandad!"
Laying into Riko and co - also sitting v. nicely with the later anti-Roll Deep taunts of "The Truth" - "Backwards" gave us all the chance to enjoy yet another take on "Pow!" which is, by turns, venomous, funny and funky. Yaay.
15. Lovejoy "Sid Vicious" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
I have waxed lyrical about this little gem before, but "Sid Vicious" is a beautiful song, so finely weighted, so full of hopes and fears. Like the Helen Love tune that may yet appear somewhat further down the page, Joey Ramone gets a reference, along with Sid, and "Steven" (wonder who that could be ?) but this is of course a world away from the Ramones' endearingly artless noise, instead being a Wake-like slab of electro-indie-pop with a distinctly human heartbeat. The more I listen to the album as a whole, btw, the more it cements itself in the top ten LPs of the year - no mean achievement for a non-metal release, in the current climate!
16. Napalm Death "Losers" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
One of many outstanding individual tunes on a great, great album. With a danceable chorus riff (well, you know, danceable like Terrorizer or Sepultura) counterpointing frenetic, high-tempo verses, "Losers" gets even better when they then just decide to slow it right down into a groove of a different feel altogether. What. A. Band.
17. Half Man Half Biscuit "We Built This Village on A Trad. Arr Tune" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)
"Ain't no local groups called 'Fuck Your Conglomerates' / No narky young upstarts called 'Fuck Your Conglomerates'..."
Come on. If a song can live up to this title, it's worth hearing. And it does - painting a tale of a very English village and its suspiciously fulfilled inhabitants with unerring, disturbing accuracy, and rickety but insistent indie guitars.
18. Cee-Rock 'The Fury' "Anderson Iz Nice" (from "Bringin You Da Yowza" 12" on Wolftown)
Despite being a Wolftown release, Cee-Rock is a New Yorker and his ode to, er, himself crackles from the word go - pretty piano sounds and a laid-back, non-cussing, style. Like the Milano / Smiley da Ghetto Child 12" on Heavy Bronx, it shows that there is life in US hip-hop, and it's ironic (but much appreciated) that some of it is getting to these ears via UK labels…
19. The Lucksmiths "The Music Next Door" (from "Warmer Corners" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
A band what I really love, even if I have still never seen live thanks to an over-zealous bouncer at the Metro on Oxford Street: and with this album of course there was never any real prospect of disappointment…this tune is the star, for me, simply for the way that it unfolds over four minutes of tugging emotions (none of your flat joyless indie-pop boy-meets-girl girl-leaves-boy woe-is-boy narrative) before tumbling breathlessly into the most memorable, hummable single melody line of the whole album and lifting the listener several miles into the soggy ether...
20. Bolt Thrower "The KillChain" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)
Bolt Thrower, like the Lucksmiths, gave us their eighth studio album this year - and, like the Lucksmiths, I'm delighted to report that they haven't changed the formula at all, especially with Karl Willetts returning on vocals. "Those Once Loyal" is their Great War album (tying in nicely with the excellent Channel Four series "Not Forgotten" - they should have given us more like that and less Big Brother and feeble comedy-dramas about Blunkett or Princess Marge) and it is very good indeed.
21. Martyn Hare "Emetic XI" (B side of 12" on Emetic)
22. Ant "The Tempest" (Powertools, 12")
23. Lethal Bizzle "Fuck You!" (from "Against All Oddz" album on V2)
24. Ant and Mark Verso "Limehouse Green" (Max side) (Maximum Minimum, 12")
25. The Fall "What About Us ? (from "Fall Heads Roll" LP on Slogan)
26. Salvo "1,000 Possibilities" (from "Cooking The Books" 12" on Last Minute)
27. Ant "Squarewave Rebel" (12" single on Superconductor)
28. Lady Sovereign "Random (Menta Remix featuring Riko)" (from "Random" CD single on Casual)
"9 to 5" was, indeed, terrible (and the single version of "Hoodie" not a huge amount of cop), but at least the major label link-up didn't prevent one more fine Lady Sov release, and it was "Random", and more particularly this Menta remix which saw Riko phoning in his rhyme from H.M.P. Brixton (ah, but he's no MC Duke) on an exceedingly bad line.
29. Raging Speedhorn "A Different Shade Of Shit..." (from "How The Great Have Fallen" CD on Steamhammer)
30. Ant and Lenny Dee "The Powertool" (Powertools, 12")
31. Lovejoy "Everybody Hates Us And We Don't Care" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
32. Half Man Half Biscuit "Asparagus Next Left" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)
33. Napalm Death "Silence Is Deafening" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
34. Flyblown "Never Forget To Fight" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
For the record, "Genocide-Genocide" was the best album of the year (if not as good as - and rather different from - the best of last year, but then that was by Harper Lee…)
35. J Gambles "Good Morning" (from "Channel U Presents Underground 2" CD)
When I first heard this I thought it was a bit rubbish, to be honest, but much like Fallacy and Fusion's "The Groundbreaker" a few years back, it has now become sufficient of an obsession that, while I still really have no idea whether or not I like it, it has grown to be part of my life and I therefore retain an ongoing affection - as I would for a family member - for its slow pace, J's extremely laid-back and matter-of-fact delivery, the lyrical repetition, the way that he refers to himself as "Gambles" about 1 million times, and the Renault Clio simile (even before he rhymes it with "CEO"). I like the video too.
36. Lady Sovereign featuring Skepta, Jammer, Ears and Baby Blue "Hoodie (Mizz Beats remix)" (from "Hoodie" CD single on Island)
Although, having said what I said above about the official A side version of "Hoodie", this remix is comprehensive and, frankly, exciting. Also, I got an Adidas hoodie for Christmas myself and it is ace.
37. Guy McAffer / Eddie Santini "RAW 28" [A] (RAW, 12")
38. Ant "Sawtooth's Revenge" (from "Squarewave Rebel" 12" on Superconductor)
39. Diversion Tactics featuring Blade "Live To London" (Boot, 12")
40. Half Man Half Biscuit "Joy Division Oven Gloves" (from "Achtung Bono" CD album on Probe Plus)
41. Hood "Any Hopeful Thoughts Arrive" (from "Outside Closer" LP on Domino)
42. Napalm Death "Sold Short" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
43. The Remote Viewer "They're Closing Down The Shop" (from "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" on City Centre Offices)
44. Styly Cee featuring Cappo "The Test Match" (Son, 7")
45. Comet Gain "If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life" (from "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" CD-EP on Fortuna Pop!)
46. Tender Trap "Talking Backwards" (from "Language Lessons" CD-EP on Matinee Recordings)
47. Cappo "I Know" (from "I.D.S.T." 12" on Zebra Traffic)
48. The Snowdrops "Sleepydust" (CD single on Matinee Recordings)
49. Kicker "Since You Left" (from "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" CD-EP on Fortuna Pop!)
50. Milky Wimpshake "I'm Saving Myself For You" (from "Popshaped" CD album on Fortuna Pop!)
51. Ant vs D.D.R. "Kryptonite" (Yolk , 12")
52. The Mitchell Brothers featuring Sway "Harvey Nicks" (679, 12")
53. Dirty Diggers "For The Haters" (from "Diggers Don't Get Days Off" 12" on Zebra Traffic)
54. E Z Riders "Black Box Theory" (Cluster, 12")
55. Manage featuring Syanide "Riot!" (12" single on Konshus)
56. The Happy Couple "The Pop Kid" (from "Fools In Love" CD EP on Matinee Recordings)
57. Napalm Death featuring Jello Biafra "The Great And The Good" (from "The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code" CD album on Century Media)
58. Lovejoy "Petrol Stars" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
59. Flyblown "Strength To Conquer All" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
60. The Go-Betweens "Darlinghurst Nights" (from "Oceans Apart" CD on Lo-max)
61. Flyblown "Smell The Apathy" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
62. Bolt Thrower "Granite Wall" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)
63. Flyblown "Liberty And Deceit" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
64. Roll Deep Crew "Poltergeist (Remix)" (from "In At The Deep End" CD)
65. Trembling Blue Stars "This Is Bliss" (from "Bathed In Blue" CD-EP on Elefant)
66. Hood "The Sad Decline Of Home" (from "The Negatives…" CD single on Domino)
67. Flyblown "The Doves Do Not Fly Here Any More" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
68. Million Dead "Bread & Circuses" (from "Harmony No Harmony" LP on Xtra Mile)
69. Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25 - Clanking" (from "The Machinist" 12" on 4x4)
70. The Lucksmiths "Sunlight In A Jar" (from "Warmer Corners" CD album on Matinee Recordings)
71. P Brothers featuring Smiley da Ghetto Child "Scriptures" (12" on Heavy Bronx)
72. Lethal Bizzle "Uh-Oh" (single on V2)
73. Flyblown "Torn From The Land" (from "Genocide-Genocide" LP on On The Verge)
74. Hood "Still Rain Fell" (from "Outside Closer" LP on Domino)
75. Klashnekoff "No Games" (from "Focus Mode" CD mixtape on Altered Ego)
76. Bolt Thrower "At First Light" (from "Those Once Loyal" LP on Metal Blade)
77. Public Enemy "Bring That Beat Back" (from "New Whirl Odor" LP on SlamJamz)
78. Styly Cee featuring Midnyte "No Pills, No Thrills" (Son, 7")
79. Helen Love "Debbie Loves Joey" (from "The Bubblegum Killers EP" on Sympathy for the Record Industry)
80. Jamie Ball / Julian Liberator "4x4x25 - Funky" (from "The Machinist" 12" on 4x4)
81. Guy McAffer "Nelly And Roy" (from "Ave Some Of That You Wankers!" CD on RAW)
82. Rachel Stevens "Negotiate With Love" (CD single on Polydor)
83. Hood "Squint In The First Light Of Day" (from "The Negatives…" CD single on Domino)
84. Ant & Nick Grater "Nitrous Oxide" (Cluster, 12")
85. Ant & Chris Liberator "Bandsaw" (Powertools, 12")
86. The Lucksmiths "The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco" (Matinee Recordings CD single)
87. Ant & Chris Liberator "Sound Of Police" (Yolk, 12")
88. Def Tex "Freaks" (single, I think, on Son: you can find it previewed on Son's '98-04 comp)
89. Chris Liberator and K.N. "Bullet Train" (Maximum Minimum, 12")
90. P Brothers featuring Milano "Got It On Me" (12" on Heavy Bronx)
91.Chris Liberator & Guy McAffer "Steel Grey" (Maximum Minimum, 12")
92. Ant and K.N. "The LOUD Shit!" (Powertools, 12")
93. Sway "Up Your Speed (Remix)" (Dcypha)
94. D.A.V.E. The Drummer and S.P. Groove "Hydraulix 29" (12" on Hydraulix)
95. Obituary "Slow Death" (from "Frozen In Time" CD on Roadrunner)
96. Roll Deep Crew "When I'm 'Ere" (from "In At The Deep End" CD)
97. The Remote Viewer "I'm Sad Feeling!" (from "Let Your Heart Draw A Line" on City Centre Offices)
98. The Happy Couple "Hopeless Case" (from "Fools In Love" CD EP on Matinee Recordings)
99. The Fall "Assume" (from "Fall Heads Roll" LP on Slogan)
100. Ant & Chris Liberator "Spiritual War" (Yolk, 12")
* Sort of. It obviously excludes the usual plethora of great records from this year that will be belatedly discovered by me in the next 12 months, plus the ones I know do exist but I haven't (yet) tracked down - hello Boyracer. Also, the further you go down from 1-100 the more it's frankly just a list of songs I like, even if 2004 was a far better year.
** Poetic licence: it's only the second best. The best song ever is, of course, "Christmas" by Brighter.