The best singles of 2009: 11-20
11. The Faintest Ideas "Procrastination of Every Day Tasks" (Slumberland, 7")
As you will appreciate, "Procrastination..." is actually a mere one-third of this excellent 7"-diameter disc (Slumberland's "Searching For The Now volume 5"), teamed with two other landmark songs in Liechtenstein's dreamy "This Must Be Heaven" and the Faintests' own, more plangent "You're Gonna Wake Up One Morning and Know What Side of The Bed You've Been Lying On".
("Perhaps [Liechtenstein's] poppiest track of the year is could-have-been-a-53rd&3rd single-in-day "This Must Be Heaven"... but it's actually the Ideas who come out on top on that platter, with two corking songs, of a quality that only the Bright Lights and Boyracer have really managed at the same velocity, and that remind you that there is no level on which the Faintest Ideas did not make brilliant *POP* music. The consensus seems to be that they are now no more, in which case we can only say that they will be very sorely missed.")
But for us, it's this last song on the platter that deserves elevation, perfectly summing up the trajectory of this sadly-gone band with two minutes of noisy, gnawing pop that seems to cram in every emotion we've ever felt and leave us feeling somehow both churned-up and ecstatic. It's enough for us that Gothenburg gave us its symphony orchestra (ooh, and Liechtenstein), but chucking in the Faintest Ideas as well makes the place even more magical to us. Listening to this final postcard from the kingdom of Denmark, and relating to it so much in this London drizzle, is a sheer privilege.
12. Skream "Burning Up" (Digital Soundboy, 12")
It's fair to say that sometimes we think maybe dubstep darling Skream is a tad overhyped. But then he comes up with singles like this, dabbling delightfully in delectably old-skool jungle, and we throw up our hands and happily acknowledge that he can deserve all the love he gets. Loosely doing the same for us in '09 as Jaydan's "What U Want" did in '08, "Burning Up" artfully takes dubstep, drum n'bass and house influences and sampled vocals but never sounds like a mere reassemblage, a chin-stroking construct. Instead, the turbo-bass and Amen breaks emphasise its simplicity and danceability. The sleeve is not of his native Croydon but instead a shot of the river, split by the Millennium Bridge, facing the gamut of ugly buildings running along Upper Thames Street: you may remember the millennium's "river of fire" not so much dancing across the water as petering out pathetically above it. With "Burning Up", happily, the flames are for real.
13. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart "Come Saturday" (Fortuna Pop! / Slumberland, 7")
Look. We grew up on Factory and Sarah, so the idea of taking singles off albums, especially afterwards, still gives us a little chill. But the Pains can be forgiven because "Come Saturday", one of the more muscular tracks on their debut LP, is such a bouncing, flawless, hook-drenched don't-want-it-to-end song; and partly because previously unreleased "Side Ponytail" on the other side of the Saturday afternoon-green vinyl - a shortform, buzzpop variation on "Come" - still outdoes many an A-side released this year.
There's a school of thought that says this re-recorded version is inferior to the "Searching Of The Now" version, but then there's a school of thought that says the Earth is flat. We reckon this "Saturday" is effortlessly superior to the original recording, as #13 (set against the heights of #58 last year...) might just show...
14. Lomax "Faith Massive" (RAM Records, 2x12")
"Breakthrough single ahoy: Lomax decides to throw us a *mighteous* 'plate with "Faith Massive"... combining dubsteppy wiles with fractured jump-up, a nervous and skittering dish rendered slightly surreal by the occasional crashes of what appears to be Gary Numan's doorbell. It's a double-12", but you only really need the title tune."
In other words: fractured, wintry dubstep shot through with icy blasts of d&b.
15. The Postcards / Yellow Melodies split (Cloudberry Records, 3" CD-R)
Firstly, apologies to the Yellow Melodies: nowt wrong with them, but they are here in what's become known by this fanzine as the "Driller Killer role".
As for the Postcards: well. We've banged on a fair bit about undersung bands from the last decade who've effortlessly turned out nr-stupendous stuff that many an 80s label would have clamoured to release: the Hillfields,Northern Portrait (we've now heard "My New Favourite Moment", too: oh my GOSH yes), Forest Giants, the mighty Windmills. And the Postcards (it appears they take their name from the label, but funnily enough if they were named after the simply smashing Forest Giants tune of the same name that would fit just as well) are another such, a group whose songs surely cry out to be released ON VINYL, as "Postcards" was but sadly the Hillfields and NP have not yet been. "Watch The Skies!" is just *a brilliant song*, a shyer take on the deft epic guitar-pop of the W's "Walking Around The World". It's understated, brisk, melodic, sad, crying out to have been released as an own-right 7". The companion piece, "Nothing Excites Me Like You" is not quite as chic, but it's still a warm, scrambling soup of jangle, one that pricks the same hallowed reference points in us.
What's more, turns out the Postcards are from our very own beloved London - out in SE23 -and we never knew. Sorry not to have picked up on them before they received Roque's seal of approval: like Violent Arrest last year, they're a group we should never have slept on, but who we'll definitely be keeping tabs on now.
16. Cooly G "Narst" (Hyperdub, 12")
"Cooly G drops pure PHYSIC on this monster instrumental... the kind of beat that a wasted talent like Skepta could really do with at the mo... plays out as the soundtrack to a scrolling urban underworld of shanks and steel, a tune that's sinister yet still pregnant with suggestion. "Narst" doesn't actually go anywhere in the end, mind - its clipped, grime-like pulses sound like a crescendo that never comes to fruition - but as they say, sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive."
Pulsing urban noir from deep house's only Tooting & Mitcham player. "Loved Up" on the flip, featuring G's own vocals, got more love(d up), but for us it was "Narst" that was the deal real. There are so many reasons we prefer autumn / winter evenings to summer days - and so many aborted blogposts on the subject that will no doubt eventually transmogrify into a finished one - but the way that grime and dubstep come into their own when you're wandering the London streets of a crisp, clear night is one. "Narst" is such a song, one that makes you feel king (or queen) of the pavement.
17. Horowitz "How To Look Imploring" (Cloudberry Records, 7")
"What a single their forthcoming 45 on Cloudberry is, two songs that could fight all day for A-side status and you'd never be able to sensibly resolve it without UN intervention. "How To Look Imploring" is even more ridiculously tuneful than [Very Truly Yours'] "Popsong '91", all carefree careering down a luge of snowflake-covered melody, while "The Drunks Are Writing Punk Songs" admits little changes of pace while still anchoring them brutally to Tullycraft-esque hooks the size of the Appalachian mountains... there's no getting away from the fact that when both sides rule as much as this, the humble 7" continues to be one of our greatest sources of joy in this sometimes dark, decaying world."
True that. As brighter blogs than this one have observed, no single record - not even Rakim's "Seventh Seal" - has had a longer gestation period than this 7", first announced in the Cloudberry Bugle as a wax cylinder. Was it worth the wait though ? Oh yes, especially with the original art (front and back) from Andy Hart. And we still can't tell you which track we prefer.
18. Recordkingz featuring Mobb Deep "Heat" (Recordkingz / Creative Entertainment, download)
"Imperious... a sweet summation of the artistry of Queensbridge's most revered veterans... not least as it's so long since the Mobb gave us a single this good on their own... this is a sticky, sultry, scratch-filled banger that manages to sound modern (there are some in-vogue Eastern stylings) but yet not as *plastic* as the new school so often does. Juliano has taken the time to sculpt something that suits Prodigy and Havoc, and they oblige by rocking up some simple QB phrases and spitting them across the piece."
19. Pocketbooks "Footsteps" (How Does It Feel?, download)
Blue riband chocolate box POP! from north London's finest purveyors of well, blue riband chocolate box POP! Like their previous single classic, "Cross The Line", it's not just the coursing melodies or the keenly observed, effortlessly romantic lyrics but simply the way the song is put together, the art of song arrangement having elsewhere rather tumbled down the pecking order in indie-pop's evolution. There have been some interesting conversations about how the London that Pocketbooks evoke is a world away from the spectral, ambient London of King Midas Sound or the cut-throat London of most new urban music as if that was a bad thing, but it hardly makes them any less authentic. If Pocketbooks started to tell tales instead of nights out robbing in Somers Town, that might just be a sign they were slipping. But as it is, they've still got it LOCKED.
20. Horowitz "Super Snuggles" (This Almighty Pop!, CD-R)
"Title ripe for emblazoning on a range of baby-gros ? Check. Supercatchy fuzz-distort pop melodies from the off ? Check. Vocals sung from the bottom of a vertiginously deep lift shaft ? Check. Chorus the size of a colliding galaxy pile-up ? Check. Another great single from Horowitz ? Checkmate."
We understand that those exposed to the greatness of Horowitz in the past twelve months include a privileged handful of the good burghers of Malmo, Jonkopping, Stockholm and Linkoping. And if the restarted Hadron collider proves to have half as much furniture-wrecking power as a Horowitz chorus, then we're all in trouble. For other bands, Horowitz make lesson one quite simple: have tunes. Loads of them.