Lately, my earworm has been Dinah Washington’s most famous song, which is a fine with me: a beautiful, positive song (along with, inexplicably, Lady Gaga buzzing around beneath my bonnet). Miss D is right, what a difference a day does make. And that got me thinking about a year, made up of days when every day has the potential to make a difference. But just when I start thinking philosophically, up pops Lady Gaga to bust my thread. It’s funny with music, how songs arrive at a time when they can seem pertinent to your life, as if measuring the difference of the day – that’s why a bit of Gaga can be great, because I’ve looked for the relevance of Rah rah ah ah ah / Row mah row mah mah to my life and found none.
That said, it’s be a great year for music. There has been such a wide spectrum of new and interest offerings. So I thought that I’d compile a list of some of my favourites: twelve months; twelve songs.
Laura Marling: Soothing
From when I first heard this song, I adored it. I love the flat bass sound; I love the evocative images that the words paint; I’ve always loved the tone of her voice; I just love Laura. When this song was first released, I would sit up late at night and listen to it endlessly. I could have chosen other songs from the album that it comes from, Semper Femina – that will be true of most of the songs on this list – but this dark little beauty has to be on the list. And it can’t just be a list of Laura Marling songs, really.
The Breretons: Fake
The Breretons performed an amazing gig in February, with so many stand out songs. But they’re at their best when Charlotte and Marc are harmonising, as on Fake. When they performed this live together, I got one of those lovely chills. A brother and sister group, they’re great songwriters, full of honesty and beautiful imagery. Their debut album Keep You Safe is a little wonder that digs beneath your skin and massages from within; it’s a glass of wine by candlelight, but will jab you in ribs, in the dark, when you don’t expect it.
Ryan Adams: To Be Without You
Ryan Adams is a strange one. On each of his albums there will be a song or two that I don’t like much, but it will always get me eventually and then I’ll fall for the album. Not that this song is one of those. He just puts his life into his songs, really talks about the things that not many would be brave enough to. And it’s way he tells them. As much as any songwriter, he makes me want to pick up a guitar and play his songs. This was another one of those late night pieces: lights down so that you really listen. And then again. And then realise that it really is late.
Whenever Damon Albarn releases something new I will listen to it endlessly. This song opens the latest Gorillaz album. It’s a banger. I just wanted to listen to it on repeat. So I went for a drive, on one of those warm spring days that we had, and did. There is so much going on, it’s a few different tunes mashed into one lively party starter. Even featuring a tidy little rap (?) from Damon too. The album has an amazing conveyor belt of guests, and is probably my album of the year. Again, I could chosen about five different songs from Humanz, and on a different day might have, but I like my driving songs, so this is it.
Loyle Carner: Damselfly
So, I’m going to say this: Loyle Carner really bugged me when I first heard him. And then I kept hearing him being played. And then I began to like it. And then it was still playing when the summer came. It began to remind me of the acid jazz from the nineties: sitting in the sun with cider, the time passing so slowly. He’s great with words and storytelling, and I like hearing him talk too – he’s a cool guy. I was always so happy when this song came on, particularly. I’ll be sure to be listening to see where he takes his music next.
Superorganism: Something For Your Mind
This is a weird tune. It’s a strange contradiction: I don’t think that I could listen to it too much, but it’s so goddamn adorable. There isn’t really much that I can say about it, more than that. They’re a bananas little group that met on the internet – don’t watch them, because it really is best just to listen, but definitely check out the song. I can imagine it being one of those songs that you hear ten years later, and you think, “Oh yeah, I remember that; I’ve missed it.” And then it will drive you insane again – it’s that strange.
Soulwax: Is It Always Binary
This is another nineties / early noughties throwback, with more than a slither of the Air / Royksopp / Daft Punky vibe about it. Quite perfunctory throughout, but body-poppingly infectious. You wonder where it’s going to go, and then it doesn’t really bother to go there, but you just want to hear the hook again anyway, so that’s okay. And it has a great title! [Really, I wouldn’t bother reading what I have to say about any of these; just listen to them.]
Alvvays: In Undertow
This song seemed to come on at the exact same point of my day, each day: driving early in the morning, so I began to look forward to the moment when it came on. It’s so simple, and could be construed as a bit miserable, a bit boring. But it’s not. When you’re driving into a new day, it’s uplifting and got me thinking about the words. When you read back what I said at the beginning, what Miss D said, it’s a great song for a new day. And also it’s a pop song that includes very non-poppy words . . .
Angus & Julia Stone: Chateau
When I first heard the album, it didn’t really have any stand out tracks, and I was pretty disappointed. It just passed me by completely. But I kept playing it anyway because I wanted to like it. And it ends up on the list because I was completely wrong – even now I’m not sure which of the songs that I want to add. Chateau or Who Do You Think You Are? I almost didn’t chose this one because I do like Angus when he rambles. But this is pretty romantic, in their beautiful dreamy way. It makes me think of walking out of a town and into the country, and letting the day take you from there.
Ezra Furman: Love You So Bad
Someone made me compilation CD once that had a track on it that I can remember nothing about, who it was by or what it was called, so I haven’t been able to find it. But it went a bit like this, so this is its replacement. It’s bonkers, I like it, it makes me think of them and that’s good. And that’s all I’m going to say about this song!
The War On Drugs: Nothing To Find
What a great band name. What a top tune. What a fierce album. I might change my mind here about my favourite album of the year. I can barely make out a word Adam Granduciel sings unless I really listen, but I don’t need to. It’s all of the best bits of eighties music, with masses of influences dragged up from the sixties and seventies, and then sprinkled with modern chart pop-rock. I just love it. I love it all. And I just can’t stop listening to the record at the moment. As much as possible. I’m probably listening to it right now. I think that it probably is my favourite album this year.
Beck: Up All Night
Good old Beck. It’s pointless trying to predict what he’ll come up with next, but I always like to hear it. I chose the lead single from the album because it’s cool as heck, and the first song that I heard from it. Yep, Beck goes chart pop. Next time he might be doing cowboy songs, you just can’t tell. But this is top. It’s another record that is always beside the player. It was almost the title track Colors that made the list, mostly because it’s a dance track with panpipes, and that doesn’t really happen that frequently, to the best of my knowledge. But this song is a mover. What a difference a Beck tune makes to a day.
So, even though that is my list of some of my favourite songs of the year, if you ask me tomorrow I could easily change my mind about most of them. So many good ones to chose from this year, and I’ve been pretty distracted lately from my usual list-making expertise. Other artists that I’ve keenly listened to over the past twelve months: Joan As Policewoman; Johnny Dangerously; St Vincent; Nadine Shah; Aldous Harding; Ghostpoet (dude); Chali 2na (blast from the past); The Breeders; White Denim; Richie Sanford; MGMT; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Arcade Fire; Hookworms; Ratio; some remixes that I can never remember who they’re by – like Barry Adamson I Got Clothes (A Certain Ratio remix); and the beautiful album by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – which was very close to making the list. Ah, go one then: the thirteenth month, or a free one for January . . .
Have a great New Year, dear reader. What a difference a year makes, eh? I hope that you’ve enjoyed my list. Enjoy your year, too, where the bar has been set very high, but I’ve heard a few new ones that are coming, so I think that it will be another really good one for new music.