I’ve always taken the lament, “Music’s just not as good as it was when I was young” to mean “I’m just not as interested in music as when I was young“. Over the eight years this blog has run a ‘best of’, styles have come and gone but there’s never a shortage of wonderful sounds.
These lists are always subjective, personal and far from definitive. Having witnessed pedestrians breaking out into horse riding inspired dance moves as I took a vaguely embarrassing cycle rickshaw journey up Oxford Street with Gangnam Style blasting out, I can safely say it is the song of 2012. It’s just not my song – not that I hate it – but i’m sure Psy will cope with a snub from an obscure music blog.
The rules are simple – if slightly malleable – one entry per artist, and a 2012 ‘release’ date (whatever that means in this digital age). Songs like Kishi Bashi’s “Manchester” & Late Night Tuff Guy’s Acid rework of 10cc missed out due to my own sloppiness as 2011 releases I pricked my ears up to in 2012. Similarly a few songs heavily featured in other end of year charts were in mine last year…because Im like so cutting edge, innit.
Other loves but still omissions were “Millionenspiel“ from CAN’s “Lost Tapes”, a 2012 release but recorded in 1969. Potential Kid’s hugely catchy “Yah Suh Nice“ disqualified on what I’ll call the “Buju Banton” rule, thanks to the line, “Before mi tun a battyman, mi wudda tun a raper”.
Anyway enough about who missed out, here are numbers 1-25 in the chart.
25. Adje – Hele Meneer
I won’t pretend to be an aficionado on Dutch Hip-Hop… I haven’t a clue what Adje is talking about, although google translate suggests something along the lines of “Whole Mr” or “Entire Sir”???
Whatever… Adje intones his lines in a deep soporific voice and even if you don’t connect lyrically, the beat on this track will knock you off your feet. If the instrumental of this tune had an English speaking MC like Kanye or Jay Z sitting on top of it, there’d be a gold disc on the way and a host of A-listers demanding the production skills of the man responsible.
24. Pronto Mama – Still Swimming
Pronto Mama’s Michael Griffin is nominally lead vocalist but Ciaran McEneny on keyboards has an equally fine voice, and thankfully neither bother to tone down their Glaswegian lilt. “Still Swimming” opens with a plaintive wail of what might be “I don’t want to fight anymore” but hearing it live at Glasgow’s famous King Tut’s my ear heard “I don’t want a shite anymore“. Thankfully the songs are as strong as the accents.
Starting with a gentle piano intro, “Still Swimming” swings from delicate declarations of love to crashing guitars, with a maddeningly catchy chorus to boot
Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp
23. Gallops – G Is for Jaile
Despite not paying attention when Nialler9 introduced Gallops as Wrexham’s answer to Battles two years ago, their latest “G Is For Jaile” certainly turned my head.
It’s taken from Gallops debut album “Yours Sincerely, Dr. Hardcore”, on Blood & Biscuits. Pre-order.
22. Liam Bailey – On My Mind
Variously tagged as the UK’s answer to Mayor Hawthorne or more oddly the male Amy Winehouse, Liam has a sublime voice thats strong enough to hopefully see the day when breakthrough artists are described as the new Liam Bailey.
Recorded two years ago but only released in late August on the always reliable Truth & Soul Records, it shares a spirit with the Aloe Black’s debut which is hardly surprising as they share the same producers in Truth & Soul supremo’s saxophonist/organist Leon Michels and producer/engineer Jeff Silverman.
It’s hard to imagine something as good as “On My Mind” can stay a relative secret much longer, the voice, the gradual build up to a wall of horns, strings and guitars. Incredible.
21. Melanie Pain – Just A Girl
The unofficial video for Nouvelle Vague singer Melanie Pain’s “Just A Girl” makes inspired use of the Steve Guttenburg starring Village People movie, “Can’t Stop The Music”.
I’m not sure why the combination of camp men prancing around locker rooms works so well with Pain’s perfect bubble gum pop but it does. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
20. Dum Dum Girls – Lord Knows
“Oh boy, I can’t hurt you anymore”
The four Dum Dums play veiled witch brides who summon a shirtless bloke from a flaming column.
19. Killer Mike – Reagan
“I leave you with four words, I’m glad Reagan dead”
18. Willie Nelson Feat. Lukas Nelson – Just Breathe
The first time veteran grungers Pearl Jam have featured in my end of year lists, as the unmistakable voice of Willie Nelson covers Eddie Vedder’s 2009 original.
17. B. Dolan – King Bee / Still Here
With it’s crunching guitars, blues howl and of course the booming voice of your new favourite rapper of all time,“King Bee” is a perfect introduction to B. Dolan.
The opening line owes something to Jay-Z & Kanye’s “Otis” but where Jay Z declared “I invented Swag“, Dolan kicks off with “I invented Ugly” (although everyone knows Bubba Sparxx invented that in 2001). The lyrics were written at Dan Le Sac’s flat and Dan’s disinterested response to the “ugly” line as he looked up from an email: “Mhmmm. And you kept it all to yourself, didn’t you?” ended up being the second line.
The track itself is based on the Stone Foxes reworking of the blues standard “I’m a King Bee“, chopped up and turned into something else entirely by producer Buddy Peace. As Dolan delivers a polemic statement of intent, “I don’t practice in the mirror, don’t rap to a focus group” the guitars snarl and deliver a sound that if Rage Against The Machine ever got off the festival circuit and wrote material half as good would sell a million.
16. Bob Holroyd – African Drug (Four Tet Remix)
15. Hidden Jazz Quartett – High Heels (feat Omar) (Lack Of Afro Remix)
“Three O’clock in the morning, where could you be?”
If you stopped a dozen people in the street and asked them to name any record by Omar, the good money would be on “There’s Nothing Like This” being the only song mentioned. This is despite countless guest appearances, a large and loyal fan base, six albums to his name and this year an MBE for services to silky soul.
Never mind, its always an absolute pleasure to hear those distinctive and wonderfully warm vocals emanating from my speakers even when guesting on in this case a Hidden Jazz Quartett release.
On “High Heels” Omar bemoans the errant ways of his lady friend in fine style and best of all Adam Gibbons aka Lack Of Afro transforms the track into his signature Hammond tinged 60′s style delight. It all makes me look forward to new material from both Afro and Omar (who has a new album out on Freestyle in spring 2013).
LOA – Facebook / Twitter / Soundcloud – Agogo Records Soundcloud
14. Akira The Don – Give Me Something (1111) (feat. Envy)
In Envy, Akira appears to have found something of a musical soulmate. 2011′s duet “Nothing Last’s Forever“ takes some matching but the tone of “Give Me Something” is very different with Envy taking the lead delivering a heartbreaking tale about the loss of her mum.
The chorus samples Rufus Wainwright’s song about the September 11th attacks, “11:11″ to superb effect (and there’s some Gene and The Only Ones in there too apparently) but it’s the raw honesty of the lyrics that hit home.
“If I have kids I’ll be gutted they couldn’t meet ya
but ill show them all the pictures of us smiling in Ibiza”
It’s the personal details of promising to look after her sister, her mum clowning around in baggy jeans like Rihanna or not wanting to visit her grave that are more affecting than a perhaps more “spiritual”, or metaphorical song. There are no floating clouds, tides going out, etc just the pain from the loss of the most important person in your life and the struggle to find a way to emerge out of the other side.
On a happier note Akira became a dad for the first time in early 2013 with the arrival of Hercules Jan Narkiewicz!
12. MØ – Pilgrim
Copenhagen’s Karen Marie Ørsted is the force behind MØ, who seem so perfectly and effortlessly cool it’s hard to imagine she’s not already massive. It’s a mix of off-kilter pop, electronics, and quirky innovation almost purpose built to get music bloggers purring.
Debut single ‘Maiden’ has a guitar line that out Vampire’s the Weekend, but it’s “Pilgrim” with its sampled horns and almost Julianna Barwick like yelps that makes me look forward to hearing an album from Scandinavia’s latest hottest property.
Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter
11. Pharoahe Monch – Damage
>“I take aim when the gun draw, For ever-lasting fame I will maim those who change the gun laws” (lyrics)
The first single off Pharoahe Monch’s ‘PTSD’ project and the third and final instalment to his bullet trilogy. “Damage” chronicles inner city killings and mass murder from the perspective of a bullet. Monch flips a line “Ooooohhh listen to the way I slay your crew” from LL Cool J’s classic “Mama Said Knock you out” and turns it into a mighty hook.
10. James Mathe / Barbarossa – Bloodline
The exact date of birth of “Bloodline” is unclear. Back in 2011 James recorded the song for a Music Like Dirt session, and a year later decamped to the Analogue Catalogue studio in the hills outside Manchester where I believe it was recorded for a 2013 album release.
What is certain is that ever since the producers of the US version of Sherlock, ‘Elementary’ decided to use “Bloodline” as a poignant close to an episode the comments section on my Youtube has been inundated with people desperate to buy it.
“Heard on “Elementary” and fell in love with it”.
“Where can I get this song!?! I’m trying to give you my money!!!”
“where can I buy this”
“why r u not like no. 1 on all the charts your voice is incredible”
9. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Feat. Mary Lambert – Same Love
8. Public Service Broadcasting – London Can Take It
“The sign of a great fighter in the ring is… can he get up from the fall after being knocked down… London does this every morning”
The London duo of J. Willgoose Esq & Wrigglesworth build tracks around samples of old public information or propaganda films, their debut “Spitfire”, was a collaboration with the BFI who gave the pair permission to extensively plunder 1942 war flick “The First Of The Few”(YouTube).
The War Room EP, the cover of which features an amazing picture of Holland House library with Londoners still browsing the books as if untroubled by the destruction.
“London Can Take It“ is an inspiring Blitz themed tribute to the capital and if anything out guns Spitfire. Imagine the KLF meeting Kraftwerk and duelling on banjo’s whilst sampling an American journalist intoning about our mighty city, it might sound like this. The film of the same name was shown to American audience to bolster support for Britain and its allies.
7. RM Hubbert with Aidan Moffat & Alex Kapranos – Car Song
6. Paul Heaton & Cherry Ghost – Greed
“Pennies piled high, pounds cashed in
caught between Alsatian and the gates”
In his 50th year when many artists climb aboard the safe “greatest hits tour” package, Paul Heaton – erstwhile leader of The Housemartins & The Beautiful South – crosses the country on a bike playing pubs and released a concept album as wildly ambitious as it was unwieldy.
The 8th, an hour long rock gospel, popera based on the seven deadly sins with seven vocalists taking a sin a piece and all tied together with narration from The Wire’s Reg E Cathey. Cherry Chost vocalist Simon Aldred is the voice of Greed and with the help of a delicious gospel backing provides an undoubted highlight of sweetly sung but barbed lyrics.
When Heaton brought The 8th to The Barbican in London, Aldred performed a version of The Beautiful South’s “I’ll sail this ship alone” during which you could hear apin drop. It was also a pleasure to hear Jacqui Abbot singing Paul Heaton songs again, and Paul even surprised her with a new song written as a duet between the two but so new she hadnt had time to learn the lyrics.
5. Mr Williamz – We Run England
London, 1948 and Lord Kitchener, fresh from Trinidad on the SS Windrush, declares in Calypso style that “London Is The Place For Me“.
“My life in London is really magnificent
I have every comfort and every sport
And my residence is that Hampton Court”
60 plus years later Jamaican born but London bred Mr. Williamz picks up the theme but not content with Hampton Court Williamz heads straight for Buckingham Palace to take over as head of state.
Its a playful, genuinely funny and most important of all musically dynamite slice of brilliance.
“The next ting is who rush me now Prince Charles
Ah talk about how say him want me sign autograph
Me look pon him and just say, “Bredrin ease off”
Like you no see me and your mudda deh ya a so we talk
After dis she going to gi’ me a foot massage
You shoulda know, is we run England”
It’s the first track to use the new “More Spiritual” riddim brewed up by US producers Green Lion with inspiration from the melody of Henry “Junjo” Lawes Ganja Smuggling. Green Lion travelled to Jamaica to add a horn section led by veteran horn players Nambo Robinson (trombone) and Everton Gayle (saxophone). Million Stylez, Kabaka Pyramid and YT have also recorded the riddim but I don’t envy them having to match the majesty of Mr Williamz tune.
You’ll have it stuck in your head… “We run England… Buda bye bye bye… We run England“!”
4. Snide Rhythms – I Can’t Keep Up! (Refreshing Towelette Remix)
Edinburgh based label The Bonjour Branch is co-owned by Randan Discotheque’s Craig Coulthard and as such it pays to keep an eye on their infrequent but usually essential releases.
Like a post punk, bass driven sneering take on LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge“, only with Mark E Smith, not James Murphy railing against the ever increasing distance from his vibrant youth.
3. Keaton Henson – 10am Gare Du Nord
“Tire of me if you will my dear
I will not tire of you”
Londoner Henson rarely plays live, didn’t originally intend to release his music publicly and on occasional interactions with the press responds to questions by quoting from poets or illustrations.
Many of his rawest songs appear to be inspired by the fallout from a relationship with French singer Soko. Posting a live video of “Gard De Nord” on Facebook, Soko commented “THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG ANYONE HAS EVER WROTE ME.. My heart is aching, bleeding.. Miss him..”
Facebook / Website / Soundcloud
2. Goat – Goatman
Behind the musical stew is a back story as entertaining as it is unlikely, but when the music’s this good I’ll swallow it all hook, line and sinker. Its well worth reading the GOAT interview in Quietus for more but essentially it goes like this:
Goat hail from a commune in the tiny village of Korpilombolo in northern Sweden. According to legend, Korpilombolo has a long history of voodoo worship, after a travelling witch doctor settled there several centuries ago. When Christian crusaders invaded and destroyed the village, the surviving townsfolk placed a curse on Korpilombolo as they fled.
It’s said that the effect of the curse is still felt today, and informs the highly rhythmic and trance-like music played by generations of villagers, which, in turn, has shaped Goat’s extraordinary debut, World Music. They embark on their first UK tour in October.
1. Benin City – Baby
Benin City’s jaw dropping debut single “Baby” has an odd but charming video (below) featuring Deanna Rodger’s being followed round by a man with a Zebra’s head, while the song itself can be filed under bitter-sweet love songs. Its actually far more bitter than sweet, being an ode to fucked up love but delivered with such a slow building beauty and mournfulness that it knocks you sideways.
Starting with just an electronic rumble and Joshua’s voice, by six minutes in drums collide with trombones and sax in a gorgeous soup that recalls the Cinematic Orchestra at their peak. After featuring the track in my “BBC 6Music best of the year so far” post, the soundcloud playcount miraculously went into overdrive, clocking up over 10,000 plays in a matter of days. I’ve never believed in the phrase “the cream always rises to the top” but there might just be a hint of truth after all.
Their album – which has a title rhyming with “Fire Brand Ants” but not “Spider Mans Pants” – is getting it’s finally lick, spit and polish as I type and hopefully the Music Like Dirt session they recorded last year will see the light of day very soon.
Not content with a No.1 Benin’s City’s Joshua Idehen is thwarted from grabbing another spot by an arcane no more than one entry per person rule. Maze Hill features Josh along with producer Andy Highmore and vocalist Holly Bestic and they’re signed to the ever dependable Wah Wah 45. I can imagine first single “Long Hall” being introduced by a chunky knitwear clad Casey Kasem on “America’s Top 10” in the days when the US devoured radio friendly soul like Janet, SOS Band and The Family Stand.
Good though Long Hall is, its ‘I Can Be Your Light‘ that shines for me, a tender, beautiful duet between Idehen & Bestic with delicate piano backing from Andy Highmore.