Singles of the year: #68

68. Some Girls – Rachel Stevens.

Well, it’s yer schaffel, innit? You know: that electro reworking of glitter-rock’s chunka-chunka-chunka-HEY that you can dance to in pairs, going left-right-left-right with your thumbs tucked into your waistbands, elbows sticking out? (Note: my 15 minute From Shuffle To Schaffel history lesson megamix is still available.)

Not quite the Second Coming Of Shiny Spangly New Pop that some people claimed it was, but still a whole heap of quasi-neo-proto-po-mo-conceptu-go-go FUN.

Singles of the year: #69

69. Paris Hilton – Mu.

…and from a track that I would never have discovered without ILM, to one of many, many tracks that I would never have discovered without Fluxblog. (Looking at my complete Top 90, I shudder to do the maths.)

Stripped down 1987 Chicago acid meets Arthur Russell meets a kind of Japanese Chicks On Speed. With cockerels. Demented, delirious and de-lovely.

Singles of the year: #70

70. Who Could Win A Rabbit? – Animal Collective

With Muzik and Jockey Slut gone, Q and Mixmag reduced to puerile embarrassments, seemingly targeted at people who don’t even like music, Uncut gone up an Americana/classic-rock blind alley, Mojo still too off-puttingly dad-like (although I know full well I’ll end up there sooner or later), the NME and Radio 1 dumbed down to a shrill screech for New! Academia Free! studenthood, The Wire still way, waaaaaay too weird-is-good obscurantist for lil’ ol’ me, and Radio 2 still picknicking in MeluaCullumBooblayLand, 2004 was the year that I finally stopped relying on traditional music media for my prime sources of information.

(Honourable exceptions: Word, whose cheery rockin-vicar-ishness cannot help but strike a chord, even if it never actually tells me anything new; OMM (Observer Music Monthly), although it strives too hard to be all things to all men; and Radio 3’s Late Junction as filtered back to me by K, who looks things up on their website and makes purchases accordingly. I’m now considering fRoots, whose cover-mounted CDs are exemplary, or maybe Songlines, for all my ever-burgeoning world music needs.)

Instead, I looked more and more to the self-described “music press in exile” on the web, and in particular to the unimpeachable Fluxblog, the passionate, maximalist, staggeringly well-informed Koons Really Does Think He’s Michelangelo… and the earnest academics of the I Love Music message board, without whom I would never have discovered the marvellous Animal Collective. (Yes! He got to the point AT LAST!)

At once primitive and intricate, and gleefully bashed out in God knows what time signature, or signatures, Who Could Win A Rabbit is, like the work of The Fiery Furnaces (see #80 below), all about learning to live with the kookiness, which once again levels out after a few plays. I particularly like the sense of place on this recording, which sounds like it was put together in a garage on a hot summer’s day. In this respect, it reminds me of Jonathan Richman’s surreally child-like 1977 album Rock And Roll With The Modern Lovers. (You know? The one with Egyptian Reggae on it?)

Singles of the year: #72

72. Yeah (stupid version) – LCD Soundsystem

2003-style punk-funk (we move so quickly nowadays), with a bassline straight from Delta 5’s Mind Your Own Business, which goes all acidcrazymental halfway through, and again towards the end, rather in the manner of Josh Wink’s Higher State Of Consciousness. The long-awaited debut album “drops” (hem hem) in February. With song titles such as Daft Punk Is Playing At My House and Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up, how can it fail?

Singles of the year: #75

75. The Bucket – Kings Of Leon

Not a huge fan; I don’t really buy into that whole sons-of-a-preacher-man shtick, and they just seem a wee bit too perfectly conceived and styled, and thus there’s something ever so faintly boring about the whole idea of them. However, like Red Morning Light from 2003, this one rocks like a motherf***er, y’all.


Singles of the year: #76 (NMC)

76. I Believe In The Good Of Life – Hidden Cameras

“I’ll testify on the word of a radio that I dream of the fate of democracy, as I flee on my bike from the crimes we made, and that I did not do those drugs or steal those army pants.”

One of the most unfair criticisms levelled at “personal” bloggers/online diarists is that we’re all unhealthily self-obsessed – whereas in actual fact, most of us, whether by good judgement or by painfully learnt experience, are carefully adhering to one of the most basic tenets of the genre: that you don’t blog revealing stuff about other people. (Which just leaves blogging about yourself, and that time-honoured old safety valve: being gratuitously rude about celebrities.)

(Aside – and yes, I will get round to talking about the Hidden Cameras eventually, but in my own good time, thank you very much: for those of us who feel this restriction the most keenly, the most sensible option would be do what countless others have done before us, and switch to writing fiction instead. That way, we can take all the people we know, change a few names and trivial identifying characteristics, then dissect their personalities in mercilessly one-sided and unforgiving detail, covering our backsides all the while with that greatest of all whoppers: “Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.” Just how do authors get away with that one, anyway?)

In which case, I hope the person concerned will forgive me if I bend the rules ever so slightly, in order to mention something which happened when we went to see the Hidden Cameras at The Social a couple of months ago. Seven or eight years ago, this person moved in the same circles as Joel Gibb (lead singer and songwriter), as they were both active in the Toronto indie fanzine scene of that time. Not close friends, but they hung out together, went to the same gigs, swapped opinions on Shed 7 and The Bluetones, that sort of thing. So naturally, my friend has taken more than a passing interest in Joel’s career; she went to see them on last year’s tour with the Sleepy Jackson, and travelled over to Nottingham to see them on this year’s headlining tour.

– Oh well, so you’ll be able to say Hi to Joel after the show then. There’s no proper backstage area at The Social, so the bands nearly always hang out in the bar afterwards. Bet he’ll be pleased to see a familiar face; and after so long!

– Hmmm, we’ll see… but I really don’t like hassling people who’ve made it… it never feels right…

– But you’re old friends!

I might be a hopeless networker when it comes to maximising opportunities for my own benefit, but I’m an enthusiastic networker when it comes to putting people together for what I regard as their own benefit. Besides, this would give me the chance to Schmooze With The Stars; something which I am, very very slowly, getting slightly better at. (This year, I’ve managed to sustain brief conversations with Ana Matronic & Del Marquis from the Scissor Sisters, Wreckless Eric, and Eleanor Friedberger from the Fiery Furnaces. Believe me: this is progress.)

After the show – one of those serendipitously perfect alignments of band, audience and venue which comes along so rarely, but which can compensate for a whole clutch of disappointing evenings at a single stroke – the band are packing up their equipment. Mark from Loughborough, never backward about coming forward, who has already seen them in Leicester, has been renewing his acquaintance with Joel. As the conversation ends and Joel begins to turn away, I seize my opportunity, grabbing my reluctant friend and physically dragging her over.

– Excuse me! Joel! Joel! I’ve got an old friend of yours here!

– Oh… er… it’s Xxxxx, right?

Ha, you see? He remembered you straight away. I knew I was doing the right thing.

Except that both of you still seem equally shy of each other. Polite, diffident smiles. Easy pleasantries. An exchange swiftly concluded, to the evident relief of both parties.

But you had both come a long way, hadn’t you? Neither of you any longer the teenage Britpop-import indie-fanzine kids. One of you sleek and glamorous as ever, the other one a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter. Maybe neither of you particularly want to be reminded of the kids you once were; at least not right here, right now, in a public place on a Friday night.

Or maybe I’m just projecting like mad, and you really did barely know each other after all. It has been known.

Singles of the year: #77

77. Chewing Gum – Annie

Because the UK marketing campaign hasn’t been scheduled until the spring of 2005 (the US campaign being presumably non-existent), this Norwegian bubblegum popstrel finds herself in the strange position of being lionised (sometimes at considerable length) by the ILM/Stylus/Pitchfork/music-blog intelligentsia, whilst remaining almost entirely unknown by her actual target audience, the public at large. Strange, because this is stuff to be whistled in the street, not picked to bits by the cognoscenti; and for out-and-out pop music to work truly as pop music, it does actually have to be, you know, popular. Meaning that I would probably have placed this a lot higher had I experienced it collectively; as a bona fide hit rather than a private thrill.

(Aside, for the minority who might possibly care: perhaps this is where I should register my main difference with the prevailing ILM/music-blog mindset, which tends to focus too much on the private, individual enjoyment of music, at the expense of acknowledging it as a shared, collective experience. One of these days, when I’m feeling brave enough, I’ll start a “Taking Sides: Individualism vs Collectivism” thread on ILM, and see where it leads. )

Gosh, where was I? With digressions like these, we’ll be here all year. Anyway, Chewing Gum is the very essence of breezy jauntiness (or jaunty breeziness, whichever you like the sound of best; I’ve been bashing these pieces out under the steadily accumulating influence of a massive hangover, and I’m fast losing any remaining powers of linguistic judgement), and conjures up images of a video in which we might find flaxen-haired Annie, all wholesomeness and freckles, swinging down the street, steadily being joined as she goes by an amusing cross-section of the general public (window cleaners, lollipop ladies, that sort of thing), all swinging behind her in perfect step. Or maybe that’s just me.

Singles of the year: #78

78. Mosh – Eminem

The second track on the list that wasn’t an actual A-side, and the first not to appear in single form at all, Mosh – both the track and the gobsmacking video – was strategically released onto the Internet in advance of both Eminem’s new album and, more pertinently, the US presidential election. Squeal as America’s amoral, nihilistic bad boy acquires a new-found righteousness to fuel his anger! Thrill at the appropriation of stock protest-march sloganeering, as Eminem barks “no blood for oil” over the relentless long-march plod of the almost martial-sounding backing track!Sigh as it makes no discernible effect whatsoever upon the voting patterns of American youth! Slap yourself for daring to think otherwise, even for a second!

Singles of the year: #79

79. Run Run Run – Phoenix

The second Phoenix album initially underwhelmed – so slight, so inconsequential, so gossamer thin – until a) a support slot with the Scissor Sisters fleshed the new material out and helped slot it into place and b) the hot, sunny weather arrived – at which point, tracks like these – languid, yet taut – became the soundtrack to the summer.


Singles of the year: #80

80. Tropical Ice-Land – The Fiery Furnaces

Although it took me a long time to “get” this act, there was always something right from the off which made me return to their music time and again. This has happened a few times before over the years (the first Prefab Sprout album springs immediately to mind), and it’s always a good sign.

(If you’re still struggling: the quirk-ee! zan-ee! randomness beds down with increased familiarity, as the sharp angles convert to pleasurably familiar kinks.)

Singles of the year: #81

81. Your Game – Will Young

Hear’say, David Sneddon, One True Voice, Alex Parks, Michelle McManus – and, unless I have severely misread the situation, Steve Brookstein before the end of January – of all the winners of the souped-up-for-the-C21st TV talent shows, only two acts have yet to run out of steam (*), and only one act could ever have been said to have any measure of true artistic control over his career. Precision-tooled mainstream pop-funk with a pleasing gospel edge, which probably sees itself as being of the Simply Red/Jamiroquai school of sleek blue-eyed soul, but which actually elevates itself well clear of such dodgy comparisons.

(*) Yes, yes, I know about Lemar – but he didn’t actually win, did he? Do stop muddying the waters.

Singles of the year: #82

82. See It In A Boy’s Eyes – Jamelia

Co-written with the Blessèd Chris Martin (*) out of Coldplay (peace be upon him), but don’t let that put you off. In a notably thin year for decent R&B (so what happened there then?), it was left to plucky Brits like Jamelia to show the Stateside lot how to do it properly.

(*) Say what you like about the “special relationship” between U2 and iPods this year, but at least none of them went so far as to name their children after the f***ing company. Did Chris & Gwyneth get special trademark clearance for that, one wonders?

Singles of the year: #83

83. Somebody Told Me – The Killers

…whereas, a month or so after the Big London Clubbing Night Out (see post below), I find myself being dragged along by the Young People (well, early thirties, but it’s all relative) to a good old-fashioned Indie Disco, on a Saturday night at the Cookie Club in Nottingham. And, well, don’t all those NME guitar bands sound a whole lot better when you’re lurching around to them in a lagered/Red Bulled frenzy? (Distorted fuzzboxes and cheap booze: it’s one of life’s classic combinations.)

Except that, quelle horreur, I don’t recognise all the tracks that are played. Aiee! My powers, they are fading! And, curiously, whenever I ask one of the Young People for a track ID, it always seems to be the same band. “It’s The Killers, Mike! You must know it!” Except that I didn’t, not at all; must have missed that particular meeting. (*)

Of all their, um, hugely popular and successful hits this year, which you obviously all know and love, Somebody Told Me was the one that stood out then, and stands out now. It’s a perfect lager-frenzy record, with just that nice lyrical touch of polymorphous perversity to lift it above the fray (see also Franz Ferdinand, #87 below).

(*) Come to think of it, Razorlight and Kasabian must have been on the same agenda. Totally passed me by on the other side. Wouldn’t recognise a single note. Are they any good? They’re not really my sort of thing, are they?

Singles of the year: #84 (NMC)

84. Flashdance – Deep Dish

This year, I only had one Big Clubbing Night Out in London: a late summer excursion to DTPM @ Fabric, followed by Beyond @ Fire. Both pleasant enough events in their own ways, and yet, and yet… was it just me getting older and more jaded, with priorities re-aligned, no longer buying into the collectively maintained illusion, or was there something fundamentally missing? Because, compared to my glory days at Trade in the mid-to-late 1990s, both events seemed terribly… I dunno… polite, restrained, buttoned-up, just another leisure time routine/lifestyle option to be consumed, rather than to actively participate in. Where was the heady, delicious sense of freedom, of letting go, of surrendering yourself to the mayhem… of community even? Because frankly, you’d find about the same levels of friendliness and interpersonal connection in your nearest out-of-town supermarket.

I suppose that what has changed is this: firstly, that all remaining connection with late 80s/early 90s rave culture has long since been severed (whither PLUR these days?), and secondly, that the shock of the new has vanished: even at Trade in 1996/97, there were still plenty of newbies each week, experiencing full-on club culture for the first or second time – and their sense of amazed wonder and delight was infectious, influencing the overall mood of the night. Whereas now, gay club culture is an entirely known quantity, fully documented and codified – and largely static, it has to be said.

So, anyway… there we were, Buni and I, early on, finding our way round the unfamiliar hi-gloss labyrinth of Fabric, feeling for all the world like nervous country cousins in the big bad city, having our first shy little bop in the main room, and I’m wondering what the music’s going to be like, and this track comes on with this nagging, repetitive rock guitar riff, and I’m thinking: goodness, wasn’t expecting this sort of thing… and three or four weeks later I hear it again on the Top 40 countdown, and oh, this is Deep Dish is it? Wow, they’ve changed their sound since the Junk Science album (my favourite album of 1998, no less). So, you know: memories and associations, basically.

Postscript: A couple of hours later at DTPM, and I’ve got well into the swing of things, away with the fairies, lurching about to funky tribal house or whatever the hell they were playing by then, when this short girl next to me nudges my elbow, looks up at me with a concerned expression, and asks whether I’m feeling all right.

– Yeah, I’m fine, why do you ask?

– Well, you were pulling such a face – it looked like you were in pain or something.

You see? You can’t even do cheesy-quaver gurning no more. Kids today, they’ve no idea…

Singles of the year: #85

85. Matinee – Franz Ferdinand

I like the stuff about sliding fingers inside blazers, and the bit about being on Terry Wogan, and the way that the intro makes me think of TFI Friday when it was still fresh new telly with loads of good bands on.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: there’s another competition. The first person to guess correctly which single is my personal Number One of 2004 wins a copy of my (compiled but as yet unburned) best-of-year triple mix CD. One guess only per person, please – you can leave it in any of the comments boxes attached to this list.

(So what are you going to do? Try and get your guess in early, with longer odds, or hold out until the last possible moment and risk getting beaten in the rush? Ooh, that’s a tricky strategic poser to grapple with.)

Singles of the year: #86

86. Surfing On A Rocket – Air

Now, you see… in years gone by, I would have excluded something like this from a Best Singles list: an album track shoved into the wrong format, merely as a promotional tool, and issued after the album had been purchased in any case. But that was before this year’s iPod/MP3 blog paradigm shift, which has served to turn songs back into individual tracks all over again, just like the old days. Since I’ve enjoyed Surfing On A Rocket on its own many times over, it has to qualify for inclusion. Which is why last year’s Top 60 has become this year’s Top 90, I guess.