There is a clubnight which exists only in the space between my headphones and spinal cord. Where people dance all night, even to the songs you can’t really dance to. For the months of January, February and March 2014, this was that club’s setlist.
Suicide Girl – which I first encountered on their rather uneven collection of B-sides and rarities The Third Eye Centre – takes the typical brittle indie-boy unrequited romance and reconfigures it into something more physical. The song asks the age-old question: Would you photograph your crush naked so the pictures could uploaded onto the internet for the enjoyment of strangers?
“Once she takes off her clothes, we’ll never be the same again”, the song concludes as it reaches an all-too-sudden climax, just two and a half minutes in. Well, quite.
Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise
Secret Surprise takes that all-too-familiar unrequited love subgenre and flips it so our protagonist is the object, rather than the subject. Or, maybe it’s an entry in the fairly new suffocating-your-other-half-with-a-pillow-while-they-sleep subgenre.
Remarkably, despite 6Music being my office’s station of choice, meaning while they were playlisted I heard these tracks three or four times a day without any choice in the matter, neither has really worn out its welcome. It helps, I think, that they both sound slightly alien in their own way, whether it’s Holding On for Life‘s pitch-shifted Beegees chorus or the bits of Digital Witness that sound like they’re being played backwards.
A few dozen listens in, it’s a guarantee Sophie is yet to break.
Johnny Foreigner – In Capitals
In Capitals has me reaching for the toolbox of music journalism clichés.
It’s an absolute Frankenstein of a song, pieced together from scraps of four or five other half-songs. It’s a rollercoaster of a song, repeatedly climbing to a peak, sitting on the ledge just for a moment, then plunging down, slowing and starting over. It’s a finely-tuned firework display of a song, a series of little explosions, big and small, working in perfect concert.
Just because I can’t talk about it adequately doesn’t mean the song isn’t great, mind.
Ibibio Sound Machine – Let’s Dance (Yak Inek Unek)
“1, 2, 3, 4. Let’s dance.” As far as I can tell, those are the only English words in the whole track. Frankly – and this would be the case even if the rest wasn’t in Nigerian Ibibio – they’re the only ones that matter.
I’m a sucker for songs that are this explicitly instructive, as long as they’ve got the beat to back it up. And this really, really does. 1. 2. 3. 4…
Chromatics – Lady
Listening to Lady, I sometimes feel like I can hear through the song itself to the instruments it’s made out of, great fictional instruments which fill the sewer systems of entire cities, which were built at great human cost, entirely for the purpose of making an androgynous love song and giving me something to dance to when I’m in the flat on my own. I don’t know about you, but I like that kind of arrogance in my synthpop.
Robyn’s the reason I listened to Out of the Black enough to put it on this list (I just miss her, that’s all), but she’s not the star. Honestly, she might be the weak link. I love the way her voice braids with Neneh’s on the chorus, but the way she delivers some lines (“I’m Robyn on the microphone, into the speaker”) is actually quite ugly.
No, the star here is that beat, sneaking, oppressive, a shadow looming in your peripherals. Delicious.
Burial – Hiders
Having read some reviews of last year’s Rival Dealer EP, Hiders seems to be consistently singled out for its accessible. Or, if it’s that kind of publication, a bit too pop. A bit tacky. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that’s it the first Burial track to make any real impression on me.
There are moments throughout where Hiders constantly threatens to crystallise into a spectral pop song, before moving on, shedding the skin of the last hook to drop in a new voice, a new sample, some environmental sound tweaked just so.
By doing that, it manages to sound bigger than any one song ever could. Just flashes of radio from passing cars in the slightly darker, slightly cooler world where all Burial songs take place.
Just about my favourite thing I’ve done all year is setting up a sort of informal records club with Sam ‘Aforementioned’ Willet, Dom ‘MVP’ Parsons and Sam ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ Lewis. Together, we’ve been digging through and discussing Kanye’s back catalogue (in case you were wondering, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy > Yeezus > College Dropout > 808s & Heartbreak > Late Registration > Graduation).
The whole song pivots on this absolutely killer moment around the 1:30 mark. Kanye and Jamie Foxx ease us in, playing it so soft they practically melt into the Luther Vandross sample underneath. But then his companion chips in, pleading with ‘Ye to pick up the pace, faster, faster.
“Damn, baby, I can’t do it that fast,” Kanye replies. “But I know somebody who can”. And instantly Twista kicks in, syllables moving like the hands of a con man where each verse is one of those games with the pea and the shells.
The rest of the song is great, but for me really it’s just a structure to support those few seconds, the punchline where Kanye hands the baton over to the guy whose name is on the cover, just for the duration of the song, before he takes the limelight for good.