Friday, December 13, 2013

By Battersea Power Station I sat down and cried

Battersea Power Station

Photograph by Jon Southcoasting (via Flickr)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

My most played songs of 2013

I've given up trying to listen to or rate all the great new music that's being produced these days as it's completely impossible to keep up there's so much. Or maybe there isn't, as I look down some of the end-of-year lists and recognise half a dozen names of albums I played once because they'd been well plugged and thought they weren't really all that much. So maybe there's a lot of hype. I don't know and I don't have the time to find out.

Fortunately has a music scrobbler which captures and counts the songs that I've played the most over the last year on certain types of media, and whilst that may be no indication of quality or even how much I rate them it's as good an indication as any. It's not the best of the year, it could be the best of any year.

So here are my Top 20 most listened to tunes according to - or rather I'll just list one song per artist to keep things moving along a bit. I don't know if it's the best of anything, but it's music I've listened to and loved over the last 12 months, so I guess that's worth something. 

Hope you like them too.

1. The Pastels - Check My Heart

My most-listened to single of the year from a band I first heard about 30 years ago with their 'Songs for Children' EP and who don't sound all that much different now. The new album is a treat but this song totally rocks my world. Simple, shambolic, full of joy. If Glasgow was really like this we'd all move there tomorrow. Go check your heart for tambourines!

2. Laish - Warm The Wind

The 'hit' single from Brighton band Laish's sophomore album, featured in another equally marvellous version on the 'Live at The Well' album, and here presented in another equally stunning if slightly nervy recording for Lo-Fi Dogma. This song should have been all over everything this summer but I guess there are many people who will have missed it. So catch up.

 Laish have once again changed formation, Danny's moved to London and is mainly playing solo at the moment, but expect more momentous musical machinations like this one over the coming year. I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny earlier in the year, on the release of the 'Obituaries' album and you can read that here

3. Lou Reed - Love Makes You Feel

Sadly Lou Reed died this year. He was definitely one of the most important influences on my developing musical taste as a young man, and as a songwriter. The Velvet Underground had a way with easy simple riffs, whether the rock'n'roll blast of Sister ray said or the laid back laconic chord changes of a song like Heroin (so obviously written by/for the perpetually strung out) made songs seem that much easier. But Lou's lyrics too were just amazing - simple, yet startling and surprising, full of a strange humour and warmth for humanity that from what I read seemed to contrast so vividly with his public persona. But you can't listen to songs like Some kinda love, Pale Blue Eyes, Sweet Jane without knowing that here was a man who knew real love for humanity and had worked out how to show it.

Lou's solos songs were equally startling, whether the pop familiarity of Walk on the Wild Side, the heart-wrench that is Berlin or the moving reunion with John Cale that was Songs for Drella (a tribute for Andy Warhol). This song was the one I played the most after Lou died, taken from his first solo album before fame came along. It contains all of that hallmark warmth and humility, and a beautiful sentiment too. When Lou announces towards the end "...and it sounds like this!" You will really believe it does.

4. The Self Help Group - Needles

My most-played track from the Self Help group's debut LP 'Not waving, but drowning' appears to have been 'Murmuration', which I think I particularly liked because the title is the word given to the amazing swarming formations of starlings that come in to rest on Brighton's sea front every afternoon. However, I couldn't find that one on-line, so here's the excellent video from the album's lead single 'Needles'. Folk groups wouldn't normally do dance routines, but then the Self Help group are not a normal folk group.

 I interviewed lead-Selfie Mark Bruce this year, and you can read that here too

5. Odetta - Hit or Miss

Fell in love with this song this year, as a result of that Southern Comfort advert. A plump middle-aged man walking along a beach holding a drink, with some funky drumming then "Can't you see? I gotta be me" playing in the background. Perfect in my book. The song itself was a surprise, coming from Odetta who I only really knew for her earlier folksy African songs and Dylan covers. This single was from 1970 and is very funky.

There's also a cover Hit or Miss by Bo Diddley which is well worth checking out.

6. The Small Faces - All or Nothing

Found a double CD of the best of Small Faces and took it for company on a long train ride. It didn't let me down, but then Steve Marriott never did. They were so young when they played this, but such an amazing band. I think their Ogden Nut's Gone Flake is one of the greatest British albums ever made, although clearly heavily influenced by the Beatles' Sgt Pepper, in spirit and style rather than content. All or Nothing was released as a single the preceding year (1966) when the Small Faces were still vying with the Kinks for the heavy rock crown.

7. Rowan Coupland - Skeletal, and Ivory Urn

This track is from my favourite album of 2012, Rowan Coupland's 'Slow Wave Of The Future'. The video is a live in the living room style recording of the track featuring some lovely mountain views and Rowan playing in or around something that looks like a coffin. The guitar playing is psych-folk like you've never heard, the singing something unreal and the lyrics strangely, obscurely heart-warming.

But to really understand the song you need to know that it's actually based on real events. Some friends doing a 'live' performance art piece in Vancouver involving a girl being locked in a coffin and then carried away by four men, and a guy who'd taken a fancy to the girl earlier, concerned she was being abducted, chasing after them looking to liberate her. Maybe she really did need to be saved after all?

8. Electric Soft Parade - Brother, You Must Walk Your Path Alone

The brothers Alex and Tom White never went away they were just busy doing other things (Brakes, Thomas White solo albums, Alex's Interlocutor project, covers of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan albums in their entirety etc). Nonetheless their return as ESP was most welcome, and this lead track from new album 'Idiots' tells you why.
"There is no God, only water in the sea, There is no hell, only people that you meet, There is no way out of the anger and deceit, Brother, you must walk your path alone..."

9. Bill Callahan - Spring

I think I regard this year's 'Dream River' album by Bill Callahan (Smog) as the best album released this year. Hard to tell, but if it doesn't come high in the end-of-year lists I will be surprised. People have said that nothing much happens in a Bill Callahan song yet he invokes such profound emotions, and that's true. There's a song on the album about how he spent most a day in a bar ordering beers and saying no words but 'thank you' but you listen to it and you think you're listening to the musical equivalent of words from God. Well, "a beer, thank you" we've all been there.

This video is a solo acoustic version of the song Spring, which to my mind is pure poetry over a subtle west coast riff:  "...everything is tired of praise, and mountains don’t need my accolades, and spring looks bad lately anyway..."  Nothing much is said, nothing much happens. Bill goes walking in the countryside and thinks 'true spring' is the woman he wants to make love to "with a careless mind". That's it. Brilliant. 

10.  Macy Gray - Sweet Baby

"they may not see the love in you but love I do
A late arrival to this chart, coming in the week my daughter Lauren was in hospital and Nelson Mandela died. It seemed to fit.  I remember hearing this song (which features Erykah Badu) in the USA around the time it was released and falling in love with it then. I'd always admired Macy Gray since her first album and I have no idea why she wasn't a massive star - a brilliant singer and songwriter, this was one of her finest efforts in my view.  The album it came from was released a week after 9-11, so maybe this was just too much beauty for a darker time, who knows? But it's been well worth returning to.

11. Fleetwood Mac - Never Going Back Again

2013 was the year of the return of the Mac, and unfortunately I didn't get to see them live but I did revisit Rumours and Tusk a fair bit, and according to this was the track that topped my playlist. I wouldn't have thought it would have been, and it's not the song of theirs I would normally pick, but this little Lindsay Buckingham solo folksy number made it to the top of the pile and still is rather special. The video is from a show in Japan in 1977.

12. Bobbie Gentry - Find 'em Fool 'em Forget 'em

I had a week where I listened to nothing but Bobbie Gentry. Sometimes you've just got to do that, and she doesn't really disappoint. An intelligent liberated woman who enjoyed massive success in the 1960s/70s with songs like Ode To Billy Joe and her own TV show, and then decided to pack it in. No-one's heard from her for a quarter of a century. Three Gentry songs tied for this spot as the most listened to of the year, Rainmaker, He Made a Woman Out of Me and this one - a southern soulful smash!

13. Kevin Coyne - Uggy's Song

From the brilliant 'Case History', another candidate for one of the finest British albums of all time, which was re-released in a superb two disc edition this year. Maverick Englishman Coyne drew on his work as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital for most of the material on the album. This song is about the death of a black man at the hands of the police, but equally speaks to Coyne's feelings about the music industry: "Why should you care? Why should you want a man like me around?"

14. Oddfellow's Casino - Winter in a Strange Town

I'd somehow not come across David Bramwell's Brighton-based folk-electronica outfit before last winter, but I heard the songs live in a small garage in Kemp Town and fell in love. They make glorious albums of cold-infused pop songs that seem almost unlistenable to when the sun is shining but are entirely essential when there's ice on the ground. I particularly fell for the sophmore album 'Winter Creatures' but this track is from their third, 'The Raven's Empire'. Also winter-themed. I hope to see more from Dr Bramwell over the coming year, possibly before the daffodils start to bloom.

15. Lauren Shera - Once I was a Bird

Californian coffeehouse singer Lauren Shera was a random find on a rare trawl through the Daytrotter sessions. She's supported Mumford & Sons on some of their first US gigs, and has been on stages shared with a lot of other good folk. This is the title track from her 2011 album, and I do really like it.

16. Bridie Jackson & The Arbour - Scarecrow

Summer of 2012 and my solo act the Hiawatha Telephone Company and the amazing Birdengine shared a stage with Bridie and her Arbour playing to an audience of about a dozen dedicated souls in Brighton. Cut to this year and they won the emerging new acts competition to appear at Glastonbury, their cover of this Louis Barrabas song was played on a lot of prestigious radio shows and I suspect they now find it somewhat easier to fill a venue. Some well deserved success for a lovely bunch of people, this is a really beautiful performance and video.

17. Devandra Banhart - Long-Haired Child

This 2005 track from the Cripple Crow album could feature amongst my most-played tracks in any year, as could the equally wonderful 'I feel like a child' from the same album. This is a perfect ode to hippydom, and the free spirit that people like to think Banhart exudes. I thought I was bringing up a wanna-be long-haired free-child. Turns out he aspires to be a banker. That's free-thinking for you.

18. Bella Spinks - Regenerate

I thought this was a new track but it's apparently a couple of years old now. A bit of a stunner, from a local performer who's not seen out and about much. I think this is a bit of a beauty, and clearly I played it a lot over the last year.

19. Allysen Callery - In Your Hollow

The lead track from Allysen Callery's latest album 'Mumblin' Sue', a charming softly spoken slice of north eastern US folk that's well worth seeking out. This is a live version from Sully's Cafe, Rhode Island from early this year.

 20. Mark Wynn - And Dave Went Mental

This is a brilliant slab of Northern English crazy, much loved this year, from the John Cooper Clarke / Mark E Smith of North Yorkshire. Mark's been ridiculously prolific releasing a mass of completely mental albums and EPs over on bandcamp, enough to probably scare the uninitiated, but there's a collection of a lot called 'Music Documentaries make me unable to deal with reality' which is a good place to start if you like this kind of thing. And I do.


  ...and that's it. Twenty artists, twenty tracks, one year.  You can download the full collection in vibrant shiny mp3 format over on Box, for a little while (20 tracks in 119mb). 

Merry Xmas!