Everett True’s favourite 40 songs of 2019

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…or not. I have no real way of knowing.

These are in no particular order. Not all of them came out this year. And yes, of course I have missed loads.

1. Grimes – We Appreciate Power
You know how rare it is they play death metal on the Radio One breakfast show? How can this NOT be my jam? Submit. Submit. You have any idea of the shit I have to wade through just to get to one good slalom? My only regret about my job at BIMM London is that I don’t get to wear latex bodysuits 24-7. That, and the tiredness.

2. Billie Eilish – Bury A Friend
I have this on constant repeat and it races round my head on a loop of delight and discovery. It is playful, it teases but it is also maudlin and it depresses. It is conflicted, confused. I love conflicted, confused. That is my main jam in life. Feeling conflicted. Such a natural pace and rhythm and timing. The way it stops and then jolts awake. The way it jolts awake and then screams silently and then stops and then runs away and then loops around once more. The way it falls asleep. The Way It Keeps You In The Dark. We all fall asleep. We all feel excited and depressed and maudlin and charged simultaneously. We all like to be playful with our darkest spirits. We all crush. We all crash. We call crush.

3. The Specials – Vote For Me
The story goes that, right at the height of Tricky’s first flush of fame, the notoriously moody trip-hop pioneer was flown first-class to Seattle to DJ. He showed up with a copy of the Specials’ first album under his arm, nothing else. “Er, that’s lovely Tricky,” stuttered the nervous club owner, “but where’s the rest of your records?”

“This is it,” came the reply. “It’s all you need.”

4. The 1975 – Love It If We Made It
I’m increasingly of the opinion that The 1975 are the greatest rock band in the world right now. (Note: define rock.) (Note: I am using the traditional (male) definition here because of course there is no way that the greatest rock band in the world right now are male.) This 1975 song reminds me of XTC circa ‘Senses Working Overtime’. (Note: it sounds nothing like it.) (Note: I am talking about the way the vocals have been treated, and the modulations, the pauses for breath. Not the content.) Between this and the new Billie Eilish one, it can be quite exciting listening to the Radio One Breakfast Show these days. Fact of the matter is: politics, sex, a sense of belonging. Fact of the matter is: jarring, explosive, political, not pandering. Fact of the matter is: passionate.

5. Robert Forster – Inferno (Brisbane in Summer)
NOT TO SELF, BUT TO ALL OF YOU: splurgy-troth brilliance. Place on repeat, let the lyrics and the pronunciation and the guitars soak through you 20 times, the insistent two-note piano, and then start playing it for real. For real, man. For real. I fucking wish fucking YouTube didn’t keep taking me through to Sharon Van fucking Etten at the song’s end however. Do YOU remember the winter at all?

Look at the way the man dances with his mower! Look at him.

6. Sleaford Mods – Kebab Spider
Don’t need to describe this, surely. Fucken blast of fucken fresh air on a delayed 7.15 back home from Guildford, shit cycle ride home.

7. Nilüfer Yanya – In Your Head

“Dang she’s pretty,” comments one Guardian reader picking up on one of the undeniably least interesting aspects of both the music and video.

  • Why the fuck does YouTube keep trying to force me to listen to Sharon Van Etten?

You want comparisons, reference points? OK.

  • ANY FEMALE ARTIST WHO IS CONSIDERED VAGUELY LEFT-FIELD AND PLAYS GUITAR BECAUSE GOD KNOWS THERE ARE ONLY TWO OF THEM

8. Dave – Black
Apologies. This should have gone up a few weeks ago. My only excuse is that I was too gobsmacked at hearing this played on the… pause for emphasis… Radio One Breakfast Show. What can I say? Just listen to the man.

9. Her’s – Harvey
So beautiful, so delicate, so fun. So naive. So wonderful. There is so much to love about their music, and so much to mourn. I am so sorry I never heard Her’s before now. Usually I go online to check out the latest news in Culture about Billie Eilish, and wonder quite how much I love her. This reminds me of Kings Of Convenience playing a starstruck show at Duke of York’s, early 2000s and my continued love affair with the debut Aztec Camera album. Music for melancholia-stricken teenagers.  These are my people. I know them even if I never met them, and I am sorry that they are no longer with us.

10. SOPHIE – Ponyboy
OMG (etc_). How did this pass me by (etc_)? Big SHOUT OUT to Cindy Stern on FB (etc_). Shades of TG, BK, CXCX, BE and CV (etc). OMG (etc_). Epilepsy-inducing (etc_), not always. Wonderful, near always (etc_). PC Music (etc_). Innovative, inventive, solipsistic, lipstick, terrifying, blunt, fluid, challenging (etc_). None of the above (etc_).

11. The Membranes – A Strange Perfume
No reason, but this feels important. Doubtless my 23-year-old self would disagree with me – he always was a cantankerous bastard – but I feel that out of seemingly nowhere The Membranes have made the greatest album of their career. (Let’s not call it a career, eh?) Of their lives. I would go over the recent review I wrote about it for Classic Rock, and dwell on each and every word, but. Do not take my word for it. This is high praise, from me, from my former self certainly. I had a couple of main noise bands in the 1980s – UT, The Birthday Party, Membranes, Sonic Youth – and one of them has returned after a near three-decade gap and made the greatest album of their lives. (It’s their second in recent years, and the other was almost equally as fine.) Playing out of their skins. Literally. So good, all I can do is gape at the hollowness inside my hollow inside and wonder why some of my friends are so great at growing old while others (well, me) are so crap. Pain, humiliation, death – this is all that life promises me as I edge closer towards 60. Not for John Robb and his merry bunch of swaggering, dissolute reprobates though.

12. Clinic – Rubber Bullets
When did Clinic get to be this good?

Or were they always?

13. Jarv Is – Must I Evolve?
What reason is there not to love this? Unless you are a child, and not into inebriation. Unless you are a parent and not flirting with authentication. Unless you are a cunt and too built on world domination. Unless you are a wizard and have no need for sophistication. Unless you are a water-gatherer and realise the futility of masturbation. Unless you are a sheep in search of mastication. Unless you are a rabbit caught up in fornication. Unless you are a chat show host built on degradation. Unless you are a Time Lord set loose on some deep space station. Salvation. Intoxication. Menstruation.

There is no reason not to love this.

14. Tropical Fuck Storm – You Let My Tyres Down
Whiny, maleficent malcontents. Bruising, beautiful brawlers. Out of tune, out of time, dissonant and a glorious sprawl of ugly loose-ends and shimmering dissonance. Anger, isolation, fuck you attitudinal beauty. Drug-fueled inertia. Disgust and disillusionment given vent in a way no male American rock band has managed in two decades now. Jesus, this is so good. Jesus, this makes me feel so homesick – no not for fucking Brisbane but for my core city of Melbourne with all its rain-washed grimy streets and sun-burnt rock formations in the middle of the fucking beyond. Jesus, this makes me want to tackle that fucking right hand turn single-handed. Jesus, this makes me want to drink and brawl and fuck and fight and argue loudly with whoever the fuck comes into the vicinity, and go twirling round numerous beer-soaked dance-floors and laugh at that fucking excuse of a beard on your face. Jesus, but this is glorious even if the dweebs do round off the song about 10 minutes too early, just as it’s getting going and becoming Coloured Balls epic. Fuck death and depression when there is shit like this still happening, still being created out there in the world.

15. Otoboke Beaver – Don’t Light My Fire
Overwhelming consensus demands that I feature this extreme noise terror from Japan. I do not have the slightest problem with that, indeed can only stand a few feet back from the action in a respectful daze and applaud with all my might.

16. Fontaines D.C. – Too Real
I feel like I am stepping into a time warp.

It ain’t that it don’t feel real. (It do.) It ain’t that the guitars don’t blister and scour and bleed annoyance and aggravation everywhere they turn. (They do.) It ain’t that this Dublin group ain’t intelligent and sassy: Sleaford Mods smart. (They is.) It’s ain’t that their songs boast a heavy narrative rarely seen outside grime and hip-hop, and that their music boasts a heavy swagger and cleansing grace rarely heard outside the music of Sonic Youth and another group who aren’t Sonic Youth. (They do.) It certainly ain’t that these lads don’t take a heavy pride in their heritage coupled with equal disgust and distrust. It ain’t that (intriguingly) this group have the potential to turn into something horrendous by the time they come to release their third album (let those radio programmers and Spotify drones get their hands on this beauty).

It ain’t any of that.

17. Taylor Swift – Lover
It’s in her swagger, the sweeping gestures, the…

18. Asea Sool – Sunshine
I do not deny I do not know even the first thing about Asea Sool, even who recommended the band to me. I just know what I love, and I fucking love  this. “British rock’n’roll, US delta blues, French chansons and Georgian folk,” they reckon – and that sounds about right. This music has got this otherness that is so hard to fake (very nice scream, too) – sure, I can hear elements of British and American rock and pop music in this duo’s other songs, but to me that is the least interesting aspect of their sometimes unhinged, often contrary sound. And that is why this next song is my favourite. That, and its untrammeled infectious energy…

19. Little Mix – Bounce Back
When I first heard this song, I was underwhelmed, but the more I do not concentrate on it, the more it grows on me. I already know that in five years (10 years, two months) time if I hear this song again by chance, a small pleasure circuit in my brain will light up and I’ll be like, “Now, who is this again…?” Hear it enough times now, and it might even stick with me that it’s Little Mix channeling Soul II Soul (a song that Little Mix had never heard of before it was brought to their attention by their songwriting team) and I’ll be able to momentarily show off my limited knowledge of pop music 2019. Like I say, this is neither here nor there. If I don’t concentrate on this song I really like this song. And if I do? Well, nadir.

20. Lizzo – Juice
None of them compare to, “I want you to sing this song like it’s fucking YOURS, like it belongs to you and you only” and Lizzo’s society-crumbling flute. The crowd make it. Absolutely. Music has never been just about the performance, it has always been about the reception as well. But obv it does not hurt one bit if the performer is total 1970s soul sister-style inspirational…

21. Stormzy – Vossi Bop
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Love this song.

22. No Sister – My New Career
It bothers me that I have never attained the level in my writing style where I can be direct without being dull.

  • I have no idea what you’re thinking.
  • This is way better than you think it is, however good you think it is.

It bothers me that when I try to capture beauty I usually end up bruising it. This one line from the band themselves: No Sister’s upcoming release is an acknowledgement of an elemental, unavoidable creative facet: influence: is brilliant. Hemmed-in, but with the creative freedom such acknowledgment brings.

Building on the shoulders of giants. This is a billowing, bruised beauty – isolation and solace and the echo of late night footsteps receding. So fine. You don’t have to believe me. Just play the song over and over again, thinking of me playing the song over and over again, grappling to articulate emotions the closer I get to the further they slip away.

23. Little Simz – Venom
Rage. Where’s the rage? Hard to rage in the midst of this heat. Far easier to seek escape, let someone else do the worrying. Rage. Life’s fucked but it’s all we’ve got. You feel entitled? You shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t.

24. Beyoncé – Spirit
I do not want to dissect, discuss Beyoncé, or her music. I do not want to be that critic sat at a bar pretending that on any level I am the equal of the artist. I do not want to dispel the magic. I often tell my students then when I step on stage – i.e. when I stand up to start another class – I picture myself walking down the steps, performing the intro to ‘Crazy In Love’. That’s what I aspire to, anyway. There’s a swagger. An insouciant joy. My love for Beyoncé’s music goes way beyond that though, keeps changing and mutating with the times. Homecoming was mind-blowing enough. This new one is pure magic, especially considering the source material. I want to be Beyoncé, not to know her or write about her. Simply be her.

25. Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up
I’ve never been able to keep up. I have always been overwhelmed by the volume of alternatives available within my own limited spheres of music. I don’t even listen much to anything outside of pop music these days (define that how you like) and I still can’t keep up. No, it ain’t my age. No, it ain’t my distance. I have a distinct gender bias to the music I listen to, have had for years now – and I still can’t keep up. My sources, my connections, are frayed and splitting at the ends but still I can’t keep up. Sure, I no longer am paid to listen – but honestly? You reckon that was ever the motivating factor? People like to argue among themselves which was the best year for music. Is it 2019? they ask themselves. Is it 2018? Will it be 2020? Most certainly. The bewilderment, the profusion of riches and charm and seduction grows with each passing month, as does the backlog. I am continually surprised, seduced, captivated by music new to me – the most intoxicating drug of all, it lifts you to a far greater high than alcohol or friendship or heroin. Not that I’d know – right? That new Taylor Swift single, OMFG! Like Taylor Swift with some Miley, some Mazzy, some Lana Del Rey rolled in. Who doesn’t love music like this? I cannot keep being fixated on the same thousand or so artists though. (Why not?) These years, I have to Google to discover whether I’ve even written about someone or not.

Mabel. I haven’t written about Mabel yet. Johnson fuck, what am I thinking? Here she is. Quick! Better than ANYTHING I’ve heard before. No, really. I hear so many harmonies, so many echoes, so many anxieties, so many possibilities, so many futures and pasts, futures and pasts in her music. Mainstream shit, right? Man alive. Just the odd 120 million listeners or so ahead of me.

26. Georgia – Never Let You Go
This is boss. This is banging. This is heavy metal. This is my frontal ear lobe, distorted out of shape by the sullen repetitive beats. This is Cristina. This is a (train) ride to nowhere. This is one too many late nights out spent shimmering in a dislocated spotlight, propped up by the bravado brought on by too much alcohol. This is knowledge. This is fantasy. This is a conversation backstage at the Falls Festival in 2008, knowing that whatever happens next will change everything. This is Robyn. This is a pulse, pulse, pulse beat. Moving towards the pulse beat. Moving towards the pulse beat. This is a beauty not dimmed by frequency or repetition but brightened, made more elusive and enticing. This is hope against the grey. This is the pair of you – all of you – fighting over my knees. This is disorientation. This is the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral, a busted closed door, nothing between us and oblivion except that jutting-out gargoyle. This is Giorgio Moroder. This is smart dance. This is a nonstop erotic cabaret. This is the beginning and the end and the whole and the moment, and the feeling of hanging lost, suspended in time. This is Georgia.

Dancing is always smart.

27. Tones And I – Dance Monkey
If you’re looking for more straight-up euphoric pop…

28. Jad Fair and Kramer – Some Things Last A Long Time
I’m sorry. I should have been there. I don’t know how it would have been possible and I am scared to venture outside the parameters of my day-to-day existence these days, scared to cross the road, but somehow I should have been there. Jad’s guitar on the following… more even than the beautiful harmonies and keyboards – sum up how I feel. The confusion, the blur of emotions. The futility. The beauty. The distortion.

29. Richard Dawson – Jogging
“It’s very good but it feels a bit bleak” – Howard Monk

“It’s a bit Chav mystic” – Jo Kendall

“It’s almost like a cry for help, isn’t it?” – Howard Monk

“Sleaford Mods mixed with Psychic TV” – Jo Kendall

“This is like Complaints Choirs with the melody removed” – Jerry Thackray

“Music that pushes you close to the edge” – Howard Monk

“This is my life!” – Jerry Thackray

30. Kim Gordon – Sketch Artist
If this was from Radiohead, you’d all be wetting yourselves it’s so fucken good. Dissonant. Danceable. Delirious. More fucked-up poetry from the queen of fucked-up poetry.

31. Baby Rose – All To Myself
I have not felt this way since Amy.

Just listen.

32. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
VERSION THREE
Would he have got five-star reviews whatever he produced? I mean, whatever.

VERSION FOUR
Walker, Cohen, Cash, C.S Lewis… fill in your own. I don’t know what I’m doing here really, but I am so happy that Nick Cave exists in my world. “Try to imagine nothing,” Isaac once said to me when he was 4 or 5. “You can’t.” The question most folk address is what happens when we’re dead, but really it should be what happens before we’re born. This life seems a fucking rotten one, most the time.

EPILOGUE
Around 23.05, I started crying. Thirty seconds later, I had to switch the music off.

33. Chromatics – On The Wall
Just like honey. Simply thrilled. Gorgeous. The Mary Chain always were their own worst enemy. Don’t bother going back to listen to the original. It has already been spoiled for all eternity.

34. Hurtling – E Flat One
The press release also calls it alt. rock but this if this is alt. rock then it is alt. rock from those wonderful five seconds when alt. rock was not a dirty word. In places, this is Bitch Magnet good.

Listen to this one, and hey fuck yeah. I’m still Everett True bitch and I ain’t dead yet.

35. Låpsley & DJ Koze – Operator
You may be wondering to yourself what genre this scintillating 12-inch slice of extended disco belongs to. Well, let me set your mind to rest right now.

It’s disco.

Disco, baby.

Disco disco disco disco.

Disco disco disco disco disco.

D-I-S-C-O (but no, not disco like that).

36. Flowdan – Welcome To London
Neil Kulkarni: Jerry Thackray my only point of disagreement here is the notion this is outside yr comfort zone. You’ve been writing about this kind of music for decades. Plus anyone struggling in modern England has a right to this record and a say cos it’s one of the few things this year to nail things so sharply x

37. FKA twigs – Home With You
That’s a deep bass. That is smart use of silence and tease. That is smart use of distance. More to admire than love. You can taste the tension as she pulls back on the joystick. It’s all about the visuals, the imagination. The reaching for the unobtainable. The withdrawal from loneliness, from despair. It’s all about the visuals, the occasional acknowledgment of what may be going on in the outside world. That is one deep bass; one startling counterpoint. It’s all about the soaring. More to love than admire, surely. Wait, is it starting all over again? This is smart use of the stark, of the unnerving, of the Voice. I can feel the disconnection, the cerebral, the isolation. I can feel the effort, the drop, the art.

38. Purple Mountains – All My Happiness Is Gone
ah, this was the side of pavement i always preferred. with the double darkness lyricism of david berman. i did not get round to listening to the album before david died and now he is dead listening – like much of life – seems futile. most weekends i spend wondering how old my kids need to be before i can die without anyone noticing. most days and evenings are spent dreaming of sleep. lush and orchestrated and opulent and still this music cannot keep the darkness at bay. all his happiness is gone. how many times did he need to tell us before we started believing? i ain’t accusin’, ain’t finger-pointin’. the strings sound beautiful but strings usually do. the intro should last forever. that would solve something surely. yes i do. i too would like to create beauty before i die but i too see the ultimate futility in this.

39. Porridge Radio – Lilac
The problem here is the bar.

The bar is insanely high, No, not for them you dunderhead. For me.

I do not know. Honestly, I do not know where I can go from here. Never known. That remains consistent, but… no. I do not k

now. Ever since those heady few months after my/our return from Brisbane and it felt that momentarily life was going to be OK and new friends were announcing themselves  and I was able to speak to people and I wasn’t stuck, I wasn’t uncomfortable and I wasn’t stuck. I knew how to make you feel better, so it seemed. In fact, I was buzzing and I was flying and for the first time in years it felt like I could still achieve anything and I saw 40 seconds of the greatest band

40. Kanye West – God Is
All of Jesus Is King now works so hard, hurts so bad for me I am astonished that for even one minute I was an unbeliever. This is awesome. Album of the year and all that. Whatever. I don’t give a shit either way.

Apologies. Missed this one.

41. Dua Lipa – Don’t Start Now

How NOT to write about music – 94. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran cover 2

There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want to read a review of it, I suggest you try The Guardian one. Alexis is usually pretty solid when it comes to artists like Sheeran, although I cannot help but notice that he has cannily avoided voicing his own opinion in the linked piece, a tried and tested fallback for those among us who value our integrity as writers when asked to review shit stuff like this for a wider audience. Just a suggestion, but wouldn’t it be interesting if Alexis had been asked to write two reviews in parallel – one for the wider audience, and one where he voices his own opinion. Of course, the two may coincide…

Another thought: why is it that critics are allowed to voice opinion when it comes to film and TV but not pop music?

A disclaimer: if this reads like criticism of Alexis then I apologise. It is not supposed to. He is one of the few male mainstream pop critics I admire.

Note: I have derailed myself. Apologies again.

So. Where were we? There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want that, then… well, find someone who has actually listened to it, for starters, if that is what you’re after, and I’m not sure why you should be: some of the most entertaining shit music criticism I have read – and written myself – has happened because the critic in question – myself, for example – has not bothered to listen to the music. Such a wanton act of self-destruction leads by necessity to creativity, use of the imagination. And this should not be discouraged. Although I cannot but help agree with you, imaginary reader, that it really depends why you are reading the music criticism in the first place. Entertainment covers a lot of sins.

Also, you know my thoughts on this, surely?

God, I am ugly.

So what is this blog post then, if not a review of the new Ed Sheeran album? An acknowledgment, a tip of the fedora to the establishment, the zeitgeist. Initially, I had an idea I would link to a series of recent videos without a verbal commentary, in a pre-doomed attempt to point out the bewildering miasma of alternatives that are available, that are always available, as opposed to the dullard lowest common denominator mainstream. But that would be playing to the balcony, and rather pointlessly at that.

For example (and I am really not trying here):

Here is one.

Here is another.

Here is a third.

(How much patience do you have?)

Here is another.

And so forth.

I discarded that idea rapidly, though. Also, I remain slightly bemused as to why I so greatly prefer the music of Little Mix and Taylor Swift (say) to the music of Ed Sheeran (say), beyond the fact that the former do NOT make Mumford & Sons sound like a thriving farmer’s market, do NOT make Coldplay sound like Throbbing Gristle, do NOT put One Direction into perspective, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey in the middle of grey. And, furthermore, the former remind me of the greats (En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, The Spice Girls, Taylor Swift) which the latter most patently does not, even when he is duetting with Beyoncé herself (remarkable!).

Sheeran reminds me more of the following: glazed eyes, traffic tailbacks, hot sleepless nights (not for any interesting reasons), roadkill, the new shopping mall at Shepherd’s Bush station, slow-moving elevators, meetings that drone on for hours, sun-glazed holidaymakers blocking the aisles at Clapham Junction, tv reality celebrity shows, stewed coffee in station cafes, the cultural appropriation embedded in pop and particularly middle-class white male pop, kids brawling in Victoria Park, half-empty hair salons… life, in all its stewed glory and terrible infancy.

Am I that much of a gender terrorist? I hope so. (Correct answer.)

Isn’t it great that Sheeran makes so many people happy? No. I really do not believe so but why not settle for mediocrity and a life spent not understanding why those in charge get away with it, when it’s presented to you so well pre-packaged?

How NOT to write about music – 87. Little Mix

little-mix-bounce-back

OK. This is interesting.

The more I try to bring this into focus, the more it squirms away. I experience music via the Radio One Breakfast Show much of the time, and in that context, this song is a delight – every time it starts up I think to myself, oh good they’re playing an old one from Destiny’s Child, or perhaps En Vogue, or The Spice Girls even. All great cultural cornerstones for me, guaranteed to make me happy and put a little spring into my wrist as I turn the steering wheel fractionally to the right to avoid to safely pass yet another bloody cyclist treating the country roads of East Sussex like they are his own personal gymnasium.*

Incidentally, a glance at the video clearly indicates the intended audience for Little Mix. I do not have a problem with this. Music is universal unless you choose to make it otherwise. Also, I try to avoid video.

When I first heard this song, I was underwhelmed, but the more I do not concentrate on it, the more it grows on me. I already know that in five years (10 years, two months) time if I hear this song again by chance, a small pleasure circuit in my brain will light up and I’ll be like, “Now, who is this again…?” Hear it enough times now, and it might even stick with me that it’s Little Mix channeling Soul II Soul (a song that Little Mix had never heard of before it was brought to their attention by their songwriting team) and I’ll be able to momentarily show off my limited knowledge of pop music 2019. Like I say, this is neither here nor there. If I don’t concentrate on this song I really like this song. And if I do? Well, nadir.

*Note for Facebook users. This does not mean I hate all cyclists, far from it. I am a regular cyclist myself, five days a week, only drive the car at weekends. I am very aware of the power imbalance on the roads. Just that there is a certain type of cyclist who uses the roads near where I live – cycling in packs, using the road for races and for exercise only, as their own personal gym – that can be an irritant. Doesn’t mean I target them, though – after all, they are only a minor inconvenience. I dislike car drivers far more – and most pedestrians too, now I think about it. I particularly hate the car and lorry drivers at the big traffic lights crossing near Fulham Broadway station. 

How NOT to write about music – 82. Taylor Swift

calmdown

I am not disappointed. No way.

The video is like something Katy Perry would have produced back in the day: all Technicolor brilliance and extravagant (kinda empty) gestures and appropriate tributes paid to diversity and the dullness and ugliness of closed minds. (Katy appears a few minutes in, dressed as a burger to Taylor’s fries.) Put simply, ‘Calm Down’ is a top tune, a banger or however the fuck Radio One DJs frame the expression these days. ‘Calm Down’ is ace pop music – and it ain’t that straightforward either. The song is beautifully judged, in ways that new songs from Little Mix and (sigh) Miley Cyrus do not manage. Something about the space, the dynamics, the rubber ballast beat, juxtaposition, a flurry of lyrics, the killer line “cos shade never made anybody less gay”, the way it recalls what’s gone before. I mean, fuck yeah. We can never get too much of the anti=hater shit, right? Good to speak up and be counted, especially in the context of Trump and Johnson.

Boris Johnson would condone the stoning of gays and the chaining of all women to the kitchen sink in a heartbeat if he thought there were votes in it.

It’s in her swagger, the sweeping gestures, the ….

I am happy to give Little Mix another 20 chances, though.

ET’s 30 favourite songs of 2018

Low Double Negative

I know it’s three weeks into January. Shit’s been going down. I know 2018 was not the greatest of years for me. I wanted to document it nonetheless.

These are in no particular order, and I know I have missed loads but I was not writing for large periods of last year. Here it is anyway, and I kinda like it.

Oh, not all of these came out in 2018 either.

1. Suburban Death Twitch – A Layer of Fat and Mold
One dear friend saw Brighton’s Suburban Death Twitch perform recently and found himself dismayed and more than a little angry that such casual, soulful brilliance should go unrecognised. He has little recourse to publicity like many of us, so he used what he could. He bought a copy of their new EP for me, knowing that I could not fail to love this beautiful, soulful music (like a general scouring in the area that involves ABBA’s break-up albums, the mould at the back of your fridge, half the towns of Hastings and St Leonard’s, the three-point acerbic harmonies of The Roches, the wayward belligerent swagger of Band Of Holy Joy, #metoo, friends that still cannot grasp why half their world seems to give up soon as they have a steady revenue and a person, any person, to fill the void, and so forth).

There’s comforting cello and trumpet, or something. There are harmonies to kiss for. There is intelligence and awareness, so much of it painful. (How can this be nostalgia when it hurts so bad?)

2. Nadia Rose – Skwod
My friend comments, “like who would give a shit what i have to say about that”. I write back, and say that’s the point. That’s the whole point. I ain’t qualified and she ain’t qualified but… wait a fucking second WHO THE FUCK IS QUALIFIED? someone who gets paid fuck that shit… Anyways, if you know you’re not qualified it liberates you to write what the fuck you want again. See also, the fact I know NO ONE gives a shit what I have to say about anything any more.

That’s to the good. That’s liberation.

Like I don’t understand freestyle? Like I can’t dig and groove to rhythms and shake my head Like I can’t appreciate attitude. Like I can’t do this.

3. Corporationpop – Ted Hughes
Observational, despairing, witty. Suburban beat poetry for the disenchanted, disinherited, atonally dispirited generation. Authentic in a world where the word has lost all meaning. Altruistic – she gives of herself and sprinkles magic. Of course she reminds me of my new suburban Southern sweethearts.

LINK TO MUSIC IS HERE

4. Tracyanne & Danny – Alabama
I love Jonathan Richman. I love Go Violets. I love Nadia Rose. You think you understand, but you really don’t. There is nothing else. Nothing. Not when I slip into this somnambulist dream world and for a few precious moments can tear myself away from the grey mundane and chase stars in my head. During times like this – and with no reflection on my kids who I would right now step in front of a lorry for – music is more important  than eating, breathing… my reason for existing and loving and failing. This is why I am still able to fall and laugh and fall again, even through the grey, unbearably lonely, single existence. This is the stuff that haunts my dreams and whirls round my head on meaningless train journeys and endless car rides. Nina Simone, Dexys, Beyoncé… FILL IN YOUR OWN NAME

5. Cardi B – Be Careful
This is the shit I like.

My reading of her is different to yours. I’ve never been into champagne unless to wash ladies’ feet. I like her music in small bites, like my older lovers. I ain’t cool or stuck in a dead-end job or pretty ass or transgender or female or American or blessed with financial clout or holiday somewhere. Wish I was. Wish I did. I ain’t macho or don’t aspire to be macho either. I don’t get off on aspiring to be part of her brand, I don’t want to exchange sweet nothings with her bodyguards, I don’t get my kicks from her bragging or use of profanity or delicious sense of timing. I like all of them sure, but they ain’t the main reasons I keep returning to Invasion Of Privacy. There is a feeling of fragility at the heart of the toughness and poetry, a gaiety and playful way round the beats, a sense of fragility that fuels the name calling and spooked sounds. Here a glimpse of a heart best treated carefully, there a glimpse of a heart shattered, everywhere a fragility. A rub-a-dub-dub.

6. Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
Adult, but not dull given-up Haywards Heath half-cut hair salon adult. Sexy MF adult, alert and alive and appreciative of all of life’s possibilities and twists and graveyard turns. ‘Pynk’ is a salacious drool, a knowing tease that straddles the line between fantasy and reality with a wicked knowing wink. ‘Make Me Feel’ takes it all to a next level that even Radio One DJs can understand and that is some fucking trick I can tell you, take it to a level that even Nick Grimshaw does not feel uncomfortable discussing. Sex. This video haunts my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed. At least, I wish this video would haunt my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed.

7. Crayola Lectern – Rescue Mission
This is beautiful, beautiful music. Sinister, compelling and so welcoming. The four names I have typed out are Roy Wood, Neil Innes, Robert Wyatt and The Addams Family but if you want the truth of it – and why the hell wouldn’t you want the truth of it? – none of the four names means as much to me, have ever meant as much to me, as the music from Mr Crayola Lectern, even with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. Especially with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. I finished up Neil Gaiman’s spellbinding spell-encrusted The Graveyard Book two days ago, and this music feels like my head playing catch-up. My dreams are no longer filled with wonder and mostly the realm of bleakness does not allow me the luxury, the necessity of music but if it did… this would be my succor, this would be my balm, this could be my beautiful Gothic dreaming.

8. Suggested Friends – I Don’t Want To Be A Horcrux For Your Soul
It’s all mid-American mid-1990s twin guitar interplay swagger (yes, Blake Babies I am looking your way) except it is what London and Leeds and it is 2018 and I really should stop eating these packs of Asda Mint Imperials like they’re rice cos I think my teeth are gonna fall out before the hallucinations and sugar rush kick in.

9. Totally Mild – Today Tonight
Please accept this. Beauty is found in the most mundane of places. Your smile, your eyes. This is like Nick Cave fully realised, his songs performed the way he always intended them to be. This (incidentally) is absolutely nothing like Nick Cave. However futile these words may be. The important thing here is document and eyewitness.

10. Jorja Smith – Blue Lights
This cut through the inane banter on Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show this morning like a ice-blue blade through rancid butter. Desolate, chilling. Bleakness filtered through forgotten council estates and crumbling tower blocks. Sirens wailing. Neosoul. Nostalgia for an age when it was perceived there was not so much of a need to be nostalgic. Painting a portrait of paranoia and alternate realities.

11. The 1975 – Give Yourself A Try
Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics. And in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show it’s a near-miracle. Moonlight in the palm of your hand.

12. Goat Girl – Cracker Drool
The NME has it about Goat Girl that, “The four piece’s debut album is a grubby, clattering thing that takes its lead from 1980s LA punk trailblazers like X and The Gun Club” [delete rest of sentence for a) not being entertaining and b) not adding anything to the dialogue around the music that cannot be summed up in the one word ‘scrappy’ even though that one word is misleading]. I do not mean to devalue my colleague’s writing by spiking the sentence even though I wanna throw in the screamer “she drawls like Courtney Love when Courtney stops pretending to be Stevie Nicks for one moment”, cos mostly what she has to say is relevant. I do however want to bang the heads of the rest of my colleagues together for spouting cliché after cliché about “girl gangs” and “Brixton” and for overlooking the Courtney Barnett influence on ‘Country Sleaze’. Thing is though, by bringing in the NME quote, as staple as it is (not an insult: you need staples in your music reviewing, otherwise how can you music review?), you have a sense of where the music of Goat Girl is coming from, even a little cultural and attitudinal context – context that would be greatly increased if a) I could be bothered to put links in to their forebears and b) you could be bothered to click on them but a) I can’t and b) I know you won’t, so we will leave it there for a moment, shall we?

* Uh, you do need to be aware that X and The Gun Club were not punk in the way most people understand the word.

13. Jimmy and The Worn Out Shoes – Bramble Path
I love Jimmy and the worn out shoes.

I love near everything about them*, the way Jimmy dances, the way Jimmy’s moustache hangs there droopy and gentle, the soft shoe shuffle, the unassuming but so smart lyrics and deadpan way round a harmony, the presence of other musicians, the lack of presence of other musicians, the chugging rhythms and self-deprecating putdowns, the idea he communicates simply by being there that we should not give up however stupid and unfriendly the odds against us are, the slender soft shoe shuffle, his height, the laconic melodies, the box drums and skiffle beat, the fact he shoves dodgy recordings of songs about Viv Albertine out on YouTube and you can’t understand a single word even though you know that if you could understand even a single word your life would be enriched in so many different small ways, the way he’s from Brighton but a Brighton you were always attracted to not a Brighton you wish you could turn your back upon, the way he used to be in a band that released possibly the greatest Christmas single ever, the empty beer glass, the way half his songs could be doubling for Clive Pig or O-Levels B-sides from 1985 or 1981 perhaps, the stupid soft shoes shuffle, his fondness for chips, the way he understands nostalgia should mean more than marketing, the whistling, the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes…

14. Eminem – The Ringer
Shortly as I was coming up the final approach to Haywards Heath, a new track started up. Didn’t pay too much attention, then I started getting into the nasty-ass lyrics and obstructionist worldview, the steady flow of invective, the aggressive double-speed rap and… damn, I was just loving the flow. I sat there in the car outside my house, engine running, lights on, neighbours beginning to peer out their windows, while the track built inexorably to its cussed climax. I wanted to know who it was (although it was clearly Eminem). I wanted to know what it was. The volume kept building. The invective kept flowing. Damn, it shook my late Thursday evening up.

15. Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses
Wolf Alice remind me of two favourites from the early 2000s – Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia and Life Without Buildings. With some Northern Gothic leanings and bog-standard indie guitars thrown in, obv.

16. Amyl and the Sniffers – Westgate
Wow. OK.

Clash magazine has it that Melbourne band Amyl and the Sniffers are “a bunch of deviant children enjoying illicit behaviour and the odd pineapple juice”. Beat My Bones says, “Their songs are as fast as the Ramones with the obnoxious smuttiness that the Sex Pistols had”. It is not in my nature to quote other writers when it comes to hyperbole but OK. Wow.

Watching Amyl and the Sniffers at The Windmill in Brixton yesterday evening is what I imagine it must have been like going to CBGBs in ’75. Not that there’s anything four decades old about Amyl and the Sniffers. Not even vaguely.

17. The Legend! – Live at the Haunt
I owned that stage, for what it’s worth. I had a backing tape of desolate beautiful disturbing violin music supplied to me by Maria because she could not make the show, and that fed into the isolation and sense of bereavement too. As did my divorce, and the fact I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the show.

18. Yoko Ono – Teddy Bear
Now, you tell me. Was I wrong to put my faith in Yoko all these years?

19. Let’s Eat Grandma – It’s Not Just Me
Within seconds of listening to the luscious ‘Hot Pink’, I’m reminded of Gothic Americana popsters, the sisters CocoRosie, with a much more immersive understanding of EDM. I am not trying to pull Let’s Eat Grandma down by making this observation (also, this is superficial, based around a certain Helium trill in the intertwined voices and love for esoteric slightly jarring sound) – just pointing out the danger of calling something like “nothing else in pop right now” (thank you Pitchfork) when a statement like that is more revealing of the writer’s own lack of immersion than the music itself. Indeed, the description Pitchfork applied to Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album could so easily be applied to Cocorosie’s early work, “If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.”

That’s not to say it’s not a great line. It is. It’s a great line, especially the phrase “a kaleidoscope of unknowns”

20. Flight Of The Conchords – Father & Son
So, Isaac. Hello.

“Hello.”

What is it that you like about this song?

“It’s quite funny.”

How so?

“I don’t know.”

Is it something about the self-deprecating way the two singers tackle the subject material and their downbeat wry manner, or is it the delicious delight of the (vaguely taboo) subject material itself, the way the duo sometimes throw in an unexpected sting at the end of a line, the understated pathos that is none the less sweet or moving despite the fact the song is satirical (like all the greatest comedy it holds truth), the underplayed but heartwarming musicality, the way the song builds up into mini-crescendos and dies away again, passion momentarily spent, the smart interplay between the two disjointed narratives, the smart way “Trevor” rhymes with “live together”, the wry nastiness of some of the more ostensibly throwaway lines, the way the song becomes funnier and funnier with familiarity and repeated listens, the unmusicality of the voices as the song draws closer and closer to its climax, the gentle chugalong of the rhythm and melody, bodies swaying gently in the spotlight, the…

“I don’t know. Er. Sorry. Something like that.”

21. Robyn – Honey
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn!

22. Kristin Hersh – Lax
This new album – her 10th studio album, it says here – is so full. So fucking full I cannot begin to muster the energy required to equal it with words (thereby failing RULE NUMBER ONE OF MUSIC JOURNALISM: always be more entertaining than the music you write about). Everything claimed for her former 4AD soulmates The Breeders, obv – but without the cosy familiarity that helps so often when confronted with casual genius, the intimate stranger. Brooding. Broody. Squalling. Squalled. Mysterious like Lyra Belacqua. I am just pleased that I am not the only one unable to measure up here.

23. Noah Cyrus, MØ – We Are…
Brexit is fucked.
The government’s fucked.
We’re all fucked.

24. Ariana Grande – God Is A Woman
I come at pop not from a teenage girl perspective (that would be absurd) or even a middle-aged white dude perspective (although undeniably this must influence me). In 2018, Ariana is first and foremost a diva, and one that has been greatly affected by tragedy and heartache. (Think Judy Garland, for the archetype.) I come at her music from a gay perspective.  I wrote an article for The Stranger about this once – I can’t find the original, but I reference it here.

25. Big Joanie – Fall Asleep
Nice nice nice, but decide I fractionally prefer the production on the old songs more. Prefer them (a little) more when the guitar sound reminds me of The Petticoats. I do like the way the YouTube algorithms take me immediately on to Hole (first time), Solange (second time), Beyoncé (third time) and Skinny Girl Diet (fourth time) following this song.

26. Little Mix – Strip
What if you have long thought that Nicki Minaj is way more entertaining and imaginative and creates (I dunno) way more adventurous noise pollution than anything the more feted rock and avant-rock and doom metal and whatever genres have thrown up in decades?

What if you started believing in stars like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn again?

27. Rosalia – Di mi nombre
She’s from Catalonia in Spain, she’s 25, she has a grace and style that I find bewitching, she spends a lot of time in hotel rooms doubtless, dreaming. The music sounds steeped in tradition. Interesting it should feel like that (to me). Signals and noise. I first encountered flamenco singing on a visit to Athens, Greece in the 1980s – the heat was oppressive and the noise and fumes even more so. I was tasked with uncovering the English-speaking Greek rock music scene when all I wanted to do was listen to flamenco at open-air concerts and watch the flames flicker, the dancers shift. I know little of the tradition it encapsulates and am content to be watching on the sidelines still, the dancers shifting shape and form around me, ribbons fluttering. The music here is not overstated.

28. Clean Bandit – Baby (feat. Marina & Luis Fonsi)
I feel like I’ve slipped over the edge of the vortex. It’s dark here, and full of unfamiliar smells. (Is this what cultural appropriation smells like? The smell of pine disinfectant?) Clean Bandit belong in the same category as Dua Lipa as Calvin Harris and Jess Glynne, the anonymous pop stars who have risen without trace. Found yourself stuck in a loop listening to the same 90-minute segment of Radio One over again, unable to differentiate between any of the music being played (or banter, or jokes, or “human interest” pieces, or competitions)? Blame these artists: pop Polycell designed to clog up any living, breathing arteries: there to muffle the not-silence and blare of headlights streaking towards you down darkened West Sussex country roads; the smile is not on the face of the tiger. The rise of sad pop. Not melancholy, just sad.

29. Christine and the Queens – 5 dollars
I do not know why I am starting off by talking about passion, about desire here. This is not how I hear this song. To me, this song is a beacon, a full-beam headlight steering me away from the ever-looming rocks – or maybe it’s towards, I cannot tell – a ray of hope, of understanding, that even as the grey and tumble of detritus threaten to overwhelm me, remind there are still Voices out there that can aid, inspire. Her music has feline elasticity, supine grace. Oh no… wait. I mean the opposite of that.

30. Mitski – Nobody
Nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody moves me like Mitski does right now. 100,000 of those 2.8m listens are from me.

How NOT to write about music – 35. Buzzcocks

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What if you’re looking for authenticity in music, what then?

What if you’re confused, lonely, feel ostracised, can’t even begin to understand the unspoken social protocols of boy-girl, boy-boy relationships and teenage love, and you’re looking for ways to interpret and understand your own day-to-day life?

What if you understand that while music may be a performance, it is a performance that cuts far deeper and goes far closer to the heart of its audience than any similar medium (film, television, written) because often it feels like there is no separation between the performance and the performer?

What if music feeds directly into your sense of identity, gives you a reason to carry on – and not just a reason, but it also inspires you, confuses you, lifts you higher than any drug, takes you to another universe?

What if you treat music like a spurned lover?

What if the main time you encounter music is in the bedroom you share with your three brothers; sat next to your tinny, tiny Dansette mono record-player, with the coloured vinyl and beautifully designed record sleeves sprawled out on the floor next to you, hidden away in your own secret world?

What if you are so tired after battling with people and school all day, so burdened by your lack of actual human contact, that your favourite sound to listen to when you get back home early evening is soulful sensitive acerbic cutting two-minute pop songs?

What if you grew up believing there is no difference between pop and punk because of one band, and one band alone?

What if the reason you like or dislike music is not because it is “manufactured’ (what’s that?) or ‘inauthentic’ (what’s that?) or has that special half-second echo on the kick drum or the size of the marketing budget but because of the BEAUTIFUL BRUISED FUCKING GLORIOUS POP MUSIC ITSELF?

What if music is your life?

What if you are seeking diversion and understanding of the sort of fragile relationships you have no hope of entering into?

What if you have long thought that Pete Shelley is way more courageous and imaginative and talented and PUNK ROCK than any of his more feted macho male colleagues?

What if you grow up believing that stars don’t exist, just people – but simultaneously you have Secret Best Friends, people you can ride with out to the heavens?

What if you figure it’s OK to escape to reality, long as you can avoid the nastiness and incessant bullying?

What if you understood that growing up is doing nothing of the sort?

This performance feels real to me, but so the fuck what. Maybe I just love the sight of folk having a good time.

This entry is supposed to be read in conjunction with the previous day’s blog entry.

Favourite male punk band? There was no other.

Related posts: Pete Shelley R.I.P.

How NOT to write about music – 34. Little Mix

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What if you’re not looking for authenticity in your music, what then?

What if you’re not looking for ways to interpret and understand your own day-to-day life?

What if you understand that all music is a performance?

What if music does not feed into your sense of identity, but instead serves to distract away from it?

What if the main time you encounter music is during the Radio One Breakfast Show?

What if you are so tired after travelling and working all day, so overburdened with a surfeit of human contact, that your favourite sound to listen to when you get back home late at night to a well cold and empty house is silence?

What if the reason you like or dislike music is not because it is “manufactured’ (what’s that?) or ‘inauthentic’ (what’s that?) or gender-specific or imaginative or has that special half-second echo on the kick drum or the size of the marketing budget but whether it measures up to Bey, to Ariana, to Chicago (the musical), to Mary Poppins?

What if you view music on the same terms as television, as film, as video games?

What if you are just seeking diversion and lip service to the sort of fragile relationships you turned your back on decades ago?

What if you have long thought that Nicki Minaj is way more entertaining and imaginative and creates (I dunno) way more adventurous noise pollution than anything the more feted rock and avant-rock and doom metal and whatever genres have thrown up in decades?

What if you started believing in stars like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn again?

What if you figure it’s OK to escape to an aspiration dreamworld, long as you avoid the aspiration?

What if you understood that growing up is doing nothing of the sort?

This performance feels false to me, but so the fuck what. Maybe I just resent folk having a good time.