I’m doing an end-of-year round-up list. I can’t believe it either. I’ve never done one before. I’m usually so out of touch I haven’t even heard anything released in the current year. I’m not sure if this is a one-off or just a sign that I’m finally becoming slightly less out of touch. It might never happen again.
These are the songs that inspired me the most this year. The songs that made me want to keep writing and making stuff, that I put on repeat a million times, that I sang for hours out loud in the flat on my own, that I’m still not tired of. The songs that mattered the most to me. They’re not in any order because it feels like ranking my children.
Noah Hafford – That Way
OK, I know I said these weren’t in any order but this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard full stop, let alone this year, and I’m starting the list with it for a reason. Noah showed up in my suggested links on Soundcloud over the summer, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a song with such UTTER DISTILLED FUN concentrated into it. I want this song at number one in the charts. I want it played by every DJ alive.
I genuinely, out-loud squealed the first time I heard the synth solo at 2:54. Everything I’ve ever wanted in a pop song.
Emily Reo – Spell
I think I’ve mentioned Emily in every interview I’ve ever done, and one day I fear she will Google me or something and realise how much I talk about her and call the police. This is because her work is pretty much the sole reason I finally stopped being scared of writing and producing my own stuff.
Everything Emily does is overwhelmingly beautiful and finely-crafted, timbrally and melodically, but it also (to me at least) has this real transparency of structure and production to it. Listening to her album Olive Juice late last year was the thing that turned electronic music from some kind of mysterious elitist thing I could never understand to something I felt inspired by and wanted to try out myself.
Spell/Stronger Swimmer came out in October and I died and now I am dead the end. I am really into mounting incredibly emotional feelingsy work in a synthetic structure, not to disguise it or tone it down but to find an unexpected means of expressing it and ‘Spell’ does that perfectly.
Emmy The Great – Hyperlink
(10:37 in this video, if it doesn’t automatically load it at the correct point.)
I have listened to Emmy for years and years and years (since she was mentioned on the promotional website for Skins generation 1 in 2007…yep) and I am completely overjoyed she’s switched from a folkier sound to a more electronic palette. ONE OF US, ONE OF US. What I love about Second Love is that there’s no question that she’s still a singer-songwriter, the stories sit at the forefront but sonically it takes much more of a magpie approach, bits of guitar, fragments of sampled vocals, and moments of speech taken (secretly?) from parties and conversations with her friends. I love that if anything it feels even more ‘real’ and tangible than when her work was completely acoustic.
There’s a moment in this after the first chorus where this wall of vocals builds up for a second and then cuts off like it’s been gated. It gives me goosebumps. I think what I love so much about Hyperlink is that it’s a solid song but the tiny, tiny details that pop up throughout are constantly unexpected and give it a really rich emotional texture as well as a sonic one.
Citizen Helene – Bridges
If you’ve followed me and/or Helene on Twitter for any length of time you will know I have a horse in this race. I don’t care. Bridges is brilliant. Helene doesn’t just write songs, she crafts them, like somebody gave her a big chunk of marble made out of four-to-the-floor drums and Hammond organs, and you turn around for a second and look back and she’s made the frickin’ Venus De Milo only the Venus De Milo is wearing leopard print and cool sunglasses and sequins and holding a Donna Summer 12″ and you’re like, ‘how did you…?’ and Helene just shrugs.
Like a couple of the people on this list she’s gradually shifted from a smaller more acoustic feel to something a bit bigger; the A-side to Bridges is an absolute disco banger, but this list is full of bangers already so I thought I’d go with the clever one instead.
And it is clever. Bridges has this kind of shuffly swing to it that I think is a product of it being in a 5/4 time signature, but it never feels awkward or like it’s showing off, just elegant and laid-back and romantic and maybe slightly sarcastic at the same time? It’s a love song, maybe, or maybe it’s a break-up song, or maybe it’s both, and it’s wrapped up in this kind of sharp-tongued sweetness that nobody does better than Helene.
Tessa Violet – Not Over You
OK LOOK. YouTube is weird. It’s so weird. Tessa has more than a million people watching her, more people than basically anyone I know could ever hope to have regularly consuming their work, and yet I basically KNOW that unless I’ve already played you this you won’t have heard it. THIS IS A TRAVESTY. ‘Not Over You’ is a perfect pop song. I love everything about it. I love those three claps leading into the chorus. I love the energy. I love how it gets stuck in your head. I love that it’s actually super depressing but wrapped in a fun happy danceable package.
I also think the video for this, which a grand total of three people made, and which Tessa directed, is testimony to what can be done without a massive production company behind you. I like how silly it is, and how the extras look like real people at a party and not like they were carefully selected from an ad agency, and how much fun it looks like everyone’s having and that GORGEOUS closing scene with the flares and the smoke. YES. I hope Tessa takes over the world.
Slow Club – Rebecca Casanova
I have been into Slow Club since they were full-on twee indie folk; they’ve grown up with me, and if anything I love them even more now. One Day All This Won’t Matter Any More is beautifully crafted but also super emotional and REBECCA’S VOICE HAS GOT MASSIVE AND I WISH TO WORSHIP HER AS MY NEW QUEEN.
Rebecca Casanova is the standout track to me partly because a) it’s incredibly sad and I love sad songs, b) more songs positioning women as Casanova figures please, and c) it has this eighties-classic feel to me, driving bass, gorgeous lush synth pads in the background. I love it. I want to drive through the city at night in a car with the top down with this playing because I’m a big old cliche.
Willow Smith – November 9th
Willow, you are but a tiny small sweet baby and yet you are writing and mixing and mastering your own glorious crystalline pop hits and I’m so excited about it.
This came out, as the title suggests, the day after the US election and it was the first thing that day to make me smile. It’s so short but in that time it says everything it needs to. Just this little shining voice of positivity in the middle of all the misery. It came as a surprise but a wonderful one. I love the softness of Willow’s voice in this counterbalanced by her almost shrieking in the interludes. She gives me genuine hope everything won’t always be awful.
Anohni – Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth
*screams* I JUST LOVE THE PRODUCTION ON THIS SO MUCH. Everything from the super-aggressive snare to the bubbling-up synths in the interludes to Anohni’s sweet sweet voice are perfectly honed to complement one another and the outcome is a political song, yes, but one that’s also just visceral ear-candy.
I honestly feel like I should find the lyrics on this song excessively sincere and earnest but I just love it. It’s as defeatist as it is uplifting which is, in my opinion, an EXTREMELY PUNK approach to songwriting. It reminds me of Jon Anderson’s Change We Must (which I love with all my heart) but without Anderson’s ludicrous woo-woo optimism. I want Anohni to be my synth-mum.
Allo Darlin – Hymn On The 45
Allo Darlin are so massively important to me. Their songs saw me through a move to London, the end of an awful relationship and the start of a happy one, joining my first bands, doing my Masters. The fastest and most dramatic periods of change in my life, and some of my happiest moments, were soundtracked by them.
Hymn On The 45 is their last song, and I think it’s one of their very best. Elizabeth’s voice is at its warmest, and the track sounds big, in parts, because it really is – it features most of the musicians Allo Darlin have worked with and loved at any point, and it’s a big old celebration of how far they’ve come.
I know you can’t go home, but Hymn On The 45 makes me believe for a minute that you can.
Fade Away – Hannah Diamond
Hannah Diamond is the queen and PC Music are brilliant and I adore them. Nobody else manages to do simultaneous sincerity and tongue-in-cheek show-off ridiculousness like them. They’re the coolest of the cool kids and I want to be in their club so badly.
‘Fade Away’ is at the pinnacle of annoying fun danceable bubblegum pop; Hannah sounds unemotional, bored even, but the lyrics are 100% sad-teen-pop and the chorus is BANGING. I also think Hannah’s voice on this track is great – I love tiny-voiced singers and there’s so, so few of them in chart-pop or even at the bigger end of indie (Emmy the Great also fits into this category and I love her for it). I feel like they’ve gone out of their way to make Hannah sound so unashamedly *pretty* on this track and I’m so, so here for that.
If anyone knows how PC Music and their ilk consistently get that fantastic xylophone-style trance-stab sound towards the end of this song please let me know. Is it FM? Is it a sample? Whatever it is it’s great and I want it on everything.