Difficult to qualify exactly why I'm doing this, as it seems that I've barely had two minutes to sit and listen to any tunes over the last twelve months (and longer). It's been 6Music, vintage vinyl and increasingly reductive Spotify playlists.
Nevertheless, some tunes have made their way through the parental membranes that have closed over my ever-more-hirsute ears. They are tunes with enough hook in their fabric to dig into my inattentive gristle-holes and lay their little eggs. On the down side, I probably haven't got any great lyrical insights to offer.
So based on the frequency on the old Last.fm... And in reverse order...
#13 - Young Fathers - GET UP
It's a bit like Eurovision: you remember the tunes from the beginning of the year and from the end, but the middle can get a little doughy. Also, going on the basis of what I've played the most over a year will favour tunes that have been around for longer - but those are the breakbeats.
This tune is welded to January in my head - frosty Mancunian mornings, the beginning of my Dadly career and the glorious freedom of an ersatz study with 6Music on tap and "all day" to listen to it. Living the dream. It's a woozy paranoid headrush of an anthem and it was a classy surprise when they won the Mercury Prize, even though it has become a crud-stained tankard over the years.
#12 - Cate le Bon - I Can't Help You
Even though you'd imagine a move to Los Angeles would've taken the edges off her Welsh accent, Cate le Bon still sounds so foreign. Like a re-imagined Nico at the middle of a re-configured Velvet Underground, re-written from distant, hazy memories. Quirky, bird-twitchy pop and very cool. This track aside, I haven't listened to her stuff nearly enough.
#11 - Mungo's Hi-Fi - Bike Rider
Carries the smack of a novelty single, this track. But then what is a pop hook without novelty. I kept waiting for this tune to annoy me, but it never did. I kept expecting to hear it around and about, but it never seemed to happen. I love a song that takes a tangent in its teeth and runs it down to its illogical conclusion.
#10 - Metronomy - Reservoir
My favourite track from one of my favourite albums of the year, even if it didn't quite reach the shimmering heights of The English Riviera. Icy and alienated and oddly suburban, this could have been the soundtrack to a time-travelling summer of teenage heartbreak - tiny obsessions stretched out over long, languid months. And at the bottom of their black heart, sweet seething resentment.
#9 - The Kooks - Down
A bit embarrassing this one. They are a bit of an embarrassment as a band, aren't they? And it was almost a surprise to hear they were still making tunes. It's also a bit of a stupid song, lyrically; do we need another woman-done-done-me-wrong tune? No, we don't. But it nagged its way into my head and I'd feel dishonest if I didn't include it. After all, pop music can be as dumb as rocks and still soar, can't it?
#8 - White Fence - Before He Met Her (Decomposing Lime)
Mossy, doomy fanfare to kick things off and then off it drifts in a softly zig-zagging fractal pattern with vocals pleasingly sliding about, buried in the mix. Trebly guitars scribble in the margins and, like a Spike Milligan sketch, it warbles off into a slow-motion exit when it runs out of ideas. It might be psyche-by-numbers; it might be available by the yard from any respectable psychemongers - but it tucked itself into a niche in my memory banks and made itself at home.
#7 - Warpaint - Disco//Very
I was surprised that this got listened to as much as it did - although maybe I wasn't listening as closely as I should've been. A dubby, yelping excursion into half-asleep menace. Like a Starbucks version of The Slits in ways I can't quite explain: slick but propulsive. And who wouldn't warm to a video of people dicking about in slow motion in irony-faded t-shirts. (They know they're dicking about, right?)
#6 - Lizzo - Batches & Cookies
This might be from 2013, but the album is definitely 2014 and I certainly didn't know anything about Lizzo before then. You'd think after listening to it for a few months, I'd have an idea of what it's about; I very don't. Oddly self-conscious about having such a "street" tune in my year's listening, feels a little too anthropological on my part. But the whistling hook drove into my lazy ears and I think I sniff a touch of the Missy Elliotts, which covers two senses in one short phrase. Synaesthetic.
#5 - Colourmusic - Dreamgirl '82
It felt like there was a lot of moody, reverby music hanging around my noggin this year and oftentimes it was this track that was rattling my mental furniture. Slight pinch of 80s metallic dirge (although that might be the title coluring my perceptions) and a nagging Cure-like guitar line. Not sure I would actually want this tune soundtracking my dreams, whether they featured girls or not, but it soundttracked a chunk of my 2014.
#4 - Aphex Twin - minipops 67 [120.2] [source code mix]
Like David Bowie's Titanic emergence from the murky depths in 2013, the Man Dem Aphex got me feeling trepiditious about his return to the world of albums. This lead track did a whole heap of reassuring before I got the chance to listen to the whole thing. It's a blinder, an envelope-licker and paradigm-tweaker. It's Aphex's Dayvan Cowboy in that it is recognisable but has moved away from the obvious markers. Nothing made me want to dance more all year this tune. I don't think I've been able to stop myself listening to it at least twice each time.
#3 - Flyying Colours - Not Today
Guilty pleasure/pain, this one. So much like the snippets of Ride, etc. that used to pop up on the Indie Top Ten on the ITV Chart Show that it actually hurts. I feel all of the 25 years that divide here from there, but they are blurry with youthful velocity and hurtle. They are Australian, I think, so they've got catching up to do, but I have no excuse for such warm-bath wallowing. It simply pushes too many of my buttons. Their tune "Wavy Gravy" is also a belter with a far superior title.
#2 - Automat - THF
This is a big, brooding Teutonic beast of a tune that I've conscientiously failed to find out much about. This is but a 40-second taster of what keeps leaping up on my randomised Spotify playlists and gets turned up every time. It reminds me more than a little of the infra-dark dub of Meat Beat Manifesto, millenial miasmic malcontent with room for dented cowbells. Could've been released anytime in the last twenty years but it choose to make 2014 its home.
#1 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior
I'm a fully-paid up member of the cult of this remarkable personality, so this can't be much of a surprise choice. But, head and shoulders the most listened to track of the year, this song about the heartbreak and hallucinatory isolation of exploration also became the quasi-official soundtrack for our move to Leeds due to a combination of heavy airplay at the beginning of April and its melancholic tone. It carried us to a new world and any time I listen to it in future will carry me back to that old future once more. Beautiful stuff.
I even managed to scrape together an idea of five albums that managed to make an impression on my mind over the course of the year. I've no great analytical insights to bring, as per usual, but in reverse order of impact...
#5 - Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe
Creeping in under the wire but making its presence felt very keenly as the year faded away, this was an album I'd meant to listen to for a while - due to various psychedelic buzzwords and good reviews that Twitter had thrown my way. It is packed with cool surprises, and not as out there as I'd expected, which turned out to be a strength.
#4 - Fuyija & Miyagi - Artificial Sweeteners
I tried to get into Todd Terje for months - with some progress - but this was my ageing synth-electronica album of choice of the year. A bit more bite, both sonically and lyrically, than the Nordic maestro while still sounding (artificially) sweet and a bit playful. Partially filled the gap that waits hungrily for another album from The Chap.
#3 - Aphex Twin - Syro
Already said much of what I can summon up for now about this album, but the rest of it matched up nicely to the invention and class of minipops. This track was another highlight.
#2 - Gruff Rhys - American Interior
Close call between the top two, which Gruff almost edged on the basis of the painfully weighty American Interior film. A truckload of steel guitar, noble sentiment and his clear, warm voice performing its usual low-key pop wonders. The album never strayed more than two feet from our turntable for months until it was usurped by the #1 choice.
#1 - Metronomy - Love Letters
A beautiful, sligthtly twisted pop machine with all the right noises in all the right places. Metronomy were the only band to play intelligbly through the muddy, muddy sound at the 6Music Festival in Trafford because of their crystalline sound. Devon knows how they make it so dreamy.
And with that, I shall melt into the 2015 night...