Working my way through the music I get to listen to I decided to keep a track of the stand-out songs of the year, they’re listed in the order in which I first heard the song, but they’re worth revisiting.
Song; This American Life
Album; When The Dust Settles
From the opening piano and vocal it’s obvious this could go in the direction of being something special, then the bass drum thumps in and we’re into the song of broken promises of the so-called American Dream, where anything is possible (“when you were younger, they told you; you could do anything, you could be anything. Just follow your dream”). The song continues to build and grow like a metaphor for an American skyscraper before dropping, revealing the bitter after-taste of reaching for the sky only to fall short. Superb.
Song; Reminder Song
Album; Golden Days
We’re in the world of mandolin and the American backwoods with this offering from Canadian five-piece, a tale of having something but not recognising it’s importance. A love song that remains realistic, it’s not all dancing under the stars and strolls on the beach, sometimes it’s just realising that life is simpler when the person you love is close to you.
Catchy, mature song writing at it’s best.
Song; Ready To Live
With it’s Herbie Hancock ‘Headhunters’-era opener, Hammond organ set to eleven and a funky rhythm, you know it’s going to be one of those tracks that benefit from being played very loud. There is something reassuring about the whole package, it shows that this style of music is still being written and performed. It harks back to the James Brown soul of the 60’s with infectious music, Gospel style backing vocals, a sudden change in direction for the trumpet solo and then we’re back again (via a nice drum fill) into that soul groove. Brilliant!
Album; Tenement and Temple
Bit of a curve ball for me, I have no idea why this song somehow imbedded itself into my head but, for some reason, I find this song absorbing. I love the strange, alternative instrument choices, the wooden block percussion, whistle solo, haunting backing vocals putting me in mind of the mid 60’s songs of Elvis Presley. It’s peculiar and brilliant.
Song; Broken Fingers
Album; Pretty World
Slow and steady wins the race, this is an unhurried song that feels like therapy yet pulls in such emotion through the sensible production and the world-weary voice of Baker. It’s worth noting the backstory to this song, involving backpacking around Peru, getting caught up in a terrorist attack and having to deal with the aftermath, mentally and physically.
Great songs are powerful in different ways.
Album; Can’t Stand Still
Toss some blues-soaked guitar some hand clapping rhythm and a catchy opening riff and you’ve got a beauty of a blues rock tune to get even the most reluctant toe tapping. Annie Keating did something very clever with this track by performing a song that feels like it’s been part of the blue repertoire for decades. Not an easy feat.
Song; Ruby Girl
We start with an unassuming opener, “move on nothing to see here” you might think to yourself. But you’d be wrong, in the hands of another singer ‘Ruby Girl’ would be a good track, but in the hands of Angela Perley, it’s something totally different. You see, Perley is a little bit special, she’s a storyteller who can take a straight forward pop song and turn it into a skater punk song with clever production, a streetwise flavour and make it something radio stations should have been queueing up to play. Her album, 4.30, is probably my album of the year, each song was a killer and I could have chosen three or four songs to add to this list.
Album; I Need Sound
This could have been ‘Happiness’ or ‘Just A Friend’ but I decided to go with ‘Happiness’ due to the fact I love the mood of the song, it’s Sunday morning recovery music with it’s hopping bass and ever-building drum line all underpinning the cool, measured vocal of Erin K. To call her coo would be to say she practically makes cucumbers jealous. The whole album is engaging but this song is near perfection.
Song; End of The World
If catchy music is your thing, this will DEFINITELY a song for you. Based around a guitar and percussion foundation that will make your toes tap, it’s sing-along music at its best, thunderous chorus, clever lyrics and the sign of an artist at the top of his game. This isn’t to say it’s all downhill from here, but it’ll be a good song to match or better this effort.
Song; Slave and Slave Master
So many times, reggae wants to spread its wings and rewrite the genre, reggae works best when it embraces it’s past and builds from it. This song is instantly brilliant, harking back to the Bob Marley ‘Survival’ era, using subtle backing vocals, powerful lyrics, a tight-as-air rhythm section, it feels contemporary and classic at the same time. The album it comes from is a mix of different styles and genre that makes up the world of reggae, but this song stands head and shoulders above it all. Brilliant.
Song; Old Song
Album; In Constellation
Writing folk music can seem limiting in style, it’s easy to drift into other styles, so one way to compete against this is simply to embrace it and use folk as a platform for other styles and instruments. Trio ‘West My Friend’ brought in an orchestra to bring luscious arrangements to already solid songs. ‘Old Song’ is a gem of a song, changes in tempo and feel before we enter the ‘La La Land’ style instrumental break that harks back to the golden age of musicals. Five minutes of perfection…
http://www.westmyfriend.com/ (‘Listen’ page)
So there you have it, the top tracks that made me reach for the ‘repeat’ button immediately after hearing it. Not bad for a year’s work and I’ve got 2020 to look forward to, so, cheers!