These days it’s actually quite difficult to recognise what’s a single, what’s a focus track and what’s a “thing they’re just putting out there for no apparent reason.” And the lack of clarity makes these end of year choices the most tricky of all, but here goes…
1) Bon Iver – 33 “God”
Full of effects and samples, from a chipmonkey voice to a dash of Paolo Nutini, it’s Justin Vernon’s high voice and quirky lyrics that hold centre stage, backed up by a fantastic drum beat. The song opens with the question, “Why are you so far from saving me “God”?” and goes on to say that, “I find God and religion staying at the Ace Hotel,” and rounds off “I would go forward in the night, well I’d better fold my clothes,” They are lyrics that you think you sort of understand, and then you get confused. The video is 3:33 minutes long in some kind of numerical whimsy, and Jesus was supposedly 33 when he died. The Maths teacher in me likes this stuff. The album is one I’ve kept going back to, but it just missed out being included on my albums list by virtue of too much vocoder and too many kiddy-toy noises.
As a double header (I’m breaking rules here) the next track on the album is the exquisite 29 #Strafford APTS. Far simpler in sound, appearing to be an acoustic guitar folk song to start with, we get gentle complimentary strings and sax, rather than too much obvious experimentation. The lyrics are once again *strange* (a woman smoking marajuana?) and has a beautiful moment when what appears to be a production glitch (although Justin is far too clever for such mistakes) crackles over the lyric “alimony butterfly.” Which means…*open to offers from readers*.
2) Radiohead – Spectre
I’m probably breaking even more rules here as this was first heard on Christmas Day last year (so not in 2016) and I’m not sure it was even a single, but if Adele can pick up two BBC Music awards for an album and single over a year old, I’m at least sticking to something within the annual cycle. It was beaten to glory as the Bond theme by an Oscar winner, Writing’s On The Wall by Sam Smith, but was it a better song than this? It’s all about Thom Yorke’s gentle vocal, those utterly spine tingling and plunging strings combined with the goosebumps upon on goosebumps. Stuff this magical deserves recognition.
2) Massive Attack, Tricky and 3D – Take It There
A sinister up and down keyboard intro from the band threads all the way through the song to hook you in. In its trip hop haze, this song mimics an intoxicated zombie stiffly plodding along a darkened street late at night. The video has shades of Thriller. Who wouldn’t dance like the half dead in an empty swimming pool late at night given the chance?
4) July Talk – Beck and Call ft Tanya Tagaq
A Glitter Band-esque drum beat introduces the story of a man and woman facing up and tugging each other about with invisible strings, the way man and woman often do. It’s a relationship based on sparring and control, whilst making peculiar dance movements at each other, rather like some exotic birds trying to impress a mate. The contrasting dual vocals of Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis make this so distinctive and powerful. In fact, “She loves me, she loves me not,” is snarled out with an increasing desperation of sheer grinding rawness.
5) The Cult – GOAT
A bit of straight up rock. Ian Astbury has to dig very deep (and probably grab various body parts very firmly) to force out a massive note in the chorus and Billy Duffy is on top form with the guitar riffs. In the year that we lost another hero, Muhammad Ali, it’s a fitting tribute to the Greatest Of All Time. And the video is very artistic too (the natural beauty of the human form etc etc).