by Sam Rees
Hello again friends and readers, it’s time to get back to answering the question I know you’ve all been waiting for me to answer: what are my top songs of the year, not released this year? For those of you who didn’t get a gander at Part 1, I’m taking a look at tracks that have come to mean a lot to me this year from the misty depths of the past. This is partly because of how lazy I have been with my musical listening of late, and also because a strange alchemy has been occurring. Music I otherwise would never have associated with this time has come roaring back into my listening habits, and been completely rewritten. As it’s Christmas, I thought I’d share them all with you.
I should warn you now that Part 1’s list ranged from Billy Ocean to Nine Inch Nails, so if anyone is expecting a smooth-running playlist out of this endeavour, they will be sorely disappointed. But then, if you’re expecting anything to run smoothly after this year then I’d wager you’re bordering on dangerously naïve. Besides, if you have a problem with the patchiness of these lists then I will freely admit your year was less volatile than mine and I am happy for you. However, there have been times over the last 12 months when I have needed to listen to peppy, Motown-inspired R&B, and other times when I have needed to listen to vitriolic industrial rock from the ’90s about fucking people like animals, and if this seems like the makings of a thoroughly unbalanced individual then you’re damn right.
Let’s get to business shall we?
In no particular order…
DAFT PUNK, TOUCH
With a vocal feature from Paul Williams, ‘Touch’ is already on strong ground. On a record which featured ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’, this over eight-minute prog-disco opus may not be the most obvious choice to keep returning to. But the lyrical themes are on point, as a soulful voice seems to sing of those funky robots’ tragedy-they try desperately to be human, to kiss, to feel alive, to love. When that Nile Rodgers guitar kicks in in what I guess is the song’s second (?) section, we are away. I have shown this song to several people this year and they have all gotten weepy by its final torch song movement, as choral voices and strings seem to ascend into space itself. Over the last few years of feeling a little lost, this track has always, always hit the right spot. But now more than ever it is an essential listen.
‘Hold on, if love is the answer, you’re home’. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Thus far I have managed to write seven articles for this site mentioning Foals in passing only once. This is an extraordinary achievement for me, as anyone who has heard me insist on playing ‘Inhaler’ for the eighth time that week will attest. I had to pick ‘Exits’. When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure. It’s not quite as instantaneous as some of their earlier singles. But over time, this peculiar, chugging sci-fi post-rock slammer has come to be ludicrously prescient for the age we’re living in, with its lyrics of underground hideouts, and climate destruction. As somebody who has very much grown up with Foals, and who thinks way too much about the parallels with their development and my own, this song feels like the perfect current statement. From the sprightly MDMA-tinged math rock of their debut, to the passionate angst of Holy Fire, to here. Both Yannis and myself have put on a few more pounds, and things have gotten gnarlier. The sledgehammer thud of the closing guitar solo of ‘Exits’, its gruff snarl, ushers in a darker, stranger world. And if there was ever a time for a lyric like ‘back to the days of yore/when we were sure of a good long summer’, it’s probably now.
KAE TEMPEST, HOLD YOUR OWN
Kae Tempest has been a talisman for these times perhaps more than anyone else for me. Their gig at The Roundhouse was the last one I attended before lockdown. I remember this piece coming as a tirade of beautiful catharsis. Tempest’s ability to see the good and the bad in all things, and make it gorgeous is a trait verging on the supernatural. It should be obvious to one and all why this song has endured for me of late, and I hope that the lessons it delivers, the sermons it recounts, stay with me when life resumes. It’s an intimidating listen, and going back to it again I feel I am being stared at quite deliberately, that the mistakes and shortcomings of the life presented are the mistakes and shortcomings of my life. I suppose this is the power of an artist like Tempest. This is the kind of song you can only stick on every now and then; one has to make time for it, space for it. One has to prepare for the fact that after its four-or-so minutes, a few layers of defences will have been stripped away, that lump in your throat will be a little bit larger, and things will be different. It feels like remembering, remembering what we thought we knew as children, those obvious lessons about money not buying you happiness, or how important it is to be kind. We all forgot those truths for some odd reason, and that’s why ‘Hold Your Own’ stings. Tempest won’t let us forget those truths, and is here to remind us of them when we all get too caught up in the compromises and chaos of daily existence.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE, ONLY SHALLOW
TOLD YOU IT WAS PATCHY. It’s been one of those years. This was in fact a discovery of 2020, and one which, since uncovering, has been a near-constant companion. I consciously went out of my way to get into My Bloody Valentine, aware they were an embarrassing omission in my musical knowledge. I am, after all, fundamentally a white boy who likes guitars. Everything that I love about this song is in its first few moments, contained within its voiceless chorus. If there is a noise I would associate with this year, it is that explosion of chaos and distortion. It’s quite terrifying, incredibly disorientating and makes you wonder where all that sound is coming from. But it’s also the scream of frustration, which I am here distinguishing from rage. It’s not an angry sound, it’s the sound of a couped-up animal roaring because its cage is too small and it’s about to eat somebody. It’s the kind of burst of power that I think has built up in everyone at points this year. ‘Only Shallow’ is the feeling of energy having nowhere to go. For me, it’s the sound of someone snapping.
KATE BUSH, CLOUDBUSTING
This was always where we were heading. When I knew this was my remit for the month, the very first song I thought of was ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush. I’m not quite sure where to start. It’s heart-breaking, it’s stunningly beautiful, it’s profoundly hopeful. That VOICE. Good lord. It’s the sound of a child, hurting and fearful. It’s the sound of a lover promising to return. It’s the sound of a mother holding you and telling you it’s all going to be okay. It’s a conjuring, it brings goodness into the world by being heard. It is quite genuinely a piece of magic, and like all good pieces of magic, it shouldn’t work. Those strings marching like an army of angels coming to take care of you. And who cares about ‘the men in power’? ‘Cloudbusting’ is a perfect, perfect song, and it holds me close on these winter evenings.
‘I just know that something good is gonna happen. I don’t know when. But just saying it could even make it happen’.
Merry Christmas you wonderful people, what a fucking shit year x