Song Of The Day – The Best Songs Of 2019

And so to the best songs of 2019. Hope youse all had a zen Christmas with maximum chi. Let’s hope for a positive 2020. On a less positive note, I completely forgot about The Warp Tapes reissue/slash mix by Autechre in my best albums of 2019 column I posted last week. Call it a brain freeze, or something, but yes, that was a massive boo-boo.

I’ve tried to avoid a similar pratfall here, but then again such lists are always a snapshot of one’s taste at a specific time. As all analysis is retrospective and ongoing, I’ll probably feel differently two months from now. At least that’s what I’m telling myself for forgetting the Autechre release. What I can say for certain is that the ten songs I’ve picked are good’uns and they come in alphabetical order. Catch you on the flip side mates.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Now That I Found You

From the album ‘Dedicated’

Fat White Family – Feet

From the album ‘Serfs Up!’

Khotin – Water Soaked In Forever

From the album ‘Beautiful You’

Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier – On Top Of The World

From the album ‘Corpse Flower’

One True Pairing – One True Pairing

From the EP ‘One True Pairing’

Prefab Sprout – I Trawl The Megahertz

From the reissued album ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’

The Specials – Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys

From the album ‘Encore’

Vanishing Twin – You Are Not An Island

from the album ‘The Age Of Immunology’

Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Saktsuki Shibano – Atelier

From the album ‘Serenitatem’

Yu Su & Pender Street Steppers – Tipu’s Tiger

From the EP ‘Roll With The Punches’

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Song Of The Day – Last Christmas by Wham!

From the album ‘Music From The Edge of Heaven’ (1986)

Merry Christmas amigos! Wham! In 4K! You know you love it.

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Essential Listening: The Best Albums Of 2019

Gotta be honest, I lacked motivation for writing this column. Normally it’s the piece I look forward to writing the most. Doing an annual music round-up is the only blogging tradition I’ve developed since I started five years ago. There are numerous reasons why I feel differently this year. Another year of being a wage slave chipping away at my resolve – how many will it take to leave me in the foetal position permanently? In all seriousness I’ve been pre-occupied by trying to get the loft conversion finished, only to find that in the optimism gained from reaching the finishing line (finally!) I’ll be rewarded with another challenge – the work’s aftermath, be it cleaning up the mess and sorting through stuff, most of which I wish to discard, so as not to clutter the new space that’s been created. (I realise I could’ve just used the term downsizing here, but that word is only used by cunt-twats.) Trivial concerns to some, and here there’s another, my current listening habits certainly aren’t conducive to finding new releases; a lot of early nineties drum’n’bass, NTS podcasts, Fairport Convention’s three releases in 1969 (worth it though) and reverting to my trusted two-hundred plus playlists that I’ve spent years collating (you sad bastard). All of the above has eaten in to time, a chunk of which I could’ve used to trawl music websites.

So this isn’t an exhaustive list, but I‘ve always believed that only music journalists or musicians have the time, attention span or dedication to listen to enough music to collate a best of year album list some fifty or hundred long. Said lists are best perused as likely intended, for the likes of you and I to dip in and out of.

Please dip in and out of this truncated list to suit yourself, and as per usual there’s no hierarchy here, just the ten in alphabetical order. Have a Merry Christmas and I’ll post my top ten songs of 2019 in-between Christmas and New Year. Peace out homies.

Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Callahan’s voice and ear for melody remain strong, both combining to give you a massive hug. Just as impressive is his seamless switching between introspection, observations and vignettes, fittingly mirroring the uncomfortable juxtaposing of middle age with first time fatherhood.

Fat White Family – Serfs Up!

The pastoral cover belies a conversion to elements normally, and strongly, associated with a mainstream pop aesthetic – simple synths and drum rhythms abound, and a strong dash of disco on the opening track ‘Feet’! But it still wouldn’t be a proper fatties album if it wasn’t acerbic, peculiar, silly, homoerotic, ostentatious, and unsettling.

FKA Twigs – Magdalene

I’ve read a few comparisons with Madonna, with both displaying a deliberate control over their aesthetic. This might be valid if Madonna wasn’t so fraudulent and cynical and the artistic disparity wasn’t so vast between them. This album’s influences are catholic; tribal drums, folky strings, dub and r’n’b slowed to a crawl, autotune trap, with brooding lyrics veering from heavily distorted to balladic. Emotionally these songs swing wildly too; anger, frustration, ennui, denial and elation, all of it combines to represent the vulnerability of sexual and emotional dysmorphia, and it being the root cause of many relationships fracturing.

Floating Points – Crush

It’s been eight years since Sam Shepherd released ‘Shadows’, releasing material after something so flawless has to be fraught with doubt, the doubt that maybe you’ve already peaked artistically. Consciously, each subsequent release has its own concept while still clearly belonging to the signature Floating Points sound. There’s a sonic freneticism at times on this one owing to the influence of a certain Richard D James.

Logos – Imperial Flood

His excellent debut album, ‘Cold Mission’, emphasized space with fractured dubstep. For the most part this offering follows a similar template, but often the accent is austere, and sinister, and on occasion it utilises the dense ‘natural’ noise created in highly populated public spaces that inspired John Cage’s later works.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

‘Peace will come in time’, Nick Cave opens in a pained tone to a sombre canvas. Suitably he eschews humour, triviality or sarcasm, taking us on a personal journey through grief at losing a son unexpectedly, from outright dejection and despair to uplifting imagery of the departed towards the album’s conclusion on ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Ghosteen’. You sense Cave has found hope again, or feels he can, but it comes with the realisation that the process of grieving never ends as he concludes on ‘Hollywood’, by coupling the first line of ‘Spinning Song’, ‘I’m just waiting now for the time to come’.

Paranoid London – PL

The veteran duo double down on their debut release from five years ago. Pulsating retro acid house done with panache but with more structured vocals this time. Would’ve been massive in ’92, should be now.

Prince – Originals

It says plenty about this man’s genius that three years after his departure an album of cuts he penned for other musicians, many of which would become hits (because of course they did), performed here by the man himself, is one of the best releases of 2019. This is apex era Prince too. None of that ‘Batdance’ type bullshit or the extensive self-indulgence found on ‘Emancipation’. Just poptastic winners and hooks galore.

Richard Dawson – 2020

Dawson splices witty personal anecdotes with a scathing narration, dripping with sarcasm and satire, of the collective ennui in working and middle class culture that’s aided the creation of Brexit Britain. Funny and incisive as Dawson is here, it isn’t when you’re faced with the reality that you too are firmly lodged in said culture, crumbling under a mass existential crisis due to its decline from decades of believing it’s never had it so good and that this decadence was deserved. The abrasive guitars, and changes of pace, imbue the impression of a confused vessel unable to halt its decline.

Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive

Not that he likes it, but the current political clusterfuck, the widening social and cultural polarisation and public and private forms of disaffection with the establishment, aging and the state of things generally, all offer inspiration for Jason Williamson’s material. Trust that these two, utterly prolific, will continue to document anger, anguish and helplessness incisively, ‘Graham Coxon looks like a left wing Boris Johnson’. ‘Eton Alive’, sure, we are, we have been, but I’m slightly disappointed the album wasn’t named ‘Boris Johnson is a chancing cunt’, that too is true, as we’re about to find out.

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Yes, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a great Western

Can a computer game belong to the canon of great Westerns? My reflex response was no. Yet whilst playing Red Dead Redemption 2, which was finally released on PC earlier this month, I keep questioning my initial resistance. The vividness of the game’s incessant violence and inhospitable extremes of the American wilderness equates to the imagery conjured in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Blood Meridian is a true western: an endless cascade of violent hedonism, wastage, and the collective mania that besets a fractured lawless society, not the infantilised, sanitised, idealised big screen depictions of nineteenth century frontierism starring John ‘Wooden’ Wayne. It’s little surprise Westerns are synonymous with such dross, much of the mainstream artistic output of the twentieth century related to the era triumphed Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis.

Distance, mixed with changing attitudes, tends to encourage re-examination of historical periods romanticised by popular culture. So, in 2019, with the utterly pathetic cancel culture rampant, it makes total sense for Rockstar, the contrarian joker in the mainstream pack, to reproach the snowflakes by turning its sarcasm on them through an increasingly contested historical lens.

However, Red Dead Redemption 2 does offer a deeper examination. The game is set in 1899, at a time when wild west freedoms were being demonised and or curtailed. Attitudes were increasingly favouring a more organised, urbanised, and yes, civilised society. This conflict motivates you, playing as Arthur Morgan, to kill and steal, and to maintain you and your posse’s goal of sustainable subsistence, free from the reach of government interference and urbanisation.

Those who argue violent games cause crime, usually the hypocritical gun lobbyist types, will target Rockstar’s attempts to glamorise outlaw life. If it wasn’t so close to the bone, they’d compare the fictional, and justified, persecution of outlaws as synonymous with the real paranoia held by many modern fringe far right organisations, such as the Michigan militia, who they pander to. Even though I’ve just done it for them, any such comparison has no merit. Context always matters. Today you don’t need a gun, nobody is out to get you (unless you’re an Albanian sex trafficker and you kidnap Liam Neeson’s daughter), most folk live in towns and cities and have jobs that sees them in front of computers. You buy your food from shops, and there’s no need to hold up Starbucks to get a Skinny Caramel Latte darling.

In Blood Meridian the main protagonist is an observatory vessel for the narrator. The Kid and we bear witness to lawlessness and gruesome crimes, which often occur for no reason. Comparing Blood Meridian to Red Dead Redemption 2 in this sense creates a paradox, as the justifications to mis-behave in the game are clearly defined. Missions and random events tend to offer a binary choice, it’s you or the other fella. While similar to Rockstar’s other sandbox epic, GTA V, in construct, Red Dead Redemption 2 is more nuanced, as consistently robbing and committing murder on passers-by and civilians alters a sliding outlaw scale. The redder your rating on the scale is, the more immoral you are, and this rating alters elements of the story and suitably inhibits your ability to do certain things. Alternatively, should you choose a different path, you are rewarded for acts of chivalry and generosity.

So far, with a third of the game complete, my outlaw rating is ‘balanced’, so I’m going to assume my soul has yet to be completely corrupted by violent temptation. I’m yet to turn gun on any women or ‘non-whites’. This probably speaks to my ‘fucking liberal’ views. But lord, I have sinned too. Shooting a horse, albeit accidentally, put me on a bit of a downer. Nonetheless, perfectly executing a stealth kill makes me react like Limmy killing a hundred villagers in a Minecraft deathpit. I also take immense joy in killing a member of the rival O’Driscoll gang, because they have it coming. Riding up behind a stranger on a path, and at point blank range, literally blowing his head clean off with a sawn-off shotgun or lassoing and looting him, then leaving him tied up in the tall grass squealing for help was fun, well, until a witness grassed me up and I had to dispose of them too.

The argument against including Red Dead Redemption 2 in the canon with Blood Meridian is that the former isn’t attempting to be a serious artistic proposition. You can pimp your saddle, give your horse a Mohawk and can attain absurd gun upgrades which break through the authenticity of the game’s physics and world, which, broadly, are rooted in reality. Your mortality, as is that of your horse, is very fragile. You have to maintain Arthur’s health and that of your horse by feeding it, you need to rest periodically and wear the correct attire for each environment. If you’re out-manned and or outgunned, you’ll often perish, unless you can flee. Falls from a height are often fatal, and apex predators bite back with a vengeance. So far I’ve succumbed to all.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a technical marvel, and I’d argue argue its technical accomplishment makes it an artistic one. Visually this game has the most impressive level of detail I’ve experienced in a game. Sunsets are events, the mountains are intimidatingly steep and rugged, rocks crumble under your feet, the snow crunches under your feet and drifts in the wind, the swampland’s mud is as gnarly and sticky as the air is thick, the sounds of nature and wildlife, as well as an unobtrusive score, enhance the bucolic aesthetic, where nature’s perpetual threat is overawed by its beguiling beauty.

As I roam free in Red Dead Redemption 2, to kill another passer-by or hunt a legendary animal, I’m reminded of the fiddler at the end of Blood Meridian, who, metaphorically, represents humanity’s relentless capacity for savageness. Through different mediums, these two Westerns do what the genre always should – implicitly state that nature does not make savages of men, it liberates our nature.

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Song Of The Day – Indian Thing by J.J. Jackson

From the album ‘…And Proud Of It’ (1970)

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