40. N*E*R*D - ‘Sacred Temple’
N*E*R*D are often chastised by critics, probably hoping someday they’ll give up the rock’n’roll and cut a record that’s chocked full of tracks like ‘Grindin’. In the pop music world they’re as much outcasts as the socially detached kids Pharrell sang about on their first two records. But even for hardcore N*E*R*D enthusiasts like muself, it’s hard to ignore that there last two albums have seen a huge drop in quality from their first two. So it’s amazing then that ‘Sacred Temple’ only featured on the deluxe version of their latest album Nothing. Aside from teenage woes, N*E*R*D’s best moments were about fucking, and driven by a dirty baseline, snappy handclaps and a huge percussion break, ‘Sacred Temple’ is gorgeously mean spirited.
39. Black Milk - ‘Warning (Keep Bouncing)’
Producing every track, Black Milk cut one of the best albums of the year by simply meshing impressive verses on big drum sections. One of his finest moments, ‘Warning (Keep Bouncing)’ is a slightly more thoughtful beat, built around an old fashioned G-Funk whistle, and wobbly baseline. Being an amazing producer, Black Milk may suffer a lack of recognition for his rhyming, but here he shows his teeth, gritting down hard as he spits daggers all over the immoveable beat.
38. Two Door Cinema Club - ‘I Can Talk’
Two Door Cinema Club might rue the day they handed their music over to savvy advertising executives who recognised their Phoenix-esque indie pop would be perfectly suited for mobile phone commercials. Those songs don’t really belong to anyone anymore except Meteor, but ‘I Can Talk’ remains unspoilt (well, kinda, it’s on FIFA 11). That’s a very good thing, because it’s the band’s finest moment. Disco straddles indie as the guitars are hideously mangled and the rhythm section rockets along like a bat out of hell. There’s little hint of a melody, instead the song’s carriage is powered entirely by the band’s exuberance. It’s tough to see this one sliding in among ads for dishwasher tablets, but it’s not likely to grow old as quickly as Two Door Cinema Club’s tracks that do.
37. Gucci Mane - ‘Gucci Time’
I came late to Gucci’s party, not discovering 2009’s The State vs. Radric Davis until earlier this year. Subsequently, it became one of my most spun rap records of 2010, but no sooner had I fully digested the album that Gucci dropped The Appeal. A far less consistent effort, the short turnover time would suggest the album was rushed, but I’m not so sure. For me, Gucci is one of those rappers who cares little about song structure or thematic consistency, handing all that over to his team of producers as he works his magic behind the mic, rather than the mixing desk. Single ‘Gucci Time’ immediately stood out, as Gucci rattles out his indestructible style to Swizz Beats blaring foghorn beat. Indeed, the only man to stem his undeniable flow these days is Gucci himself, as prison stints frequently stifle his productivity.
36. Broken Bells - ‘The High Road’
On paper Dangermouse’s baroque eccentricities and James Mercer’s smooth, melodic pop didn’t seem like they’d gel, and indeed, Broken Bells’ debut album failed to live up to the sum of its parts. Rather than either member taking the bull by its horns, they mostly met in a lukewarm centre, failing to find any sort of formula that has made their seperate outputs so great. ‘The High Road’ was one of the band’s few redeeming features. With a strong melody and crystal clear production, the song itself sounds like classic Shins. In the background though, Dangermouse’s presence can be felt, from the squaky synth, to the offbeat drumming and desperate backing vocals.
35. Ghostface Killah - ‘2getha Baby’
Like many old-school hip-hop heroes before, this year it was Dennis Coles’ turn to celebrate his big four-zero. But unlike many of his peers, Ghost remains as prolific and relevant as ever. He’s consistently remained the stand-out solo artist to break out of the 46 chambers. Scratch that, he’s one of the most consistently brilliant rappers ever. Period. Ghost’s record Apollo Kids only came out four days before Christmas, but we got a sneak preview in single ‘2getha Baby’. After the syrupy R&B of last year’s Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, this was a return to familiar territory. A prominent soul sample, sledgehammer beat and Ghost running wild with his always impressive, high energy rap style.
34. LCD Soundsystem - ‘I Can Change’
James Murphy just has a knack of creating emotive songs that capture the deep cracks in the lives of a generation, and sound like he’s having a great time doing it. Here he desperately attempts to save a failing a relationship by promising the impossible: he can change. Please promise us you won’t, James.
33. Here We Go Magic - ‘Collector’
Luke Temple and I have a tempestuous relationship. The man can inspire and frustrate in equal measure. His great strength is his ice cold delivery, bringing a chilling beauty to his music, whether it be cutting infectious pop songs, or his steely experimentation work. I sometimes wonder if he really believes anyone is listening to his music, such is the isolation that runs throughout his back catalogue, that veers widely between stunning and dull. Now releasing music under a new guise (or with a new band, it’s either/or), ‘Collector’ bottles everything that’s good about the sensitive singer/songwriter. “I’ve a mild fascination for collectors,” Temple softly croons, and appropriately he floods the song with large assortment of instruments. The tempo is fast and disorientating, contrasting Temple’s mousy vocal, and the melody is so simple it recalls feelings of childhood, which is one of it’s great strenghts as Temple’s performance ensures it retains an appealling innocence.
32. E-40 feat Laroo, The DBz, Droop-E and B-Slim - ‘Spend the Night’
E-40 and Bjork mesh like gold! This was my favourite “not obviously a dance track” dance track of the year. Also, B-Slim’s verse! Where’s he been?
31. The National - ‘I’m Afraid of Everyone’
We know that Matt Berninger is a fantastic singer, and on ‘I’m Afraid of Everyone’ his band are happy to let him lead from the front. Barring a late sprint from the violently strummed guitars and sped up drums, the song played to a mid-tempo, and the band chug along nicely, falling in behind Berninger and Sufjan Stevens who provides the atmospheric backing vocals. High Violet was a disappointing album, but ‘I’m Afraid of Everyone’ temporarily revived the band who reached the high standards set by Boxer.
30. Twista feat. Raekwon - ‘The Heat’
Twista’s impossibly fast flow was a great way of achieving some notoriety early in his career (and a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records), but those who followed his evolution closely understood he never relied on this one gimmick. Having been largely missing in action recently, ‘The Heat’ reiterates what a fantastic rapper he is. Twista’s flow is rhythmic, accentuating each syllable with force. Raekwon shows up (like he did so often this year) anchoring the song home and sounds comfortable on the RZA-like beat that’s courtesy of No I.D.
29. Born Ruffians - ‘Retard Canard’
Born Ruffians retained everything that made their debut album so great, and expanded the template. With band after band falling off after promising starts these days, that’s no gimme. Highlight ‘Retard Canard’ is expertly composed. Such is the fractured nature of the band’s arrangements, it can present the illusion that each member is simply playing for themselves. But the offbeat moments knit together brilliantly, despite the song’s lack of a consistent rhythmic centre.
28. Nicki Minaj - ‘Did It On ‘Em’
Nicki Minaj’s long awaited debut album Pink Friday was a big disappointment as it attempted to blend vicious hip-hop, sultry R&B and cheesy pop, ultimately excelling in nothing. Universally recognised among the hip-hop aficionados who originally warmed to Nicki as the best song on the the record, ‘Did It On ‘Em’ channels the spirit of her boss Lil Wayne, and more specifically, ‘A Milli’. Both are produced by Bangladesh, who knows how to coax slow, vicious flows from rappers under his guidance. Here, Nicki drops gems line-after-line in the mean spirited manner that made her guest spots on ‘Lil Freak’ and ‘Monster’ so show stopping, simultaneously teasing the listener on how good Pink Friday could have been had she just stuck to her strengths.
27. Erykah Badu - ‘Turn Me Away (Get Munny)’
Whilst rappers continue to preach their “money over bitches” retoric, Ms. Badu reaches way back to 1995 and plucks Junior Maffia’s hit ‘Get Money’ as a tool to poke fun at the hoards of rappers that still lean heavily on these themes. Like ‘Get Money’, Badu samples ‘You Can’t Turn Me Away,’ re-tuning her voice and adopting a kind of airhead persona for the piece that’s underlined by the cheeky backing vocals she herself provides, playing the part of the cheerleading girlfriends. “I look like a model/I’ll do what I gotta do to stay in the running cause I want your money,” she humorously coos out, inhabiting a fan girl persona that Kanye warned us all about on ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’. A funny streak has been consistent in Badu’s work, and only someone with her comedic touch could make this work so effectively.
26. Bun B - ‘I Git Down For Mine’
On Trill O.G. Bun B was found in hip-hop limbo. Unsure of what direction to move into, he tried his hand at whatever style interested his collaborators, more often than not sounding like a guest on his own record. In fact, the intro plays more like a congratulations to Drake for his success, than any sort of declaration of intent from Bun. The result however was an incredibly varied album, with quality studded into each and every track. But the unevenness of the project begged the awkward question: what drives Bun? It’s been three years since he lost his UGK partner Pimp C, fracturing one of rap’s most important duos, and has since been cast out into the wilderness, continuing his career on a path he never chose. On ‘I Git Down For Mine’ though, Bun answers anyone doubting his motivation: “I do this shit for Pimp C bitch!” One of the few tracks he appears on solo, there’s no denying that even without his partner, Bun’s always been a fantastic rapper, and on ‘I Git Down For Mine’ he loosens his collar and sounds liberated from his demons. Trill O.G. was a great record, but I’d like an album load of these next time. What better way to honour Pimp C’s memory.
25. Beach House - ‘Silver Soul’
I got all sorts of shit for not giving Beach House’s record Teen Dream an overwhelmingly positive review, but I did explain that I felt my time with the band had expired after loving their first two records as much as I did. My criticism was that it didn’t rekindle my love, rather making me reminisce about a time when they were top of the pops to me. Just to be clear, Teen Dream is just as strong an album as their previous efforts and for a newcomer I’d say, absolutely buy it first as it’s perhaps their most instantly accessible. Highlights were aplenty, but the hazy, reverb-laden ‘Silver Soul’ gets the nod, seeing the band at their most life-affirmingly happy since ‘Master of None’.
24. Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith - ‘I’m Not in Love’
Either Crystal Castles omitted this version from their album in favour of a droning, talkbox vocal or that they didn’t think to recruit Robert Smith before cutting the original song. Either way, it’s unsettling to think the best eighties dance track of the year was almost lost, eventually seeing finding it’s way to dance floors as a single.
23. The-Dream - ‘Yamaha’
A bit of quality can be the only difference between “drawing influence” or plain “ripping off”. The-Dream’s name was coupled with Prince’s a lot this year for his not very well disguised ode to ‘Little Red Corvette’, but noone wanted to call him out for it. After all, he’s become a master at resurrecting The Purple One’s sexed-up eighties back catalogue, particularly in recreating the pops of the drum section and delicate synth flurries, and who wouldn’t want that? After his mid-noughties resurgence, Prince has been faffing about a lot recently, seemingly more concerned with how he releases his music, than how good they are. While he maintains a self-impossed exile, we can turn a blind eye to a little bit of pilfering as long as the music is this stomping!
22. RichGirl feat. Rick Ross & Fabolous - ‘Swagga Right’
Should a venn diagram ever be created to highlight my readers and fans of RichGirl, should anyone fall into the category of both, they might notice that the group have officially released just a handful of songs, with two already appearing on my end of year lists. Just to recap: Rich Girl is the creation of super-producer Rich Harrison who gifted us ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘1 Thing’. I’m still waiting to find out if RichGirl does indeed mean Rich’s Girls. In any event, ‘Swagga Right’ isn’t actually produced by him, with R&B specialists Dre & Vidal behind the mixing desk. But the song continues the RichGirl tradition of complex beats, unobvious melodies and incredible vocals. We never realised how great R&B was ten years ago, until it descended into the cheaply produced, synthesised din that it’s become today. RichGirl are one of the few artists taking risks.
21. Brendan Perry - ‘This Boy’
With Interpol and The National releasing albums that were largely disappointing, it was up to Brendan Perry to paint 2010 a little black. His album Ark (criminally only available to buy at his live shows as far as I can tell) was loaded with atmospheric instrumentation, cinematic scope and Perry’s booming baritone. On ‘This Boy’ the Londoner is at his most chilling. Harnessing the sound of dead space expertly, it’s an incredibly jarring experience. ”Sometime I feel like I’m sleep walking in a great big haunted house,” he sings. Indeed, the arrangement echoes and squeeks, resembling an old mansion, with Perry playing the role of a creepy landlord giving you the grand tour.
20. Broken Social Scene - ‘Forced to Love’
I’ve been ramming Broken Social Scene’s debut album down so many people’s necks these last few years, I wondered if a track titled ‘Forced to Love’ wasn’t actually some sort of response from those who wished I’d stop deriding them for “not getting it”. People who dislike BSS aren’t bad, they’re just fucking idiots!
19. Tame Impala - ‘I Don’t Really Mind’
It could have been ‘Eeny Meeny Miney Mo’ time to pick a song from Tame Impala’s stunning debut album Innerspeaker, but I’ve gone for the closer ‘I Don’t Really Mind’ which fully sums up the mood of the record. Kevin Parker’s vocals are often compared to John Lennon’s, and for much of the song he resembles Lennon at his most tuneful. The hook could even have been pinched from the very early Beatles days, albeit bashed out on rusty guitars. But the track’s good vibrations just lull you into a false sense of security. The sudden synth break half way through is incredibly jarring, but hypnotically beautiful. It’s the sound of blinding light, as the birds flutter for what seems like an eternity, before Parker rides the jaunty drums back into safe territory. Beatles-esque is a common adjective to describe rock-revivalists, but few sound like they could have taught the fab four a thing or two.
18. Sufjan Stevens - ‘Enchanting Ghost’
Before the trippy electro experimentation of The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens dropped All Delighted Peoples, an EP that largely returned to the eerie and hypnotic folk of Seven Swans. Sandwiched between two large slabs of baroque pop in the title track and 17 minute closer ‘Djohariah’, the rest of the release is mostly made up of tender acoustic ballads like ‘Enchanting Ghost’, which showcases everything that made fans fall in love with Soof in the first place. An expertly plucked acoustic guitar is the backdrop as he bitterly submits to a wantaway lover. “And if it pleases you to leave me, just go, oh oh oh oh/Stopping you would stifle your enchanting ghost.” As a singer Stevens has a remarkable ability to connect with listeners, and delicate vocal here is effective. Musically he makes all the right moves too, utilises a gently laid out lead guitar to fill the distance between voice and acoustic swirls.
17. Beck - ‘Ramona’
How ironic a rubbish song penned by Scot Pilgrim would actually show to be Beck’s best song in years. What is it about writing songs to be performed by actor’s in films that lets artists role back the years? We saw Peter Frampton rock harder than he ever did in Almost Famous. Scott Pilgrim was a flashy movie, but at it’s heart it’s about a guy who has a thing for a girl. Maybe I’m reaching, but could this tale have stirred memories in Beck - who turned 40 this year - unlocking a side to his songwriter not seen since Sea Change?
16. Janelle Monáe - ‘Locked Inside’
It begins with the no frills strum of an electric guitar and Janelle Monáe’s voice, showcasing her immaculate timing and sense of melody. By the end though, it’s evolved into a full scale arrangement, utilising elements of rock’n’roll, R&B and classical music. But the evolution is so natural, it actually takes multiple listens to fully twig what’s going on. Most surprising though, is that ‘Locked Inside’ was not a single, as it crams Monáe’s eclectic ethos that was so impressive on her full length debut, into a single track.
15. Gil Scott-Heron - ‘I’ll Take Care of You’
Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here was one of the most interesting records of 2010. More a series of autobiographical sketches than a traditional album, it nevertheless spawned some classic stand alone songs, none more so than ‘I’ll Take Care of You’. Originally written and recorded by Brooke Benton, the song perfectly utilises Scott-Heron’s haggard old voice to lip-quivering effect. It’s a doomed ballad as he desperately requests to help out a much scorned old soul. Being his first album in 16 years, following a period of legal troubles, prison and drug addiction, I wonder if Gil was looking inward, rather than outward.
14. Dom - ‘Living in America’
The most enjoyable surge of American patriotism since James Brown’s song of the same name, this one was as OTT as JB’s performance of ‘Living in America’ is Rocky IV.
13. Arcade Fire - ‘The Suburbs’
The title track from Arcade Fire’s latest, the group’s sudden swerve towards jaunty, melodic sixties pop was the perfect opener to a concept record about the suburbs. Breezy, quiet, but with some sinister undertones, the song utilises a well worn template that recalled Jon Brion’s sadly slept on classic Meaningless: Thick acoustic guitar strums, strong piano chords and a clear, simple drum beat. I’ve never been a huge Arcade Fire fan. There always seems to be something missing in the majority of the work, but I concede that when cherry-picked, they’ve cut some damn fine tracks, and ‘The Suburbs’ is one of their best.
12. Vampire Weekend - ‘Giving up the Gun’
It starts off all glitter and gold; a fluttering synth riff that crumbles under the weight of the drum beat. Yes, that drum beat! The one that sounds like it would devour all of ‘Oxford Coma’, and thus announces the arrival of Vampire Weekend 2.0. Well, maybe it’s not quite an entire transformation. Instead Contra was a fine accompanying piece to the band’s self titled debut album, with all the slight changes in sound one would expect so a band don’t feel like their simply stagnant. But still, nothing quite prepared for ‘Giving up the Gun’. The punchy grove, crystal clear vocal and silly video; it all underlined that VM were indeed the band you thought they were, and hoped they would become.
11. Kid Cudi feat. Mary J. Blige - ‘Don’t Play This Song’
Cudi cut the best hip-hop song of 2009 with the thoughtful ‘Day N Nite’. His melodic, half-rap-half-sung style had already been hugely responsible for Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak aesthetic, and Drake’s genre-bending flow that had everyone talking. He’s finally getting credit for that, but it wasn’t until this year he started to look less like the cultural outsider and a star in his own right. Make no mistake though, Cudi’s still a bit of a weirdo, and ‘Don’t Play This Song’ was possibly the most hypnotically unusual hip-hop track of the year. The beat is a claustrophobic mix of twisted strings, symbol-less drums and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ esque howls courtesy of Mary J Blige. Cudi walks much the same line as he did in ‘Day n Nite’, investigating the allure of addiction, so often ignored by rappers. “I remember when I first had tree smoked Black and Mild/How dumb of me now/I’m grape cigarello man any young black kid a guaranteed fan on a downhill grind,” says Cudi, and the track supports his desperate croons with it’s appropriately smokey atmosphere.
10. Freddie Gibbs - ‘National Anthem (Fuck The World)’
Freddie Gibbs is super serious about hip-hop, clearly believing it has the power to change the world. Not taking on a stage name (well, kinda, Mr. Tipton) may very well be a signal of intent. No political analyst will ever be able to deride him by pretending they can’t pronounce his name. Having hit the mixtape circuit some years ago, Gibbs (28) treats his first single ‘National Anthem (Fuck the World)’ as if it was to be his only, ambitiously addressing all sorts of American social woes through the lens of his own life. Equally, he showcases his versatile rapping style. Adjusting to the beat, Gibbs comfortably shuffles from a ponderous drawl to a double time Southern flow. The seeds of what will hopefully be a long and prosperous recording career these may be, but with ‘National Anthem (Fuck The World’ he’s set an ambitious benchmark.
09. Wavves - ‘Take on the World’
Have you ever tried to sit down and actually listen to one of Wavves’ first two records? It’s an incredibly grating experience. Despite some awesome moments (like ‘No Hope Kids’ which appeared on last year’s list) I can’t imagine anyone actually listening to either album for any sort of aural pleasure. Yet his fuzzy philosophy was embraced by Pitchfork, and he was unfairly shoved under the microscope of a million indie heads, perplexed by the decision that he be elevated to “Best New Music” standard. Indeed, some felt aggrieved that a young man learning his craft be raised to such lofty heights, while other, more deserving artists continue to toil unrecognised. But underneath the layers of fuzz, their was some genuine talent in Wavves and his third record in as many years, King of the Beach sees him cleaning up his act. Gone are painful, noisy instrumentals, replaced by gorgeously produced, Specktor-esque arrangements. In comparison, his earlier efforts sound like nothing more than demos. The sixties run throughout the album, and highlight ‘Take on the World’ utilises some sexy “ooh ooh oooh” backing vocals over the punchy guitar lines. Lyrically, Wavves exposes his self conscience side. “Well they hate my writing/It’s all the same,” he sings, perhaps revealing his sensitivity to the criticism he had unfairly received, before optimistically revealing “To take on the world would be something.” With more tracks like this, he has every chance.
08. Suckers - ‘Black Sheep’
‘Black Sheep’ tread the line between wacky improvisation and intricate precision. The multiple guitar leads are so specific, the song’s arrangement is admirably well thought-out. But counteracting this is a manic vocal on the chorus. This is organised chaos, that Suckers have expertly bottled.
07. Spoon - ‘The Mystery Zone’
I’m not having any of that nonsense that Spoon have somehow managed to harness silence and make it more sonically pleasing than any other band. Yes, their arrangements are sparse. Why? Because they are making appropriate decisions to help their songs be all that they can be. I see no burning desire within them to put their music to mammoth orchestration, or fashionable electronica (hi Sufjan!); just smart decisions. ‘The Mystery Zone’, for example, is hardly minamilst. The throbbing baseline, flushes of keys and gentle guitar stums make up the music, while singer Britt Daniel emotionally coos the unusual melody. Ironically, they’ve been opening shows with a stripped down acoustic version, which is pretty great too.
06. The Corin Tucker Band - ‘1,000 Years’
Kissing off a sterling decade in the most unforgettable way, Sleater-Kinney’s final record The Woods rocked so hard that my ears were still ringing five years later. Co-founder and primary vocalist Corin Tucker’s first track from her first solo record cleansed all that. In contrast to the thudding production on The Woods, ‘1,000 Years’ utilises gentle guitar lines, lighter drums and Tucker’s mighty vocal reduced to little more than a gentle whisper. Indeed, the song’s disarmingly simple, but instantly unforgettable, with Tucker compensating the lack of overall power with refined articulation.
05. Francis and the Lights - ‘It’ll Be Better’
This year’s best kept secret, Francis and the Lights drew inspiration from the most unlikely sources, like Barry Manilow for one. And like big 2010 winners Vampire Weekend, they look to Africa for percussion tips. Oddly though, the band’s finest moment had little linking it to the rest of the album. ‘It’ll Be Better’ is a true original. A deformed ballad of sorts, it expertly captures that twisted feeling inside when pleeing with a wantaway lover. The guitar line seems out of tune and unobvious. The wooden drumbeat sounds mistimed. By any standard, it’s an instrumental mess, but Francis’ emotional appeals give the whole thing a desperate sincerity. “I swear to God that if you come back to me it’ll be better/It’ll be great,” he promises. The language is informal and conversational, and each word resonates so clearly and deeply that it’s unforgettable despite the lack of an obvious melody.
04. Deerhunter - ‘Desire Lines’
Like they did on ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ a couple years ago, Deerhunter drop a stunning, spacious pop song that feels like the greatest jam session in the world ever, except we know how thoughtful and deliberate their genius is. The centrepiece on their album Halycon Digest, ‘Desire Lines’ is built around an wonderful engine room that acts as an intro and runs throughout, chugging along nicely as the sunny harmonise flutter over the top. Concluding with a four minute instrumental workout, proving that these guys can really play, the whole thing is just a wonderful pleasure-filled experience. One of Lockett Pundt’s few songwriting contributions to the album, his elegent vocal is a plee. “Walking free/Come with me.” Happy to.
03. Kanye West - ‘Runaway’
It’s amazing what you can do with a couple of out-of-tune piano keys. Acting as an intro, instead of fading away in favour of more traditional instrumentation, they remain prominent throughout, giving the first clue that ‘Runaway’ is a song that persists in doing the unexpected. Most apparent is that Kanye braves singing without the safety net of auto-tune. Firstly, in a kind of laid back, Cudi-esque style, but eventually bursting free from the shackles, having a go at full blown big band crooning. His choice of backup also baffles, as Pusha T has made his career slinging rhymes about money, cars and cocaine. He’s never been near anything like the art-pop that is ‘Runaway’, that places catchy rhythms on murky synths and bloats the formula out over the nine minute mark. But with all these contradictions, you can’t help marvel at the sheer splendor of it. Ye outdoes himself, reaching deep into his toy-chest and gelling the unlikeliest of sounds into one of the most admirable and downright enjoyable songs of the year. This superhuman understanding of what it takes to construct a classic track that rejects all popular music’s most basic rules is the mark of a genius.
02. Gorillaz - ‘On Melancholy Hill’
It’s interesting that despite the synthetic nature of being cartoon characters, Gorillaz have aged like a regular band. So much so that it would not have surprised me if Damon Alban and Jamie Hewett had decided to throw out the gimmick on their new album Plastic Beach, such was the emotional resonance of the piece and the fact that the project seems to have evolved far beyond the humourous experimentation they set out to create. But while Plastic Beach was much loved, as was a lot of the albums Alban cut with Blur, the singles he creates with the various collaborators he’s worked with over the years always seem to ring loudest. ‘Clint Eastwood’, Feel Good Inc.’ and, now, ‘On Melancholy Hill’. The laid back synthetic music was a perfect remedy for the din of modern pop music’s battering beats. The keyboard riff felt like a ray of sun shining on an otherwise post-apocalyptic landscape. But Alban himself is the key to the song’s success. A desperate love song, his vocals are sleepy and disorientating as he sits a top of the hill, observing the desolate world “just looking out on the day of another dream.” Striking a balance between dreamy melancholy and resigned desperation, it’s an absorbing package, no less enchanting after repeated listens. This one never fades into the background.
01. Drake - ‘Over’
Drake was pretty much a superstar before he even dropped an album, but while rappers are finding more and more alternative ways to release their music, traditionalists like me still withhold true heavyweight status until an MC proves he can do it on the old fashioned formats. Sure, there was so much to love and admire about the So Far Gone mixtape and how he anchored Kanye, Wayne and Eminem admirably on ‘Forever’, but could Drake carry his unique mesh of hip-hop and R&B over a full length album? And could he crank out the hits without his famous friends?
I ask these questions as if the conundrum was ever seriously played out in my mind. Of course Drizzy could do it! All that was really left to ponder on was would his debut record Thank Me Later see him rap or sing, or if both, in what measure? But unlike Kanye’s auto-crooning techniques, and Wayne’s flirtation with rock, it really doesn’t matter what method he utilises. Drake has the unique talent of blending his styles into one universal sound. ‘Over’ is a fine example, and his best single achievement to date. His voice becomes a croaky, droning instrument as he aggressively forces out the hook over a mammoth beat which utilises huge strings, guitars and a punishing drum section. The slow, thoughtful nature of the vocal punches home the lyrics. “Who the fuck are ya’ll,” Drake desperately asks, reflecting on his new found fame, before the beat takes off and he swaps the moniker for a more traditional rap style.
Rest assured; the boy can spit, stacking pop culture references with self reflection in his impressive lyrics. He even drops an MJ reference in, symbolically throwing his hat in ring for the much sought after ‘King of Pop’ crown. A bridge to far? Maybe. But 2010 was to be the year Drake took a giant step towards super-stardom, or stumbled beyond recovery. His performance was as good as we could have hoped, and he dropped the finest song of the year for good measure.