Here they are: the 20 songs which I’ve been enjoying or obsessing about for the last twelve months. I’ve been spoilt for choice this year.
There hasn’t really been any doubt about my song of the year though which shows no sign of wearing thin even after the ridiculous number of times I’ve played it. You’ll have to scroll down though: I’ve tried to engender an artificial sense of drama by making it a countdown even though I love all of these songs virtually equally.
Where I can I’ve added videos, Soundcloud or Bandcamp players. I’ve made a spotify playlist which is at the bottom of this post, but if you like the songs, please buy them because now we all know how little artists get paid from it.
You’ll notice my song of the year is missing from that playlist. It doesn’t matter though because you can download it free anyway.
I hope you enjoy these. I’d love to hear your thoughts and your songs of the year.
20. Bat For Lashes: The Haunted Man
Epic, martial and marvellous with a mini male voice choir popping up mid-way.
19. Dum Dum Girls: Lord Knows
Gloomy and downbeat, this feels like part two of one of my favourite songs of 2011, ‘Coming Down.’ I think this video has some sort of Vestal thing going on. Ignore it and listen to the music.
18. Cian Ciaran: Martina Franca
Probably the best song about pasta since ‘Bangers and Mash’ by Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren , this is a sunny, harmony-drenched, brass-soaked summer delight.
I can’t embed it, but you can listen to it here.
17: Beach House: Wishes
Beach House didn’t change the formula for this year’s ‘Bloom’ album. Luckily I love the euphoric atmospherics they produce. I saw them at my old university stomping ground in Bristol and was astounded that so few of them could make such a magnificent noise.
‘Wishes’ is the epitome of what they do. You’ll either love it or hate it. I think it’s fantastic.
This is a live version recorded for KCRW.
16. Richard James: Sun Ease Pain
A 10 minute rolling road trip soundtracked by a shifting, Welsh-tinged Americana. It’s lovely, of course.
15. Golden Fable: Sugarloaf
As is this. Wrexham-based Golden Fable create a soundtrack too – one that walking up Sugarloaf near Abergavenny has until now lacked. Their album ‘Star Map’ is a varied affair – more of this sort of euphoria and some great electro-pop too.
14. Cate Le Bon: That Moon
Sleepy, hazy and a little bit peculiar. Someone made a very nice film of her singing it in Philadelphia
13: Leonard Cohen: Darkness
‘Old Ideas’ was actually new music born on the mammoth tour which brought a new lease of life late in life for Leonard Cohen. All the elements are here: the broken voice backed by sweet female singers, the Hammond organ and the sense of a life well-lived.
12. Georgia Ruth: Through Your Hands
When Georgia Ruth opened early for Sharon Van Etten at the Glee Club in Cardiff her beautiful songs silenced even thirsty gig-goers arriving and making straight for the bar after battling long queues. She says it’s something to do with people’s reaction to seeing a harp on stage but it’s also to do with the quality of her songs and her voice. This is the first of four on her EP ‘In Luna.’ She has an album out next year.
11. Soulsavers: Longest Day
An amazing song from an amazing album. Dave Gahan’s voice is ideally suited to Soulsavers’ simultaneously bleak and euphoric blend of gospel choir backing vocals, organs and strings. Sumptuous.
10: Cloud Nothings: Wasted Days
It’s not just floaty folk and hypnotic haze that I listen to, you know. This year’s noisy, shouty guitar band of choice has been Cloud Nothings, whose album ‘Attack on Memory’ I bought based on the enthusiasm of Matt Jarrett from Newport’s Diverse Music and I loved its exhilarating noise. This was my favourite on the album. Here’s a very good live version.
9. Richard Hawley: Leave Your Body Behind You
Moving on from the string-soaked crooning of his last few albums, Richard Hawley has turned up the guitars and headed for the hazy and psychedelic territory of Spiritualized.
8. Free Swim: The Snooze Function
For the last couple of years, Free Swim have been entertaining me with top quality, eccentric alternative rock songs in the Syd Barret/Robyn Hitchcock mould. This year’s offerings were spread over a joyous Christmas song, another concept EP, ‘Dennis’ and a more heartfelt affair called ‘She Dreams In Lights’ which is where this gorgeous tune comes from. You can listen below but I strongly urge you to click the link too and let a little Free Swim magic into your life.
7. David Byrne & St. Vincent: Optimist
Like the best of collaborations, ‘Love This Giant’ is greater than the sum of their already considerable parts. I’m more of a fan of St. Vincent than David Byrne, but together they make magic. I could have chosen ‘Who,’ ‘Ice Age’ or ‘The One Who Broke Your Heart,’ but this one just edges it when it comes to sticking in my head. Oh, should I have chosen ‘Ice Age?’
6. Mark Lanegan Band: Phantasmagoria Blues
After years of collaborations, Mark Lanegan’s first solo album for nearly a decade is nothing if not surprising. It’s never what you expect as proven by this sad little song which contains my favourite lines of the year: ‘I thought I’d rule like Charlemagne/But I’ve become corrupt.’
5. Sinéad O’Connor: Queen of Denmark
I’m not a very angry man which is why I find expressions of anger like this vicariously exhilarating. It’s a cover of a John Grant song which is angry enough in itself, but by pouring her own emotions into his words, Sinéad O’Connor takes it to another level. Her music has always detailed her own ongoing psychodrama which occasionally makes for uncomfortable, if not impossible, listening. But it also makes her one of our most important artists.
4. Beth Jeans Houghton: Dodecahedron
Brilliantly bonkers. That’s all you need to know. The whole album is like this.
3. Sharon Van Etten: All I Can
Seeing Sharon Van Etten in the Glee Club in Cardiff was one of my gig highlights this year and this was the song she opened with. My favourite on the album ‘Tramp,’ its deceptively simple tune repeats and builds to a glorious crescendo. A new Desert Island Disc.
2. Islet: Entwined Pines
What really got me with this song was the eerie vocals that sound like they belong to a big-band crooner, mingled with a myriad musical ideas: strange sounds, smooth melodies, angular guitars. Like the album it comes from Islet have packed a lot into it. Wonderful.
1. Katell Keineg: Platfform 0.
There hasn’t been any question about this being my song of the year for several months. I fell in love with it instantly and have listened to it obsessively and frequently, often leaving it on repeat.
As a Welsh/Breton/Irish/New Yorker Katell Keineg has moved around more than many of us and this song celebrates both the travelling and the homecoming in the form of Cardiff’s brilliantly numbered Platform 0. From what I read this is also the first song she’s written in Welsh.
There’s absolutely no reason for you not to enjoy it too – you can download it for free here and you can listen to it and to Katell talking about it here in the programme it was recorded for, Radio Free Song Club.