Top 50 Songs of 2006 (20-16)
For someone who prides himself on being a bit of a militant (although you could arguably prefix that with pseudo), Lupe Fiasco's first hit doesn't really say anything at all. It's a paean to skateboarding that's both unabashedly sappy and gloriously unostentatious, free of the bling-y trappings of modern mainstream hip-hop, but way too straightforward and prosaic for the underground.
What 'Kick, Push' definitely is is a refreshing throwback to the golden age of NY hip-hop (though Fiasco himself is Chicagoan), full of sweeping, soulful strings and honest sentiment that plays a little like a kindred spirit to Keith Murray's 'The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World'. No-one had a bad word to say about 'Kick, Push' and for that alone, it surely has to be one of the best things to happen to hip-hop in 2006.
Midlake's second album, the much-acclaimed, The Trials Of Van Occupanther just didn't take for me and I think I know why. The cocaine cowboy schtick is a schtick worth doing once, maybe twice, but any more than that, and unless you're The Eagles or CS&N, it gets a bit weary. 'Roscoe' hits the spot though, a meandering, expansive exercise in rugged country-rock, with lashings of 70s sheen.
'Roscoe' is one of those songs where you gain a new favourite bit with each listen, from the "ooh-aah-ooh"'s in the faux-chorus, through the ever-so-slight tempo shift when Tim Smith's keening vocal takes on a little urgency at the "1891" towards the end, on to the gorgeous, ghostly piano solo, it rewards differently each time. Who'd have thought, however, that Fleetwood Mac, post-Peter Green, would have made for such a perfect touchstone in 2006? What's next? Loggins & Messina?
18. Man Man - Van Helsing Boombox (Ace Fu)
The baleful melancholy of 'Van Helsing Boombox' works as a marvellously out-of-place sore thumb on Man Man's exhilaratingly unbalanced Six Demon Bag album, as it's the straightest, soberest song they've ever written. The woozy barrelhouse piano hiccups and sways while Honus Honus growls each word as though he's one the verge of choking on it.
The lovesick lyrics lend further weight to 'Van Helsing Boombox''s air of frustration and desperation, with Honus portraying the hurt, broken rejectee who could "sleep for weeks like a dog at her feet" before admitting the futility of the gesture, then choosing to just howl at the moon. The resigned ambiguity of the chorus is the heart of the song though, with Honus intoning, "When anything that's anything becomes nothing, that's everything and nothing is the only thing you ever seem to have", getting increasingly more desperate with each repetition. Man Man wow the brain and stir the blood with their frenetic Beefheart-isms, but it's here, with the Tom Waits-y 'Van Helsing Boombox' that they win hearts.
17. Band Of Horses - The Funeral (Sub Pop)
This is one of those songs that even hardened indie-phobes have to admit is something a little special. 'The Funeral' is a cartwheeling, hyper-emotional wringer that demands you feel and rejoice in spite of its pain. It's also a near-perfect summation of no-frills, country-tinged, modern American rock in its knowledge of dynamics and the power of a quick build, before taking it down and building it up all over again.
The elliptical, broken lyrics of the verses, where almost each line after the first begins with a run-on from the previous line (e.g. "Really too late to call so we wait for/Morning to wake you, it's all we got"), further enhances the clear, crystallised poignancy of the chorus' theme of loss. All the while though, Ben Bridwell and his Band Of Horses fight off the sadness by taking flight with rousing guitars and crashing drums. Bluster never sounded so good.
16. Jarvis - Running The World (Rough Trade)
While lesser artists choose to wrap their rage at the world today up in riddles, subterfuge and poeticism (Bloc Party with 'Helicopter', for example), not Jarvis Cocker. No, Jarvis prefers to cut to the quick and call a spade a fucking, cunting spade. Written in the hollow afterglow of the impotent bombast of last year's Live 8 concert, 'Running The World' casts Cocker as the bullshit filter, gleefully telling us all how it really is.
"Did you hear there's a natural order/Those most deserving will end up with the most/That the cream cannot help but always rise to the top/Well I say, shit floats", is possibly the year's strongest, most enduring opening gambit, which Jarvis then proceeds to hammer home for the rest of the song, getting more fervent and intense as it goes. For anyone questioning the need for Jarvis to be releasing new material in 2006, this was a fantastically unsubtle putdown. The cunts are still pulling the strings, but Jarvis is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.