Top 50 Songs of 2006 (5-1)
One of the most crushworthy bands of 2006, The Pipettes, also released one of the most joyous pop singles of the year. Not that it gained them tons of mainstream press attention or anything, but 'Pull Shapes', with its built-in dance movements and girl-group glamour should have been one big unifying pleasure. The reasons behind why it wasn't lay at the door of the indie underground, who kiboshed The Pipettes from day one for not being 'real' enough.
The fact that the musical version of CAMRA should put a hex on The Pipettes was totally galling. The same people who will extol the virtues of Phil Spector's production, were also haranguing and putting down Becki, Gwenno and Rose for their assumed fakeness. In actuality, The Pipettes' conceit of having shadowy men do virtually all the music just came across, to me at least, as a perfect pop statement, flying in the face of indie convention for calling it how it was.
But let's focus on the music; 'Pull Shapes', with it's swoonsome strings, three-part harmonies and forceful, commanding presence is the closest that The Pipettes have come to perfection thus far and a song that they'll do well to top. And for all those still carping away at the back, with their beards and their pints of Guinness, you know you fancy them. Slagging The Pipettes is the modern day, music criticism version of pulling that girl you like's pigtails in the playground.
I'm a big fan of disco in all its forms and 2006 saw a little bit of a resurgence in all things that sound better when there's a mirror ball in the room. Whilst most of the notable disco tunes from this year were prefixed or suffixed with something or other, be it 'space' or 'punk' or 'italo', Escort's brilliant debut single, 'Starlight' was the purest of the pure. Uncut, un-fucked-with, unabashed D-I-S-C-O!
In fact, such is the chastity of 'Starlight' that people think that it was made in the '70s, myself included. When I did hear that it was contemporary, cynic that I am, I just assumed that it had been put together on a laptop using a raft of samples. Then I heard that they were actually a fully functioning band, so obsessed with the disco sounds of old that they wanted to recreate them, without any mod cons whatsoever. These facts make 'Starlight' all the more impressive. There must have been, at some point, a suggestion to maybe throw in some elements of modernity, if only to tip the wink to the listener, but Escort decided to stay true to their ideals and its to their credit that it doesn't feel anachronistic in anyway. Escort know that good music never goes out of fashion and that's the coolest, chic-est statement anyone has made this year.
3. Sunset Rubdown - Us Ones In Between (Absolutely Kosher)
Sometimes just a simple piano ballad will suffice. I'm looking at the full list of my songs of the year and pretty much all of them, to a tee, have got some kind of attention-seeking edge to them, be it through studious retro poses or head-spinning futurism. 'Us Ones In Between' bucks the trend with understated grace. It's the kind of song that could easily pass you by. Actually, I think it did just that on my first few listens through of Shut Up I Am Dreaming, seeing as it was swallowed up by Spencer Krug's more bombastic, fanciful moments (something that he does extremely well, might I add).
It's only when the album has had its fourth or fifth spin that the lingering beauty of 'Us Ones In Between' comes to the fore. When you turn the record off and you're still haunted by that beautiful, simplistic melody and you go back for more, that's when you realise how special it is. It's the type of song that makes you want to learn the piano, so that when you go in that dusty old pub with the piano in the corner, you could sit at the stool and gently hammer it out, impressing your friends and winning over the girls. It also became my comfort song earlier this year; the song that I put on when I was feeling down or a bit put-upon. Isn't that the best kind of song there is?
2. Justin Timberlake feat. T.I. - My Love (Jive)
Only Justin Timberlake could make drippy mush like "I could see us holding hands/Walking on the beach, our toes in the sand" sound so completely perfect. It helps, of course, when you've got Timbaland doing that slow/fast thing he does so well (cf: 'Pony', 'Try Again', 'Oops (Oh My)'), with the skittery percussion and all the outlandish whistles and bells he sticks over the top of it (this time around; trancey synths). For anyone with any interest in r'n'b and pop music over the last decade, this is all you need to know.
What of the haters though? A lot of my friends have an irrational hatred of JT, purely because he's JT (the fact that I constantly refer to him as JT probably doesn't help and maybe leads them to think I have some sort of hetero-man-crush on him), but you know that they're secretly grooving away to 'My Love'. Even if it's just the T.I. verse that they like (and who can blame them, as he exudes easy charm), because, y'know, it's okay to like hip-hop. They're missing the point though, and I know that you can't really compare them, but JT, with this single and the accompanying album, has become the new Prince, and I have an instant mistrust of anyone who professes not to like Prince. So, in short, hate Justin Timberlake, hate music.
1. TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me (4AD)
Pre-Return To Cookie Mountain, TV On The Radio were renowned mostly for their cerebral approach to indie-rock, sometimes cynically injecting disparate influences into the framework, like doo-wop, soul and Autechre-style electronica. While that didn't quite change completely in 2006 - TVOTR still wear their intelligence on their sleeves - there was something of a sea change in their new material. They had become more direct, more crowdpleasing, if you will.
No more so is this evident than on 'Wolf Like Me', a pulsing, throbbing, meta-sexual tour de force that goes for the jugular from the off with Jaleel Bunton's chugging, express train drumming. The lycanthropic imagery of the lyrics is a barely-disguised metaphor for the power of lust, a metaphor that Tunde Adebimpe gleefully hammers home, while Dave Sitek's fuzz guitar provides the orgasmic endorphin rush. Adebimpe perfectly conveys the futility of denying your urges in lyrics like "We could jet in a stolen car/But I bet we wouldn't get too far/Before the transformation takes and bloodlust tanks and crave gets slaked".
Before the end of the gloriously messy climax, TVOTR takes things down a notch, with Tunde begging to be satisfied, and as he intones that he'll "Show you what all the howl is for", before the band attempt re-entry (oo-er!), divebombing towards the ground before everything crumbles around your ears in a cloud of carnality and release, with Celebration's Katrina Ford repeating the line, "We're howling forever, oh-oh". Here's hoping they do as this four minutes, thirty-eight seconds of seething, blustery, sex-rock is as good as music got in 2006.