So try and pretend you're me when reading this, the weepy eyed, rave-happy, summer-missing, sentimental-as-FUCK, and maybe a little bit gay, individual who you almost certainly don't pay much attention to.
10 Hurts - Stay
The art of the power ballad. A tricky one. You've got to believe the singer, you've got to be able to punch the air to each huge snare, you've got to want to listen to it on repeat after a break-up and most importantly you've got to want to lose your voice screeching along to it, with tears in your starry, most likely drunken eyes. Now Hurts are no Celine Dion for melodrama, no Mariah Carey for vocal acrobatics, and no Whitney for drunkeness, so what they have produced with "Stay" is the most uncanny of things. A power ballad that doesn't show off, it simply offers its heart up on a plate.
One might recall Shakespeare's Sister's early 90s collosal ballad by the same name, and that is admittedly a template for this one (not the same song, just to get that straight), but when singer Hutchcraft sings "You say goodbye in the pouring rain, and I break down as you walk away", these words, heard so many times, suddenly sound as genuine and heartbreaking as if they'd never been sung before. The choir who chant "Stay!" from across the street at him feel the exact fear and pain he feels at that moment, as does every Hurts fan lying on their bedroom floor when the moment arrives. In a world of studio trickery and heavy production, "Stay" is endlessly refreshing because the song alone could survive any manner of stripping down, as the words and melody are timeless.
9 Crystal Castles - Baptism
If one thinks back to Crystal Castles' "Alice Practice" single, and how brattish and childish they sounded then, one can never imagine that track outside a bedroom or drunken Skins party. When one listens to "Baptism" however, the jaw will drop on the 50th listen just as hard as on the first. This is one Jesus-sized track, and no I have no I what Alice hollers, but the way she hollers makes me want to stand marching to attention before throwing myself into an almightly moshpit of delirious ravers. The EQ cannot handle the galloping walls of synth, compressed until they burst at the seams, and the whole track is a build up and comedown to that moment when Alice screams her first utterance over the thunderstorm of beats. THE club anthem of the year that you will never hear in a club.
8 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Lost Saint
The Pains are a band for teenagers with taste, essentially: teenage angst, self-doubt and being scared of your feelings. How they manage to deal with such issues with such depth and beauty is beyond me, but the rather obscure B-side "Lost Saint" manages to tick these boxes and then some. The band are always one to swap between Smiths-esque clangy loveliness and razor sharp punk guitars, "Lost Saint" is one from the former catagory, but with an added maturity and melancholic guitars that suggest a message much deeper than a simple message of teenage angst. The guitar solo is one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year, and vocally as touching, if not moreso, than their previous triumph "Higher than the Stars". Of course, that triumph has now been eclipsed by this wonderful gem. They don't play it live, which is a travesty, but I figure maybe this is one to be enjoyed by yourself on a thoughtful Sunday afternoon.
7 Chad Valley - Anything
If you mix Glo-Fi beats, Balearic synths, and cheesy autotuned vocals, accompanied by squeaky pitch-shifted sampled ones, you have a very crude summary of what "Anything" sounds like. But somehow, the giddy summery dreamwave that Chad Valley produces here manages to be incredibly poignant, in a way that makes "Anything" probably my escapist anthem of this summer. Mastermind Hugo Manuel's vocals are not blissed out and breathy in a way that so many blogpop artists opt for, this guy ad libs and lets his voice break into falsetto every now and again before using a strained tenor that autotune fails to tame. As the track closes to the line "I would do anything", the last word repeats over and over as the track begins to fade in on itself, leaving a wake of uncertainty and desperation that one was not expecting at its beginning. Distant yet urgently trying to communicate, "Anything" leaves the listener wanting more of its emotionally euphoric bliss.
6 The Depreciation Guild - Dream About Me
The Depreciation Guild recall the spirit of My Bloody Valentine, but aren't so fond of the noisy interferences, instead tearing away the nasty bits and washing their sound with a fuzzy warmth that shows off just how gorgeous their ear for melody really is. But "Dream About Me" is positively romantic, even sexy, a daydream of a song that boisters in a deep, intense chorus that seduces as much as it ponders. There's a lot going on in "Dream About Me", but its only credit to their songwriting that each turn you make, there's an even more delicious musical dish around each corner. A perfect song, and one that makes you a bit more breathless each time you hear it.
5 Anathema - Dreaming Light
I talked so much about Anathema around the release of their astonishing We're Here Because We're Here album that it seems odd to look back now, but in a way its always a good idea to return to something incredible after the hype has died down. Though pleasingly, "Dreaming Light" is still the most heartwrenching song of the year, a collosal post-rock crescendo that would surprise even Sigur Ros and a vocal performance that sets Vinny Cavanagh heads and shoulders above any mainstream rock vocalist you could care to mention. The song may be bigger than Jupiter, but there's no pretence here, only pure unadulterated happiness, an emotion finally comfortably associated with Anathema, who have spent years trying to release an album at peace with itself. And finally after 20 years, they have managed it admirably, and "Dreaming Light" gives a simple enough statement: "We made it."
4 Stornoway - I Saw You Blink
For such a seemingly shy and awkward band, from a background of reclusive Oxford culture and a small folky musical scene, Stornoway are not at all shy at expressing joy. "I Saw You Blink" is just charming and sunny at any time of year, and the excitement and love that singer Brian Briggs so desperately tries to keep conservative, simply leaps from his vocal chords as he cries "I need to know, are you the one I've been waiting for?", and when he sings "so, so long!" in the final chorus, it's almost unbearably wonderful. The cheeky organ, eager drumming and zealous percussion, sing-song counterchorus backing vocals and fiercely strummed guitars... it's all just like a perfect summer's day. Perfect for falling in love to.
3 Cee Lo Green - Fuck You!
The world has been waiting for a song like this. Not a song about missing their loved one, or a song about moving on, or even one about "forgetting" you (Yea, FORGET you commercial radio), but a track that just fucking says it. Cee Lo is a mess in this song, just listen to him wailing out "I still love you!" midway. But on the whole, this slap to the face of modern soul is a celebration of hatred towards those who deserve it; those who lie to us. And only two words can really make you feel better. Those are not "forget you" but FUCK and YOU. And boy does Cee Lo spit them out, and every time you hear that chorus, you will too, whatever your state of relationship.
Of course, for a track to reach #3 on my list it's got to have a little bit more than the odd expletive, but of course "Fuck You!" delivers. It's the catchiest tune of the year, goes without saying once you've heard it, and it's got the best lyric of the year ("Guess he's an Xbox and I'm more an Atari" - genius) but above all its the most FUN a track has been in years. It brings friends together on the dancefloor and makes even the most sorry break-up-ee feel like busting a move.
"Cee Lo Green - Makes break-ups fun!" What a calling card.
2 MOPP. - Dream About You
From an international smash hit to something practically internationally unknown. All you need to know about MOPP. is that they (well, he) are from Scotland and they (he) write summery dance music. Everything else you will find out in the first few seconds of "Dream About You". From the moment those three cloud chords break the silence, it hooks into the subconcious and doesn't let go. "Dream About You" is my #2 because, for 4 minutes, you are alone with the song. Every insecurity and worry is addressed ("All alone I struggle on, never knowing where I'm going") and then discarded with the simple phrase "I had a dream about you". Whoever or whatever that dream is about is different for every listener. We all have our dreams and aspirations, but seldom does a track affect us in a way that makes us believe we can achieve them.
As the track bursts from twilight ambience into heavy balearic dance, they sing "when the sun goes down, we know we're not alone", and in that moment, every person who has ever heard the song knows that they indeed are not. I would bet that every person who hears "Dream About You" is affected by its poignant honesty and heartfelt optimism, and even if they aren't, the track is absolute bliss however you listen to it.
1 Robyn - Dancing on My Own
And so here we are. My artist of the year with her track of the year. There's no two ways about it, "Dancing on my Own" is an instant classic. We all knew that Robyn was capable of mixing real feelings and dance beats but "Dancing on My Own" does it so effectively that it feels as if you've known it for years. There is indeed a sense of familiarity about "Dancing on my Own", probably because we can all relate to its lyrics.
Now Robyn isn't anyone's bitch or scapegoat. She doesn't compromise, she doesn't mince her words and she has attitude that could move mountains and bring down governments. But she's also an insecure little girl who desperately wants to be loved. Like "Be Mine" before it, "Dancing on My Own" is brutally honest, euphorically uplifting and yet tenderly bittersweet all at once, a thoroughly intense listening experience and yet with an all too simple message: a broken heart fucking hurts.
Thing is, "Dancing on My Own" is in a resolutely major key, and sports irresistable pulsing rhythms, shiny, tinkly synths and gorgeously warm synth strings; Robyn wants her love interest to see her having a good time without him. But he doesn't see her at all. She's damned if she cries over him, so she dances through her tears, determined to let herself go in the music. But with each thud of the kick, Robyn falls harder and harder. Proof, if ever there was such proof, that Robyn, and Robyn alone, truly understands the sheer emotional power of a simple pop song.
Well that's it. Robyn won. Oh fuck, need to do the albums now. And maybe a couple more little lists for fun.