Tuesday, 27 December 2011

TOP 50 OF 2011: #50 - #41

2011 on the whole felt distinctly good rather than great. For me, the UK dance music scene was the only really interesting musical movement, with Dubstep taking off in a spectacular way, making its way defiantly into the charts. Easy to forget now, but the emergence of Katy B had an early role to play in this, her incredible 2010 single "Katy On A Mission" paving the way for underground artists to have a pop at the mainstream in 2011. Even Britney Spears had a faux-dubstep interlude in her track, and manufactured groups like The Wanted, Sugababes and The Saturdays had a go at it. Although hardly a musical tour de force, it was refreshing to hear harder sounds become more popular in pop. Although taking a look at the UK top 10 at any point this year, and all you'd see is Eurodance trash, so its influence wasn't entirely successful yet. The line between Urban and Europop is now so blurred now that the term "Chart" is all that is needed.

I'd like to see Moombahton, a fusion of Electro House and Reggaeton, really take off in 2012, but when dubstep DJ Skrillex is nominated for the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll, maybe we're in for another year of the same sounds. Saying that, a lot of Urban acts are nominated this year, such as the recently skyrocketed-to-notoriety 19 year old NYC rapper Azealia Banks and the edgy soul'n'B Frank Ocean, so maybe it's the year of MOBO? I personally wouldn't have a problem with that.

A lot of my favourite songs of this year are from the dance music scene. As always, anything 80s or 90s tinged has tickled my music taste buds, and the summer was quite good for indie bands going all out party-party, Friendly Fires and Foster The People to name but two. Lo-fi Chillwave is still happening and is still a wonderful genre, though much less prominent this year, despite our sweltering extended summer practically craving this kind of music. Thanks to rise of the sensitive black male artist, like The Weeknd and Drake, Rap become a much more melancholic place, and these artists have provided us with some surprisingly beautiful music also.

But as always, no matter what the charts dictate as the nation's "taste" and no matter what genres come and go, the best songs of any year are always those that bear no relation to any scene, and couldn't care less, because it's simply about the song-writing. A certain big boned, big hearted and big mouthed London girl made this apparent this year, and it's no surprise she is this year's runaway star. More about her later.

So on with this list... let's do 10 at a time shall we?

"Original Don" (feat. The Partysquad)
Major Lazer

A fine example of what is so great about underground dance music: no boundaries. Quirk-loving DJ duo Diplo and Switch's Major Lazer project has always been a weird and wonderful one, taking bits and bobs from Dancehall, Hip Hop, Dubstep, Eurodance and, as of this skullcrushing single, Hard House. It's clear that Major Lazer has no intention of following any dance blueprint at all here, not that they ever did, and "Original Don" hints that it will break into dubstep for its first 60 seconds before a cry of "Run the track!", when a thunderous Hardcore kick takes over, and a bizarre yet hypnotic medley of synths follow.

"Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)"
Neon Indian

Anyone familiar to synthpop artist Neon Indian's first EP will have been blown away by the x10 approach taken on their debut full-length "Era Extrana", especially album highlight "Halogen", which could not sound bigger if it tried. The whole onslaught of choir synths, massive beats and that eerie lead synth sounds and feels like being beamed up by a UFO. And it's so damn catchy and euphoric.

Will Young

Despite a disappointing record, first single "Jealousy" is Will Young's "Dancing on My Own", and the softly pulsing eurodance and honest, stripped down lyrical delivery, with knowing homosexual undertones (mainly thanks to the video), suits him down to a tee. No drama, no pretense, just pure, simple emotion that sounds very personal.

"Heavy Metal Lover"
Lady Gaga

On an album full of huge heavy metal sized dance tunes, it's surprising that the one track that mentions the genre specifically is actually one the most stripped down tracks on the record. It's also a refreshingly low key, hypnotic and perversely beautiful addition to the absurdly overblown affair that is "Born This Way" the album. Featuring hands down the catchiest vocal hook on the album also helps. Alongside "So Happy I Could Die" from "Fame Monster", "Heavy Metal Lover" shows the real dark, 3 dimensional side to Gaga's music.

"How Beautiful It Could Be"
Toddla T

A skinny white boy doing a genre as black-oriented as Dancehall was always going to be eventful, but Toddla T proves to be adept at making the genre sound fresh and interesting with every track on his brilliant debut. "How Beautiful It Could Be" is just life-affirmingly good, feeling like a track truly bringing the world's music fans together, with 90s house chords providing a warm, fuzzy backing for his thunderous Caribbean beats and the joyous dancehall vocals.


"Honey Mine" (feat. Victoria Bergsman)

Featuring the keyboardist from my beloved Radio Dept., Daniel Tjader, the lazy dub rhythms of "Honey Mine" by Korallreven usher in the same ethereal dancing melodies and distant guitar licks of The Radio Dept. themselves, but with the soft murmers of Taken by Trees vocalist Victoria Bergsman to serenade us. Essentially a balearic outtake from "Clinging to a Scheme", that would've stood out as one of that record's best tracks had it been included. "Shine on... shine on..." sings Bergsman in a rare moment of letting her voice soar, and if we close our eyes, the sun is still shining, and this is the soundtrack.

"Shell Suite"
Chad Valley

Showing how timeless the genre of Chillwave truly is, Chad Valley's "Equatorial Ultravox" was so much more than a sun-washed guilty 80s pleasure. Full of heartbreakingly beautiful emotional climaxes, humongous atmospheric dance beats and wonderfully ethereal vocal tapestries, "Shell Suite" is simply the emotional climax of the record. Seemingly structureless, this song brings to mind walking aimlessly into the distance, and could happily go on for hours, so uplifting is its refrain.

"Love On Top"

Guilty pleasure alert. "4" isn't an astounding album, but with Beyonce, the astonishment comes when she pulls out of the bag a handful of classic singles from each record. "Girls", "End of Time" and "Countdown" are all standard Beyonce single-material; bossy, camp R&B stompers; and "1+1", although damp on record, is breathtaking live. But "Love On Top", with its 80s urban vibes, camp as Christmas chorus hook, ridiculous multiple key changes, pompous beat and sugary sweet lyrics is all so, so wrong, yet, as one wishes it didn't have to said, so, so right.

Friendly Fires

From one guilty pleasure to another, Friendly Fires were never exactly cheese averse, but "Hurting" is all out Stilton onslaught. Once again, 80s funk tinged, nay, drenched (seeing a pattern here?), and featuring quite simply Friendly Fires' campest chorus ever, it never ceases to bring a goofy grin to the face, and an uncontrollable urge to the feet. "Can't keep feeling the pain of your touch, your touch keeps on hurting"... how do they get away with a lyric like that? They're Friendly Fires, they just do.

And the video is just so gloriously silly, you have to watch it.

"What You Need"
The Weeknd

The Weeknd brings The-Dream's lush, silky, porny R&B sound to a whole new level, putting said producer to shame with his dark, eerie, breathless come-ons and woozy, drunken beats. "What You Need" is just one of many perfect tracks, but the simplicity of the phrase "He's what you want, I'm what you need" sums up what The Weeknd's music is all about: seduction. And quite frankly, it's the sexiest song of 2012. Have sex to it. Now.

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TOMORROW, #40-#31, see you then.

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