Monday, December 20, 2010

the top 10 singles of 2010

Top 10 singles of 2010, then. Time to acknowledge the year’s finest moments from the guitar, from the dancefloor, and from pop’s mighty cannon. Incidentally, any artist can only be listed in this or the albums list, not both. Here also are the lists from 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

The tenth best single of 2010 is also the remix of the year. Gorillaz – Stylo (Alex Metric remix) takes the original, and adds a drop so head-slappingly joyous, it’s remarkable it took until 2010 for somebody to come up with it. Certain to get people on their feet, and as such, the perfect party track.

In last year’s countdown, Felix Da Housecat came up with the perfect way to start a DJ set. Over the last month, Nero – Me & You has been doing the very same job, whilst also making the wait for the new Chase & Status album more bearable. It’s an announcement of a song, a statement of intent. It’s telling audiences ‘the next two hours is going to blow your mind’. Even if that didn’t happen, the following four minutes certainly did.

From that, it’s a complete change of pace to Foals - Spanish Sahara, the eighth best single of 2010. Hearing this for the first time was a genuine stop-you-in-your-tracks moment. Foals, yeah? Overrated math-rock hype band of 2008? Here they were devastatingly beautiful – both in music and in vocals such as “Now I see you lying there/Like a li-lo losing air”.

At number seven, it’s KT Tunstall – (Still a) Weirdo, essentially a radio friendly adaptation of Radiohead’s Creep. It’s a delicate, quirky theme song for anybody with a quiet side and an outsider complex. Superb.

Number six is Ou Est Le Swimming Pool – Dance The Way I Feel. A gorgeously melancholic disco track, sure, but if I’m honest the emotion of the song took hold some months later, because of the horrific fate of the lead singer, Charlie Haddon. Now the song is a heartbreaking listen, embodied with accidental meanings.

This collective produced two great hits this year, but a guest turn from Tinie Tempah just about lifts Swedish House Mafia - Miami 2 Ibiza to number five in this countdown. Over a typically accomplished SHM beat that peaks and drops as well as you’d expect, Mr. Tempah’s contribution is an addictive, light-hearted ode to hedonism. An album now, please.

WTF? Feat. Dead Prez – It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop UK is the forth best single of 2010. A retooling of the Dead Prez classic, WTF? threw dubstep basslines in the tracks’ direction so it became that rare beast: a re-version that improves upon the original. As a result, it destroyed every dancefloor it came near.

To the top three then, and the stone-cold classic Cee Lo Green – Fuck You. The naughty genius of this song, I presume, doesn’t need explaining. But it’s the kind of track that comes along and becomes all you listen to for a fortnight. You’ll start singing it whilst at the gym and be anxious to get home to play it again. You’ll want to tell near-strangers about it in supermarkets. Then get thrown out the supermarket for accidentally singing ‘fuck yooooou’ in the direction of the checkout assistant just before it’s your turn to be served. A definitive 2010 track.

Also responsible for the loss of a fortnight this year was our runner-up: Robyn – Dancing On My Own. An outright pop classic, you’d occasionally find yourself entirely lost in the 2am heartbreak laid bare here, whilst lovely electro-riffs made you simultaneously want to dance, and cry a bit. Congratulations Robyn, you went and created the perfect pop song.

And so, to the winner. The best single of 2010 was: Black Eyed Peas – The Time (Dirty Bit). It was the most inventive reworking in years, crossing cinema’s finest moment with inventive dubstep beats, to produce a concoction that gelled together perfectly.
Alright alright, just kidding. Our actual winner is Chemical Brothers – Swoon. It sounds like the spiritual successor to Daft Punk’s Da Funk, and it certainly borrows the template: take a genius three second hook, and loop it over and over, whilst expertly building up a heady cloud of delirium around it. Achingly simple, brutally effective. A winner and a half.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

the top 10 albums of 2010

And so to my fourth annual countdown of the year's best albums. You can also check out the lists from 2009, 2008 and 2007. Next week, 2010's top ten singles.

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach kicks off the list at number ten. The achievement of this album is how experimental and quirky it manages to be, whilst still being accessible pop. Witness then, as after two minutes Empire Ants suddenly explodes in electro-euphoria, or as White Flag is book-ended by an oriental Arabic orchestra. Cut four tracks and it would’ve been a classic.

Similarly, cut two tracks (specifically Pow Pow and Somebody’s Calling Me) from the back-end of 2010’s ninth best album, LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening, and you’d have a perfect 50min LP. Album opener Dance Yrself Clean was still making friend's jaws drop in November, but in All I Want, You Wanted A Hit and Home, this was LCD’s most relaxed, confident album.

Less reliable than James Murphy, is the creator of the year’s eighth finest album. With Record Collection by Mark Ronson & The Business INT, the producer has gone from making 2007’s most irritating, to 2010’s best pop album. Every chorus offered up here is a classic. It’s increasingly baffling why he concerned himself with cover versions at all.

I Am Kloot – Sky At Night was the year’s seventh best album. Deservedly stretching their popularity beyond their unnervingly devoted fanbase, Sky At Night is an ambitious, tender, rewarding listen. It’s telling that this album really broke through to me on a 3am walk home – dark, lonely contemplation has rarely sounded so enjoyable.

Not quite so relentlessly dark, despite the name, is Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, taking the number six spot. It’s practically worthy of a place in the top ten for Runaway alone, the track at the beating heart of this album. It’s not quite worthy of the praise it has received from some quarters, and you may well be sick of it by February, but the creativity on display here is wildly commendable.

To the top five now, and to Errors - Come Down With Me. Best described as the album Foals should have made, it’s got groove, accessible hooks, and an ability to win you over by the 3rd listen – yet have you still wanting more by the 30th. Ace.

Just edging out Errors as the year’s best dance album is Groove Armada – Black Light, at number four. It’s a remarkable album from the group you could previously dismiss as dance also-rans. Simultaneously fun, pounding, exhilarating and poppy, it stretches its finest moment – Paper Romance – beyond pop boundaries to a delirious 6 minute stomp. It knows that tracks like Cards to your Heart and Shameless are hidden gems to be discovered further down the line, but most of all it simply understands how best to spread a big grin across your face.

Third best album of 2010 is Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can, and it is miraculous how far she has come since 2008’s Alas I Cannot Swim. Her staple folk balladry is present, but here the gutsy statements of Devil’s Spoke, Rambling Man, and Hope in the Air take centre stage, whilst the layered wintry joy of Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) provided us with her finest song yet. Still just 20, the mind boggles at how wonderful she could yet become.

Runner up this year is The National – High Violet, and it’s perhaps best to deal with concrete details first: this – their fifth album – is their most accessible. It understands where to build tension, and where – on Runaway and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – to release it, with air-punchingly satisfying results. Is it their best album? Maybeee. Many a die-hard fan would choke at the suggestion. It’s certainly the best point at which to introduce yourself to such a special band.

And with that, our winner. This blog’s number one album of 2010 is Arcade Fire – The Suburbs. Having lost a few fans with the apocalyptic tone of Neon Bible, The Suburbs saw Arcade Fire settle down and just make whatever they wanted. Neon Bible-era is embraced in Modern Man and Deep Blue, their ear for anthems present in Ready to Start, City with No Children and Sprawl II, and each subsequent listen revealed a new favourite. Suburban War, anyone? Half Light I?

In 2007, if you were put off by Neon Bible, you were perhaps a less dour, more optimistic, maybe even more discerning listener. In 2010, if you didn’t like The Suburbs, you were just an idiot.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

glastonbury festival 2010: the review

Disorientation Central. Location: a Welcome Break service station somewhere along the M5.

It's around midday on the Monday after Glastonbury, and as you enter through a set of well polished doors, thoughts race through your mind: "These people are CLEAN!", "Why has the all day breakfast stall been replaced by a gourmet salad bar?", "Why are the men all wearing suits and giving me a wide berth, rather than smiling merrily whilst reloading their beer hat?"

A week at
Glastonbury will do that to you. What it doesn't usually do though is leave you with a tan. Sure, most of it turned out to actually be dust once you'd taken your first shower in a week, but it's likely an impressive brown hue still remained. Thursday at Glastonbury was mostly spent wandering around AMAZED that a week in June has turned out to be DRY and HOT!

Having been one of the people that endured the 10 hour traffic jam outside Glastonbury 2009, this year’s relatively light-congestion around the site (at 6am Wednesday morning and again when leaving Monday) is a revelation, only marred by what followed joining the entrance queue: a three hour wait with heavy bags, in sweltering heat, to get through the ticket barriers. But really, getting 20,000-odd overly keen revellers through the gates in 20 minutes was never going to be possible was it?

Thursday is spent relaxing near the front of the Pyramid Stage, and suddenly realising you're sat 60 meters away from a visiting Prince Charles, and then later falling down the Rabbit Hole in the Park, where to enter you had to first locate the secret entrance, then answer a question correctly (sample: What was the White Rabbit late for?), and then crawl through a tunnel into a noisy, grimy backroom complete with solar powered LED dance floor.

Friday's entertainment is mostly more predictable. Detroit Social Club open proceedings in a busy John Peel tent. This time last year the rain had put most people off even leaving their tent this early, but the warmth means Worthy Farm rises early, and the band rise to the occasion nicely with a punchy, involved set.

After catching a lively Mumford & Sons do a couple of songs for Jo Whiley in an overflowing BBC Introducing tent, critical darlings The Courteeners play to a similarly packed Other Stage field. There are less Mancunian accents than expected amongst the crowd. The set goes well enough, but then singles such as Not Nineteen Forever and What Took You So Long? kick in and we get our first party atmosphere of the weekend.

It's a rush from there to ensure none of Bonobo's set in West Holts is missed. The setlist is as blissfully danceable as hoped for, and it's difficult to imagine a more appropriate sunshine soundtrack. Sorry, Snoop.

Up in the hills, Local Natives are showing how difficult it is to misfire on an idyllic afternoon in the Park. Any floating voters won't be rushing out to buy their album, but they soundtrack the moment well.

The Big Pink aren't known for their stage theatrics, so luckily a 'well-lubricated' Jamie from Klaxons is in the third row, doing forward rolls and asking girls for a leg-up so he can go crowdsurfing. It's hilarious, and helps a guarded performance through its natural ebbs.

To be blunt, it’s all preamble for the special guests that are due on stage next. A quick audience survey suggests a 50/50 split on whether it will be The Strokes or Thom Yorke, and as instruments are set up, some Strokes fans drift away. No rumours nailed precisely what we actually get though: Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.

Some reports suggested the faintest air of anti-climax, but for us delirium from the sense of occasion, solo highlights like Harrowdown Hill and The Eraser, and a final run of Radiohead classics made it the finest moment of the weekend, and roughly level with the feeling of when the audience wouldn't stop singing Tender back at Blur in 2009. Magical.

Speaking of which, could Gorillaz possibly top either of those two moments? Finally making it down to the Pyramid stage afterwards, it's impossible to get a decent place in the audience. When during the second song it appears Snoop Dogg is appearing on videoscreen, despite having played earlier that day, a decision is made to make haste for the John Peel tent to see Groove Armada instead.

Having released their finest album this year, it isn’t a decision regretted. The new material has added a newfound pace, and raucous edge to their show. Coupled with the high production values that are typical of live dance music shows, it's a complete joy from start to finish.

Not that the day ends with the headliners, of course. From there it's to Shangra-La where Annie Mac is playing a plodding set for Radio 1's Essential Mix. Not that the crowd seem to mind. Afterwards Chase & Status bring more of a party vibe, gradually tearing apart late night
Glastonbury piece by piece over the course of an hour. Afterwards, it’s definitely time for bed.

It feels like the worst
Glastonbury yet for clashes. More great acts are being crammed into seemingly less space on the schedule, and the list of acts I miss out on stretches longer than the list of those I get to see: Snoop Dogg, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Editors, The xx, Foals, Laura Marling, Sub Focus, Chase and Status (live), Frank Turner... and so it continues.

Saturday starts with a visit to The Free University of Glastonbury to hear Peter Hook talk about managing the Haçienda. It's such a rich topic, that every single thing he says has the audience burst out in laughter. Having paid £12,000 for a university education, one leaves upset at having never been given such an engaging talk as this. Time to get his book off the Amazon wishlist and onto the bookshelf.

The National are playing to a smaller crowd than expected. Hadn’t word really got out about them this year? With an embarrassment of fine songs to cherry-pick from, and Matt Berninger's willingness to venture far out into the crowd, they galvanize an initially staid audience. On the strength of this performance, they'll glide up the festival bills.

They're also running late, however - and despite sprinting up to the Park, it's impossible to get where you can see the stage for Biffy Clyro. A dejected return to the Other Stage to see some of The Cribs is a pleasure though. They berate their audience for not watching Shakira instead (who is on the Pyramid Stage doing a cover of Islands by The xx - two credibility points to you, my dear!). Whilst the buzz around them has faded somewhat, they’re increasingly a ferocious, yet intelligent live band.

The decision to see Scissor Sisters over Editors is mostly to ensure a good place in the crowd for Muse, but their show is more watchable than ever. Kylie's cameo is a well-rehearsed bonus, the new material seems to come with extra party bounce that ensures the set never drags, and everybody is reminded that I Don't Feel Like Dancing is one of the finest pop singles of its decade. They do lay the Glastonbury-means-so-much-to-us patter on a bit thick though.

No chance of over-emoting from the Muse boys. By now they've got a back-catalogue that could see them through festival sets without any theatrics. And for the most part, that's what we get. Perhaps because Glastonbury is a small paycheck for them, the songs are mostly left to do the job. A crowd half-cynical to the idea of U2's The Edge guesting on stage is immediately brought onside by the perfect choice of song (Where The Streets Have No Name), performed exceptionally well. It's enough to ensure that they’re second only to Radiohead as the highlight of the festival.

Then it’s off to the fringes once more, to see Four Tet put in a late night DJ set in the Park. It's ideal post-Muse fare, minimal yet never boring, or less than danceable. It's a vibe somewhat ruined by the well-meaning harsher beats of Silver Columns afterwards. We give it a good hour, before opting to enjoy pleasant campfire vibes elsewhere.

Sunday afternoon has an ADHD feel to it, with Grizzly Bear, The Drums, and Temper Trap all failing to hold interest for more than 10 minutes. The nagging feeling is of regretting not having seen Slash instead. Broadcast 2000 hold real folk-pop promise in a sweltering BBC Introducing tent, before Laura Marling plays a couple of songs for Radio 1, precisely as she did on her album.

Jaguar Skills is playing to a packed West Dance tent, although given that the three songs we catch are Smells Like Teen Spirit, Pon Du Floor, and the Only Fools and Horses theme, that perhaps isn't surprising. Later on the tent has cleared out for Alex Metric's live band show. He doesn't seem to take it well, and appears moody throughout the 30 minutes we give his lacklustre set.

Instead it's a rush across site to the Cabaret tent where comedian Shappi Khorsandi is effortlessly winning her sizable audience over. It's easy to see why with such well contructed, witty social observations.

In the Queen's Head, I Am Kloot are a revelation. A run through new material has eight people on stage at various points, adding string and wind sections. Here's a prediction: they'll be the set everybody talks about on the Other Stage next year.

Plenty of people are talking about LCD Soundsystem this year, though as they’re playing the
UK loads this summer, the decision taken to enjoy trip down memory lane with Faithless instead.

With a crowd surely disinterested in hearing any new material, it's no small triumph that they are won over by it. As the audience slowly realises its own willingness to jump along to songs it doesn't even know, Insomnia and We Come 1 predictably erupt.

Orbital aren't likely to make any errors in headlining the Other Stage. It's a set that rarely applies its airbrakes, and they have a knack for surprising their followers too - they plant people throughout the audience that simultaneously erupt thousands of glowsticks across the baying crowd, and they finish with Matt Smith - the current (excellent) Doctor Who - guesting on a remix of the show's iconic theme tune. It's a riot.

For the second night in a row we again rush to catch Four Tet, this time playing live in the dance village. It succeeds in topping his set from 24 hours earlier, with all the exquisite electronic noises you could hope for.

From there we head off to explore the remainder of the festival's late night areas - including being dazzled by the 360° visuals in The Igloo, before being completely blown away by the magnitude of the production in Arcadia. It's impossible to recall a more impressive clubbing environment, and this is one that only exists for four nights a year. Essentially a giant spider structure, MC's spit rhymes on platforms above the crowd, whilst flames blast from every corner of the construction.

Breathless, we end the night by heading for a gay club in Block9, where entrance is either £2, or you flash your penis. We opt for the latter. It feels like a last chance to connect with the
Glastonbury spirit. After all, next week we’ll be back wearing our suits, stopping off at motorway service stations, eating gourmet salads…

Monday, March 01, 2010

14 stand-up comedy DVDs reviewed

It struck me recently just how many of the Winter '09 Stand-up DVDs I'd watched. With that in mind I figured I'd be better placed than most to advise on which are worthwhile.

Micheal McIntyre - Hello Wembley!
Not even as good as his (occasionally funny) first DVD. And that Salt & Pepper routine everybody laughed so hard at can fuck right off. 1.5/5

Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra
Nice idea, interesting in places, but short on real laugh-out-loud moments. 2/5

Ed Byrne - Different Class
Ed is on seriously good form. Here he is funnier even than his 2006 DVD, which was a compilation of five years of material. He's got a knack for good value DVD extras too. 4.5/5

Russell Brand - Scandalous
Very funny meditation on a rough 2008 for Brand, but you'll only want to watch it once, so borrow it off a mate. 3/5

Stephen K. Amos - Find The Funny
You'll know the face even if you don't his name. He's got a real natural gift for being on stage. A couple of routines fail to hit home, but most are excellent, and few comics here are better at working with an audience. 3.5/10

Al Murray - Beautiful British Tour
Occasionally clever, but large swathes of the material here could have been written by a sixth former. Remember his rank 'Live At The Apollo' bacon routine? That's here. But longer. As is an appallingly underdeveloped singalong ending. 1/5

Richard Herring - ménage à un
The second half stretches the jokes too far, but the first half is comedy gold. Buy it here. His latest show Hitler Mustache is better - which is really saying something. 3.5/5

Rhod Gilbert And The Award Winning Mince Pie
Currently being talked about in the same excited tones that Micheal MacIntyre was 15 months ago, here's a solid DVD that won't halt his assent to the big time. A bit over-filled with stuff fans will have already seen on TV, though. 2.5/5

Jimmy Carr - Telling Jokes
Funny how Jimmy has got funnier with age. Previously you'd get bored halfway through one of his DVD's. Not so now, he's done his time and learned his craft admirably. 3.5/5

Dylan Moran - What It Is
Meh. Good, but unremarkable. 3/5

Andy Parsons - Britain's Got Idiots Live
I like him on Mock The Week, but he doesn't cut the mustard live whatsoever. Hugely disappointing. 1/5

Omid Djilali - Live in London
Seriously lacking in killer lines. Wildly disappointing. Nowhere near as clever as that other Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi. (He's a fine dancer though). 1/5

Russell Howard - Dingledodies
Yeah, he's a natural this one. And still improving. A rare comic to actually be able to justify how popular they are. 4/5

Tim Minchin - Ready For This?
Five brilliant songs, a couple of decent ones, and several fillers. Those five songs are pretty much essential though, so get ye to iTunes and download 'Prejudice', 'The Song for Phil Daoust', 'Storm', and 'White Wine In The Sun'. And nip over to Youtube for a listen to 'I Love Jesus'. 3/5