60. SUGABABES – ‘Round Round’: Easier to admire than adore – what finally tipped me was the cheeky little guitar lick, though in terms of craft and professionalism this is surely song of the year. The ëbabes themselves have never sounded more aloof – the reason they have such a big older following is because they remind people of how scary, cold and worldly 17-year old girls seemed back when they were kids.
59. MENTA feat MS DYNAMITE – ‘Ramp’: Another sermon from Ms. Dynamite, much enhanced by Menta’s respectful, spacey production, and a welcome break back into MC-ing for Ms D. doesn’t hurt either. There’s just enough bounce to make this club not pulpit music, though Dynamite’s steel-and-silver voice could sing Guardian editorials and I’d be happy.
58. DJ DIPPA – ‘Yaar Bolga vs BIG’: Exactly what it says – bhangra hit ‘Yaar Bolga’ over the bassline from Notoroious BIG’s ‘Hypnotise’. The components work precisely as you’d expect, too: ‘Yaar Bolga”s rhythmic glee is lent a bit of slink and roll, and in turn softens the nastiness of ‘Hypnotise’ but keeps all the confidence. A fantastic example of how global street musics are gaining vigour from hip-hop – if you liked ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’ here’s something else to investigate.
57. SMITH AND HACK – ‘To Our Disco Friends’: Hard-drive disco – the beat keeps steady but the spinal cord of this track is its stern punk-funk picking and plucking, obtuse and wayward. Few of the records I listened to this year seemed to center as much on a human being playing an actual instrument with their actual fingers. I say ‘seemed’ because judging by the vocal’s chopped-out ecstasies no human presence survives here unscrambled.
56. THE LIBERTINES – ‘Tell The King’: Stumbling into the light from a bar it’s been in for fifteen years, it’s the spirit – or one of them – of British indie. For a moment it’s too addled to play the right song, then the old reflexes kick in and all is well. The Libertines swipe a sound from the Strokes and it wriggles in their uneasy grasp, but that’s not important – what they’re really reviving is an urgent, shabby English vibe.
55. OT CREW feat ROLL DEEP AND FLOW DAN – ‘Dubplate’: A bell tolls, the only identifiable noise in a cold tide of corroded beats and videogame slurry. You couldn’t dance to this, you could only shudder – maybe not even that, as the MCs pin you to the wall, spitting in your face. Your eyes flick from one to another, panicky, trying to work out what they’re telling you, what they want, how to get out of here.
FT Readers’ CD-Rs Of The Year: Michaelangelo Matos
Freelance Hellraiser: “Marshall’s Been Snookered”
Ultra 396: “Rock the Party”
Tata Pound: “Badala”
Nelly: “Hot in Herre”
Clipse: “Young Boy”
Sugababes: “Freak Like Me”
Pink: “Don’t Let Me Get Me”
Lo Fidelity Allstars: “Feel What I Feel”
Kylie Minogue: “Love at First Sight”
Shakedown: “At Night”
Queens of the Stone Age: “No One Knows”
Rancid: “Don’t Call Me White”
The Hives: “Hate to Say I Told You So”
Freelance Hellraiser: “Smells Like Booty”
The Rapture: “House of Jealous Lovers”
The Streets: “Let’s Push Things Forward”
No Doubt: “Underneath It All”
Missy Elliott: “Work It”
Tweet feat. Missy Elliott: “Oops (Oh My)”
Khia: “My Neck, My Back”
Future Bible Heroes: “I’m a Vampire”
54. MISSY ELLIOT – ‘Funky Fresh Dressed’: The beat is in the minimal-hard ‘Grindin” style but with Missy riding it there’s no harshness, just stripped-down funky fun. Timbaland muffles the sounds to atmospheric effect – like walking by a building and hearing the world’s best party crunching and bumping inside.
53. JEHST – ‘Alcoholic Author’: Melancholy, thoughtful tracks seem to be something that UK Hip-Hop does particularly well. Harry Love’s production here is typical – a nodding beat and a lonely, folky guitar figure give the track a sad, derelict feel. Jehst pulls his collar up against the sharp Autumn wind and flows to keep himself warm.
52. M MAYER – ‘Falling Hands’: ‘Falling Hands’ was the moment I ëgot’ MicroHouse, or at least the version of that chimeric genre that works best for me. Ghosts and atom-trails of pop songs, sensed briefly through silence or swirl. Completed and solid they would inevitably disappoint – from the corner of your ear they sound like perfect maps of desire.
51. VANESSA CARLTON – ‘A Thousand Miles’: Precocious post-Britney piano player? On paper not a winner, and not even a particularly remarkable song but the arrangement is AOR heaven – that pertly genteel piano! Those scrumptious strings! The dynamics – pure theatre! Okay, if this was all that was happening in pop music it could be beyond horrible but even in 1971 it wasn’t and it surely isn’t now. A soft-centre treat in a hardened world.
50. THE STREETS – ‘Give Me My Lighter Back’: Mike Skinner is more interesting as an individual voice than as part of some great lineage of British lyrical scallywags. But there’s one aspect of the grand Britpop tradition he seems to revel in – the throwaway B-Side. ‘Give Me My Lighter Back’ slings mud at a feckless friend for three minutes and fits in a ëbassline solo’ and a shout-out to a mate who’s lent Mike his X-Box too. Lagerpop hilarity. (Another Streets observation – Skinner’s songs are made up of all the conversations Karl Hyde ignores when he cribs his godawful Underworld lyrics!).
49. N.O.R.E. – ‘Nothin’: ‘Hey, we can do this Eastern shit too!’ say the Neptunes, and of course they do it better than many, though it’s the juddering bassline that’s the real hook.
48. AUTOBIANCHI – ‘All Around (Everybody’s Kissing)’: Every now and then someone will write about a small-label record release and tear their critical hair out bemoaning the venality and short-sightedness of a marketplace that somehow keeps the record from being the smash international hit it by rights is. My Panglossian faith in the workings of the charts makes me deeply suspicious of such reviews but this is the real actual thing. Hands-in-the-air blisshouse which keeps the utopian flag flying at the same time as being a craft incitement to snog for less high-minded party people. The kind of song ‘Weak Become Heroes’ was written about, and one remix away from being inescapable.
47. CLIPSE – ‘Grindin”: The skull-faced detox for another year of production opulence – or the Terminator roboskeleton that remains when you burn the pizzazz off. I hated this all Summer and loved it all Winter. ‘It sounds like Swans!’ my Wire-reading past self gleefully informed me, and he had half a point. And if Kingston soundlabs aren’t cooking up the ëGrindin Riddim’ I’ll be sorely disappointed.
46. MOCKY – ‘Fuck All Night’: A seduction song for a subculture where people worry whether in-and-out is In or Out. Mocky mumbles, swears and stumbles through the track, but the sweet glitch-bounce backing lets you know where his heart is. The compulsory possibility of irony is, oddly, as defensively endearing as hair-flicks and shuffles were on the edge of the school disco floor. Nothing ever really changes.
45. TRINA feat TWEET – ‘No Panties’: ‘No panties comin’ awff / My love is gonna cawst’ – exactly like ‘Hustlin”, except more more more in every department, the supertrashy pinnacle of Trina’s ho-rap, festooned with brassy flourishes, campy ‘oohs’ and ‘ows’, heavy breathing, and a sweet sweet chorus. Blurs the lines between expensive and cheap to bogglesome effect.
FT Readers’ CD-Rs Of The Year: Tim Finney
MRI – Deep Down South
Luomo – The Present Lover
Nelly – Hot In Herre
Latrelle – Dirty Girl (Remix)
Res – Golden Boys
Jay-Z – Bitches & Sisters
Shakedown – At Night
Saint Etienne – Shower Scene
Cosmos – Take Me With You
Martini Bros – Boy/Girl
LCD Soundsystem – Beat Connection
Amerie – Need You Tonight
Ashanti – Voodoo
Zed Bias & The Henchmen – Jigga Up (Ring The Alarm)
The Streets – All Got Our Runnins
Flo Dan – Big Mic Man
Artful Dodger – Ruff Neck Sound (Basement Mix)
DJ Shadow – You Can’t Go Home Again
44. BLAK TWANG – ‘Kik Off’: The irrepressible and oddly cuddly Twang trowels on the football metaphors on the year’s beeriest hip-hop track. All in-your-face brass samples, lurching and stomping beats and a thousand whistles, this is as immediate and stoopid as a hip-hop Slade (even down to the spelling!).
43. TROUBLESOME – ‘Grimey’: The jerky snares all over this track are pure junglism; the MC-ing is slick and thick, a verbal keep-out sign; the wobble-bass is gloopily sensual. Mashed together it’s anthemic – a proudly nasty thug celebration with one of my guilty-favourite moments this year. ‘Found floatin in a lake / Found floatin in a la-hake / Were eatin cake, drinkin rum at your wake’.
42. SCOOTER – ‘Nessaja’: Most Scooter records are formally the same, like icons, each reflecting a minutely different aspect of the Absolute. This is the one with the twee folky verse as a recurring comedown mechanism before the next beat-wave hits – an old rave trick, that, and still a good one. It’s also the one with Dave on the train, surely most people’s favourite lyric this year. Never in the history of pop music, I think, has anyone sounded so excited and happy and yet humble as Sheffield Dave: one of a crowd, shouting his heart out to get that crowd moving. Genuinely inspiring.
41. SHAKIRA – ‘Whenever, Wherever’: No wonder Gabriel Garcia Marquez went all googly over her – this is fresh, funny and entirely loveable pop. Second-language English is often a route to greatness in song – the mis-steps introduce that vital grain of the unexpected into a lyric; joyous turns of phrase that can transform a single. Here you get the breasts-mountains thing, blah blah, but also ‘Baby I would climb the Andes solely / To count the freckles on your body’. Quite the most poetic thing in the charts all year, it’s made even lovelier by the pedantic exactitude of ‘solely’. All that and a welcome rehabilitation for the much-maligned pan-pipe!