5
Sep 20

#9: Sunshine in a bag

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I’m not totally sure this bracket ‘works’, in that it’s likely to feel unfair to one or both of the two streams of music I’ve pushed together here. There’s the more big-room, commercial end of dance music, like Superman Lovers’ “Starlight” and Safri Duo’s “Played A-Live (The Bongo Song)”, but there’s also alternative music darlings making club or hip-hop or sampladelic music, like Gorillaz and The Avalanches. And sitting between both worlds, there’s Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx at the poppier end of their 2001 work. Mix in a few hits overflowing from other categories and you have our bracket.

The risk is that the name recognition value of the critic-friendly acts will obliterate the floor-filler factor of the big dance hits. A shame if so – I’m agnostic about the “Bongo Song”, which nobody could accuse of deceiving its audience, but “Starlight” and DB Boulevard’s “Point Of View” are respectively euphoric and hesitant highlights of the year’s pop in any genre.

Whereas Gorillaz…. there’s a cruel take on Damon Albarn which reduces him to a Gillespie-style magpie imitator, forever yearning to make music that’s as cool as the music he’s listening to. I think it’s impossible to deny that tendency, but it’s also impossible to ignore the actual talent he has at trying to adapt that music to his own ideas (and his melodic abilities). He’s a risk-taker, happy for his reach to exceed his grasp. 

He’s also canny enough to give himself cover by getting people involved who know what they’re doing. So “Clint Eastwood” casts him as the hook singer in a Del The Funkee Homosapien track, a job he’s awful at, but Del is at least quite good at his.

I’m spending so long on Gorillaz because I can’t stand them and at the same time I’m aware they’re one of the biggest and most discussed things of 2001 and are likely to eat up a lot of the airtime around the poll. Do people love that they tried so many different things? Do people hate that they did them all badly? (Sorry ‘rillaz and ‘rillettes) We’ll find out. There’s something ultra 2001 about their very in-yer-face eclecticism, but also it’s a year in which they’re facing off against a lot of artists who are great because they’re focused hedgehogs, not adaptive foxes.

Avalanches, Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk are definitely at the vulpine end of things, which should tilt this bracket foxwards, at least. “Romeo” is the most straightforward thing on Basement Jaxx’s messy and delightful Rooty, “Digital Love” one of the least straightforward on Daft Punk’s sublime and puzzling Discovery, but both are terrific, and “Since I Left You” is the Avalanches’ airiest, finest moment too.

POTENTIAL WINNER: It might be wishful thinking, but I don’t think the unremixed Gorillaz tracks have the horsepower to go all the way – “Since I Left You” might get near, though.

BEST TRACK: “Digital Love” is a salad of ingredients – twee French droidvox, keytar solos, canned fanfares, disco-house – which somehow ends up one of the most blissfully romantic songs ever made. It’s this poll’s equivalent to the 1990 tournament’s “Being Boring” – a song with fanatically loyal fans which will draw “WTF?” reactions from some.

DARK HORSE: DB Boulevard’s “Point Of View” is a gorgeous house slice-of-life whose relatively low streams get it a draw where its quality might have a chance to tell.

DISCOVERY: The only track I didn’t know here was Bran Van 3000’s “Astounded”, which I think I was put off by a) the sleeve, which looks like a self-published BDSM novella, and b) me, er, assuming it was one dude called Bran. Anyway, it isn’t, it’s a candyfloss dancepop tune which trumps everyone else’s guest stars by getting the final collaboration from a dying Curtis Mayfield.  

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