Here are my listening notes/capsule reviews on the first day of this year’s round-up poll. If you want to take part the polls are here and there’s a link to the Spotify playlist too.

5 Discoveries from Day 1:

  • Arooj Aftab – “Mohabbat”
  • NCT Dream – “Hello Future”
  • Noporn – “Geleia De Marango”
  • RXKNephew – “American Tterroristt”
  • Sorry – “Cigarette Packet”

Qualifier 1

Lil Nas X – “Montero”: Who is saying we should separate the music from the video/persona/marketing? Lil Nas X surely isn’t. If you insist on doing so, it’s flimsy but still audibly a hit.

Ashnikko ft Princess Nokia – “Slumber Party”: Sounds like it’s been mastered for super cheap speakers, or maybe it’s just that I’m listening to it on super cheap speakers. One way of working out what Lil Nas X does well is looking at someone who is doing kind of similar things visually and conceptually but ends up not as entertaining, and here she is.

City Girls – “Twerkulator”: Entertaining Planet Rock tribute about bums. A bit Benny Hill but probably the track I’d most rapidly play again in this group. I’m a creature of habit.

St Vincent – “Pay Your Way In Pain”: This is alright but dissolves in a snowstorm of Scary Monsters style pseudo-alienating production choices.

Qualifier 2

Buke & Gase / So Percussion – “Ancient Tool Gadget”: nice contrast w/ the St Vincent – lots of jagged (vaguely Frippish) percussive approaches but applied with a bit of self-discipline. Good stuff.

Emerald Hill – “Feliz Aniversario”: yearning Brazilian indie-rock. Not for me, though the casio percussion is REALLY reminding me of something (something by… THE FALL perhaps?)

Noporn – “Geleia De Morango”: Ahh, I like this a lot, spoken word over the melancholy sound of bygone raves. Almost certainly helps that I don’t understand the lyrics. The vague New Orderish vibes I was getting are 100% confirmed by a drum breakdown that’ll put the Shep in yr Pettibone.

The Brother Moves On – “You Think You Know Me”: venomously angry South African poetry/jazz/funk, compelling and uneasy – also one of the first tracks to channel fury at governmental/the West’s Covid response, though that’s only part of what’s going on here.

Qualifier 3

Azealia Banks – “Fuck Him All Night”: I love beats like this which have immense motive force despite seeming to do almost nothing. Banks on this evidence has become one of those Alex Chilton kind of figures where the scrappy chaos is the deal.

Low – “The Price You Pay (Is Starting To Wear Off)”: This is good, well-thought-through, interesting, all those faint-praisey words. It ‘sounds great’. The other track in the poll by them is better IIRC. 

Madlib – “Road Of The Lonely Ones”: Immediately very attractive to me, wispy doo-wop diffusion with rattling drum tattoos to ground the introspection.

United Kingdolls – “UK Hun?”: I have never watched Drag Race! (I’ve never watched anything). There’s a Keith Flinty cheekiness to the “gender bender/system offender” one. Still, you had to be there I think.

Qualifier 4

Illuminati Hotties – “Cheap Shoes”: One rule of thumb I’m applying this poll is that if I could imagine it being in a Festive Fifty I heard live, I’m not voting for it. That’s not to say those tracks are bad, but… *expansive shrug*.

Midwife – “Enemy”: Makes Low’s track sound like “Twerkulator” but I’m here for this one, because I don’t think I’ve heard anything else which gets the grey suffocation of illness so plainly. At the same time it’s somehow beautiful.

Pom Poko – “Cheater”: Math-twee!! Not exactly hard to trace the lineage here but loving the sudden lurches and tempo changes.

Real Lies – “Nicotine Patch”: World-weary 80s electro, pleasant but a bit exhausting.

Qualifier 5

Manic Street Preachers – “Still Snowing In Sapporo”: You know what they’re going to do in this song, they know what they’re going to do, they do it. They’ve reached the stage where they no longer make actually *bad* records, I guess. Manixologists might detect new tweaks in this where I cannot.

Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders – “Promises, Movement 1”: I have fallen asleep literally every time I have put this LP on, which has to be a win. Deserves the plaudits, great use of space, Sanders’ entrance is a lovely moment.

Sorry – “Cigarette Packet”: There’s a lot of this stuff about, eh? Enervated electro-rock with semi-spoken vocals, soundcloud post-punk. Not that I’m complaining here as this is great – the key to this is economy of effects, dropping the vocal distortion or extra instrument in at exactly the right moment to create that Zen Garden totality.

Tori Amos – “Addition Of Light Divided”: No mountains are going to be moved by this but it’s good, feels like the work of a mature artist in the way a certain other track in this group doesn’t.

Qualifier 6

Arooj Aftab – “Mohabbat”: First listen I’m afraid I filed this one as “a bit Mercury Prize” but wow, it’s gorgeous, would be a really intricate and lovely piece of music even if it didn’t have Aftab’s singing. Definitely got to do some further listening here.

NCT Dream – “Hello Future”: I don’t fully understand what’s going on here but I love the positive vibe with a hint of weird darkness, like a theme park where they keep pointing at the bits you’re not supposed to notice.

RXKNephew – “American Tterroristt”: Don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like this before*, a 9-minute rap which makes you feel like you’re trapped in an elevator with the rapper: relentless free association mixing conspiracy theory, boneheaded galaxy brain takes, terrific one-liners and toxic id-spew.

Zinoleesky – “Naira Marley”: Greater love hath no man than to write a mellow bop about his label boss. Better than fine, but slightly outclassed in the best group of the day.

*actually no, I have, Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul” from the 2020 pop poll exists in the same weird region of ideaspace.