Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Playlist: Q1 2014

There is a clubnight which exists only in the space between my headphones and spinal cord. Where people dance all night, even to the songs you can't really dance to. For the months of January, February and March 2014, this was that club's setlist.


Charli XCX – SuperLove
This passed me by first time around, until Sam 'Afternoon Delight' Willet chucked it my way on Facebook. And ka-clunk, it was the soundtrack to the next month of my life.

And look, I talk about the imaginary clubnight, but this was the one song that made me want to actually take my creaky, clumsy body out and find a dancefloor where it's playing. Every time I hear it, I want to grab the right friends just as it kicks in and shout the wrong words and debut the private macarena I've been practicing in bathroom mirrors.

And mouthing "I think your hair looks much better pushed over to one side/How do you feel about me?" to my reflection in a particularly shiny shop window, I've caught myself figuring out exactly how much work it would be to set up that clubnight for real.

Belle & Sebastian – Suicide Girl
I love when Belle & Sebastian talk dirty. 

Suicide Girl - which I first encountered on their rather uneven collection of B-sides and rarities The Third Eye Centre - takes the typical brittle indie-boy unrequited romance and reconfigures it into something more physical. The song asks the age-old question: Would you photograph your crush naked so the pictures could uploaded onto the internet for the enjoyment of strangers?

"Once she takes off her clothes, we'll never be the same again", the song concludes as it reaches an all-too-sudden climax, just two and a half minutes in. Well, quite.

Joanna Gruesome – Secret Surprise
A song that sounds like it could be taking place inside someone's chest cavity. Whether sweely whispering or all-out screaming or divebombing between the two, Alanna McArdle's vocals constantly draw attention to the breath each line is using up. The drum is a basic pounding heartbeat, building to a minor attack by the end of the track. Each stab of guitar is like a shudder running up your spine, the whole messy thing echoing off the inner walls of your ribcage.

Secret Surprise takes that all-too-familiar unrequited love subgenre and flips it so our protagonist is the object, rather than the subject. Or, maybe it's an entry in the fairly new suffocating-your-other-half-with-a-pillow-while-they-sleep subgenre.

Broken Bells – Holding On for Life/St. Vincent – Digital Witness
Two songs for which I have to thank the BBC Radio 6Music playlist.

Remarkably, despite 6Music being my office's station of choice, meaning while they were playlisted I heard these tracks three or four times a day without any choice in the matter, neither has really worn out its welcome. It helps, I think, that they both sound slightly alien in their own way, whether it's Holding On for Life's pitch-shifted Beegees chorus or the bits of Digital Witness that sound like they're being played backwards.

Sophie – Bipp
The lyrical heart of Bipp, "I can make you feel better", is half a promise being made by the narrator to you, the lover, and half a contract the song is making with you, the listener.

A few dozen listens in, it's a guarantee Sophie is yet to break.

Johnny Foreigner - In Capitals
In Capitals has me reaching for the toolbox of music journalism clich├ęs.

It's an absolute Frankenstein of a song, pieced together from scraps of four or five other half-songs. It's a rollercoaster of a song, repeatedly climbing to a peak, sitting on the ledge just for a moment, then plunging down, slowing and starting over. It's a finely-tuned firework display of a song, a series of little explosions, big and small, working in perfect concert.

Just because I can't talk about it adequately doesn't mean the song isn't great, mind.

Ibibio Sound Machine - Let's Dance (Yak Inek Unek)
"1, 2, 3, 4. Let's dance." As far as I can tell, those are the only English words in the whole track. Frankly - and this would be the case even if the rest wasn't in Nigerian Ibibio - they're the only ones that matter.

I'm a sucker for songs that are this explicitly instructive, as long as they've got the beat to back it up. And this really, really does. 1. 2. 3. 4...

Chromatics - Lady
Listening to Lady, I sometimes feel like I can hear through the song itself to the instruments it's made out of, great fictional instruments which fill the sewer systems of entire cities, which were built at great human cost, entirely for the purpose of making an androgynous love song and giving me something to dance to when I'm in the flat on my own. I don't know about you, but I like that kind of arrogance in my synthpop.

Neneh Cherry feat Robyn - Out of the Black
Robyn's the reason I listened to Out of the Black enough to put it on this list (I just miss her, that's all), but she's not the star. Honestly, she might be the weak link. I love the way her voice braids with Neneh's on the chorus, but the way she delivers some lines ("I'm Robyn on the microphone, into the speaker") is actually quite ugly.

No, the star here is that beat, sneaking, oppressive, a shadow looming in your peripherals. Delicious.

Burial - Hiders
Having read some reviews of last year's Rival Dealer EP, Hiders seems to be consistently singled out for its accessible. Or, if it's that kind of publication, a bit too pop. A bit tacky. It's probably no coincidence, then, that's it the first Burial track to make any real impression on me.

There are moments throughout where Hiders constantly threatens to crystallise into a spectral pop song, before moving on, shedding the skin of the last hook to drop in a new voice, a new sample, some environmental sound tweaked just so.

By doing that, it manages to sound bigger than any one song ever could. Just flashes of radio from passing cars in the slightly darker, slightly cooler world where all Burial songs take place.

Twista feat Kanye West – Slow Jamz
You might have worked out by now that not all of these tracks are brand new. They're just songs that recently clicked with me. So, to make that absolutely clear, here's Slow Jamz, first released in 2004.

Just about my favourite thing I've done all year is setting up a sort of informal records club with Sam 'Aforementioned' Willet, Dom 'MVP' Parsons and Sam 'The Importance of Being Earnest' Lewis. Together, we've been digging through and discussing Kanye's back catalogue (in case you were wondering, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy YeezusCollege Dropout > 808s & Heartbreak > Late Registration > Graduation).

This is the track that stuck, a ode to that one playlist you keep in reserve, fully stocked with Gaye and Green and White, for when it's time to get busy.

The whole song pivots on this absolutely killer moment around the 1:30 mark. Kanye and Jamie Foxx ease us in, playing it so soft they practically melt into the Luther Vandross sample underneath. But then his companion chips in, pleading with 'Ye to pick up the pace, faster, faster.

"Damn, baby, I can't do it that fast," Kanye replies. "But I know somebody who can". And instantly Twista kicks in, syllables moving like the hands of a con man where each verse is one of those games with the pea and the shells.

The rest of the song is great, but for me really it's just a structure to support those few seconds, the punchline where Kanye hands the baton over to the guy whose name is on the cover, just for the duration of the song, before he takes the limelight for good.

The Spotify playlist is available for you to cut out and keep here.

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.