The Top 50 Songs of 2019

How was 2019 in pop music? For odd, find-and-curate-yourself music, it was great! Eyes down…

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Alice Hubble (No.15) at the Eagle Inn, Salford, September 2019)

An odd, quotidian year number which I could never have envisaged as a child. Sure 2001 was imaginable, and do-able, but 2019? It’s still rubbish, isn’t it?

2020 will just mean that I’ll be thinking of George Benson’s hit single for the first three or four thousand times of pondering (and that’s a mildly alluring prospect), but 2021 doesn’t bear thinking of.

How was 2019 in pop music, then? Well in terms of the Official Charts and the sort of stuff they play on Radios 1, 2 and the commercial channels, I couldn’t tell you – as evidenced by my recent PopMaster disappointment (who ARE these Lewis Capaldi/Post Malone/Tiesto/AJ Tracey people?) – but in terms of the sort of odd, find-and-curate-yourself pop music that helps you to simply soar away into your own little heaven, it was just great.

As usual. Not (perhaps) up to 2017 and 2018’s awesome standards, but maybe I just missed something amongst the myriad albums from around the world I’ve spent the last twelve months trawling through – and sampling, hating, enjoying, loving and listening to.

When I started thinking about the list, I was unsure if I had the requisite-t-t-t numbers for my original 100 singles list plan (which I decided was too unwieldy a chart to listen to or read about), but on closer inspection I found that I had 163 candidates. That’s a good haul.

As usual, it’s only one track per artist and nobody I know personally is allowed (sorry, the brilliant Shipbuilders/Sunstack Jones, et al).

It’s been a nightmare trying to slim down the numbers to a manageable fifty, and there has been much genuine heartache on dismissing songs that frankly, I really love.

Quite a few songs have survived the cull from my Summer Top 50 list – I’ve republished the original review where that applies – and on a number of occasions I’ve added a coda if there’s been a shift in my allegiances. Such tracks are clearly marked.

Anyway, loads of brilliant tracks, the return of the Canadians, lots of Antipodeans, two from Reading (Berkshire), and Brighton as the epicentre of the universe!

 

The Fifty….

50. Tokyo Tea RoomThings Are Changing (NEW ENTRY)

An almost perfect encapsulation of the beauty of dreampop – floating, ethereal vocals from another dimension and the siren call of a better, more beautiful world.

Absolutely wonderful.

Album: Dream Room
From: Canterbury (England)

Sounds Like: Pizzagirl (the opening bars); Tamaryn

49. SparklingI Want to See Everything (NEW ENTRY)

Starts off all Trio (remember them?), mutates into Hot Chip, and takes a while to get going, but an earnest, plaintive and frankly lovely, multi-lingual electropop single from a more than decent album.

Play loud!

From: Cologne
Album: I Want to See Everything
Sounds Like: See above!

48. Peel Dream Magazine – Up and Up (NEW ENTRY)

Named after a dream about John Peel (and a magazine, presumably), this is an absolutely gorgeous cloud of floating dream-pop. I wish I’d heard this before my operation in July of this year, because if I’d died on the table, I could have drifted serenely towards my maker. Instead I made the mistake of reading Adam Tchaikovsky’s visceral and violent sci-fi novel Dogs of War. Big mistake – I thought the anaesthetist was trying to batter/kill me in the few seconds I had before falling into pre-op unconsciousness.

Still, could have been worse – imagine by some random chance Spotify had played anything by LadBaby or Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go to My Lovely? before my imminent death. Now, that would have been almost Hieronymus Bosch-like.

Anyway, a fantastic track from a great EP I’ve been playing for the last few weeks. Hope they come to the UK pretty soon.

From: New York
Album/EP: Up and Up
Sounds like: Your spirit and soul dissolving into God’s chosen nebula.

47. Tacocat – Hologram (Position in Summer: 32)

What I Said Then….

Tremendous guitar pop and vocal harmonies from one of Washington State’s and Sub Pop’s finest, and lyrics redolent of an inverted form of Thomas Hardy’s ode to the sadness of ageing, I Look Into My Glass:

Not so long ago, I used to feel like
I was too sensitive to even be alive
But maybe now it’s the opposite
Too much to say
So I don’t say anything
Is numb even a feeling?
I just wonder how anyone falls for this anymore
Don’t take this the wrong way
But you’re doing this the wrong way

Wonderful.

From: Seattle
Album: This Mess is a Place
Sounds Like: Madder Rose/Speedy Ortiz

New thoughts: An absolutely brilliant live band and well worth their place in The Fifty

46. Electric Youth – The Life (NEW ENTRY)

God, I love Electric Youth – and they just get better and better. There’s nothing new to be found in The Life, in fact, it’s same as it ever was – just sparkling, beautiful ethereal dreampop from one of the best pop duos in the world.

Fabulous.

From: Toronto
Album: Memory Emotion
Sound like: An angel singing you to sleep.

45. Lizzo – Juice (Position in Summer: 2)

What I Said Then….

An amazing single from a great album.

Without doubt, Lizzo’s performance at Manchester Ritz was my favourite and best gig of the year. (And on my birthday, an’ all!) I’ve never heard such a reaction from a crowd, and I can’t ever remember such joy emanating across a venue. So many strangers wanted to talk to me as I quietly sipped my post-gig birthday drink, such was the glorious reaction from an amazing performer.

Juice sounds like it was beamed in from space – the first time I heard it I thought that it was a Nile Rogers production with its explosion of giant riffs and brilliant synthetic horns.

She’ll ace Glastonbury as well, and if…

Somebody get this man
I think he got lost in my DM’s – what? My DM’s – what?

 …isn’t my favourite lyric by the end of the year, I’ll eat my hat.

And my DMs*.

*vegan (See, I’ve gone eleven minutes without mentioning it. I miss cheese, though. And trifle.)

From: Detroit
Album: Cuz I Love You
Sounds like: You must have heard her by now!

New thoughts: Juice is still a great record, but I’d probably need a few beers to appreciate it these days. The song’s ubiquity is such that I’ve heard it as a trailer for a really shitty romcom at the cinema, on at least two adverts and worst of all it’s become a Radio One (could be worse – it could have been a Radio 2) daytime favourite. Lizzo has rightly entered the major leagues, but it’s difficult to recall that stunning first listen back in January.

44. PixiesCatfish Kate (NEW ENTRY)

Like they hadn’t been away. Strangely reminiscent of Wings’ With a Little Luck when it hits the chorus, but even that’s not such a bad thing.

Lovely stuff.

From: Boston
Album: Beneath the Eyrie
Sounds like: It’s (the) Pixies, mate! (And a bit Bunnymenish, this one.)

43. Madonnatron – Goodnight Little Empire (Position in Summer: 32)

What I Said Then…

A wonderful blend of dance, electronica and dreampop from the London quartet that evokes memories of the brilliant and sadly missed School of Seven Bells. Early listenings to the new album Musica Alla Puttanesca suggest a definite progression from their rockier eponymously title debut. Although there isn’t a title as good as previous album Glenn Closer, album track Elizabeth Taylor comes, er, close.

Just lovely.

Album: Musica Alla Puttanesca
From: London

Sounds a bit like: School of Seven Bells – oh, I miss them so much.

New thoughts: I remember their August gig so vividly, jam-packed in Manchester’s Gullivers and with a temperature approaching 100 degrees; the lights and power failed for a full twenty minutes, but once it started…. what a gig!

42. Red Velvet – Ladies Night (NEW ENTRY)

Super girlie K-pop from Irene, Wendy, Joy and Seulgi. Will probably drive you to despair after the sixth listen.

Album: The ReVe Festival Day 2
From: South Korea

Sounds like: The Saturdays; the much-missed Pizzicato 5.

41. CaribouHome (NEW ENTRY)

Dan Snaith’s first music for five years and really rather lovely. A heavy sample from Gloria Barnes’s song of the same name (have to admit, I didn’t know the song and thought it was Curtis Mayfield at first), Home is a bit of a departure of Caribou’s normal dreamscapes, but wonderful nevertheless.

Album: Home
From: Ontario

Sounds like: Moby (on this one); Curtis Mayfield (apparently!)

40. Ebony Steel BandSpace Lab (NEW ENTRY)

I’m not against cover versions, but it generally helps if the covered song is obscure, or it’s been re-worked in such a way that it’s difficult to think of the original once that precedent has been created. The Human League’s You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling comes to mind. Paul Shane’s You’ve Lost That Loving Comes to Mind. Obviously. The ESB’s album The Pan Machine takes Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine and other related K’werk songs of that era and recreates them on steel drums. The effect is extraordinary. The nuances of the original synths are recreated as a real work of love and often it’s difficult to tell if ESB are using synths themselves (which they are NOT). They’ve been going since 1969 (in one form or another) and The Pan Machine is a really beautiful album. It’s becoming a cliché to say that I could have picked any of the tracks from the album for this chart.

But it’s the truth.

Hypnotic, beautiful, joyous and thrilling.

From: West London
Album: The Pan Machine
Sounds Like: Kraftwerk!

39. Jessica Pratt – Poly Blue (Position in Summer: 14)

What I Said Then….

The stand-out track from the achingly lovely Quiet Signs album. Jessica Pratt’s voice takes a while to get used to, but once its seeming strangeness wears off, it’s a thing of wonder. Poly Blue is a sad, lonely, yearning ballad and it sounded even better when I heard it delivered absolutely beautifully to a hushed and reverent audience at Manchester’s splendid Yes venue back in February.

From: California
Album: Quiet Signs
Sounds like: a voice like no other, but this track has echoes of Pickettywich’s 1970 hit The Same Old Feeling.

New thoughts: Still lovely, and from great parent album – and I have to do my level best not to sing it in my Evo-Stik League Mike Yarwood ‘Harold Wilson’ voice

38. Solange – Way to the Show (Position in Summer: 23)

What I Said Then….

A lovely track from a brilliant late-night album.

When I Get Home (the album in question) reminds me so much of Roxy Music’s last proper album Avalon, where words and music just flow together in an almost ambient mix.

I could have picked any of the tracks, but I remember my eyes getting heavier and heavier as I listened to this on the bus a few months ago. It was a lovely way to fall asleep.

Mind you, I can still hear my passengers’ screams as we went over the cliff.

REMEMBER KIDS: RECOGNISE THE BOB MONKHOUSE THAT’S INSIDE YOU AND CONQUER IT! FOR THE GOOD OF HUMANITY!

From: Texas
Album: When I Get Home
Sounds like: Erykah Badu

New thoughts: Superb; a great track from one of my top ten albums of 2019

37. Processions – Solipsist (NEW ENTRY)

Beautiful Texas shoegaze from a brilliant band. If life ever gets you down too much, put Solipsist on and let your cares float away. And remember NOT to sing Terence Trent Darby’s Sign Your Name about half-way through the record.

From: San Antonio
Album: Blush
Sounds like: Bowie’s Thursday’s Child (the intro, anyway); My Bloody Valentine’s quieter moments.

36. The Orielles – Come Down on Jupiter (NEW ENTRY)

A quiet year for The Orielles (new releases-wise) after a blistering 2018, but the band has now moved up a considerable gear to become part of the Radio One playlist stratosphere. CODJ is not up to Silver Dollar Moment’s game-changing standards, but Esme’s otherworldly vocals and the innovation of Henry Carlyle-Wade’s rule-defying arrangements make anything by The Orielles worth considering. Still (possibly) my favourite band from the last couple of years.

From: Halifax
Album: single only
Sounds like: Lush (for a new decade)

35. Vanishing Twin – Magician’s Success (Position in Summer: 9)

What I Said Then…

Named after singer Cathy Lucas’s identical twin who was absorbed in utero, Vanishing Twin evoke the spirit of the much-missed Broadcast.

Magician’s Success is a dreampop/psyche song of immeasurable beauty.

From: London (based)
Album: The Age of Immunology
Sounds like: the Golden Age of French pop/Broadcast

New thoughts: Still lovely, but 35 is probably a more sensible number.

34. Weyes Blood – Wild Time (Position in Summer: 27)

What I Said Then…

Natalie Mering’s wonderful album sounds like the essence of English pastoral mixed with a Laurel Canyon sensibility. A Carol King/Joni Mitchell for a new age.

A simply lovely record.

And Sub Pop: what a label!

From: Santa Monica/Pennsylvania
Album: Titanic Rising
Sounds like: Joni/Carol/Pentangle (again!)/Vashti Bunyan/ Anna Burch

New thoughts: Natalie’s fame has grown exponentially during 2019 – a (quiet) superstar in the making. I still love Wild Time, but not quite so much (seven less!)

33. l’Imperatrice (featuring Isaac Delusion) – Dreaming of You (Position in Summer: 34)

What I Said Then….

The best introduction of any song in the fifty. Dreaming of You (not to be confused with The Coral’s we’ve-sold-our-music/souls-to-‘the adverts’ song of the same name) is a hypnotic slice of cosmic disco… and just brilliant.

French pop just gets better and better!

From: Paris
Album: Matahari
Sounds like: floating on a raft in the Pacific (although – just to spoil it  – I can occasionally hear strains of the Shite FM/commercial radio classic This Love by Maroon 5).

New thoughts: Same as ever – a great track, and I’ll feel desperately sad about not being a proper integrated European we’re forced to leave om January 31st.

32. Juniore – En Solitaire (Position in Summer: 39)

What I Said Then….

If you like modern French pop with a hint of old French pop, the prosaically-titled Juniore are for you. Lovely brooding, dreamy vocals and a sixties Hammond organ sound permeate Anna Jean and co’s terrific single. A Francoise Hardy for whatever this decade is called.

Absolutely delightful.

Album: Ooh là là
From: Paris

Sounds like: listen to any of Bob Stanley’s French girl compilations and you’ll get the idea

New Thoughts: Played this again the other night. Wonderful!

31. Grimes – Violence (NEW ENTRY)

We’re still waiting for the new album Miss Anthropocene, but Grimes has released three excellent singles this year, with Violence being the best of the bunch and harking back to the brilliant Visions album of 2012. Some might have questioned her choice of partner (what DID she see in the multi-billionaire Elon Musk?), but I don’t care; when young Claire Boucher is on form she’s the best and most thrilling pop star on Earth.

From: Vancouver
Album: Miss Anthropocene (2020)
Sounds like: Grimes!

30. Men I TrustOncle Jazz/Dorian (NEW ENTRY)

Two from the Oncle Jazz album. The eponymous opening track is a lovely, sinewy, jazzy fifty second intro to the album with singer Emma Proulx’s dreamy French Canadian-accented vocals gently guiding us in. Dorian is the sound of a heart slowly filling up with so much wistful love it can take no more.

Beautiful.

One of the world’s best bands and coming to the UK early next year.

From: Montreal
Album: Oncle Jazz
Sounds Like: slowly dissolving wispy white clouds

29. Mattiel – Millionaire (NEW ENTRY)

“Ever since I got myself this easy chair
(Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba)
Might as well be a millionaire”

These lyrics don’t write themselves, you know. A cheap and cheerful Femme Fatale, ahem, homage, from Atlanta’s Mattiel Brown and thoroughly splendid record in its own right.

From: Atlanta
Album: Satis Factory
Sounds like: The Velvet Underground and Nico

28. Deaton Chris Anthony – Sircles (NEW ENTRY)

A brilliant track from the oddly-title BO Y album. LA-based musician DAC will be a star of the future. Sircles is a lovely, dreamy, but disconcerting song in that it refuses to be pinned down, and just like its parent album it straddles genres and moods with consummate ease.

From: Los Angeles
Album: BO Y
Sounds like: A million influences conflated into something wholly new.

27. FONTAINES DC – Liberty Belle (Position in Summer: 25)

What I Said Then….

This year’s ‘hot ticket’ and many critics’ choice for the album of the year (Dogrel). There are shades of The Pogues, John Cooper Clarke, Arctic Monkeys, The Ramones and The Libertines in this tremendous song, and singer Grian Chatten’s wonderful enjambment-heavy rolling lyrics sound even better for allowing his fabulous Dublin accent to flow unrestrained by American vocalised compromise:

You know I love that violence
That you get around here
That kind of ready-steady violence
That violent “How do you do?”
And the lie when it’s “Daddy why sleep in a phone booth?”
He’s just very very tired of having
That same old boring conversation
Just like me, just like you

Listen to it, love it and take it into your heart before THE LADS get wind of it.

And ruin it.

From: Dublin
Album: Dogrel
Sounds like: see above

New thoughts: THE LADS did discover it – oh dear. A life-affirming song and best heard at the start of the second drink of the night.

26. Jerkcurb – Air Con Eden (NEW ENTRY)

Someone asked me who this was by when I was working in the bookshop last week. After three attempts, I decided to write it down just as Basil Fawlty does for horrid guest Bernard Cribbins in The Hotel Inspectors. (What DOES Cribbins want with that table-tennis table?) The major difference was the fellow who asked about my impeccable music taste was a thoroughly nice fellow (but he didn’t buy anything, the freeloading bastard), but ‘Jerkcurb’ just wasn’t going to work orally or aurally. It reminded me of forty years ago when my father (God rest his soul) asked the teenage me who the artist was who was performing Complex on Top of the Pops, and after three attempts of telling him who it was (and him pulling faces as if I were speaking Bulgarian), I shouted “IT’S GARY FUCKING NUMAN!”.

His quiet reply of “Oh, I thought it was,” indicated that he’d been yanking my chain all along and was a valuable lesson in parenting that I immediately forgot.

Anyway, Mr so-called Jerkcurb, get a new name. Jacob Read’s (for it is he) Air Con Eden is a fabulous song, which drifts away into the nebula of your subconsciousness and stays there, making your life feel that little better with every recall.

From: London
Album: Air Con Eden
Sounds Like: Richard Hawley; Vinyl Williams; The Holy Other

25. Gold Celeste – Juggernauts (NEW ENTRY)

If you ever arrive at a hotel feeling exhausted or traumatised after a nightmare journey of horror and violence and completely f***ing horrible, ‘Brexit means Brexit!’, stinky-arsed, Joe Public ‘commuters’ (pretty much every rail journey these days), lie back on those nice white sheets, throw out your arms in a Jesus-giving-out-the-beatitudes gesture and drift away to Gold Celeste’s Juggernauts.

If you can get your partner to go down to the bar – or if you’re rich enough to order room service – order yourself a crushed ice vodka martini and repeat.

Bliss.

From: Norway
Album: The Gentle Maverick
Sounds like: Tame Impala; the opening bars of New Muzik’s World of Water!

24. The Soft Cavalry – Dive (NEW ENTRY)

The side-project of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Steve Clarke, The Soft Cavalry’s eponymous album was one of the best of 2019. Lovely psychedelic dreampop recalling Liverpool’s Shack and Professor Yaffle, you’ll be enchanted by this absolutely gorgeous single (if you haven’t been already).

From: Reading
Album: The Soft Cavalry
Sounds like: the two aforementioned Liverpool space cadets, but also I was getting a soupcon of Duran Duran’s Skin Trade and Racing Car’s seminal 1975 classic They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (Sorry, I’m turning into 90s go-to wine expert Jilly Goolden here, and ‘seminal’ should only be used in a GUM or infertility clinic)

23. Tamaryn – Angels of Sweat (Position in Summer: 40)

What I Said Then….

An absolutely mesmerising performer – especially when you’re in a tiny venue on a Tuesday night in Manchester. Tamaryn Brown will be a big star. Angels of Sweat is terrific and easily the standout track of a more than decent album. Have a listen to the last (terrible) Bond theme tune and imagine Angels of Sweat across those not-as-sexist-as-they-used-to be credits instead of Sam Smith.

They might have to change the title of the film, mind.

Album: Dreaming the Dark
From: New Zealand

Sounds like: The Trailer Trash Tracys

New thoughts: Even better than I remembered!

22. Peggy Sue – Motorcade (NEW ENTRY)

So many great female bands. As I’ve said before, all-male bands (with some obvious exceptions) rarely interest me these days, and Peggy Sue are just…great. Twangy guitars, joyous harmonies and counter harmonies and an absolutely ace chorus make Motorcade (a nod to Howard Devoto’s genius group, perhaps?) one of my favourite records of the last few months.

From: Brighton (so many great bands)
Album: Vices
Sounds like: Goat Girl; Big Moon

21. Tame Impala – Patience (Position in Summer: 44)

What I Said Then….

Nothing new – sonically speaking – but more of the same (it’s been five years since their last single) is always welcome. Kevin Parker continues to delight and make the world an even more beautiful place in equal measures.

It’s like the soundtrack to your happiest dream:

Has it really been that long?
Did I count the days wrong?
Did we just go ‘round and ‘round
All the way to step one? 

Australia’s finest.

Album: Yet to be released (The Slow Rush – TBR 2020)
From: Perth
Sounds a bit like: It’s Tame Impala!

New thoughts: Been reading a lot of criticism about Kev and his Tame Impalas. Eff off! He’s ace!

20. Sundara Karma – Greenhands (Position in Summer: 5)

What I Said Then….

Regular readers will be aware that we’re all just a little bit fanatical about David Bowie at We Are Cult, and I’ve never really thought about it, but there are so very few bands or acts who have ever sounded like the man himself. Everybody was influenced by him – and Gary Numan was accused of stealing one of his personas – but soundalikes?

Enter Reading’s Sundara Karma. Singer Oscar ‘Lulu’ Pollock sounds remarkably like DB on this track, and this track sounds remarkably like the brilliant Teenage Wildlife from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.

Normally such ‘homage-ing’ would put me in a nark all day, but not this time: Greenhands is effing marvellous!

For David Bowie fans everywhere.

From: Reading
Album: Ulfilas’ Alphabet
Sounds like: David Bowie!

19. Little Simz (featuring Cleo Sol) – Selfish (Position in Summer: 18)

What I Said Then…

Beautiful British nu soul/hip-hop from a massively talented artist. Just let it wash all over you.

From: London
Album: Grey Area
Sounds like: Crown Height Affair meets L’il Kim.

New thoughts: A Jools regular and a star of this year’s Glastonbury, without a doubt

18. Melby – VCR (Position in Summer: 10)

What I Said Then…..

“Have we got a video?”

“Yes – WE’VE GOT A VIDEO!”

This is just gorgeous – floaty, hypnotic, Scandinavian dreampop from another mega-talented bunch of pesky kids – and a prime example of why it’s important to keep an ear out for new music.

I’ve got nothing against people following the same artists from their youth – it’s only music after all. I do my best to seek out new music, but there are any number of old bastards I’ve seen over the past year, and such ageing rockers and synth heroes  are still heroically ploughing their lonely furrows to (as Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith would put it) ever-selective audiences. Original punk Vic Godard’s latest gig was just superb for example. But I draw the line at cabaret and heritage tours, and the day I pay sixty to a hundred pounds plus to stand in a giant crush at some enormodome in order to furnish the pension and lifestyle of some had-his-day/now just f*** off ex-pop star is the day I give up the ghost and get my Llandudno tattoo laser-removed.

Anyway, Melby.

Superb.

From: Stockholm
EP: None of This Makes Me Worry
Sounds like: You can sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or Robin the Frog’s plaintive Halfway Up the Stairs to the opening bars, but Matilda Wietzel’s vocals kept reminding me of an even more melodic Nico.

New thoughts: The third-most* enquired about song in the bookshop over the past few months:

“What’s this, mate?”
“Beautiful”

*2. Kiefer; 1. Weyes Blood

17. Golden Daze – Took a Fall (Position in Summer: 8)

I could imagine listening to Ben Schwab’s and Jacob Loeb’s beautiful ode to love and friendship in an immersion tank and it just vaporising every worry, pain and sad thought into the spirit world.

Almost ethereal and the song will give you hope that the slide guitar can be used for good as well as evil.

A gorgeous ‘record’.

From: Los Angeles
Album: Simpatico
Sounds like: Alessi’s Oh Lori* rewritten in 2019

*Terry Hall spoke about how much he genuinely loved this song and that it wasn’t a guilty pleasure. It almost validated an argument I’ve been having for forty-two years.

16. Dry Cleaners – Sit Down Meal (NEW ENTRY)

Just effing marvellous and the best song about mental illness and the terrible post-traumatic stress of a relationship break up I’ve heard in years. Over a Sonic Youth style, drum/bass opening, singer Florence Shaw deadpans:

Wish I had a sit-down meal
Sometimes I get numb arms in bed
You’re nothing but a fragrance to me now…

And the same thought recurs again and again, only broken up with snatches of strange, greetings card-style words and phrases.

Lovely big crunchy guitars underpin this brilliant, disconcerting track (from a superb EP) and I can’t wait to see them in February

From: London
EP: Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks
Sounds like: the song recalls the call and response opening of Sonic Youth’s Teenage Riot, but it’s defiantly its own thing.

15. Alice Hubble – Goddess (Position in Summer: 31)

What I Said Then…

More analogue synth magic. Alice Hubley’s (Cosines/Arthur and Martha) solo project will inveigle its way into depths of your mind and one day you’ll hear it calling out to you at the most unlikely of moments. A spectral masterpiece.

From: London
Album: Polarlichter
Sounds like: Joy Division’s Atmosphere, but you can definitely sing a slowed down version of the Pistols’ Rock and Roll Swindle to the opening chords.

New thoughts: I was lucky enough to see Alice’s first-ever solo gig (see main article pic above) this tear – it was absolutely tremendous. Polarlichter is a great album.

14. Anderson .Paak (featuring Smokey Robinson) – Make it Better (Position in Summer: 48)

What I Said Then…

Hard to pick my track from the brilliant Ventura album; I had Come Home, Yada Yada and Good Heels before settling on Make It Better.

Flawless r and b from a massive star of the future – and good to see Smokey* back in the musical public eye. Just wonderful.

*Robinson – and not Bradford’s finest. Not that there’s anything (owt) wrong with (‘wi) Smokie. Chris Norman is Vladimir Putin’s favourite singer and if you go round Germany or most of Eastern Europe, you’ll know that Smokie are HUUUUGE!

Album: Ventura
From: Oxnard, California

Sounds a bit like: whoever he feels like – Prince, Marvin Gaye, Kanye West.

New thoughts: Great song; great album – nothing’s changed.

13. Strawberry Guy – Birch Tree (NEW ENTRY)

The Orielles’ keyboards man Alex Stephens branched out (I really need to look at the titles again before writing this stuff) with a quite beautiful EP of lush and heartfelt dreampop this year in his debut recording Taking My Time to Be.

I doubt if even Alex himself imagined the results to be so good and Birch Tree was a deserved 6 Music favourite this autumn.

From: Liverpool via South Liverpool
Album: Taking My Time to Be
Sounds like: Classic dreampop/Beach House with hints of Aztec Camera’s Somewhere in My Heart in the chorus.

12. Stella Donnelly – Mosquito (Position in Summer: 7)

What I Said Then…

This year’s fifty is an Australian takeover. Stella Donnelly is quite the most engaging and also the funniest performer I’ve seen all year. And has the voice of an angel.

Beware of the Dogs is a fabulous album and Stella charmed the collective pants off an appreciative crowd in Manchester this year – so much so that my lovely partner fainted in the heat. (A big thanks to the smashing boys and girls in the crowd who helped out and particularly the wonderful staff at Yes in Manchester who were unbelievably kind and caring* that night.)

Mosquito is charming, playful love song:

‘Cause you’re a pretty light
And I’m so attracted to ya
A malaria mosquito
Buzzing in the shadow
Your name is up in lights
And baby you deserve it
I wanna bring you cake back home from work
But you’re allergic

But it also contains the lines:

I got sick of waiting
Tuesday afternoon
K Line sea containers
Thunder past my room
I use my vibrator
Wishing it was you

Which I thought, ‘Aye, Aye – a bit rude’, but it’s sung in such a plaintive little way that like Father Ted you also think: “Well, that’s the modern world for you!”

On stage Stella told a story about her mother being shocked when she heard these lines, but then added that she shouldn’t have been shocked because the item in question was actually a family heirloom – and had been handed down by ‘Grandma’!

A star of the future without a doubt and she will be wowing festivals throughout the summer.

*I remember the old days when security staff used to just kick your head in and get on with it.

From: Perth
Album: Beware of the Dogs
Sounds like: herself!

New thoughts: Stella was a big hit on the festival circuit in 2019. I must remember not to  leave this song on the playlist when I’m working with the general public!

11. Jane Church – Bleed (Position in Summer: 49)

What I Said Then….

When I first saw the name, I immediately thought of Jane Crouch, the fearsome boxer from the nineties, but like Linda Guilala, Jane Church is a band rather than an individual and the brainchild of New Yorker Matthew Stevenson.

Bleed is ace, oddball catchy New York pop and has the weirdest opening lines of any song in the fifty:

Human population is irrelevant
To a child born without a face

And after such apparent randomness (it’s never explained), the song rattles long in a jolly fashion and at a merry old synthesised pace before telling us:

I could be on a train to Paris
Or drunk out in the streets of Volgograd
There’s no knowing where my life may end
Please don’t put me in a plastic bag 

Which I’m pretty sure is a fate none of us would relish.

Bleed’s parent album Calomocho Molitov is pretty impressive as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing young Matthew’s band up close and personal in the UK before the year is out.

Album: Calimocho Molotov
From: New York

Sounds a bit like: nobody, really – quite a one-off sound.

New thoughts: Even better than I remembered!

10. Soak – Knock Me Off My Feet (Position in Summer: 6)

What I Said Then….

Great song. Great live. Great hair.

From: Derry
Album: Grim Town
Sounds like: nobody else on Earth

New thoughts: It was really disconcerting to realise that tiny little Soak looks remarkably like my giant, heavily-tattooed, RAF-serving, Afghanistan veteran nephew. You’ll have to take my word on that, I know, but the realisation enlivened an already great gig back in May.

9. Pixx – Andean Condor (Position in Summer: 25)

Pixx is 21 years old Hannah Rodgers’ sobriquet. Andean Condor is terrific – the analogue synth’s welcome comeback continues apace, and young Hannah is in the vanguard of a legion of new British artists who are quite frighteningly good.

Her album Small Mercies (named after a WH Auden* poem) is promising and another example of how the 4AD label has long been the soundtrack of my life.

Good old Ivo!

From: London
Album: Small Mercies
Sounds like: an Italo disco song I half-remember from the eighties – it’ll come to me eventually. (The year 2037, I reckon.)

*Possibly the wrinkliest of all British poets. Honestly, look him up – his wrinkles are sensational.

New thoughts: Pixx cancelled her micro-gig at Liverpool’s tremendous small venue Phase One back in November (for a more lucrative offer), but I’ve just about forgiven her because this song is so brilliant.

8. Kiefer10,000 (NEW ENTRY)

Jazz. I know. And a lovely mesh of electric piano and synth for the most hypnotic record of the year. Kiefer has lent his talents to Anderson. Park and others over the past year, but found the time to produce of the great albums of the year.
You’ll be hearing this track in your dreams.

From: San Diego
Album: Superbloom
Sounds like: The Vince Guaraldi Trio!

7. Business of Dreams – Chasing That Feeling (Position in Summer: 5)

What I Said Then…

Ex-Magic Bullets frontman Corey Cunningham has always delighted in all manner of bright jangly guitar pop songs. Chasing That Feeling is the sound of the best summer you ever had (even though it was released in January) and is the work of a near pop genius.

A brilliant pop song.

Album – Ripe for Anarchy
From: San Francisco

Sounds like: Brilliantly – The The’s Uncertain Smile; shamefully – Dire Straits’ So Far Away

New thoughts: Effing tremendous – get it into your lives!

6. Rose Hotel – Write Home (Position in Summer; 24)

What I Said Then…

The second Atlanta band in The Fifty. Almost the essence of dreampop – a really beautiful song with sad, siren vocals, chiming guitars, and a distant, heart-breaking trumpet solo in a very lovely musical mix.

Outstanding.

From: Atlanta, Georgia
Album: I Will Only Come When It’s A Yes
Sounds Like: Distant yearning from another planet.

New thoughts: Exactly what I thought in summer – only more so. A genuine classic from the hinterlands of pop, and if the biz wasn’t spraying its media shorts over the likes of Sheeran and Capaldi, this would be the love song of a million lovers worldwide.

5. No-Man – Love You To Bits (NEW ENTRY)

Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson have been around forever but are still coming up with the goods (whatever that might mean – Vol. 263b). Love You to Bits is a track taken from the album of the same name, with side A being taken up with Love You to Bits (tracks 1-5) and side B consisting of the five tracks of Love You to Pieces. Bit 5 is wonderful: motorik synths, urgent vocals and a brilliant trumpet coda.

Who could ask for more?

From: London
Album: Love You To Bits/Love You To Pieces
Sounds like: 7 Hurtz; The Beloved.

4. Rozi Plain – Dark Park (NEW ENTRY)

An absolutely stunning record. Dark Park is one of those songs and production that just creep into your consciousness and then there’s the eureka moment when you recognise that at some stage you’ve listened to something quite brilliant and (thanks to modern technology) you can seek it out almost immediately. There are echoes of Broadcast in this plaintive (didn’t mean that half-pun, but it’ll just have to say there), particularly their amazing, but melancholy-inducing siren-call Echo’s Answer.
A major talent emerges.

From: Winchester
Album: What a Boost
Sounds like: Broadcast

3. International Teachers of Pop – After Dark (Position in Summer: 3)

What I Said Then…

Singer Leonore Wheatley joined Moonlandingz Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer to produce an album of spellbinding old school analogue synth pop back in February. There are shades of fellow Sheffield legends The Human League in this fabulous electrodance single. A spellbinding live act and I was well impressed with band singer’s Katie’s choice of Aldi’s own Jesse James pale ale as her thirst-quenching rider when I saw them perform live at Jayne Casey’s District club back in February!

From: Sheffield
Album: International Teachers of Pop
Sounds like: Ladytron/The Human League

2. Shura – The Stage (NEW ENTRY)

Superb, electronic synth pop from Manchester’s Alexandra Denton. From the wonderful Forevher album (and after a three-year hiatus following Nothing Real) – at one, ahem, stage, this track was my favourite song of the year.
Stunning modern pop.

Shura will be massive in 2020.

From: Manchester
Album: Forevher
Sounds like: Madison Beer/Donna Summer/Lyndsey DePaul(!)

1. Penelope Isles – Chlorine (Position in Summer: 1)

What I Said Then…

Some tracks just make you fall in love with guitar music all over again.

There are so many brilliant bands from Brighton at the moment – Squid and Our Girl are both wonderful, but my favourite South Coast record – and song of the year so far – is this fabulous, hypnotic, beautifully melancholic track.

I’m going to have to wait six months to see them (in Halifax, West Yorkshire gig-going fans), but until then I’ll be listening to upcoming album Until the Tide Creeps in.

If it’s anywhere near as good as Chlorine, it’ll be worth the wait.

A stunning song from a great young band.

From: Brighton
Album: Until the Tide Creeps In
Sounds like: if poet Stevie Smith could have played guitar

New thoughts: I made that pilgrimage to Halifax to see the band playing a tiny venue called the Lantern at the start of December. I felt a tiny tear of joy welling up when they played this song. A worthy number one!

 

So another great year of music, and of course if you don’t like the list, you can either compile your own, or – like the mysterious Cilla and David Cassidy fans – send me veiled threats of violence and personal dismemberment via the We Are Cult comments section. I’m nails, me!

See you in summer.


❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Stephen Porter has written for Esquire, Backpass and a host of other publications.

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