Monday, January 03, 2005

The In League With Paton Singles Of The Year 2004

The single format may well be dying – but, not usually being that regular a single purchaser, I actually picked up more singles this year than in the past couple of years. Here are some of my favourites….

1) TV On The Radio – New Health Rock EP

A bit of a bonus for fans of this band’s audacious polyglot sound – two tracks not included on the debut album, plus the jazz-inflected madness of ‘The Wrong Way’, one of the album’s real highlights. On the title track, they further their pursuit of excellence with vigour, with inventive production and inspired vocal arrangements.

2) Fiery Furnaces – Single Again

Not on the ‘Blueberry Boat’ album – and, indeed, it’s hard to see how a song this structurally simple could have found a place on that maverick work. Simple this song may be – but it’s still a delight – tinged with irony and malice, and utterly infectious.

3) Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out

Derivative maybe – but sprightly, hook-laden and irresistible as well. Looking arty and smart, Franz Ferdinand were a breath of fresh air at the start of 2004, even if they ended it being a bit too ubiquitous for their own good. It’s hard to see where they can take this sound now – especially when this seems to be the perfect three minute encapsulation of their ethos.

4) Morrissey – First Of The Gang To Die

Irish Blood, English Heart may have been the bold returning statement – but this was marginally the better song, romanticising criminality as only Morrissey can, with some crunchy guitar riffing and a stadium-filling singalong chorus. Fantastic.

5) The Libertines – Can’t Stand Me Now

Don’t believe the hype – except that it’s all laid out in this wonderful single – the fraught tension between Pete Doherty and Carl Barat is played out here with disarming honesty (or, if you’re more cynical, is perfectly mythologised for a big audience), but also with a deftly humorous touch. The duelling guitars, still seemingly as much influenced by Chuck Berry as The Jam sound fantastic, and the rhythm section lends this a relentless driving pulse.

6) J Kwon – Tipsy

What a track! Made of not much more than a drum beat and some squelchy synth beats – over which J Kwon delivers silly rhymes about a club party. That such bare simplicity works is inspiring (it’s so easy to make a record these days), and this was the party tune of the year.

7) Destiny’s Child – Lose My Breath

Many people were left disappointed by the Destiny’s Fulfilled album, with its soppy ballad template – but clearly Destiny’s Child have never been an album band. This ranks with their best singles, with its military march drum beat and razor sharp keyboard stabs sounding brilliantly futuristic. It’s also superbly dirty, which is a bonus.

8) Scout Niblett – Uptown Top Ranking

A brilliant reworking of a classic reggae party anthem, morphing into something more mournful and lingering. Scout Niblett’s voice is alternately delicate and harsh, and the stripped back sound lends this recording a distinctive intimacy.

9) Kelis ft. Andre 3000 – Millionaire

A superb piece of electronic music that can’t really be categorised within the current R&B/hip hop conventions.

10) Hot Chip – Down With Prince EP

Proving that they have numerous tricks up their sleeve, Hot Chip released a whole EP characterised by their inventive take on lo-fi DIY recording and self-mocking humour. The title track bemoaned the constant namedropping of Prince from ignorant celebs, whilst The Ass Attack gave plenty of detail on one of Joe Goddard’s biggest passions (eating), with some outrageous rhyming to boot.

11) Outkast – Ghettomusick/Prototype

They continued to milk the Speakerboxx/Love Below goldmine for the entire year, and who could complain when double A sides as brilliant as this were the result? One side was the most audacious track on the whole double set, cluttered, frantic and somehow making weird sense. The other was a slow burning futurist love ballad from Andre 3000.

12) Brooks – Do The Math

Brillaint hi-NRG disco house, with some silky smooth vocals adding to the seductive pulse of its chorus.

13) Modest Mouse – Float On

In it’s own way as groovy as Franz Ferdinand, if perhaps slightly more abstruse, this was one of the surprise quirky hits of the year. With major label force behind them, it looked briefly like Modest Mouse were going to become massive in 2004. That wasn’t quite to be – but this was still their biggest hit by some distance, and in its punchy, crisp definition, deservedly so.

14) Aberfeldy – Heliopolis By Night

Indie-tastic! This brilliant tune relating a classic story of alien abduction was one of the most immediate and charming singles of 2004. Extremely catchy, and with girl backing vocals to die for.

15) Britney Spears – Toxic

The first of the ‘really, I’m not joking’ choices. In which Britney’s producers finally create a mechanical backing that suits her deconstructed, quasi-constipated vocal style and in the process – they create a genuinely intelligent, masterfully constructed slice of pop perfection. Sexy, edgy and impossible to ignore.

16) Hot Chip – Hittin’ Skittles/Back To The Future

Luddites meet The Ballad of Dorothy Parker in a scorching limited edition A-side from the bedroom funkers.

17) Morrissey – Irish Blood, English Heart

We couldn’t have hoped for a better comeback record – literate (except for the slight confusion of historical detail in the final verse), punchy, provocative and serious. One example of where the heightened production sense improved an already superb song.

18) Jamelia – See It In A Boy’s Eyes

Even with Coldplay on hiatus, Chris Martin still proved to be omnipresent in 2004. He penned the excruciatingly awful ‘Gravity’ for Embrace, and somehow managed to also compose this wonderful slice of pure pop heaven. With an electronic production sheen replacing the stolid, perfunctory performances of Coldplay or Embrace’s terminally turgid rhythm sections, Martin’s songwriting was at last brought to life. Add to this a sultry and nicely underplayed performance from Jamelia herself and you have one of the year’s very best pop songs.

19) Jay Z – 99 Problems

It sounded terrifying and apocalyptic and featured one of Jay Z’s most fearsomely eloquent rants.

20) Kelis – Milkshake

Infuriating, but utterly brilliant – this was almost taking the minimalist aesthetic of R&B to ridiculous extremes – but it worked, revitalising a career that looked dead in the water after the appalling sales figures of her last album.

21) Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – There She Goes My Beautiful World/ Breathless

Of all the superb double A sided singles of the year, this may have made for the most effective contrast. The full-on gospel rush of ‘There She Goes..’, with its deliciously witty lyrics, coupled neatly with the unrestrained romanticism of ‘Breathless’.

22) Kevin Mark Trail – Perspective

Could we now have a distinctively British take on R&B. As much influenced by classic Jamaican roots music as The Neptunes, former singer with The Streets Kevin Trail produced a fresh and distinctive debut that felt celebratory and expressive. There’s the bonus of a faithful Hot Chip remix as well.

23) REM – Leaving New York

What a shame that after so much promise on last year’s awesome tour, ‘Around The Sun’ turned out to be such a turgid album. At least it included a handful of gems, even though they were all taken at a snail’s pace. When I first heard this – I was not expecting it to be the best track on the album – but it is, and it’s also a considerable grower, taking time to weave its mournful, enticing magic. Buck’s arpeggiated guitar-work remains as potent as ever, above which Stipe conjures one of his more straightforward and affecting lyrics.

24) Prince – Cinnamon Girl

Prince’s first fully-fledged pop single for years, and it seems quite wrong that it didn’t even trouble the top 40. This took in the war on terror, amongst other contemporary issues, but threaded it through a nostalgic eighties production with a brilliant chorus.

25) Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out

Marvellous! A surefire hit with some of their silliest rhymes in ages – and the interplay between the three remains as quickfire and thrilling as ever.

26) McFly – That Girl

The ‘no, I’m really not joking’ choice number two. It seemed totally unfair that McFly were routinely dismissed as a mini-Busted. Sure, they were manufactured by the same management company and co-wrote their songs together, but the McFly sound seemed more in tune with the rich history of popular music (taking in rock n’ roll, early Beatles, surf guitar and a sanitised sprinkling of punk) and also a good deal more fun. Whilst Busted started to take themselves far too seriously, and began to sound brattish, obnoxious and even slightly misogynistic, McFly sounded naïve and effervescent, and had boundless energy. This was the best of their four singles – expertly produced and crafted by whoever does all the behind the scenes work, and with some wonderfully cheesy backing vocals. The youthful zest of the central narrative – boy sees unattainable girl, gets unattainable girl and loses her again, was a shameless reiteration of the great theme of throwaway pop.

27) Animal Collective – Who Could Win A Rabbit?

Probably the least commercial single in this list – this crazy slice of modern psychedelia threw in a whole range of ideas. It sounded ragged in the best possible way, with a confidence and audacity that belied the pop sensibilities underneath.

28) Mark Lanegan Band – Hit The City

Lanegan joins forces with PJ Harvey to craft a gritty, gutsy piece of overdriven blues-rock.

29) PJ Harvey – Shame

Stripped bare, but benefiting from one of Harvey’s subtle and impressive vocal delivery, this was a sensuous, minimal treat.

30) Charlotte Hatherley – Kim Wilde
I was guesting on a radio show in the week that this was released. First everyone looked at it and said – ‘Kim Wilde? She’s come back – but I thought she was a gardener now’. Are we getting too old? It wasn’t in fact a Kim Wilde record, nor did it really seem to have all that much to do with her – but it was a pleasant surprise. A solo record from Charlotte from Ash with infinitely more poise and ambition than her band have displayed over their last few albums, which have veered towards generic. By contrast, this is a stuttering stop-start, structurally baffling sugar rush of a single.

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