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[1] Mariah Carey featuring Miguel, ‘#Beautiful’

December 20, 2013

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“featuring Miguel”. Oh come on, Mariah, this is Miguel’s song and it’s just perfect. As soppy as a Dean Friedman ballad but a lesson in studied easiness, with Miguel and Carey concentrating on warmth rather than fire as a Stax-y guitar lick rolls beneath them and sunkissed percussion strokes their, um, cheeks. That hashtag’s oh-so modern, isn’t it, kids, but the rest is as trad as an arr. No, I don’t know what a bad folk joke’s doing here.

Best bit? “Let the moonlight…” sounds like the record’s jumped but Miguel’s as unhurried and on point as the great soul man he promises to be. He and Carey slips a summer’s romance into a sliver of a song.

Junior 3 keeps singing, “To me, to me, to me…” like a one-girl Chuckle Brothers. Junior just approves.

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[2] Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams, ‘Get Lucky’

December 20, 2013

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Junior reckons she’s heard this 30 times. Generously, she still likes it. Junior 2 sings along as she plays a game on her multimedia camera thing and Junior 3 joins in too, dancing and raising her eyebrows on the high notes. As for me, I think I can just post the original draft of my Track of the Year piece for NME, weaving a cunning web of deceit that makes this entry look chunky rather than lazy:

On 12 July 1979, Chicago’s Comiskey Park hosted its very own disco inferno. Prompted by shock jock Steve Dahl, thousands of baseball fans brought disco records to a game between Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers that would climax with a bonfire of this abominable vinyl. The prank did terrible damage to the pitch of course, but it also cemented a notion of disco as the enemy of rock, even tracing an unwanted line in the sand between white and black pop music, as hundreds of twerps tried to consign it to the incinerator of history.

But, like the legend of the phoenix, something was stirring in the ashes. The next decade would see disco cede to hip-hop, then electro, Detroit techno and the rebirth of soul as the salient expression of black culture, but you can’t keep a good rhythm down. And Nile Rodgers, the king of Studio 54, never really went away.

It was Rodgers who first alerted us to ‘Get Lucky’, airily announcing he was working with Daft Punk and then sitting back and watching the internet explode. Chic meets Daft Punk? Have you ever imagined something so ineffably right? Helmets on billboards and teased seconds of the track in a Saturday Night Live ad break were enough to get juices flowing, but it was the sudden arrival of images on the Coachella screens that beckoned meltdown. Suddenly we had confirmation that Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Pharrell Williams and Rodgers were all united over the same clipped riff, decades of perfect dance music and R&B distilled into one luscious brew. And when the real deal supplanted all those loops and fake tracks that had swamped YouTube and Soundcloud, the excitement could have powered cities. No one was listening to anything else.

Why would you? This was a liquid groove, a silky vocal – punctuated by the sort of Jacko hiccups Benjamin Diamond had attempted on an earlier Bangalter production, Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ – robotic breakdowns, cut-glass guitar and a randy hook that insinuated itself into every cell of the brain. Disco was reborn and remembering its primary function – making people dance, making people happy. Burn, baby, burn.

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[3] Vampire Weekend, ‘Unbelievers’

December 20, 2013

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“Vampire Weekend!” shouts the three-year-old as the accordion flares up, and everything seems worthwhile. There are more glorious moments on album of the year Modern Vampires Of The City – the honky-tonk piano on ‘Hannah Hunt’, the key change on ‘Ya Hey’, the vocodered breakdown on ‘Diane Young’ – but ‘Unbelievers’ is the song we’ve sung together all year, belting out the wildly progressive (for three- to eight-year-olds) thinkpiece lyrics, just because it’s all so joyously catchy.

So I can pretend this is the essence of Jukebox Junior, songs chosen by pan-generational committee. But really I’ve forced it down their throats, haven’t I?

[Here's a bit more on VW and sticking with it]

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[4] Arcade Fire, ‘Reflektor’

December 20, 2013

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Speaking of misunderstood albums…

No, this is ‘Reflektor’ the track, the epic they had to come back with once James Murphy was in the room. Maybe a three-minute pop song would’ve been a more radical statement, but as soon as they all got together you imagine they wanted to show everything they could do. Absolutely everything. Junior is fascinated by Regine Chassagne singing in French, but the moment belongs to Junior’s mum who wins the Spot David Bowie game. It’s not just his signature baritone; it’s the point at which a pretty smart kinetic groove turns on the trombone-honking thrills to confirm this is more than just the Lo-Fidelity Allstars rebooted. Which counts as a compliment in 2013.

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[5] Laura Mvula, ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’

December 20, 2013

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Laura Mvula’s debut album is extraordinary, but so are the reactions to it. I suspect those deriding her as “new boring” etc haven’t actually listened to the thing – or took the relatively safe jazz stylings of upfront single ‘Green Garden’ to be typical of the whole – because I can’t fathom how you couldn’t come away from Sing To The Moon without your life in some way enhanced. It’s hard to pinpoint what Mvula is, and perhaps that’s led critics towards the easy way out. What she does is take everything she might be – classically trained composer, jazz musician, soul belter, psych poet, pop stylist, gospel singer – and creates something, someone new, who might have touches of Nina Simone or Minnie Riperton about her but equally seems to have accepted a few stone tablets from Brian Wilson. So, yeah, new with old components.

“This is Laura Mvula,” I say. “I know,” replies Junior who likes the chorus that turns out to be a kind of middle eight. Junior 2 nods, Junior 3 sings “Is there anybody out there?” over and over as if she’s trying to help Mvula find someone who understands. In turns stately and ecstatic, this is one of the year’s heart-stopping tunes.

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[6] Disclosure featuring AlunaGeorge, ‘White Noise’

December 20, 2013

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It’s the default dance single of the year!

Of course it’s entirely, undeniably addictive but I can never get Alex Party out of my head when I hear it. Which I guess adds up to a bonus.

Here are your cut-out-and-keep reactions:

Junior: “I know this. It’s ‘White Noise’.”
Junior 2: “I know this and I like it.” She sings along.
Junior 3 starts drumming in time then unveils a complex fish-hands dance. The vertical fish.

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[7] Justin Timberlake, ‘Mirrors’

December 17, 2013

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Once you’ve got over the initial disappointment that the intro doesn’t lead into a Steve Winwood 80s CD-rock wad-waver, you’ll find ‘Mirrors’ is soppy R&B at its crunchiest, capturing my girls hearts as they “Uh-oh” and clap hands right up until the fifth minute, when it starts to feel like Timberlake’s bent on soundtracking his entire six-year absence in real time.

The first few minutes is about as tight a pop song as he’s delivered this year, in a comeback that’s otherwise designed to make Arcade Fire’s Reflektor feel like a masterclass in 60s beat-group concision. I can’t get too het up about these grossly indulgent records when they’re creaking with ideas – and The 20/20 Experience is, some ordinary, some inspired. It’s better than heaving your sorry bones all the way to track 14 on an immaculately presented, identikit One Direction album. Everyone could use an editor, but some editors’ jobs are easier than most.

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[8] Kanye West, ‘Bound 2′

December 17, 2013

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I think you can imagine how much of this I played. “Uh huh honey,” parrot Juniors 1 and 2 because that’s about all they heard – that, and a bit of Charlie Wilson. Anyway, they like “Uh huh honey”.

This cut-and-shut brainstorm proves the adaptability of the Yeezus template – Noise plus lunacy doesn’t necessarily equal aggression. Kanye West has found a way to engage with every notion, sonic or lyrical, that pours out of his twisted cranium, making an album that’s stupendously exciting whether he’s belting out nonsense over Daft Punk drones or softening up over his beloved sped-up soul. It’s the first time one of his records has actually matched the contents of his head. We knew it was a maelstrom in there, we just weren’t sure of its scale.

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[9] Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell, ‘Blurred Lines’

December 16, 2013

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Junior: “Uh-huh”
Junior 2: “You’re a good giiiiirl”
Junior 3: “Hey hey hey”

In this forum we can tap into the real strength of ‘Blurred Lines’ as an unspeakably catchy bit of nonsense. If the girls had the first clue what Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell are drooling on about I might be a little more unsettled, but they only pick up on the ticks and hooks and there’s no need for them to watch the trio doing their bellends down Ritzy’s act in the video.

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[10] Haim, ‘Falling’

December 16, 2013

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“We were pretending to be them,” says Junior and she’s right. Look, I’ve got three daughters, I can be a Mr Haim or Mathew Knowles too – the kindly Svengali putting his daughters on the stage, Mrs Worthington, and supplementing his pension. That Junior and her sisters attempt to be Haim with a plastic microphone, plastic keyboard (set to ‘Jingle Bells’) and a plastic guitar (with a dozen pre-programmed riffs) is neither here nor there. You have to start somewhere.

Everyone yaps on about Fleetwood Mac when they talk Haim – possibly subliminally influenced by their vicious ‘Oh Well’ cover – but they’re three Sophie B Hawkinses, aren’t they, peddling catchy pop with a gung-ho rock touch. ‘Falling’ has a dexterous earworm chorus and half a dozen of the 139 “I know”s peppered across Days Are Gone, and the top two Juniors sing as much as they can keep up with. Now, major labels, you know where I am.

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