[4] Solange, ‘Cranes In The Sky’


“She definitely sounds like her sister,” Junior confirms. “I find it kind of good,” says Junior 3. “I like the echoing in the background,” says Junior 2. “When she sings, it echoes out.” If only NME still existed, they’d have some new hip young gunslingers.

It does echo out, away, away, away. Dear me, Solange has taken her time being appreciated as a voice of a generation. We were right there with ‘Sandcastle Disco’ (OK, we missed the first album, who didn’t?) and cheered her on as Dev Hynes dragged her beneath the commercial waterline. I mean, we weren’t enjoying the abject lack of success, we just liked the music. There’s no faulting Hynes’ anti-Midas touch though.

Now Solange is speaking up. A Seat At The Table is sharp and sure of itself, and ‘Cranes In The Sky’ is the Minnie Riperton comeback we’ve been waiting for.

[5] The xx, ‘On Hold’


This hasn’t really had the time to marinate, but what a song, drawing on the skills of all three. The songwriting, obviously, but also Romy and Oliver’s lush, hurt, soul-infused vocals and Jamie’s touch with a beat, a sample, a dynamic. The warped Hall & Oates snippet becomes something to look forward to, even while the song’s strong enough alone.

“I don’t blame you, Daddy,” says Junior 2, riffing on the lyric, but maybe there’s something deeper there. Maybe I’m off the hook for being late to the carol concert. It was the trains. Anyway, that’s just the start.

Junior 2: “It sounds like Strictly Come Dancing.”
Junior: “How?”
Junior 2: “They can dance to it.”

We move on.

Junior: “That’s the snare drum.”
Junior 3: “I need to wash my hands.”

[6] Ezra Furman, ‘Teddy I’m Ready’


“You feel ready?” “I’m ready.” “Well, you said that with some determination.” “I’m ready.” “OK, whenever you’re ready.”

Ezra Furman and Junior 3 are rock’n’rolling to this, a song that sounds like a trad 1950s rock’n’roll number but not like any you’ve ever heard, unless it’s by Benjy Ferree, who was also misplaced in time but never quite belonged here or there anyway. Modern production techniques, I guess: you get the feel but it’s much fatter. ‘Teddy I’m Ready”s cherry on top is the sax, which rarely gets to rock out like this these days. In second place is the use of “sarcastic” which prompts all the Juniors to try and make up more songs with the word. I can’t remember any of them. If I could, I’d be rich.

[7] Kevin Morby, ‘Dorothy’


A power-pop love song to a fuzz guitar called Dorothy. We’ve all written one. Well, I say “written one”. It’s only just occurred to me and the acoustic guitar in the corner hasn’t got a name, belongs to my wife and if it ever gets touched it’s to shift it out the way when I’m rearranging the office.

“This is jolly,” says Junior. “He’s very weird talking to his guitar.” Well, let’s not get bogged down with that. This is life-affirming, if only in the chunky, loose-limbed, rock’n’roll build that doles out a shot of adrenaline with every verse. It could be the best single of the year, mainly because once you (I) get to this point, it’s about doing the chess-piece thing with a bunch of songs you (I) love. Fine margins, but OK, the next six each have a little something extra. Let’s not undermine this whole thing just yet.

[8] The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk, ‘I Feel It Coming’


“I know this one,” says Junior. “I’ve heard it on Kiss.” Kiss is a massive influence in my house. Any time I’m anywhere near the radio I switch it to Radio 2 of course, but the four women I live with are Kiss-mad. I like to insult the hapless mixing on Kisstory. And the glaring fact they only have about four records.

Everyone’s singing ‘I Feel It Coming’, one of the few Abel Tesfaye songs I can actually play in earshot of the kids without going mad on the volume dial. Pity really. I can definitely do without the casual (and, regularly, proactive) misogyny, but, in texture, I rarely find him less than brilliant, a sonic aesthete with a fabulous voice.

Junior identifies Daft Punk. Wipe three or four (or five) songs from Random Access Memories and add this, and you’ll have an album as good as I claimed it was in a giddy first-listen NME blog. I won’t dig that out now.

[9] Christine And The Queens, ‘Tilted’


Like Billie Ray Martin performing ‘I Don’t Believe’ on Later… Héloïse Letissier’s insouciant dance moves feel more effective than meticulous, highly drilled choreography. It’s a slow revelation of emotion, a vulnerability, and here it actually sells records.

The tune probably helps. ‘Tilted”s lyrics are great enough, a kind of slight misunderstanding of language that’s infinitely more interesting than cliche, but it’s that synth riff that’s become one of the signature motifs of the year. It sounds like a claymation bird peeking out of its nest first thing in the morning, at the start of an episode that ends with it befriending the worm it sets out to catch. Doesn’t it?

Obviously, my daughters all love it when they’re not arguing over who gets to ice the biscuits they’ve just made. Time for a test though: where are Christine And The Queens from?

Junior 3: “Newcastle?”

[10] David Bowie, ‘Blackstar’


What the world doesn’t need right now is another essay on Bowie’s swansong, his career, his influence, his grace, his mystery, his stage-managed exit, what he’s meant to me, how I went from China Girl to this and through much in between but still found he could surprise me. What it does need, naturally, is a transcript of three girls, aged 11, 8 and 6, working out what this song is and what it means to them. Well, what a coincidence.

[Juniors 2 and 3 are singing all the “Villa of Ormen” stuff before they get to wondering what they’re listening to]
J2: “Who is it?”
J1: “I like this one.”
J2: “I think it’s David Bowie. David Bowie is the best.”
J3 [singing “I’m a Blackstar”]: “Is it called ‘Blackstar’?”
J1: “How long is this? Nine minutes?”
[J2 is singing all the words now, having sponged them up throughout the year]
J3: “David Bowie is in Labyrinth.”
J1: “I like how they change all the voices. It’s echoey.”

We can all move on now.

[11] Alex Cameron, ‘The Comeback’


I give the girls an intro for this one to shed some light, add a bit of context: “He’s a very strange Australian man.” “Cool,” says Junior. “He has a deep voice. Although all men have deep voices.” Eleven years. Eleven years I’ve spent force-feeding Bee Gees records to my kids and it’s all been for naught.

‘The Comeback’ reminds J2 of “chilling on the beach” and J3 of “flying”. It reminds me of a hyper-sleazy, washed-up Bryan Ferry trying to rekindle former, very lost glories. I don’t know who’s more right. It’s affecting; you want him to reconnect with his “show” because there’s still a trace of charisma in there and he may yet have the energy to exploit it. Right now I’m imagining Shakin’ Stevens doing a startling cover of it, limbs no longer quite under his command.

[12] Maria Usbeck ‘Moai Y Yo’


I’m only fluent in Spanish when I’m in Portugal, so Maria Usbeck’s lovely album Amparo passes me by, at least in meaning, but you know, I’ve always been hopeless with lyrics. I still haven’t nailed ‘Come On Eileen’ and I’ve played it 4,772 times since it blew my tiny mind on Top Of The Pops in the early summer of 1982. Those BBC4 repeats of the last few weeks have been a Proustian madeleine in so many ways, a synaptic assault of conflicting memories that have brought back seething recollections of my mum drawing the curtains while I was trying to record ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, and sadder ones of boarding school conjured by Chicago’s ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’. But let’s stick to the point.

‘Moai Y Yo’ flutters gorgeously, dreaming itself alive. Junior 3 says, “I don’t like it at all,’ but J2 has time for it, picking out the “smooth voice, nice tune”. In stark contrast, Junior herself is throwing a strop about tidying up, which doesn’t fit the mood in the slightest.

[13] Shura, ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’


This song; Grimes at her softest; that track I can’t remember the name of right now on the recent Ellie Goulding album – it’s a strain of tick-tocking, quivering, ultra-catchy electropop I find instantly loveable. Obviously it’s not hard to love the improbably great tunes that Shura and the rest fill that template with, but I’ve got an unusually low guard here. Possibly comes from having early Depeche Mode take me by the hand and guide me through my pop awakening. Or something less sinister and seedy than that.

Junior says she knows this and likes it, adding to the weight of forensic critique we tend to bring here. J2 is singing it all, lyric sponge that she is. J3 says, “I’m sure-a I know this,” revealing a hitherto untapped talent for tabloid headlines. A hit for Shura! That’d be nice.