[1] Frank Ocean, ‘Ivy’


The best song wasn’t the single. Takes me back to those blurred boundaries I dithered around back at No.20, because, essentially, I was just seeding this. I could’ve called this 2016 Top 20 Tracks, but singles are magical and if ‘Ivy’ can get Pitchfork’s Best New Music (i.e. be picked out of an album for promo) then that’s basically a single, isn’t it? These days. These new-fangled days.

Now I’m kicking myself for not making Joanna Newsom’s ‘Good Intentions Paving Co.’ the best single of 2010. Or ever.

‘Ivy’ is the best track, single, song of the year because Frank Ocean’s a storyteller with his heart out front, the guitar sounds like Ultra Vivid Scene, there’s no beat, there’s a tale that pulls you into its subversion of guilt and regret, he uses his range to hammer home shifting feeling from the “GOOD!” that desperately affirms everything’s OK to the screaming “dreaming” and the plaintive “me too” in between. He’s an extraordinary performer who makes the assumption you’re in his world – and you are, you’re invested in it.

I mean, take this: as soon as Ocean sings, “I thought that I was dreaming…”, Junior 2 snores. She’s in his hands from the first second (or taking the piss). “I’ve heard it,” she says. “He has a cute voice. It’s very impressive that he’s telling a story.” We talk about Rostam Batmanglij, who’s involved somewhere – the girls are big Vampire Weekend fans. Junior’s worried Frank and Rostam’s diaries won’t coincide enough for them to do it on tour. “They’ll have to bring someone else on.”

“I like the screaming now,” says Junior 3. She then does the “dreaming” screaming until told to shut up.

As we wrap up, as the final scream warps itself away, Junior 2 has a question. It’s a big one. “What’s he going to do now?”

Whittle a nest of tables, probably.

[2] Hiss Golden Messenger, ‘Biloxi’


My third daughter has a habit whenever I put on a record she doesn’t know. I’d say she tries to identify the artist, but really she just asks, “Is it Bob Dylan?”

I mean, this almost is. MC Taylor has that winning duck-quack whine and a fairly oblique way with a story, and ‘Biloxi’ rolls like a stone. My iPod reckons I’ve played it 40 times this year, so it just keeps on rolling too. It also takes me back to the days when I wore thrift shop 70s stoner clothes and got into The Black Crowes in a big way, 20-plus years ago, because they knew a groove as well, knew that rock wasn’t just about the headlong headbash, that it benefited from country and soul injections to be its best self. HGM start from a different point but end up in a similar louche, welcoming spot.

Junior 2’s impressed anyway. “Good voice! Have you had an interview with him?” I guess she hopes I’ve felt the full breadth of that voice. I once tried to interview someone with Junior 3 in the room. I think she asked more questions than I did.

“He’s got a funny voice,” reckons Junior, contrarily. She and 3 do impressions, not altogether kind ones either. Then she’s on the air guitar. Final thoughts?

Junior 2: “He sounds like a cowboy.”
Junior: “Yeah.”
Junior 3: “Yeah.”

[3] The 1975, ‘Somebody Else’


I was there when the Popjustice judges shoved this into second place behind… Christ, I can’t remember what won. It wasn’t this. Some things are too beautiful to succeed.

If any fellow music journalists are reading, they’ll like this: I never bought or owned the first 1975 album in any way; I just used to dip into PlayMPE every now and then and listen to it. So, obviously I never heard the whole record. Trying to listen to I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It is even more of a challenge, because its playing length actually exceeds its title. Still, worth it in the end, whatever age you end up.

“I like the rhythm,” says Junior 2. “Yeah, the beat,” clarifies big sis. Junior 2’s thinking now: “Is it the man with the curly hair?” Yes, it is. They, like everyone else, were very taken with The 1975’s Glastonbury performance (on the telly; I’m not a madman), providing raw proof that this is a band breaking through everywhere to mass cross-generational, and cross-taste, effect. ‘Somebody Else’ is simply gorgeous, straddling some unconsidered line between FM Radio 70s pop and Balearic house, and doing it while addressing an impulse we all recognise but are never particularly proud of. If you get me. By Jove, they’re going to be so huge.

[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.