[18] Gardens & Villa, ‘Fixations’

gardens-and-villa-15

In good news for The Go! Team, Junior thinks this should be 19 and Waxahatchee should be 20. In faint praise news for Gardens & Villa, she likes the end of this song, but she does manage a grin at the solo.

And in not sure if it’s good or bad news, she also reckons this is “a bit Beach Boys?” Hands up, that’s obviously why I like it. It’s also why I like Fixers, Miracle Fortress, Panda Bear, ad infinitum through the harmony glass.

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[13] Fixers, ‘Iron Deer Dream’

Fixers

The lyrics are no less rhyming-dictionary than Chris Martin’s worst un-excesses, but Fixers just seem to have better source material. Yeah, generally it’s The Beach Boys. “Waikiki” sounds a bit Beach Boys.

Only kidding. Absolutely everything about this sounds like The Beach Boys except for the bits that sound like Animal Collective trying to sound like The Beach Boys. All this is catnip to me. But it’s only at 13 because sometimes – particularly when I’m playing along on my air piano, like I did here – a dark thought will rear up that ‘Iron Deer Dream’ could be a good Scouting For Girls song. I know that’s a concept beyond natural brain patterns, but there it is. It’s out there.

With no such listening parameters or prejudices, Junior says she likes it. She likes “the noise”. We agree it’s quite dense, the inevitable result of splurging all your best choruses on one song.

Miracle Fortress, ‘Miscalculations’

Miracle Fortress

In Rainbows and Sound Of Silver were all well and good, but the best album of 2007 was, of course, Miracle Fortress’s Five Roses. The Canadian Prince Rogers Nelson – as no one has called him until now – Graham Van Pelt did it all himself, lovingly concocting a modern Beach Boys album set to shimmering bucolia (you know what I mean, sounds like a heat-hazed summer meadow) with, improbably, a devastating hook in every song. It was almost too perfect to sell. So it didn’t.

Four long years later, only endured by playing Five Roses at least once a week, Van Pelt is back with a new album Was I The Wave? that looks set to make a mockery of Adele’s chart feats. It’s a rather more electronic affair that I’ll be reviewing for millions of pounds in the next day or so, and ‘Miscalculations’ is the killer single. Actually, ‘Raw Spectacle”s the single – or “free download”, to give it its accurate title – but Van Pelt should see sense soon enough. You see, it had Junior doing a spontaneous hula dance which, as we’ve seen over the last five years, is the interpretive equivalent of holding up a card marked ‘Hit’. And about as successful as Jukebox Jury predictions ever were too. Hit!

[10] Arcade Fire, ‘We Used To Wait’

Arcade Fire

How good it was to see the return of Win Butler and his cheery “You spilled my pint and I will have my revenge by means of snide humiliation” countenance. Just when you think you might be overwhelmed by the bombastic brilliance of the occasional Arcade Fire anthem, there’s always time to remember what a boorish bunch of curmudgeons lurks behind the highs. Not you though, Regine, you seem nice. It’s Regine too who comes up with the high here, sustaining the chorus refrain as cuddly Win goes off on his tangent. Elsewhere, ‘We Used To Wait’ is rather trim for an epic, vamping hard on the piano, initially threatening to turn into The Beach Boys’ ‘You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone’ and introducing some hammond swirls that were probably intended to be a bit Doors but end up being a lot Inspirals. It’s a brooding set of thrills that tower over a largely forgettable (and perplexingly highly rated in year-end lists) album.

In tune with the jolly atmosphere, Junior looks glum and determined to read her Roald Dahl books instead.

[15] Animal Collective, ‘My Girls’

Equally lauded and disparaged across the blogosphere – well, perhaps not equally, but loud voices on either side – the standout single of 2009 features Animal Collective marrying their yen for somewhat flat Beach Boys harmonies with an evolving brash electronica to muddle out a dance music you couldn’t possibly cut a rug to, but which sounds like a rave nonetheless. I’m particularly drawn to Panda Bear’s tribute to his girls, having three (count ’em, THREE) little daughters of my own, and find the dense trippiness of the whole endlessly uplifting.

Still none the wiser about “Adobe slabs”.

Junior says: “The beat makes my eyes blink like this,” followed by furious fluttering of eyelids. It’s like a natural strobe.

Best bit: The delayed arrival of bass. We’re still not really dancing, but think it can’t be far off.

[1] Animal Collective, ‘My Girls’

For all its ecstatic brilliance, it’s annoying that I’ve known what the single of the year is for most of 2009. But it seemed so obvious when I heard it. I hadn’t been expecting truly great things from Animal Collective – maybe more of the same quirky pop, bellowed harmonies, abstract lyrics and squelchy textures – so when they came up with this dense, sticky, Beach Boys rave track that actually seemed to be about something (Panda Bear’s kids and – erm – Adobe slabs), it was as welcome as a fat cheque on a… well, right about now, please.

It’s struck me that I might simply be a sucker for this because I have daughters (and everyone likes to think that song is about them, don’t they? Don’t they?), but listen to those Frankie Knuckles-nabbing synths and the slow introduction of the bass that makes it sound like Orbital – and then the steady rise and layering of the sonics, the two different hooks that could stand as a chorus. And the “Woo!”s. Your hands are in the air, aren’t they?

On this play, Junior pranced like a deer from kitchen to living room, but she’s been tuned into ‘My Girls’ all year, along with its album Merriweather Post Pavilion, a mainstay of the car in 2009 – and probably the album of the year too. The Horrors’ one was good too, mind you. And Grizzly Bear’s. And Wild Beasts’.

We’re not going to do an album chart though. We’re going to do the Top 50 Best Singles of the 2000s, and we’ll start next week. Merry Christmas, all you cats.

I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things…

Fleet Foxes, ‘White Winter Hymnal’

Fleet Foxes

Another one that narrowly missed our 2008 chart, finishing around 23. It’s a gorgeous song, but that’s not enough, is it? It needs to be a single – not just a single – and this feels like part of an album. If that doesn’t make any sense, stick it on my list of hang-ups.

So, beards in popular music: do they make better harmonies? I’m thinking later Byrds, Fleetwood Mac (ok, maybe not Stevie and Christine, but who knows what Lindsey Buckingham and John McVie were trying to hide?), The Beach Boys in transcendental mode, erm, ZZ Top? Well, it has the doings of a theory. Fleet Foxes’ debut – an album of the year in all the likely places – is glazed in harmony, and nowhere is the melding of hirsute voice more lovely than on ‘White Winter Hymnal’, with its mercury lyrics (“scarves of red tied ‘round their throats/to keep their little heads/from fallin’ in the snow,” anyone?) and rising/falling chords.

It’s a soft hit with Junior who answers my “Do you like it?”s with “Stop talking, Daddy, I’m trying to listen”. I shut my trap and the album wanders on, with Junior recognising other tracks and pointing out I play them at home. She’s right – it’s been one of my favourites too. I’d like to see these bears perform live but I understand you need to be well over six foot to catch a glimpse of them, sitting down strumming their guitars. I’m not that tall yet.

[5] Manic Street Preachers, ‘So Why So Sad (Sean Penn Mix – Avalanches)

Is this really the done thing? Heroes of the year, The Avalanches took the Manics’ dreary and slightly odd Showaddywaddyesque plodder and kicked out the stinking chorus, droning Nicky Wire echoed vocal lines, misplaced moog and general sense of melodic dead-end – and replaced all the tired parts with Beach Boys glitter, sun-kissed Hawaiian keyboard strokes and chugging percussion, creating a dizzily gorgeous seaside twilight happy mix. Then they named it after Sean Penn. Pure crazed genius. It’s just a pity for the Preachers that these Aussie samplesmiths couldn’t be around every day. Pity for us too – think of the records we would have been spared.

Junior stood before me, wielding a plastic sword. That might have been how The Avalanches did it, come to think.

[15] R.E.M., ‘At My Most Beautiful’

R.E.M.

Stipe’s weirdo stalker ballad fails to keep Junior on the rug. She’s halfway to the plug sockets before she can hear what he leaves on his beloved’s answer phone.

This is a gorgeous little tune, with sparing use of strings and Beach Boysesque “doo-doo”s. It even made the Top 10, but who remembers it? R.E.M. still have an impressive hardcore of fans, despite no one being excited about them since Automatic For The People, and they can usually clock up a solid hit per album. They just don’t seem to matter much these days. To think, there was a time when half the population was up in arms about ‘Shiny Happy People’.

I’m sure their cash keeps them happy, when they’re not flinging yoghurt around on aeroplanes.

[14] PM Dawn, ‘A Watcher’s Point Of View (Don’t Cha Think)’

PM Dawn

In the pub last night, I launched a robust Hoegaarden-driven defence of PM Dawn’s ‘Set Adrift On Memory Bliss’, thinking it was coming up next and determined to hold my ground. Now I see I got the wrong song, I withdraw my comments. This was always much better. Junior thought it was ace, running through her full repertoire of shakes, rocks and bounces.

De La Soul crossed with The Beach Boys, that’s what they said, near enough. Prince Be was the hip hop Brian Wilson. He certainly carried the ballast.

Pretty, harmony-drenched raps, wordy titles and flaky lyrics only sustained them so long. We didn’t hear much from them after ’91, although I understand that they recently won some American, dignity-shedding revival contest. Maybe there’ll be a new PM Dawn dawn.