[1] Frank Ocean, ‘Ivy’

frank-ocean-2016

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.

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[3] Vampire Weekend, ‘Unbelievers’

2013-vampire-weekend

“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]

tUnE-yArDs, ‘Bizness’

tUnE-yArDs

This is absolutely brilliant.

Will that do?

Perhaps not. Merrill Garbus’s debut album BiRd-BrAiNs was interesting at least, if a little raw in the middle. Ideas pinged off the walls, but one man’s slab of flibbertigibbet genius is a slightly more dour man’s tricksy mess – you could’ve filed Garbus under “challenging” and left her back there in 2009. So, hands up and amen for this dazzling heap of (pretty cohesive) joy.

The sound’s fatter this time and Garbus belts her happy defiance over what I’m calling human-marimba, rousing blasts of horn, saxophone and – hmmm – Zairean guitar. In short, the kind of thing Vampire Weekend might do if they kicked off their deck shoes, sank another couple of Martinis, replaced Andrew McCarthy with Annabella Lwin and had sex.

Junior’s hearing reverb and speed. Or, “I like it because it’s fast and her voice is echoing.” It’s a shot of get-up-and-go for a day’s school, and for the year in general.

[38] Vampire Weekend, ‘A-Punk’

A-Punk

People have been asking me what’s happened to Jukebox Junior. Well, the chap who is the boss of the boss of the chap who I do a fair bit of work for asked me the other day if I “still do that blog”. And it’s that sort of popular demand that leads me back here. When public clamour reaches such a feverish degree, you can only have the good grace to pull your finger out and stop hiding behind excuses like “but I’m getting paid to write that other stuff”, “you try finding spare time with half a dozen daughters hanging onto your leg” and “Christ, I’m lazy”.

So, I’ve had quite enough time to order my thoughts on ‘A-Punk’, perhaps the straightest indie-pop track on Vampire Weekend’s debut, but a zippy song so fresh it seems richer as the years pass. Yep, that’s as far as those thoughts go.

Junior says: “Ay-ay-ay-ay,” of course, and dances like a buffoon. VW are all about looking awkward, after all.

Best bit:
Full throttle into the second verse.

People have been asking me what’s happened to Jukebox Junior. Well, the chap who is the boss of the boss of the chap

who I do a fair bit of work for asked me the other day if I “still do that blog”. And it’s that sort of popular

demand that leads me back here. When public clamour reaches such a feverish degree, you can only have the good grace

to pull your finger out and stop hiding behind excuses like “but I’m getting paid to write that other stuff”, “you

try finding spare time with half a dozen daughters hanging onto your leg” and “Christ, I’m lazy”.

So, I’ve had quite enough time to order my thoughts on ‘A-Punk’, perhaps the straightest indie-pop track on Vampire

Weekend’s debut, but a zippy song so fresh it seems richer as the years pass. Yep, that’s as far as those thoughts go.

Junior says: “Ay-ay-ay-ay,” obviously, and dances like a buffoon. VW are all about looking awkward, after all.

Best bit: Full throttle into the second verse.

[18] Yeasayer, ‘Ambling Alp’

So you emerge blinking into the light around the end of 2007, early 2008, playing sharp, clever-clever East Coast pop with inflections of world music, a touch of Peter Gabriel. Everything goes just swell. Then you’re back in late 2009, early 2010, ready to consolidate vast critical and sturdy popular acclaim with a second album. Triumph is assured, right?

But what if you’re not Vampire Weekend? What if you’re Yeasayer? The answer seems to be to mainstream it up a bit more, move your world music closer to the US borders. Reggae! ‘Ambling Alp’ is a cosily appealing song, a grower and a fashion-free standalone. It also has Junior in paroxysms of giggles, which may or may not be a guarantee of success.

Yea or nay?

[1] MGMT, ‘Time To Pretend’

MGMT

Like LCD Soundsystem’s ‘All My Friends’ last year, this is so far ahead of the pack it isn’t funny. Except it is. Andrew Van Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser dream of their rock’n’roll future to come, and it’s all drugs and supermodels – are they as knee-deep in them now as they anticipated? Hell, probably.

‘Time To Pretend’ has an irresistible, kinetic energy. It’s a rolling stone, but it gathers moss, drums (the drums, the drums), synths, pure glee and giddy excitement. I suppose it has an ‘80s bent in its shiny, pumped-up production yet the excess is unfiltered ‘70s. They look like a pair of prog/hippie casualties to boot. The second half is one long spine-tingle and the hanging chords of the final bridge/chorus sound almost heroic – assuming there’s heroism in “The models will have children/We’ll get a divorce/Find some more models/Everything must run its course”. Naturally there is.

The album Oracular Spectacular is a bit Blue Oyster Cult for me; let’s just revel in a perfect single’s anticipation of living fast and dying young. The album prize can go to Vampire Weekend, with honours to TV On The Radio, Lykke Li and Coldplay (yes, Coldplay – I couldn’t believe it either).

As for Junior, she’s loved this from the moment she first heard the chirupping bleeps of the intro. Today she dances, rolls around the floor and bounds about in front of her sister – and her sister’s clapping. Bravo.

[18] Vampire Weekend, ‘A-Punk’

Vampire Weekend

So the critics’ choice of 2008 was a bunchy of preppy American lads doing a Strokesian (look it up) take on Paul Simon’s Graceland. You could’ve seen that coming a mile off. What should’ve been arch, alienating, irritating, pompous, Sting-esque and – frankly – an utter mess, turned out to be the most delightful set of pop tunes since The Sound Of Girls Aloud. That good. ‘A-Punk’ happens to be one of the more conventional arrangements on the album, but it’s so infectious I’m taking the rest of the week off.

You have to catch Junior in the mood and – whereas she usually spins out to all things VW – this time she sat on the rug and asked for, yes, Girls Aloud. She’ll have to wait, probably. If it’s any consolation, Juniorer rocked from side to side, bang on the beat.

2008 Top 20 Singles?

Halfway through the year, always looking for delaying tactics and ways to ramp up the tension for the year-end countdown, here’s a minor indicator – the Top 20 Most Played 2008 Singles on my iPod thingy.

[1] Martha Wainwright, ‘Bleeding All Over You’
[2] The Ting Tings, ‘Great DJ’
[3] Laura Marling, ‘Ghosts’
[4] Alphabeat, ‘Fascination’
[5] Fleet Foxes, ‘White Winter Hymnal’
[6] Coldplay, ‘Violet Hill’
[7] The Ting Tings, ‘That’s Not My Name’
[8] Death Cab For Cutie, ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’
[9] MGMT, ‘Time To Pretend’
[10] Lykke Li, ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’
[11] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’
[12] Santogold, ‘L.E.S. Artistes’
[13] Portishead, ‘Machine Gun’
[14] Vampire Weekend, ‘Oxford Comma’
[15] Laura Marling, ‘Cross Your Fingers’/’Crawled Out Of The Sea’
[16] Hercules And Love Affair, ‘Blind’
[17] The Shortwave Set, ‘No Social’
[18] Goldfrapp, ‘A&E’
[19] H ‘two’ O featuring Platnum, ‘What’s It Gonna Be’
[20] Foals, ‘Red Socks Pugie’

Admit it. You’re astonished.