REPOST: Above The Beat And The Sub-Bass: Pick Of The Year 2004
Rising Monkey III: The Scoffening

REPOST: The Line Between Stupid And Fun: Pick Of The Year 2005

With the bar lowered this far, could the cover for Pick Of The Year 2006 possibly be any more literal? Come back in twelve months and find out!Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 01/02/2006

No-one could accuse us of being party poopers here at The Unpleasant Lair. And that's why our end-of-year roundups drag on until February of the following year, keeping the New Year's Eve spirit going. Or something like that.

Actually, given that whole business at the start of December when I suddenly discovered I didn't have a job any more, the final track listing for my Pick Of The Year 2005 CD was locked down unusually early, allowing me to hand a copy over to Lou on December 6th and get utterly shitfaced with him straight afterwards. But being unemployed, far from giving me loads more time to write stuff for the site, has actually added several dozen other items to my things-to-do list: hence the delay in making that track listing available to the rest of you. Anyhoo, it's here now (along with Real Player samples of all the songs, until this page goes into the archives). Enjoy, or whatever it is you normally do with these things.

1. 7 SECONDS OF LOVE - First Drink Of The Day (download only)
It started with monkeys. It usually does. Joel Veitch's web animations have been celebrated before in these pages, but the alcoholic simian singalong of First Drink Of The Day had two extra things going for it. Firstly, it was an original song, rather than a visual interpretation of someone else's tune: secondly, it was a great song, jet-propelled by a dog's-arse-tight seven piece ska band. Since then, The Belated Birthday Girl and I have been regularly spotted at the front of 7SOL gigs, alongside the more hardcore fanatics wearing soup cans on their heads. And if you have to ask why, maybe it's time you saw them live too: though the band's website (see Links below) does a damn good job keeping people happy with MP3s and more Flash animations.

2. THE GO! TEAM - Bottle Rocket (from Thunder, Lightning, Strike, Memphis Industries MI040CDX)
I've had to bend the rules a bit to get this one in, as Thunder, Lightning, Strike is a 2004 album that I didn't get to hear properly until 2005 - in fact, just before it was re-released with all those pesky samples cleared or re-recorded for the American market. So presumably this is the cleaned-up and legal version I've included here, then? Bollocks it is. Copyright issues aside, this is a glorious piece of music in its own right, with a middle eight that's the closest thing to pure unfettered joy I've heard on record all year. And if we're talking great live experiences (because it looks like I'll be doing that several times in this piece), hearing all ten band members in a room making a racket is fairly joyful as well.

3. COUSTEAU - Black Heart Of Mine (from Nova Scotia, Endeavor MPA248001)
I know a couple of Cousteau fans, but I've never really seen the attraction myself. Apart from the obvious attraction you get when a lead singer bases his style on Scott Walker as much as Liam McKahey does. But a couple of years ago, something interesting happened. Songwriter Davey Ray Moor left Cousteau, and the band took some time off, not sure what to do next: until McKahey suddenly decided that actually, even though he'd never done it seriously before, he could probably write songs himself. And anyone who doubts the wisdom of that decision needs to hear Black Heart Of Mine, which quite simply floored me the first time I heard it at a Cousteau gig. It's rare these days that a song sticks with you like a limpet after a single play, and we need to celebrate when that happens. This is me celebrating.

4. CHEMICAL BROTHERS - Hold Tight London (from Push The Button, Virgin XDUSTCD7)
It's not your typical Chemicals track, it's true. The dynamic peaks and troughs aren't as outrageous as usual. Instead, what we have is a song that bubbles along beautifully for about six minutes, coming to brilliant life during those starbursts at the chorus. And, just for its title, it became some sort of personal anthem around the first week of July 2005. (If it's not too 'London Hurts' to say so.)

5. HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT - For What Is Chatteris... (from Achtung Bono, Probe Plus PROBE57)
Congratulations to HMHB fan Martin Jamieson for successfully guessing which track I'd be choosing from their latest album. (See letter dated 05/01/2006.) Actually, I could have picked any one from a shortlist of three or four, so maybe he's right - this may well be their most consistent album for some time, though I think I'd need to live with it a bit longer before it surpasses Trouble Over Bridgewater in my well-documented affections. In the end, it's that very British tone of jaunty melancholy which sets Chatteris apart - we're suckers for that sort of thing round here.

Is everybody in? 2D and Noodle in the Gorillaz 'Feel Good Inc' video6. GORILLAZ - Hong Kong (from Help: A Day In The Life, Independiente ISOM59CD)
One of my favourite celebrity spots of the year was at the Flight 5065 charity show, in which audiences spent half an hour in a pod on the London Eye being entertained by mystery guests. We spent a rather lovely time with Malian harpist Kokanko Sata, while her record label boss - Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn - quitely stood back and watched with delight. Albarn's love of world music was apparent then, and it comes through here too, in another charity effort: a song recorded in one day for the WarChild benefit album which utterly outclasses anything on his own release Demon Days. Zeng Zhen played Chinese zither when Gorillaz did this song at their live shows back in November, but I've not been able to find out if she's responsible for the beautiful playing on the record. Which is irritating, because whoever it is, they're the only musician from the Far East on this year's compilation: which is unusual, as regulars will know.

7. GOGOL BORDELLO - Start Wearing Purple (from Gypsy Punks, Side One Dummy USOD71271)
I admit it, I was well behind the pack on this one. The first time I became aware of Gogol Bordello was through their contribution to the soundtrack of Everything Is Illuminated. Fascinated by the unclassifiable racket they made, I found out they'd just announced a gig at the ICA in London, but it had sold out within minutes. When I gave Carole her copy of this CD over Christmas (a transaction conducted in Moby's Teany teashop in New York), she expressed delight that I'd included a track from her latest favourite band. How did I miss out on them for so long? Anyway, the album does the gypsy/punk/dub mashup thing to perfection, and I'm seriously looking forward to their London show in March.

8. THE WHITE STRIPES - I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) (from Get Behind Me Satan, XL XLCD191)
About ten years ago, I managed to bring all conversation at a party to a screeching halt by suggesting that even though I was an Oasis fan, it was possible that Noel Gallagher may only have two decent albums worth of material in him. It was a fairly radical statement to make at the time, and I didn't particularly want it to be true, but look around you. Noel Gallagher really only made one contribution to global discourse in 2005 that was worth preserving, and it was during an interview where he accused Jack White of The White Stripes of looking like "Zorro on doughnuts". That's too good a line to ignore, even though I'm a White Stripes fan. Besides, on the evidence of Get Behind Me Satan, Jack White doesn't have anything to worry about: he's got much more than two decent albums worth of material in him, particularly if he varies the dirty blues template to take in piano-driven gospel like this.

9. R CRUMB AND HIS CHEAP SUIT SERENADERS - My Girl's Pussy (from R Crumb's Music Sampler - CD enclosed with The R Crumb Handbook, MQ Publications)
Stretching the rules even more than I did for The Go! Team, here's a song that was recorded in 1974, and wasn't even released on an album in 2005 - instead, it's on a CD that came with the tie-in book from the Robert Crumb exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery this year. Everyone knows the murkier areas of Crumb's soul from his comics work, but they should also be aware that old-time jazz has always been the thing he turns to in times of trouble, whenever he needs to persuade himself that the human race is worth a damn. And this comes through in the 30 years worth of his own music making summarised on this CD - ignore the obvious filth of the lyrics, and you're left with the sound people make when they've no cares in the world at all. Which is pretty funny, considering this is Crumb we're talking about here.

10. KID CARPET - It's A Bit Windy Love (from Ideas And Oh Dears, Tired & Lonesome TLONECD2)
Along with 7 Seconds Of Love, Kid Carpet is another live favourite from 2005. We saw him perform three times this year, in North London venues so close to each other that The Belated Birthday Girl suspects he's got a mate on the Holloway Road whose floor he kips on. Carpet's USP has always been his backing tracks, whether generated from cheap Argos keyboards, beaten out of electronic noisemaking toys, or - as in this case - created by making wind noises with his mouth. I have fond memories of the Bar Academy show where he managed to persuade the audience to do those wind noises while he sang, and it's possible that this may be why I've chosen this song as opposed to any other one on the album.

11. LEMON JELLY - '75 AKA Stay With You (from '64-'95, Impotent Fury IFLXCD182X)
I think Lemon Jelly may have previewed this song at their 2004 Somerset House show, but I can't be sure. To be honest, a year and a bit on, '75 feels like one of those tracks that's existed since the beginning of time. The heavy use of a Gallagher and Lyle sample obviously plays a large part in that timelessness, but there's much more to it than that: the way it's carefully teased through repetition into a hands-in-the-air midsong climax is pure Jelly.

Saul Williams, live at the Scala in London in May 2005. Yes, totally beyond the capabilities of the Nokia 7610's camera, but I kinda like the effect.12. SAUL WILLIAMS - Black Stacey (from Saul Williams, Wichita WEBB073CD)
It's been fun watching Saul Williams over the last few years, leaping around between genres and refusing to let people categorise him. In 1998 he was the hardcore performance poet that could be easily confused with his character in the movie Slam: in 2001 he had a go at becoming a Rick Rubin-produced hip-hop messiah. Nowadays he's happy to mix things up even more, and his self-titled second album is a musically rounded collection of spoken word pieces and actual songs like this one. Even with the powderkeg racial content of its lyrics, Black Stacey's fabulous piano-driven groove could have made it a surefire hit single: it turns out it was released as a single back in August, but I didn't know that until I looked it up just now on Amazon. Radio stations suck, don't they?

13. THE BLUE VAN - Product Of DK (from The Art Of Rolling, TVT TV27109)
One of the more obscure selections of this year's collection. The Blue Van are a Danish band (hence the song title) who supported Kid Carpet at that Bar Academy gig I mentioned earlier. Their retro keyboard stylings and hyperactive bassist made for a very entertaining set: unfortunately, the album only really captures the energy of their live show on a couple of tracks, this being the best of them. Fascinating fact: in Denmark, the blue van is traditionally the vehicle used to transport people to the lunatic asylum. This amuses me greatly, because in 1970s Manchester a whole schoolyard mythology existed regarding the yellow van that was our local equivalent. This next bit is absolutely true: for several years, whenever I heard Joni Mitchell singing about how "a big yellow taxi came and took away my old man", I thought she'd had him sectioned. But I digress.

14. SUFJAN STEVENS - Come On! Feel The Illinoise! (from Come On Feel The Illinoise, Rough Trade RTRADCD250)
Note for statistics fans: Sufjan Stevens is the only artist from my 2004 compilation to make it back onto the 2005 one. I've still got a lot of love for the guy, and judging from the various end-of-year roundups linked to below, I'm not the only one. After last year's Michigan, this is the second record in his magnificently foolish attempt to document every American state in song. I don't care whether he's serious about completing this project or not: what matters is that right now, Illinoise is the most consistently satisfying album of 2005. Which makes choosing one track for this compilation an absolute bitch to do, frankly - so in the end I went with this two-part epic, the one that grabbed me hardest on the very first listen. If you like it, be advised there's even better stuff on the same record.

15. THE LEGENDARY K.O. - George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People (download only)
Is it too Guardian-readery of me to confess this? The thing that persuaded me to buy Kanye West's Late Registration was specifically when he dissed George Bush on a live American post-Katrina telethon. (Warning: page contains embedded video file, comments section contains embedded contributions from redneck twats.) Late Registration has its moments, but the highlights are more musical than lyrical: the suppressed rage that resulted in West's TV outburst isn't really there on the record. So three cheers for The Legendary K.O., who managed to whip up a suitably furious response to Bush's lethargic handling of Katrina, set it to a backing of West's Gold Digger, and get it onto the web for free within a few days of the telethon. It's funny how little tweaking it takes to convert Gold Digger's queasily sexist chorus into harsh political commentary. Mind you, The Belated Birthday Girl still wants to know why Jamie Foxx keeps singing "I wanna wee" all the way through it.

16. JAGA JAZZIST - Swedenborgske Rom (from What We Must, Ninja Tune ZENCD103X)
Yes, it's nearly nine minutes of Norwegian prog rock. Deal with it. (No tracks from Japan this year, but two from Scandinavia: don't ask me, I don't know how it happened either.) I've heard Jaga Jazzist before on Ninja Tune compilations, and their earlier work is much closer to the WhiteBoyFakeJazzGrooves that the label specialises in. All they've done this time is make the time signatures a bit more random than usual: their ear for arresting chord progressions is still very much in evidence. And that's definitely the case on this track, with a second half ascending riff that just builds and builds and builds until it steamrollers over any objections you may have to it on coolness grounds.

17. NIZLOPI - JCB (from Half These Songs Are About You, FDM FDMNIZ002)
The contest for the Christmas 2005 UK number one turned out to be a Battle Of The Dads. In one corner, we had Nizlopi's Luke "I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee" Concannon: in the other corner, we had X Factor winner Shayne "I'm Shayne, I'm twenty, and my dad's... er..." Ward. The British public was asked to choose, and inevitably they got it wrong. But what do they know? We've bigging up Nizlopi here since last August, when the splendid JCB video played at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. It's a song that spookily mirrors my own memories of childhood, released in the year that my dad died: how could I not finish with it?

So those were my favourite songs of 2005. And by now, a maximum of three of you must be asking: how can you get hold of these songs for yourself? Well, that's obviously the cue for another one of my legendarily unpopular competitions to WIN A COPY OF THIS CD. Take a look at the CD cover photo at the top of this page, featuring a yellow line photographed in a South London location. Using your skill and judgement - or using a wild stab in the dark, if you prefer - find the location of the cover shot on this Google Local image. To enter, double-click where you think the yellow line is (which will centre your choice on the photo), click on the 'Email' link just above the image, and mail the result to stupidcompetition@spank-the-monkey.co.uk by 11:59pm GMT on March 14th 2006. Closest to the actual location wins the CD, so you've nothing to lose and everything to gain by having a guess. Note that this competition is not open to this year's CD distribution list (Lou, The BBG, Carole, The Sarge and Smudge). Although maybe if I stopped barring those people from entering every year, I'd actually get a few more bloody entries. I'd have to think about that one. Being a monkey, and all.

Links

7 Seconds Of Love, The Go! Team, Cousteau, The Chemical Brothers, Half Man Half Biscuit, Gorillaz, Gogol Bordello, The White Stripes, R. Crumb, Kid Carpet, Lemon Jelly, Saul Williams, The Blue Van, Sufjan Stevens, The Legendary K.O. [dead link], Jaga Jazzist and Nizlopi all have official sites of varying degrees of excellence.

Spank's Audio Lair is still doing what's it's been doing for the last three years - playing a random selection from eighty or so records that vaguely reflect what the inside of my head looks like this week. At the time of writing, those records include the seventeen songs listed above. Right now, it's playing stuff like this: (I have no idea if that'll work, to be honest, so don't laugh if it doesn't.) If the idea takes your fancy, visit Live 365 and see how you can go about inflicting your own internet radio station on the world.

One year ago, I finished off the piece on my 2004 CD with a selection of twenty other end-of-year analyses from assorted music and media websites. Let's see how many of them are still going in 2005, shall we? All The Rage [dead link], Christianity Today (yes), Fimoculous (didn't bother with a list this year), Indie London (yes), Japan Times (now requires registration), John Peel (er, definitely not), Junkmedia (yes), The London News Review [dead link], Metacritic (yes), MTV Europe (dunno, their search facility is rubbish), NPR (yes), Observer Music Monthly (yes), The Onion AV Club (yes), Pitchfork [dead link], Prefix (yes), Spin (yes), Stanky Groove [dead link], Triple J (yes), VisitBritain (yes) and Yale Daily News [dead link].

WarChild is the charity behind Help: A Day In The Life, the excellent fundraising album that includes Gorillaz's Hong Kong. The WarChild Music site tells you more about what they do, allows you to buy one or all of the tracks online, and tells you about other events coming soon (including an art exhibition, Picture This, at the Bargehouse Gallery on London's South Bank from February 16th to March 5th 2006).

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