Yes, you're right, this is appalling. I burned the first copy of my latest compilation CD on December 7th 2010. I took it along to a pub that evening on the offchance that Lou might be there, but he couldn't make it. But that's not the point. The point is that it's taken me nearly three months since then to assemble my traditional discussion of the track listing, as a result of my work life balance going through one of those periods of being massively unbalanced.
So, while I've got a few minutes free, here's what has to be the last possible analysis you'll ever read of what was hot on the music scene in 2010, presented in the form of a 79 minute compilation CD. And if you make it to the end of this page before March 31st 2011, you might even get the chance to win a copy of it for yourself...
I've been doing this long enough now to know a good Track One when I hear it. The opening choral section of Ikiru (as not heard in the above live video) is as overwrought as anything Muse have recorded, but with a sense of tongue in cheek to its hysteria, largely thanks to the obvious fakery involved. And after two and a half minutes of that, someone suddenly kicks a drumkit down a flight of stairs, and I'm completely hooked. It's funny how over her years as a producer, Ringo Shiina has developed a drum sound (see also, from previous compilations, the opening seconds of both this and this) that's utterly distinctive. Remember back in the eighties when you could audibly tell a Steve Lillywhite-produced snare from a Trevor Horn one? Ringo Shiina does.
2. UNDERWORLD - Always Loved A Film (from Barking, Cooking Vinyl) (video)
Presenting the first of two tracks on this CD featuring nineties dance combos revisiting former territory rather than trying something new. And why not? Even though a close, nameless associate of this site keeps insisting in a non-ironic fashion that a) they can't hear the words and b) it's all just thumpa thumpa thumpa, I don't care when the end result hits the level of hands-in-the-air euphoria that Always Loved A Film does when it reaches the choruses. Heeeeeaven, indeed.
3. BLUR - Fool's Day (single, free download from blur.co.uk) (video)
Damon Albarn, in his Gorillaz suit, was responsible in 2010 for a pretty fine album (Plastic Beach) and one of my favourite gigs of the year (the band's April outing at the Roundhouse). But it's this throwaway single by his old band that really resonated for me - initially released as a massively limited edition 7" for Record Store Day, hence the terrifying price tag on the Amazon link at the bottom of the page. I never really saw the reverence that Graham Coxon's guitar inspired in people, but the lovely little looped figure that this tune winds down to makes it all clear to me now.
4. SARA FORESTIER - Baby Pop (from Gainsbourg: Vie Heroique - Original Soundtrack, Wrasse) (video)
Music can link itself to your memory in such unexpected ways. For example, because I first saw the film Gainsbourg on an Air France flight to Abu Dhabi, the piano opening automatically conjures up images of the Middle East for me. Joann Sfar's film is rather harsh on Gainsbourg's perceived enemies, making teen starlet France Gall (played in the film by Forestier) look like a naive fool, and turning her one musical number into a triumph of enthusiasm over correct pitch. But Christ, listen to that enthusiasm. By comparison, Gall's original sounds rather tame, although the less oompah-heavy arrangement of the movie version certainly helps.
5. GIL SCOTT-HERON - Me And The Devil (from I'm Still Here, XL Recordings) (video, including bonus song Your Soul And Mine)
Good to have the man back again, even in this truncated form (a 29 minute album including a couple of minutes of interview fragments) and in these wildly unfamiliar musical surroundings. This Robert Johnson cover shows off his singing voice to great effect (previously, it's Scott-Heron's spoken word pieces which have impressed me most), and the backing track has a dark menace all of its own. I'd love to have been there at the moment when someone's mobile accidentally started polling in the studio, and someone else said 'hang on, we can use that...'
6. VANILLA BEANS - Nicola (from VaniBest, Tokuma) (video, including bonus song U ♥ Me)
You'll have to read the writeup of our 2010 Japan holiday for the full story of how we failed to see Tokyo Jihen live, and ended up catching Vanilla Beans as a replacement, thus locking down the two J-Pop slots on this year's compilation. Also under consideration, but failing to make the final cut, were old favourites Halfby, Yuki and Love Psychedelico - all of whom have appeared on these CDs before, making the Beans our official discovery of the holiday. It was the 24 carat pop of this song's chorus that swung it for me on their Myspace page, I think: the low-budget silliness of its video just confirmed that we had to see them live. 'I wonder how many of the audience will know the dance routine?' I thought at the time, little realising that the answer would be ALL OF THEM.
7. MASSIVE ATTACK - Paradise Circus (from Heligoland, Virgin) (video)
There's something about these slightly gloomy dance tracks that gets to me, as you may have noticed. And this one is precision tooled for that downbeat effect, without the overblown density in the arrangement which made Massive's previous album 100th Window almost impossible to listen to. Meanwhile, fair play to the maker of the above-linked fan video for this song, who cobbled it together out of clips from The Fall as a replacement for the dodgy porn of the official vid. Tarsem - even his middle name is 'arse' - really should be kept away from directing narrative movies, and just allowed to create gobsmacking images that can be randomly thrown over music.
8. SUFJAN STEVENS - Age Of Adz (from The Age Of Adz, Asthmatic Kitty) (video)
Stevens came really close to appearing on last year's compilation with the finale of The BQE, his fine orchestral suite celebrating the delights of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. That record was less about the glorious tunes that I tend to associate with his songwriting, and more about the fabulously overblown arrangements that working with a full orchestra allowed him to pull off. Now he's back writing songs again, but the arrangements are still wildly screwy - it may be largely electronic instrumentation this time, but the crazy trills and endlessly inventive revoicing of chords has a lot of overlap with his orchestral work. The God complex of the early years appears to be taking a back seat, too: 'When I die, when I die / I'll rot / But when I live, when I live / I'll give it all I've got'. Ooh, look, live dates in May.
9. KID CARPET - Gordano (from The Advert Break, free download from kidcarpet.co.uk) (video)
The Kid was a bit quiet in 2010. He played the odd gig here and there, but the only music he released was a 9 track single of proposed ad jingles that he gave away for free on the web. His usual wit and tunefulness abound regardless, particularly in the 30 second ode to his favourite service station that gives this very compilation its title. On a whim, I lashed together a quick video for the song, and was delighted to see Carpet himself praising it on a variety of social media. He's already got a much busier 2011 planned - a track on a Moondog tribute EP, a share of the soundtrack on the new Alex Cox movie, and the possibility of more of his terrific live shows. The Kid is, indeed, back.
10. JAGA JAZZIST - One Armed Bandit (from One Armed Bandit, Ninja Tune) (video)
On the subject of videos, I notice that the live version of this that was on YouTube a couple of months ago isn't there any more - mind you, it was a recording from their Fuji Rock Festival set nicked off Japanese telly, and we all know the dangers of doing that. Still, great to see Jaga Jazzist back on record after a five year absence: and it was particularly great to finally catch them live, where some of the more cerebral noodly overtones of their work are replaced by sheer bastard power. I like One-Armed Bandit's title track because I like to imagine the quirky 60s detective show it could have been the theme music to.
11. BABA BRINKMAN - Beowulf (from Rapconteur, paid download from babasword.com) (video)
Plans are already being made for Edinburgh 2011, as you'd imagine. I wasn't at the Festival in 2009, the year that Tomas first reported on the peer-reviewed hip-hop stylings of Baba Brinkman: it would be another year before I got to see one of the man's live shows myself. Brinkman had three shows at the 2010 Fringe, with Rapconteur the lowest billed of them, playing in a basement as part of the Free Fringe. After getting used to the idea of Brinkman as a science-based rapper, the discovery of his retelling of the epic stories was a revelation. Beowulf works best for me, partly for Mr Simmonds' moody backing, partly for Mr Brinkman's neat post-modern snark in the closing minutes.
12. CEE-LO GREEN - Fuck You (from The Lady Killer, Warner Bros) (video)
Forget the clean version, obviously. Although it has to be said that the first time I heard this song was on Later With Jools Holland, in its expurgated Forget You guise. It sounded like a great piece of soul already, and then I discovered there was another version with loads of swearing on it. Even then, Green plays the song as a huge joyful release of energy, where it would be so easy to turn it into something dark and unpleasant (cf William Shatner's ugly take on it). The album's full of lovely tunes delivered thrillingly, but with this one Green has guaranteed himself a place on karaoke machines for decades to come.
13. THE DIVINE COMEDY - The Complete Banker (from Bang Goes The Knighthood, Divine Comedy) (video)
I've got to admit, it was touch and go for the first few seconds of Neil Hannon's Somerset House gig in 2010. He comes on stage wearing a Savile Row suit and bowler hat, puts down his briefcase, sits at the piano and plays a comedy song about the financial crisis. Oh God, he's turned into Richard Stilgoe, hasn't he? Well, that turns out to be a little unfair (and if I could find a link to Stilgoe's miners' strike masterpiece By God We're Good Now, I could prove it's unfair on Stilgoe as well). The Complete Banker is a song more or less entirely comprised of cheap shots, from its "can anyone lend me ten billion quid" opening onwards: but who's going to complain about that in this day and age? Particularly when it's set to one of Hannon's jolliest tunes (and Knighthood is a pretty jolly album all round), and manages to muster up some genuine barbs in its final lines.
14. JANELLE MONAE - Tightrope (from The Archandroid, Bad Boy/Atlantic) (video)
Oh, come on, who doesn't love this? Well, that was my initial thought as I added Janelle Monae's breakout single to this CD. But when you think long and hard about it, the answer to that question appears to be 'loads of people, at least in the UK anyway.' What was the highest chart position of The Archandroid, an album of almost incomprehensible ambition, scope and tunes? 51. Fiftyfuckingone. Sure, media outlets like The Guardian made it their album of the year, but scroll down the page and you'll see concrete proof for my theory that newspaper articles and comments sections bear the same relationship to each other as testicles and cancer. This is why we don't deserve nice things. Anyway, Monae provided the best support set I saw in a concert venue all year, opening for Vampire Weekend with a straight run through the first thirty minutes of the album: she's as spectacular a live performer as she is on record. The next one's going to be hella interesting.
15. THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS - Swoon (from Further, Parlophone) (video)
Presenting the second of two tracks on this CD featuring nineties dance combos revisiting former yadda yadda yadda. Again, certain people who shall remain nameless would complain that it's all just mechanical tension and release, but the Brothers do that sort of thing better than anyone else on the planet, keeping that opening sequence just building and building and building for a full two minutes before the drums come crashing in. No matter how loud this is playing, whenever it gets to that bit I always have to turn it up even more. Pardon?
16. PETER GABRIEL - The Power Of The Heart (from Scratch My Back, Real World/Virgin) (video)
One more stunning live gig to report on for this year, and astonishingly it was at the atmosphere-free shed they call the O2. After a couple of large-scale stadium tours staged by Robert Lepage (which I've only ever seen on DVD), the New Blood tour counted as Peter Gabriel scaling things back... except in his case, that means playing gigantic venues with a full orchestra and filling most of the back wall with video screens. All in the service of a series of his favourite songs by other people, ones that he wants to perform as simply as possible. I don't think all of the covers on Scratch My Back are successful, and I think it's a shame that his reciprocal project is falling apart because the artists he's covered don't want to record Gabriel's songs. But when it works, God it works. Here, he's found the huge emotional core at the heart of Lou Reed's original - you'll have to dig hard to find it, but it's in there - and brandishes it for the world to see.
So, that's my Picks out of the way for another Year (well, another ten months, but you know what I mean). And as ever, I'm going to have one of my traditionally underpopular competitions to allow one of you to win a copy of the CD for yourselves. Here's the deal. Remember how the 2009 compilation was full of terrible swearing? Well, this one's a lot more polite, managing to hold back the f-bombs all the way up until track 11. So your mission is this: using your skill and judgment, to the nearest minute and second, estimate how long the CD On Your Way To Somewhere Else has been playing before Baba Brinkman utters the first 'fuck'. (Strictly speaking, it's the first 'motherfucking', but you know what I mean.) Answers by email to [email protected] before 23:59 GMT on March 31st 2011: the closest guess to the correct answer will win the CD. I'll try to make sure that I get it sent out to you before the end of 2011. But no promises. Being a monkey, and all.