I'm not gonna lie to you: even I think this year's Pick Of The Year compilation has an awkward title. Nevertheless, the first time I heard the song it comes from (at Everything Everything's Oval Space gig back in April), I suspected it was always going to be the one: an otherwise lovely track centered around the single most ridiculous line to appear in a song released in 2015. Which is a major achievement, considering that New Order also released songs this year.
Awkward or not, we're committed now. The CDs have been burned, and the track listing is being announced simultaneously both here and on Mostly Film, as part of their roundup of the best bits of 2015. We've got sixteen tracks, over 79 minutes of music, a surprisingly unequal amount of video, and the chance for you to win your own copy of the compilation in our usual competition (closing date 31/1/2016). Get ready, because here we go for the 34th time...
I said it back in March, and my opinion hasn't changed much since then. The main thing that attracts me to Public Service Broadcasting is that they make records like most of the ones I used to buy in my twenties, all whiteboy dance riffs and vintage samples of spoken word. Possibly the thing they do better than their eighties counterparts is integrate their samples more directly into the rhythms of their songs. Sputnik is the perfect example of this, with the satellite's bleep becoming the pulse that holds the entire track together. They also put on a splendid live show, as I found out just last week - I'm still picking fake snow out of my clothing after Everest.
2. KENDRICK LAMAR – Alright (from To Pimp A Butterfly, Aftermath/Interscope) [video]
Hip-hop albums can be messy things to get through: all too often, a small number of killer tracks are padded out with unfunny verbal skits and gratuitous filler. Kendrick Lamar's latest feels different, although I still couldn't say just yet how different it is - but it feels like a single piece of work, rather than something assembled from disconnected sessions over a couple of years. It's still possible that a proportion of this record is filler, but it's taking me several plays to work out exactly where it is, and pulling a single representative track from it has proven tricky. In the end I've played it safe with this single, with its jazzy Pharrell Williams vocal stabs and breathtaking vocal technique, particularly in that stretch of six-four-six lines in the second verse.
3. THE YOUNG’UNS – You Won’t Find Me On Benefits Street (from Another Man’s Ground, SGO Music) [video]
Hooray for The Unthanks - don't worry, they'll be along themselves in a few minutes, but in the meantime here's a trio who supported them on their tour this year. When The Young'uns came on stage and tore straight into an acapella cover of Billy Bragg's Between The Wars, The Belated Birthday Girl and I somewhat predictably fell in love with them. But the rest of their set revealed that their own tunes were just as good, and this slab of topical social history from 2014 is a definite highlight.
4. SIMON LOVE FT. STEWART LEE – The Meaning Of Love (from It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, Fortuna POP!) [video]
You can blame Robin Ince and Michael Legge for this one - their Vitriola podcast features them swearing about new and old music to entertaining effect, and episode 33 featured them raving about Simon Love's album primarily because it also has a lot of swearing. The rude songs are the things that drew me in initially, but the other ones have grown on me over time, particularly this bit of conceptual art starring Stewart Lee. What makes it work is that even after the novelty of the vocal has worn off, the sheer bluesy enthusiasm of the backing just keeps on going.
5. PAUL HARTNOLL FT. THE UNTHANKS – A Forest (from 8:58, ACP) [video]
Back to The Unthanks, as promised earlier. This time last year, with the short version of their Mount The Air just out as a single, I wondered out loud if the long version would make it onto my 2015 CD once it had been released. Well, it was a close thing - the full ten minute cut, as I suspected, gives the song room to breathe and grow, particularly in a live environment when it's augmented with clog dancing. But instead, I've gone for their guest appearance on an album which appears to have had a rather confused release history. When I first bought it, it was credited to 8:58: now, when you look it up on sales websites, it's under the name of Paul Hartnoll, and possibly if you wait long enough it'll be credited to Look It's One Of The Guys From Orbital Please Will You Buy It Now? Whatever he's calling himself, this reworking of the old Cure tune gets a lot of its power from the unexpected delicacy of Rachel and Becky's vocals.
6. ROISIN MURPHY – Unputdownable (from Hairless Toys, PIAS) [video]
Moloko made it onto a couple of these compilations at the turn of the century, and it was sad to see them eventually split up. Vocalist Roisin Murphy subsequently put out a couple of solo albums, but I never quite got on with them - the songs always seemed a little too tricksy for their own good, and felt too experimental to allow her to cut loose. Hairless Toys has been generally accepted as a return to form, and I'd agree with that: without descending too much into a carbon copy of her former work, she's playing around with song structures while not forgetting to keep some proper tunes in there. This one, possibly inspired by a pet dog who was impervious to lethal injections, is the closest thing to a Moloko song she's done to date, though you suspect they would have gone completely dancefloor crazy at the climax rather than going for the slow blossoming she achieves here.
7. KID CARPET – Jesus Is A Hedgehog (from Noisy Nativity, kidcarpet.bandcamp.com) [video]
There's usually one song that makes it onto these compilations at the last possible minute. This year, I had an externally imposed deadline to work to, as Mostly Film wanted to reveal my track listing on December 7th. And just as I thought I had the running order locked down, Kid Carpet released this on December 3rd. The first single from an album that's coming out piecemeal on Bandcamp over the next few days, it's taken from his Christmas show at Bristol's Tobacco Factory, Noisy Nativity. (The song title is a casting note rather than some sort of surrealist anti-Christian sentiment.) The Kid's been working largely in children's theatre for the last couple of years, and I feel it's sometimes resulted in his music being dialled down a bit for the kiddies: but this feels like a comeback of the racuous pop tunes he made in his heyday.
8. THE MEN THAT WILL NOT BE BLAMED FOR NOTHING – This House Is Not Haunted (from Not Your Typical Victorians, Leather Apron) [video]
And if Jesus Is A Hedgehog is technically the most religious song on there, then this... is at the other extreme. We first encountered The Men via their guitarist Andrew O'Neill, in his other role as a stand-up comic. To be honest, most of the time their steampunk tunes plough a similarly comic furrow, getting their laughs from the distance between their Victorian subject matter and their noisy metal music. But every so often, they hit you with a serious song when you least expect it, and this atheist ghost story - or more accurately, discussion of whether an atheist ghost story is even possible - manages to get a furious rock climax out of the mere act of skepticism.
9. MAX RICHTER & GRACE DAVIDSON – Path 5 (delta) (from From Sleep, Deutsche Grammophon) [video]
I slept through a lot of one of my musical highlights of the year. Don't worry, I was meant to. Max Richter's Sleep is, on paper, a right old Pseud's Corner of a concept - an eight-hour piece of music intended to be played to an audience during the night while they're in bed. But its live Radio 3 broadcast back in September was a rather extraordinary thing, albeit almost certainly unrepeatable. We do, however, also have From Sleep, which is a rather different animal - a one-hour reworking of Sleep's key themes and motifs, intended to be listened to while fully awake. We'll see how successful that is when Richter performs it live in London next May: but in the meantime, Path 5 (delta) is the best statement of the prettiest tune in the whole suite. Note that the video version linked to here is a four-minute single edit, and you'll need to track down the full eleven-minute cut for maximum impact. From there, it'll be an easy step to the whole eight-hour piece, you'll see.
10. NEW ORDER – Singularity (from Music Complete, Mute) [video]
I've been saying it for years - this is me saying it in 2009, for example - and this year I was definitively proven right: the most important member of New Order is the one who everyone tends to ignore. Ever since Gillian Gilbert took a back seat in the band to look after her kids, their ear for a melody has atrophied to virtually nothing: now she's back with them, and their comeback record has tunes bursting out of every corner. Granted, it's a record that contains echoes of virtually every previous one they've made, but it never feels like nostalgia for its own sake. Although you could argue that this song - opening with a Peter Hook-style bassline, almost in mockery of his high-profile absence from the group - is using that nostalgia for more mischievous purposes than the others.
11. SUFJAN STEVENS – Blue Bucket Of Gold (remix) (single, Asthmatic Kitty) [video]
That '(single)' is an important distinction. Sufjan's 2015 album - Carrie & Lowell, a sequence of songs about his dead parents - was widely loved in many quarters, but left me a bit cold with its rawness and minimalism. I couldn't quite put my finger on what bugged me about it until this single remix, and then it was obvious: it was the minimalism. It turns out that with Stevens, it's the combination of his melodies and arrangements that pushes me over the edge, and the album version of this was too stripped-back for me to appreciate it. Here, this full band version gives the song the setting it deserves. (It's based on the arrangement he's been using in live shows, as shown in the video link - be warned that the live version is three times longer than the original...)
12. THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS FT. BECK – Wide Open (from Born In The Echoes, Virgin EMI) [video]
"It doesn't sound like The Chemical Brothers," was The Belated Birthday Girl's initial response on hearing this. I think I know what she means - a casual listener to the duo would assume that most of what they do involves four-on-the-floor slammers. But they've had their moments of restraint in the past, with 2005's Hold Tight London being the closest comparison I can make to this low-key charmer. Although unlike the earlier track, there are loads of little melodic variations throughout its running length to stop it from just being a simple six minute bubbling beat.
13. BJORK – History Of Touches (from Vulnicura, One Little Indian) [video]
One of the tracks on last year's compo was Lykke Li's Love Me Like I'm Not Made Of Stone, which led me into a brief discussion of the voyeuristic pleasures to be had when artists make albums about their romantic breakups. Little did I suspect at the time that Bjork had one of those of her own ready for release. Predictably, it's an emotionally raw affair, the sound of an open wound being prodded with a salty spatula for an hour, made all the more affecting by the sudden switches into detached observation of the carnage. History Of Touches is the most stunning example of this, pinpointing the exact moment when someone decides that this is the end, where a single casual use of the word 'fuck' has more impact than Kendrick Lamar using it a couple of dozen times in a song.
14. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING – No Reptiles (from Get To Heaven, Sony) [video]
See paragraph at top of page. The BBG is still a huge fan of Everything Everything, and it's because of her that I've seen them twice this year: once in London, as mentioned above, and once in Cardiff, which I'll be talking about some time soon. The first gig was a showcase of the new album a couple of months before its release, and this song was always a highlight despite that line: I've seen them do that final buildup in person twice now, and it always knocks the recorded version flat in terms of its dynamic power. But the live EP they released this year is a surprisingly ropey recording, so let's stick with the studio take instead.
15. GHOSTPOET FT. PAUL SMITH – Be Right Back, Moving House (from Shedding Skin, PIAS) [video]
Some point before the end of the year, The BBG and I plan to write up the results of the project she set herself in her 2015 diary. (We also need to produce a 2016 diary, but let's ignore that for now.) You'll remember that her aim was to visit a dozen small venues, of the sort that are under increasing threat of closure at the moment. And one of our favourite venues visited on our 2015 travels was Kazimier in Liverpool, where we caught Ghostpoet at exactly the right time - at the point where Shedding Skin had built up a lot of interest in him, but just before he got too big to play places of this size. It seemed cruelly ironic that just a few days after that gig, Kazimier announced that they'd be closing at the end of 2015. Property developers are scum, and will continue to be so. But in the meantime, we have the memory of a rather lovely night spent in the company of Ghostpoet, and this song being the perfect closer to his set.
16. FFS – Piss Off (from FFS, Domino) [video]
Going back to Simon Love earlier on, and his love of a good swear. For a while, I was considering including another track from his album on here: The New Adam And Eve, a deeply romantic tune about demonstrating your love for your partner by killing all other people on the planet, featuring frequent repetition of the line "everybody else can just fuck off and die." In the end, I decided against including that, because I already had another song on here with a similar theme. The brilliantly named FFS is a perfect mesh of its two component parts, with Franz Ferdinand's precision bouncing nicely off Sparks' playfulness. It's the playfulness in particular that stops this one from being offensive, and makes it the 21st century equivalent of Ringo wrapping up The White Album with Good Night. Or something like that, anyway,
So, that's that for another year. But I'm still a little worried about the title, and the fact that the sleeve is basically insulting a randomly-chosen early-20th-century child whose picture I found on the internet. Fat-shaming is a major issue at the moment, particularly in a week when arseholes like this are roaming unchecked on the tube. Still, as they say, when you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you. Which leads us into this year's competition to win your own CD copy of Fat Child In A Pushchair*, which will take the form of a Guess The Weight Of The Monkey contest, so I can get shamed for a change.
The rules are simple. I weighed myself unclothed - yeah, stop thinking about that now, please - around lunchtime on Sunday December 6th, 2015. Using your skill and judgement - and the photo at the top of this page, if it helps - estimate to the nearest kilogram how much I weighed on that day, and email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org before 23:59 GMT on January 31st 2016. Nearest answer to the official measurement will win the CD. As ever, this competition is not open to anyone who's on the current mailing list for the CD. This goes double for The Belated Birthday Girl, who had to read my weight off the bathroom scales because I couldn't see the dial past my beer gut. This may be something I need to work on. Being a monkey, and all.