If we assume that my pal Lou has been the main inspiration behind my Pick Of The Year compilations for some time now, then this year's one - the 36th in total! - marks a couple of biggish anniversaries. Because it's the 25th compilation I've made for him since he started receiving them in 1993, and the 20th one to have been burned onto CD rather than copied onto a cassette.
The usual rules still apply, of course: this is a collection of the music released in 2017 that I liked the most, constrained by the medium it's collected onto, meaning a maximum of 80 minutes to play with. This year's batch is a right old mixture of album tracks, singles, and selections from EPs (one of the latter being primarily available on 7" vinyl, which hasn't happened around here for, um, decades). It's all been brought together on one CD (as well as playlists on YouTube and, soon, Spotify), and as usual there's a competition to win your own copy of the CD at the end of this page. Will Dave win it as usual? Let's find out...
2016 in brief: everyone you ever liked is DEAD. 2017 in brief: everyone you ever liked is a SEX CRIMINAL. But remember that perineum between the tail end of the old year and the start of the new, when it seemed like there was the possibility of hope and that things could be good again? Well, that was the precise window during which La La Land's upfront feelgood factor worked, which may explain all those Oscar votes. I've never dared give it a rewatch in case I'm proved right. In the meantime, however, this song is a glorious opening for anything - a film, an album, a year. You may say that the album was actually released late in 2016 and so shouldn't be included here, and that's fine, though I may tell you to sod off in return.
2. MIYAVI - Live To Die Another Day (from All Time Best: Day 2, TO) [video, includes bonus song Firebird]
Staying with songs from the films, though end titles rather than opening titles: specifically, Miyavi's end title theme to Takashi Miike's Blade Of The Immortal, which I've managed to review on two occasions this year (with a third on the way soon). Totally at odds with the score for the rest of the film, it's a magnificently over-the-top burst of guitar racket, whose opening shriek of feedback soundtracks the final shot perfectly. (Unfortunately, that feedback is missing from the live clip I've linked to above, but you can hear it at the start of this abridged version.)
3. THE THE - We Can't Stop What's Coming (from Volume 4: The End Of The Day, Cineola) [video]
One more song from a film, and then I'll stop. The documentary The Inertia Variations follows Matt Johnson of The The preparing for his first public appearance after over a decade out of the limelight. As he plans a marathon twelve-hour webcast during the 2015 General Election, the bulk of the dramatic tension in the film stems from one question: will Johnson get around to writing his first new song in years in time for the broadcast? The very existence of this track, therefore, is technically a spoiler. Sorry about that. But it's everything you could possibly want from a new The The song: bluesy piano, a low-key vocal, some guest noodling from Johnny Marr, and a lyric that avoids the cheap shock effects that sometimes blighted Johnson's earlier work. Dunno if this is the start of a second wind for his career, but it'd be nice if it was.
4. GHOSTPOET - Freakshow (from Dark Days + Canapes, Play It Again Sam) [video]
Two years after Ghostpoet's Shedding Skin, its followup is a much darker proposition. It's the obvious way to go, but a slightly disappointing direction. Part of what made the previous album so winning was its mixture of light and shade, but this time round he's turned the dark up. Still sounding pretty unique regardless, but I'd like to see the joy come back on the next record.
5. KID CARPET - Visionary (from The Castle Builder, Bandcamp) [video]
This one's a bit of a hangover from 2016, really. Kid Carpet and Vic Llewellyn's theatre show The Castle Builder charmed me twice last year, once in Edinburgh and once again on its London visit. Quite a few of its songs were taken from the Kid's Dogmeat record (including one that made it onto my 2016 compilation), which led me to assume that it was effectively the show's soundtrack album. But then this year we got the actual soundtrack album - effectively a mashup of the Dogmeat songs, some old favourites and a couple of new ones. This is one of the new ones, and sums up the show's brilliantly inclusive approach to outsider art in a tidy three minutes.
6. COUSTEAUX - The Innermost Light (from CousteauX, Silent X) [video]
The last time the artists formerly known as Cousteau were on one of these things, it was in 2005. Songwriter Davey Ray Moor had done a runner, and singer Liam McKahey had stepped up to take his place surprisingly well. The band then took twelve years off, as you do, coming back with a fractionally tweaked name and the welcome news that Moor and McKahey were back together again. I was perfectly happy with the songs McKahey wrote for Nova Scotia, but there's no denying that these new ones are in a different league altogether, with the Bond-style swagger of this collaboration with Carl Barat a special highlight.
7. KYARY PAMYU PAMYU - Harajuku Iyahoi (single, WM Japan) [video]
After the frantic activity of her first three years in the business (culminating in the 2014 album Pika Pika Fantajin), it's all gone a bit quiet for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. A greatest hits album and tour in 2016 seemed to be positioned as the End Of Phase One for her career, and we've been waiting ever since to find out what Phase Two is going to look like. It's still not entirely clear: so far we've just had a couple of singles which don't seem to deviate much from the template of Phase One. But at her best, Kyary and her team (most importantly writer/producer Yasutaka Nakata) deliver maniacally catchy pop songs, and this is one of their best examples in a while. It's also accompanied by one of those videos you could stare at for hours wondering how they did that, other than by employing a cast of thousands.
8. THE DIVINE COMEDY - To The Rescue (live) (from Loose Canon, Divine Comedy Records) [video]
Foreverland, last year's big release by The Divine Comedy, was represented on POTY 2016 by one of its sillier songs, How Can You Leave Me On My Own. I mentioned at the time that Neil Hannon's more directly emotional material didn't quite connect with me to the same degree: that may explain why the studio version of To The Rescue didn't make the cut on last year's compilation, but the live version does on this year's. This recording (taken from an album that's currently only available at gigs and by mail order, with a full release pencilled in for February 2018) replaces the classic pop trappings of lush strings and trumpet solo with a single accordion. It undercuts the grandeur of the studio arrangement, and somehow makes it more delightful as a result.
9. MIK ARTISTIK'S EGO TRIP - David Bowie Was A Funny Man (single, Bandcamp) [video]
It made sense to me to keep the two accordion-driven tracks together. When I first heard Mik Artistik, I mistook him for the Lancashire Hotpots, who similarly take on contemporary subject matter with a broad Northern folk accent. Given the little I've heard of Artistik's music so far, he seems generally to deal in gentle whimsy rather than the Hotpots' out-and-out gags: the fact that this song contains quite a few laugh-out-loud moments makes it generally unrepresentative of the rest of his output. Still, I'm sure Bowie himself would be amused by the tribute, even the lies about his love for Doncaster Rovers.
10. MOGWAI - Crossing The Road Material (from Every Country's Sun, Rock Action) [video]
Both this and the previous track owe their appearance here to one specific cause: The Belated Birthday Girl started a new job in August, and it requires the clock radio at Château Belated-Monkey to go off at 6.45am rather than the usual 7.00am. As a result, we've started hearing the dying minutes of Chris Hawkins' early morning show on 6 Music. It's just before peak time wireless starts, so you can hear things like seven-minute-long Mogwai instrumentals without them being faded out just as they're starting to get good. The same goes for Mik Artistik, who I first heard in the same timeslot. I suspect I'm more impressionable when I've just woken up, which presumably explains why I bought both this track and the previous one the same day as I first heard them.
11. DIZZEE RASCAL - Space (from Raskit, Universal/Island) [video]
As has been widely noted, this is Dizzee getting weird again after a few years of commercial success, and fair play to him for it. Musically, it's a return to the minimalist atonal style of his early records: lyrically, it's a lightning-speed torrent of fantastically inventive rhymes (the run that includes 'callous/malice/fallacies/palace/chalice/Alice/gyalist/phallus' is particularly glorious, and no, you look it up). I was initially convinced that you could only spit lyrics at this speed with the aid of technical jiggery-pokery in the studio, so I was delighted to be proved wrong by this live version.
12. GABRIELLE RUIZ - This Is My Movement (from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3: Josh Is Irrelevant., WaterTower Music) [video]
There's a huge number of songs I could have chosen from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this year: in 2017 alone, the show's released a 39 track album of numbers from season 2, plus EPs of tunes from each season 3 episode coming out the day after broadcast. When it came to the final decision, I had to accept that context is everything. Songs that sound great when they're in the narrative flow of the programme sound less friendly in isolation: they're Ed Sheeranesque howls of passive-aggressive misogyny, or queasily danceable hymns to Jewish self-pity, or something that could actually be a Jim Steinman power ballad given its witty repurposing of a commonly-used phrase. But in the end, this looked like the safest bet: a Schrodinger's Cat of a track that's simultaneously an anthem of feminine empowerment and a song about taking a great big shit.
13. JARVIS COCKER & CHILLY GONZALES - Tearjerker (from Room 29, Deutsche Grammophon) [video]
Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales' unclassifiable cabaret was one of my highlights at Edinburgh this year, a piano-based fantasia on the collapse of Hollywood and the romance of hotel rooms. Cocker's lyrics are as smart and cheeky as ever (that opening couplet is a killer), but it's Gonzales' gorgeous music that elevates this one way above the barely-concealed loathing in its words.
14. GORILLAZ - We Got The Power (from Humanz, Parlophone) [video]
Let's face it, a Gorillaz album is no longer the cause for excitement that it used to be. Doubtless, some people would insist that it never used to be: but on those early records, you could hear that these were songs that Damon Albarn was desperate to get off his chest, which could only be done outside of the constraints of Blur. By comparison, most of Humanz feels like a record he's only making because it's been a few years since the last one. The one exception is this final track: initially hyped because it officially marks the cessation of Albarn's hostilities with its backing vocalist Noel Gallagher (though you can barely hear him on this), it's the ecstatic interjections by Jehnny Beth that really lift it. Plus, it's a hugely positive lyric at a time when we need as many of those as we can get.
15. RINGO SHIINA - The Adult Code (from Reimport, Vol 2: Civil Aviation Bureau, Universal Music) [video, sort of]
I'm not quite sure what Ringo Shiina's playing at these days. Her last album of new songs was released in 2014: since then, she seems to be largely working as a songwriter for hire, but every so often releasing a Reimport album in which she records her own cover versions of songs she's written for other artists. The Adult Code is a particularly unusual example of this: it's a TV theme tune, made for the TBS drama series Quartet, and was originally performed by its lead actors under the band name Doughnuts Hole (the string quartet of the show's title). The video linked to above is actually the Quartet end titles sequence, which features roughly half of Doughnuts Hole's version of the song (there's a full-length re-edit available on Dailymotion). Ringo's cover uses the same lush string arrangement by her old mate Neko Sato, but translates all the lyrics into English because she's such a smartypants.
16. PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - People Will Always Need Coal (from Every Valley, Play It Again Sam) [video]
It took this track by Public Service Broadcasting to make me realise something about them: the songs of theirs I've enjoyed the most have used their newsreel samples to celebrate great things, be it the landing of man on the moon or the glories of the 1930s postal service. Every Valley, with its theme of the death of coal mining in the UK, goes for ironic tragedy instead. The sheer hubris of pronouncements like "the South Wales coalfield will be turning out Best Welsh for a few hundred years yet," given what happened just a few years after, gives this track a much darker edge than usual. I like it. (The darker edge, that is, not the destruction of the mining industry.)
17. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING - Put Me Together (from A Fever Dream, RCA) [video]
To be honest, Everything Everything are more The Belated Birthday Girl's (everythingevery) thing than mine. They always seem a little too involved and technical for my liking: anything coming close to an emotion (other than nervous panic) tends to get undercut fairly quickly with a burst of off-centre rhythm or a distracting lyric. (Case in point: that whole 'fat child in a pushchair' business from two years ago.) This song, though, has an unambiguously lovely tune, and even the bit three quarters of the way through when a battery of drum machines is thrown down a flight of stairs doesn't quite break the mood.
18. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG - Les Oxalis (from Rest, Because Music) [video]
One of those periodic appearances on these compilations from the Gainsbourg clan, after cover versions of songs by Charlotte's dad appearing in 1998 and 2010. This is a terrific slab of French disco that fits perfectly into the family tradition. One thing should be noted, though: the version I've included on my CD edits out the bit of hidden whimsy that appears after several seconds of silence at the end. If you're listening to this on the Spotify playlist - something which in previous years would have appeared on the MostlyFilm summary of this piece but, now that Europe's Best Website is closing down, will have to be found in another location - anyway, the Spotify version will include that bonus bit, and will not include the upcoming track 19, as that's not currently available for streaming. So Spotify users can take that hidden track as the ending of their version of the compilation. C'est fini, as they say.
19. MICHAEL LEGGE & OWEN PARKER - The Last Days (from Jerk The Musical, Bandcamp) [video]
But for the rest of you listening on other media, there's one more highlight from this year's Edinburgh Festival to cover. Michael Legge's show Jerk is, it turns out, a very precisely constructed hour of comedy. I recently saw him perform the first seven minutes as part of a Robin Ince show, and it didn't quite work, because you can instinctively tell it's largely concerned with setting up gags that would have paid off much later on. In a similar fashion, although the musical finale brings everything together brilliantly, the vinyl EP of songs that Legge sold me after the gig doesn't really work in isolation either, for precisely the opposite reason. The one exception to all of that is this track. A double tribute to two recently departed souls - David Bowie and Legge's dog Jerk - The Last Days features the latter looking back on his life using the voice and musical style of the former. Oh, by the way, Hey Jude? You are no longer the best singalong fadeout in musical history.
So, that's 19 tracks in under 79 minutes, and you can own all of them thanks to our usual competition to win a copy of the CD. All you need to do is answer this question: When David Bowie sacked the Spiders from Mars, he needed another backing band. So who did he turn to? Where did he go? Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org before 23:59 GMT on January 31st 2018. First correct answer will win the CD, or first reply received if nobody answers it correctly. As ever, this competition is not open to anyone who's on the current mailing list for the CD. Note that the answer is linked to from somewhere on this page: it should not be necessary for you to email David Bowie and ask him directly. I probably wouldn't recommend it, anyway. Being a monkey, and all.