Hilary Benn, Shame On You: Singles of 2015
Smithfield, December 2015
Rest in peace Lemmy, always a friend to the punks, and responsible for the loudest gig we've ever been to. Bar none.
Speaking of punk, this outstanding book and this marvellous DVD arrived within 24 hours of each other, and we’ve gorged ourselves on Sarah recollections ever since, also realising that there is no better way of spending a family Christmas than watching extended Brighter interview clips (who needs blockbuster movies, our dear monarch’s speech, or the woes of Walford?)
Even after our gargantuan efforts to verse and immerse ourselves in Sarah folklore over the years, it turned out there was still plenty to learn from Michael White’s tome, like the fact that one of our favourite 45s ever – the first of these, in fact - was inspired by Spike Milligan (yes, of Goon Show and Ning Nang Nong fame...) There’s much to elicit from Lucy Dawkins’ film too (Annemari Davies lives somewhere with lots of seagulls; Secret Shine have the nicest sofa; Matt Haynes’ voice is so low frequency that he technically falls into the sub-bass genre) but the thing that jumped out at us personally was that during the DVD’s Even As We Speak montage there’s a photo of my then-housemate at a gig (he’s the one in the Fat Tulips T-shirt) who was actually, at the time the pic was taken, surfing on my back (largely at the band’s instigation). Luckily, you can’t see me at all, so this website’s conceit of anonymity is happily preserved.
The only thing the DVDs and books don’t perhaps make enough of is the fact, which many an indie-kid these days might not even credit, that you could walk into a town centre branch of a record shop chain, let alone plenty of independent outlets, and just buy new Sarah releases. With your pocket money, or the money from your first job, just as Clare & Matt intended. This was direct access to artistic genius as far as I was concerned, and it meant a lot. Yes, when I went up to the big smoke, I might pick up Sarah 7”s from Rhythm or Rough Trade, and when I moved to Bristol myself, I’d normally brave the disapproving gaze of the bloke at Revolver, but from very early on I’d been able to buy Sarah records from Our Price outlets in glamorous places like Basildon or Chelmsford.
I do now feel a certain envy for those who bought all their singles direct from the Garden Flat and so got to engage in extended correspondence with C&M themselves: the only time I wrote to them was when for once I couldn’t find the final Brighter EP anywhere, and then I had to write kind of pre-apologising for ordering it on CD instead of vinyl, and Matt sent a nice little note back saying that everybody else who’d ordered the CD had also apologised for ordering the CD instead of vinyl, which made me realise how well-educated we all were, to the extent that we were saying sorry to a record label for our temerity in buying their records, and on the only format we could actually play them on at the time. God, I love Sarah.
Which latest rush of nostalgia only served as a reminder, of course, that we remain inspired absolutely now, as we did a quarter of a century ago, by the best record label of all time (sorry Poptones), and that we’re forever grateful to Clare & Matt and everything they produced for introducing us to a life of loving music, stubbornly yet somewhat fruitlessly critiquing capitalist orthodoxy and of having not ice-breaking at all conversations about bands with strangers which usually involve us saying the phrases “oh, you probably wouldn’t have heard of them” and “no, I didn’t think you would” in quick succession.
Within a few years of that photo, the friend who surfed on my back was listening to Oasis instead, like everybody else, and had largely turned his back on Sarah, the label I’d introduced him to via my “Half-hearted” 7” (listened to with a few other students in someone’s room at college halls, a bit like Matthew Evans’ reminiscence in the DVD of communal listening to early Sea Urchins platters…) and he had then become equally obsessed with Sarah for a while (even getting to interview Clare & Matt for our university paper, which I remember being very jealous of).
After we’d been separated by work and, indeed, continents for a long time, my friend got in touch out of the blue last year to tell me that he’d rediscovered Sarah, via a curt e-mail asking “Is this you?” I was pathetic enough, I now see, to have replied “This is me”, making it clear that was a quote to be attributed to Keris Howard. It may be no coincidence that in the period inbetween him falling out of love with Sarah and rediscovering them, he's built a successful, high powered career and I, still carrying the torch, holding the flame, well, haven’t… but the central message of the DVD and the book, from pretty much all concerned, is “je ne regrette rien”, and how could you when it was so, so, so, so special.
We’d better not use this post to delve too much deeper into our own Sarah favourites or our Sarah memories than we have before, but suffice to say that we still wouldn't trade-in a single second of those eight years we spent at school and university, attempting to defend the label and its bands from the constant barbs of the music press that our mates virtually without exception took as gospel truth. In retrospect, that makes everything sweeter. I don’t see any books or DVDs coming out that fixate on My Jealous God, Five Thirty, Thousand Yard Stare or Cud, but then to be honest I haven’t really been looking for them.
* * * * *
2015, then. Thankfully, for new music, each year seems to prove even better than the year before, and so it was that 2015 unveiled a ridiculously lush panoply of superb-ness which made us feel the luckiest people alive, just as Sarah Records did in the days when we traipsed into the record shops repped above. So, following our cursory attempt to big up the rest of 2015, here's what we made of its 45s. The mode average bpm is, of course, 128.
1. Michael Schwarz “She Doesn’t Ask For” (Wall Music)
As pure as "Clearer", as naked as "Toulouse", this is severe techYES: a perfectly undulating current that may leave the scruff of yr neck ungrabbed – there’s hardly a song structure at all, apart from the subtle crescendo and diminuendo at either end - but this is his best piece in ages, and possibly also the future of music to boot. Got its vinyl release last year, I think, but let’s gloss over that in the circs.
2. A New Line (Related) "Our Lady Of Perpetual Fucking Succour" (Home Assembly Music)
On vinyl with a postcard, so continuing a Sarah theme, and parading all the manifold virtues of fierce independence into the bargain. However distracting the song titles, the truth is that the music on this 4-track EP is exceptional, with the near-flawless title tune in particular a quantum leap forward even from last year's eponymous debut LP. “Succour” is… modern, somehow combining the whispering, shifting sands of ANL(R)'s ace “Roomful Of Lovers” 7” with a more visceral appeal, a slinky, minimal Motor City-ish blend of house and techno: it boasts the same hypnotic qualities that made Jamie Ball’s “Love Song” such a hit with us just five short years ago.
Next, “Belle Ile En Mer Dub Night” is more recognisably a bedfellow to the album’s twinkling opening brace “Vote Malcolm Eden” and “A Withering Attack”, but again it suffuses its beats in warmth, drawing out the rhythmic patterns. Over on the other side of the 12", "Nobody's Been in Touch" starts all clinical but soon gets progressively tipsy, swaying and sashaying decorously, as if MBV were trying to navigate their more fecund forests of miasmic minimalism without their guitars: it trips and dips and slurs and blurs its words before giving way to the similarly woozy textures of "They’re Burning Northerners Fifteen At A Time And Firing Them Into The Sky To Light Up London" (we did warn you about the song titles), a gorgeous, undulating, swooning, seductively drunken, conclusion. The last drink makes me, and all that.
3. Sceptical C “Weekend Culture” (Audio Autopsy)
The closest we get to “Weekend Culture” is treating ourselves to a touch of Joseph Love on a Saturday (on which note, props to the DJ at the Alma on Halloween night who spun both “Two Sevens Clash” and “Dead Pop Stars”) but we suspect that late nights in the cities of the Netherlands are rather more lively. C is something of a chameleon, in a world oft-comprised of one-trick ponies: this upbeat paean to late night excess and bleary-eyed nightbus tiredness is different again from last yr’s RIGHTEOUS maelstrom, “Curfew Neglector” but just as irresistible.
4. Ryuji Takeuchi “Scattered” (Blind Spot Music)
This year’s “Das Testament”: a great song, on 12”, with three sky-high remixes (and on Gabeen and Dr Hoffmann's house label). The “scattered” are any pretenders to his throne, scattered to the four winds by this spectral and sinister sister record to another 2015 cut, "Silhouette”. Those remixes come correct from Angel Costa (aka the N1 branch of a well known coffee chain), mighty Magyars Dr H and Gabeen themselves, and the one and only Michael Schwarz, whose remix is breathtaking: quite possibly our ‘remix of the year’.
5. Timothy Hora and Virgil Enzinger “Schlafendes Feuer” (Berlin Underground)
Inspired by a work by the artist Andreas Westreicher and by the lakes and mountains of the Tyrol, no less, this is a 9½ minute slab of smooth, syrupy bass-anchored techno that pairs Tyrolean VJ-turned-DJ Timothy Hora with ‘I.Cntrl’ freak and redoubtable lord of dark-tech, Virgil “Phlogiston” Enzinger. Quite Cortechs-ish, actually (by the way, if you're wondering where Cortechs is in this list, he's precisely nowhere until he coughs up the £15 he owes us. Monopsone Records are subject to a similar ban).
6. Gal Tsadok-Hai “Molar” (ON Records)
A gem from the new Amsterdam producer, on handstamped 12” in sandpaper-coloured sleeve. The phrase “sylph-like” may be a bit overused by reviewers, but it’s dead-on here: imagine his ON labelmate Nicole Rosie’s “Foxboy” being piloted into the distant reaches of the galaxy by Planetary Assault. The label boss, Jeff Rushin contributes a remix which speeds it up from its sober 126 and transforms it into a sleek, hi-spec clanker.
7. Sutter Cane “Dark Matter” (Sabotage)
Edgy, insistent, acid-tinged, a little sonic roughness, an echo chamber of 'homemade discord'. TUNE, in fact.
8. Great Panoptique Winter “Wildness” (Sound In Silence)
Ooh, the first vocal so far, as the band that could have been Large Declining Electrical cruise into town with six tracks of tender wilderness wonderment, “Wildness”, on a sumptuously-clad CD-r. The don is “Put Hope In Future Days”, which boasts borderline murderous beauty, as divine a thing as you could wish for from people that between them, don’t forget, once helped bring the likes of “Outside Closer”, “Postal Museum” and “Club Life” into this world.
9. Ryuji Takeuchi “Black Tears EP” (Local Sound Network Digital Solutions)
We'd been trying largely to avoid full EPs in 2015, especially yr average techno EP which, by definition, takes as long to ingest as ten 7" single indie-pop A sides (SARAHs 21 to 30, say, if you will persist with the postcards theme), but some demand attention. Including this one from Osaka’s master producer, on his own label.
The first three tracks get progressively playful and frantic, building up to something of a fever pitch (the BPM count skyrockets from a liveable 68 to a dangerously palpitating 155): “Tears 1” is coated in a strange kind of synth-wobbleboard effect before the fevered 909 rattle of "Tears 2“ (a heady mix of mangled piano-down-the-stairs arpeggio and a return to the harder style of "The Fixer") managed to remind us at different points of both Hood's "Cross The Land" and Gang Starr's "Beyond Comprehension", which must count for something.
But just when it dawns on you that he’s going to find it hard to follow the even more intense Cindy-like barrage of "Tears 3" that follows, our hero switches pace completely and pulls "Tearstain" out of his capacious hat: an intensely pretty and diverting beatless piece of post-classical contemplation. We haven't been thrown so off our guard by a record since Gridlink dropped that violin-led instrumental ballad into the thick of a titanically claustrophobic grindcore album. A consoling change of mood, it could be a lost Blueboy B-side. Excellent stuff all round.
10. Niereich “Tweak Control” (Sick Weird Rough)
Not animal, not vegetable, strictly MINIMAL: a beep/bleep synthline, as they’re known in the industry (they are!) that strolls nonchalantly over broken eggshell beats. Something of a departure from his usual fare, but at least as generally fab.
11. DJ Hi-Shock “The Travelers (The Remixes)" (Darknet)
Both sparky (132 bpm, your honour) and sparkly (if I were a magpie, I’d swipe it in a heartbeat) this is a record with a twinkle in its eye. Able remix support from Subsight, Niereich, Fabrice Torricella and Claudio Petroni into the bargain. Plus, you can still get the original mix on 12” (so we did).
12. Mörbeck “Pyramid” (M_Rec)
A mellow beast from the Berliner on silky, sexy 12” which moves with purpose and with subtle, intriguing switches of dynamic as well as an ominous, repeated chime. All at a controversial 127 beats per.
13. Electrorites “Sequences” (Sick Weird Rough)
This intricate, Italianate gem unfurled itself only in the last weeks of the year, and even before its shimmering, beatless, windchime-style last minute, unsurprisingly-titled lead track “Sequences 001” demonstrates that SWR are now firmly back on track after a couple of surprisingly dodgy singles earlier in 2015.
14. Sven Wittekind “Butterfly Effect” (Sick Weird Rough)
After the exertions of previous ILWTT chart-dominating years, it took him nearly 11/12ths of this year even to get a single out. But this is no crushingly full-on “Sven is back” dancefloor-killer. No, this is subtle. Almost sub-subtle. You can still tell it’s the master craftsman at work, but this is all precision German engineering, not the crash and clang of traditional assembly line tools. All that said, the cumulative impact is BIG. Which, judging by the title, is probably what he intended.
15. Novelist x Mumdance “1 Sec” (XL)
Astonishingly, a great record on XL, as Lewisham’s dexterous teenage MC Novelist joins battle with divebombing flips from all-round beat supremo and on/off Pinch collaborator Mumdance as they share top billing for the first time following Novelist’s starring role on 2014’s amazing Mumdance 45, “Take Your Time”. "Shook" on the flip is not far short. 12”, with instrumentals.
16. Durrty Goodz “Off Da Heezy” (self-released)
"My work of art’s official / Your work is artificial”. He could be talking to pretty much anyone there, because DG remains an MC who is fully qualified to lord it over his rivals. Yes, Goodz is back and sounding remarkably on top of this stripped-down Machine Man Tim prod with a heavy Platinum 45 / eski-era vibe. Mad greezy.
17. Nothing Clean / La Letra Pequena split 7” (Vleesklak Records / Samidzat Records / Circus Of The Macabre Records)
“LEICESTER CITY HARDCORE!” apparently. Taste the blistering NC side of this record and you’ll get a bouquet of… Wormrot, Ampere, the Atrocity Exhibit, Flyblown, Sidetracked, that sort of thing, all thrown together in a crazily gyrating cement mixer. Incredibly unyielding powerviolence, but yet underneath it all you can sense the tunes.
18. Despise You “All Your Majestic Bullshit” (No Bread!)
Cassettes are everywhere now, if most popular of all with a new wave of young DC-style hardcore bands who wouldn't even remember when it was a credible format (I know, it never really was, and yet we paid £5 a time to the majors for the privilege of easily-chewed tapes you could accidentally record over).
Inglewood’s Despise You are not, it should be recorded, youngsters. Indeed, they are scene veterans and legends, one of the bands that, in our humble opinion, help make America great. Like their near-neighbours, Ices Cube and T, they speak more sense than all the politicians in the USA put together, and this typically nil-nonsense, slightly Weekend Nachos-like title number is joined by the anthemic “Centinela Park, Hosanna” and a cover of Rich Kids on LSD’s “Drink Positive”.
As well as this (Russian!) tape release, the 3 tracks also turned up on a (one sided) Pessimiser 7”, we believe.
19. Amir Razanica “Proctor” (Elite of Techno)
Another artist with a signature sound and a fairly unvarying M.O., Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Amir Razanica released a dozen percussion-heavy singles this year, of which this outing on nicely-named German label Elite of Techno (still not quite as good as Tech You Very Much, though) is unwaveringly the best. I got so excited listening to this whilst watching Match of the Day with the sound turned down in the usual way that I knocked one of my favourite beer glasses onto the floor, but this is so compelling it was almost worth sweeping up all the shards. A definite WIWOV ("wish it was on vinyl"; or should that be "wish it were on vinyl")? Anyway, we WIVOV regardless.
20. Sandro Galli “Atom” (Embrion Music)
Like Amir Razanica, Sandro Galli tends to release a new single roughly every fortnight, and for us this was def. the pick of his. By our Sandro’s own uncompromisingly rumbustious, tempestuous and above all repetitive standards, “Atom” is if anything actually rather lowkey - almost shyly so - but no less rewarding for that.
21. Ryuji Takeuchi "Information Overload" EP (Labrynth)
Mr T, now well ensconced in both our "wish they were uncles" top ten and our usual Subbuteo first eleven, reprises his recent "Missing The Moon" fetish, this time arming his composition with industrial percussion & some alarmingly high freqs and crashing it (figuratively, you understand) slap bang into the middle of a munitions factory, with predictably uproarious consequences. Suffocatingly overloaded at times, this does exactly what it says on the tin.
22. Pinch and Mumdance featuring Riko Dan “Big Slug” (Tectonic)
A major 12”, from no less than three musical heavyweights. Riko's having trouble with his flowerbeds again and so, in true skengman mode, declares war on every slug in the E postcodes (true fact: slugs are much faster than seahorses, but just not as fast as the bpm on which Pinch and man of the moment Mumdance pilot this). My goodness, Riko Dan is in menacing form: pity those poor gastropod molluscs.
23. Royal-T “Shotta” (Butterz)
And another total corker. We’ve just been very… spoiled this year, haven’t we?
"Shotta" is a rare ‘club’ 12” with a picture sleeve, as well as great, thoughtful sleevenotes from R-T himself. His reaction to tamer, more placid dancefloor trends was this frantic collage of gunshot sounds and sirens, producing a sound one might describe as “murder on the Ice Rink”, if so minded. The vinyl leads off with P Money killing it on an esp. compelling “Lock Off The Rave” tip, though there’s also an mp3 floating around on which Footsie does the honours, before sloping off about half way through and leaving the rest of it as a (still killer) instrumental.
24. Wen featuring Riko Dan “Play Your Corner (Remixes)” (Keysound)
Hm. Riko really doesn't like informers, does he?
Anyway, a ready short cut for predicting “singles of the year” in any particular year is probably “whichever dubstep bloke is randomly doing a record with either Flowdan or Riko Dan this year” (last year it was Rabit and Kaiju) so hey presto…
This 12” single paired excellent Walton and Kahn & Neek remixes of the track from Wen’s “Signals” LP which – I think – was never itself a 45. Walton’s is especially grimey, mixing the kind of simple beats that Skepta and JME once did on their early production outings with a harder, serrated edge. Which all means there are now three versions of this tune, all brilliant, floating about. Other people who bought this from Juno also bought the Spook School LP, by the way. Rightly.
25. Wiley / Zomby “Step 2001” (Big Dada)
No, this wasn't one of his 8 singles in those 8 heady summer weeks. On this one, dubstep sorcerer Zomby approximates a vintage eski riddim, and Wiley... well, you know Wiley, he just does his irrepressible, loquacious, thing, rhyming for a good 2 1/2 minutes without a pause and removing all glumness within a hundred mile radius. This was on a one-sided 12", along with the icy inst. Funny how one-sided singles always manage to be just as expensive, though, isn't it?
26. Merky Ace “Peak Levels EP” (Dirtee Stank)
Our Merky steps up (ably) to Dizzee’s label on a 3-tracker with Footsie production. The bracingly ace “Cuss Match” leads the charge in proper barnstorming fashion, despite its clinical, clipped, precise beats.
27. Heavy Pet / Oakland Health Academy split cassette (Emotional Response)
Talking of Sarah, as we were, we honestly never ‘got’ why many Sarah fans didn’t like Boyracer. Their sense of longing, urgency, emotional resonance and anger seemed to us to fit perfectly with every precept of the label, and they went on to produce one of its finest ever songs. Heavy Pet are effectively (and self-admittedly) the latest Boyracer incarnation, and their three songs provide just the same qualities, allied with a sense of melody and some delicious hooks, taken at speed as if they were hairpin bends.
As for Oakland Health Academy (whom we had anglicised for a while as Oakland Health Authority), they match up: the semi-dreamy, mid-paced indiepop swirl of “Goodnight Sweetheart” feels like it could be a Cloudberry 7” (Roque, get them on your radar if you haven’t already!) This is so good that it reminds me of both Hula Hoop and Youngfuck.
28. Merky Ace “El P” (Family Tree)
On fire, as Galaxie 500 might say. On a WIWOV tip, there really needs to be some vinyl from Merky Ace at some point, because he’s becoming unignorably brill. A neat counter to that clinical Dirtee Stank debut earlier in the year, this joint (like Stick Man, he’s back in the Family Tree) is chaotic, edgy, convincingly um, vulgar (spot the middle class reviewer). It’s also fabulous.
And still they come. Stone-cold classics all, and we’re nearly into the thirties!
29. Ryuji Takeuchi “Invisible Armor EP” (Local Sound Network)
“Silhouette” is the peach here, though the whole thing is a bowl of the freshest fruit. As we suggested here, possibly.
30. The Fireworks “On and On” (Shelflife)
The first great single of 2015. As we said at the time. And not even the best track on that excellent LP.
31. Wiley “Wickedest MC Alive” (Chasing The Art)
Opening course of the 8 singles he served up in 8 weeks over the summer to launch his new Chasing The Art label, which is of course a *very* Wiley thing to do.
32. Kano “Hail” / “New Banger” (Bigger Picture)
Right. “Hail” is neat enough, “Hail” is cigar. But, like we said earlier, “New Banger” is K’s best song since “P’s & Q’s” or “Ice Rink”. Which means his best for a very very very long time.
33. Wiley “Send Me The Riddim” (Chasing The Art)
He doesn’t really need any more riddims, does he? I bet he can’t even get into his own house (in E3, one would guess), it’ll be so jammed full of riddims. Anyway, this was in Wiley’s top 3 singles of 2015, so top quartile. Altogether now: “I’m not an up and coming MC / I’m an up and running MC” (holler from bus windows to passing startled City workers, to fade).
34. Lightning In A Twilight Hour “Slow Changes EP” (Elefant)
In which our Bob gets angry, opinionated AND experimental, and totally rules in the process.
35. Lunchbox “Smash Hits EP” (Jigsaw Records)
"Oh me, oh my... Lunchbox really have a way with tunes. Melodies simply abound: little ones, big ones, huge ones, snaking in and out everywhere. And on their ace six-track “Smash Hits” EP, also on Jigsaw, they’ve upped their game by going all kind of scuzzy-90s lo-fi, and speeding things up a notch. Yet all those melodies are still there, and they ring out through the gorgeous fuzz as clear and proud as the bells of every East End church put together."
36. Jeff Rushin "A Figment of His Imagination" (Mote Evolver)
Frankly there are so many records this year that just make you want to applaud. This is yet another one. The title track is scintillating – but the other three are possibly even better as Jeff Rushin, ON Records supremo and ‘010s dancefloor Resenbrink, seamlessly emerges onto the leafy, villagey English imprint of Mote Evolver and tells them exactly what he thinks of their warm beer and sandwiches. “Coda” is the titan, but “Enigma” comes close, cut from the same fine cloth as fellow countryman Sceptical C’s “Weekend Culture”.
37. Robert Forster “Let Me Imagine You” (Tapete)
2015 saw a new single and LP from the big man, still Australia’s most handsome. And the single was the quintessentially perfect three-minute pop song. Which was nice.
38. Amir Razanica “Beyond the Horizont” (Klinik Room)
Not a typo, btw. 128bpm marvel from the Bosnian master, on a Croatian imprint.
39. Novelist x Mumdance “1 Sec (Fabriclive VIP)” (Fabric)
Haven’t we already had this? Well, not quite – this is a 10” single of the lyrically updated remix from Jack Adams’ Fabriclive 80 outing, paired with some quite lovely untitled drone from Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (the most unusual pairing since John Fashanu and Nigel Clough started up front for England). Though, having dug out a few of Novelist's works now, we can't help feeling that he's only half the MC when the beats behind him aren't Mumdance's. The full Fabriclive mix, in the usual silver box, is also worth investigating for Mumdance’s VIP re-take of “Take Time”, this time with Riko Dan basically murdering the riddim.
40. Actual Crimes “5 Songs” EP (Tunnel Visions)
Have you heard Sleater-Kinney recently? They are not the band we once loved. Luckily, London queer punk duo Actual Crimes sound here like a band we really could love. "We Shouldn't Be Friends" is the obvious ‘hit’: it leads off this yes, cassette and its driving, rickety charm is instantly warming as well as hella catchy. The other tracks more obviously betray the DIY quirk-punk tradition, which is equally warming (bringing back listening to Peel, under the covers, when he played Slampt 45s).
41. Isnaj Dui / The Declining Winter split (Rural Colours)
This gorgeous 12” hooked up two tracks from Isnaj Dui, collectively called “Stone’s Throw”, with seven mid-fi balladettes from the never-declining Declining Winter (together, an EP called “The Leaves In The Lane”).
I think we are probably now boring you with how often we go on about the Declining Winter but it’s amazing that in 2015 not only did they manage 14 tracks of general aceness on their vinyl LP, and another 5 that came with the bonus free download EP, and then another 2 that appeared on the CD version of that album they had to issue when the vinyl one sold out, and then that fab contribution to the Crabstick tribute EP, and then another nine songs that became “Endless Scenery”, but they somehow yet had 7 tracks over even after all of that to spare for this record. Songs that don’t sleep on the band’s usual dreamy, rustic, charming qualities.
However, the Isnaj Duj side is (wait for it)… even better. On it, Halifax’s leading practitioner of elegant electronica swaps her, er, post-flaut rock for ambient cello-tronica. The sombrely baroque "Points And Switches" is the more melodic, but we love both the bleak minimal experimentalism of "Radial Fields", and then the way the cello is freed to dance around for the last couple of minutes of it.
42. Sophie Nixdorf “Youko” (Rezongar Music)
Funk-soaked sonics, eventually infiltrated by nagging synth charms. At 127bpm.
43. Mintech “Southern District” (Driving Forces Digital Series)
Whereas 126bpm is a Sunday morning drive, really, isn’t it? A handy partner for “Youko” in your DJ sets, “Southern District” rings with more than a nod to da funk, but building to a trio of clangingly metallic refrains.
44. Ninna V “Subversive” (Darknet)
No relation to Frenkie V, or indeed Saturn V. But “Subversive” is still great, blackened, autumnal techno (we were going to say “late night techno”, then realised the tautology of that) from the veteran Portuguese DJ.
45. Redhead “No Control” (Reda)
Superbly no-nonsense, own label, almost Akinfenwatic piledriver from the Belgian, at 128.
46. Mr Brown featuring Cappo, Jehst, Pneumatic, eMCee Killa, Solar Black, Teslas Ghost, Ray Vendetta, MNSR Frites, Brotherman, Confucius MC, Kashmere & Life MC “Oil Baron” (King Underground)
47. Niereich & XHEI “Vrill” (AFU)
A really gorgeous marbled vinyl 12” (swoon). Apparently recorded round XHEI's gaff, somewhere in the latter's native Argentina. It sounds like one of them has laboured for aaaages layering a delicate minimalist dance track, and then the other bloke has just waded in, parked a Quilmes on the soundboard and just plonked the biggest bass drum he could find all over it. Quite marvellous, mind. We especially like the fact that the bass drum just carries on at the end on its own for a minute for no discernible reason, as if they'd just forgotten to switch it off.
48. The Charlie Tipper Experiment “You Made Me Homeless” (Breaking Down)
Our soundtrack to this year's terrible, terrible General Election result, as good as that was bad.
49. Sandro Galli “Black Skull” (Technodrome)
Ratcheting it up to 132, this was more sunny summer delight from our Sandro.
50. The Charlie Tipper Experiment “Rock & Roll Dreaming EP” (Breaking Down)
Band name fact: apparently, at some point this year the Charlie Tipper Experiment changed their moniker to the Charlie Tipper Conspiracy. There doesn't seem to have been any particular reason for this change, but then again we often find that "no reason" is often actually the best reason. Spontane!
51. Sir Spyro “Side by Side” (Dragon Punch Records)
A world from his moody Rude Kid remix inst, Sir S pilots this old-style showcase for bars from the Frontline crew. Good to hear “dat lickle yout” President T again (yep, last time was via Bless Beats on Eskibeat, seven yrs ago!)
52. The Catenary Wires “Intravenous“ (Elefant Records)
Like all good new beginnings, this arrived in the spring, along with newies from Agnostic Front and Maruta. It was nice to see Amelia on BBC4, wasn’t it, rifling through her unsurprisingly formidable-looking 7” collection? Only a shame this can’t be in it (pesky download-only singles). WIWOV, then.
53. Loop “Array #1” (ATP Recordings)
We touched on this comeback here, a write-up which should also explain why it's in our singles of the year and not albums. A riveting EP, though it's the thrillingly seductive sonic experiment “Coma” that still stands out.
54. Newham Generals “N to the G’s” EP (Dirtee Stank)
Yet again, and alone amongst grimesters, the Generals refuse to disappoint. The first track, “Levels”, OWNS.
55. Modern Problems “Identity EP” (Black Dots)
Clean-sounding but generously intense 5-track EP from New York’s Modern Problems, channelling Dag Nasty but keeping the tunes shorter and sounding even more incensed (you can taste the despairing bafflement / sheer anger of “I Don’t Understand”, and feel the pain in the brilliantly dramatic shout / guitar drop-out that illuminates “Fight”). On cassette, obviously.
56. Extreme Noise Terror “Chained And Crazed” (Quagga Curious Sounds)
An etched, lathe-cut, square 7” limited to all of 31 copies. “Chained And Crazed” would not be the best song on their self-titled LP later in the year, but it would inevitably do enough to destroy the hearing of anyone vaguely in range, which seemed only right and proper.
57. The Popguns “Still Waiting For The Winter” EP (Matinée Recordings)
Splendidly wintry even in the height of summer when it snuck out, this EP cast Brighton's pop glitterati the Popguns in a different light.
58. Sandro Galli “Cerebral Frequency “(Wonder Works)
President Carter *loves* this. Few do repetition better. 130, since you ask.
59. Sandro Galli “Narcotics” (Factory 918: Regression)
Eat my dancefloor, he commands. Again. Pryzbylewski loves this, probably.
60. Parcel Post “Centimetres” (Kingfisher Bluez Recording Company)
I have a notion Cloudberry were involved in this 7" somewhere, pleasingly, and it may well be this is actually from 2014, but we didn’t hear it until this year.
"Centimetres" is derivative. It’s unoriginal. It’s colour by numbers stuff, really. It’s twee (arguably). And yet it's also sheer bloody brilliance, a smile-making janglefest to frame a sunny day. Parcel Post go for the jugular here in sheer terms of death by indiepopness, and why not? As the Shop Assistants might have put it, what a way to die.
61. Mobb Deep “Survival of the Fittest EP” (Infamous Records)
When they were about 19, Mobb Deep recorded “Shook Ones”. This alone means that from here to eternity they will remain one of the best combos that have ever existed in any genre. This EP wasn’t bad either, at least on a par with last year’s surprisingly high-quality album, but although opener “Hide Away” provides a thrilling slow burn, it’s the remixed title track that pulls up the most trees.
62. Wiley “Standby” (Chasing The Art)
Not that far short of “Step 2001”, only sullied by having a bit of a hook, but this is frantic and frenetic and, as ever, the best bars touch on the truly exhilarating.
63. Wiley "P Money" (Chasing The Art)
Paean rather than diss, in case you were wondering. One of the tidiest production jobs on any Wiley single this year, we reckon.
64. Sheek Louch featuring Pusha-T "Bang Bang" (Tommy Boy Entertainment)
Having shared an hour of my stag night with the Lox's Sheek Louch, I still feel a certain affinity. But even without that soul-deep connection this would be in here - sparse and dislocated, it feels experimental, even grime-influenced. Sheek's a bit of a lazy get, though: only 40 seconds of this actually feature his dulcet tones (naturally, we could have done with more).
65. Niereich vs. Hackler & Kuch “Do You Read Me” (Darknet)
Livewire Austro-Dutch tech-JA sophistication @ the statutory 128.
66. Faze Miyake (featuring Little Simz) “The Nest” (Rinse/Ammunition)
We well appreciate that Faze Miyake is far, far too “trendy” to warrant appearing in one of our round-ups, but the truth is that as well as being a very handsome man and a somewhat de rigeur name to drop, he has quite an ear for skittery grime beats and deploys them with great verve here for young Little Simz to rhyme over.
67. Rival “Mi Na Ramp” (Biskit Klub)
It’s headshot season again as Rival slews dem with this razorsharp, raga-chorused single. Shame he'll always be judged by reference to "Lock Off The Rave", won't he? At least by us. But that doesn't stop this one from ripping it up like Edwyn.
68. Goodly Thousands “Sunshine Hair” (Shelflife)
Gosh. This is rather good(ly), isn’t it? The music recalls McCarthy, embellished by a few Johnny Marr-isms, but the lyrics are more traditionally indie-pop. And the vocals are pure Honey Bunch. Trebles all round.
69. Wiley “Lost Property” (Chasing The Art)
70. Wiley “25 MCs” (Chasing The Art)
Two more odes to another year spent notching up easy classics. At this stage of the evening we've literally run out of superlatives for him.
71. Mez “Sike” (Kidda Beats)
Our first exposure to real Nottingham grime, at least since we lived in Hyson Green (boom-tish). The title may prompt recollections of a fresh-faced Ant and Dec on TOTP, but the beats here are seriously energetic and enjoyable, like that Dynasty Crew cut from “Run The Road” that we got dangerously obsessed with… cripes, more than a decade ago. How time flies.
72. Stormzy “Know Me From” (Ditto Music)
“I come to your team and I fuck shit up / I’m David Moyes”
Until “Shotta” (q.v.) came along, this was probably as close as ’15 got to “Lock Off The Rave” (so not quite close enough, but still). "Know Me From" came perilously close to the UK Top 40, which is not something we can say of most of the singles in this list.
73. Agnostic Front “Police Violence” (Nuclear Blast)
Back of the net. Highest placed sub-one minute single, unless you start filleting the Nothing Clean release into its individual tunes.
74. Cindy “Cindy and Her Fuckin’ Liberal Ideas for Track Names” EP (Vent Germany)
Ah, Cindy; we just can't get away, she still kills us every day. Read all about this one here.
75. Skinless "Serpenticide" (Relapse Records)
This year's essential slice of death metal, as the New Yorkers returned from extended absence to conquer all. But was it as good as "Trample The Weak, Hurdle The Dead"? Put it this way - that was their "Lock Off The Rave". Have you noticed we’re still obsessed with "Lock Off The Rave"? Everyone should be.
76. Niereich “Democratic System Fail” (Morforecs)
As bigged up in our general election singles round-up here, though the other songs on this various artists EP fall sadly short.
77. Maxsta, Boothroyd & Maniac “100 Problems” (Rinse)
Genuinely intriguing three-way tussle between the hungry East London MC Maxsta, Tri-Angle producer (and Slowdive and Stone Roses fan) Boothroyd and legendary if disgraced grime producer Maniac, now back in earnest on a rehabilitation tip. This six-track EP got a welcome (if inevitably limited) vinyl release, too.
78. Jilk and Haiku Salut “Periscopes” (How Does It Feel To Be Loved?)
According to one august commentariat, "a prime dose of electronica as it should be in MMXV: rewarding, thought-provoking, a source of inner warmth. Its ebbs and flows manage to neatly evoke both pastoral beauty and glitch-soundtracked drug comedown, making it as apt for country picnicking as for the nightbus through Dalston."
79. Jazz-T featuring Jehst, Zygote, Jyager "The Lesson" (Boot)
'Twas "[a] splendid, old-school sleeveless 7” teach-in from the Diversion Tactics Two... pure joy, as Jazz and Zygote revisit the thematic territory of DT’s own “School Thing” 45, stirring inevitable ‘edutainment’ samples (courtesy of KRS and others), into their – very - special brew... the MCs have home economics fun aplenty as they cook up schooldays-related metaphors. The key to the single is a buzzing hook which sounds a little like the breaktime bell has been got at by some troublesome fifth-formers."
There were a few even better tunes on the LP ("Run The Changes"), when that rolled up much later in 2015.
80. Drug Control “Drug Control EP” (Straight & Alert)
Tidy 5-track 7” straightedge belter from San Diego combo, on a French label.
81. Manage & Emcee Killa “On Top” (Boom Bap Professionals)
Mr Manage (“Rise Up”), still in cahoots with Chemo, teams up with Caxton Press’s Killa on another lost classic that should have been a 7”. Or a 12”. Basically, WIWOV. They still hate Thatcher, btw.
82. The Flatmates “When You Were Mine” / “Comedian” (Astro Girl)
Not quite sure how it took 3 years to release these tracks, though given what we’ve said before about pressing plants, and given the painful realities of copyright clearance, actually perhaps we are. It's worth it, we think, especially as the gang rattle off the Cinerama tune in much the way the Wedding Present might themselves have done, once upon a while. That said, that fabled first Flatmates album has now been 30 years in the making, so to be honest it had better be good.
83. Nick Roberts "Punk Ethics" (Boom Bap Professionals)
A 7" EP of unimpeachable quality from the ever-impressive BBP crew. J-Live anchors lead track "Lesson Learned" with an almost casual brilliance.
84. Wiley featuring Cadell “Shredded Wheat” (Chasing The Art)
More wholegrain goodness from the one and only, this time on one of his heartwarming brace of 2015 collabos with war-dub loving, olders-disrespecting, Novelist-doubting younger brother Cadell.
85. UV/TV / Shark Toys split 7" (Emotional Response)
UV/TV hail from Gainesville, Florida and make a marvellous, high speed racket, which quakes and shakes in all the best places; on the other side, Los Angeles' frantic and ramshackle Shark Toys tear things up mercilessly on the pleasingly Bright Lights-ish "New Song #3".
86. Straight Razor “Straight Razor” (React! Records)
7” extended play from new Bedford, MA band which maxes the straightedge over 8 tracks, brimming nicely with a real MDC feel in places.
87. Cadell x Wiley “Fair & Square” (Hotline Distributions)
There is blatantly much more of Wiley on this record (which came out at pretty much the same time as "Shredded Wheat") than Cadell. Apart from the misdescription, though, it's all gravy, as the pair continue their rapid-fire sparring.
88. Maruta “Striding Endlessly Over Scorched Earth” (Relapse)
An intriguing slip of a single:"entertaining, manic and Beefheartian grindcore which would have graced Ron Johnson records, it really would".
89. Enemy Anemone / Cougar Vox split 7" (Emotional Response)
A trio of short-burst Girls At Our Best tributes from Jen Turrell and entourage under nom de plume nombre 233, paired with a couple of spiky, unsettling numbers from the intriguing, and self-confessedly 'odd' Melburnian, Cougar Vox.
90. Myrkur “Hævnen” (Relapse Records)
Doomy, black metal-grunge. Cooing female vocal melodies. Frantic, breakneck grindcore yelling. Elegant, gothic guitar swirl. All in three minutes. Yep, it could only be Myrkur. This was a taster from her "M" album, a Danish pastry of the same eclectic and magical influences.
91. R. Rose “Having Never Written A Note For Percussion” (Further Records)
Beats per minute: nil. This is really where My Bloody Valentine should have ended up, had they had the courage of their convictions and not the urgent need to impress their legions of indie-minded fans (and bank manager). This also reminds us that we really miss Lull.
92. Verb-T & Ill Informed “The First Stone” (High Focus)
Still strictly speaking sense and only sense, Verb T continues to mature, like a fine oak-aged whisky. He also managed to sneak in a trip on the cable-car from North Greenwich in the video, we note.
93. The Debutantes “Adams Apples” (Emotional Response)
Fuzztastic reverb-fest on seven, featuring two September Girls, from what we all now know to be Arizona’s finest label.
94. Amir Razanica “Fears After The War” (Urban Kickz)
We're quite easily moved, which is probably why this EP about the Balkans powderkeg, as contemplative as a techno heater at 126 bpm can be, headed off several other Razanica rockets to claw its way into the final 100 reckoning.
95. Footsie “On This Ting” (Braindead Entertainment)
He is indeed.
96. Virgil Enzinger & Van Nosikov “Monasterio” (I.cntrl)
This collaboration on the Enzinger house label is probably the greatest example of an Austro-Russian entente since Opus and Tatu teamed up for that unlikely cover version of "I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist". Pretty sure that must have been for charity.
97. Chase & Status “London Bars EP” (Mercury)
Damn. Who let that major label in here? The trendy D&Bers turn once more to grime with this EP that collects their four 2015 e-singles carved in earnest collaboration with Frisco, Giggs, Bonkaz and Novelist respectively. With those guys in tow, it’s impossible to get it too wrong.
98. Irregular Synth “Techno Assault” (Sick Weird Rough)
99. AnGy KoRe “In Da Rave” (Sick Weird Rough)
Until a brace of heavy-hitters in the run up to Christmas, SWR were strangely quiet this year, and even more surprisingly, some of their wares seemed merely… 'okay', as opposed to the usual 'amazing'. Tip from an old man: if you’re going to call songs (deeply promising) things like “In Da Rave” or “Techno Assault”, they really need to be a bombardment, to pepper every available sense with dance noise chaos, but these likeably old-fashioned tunes didn’t really achieve that, despite Irregular Synth managing some nice Frenkie V-style messing around in the middle section.
100. Skepta “Shutdown” (Boy Better Know)
Interesting one, this. A strong single from Meridian Skep (we bought it and - as you can see - we liked it), which is about time given a longtime failure to re-scale past heights. "Shutdown" is VFM pop-grime, its braggadocio neatly countervailed by a sense of real... fun. And yet - despite many superior singles this year from any number of grime types, including several from Wiley, not to mention some of the other cobweb-blasting indie and dance singles mentioned above - this was the song that the Guardian saw fit to name their "song of the year". They really have no clue, do they?
Bubbling under...: HeavyTrackerz featuring P Money, Newham Generals, Stormzy, Big H, Flirta D, Young Teflon and Desperado, Blacks featuring P Money, Kai Randy Michel, Dirty Danger featuring Frisco, Roachee and D Double E, Red Sleeping Beauty (pleased they're back, but oh how they made a rod for their own back by naming themselves after one of the greatest singles ever released), Funk Butcher x Trim, Wiley featuring Flowdan and Scratchy, several from Sandro Galli, Dario Sorano, Plastician featuring Jammz, Pete Astor, more e-platters that (e-)matter from Wiley, Niereich, Miss Sunshine, a few from Amir Razanica, Spiros Kaloumenos, Mark Broom, Fury (a raw US punk band, incidentally, not a grime MC), Terror (likewise, of course), Virus Syndicate featuring D.O.D., Akani, Stig of the Dump, The Flex, Hard Left, Crown Court, Red Death, Bugzy Malone, Lego, The Comet Gain Niereich & Krischmann & Klingenberg, Gayle San, Planetary Assault Systems, Gabeen again (this time with Dr Hoffmann), Cliché Morph, Ortin Cam, Frau Anke, Hell Driver, Submerge & Ricardo Garduno, Michael Lasch, Brian Burger and a heavenly host of other talented artistes, their scrawled names all now buried in the annual pile of beermats and post-it notes.
We’d best not mention that Slayer single, mind.
* * * * *
That's surely enough, but one more indulgence. When we were younger, we became fairly obsessed with Tramway, especially the still-stunning "Technical College". During some Sarah gig at the Fleece I remember asking Clare and Matt, "So what happened to Tramway?"
"Oh, you missed them, they just left".
Of course we'd had no idea Tramway might have been at the venue (though there was of course a frisson of excitement that they might have been supping pints only feet from where we'd stood). All we really cared about was hearing more of their music. We were told they'd 'gone country', and were off the label.
We then spent over 20 years trying to find the LP we knew that Tramway had subsequently released for Siesta, a record that we don't recall ever having made it into an actual shop. Nor into the record collections, seemingly, of... anyone we've ever met.
This month, this very month, we finally tracked down a copy of that album, "A Brand Of Lovin'", thanks to a distro in Berlin, of all places. I don't think I could have been more excited if I was still 20. That longing, that searching, and that excitement, are all part of this patchwork, of the infinite magic of music; and these were just another 100 reasons why we're never going to let that go.