They may not have been singles: they may not have even come out this year, but according to Last.fm (which is not human and therefore cannot lie) these were the nine tracks that mattered in 2005; and whaddaya know, they're all about love.
Includes all these delightful artistes!DMX Krew
; Architecture in Helsinki
; The Blow
; Kevin Blechdom
; Julie Doiron
; The Postal ServiceMaximilian Hecker
; Grizzly Bear
Phase 1: FIRST FLUSH
Architecture in Helsinki – Wishbone (Bar/none Records)
This is the happiest song I’ve ever heard. It sounds like June and grass and hope and benevolence. “Ch-choking on a wishbone in the firing line of lovers who will never slow down”; the words are almost nonsensical, but meaningful phrases creep through: ‘You whisper heartfelts to me… 4 forever, 2 together… If I locate the fear and talk you through the tangles will you chase me till my feet touch the ground?” This song is dizzy with the possibilities of a new love, replete with monkeygrinder chord organs, handclaps, flamboyant joyous violins. Her voice is girlish without being grating. This sounds like a boy and a girl and pink converse and white converse and they’re taking pictures of their shoes on their mobile phones, drunk on a summer’s day in the pub: entranced. There are several discombobulating changes of pace; handclaps, voices breaking with happiness, half on the edge of a shriek or a laugh; and then: slowness. AIH reject the obvious path of having the happy chorus come in at the end; they refuse to satiate; they’re like a rollercoaster that only goes round once; and you do feel cheated: two minutes and 26 seconds of sweetness and bliss; over almost before it’s begun. Isn’t that always the way?
The Postal Service – Such Great Heights (Sub Pop)
‘I…I’m thinking it’s a sign / that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images / and when we kiss / they’re perfectly aligned’. Aw. The Postal Service sees Dntel’s Jimmy Tomborello adding synth-pop electronic beats to Gibbard’s crooning Death Cab vocals, and it’s pretty as can be: this is jubilance in musical form, but it’s delicate, never overbearing. Such Great Heights is ‘a positive love song’, explains Ben Gibbard (Postal Service / Death Cab for Cutie singer). ‘It’s about being in love and how it’s rad, rather than having your heart broken.’ This song is coy, gentle, benevolent: we’re talking shuffling beats; tiny pinkles of electronic noises; it’s all about the cocked wrists, the angle of the head, a knitted tie hanging slightly askew. These are gentle boys. They will not rape you. They will love you. It’s like stepping into a shower, a mist, like the mist-makers in motorway service stations in the South of France: everything’s cloudy, you can’t see and you don’t care, and you never want it to stop, because, as the song keeps saying, ‘everything looks perfect from far away’…
Grizzly Bear – Fix It (Tomlab)
A beat like a child banging a spoon against a table; regular, frustrating. A repetitive bassline on an acoustic guitar: and that’s it. This song is so restrained it’s almost silent. He starts singing, softly. His transfer fell off: maybe you can fix that? He fell on a car again: maybe you can fix that? Nothing ever feels the same: maybe you can fix that? This is the sound of a man placing his destiny in the hands of another. The guitar loop becomes gently distorted and then, two minutes in, the key changes from minor to major, the guitar doubles in speed (though not intensity) and he urges, ‘Just fix it for me…fix it for me…’ But this is not the sound of desperation. This is spring on hard earth, or dawn after a frost. This is the sound of hope.
PHASE 2: YOU GOT PROBLEMS
The Blow – Hey Boy (K Records)
My iPod crashed: the CD’s disappeared, but Khaeda’s singing remains. Laptop electronica and guitar arpeggios sit behind a simple song of Mars / Venus confusion. It’s so matter-of-fact; this is noshit girltalk, snatched from the whirling air of cigarette-stained, frustrated conversations in ladies’ toilets, or culled from a million friends-only Livejournal entries. ‘Hey boy’, she asks rhetorically, but quite calmly, ‘why you didn’t call me? I waited so long, I can’t believe you didn’t call.’ She met him at a party, they got on, they got off, he asked for her number, and then…nothing. She starts to enumerate the possible reasons for his slackness, ticking them off on her fingertips: ‘A – you’re gay. B – you’ve got a girlfriend. C – you kinda think I came on too strong or, D – I just wasn’t your thing. No ring.’ On a loop, perplexed at male behaviour, trying to think things through: this is the sound of girl. Not an artists’ impression of a girl, or a male narrator’s version of a girl, or even the together front that smitten girls attempt to present to the object of their desires: just a girl, facing up to girl problems, using the language of the everyday. Fuck the self-help books: just get more real girls to write real songs about real shit like this, and everyone female might feel a lot more happy.Kevin Blechdom – Are You Fucking With Me (Chicks On Speed Records)
Talking of which, here comes electronic genius Kevin Blechdom doing precisely that. ‘Are You Fucking With Me’ opens with a rinky-dink whirl of happy-sounding synthesised banjo / accordion music, with a syncopated rhythm and a doofy bassline that sounds like someone repeatedly stubbing a toe. And then the singing starts, and we’re stuck in the obsesso loops of the fucked crush. ‘I. Want. Out. Of this situation I can’t stop thinking about. But my heart keeps hoping that the future stays open for the outcome that I dreamed of, that someday we are in love. Until then I’m desperate for distraction from this critical attraction to this person that is you who has no idea what I go through. Are you fucking with me? Or are you fucking with me?’ This is when being crushed out ceases to be fun; you’re no longer the soaring angel of ‘Such Great Heights’; you’re an angry bluebottle mashing your head against a closed window on a summer’s day, and you can’t see why you can’t get to where you want to be. Despite the heavy emotional content, this song’s as far from emo and its cultivation / celebration of extreme emotional states as you can get – Blechdom’s awareness of cliché and knowing mockery of her own lameness is written into the music itself. Her lyrical delivery alternates between the furious as she sings ‘Are you fucking with me’ while angry glitches storm in the background, and cloyingly, sweetly, crooningly angelic as she intones, sarkily apologetic, ‘I’m sorry I love you and I will make a mess.’ Towards the end she starts singing in a key slightly too high for her, her voice querulous, teetering on hysteria. The oompah backing changes key also, getting higher and higher, and the whole song is like an elastic band pulled taut. No resolution, no closure, just tension, moments away from chaos. Poor Kevy. When’s she gonna break?
(PS – Kevin Blechdom’s ‘Eat My Heart Out’ [Chicks on Speed records] = best album of 2005. No contest. GET IT.)
Julie Doiron – His Girlfriend (Sub Pop)
“Said she’d like to talk to me, said she’d like to know me. In a while, I’ll be alone. Pretty soon you’ll be gone. Her eyes are nice; but so are mine. Funny how we talk about how his girlfriend’s beautiful - we both agree. Hope things can go on this way. We’ll feel better, less nervous about it. Even though we always fight it, we can’t deny it. I don’t want to try it. It’s not real. I’ll just dream about it. Just dream about it.” And that’s it. One minute and 15 seconds of delicate whimsy that says everything that needs to be said about the suspended dreamstate of the pre-affair. A girl’s voice, three gentle chords on the guitar, and a world of denial.
PHASE 3: FUCKED AND BOMBED
DMX Krew – 17 Ways to Break Your Heart (Rephlex)
The first track on the bonus disc that came with the recent DMX Krew album on Rephlex, and it’s the jolliest little heartbreak song ever devised. Over a synth riff that sounds suspiciously like that from Freez’s smash hit ‘A.E.I.O.U’, with a vocal style ripped straight from Baltimore’s ‘Tarzan Boy’ (so yeah, we’re talking EIGHTIES, motherfuckers), a man intones ’17 ways to break my heart – do you always break the things you touch? 17 ways to break my heart – I never knew love could hurt so much!’ He sounds like a man in a chip shop excited about getting a pickled onion for free: there’s not a lick of pain in the way he delivers the lines over the crisp, clear, chirpy electro backing. He’s comfortably numb. This is the sound of someone swaddling recent pain in pills and nightclubbing: kneejerk joy stretched clingfilm thin over a beating broken heart.
The Postal Service – Against All Odds (Sub Pop)
Nothing but nothing is irredeemable. Peter Gabriel; Phil Collins; nothing is beyond the pale; everything will come back (except, you know, that person
). The Postal Service take ‘Against All Odds’ and render it beautiful. Beats so syncopated you daren’t breathe out between each one. Everything’s so crisp and clean; his voice is a papercut. The song encapsulates submissive yearning: “I’ll just be standing here. You coming back to me is against the odds, and that’s a chance I’ve got to face”. The fucked passivity of the dumpee; stretched Christ-like on the cross of a dead relationship: accepting, hoping, broken. “Take a look at me now” he implores again and again, but you know she won’t turn back: as the drums drop out and the guitars fade away she’s already walked out of sight.
Maximilian Hecker – The Days are Long and Filled with Pain (Kitty-Yo)
Most of the time, there's no need for a track called 'The Days are Long and Filled with Pain', and the possibility that such a track title might even exist seems utterly ludicrous. And then once every couple of years or so - a seasonal thing this is, shifting, inevitable, like tides, like bereavement - you are forced to realise that, if a track called 'The Days Are Long and Filled With Pain' didn't exist, you'd need to write it yourself. Which would be sucky because that would mean recording it on Frances's £1 chord organ from the car boot sale and singing some banal bullshit lyrics about 'Why does bad shit always happen to me? I am not horrid or evil and I don't smell of wee' or something (I'm not very good at lyrics). Thank god, then, for this beautiful track, which winds skeins of gorgeous drippy-boy breathy vocals around simple piano chord progressions. I like to picture Maximilian Hecker playing this song on the piano. He is leaning forward as he sings, and his hair is swinging as he exhales the words. I can't see his face. His back is an osteoperosis curve, like a tulip stem too long out of water. He droops even further, the tips of his hair touching the back of his skinny, constantly moving hands. And then his fingers are slipping: the keys, suddenly wet; and then Maxi can’t sing any more.Thus endeth 2005.
(previously published here