One Day More, from Les Miserables, performed on kazoos.
Welcome to Don't Look Down.
It's probably best described as a "blog".
It is "written" by Nick Chaffey, and full of things he thinks you'll find interesting.
Any questions you have are probably answered here.
So here we are.
As I mentioned back in the first post in this series, bands these days seem to be expected to significantly grow musically in-between major releases.
I’ve no idea why and, frankly, it seems a little unfair and short-sighted. Not every band can be Radiohead, sonically rebuilding themselves with every album. Many are content to be Motörhead, plugging away at perfecting one unique sound that can only be made by them.
I would never presume that The xx are destined or comfortable with being that second sort of band. But right now, after the whirlwind of awards and hype that followed their debut album, they just want to sit back and work on writing more songs in their (current) style.
And that’s perfectly okay.
Coexist didn’t surprise or blow anyone away, but, as with Japandroids, second albums don’t need to (although it’s great when they do). All I ask is that they remind me why I love that particular act.
And that’s why “Angels” has made my list, because it’s a damn good xx song.
And I love me some xx songs.
Winner of this year’s ‘As Good As It Needed To Be’ award
And that’s it! My deepest thanks to everyone that’s read, enjoyed and ‘+Follow’-ed my posts over the last month. I’m tempted to keep going with these short pieces (because there’s still a lot of great music I haven’t covered), but I feel a quick break is in order first…
Happy new year!
Had to take a couple of days off because of a major deadline, but we’re back. And this song is the kind that’s worth waiting for.
Frank Ocean somehow represents both sides of the R&B coin. His debut album, Channel Orange, and his mixtape from last year both feature plenty of lyrics and musings on modern life and the kind of production techniques that come from an involvement with one of the more unique hip-hop collectives of the moment.
And yet, he seems to approach his music like 70s-era Stevie Wonder or 80s-era Prince (yep, him again!), creating a concept album revolving around the jubilation and dark moods that come with a night on the town. Channel Orange isn’t a standard knock-out-one-every-year collection of modern soul songs, nor is it an intentional throwback to an earlier time in the genre’s history.
It is both of those, wrapped up in pure artistic statement.
"Pyramids" is the centrepiece, but it’s still just one track on an album that works best as an album. Take a walk/drive/train ride some evening, and let it be your soundtrack.
Runner-up of this year’s ‘Best Album Ever’ award
[This year’s winner. I fully admit that Channel Orange is the better overall album.
It’s just a matter of personal preference!]
Even I’m surprised that the sole rap track on this year’s list comes from Kanye. Not because his only full-length release of 2012, label compilation Cruel Summer, was bad (although it wasn’t exactly great), but because this simply wasn’t his year. Especially in the wake of records by Kendrick Lamar and Killer Mike.
But, as I mentioned back at the start of this month, neither good kid nor R.A.P. Music had the killer tracks I was looking for when curating this list (despite both albums being fantastic pieces of work).
And then along comes “White Dress”, taken from the soundtrack to the RZA’s directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists, and reminds me why I fell in love with this guy’s music in the first place. This is a song that could have easily fitted into the groove of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and that is the biggest compliment I could possibly pay it.
The moment that woozy vocal sample kicks in gets me every time.
I spent some time considering if it was fair/appropriate to include this song. It’s a cover of the Fleetwood Mac B-side, a song so famous it’s since been reinstated on the album it was cut from.
In a list of ‘the best songs of 2012’, I wasn’t sure if I could justify adding a new version of a song from 1977.
But I have, because this is goddamn amazing. With the echoing drums and dischordant guitars, Lykke Li not only improves on the original, but brings the underlying tension and stalkerish tendencies slowly to the foreground, realising the song’s true potential. She makes the end of a relationship sound like the end of the world, giving a classic piece of songwriting the treatment none of us realised it required.
If something like that doesn’t belong on this list, I might as well just stop altogether.
(But there are still three songs to go!)
Winner of this year’s ‘Oh Shit!’ award
[Last year’s winner]
The first forty seconds of Susanne Sundfør’s “White Foxes” are a masterclass in setting up, and destroying, expectations.
Chances are, you haven’t heard this song. If that’s the case, I won’t ruin the surprise by describing it for you. Just click play and listen to it, free from any kind of fore
If you’ve been reading my stuff for a certain amount of time, you might remember my 'Best of 2011' list included Beyoncé’s incredible "1+1". At the time, I declared myself new-found fan of her work, mostly due to the overwhelming power of that one song.
But, looking back, I think it might have just made me more open to modern R&B and soul in general.
Back then, I couldn’t have imagined a record as well-produced and, well, mainstream as Jessie Ware’s Devotion would have been one of my favourite albums of the year (third, behind Japandroids and Frank Ocean).
Yet here we are.
It was tough to decide on which track to include here. "Running" is probably her best song, but "Sweet Talk" is notable as the only song my current employer played on their radio station that I didn’t get sick of. And then there’s “110%”, which is far-and-away the bounciest tune on the album, and still my favourite of the bunch.
But I remember how “1+1” “kick[ed] open a gate in my brain” that enabled me to like Beyoncé. And “Wildest Moments” is certainly the track that made me realise that this girl is a talent to keep an eye on.
And now, it’s yours.
& It Was U
How to Dress Well
2012 was the year that I fell head-over-heels in love with the musical output of Prince. All of it. Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ the Times were already favourites, but I dived into everything I could find. “Delirious”, “Jack U Off”, “Violet the Organ Grinder”, pretty much everything he’s produced is golden pop music. The man
was is a goddamn musical iceberg. You don’t know the half of it.
[Sorry about the lack of links. The guy’s notoriously strict about his music being available on sites like YouTube, but you can find all of his stuff on Spotify.]
So, naturally, I was curious to see if there were any present-day artists that were creating the same music that Prince was back in his ‘79-‘89 heyday.
Short answer: there aren’t.
But every now and then someone taps into the same vein of pop gold that he was mining back then. I just wasn’t expecting it to be Tom Krell a.k.a How to Dress Well.
The last time I heard this guy, he was making Cocteau Twins-influenced synth swirls. And then I heard this.
& It Was Amazing.
Winner of this year’s ‘Funkiest Joint’ award
[Last year’s winner]