Well, it’s nearly the middle of February already – so it seems as good a time as any to wrap up this round up of the previous years best songs. They don’t call me The Timely Content Kid for nothing. Also some might call having 25 songs on a top 20 list something of a cop out. To which I have no real argument.
It was a great year for music though and I think this list demonstrates just how good. Especially since it was a year in which I didn’t find much time to delve into all that much hip hop – Busdriver and Milo narrowly missed the cut for the list but that was about it for my rap listening in 2015, bar a couple of L’Orange produced albums – and almost completely ignored what was by all accounts an excellent year for black metal. It was a year of Too Much Music and this, for better or worse, is how I spent it. And given how much fun I’ve had putting this list together I’m leaning towards, “for better.”
I didn’t get around to writing anything about Ought’s second record Sun Coming Down last year. Which, after how giddy I got writing about More Than Any Other Day, was something of an oversight. A knottier and more oblique set of songs than it’s predecessor I didn’t really get a handle on it. It was less easy to pin labels to them like it was on their first effort (this is their Talking Heads song! This is their Television song!) but that was as much of a problem as it was a virtue. Finding your identity is a messy business and whilst I have to take my hat off to Ought for not taking the easy option I can’t say I’ve fallen for Sun Coming Down yet. Maybe when they make it to Cardiff in April the songs will make more sense on stage.
But enough of what they didn’t do and onto what they did, which is write probably the best song of their career to date in Beautiful Blue Sky*.
It begins on a simple three note bass line, a nondescript rock drum beat, some meandering guitar and some dude rambling like he’s got a mouth full of peanut butter. So what is it that makes it so compelling? Largely it’s down to Tim Beeler channeling the same picket-fence guilded-cage desperation David Byrne captured so perfectly on Once in a Lifetime. It’s passages of him drowning in suburban barbecue small-talk before being born again, baptised in the waters that grace rock bottom:“I’m no longer afraid to die/for that is all that I have left.” It’s the exultant, “yes!” that follows, an exclamation which somehow says more than most singers can manage at their most confessional. And while Beeler’s performance takes the limelight the band builds on the songs humble opening over on stage left, their scrappy indie rock ascending to become something bigger almost under the radar. Sun Coming Down may not be as consistent as it’s predecessor but it has the distinction of grasping for something more, an endeavor always worthy of praise. And more than that there are moments where it grazes it’s fingers against it, moments where Ought remind us that when it all comes together they really are something special indeed.
*I think Habit is still my favourite. By a whisker.
Me oh my would you look at the time? It barely seems like five minutes ago that I was publishing the second 2015 playlist back in July and yet here we are rounding up quarter three in the only way I know how – with an oddly paced and overlong playlist. Time flies when all the songs you listen to are 10 minutes long.
This one, I feel, sums up my obsessions of the year about as well as a 25 track playlist possibly could – there’s plenty of meandering kraut-flecked psych (Giobia, Carlton Melton, Hills, Domovoyd), some hybrid black metal strangeness (Hope Drones, Locrian), a touch of monolothic fuzz-drenched doom (Windhand), a bit of awkward post-punk indie fare (Ought, Self Defense Family) and a fair bit of straight up rock n’ roll (Indian Handcrafts, Greenbeard, The Sword). For whatever reason these are the sounds I’ve gravitated towards. I’m inclined to believe it’s been a great year for these kinds of things and I’m just doing my solemn bloggers duty in telling you all about it. But it could just as easily be the result of a chemical imbalance of the brain or the lingering after effects of my first foray into wine making causing my senses to skew towards these odd sounds. Who can say? I’m no sciencematician. ‘m just a humble maker of playlists.
There’s also some stuff which bolts together a few of my genres of choice into something else entirely (the post-metal/doom/spoken-word-babbling-about-wizards of OHHMS, heavy psych band Herbcraft finding a groove that sounds like something from a crate diggers funk compilation, the odd surf-noir of La Luz) and a couple of songs from outside my wheelhouse that somehow wheedled their way into my consciousness – like the lushly orchestrated modern soul of Natalie Prass or the deadpan slacker indie pop of Courtney Barnett. Something for everybody you could say. You’d probably be wrong – but you could say that.
Part 7 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of last year
I read a review somewhere which said that the problem with More than Any Other Day is that each song is beholden to a particular influence and that the record plays out like: this is our Fall song, this is our Sonic Youth songs etc. I disagree with that myself but it’s hard not to think when listening to Habit ‘this is our Talking Heads song.’ Vocalist Tim Beeler does his best David Byrne impression throughout, with the little ‘hah‘ exhalations of breath seeming like a well studied tic and the stretching-for-the-notes in the chorus sounding not unlike the brilliant, yearning performance of Byrne’s from This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody). But, be that as it may, Beeler still does it with enough conviction to get away from it. Even if you were cruel enough to think of his Byrne aping as being a small step up from him singing along with Remain in Light into his bathroom mirror you’d have to admit it would be the kind of vein bulging, heart on sleeve private karaoke it’s hard not to respect. And then there’s the subject matter – he nails the reliance on some kind of crutch for enjoyment, be it drugs or whatever, with lazer like precision. The band do their part – the guitars scratch like an addict in withdrawal, and the keys drift light and drowsy in the background, but the spotlight is all Beeler’s. Act like you feel it but it doesn’t heal you and it doesn’t make you smile. Is there something you were trying to express? It’s not that you need it. It’s that you need it. To me Ought for the minute are a little like a footballing wunderkind showing flashes of brilliance that make you dare to wonder if there’s something truly special emerging. Habit is one of those special moments where they take a team apart single handedly and look like the finished article already. It’s got the hooks and the spine-tingling emotional weight to maybe find a few kids doing Tim Beeler impressions in their bathroom mirrors before long.
Well then, let’s see what is definitively The Best Album of 2014 according to me.
Today! More than any other day! I am excited to tell you why I’m in love with Ought.