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Class of 2017 – The 100 greatest songs of the year!

15 December, 2017

citattecken “I tried to give the song more power in the chorus, I think it just came out of hearing James’ voice. With guitars you instantly start thinking it’s him…”

20. Public Service Broadcasting feat. James Dean Bradfield “Turn No More”
(from Every Valley)

“One of the biggest challenges producing the album was that I had to slap myself in the face to stop acting like an idiot because we had James Dean Bradfield singing on one of the tracks. He would want to be treated as any other musician, of course. He made it easy, though, being such a normal but extraordinarily talented guy.

I met James when we were doing a gig with Manic Street Preachers in Swansea at the Liberty Stadium when they were doing the Everything Must Go – 20th Anniversary Tour. I didn’t know him particularly well but enough to have a conversation with him. I caught him in the corridor at the stadium in Swansea and asked him if he wanted to sing on an album about the south Wales coalmining. I was expecting him to go ‘Why are you doing that?’ but he seemed interested by it and said yes and gave me his phone number. I thought he was just probably being polite at first, ‘cause that’s what I would have done, but then he kept answering his phone and being engaged with it. He put up with me being a quite intense person to be working with occasionally, I’d imagine. He was great, though. He’s just a pro, he came in and gave it a lot of attention. Not just bashing it out for an hour and then ‘what you get is what you get’ but more ‘Let’s do this properly’. He was totally into it. It’s great to see someone at the top of what they do for so long and still have that kind of passion. It shows you what you need to stay at the top.

I’d been speaking to James about doing the song together and I’d asked him about what he thought would be the best way of approaching what he would sing and whether it would be worth trying to write something original. Whether either of us would want to do it or whether we’d get somebody else to do it, or we could try and find an original song or a poem of some kind that might lend itself well to song. I think we decided that it had to be something that was an authentic voice and not us writing about it like the rest of the album, given the context of it. He lent me a book of miners’ poetry and short stories which I read very eagerly, but there wasn’t anything that jumped out as obviously adaptable, though it certainly got a few creative sparks going. Then I went up to the National Coalmining Museum in Wakefield which is in the north of England. They have the largest library of coalmining related poetry and literature in the UK, I think, so I thought that would be a good place to just go and spend the day. I drove up late the night before and stayed at a crap hotel. Then when I got there at 9 in the morning they told me that their librarian was ill and they weren’t going to open the library that day, so I was like ‘Oh God, come on…’. I managed to pull a sad enough face so they opened up anyway and let me in while somebody sat with me, which was very kind of them, they were very accommodating.

I put a few bookmarks in books and stuff and just photocopied some of the pages of the works I was interested in and took them away. Then I put a couple of them in front of James and said ‘what do you think about this’. One of them was a very different subject to be tackling, really, and he didn’t react as well to that as he did to Idris Davies. He kind of gently steered me away from that, which I think in hindsight was very much the right decision. We settled on Idris Davies. James knew the poem and he said everyone in south Wales who is of a certain political leaning knows it. I didn’t know it and he said he wouldn’t have gone for it.

It’s a sort of naivety in its puressence, I suppose. A naïve approach to creating something and then you’ll accidentally end up breaking rules doing things that are obvious or not obvious. It’s an interesting angle to take and I think it shows the value of somebody from the outside doing something like this. Purely by ignorance you’ll take the obvious route. The most obvious in this case might have been to avoid those lyrics altogether, and we decided not to do that.

When we were recording we didn’t really tie the date down, that song was just know for a long time as ‘TBC’. We recorded it thinking ‘If it ends up on the album, it ends up on the album’, we didn’t have another singer as a back-up plan if it hadn’t worked out with James.

I tried to give the song more power in the chorus, I think it just came out of hearing his voice. With guitars you instantly start thinking it’s him. Initially, I was worried that it sounded too much like our song Night Mail and started tinkering with it, trying to do all sorts of things, like chopping off a bar in the chorus to turn it around quicker. But it didn’t work. The chorus ended up pretty straight forward, normally I try to make it clever without being too clever. I modeled the power chords after the guitars at the end of Bowie’s Lazarus. That came about very late but I think it helped the chorus flow through.

Even if it’s more of a conventional song, because it’s us, it becomes unconventional. I’m sure it’s divided some people but really it was about what was right for the album. Having not only James’ voice but also his credibility and weight behind the album was an enormous step up for us.”

– J. Willgoose, Esq.

citattecken “This song ticked a lot of boxes for me. It’s a rap song with a Jurassic 5 affiliation, it is old friends from Good Life Café collaborating again, it has fast scratches and obscure samples…”

19. Cut Chemist feat. Chali 2na & Hymnal “Work My Mind”
(single)

“This song is a special one since it’s the first release with Chali 2na I’ve done outside of Jurassic 5. It also features fellow Good Life emcee Hymnal on the chorus. All three of us share a great history of doing music together for almost three decades going up together. The beat is a bit of call back to the hip house era in the late 80s early 90s but also plays with industrial and post punk sounds via the sample source “Alternative Fresh” by Vox Populi!

Chali’s voice cuts thru electronic sounds so well, I knew this would be a great song when it was just an idea in my head. An idea that came from Hymnals refrain ‘work my mind and turn it around’ which actually derives from an entirely different song that got scrapped years ago. Add on top of all that, Deantoni Parks doing drum fills on it and me cutting the voice of Merrill Garbus of Tune Yards which I recorded during a show in LA and you have one beautifully messy collaboration that somehow makes perfect sense.

Lyrically it couldn’t be more relevant as today our minds are over worked with information and it’s really hard to turn it around or turn it off. Choosing sides in a fight for the custody of the mind is only a part of what’s hinted at delivered by 2na with his signature baritone chop.

This song ticked a lot of boxes for me. It’s a rap song with a J5 affiliation, it is old friends from Good Life Cafe collaborating again, it has fast scratches and obscure samples, and it handles well in the field of electronic music which was important for to represent in the current climate of genre blending.”

– Lucas MacFadden aka Cut Chemist

18. Rhye “Taste”
(single)

17. Tune-Yards “Look At Your Hands”
(single)

16. Alvvays “In Undertow”
(from Antisocialites)

citattecken “I wrote the song on a plane going back to Las Vegas from Philadelphia. I think it was one of the first songs i recorded when i landed. Its a very simple number…”

15. Shamir “Float”
(from Revelations)

“Float is a song about a beautiful hallucination that made me content with life and how fickle it can be. I wrote the song on a plane going back to Las Vegas from Philadelphia. I think it was one of the first songs i recorded when i landed. Its a very simple number thats just drum machine, guitar, and bass.”

– Shamir Bailey

citattecken “In summer you could feel the heat blowing in from the desert. There was a remote feeling of not quite being a country town but not being large enough…”

14. Jen Cloher “Regional Echo”
(from Jen Cloher)

“I grew up in Adelaide, a town in South Australia with a population of one million. In summer you could feel the heat blowing in from the desert. There was a remote feeling of not quite being a country town but not being large enough to be taken seriously either. Life had a strange amnesia. No-one taught you to dream big.”

– Jen Cloher

citattecken “We tried to keep it clean but we also wanted there to be those human bits. Sometimes I wanted to cut things out while he wanted them in. We often came to a medium. After all, it’s John Parish…”

13. Aldous Harding “Party”
(from Party)

“It’s just a love song that I put together when I was on my first ever European tour. I’d always envisioned it having quite a strong female presence, you know, with the delicate vocals in the verse and then the strong, screechy female choir thing in the chorus. That’s what I always heard. It’s quite a happy track, like, “let me come with you, I’m not perfect but I’d like to come”. I heard the hook and then the rest of the thing just fell together.

John Parish, who produced the album, likes to leave in little clicks and human parts in the songs but at the same time he’s very particular about which ones of those sounds that get to stay. There are some that, if they continue to annoy us with every listen, we’d get rid of them but others we didn’t mind being left there. We tried to keep it clean but we also wanted there to be those human bits in there. Sometimes I wanted to cut things out while he wanted them in. We often came to a happy medium. After all, it’s John Parish and he knows what he’s talking about, but at the end of the day they are my songs, so we found a nice balance together. We had our quiet battles, but I guess that’s what collaboration really is about, isn’t it?”

– Aldous Harding

12. Marika Hackman “Boyfriend”
(from I’m Not Your Man)

11. Methyl Ethel “Ubu”
(from Everything Is Forgotten)

10. MGMT “Little Dark Age”
(single)

citattecken “I called it ‘One Chord’ ‘cause that’s what it was. One day I was just recording at home by myself and I set up a drum machine to play this beat…then I played a celeste onto it…”

9. Spoon “Hot Thoughts”
(from Hot Thoughts)

“That was a song that existed just like a one chord backing track. I called it ‘One Chord’ ‘cause that’s what it was. One day I was just recording at home by myself and I set up a drum machine to play this beat. I got some tape to tape down two notes on an organ. So that was kind of going and swirling and then I played a celeste onto it. I recorded that and thought it was pretty cool and had it sitting around for over a year on my computer and kept thinking “I’ve got to find some way to do something with that” but I wasn’t really sure what. At some point I finally gave in and tried to put a bass line on it. Once I had that it wasn’t just one chord any more, it was like a bass progression. Then it was easier to sing too, so I came up with some vocals.”

– Britt Daniel

citattecken “…all of the sad and twisted memories I have of the place and how I feel it’s shaped me into who I am or who Grandaddy is/was. Lots of bleak and ‘down and out’ imagery…”

8. Grandaddy “Evermore”
(from Last Place)

“The first thing that comes to mind is that relentless synth pattern. Its always a little scary, when you are building songs from the ground up, to imagine whether or not they will keep their momentum…or excitement…so being able to rely on a constant element like this is nice.

Anyways…the song is very influenced by my hometown, Modesto California, and all of the sad and twisted memories I have of the place and how I feel it’s shaped me into who I am or who Grandaddy is/was. Lots of bleak and “down and out” imagery. Took me a while…and help from a few french speaking friends to figure out how to say “are you good”? in a relaxed French delivery too.”

– Jason Lytle

citattecken “…I told Richard about the time I got arrested by a racist policeman in Paris. He asked me if I had ever written a song about it, and I responded no…”

7. Ibeyi feat. Kamasi Washington “Deathless”
(from Ash)

“We had two studio sessions for this album, the first was in Dorset for a month. Whilst we were talking about everything and I told Richard about the time I got arrested by a racist policeman in Paris. He asked me if I had ever written a song about it, and I responded no, because I felt like my experience wasn’t bad enough compared to what was happening elsewhere in the world with police brutality. But he and Naomi answered that what had happened to me was already too much and that I should express it if I wanted to.

I think the reason why the album is so personal is because Naomi and I are singing what we needed to hear. We wrote it because we wanted to hear a whole crowd singing, “we are deathless…” If you vocalise something, you’re no longer passive. While I was writing, it became our anthem. It became a song for everybody to feel big, large and immortal for three minutes.

We met Kamasi Washington (who plays saxophone on the track) at many festivals in a Europe and the US and it became obvious for us that we wanted him on that song! The song needed him. He’s brilliant… It feels like it was meant to be.

At our shows we want to create a moment where we all feel Deathless!”

– Lisa-Kainde Diaz

6. Julien Baker “Turn Out The Lights”
(from Turn Out The Lights)

5. Everything Is Recorded feat. Syd & Sampha “Show Love”
(single)

4. Algiers “The Underside Of Power”
(from The Underside Of Power)

3. Cigarettes After Sex “Apocalypse”
(from Cigarettes After Sex)

citattecken “While I respect her wishes not to talk about it, I think she can respect that I need to. I get questions like ‘How did you meet?’. That’s irrelevant, all that matters is the end and the difficulties…”

2. Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”
(single)

“The idea of Aldous singing with me was pretty essential. That particular song is heavily about my experience and me trying to work through things. It’s me projecting onto her my own ideas of the whole scenario with our break-up; a) I wanted that represented on the album, and b) just for my own personal sake I was curious to see if she would sing it, like, ‘Will you accept my version of events?’. I was really happy that she would. It’s such a strange thing, me putting words into her mouth knowing that they’re mine.

There are certain elements of our relationship that are in the story of my album and in a way there are to her album too, but she has a completely different approach to it and her album doesn’t lean so obvious on it. But for me, I can’t avoid that. From the conception of the album, having to constantly talk about it in interviews was going to be part of the deal. It feels like that’s been something necessary about the whole process for me. While I respect her wishes not to talk about it I think she can respect mine that I need to, ‘cause it’s part of my art. It feels on the level. I get questions like ‘How did you meet?’. That’s irrelevant, all that matters is the end and the difficulties.

We recorded it long-distance with her receiving the audio files and me coaching her over the phone. She was in Cardiff and I was in Portland and I’d already recorded the rest of the album and done my part of the song. There was something really strange and fitting about the fact that we had to do it long-distance. It sort of spoke to the relationship as a whole, a very poignant part of the process. You know when you sometimes reach the end, there’s a peaceful clarity and everything seems obvious. If you get to that place you can really have some meaningful discourse and good insights to yourself. Reaching out to her helped bridge the peace and communicate things that are difficult otherwise.

We approached the song differently. I didn’t expect her to sing it like that. It’s kind of overwrought. But then again, I think she was feeling it very truly. I was a bit taken aback when I listened to the recording but I grew to love it and accept it the same way she had to. It was a back and forth process.

The song is in two parts. The ending had been floating around in my head for about a year. I knew it belonged somewhere but I didn’t know where. By coincidence it was in the same key. That part of the song is me acknowledging the fact that this is my perspective, that I will try and represent things. But at the end of the day it’s just a dude moaning about his problems!”

– Marlon Williams


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