My Favourite Tracks of 2010: 1 January - 31 May (N - Z)
If you missed the first half of my end-of-year round-up, you can read it here.
PAPER AEROPLANES - Cliche
Writing chiming, uplifting and memorable radio songs that effortlessly imprint themselves on all manner of peoples' consciousnesses is a rare skill. It's easy to be sniffy about too, especially peered at from the back of a high horse grazing in the leftfield. Paper Aeroplanes are one of Wales' finest exponents of great, easily accessible, heartfelt songwriting. Their craft has earnt them playlist support on Radio 2. Cliche is somewhere between There She Goes by The La's and something that sold trillions in the Corrs' back catalogue.
PETE LAWRIE - How Could I Complain?
Rollicking Van Morrison does Sergio Leone sounds on this début from Penarth's bourbon-voiced songwriter. Unashamedly soulful and heartfelt, it sounds light years away from The Drums, Foals or other attempted resuscitation attempts on 60s reverb twang or 80s aloofness and all the better for it. Obviously.
RACE HORSES - No Man's Land
I could have chosen anything off their wonder-filled début album Goodbye Falkenburg... the two singles, Cake and Pony, in particular. But I loved - almost above anything else this year - this joyous tribute (and cover) of Syd Barrett's No Man's Land. It gives a very real insight into the roots and influences behind this most excellent band. And demonstrates their ability to bring a sunshine glow to the darkest corners of the human psyche.
RICHARD JAMES - When You See Me In The Pouring Rain
Woozy, lachrymose, sounding like a Welsh Townes Van Zandt, utterly beguiling and likely to charm psychopaths into charity work. Temporarily, at least. Richard makes effortless, natural music. It just flows out of him and raises the rest of us. Thank you for the elevation, Mr James.
RUFFSTYLZ - Case Closed
Big beats and crazed rhymes that make Dr Octagon and Method Man sound like Flanders and Swann. Totally great apart from the fact that the bass has bust two sets of speakers this year. The bill is in the post.
SATURDAYS KIDS - Grey on White
Febrile, ominous hardcore-ish fuzz that sounds like Fugazi being sucked through a wormhole. There is something massive and pricelessly unpredictable about Saturdays Kids. Unique and thrilling.
THE SCHOOL - Is He Really Coming Home?
Perfect. Pop. Music.
SLAYA P - Boomtingz
My wish for 2011: that all souped-up Nova boy racers - with woofers megawatted to the square root of their IQ - get exposed to 10 seconds of this totally messed-up bass crunch. Lives would be changed, forever and for the better.
SOFT-HEARTED SCIENTISTS - The Trees Don't Seem To Know That It's September
A lilting ode to the dying embers of summer, probably as a metaphor for a failing relationship. This sounds like something my dearly departed Grandma Walton used to listen to on 78rpm. Which is a very good thing. The tragic thing is that only a tiny handful of people have heard the album this wonderful song is taken from. Another wish for 2011, then, is that Wandermoon gets a full release. Please.
SPARROW & the WORKSHOP - I Will Break You
One of this band is from Wales, I think. This is a moody skitter along moonlit rooftops soundtracked by off kilter acoustic guitars and a beautiful, but uneasy, female voice that recalls Throwing Muses or Nina Nastasia. Tim Burton would probably try to marry this and give it a starring role in his films.
SPENCER MCGARRY SEASON - Great Enemies
Spencer's greatest achievement with his Episode 2 album wasn't that he managed to put together a shoestring orchestra to fulfil his vision, although his powers of charismatic persuasion and inspiration should be marvelled at, but that the songs on the album are so damned good. Spencer's inspiration is more Gershwin, Reich and Rodgers & Hammerstein than rock 'n' roll. In less cynical and knowing times he might have been acknowledged as something of a genius. This song is about robots and it is ace.
STAGGA - Tubby's Innovation
This monumental slab of bass has been a staple of my DJ set all year. It's so much more than the token dubstep track. It bridges all the old school reggae I play with a future that throbs with dark, modern strangeness. The vocal sample is perfect, rooting the track in the dub tradition pioneered by the likes of King Tubby. The Large Hadron Collider of Welsh dubstep.
STRANGE NEWS FROM ANOTHER STAR - Letter From the Queen
SNFAS (colloquially shortened to: Sniff Ass, which must have been foreseen?) strip all the flam out of modern rock. There is no pretence, there is only riff. And denim. And a voice that tremulates (a new word, it's the only one that will do) with all the sexual predation of Jerry Lee Lewis at a Texan prom night. It's frantic, exciting and brimful of singer Jimmy's idiosyncratic charisma. Not having a clue what he's singing about is a lot of the fun here. Shaking your head along like a loon constitutes the rest.
TIM AND SAM'S TIM AND THE SAM BAND WITH TIM AND SAM - Finders Keepers
In stark contrast to Sniff Ass, Tim and Sam sound like they grew up in a universe far removed from AC/DC, Dinosaur Jr, and Mclusky. Amplifiers do exist in the Tim And Sam Band, I know this because I have seen one. It may have been being used as a stand for a glockenspiel, but it was still an amplifier. This is beautifully layered, arranged and produced - a flawless gem of folkish indie pop. Like all the shiny things from childhood before life tarnished them.
TOKIN4WA - Cyfrifi4duron
I don't get the four fetish either, in all honesty, This is dreamy, but excellently realised bedroom electronica. Apparently it's about Porthmadog. Sounds like Porth has been transported into a strange Japanese animation or video game. Or like Jan Hammer soundtracking Pwllheli Vice (sock-free espadrilles not recommended!).
UNDER ALIEN SKIES - Fyodor
This is the stand out track on a magnificent EP. An EP so good I broadcast it in its half hour entirety with no interruptions. Fyodor recalls Panda Bear electronically assimilating Surf's Up-era Beach Boys. It's a grotto filled with wonders and joyous memories you will not want to escape from.
UNDERPASS - Wapping
Lee Underpass is a man at one with his spectrum of sounds. Few I've heard this year have as good an ear for constructing a palette of timbres that compliment each other as well as Lee does. Amongst the warm, Boards of Canada tones there is a frantic tapping, something industrial, that gives this a real momentum. It's brilliantly done. And it's a good tune, which helps. Sound in glove. Excellent.
VANGUARD - Loving Someone Else
Not much of what I've enthused about (at great length, sorry about that) is this relentlessly focused on the dancefloor. This is a full on club classic. Steeped in sounds cleverly updated from the 80's and insouciantly stolen from French masters it's brilliantly produced and clear testament to the great talent at work in these young Welsh minds.
WE / ARE / ANIMAL - 1268
These are guitars, Jim, but not as we know them. It's not art school. It has no clear lineage back to punk. It's far too insistent and grinding to come from this decade's fey and rather chaste indie aesthetic. This smells of rock. Just a hint of engine oil in hair. It's very very good is what it is.
YELLOW MOON BAND - Barehed
A rather frenetic, psyched-out inversion of the folkier climes that Jo Bartlett (It's Jo & Danny) usually inhabits. This is still DADGAD, but it's Pentangle force-fed a foix gras of psychedelics. Superb, rollicking fun.