40. Jay Som ”Everybody Works”
(from Everybody Works)
39. Timber Timbre ”Sewer Blues”
(from Sincerely, Future Pollution)
38. Hercules & Love Affair ”Fools Wear Crowns”
37. The Big Moon ”Cupid”
(from Love In The 4th Dimension)
”…I have seen how white-supremacy has terrorized, oppressed, and marginalized black folks, indigenous folks, and folks of many other communities…”
36. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires ”Whitewash”
(from Youth Detention)
”This song was inspired by a paragraph near the end of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me,’ where he talks about the ways in which white-supremacy erases the cultures of those “who believe that they are white.” As a person who grew up among a pretty diverse group of folks in the civil rights battleground of Birmingham, Alabama, and who was privileged to have an education that allowed me to look at those experiences through a historically and politically informed lens, I have seen how white-supremacy has terrorized, oppressed, and marginalized black folks, indigenous folks, and folks of many other communities who have been denied the privilege and power of whiteness. But I have also come to see how the adoption of “white identity” is not relegated to proud bigots wearing Klan hoods or swastika armbands. Increasingly, many self-proclaimed liberals unquestioningly adopt a quietly burgeoning national and global white identity, whereby (mostly unconsciously, I think) they shed the various cultural markers that identify them as being from a particular place or people in order to gain a higher position in the global economy.
This whitewashing process obviously favors rich people and folks of Northern/Western European ethnicities. This song is a rejection of cultural imperialism and that global racial identity, and a call to identify with a place and its peoples—to learn about our neighbors and ourselves, to acknowledge the disparities in power and privilege present in our particular places, to find our place-based cultural commonalities with folks who belong to different intersecting micro-communities, to create bonds of solidarity with our neighbors, and to fall in behind marginalized communities in our specific places to create a more just, open society.
On a musical level, Tim Kerr, who produced our record “Youth Detention,” said, “Man, this song reminds me of the Alarm!” None of us had ever heard of the Alarm, but, before we went in to record the song, he pulled up a performance of “The Stand” that they did on TV back in the ‘80s, and we all became instant fans. I got back home from recording the album, and found—in a stack of records I’d recently gotten from my cousin—a couple Alarm albums I’d never before noticed. They don’t stay very far from the turntable now!”
– Lee Bains III
”…people careered around me in a glittery, drunken mess of their own myths, dramas and kisses, like some faux-profound romangsty scene straight from an OC season finale…”
35. Desperate Journalist ”Resolution”
(from Grow Up)
”The idea for the song came to me, unsurprisingly, at a New Year’s Eve party. I had a severely painful wisdom tooth infection and was on the kind of super hardcore antibiotics which cause you to vomit to death if you drink any alcohol, so I was coasting through on codeine and self-mythology, which complement each other a little too well. I occasionally shout stuff onstage in my good friend Keith’s band (Keith Top of the Pops and his Minor UK Indie Celebrity All Star Backing Band) so decided to freeload along with them in a van to a gig they were playing in Cardiff that year.
Because there weren’t quite enough seats, I’m a crazy thrillseeker, and maybe also so that I had something to concentrate on other than my enforced sobriety, I spent the whole journey in the bunk at the back, trying not to be launched onto my friends below with every jerk of the brakes. We listened to the 13 minute long version of Tobacco Road by Eric Burden & War several times (try it – it’s quite something), laughing til we cried. One of us had just had a horrible breakup and was clearly working hard at keeping a brave face. The saxophonist was drinking Sanatogen tonic wine and dancing like a madman. I had just a huge falling out via text with a friend over some convoluted nonsense. It was already sort of like a trashy film at this point.
When we arrived at the venue it was covered in shimmer curtains and terrible, ”ironic” paintings and the floors were half-refurbed linoleum. Perfect. The gig was, as ever, great fun to watch from within a painkiller cocoon, Keith on particularly sarcastic and energetic form, but once everyone started getting that level of drunk where they’re on another plane entirely to that of the sober, I started to feel quite struck with loneliness. I stood at the side of the hall, watching the headline frontman in his sparkling jacket, ably and magnificently doing the showman thing, climbing round the stage all eyes on him, and ending in the middle of the audience in a spotlight for the countdown to midnight.
All these people careered around me in a glittery, drunken mess of their own myths and dramas and kisses, and it was all like some faux-profound romangsty scene straight from an OC season finale, and I cried a bit in hysterical sympathy and kisslessness and took some more pretentious photos and went outside and had a smoke and wrote most of the lyrics to Resolution on my phone, sitting on the pavement, in the dark car park. It was snowing. Obviously.”
– Jo Bevan
34. Whitney ”You’ve Got A Woman”
33. Syd ”Smile More”
”…it’s a pretty dull place. The name sounds much nicer, like a psychedelic sixties band. The main thing that dominates it is an Ann Summers factory. Sex toys!”
32. Saint Etienne ”Whyteleafe”
(from Home Counties)
Pete: ”Bob wrote the lyrics to that one. Lyrically, it’s a mixture of two things; it’s as if David Bowie never left the home counties where he grew up. So it’s imagining him not following his dreams, being stuck in a fairly mundane job. Then there’s that we have some friends who have done the same and stayed where they were. Bob has probably been talking to a friend of his. He imagined he was very different to everyone else, thinking they probably voted for Brexit while he didn’t. There’s an element of that, feeling slightly uncomfortable, or feeling that you should’ve done something else and didn’t. With this album we did demos to various stages of completion and then got together and worked with Shawn Lee for the final production. Gus (Lobban of Kero Kero Bonito), who came in to play the synth line, wrote this with Bob and then Shawn used a fair amount of the original stuff, he didn’t change it that much.”
Sarah: ”I presumed that “Stockholm of the nineties” was to do with us coming here to play, but maybe it’s a bit of both. By the way, did you notice the twist in the second chorus where it goes “in Whyteleafe, owner of a lonely leaf”? A silly joke about Owner Of A Lonely Heart to keep ourselves amused!”
Pete: ”Whyteleafe is a place in south London near Croydon where Bob grew up. It’s a bit further out and it’s a pretty dull place. The name sounds much nicer, like a psychedelic sixties band. The main thing that dominates it is an Ann Summers factory. Sex toys! My brother worked there for a while, packing dildos.”
Sarah: ”We left that bit out, though! Ha ha!”
– Sarah Cracknell and Pete Wiggs
”I wouldn’t say the year since has gotten a lot better, but it does feel like the despair is curdling into a sense of defiance mixed with alternating hope and nihilism…”
31. Generationals ”Turning The Screw”
”For me this song will always be tied very tightly to the winter of 2016/2017 because it has a very real sense of despair laced into it that is unlike any other time in my life. Very often our music is described as ‘summery’ or sunny, even when it’s released in winter they’ll say ‘This song has us longing for those summer days!’. I have tried to understand what that means exactly and I never really get it, but this song never got that tag, which was a relief. Whatever summery is, this is not summery.
Aside from the obvious broad reasons why last winter was bleak, I had a personally bleak winter because I moved from my hometown of New Orleans to a very cold and icy place called Madison, Wisconsin, where it’s dark and frozen until May and I knew no one other than my wife. So the Seasonal Affective Disorder was in overdrive as I finished this song, and I think it came through.
The song is literally about despair. I always want a little bit of a story to the lyrics of a song, even if it’s very vague, I want some narrative imagery and some sense of an emotional conflict, and for this song, it’s laid pretty bare. The voice in the song is describing abandonment, self-loathing, regret, the feeling of running out of time and the feeling of waking up to a new day and realizing he is now in a hellscape, or maybe he was always in one, but only now he can see it for what it is. I wouldn’t say the year since has gotten a lot better, but it does feel like the despair is curdling into a sense of defiance mixed with alternating hope and nihilism. So maybe the next songs will have that feeling, but ‘Turning the Screw’ will always be my landmark of despair.
As for the musical elements of the song, I think there are a few parts that are different or interesting. Ted Joyner is the other half of Generationals and he sang a song called ‘Awake’ on a previous album we made called Heza. The vocal samples that you hear over the intro and the choruses of ‘Turning the Screw’ are slices of his a cappella vocal from ‘Awake’. I was messing around with that file and I pitched it up and started re-sequencing some slices of it and I really liked the texture that it gave this song.
I originally laid down a scratch vocal take for the main part of the song in my own voice, and I used a vocoder plugin to mess with the melody, which is something I do sometimes as a tool to try out different melodies or harmonies that I can then re-record cleanly. The more I listened, the more I actually came to really like the sound of the vocoder mixed together with my clean vocal take. So we ended up keeping them both in, and the combination gives the overall vocal that slightly robotic, dead sound, almost as dead as my cold, desparate heart felt.”
– Grant Widmer
30. Big Thief ”Watering”
29. MUNA ”Crying On The Bathroom Floor”
(from About U)
26. Everything Everything ”Desire”
(from A Fever Dream)
27. Matt Pond PA ”Still Summer”
(from Still Summer)
”…Tom from The Chemical Brothers had been down to visit in the studio and I’d been asking him about why their records sound so powerful and I applied some of their techniques…”
26. The Horrors ”Something To Remember Me By”
”‘Something To Remember Me By’ started off as a demo that Rhys and I worked on in our old Dalston studio. It didn’t have any vocals, but the chords and melodies were all there as they are on the final version. We sent it off to Faris who recorded the vocal in his traditional rough demo style. I think we thought it was quite fun and a cool direction but it wasn’t really fitting with the heavier sound that the rest of the album had so we parked it on the side and more or less forgot about it. Then probably over a year later our producer Paul heard it, right towards the end of the sessions and he pretty much said ‘stop everything, we have to record this song’. So, somewhat reluctantly, we did. I think we were worried it was too pop – it is undeniably a big pop song, not really contemporary pop style – which is a style I really don’t have much time for, but definitely a big pop sound, which is quite different to the rest of the album. Anyway, we spent a few days working on it and that was that, big single in the can!
Working on it was fun though – Tom from The Chemical Brothers had been down to visit in the studio and I’d been asking him about why Chemical Brothers records sound so powerful and I applied some of the techniques he had described to the production – cutting the bass really tightly to the drums so there was no flamming in the rhythm section – it had to be tight and powerful and groove perfectly without being quantised and losing it’s humanity. The main stab synth part was one of the times I had to tell Paul to back off and let me do my thing – I wanted a vintage synth sound but I needed modern control so I recorded these big block pads with a Jupiter 6 and then fed that into my modular, running the chords through my Intellijel filters and triggering them from the computer. It was quite a complicated set up but it was the sound I wanted and it took a little while to set up. Paul is all about doing things quickly and I think while I was setting it up he came over and said ‘this is taking too long, do it another way’ – I told him ‘I know what I’m doing, let me do my thing’ and so I think he went and had a nap or something while I worked with the engineers – ha! Paul is a real force of nature in the studio and it’s hard to move against him sometimes but we have a mutual respect with each other in that we’re both very good at what we do and don’t always need guidance – so he moved aside and let me work.
Josh also did some crazy guitar parts involving very long delays and making these weird loops in his idiosyncratic style – I can’t say too much because I’m usually taking some time to let my brain relax after doing all my synths but it sounded great, referencing Steve Reich and things like that. The whole track came together quite quickly from demo to the finished thing – it was just adding little bits of percussion that were the finishing touches and then we were done. I’m working on a sister track for it at the moment – but it might just sound too much like STRMB by the time we come and record it and we’ll feel like we want to explore a different sound – so maybe it will see the light, maybe not.”
– Tom Furse
”I was sitting in this bar around Christmas time which is also around my birthday and I was looking at all these people that I knew. Musicians from Muscle Shoals who’d had their heyday…”
25. Hannah Aldridge ”Gold Rush”
(from Gold Rush)
”That song is interesting because I started writing the lyrics sitting in this bar in my home town, in Muscle Shoals. I was sitting there around Christmas time which is also around my birthday and I was looking at all these people that I kind of knew. Musicians from Muscle Shoals who had had their heyday. We were all sitting alone around Christmas, I think it was maybe Christmas Eve, and I was thinking about how hard it is to get older and everyone struggles and has to come to terms with it and trying to figure out what happens after this life is over and all that.
So I started writing the lyrics and the word ‘gold rush’ kept popping in my head and I thought ‘no, that’s a different song, not this one’. Then it occurred to me that it was actually a good title for the song because life feels like the gold rush sometimes. You feel a little covered up by the fact that the better part of your life has come and gone and it can feel like that sometimes. You’re getting older, the people and the years come and go out of your life. For me, the cities and crowds come and go and I leave a little bit of myself in all of that, you know. I feel like I’ve scattered myself all over the world a little bit. You feel empty-handed by it sometimes. I had a really hard time finishing the song because it’s a complicated thought, I didn’t want it to be too contrived.
I had a co-write set up, I took it to Jeremy Drinkwine and Ashley McBryde. Giving what I had written to them helped me finishing it. That song is the hardest song I’ve ever written because if was a really complicated thought and I was figuring out how to put it all together so it didn’t feel hokey or contrived and wasn’t totally depressing. By myself I couldn’t make it make sense or get the point across. Even with the two other people in the room it took hours and hours to write that song as we really had to think and talk it out.”
– Hannah Aldridge
”…sometimes people come up and talk to me like I’m some big rock star. No. I’m not really. I’m just a normal guy who spends most of my time at home just being a dad…”
24. The New Pornographers ”This Is The World Of The Theater”
(from Whiteout Conditions)
”I was happy with the hook with the cut-up guitar riff. It was sort of accidental. We were sort of screwing around. That was a creation of John’s. To me when that happened that’d become the main hook. We were manipulating the guitars by taking another guitar part that was cut up. So at one point it was a different guitar part but it sort of got moved around and became that. I really like it. We do a lot of recording in Digital Performer which is very similar to Pro Tools. More and more I love moving stuff and messing around.
There’s no real reason why Neko (Case) sings it, it just seemed like a good one for her to sing. The lyrics aren’t about anything that exciting or deep, it’s just the idea of how you present yourself, you know. The distance between who you are and how you present yourself to the world. Like, there are a lot of theatrics involved. Sometimes it’s called posing. Myself, sometimes people come up and talk to me like I’m some big rock star. No. I’m not really. I’m really just a normal guy who spends most of my time at home just being a dad. I’ve never been very comfortable in the public eye. Like you want people to like you. I like playing music, that’s because I love music, I’ve never felt the urge to be adored. I never went on stage to think “love me, everybody”.
I remember when I was 19 seeing Hüsker Dü play and this band Christmas opening, a band I really liked from Boston. The singer, Michael, was this very intense performer lurking all over the stage. Afterwards, I saw him backstage and told him I loved their show. He was this mellow, very soft-spoken guy who went “thanks man, that’s very cool of you”. Similarly, I saw Redd Kross when I was a teenager and they were like rock stars up there on stage and when I met Steve MacDonald, the bass player, it was the same thing. He seemed like this snotty rock star, but when I met him it was again “thanks man, that’s really nice of you”. I realized there’s a line between who you are in real life and who you are on stage.
I’m thinking about that line “Too late to burn all your civilian clothes”… What was I getting at? I guess it’s wanting to be more genuine. To completely become a musician and less of a civilian. A lot of the time when I’m on stage I’m just being myself. Sometimes when I’m doing that I feel like I’m doing it wrong. So I should be posing more, because it’s the world of the theater! I’ve always liked songs where it’s not clear what the chorus is. To me it’s ‘Is it too late to live in your heart…’ but then it continues ‘Conquerors at the daybreak’. Is that the chorus? ‘This is the world of the theater’…is that the chorus? It’s like it if it has a wordless chorus after those, it has three pre-choruses!”
– A.C. Newman
23. Perfume Genius ”Slip Away”
(from No Shape)
22. alt-J ”In Cold Blood”
”We recorded this track, like the whole album, with Dan Carey. He instantly got the slinky, otherworldly mood of it. And we added to the arrangement the percussive sounds…”
21. Pumarosa ”Dragonfly”
(from The Witch)
”I wrote Dragonfly thinking about how so often we miss connections with fellow humans. And even with ourselves. We dare not become what we might. I was thinking specifically about supposedly close relations where one of us is not able to open up. We can be so afraid. So stuck. And I want to encourage people to let go and fall, or fly, into each other. The idea of a dragonfly provides the perfect visualisation of this. It lives underwater as a ‘nymph’, then one day it crawls out, high up on a stem and literally breaks out of its own skin and flies away – the ultimate image of BECOMING.
I guess it is quite a conceptual message so I wanted the lyrics to be very clear, and also to link it into the day to day life of humans…hence, ”at the pictures the other day, watch the credits roll”. But then maybe that line is also saying….”say what you feel before the credits roll and it’s too late!”
We recorded this track, like the whole album, with Dan Carey. He instantly got the slinky, otherworldly mood of it. And we added to the arrangement the percussive sounds. All the time I was trying to make it flutter, and sound as insect as possible. So you almost feel the wet and fragile wings of the Dragonfly unfolding. The recording came together very quickly as I remember, we all just knew what to do and Dan drew the idea further. It was very satisfying. Because not all tracks come together so smoothly!”
– Isabel Muñoz-Newsome