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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Brit Awards 2014

Brit Awards 2014 logo

You know you’ve been taking the piss out of the Brit Awards too long when you look at the current year’s shortlist and think “…well, at least it’s not as bad as last year’s.” You might disagree, and I’d very much understand that – perhaps I’ve just reluctantly come to terms with the fact that the Brit Awards are primarily designed to reward (chart) success first and musical credibility second. You’re never going to see Jon Hopkins or These New Puritans or Daughter or Savages or (insert other deserving British artist here) on these shortlists, and if you prefer your music to be prominently feature guitars then you’re largely out of luck – in much the same way as most ‘guitar bands’ are in the charts these days. This year’s selection of awards looks pretty lean at first glance, with no ‘Best Live Act’ and only three international categories, though what the Brits website doesn’t tell you is that the ‘Brits Global Success Award’ is returning after its introduction last year. ‘Best British Video’ will also be making a comeback after being absent for over a decade – apparently the nominations will be announced on the night and voted for via social media. While the sprawling mess of the Grammies is perhaps a little overkill, it does feel like the Brits could do with spreading its wings a bit and introducing some more genre-specific categories – we might see a few more interesting acts getting nominated that way…

Anyhow, let’s have a quick look at who might win, eh?

British Breakthrough Act
Bastille
Disclosure
Laura Mvula
London Grammar
Tom Odell

I briefly thought that the Brits had finally dispensed with public voting, but no, the British Breakthrough category continues its long tradition of being thrown open to the public. Sadly, my trusty method of judging who’s the most popular fell flat last year after Ben Howard won despite not having anywhere near the most fans on Facebook. However, that’s not going to stop me from using the very same method this year and declaring that Bastille will win this one – though it’s also because I reckon they’re the most likely to have the sort of obsessive fanbase who’d vote en masse for this sort of thing. London Grammar are probably the only other band who’d come close.

British Female Solo Artist
Birdy
Ellie Goulding
Jessie J
Laura Marling
Laura Mvula

Only one of these women has had a number one single (and, eventually, a number one album as well). That woman is Ellie Goulding, and I would be very surprised if anyone else wins this award. Any other result would seem a bit half-hearted on the Brits committee’s part, no?

British Group
Arctic Monkeys
Bastille
Disclosure
One Direction
Rudimental

What statement do the Brits want to make this year? You may as well rename the ‘Brits Global Success Award’ the ‘One Direction award for being One Direction’ again this year, and you’d think that would allow the judges to avoid making a potentially controversial choice here. But could they do the unthinkable and pull off a rare victory for pure pop music in this category? Or will the organisers pick the only ‘traditional’ choice and go with Arctic Monkeys, bucking the year’s predominant trends in the process? Or they plant their flag firmly in the ashes of ‘guitar music’ and proclaim Disclosure or Rudimental the winner?

I predict they’ll do none of these things and pick Bastille, which as far as statements go is roughly equivalent to a non-committal shrug.

British Male Solo Artist
David Bowie
Jake Bugg
James Blake
John Newman
Tom Odell

Well, we can safely say that David Bowie won’t win because the ‘token legend’ never ever wins. James Blake is mainly here because he won the Mercury Prize, but will that translate to Brits success? Probably not, though we can live in hope. Honestly, out of all of these I reckon John Newman might take it, if only because he’s got the most obvious hit single to play over the PA as he goes to collect the award.

British Single

Bastille – ‘Pompeii’
Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding – ‘I Need Your Love’
Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge – ‘White Noise’
Ellie Goulding – ‘Burn’
John Newman – ‘Love Me Again’
Naughty Boy feat. Sam Smith – ‘La La La’
Olly Murs – ‘Dear Darlin”
One Direction – ‘One Way Or Another (Teenage Kicks)’
Passenger – ‘Let Her Go’
Rudimental feat. Ella Eyre- ‘Waiting All Night’

I do love the way the Brits website can’t even be arsed to list the names of the songs. You’d think that would be quite important for a ‘Best Single’ award, no? Anyway, whilst looking them up on Wikipedia, I discovered an interesting fact – these 10 songs were literally the 10 best-selling singles by British artists in 2013. Look here if you don’t believe me – you’ll find these ten songs at numbers 4, 5, 11, 12, 14, 15, 20, 24, 29, and 32. It’s also worth noting that Lily Allen‘s godawful cover of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ was number 11, so thank your lucky stars that this list wasn’t even worse. (Looking at last year’s list, exactly the same process seems to have been used, except there were 15 nominations rather than 10.)

Anyway, as for the award itself, I’ve genuinely no idea how they’re going to decide this one. If we go purely on sales figures it’s a straight fight between Passenger and Naughty Boy (4 and 5 in the year-end sales figures respectively). However, Ellie Goulding might also be in with a shout because she spent the longest time at number one (three weeks, compared to one or zero for everyone else). Fuck it, I’ll go with that logic and say she’ll win.

International Female Solo Artist
Janelle Monáe
Katy Perry
Lady Gaga
Lorde
P!nk

Ok, process of elimination time – Janelle Monáe is too niche, Lady Gaga‘s last album felt like a relative flop despite going straight to number one, P!nk… well, P!nk somehow had the 20th best selling album of last year despite the fact it came out in 2012. What is life? Anyway, that’s not zeitgeisty enough for the Brits panel, so we’re left with Katy Perry or Lorde – established star vs. up-and-comer. I reckon they might actually go with the New Zealand up-and-comer, particularly after last year’s demonstration that the judges are willing to use the International categories to make themselves look a bit cooler.

International Group
Arcade Fire
Daft Punk
Haim
Kings Of Leon
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Surely Daft Punk are a shoo-in here, given that their chart success totally eclipses everyone else on the list? I mean, it’d be cute if Haim won and all but I just don’t think they’ve sold enough records.

International Male Solo Artist
Bruno Mars
Drake
Eminem
John Grant
Justin Timberlake

Well, they always find room for one total curveball eh? John Grant is easily this year’s most unlikely nominee in any category, but of course that means he’s probably not going to win. The field’s pretty open for any of the others to take the award though, so let’s go with the lowest common denominator and say Bruno Mars will win.

MasterCard British Album of the Year
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Bastille – Bad Blood
David Bowie – The Next Day
Disclosure – Settle
Rudimental – Home

Honestly, I was willing to give Bastille the benefit of the doubt – but then I actually listened to Bad Blood, and let’s just say I am now no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m pretty convinced that anyone else on this list would be a better winner, but realistically, given their combination of sales and critical success, it has to be Arctic Monkeys, right?

…right?

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My Songs Of The Decade, pt I: 2000-2003

I decided that attempting to compile any objective sort of list of the ‘best songs of the decade’ was was ultimately a futile effort, so instead you get this – a vague attempt to recount the songs that not only are great tunes (well, mostly), but in many cases have also had some personal relevance to my life. I’m going to list them year-by-year, so you’ll have to excuse the inevitable fragmentation of my own personal chronology, as I didn’t ‘get into’ many of these songs until years after they were released.

And yes, I’m aware that by this time ‘End of Decade’ lists are “so last decade”, but never mind.

(Edit: I’m a dumbass and got the year of the BRMC track wrong. Oops)

2000

Coldplay – ‘Don’t Panic’ – (Parachutes)

Really, this entry should probably just be the entirety of Coldplay’s first album – which I absolutely played to death on a Club Med holiday in Ibiza. It went pretty much everywhere here me, and thus I can’t hear certain parts of this record without it being shot through with images of that holiday. In particular, the echoy guitar line of ‘Don’t Panic’ reminds me of the lit-up view across the pool at night – permanently associated with warm, relaxed nights.

Elliot Smith – ‘Everything Reminds Me Of Her’ – (Figure 8)

We’ve all been there – well, ok, maybe you haven’t – but the feeling that everything is an inescapable reminder of a lost love is something that Elliot Smith encapsulates perfectly in this song. For me, it’s something that came to a head one night at a ball in Cambridge, where the reminder in question was in fact every single pretty girl in a pretty dress – oh, and I think there was a group calling themselves ‘Between The Bars’ playing too. That last thing might clue you in to the fact that, fittingly, “her” in this case was the person who introduced me to Elliot Smith in the first place. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Linkin Park – ‘One Step Closer’ – (Hybrid Theory)

I contemplated not admitting to this, but well, it’s not like anyone thinks I’m cool anyway. I include this song not because of any particular lasting affection for Linkin Park (Minutes To Midnight was shit, yo), but because it completely blew me away the first time I heard it on the radio. I subsequently remember looking in record shops for this ‘Lincoln Park’ band, and being a little bit put off when I saw they looked kinda scary on the back cover – bear in mind that at this point, my fragile sensibilities had largely been exposed to the likes of Travis and Coldplay. But then ‘Crawling’ came out and, like many angsty teenagers at that time, I took the plunge – thus starting a not-so-brief dalliance with nu-metal and other such related stuff. Looking back, this does imply that my current taste in music could be a hell of a lot worse – I guess I should be thankful.

PJ Harvey – ‘This Mess We’re In’ – (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea)

Like Elliot Smith above, it wasn’t until years after this album came out that I was introduced to PJ Harvey, and I rued not paying attention earlier in the decade. However, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea has become a particular favourite of mine, and this fragile, haunting duet with Thom Yorke is one of its absolute highlights. It’s also got a sublime spoken-word section – by the time you get to the end of this list, it’ll be quite clear that I’m a bit of a sucker for them.

Radiohead – ‘Idioteque’ – (Kid A)

On the same Club Med holiday where I spun Parachutes to death, I met a guy called Sam who was obsessed with Radiohead (he also played me part of the first Muse album on cassette, which is as big an indication as any as to how far we’ve come in 10 years) . This may or may not have influenced my decision to buy OK Computer at some point later in time – I honestly can’t remember when I bought it – but it would be nearly 8 years later that I first listened to Kid A. Of course, ‘Idioteque’ had been soundtracking my nights at World Headquarters in Newcastle even before that, I just hadn’t realised what the song was or who it was by – I only knew, instinctively, that it was rather brilliant. If I were to attempt to pick a personal ‘best song of the decade’ in any sort of objective manner, it’s quite possible that ‘Idioteque’ would be it – I do have to stop and wonder where I’d be now if I’d have heard it instead of ‘One Step Closer’ back in 2000…

2001

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll (Punk Song)’ – (B.R.M.C.)

It may have been a bit of a red herring when compared to a lot of the other tracks on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s debut album, but there’s no denying that this was the song that got me interested in the band. Raw, loud and infectious, it hooked me instantly and I’ve been a fan of the band’s output ever since.

Daft Punk – ‘Aerodynamic’ – (Discovery)

If you tell me that you hate Daft Punk, then you’re a liar – either that or the most stony-hearted creature in existence. That’s not to say that everyone is in fact a massive fan of them – but you know full well that you’ve danced to this (or one of Discovery’s other singles) at least once in your life. It only takes the most casual appreciation of the French duo to realise that they’ve made some of the decade’s most feel-good party tunes.

Gorillaz – ‘Clint Eastwood’ – (Gorillaz)

Even before Blur finished their last album, Damon Albarn was already embarking on a new project that would set him on course to become one of the decade’s biggest musical innovators. Collaborating with Jamie Hewlett to create a fictional band pretty much gave Albarn licence to do whatever he wanted – as evidenced on the band’s twisted, hip-hop influenced early single. It does seem a little bit wrong to pick out just one song for praise though – the best thing about Gorillaz is the sheer extent to which Albarn and his collaborators have embraced their creative freedom.

Muse – ‘New Born’ – (Origin Of Symmetry)

Origin Of Symmetry saw Muse take the angsty alt-rock of their debut and take it up to the next level – which would become a recurring theme throughout the decade, with each successive album becoming increasingly overblown. While this strategy eventually faltered with this year’s The Resistance (in my opinion, at least), the likes of ‘New Born’ remind us not only how far they’ve come, but also how bloody good they were in the first place.

The Strokes – ‘Hard To Explain’ – (Is This It?)

Love them or hate them, it’s impossible to deny that the arrival of The Strokes had a profound effect on ‘indie’ culture in the decade to come – both musically and in terms of the hype that surrounded the band. While ‘Last Nite’ is arguably *the* perennial Strokes tune, I’m including ‘Hard To Explain’ here because I actually prefer it. Sue me.

The White Stripes – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ – (White Blood Cells)

There’s not really a lot to say about this one – it’s raw, it’s simple, and it’s utterly infectious. Absolutely one of the decade’s finest tunes – and despite various side-projects and further ambitious efforts with The White Stripes, I’d still say that White Blood Cells is my favourite thing involving Jack White to have been created this decade.

2002

Idlewild – ‘A Modern Way Of Letting Go’ – (The Remote Part)

People say they went soft after 100 Broken Windows, but Idlewild still showed flashes of that fire on their subsequent records. The Remote Part was probably better known for its sweeping, emotional epics, but this raw, sub-three-minute blast of guitar angst is probably one of my favourite tracks on the album – and one of my favourite Idlewild songs, period.

The Music – ‘Take The Long Road And Walk It’ – (The Music)

Let’s put aside the fact that the band went AWOL for several years while combating problems with drink and drugs, and concentrate on  the fact that The Music’s debut album was pretty damn good. Happily, they would eventually recover and produce more euphoric dance-rock anthems like this one – although this, one of their earliest tracks, still remains one of their best.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘By The Way’ – (By The Way)

Yes, yes, you might say they haven’t done anything good since Californication, but that album was released in 1999 so whatever dude. ‘By The Way’ (and by extension, the album of the same name) makes this list because it served as my first real introduction to Red Hot Chili Peppers – and if a new album causes you to check out previous work by the same band, then surely that’s a good thing, right?

The Streets – ‘Weak Become Heroes’ – (Original Pirate Material)

I’ve never actually been on drugs, but I like this song nevertheless – Mike Skinner’s observations are razor-sharp here, even if I can only pretend to relate to them. Also, I would one day like to be able to respond to the greeting “pleased to meet you” with “likewise, a pleasure” in the slim hope that the person I’m talking to realises what song I’m referencing. I’m such a geek.

2003

The Electric Soft Parade – ‘Bruxellisation’ – (The American Adventure)

Hats off to you if you know this one – any attention surrounding The Electric Soft Parade seemed to quickly subside after debut effort Holes In The Wall, but this melancholy beauty from their second album is one of the best things they’ve ever done. It also contains the following vocal sample:

Woman: “What are you doing?”
Man (presumably Tom or Alex): “Recording the street noise.”

I found it hilarious, for some reason.

Patrick Wolf – ‘Demolition’/’London’/’Paris’ – (Lycanthropy)

There are two reasons I’ve grouped these three songs together – 1) Because I couldn’t possibly pick between them, and 2) Because they run together in this order on Patrick Wolf’s debut album Lycanthropy, and form one of the best three-song runs you’ll find on any album this decade. The desolate mournfulness of ‘Demolition’ leads into a wistful peon to Patrick’s hometown as he prepares to leave London… and then the sadness finally gives way to hope as he arrives in Paris and realises that he has the power to write his own future… ” it’s all in the palm of your hand”. Individually, they’re already fantastic songs, but considered together they’re absolutely wonderful.

The Rapture – ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ – (Echoes)

The Rapture certainly know the key to making people dance, and this is easily their most seminal tune. Not only did ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ have enough cowbell to satisfy even Christopher Walken, it also had an unavoidably funky bassline – these factors combined meant you had no other choice but to get down.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Maps’ – (Fever To Tell)

In the midst of Fever To Tell’s garage-rock noisiness was this simple, beautifully emotional gem. Inspired by Karen O being away from her boyfriend while on tour, ‘Maps’ not only delivers an arresting sentiment (“Wait… they don’t love you like I love you”), it then has the genius to follow it up with a cathartic blast of guitar that you can let everything out to. This one goes on the objective ‘best songs of the decade list’ for sheer tear-jerking brilliance.

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