Favourite Songs of 2013 (Part 2)

Part 1 is over here.

15. Friction & Skream feat. Scrufizzer, P Money & Riko Dan - Kingpin

Three generations of grime MCs on a track, although it's a shame that Riko only gets hook duty, as he could easily have wiped the floor with a bored-sounding P Money. Scru brings his best Dizzee impression at the front before speeding up to his trademark Twista-paced flow. It's a sad state of affairs when grime legends are reduced to vocalling dubstep and house tunes - and this is about as fun as it gets.

14. TC4 - Mango

The minimal strains of grime have captured people's interest this year, leaving TC4's omnivorous genre perversions unfairly overlooked. Their Alpha EP came out on Logan Sama's Earth 616 label, and I think they deserve as big a profile as Logan's previous protégé Preditah. Mango takes ideas from funky and bassline, but rather than producing a hybrid they've created a hydra, multiple heads snapping at your feet from all different directions. A cut-up vocal sample is there to guide you through the snake-pit.

13. DJ Mustard feat. TeeFLii, Constantine, Ty Dolla $ign & Tory Lanez - Fuck That Nigga

DJ Mustard's Ketchup is probably my most listened to hip hop mixtape this year, and although Lil Snupe's Intro, Burn Rubber, and Paranoid have been picked out as highlights, I've fallen hardest for this compilation of outrageous seduction techniques. It's almost as if cuckoldry adds an extra amount of spice to the liaison: the status-boost of being able to sleep with another man's girlfriend becoming the source of sexual arousal itself. The whole thing is horrible, of course, but its shamelessness is weirdly compulsive.

12. Ciara feat. Nicki Minaj - I'm Out

Ciara's self-titled album this year is probably her most consistent in what has been a long career, although it lacks the highs on 2010's Basic Instict. The opening track is a powerful introduction, particularly when the bass drops in the second half of the verses. Nicki is priceless, as pretty much always.

11. Walton - Homage

The swung drums are El-B to the core, but that gnarly bassline sounds like it was unearthed in an archaeological dig. "Maybe we'll find a different way" goes the chanting vocal, pitched half-way between hardcore chipmunk and sultry garage diva. The track is called Homage, to the nuum more than anything. I first heard it in a Logos set at one of the Boxed nights, and it stood out then as an arresting piece of demented 2-step. It's my favourite thing thing Keysound have released this year, which as noted above, is saying something.

10. Angel Haze - Echelon (It's My Way)

I like Angel Haze best when she's bullshitting, although even then she brings an outsider's twist to rapping about cars, clothes and clubs (she prefers to "get high and dance alone" apparently). Personal fave bit is her finding the religious fervour her parents tried to impose on her in a new and all-consuming love of hip hop: "me I spit that Gospel, that... LYRICAL BIBLICAL HOLY GHOST PENTECOSTAL"

9. Jon Hopkins feat. Purity Ring - Breathe This Air

Jon Hopkins's Immunity was impressive, although while most listeners alighted on the thumping techno of Open Eye Signal or Collider, my stand-out was the (now vintage) Burial-esque 2-step of Breathe This Air. And the fact that my favourite act of 2011 and 12 thought the same made the song just that bit more perfect.

8. Kahn feat. Flow Dan - Badman City

A persuasive argument could be made for Flow Dan being the best dubstep MC of all time, taking into account his work with The Bug and, more recently, Jubei. In fact, Jubei's follow-up to last year's Say Nothin' (which I loved) was pretty good, but this track with Kahn is even better. Wreathed in groaning vocal samples and sinister strings, Flow Dan evokes a nightmare world where "even the gyal-dem are trained to assassinate".

7. CHVRCHES - Lies

The album is stuffed so full of bangerz (The Mother We Share, Gun, Recover, Lungs), it makes choosing one song difficult. In the end, I settled on Lies because of the uncomfortable resonance "I can feed your dirty mind" has acquired given the stuff Lauren Mayberry had to deal with this year. A song about idolatry in pop music, the frontwoman becoming a master manipulator of her audience, and the ambiguous nature of that victory - themes that would have made it perfect for the Catching Fire soundtrack.

6. Charli XCX - Grins

An ecstasy-powered cosmic-sized night out compressed into Charli's bedroom: cliches suffused through the shimmering glamour of pop music to emerge as the real anchor of truth in your life. Charli XCX's music is a private, insular take on a genre that strives to be universal. Best bit is the whispered "Oh My God!" buried partway through the chorus.

5. Dawn Richard - Gleaux

Goldenheart takes a while to unveil its treasures - taking its cues from epic fantasy films rather than sweaty club music. Dawn Richard plays out her personal triumphs and tragedies on the mist-shrouded battlefields of myth and legend. Again, very difficult to pick one track out to exemplify the whole album. Gleaux's hand-claps and fist-pumping chorus is the current favourite.

4. Paramore - Last Hope

I didn't find Paramore to be a perfect album, but I've kept a good ten of its songs in my music library, which is an improvement on the six I retained from Brand New Eyes. The band lost members but emerged with an expanded palate of sounds, and it's surprising how many of their experiments have been successful. Last Hope is my favourite, a stadium-sized ballad large enough to accomodate a choir without collapsing.

3. Congo Natty feat. Rebel MC, Tenor Fly, Top Cat, General Levy, Tippa Irie, Sweetie Irie, Daddy Freddy - UK Allstars (Congo Natty meets Benny Page Mix)

I have a soft spot for jungle or grime posse cuts, at their best they can capture the sense of what it must have been like to listen to MCs chatting on pirate radio, which is a thrill-ride like nothing else in pop music. And when old school jungle survivor Congo Natty assembled the brightest sparks from twenty years of UK-based ragga/dancehall to toast over a propulsive track from Benny Page, the results are nothing short of spectacular. The album is great too.

2. Stylo G - Soundbwoy

My summer jam, which crossed over quite a bit when it came out but has been largely forgotten now that the end of year canons have been drawn up. Great because the build in the verses does not lead to an EDM explosion in the chorus. Instead the midrange buzzsaw baselines and piercingly high synths maintain a skank-comfortable tempo, as if everyone in the dance is moving in slow motion. A peak-hour epic.

1. Cassie feat. Jeremih - Sound of Love

Not the most loved r&b duet this year - for some reason Miguel's dorkiness doesn't appeal as much as the ridiculously depraved croonings of TeeFLii or Jeremih. The Cassie bandwagon has rolled on for so long without making an impact that it's not even cool to be on it anymore. And it's true that the mixtape this is taken from was mediocre, but Sound of Love is a gem nonetheless. The digital moans woven into the beat are soaked up by sleazy 80s synths, as the two voices writhe around each other, creating a deeply sensual declaration of devotion (indeed, post-climax Cassie says she actually isn't ready for love just yet). This is superior to things like Dawn Richard's Frequency or Nina Sky's Comatose because of the pleading tone of Jeremih's voice, and Cassie's gasps for air after admitting that "you make it hard for me to breathe".


A Franco-Belgian science-fiction comic with some very impressive line art, particularly when it comes to the fantastical alien creatures and landscapes on the planet. The plot is in part a motor for driving though the scenery, and the themes it evokes are in some respects standard SF - kicking out against authoritarian religion and politics. However, the comic isn't dystopian. What's interesting about it is that the creator is actually a middle-aged Brazillian, and a quick scan through his biography on wikipedia suggests that he has had some real-world experience of oppressive regimes. Although politics in the comic is still drawn in primary colours (as it were), it is worth considering the comic as a South American, rather than European, work. The story starts in a fishing village on a planet that has lost contact with Earth, technology reverting to 1950s level, and many of the characters dream about the steel and glass civilisation that has left them behind. And what's striking is how optimistic this vision is.

There is something else going on as well. The plot revolves around a very powerful alien sea creature that bestows eternal life on a select few 'disciples' it deems worthy of it. Such longevity is a heavy burden, but the remainder of the group remain committed to investigating and communicating with the creature. The Mantis (as they have called it) is also capable of considerable feats of destruction - you could definitely say it works in mysterious ways. While the symbiotic relationship between religious and political authority is the main evil in the book, the Mantis itself inspires a kind of religious devotion. However, the creature itself is secularised (it is suggested at the end that it might also be a inter-planetary traveller) and none of the characters refer to it as a God. Rather, they approach these miracles in a scientific spirit, reminding me of those 18th century natural philosophers that saw the study of the world as a way of understanding and interpreting its creator, except that no creator is posited here.

A note: I read this in the English translation published by Cinebook, which has modified certain panels "in order not to upset our more sensitive readers", apparently with "the author's consent". I haven't been able to find all the uncensored panels on the internet (let me know if you can) but I understand that a lot of them are related to covering up nudity. Perhaps I'm not an attentive reader, but this didn't break up the continuity while I was reading. Then again, since the story does involve people sleeping with each other, the coyness is a bit misplaced. The book is tonally a bit weird, in that in the first volume the two main characters are teenagers and sometimes it does read a bit like teen fic.* But the book also has a 15+ age-rating at the back, so it's clearly being marketed at an older readership which shouldn't be 'sensitive' to a bit of tits and shagging.

*The only slightly creepy bit is when an older boy chats up a 13-year-old girl, although she decides she isn't ready for sex and he remains a gent about it.


The Consequences of Love

A great article on the film here highlighting something I didn't quite latch onto when watching: how adolescent the 50-year-old is - holed up in his room, lonely and estranged from everyone around him. It's the kind of shyness that manifests as icy cool, a self-deceiving detachment from frivolity, fun or anything recognisably human.

There's a gentle mockery laced into the portrayal of Titta, an archness underlying his self-contained, silent movements and habits. Part of this is captured by his treatise on bluffing, which insists you have to hold your nerve despite the risk looking ridiculous. But it is brought out best in a throwaway shot of him observing a man walking down the street, being distracted by a beautiful woman and running into a lamp-post, which is a snappy metaphor for Titta's own story arc. At one point, Titta scribbles a note to self (how teenage is that!) to beware "the consequences of love". The film then charts the awakening of fraternal and romantic affection and how that makes his solitary life unbearable.

Indeed, there's an almost lapsed Catholic feel to the film - not only in the extravagance of the mafia court assembled at the trial of Titta, but the very modern crucifixion staged at the end. Admittedly none of this is raised during the director's interview on the DVD, perhaps it's an unconscious inheritance from his love of Scorsese (he talks about American gangster movies a great deal). Nevertheless, it remains the case that Titta dies to redeem (financially) the bankrupt couple he embarrassed at cards, and in the process redeems himself morally as well, shedding the wife's verdict that he is evil. It's exactly the kind of grand death the husband desired for himself, and is also the kind of frivolity Titta was so suspicious of at the beginning of the film.

The money is likely to be gambled away again - we are all incorrigible sinners after all. But we can hope to be saved by the kinds of martyrdoms we perform out of love.