by Jim Eaton-Terry
Having spent most of 2011 trying, with varying degrees of success, to listen only to music released this year, the albums I’ve loved the most have invariably been odd and angular takes on pop. They’ve also mostly been fronted by women
Whether I think about Tune-Yard’s dazzling, incomparable, almost indescribable WHOKILL – without doubt my album of the year, the first record I’ve ever heard to be as exciting as The Pop Group and still work as pop music – or Let England Shake, with PJ Harvey stepping further away from straightforward rock than she’s ever been and, in the process, producing her best album since 4-Track Demos, most of the year has been spent listening to music by women taking music places it’s never quite been before.
Despite that, the song I keep coming back to, find myself listening to, humming, and boring my children with more than anything else I’ve come across this year is straightforward to the point of minimalism. It’s also sung by a man.
There’s very little to Lippy Kids. It starts and ends with a single repeated note, a pulse, and a distant whistled refrain. In between there are a total of 10 lines, a couple of chords, and I’m not sure the drummer even turns up.
I’ve never been a huge elbow fan. Previous records have struck me as worthy, well-constructed but dull collections of mildly progressive rock songs with their heart so firmly in the right place as to reduce them to a set of gestures. Seemingly taking their directions from the solidly dull albums Radiohead released before even they got bored and started shaking things up, elbow have always been respectable but never set the heart pounding. Build a Rocket, Boys! (which is also the album title of the year) takes the same solidly classicist approach but, by adding a wistful nostalgia that I’ve never heard from Garvey’s songwriting before, contains at least half a dozen really lovely songs, of which Lippy Kids is the clear pinnacle. In 2 years it’ll be a standard for X-Factor auditions, but right now it’s a thing of beauty.
Enough has been written about the avalanche of nostalgia currently burying pop. I’m writing this rather than watch the semi final of the most woeful X Factor series to date, in which only Misha B realised that the job of a pop star is to wake up the viewer on a Saturday night rather than help them drift back off to sleep. The combined influence of Adele, Amy Winehouse, and John Lewis ads have left much the mainstream of pop – or at least album pop – settled somewhere between 1967 and 1973. There’s still the odd flash of colour in the singles chart – Cher Lloyd might just make the perfect bubblegum dubstep single she’s hinting at throughout her album – but for the most part we’re in a trough of looking back rather than forward. Thanks to David Guetta even R’n’B sounds like the trance of the mid’90s.
Lippy Kids, however, manages to be nostalgic in the right way; it evokes the past without ever sounding like it could have been recorded before this year. Garvey’s way with a sharp image takes what could be mawkish – another middle aged man looking back at his teens – and makes it concrete and physical. In a year which has seen the demonization of young people in the UK on a greater scale than I can ever remember, the sweetness and fondness at the heart of the song is a delight.
So Lippy Kids is the Mostly Records song of the year, despite being utterly unrepresentative of the year in general, despite not fitting any narrative sweep of music this year, just because it’s the song I’m most likely to still be humming in a few years. I might even try the karaoke version – how hard can Guy Garvey’s voice be to copy?
I don’t want to end the year of new music without some kind of round up of what I’ve loved – I’m not going to talk about all the records that have annoyed or bored me because I’ll be here all night – so rather than a top ten, this is a set of the albums that I’m planning to take out of the year with me:
Tune-Yards – WHOKILL
Bjork : Biophilia
James Blake: James Blake
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake
St Vincent: Strange Mercy
White Label: Stolen Voices
Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, ULTRA
Jurgen Muller: Science of the Sea
Jim Eaton-Terry tweets on occasion and come January 1st may never listen to a new record again