What is the worst that can happen? And what happens after the worst does? Those are the questions that no-one wants to answer, but for me personally, when the worst actually did happen 4,525 miles away on 2nd March 2010 with the death of my 23 year old soldier son Richard in Sangin, Afghanistan, it cast an almost impenetrable shadow over my twenty ten’s as I attempted to move forward through disorientating times and escape the gravitational pull of my life’s new and devastating year zero. But it wasn’t just me!
If nothing else the decade taught us all that the world we live in is an extremely scary place at the best of times, somewhere in which it’s difficult to find even the tiniest bit of hope, let alone optimism, when you’re constantly being bombarded with grim, grisly images of death and destruction or apocalyptic proclamations of our demise from every available media outlet. Why bother getting up and going to work when the polar ice caps are going to melt and flood your home before you reach retirement age or those pesky Russians are going to blow us all to kingdom come?
Of course, it’s a truism that truly great artists thrive in such times of social, economic and political hardship and upheaval because of their innate ability to translate the negative emotions of the times into something constructive. And I would certainly argue that in the twenty ten’s LCD Soundsystem, James Blake, M.I.A., Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Young Fathers, FKA Twigs, Chance The Rapper, Damon Albarn in his many guises and a handful of others did just that, although I’d probably be hard pushed to find anyone else who agrees with me.
So wide was the gulf between the relatively few, well known, household names like Beyoncé, Kanye, Drake or the dreaded Adele and the underground artists that conversations about music with old friends or a new acquaintance could go on for quite a while before you found something you’d both heard. Not only was there a sprawling web of micro-genres and specialist sounds to contend with, there were also several generations of ageing stars and obscure figures from the past still playing heritage shows and recording totally pointless new albums.
For the most part this was due to the incredible advances in new technology making the creation and distribution of new music and the listening to it immeasurably easier than at any other time in history. I may have started the twenty ten’s manically loading up my beloved iPod classic with legal and illegal downloads but I ended it by curating my hundreds of playlists on Spotify, the increasingly fast creative pace of artists resulting in a remarkable 40,000 new tracks being added to the streaming platform each day by December 2019.
This has proved both a blessing and a curse. While there was undeniably as much great music out there as in any other decade, it meant that I had to wade through a lot more bullshit to find it, although one unexpected outcome was that what I did find became even more significant and precious. The 100 songs here are the end result of that long and often painful process. By no means definitive, nonetheless they serve as my soundtrack for the twenty tens, a decade I’m never likely to forget.
THESE NEW PURITANS ‘We Want War’ (Hidden LP January)
Riding in on the back of the ill-conceived, mid-noughties, post punk revival, These New Puritans were not even considered also rans. In fact, they were barely considered at all, which is why their delightfully difficult second album Hidden came as such an almighty shock. Considered amongst my small coterie of friends as either ‘unfathomable shit’ or a ‘masterpiece’, I quite liked it’s bonkers, twenty first century, proggy pretentions, the magnum opus ‘We Want War’ setting the scene with its big drums, choral chants, epic production and bizarre lyrics about labyrinths, dancing shadows, Galahad and God knows what else!
GORILLAZ ‘On Melancholy Hill’ (Plastic Beach LP March)
I didn’t have too much to be happy about in the early months of the new decade, but Gorillaz greatest pop moment did its best to cheer me up, despite Damon Albarn’s trademark modicum of sadness.
GONJASUFI ‘Sheep’ (A Sufi And A Killer LP March)
Even after my fifty years of listening, occasionally something comes along that is so beyond the norm it confounds me. A Sufi And A Killer was one of those, in particular the world weary and sorrowful ‘Sheep’, a song that got me thinking about death, grief and the contradiction between my own yearning for inner peace while simultaneously wishing to destroy everyone and everything I knew.
THE FALL ‘Bury’ (Download April)
A groovy, rambling exercise in wilful pop weirdness (‘I'm from Bury, as in Bourrée, a French composition on a fluted instrument’) and the last great Fall song before Mark E. Smith’s inevitable demise.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (This Is Happening LP May)
One of the few groups to maintain my interest beyond the noughties, LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening seemed like the perfect swansong for James Murphy’s planned retirement at Madison Square Garden eleven months later. Track one ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ was typical LCD, starting with a whisper before opening up into a song of pure joy by pointing out that getting older is unavoidable and we should all enjoy it while we’re young, an indisputable fact that has become more and more obvious to me as the years roll by with ever increasing speed.
JAMES BLAKE ‘CMYK’ (CMYK EP May)
Discovering the relatively unknown James Blake’s futuristic ‘CMYK’ proved something of a revelation, what with its diced and spliced samples of nineties R&B diva’s, soulful overtones and glitchy, dubstep beats mapping a new, previously unexplored course for modern electronic music that didn’t involve the dance floor. A collective lightbulb moment for DIY laptop musicians the world over, it had to be heard to be believed.
M.I.A. ‘Teqkilla’ (Maya LP July)
M.I.A.’s third album Maya was widely slated for being a headache inducing smorgasbord of controversial conspiracy theories, technological overload and world music. It was certainly one of 2010’s more memorable releases, the tinny, off kilter synths and lyrical ticks of the underrated ‘Teqkilla’ still a source of bewilderment and wonder every time I hear it.
ARCADE FIRE ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ (The Suburbs LP August)
Good old fashioned indie was consigned to the dumper before Arcade Fire arrived to introduce a new, younger audience to its age old charms. Naturally they went off the boil fairly swiftly as all groups tend to do, but not before the release of The Suburbs and the magnificently uplifting ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, a glistening classic that featured Regine Chassagne seeking similar, like-minded souls in the vast, commercial, urban sprawl of the ‘civilised’ world.
KANYE WEST FEAT. BON IVER ‘Lost In The World’ (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy LP November)
I should say here that I don’t like Kanye West. Not one bit. I will never understand how such a loathsome, fucked up egomaniac can be held in such high esteem by so many. Having said that, I will acknowledge that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a genius album, so much so that tracks like ‘Runaway’, ‘Hell Of A Life’ and the radical-at-the-time Bon Iver steal ‘Lost In The World’ helped reignite my love for hip hop, something I’d been sure was never going to happen.
FOALS ‘Spanish Sahara’ (Total Life Forever LP December)
Foals came from the same school of thought as These New Puritans so their indie prog shtick passed me by until I heard ‘Spanish Sahara’. A near seven minute statement of intent forged from the sparsest, most desolate of beginnings, when it finally exploded it did so with such an intensity and feeling of sadness it somehow encapsulated the horror of the most traumatic year of my life, which in hindsight was a feat in itself.
P.J. HARVEY ‘Let England Shake’ (Let England Shake LP February)
Let England Shake meant so much for so many reasons and it wasn’t all to do with the voice of my soldier son coming through loud and clear to remind me that war is indeed hell. In light of our once great countries recent geopolitical and nationalistic identity crisis and the constant if distant rattling of sabre’s accompanying it, the title tracks lament proves just how prophetic Polly Harvey’s words really were.
RADIOHEAD ‘Lotus Flower’ (The King Of Limbs LP February)
In 2011 I for one was bored to death with Radiohead’s bullshit posturing. Looking like The Edge and acting like Bono, Thom Yorke had morphed into the rock God superstar he was never meant to be. Boring, boring, boring. And then suddenly there was ‘Lotus Flower’, an immaculate blend of Kid A’s oddly grooved, electronic madness and the delicate balladry of In Rainbows that pissed over anything U2 have ever concocted and one of the greatest songs in his groups catalogue.
CUT COPY ‘Need You Now’ (Zonoscope LP February)
It’s only natural for musicians to look back to their most loved records when they require that much needed spark of creativity, and so it was when Australians Cut Copy reached for their favourite electro pop tunes of the eighties as inspiration for ‘Need You Now’. Sure, the end result sounded uncannily like some forgotten Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark single, but given the twenty tens propensity for the past it was none the worse for that.
JAMES BLAKE ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (James Blake LP February)
James Blake may have been the catalyst for home schooled, electronic music producers yet none of them could match his self-titled debut album, a hauntingly beautiful record that subverted his earlier releases and electronic music in general by featuring more structured, therefore more palatable compositions. The haunting synth and singular beats of ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ was the most obvious highlight, Blake’s soulful, evocative voice sighing ‘I don’t know about my dreamin’ anymore / All that I know is I’m fallin’, fallin, fallin’ fallin’ sending me into a dreamlike state I had no wish to get out of.
BAXTER DURY ‘Claire’ (Download May)
When an illustrious chap like Baxter Dury writes an understated pop tune about his girlfriend who just so happens to share the same name as your beloved (a bit like that misspelt, Gilbert O’Sullivan classic from the seventies), the only thing you can do is clutch it to your grubby little heart and love it forever!
CASHIER NO. 9 ‘Oh Pity’ (To The Death Of Fun LP June)
While Cut Copy’s ‘Need You Now’ was beamed down from the eighties, Cashier No. 9’s debut ping ponged between the baggy nineties and the more distant, jingle jangle sixties, albeit in a less obvious way. Without bowing too much to nostalgia, To The Death Of Fun sounded timeless, its West Coast harmonies, chiming guitars and addictive hooks coming across as modern and contemporary as opposed to a meaningless exercise in sonic archaeology. Literally shimmering with joy, ‘Oh Pity’ remains a glorious, lost gem.
ZOMBY ‘A Devil Lay Here’ (Dedication LP July)
The second album from genre blurring dance producer Zomby could quite easily have been the soundtrack to a moody, futuristic ghost film. The rave sounds that dominated his high octane debut were still in evidence alongside his obligatory video game bleeps and pulsating bass, but the atmosphere of Dedication was significantly more downbeat and spooky, none more so than on ‘A Devil Lay Here’.
FRANK OCEAN ‘Swim Good’ (Download October)
Heartbreak can be spectacular, breathtaking, gut wrenching or any other number of things you care to mention. Few emotions crush the body and soul or feel as impossible as heartbreak. Yet for Frank Ocean, overcoming it was more a matter of standing on the edge and bravely diving off into the abyss in order to take the unavoidable pain and regret to its natural conclusion. That’s really the story of ‘Swim Good’, one of Frank Ocean’s deceptively dark, early songs which served as my introduction to his genius, and one which carried with it the promise of a new beginning rather than drowning in the overwhelming sorrow.
LANA DEL REY ‘Born To Die’ (Download December)
The much maligned Lana Del Rey’s most shining moment, ‘Born To Die’ dared to suggest the same strain of American gothic as that of Bobbie Gentry, and by so doing nailed the warped sense of the past that seemed to hang over the formative years of the decade.
AZEALIA BANKS ‘212’ (Download December)
Unlike ‘Born To Die’, ‘212’s fusion of hip hop and electro house was the future, one of the few lasting beacons of hope from a more optimistic time when Azealia Banks was hailed as the coolest girl on the planet by a new Generation Z of adolescent girls like my own daughter.
M.I.A. ‘Bad Girls’ (Download January)
The beauty of M.I.A.’s existence was that she literally didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought. And that’s why ‘Bad Girls’ was one of her greatest songs. A rabid statement of femininity and feminism, at a point in time when the entire world appeared to be out to get her, she raised her middle finger high so there could be no doubt about her meaning or her intention.
THE 2 BEARS ‘Be Strong’ (Be Strong LP January)
SCUBA ‘The Hope’ (Personality LP February)
At first The 2 Bears seemed like a novelty act. How could they not dressed in bear suits capering about like The Wombles miming to their chummy house tunes with hokey titles? How odd then that ‘Be Strong’, their joyously cheesy homage to the last twenty five years of dance music, should come to mean so much during the most tumultuous period of my life. ‘Give the music all your lovin’. Cheers, I don’t mind if I do!
As for Scuba, I knew literally nothing about him but plenty about ‘The Hope’, a twenty first century update on mid-nineties, white boy techno like The Chemical Brothers, even down to the slightly awkward spoken vocals (‘Got the camera, got the zinc, teenage girls, got the taste, got the sex, got the system’). Nonetheless, with its rotor blade rhythm and bruising rock synths it did feel surprisingly defiant, irreverent and dare I say it, uplifting.
GRIMES ‘Genesis’ (Visions LP March)
A bouncy, hypnotic beat, an insistent far eastern melody, washes of synths, ethereal vocals and a dark, unfathomable commentary about falling in love, ‘Genesis’ was everything you needed to know about Grimes in a little over four minutes from an album she’s never topped.
DEATH GRIPS ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ (The Money Store LP April)
While most of their contemporaries were chasing TV campaigns, branded YouTube likes, a cocaine lifestyle and the dollar, experimental hip hop outfit Death Grips were busy screaming in our ears about the real life injustices that threatened to drag us from our safe and comfortable lives. Comprised of thirteen raw, distorted, heavy duty tracks, The Money Store seethed under drones, sirens, disturbing pulses, synth stabs and fractured production, the comparatively lightweight highlight ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ revealing MC Ride's personal, introspective reaction to images of police violence. And that was just for starters!
THE MAGNETIC NORTH ‘Bay Of Skaill’ (Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North LP May)
After a little noise annoys hip hop, I liked nothing better than to settle down with a nice cuppa and The Magnetic North’s spell binding, folk tinged paean to the ‘Bay Of Skaiil’, a small bay on the west coast of Orkney and home to the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae.
HOT CHIP ‘Night And Day’ (In Our Heads LP June)
What Hot Chip have always done best is quirky, electro pop and ‘Night And Day’ was as quirky, electro and pop as they’ve ever been. Remarkably it failed to dent the UK charts or any other chart for that matter, unless you count an underwhelming number 39 in Mexico.
SLEEPIN’ GIANTZ ‘Badungdeng’ (Sleepin’ Giantz LP July)
Occasionally sounds from the dance underground find themselves in the wider pop world. It’s not that these tunes vary too much from the essential clubland blueprint of keeping the dancefloor full, so much as their sheer exuberance makes them irresistible to an audience far wider than their makers ever anticipated. In the summer of 2013, Sleepin’ Giantz’s ‘Badungdeng’ was added to that list. Featuring seminal London Posse MC Rodney P, it was a monstrous, thumping blend of breakbeat and grime, but without any of the auto-tuned sweetness and clean sheen so prevalent at the time, which presumably is why it sank without trace.
FRANK OCEAN ‘Forrest Gump’ (Channel Orange LP July)
A lot of folk reach my age only to tune out and slip back into the comfortable music of their youth. And yet, I’m still fascinated by the evolution of music and value what’s progressive and what feels extraordinary. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange was both of those things with
plenty of standouts, from the heartbreaking ballad ‘Thinking About You’ to the modern day confessional ‘Bad Religion’ and the near ten minute epic ‘Pyramids’. But my favourite was ‘Forrest Gump’, a woozily romantic beauty on which he finally and controversially took full ownership of his bisexuality.
KENDRICK LAMAR ‘Good Kid’ (Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City LP October)
Here’s a question for you. What does a white, comfortably well off, middle aged Brit hear in the music of a 25 year old black rapper from the streets of one of America’s most notorious cities that makes him love it so? What is it about an album made by a one-time straight A student for whom hip hop became a compass through (and out of) the enticements and dangers of Compton that made it sound so brilliant and fearless?
Maybe it was the fact that the deadly serious subject matter was tempered with raucous, infectious beats and humungous hooks. Or maybe, just maybe, the earworm nature of the songs anaesthetised the brutality depicted in the descriptions of gang warfare and rampant drug abuse. Even now, a decade on, I don’t have the answers. In fact, every time I play it I still feel like an uncomfortable cultural interloper and kind of guilty about listening to it at all.
K-X-P ‘Easy Infinity Waits’ (// LP February)
A stomping monster of pumping, falsetto scuzz from my favourite Finnish experimentalists.
JOHN GRANT ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ (Pale Green Ghosts LP March)
Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant once declared that every artist experiences an ‘Imperial Phase’, a period where they can do no wrong both critically and commercially. On the strength of Pale Green Ghosts, the middle-aged John Grant was clearly in the midst of his. A towering achievement that enhanced his talent for combining deeply personal, grimly humorous lyrics with memorable melodies, John Barry strings and eighties electronica, the album was so astonishing I found it almost impossible to pick a favourite.
BILL RYDER-JONES ‘There’s A World Between Us’ (A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart LP March)
There are some folk who find the sadness and introspection of Bill Ryder-Jones overwhelming and I would probably agree with them were it not for the sheer beauty and meaning underlying ‘There’s A World Between Us’, a song about escaping to a better place and one that continues to mean more to me than any one song should.
JAMES BLAKE ‘Retrograde’ (Overgrown LP April)
James Blake’s journey from fearless sonic explorer to internationally acclaimed sad boy crooner started here, Overgrown featuring plenty of his characteristic experimentalism but more in deference to a traditional song format than as an end in itself. Not that it mattered because songs like ‘Retrograde’ were still rather good, the best in fact.
THE KNIFE ‘Full Of Fire’ (Shaking The Habitual LP April)
Gothenburg duo Karin and Olof Dreijer’s influence on modern day electronica is a given, the off kilter synth pop and atmospheric melodies on 2006’s Silent Shout a precursor to an artist like Grimes and an avant-garde synth pop movement heavy on infectious accessibility and strangely strange production. While no-one knew it at the time, Shaking The Habitual would be their last album, the throbbing yet discombobulating nine minute epic ‘Full Of Fire’ the finest thing on it.
LA FEMME ‘It’s Time To Wake Up 2023’ (Psycho Tropical Berlin LP April)
Talking of discombobulating, how about a bunch of French avant-gardist’s playing a track that reminded me of some obscure, motorik driven, seventies kraut rockers getting it on with The Velvet Underground and Françoise Hardy to cover ‘Monster Mash’, an intriguing if quite ludicrous prospect that somehow mutated into the brilliant post-apocalyptica of ‘It’s Time To Wake Up 2023’.
DAFT PUNK FEAT. PANDA BEAR ‘Doin’ It Right’ (Random Access Memories LP May)
I’ve always been a sucker for Panda Bear, less so Daft Punk, but I knew a nostalgic homage to the golden age of disco and funk when I heard one and party anthem ‘Doin’ It Right’ was certainly worth a listen. The fact that the insistent, repetitive vocal was the furry ones most effective performance since Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion was just an added bonus.
YOUNG FATHERS ‘I Heard’ (Tape Two LP June)
There’s never been anything obvious to connect me to the lo-fi take on nineties R&B, classic soul and old-school hip-hop exhibited by the Young Fathers, a multi-racial, multi-cultural, experimental trio with their roots in Edinburgh. And yet the plaintive yearning of ‘I Heard’ just happened to catch me feeling a little lost and a little unsure of myself, the choral chants, percussive beat and whirlwind of distortion capturing the core of my confusion.
LORDE ‘Swingin’ Party ‘ (Tennis Court EP June)
Lorde was sixteen when she recorded the Tennis Court EP. The precursor to her remarkable Pure Heroine album, it featured her unusual take on eighties indie rockers The Replacements slightly sombre ‘Swingin’ Party’. One of Paul Westerberg’s most accomplished tunes, it was definitely not one I thought I’d be hearing again, least of all as a cover version by a sixteen year old New Zealander getting ready to transform the angst and longing of teenage girls into something transcendent and hugely successful.
MUM FEAT. KYLIE MINOGUE ‘Whistle’ (Smilewound LP [Bonus Track] September)
Originally a download to promote the ‘indie-lesbian-werewolf’ film Jack & Diane, I was unaware of ‘Whistle’ until it appeared as a bonus track at the end of experimental Icelanders Múm’s intense Smilewound. Coming as a welcome, six minute slice of light relief after the main event, it had a fairy tale quality I found mesmerising, the combination of Múm’s trademark electronic tinkling and Kylie’s gentle cooing about losing in love then searching for it and eventually finding it again both gorgeous and glorious.
LIARS ‘Mess On A Mission’ (Mess LP March)
The best Liars tracks tend to sound like futuristic, devotional hymns built from a strange mish mash of narcotic beats, fat synth hooks and doomy sermonising, something ‘Mess On A Mission’ delivered with superlative ease.
DAMON ALBARN ‘Everyday Robots’ (Everyday Robots LP April)
It’s safe to say that the passage of time has not been kind to Britpop’s main protagonists, but in the case of Damon Albarn the proverbial ticking clock has proved rather more sympathetic. Since his Parklife days, the former Blur front man has transformed from hedonistic lad about town into the definitive musical visionary with the Midas touch. Odd then that it was only in April 2014 that he finally got round to releasing his first solo album.
Thankfully, given the sheer breadth and scale of Everyday Robots, it was well worth the wait and as diverse as you would expect from someone who is just as at ease with hip-hop royalty as he is with Mali folk artists. More frank and confessional than he’d been in years, while still retaining a certain distance, the melancholic beats and clanking, whirring samples of beautifully understated songs like the title track went far beyond the churning indie anthems of old and were all the better for it.
KATE TEMPEST ‘The Beigeness’ (Everybody Down LP May)
Poet, author and rapper Kate Tempest stuck out like a sore thumb during a decade when no-one seemed to be saying anything of any real significance. ‘The Beigeness’ paired her frantic talk rap style with a fuzz bass backdrop splattered with distant feedback and echoey drums, but it was her skill in transforming the unspoken into real life that really made me sit up and take notice.
REAL LIES ‘North Circular’ (Download June)
Real Lies came from North London and wanted us all to know about it. Documenting everything from bleary eyed bus journeys to Sunday morning comedowns, through their spoken word vocals and warm synth washes they captured a mood and a sense of place far better than any Snapchat or Instagram post. Making the city sound ridiculously romantic, heroic even, theirs was the London I remembered from long, long ago in all its mucky, murky, magical brilliance.
BODHI VS GEORGE THE POET ‘My City’ (Download July)
Another poet, another bittersweet ode to London living, somehow groovy house masters Bodhi took Cambridge University student George Mpanga’s poem about the obscene wealth and poverty in the forgotten corners of the capital and turned it into five minutes of glorious, glittering electronica.
FKA TWIGS ‘Pendulum’ (LP1 LP August)
It’s rare to witness the birth of a real ‘artist’ who refuses to regurgitate the same old shit, but FKA Twigs, aka Tahliah Barnett from Cheltenham, was clearly one, staking her claim on songs like ‘Pendulum’, a gentle click clack of ghostly beats overlaid with several layers of harmonising and an emphatic near pop chorus.
SOPHIE ‘Lemonade’ (Download August)
A.G. Cook’s PC Music and associate Sophie were the ultra-glossy, synthetic, twenty first century, pop future I’d been dreaming about since childhood, but one which never came to pass and now almost certainly never will.
APHEX TWIN ‘Minipops 67’ [120.2][Source Field Mix] (Download September)
Of course Richard D. James was pioneering the music of the twenty first century long before Sophie & Co on his 1991 debut EP Analogue Bubblebath. Fast forward 23 years and the idiosyncratic, resolutely undanceable yet beautifully put together ‘Minipops 67’, a track heralding his official return following a long absence, didn’t sound quite so futuristic. Then again, how could it when in the intervening years his influence had been heard in the work of everyone from laptop hugging experimentalists to big name DJ’s.
KENDRICK LAMAR ‘i’ (Download September)
Six months before Kendrick Lamar changed a lot of folk’s attitude towards hip hop on To Pimp A Butterfly, the single version of ‘i’ served as a universal song of praise for those battling their own personal demons and pushed him into the realm of artists whose art suddenly becomes an emblem of the liberation we’re all seeking.
RUN THE JEWELS ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ (Run The Jewels 2 LP October)
My hip hop game is lacking to say the least so I came late to Run The Jewels. Consequently their second album could quite easily have passed me by. And that would have been a shame because the rabble rousing, incendiary noise they made on ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ was truly remarkable.
PANDA BEAR ‘Boys Latin’ (Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper LP January)
I love Noah Lennox and his bubbly, electronic, Brian Wilson thing a lot more than I should, but who could deny the multitude of joyous emotions he distilled into the cool, pure sound of ‘Boy’s Latin’.
FATHER JOHN MISTY ‘Bored In The USA’ (I Love You, Honeybear LP February)
Anyone who sets out to write a concept album about themselves should be heading for a fall, but instead Josh Tillman’s I Love You, Honeybear revealed itself as an unforeseen gem. Taking his cue from singer songwriters of the early seventies like Elton John and Harry Nilsson, as the deeply cynical Father John he explored the painful minutiae of his failed marriage and the emptiness of modern life with disarming honesty.
Even when it seemed like his alter ego was joking, Tillman bought something genuine to his writing, album highlight ‘Bored in the USA’ starting out as a pastiche of the earnest songwriter, slumped over his piano lamenting his ‘useless education’ and ‘sub-prime loan on a craftsman home’, but ending with a sitcom laughter track that suddenly and quite unexpectedly transformed it into something as disturbing as it was heartbreaking.
COURTNEY BARNETT ‘Pedestrian At Best’ (Sometimes I Sit And Think LP March)
One of the more irresistible singalongs of the decade, ‘Pedestrian at Best’s jaded, fucked off core (‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’) may have been deeply revealing, but it was also darkly funny and arguably the best trad rock tune of the decade.
BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE ‘London’ (At Least For Now LP March)
Benjamin Clementine’s remarkable back story of a strict, Christian childhood in Edmonton, a spell living rough in Paris and a subsequent return to Britain gave him plenty of source material from which to craft his wonderful, piano led songs. His resulting debut was in turn bold, brave, beautiful and wholly unique, the captivating, poetic masterpiece ‘London’ about much more than just another romanticised elegy to the city.
KENDRICK LAMAR ‘King Kunta’ (To Pimp A Butterfly LP March)
In an instant the profound, funk inspired groove of ‘King Kunta’ became one of the most important tracks here. And yet, it’s a song I will never feel wholly comfortable writing about, largely because its multiple layers of meaning and many cultural and historical references go so far beyond the limit of my own knowledge and understanding it rendered my opinion entirely worthless and irrelevant. In all my years of listening no artist ever made me feel like that, which I guess is an achievement in itself.
YOUNG FATHERS ‘Old Rock n Roll’ (White Men Are Black Men Too LP April)
When Young Fathers declared that ‘White men are black men too’, their idea was to push the conversation on race beyond its standard, rigidly defined parameters. As touchy a subject as it is, ‘Old Rock n Roll’ confronted racial identification head on, the West African samples, tribal beats and grimy production providing the perfect backdrop to Liberian born, Scottish transplant Alloysious Massaquoi’s soliloquy on how tired he was of blaming the white man for the trials and tribulations in his life.
DONNIE TRUMPET & THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT ‘Sunday Candy’ (Surf LP May)
Another album to renew my lost love for hip hop, Surf was the polar opposite of Kendrick Lamar’s tales of blackness or Kanye West’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, ‘Sunday Candy’ the most obvious example. A song written by Chance The Rapper for his gran that was so utterly joyous and wholesome at times it felt like I was listening to a Disney soundtrack. Without question the most stupidly happy song from the most stupidly happy album of the century.
JAMIE XX ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ (In Colour LP May)
Yet another feel good tune, but this time one that proved how a minimalistic approach to making music can defy categorisation. Bringing together three very different artists from three very different genres, Jamie Smith’s basic backing track was enhanced by Jamaican dancehall vocalist Popcaan’s sample-like hook before Young Thug’s sing-song pop did its best to match the unbridled joy of Chance The Rapper. I don’t remember being particularly chipper in the May of 2015 but ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ and ‘Sunday Candy’ tell a different story.
KWEKU COLLINS ‘Lonely Lullabies’ (Say It Here, While It’s Safe LP July)
I could never imagine North London folk trio Daughter’s gentle ‘Youth’ being reworked into a hip hop track until Chicago native Kweku Collins came up with the extraordinary ‘Lonely Lullabies’. A twinkly, floating melody alongside lyrics laced with true life experience, it made me think fondly of the past while hoping for a decent future.
EVANGELIST ‘Holy Holy’ (Evangelist LP December)
The incredible voice at the heart of Evangelist was Gavin Clark, the great friend and soundtrack collaborator of director Shane Meadows, who had died earlier in the year following a lengthy struggle with alcoholism. Originally conceived as a loosely autobiographical concept built around the highs, lows and failures of a vice prone preacher, it was an album of songs saying the bleakest of things in the most beautiful way, the cello assisted ‘Holy Holy’ offering a swirling devotional upon which to draw a line under Clark’s undeniable talent and shortened life.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Lazarus’ (Blackstar LP January)
There’s no denying it, for all the praise heaped upon David Bowie’s final album Blackstar it was no easy listen, songs like the ten minute title track, ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ and ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ requiring maximum listening effort and repeated plays. Thankfully it did have the more immediate ‘Lazarus’, although in hindsight, what with its mournful sax, ‘Look up here, I'm in heaven’ lyric and accompanying video, it should have come as no surprise that something was seriously awry. As I watched the footage in the days preceding the 10th January of Bowie on a bed blindfolded with creepy buttons over his eyes, little did I know that he would soon be gone forever!
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE ‘Golden Gal’ (Painting With LP February)
Animal Collective’s music has always evoked a primitive kind of purity. Early on they wore masks and sounded less like musicians and more like cavemen; modern men seeking a spiritual basement deep below the civilised self. All of that suited me just fine and thankfully Painting With was more of the same. An album influenced by dinosaurs, the Dada art movement and Cubism amongst many other things, the typically chaotic ‘Golden Gal’ opened with a sample nicked from an episode of the infamous American TV show before twisting into a highly surreal take on sixties doo wop.
CHANCE THE RAPPER FEAT. JAMILA WOODS ‘Blessings’ (Coloring Book LP May)
Whereas most rappers felt compelled to continue the proliferation of druggy trap or transglobal pop, Chance The Rapper opted for his own unique sonic vision of quirky and joyous rap that aspired to uplift his listeners as much as challenge their notions of what rap in the second decade of the new millennium should sound like. Proudly maintaining his independence from the major record labels, he made an album largely about the power and possibilities to be gleamed from his belief in God, the return of Jamila Woods on ‘Blessings’ (after her appearance on ‘Sunday Candy’) heralding the most explicitly gospel song of Chance’s career.
ANOHNI ‘Drone Bomb Me’ (Hopelessness LP May)
Continuing the devotional theme, the subject matter may have been the polar opposite of Chance The Rapper’s wholesomeness, what with its unrelenting, startling songs about ecocide, drone warfare, loss of liberty and all the other tragedies of our age, but to my ears Hopelessness sounded every bit as ecstatic as Coloring Book and infinitely more challenging. Authored by the artist formerly known as Antony and the Johnsons, it was all about radical change and the sheer, visceral beauty of Anohni’s voice. A truly extraordinary album by a truly extraordinary artist!
GABRIEL BRUCE ‘Come All Sufferers’ (Come All Sufferers LP May)
Following a troubled if eventful six years, I listed the relatively obscure ‘Come All Sufferers’ as my number two song of 2016. Brooding with the intensity of Old Testament Nick Cave and stuffed with Gabriel Bruce’s own apocalyptic, biblical references calling sufferers to rise up and overcome their pain, it felt suitably anthemic and meaningful and still serves as a useful analogy for that period of my life.
DJ SHADOW ‘The Sideshow’ (The Mountain Will Fall LP June)
Heralding the welcome return of a legend after a five year sojourn, on The Mountain Will Fall Josh Davis opted to ditch the plundering of his past to concentrate on live instrumentation and innovative production software. Not that it really mattered because his irreverent, once revolutionary, cut and paste aesthetic remained intact and on the old school, hip hop styling of a track like ‘The Sideshow’ sounded just as impressive as ever.
MICHAEL KIWANUKA ‘Love & Hate’ (Love & Hate LP July)
For reasons that scarcely need pointing out, 2016 was a year in which black artists felt compelled to make music that dwelt on the subjects of race and identity, a state of affairs exacerbated in Michael Kiwanuka’s case by his curious position within British pop. Born in Muswell Hill to Ugandan parents, he worked within a black musical tradition of folk-influenced soul indebted to the likes of Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers. And yet, as he regularly pointed out, his audience was almost exclusively white.
Unashamedly retro, the seven minute ‘Love & Hate’ could easily have been one of those same classic soul songs from the early seventies. Built around a graceful backing vocal that ebbed and flowed at will, it’s quite stunning instrumentation provided a masterclass in spinning musical plates, although it was Kiwanuka’s stirring voice and deadly serious lyrics about overcoming your demons and maintaining faith in yourself that turned it into a modern day classic.
FATHER JOHN MISTY ‘Real Love Baby’ (Download July)
When it comes to Father John it’s always hard to tell whether he’s joking or being sincere although on the effortlessly smooth ‘Real Love Baby’ it didn’t really matter because either way, there was no doubting its humbleness and honesty.
FRANK OCEAN ‘Pink + White’ (Blond LP August)
Whatever anyone might think about Blond, it was one of the most baffling, contrary and intriguing records, not just of 2016 or the twenty tens, but of any year. Muted and introspective, full of spectral guitar and lacking not just big beats but often without any kind of percussion at all, the lyrics were elliptical and fragmented, touching on adolescence and consumerism, identity and eroticism yet lacking the sturdy narratives found on past wonders like ‘Swim Good’ or ‘Forrest Gump’.
In fact, on first listen Blond appeared to be nothing more than a druggy, dislocated collection of loose sketches waiting to be hammered into shape. However, over time such cynicism would prove to be erroneous as repeated listening gradually revealed a stunning, unique work of enigmatic beauty and intoxicating depth that had more in common with the texture and experimentation of a record like Radiohead’s Kid A than the Stevie Wonder influence of the past.
BON IVER ’33 GOD’ (22, A Million LP September)
While Frank Ocean was busy rewriting the rules of R&B, Justin Vernon was doing the same thing with American folk music on the disjointed and disconcerting reverie of ’33 GOD’ by replacing his standard acoustic strum-a-longs with lurching electronics, glacial synths and voices buried in autotune.
RUN THE JEWELS FEAT. DANNY BROWN ‘Hey Kids (Bumaye)’ (Run The Jewels 3 LP January)
Even though their second album played a significant part in renewing my faith in hip hop, the world of Run The Jewels had never been my world, not by a long shot. And yet, despite having no idea why, the playfully sinister ‘Hey Kids (Bumaye)’, made all the more so by the addition of Danny Brown’s signature high pitched flow, really hit the spot.
SAMPHA ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’ (Process LP February)
Emerging from a stellar year guesting on records by Kanye, Frank Ocean and Solange, South London singer songwriter Sampha Sisay’s debut felt like a cathartic unburdening of his own heavy soul. Mourning the death of his mother, there were angel and ghost references a plenty and talk of her speaking to him from beyond the grave. Elsewhere, as on the slightly woozy ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’, he bought the full weight of his unhappiness to bear as he depicted the introverted, youngest of five child who only found his way through the instrument in question. Sad but not sad!
FRANK OCEAN ‘Chanel’ (Download March)
Frank Ocean’s first solo outing since the ingenious Blond, ‘Chanel’ was instantly recognisable as his, defying categorisation to exist in its own unique time and space. The sound of a twenty first century pop titan at work.
KENDRICK LAMAR ‘God’ (Damn. LP April)
My mother died in the April of 2017, killed off by her failing heart after four miserable months in hospitals and care homes. Unlike Sampha’s experience with his own mother, I didn’t mourn her and I certainly had no beyond the grave experiences. But that’s not to say there were no repercussions because there were, the most disturbing being the resurrection of my own complicated and confusing views on religion instilled by my strict, Methodist upbringing, something I hadn’t thought about since my early teens.
Listening to Damn or more specifically ‘God’, I was hoping to find the answers to the big questions that had been haunting me ever since, the kind of questions that never get asked of any minister, vicar, priest, imam or rabbi. Not surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar didn’t have the answers either, his euphoric ‘God’ being nothing more than a celebration of his success and the inspiration he gets from his faith in a higher power. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was expecting more.
COLDCUT x ON-U SOUND FEAT. ROOTS MANUVA ‘Vitals’ (Outside The Echo Chamber LP May)
A rare, spiky, rallying cry for Britain’s indestructible musical melting pot, ‘Vitals’ was a dark, reggae infused throwback that in just under three minutes provided a rare, handy guide through the ether of heavy, heavy dub for those not in the know.
HAK BAKER ‘Conundrum’ (Download July)
Reminiscent of the social observations of Mike Skinner, Hak Baker became a new favourite via ‘Conundrum’, a shouldn’t-work-but-does blend of grime and folk about the minutia of growing up in in the heart of east London with gritty, lyrical details (‘Everyday was a laugh, the lads jumping in the docks for a bath) and an insight wise beyond his years.
GHOSTPOET ‘Woe Is Meee’ (Dark Days + Canapes LP August)
According to Ghostpoet’s Dark Days + Canapes, the twenty tens was a depressing time to be alive and given the kind of shit that was happening to me personally, politically and economically, I wasn’t going to disagree. Offering a sombre, occasionally apocalyptic outlook, it was the languid, self-explanatory, sung/spoken monologue of ‘Woe Is Meee’ that resonated the most.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Change Yr Mind’ (American Dream LP September)
The return of LCD Soundsystem six years after their ‘final’ show was a treat I hadn’t been expecting, James Murphy’s meticulous homage to Berlin era Bowie on ‘Change Yr Mind’ just one of American Dream’s many highlights.
BAXTER DURY ‘Miami’ (Prince Of Tears LP October)
Any child of a vintage pop star who chooses to follow them into the family business is guaranteed a tough time escaping their shadow. It could be argued that given his father’s larger than life character, Baxter Dury had it tougher than most, a state of affairs not helped by him seemingly regarding his career in music as no more than a leisurely hobby. And yet, walking the tightrope between subject matter that was in turns hilarious, deeply disturbing and genuinely touching, Prince Of Tears landed a blow with every punch, the songs so good, particularly the wry character study of the monstrous ‘Miami’, that his parentage scarcely seemed to matter.
KING KRULE ‘Biscuit Town’ (The Ooz LP October)
Before Huntley & Palmers left their sprawling, inner city factory in the mid-seventies, my hometown of Reading was known as ‘Biscuit Town’, its football team as ‘The Biscuitmen.’ My grandfather worked on the production line, eventually retiring with a cheap gold watch following fifty years of hard slog at what then seemed like a very ancient sixty five years of age. I guess that’s just the way things used to be and I’m sure Archy Marshall had something similar in mind when he wrote his dark, jazz croon ‘Biscuit Town’ about the similarly grimy, inescapable, urban hell of Bermondsey and the old Peek Freans factory.
EVERTHING IS RECORDED FEAT. INFINITE & GREEN GARTSIDE ‘Bloodshot Red Eyes’ (Everything Is Recorded By Richard Russell LP February)
Everything Is Recorded was really just Richard Russell, record producer and founder of dance label XL Recordings, who created the music before inviting guests to play and sing-a-long. Chock full of dub, dance, funk and soul, one highlight was the moving ‘Bloodshot Red Eyes’ featuring the forgotten voice of Green Gartside, once of the very wonderful Scritti Politti.
YOUNG FATHERS ‘Lord’ (Cocoa Sugar LP March)
The death of my mother in 2017 sparked a quest for spiritual meaning I hadn’t been expecting. That search goes on to this day and I suspect it always will, which is perhaps why I felt especially drawn to Young Fathers Cocoa Sugar, an album beguiled by holiness, heresy and idol worship, none more so than on the dystopian, gospel ballad ‘Lord’.
THE HERBALISER FEAT. RODNEY P. & TIECE ‘Some Things’ (Bring Out The Sound LP March)
After a five year hiatus The Herbaliser re-entered the fray with Bring Out the Sound. Once known for bridging the gap between classic American hip-hop and nineties Britain’s more instrumental sound, all of their signature scratching and rap elements were present and correct as was Rodney P spitting some rhymes over the rumbling bass and delicious dark funk of ‘Some Things’.
DJ KOZE FEAT. JOSE GONZALEZ ‘Music On My Teeth’ (Knock Knock LP May)
Like others on this playlist I knew nothing of DJ Koze before Knock Knock yet it mattered not, the striking ‘Music On My Teeth’ bringing to mind the archaic hauntology of a group like Boards Of Canada, its sudden arrival feeling like an all too real forgotten dream suddenly reappearing from the dense fog of sleep.
CHILDISH GAMBINO ‘This Is America’ (Download May)
Possessing the skill and ability to deconstruct his horror and disgust at the actions of his own country and transform them into a commercial and critical success, the 34 year old Donald Glover created the year’s most essential piece of popular music in the process, an extremely bittersweet swan song to a nation on the brink of collapse. In the end it only took him three simple words to cut through the bullshit and force us to listen: This is America!
SOCCER96 FEAT. FRED STIDSON ‘Time Flows’ (Rewind LP May)
While there was an obvious affection for the past built into Rewind, it was clear that Dan Leavers and Max Hallett’s Soccer96 project was driven by more than their obsession with analogue and the years before digital smoothed everything out into balmy oblivion. Skillfully traversing musical terrain as diverse as Roots Manuva, Squarepusher at his jazziest and the early nineties Bristol scene, they came up with a wonderfully eclectic album that at times felt genuinely new.
LET’S EAT GRANDMA ‘Ava’ (I’m All Ears LP June)
I’ve written about ‘Ava’ in depth before so I’m not going to go on about it too much here. Needless to say, rarely (if ever) has the largely taboo subject of suicide and the inherent tragedy of loving someone with mental health issues been articulated so well in song.
JAMES BLAKE ‘Don’t Miss It’ (Download June)
The critically acclaimed James Blake was all over my twenty tens but the one song that meant the most to me personally was the relatively unlauded yet beautifully brutal ‘Don’t Miss It’. The reason why is simple. In the autumn of 2018 a mysterious lump that had appeared on my neck some three months before was finally diagnosed as lymphoma. I could hardly believe it but had no choice.
Four days of paralysing, utter hopelessness followed before a call from my consultant informed me that a specialist had revisited my case and concluded that the lump had been caused not by cancer but by an unidentifiable, benign virus. The tune playing when I received the call? You guessed it, the master of melancholies ‘Don’t Miss It’, a song that seconds earlier I had been considering as suitable for my funeral had in a moment been transformed into my equivalent of Chic’s ‘Good Times’.
CHANCE THE RAPPER ‘I Might Need Security’ (Download July 18)
The return of Chance The Rapper after a couple of years out came on a series of singles, one of which was ‘I Might Need Security’. Based on an infamous Jamie Foxx obscenity looped over and over, beyond the sample itself it featured little more than the permanently cheery Chance’s immaculate flow and the occasional lyrical gem taking shots at his detractors but that was enough.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE QUEEN ‘Lady Boston’ (Merrie Land LP November)
Almost twelve years on from their debut, Damon Albarn’s supergroup of Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Nigerian funk drummer Tony Allen and Verve guitarist Simon Tong returned to a land toppling into crisis. Painting a vision of Britain that crossed a Turner painting with Banksy’s Dismaland theme park, it oozed what you might call ‘Anglicana’; the wheeze of fairgrounds, the tinkle of music hall piano and the lurch of folk music as our old mate Damo let us know how appalled he was that the country he loves had thrown its lot in with a bunch of privileged old Etonians who couldn’t give a fuck. Conceived as a kind of pilgrim’s progress around the UK, taking in Blackpool, Banbury, Penrhyn and mysterious, mythic Dorset, it didn’t always work, but when it did, as on the achingly beautiful ‘Lady Boston’, it really did.
BECK ‘Tarantula’ (Download January)
Beck Hansen’s masterful, twenty first reinvention of a B Side by cult, eighties duo Colourbox.
LAMBCHOP ‘Everything For You’ (This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) LP March)
As the twenty tens wore on, more and more independent artists from the eighties and nineties emerged from wherever they’d been hiding, presumably in search of the fame and cash that had eluded them back in the day. Of course, Lambchop weren’t one of them because they’d never split up in the first place. Even so, This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) still proved an astute object lesson in how a group can grow old gracefully, Kurt Wagner’s wry, deadpan observations given a new lease of life via the copious use of autotune which made him sound like some sleazy lounge singer beamed in from Bladerunner 2049.
LITTLE SIMZ ‘101 FM’ (Grey Area LP March)
Pirate radio played a monumental part in advancing the phenomenon of grime to the masses. On ‘101 FM’ Little Simz gave a nod to the tradition of lyrical showboating over the airwaves, her nonchalant reflections filtered through a light, eastern inspired backdrop with glistening keys and crisp drums oozing confidence and direction while leaving plenty of space for her trip down memory lane.
FKA TWIGS ‘Cellophane’ (Download May)
Even before she became involved with A-list celebrity Robert Pattinson, FKA Twigs wrote songs about the goldfish bowl of fame, taking seriously the bizarre exchange of being seen and recognized by strangers. ‘Cellophane’, her first new song since their split, shone an excruciating light on that scrutiny. Performed emotionally naked without a protective layer, it was simultaneously Twigs at her most serene and her most painful, an extraordinary, immensely personal song (‘I don’t want to have to share our love / I try, but I get overwhelmed’) that threatened to shatter into a million pieces and disappear at any moment.
BLACK MIDI ‘Speedway’ (Schlagenheim LP June)
Black Midi sounded like a group too smug for their own good; from their Brit school background to their love of twentieth century classical music. And yet, for all that they still sounded wonderfully exciting, a thrilling rerouting of snoozy, trad rock orthodoxy and one in the ear for those Neanderthal’s for whom the latest Paul Weller or Noel/Liam Gallagher albums represent the apex of ‘real’ music.
METRONOMY ‘Salted Caramel Ice Cream’ (Download July)
While I worked hard to find some kind of deep rooted meaning in Black Midi vocalist Geordie Greep’s peculiar array of words and mannerisms, there was little point in conducting a similar exercise for ‘Salted Caramel Ice Cream’. Merging a bouncy, irrepressible tune with an irresistible, eighties, electro pulse, a few words of French and a suitably tasty title, the rather brilliant result sounded not unlike Lipps Inc’s ‘Funky Town’ covered by a twelve bar blues band.
HUSKY LOOPS ‘I Think You’re Wonderful’ (I Can’t Even Speak English LP August)
Given the scary state of the political landscape, the governments promotion of fear and the generally aggressive, uncompromising and hateful year 2019 turned out to be (little knowing there was far worse to come), I needed Husky Loops song about universal love, forgiveness, empathy and resilience to sing to my ‘wonderful’ beloved and bring a smile to her face.
BON IVER ‘Hey Ma’ (i, i LP August)
As a simple yet sensitive and dreamy escape from the present into the past, ‘Hey Ma’ may not have been as much of a giant leap forward as the 22, A Million album, but as another decade drew to its inevitable conclusion, it did get me thinking about the ghosts of the decade (not all of whom were necessarily dead) who continued to haunt me for better and for worse.
JENNY HVAL ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (The Practice Of Love LP September)
On the edges and sometimes in the centre of Jenny Hval’s provocative Avant-pop there had always been a bold vulnerability. On ‘Ashes To Ashes’ she discovered something else to mask the darkness of her lonely meditations, a new found sweetness like that found in the kind of trance pop and rainy night nostalgia of artists like Everything But The Girl that used to dominate late night, Top Forty radio in the mid-nineties.
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS ‘Bright Horses’ (Ghosteen LP October)
As 2019 wound down and I finally neared the end of the most sorrowful and turbulent, decade of my life, along came Nick Cave and Ghosteen. Written in the aftermath of his son Arthur’s death in 2015, the album attempted the near impossible by trying to make sense of the monumental, life changing grief he was experiencing. Initially I was afraid to listen for fear of resurrecting my own heart of darkness, but as the man’s music had been a part of my life since a ramshackle Birthday Party show at The Moonlight Club in the summer of 1980, I felt I had no choice but to listen, and I’m glad I did.
In an attempt to explain not only his unfathomable pain but also the deep well of love irrevocably entwined with it, Ol’ Nick took on the overwhelming enormity of his feelings and did his very best to explain. Fitting all the despair and devotion he could muster into the eleven songs of Ghosteen, somehow he managed to light up an album that could so easily have been unfathomably dark. The most illuminated of the lot was the beautiful yet brutal ‘Bright Horses’, the horses in question with their ‘manes full of fire’ a metaphor for Arthur’s wild spirit before he reined them back in, only too aware that horses are just horses, fields are just fields and ‘the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall’ wasn’t really his son.
Earlier in the year, when asked about whether he could feel Arthur communicating with him, Cave talked about the soothing power of the idea of an afterlife and that he felt his presence all around him even if it wasn’t real. ‘These spirits are ideas…our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity… Ghosts and spirits and dream visitations… are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be.’
For once I knew exactly what he was talking about!