tv on the radio

Comment: 2011's Best Songs

At the end of every year I tend to spend a bit of time contemplating how to suitably wrap things up. Sometimes it's a single post that just lists things that were particularly note-worthy, other years I have been much more formal and had a collection of top five lists. This year I feel like running with something a bit more free form so here is a list of my favourite songs from this year.

There are too many songs here to say something about all of them. I'll go into a bit of detail on a selection of the ones that meant the most to me and that will make the post long enough as it is. There is also a Spotify playlist that pulls all of these together to make it as easy as possible to have a listen. Nothing here is ordered based on 'best' - the playlist and this list were built to flow as well as is possible with such a diverse selection of music. Having said which, there was one song that stuck out for me more than any other this year... Read on to find out which...

'I Don't Want Love' - The Antlers
The opening track from The Antlers' Burst Apart was a contender for song of the year for me. It's a beautifully exposed and fragile track and the decision to stick such a piece at the start of an album still amazes me because it is so easy to miss just how staggering it is. There aren't many bands that come close to Thom Yorke's brand of experimental melancholy, but The Antlers come close.

'Collapse' - Iceage
Iceage's debut album was the kind of brash, rapid fire album that really encourages repeat listening, but it was the discordant melodies of 'Collapse' that I always longed for more of. This most surprising thing is how much is crammed into a two-minute record, from the frictional intro of the guitar to the closing bars at the end.

'Undertow' - Warpaint

'Codex' - Radiohead

'Share The Red' - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

'Vomit' - Girls
Girls' second album saw them continue to expand their sound but nothing on that album came close to the gospel ambition of this needy and emotional indie cut.

'I Can See Through You' - The Horrors

'Montana' - Youth Lagoon

'Come To The City' - The War On Drugs
I said it all on the review last week but golly, does this flick my switches. It's difficult to judge something so close to a first listen but I'm confident that 'Come To The City' will stick out for years to come. The sound of a hand reaching out to pull you from the quick sand - an emotive wall of sound.

'It Takes Time To Be A Man' - The Rapture

'Ice Cream' - Battles feat. Matias Aguayo
When I saw Battles at Glastonbury the mechanical precision and strength of drummer John Stanier blew me away: this dude kicked the fucking doors off. Matias' vocals and percussion just took things to another level - this is math rock on spring break: sexy, wild and completely in control.

'Caffeinated Consciouness' - TV On The Radio

'Manifesto' - Planningtorock

'Saturday Love' - Toro Y Moi

'Manila' - Rough Fields

'Minnesota' - Bon Iver

'The Wilhelm Scream' - James Blake

'Video Games' - Lana Del Rey
Is she for real or faking? That question seemed to rumble around for months and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that real pop music is just a show anyway. I don't need to know her real name - Lana stole my heart as she laid a smack across my cheek with the line "It's you, it's you, it's all for you... Everything I do...". Sometimes popular music is best left with some mystery.

'Space Is Only Noise If You Can See' - Nicolas Jaar
Still Jaar's best record and 2011’s most unhinged vocal by far. Try as you might, this makes no sense but the space groove bass line and wonky lyrics made Nicolas Jaar one of our most exciting producers. The fact that he hasn't felt the need to do anything even remotely similar since only compounds the magnificence of it. Grab a calculator and fix yourself.

'Stay' - Gunnar Bjerk

'What I've Lost' - Benoit & Sergio
Everything Benoit & Sergio released this year was fantastic, but nothing came close to this track from side two of the Boy Trouble EP, a contemplative late night road trip through the old haunts with a new (potential) lover. If people ever tell you electronic music has no soul then play them this - a track full of heart and pain and a crucial hint of hopeful yearning.

'Need You Now' - Cut Copy

'Midnight City' - M83

'Hawaiian Air' - Friendly Fires

'All Nite' - Rustie

'Fallout' - Neon Indian

'Lonely Days (Drop Out Orchestra Vocal Remix)' - Mario Basanov
Mario's original was good but this shimmering sun baked disco remix is truly great. It's strength is that it simply hits that summery Ballearic vibe better than any other seven-minutes of music I heard this year. Throw in some excellent guitar work (more guitar solos on disco please!) and you've got something very vey good indeed.

'Basement L.O.V.E.' - Motor City Drum Ensemble
MCDE's DJ Kicks blew every other mix CD released this year out of the water with it's fantastic mixture of soulful jazz and subterranean house music for the heads. This separate remix of the 'L.O.V.E.' cut released on that mix as an exclusive is a brilliant taster for that mix even if doesn't actually appear on it. Loose and airy, it feels like a slowed down summer's day spent dancing on Mediterranean tiles after a night with no sleep.

'Arise' - Maceo Plex

'Far Nearer' - Jamie xx
2010 saw the xx break into the mainstream but in 2011 Jamie proved the best is yet to come. As good as the xx's debut record is, in my opinion it can't hold a candle to this solo track. Sounds like Paul Simon kicking back on a dubstep rumbling tropical island; this is Kia Ora, Five Alive and Rubicon rolled into one.

'Banana Ripple' - Junior Boys
As if Mario Basanov and Jamie's 'Far Nearer' weren't enough sun... 'Banana Ripple' easily takes my vote for song of the year. This unashamed summer disco dance track caps off an album of angst-ridden self-reflective electronic pop on It's All True like a glorious and carefree butterfly emerging from a self-absorbed chrysalis. 'Banana Ripple' is a song of three acts where each one is more fantastic than the last. The Hammond organ peaking towards the end never fails to give me goose bumps, and that is what music is about.

So, what did I miss?

BP x

Album Review: Nine Types of Light - TV On The Radio

Back when I reviewed TV On The Radio's last album, Dear Science, I claimed it to be the band's career highlight to date. It's a statement I'd stand by, and yet I still can't help but feel that of their first three albums proper (I'm disregarding the self-released demo OK Calculator from 2002 as it's tricky to come by) it is still Return To Cookie Mountain that I always come back to. That record's bass-heavy, stuttering electronic production still sounds thrilling and fresh, and there are several tracks on that album ('I Was a Lover', 'Province', 'Wolf Like Me' and 'Dirtywhirl') that continue to mean far more to me than anything on its follow-up. As great as a record Dear Science is, it just didn't feel quite like the TV On The Radio that I loved.

Nine Types of Light was released a few weeks back now and I can safely safe it answers the concerns I had about the previous record whilst continuing to demonstrate the progression and growth of the band. From the opening bars of 'Second Song' it is patently clear TV On The Radio have still got it, and they haven't lost their ability to open their albums with absolute blinders. It feels like like the sound of a band emerging from the storm still tied to rigging and finding it irresistable to greet the world with anything but a beaming smile. This is a band that have been through some difficult times in recent years and sadly things haven't eased since Nine Types of Light was released, with the passing of the band's bassist, Gerard Smith, last week. Somehow though they still sound positive and in fact, on 'Second Song, complete with its 'ooh oooh' vocals, they sound more positive than ever. A brass backing only further adds to the effect, sounding like a band coming out punching, legs and arms flailing whilst they try and connect.

Perhaps the answer to this new found enthusiasm is the oldest of all, for more than anything else Nine Types of Light is a record about love, as evidenced on the lovelorn 'Keep Your Heart', with the vocalist belting out the words: "I'm gonna keep your heart / if the world falls apart / I'm gonna keep your heart". It's the sound of selfishly putting another first, and you can't help but hope it works out for him.

The theme is revisited several times throughout the album but probably nowhere better than on single 'Will Do', a paean to forbidden or unrequired love that bursts open with a shuddering bass line, to create the most electronic track the band have released since Return To Cookie Mountain. The lyrics betray a man unprepared to let life and love slip through his fingers, almost angry that the subject of his affections would dare waste the opportunity. If it sounds desperate, that's because it is, but you can't help but feel that the song is justified in its honesty all the same.

This isn't just a record of love songs, though. 'No Future Shock' revisits the band's fondness for celebrating the bleakness of our apparent future, encouraging us all to dance to the sound of the end of the world. 'Repetition' similarly celebrates misfortune, seemingly mocking the singer's own paranoia and inability to break the cycle. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

If you really want evidence of TV On The Radio's new found optimism though then go no further than 'Caffeinated Consciousness'. The excellent Fluxblog recently posted this song and likened it to the sound of someone trying to turn Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' into punk rock and I wholeheartedly agree - it sounds like raw energy turning the listener's hands into megaton weights and feet into jet engines... to resist is futile, as the singer says: "I'm optimistic, on overload". It's a fitting close to a great album.

Nine Times of Light is the best of both worlds - an album that continues to reveal more with repeated listens yet still has the hooks to have you addicted from the first listen. This is a brilliant record, eclipsing the band's best work.

BP x

Nine Types of Light is out now, available from on CD, Deluxe CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].

Five Non-Electronic Albums of the Year

Lists of the year are lame, everyone knows it and yet everyone loves reading and writing them. Given that there is very little else to right about at this time of year it makes sense to take the time to take stock.

2008 has been, without doubt, a vintage year for music. The number of fantastic albums released within the first few months is testament to that, especially when the pace didn't let up all year.

This is the first of four separate lists - generally BlackPlastic concerns itself with electronic music but there have been some fantastic releases outside of this area. Here are the five best non-electronic albums from 2008:

5. Dear Science - TV On The Radio

BlackPlastic is still not sure this trumps Return To Cookie Mountain but what is does do is snap, crackle and pop with sheer verve and ambition. Cookie Mountain may win out on emotional depth and angsty retribution but Dear Science is a sign of the times bill board for a generation's confusion at the state of the world. This is a celebration of our times - the problems may seem insurmountable but our achievements also seem to be getting greater every day.

4. Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

Like a rowdy night on the sauce The Hold Steady's 2008 release is an exciting and heady rush that feels like you just don't care any more.  Never less than thoroughly charming Stay Positive is like the badly behaved friend that everyone seems to find too endearing to ever get offended by.  This record is an absolute ball with the emotional journey of a buddy-movie-road-trip. Grab yourself some ice 'n' bourbon and slam this on the jukebox.

3. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge -Lightspeed Champion

Fresh out of the energetic yet nihilistic Test Icicles, Dev Hynes was left directionless and drifting. Lavender Bridge is the sound of recovery and growth. A fantastically timeless record that mixes a mature-yet-contemporary country sound with lyrics that reference crunk. A record to be hung-over and to feel sorry for yourself to.

2. Twenty One - Mystery Jets

Destined to top this list right up until the last month or so when the actual number one won over BlackPlastic's heart, Twenty One is still a fantastic record.  From the opening air-raid siren of Hideaway to the closing piano refrain of the ghost track (the source of the album's title) and its Joy Division referencing lyrics ("even Love Will Tear Us Apart don't ease the pain" - what a line) there is never a dull moment.

Already criminally overlooked in most end of year lists this album has it all - whether the emotional gravitas of 'Flakes' or the sheer pop ambition (not to mention the best use of a saxophone in years) of 'Two Doors Down', Twenty One is a glorious record that is destined to age like fine wine.  A proof not just of producer Erol Alkan's ability but also that Mystery Jets are one of this country's finest.


1. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver

One of those records that it was all too easy to miss at the time it is now getting some of the attention it deserves. The basic facts everyone seems to love to repeat:

  • The band name would mean 'good winter' in french if it was spelt correctly.
  • This is actually a chap called Justin Vernon.
  • The album is the result of Vernon's break-up with the eponymous Emma and his previous band.
  • The sound that ensues is what happened following this breakdown, a bout of sickness and a winter in a log cabin in Wisconsin.

Now that the above is out of the way, here is what is important: This record is absurdly beautiful, in a 'clinging to the edge of this spinning chunk of rock as we hurtle through space' type way - just listen to the thrum that builds in 'Creature Fear', it sounds like life itself.

It's difficult to do the songs on this short little record justice because the sound of this album transcends anything that can be put into words - For Emma, Forever Ago is all the longing and regret that gets pushed down in our daily lives erupting like rainbow coloured magma on a background of snow and ice.  It is the perfect soundtrack to winter days.  It is the soundtrack to nights on the bourbon with the fire raging.  It is the words BlackPlastic would never be able to find to convey what goes on behind these eyes.

This is probably not just the best record this year, but one of the best records this decade.

Album Review: Dear Science - TV On The Radio

TVOTR's last album, Return To Cookie Mountain, quickly became an all time favourite for BlackPlastic. The combination of occasional falsetto vocals, Prince style production and Pixies aggression combined to create something beautiful and at the same time cutting edge. It has been noted elsewhere that the change from the original demo of the album to the finished product saw the order of the tracks rearranged and as a result the final prpduct was no longer opened by the thrashing 'Wolf Like Me'. Instead that duty was given to the brooding 'I Was A Lover'. It was a wise decision that in one step re-focused the album into something more considered, honest and passionate. Despite the fact that 'Wolf Like Me' is without doubt an album highlight it is debatable whether the album would stand-up as the classic it is now regarded as had that change not happened.

So onto Dear Science, TVOTR are back and they are clearly more ambitious as ever. From the opening fuzz and "ba, ba, ba ba ba" vocal through to the overtly sexual album closer, 'Lovers Day', Dear Science is a grown-up and complex record.

There are moments of tenderness, even if they are somewhat doomed, in the form of the synth backed 'Crying' and the ballad (yes, ballad), that everyone is already talking about, 'Family Tree'. Yet there are also times of aggression, whether it is directed internally or externally or, quite possibly in the case of 'DLZ', both.

Dear Science also features a constant struggle between positivity and angst. Lead single 'Golden Age' tries to paint a picture of a utopia just around the corner yet it is difficult to tell whether it is optimism or delusion that is driving singer Tunde Adebimpe's vocals. Similarly 'Dancing Choose' is certainly upbeat and could be considered positive, if only purely in a self-serving way that recalls the principles of survival of the fittest.

So Dear Science is the perfect soundtrack to our post-millenial times. Times that see extreme weather and financial patterns that appear to simultaneously signify an end but also a new start at the same time. This is an album that pulls in multiple directions, then, yet it still makes sense as a whole.

In terms of sound this is clearly a band at the top of their game and to say David Sitek's production continues to impress would be a gross understatement. In all honesty BlackPlastic misses some of the additional electronic touches and hip-hop influences of Return To Cookie Mountain yet it is hard to argue that this is anything but great and for those first discovering the band Dear Science easily stands out as a career highlight. It says much of Return To Cookie Mountain that it continues to remain one of BlackPlastic's most-played albums despite the fact that the follow up is now here. Many are already proclaiming TV On The Radio as the new Radiohead, if only in terms of scale and ambition rather than sound. Upon hearing the sheer number of ideas packed into the space of an hour for Dear Science it is impossible to disagree.

BP x