This year’s Festive Fifteen, my annual round-up of the best new songs I have had the pleasure of hearing this year, is the product of a multitude of influences. I discovered three of the artists at the wonderful Green Man Festival in Wales. Five tracks reached my ears courtesy of the ever-wonderful BBC Radio 6 (6 Music if you must). Only three were record shop recommendations, probably the smallest total in my decade of Festive Fifteens, and a sure sign that I am not spending enough time in those educational establishments. But that is balanced by the fact that I have enjoyed live shows by more than half of the featured artists – a very healthy state of affairs.
As usual, this isn’t a festive selection, it’s just being proffered in the Yuletide season. And there aren’t fifteen tracks. How could I leave out a new release by Ian Brown, even though I only heard it for the first time an hour before I started writing this, when I thought my list was complete? Little Mix are included as a bonus track for my bonkers nieces (and because I quite like it, to be honest).
The Markontour Festive Fifteen 2018
- Israel Nash – Sweet Springs: My song of the year. Uplifting country from the vantage point of an “evening chair”. “Who needs my love? / I know who I was thinking of”. And a great Rough Trade gig in Brooklyn that re-energised me.
- Janael Monae – Make Me Feel: I didn’t know I liked this, but I do. Like Blurred Lines without the sexism. Power pop.
- Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Talking Straight: Band name issues are overcome by infectious tunes that instantly become ear-worms.
- Mattiel – Bye Bye: just bounce along. No messing rock’n’roll. Matiel poses standing insouciantly on a horse. My mate Alex could do a headstand on one. Just saying.
- First Aid Kit – Hem of Her Dress: Swedish sibling purveyors of amazing folk harmony. This song has a great swing, like the argument it documents, all told with passion and beautiful voices.
- Easy Life – Nightmares: bad dreams are not nice, especially if no-one cares about your woes. “But it’s nothing you should worry yourself about”
- Seamus Fogarty – Carlow Town: Lovely bloke who missed the last bus home “for want of another drink”, found a place to kip and woke up surrounded by middle aged women saying prayers.
- Insecure Men – I Don’t Wanna Dance With My Baby: Documenting the pressure of having to dance with your cherised other-half in front of all your friends, a fear many of us can empathise with!
- Boa Kusasa – Ula: I love the simple, repetitive, addictive rhythm of the lyric, without having a clue what it is all about.
- Black Sedan – Love on Love: Sampling part of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from ‘The Great Dictator’, this is clever.
- Half Man Half Biscuit – Man of Constant Sorrow (With a Garage in Constant Use): “I don’t think I’ve encountered a man so irate / You’re a better man than I if you get past his gate”. Top form.
- Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain: A gorgeous voice and wonderful sentiments. We loved her at Green Man.
- Belly – Suffer the Fools: I have loved this indie supergroup since they warned “Take your hat off boy / When you’re talkin’ to me” in the early nineties. Now back in force.
- Father John Misty – Mr Tillman: Cataloguing his alter-ego’s descent into fame-driven madness, this is a brilliant observational song that gets better the more you listen to it.
- Eugene Capper – Kinglsand Road: Can’t find a place to live in Dalston? You should have looked in Walthamstow, mate. Part of the Welsh diaspora in London and holding the flag high. Melancholy beauty – he can’t remember his 18th birthday, poor lad.
16. Ian Brown – First World Problems: I remember thinking ‘Second Coming’ was a classic on first listen, so desirous was I of a great new album from the Stone Roses, so I am going to refrain for heaping too much praise on Brown’s first solo release in seven years. But I have listened to it three times in the last hour..
17. Little Mix ft. Nicki Minaj – Woman Like Me: What can I say? Catchy.