December is here, which means it is time for the annual markontour Festive Fifteen. As usual, there’s nothing to do with Xmas in this compilation, just my favourite songs released in this very strange year and put together in homage to the much missed John Peel and his alternative Festive Fifty. The full playlist is available on my YouTube and Spotify channels.
1. Deal Wiv’ It – Mura Masa ft Slowthai
Aggressive, but wry and funny at the same time, powered by a pumping rhythm. The song is taken from Mura Masa’s R.Y.C concept album, for which he asked collaborators like British rapper, Slowthai, to contribute songs on the theme of nostalgia dependency.
2. Strange Girl – Laura Marling
Despite trying repeatedly, I’d never really connected with Laura Marling’s music until watching her arresting online lockdown concert from Islington’s Union Chapel. I couldn’t find footage of that performance, so instead the Festive Fifteen playlist has Marling giving a poignant rendition to an empty Glastonbury Pyramid field. “Build yourself a garden and have something to attend / Cut off all relations because you could not stand your friends / Announce yourself a socialist to have something to defend / Oh yawn, girl, please / Don’t bullshit me / I love you my strange girl”.
3. Turntables – Janelle Monae
It’s worth watching the video to really appreciate this song, not least as it starts with a James Baldwin quote upon which the song pivots: “I can’t be a pessimist, because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I am forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.” The song itself was more immediately inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and Monae is determined that Baldwin be proved right: “America – you’s a lie / But the whole world’s about to testify”.
4. Take Back The Radio – Katy J Pearson
Anything that comes out on the Heavenly Records label is worth a listen and I have almost over-indulged in this Radio 6 Music favourite. Sounding a lot like Stevie Nicks (a good thing), Katy J Pearson supplies a kind of uplifting country pop with a horn section. Maybe just one more play..
5. Might Bang, Might Not – Little Simz
“You aint seen no-one like me / Since Lauryn Hill back in the ’90s” sings Little Simz, a British rapper of Nigerian heritage. Intense and brilliant, she is surely going to be SO big.
6. Lockdown – Anderson .Paak
“We was tryin’ to protest / Then the fires broke out / Lookout for the secret agents / They be planted in the crowds / Said ‘it’s civil unrest’ / But you sleep sound / Like you don’t hear the screams / When we catchin’ beat-downs”. This one kind of made its own way onto the playlist.
7. A Hero’s Death – Fontaines DC
The title track of my album of the year, this one is a head-bobber from the first beat, although the rest of the LP is more contemplative than their debut release last year. Included amongst the Dublin band’s advice to avoid an empty life is: “Buy yourself a flower every hundredth hour / If we give ourselves to every breath / Then we’re all in the running for a hero’s death”. There’s a cracking video too, featuring Aidan Gillen aka Little Finger from Game of Thrones.
8. Give/Take – Porridge Radio
A punkish song of desire from an art-house band. “I want, want, want, want, want, want, want, want, want you”. Despite being on the Secretly Canadian label the band actually appear to be from Brighton, UK.
9. Do It Again – Reggae Roast
Disappointment at there not being a Notting Hill Carnival this year was every so slightly offset by my favourite sound system of recent years releasing an album. This upbeat track happily evokes the vibes of a bank holiday dancing in crowded west London streets.
10. People Don’t Protest Enough – Catholic Action
They may have picked the wrong year for this song title, but it’s a great record and captures the punkish attitude of their live performances (I am now recollecting a great gig at SXSW in Austin, Texas, a couple of years ago), alongside their brand of punchy indie-guitar music.
11. Texas Sun – Khruangbin ft. Leon Bridges
A sublime collaboration between a largely instrumental Texan band and singer from the same state. Just beautiful and it has been the song I have regularly turned to when wanting to forget 2020.
12. Aires – Gorrilaz ft. Peter Hook & Georgia
I love this from the moment Peter Hook’s unmistakable bass gets going and a wave of Joy Division / New Order nostalgia washes over, possibly because I have been hugely enjoying Spotify’s ‘Transmissions’ podcast this week. One of the album of singles that Damon Albarn and co have been releasing during the pandemic.
13. Pastime – Samantha Crain
I’ve Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour to thank for discovering this one. A melancholy sound, beautiful voice and penetrating lyrics. “Falling in love was a pastime / I practised every chance I got / If you’re buying into it, let me cosign / I’ve got the best bet on the block.” Wait for the laughter at the end of the video version.
14. After The Fire – The Lost Brothers
I seemed to have inadvertently chosen a preponderence of songs with videos set in deserts, although on further investigation it turns out that this Irish duo’s song was filmed at a copper mine in Anglesey, Wales. In any case it is a beautiful, melodic folk song, appositely evoking renewal and rebirth.
15. One Minute You’re Here – Bruce Springsteen
Rumination on being the last living member of his first band, The Castiles, marks many songs on Bruce’s superb new album, and One Minute You’re Here reduces me to a silent sob most times I listen to it. All the classic Springsteen elements are here – rivers, the edge of town, rail road tracks, and with the E-Street Band in tow they all fit together perfectly.
Bonus track: Wildfires – Sault
I couldn’t leave this off, but the rest of the playlist was already in place by the time I really started to get into it. From the mystery band that keep pumping out 5-star collaborative albums.
Bonus track: Lean on Me – Bill Withers
This is traditionally the slot to pay tribute to a musician who died in the last year, and sadly there are a few to choose from in 2020, not least Toots ‘Maytals’ Hibbert, John Prine, and Eddie Van Halen. But for markontour it had to be Bill Withers and, obviously in a BLM 2020, Lean on Me.