A few days ago I was feeling good with myself, having polished my annual markontour favourite songs of the year list down to the fifteen tracks that would befit its title, and then Rough Trade went and sold me The Felice Brothers’ new album. Ah well. Herewith the sixteen tracks of the Festive Fifteen 2021. The usual rules apply: all songs must have been released this calendar year, one song per band, no re-releases, plus an indeterminate number of bonus tracks, usually commemorating an artist who passed away during the year. The full playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
The image above, by the way, is the Blue Note nightclub in Derby, venue of many a Saturday night for markontour and friends in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and apparently still open for business. I wonder if The La’s ‘There She Goes’ is still religiously the final song of the night?
1. Keep Moving – Jungle
Channeling the Bee Gees, the London collective have produced another upbeat track that is so good it sounds like it has been around forever.
2. Delicious Things – Wolf Alice
It’s a mystery to me how Wolf Alice haven’t swept all awards this year. On Delicious Things singer/lyricist Ellie Roswell is on sparkling form, candidly relating the excitements & awkwardness of becoming semi-famous and being in LA – “I’m no longer pulling pints / I’m no longer cashing tills / If you’re all popping pills / You know I won’t say no”.
3. Second Time – The Goa Express
Rough Trade described this debut single as “a jangle-tastic nugget with hints of 90’s Britpop and the La’s.” The bikes and televisions in the video put it at late 1980s, I would say. Anyway, there’s a generally teenage outlook on life, which is fitting as I was lucky enough to see this promising new band on the Green Man work experience stage with my niece, Rosie.
4. South – Wu Lu, Lex Amor
I can’t remember where I first heard this, but I instantly loved the pounding rhythm, which is a perfect accompaniment to a dark-sounding song about growing up in South London.
5. Scratchcard Lanyard – Dry Cleaning
There must be a name for this genre by now – a knowing, deadpan female front-person, intoning rather than singing. But few others manage the spiky, observational lyrics of Dry Cleaning, in this case drily describing joining clubs.
6. Point and Kill – Little Simz
I can’t wait to see Little Simz live – it’s bound to be extraordinary and intense. On this stand-out track from her brilliant new album she seems to be celebrating her African heritage, rapping over an afrobeat inspired rhythm.
7. Halo – Blood Wizard
As seen at Green Man. Cai Burns is from Nottingham (big tick) and this is a country-twinged side-project from his punk outfit, Kagoule. Too talented. “My baby’s got a halo / I use it sometimes”.
8. This Fractured Mind – Nation of Language
I’m not usually a fan of electronic music, but I love this. The beat is strangely calming and melody keeps building up into something nearly ecstatic, almost danceable.
9. How Beautiful Life Can Be – The Lathums
The Lathums caught my eye because they share their name with that of one of my best friends and his family. It was a good instinct to follow. Unashamedly upbeat, this track is composed from lyrics mashed-up out of the sayings of the singer’s Mum. Explaining the source of his inspiration, Alex Moore said: “Seeing our names together will be a nice moment we can share forever. No matter what happens, we’ll always be there as joint songwriters.” Aaah. This one is for Mums. Mind you, if I wrote a song inspired by my mother’s sayings it would start something like “She did most of the work and he got all the credit / And she was a Unitarian, you know”..
10. Lullaby – Sabiyha
A South-London singer of Guyanese heritage, drawing on the inspiration and culture of her grandmother (mothers and grandmothers seem to be a theme of my choices this year). It was the hand-clapped beat that drew me in first time and I know virtually nothing else about it.
11. Chaise Longue – Wet Leg
“All day long on the chaise longue / On the chaise longue”. What is it all about? A critique of privilege? I don’t know, but it’s catchy. “Is your mother worried? / Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother?”. From the same genre as Dry Cleaning.
12. Chismiten – Mdou Moctar
I think it is fair to say Mdou Moctar is economical with his lyrics. Almost the entire words to this song translate as “To become a better person, you need to stop being so jealous and insecure / I have observed these qualities and I’m unimpressed”. Straightforward sentiments driven by incredible Tuareg blues guitar and Saharan rhythms.
13. Jazz on the Autobahn – The Felice Brothers
I do love the thoughtful chaos of the Felice Brothers. This year they are busy predicting that the apocalypse will sound like jazz – “sundown on the human heart”. Clever, conversational song-writing which summons later Lou Reed.
14. The Only Road – Elbow
A dream of the perfect holiday frames this gentle, beautiful song. “The open road unrolling / And you in reach beside me / And a very chatty monkey / Fast asleep behind me.” Although apparently song-writer Guy Garvey has never driven to Inverness..
15. Remember We Were Lovers – Bobbie Gillespie and Jehnny Beth
One of my books of the year has been Primal Scream frontman, Bobbie Gillespie’s, polemical autobiography, ‘Tenement Kid’. This beautiful balladic duet with Savages front-woman, Jenny Beth, proves Gillespie is mining a mid-career golden seam.
16. Polaris – Damon Albarn
It was incredible hearing this song when Albarn played the Waterfront stage at Latitude and despite it being new released most of the audience, including me, joined in a euphoric singalong like it was an old Blur favourite. He just keeps producing gems.
Bonus Track: Words – Barry Gibb with Dolly Parton
The unexpected musical joy of 2021 was Barry Gibb’s ‘Greenfields’ – a reimagining of the Bee Gees songbook recorded in Nashville in collaboration with country music royalty. Here Dolly Parton helps out on ‘Words’.
Bonus Track: Me and Magdalene – The Monkees
RIP Michael Nesmith – the woolly hatted one. I have been a late convert to The Monkees (should have listened to my cousin Lis), but ‘Me and Magdalene’ was on repeat during the first lockdown and has become a favourite to strum along to.