SWSL Single Of 2009
There hasn't been a proper SWSL Singles Of The Year list since 2005, and, as you'll see from the title of this post, this time around I've finally dropped all pretence of it returning in full. The fact remains that - aside from the very occasional sampling of the quite probably soon-to-be-no-more 6 Music - I still don't listen to radio or watch any music television, so simply no longer really encounter bands through their single releases.
Indeed, the whole concept of singles has altered, the context changed beyond all recognition by the internet. The possibility of being able to download individual songs has, if not made the single redundant, at very least shifted the goalposts - singles are still released but the balance of power has shifted further to the consumer who has more governance over what makes up the charts. It's for this reason that NME abandoned the singles list themselves, instead preferring a list of tracks, and that I was tempted, in the spirit of the times, to plump for the 2009 Christmas #1, Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name', which was the People's extended middle finger to Cowell and chums.
But I'm really a creature of habit and a bit of a Luddite, and I like to think of designated singles as still being in some way important, invested with a certain function and cultural significance. It's largely determined by the nature of the format, but in my mind the sort of thing that makes for a great single is usually something that's accessible and that can stand alone without the supporting scaffolding of other album tracks. Grizzly Bear chose to release two of the stand-out tracks from Veckatimest - 'Two Weeks' and 'While You Wait For The Others' - but I find it hard to imagine them out of context. Much the same goes for 'Summertime Clothes' and 'My Girls' by Animal Collective - great, great songs both, but most at home within the whirling joyous sound-riot that is Merriweather Post Pavilion.
By contrast, The XX (or was it their record label?) opted to put out three tracks - 'Crystalised', 'Basic Space' and 'Islands' - which, while undeniably good, don't for me quite get to the chilly, dark heart of their debut album. 'Shelter' or 'Infinity' would have done that - but then, fickle bugger that I am, I'd probably then have complained that (as with the Grizzly Bear songs) they'd be best left on the album as the gems awaiting anyone drawn in by hearing 'Basic Space' on the radio...
I have a natural inclination towards the poppier side of things when thinking about singles, so 'Golden Phone' by Micachu & The Shapes, from the otherwise (to me) eccentric album Jewellery, and Jay-Z's 'Empire State Of Mind' both came into my thoughts. (With hindsight, MIA's 'Paper Planes' might have been a wiser choice than MGMT's 'Time To Pretend' last year.)
Singles serve a showcasing function, but they can also be trailers, the means to whetting appetites for what's to come. So 'Surf Solar' got us all salivating at the prospect of what Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport had in store; 'Velvet' hinted at a potential greatness that The Big Pink never came close to achieving with A Brief History Of Love (and especially not godawful follow-up single 'Dominos'); and 'Zero' promised in strident style the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' enthusiastic and brilliant embracing of synths, a promise that It's Blitz! couldn't quite fulfil.
'Zero' was for a long time the only real contender for the Single Of 2009 crown, but in the end it's been pipped by another track that wasn't just an introduction to an album but to the band themselves. The minute I clapped ears on The Drums' 'Let's Go Surfing' I was smitten. Not complicated, not clever, not dense, not forced - it's just a great single.
More about The Drums to follow in due course, but first the SWSL Albums Of 2009 list is just around the corner.