Sunday, 8 February 2009


100. MICHAEL HEARST: Songs For Ice Cream Trucks

A sound: light tingling noises and burbles through the air. You can hear it long before you can see it. And it’s not just any music – it’s ice cream truck music (what other dessert has its own soundtrack?)! Hearst gives us new, sweet and only somewhat sad melodies as his truck goes on its rounds.

Likewise, this list is an ice cream truck with one hundred or so flavours and these flavours range from the old reliables to new-fangled ones which would make even the most daring chef raise his or her eyebrows in disbelief. Single and double scoops, silver scoops and wooden mini-shovels – there is something here for everyone.

99. AIDAN JOHN MOFFAT: I Can Hear Your Heart

Let’s begin with the lonely stoner who sells himself as an ice cream man at the party into which he stumbles, nominally an unknown, although in most senses the party was meant for him and only for him. There are outraged mobile messages, Greasy ruminations, 101 forgotten strings of samples, Bruce Springsteen, and a story, a wandering, in which he strives to free his mind and say to duplicity and betrayal: so what?

98. PINK: Funhouse

The answer is that she was a better rock star in 2008 than most, and this was her favoured tool.

97. YELLE: Pop-Up

Against the whiteness a French girl exclaims the New Pop world still to be here, because of the boys, the girls, and opens the door to fresher airs, bringing 1981 in with a smile.

96. POLAR BEAR: Polar Bear

Espresso flavour – it sounds like a train to them, sounds like the incidental music for the medieval film noir Oliver Postgate didn’t quite live to make. Those lips which no leaf could cut!


A green backdrop falls, then the scene is set for multicoloured bounding adventures where energy abounds…the children of 1981 finally getting to play in the shiny yellow sunshine, and that turned out to include the ballot boxes.

94. NATASHA BEDINGFIELD: Pocketful Of Sunshine

Imperfections are proof of life, and happiness is everywhere and portable. This arrived on a cold day in Canada with the confidence of the grass under the snow, the patience too.

93. ARIANE MOFFAT: Tous Les Sens

A life in one day: four corners of the Earth sont le crains de ton rue, dans le jour tu decouvent un petit piece de magic. Quand le machine is on, sing and leave a message to yourself. Your voice lives in the wires and chips Salut, Montreal !...

92. BLACK MILK: Tronic

…and hello, D. Always on top, always now if not years ahead. Astonishing and unique, the spirit of J Dilla announces his presence, beneficent and at peace. Oh yes…

91. ENYA: And Winter Came…

…and in a digital world the analog woman stretches out her hand to feel the snow, the cold, the individual flakes of wonder and quiet, that long night which brings back the spring, where new adventures begin…


90. THOMAS FERSEN: Trois Petits Tours

…et dans le fĂ´ret, un homme takes his valise and becomes a fairy godfather, in the cool mists of early spring. Tout le monde est nouvel et douce, in the branches balloons rest and tiny flowers sprout from the mud…


Elsewhere in Montreal , hiver is over and the first warmth spreads down the street, the traumas are gone with the snow and gentle breezes give you time and space to think. Why not walk to where the birds and bees live, to hear mating songs?

88. LUCINDA WILLIAMS: Little Honey

Turn it up, full blast, knowing that it is the real, actual thing. What has been longed for has happened. How long did it take? How many redemptions, sacrifices? Go to the top of the heath, the roof, and feel that circle, a long line at long last connected…

87. LADY GAGA: The Fame

…and when did it start? Disorientation. A sense of being a teenager and staking nights, lost in bars, in clubs, relationships dissolving in a phrase, a gesture. The clock in World’s End, the winking men, the GLAMOUR overrides and justifies all.

86. AKON: Freedom

Then there is the destination; the kind of security which only comes with true achievement; the man stands immaculate, but not uncaring, beside a perfect sea and an air of new blue. Freedom through machines; the tool of the indolent converted to a believer of ardent red, now, now, now.

85. BUSY SIGNAL: Loaded

Meanwhile the reversed clock in World’s End pronounces: “Tic Tic Toc,” a Numan PacMan chant of new muzik, striking in the dancehall, ominous enough even to incorporate and impregnate “Beat It” within its silvery musculature.

84. FLO RIDA: Mail On Sunday

Does he not deserve to prosper? 1965 Motown pleading retooled for the spaceship of the steely hip, guttural (“Low”) and all compass points centring on her “JAM” in the middle of “In The Ayer” before spreading it into strawberry Sundays of unlikely socialism.

83. KANO : 140 Grime St .
82. SKEPTA: Greatest Hits
81. GHETTO: Freedom Of Speech
80. CHASE AND STATUS: More Than A Lot

And then grime came back, as, rather less expectedly, did drum n’ bass; but as true collectivist music neither really lent themselves towards easy in/out door bogus evaluations. Kano frames the picture admirably; back on his own terms, sounding freer and lighter. The Skepta collection is a stray ray from 2007 (the first of four) which we felt it vital to include in this tale; the infectious impudence of that title spread generously throughout hilarious, pioneering storms of sneaky. Ghetto was impatient but not impudent or impotent – always on time, as were the geared-even motors of Chase and Status; less showy than Pendulum (does anyone else recall Therapy??), they chopped their drums into sublime new screws, and Kano ’s guest demolition derby, aided by Rawls and Axelrod, crashed through the corrugated grey into the peachy sunshine.


79. CYNDI LAUPER: Bring Ya To The Brink

The woman looks out the window, apparently domestic but really her mind is elsewhere, thinking of that mp3 she heard from the back of the bus, the song on the radio at the corner store. Her soul is in the beats; the rhythms are in the changeable winds. She decides to go out tonight, once the soft sun has set, just beyond the golden trees.


Gold sand; blue salt air and white bubbles. Gentle alchemies on the edge of a continent. California gives and gives with an easy hand, but not without its nagging questions – is it good always? Easy, forever? Efforts pay off, but what lasts?


A flurry of infinite guitars stretches and shakes like its own series of faults underground; or like fireworks over Macarthur Park . Peace in the night, the long-held/kept secrets are so obvious now. All there is IS now; efforts do last, but oh, OH, the pressures…

76. BRIAN WILSON: That Lucky Old Sun

The orange peel releases oils and juice as it comes off. Invigorating, soothing, the very smell of heaven itself. One who never thought he could truly sense this joy, so simple and old, has an orange juice before he exercises, jogging through his city, his pal observing the warmth, the optimism, the SUNSHINE that says OH YES.

75. THE BICYCLES: Oh No It’s Love

You fall in love and it’s good but sometimes you have the smallest problems with the biggest things. Toronto opens its arms and says “I understand.” Ask the right questions and the answers are obvious. Love is new, love was always there.

74. THE TING-TINGS: We Started Nothing

As long as you do it with love. Like The Bicycles, they were truly INDEPENDENT pop – never, thank the Lord, “indie” – not really a beat group (despite “the drums, the drums, the drums, the drums”) but they beat most British groups in 2008 by giving a damn about not giving a damn. Aloud.


It’s only worth turning the page back if you intend to read – or even write – the pages not yet written. Thus we know he DOES have something to live for and can answer his androgynous muezzin wail. Too many tried to pretend that 2008 could be turned into 1968; Bryn, though, was careful not to forget 1981.


Queen St West shimmers; in the Gladstone Hotel a woman plays and sings. The sweating city is cooled by her voice. A tender hand in a rough part of town, a profound love of the residents in their dire circumstances. The flower growing out of the sidewalk.

71. NIKKA COSTA: Pebble To A Pearl

Echoing Bryn, Nikka knows that you can bring the past into the present, just as you can take that durable grit and indeed make something of worth, warm as your skin and inspiring. The Hoxton crew want the jewels without the search; Nikka has the real pleasure of having her own veins, her own sea.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


70. RAPHAEL SAADIQ: The Way I See It

And yes, there is a corner for those obsessive ears, fixed on the SOUND, almost beyond reason or meaning. “You’ve got to hear this,” they say. “It’s REAL.” You shake your head. But the heart knows 1965 was never so simple, let alone 1975. There are no gold frames or cold xeroxings here: the red and black ambitions are clear; the way is open to all who dare to feel AND think. The party is endless, the joys and sorrows eternal.

=69. DAME SHIRLEY BASSEY: Get The Party Started
=69. GRACE JONES: Hurricane

There is an intrinsic logic to this tale and its numbering, and this is a very deliberate shared number. Mother and child finally embrace; and what a fine and apt pair they make. The daughter without a name finally tells us who she really is; the mother whose name belongs to everyone merely but fondly smiles – see, this is who I was all along. Mother and child. Madonna? Sometimes spirits can’t see the soft candy for all their assumed hardness.


The seeming minutiae of life expanded. Mr Malkmus follows language like a slinky toy going downstairs, logic like a stream following its own course. An ever-expanding suitcase, a pink bowling ball of mischief.

67. JULIANA HATFIELD: How To Walk Away

Leaving. Going away. Removing yourself from the situation. Because you can, you want to, you have to. With pride and dignity, with some more self-knowledge, one step at a time, until the skies are bluer, the air fresher, your head and heart clearer. Not just for survival or self-preservation but also for progress. At night the stars shine, the cherry blossoms glow, life startles and endures.

66. SAM ROBERTS: Love At The End Of The World

And on the other side of the border, as the days brighten, the people go out and socialise. Love; murder; time; language; what words can’t say, what love can do, the irretrievable seconds and precious years, even in the midst of riots and bloody streets. The world as paradise and jungle, the past not a desert but a fertile plain.

65. LALAH HATHAWAY: Self Portrait

A long walk through the park: Memories and longings glide and catch, then loosen as the moment changes. A girl visits her father’s grave and leaves flowers, not for the first time. Then it occurs to her that she is holding herself as well. The ground begins to shake gently, and she has to sit down.

64. FOXBORO HOT TUBS: Stop, Drop And Roll!!!

Because the garage is never empty! The shaking woke him up from a dream of pop and rock, of dancing girls and jumping boys. A dream of not neither or now but BOTH. ALL. Rock and roll alarm clocks now for sale, dayglo walls scaled. Get up, get up. There’s work to do!

=63. WILEY: Grime Wave/See Clear Now

And Wiley was not workshy (did someone mention the Garage?). Like the BEF in the previous temporal equivalent, he put out two albums; the grimy one – fermenting, smouldering, tongues slapping the unwary ear as bluntly and surely as Ossie and Dudu used to do – and the pop one, House relit, protests of pink, money in someone’s caught falling star of a pocket; surefooted, crepuscular, finally his truth.

62. MAVADO: Gangsta For Life: The Symphony Of David Brooks

The third necessary carry-over from 2007, since he dominated the daggering dancehalls of 2008; of course, he’ll always be a gangster, eternally standing up so he can be distinguished, wickets bowled to matchwood, complacency run roughshod by glittering necessity.

61. eMC: The Show

Away from the bling, there is always the grind: the struggle for respect, for joy, for just one corner of peace and satisfaction. It never ends. When does this start, end? They will not stop because they have something to say. Fame is not the point; the struggle is for their voices to come together, which they do. Period (we are all eMC, son).


60. ASHANTI : The Declaration

And here is the wife/partner/girlfriend of the past, present and future; leaving one man in search of another, in good faith and honesty, body and soul, no matter what. The pace is slow, sensual, natural – unforced. A slow sunrise, warming everything it touches.

59. DAVID BANNER: The Greatest Story Ever Told

Beneath the bluster, the greatest story ever to emerge from the DeLorean doors is one of self-belief and self-determination, out of the mud and murk of nature and man’s ignorance and malfeasance. A nation prays and puts a song on the jukebox, not in that order.

58. CAMILLE: Music Hole

Then think of the woman making noise, her own kind of music, to get herself out of the mud, and you automatically think of Beckett going on, but this woman has enough energy and push to pull the rest of the earth with her; anywhere in her body, or on her mind, that she can find musical she will process, proffer and relate the deepest of tales, knowing that music is the most jagged yet most curative of little pills.

57. ALANIS MORISSETTE: Flavors Of Entanglement

Thesaurus-happy, yet earthy; the plant pulled up from the roots, with its Latin tag still attached. The flower of Ottawa , hardy and mature, thorny and sweet-smelling, entwines and then disentwines, crawling over to wall to unexpected freedom.

56. N-DUBZ: Uncle B

In the meantime, can flowers ever grow in this partially forlorn corner North by Northwest? The talk was all about Oliver! but here was its update; a teacup match of Lionel Bart and the So Solid Fugees, kids who sing not to get paid, or because they’re told to, but because they have something to express, to change, to wonder at – even though they’re keen to keep it clean. To those at the back of the bus who can’t afford tickets for the Palladium but know instinctively that they’re missing nothing.

55. BASHY:

Unmatchable equations on the back of a slate of chewing gum, paving stones of freshness coloured with gaudy daubs of heliotropically hopeful stalks and shoots swerving towards the sun of tomorrow. And the best British take thus far on the song of the year. Grime intent on un-burial.

54. CASSETTEBOY: Carry On Breathing

And other tales continue, uninterrupted; now there was the notion to document a life, from beginning to where, so the mood became a tiny amount more solemn, the whole became a trifle more structured, the music beginning to enfold the concept rather than simply adding to it. A few more easy zings at easy targets next time (because that’s why we still love him!) wouldn’t go amiss, though!


But then there are the harder targets. The ones to do with rebuilding a society, enabling a future, understanding that it can never begin or end with outward ostentation alone. So much of this year’s rap worked because it ascended beyond the commonplace and everyday but never, ever forgot about it. And so “My Life” was a song of its year; invoking Lennon and Cobain, as utterly moving as Oasis and the Verve were so unutterably lost, reaching, striving, for something, someone, and it doesn’t end here, either. After all, orange peel has to be worked for, too, and mistakes exist to be learned from.

52. BRITISH SEA POWER: Do You Like Rock Music?

And let us not forget the Arcade project, and honour those who knew that it wasn’t just about screaming vague placebos as loudly as possible (after all, it didn’t work for Palin) but understood the dynamics and the emotion which underlay and propelled them, such that a chant of “Easy! Easy!” can turn Scotland ’74 into DC ’09 if only we stop smirking and want to.

51. CAT POWER: Jukebox

Understanding what is really to be learned from the past; not content merely to mimic Dylan but to invoke him, address a song of hopeful (yet mildly cynical in a friendly way) adoration towards him, and to make the source material, whether Hank Williams or Kander and Ebb, mean something different. And perform it with a group of musicians who grasp the nature and essentiality of breathing and reacting with their singer. It was never an elegy, but, as with all great invocations of history, an urgent urge to persist, persevere, prosper.


50. kd lang: Watershed

The stream flows, rises and ebbs; though superficially genteel, it covers (under a sky of blue wide as the eye can see) the incessant wearings and polishings of a soul, a great stone, as it sits amid the water, part of it but wholly itself, learning to love itself and its open, vulnerable and yet (because of that strong vulnerability) strong heart. It is alone. Only if it thinks it is.

49. JANET JACKSON: Discipline

The Situationist was this. She wasn’t what you thought you were getting (put those Kleenex boxes away, chaps). The setting looked steely and grey but she was rebuilding herself, also learning to love (again?); not needing to set aside that vulnerability but rather come to terms with it, programme it in, use it in her music. Discipline because there’s still – there’s ALWAYS! – work to do, and that includes more than rebuilding just one person.

48. GNARLS BARKLEY: The Odd Couple
47. THE SHORTWAVE SET: Replica Sun Machine

Still that vulnerability; the Mouse curses an uncertain future but won’t let it lie. Remember JB, let those MVE ghosts guide you back to life from Thamesmead to Santa Monica; but all souls here are intact, praying, running from the past (for their lives, although only half of them will readily admit it) but critically also running TOWARDS something. Or someone.

46. SPARKS : Exotic Creatures Of The Deep

Dare I use the phrase “hometown heroes”? Mais oui. In the sublime air, letting the chimp drive (while they know he will be gone soon), the Maels gleefully dance around the Morrissey maypole, have delirious nights of dubious origin and OH YES remind us all of that little vital beast called New Pop. The song is not remaining the same, oh praise LA.

45. THE B-52s: Funplex

Now we accelerate (the BETTER way) back to Georgia , and the mall is on the eve of its destruction since our hippies thankfully WON’T be quiet. The spent society could atomise – hey, it’s happening! – but these carefully cheery sprites are built to survive everything; like AC/DC and Status Quo, their furrow will be eternally fruitful. Play in the sunshine!

44. EDWYN COLLINS: Home Again

In the sunshine, a bird – one he knows well, one he has had to learn the name of, again – sits on a bare branch, staring contentedly into the middle distance. The bird’s body is his home, his voice calls out to all who can hear him, lost at times and perhaps confused, but not for long. Bit by bit he builds a new nest for himself, from which to watch and twill in his inimitable way.

43. ABC: Traffic

And this bird still sings, though you had to work to hear him. Back in the 1981 he knew, some remarkable Caledonians reported back on their impressions of America ; now it is his turn. Was anyone expecting Beauty Stab 2? Yet that was only part of his current message; a quarter of a century deeper into the whole of his heart, he remains obsessed with detecting and destroying falsehoods, looks, rootless signifiers, knowing now, more than perhaps it did in 1981, that the look alone will not sustain us. The 1981 sister feels his call.

42. PAUL WELLER: 22 Dreams

So, surprisingly – or not – does the man who once pretended to be his enemy. You had to read his story like the book which came with it; he takes everything he now knows – everything he strained so hard not to listen to back then – and comes up with pictures more lucid than ever. He worries about his son running away from him, he salutes Alice Coltrane, he even gingerly tries some free improvisation. This is his partly pastoral tale (since the city and influences of Sound Affects remain inescapable, whether he likes it or not), and maybe you had to be there at the beginning to understand his destination, but this rougher Aerial gave no less profound reception.

41. BARRY ADAMSON: Back To The Cat

Meanwhile, back in the city it is night, the night is coming on. It is hot. Words, actions are evaporating or hanging in the air, the eternal and evanescent sliding by each other. Lucid in all this, the trustworthy Mancunian telling the story (as trustworthy as Tony W and as lovable) is full of knowledge, relish, full 3D depths and curves, shiny scarlet in the darkness.



What does it mean, to miss someone? The finite becomes even more finite, but becomes (though this is sometimes not always obvious) infinite. Survival is done on instinct, on prayer, on gratitude…regarding the icon and knowing she suffered too; that she was a messenger as well, with her own music, just as she gives indelible strength, gold-tinged compassion and quiet determination to be…at home in the world, with that infinity as comfort at last.

39. SIGUR ROS: Med Sud I Eyrum Uid Spilum Endalaust

Up in the newly grim North, warm comfort had to be derived from a coldness unusual even for that intermittently cool place. By accident or design these playful meditations, the long, delectably-drawn breaths, became anthems for a society which lost – well, not everything as such, but a system, and systems aren’t everything. Peaceful pastels have to be worked for as well.

38. MARTHA WAINWRIGHT: I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too

The legs threw the men off. It was embarrassing; that trembling, arching voice like a graceful gymnast, her grace and guts, were their safe cover. But the sensual side was more a baring, a naked admission of confusion, exhaustion, of late nights and hard work, of that first night/last night when it counted. The men are too smart to be pitied by her or you, as she walks through the ecstatic, dramatic world.

37. DARREN STYLES: Skydivin’

Somewhere on the M6 motorway – a world with a very different sense of ecstasy and drama – there’s a man who hears two different records in his head. In truth it’s the same record, but he needs to express it in two different ways. One is a straight, smart pop disc, the kind a keener Cliff Richard might once have made or might still make. The other – well, cue the incandescent purple strobe lights of the old rave, speed these ice cream trucks up to 200 bpm (we forget the KLF at our peril). Happy Hardcore, it still gets called, but this man, one of the best British males in any sane judgement, dives into the most precious and playable of skies.

36. JME: Famous?

So friendly, his scowl, his meaningful stare. So much more productive and penetrating than the semi-abandoned Streets of old; and he’s just as confused and bewildered but damn he’s going to make the greatest meal eaten out of what he has. A punctum beyond the radar of all poomplex durkheads.

35. LADYTRON: Velocifero

The real reason to celebrate Liverpool in 2008 was this many-legged mechanical beast. Are they sorry, scared? No. Onwards! (Remember when Miki and Emma dressed up as The Liver Birds? This is what that sounds like)

34. THE CURE: 4:13 Dream

A middle aged man is finally made very happy, so much so that he emulates his erstwhile labelmates the Associates and puts out lots of strangely tangential singles on a monthly basis. And then he collected them and lots of other pinker things on one half of an album which found his grasp as light and deep as it had ever been. No, if you lived through 1981 you can’t detach yourself from its Faith-laden magic.

33. CHRIS BROWN: Exclusive

One of the main currents in 2008 (and this tale) is a Go-Go fan, immaculate whether he pops up on others’ songs or here, where his pals question HIS songs. Not too hot, not too cold, the country boy is a cosmopolitan force suave and sweet enough for Rihanna AND the world. Hey!

32. WRETCH 32: Wretchrospective

Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that media cudgels didn’t hammer the true new British music of 2008 into the premature ground, since it meant that we had to seek it out, wear out shoe leather, catch a cold in the act of catching copies of its records. And it was always worth the search; here, witness in particular “Be Cool,” an anthem our Pantomime Horse Mayor would be too haughtily proud to agree with; rude boy Depeche Neubauten turning the Stratford Rex into the Hollywood Bowl.


He was cheated of his rightful Eurovision win by politics (and gas) just as Bardo had been in the previous New Pop generation, but he was slyer, subtler, slinkier, and with him Daft Punk knew exactly how and when to lay back; look at me, he pleads, doe-eyed, feel me. Don’t I deserve your holy milk? Bop doo wop.


30. KATHLEEN EDWARDS: Asking For Flowers

The underdog returns to conquer, not that conquering anything was on her mind; fierce, foul-mouthed, self-determined – Edwards is going in HARD (as Tim would say). She has mercy for the lost, the dead, the desperate, and contempt for those who really should know better. The spaces and distances, close and far, never stop her spirit, as indomitable as the weather, and as fundamentally friendly.

29. BLACK MOUNTAIN : In The Future

And speaking of hard…you don’t wanna mess with this dudes. Rock lives in Canada . This is well known to some, news to others. Nothing new, and yet so much better than…you know…This is freedom rock and WE ARE turning it up. Yes (Note to Canadian readers: no, we haven’t forgotten Matthew Good’s Massey Hall album. Will someone plz send that to us? Thanks)! OMG This So Rocks (goes off to bang head)

28. ROBIN THICKE: Something Else

Half-Canadian (yes…) Thicke has a tender voice, a box full of sparkly and sensual wonders and cannot be stopped. Soul Weekenders, closet soulboys, people in need of THAT song…and his love extends to encompass not just the bedroom or his own life but also the heart of an entire city ( New Orleans ). THAT is magic.

27. THE PUSSYCAT DOLLS: Doll Domination

Bloody British reticence. Would Girls Aloud sing of wanting their own groupies? Unlikely, since getting to the point is not a specialty of their usual lyricist. But the PCDs on the Christmas Day edition of Top Of The Pops knocked them out so effortlessly that GA might as well have been an abbreviation for general anaesthetic. Their peaks towered over wet Anglian flatlands: they want to take over the world rather than Dannii Minogue’s chair on the panel. Scrolls of manna erasing powdered ration books (Oh, and this should have been the Spice Girls’ comeback album). On their way to taking over pop’s world, but they’re gentle, really, these cats, if you stroke them well, and nicely.

=26. COMMON: Universal Mind Control
=26. THE JONAS BROTHERS: A Little Bit Longer

Many in 2008 wanted a party, and it turned out that they were right to do so. Common was very clear about wishing to make a get-down party album, but for all the locker room Bambaataa zings and flicking of towels, his record demonstrated a tendency common (ahem) within this year's outstanding hip hop albums; fun succeeded by increasingly sober meditations on the world and our place in it, consideration of the profound changes that by the time of this record's release had already come to pass - see "Changes" for the blues in the Air.

Also attending the party (and for much the same ultimate purpose, though they most certainly don't want to get too...physical) are the Jonas Brothers. The Innocence to Common's Experience, they have a lot to learn, but not even their purity rings nor Disney can shield them from the delights of fame (more GIRLS) or the pitfalls (ditto). Girls are all they want, need, all they ever sing about, which is only right. Breezy and beachy at first, even a little...odd, they seem to be maturing right before your ears. And of course it's the coolest straight-up rock record made by teenagers this year, maybe in part because they need to party to distract themselves? Nah. They just wanna ROCK. YAY!

25. SLOAN: Parallel Play

In which Sloan (or as you may chant their name SLLOOOAAAN) decide - all together, all of a part - to realise that as much fun as it is being a rock band, they aren't kids anymore and have to deal with the world, as cold and Harper-rationalist as it is. Put it next to #72 and a whole picture of a neighbourhood, a mood, is there, Sloan being the yang to Shepherd's yin. Patrock, Murph, Jay and Mandrew are thoughtful, snarky, abstract but never off point. And they would be even higher in this list if even greater music out of Toronto (centre of the universe) didn't appear this year...


...but it did. Kardinal has been patiently OH SO patiently waiting and working in the T-Dot for this worldwide breakthrough and his ferocity - he is a one-man army of getting your shit together (not to mention doing the best ever version of "The Tide Is High" thrown in just because he can). Another hero of 2008, Akon, is to be credited with helping Kardi, but real hip hop fans knew about him anyway. Integrity can be sold, but never bought.


Returning briefly back to #94 - because Jazmine in several senses reminds us of TashBed - we again arrive at the virtue of patience, and in particular the degree of patience required to overcome fear, to learn not to fear what one sings, not to be scared to make the music one wants to make; Jazmine sprung up, or was made to spring up, a few years ago, and the coil was unsatisfactory, so she waited and now she springs up by her own will, and hers is a will, not to power, but simply to be heard. And you can't avoid hearing her, because she needs to tell us all of her tale so badly, and yet so brilliantly.

22. GEENEUS: Volumes I

The brilliant and far from finished tale of funky House, and this was effectively the first "artist" funky House album, with the most patient spaces and expansive beats this edge of Luomo's The Present Lover; its organisms were fertile, and did we detect a shiny yellow-ness as Geeneus was busy popping his new corn? Plus a bonus CD, if you're quick (31 tracks in 60 minutes, so you have to be), telling the fuller tale which led up to this one. A history culminating in "Bongo Jam"; is that yummy enough?


Fun, unrestrained, or regulated fun, parent controlled, strictly zoned into areas of anti-self limitation? Yet the paternal chains somewhow managed to push her a little further out; those ballads crept back into her web, but the outre was not confined, and "If U Seek Amy" broke through the parade drums to sneak Weill back into Pepperland. Relativity sweet.



From the chained girl who sings like a diamond ring everyone wants but no one can afford, we go into the pink-purple ticklish ease of a woman who has liberated herself and is able to do and say what she pleases; is there anyone as famous and as changed as La Carey? She KNOWS she's fly and IS the crazy chick Charlotte Church once proclaimed herself to be; she is a diva who is cosy with the term, so cosy she doesn't even use it seriously (not is she all that fussed about #1 singles: Sir C Richard, take note). Emancipation on the personal level IS political; Carey is as free as she can be, as sensual as she likes to be and has gotten that gilded cage out of her system at last.

19. T-PAIN: Thr33 Ringz

No, he can't believe it either, that he's floating in waters not unknown by the Style Council - how "Long Hot Summer" and then "Can't Believe It," especially the Timberlake remix of the latter, and doubt us - but he's intent on being the highest common denominator of fun threading this tale together. Kanye (warming up for his meltdown), Weezy, Mary, Luda and (on the thundering "Karaoke") the human megaphone that is DJ Khaled - they all drop by to offer a cup of punctumised sugar and he stirs it up in brews colourful for any year, let alone this exceptionally colourful one.

18. DAMON ALBARN: Monkey: Journey To The West

Colour, it was all about colour, and legends, and tales of wit and redemption, J-Pop fissuring with Carla B(ley/runi, you take your choice) and what in many others should have been learned from the sunshine of the early eighties; the unleashing of primary-coloured rays of hope to counteract the loved grey of the London he lamented (and praised, and kissed) last year, a scope which none of his alleged peers would even have dreamed of matching; Damon can be anything - including, just maybe, a second Escalator - because he doesn't forget that the sun has to rise in the East for any Westward journey to be perceptible, and felt.

17. LOS CAMPENSINOS!: Hold On Now, Youngster…

Like an expected echo, this was a journey to the West and the East, from the only British collective to understand Broken Social Scene. They are Welsh but harbour no ambition to reload spent crooners; instead, they attracted Mr Neufeld to produce them, became the honorary (non-) Canadian act on Arts & Crafts, and grasped that great songs sail and stumble and reassemble just as life is lived; the mess as thing, as LOVE, in itself. You, me, dancing - what else is needed for the recipe of redeeming art? With music and spirit of this quality, we forgot to miss independent.

16. NE-YO: Year Of The Gentleman

One of the most charming moments of a certain hip hop DJ's show - or one of the most poignant, depending on how much you care about said DJ - was hearing Ne-Yo attempting to school a man decades older than him in the fine and timeless art of finding the right woman, or, as the DJ puts it, a "hot chick," in the club. The DJ, being English, considers himself to be, I am sure, a gentleman, but Mr Smith is the real thing; polite, suave, kind, and would he EVER call himself "Shoe Hefner"? We doubt it. And for those of you wondering who should be MJ's next big he is; the same strut, the same beats and New Pop-friendliness (a-ha and the seemingly ubiquitous Human League who form the hidden river in this list). The Gentleman is yours in lush harmonies and courtly deeds, and admires that certain something about you. What is it...

15. GIRL TALK: Feed The Animals


14. SCOOTER: Jumping All Over The World

Ah, THAT'S it! Music which feeds itself from that same river but puts in a good deal of metallic roughage to boot; not to oppose, you understand, but all the better to elevate. Here's a 1982 world where Status Quo's 1982 is of equal importance to Architecture And Morality, and few debut number one albums were so richly deserved, particularly since most of the Great and the Good preferred to look the other way - to give Scooter the Elbow, so to speak - and pretend that it wasn't happening. But it was; dictionary definitions gave way to bouncing under orders, wonderful Mars and the question being - what is the question? And if that weren't enough you got a Radio Tip Top bonus greatest hits CD with 20 dynamic hits of tungsten history which linked the Shadows to Stump and didn't even stop at Shut Up And Dance. The moral? TV On The Radio will get you nowhere, he's HP! THIS time was love.

13. DANITY KANE: Welcome To The Dollhouse

The highest-placed girl group on this list and you know what? You can actually HEAR all five of them – in the front, on the side, behind this or that beat or moment – yes, five individual women celebrating and lamenting what girl groups always celebrate and lament; love, ecstasy, loss, desire and sass. These women are vocally in control (even if they have been reduced to a trio now – no girl group is immune to diva problems, alas) and not even Rick Ross can slow down their handclaps, harmonies and heavenly skills that are sensual, bold and ballerina-en-pointe. They drive the sleek shiny yellow car through the city, privileged and “bad,” while they wonder if these designer labels can mend their hearts. They drive into the country for fresh air, free of their bad boys…for now…

=12. BON IVER: For Emma, Forever Ago
=12. VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Vampire Weekend

As you may have noticed, this blog is now a collaborative affair, a coupling, and the most natural coupling either of us could ever have hoped for. The list you are reading was compiled by both of us; every album on the list – and many others which we weren’t able to include on the list – was carefully listened to by both of us and the final order of the list was agreed by both of us (the comments were similarly composed by both of us in tandem but we trust that readers will be able to discern who wrote what). The numbering and ordering are quite deliberate; you may recall that in the early days of the British singles chart, jointly held positions were things in themselves, independent of mathematics but thoroughly faithful to logic.

Here, therefore, is a top twelve in precise keeping with the top twelve as it stood in the week ending 14 November 1952; not two different or parallel top twelves, but a dozen couplings, sets of pairs of records which seem to fit together and advance the tale this list has been attempting to tell. It is not a list as the Village Voice or Rocktimists would know it, nor is it an attempt at establishing a new order, although its new order (not the mention the secret rivulet of New Order which flows all the way through it) would be an apt soundtrack to the new order which has been established while we have been compiling it.

First, the meeting of two seemingly opposing ways of recording music; we have the lonely stoner (likely to be a central figure in 2009’s tale, and not that distantly related to the Worried Man as Robbie Robertson and Greil Marcus would have known him), the sober jiltee – that is, if this Emma ever knew – retreating to his cabin, or somebody’s cabin, on the periphery of nowhere, structuring his life and art anew; it might even be Aidan Moffat’s worried awakener in the bus stop, considering where and how he might eventually end up. He caresses, he pierces (like John Martyn, undervalued even after life, did), and somehow he weavevs these bumps, flickers and querulous clicks into – what? A trapdoor, or an escape hatch? He is alone; his voice and instrumentation stop just temptingly short of natural but you can feel that he’s trying to escape the drawing and relocate himself. And you have no doubt that he will.

Meanwhile, in the city (Manhattan to be precise, with local cold and distraction found just to the east and north on Cape Cod) we have the basic building blocks of music – almost like the courses themselves leapt out of their curriculum – the classical Western and the even more classic African merge and take over the campus. Rock’s African roots made explicit…yes. But there is more to the Vamps than passing courses, SPY magazine typography and a general prepitude (if it’s not a word, well now it is) of language. No matter what, there is a Pavementesque air to their concerns, as if they are the sophisticated-enough former townies who see the vanity fair and cosmopolitan METROPOLITAN happenings and sure enough get hopelessly caught up in them (as if they were all Nick Carraways in this less decadent Gatsby-style university world). One day they will graduate and be truly loosed upon a city that is startlingly beautiful, for many reasons: one of them being the very transience and fragility of that golden light, those all-seeing omniscient eyes capturing and framing as much as they can.

=11. NEIL DIAMOND: Home Before Dark

“His delicate eyes saw with clarity what others did not.”

The ambition to include everything; it’s not a strictly New York thing, as anyone from Walt Whitman to Elizabeth Alexander would tell you, but it’s the truth of remembering. Like Pincher Martin, Mapplethorpe’s voyage may all have been in his mind and indeed occurred after his life, or within the final, few, ravenously resigned moments of his life, but in those seconds he saw it all, clear, and it was Patti’s duty to express and re-record them, keep recording them no matter how much it pained her to do so, alone, for the best part of twenty years.

Eventually she came to London and to her bloodier valentine – well, what kept them waiting? – and set the truth down twice, in two different years and in two separate but inviolably connected forms. The Coral Sea is a hugely significant record, so significant that it briefly seemed too huge a record for this list, that somehow it existed ABOVE this list, presiding over it, floating, praying, resolving. The placings in this list are all intended in the sense that this is the order in which they best link together to tell this tale of 2008. That this record shares eleventh position does not necessarily mean that it is not the greatest record – as a RECORD – in this list.

Its fury, its love, were unmatched in 2008; its intensity and commitment beyond question. And yet it is here to bridge the personal and the public elements of this tale, since here is an extended, rangy remembrance – those final few moments kaleidoscoped out into an elegy exceeding two hours – for the loved, the missing, the burial, the ship at sea (“Never give up on that ship!” as an old philosopher said when Patti was six), the tears, the screams but above all the exhilaration, the celebration, the refusal to drown, to die in monochrome, to get home and end that darkness. It was the Church of Patti and its resurrection was inbuilt.

It’s the hour of the day; if the sun isn’t down by now, it will be soon. A time to be wary, cautious, to make sure that what appears to be real is real and not illusion. A man drives through this light with his lady, secure in knowing that what they have is genuine, not a trompe l’oeil; they sit in comfortable silence, perhaps listening just to the approaching the night itself. They are connected to each other, in their world, in THE world. It wasn’t always like this: even two, three weeks ago he was scared – yes, scared – of opening his heart and soul up one more time to someone, because he needed them TO be opened so much; it HAD to be right, and getting it right was so rare, so important. Could he? Could he take this further than mere friendship? The golden light itself gave him the nerve, the idea, that YES this was worth it, there was no reason or need to be scared, his loneliness was unnecessary. There wasn’t any more time or energy to waste.

And so, he and she are together, her grace allowing him to give himself to her, her light showing the way, even into the darkness.


=10. ESTELLE: Shine
=10. GOLDFRAPP: Seventh Tree

A daze of sunlight, too harsh to see in, as if you had just emerged from a movie theatre and out of the dark warmth, the cosy unreality, and there sits the world as it is. Disbelief; distaste; distress. What is happiness? she asks, in hospital, recovering. The artificial improvements and enhancements that make a mockery of nature? You cannot escape yourself. Is it in the Village, the equally artificial environment of communcal "happiness" that gives an inner serenity (or so they claim) but no real outer connections? She escapes to the wild, the nameless, the untameable, almost to where there are no people at all, just sensuous nature, HER trip to America, to Hollywood, ending up in a dead end, the movie over and the relief of fresh air and recuperation her only desired destination.

But there are those for whom the escape works in reverse. There is, for example, little doubt that McGoohan saw the Village as Britain at its littlest, and we suspect he was only too glad to hotfoot it back to Hollywood, to the quiet(ish) life, afterwards. And so it was for the American girl by proxy, the London girl deemed not quite fit for her own home, mainly - well, we know the main "mainly," but then she also wanted to live and sing in now rather than forty imaginary years ago. And so she got out, so the Legend went, and she found and breathed her own city notion of freedom, and did what none of these polite, homework-handing-in Brit-ites ever could. She sounds and feels exuberant rolling in this new grass; Cee-Lo drops by, confirming his status as another of the sneaky heroes in this tale; and above all in THAT song there is Kanye, man of the 2008 match, unexpectedly discovering his happy ending, reclaiming his own voice, snug, smooth, sly, saved. How he got to be happiness.

=9. THE CONSTANTINES: Kensington Heights

The 9th floor of the Toronto Western Hospital: on the east side, beyond the elevators, there is a window. It overlooks Kensington Market, an area full of houses, shops, shops in houses, cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, smells and languages and casualness seeping off the street and into the air. There are no chainstores (it can't be a coincidence that Naomi Klein, whose alma mater is nearby, wrote No Logo). There are no tall buildings. Between College to the north, Dundas on the south, Spadina on the east and Bathurst on the west, this is the heart of what "alternative" means. It is a haven, a place to reflect or to hide, to make a case or just rest from the neon rush of Yonge St or the all-too-studied cool elsewhere. It is cosy; it is a place where the inner voice can be heard and understaood, instincts refined, possibilities open up and grand plans launched and nurtured. In short, it is a nest, a hive, and these two albums represent it, and all areas like it in the world.

It is out of this place - literal and figurative - that the Constantines and BSS/Brendan Canning thrive, both speaking of the endurance and values - community, mutual caring and respect, friendship - that make life anywhere more than just the usual routines. The difference between these two albums is not as great as you might think (if you know them at all) - the Cons are forthright and loud, Bry Webb's near-hoarse yelp one of a man who is determined to be heard across the huge space of Canada itself; Brendan sings softly, subtly, an audible knowing nod (no matter what the situation, you can imagine he would be totally cool about it because it had happened to him, or someone he knew, before). The Constantines deliver the rock like no one else - dense, rhythmic, the weight of those showers of stones can be not just heard but felt. Brendan (and BSS - this is in effect them, with his songs, just as Kevin Drew was the songwriter last time) is the wise man of Kensington Market, staying sober and clean and sane in a collective that knows no boundaries (BSS? Toronto?), where it is all too easy to turn this area into a womb, cut off from the world. Both sing to stay alive and do what they can do with what they have got; both know personal happiness is just the start, that it is the community/collective which is greater, which inspires even when seen from above, tenderly and unobtrusively going about its business.

=8. THE BUG: London Zoo
=8. NITIN SAWHNEY: London Underground

Although it's currently difficult to think of a precise equivalent to Kensington Market in London, living and working in a certain part of this city does underline the absolute importance of true community; by that we mean not simply squeezing together and compressing as many people as possible into as small a space as possible, but an independent and inter-dependent community made up of people and customs from all over the world who have come here, or washed up here, for the same reason that so many people dream of coming to and living in this cracked old gargoyle of a city. That is, because they know it is other, that they can live in ways and achieve things that they would never have been able to do back home. But it has to be a thriving and living community, where everyone's different stories mesh together and make a new sense.

This is why London got defiant and refused not to go on public transport on 8 July 2005. They refused not to go to work or go about their business since they were, and are, adamant that doing so is not a crime. Yet we have to understand the reasoning behind the bombers' unreasonableness, just as we cannot let the ideal slip from our mental view.

Here, then, are two portraits of London, both inspired by what happened, each a negative (or positive?) image of the other. London Zoo garish, violently vivid in its bloody reds and gaudy yellows (not dissimilar to colours we will find on another record higher up this list), London Undersound monochrome, grey, subtle, well-mannered. For both parties it represented a long-sought focus that their work had previously lacked. Kevin Martin - literally living in his studio - recognised the rage and found as many voices as possible, from Tippa Irie via Warrior Queen to Flowdan, to expound and expel their anger, amplify their blood, waving it in complacent faces; an avid warning of what London might yet become if we're not so careful.

Then there is Nitin, soberly presenting the ideal we all want London to be, the subtle shop of multiplicities of cultures which inspired everyone from Paul McCartney to the present writers to come here in the first place; this, he says, is the wonderful, multifaceted world - understandably, there is something of an accent on the Brazilian - which is on offer, which is why we live here rather than merely exist, a compendium of what humanity, as a world, as a culture of all cultures, has on its side. Why are we angry? asks Kevin. Because, replies Nitin, this is what we're all fighting for.

=7. NAS: Untitled
=7. YOUNG JEEZY: The Recession

Fights, of course, can take many forms, but the quiet ballot box variety is still, despite and after everything, the most effective we've come up with yet. Even if Nas hadn't turned up on Jeezy's "My President" to add his blessings, these two records would still be umbilically linked, and indeed they help tell the greatest of all 2008's tales. Jeezy famously nailed The Recession before it was sheepishly identified as such but now there's a real chance that his protests will be responded to, and it's the same story with the man sometimes known as "N" (standing for Reclaim!); both warn of complacency even as they party, but know that their good is the greatest and most common. Both stand tall in the canon of protest/power records, as tall as, or perhaps even taller than, their peers in the sixties because they were listened to by those with the power and capacity to make these changes, these longed-for, pined-for, shouted-for changes. So it is that the "H" in Human League becomes the proud "H" of "Hero"; that "Put On" is a call to knowing arms in all cities for the cause - and that both feature (and correctly predict) the same happy, hoped-for ending. Which is why hip hop in 2008 mattered again; not because of the newness (or absence of same) in the music but because of its PROCESS and the ends which it, in its deceptively modest way, helped meet. A coalitiion of the most vivid rainbows.

=6. RADIOHEAD: In Rainbows

Longings and wishes can be for a personal salvation as well, of course. The longing to esacpe; to escape not just physically but also from emotional and even fiscal or societal webs which are at times visible, at times not. Third is a dream, a lament, a cold-light-of-dawn realisation that the other (her ex? The Government? Her world?) is deceptive, leading her to puzzles, confusions and a longing for "white horses" which will somehow deliver her out of the quicksand in which she is mired. But there is no way out beyond patient motion, inching along to freedom through clarity - even if she has to echo-located like a bat, she WILL do it; there is an ocean behind her, beside her and in her. The music is stark here, gentle there, pulling and pushing like waves (are we the only people to hear "Big Stripey Lie" in "Machine Gun"? No? OK), is not that far from Hounds Of Love's second side of loss and recovery of self, the morning fog in Portishead a little thicker but sill there.

Radiohead are in the same place, later on the same day, softer and more intimate and - we would never have used this word to describe them previously - homely. White soul beyond what most SoulPassion&Honesty R2/R1 bands/singers are capable of - hymns of liberation longed for and achieved, the systems seem through as being fundamentally unstable. What does anyone need? For those horses to be real? There is escape here, but again it is not an abandoning of community but a realisation - before it is too late - that you have to have your own cards in order first to be able to deal in with whatever you might find. The naked self - the person that you are - is essentially a personal matter; but out on the street or in the park you are an enigma once more, strange, vulnerable...

=5. GIGGS: Walk In The Park
=5. NU BRAND FLEXXX: Rangoose Vol 1 matter how hard you try to conceal it with an attempted aura of hardness. Grime managed to communicate with the now far more effectively than most other British music in 2008 managed for one very simple reason (amidst a forest of more complex reasons); it avoided sentimentality. The likes of Elbow, Glasvegas, the Script, Adele, sought to trot up to us, lick our faces like obedient puppies, reassure us of things we already knew, cling to the nurse of biased history for fear of futures worse - or, at the very least, incomprehensible.

But grime thrusts you in the now, leaving you with the barest of compasses; is this the wilderness or just Brockwell Park in the dark? Walk In Da Park was its 2008 apex; a brilliantly realised and even more brilliantly breathed third eye movie of London as it actually exists; a world where it is slowly realised that parties, attitudes, guns, drugs are not the solution or the ambition - the wronged (and wronging) man turning against the hand that might otherwise have killed him and seeking the path to real fulfilment and achievement.

To the stunning, pinky blue achievement, perhaps, of Nu Brand Flexxx. Like So Solid flushed with De La Soul's spare luminous pastels and rappers fiery enough to be in the Brotherhood of Breath front line, they exploded in 21 directions at once; hilarious, lucid, ripping off samples, sometimes just chatting, at other times offering the most luscious Britsoul balladry heard this side of Imagination, theirs was the most colourful and extravagantly eclectic record to emerge from Britain in 2008 and it should sell a milli-on.

=4. LI’L WAYNE : Tha Carter III
=4. LUDACRIS: Theater Of The Mind

L is for Li'l Wayne and Ludacris. L is for love and life, loquaciousness and (crazy-like-a-fox) lunacy. La-la-la-la la la-la-la la goes Li'l Wayne at the lady officer, as he loosely and languidly uses language like a plaything (linking him to #68, but even more dextrous than he). Lollipop, Mil-li-a-mil-li Weezy is indeed ill; and what he feels for his city is true love, his skills being just one example of how New Orleans IS music and how it is not languishing in self-pity nor merely lingering but launching itself into a new era. Li'l Wayne leaps and lunges in lingual loveliness, linking our list with lungs of love and the larynx of life.

Ludacris is licentious, (probably) litigious and most lovably LOUD. There is no getting away from his legacy as he is proud (and rightly so) to remind you that he IS the last of his kind and once the lanes and alleys have been reminded of just how long he's been around, the loyal anthem begins - he doesn't do hip hop for any other reason than for itself. In his theatre, the wall between this and that comes down, hip hop is alive and leaping out of your speakers into your lap and kissing your lips. Allons-y, men of L, may you live large and keep prospering in Atlanta and Nola, two sisters, as inextricably linked as Luda links Dusty Springfield and Spike Lee in his living theater of a never more lucid mind. This is his art, this is his music...Luda is happy to proclaim "I AM!" until we listen and learn.

=3. BEYONCE: I Am…Sasha Fierce
=3. SOLANGE: Sol-Angel And The Hadley St Dreams

Then there is the story of the sisters, both of whom have lived through different definitions of trouble. Again, the contrast; a monochrome Bouncy and a multi-primary-coloured Solange, but the lines aren't quite that squarely drawn, not least because there are two different faces of the Bounce. First, the solemn, slightly fearful face who sings eloquent, patient ballads through which seep the tiniest drops of pain; if she were a boy she'd do better and try harder, but what if she were a rich woman? One with an alias, a mask behind which she could slip? In fact "Single Ladies" is the fuck you response to the "Boy"; you're too late for this groovy train, sucker. But how fierce, really, is Sasha? Her joy tilts subtly towards the demonic - she's a little TOO up for it - and sure enough the mask slips slowly away through this particular show until it drops out of her rested hand onto the silent clatter of the stage floor and she realises that all of this is no substitute for...ANYTHING, least of all life.

And love, too. Solange seems to and indeed doesn't recognise any need for limits, divisions. Most 2008 pop sounds pale and timid compared to her. technicolor dreamscape of brave, determined and open-hearted ambition. She wears wings, dances on the beach and lives her life contrary to what so many in the "industry" would rather have her do (trust us, no one who has Boards of Canada as a sample/inspiration is "normal" and God bless her for her refusal to be anyone except herself). Tending to her wounds openly (as opposed to her sister's deflections - Solange is the Sol-angel and the sun shines through her songs), defiant and single mother courageous, spacey and solidly on the ground...she gazes into the future, stops, and then goes there, decisively, trailing brilliance and independence, a harbinger bird of what is to come spotted like a cardinal on a winter's day.

=2. ERYKAH BADU: Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
=2. T.I.: Paper Trail

Before and after. Pain and redemption. Loss and gain. That's what this tale has been all about. The blue in the 2008 air changed, slowly and irrevocably, both for us personally and for the world at large. It changed in the summer, in Glastonbury, when the missing link between all of these records stood up, was dissatisfied at the way things were and elected to alter them. It changed in November, for everyone and everywhere else, when the dream (and we apologise, incidentally, for omitting The Dream from this tale; like many other deserving artists, he will get his dues in 2009, when we've actually managed to sit down and listen to him) was reached and embraced. A world which some now see as collapsing but which wise people view as the opportunity for a newer and better way of living to begin/ one that does not depend on the spent old ways, but reaches forward as solidly as it stretches back to pre-industrial, pre-feudal times. "We cannot begin again" has been the quotidian excuse for too many centuries; now that we might have to begin again, the world becomes a challenge of a different order.

Erykah Badu's album - the most extraordinary statement by a woman in this year which in so many senses was the year of the woman - wills this world into being. The record is one long invocation, the cowbell broadness and audacity of suggesting that hip hop might just be a religion to save the world. She identifies - savagely - the problem and then patiently sets about fixing it and changing the air until it has no choice but to come into being, to exist. Achieved, she pours a threnody to J Dilla - yet another secret link in this tale, as though you had to be told - and its mourning waters nourish the tree which will grow to mark the new trail (and being on Motown, it also unwittingly acts as a process of remembrance for Norman Whitfield, Levi Stubbs and Marvin Gaye, all of whom would have been more than fulfilled by the outcome of its promise).

As the man says, the wait is indeed over. Who had the number one US single when the world changed? As if you have to ask. Could it be anyone else? Paper Trail (because he had to write the lyrics down while in jail; if you want to make comparisons to Dr. King's own letter from prison, we won't stand in your way) came out in that urgent/nervous-making time when Obama had to prove himself on last time: in debate. And he won them all, just as T.I. would - and does - win out with this. But look who he brings on board with him for his victory parade - Swizz Beatz, Lil Wayne, Kanye, Jay-Z, Ludacris and Rihanna, not forgetting Usher, John Legend (yet another prescence guiding and gilding on our list), or Justin Timberlake. It is a joyous party, to be sure (the "Heys" and "Ohs"massed on "Life Your Life" are, in our minds' eyes, all guys in '50s suits and ties marching and moving their arms in unison, rejoicing that what they marched for has come to pass) but the victory is not achieved without a recognition of what has been lost. T.I.'s lost a friend and this has altered his perceptions of everyone and everything. And he tells you, pointedly, that you must have empathy for him, put yourself in his shoes. So he has the moral authority to say (just as the recession was obvious to even the most rosy-glassed people) "(you're) unhappy with your riches 'cause you're piss-poor morally" - clearly one of the lines of the year, if not the line - T.I. knows what is truly worth his time and worth living for, and what could be empty bragging from someone else is moving and damn righteous here (Yep, okay, that's right, as he would say).

The song of the year, too, is on Paper Trail - the infectious, irresistable and massive "Swagga Like Us" a song that has its roots in London (The Clash's 1982 song "Straight To Hell" from Combat Rock, sampled by M.I.A. for her "Paper Planes" where the main sample for "Swagga" is from, processed by Kanye and sped up and repeated) but is an anthem for the US (and then the rest of the world) as US history gloriously unfolds. It appeared in August just as Obama made his speech in Denver and was immediately picked up as a youttube favorite, variations and remixes abounding. If there is any song we wish we could find at, say, Dub Vendor as a massive mixtape - with all UK grime musicians on it, not forgetting Britney, Missy, Eminem, Beyonce, MJ, the Jonas Bros., Mavado, everybody, this would be it.The whole thing is great, of course,but T.I. slams it in like the California vote coming down, on that night, with total confidence and everything he says could be sung by Obama himself; it is as if Obama is reflected in all these monologues, in one way or another. The last time we hard it, this song was coming from the back of the 28 bus, back in the city of its origins.

The wait is over; the old is indeed dead and gone, the compass points finally forwards, the way there is clear, made obvious by events both personal and political.

=1. COLDPLAY: Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (incl. Prospekts March)
=1. KANYE WEST: 808s And Heartbreak

"You wouldn't even let me rest in peace."
"If you win, Number One will be no longer a mystery to you - if you know what I mean."
"Tell me how do I feel?"

How do we feel? With senses? With emotions? In the winter, the colours washed out in pale light, the tints are all that's left, besides the darkness. One colour stands out: red.

The redness goes back to that blue year, 1983. A year when the shiny yellow hopes of New Pop hit the cold grey rationalism and were, temporarily, halted. A dogged year. A year of disappointment, hurt, but also hope. A year when the red flag and the red heart got battered in so many ways, as drained of opportunity as Kanye's deflated balloon of a heart, although neither actually stopped moving.

Loss and redemption - redemption through faith, which means ultimately connecting and understanding your life with those of others, whether they are close to you or one of the ghosts in cemeteries, those stones marking lives that seem so different from ours, but are not. Where did they work? In a bakery, perhaps, creating that daily bread of life? Or maybe in a world of sparkling tricks and wondrous feats, capable of producing hopping life out of nothing. Or maybe they had lives of piety, good works, convivial unity, for a greater purpose than their own individual lives.

Faced with unexpected ghosts, some may be tempted to get themselves to a nunnery, to fumble for uncertain shelter. Behind the screen, a voice can be heard; the man's voice is veiled as he has this screen, as, he feels his only defence, his only protection. He has lost so much - the woman who knew him better than any other, and his own girlfriend, both gone in a matter of months. So he has cloistered himself with the voice-altering equipment his only friend, something which cannot die, cannot be lost. It is a cool, pale world, and icily precise and austere. He is cut off from all others, and especially himself; in losing those closest to him, part of him is dead as well. It is, in his heart, always night, always cold, always winter. He has lost his soul, but is powerless and cannot help himself.

Then, a startling thing, a noise. A knock on the door. Cautiously he answers it - an old friend - Delacroix, Kahlo, Eno? - comes in, looking perhaps a little dirty (the nunnery's a long walk from anywhere) and carrying with him a largish bag, out of which he produces any number of magical instruments - all from a wondrous machine. The grey nunnery gradually becomes warmer and brighter as the old friend tells him, shows him various buttons, noises, surprises. At the same time, he tells him a story - of glowing colours (the colours vividly appear as he describes them), of lovers and soldiers who love and fight, of kings who once ruled the world and now merely sweep streets, glad to be alive and happier knowing that they are who they are and not what they do. The screen is dropped, in curiosity and wonder. The beats and rhythms the machine produces at one moment move him to tears. Then the friend talks of it, death, as he cries. How the dead persist, not as ghosts always - to haunt and torment - but as kindlier presences, that stretch back as guides, protectors. But he says, the past is not to be lived in, like a cave. He says "you must move forward, if only to go up to the rooftop and see things from a wider perspective. Breathe. Be patient and do not worry."

So he breathes - slowly, gradually - learns patience and does his best not to worry, if only in his mind. But then the coup, the trompe d'oeil he wasn't expecting at all; there, riding the go-go ranges of a signpost of a song called "Lost!" appears the man who introduced him to the world in the first place, the man who was once so impressed by the words he used to write that he gave him his big chance, returning to reassure, to share a laugh, to pat him on the back.

So he manages to stand up again; he shakes off the veil, opens the door (which never was locked anyway) and to his astonishment he sees the roof of the world, every mountain, every tune, every thread in this tale. His lungs clear, and he sings, in his own voice, something like a hymn. Renewed - is that girl really interested in me? And what's happened in Washington?- he sets to work, building his church and it is of course the story of us as well, which is why it must represent our summit. Through the air - never bluer, never clearer - he perceives a sound: light tingling noises and bustles through the air. You can hear it before you see it...