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10Bury Pts 2 + 4

As the “Sons Of Mumford” can testify, Mark E Smith is not a man to mess with. So when the only constant member of The Fall snarls at you: “I’m not from Bury”, believe him, yeah?

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The Fall - 'Bury'
Video: The Fall - 'Bury'


“I believe it is at the darkest edges that you find change,” Nika Danilova mulled earlier this year, and ‘Night’ remains her most elegant embodiment of that ideal. The moment at which her goth-pop caterpillar became a full-fledged art-noir butterfly.

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Zola Jesus - 'Night'
Video: Zola Jesus - 'Night'

8Heathen Child

With the dirtiest of grooves offset by squalling sirens and a predatory wolfman, ‘Heathen Child’ saw the sexy uncles of rock in rambunctious mood. Anyone scared of the shower after watching Psycho might think twice about sitting in the bathtub too, following this fornicating fairytale of fright.

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Grinderman - 'Heathen Child' NME Video Exclusive
Video: Grinderman - 'Heathen Child' NME Video Exclusive


A song so huge it threatened to overshadow Surfer Blood’s quite magnificent album, ‘Swim’ was a soaring, dramatic, echo-laden ode to… what? Suicide? That or swimming. It had a lo-fi wall of sound that many bands scaled this year, but few quite so jaw-droppingly.

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In lesser hands the collision of Bobby Womack’s force-of-nature vocals, Mos Def’s rhymes and the Knight Rider theme on heat would have ended up in its own car crash. However, with Damon Albarn holding the cocktail shaker, ‘Stylo’ proved a smooth, soulful, irresistible groove. As if we really thought Albarn would drop the ball.

5We Used To Wait

It took less than 10 seconds of minor chord piano stabs and Win’s troubled lament to the days when he “used to write letters” to reassure us that this was Arcade Fire as we knew them; a band out of time, of the people, and, with their heads now dislodged from their evangelical arses, the best rock band in the world.

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The Twitter posts; the outspoken comments; the free songs every 30 seconds; the short films… for certain, the post-Immaletyoufinish Kanye West bestrode 2010 like a kind of school bully/teacher’s pet colossus, irritating and entertaining at every last turn. Thing is, though: when he put out genius songs such as this one, it was simply impossible to side against him. He sampled King Crimson, for god’s sake! ‘Power’ was a rare example of a global megastar putting out exactly the right record that said exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

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Tightropes are a good metaphor for the music of Janelle Monáe. With wildly ambitious debut ‘The ArchAndroid’, the Atlanta-based star toed a fine line between brilliantly fashion-forward pop and dues-paying doffs of the cap to past masters like Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and James Brown. Basically, Monáe is African-American music’s past, present and future in one outrageously coiffed package.
In sound and video alike it’s a virtuoso performance; the song’s structure perfectly mirroring the high-wire act of the title. Basslines wobble theatrically as thumping percussion keeps the centre of gravity low. Then the instrumental track drops out completely, and Monáe spits a measured, defiant flow that doesn’t so much walk the tightrope as ride a flaming unicycle over it in record time – stunning.

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By July the MIA backlash was well underway; gingergate and, um, truffle fries had turned the world against her. ‘XXXO’ was the counterstrike, the moment where she not only answered her critics but did it while authoritatively assuming the apparatus of the global pop star that we always suspected she was. On first listen it sounds like the usual hook-driven radio fare – the gloss over the fissures in her sloganeering – but Blaqstarr and Rusko’s dissonant production and tinder-dry percussion suggests, as always, there’s more. “You want me be somebody who I’m really not” runs the chorus; the video playing up to the vacuousness of female starlets by trapping her in a MySpace layout turned GIF-holocaust. Still, let’s be honest, it’s all just impeccably crafted scaffolding on which to prop that glorious chorus.

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1Spanish Sahara

Opening with Mogwai-style ambience and featuring an uncharacteristically delicate vocal from Yannis, ‘Spanish Sahara’ was our first taste of ‘Total Life Forever’ and served notice that Foals had matured. Inspired by a bleak moment gazing out at the Aegean Sea, lyrically it was Yannis’ attempt to capture the intensity of Greek myth. The way the song builds from calm to rancour is supposed to conjure the classical concept of ‘furies multiplying’ – though you don’t need to know that to appreciate the magnificence of the song’s final section.

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Luke Lewis

Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'
Video: Foals - 'Spanish Sahara'

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