The Berlin Diaries – My Year in Music

I’ve just had a look at the Spotify playlist ‘Your Top Songs 2017’, which is a playlist unique to each listener, listing their 100 most listened to songs. It’s funny looking at it all now; you can really see where you’ve been. I love all of these songs so much. They capture everything. It’s been a brilliant, devastating, unforgettable year; simultaneously the worst and best of my life. So much heartbreak, so much joy, so much chaos and creativity and love.

I want to run through a few choice tracks and explain why they are so important.

Note: There a few random entries in the above playlist that are totally weird and out of place. I know. I share a Spotify with my brother. He likes weird shit.

1) Song For Clay (Disappear Here) by Bloc Party

Over several periods this year, this song was just about the only thing keeping me sane, because it was proof that I wasn’t the only person in the world experiencing this curious, permeating feeling of dread. The song is claustrophobic and oppressive, urgent and fraught. It sounds like a fucking panic attack. There’s no humour or wit, it’s just pure, naked anxiety. And I don’t know if it’s the world we live in now, or this city, or my own broken brain, but god, I can relate. And now it’s the Berlin winter. The sun is gone and the beautiful people have once more become bundles of black coat and scarf , and grey cackles over everything. The song took a back seat over the summer. Now it’s on repeat once again.

And you know what? It was only after listening to it for months, amazed at how a song can capture a whole city’s mood, when I learned the album was recorded in Berlin. Trippy.

2) Secret Door by Arctic Monkeys

This one is the romantic in me creeping out to say hello. The start of the song is melodic, a ballad, ponderous, poetic. Float along on a summer day dreaming of falling in love. The middle third is a wry smile and a detective’s magnifying glass, curious and brave, music for idle people watching and quiet revelations. And then – oh, and then – the final third comes crashing over you, drenching you, sweeping you up in warm saltwater and cradling you. Romance and dreams and the sweeping flourish of a ballgown.

 3) It All Relates by Sharks

I wouldn’t be who I am today without this song. Sharks disbanded almost a decade ago after a brief career. They never sold out stadiums, never made much of a splash, but this song – it’s saved me so many times. It’s my solace when everything falls apart, when I wish I could sink into the earth, when I fuck my life up for the ten thousandth time and everything hurts. Romance is tragedy, and to me, this song encapsulates the doomed defiance of youth. We all get old, we all get burned, and there’s nothing anybody can do except smile and make the biggest fucking racket you can while it’s your time in the sun. Youth must have its fling, however wild.

Thrown into the wind of the drawn out last breath
We don’t waste, we charge straight into death 
with the risk of never taking it to the end

4) Homesick by Catfish and the Bottlemen

Best live band in the fucking world right now. Van McCann is utterly compelling and unique as a front man; 24 years old, boisterous and vibrant, more alive than anybody you’ve ever seen. A kid at the dawn of fame, wide eyed and sober, alert, smart, desperate, laughing and grateful and sincere. Naive, earnest, frantic. You can have your smart hooks and your innovative recording techniques, you can have your Alt J’s and your Romares and whatever else – but nothing else quite catches the exuberance, the sheer joy of being a cash stripped kid in England, crammed into a sweaty festival tent, soaked in booze, spattered in mud, one arm around yer best mate and one in the air, singing for all you’re worth. It’s just so pure.

Altogether now:


5) Reckless Serenade by Arctic Monkeys

Rather surprised this isn’t number 1, to be honest. It’s quite possibly my favourite song in the world. I don’t know why – it’s not a single and they never play it live. The way the fuzzy plodding bass coils around zipping and sparkling guitars, and the vivid poetry of the lyrics. Sincere, cute, funny; Alex Turner at his most gorgeous. The last 20 seconds are ecstasy.

Topless models
Doing semaphore
Wave their flags as she walks by
And get ignored

On a rainy day
When she walks her footsteps sing
A reckless serenade

6) Heart Out by The 1975
Used to think the 1975 were too poppy, mainstream, whatever. I don’t know why. As the months have spun by and I’ve grown more morose, watching relationships imploding and romances crumble, I have sought refuge, familiarity and friendship in Matty Healy’s lyrics. It seems I’m not the only drunken, selfish, fuck up sad boy out there. Heart Out isn’t their best song, but it’s more upbeat than most, without ever really crossing over into the unfamiliar land of ‘Happy’.
[skipping ahead a few songs now]
These lads are from Derry in Northern Ireland, they’re about 19, and they’ll smash your ears in. I’ve been waiting and hoping for a band like this for a long time. A large part of their appeal is that they’re not too marketed – it looks as though the A&R pricks have mostly let them have the run of things. Largely unintelligible singing, nasty guitars, fuck-right-off drums, and lyrical content that is actually of some merit – like Slaves, TOUTS sing about politics, apathy, war – everything a young punk should. I’m so sick of bland artists with fuck all to say.
14. Tommy Gun by the Clash
Really, what I’ve been waiting for musically is my generation’s answer to Joe Strummer. Of course, the old boy is totally irreplaceable, and so it seems I’ll by waiting forever. Nobody does it like Joe. Fierce, bold, furious, passionate, brave, defiant. Every song, it looks as though he’s been given one last song to play before his execution by firing squad. The vitality that pours out of that man is staggering. So earnest, so intelligent, thoughtful, explosive; if Joe were around today, the world would be a better place. My hero. Tommy Gun (and the music video for it) is a perfect example of Joe’s righteous fury. That! Fucking! Leg! Stomp!
16) Raspberry Beret by Prince
The first non-angry/depressing/cathartic/doomed romantic song on this list, at number 16, probably says a lot about the year I’ve had. Raspberry Beret would be my Mauerpark Karaoke song, probably to the endless chagrin of any Prince fans in the crowd. But fuck it, it’s just a wonderful tune. Happy, sexy, funky, lyrics of lost loves from summers long past, warm days and the simple innocence of a first love. I dig it.
17) 6 In The Morning by Wiley
Good for mooching along looking gloomy and side-eyeing on the train. Energy and aggression and swagger. Yeah.
23) Stuck on the puzzle by Alex Turner
The perfect song to fall in or out of love. A wonderful accompaniment to evenings spent drifting home on the U Bahn, watching the madcap cityscape flutter by under cover of darkness.
26) Heart Attack by Sum 41
Just reminds me of being a kid. Nostalgic and uplifting, stupid. You’ve gotta love the hyper-American brat-punk sneer of Deryck Whibley, and what a chorus. Sometimes when I’m heading home from work and I get all caught up in the everyday, head down on the commute, hands in pockets, everybody frowning and coughing, I bump this so loud it hurts and remember that we’re all just fuckin kids still. Nothing should be taken so seriously.
43) I Still Remember by Bloc Party
Kele Orekeke is beautifully tender. The song is lyrically stunning, simple and sweet, a tender encounter between two schoolboys who bunk off for a day to muck about in the city together. They grow close, the boy yearns for his friend silently, they feel afraid, they part ways without admitting their feelings. I’ve been there.
You should have asked me for it
I would have been brave
You should have asked me for it
How could I say no?And our love could have soared
Over playgrounds and rooftops
Every park bench screams your name, I kept your tie
I’d have let you if you asked me

53) Tears Dry On Their Own by Amy Winehouse
There’s a bit of a theme emerging here, isn’t there? Sadness, badness, lack of gladness. Well, thank goodnes we’ve arrived here: an upbeat brass affair dyed the colour of sunshine. Only: no. Sorry everyone, it’s still a heartbreak song.
I love Tears Dry because it’s the sonic equivalent of saying ‘oh, fuck it’, clapping your thighs, laughing through your tears and getting on with your day. Sometimes shit goes wrong and everything hurts, and all you can do is look up to the sky, laugh, and keep going. Tears will always dry.
70) He’s A Pirate by Klaus Badelt (Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack)
Yeah I dunno, sometimes when I’m really drunk I put this on full blast and pretend I’m a pirate or whatever.

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