Top 50 of 2016

Like a lot of music geeks fans, at the end of every year I go through all of the tracks I’ve loved and put together a top 50 tracks. I usually only share it with a few friends but it seems like an ideal thing to stick on a music blog.

It’s a slightly random mix, taking in rock, hip hop, dance, punk and some straight up pop. I thought 2016 produced an awful lot of interesting music, but lots of it went under the radar.

If you are so inclined, you can listen to the list (in descending order) here:

 

  1. Pierce The Veil –           Circles

Man I’m a sucker for emo. This song is catchy as hell and gave me a lot of pleasure in the summer. The album was rubbish, but Circles makes me nostalgic for Leeds festival in the early 2000s.

  1. Skott –           Lack of Emotion

Skott was one of the most interesting pop acts to enter the scene in 2016. This was the last of a series of impressive singles and makes its way into my top 50 partly because it’s super catchy, but it also leaves me feeling slightly disorientated and seasick. It’s pop on the surface, but there’s an uncomfortable edge not far underneath.

  1. Frost –           Better off Lonely

Frost dropped his debut EP in 2016 and this was the standout track from it. Sounding an awful lot like Disclosure, it has an excellent chorus, hypnotic beats and impressive vocals. Unsurprisingly – given the title – it’s pretty melancholic, but it sounds good on every listen.

  1. Car Seat Headrest –           Fill in the Blank

Lyrics like ‘I’m so sick of … fill in the blank’ and ‘You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it’ would stand out on most tracks, but when you throw in the driving guitars and pulsing drums, it comes together to create one of the indie anthems of the year.

  1. Twin River –           Knife

Twin River stayed under the radar in 2016, but consistently delivered solid indie singles with a strong pop heart. Knife benefits from a nice juxtaposition between a sassy chorus and sensual verses; hopefully these Canadians will deliver other solid efforts in 2017.

  1. The Last Shadow Puppets –           Aviation

Aviation has a timeless quality to it. It feels like it could have been produced at any moment since 1955, and yet TLSP make it sound so reassuringly now. The only track I liked from their recent album, it grows on me with every listen.

  1. Creeper –           Valentine

Creeper came onto my radar in a big way in 2016. Effectively stealing the American pop-punk/emo sound and giving it a British twist, Valentine was from their debut EP. Bolshie riffs mixed with tempo changes, it is – to my mind – the best reflection of what Creeper are about. Expect to hear big things from these guys in 2017, because they know how to write tunes.

  1. Kings of Leon –           Find Me

Kings of Leon have a cracking formula. Good guitar riff, driving drums, weighty vocals and a catchy chorus. Almost every band tries to make it work, but KoL are better than most. Find Me is all of the simple things brought brilliantly together. I tried to resist, I tried to tell myself that I’m being manipulated by a simple formula, but I am weak.

  1. NVDES –           Can You Not

Take a track by The Rapture, stick it in a blender, add in two parts of LCD Soundsystem and a slice of punk, and you’re on your way to creating a NVDES track. One of my favourite new bands in 2016, Can You Not was my favourite of three or four solid tunes they released this year. They were also absolutely brilliant live.

  1. VANT –           FLY-BY ALIEN

A second appearance in two years for VANT, who never fail to remind you they’re from planet Earth. Fly-By Alien was a live favourite that finally got a proper release this year. Stepping slightly away from their usual sound, it bodes well for their debut album, due in February.

  1. Vera Blue –           Settle

I’ve been following Vera Blue’s stuff for the past couple of years and her FINGERTIPS EP from May was an excellent reflection on how developed her song writing has become. Settle lures you into a false sense of security, sounding like it’ll make you feel warm and fuzzy, before hitting you with a chorus written to knock your socks off. Settle has a lot of layers to it and I look forward to her future releases.

  1. Laura Gibson –           Two Kids

Laura Gibson released one of my favourite albums of the year. Two Kids was the most ill-fitting tracks on that album, and yet it’s a fantastic single. A mix of pop and country, it tip-toes along the ‘too cheesy to be good’ border but always stays the right side. It also reminds me of the Carpenters, which is never a bad thing.

  1. Pet Shop Boys –           Inner Sanctum

Man did I not expect the Pet Shop Boys to make one of my end-of-year lists. I certainly didn’t predict they’d come in with an absolute banger of a dance track. Working with the brilliant Stuart Price, they decided to create a track that could fill the clubs in Berlin, where they recorded their album. Inner Sanctum is the result, a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a ‘best dance hits of 1999’ compilation CD.

  1. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam In A Black Out

That voice. That amazing voice. Here it’s more than matched by – initially – some hypnotic guitar playing and then, in the last minute or so, an unexpected burst of jollity. It’s a beautiful combination and one of a number of solid tracks on an album that falls far away from their previous work in The Walkman and Vampire Weekend respectively.

  1. Luca Bacchetti –           Above The Line

A vast, sprawling dance track from an obscure Italian dance producer? Of course it made my top 50. This came out in the same week as Massive Attack’s EP, and I was impressed that this managed to get a look in, let alone consistent plays. There’s a restless energy to this track that grows and shifts throughout its eight minutes.

  1. iSHi –           We Run

iSHi absolutely nailed this track. Featuring some of the best production in hip hop from 2016, the uplifting chorus and playful piano help to give a melancholic tone to what could easily have been a by-numbers ego trip in the wrong hands.

  1. Warpaint –           New Song (Jono Jagwar Ma Remix)

The very last addition to this list. This is a stunning remix with three fairly distinct parts, earning comparisons with the Thin White Duke Remix of Rokysopp’s Eple and the Alle Farben Remix of MO’s Walk This Way, both of which have a special place in my heart. A hugely impressive remix that keeps it simple, sexy and supremely dance-able.

  1. Otzeki –           Falling Out

‘Hard-core pornography, made us feel useless, when we were teens, Jupiter, Backlit screens, fucking the strangers, of our dreams’. So sing Otzeki in this superb single, emanating from the same sweet spot where electronic meets downbeat indie that The XX have dominated for the past half-decade.

  1. Monika –           Secret in the Dark (Juan MacLean Remix)

A disco-inspired remix that seems to plagiarise the bass part from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Funky guitar, hand claps, tambourines… every trick in the book is there, but you won’t notice, you’ll be too busy dancing.

  1. Estrons –           Belfast

When gig-buddy Matt first me to see Estrons, I was far from sure that they were going to develop into one of my new favourite bands. I was wrong. Belfast is a balls-to-the-wall punk-rock statement that starts at a 100 miles an hour and doesn’t dip from there. Two minutes of proper rock and roll.

  1. James Blake –           Love Me In Whatever Way

The return of James Blake usually means at least one entry on everyone’s end of year list, and so it is. Although the album was too long and a little bit meandering for my taste, Love Me In Whatever Way is a beautiful and delicate track. Unsurprisingly stunning vocals and production, it leaves me feeling warm and fragile.

  1. Black Foxxes –           Husk

First entry for Black Foxxes on this list and a cracking piece of rock. The chorus will invade your head and simply will not leave. The bleak tone will grip you and you simply can’t ignore guitar work that sounds this good.

  1. Pumarosa –           Cecile

Second year in a row that Pumarosa have made the list. Cecile sets off at a slightly faster pace than – last year’s entry – Priestess, but the core DNA is the same. Haunting, sensual vocals, creeping guitars and a core rhythm that simply won’t let you go. An album is likely to arrive in 2017, which is very exciting indeed.

  1. Eliza Shaddad –           Wars

Eliza Shaddad is a half Scottish and half Sudanese singer-songwriter. In March she released her second-EP Run, which showed a level of song-writing maturity way beyond her years. Wars was the opening track on the EP and builds beautiful soundscapes to match her sorrowful vocals.

  1. Laura Gibson –           The Cause

Back in the first week of January I set off in search of new music to fill the void that December and the end-of-year list always creates. One of my very first finds was The Cause, the opening track from Laura Gibson’s album and her second entry on this list. It falls in a beautiful spot between folk and pop, and beautifully showcases her vulnerable voice.

  1. 1991 –           Nine Clouds

A rare drum and bass entry on my end of year lists. This is the kind of dance music that I love; a little dreamy, a mixture of dejection and euphoria, with stonkingly good beats. I followed them religiously after I heard this track and they refused to release any other good songs, but Nine Clouds remains a highlight of 2016.

  1. Ever so Android –           Pretty Teeth

Ever so Android are an unsigned duo from Seattle. They released their debut EP The Civil in 2016 and it’s brilliant, a truly-impressive collection of records. Pretty Teeth has all sorts of swagger about it; brutal electronic beats, driving guitars and fuck-you vocals.

  1. Charli XCX –           Trophy

Falling somewhere between pop, punk and anarchy, Trophy is either two and a half minutes of madness or one of the best-constructed pop singles in a very long time. Leaning heavily on Major Lazer’s penchant for EDM-esque drops and shifting tempo and production style every thirty seconds, it has been on repeat since Miceal pointed me in its direction.

  1. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis –           White Privilege II

Disclaimer: this is likely to be a controversial selection. In a year in which Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump have bookended almost every story emanating from the USA, this was an excellent contribution to the conversation. Reflecting on the role white people can play in the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as openly discussing the merits of his own career – and his fans – in relation to the racial challenges in America, the level of honesty in the track is worth considering. But added to that is the sheer ambition of the track; it’s effectively a documentary masquerading as a song. Ryan Lewis provides shifts in tone and production that I can’t help but admire. This song isn’t for everyone, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s brave, ambitious and impressive. I honestly thought it’d be much higher on the list, which reflects what a strong year it has been.

  1. Drake –           One Dance

The Biggest track of 2016. Massive dance hall beats and a simple catchy chorus. If you were on a dancefloor in 2016, you almost certainly heard this. I assume Drake will go back to being shit now, but it was kind of him to temporarily stop his one-man crusade to destroy hip hop to give us this.

  1. Estrons –           I’m Not Your Girl

Second entry on the list for Estrons. The first time I heard this – live – I really didn’t like it. But on record it’s stupendous; containing some of the best ‘fuck you’ vocals of 2016, it somehow blends vulnerability with bristle to create an alternative feminist statement. And yet… is she really happy in her defiance? The ambiguity only makes me love it more.

  1. Honeyblood –           Ready For The Magic

A track so good that Sky Sports stole it for their football coverage. Gig-buddy Matt first introduced me to Honeyblood a couple of years ago and, whilst they were always strong, they never had an absolute banger. They do now. Ready For The Magic is simple, catchy and bloody good.

  1. Lapsley –           Cliff

When I first saw Lapsley she played what was then an unknown track with mournful vocals revolving around dance beats. It was my favourite track of the night and turned out to be Cliff. My initial reaction to hearing it on record was that it didn’t quite match the live version, and in particular ends too abruptly (we’ve just got to the good bit!) but, having gone back to it in October, I have come round to the fact that it’s a brilliant piece of song writing.

  1. Michael Kiwunuka –           Love & Hate

Michael Kiwunuka produced my favourite album of the year and possibly suffers in the end of year list from producing so many wonderful musical moments in 2016. He had more entries that anybody when I created the long-list that became the top 50. Soaring strings, beautiful backing vocals and his incredible singing leave you in no-doubt that this is an artist in his prime; channelling his anger at the world into art that needs to be shared far and wide.

  1. Yak –           Harbour the Feeling

Seeing Yak live is one of my favourite experiences of the year. The lead singer quite literally walked on the ceiling. And then picked someone out of the crowd, gave him the guitar to play, and then dived headlong into the pit. Their album pretty much reflects what they do live, a bit all over the place, a little incoherent, but fucking tremendous if you like punk rock. And yet, Harbour the Feeling is the odd-one out. This is the anchor around which the band works, a genuine stand-out track that is coherent and catchy.

  1. Vince Staples –           Loco

Vince Staples in unbelievably talented. Listening to Loco is a pretty stunning experience, every element in this track is perfectly judged to create an uncertain listening experience; is it you that is going insane or is the artist giving an insight that is just too real? Uncomfortable and yet reassuringly brilliant, this track eats away at your brain.

  1. Frank Carter & Rattlesnakes –           Snake Eyes

The lyrics of Snake Eyes would have been enough for inclusion on this list. The tale of pains caused by excess, and the battle with mental demons are hard to listen to. Yet the vocal delivery and epic rock sound more than play their part in creating one of the tightest tracks of 2016. Brilliant.

  1. Femme –           Fever Boy

Sometimes it’s best just keeping it simple. A pop track with a strong indie heart, it reminds me of Le Tigre’s Decapitation. If you can listen without tapping your foot then there’s something wrong.

  1. Naked Giants –           Ya Ya

I thought Yak had the anarchic ‘don’t give a fuck’ rock sound covered for 2016. But this Naked Giants track had me won over on the opening riff, and only gets more fun as it goes along. There’s all sorts of little pleasures in here, but ultimately it’s all about the guitarist taking centre stage and nailing it.

  1. Ariane Grande –           Into You

The best slice of straight-up pop pie that 2016 delivered us. Sexy vocals, brilliant production and a chorus that just keeps getting better, this was a massive hit worthy of the praise.

  1. Massive Attack –           Dead Editors

Is there a more enjoyable NME headline than ‘Massive Attack release new music?’ Dead Editors is the opening track on the Ritual Spirit EP. It finds Roots Manuva in full flow and fine form, with the Bristol boys somehow combining the dark beats of Mezzanine with their more modern techno flourishes underneath. Now can we have a new album please?

  1. Slovenlie –           Disaster

The most exciting debut single since Pumarosa dropped Priestess. Sounding (something) like the bastard lovechild of a short-lived Nine Inch Nails / Lana Del Ray relationship, it delivers a level of menace and production rarely heard in a ‘pop’ track. It’s superb, and I can’t wait to hear more from her in 2017.

  1. Isaac Tichauer –           Higher Level (Bicep Remix)

For the second year in a row Bicep make the top 10. Having now had the pleasure of seeing them DJ (twice, once at a pool party) and do a live set of their own music in 2016, I can confidently say there is no other act in music better at making you feel euphoric (read: like you’re on drugs). Higher Level is a relatively simple track, but its continual build and gripping melody made it a central part of my 2016.

  1. Drones Club –           Feel No Pain

This track would make the Happy Mondays, 808 State and all the other Madchester bands proud. Drones Club are one of the most interesting new bands that I’ve come across this year, precisely because they sound they’re revisiting an era of music that I love and putting their own twist on it. Feel No Pain is pop, electronic, dark and catchy, often all at the same time.

  1. Vince Staples –           War Ready

The standout track from my favourite EP of the year. Starting with an Andre 3000 sample, and developing into the kind of statement of intent most rappers dream of making. Sparse beats and a minimalist electronic backing track – from James Blake – leave Vince’s vocals front and centre, and man does he deliver.

  1. Plastic Mermaids –           Alaska

I’ve been on a journey with this track; I wasn’t even sure I liked it at first, then I questioned the vocals, then it got lost in my Vince Staples phase. Then I fell in love. It’s beautiful in the ‘so sad, I feel broken inside’ sort of way. The darkness underpinning the lyrics was my way in, and everything builds from there. It’s a stupendous piece of indie-pop that deserves a much wider audience.

  1. HAELOS –           DUST

All the way back in January this track hit my Spotify and it’s been on repeat pretty consistently ever since. Combining elements of Massive Attack and The XX, DUST captures a raw emotional vocal and more than matches it with a stunning, creeping musical performance in the background. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing HAELOS twice this year, and I think they’re destined for very big things indeed.

  1. Black Foxxes –           Maple Summer

From the moment the vocals kicked in on my very first listen of Maple Summer, I knew it was a winner. You can feel the pain and anguish in every note, the anger flutters in and out along with exhaustion. The end of a relationship has rarely been so brilliantly captured on record.  This was the best piece of rock I heard in 2016, and they backed it up with a very solid debut album as well.

  1. Drones Club –           Shining Path

For about 95% of my work on this list, Shining Path sat at number 1. Formed in the dark corner where dance, indie and the vibe of Manchester in 1991 meet for illicit activities, this has a ‘fuck you’ vibe that music in 2016 generally lacked. If you get the chance to see them in 2017, you should say ‘yes’ without hesitation.

  1. Alfonso Muchacho –           Until the End – Original Mix 

Some tracks revel in simplicity; a few layers and repeated notes that combine and create something much greater than the sum of their parts. This is one of those tracks. Until The End is a purposeful 9 minute masterpiece that constantly builds to a stunning drop at the 6.50 mark. It raises the pulse and takes you to euphoric heights, yet also has a dream-like quality. It wins because every time I’ve listened to it I’ve found something new to hear and enjoy, and it never fails to make me want to be in a club. This is a stupendous track that deserves a wide and adoring audience.

2 thoughts on “Top 50 of 2016

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