Tag: Drake

Word on the Street: March 2017

Word on the Street: March 2017

Following another month packed full of quality releases, one musician stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. No, it’s not Drake (although we’ll get to him later). The man in question? DJ Q.

Some of you may be familiar with the DJ/producer from his groundbreaking work in the bassline scene about a decade ago. Q became 1Xtra’s youngest DJ, hosting the station’s fortnightly UKG Mix show, and first came to my attention with his 4×4 mix cd series – my best friend and I used to drive around with the mixes pumping out loud, and I still listen to them regularly now. With the bassline scene hitting its peak in 2007/08, he had undoubtedly his biggest success with the release of his huge single “You Wot” featuring MC Bonez.

Fast forward almost 10 years, and Q’s profile has probably never been higher. His 2014 album, Ineffable, on Local Action Records was a well-compiled collection of productions, including two garage tunes of such astounding quality (“Notice Me” and “Be Mine”), that for me made him the king of the UKG vocal chop

It’s the last 12 months, however, that have really seen his output skyrocket. A slew of singles, mostly using well-known samples (such as Rocky, Bell Biv Devoe and Sonic The Hedgehog) have helped build to an outrageous month in March.

Starting in the first week of the month, East London MC Jammz released his latest single “Who’s That Girl?”, produced by our man of the moment. Once again featuring a female vocal chop, Jammz and Aleisha Lee do battle over a girl that’s possibly caught the MC’s eye – it’s incredibly reminiscent of Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv U”.

Just over a week later, as part of the supergroup TQD (with Royal T and Flava D), one of my favourite albums of the year so far, UKG, saw the light of day. It’s a perfect blend of huge bassline wobblers, crafted 2-step garage, and grime. Check out their video for “A Letter To EZ”, and marvel at the meticulous attention to detail required to put together such an intricate visual.

Not staying quiet for long, it was only another 2 days until Q gave us his next gift. The intro and vocal on “Naked Truth” left me worried the first time I heard them. I thought it sounded too commercial, and not gritty enough, but my fears were allayed as soon as I heard the bassline for the first time. Once again, he hadn’t let me down.

On the last day of the month, the Yorkshireman had another grime production to showcase, this time in the form of YGG’s “Bad”. Comprised of London MCs PK, Lyrical Strally and Saint, the trio are one of the most exciting groups in grime at the moment, and their appearances on NTS and Radar are always must-listens. Q’s production is tropical in nature, and the perfect accompaniment to what the youngsters offer vocally.

Along with this single, there came the release of the Pure Bassline compilation, mixed by the DJ, along with another bassline legend, Jamie Duggan. It features many of our protagonist’s own productions, and really demonstrates the rude health that the scene currently finds itself in – is it due a renaissance, like the current reincarnation of grime? Whatever happens, I hope Q gets everything he deserves, because no-one has worked harder.

While we’re on the subject of legends in the scene producing beats for MCs, Dubstep pioneer N-Type recorded the first single to be released on the new Go Getter Music label, with South London’s Eazyman. “Work Rate” is a pure slice of UK-style trap, as the orator preaches about his work ethic, and how he’s left behind a life of violence and drugs.

Elsewhere in the UK scene, Spyro and Capo Lee finally dropped their Stop Talk EP. I’d previously mentioned how excited I was for this and it certainly wasn’t a let-down. “Tekkers” followed the lead from “Stop Talk” as a single of stunning quality, and the rest of the tunes are just as good.

Another long-awaited EP, this time from Preditah, was also unleashed. Focussing on grime instrumentals, the Birmingham producer enlisted the talents of his brother C4 for the release’s lead track “Touch Road”. It’s visceral and rugged, and is rightly getting a lot of attention on some of the country’s radio stations.

The rise of afro bashment continues at an alarming speed here in the UK, spearheaded by artists like Kojo Funds, LottoBoyzz and Mr Eazi. This Spotify playlist in particular is worth checking on a regular basis to be updated on the latest sounds – it’s only a matter of time before the scene blows up, and it has to be the sound of this Summer.

One afro bashment name that has so far had a mention in every Word On The Street column to date is J Hus, and his latest, “Did You See” is probably my favourite offering from the genre so far. From his opening gambit of “did you see what I done, came in a black Benz, left in a white one” the listener is captivated, and I challenge you not to shuffle wherever you are!

Finally, before we cross the pond, a word on Toddla T. The Sheffield-born DJ has long been an integral part of the Caribbean-influenced side of the UK’s music offering. His two albums to date, Skanky Skanky and Watch Me Dance, have both laid the foundations for his footing in the scene, which has led to his weekly 1Xtra show being essential listening. So imagine my surprise this month when I checked out his new video for the first single from his forthcoming release, “Blackjack21”. It’s a total departure from his usual sound, but really is an exciting prospect for what is to come. The visuals are stunning, and the beat and vocal will leave a lasting impression. Imagine “You Got The Love” being channelled through a live funk band, and you’re halfway there.

Now the inevitable. On a Saturday in the middle of March, Drake finally aired his latest project, More Life. Having been touted as a playlist rather than an album, and following several delays to the release date, it was no surprise to see it sending social networks into the usual frenzy. I won’t wax lyrical about how good it is (oh, it is) – instead I’ll let you all make up your own minds. All I’ll say is that I generally prefer the tracks Drizzy is singing on, rather than rapping. My highlights? Black Coffee’s production on “Get It Together”, Skepta’s “Interlude”, “KMT” featuring UK road rap superstar Giggs, and leading the way, “Blem”.

Drake took a lot of flak across all mediums following the release, for his appropriation of UK culture. Some British fans seemed outraged at his use of phrases such as wasteman, and even the fact that he named one of the tracks “Gyalchester”. American fans were horrified at the inclusion of what they considered to be inferior British rappers – they really didn’t like Giggs. As far as I’m concerned it can only be a good thing. No, the UK scene doesn’t necessarily need any help, but when was the last time that a huge worldwide artist championed another country’s talent in this way? Let’s embrace his love for our nation, and appreciate all he’s doing to showcase it.

Kendrick Lamar also made his comeback in March with the release of “The Heart Part 4”, and a video for “HUMBLE.”. Both give a hint as to what we can expect from his next album, which must be imminent.

In club culture, one release really grabbed my attention in the last month. Canadian producer Jacques Greene has been consistently making and releasing music since 2010, so his debut album has felt a long time coming. Mixing up a blend of garage, house and r&b, I’m pretty sure Feel Infinite already has the potential to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

For once, I don’t have any other business to bring to your attention, so I’ll leave you to enjoy the usual Spotify playlist below. As always get in touch and let me know what I got right and wrong – astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. See you again next month!

Ramblings: on Zak Abel and being back on track

 

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Well the blog is back on track after my week of illness. The A List is done, the Bonus List introduced and the This Week Playlist posted. George posted a review of Cloud Nothings’s Life Without Sound last night and Antonia is back with her At The Movies column later today. Plus there’s a Track of the Day coming up at 0930.

Onto non-blog matters, I’m pretty happy as I’m off to my first gig of the year tonight, seeing Zak Abel at one of his two sold out shows at London’s Scala.

I first heard Zak Abel’s stunning soul voice on Sam Sumthin – which I only found out yesterday was produced by Kaytranada – back in 2015. It’s a voice that’ll please many audiences and belies his young age. Given that he’s a self-taught pianist and guitarist, and was also pretty good at table tennis, he also seems like a pretty determined man.

He also writes cracking pop songs. Say Sumthin was one of the best I’ve heard in years, an instant classic. And he’s followed it up with Everybody Needs Love and Unstable since.

His debut album- Only When We’re Naked – is due out in March and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the new material tonight. This will be my fourth time seeing him live, and every performance has improved on the last. He has an infectious charm on stage, his band are super tight and I fully expect him to be playing much bigger venues soon.

One of the things l’ll keep coming back to on this blog (because it’s something I care a lot about) is supporting young acts – particularly British acts – and the need to ensure they aren’t rushed. A few years ago it became a habit for acts to have a couple of singles or a debut album and to be playing Brixton Academy; it was sad watching them fall flat on their face due to a lack of material and a lack of stage experience.

Zak Abel has done it the proper way. He’s been gigging consistently for the past few years and knows how to work an audience. The first time I saw him was at the Oslo in Hackney, he was the second act on stage with a bill of four; it was perhaps an indication that he was destined for bigger things when half of the audience walked out after he’d finished.

Last year I saw him play the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, where he tore the place up – Drake One Dance cover and all – and was joined on stage for a duet by Paloma Faith. I had the rather strange experience of being stood next to Paloma Faith for a large chunk of that gig; but it does mean I can say with certainty that she was enjoying herself.

To reaffirm that he hasn’t been an overnight success, he was featured on the Radio 1Xtra Hot for 2015 List, a list that also featured Little Simz, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Raury, Stormzy, Lion Babe, which is a pretty strong list. Yet its interesting that you could easily hear his stuff on 1Xtra, Radio 1, Radio 2, XFM or any of the shit big commercial radio stations. He has a sound – and a quality – that could easily see him become Britain’s next big pop export.

So I’m looking forward to tonight very much and in anticipation below is Zak Abel’s new video for Unstable.

Until later,

Mark

Word on the Street: January 2017

Word on the Street: January 2017

In the first in a series of monthly posts, our resident DJ, George, gives us a round-up of January’s offerings from the urban side of music culture. Gunfingers and dancing shoes at the ready!

2017 is off to a great start. It’s always pleasing to say that I’m struggling with the amount of music to consume at any given time, and it certainly feels that way right now. Given how little music is usually released in the run up to Christmas, January always feels like a blessing, but this year in particular seems to be setting a high standard already.

Of course, there’s no finer way to set the bar high than with the return to form of a legend. After a few years in the commercial wilderness – I read somewhere that he was trying to make more money to offer a better quality of life to his daughters, so fair play – Eskiboy is well and truly back in the grime fold, with the release of the aptly-titled “Godfather”, his eleventh (eleventh!!!) studio album. Having been pushed back multiple times, with Wiley himself threatening to cancel its release altogether and stating it will be his last, it’s no surprise that it’s an absolute joy to listen to. It’s the perfect length at 17 tracks, and just under an hour, and is littered with features from some of the biggest names in the scene (JME, Newham Generals, Skepta, P Money).

But it’s solo track “Back With A Banger” on which the King of Grime really shines. I can’t think of anything better than Wiley going hard for 3 minutes over a flawless Preditah beat, and no lyrics are more fitting for heralding his return than when he announces “anybody wanna know what I’m doing right now, go tell ‘em that I’m back with a banger”. Elsewhere, there are highlights in “On This”, featuring his long-time prodigies Ice Kid, Chip and Little D, and a killer link-up with Devlin on “Bring Them All/Holy Grime”, which you can watch below. Following that, I strongly recommend you take an hour out of your day to immerse yourself in grime perfection.

Speaking of Devlin, the Dagenham native’s comeback continued with the release of his latest single, “Blow Your Mind”, complete with a chorus from Maverick Sabre. I’m slightly biased, hailing from nearby Essex myself, but, like Wiley, he’s been gone too long, and I for one am excited for him to unleash his new album, “The Devil In”, later this year.

Elsewhere in grime, President T snuck in at the end of 2016 with the release of “T On The Wing”. As with “Godfather” there are numerous collaborations with other contemporaries from the scene, but again it’s a solo track that provides the highlight, and closes the album – “Ending Careers”. The Meridian Crew member, and Boy Better Know affiliate, lets loose over Danny Weed’s classic 2004 instrumental “Salt Beef”.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard a Lethal Bizzle track that I actually enjoyed, so imagine my delight when I heard him accompanied by Giggs and Flowdan over a classical/choral influenced rhythm produced by Heavytrackerz. Hopefully “Round Here” sparks another return to form in 2017.

Also produced by Heavytrackerz this month is “Rain Drop”, the latest single from French grime trio Perfect Hand Crew. In the interest of honesty, I feel obliged to divulge that I personally know PHC, but that takes nothing away from their ability, especially given that they’re making music in something other than their native tongue. In fact, the memory of having watched Tasty Took freestyle in English at an early hours afterparty in Montpellier after many drinks still blows my mind to this day. Check out the track and it’s amazing video below.

Having already confessed to one personal conflict of interest, I should perhaps start this recommendation with another disclaimer: I’m a Birmingham City season ticket holder, and am therefore a fan of this video having been shot in the car park at St. Andrew’s. Don’t let that put you off though. Give Jaykae’s “No” a go – it’s been co-signed by Logan Sama no less!

Finally, while listening to Sian Anderson on 1Xtra this month, I was introduced to 17 year old South Londoner, Dis, by way of her take on Beyoncé and Sean Paul’s “Baby Boy”. I’m not completely convinced by her lyrics and flow, preferring the production (possibly influenced by Lolingo’s grime re-imagining of Amerie’s “One Thing”?), but at such a young age she should be considered one to watch.

Moving away from grime (but only just), Coyote Records this month released the second album from American producer Letta. His take on R&G (rhythm and grime to the uninitiated – check out this excellent 25 track introduction to the fascinating sub-genre here), influenced by his own battles with homelessness and addiction, continues on the excellent “Redemption”. The album has an ethereal, futuristic feel – I like to think that Rick Deckard would pour himself a dry smokey (worms included), and listen to this at home, after a long day of tracking replicants.

In a similar vein, comes the debut EP from Klasey Jones, one of the most promising producers in the UK’s wave scene. Unsurprisingly, given that he is pushing the scene more than anyone else, “Foreign Buyers Club” is released on Plastician’s Terrorhythm label. I’m intrigued to see where this sound will go, particularly as it seems to have emerged almost solely from Soundcloud producers.

On the dancier side of the scene, South London producer Jynx (who was on the buttons for one of my favourite remixes of 2016) put out four tracks of stunning quality on the “Saffron City” EP. There are so many influences I can hear that it would be almost impossible to list them all, but in general you could take the best of R&B, UK funky/garage, Burial-style dubstep, and even 90s house, and you might get close. “Saffron City” and “Calm Mind” are particularly good.

Having mentioned UK funky, that brings me on nicely to two serious contenders for my favourite tune of 2017 (yes, I know it’s only January!). The astounding thing about these tunes is that they are both released on the same label. Roska seems to be consistently finding the best new talent to showcase on his Roska Kicks And Snares imprint, and with Murder He Wrote he is continuing this trend. For most of 2016, and to anyone who would listen, I waxed lyrical about how Murder He Wrote was destined for greatness. His output has improved exponentially with each release, and it’s with “Watch The Tempo” that he seems to have outdone himself again – a serious, bass-heavy, funky roller complete with hip-hop breakdown.

The second fine release on RKS in January comes from Roska himself, this time collaborating with bassline guru Champion. “Flame Grilled” combines the best elements of UK funky/garage and late 2000s bassline. Should you have the (mis-)fortune to catch me DJing somewhere this year, you’ll be sure to hear both of these.

Dave doesn’t sound like the most inspiring name for an up-and-coming English rapper to have chosen, but don’t let this fool you when it comes to the potential for being the biggest name in UK rap and R&B. Having already had his single “Wanna Know” remixed by Drake last year, he continues his quest to become the UK’s equivalent to Toronto’s finest with new track “Samantha”, alongside fellow rising star J Hus. Get ready for these two to take over in 2017.

You may have noticed that there is a glaring lack of anything from the other side of the pond in this round up (mainly because all the big releases only went live yesterday – see below). To tide you over until next month, when hopefully there’ll be more Stateside sounds for me to cover, here’s Missy Elliott’s latest, bonkers-as-always video for “I’m Better”.

Before signing off, we should cover any other business. There are always too many incredible club nights to be able to attend them all, but two in particular that I’m hoping to make it to in the coming weeks are Boxed’s 4th birthday at Phonox in Brixton on 3rd March, and Kode9 doing a one time only history of Hyperdub set at Archspace on 24th February. If you’re attending either, maybe just shout George really loud, and you can tell me how awful and long-winded this post was.

Club culture in general is one of my passions, so I’m always keeping an eye out for any documentaries on this topic. At only 26 minutes long, Annie Mac’s Who Killed The Night? isn’t given enough time to really establish what is going on with nightclub closures across the UK, but is worth watching nonetheless before it disappears from the iPlayer.

Since the Viceland TV channel launched in the UK, I’ve hardly watched anything else – you should check out Abandoned in particular, which satisfied my strange fascination with derelict buildings and ghost towns. It’s Big Night Out that I want to draw your attention to though. Clive Martin, journalist and Head of Brand Development at ASOS, converts his excellent Big Night Out column for Vice into a documentary series, exploring the weird and wonderful in nightlife experiences across the continent. If I were you I’d watch it just to see how awkward he seems in certain situations, and for his attempt to not puke in front of Carl Cox.

Finally, in they-only-came-out-yesterday-so-I-haven’t-had-time-to-listen-to-them-properly-yet news, there were releases for Drake collaborator Gabriel Garzón-Montano, America’s Got Talent finalist turned legit R&B talent Kehlani, and, most significantly, Atlanta trap trio Migos (this one is already on constant rotation, so check out “T-Shirt”, and the huge hit “Bad And Boujee”). “New Gen” also looks like a very promising compilation showcasing the next wave of grime, R&B and spoken word talent. You can expect all of these to either be reviewed in the next week or so, or feature in next month’s round up.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for putting up with my waffling. I know this was a long read, but there’s genuinely so much to cover in one month, across multiple genres. We’ll see if I can trim it a bit next time!

If you discover something you love, or want to tell me what I’ve missed (or that I’m wrong!), then get in touch via astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. Most of the tracks mentioned above can be found in the Spotify playlist below. See you all in a month!

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.