Over the last few years we have shown complete disdain for the idea of consistency in how we approach end of year listing. We’ve done a brief synopsis of a collection of our favourites, single posts per entry and even a mega one year in review round-up post. So it should come as no surprise to learn that once again we are mixing it up, focusing just on our favourite tracks and albums, nothing more.
This post will list our nine (top tens are so passé) favourite tracks (in no particular order). These are the ones we’ve loved the most, played the most, sung along with, nodded our head to, air drummed to, inflicted on our friends and colleagues and generally embraced and indulged in the most over the last year.
We’ll be back later with our fave five albums and after that, it will be on with the new Alphabet and posts a-go-go as we set out to make 2017 our personal musical love slave. Or something.
We’ll stick to our top ten tracks of 2016 for now though.
The one that came out of nowhere to knock our socks off
HEZEN – “The Girl You Want”
There were a lot of tracks from acts old and new last year that were incredible but without doubt, the one that just completely blew us away was the formal debut from Sarah Hezen. Even now, listening again, it still hits us smack between the eyes with its intricate, entwining melody and rhythms. It is utterly, stunningly beautiful whilst at the same time viscerally dark and menacing. Her soft vocal is intoxicating as it envelops this sense of foreboding as a dark spirit wisps around its prey seductively.
We could go on and on, and we did when we wrote about “The Girl You Want’ previously. Trust us though, you’ll be hearing a lot more from HEZEN in the future, not least because we will be waxing lyrical about her again very shortly.
The one that reaffirmed the thought that this guy is incredible and deserves to be a huge success
Rag’N’Bone Man – “Human”
The release of “Human” felt like something of a watershed moment for Rag’N’Bone Man last year. He was already critically acclaimed, selling out shows here there and everywhere with a growing legion of fans and blog support – he has featured on ours and others pages many, many times. Yet it is “Human”, its video and the announcement of an album later this year that looks set to send him to the heights we all anticipated he’d be reaching.
The beat behooves movement, the lyrics demand crowd accompaniment and Rory’s vocal is as powerful as it has ever been. It’s no wonder that an appearance on Jools Holland came about, or that it was number one in Germany for weeks and weeks, or that it was chosen as a contestant’s song on The X Factor. In fact, the only surprise is that it didn’t quite grab the Christmas Number One slot, finishing second. With the critics choice Brit already been bagged and a top 5 slot in the BBC Sound of poll assured, “Human” will stand as the final piece in the puzzle for Rag’N’Bone Man. Global success is surely on the way now.
The one that makes you swear inappropriately loudly when singing along
The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk – “Starboy”
Confession time. Despite all the buzz and hype a few years back, The Weeknd was never really an artist we’d paid too much attention too. There is only so much time in the day after all and not everything gets listened too, no matter how much we’d like to. When a lot of our friends started going doolally over “Starboy” though we thought we should check it out. When we heard it was a collaboration with Daft Punk we resolved to get on it and soon enough we were telling everyone and anyone who would listen (and a fair few who wouldn’t) that we were a motherfuckin’ Starboy.
It’s been said elsewhere, and in more accomplished ways, but this does almost feel like a reanimation of a late 80’s MJ given a devilish electronic twist. Infectious doesn’t even begin to describe how ridiculously catchy this tune is, especially the chorus, and it has been a real job to not play this to total and utter death (or around the kids). Like organised crime, every time we think we are out, we hear it again and are pulled back in. It’s everything modern pop should be and it’s such a shame the rest of the album doesn’t really live up to it. Still, we’ll always be a motherfuckin’ Starboy.
The one with the incredible Nixon sample
TV Girl – “Taking What’s Not Yours”
We’ve said it a number of times, but we don’t think there will ever come a time when we don’t like TV Girl or get excited for new music from them. 2016 was the same with the release of Who Really Cares and the brilliant lead single, “Taking What’s Not Yours”.
We said it before, but it’s worth re-stating, ”“Taking What’s Not Yours” is everything we love about TV Girl. Deliciously, ridiculously infectious, it is bright and playful while dealing with a lesser spoken consequence of a failed relationship.
The whole track is just wonderful, there’s a Nixon sample in there that is so deft you might miss it but it is genius, trust us. It is lyrically dry, sardonic and clever. It is completely and utterly perfectly TV Girl.”
The one that could be an anthem for a teenage uprising
Transviolet – “New Bohemia”
Another act we’ve loved and predicted great things for since first hearing them is Transviolet. Technically “New Bohemia” was released in 2015 but the video came out in February and that is more than enough justification for us to include it in this list.
We still can’t hear the military drumbeat towards the end of the track without thinking of Les Mis, without imagining an uprising and revolution against the rising tide of hate and fearmongering, something we need more than ever.
It remains rousing and invigorating, a movement in song form. Conveying power, emotion, defiance and attitude. It is a superb piece of anthemic pop that still gets played to death at Alphabet Bands HQ.
The one that could be an anthem for teenage indestructibility and hedonism
Chløë Black – “Death Proof”
The flip side to “New Bohemia” came from the brilliant and effortlessly cool Chløë Black and “Death Proof”. Another piece of fabulous, socially aware and catchy as all hell, dark pop; it’s a teen anthem for the hedonistic, indestructible youth and their ‘give no fucks’ attitude.
It’s pounding beat is relentless, a reckless death march into the future while a warped guitar line grinds in the background. Chløë’s gorgeously intoxicating voice melts over the attitude and swagger of the melody making you love it even more.
It’s play it again and again and again fantastic and but for all the swears would surely have been everywhere in the late summer months. Seriously, someone give this woman a deal and get an album out pronto.
The one that gives us goosebumps AKA The one we wish they’d done on Jools Holland
Let’s Eat Grandma – “Rapunzel”
It doesn’t matter how many times we hear it, the opening piano line of “Rapunzel” always sends a shiver down our neck and brings goosebumps to our arm. That this moment of innocence, of purity and of calm beauty then gives way to a cold and dark lyrical reality only serves to make it even more poignant.
Based in part on a true story and in part on a well loved fairytale, “Rapunzel” is (for our money) the most remarkable track on an incredible debut album. It perfectly encapsulates everything about them, the creativity, the musicality, the marbling of reality and imagination and the intricate and intelligence of their composition and lyricism.
It is also surprisingly easy to sing along with, even if you do have some explaining to do when your kids randomly start singing it in public.
The one that we always sing along to and that makes us happy
Shura – “What’s It Gonna Be?”
Possibly the most earworm-tastic tune of the whole year, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be?” was superb 80s inspired pop fare – channelling her inner Madonna and mixing it with a dash of SAW era Kylie. Then the video came out.
It’s hard to say if it is the brilliance of the song that makes us love the video so much, or vice versa, but it is safe to say this combination of audio and visual is one of the best and most enjoyable seen in 2016. Certainly this track was one of the most played on our summer holiday in France and most sung along to by the kids as we drove around the countryside.
Sentimental, heartfelt, bittersweet and oh-so danceable and catchy, “What’s It Gonna Be?” is a dazzlingly warm and wonderful piece of retro-modern pop music.
The one that made us realise we’d been wrong all along
Birds of Hell – “Astronomy Programmes”
Back in April we held our hands up and said, yep, we were wrong. Birds of Hell had always been an act that we’ve just never got, and then he released “Astronomy Programmes” and our mind was changed. It is, as we said so eloquently at the time, ”quite frankly, fucking brilliant”.
A little more evocatively, we also said it is “A swirling, cosmic spirituality as well as a wonderful lyrical dexterity are on show. It is utterly charming and really rather beautiful. This electronic, galaxial mist of sound drifts and caresses while Pete Murdoch’s light gravelly voice bounces off the softer swoon of producer Iain Lowery’s backing vocal. The beat snaps and skips gently as shooting stars of melody sweep by above and the lyrics ponder the great unknowns and reminisce for a simpler time”.
It still sounds as swirlsomely gorgeous now.