Top 50 Songs of 2016

 

 

 

 

By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

It’s here! Chuck those negative opinions aside as for the next week we’ll be counting down my musical highlights of the year. While 2016 was full of many negative events (US election, multiple celebrity death, suicide squad, damn daniel etc.), on the other side of the coin music was as entertaining and fascinating as ever. Hip-hop continued to demonstrate its creative power while rock and other genres revitalised themselves to provide us with some of the best singles of their respective artist’s careers.

As always we have the staple “this is my opinion” placeholder to insert before we get cracking on so if there are any songs you think are missing or should be placed higher/lower then keep in mind that this is my list. Since there are 50 tracks to go through, I’ll speed through the first 25 or so and go into a bit more detail as we reach the top 20 picks. With that being said, let’s get the ball rolling…

50. Glue 70 – Casin

49. Crywank – Love

48. Vistas – Sign Language

47. Brand New – I Am A Nightmare

46. Boston Manor -Lead Feet

45. Kevin Devine – Instigator

44. SBTRKT – Let Them In

43. Run The Jewels – Talk To Me

42. Fake Boyfriend – Bumtown

41. Parquet Courts – Dust

40. Pale Kids – Not Listening

39. Blink-182 – Cynical

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC97caHUgKk

38. Weezer – Jacked Up

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJOsRoY-na0

37. Frightened Rabbit – Die Like A Rich Boy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es8wQcKrrhA

36. Jamie T- Tescoland

35. Hovvdy – Try Hard

34. Honeyblood – Love Is A Disease

33. Skepta – Man

32. Metallica – Spit Out The Bone

31. Young Thug – RiRi

30. Enter Shikari – Hoodwinker

29. Touche Amore – Displacement

28. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03

27. Biffy Clyro – In The Name Of The Wee Man

26. Sweet White – Genine

https://soundcloud.com/sweet-white/genine-1

25. Joyce Manor – Eighteen

24. Death Grips – 3 Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood 

23. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dark Necessities 

22. Twin Atlantic – Gold Elephant, Cherry Alligator

21. Mean Jeans – Michael Jackson Was Tight

20. The 1975 – Somebody Else

Trust me, I’m just as surprised as you that The 1975 are making an appearance on this list. Whilst their latest album was a double-edged sword, only just managing to provide more killer than filler, when the band delivered something good it was really fucking good. See Somebody Else for example, a song that dabbles into the topic of modern day romance that frontman, with the hand of some vocal manipulation, executes brilliantly.

19. Charli XCX – Trophy

The ultimate pump up song of 2016, Charli XCX continues her reign as one of the most likeable female vocalists in music right now with a fantastic combination of 00’s club music and peculiar beats.

18. Radiohead – Daydreaming

Beautifully minimalistic and driven solely by piano alongside some glitzy chimes with a Jamie XX flare to them, Daydreaming was the standout track on Radiohead’s triumphant return A Moon Shaped Pool: a calm, borderline lullaby that dips its toes in fearsome waters before diving head first into them during the climax.

17. Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”

Showing off the majority of 22, A Million’s religious subtext, 33 “GOD” is a showcase of Bon Iver’s experimental take on their latest record packaged alongside the delicate rock they’ve mastered since their debut For Emma, Forever Ago.

16. Blood Orange – Best To You

Providing some of the best R&B in recent memory, Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound hit its peak four tracks in with Best To You. Featuring a stunning vocal performance from Empress Of, Dev Hynes showed off just how good he is at mixing production and songwriting together.

15. Real Friends – Mess

A pop punk song that has lyrics that manage to be fresh for the act due to being about something other than a break up?! Revolutionary! All jokes aside, the crisp production value along with a catchy as all hell chorus makes the track feel like Real Friends have been working hard on their songwriting capabilities since their debut record and, despite what they’re saying in the public eye, are making efforts to progress as a band.

14. Codist – Puddle

Glasgow band Codist came out with their debut record all the way back in January and continued to be one of my favourites throughout 2016. My personal favourite track off of Nuclear Family had to be Puddle that harks back to Blackened Sky era Biffy with some equally beautiful lyrics about “why you can feel your insides glow”.

13. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things

The shortest track by far on this list, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s titular theme tune to Netflix’s surprise hit series Stranger Things is, much like the show itself, a total love letter to 80’s electronica with ominous synths lulling you into a sense of dread.

12. American Football – My Instincts Are The Enemy

Showing that the band still had what it takes to retain relevance in a genre that has long since evolved since their one and only record, American Football showed they deserve all the praise they get with their second LP. My Instincts Are The Enemy is a testament to the intricacy this band can provide with just three instruments, pulling off smooth and satisfying tempo changes and delivering beautiful lyrics as if they had never been away.

11. Schoolboy Q – Groovy Tony 

Schoolboy Q may have given us a pretty lacklustre LP in 2016 but he made sure we weren’t left empty handed with Groovy Tony, drenched in eerie production and driven by one of the most aggressive sounding flows in hip-hop.

10. Frank Ocean – Nikes

WE IN THE TOP 10 NOW BABY! The musical Where’s Waldo Mr Frank Ocean returned this year with his long awaited Blonde that kicks off with one of the strongest tracks of his career. Nikes modifies Ocean’s vocals into unrecognisable territory, delivering lines about lost ones and consumerism with a minimalistic background which needs to be listened to for it to be fully experienced.

9. Danny Brown – When It Rain

Not only did Detroit’s prodigal son Danny Brown deliver the best record of his career, arguably one of the greatest hip-hop albums in the past decade, but he managed to shake up his tried and tested sound on top of that. Much like Groovy Tony, When It Rain cranks up that ominous notch up to 11 and packs the visceral imagery to back it up.

8. Moose Blood – Knuckles

Arguably the best track Mooseblood have delivered thus far, Knuckles embodies everything the band have been great at since their debut: providing a killer hook with beautiful lyrics and vocals. While the majority of the band’s sophomore effort is far more grounded in pessimism, Knuckles seems to hit a major realist chord and wonderfully so.

7. PUP – DVP

Unlike other acts of the genre who do a lot of rocking but very little growing up, PUP manage to nail the topic of maturity on DVP which flows seamlessly on from the aforementioned If This Tour… into an even more anthemic style on record The Dream Is Over. Addressing how they handle issues, in this case getting “so drunk that I can’t speak”, as well as others telling them to grow up, the track manages to keep a positive vibe going in its instrumentals whilst juggling some of the darker lyrics on here.

6. James Blake ft Bon Iver – I Need A Forest Fire

While James Blake’s latest record was sub par at best, there was a diamond in the rough in the form of I Need A Forest Fire. Combining Bon Iver’s beautiful vocals alongside Blake’s versatile singing is a genius concept and is wonderfully executed, managing to explore the .topic of new beginnings with total ease.

5. Chance The Rapper – Blessings

It’s hard to argue that 2016 belonged to anyone but if I had to place a bet on it, my money would be on Chance The Rapper. Colouring Book was one of the most enjoyable listens of the year with bucketloads of optimism and hope in a year that very much needed it. Blessings pretty much embodies the album’s core message better than any other track does. A gospel influence is felt not only in its sound but its lyrical content: lines about redemption, fatherhood and faith are subtle with the main hook from Jamila Woods being infectiously catchy.

4. Childish Gambino – Redbone

No artist this year transformed quite like Childish Gambino. Swapping out hip-hop for funk/soul/R&B music is an impossible risk but Gambino somehow survived the transition, quality intact. Redbone shows this perfectly, displaying a wonderful use of vocoder and the aforementioned funk element that made Awaken My Love one of the most refreshing listens of 2016.

3. David Bowie – Lazarus

The loss of David Bowie was one of many celebrity deaths to occur in 2016 but was the one that no doubt hit the hardest. Lazarus pretty much acts as a foreshadowing to it all with lyrics such as “look up here, I’m in heaven” managing to evoke a tear or two out of even the most casual Bowie fan. While it may be a difficult listen considering the context, Lazarus stood out well before the passing of Bowie, providing the perfect balance of instrumentals and Bowie’s unique vocals.

2. The Weeknd – Starboy

Before we get into the top pick of this list, we have but one more track to praise, that being The Weeknd’s Starboy which features on the RnB superstar’s eponymously titled record. Featuring a backing beat that sounds like a less feisty but equally enjoyable Yeezus feature, the partnership with Daft Punk means it’s no real surprise that Starboy finds itself so high up on a best tracks of 2016 list.

1. Kanye West – Real Friends

While The Life of Pablo was an enjoyable albeit messy release, it undoubtedly features the best song Kanye West has released since Runaway. Real Friends puts Mr West in his most vulnerable position since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as he voices his guilt regarding friends and family over a beautifully tragic sounding beat. Think Aphex Twin entwined with heartbreak. The song ends with a poignant howl that evokes the same sadness and, in a way, isolation that we have become accustomed to with Kanye’s more personal tracks. Sources say that when the track was first released, the title was missing the word “friends”. In a twisted way, it’s both a relief to hear Kanye sounding the most real he has in years whilst it’s also uncomfortable to witness the inner turmoil he’s experiencing that has only since got worse with his recent inauguration into a psychiatric ward.

 

 

 

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Skepta – Konnichiwa

Managing to stand strong after critics called Grime’s second wind a passing fad, Skepta has proved everyone wrong on his fourth LP, solidifying himself and the genre as a cornerstone of British music. 

“We ain’t seen nuttin’ like this happen before. Who’s seen the country flip on its head like this, fam?” says fellow grime MC Chip, saying what we’ve all been thinking for months now: how the fuck did Skepta do this? Grime, a genre many thought had stagnated in the early 00’s, somehow started to dominate the charts and Shutdown was the catalyst to it all. Starting with a sample of newest member of Boy Better Know and little known rapper Drake, the track became the sound of the summer (sorry Limmy) and put the Tottenham born rapper on the radars of many.

Whilst listening to Konnichiwa, I find myself asking that same question. How is it that an album, seemingly full of tracks that have been around for at the very least a few months, manages to stand out as fresh, inventive and, most of all, memorable?

img_9898

The best way to start describing this is, surprisingly, the beginning with an eponymously titled track which reeks of Kung Fu aura before kicking off in typical grime fashion, horns blaring before Skepta begins chatting about corrupted agendas, something that makes up a large chunk of Konnichiwa’s DNA. Whether it’s explicitly about the police on Crime Riddim, which packs a delightful retro game beat, or quips about David Cameron, it’s refreshing to see that Skepta can say something worth telling rather than relying solely on Grime easter eggs.

While there’s an aggressive attitude on a vast majority of these songs, it doesn’t mean that the BBK leader isn’t fond of being a little tender. Text Me Back displays this well and acts as a rather heartfelt finale though thankfully the instrumentals don’t lost any of the cold tinge that makes this album stand out. Think of it as a juxtaposing love letter to Dizzee Rascal’s I Lov U which may make up for the rather blatant shots fired at him on Lyrics (all is fair in love and Grime though).

What really makes Konnichiwa thrive though is its unrelenting intensity. The direction Skepta took on this LP impressed me to say the least with some songs like Ladies Hit Squad feeling like they’d be out of place if there were anywhere else other than helping to establish the firm foundations of this album. Whether or not you like the nature of some of these songs, what can be stated is that Skepta manages to take heed of his brother JME’s words and keeps his integrity while not being afraid to push the boundaries.

The few gripes this album has are ones that stop it from achieving true greatness with the running time being one of them, stopping some songs achieving their true potential by aborting them far sooner than they needed to be. Despite this, Skepta has managed to provide another monumental release into the Grime narrative: Stormzy may have told everyone to shut up but what we have here is a warm, albeit fierce, konnichiwa.

8/10

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Best Of: April 2016

A lookback at this month in music, listing the greatest albums and singles that April had to offer.

ALBUMS

5. Drake – Views

While it may go on a bit longer than necessary and hit a few dud notes in the process, the highlights of Drake’s fourth LP far outweigh these gripes and result in Views being another strong entry in the Toronto rapper’s discography.

[FULL REVIEW HERE E.T.A 3/05/2016]

4. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Parquet Courts - Human Performance

One of the finest rock records of the year, Parquet Courts provide smart lyrics which, whilst not inherently political, make the listener think whilst simultaneously delivering entertaining raw and rugged music.

3. Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack

It’s no coincidence that, five albums into their career, Scottish rockers Frightened Rabbit have crafted their most mature album yet. While it doesn’t have as many anthems as previous records, the heartbreaking and emotional nature of Painting Of A Panic Attack is one that will resonate with you more than anything the band have ever released.

2. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Death Grips - Bottomless Pit

In traditional Death Grips fashion, Bottomless Pit was leaked in advance and thank god it was. Displaying the accessibility of The Money Store, the punk influences from Ex Military and the utter craziness of The Powers That B, the Sacramento act have one again resurrected to grace us with one of the most enjoyable listens of the year.

[FULL REVIEW HERE E.T.A 3/05/2016]

1. Weezer – Weezer (White Album)
12469508_10153200271817273_3330131475669335283_o

The callbacks, both lyrically and instrumentally, aren’t just brief bits of fan service, instead they’re reminders of what the band can do and will immediately top just a few seconds after you recognise them. The nerdiness is even more introverted, the romance even more anxious and fleshed out than before, and the grunge pop sound even more satisfying. You can shout it from the rooftops: Weezer are back and better than ever.

[FULL REVIEW HERE]

SONGS

5. Holy Fuck – Xed Eyes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peG6ZeBk_BE

4. Schoolboy Q – Groovy Tony

3. Skepta – Man

2. Moose Blood – Honey

1. PUP – If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You Then I Will

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IM472k0Md8

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TRACK REVIEW: Skepta – Man

The unprecedented growth of Grime was one of the defining moments of British music last year. While it may have been overlooked by the Brits, which has thankfully been balanced out by the recent Ivor Novello nominations, you’ll be hard done to find someone who didn’t hear Skepta’s Shutdown blaring at any point in 2015 as the track managed to etch its minimalistic, catchy hook into the minds of everyone who listened to it.

With his fourth studio album Konnichiwa set to be the general public’s first experience of Skepta in LP form, the Boy Better Know co-founder has a lot of pressure on him which he’s managed to convey brilliantly on Man where a dynamic beat acts as the platform for him to call out friends and foes alike.

Whether it’s teachers who stated that he’d never amount to anything, the police who played a massive role in the death of his friend Mark Duggan or supposed allies who are leeching off his success, Skepta manages to do all witfully and with relative ease. Instrumentally, the track does very little to surprise though it could be that with its placement directly before Shutdown in the album’s tracklisting, it’s all Skepta’s intention to do so.

“Waking up with that on your head almost doesn’t allow you to make the best album you can.”

– Skepta speaking about the long recording process of Konichiwa in an interview with Zane Lowe (18th April 2016)

JME managed to surprise everyone when his album Integrity managed to top album lists in a way that hasn’t been seen in the genre since Boy In Da Corner, a record that single handedly pioneered grime when it first came around. Though it’s not clear what way Konichiwa will go, Man will be sure to feature in clubs and raves everywhere for the duration of 2016.

Thoughts On: The Brit Awards

When your award show is referred to as “the British Grammy’s”, you’d think it was some sort of compliment. Well, that’s until you realise that the Grammy’s themselves considered James Bay more worthy of a Rock Album Of The Year nod than the hundreds of other potential nominees. Fair do’s to the Grammy’s though since they at least have some sort of range instead of the traditional limited list of categories the Brits provide, somehow being the smallest thing at an awards show that includes Dec Connolly.

Despite the excuse that they’re meaningless and shit, the Brits are still open to criticism and after all, this is the awards show where Franz Ferdinand won two out of five awards they were nominated for so they are capable of using their brains from time to time. The latter of this statement is unfortunately false when it comes to looking at one category in particular.

Untitled

Just like Ed Sheeran before him, James Bay will be the golden child of the Brits this year, no doubt picking up every award his little permanently hat attached head is nominated for. It’s no surprise that an awards show will try and make out that they award based on quality rather than sales, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but it all becomes even more gutting when Aphex Twin finally gets the recognition he deserves only to be beaten by Jason Mraz 2.0 .

Not only that but I find it fucking laughable that the Brits will bring the likes of JME and Skepta on stage with Kanye for a performance yet when it comes to representing their genre, they’re not given a hint of recognition. Grime grew exponentially in 2015 and to act as if it doesn’t even exist is just plain ignorance, especially when you’re awards show has enough black nominees that you could count them all on one hand and give the Oscars a run for their money with their lack of representation.

Unlike the Oscars though whose problem lies within the industry they represent rather than the ceremony itself, the Brits has little excuse as they have such a large array of black musicians to choose from: Kwabs, Stormzy, aforementioned JME and Skepta, Fuse ODG (hey, I didn’t say they had to be amazing), they’re just a few and just like the film industry, a lack of diversity results in little aspiration for other POC when it comes to them wanting to achieve in an industry that is largely white dominated.

This was initially going to be my pick of who I think should win but it just got on my nerves that the Brits will claim to be relevant yet will offer a seat to Olly Murs before considering an artist who helped a genre break into the mainstream. Of course there are other categories and I’m happy to see Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX nominated after providing the two essential albums of 2015. Some of you reading this will no doubt slate this as another “PC gone mad” article but that’s not the case: credit should be given where credit is due and that just isn’t the case with the current list of nominees.

As far as I’m concerned, the Brits is fated to continue being the Limp Bizkit of the awards world: trying to act hip and current but failing to realise they were better kept in the 90’s.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

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