Music

Izzy Stars’ Songs Of 2016 (Part 2)

#150-#100

yes I know it’s almost the end of January, I just do this at my own pace

150 . Ani Glass – Y Ddawns
149 . Fiestar – Mirror
148 . Ecca Vandal – Father Hu$$la
147 . Ling Tosite Sigure – Abnormalize
146. Kids Of The Apocalypse – Better Life
145 . Raye – Shhh
144 . 3-nen E-gumi Utatan – Question
143 . Maceo Plex – Mirror Me
142 . Beware Of Darkness – Dope
141 . Dolly Style – Rollercoaster

A Welsh-language indie beauty, Y Ddawns struck me in that I didn’t really expect it to strike me, but the incredible Celtic sound carries over to it and it’s really beautiful. Similarly beautiful, a bit more upbeat but relying on a strong instrumental undercurrent, Fiestar’s Mirror is the best I’ve heard that particular K-Pop group do to date.

Mirror songs are often really good (for reasons I suspect have to do with the identity crisis apparent in most mirror songs) and that’s mirrored in Maceo Plex’s Mirror Me, a seven minute epic with dark stabbing synths and an accusing voice that I always look forward to hearing. Similarly harsh, and sounding slightly like it’s talking about some corrupt Russian Orthodox priest, Ecca Vandal’s Father Hu$$la uses a similarly unusual voice from Ecca to keep my interest into an amazing track.

Abnormalize is a bit of indie-rock, a bit of progressive metal, it uses a wispy slightly pop voice, it’s a real mix of genres and not a song I’d ever have expected to be fronting an anime (having said that, I’ve just got to Death Note’s second opening and well… that kind of tops everything else). I slightly prefer Abnormalize to the second opening for Psycho Pass, Out Of Control, it’s not as anthemic but it’s a more unusual song overall and that seems to be the theme of this section for sure.

Slow and grandiose in its subtlety, Better Life explodes into a half cinematic banger, half that lazy-indie-rap sound that remains so compelling, a wonderful return for an artist I didn’t expect to hear more from.

Raye has been someone to make me feel good about the future of British pop as for once, I think she’s not boring and dull, but rather has a comparatively interesting singing voice and more importantly does lots of little digs and swings in her songs that make it sound a lot more worthwhile, Shhh is a great example of this, the way it builds to that grand climax is lovely.

The first song from Assassination Classroom to show up here is Question, slightly more serious than other openings, I love getting chills as it pans over each student in the opening reel, and the building lyrics (translated of course) of ‘and just when I get warmed up’ as it leads into the chorus. The only reason it’s lower than the main two I love is the chorus line of ‘question, question’ (this in English) took me a while to get used to – it makes sense for the story but feels a little like a sudden stop musically.

Dope is a really energetic rock song that sounds like the White Stripes reborn. At least I think so. It has pulsating guitars, it’s really upbeat, it’s lovely to listen to, and Beware Of Darkness just for that are one of the best bands I’ve discovered this year.

And after the triumph of Hello Hi last year and the… triumph(?) of lyrics that Cherry Gum was, Rollercoaster, well, it was awesome seeing Dolly Style back again. And Rollercoaster… it didn’t stick with me as much because MFest feels so long ago now but it’s certainly well worthy of a place in the discography of the most strange pop band Sweden’s produced for a while.

140 . Eclipse – Runaways
139 . Courage My Love – Stereo
138 . Danny L Harle – Ashes Of Love (feat. Caroline Polachek)
137 . Midnight In Monaco – One In A Million
136 . Pegboard Nerds – Emoji
135 . Elle King – Ex’s and Oh’s
134 . Argo – Utopian Land
133 . Holdviola – Vagta
132 . Galantis & Hook n Sling – Love On Me
131 . Primal Scream & Sky Ferreira – Where The Light Gets In

I am of the strong opinion that Melodifestivalen always needs a good glammy rock band (especially if it’s a schlager song disguised as a rock song) to spice up the variety of options the Swedish people have – even if they’ll only once in a 2007 choose that option. Mainly because it vastly improves my enjoyment having something to contrast against the hordes of (admittedly mostly also good) pop songs and that’s why I loved 2013 so much because everything turned on its head that year. Sadly, in 2016, Eclipse were the lone flag flier for this sort of music and they weren’t REALLY a patch on past glories like Outtrigger or Dynazty, but they did deliver a solid rock anthem that sounds amazing a year on. I don’t see anything that looks like it’ll be in this genre at all in 2017 sadly unless Roger Pontare goes for that sound this time, but maybe there’s a name in there that I’ve missed that’ll give me something like this.

Stereo builds on the great songs I’ve heard lately from Courage My Love, much more pop than I’ve heard from them before but it’s strong musically and while not as good as Skin And Bone is still brilliant.

From Forever reaching as high as #11 last year, Danny L Harle hasn’t been quite as flawless this year, I didn’t like his Carly Rae Jepsen song but this, with the lead singer of Chairlift on vocal duties is a strong dance song that basically is most of the things I like about him without being quite as transcendental as Forever was.

Midnight In Monaco, I don’t quite know how to express how I love this, it has a non-stop synth bassline over the song, the band name evokes an urban night… thing, it’s a fab piece of synthpop I guess. Fortunately, with Emoji up next, I can just do this for biggrin.gif dance.gif yahoo.gif cheer.gifkink.gif dancing.gif funky.gif – that’s the most emoticons I’ve used for years and even though it’s for a reason I still feel dirty. But it’s great seeing Pegboard Nerds back with a proper banger that does weird things with drops all over the place that somehow work brilliantly and come together for a great tune.

Ex’s and Oh’s, a pop hit early in the year, I had been sort of interested in Elle King after the quite good America’s Sweetheart, but Ex’s and Oh’s was a huge improvement, making use of her unusual notable vocals in a cool swish way, to make a guitar-pop song that is really alive. I wish it had been even bigger, there’s not enough of this personality-filled excitement on the charts.

This year saw the first time Greece has sat on the sidelines of the Eurovision final and unfortunately, it was with one of their really good songs. They’re normally high-quality but seeing a song with a really interesting flowing eastern instrumental, a hook line that in ‘we’re the rising sun, join with us for a utopian land’, feels really cool and inspirational, running in the video, some rapping which wasn’t actually that bad, some Pontic Greek being spoken (god knows non-English language, particularly dialectic ones are rare enough to be treasured at Eurovision these days), it ended up being one of my favourites of Eurovision this year and seeing it rejected was… less than ideal.

Proving non-English superiority, up next is a beautiful Hungarian pop song by the name of Vagta, which made use of an amazing pop voice, a shimmering backing track and held vocals to create something wonderful.

Galantis had two of my top 10 last year. Maybe it’s because they’re not quite as fresh a name but they haven’t QUITE lived up to those lofty standards this year although they’ve made a good job of it – Scandidance is one of my biggest weaknesses in popular music. Love On Me was very fun in the last quarter of the year when otherwise I was pretty much completely ignoring the charts more than I ever had before.

Primal Scream are a band that I occasionally really like something from – I especially like Country Girl from back in the day. This duet with Sky Ferreira, quite an unusual and eye-catching collaboration, is quite the incredible duet that I spent quite a few weeks getting into but sadly left behind and it’s only just returning to it now that I realise how brilliant it is. The interloping between singers is some of the best, the track feels fresh and exciting with synths and instrumental backing pouring all over it – a hidden gem I’d say.

130 . Bastille – Good Grief
129 . Celtic Woman – Tir Na NÓg
128 . Lights & Motion – The Spectacular Quiet
127 . ManuElla – Blue And Red
126 . RMB – Spring
125 . Jeff Williams & Casey Lee Williams – Time To Say Goodbye
124 . The Chainsmokers – Don’t Let Me Down
123 . Simone – Heart Shaped Hole
122 . filous – Feel Good Inc (feat. LissA)
121 . Lemon Demon – Touch Tone Telephone

Often underrated by me in that I underestimate how much I like it until I listen to it, Good Grief is actually a great return for Bastille, not quite as special as Pompeii but cool to see them back. I can’t really resist Celtic sounds with the implied grandiose ancient traditions such sounds have (and given Oonagh is German, it melds two cultures I myself have heritage in, that’s a pattern that’s gonna get continued), so Tir Na NÓg, a song about going to the Celtic heaven, the land of youth, being very joyful, it’s wonderful.

I placed Lights & Motion in my top 200 last year for Fireflies and almost should have put them a bit higher so seeing them in here again is no surprise because they bring forward some of the best post-rock one can imagine. All of the best parts of that wonderful genre are evoked here. In that The Spectacular Quiet is a stargazing, contemplative, dreamy tune that gets you lost in thought as it plays quietly building in the background before exploding into a wonderful array of sounds, which is the key principle of post-rock and why I always want to add more great stuff when I find a gem. There’s not much in here but when I find the tunes I like I really get attached to them and I’m attaching myself to this one like with Fireflies.

Blue And Red continues Slovenia’s line of competent Eurovision entries, a bit country pop and a bit corny on the lyrics but that’s not the worst thing to have, somehow ‘how can I mix red and blue together’ feels rather poignant. I don’t know how my mind works, but colours are good and symbolic.

RMB, a 90s dance track, with clearly some classical influences as it stabs the synths down brightly into an upbeat seasonal tune was something I got rather into after its appearance in BJSC, something I was very glad to add to my repetoire of amazing 90s dance.

Time To Say Goodbye, the second volume opening for RWBY from the 2014-2015 of it, highlights that things will not always be rosy in the RWBY world ‘there’s a point where it tips, there’s a point where it breaks’, ‘there’s a line that we’ll cross and there’s no return, there’s a time and place no bridges left to burn ANYMORE’, ‘our enemies are gathering, the storm is growing deadly’ ‘now it’s time to say goodbye to the things we loved and the innocence of youth’ all set to a pounding epic female rock beat. I think there’s no question that I was going to love that.

The first of three from the most unlikely highlights of popular music this year shows up in the form of Don’t Let Me Down by the Chainsmokers. Far from their ignominious start, they’ve spent this year making dance tunes with messy and interesting drops while calling on the vocal services of a different member of the horde of Lorde-alikes that are bubbling under the pop scene right now. Don’t Let Me Down features one of the most pop of those, Daya, so feels the trashiest of the three, but the lyrical idea of Don’t Let Me Down, the video imagery of the Chainsmokers marching towards Daya on an unimportant country road, makes this for me. Don’t Let Me Down may be outside the top 100 but the other two are going to be some of the most major of players from the popular music catalogue this year. Consistently the creators some of the happiest and least boring pop songs this year.

What I wish I could be announcing as Denmark’s entry, I share the feelings of basically everyone that Simone would have been one of Denmark’s best Eurovision options in years. Heart Shaped Hole shows off some lush vocals, a ballad drawout that feels perfect and a steady beat that combines to produce one of the most interesting pop midtempos I’ve heard this year.

I’ve ragged on tropical house covers of popular songs a lot this year so it’s partly surprising that I have one up this high when it’s covering one of my favourite songs ever but also not surprising. I love the layout of Feel Good Inc as a song so I’d like it whoever sings it (original is still 100 times better but I’m still keen on this), and filous & LissA do a vocal-muffled breakdown in place of the rap to make this version a bit more unique and it all feels pretty respectful and I think that it never looked like being a hit or even at all outshining the original helped that. A good summer tune.

Finally, Lemon Demon produced a fairly ordinary song by his standards (that’s just me remembering Ultimate Showdown a bit too much) but Touch Tone Telephone is still pleasingly weird and an upbeat synthy-indie song with great lyrics namedropping Leonard Nimoy, ancient aliens, claiming to be an expert, it’s all about being inside the mind of a conspiracy theorist. A humorous look at that of course, but he never goes off-message.

(Jain – Come should be around here but it’s not in my list, who cares about numbers anyway)
120 . Lia – My Soul, Your Beats
119 . Nightcall – Dead V (Vocal Version)
118 . Royksopp – Never Ever (feat. Susanne Sundfor)
117 . Samir & Victor – Bada Nakna
116 . Sofi De La Torre – Colorblind Cruisin
115 . SMILO – Weight Of The World/Young Again (see, who cares about numbers)
114 . St Lucia – Dancing On Glass
113 . Mssingno – Scope
112 . Riton – Rinse And Repeat
111 . Ghost – Square Hammer

So Jain, a very capable French hit that I should have shortlisted for this, it was high in my BJSC EoY (quick reminder that while I’m generally trying to keep a similar order to that it’s failing spectacularly because I made the orders on different days), a bouncy cool pop song that’s going in my playlist anyway.

On to more songs and we reach the first anime song for a while, My Soul, Your Beats, the opening song for Angel Beats. The plink plonk of the piano that this song is built around hits right home with images of that wonderful series, while Lia is a singer who hangs around the background of rich instrumentals and sings delicately without overtaking that, creating something really lovely and emotional.

Dead V is has a deep lush background instrumental that does simulate an imagery of a dark nightly city, so atmospheric, while the vocals from Dreamhour add a lot more urgency to this lush track.

Running With The Sea is one of the best tracks of the last few years so clearly Royksopp recognised that and brought back the wonderful Susanne Sundfor for another go, this time on a much more upbeat song, with her vocals layered all the way around the track coming at you at a ferocious pace. Couldn’t be more different from Running By The Sea but is similarly amazing.

On the other end of the credible scale, I was ashamed I liked Bada Nakna as much as I did, rooted as it was in an excuse for homosexual men the world over to hyperventilate when the two guys singing it went topless in front of all of Sweden. And by a duo who had penned an ode to a god damn group selfie the year before. But it’s a really catchy tune that feels really heroic given its trashy origins, I wish it had done slightly better in the final as it was a track that really grabbed me when I didn’t expect it to and that’s sometimes the purest love you have for music.

SMILO were a wonderful band in Melfest, proving a rare exception to the quality level boybands jumping on the tropical house bandwagon in being rather amazing with Weight Of The World. They continued it with Young Again, one of the most alive and joyous Avicii pastiches I’ve had the pleasure of acquainting myself with.

Fast-paced pop has been doing well here, because it’s exciting and exciting is good. Colorblind Cruisin is a pop song spitting lyrics faster than many well-flowing rappers do, yet feeling very calm and “cruising” despite that. Great song.

St. Lucia still hasn’t topped September but he’s done a good job of putting out quality tunes and Dancing On Glass is no exception, a whirlwind of synths and I’m always good with a whirlwind of synths. Another return for me from MssingNo, after the cute carefree sound of Xe2 that I loved, Scope is just as good and exudes a similar attitude, light computerized compelling vocals coming in over a really unique backing track to create a track that I’m definitely always ‘stuck on’.

The breakfree song from Riton was the best I’ve heard from them, a rhythmic dance song that adds in more elements into its deliberately repetitive sound to create something that builds (again, that’s always really good) before it rinses and repeats and creates a new iteration of the building. Basically what Fatboy Slim’s Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat SHOULD have sounded like.

I haven’t been aware of hard-rock band Ghost before Square Hammer but clearly I should be paying more attention as Square Hammer creates a sound that sounds like a return for mid-00s rock bands, a bit like a slightly harder 3 Doors Down but with even more frenzied urgency and riffs descending into the dark (are you ready to swear right now before the devil) chorus. Definitely a rock song I found essential in the last months of 2016.

110 . LUH – $ORO
109 . Mike Posner – I Took A Pill In Ibiza (SeeB Remix)
108 . Twilight Force – Flight Of The Sapphire Dragon
107 . Parade Of Lights – Feeling Electric
106 . Vesala – Tequila
105 . BLVCK CEILING – WVFFLIFE (CHVRN Remix)
104 . Kero Kero Bonito – Break/Trampoline
103 . Hilight Tribe – Free Tibet (Veni Vici Remix)
102 . Lindsey Stirling – Hold My Heart (feat. ZZ Ward)
101 . Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

$ORO has a really strong instrumental bassline helped by some weird and noticeable vocals that buoy it up throughout the grindy wondrous first half. That sort of beautiful sound, classical riffs hidden in harsh sounds is really quite beautiful for me, I count team rockit’s aura as one of the base tracks for this sort of sound but LUH is a more weighty and dramatic song of that type and you feel all of it.

I Took A Pill In Ibiza, one of the year’s most unlikely yet biggest hits and one that spawned a cult of discussion over the incredibleness/audacity of a one hit wonder actually returning to the forefront of pop and having a second hit by talking about how terrible it is to be a one hit wonder. Helped of course by SeeB, Ibiza is melancholic and depressive and yet feels good to listen to as… and this was important in my #2 of last year, Road Of Resistance, it tells the story of the musician singing it and that’s so important to do when you can. Helps add meaning and weight to it. Also it’s a good warning against ruining your life to take a pill. Because doing drugs is bad, kids. (this from someone who’s never used and never planned to, this song or not)

Camp power metal is a speciality of mine. So discovering a band called Twilight Force had done a track all about a Sapphire Dragon and set it to power metal with band members dressed up as elves and using Disney-esque riffs… I was floored. The singer looks very much like Thor too, so it just adds to the whole fantastical elements of it. Something that’s hard to describe until you actually listen to it. But those instrumental riffs are completely celticly amazingly awesome.

Feeling Electric I first heard in 2015 but dismissed it pretty quickly, I came back to it this year in BJSC and it sounded so much better, all Smallpools-y and alive, the sort of indie-pop anthem that I really enjoy seeing coming out from a band like that.

Tequila is I think the highlight of Finnishness this year, but it has most of the things I love about Finnish pop, airy vocals, a title that sounds completely at odds with the tone of the song which can be just as good as a title that totally fits sometimes, as long as the title’s interesting, and Tequila’s not a normal title for a song unless you’re Doop. But yeah, builds really well and is a total tune.

WVFFLIFE’s remix proved the power of witch house, not quite at Izetta levels of power but close enough, the drops, the choral voices doing work all over the place, it was one of the few times I got totally enraptured with this strange subgenre.

Kero Kero Bonito’s single outings is in two – this was originally supposed to be Break as that was what I charted but well, Trampoline was almost better so I just decided to them both, both great forms of pop, Break about the amazingness of taking a break in the middle of whatever you’re doing, Trampoline about totally letting yourself go. I mean, it’s not that innovative but interspersed with KKB’s trademarks of computerized fluffy pop and random Japanese words, it becomes something quite brilliant.

Free Tibet is something I really don’t need to say much on, if you’ve heard it, you’ll know what it is and why it’s here, if you haven’t, you have yet to discover one of the greatest moments of your life, go youtube it. Dance song descends into Dharmic chants that bubble along in twists and turns so unexpected you treasure it forever despite its length is probably all I need to say.

Lindsey Stirling did a lot more vocal tracks on her album this time and I don’t really mind this, I love her instrumental but a good vocal track of hers can be really good, as this one with ZZ Ward proves, fast and with tons of violin swishes as per normal but with ZZ singing some of her more poignant lyrics (don’t need a man to hold my hand, I just want one to hold my heart), which, any time someone does the love song in a slightly unexpected way, I’m cool with it.

And the last song to fall outside my top 100 which probably is a top 100 if I haven’t forgotten anything else is Georgia’s wonderful Oasis-inspired Eurovision entry, proud recipient of the British seal of approval on the night of Eurovision, a surprise qualifier to haunt the dreams of all the pop fans and a banger of an indie-rock track besides. It wasn’t so great for me at first, but it grew and it grew hard.

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