Music

Izzy Stars’ Songs Of 2016 (Part 4)

i have a busy weekend but I’m not letting that break my streak, it will happen, but not tonight

#80 – #61

80 . Lao Ra – Bang Boom
79 . Galantis – No Money
78 . Blossoms – Charlemagne
77 . CHVRCHES – Bury It (feat. Hayley Williams)
76 . Icon For Hire – Now You Know/Bam Bam Pop
75 . Philter – Revolver
74 . FAUN – Federkleid
73 . Christopher Tin – Temen Oblak (Dark Clouds)
72 . Jeff Williams – I May Fall
71 . Sia – Cheap Thrills

I loved Lao Ra last year with Jesus Made Me Bad but Bang Boom improves on that by bringing Lao Ra’s latino Kyla La Grange abilities more in line with an indie Shakira and just going for something that’s upbeat and really fun to listen to as she bang booms out almost as fast as M.I.A. With a bit of Naomi Pilgrim. Okay, basically the point is that Bang Boom combines the sounds and gist of so many great female singers that it couldn’t be not amazing in its end result.

No Money was the crucial third big hit for Galantis that’s solidified them as a name and it’s not really much of a step down in quality from their first two, only a little. It’s incredible because of the instrumental chorus that follows every instance of the high-pitched heart-leaping cry of ‘THIS TIME/NOT THIS TIME’, as well as a surprisingly tight verse that gets right to the point about having fun while broke.

I did try to follow Blossoms a lot more than I did, really I did. But still their best track and the one I listened to most during 2016, as well of the biggest proponents for modern British indie-rock in that year is their ode to one of my favourite historical figures, the first Holy Roman Emperor and king of Francia and all of the Lombards and Germans, Charlemagne. Like with Pompeii, it’s only vaguely alluding to its historical anchor but that the anchor is there is enough for me to take notice and lyrics like ‘a kingdom reigned’ help. They’re using the image of hero worship that people used to have for Charlemagne in the Middle Ages long after his death to mean that the song is talking about something that is an idol of the band. And that’s fine, they don’t need to sing a truly historical song, they’re not Sabaton. The metaphor is appreciated.

Bury It is notable for its wonderful animated video (because everything ever animated that doesn’t look like shit is amazing for me but the video is legitimately wonderful what with its demonstrations of telekinesis). The song is a rather lovely holdover from last year’s Every Open Eye that I didn’t give a focus to as a single so it can have a moment here as it rises above all the ones I chose to highlight last year (except Empty Threat because nothing beats Empty Threat). I love the addition of Hayley to this track too of course. A huge anthem.

I had been waiting for a while for something great to come out of Icon For Hire because as a female-fronted band from Decatur, Illinois with the lead woman singer having pink hair (yes I’m doing this deliberately) and previously sounding exactly like Hayley Williams. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating but they were basically a slightly heavier Paramore with a few Christian and metal influences before this turnaround. Make A Move was rather great. Now You Know is an out and out rapping feminist anthem and the fiery attitude of the lyrics shows that this is more than a song (‘oh your band’s got a chick, must be some kind of trick, there’s no way she got this far without sucking somebody’s’), it’s a statement about sexism in the music industry and is rather inspiring. Effectively the B-side, it was accompanied by a similarly great track called Bam Bam Pop which is a huge pop record featuring fast epic rapping about how generic pop music songs are. Huge props for finding an identity Icon For Hire, please continue with message rap-rock, I enjoy it immensely.

Philter’s Revolver features a ton of beautiful distorted sounds and an instrumental bassline that speaks to me almost directly. It’s gentle in the best way, like it’s caressing your ears. Seriously, I love this sound and its subtle build. This is how you do subtle songs, you make the music and the voice sound like they’re inside your head massaging you. As opposed to droning on.

While I knew of German pagan folk band FAUN before this year I really got into their music this year, with songs like Walpurgisnacht and of course Tanz Mit Mir, but one of their best songs they put out new this year, Federkleid, meaning ‘Feather dress’. It’s a jolly upbeat tune that sounds very much like it’s coming from the alpine hills of the Black Forest, it’s also rather gentle and though I have described it as upbeat, it’s not as much a call to dance as Tanz Mit Mir but more a way for them to show off much more of their German folk mojo. Rather than medieval like Tanz Mit Mir or out and out pagan like Walpurgisnacht, it feels almost Sound Of Music and inter-war in origin. Same setting as Izetta: The Last Witch then but it shows off the diversity they can evoke in background feelings.

Temen Oblak is of course my other huge highlight from The Drop That Contained The Sea, hitting me hugely in October this year with the striking calls of Le Mystere De Voix Bulgares (proud winners of ‘first noted inspiring female artist to Gorillaz’ lately). And that sort of choral sound is something I love so often in all my tracks but here they feel almost otherworldly and inhuman as they build up the tenseness of dark clouds sweeping in. From something that already sounds urgent and tense as you start the track it locks you into something that demands your attention even more as the track comes to an end after a rollercoaster of Bulgarian sounds. I love Christopher Tin so much for creating these sorts of genius arrangements.

I May Fall is a song that has given me many chills when listening to it all. Unlike many of the other RWBY songs, it was never an opening nor was it originally tied to a character, but having been around since volume 1, it got its dues in a climactic scene in volume 3 when a character previously unused in epic ways for the entire show, like this song, gets her transcendent moment of glory attached to it. A midtempo with a sense of danger and foreboding attached to it, ‘There’s a day when all hearts shall be broken, when a shadow shall cast out the light, when our eyes cry a million tears, help won’t arrive’ and ‘as the skies rain blood, and the end draws near’. It’s a song that turns out to have been foreshadowing the direction of the show and the sense of loss that’s palpable throughout this song really speaks to one of my favourite tropes in fiction no matter how overused it may get, the act of a noble, heroic, sacrifice, especially when the sacrificial hero is doing so by showing some previously hidden strength. But there is hope in it as the tag line is ‘I may fall, but not like this, it won’t be by your hand’, indicating that things will get better eventually. RWBY is rarely subtle in its song lyrics but to be honest that just impresses me more that it has the balls to directly address issues going on in the show with terrific tunes without worrying that the songs will seem uncool. Too little of that now.

Finally a hit. I won’t bore you by saying how brilliant Cheap Thrills was as a pop song and how it overstayed its welcome or anything like that. I’m just really glad Sia is continuing to get hits and Cheap Thrills is the sort of generational anthem I can get behind even if expensive thrills are far better if you can afford them. Because I have class and things.

70 . Ultra Tower – Kibou No Uta
69 . Twenty One Pilots – Heathens
68 . ZOE – Loin D’Ici
67 . Crystal Fighters – All Night
66 . Henrik The Artist – Perfect Workout
65 . Grimes – Flesh Without Blood
64 . Wardruna – Odal
63 . Thomas Bergersen – Children Of The Sun (feat. Merethe Soltvedt)
62 . Baracuda – Where Is The Love (Nightcore)
61 . GARNiDELia – Yakusoku

One of the things I immediately noticed about Food Wars was, apart from the embarassing reactions to eating food that is, the strength of its opening song. It’s a towering triumph of a pop song with a slightly imperfect voice, a killer riff, a great build, it’s just everything you could want in a male guitar-pop song. Now now, don’t leave quite yet, it’s really quite exciting. No Ed Sheeran or the Vamps here, the East does exciting things when they put boys with guitars and this could put many pop songs in the West to shame. This is why they’re better x

Actually, it’s not all that disimilar to an upbeat Heathens, which is one of the West’s few notable triumphs at putting boys with guitars to sing a soundtrack for visual entertainment. I hear this visual entertainment was awful and I’m not going to find out. But the soundtrack to Suicide Squad, as often seems to be the case with awful big box office movies (the cynical part of me says that these big names coming in to produce quality music is a way for the producers to make their money back because they know the film is too shit to truly make what a good film could), is actually rather incredible. But Heathens is great, probably the closest thing we have to Emo for the generation growing up in the 10s, using one of my favourite insult words (because of its historical and religious connotations), heathens. It seems to be a song about loneliness and withdrawing from the outside because it’s hostile and abusive out there. The ballad style with the guitar backing just sounds incredible.

On the OTHER end of the spectrum of happiness, Zoe’s Loin d’ici qualifying for the Eurovision final was one of the better moments of last year’s Eurovision, because who would otherwise expect a twee-pop in French (major props for sending something not in English Austria) from a country that historically has not done the best and also could have suffered the previous host’s curse this year. Everything seemed to go against Loin d’ici but the happy performance won people over and it sailed through against my expectations. As it’s probably the happiest and cutest thing Eurovision’s done for ages I couldn’t help but love it.

I’d never really given much time to Crystal Fighters before although I knew their name was hanging around the Radio 1 scene. Something I’m not into much these days, as much as I’d like to be cool. But as fate would have it, on one of the few times I listened to it, this song was playing and I instantly fell in love. The title’s good too, it has a good history with Icona Pop although The Vamps seem determined to ruin it. Crystal Fighter’s All Night is an upbeat song that sounds like a rock-less Smallpools’ Dreaming. A bit. I may be exaggerating with the amount of songs I say sound like this song, it’s probably more like an indie-pop band that I can’t quite think of right now. Empire Of The Sun perhaps?. But it’s in that area of synth-indie anthem and for a song that is about nothing but partying all night it’s lovely.

A couple of songs really stuck with me from a Reinvention contest I took part in this year. The best was a huge beat happy hardcore version of Perfect (Exceeder), called Perfect Workout, that had me falling in love with that song all over again in this new version. It’s basically nightcore really. We all know how much I love that because of how it so simply reinvents a song and this does exactly the same but for a song that a) needed an updating, and b) hadn’t had a great nightcore version that I’d heard before. The energy with which it dives into that bragging chorus we all know and love is just undeniable.

Flesh Without Blood was huge for the people who were actually on top of Grimes at the end of last year. I only got into her Art Angels era about exactly a year ago and even then Flesh Without Blood was a song that needed time to grow on me into the huge pop anthem it is, her vocals are so dreamy and enticing on this (particularly on ‘now you’ll never know’ and other similar lines where she goes impossibly high). Such a top-notch track, I hope it becomes a modern classic in years to come.

Wardruna, okay, metal, worldly, folk, nothing needed to say about this, let’s move on. Well, I do want to talk about this a bit, it’s so heavy, it’s got an awesome undercurrent swelling through its backing, it sounds like ancient Nordic chants, it has such a huge presence that I was never not going to love this. And I do, it sounds like Valhalla is coming down upon someone who’s wronged the gods in the form of Ragnarok and nothing can ever sound bad with that image in your mind.

Thomas Bergersen’s Children Of The Sun is by the composer who wrote my #1 song of last year, Compass, featuring the vocals of the same singer who sang on that beautiful track. Children Of The Sun is still absolutely epic but it’s not quite at that level. Although, it goes for a very interesting angle to make me interesting, rather than tear-jerking and pointing you in the right direction in life (not kidding), it’s like a triumphal statement of confidence in that we are children of the sun and that’s a wonderful thing, as a rippling almost metal instrumental (like a dance 2015 Nightwish, I’m not having the best night with these comparisons am I) runs all around the track, before ending with a slow shining sun-like drop. I like to think it’s aimed at some sun-god or other or just that the Sun has a personality. It’s definitely something I’ve listened to and enjoyed many a time.

Oh look, it wasn’t coincidental that I mentioned Nightwish (yes it was), because up next is the closest representation they have in my songs list this year by virtue of not doing anything this year. But I still will force them in if I can, and because I entered Baracuda’s Where Is The Love to the reinvention spinoff this year, it counts as I spent quite a long time listening to this. The track, made by a Eurodance band, steals samples the bassline of Nightwish’s Amaranth note for note and creates an entirely different set of lyrics and song sound over it. Which, as my second major music genre love after rock is actually dance, particularly eurodance, particularly nightcored eurodance, this specific combination sounds completely amazing. Not better than the original, but one of the best reworkings, everything coming together, the non-nightcore version isn’t that good, I could have hoped for.

And we come to an end tonight with GARNiDELia, a J-rock artist I’d heard a few songs from before but nothing had really impressed me, until Yakusoku showed up and just really wowed me with its great beat and wonderful singing. It’s an anime opening but I haven’t watched the one it’s associated with and confusingly, in the video, it seems to want to do a homage to Unlimited Blade Works instead (a much better anime than Qualidea Code in all likelihood, I say this tentatively of course). But the rock sound, regardless of anime, is utterly awesome. I just love Japanese as a sung language and the riffs they put in their songs just make me even more determined to spread the word. A very great discovery. And look, we top-tailed this section with Japanese. Er… get used to that.

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