40 . Alan Walker – Spectre
39 . Lindsey Stirling – Prism
38 . 3-nen E-gumi Utatan – Bye Bye Yesterday
37 . LITTLE BIG – Hateful Love
36 . Twenty One Pilots – The Judge
35 . Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime
34 . Kungs vs Cookin On 3 Burners – This Girl
33 . SaRaHa – Kizunguzungu
32 . Phantogram – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore
31 . The 1975 – The Sound
Alan Walker has been a dance artist who’s revolutionised modern dance for me this year through producing some frankly amazing riffs and nowhere is that more pronounced than on Spectre, the first track I really got into from him, as the track is almost entirely made up of catchy riffs. Unfortunately the title is just another word for… Ghost, please all groan along with me. But it’s a huge upbeat dancing tune that is well worth its length despite just repeating the main sounds it makes, because those sounds contain wonderful drops.
Two instrumentals in a row, and in fact three if we go back to Epic at #41, Prism was the tune from Lindsey Stirling’s album that I got into most this year, because of its cheery rhythmic attitude and a bit of warm tropical sounds that make it almost seem like Lindsey’s reinventing her sound a bit. Even so, it’s another great one to add to the canon alongside Electric Daisy Violin and songs of that quality. Not quite a year to stand up to 2014 with me and Lindsey but still a fab effort.
Bye Bye Yesterday was the final of the four openings of Assassination Classroom, showing up in the back half of Season 2 as the show drew ever more towards an inevitably emotional conclusion (both graduation of the students and resolving of the show’s plot that must end). To couple with that, Bye Bye Yesterday is wistful in its very sound, and the lyrics, set very much in the past and talking about something that the singers accept will soon be over. Translating: “we laughed and fretted over silly things”, “once that final bell has rung, the fun times will be over”, are all about leaving education, or leaving a regular thing, no matter what it is – I was leaving uni at the time. So it hit me hard. “365 days worth of lessons packed into bags, as we always do, as if saying “see you tomorrow””. Especially as I often saw it accompanied with the visuals of the characters running and because I was heavily emotionally invested in the characters at the time I got emotionally invested in the song. It’s the perfect song to break down crying to as you think about times gone by. Ahem.
There is really not enough rave music in the world. Die Antwoord and Little Big seem to be about the only major proponents of new music of it right now which is frustrating because we deserve more than two talented bands producing it. But if we had any, I’m glad it was those two as they add a healthy dose of weird to any song, and Hateful Love is the best I’ve seen from Little Big’s side of things, as they pen a song about wanting to see the person you love dead, complete with slightly unnerving video. I’d describe this as yandere. Which is a phrase, a Japanese combination of the words ‘mentally ill’ and ‘loving’ to describe someone who expresses their love through violence born through overprotectiveness. It’s an anime term (and fortunately I haven’t come across any true yandere in my experience as those motherf***ers I hear are frightening) but it seems to mostly apply to the sort of love that Little Big want to express here. And, lyrics aside it’s a huge hardcore tune that I’ve gotten very much into.
I’m putting The Judge as the highest Twenty One Pilots song in my chart this year. Although I don’t think Tear In My Heart ever got its full dues in an EOY of me and I added in the whole of Vessel in here so that’s not an accurate picture of my favourite 21P songs just from here. But The Judge is one of my favourite of theirs nevertheless, mainly for the musical progression which is very pleasing, one of the more beautiful twenty one pilots, and I mean that in the classy sense, so often their songs are a bit depressive, The Judge is clean and upbeat and features some lovely ukelele, and lyrics like ‘I know my soul’s freezing, hell’s hot for good reason’ both come across wonderfully and are something that make you stop and think as all good 21P songs do. In this case, they’re trying to make it sound obscure with ‘I don’t know if this one is about me or the devil’, but it comes across as a plea for salvation. So if it’s about the devil, it’s about him pleading to be let back into heaven, where God is the judge. If it’s about a normal person it’s about a mistake they’ve made that they want to be freed – and you’re not necessarily supposed to sympathise with the one pleading with the judge either as the song is focused instead on ‘the leader of the bad guys’.
If 21P are willing to judge someone for their crimes, the next song seems ready to declare freedom from the law as Poli Genova’s If Love Was A Crime goes for the angle of, well then we’d be criminals because we’re so awesomely in love. And of course, with being a Eurovision entry and the recent social revolution that is proper acceptance of LGBT people, it’s obviously been interpreted as a bit of an anthem for that. That wasn’t what originally drew me to it though. Poli Genova was singer on one of Bulgaria’s many underrated entries and possibly the best of those, Na Inat, a huge Pink-esque anthem in Bulgarian that fell out in 2011. With Bulgaria still only on one qualification ever, back in 2007, If Love Was A Crime brought a huge banger out of a country that no one were expecting it to and the reason I first noticed this was the huge attention-grabbing instrumental that plays along very loud in the verses but only properly hits you on the chorus. Poli’s vocals add hugely to this and it translated on stage in Stockholm to give Bulgaria their best result ever and best of all, keeping their top 10 or bust streak. I hope they keep that up for a while actually. I’d like more anthems like this from one of the most maligned Eurovision countries, one of the highlights of the contest, both in song and in journey.
Kungs’ This Girl became one of the most inescapable tracks of the year pretty soon after it surfaced in France and like with Robin Schulz’ brief domination of our dance charts, I accepted the European summer tune with excitement, it sounds like an updated tropical house version of The Avener’s Fade Out Lines and with copious trumpets and it all sounds so wonderful and full that, once it properly grew on me after an average start, I counted it as my summer track. One of them at least. The one that everyone else was also getting into because it was pretty popular on Spotify and I needed something to distract me from the dull summer that everyone playing One Dance must surely have been having.
On Eurovision songs where the performance fills you with joy, just two places above Poli we have my favourite from this year’s Melodifestivalen selection. With very little rock options for me, I guessed my favourite would come from me finding a pop track to stan and a perfect one arose from Tanzanian-Swedish-if-you’re-from-Africa-why-are-you-white artist SaRaHa, whose actual name, Sara Larsson, is probably far too close to a certain other Swedish singer to be used. And Saraha is like Sahara so it’s a cool name. It was actually really cool seeing a local Tanzanian star come to try her hand at Melfest but it was the joy that emanated from Kizunguzungu (and the African sounds backing it up helped a lot) that led to me loving it, a performance that was just so perfect and happy, I had it on repeat for February. I seem to be graduating to the ‘ethniq music’ from Melfest more. But it is tempered with Scandipop sensibilities and the sounds from both cultures unite to create something that’s pretty wonderful. Like if Abba were African. And just one person.
I’ve been sort of following electro-rock outfit Phantogram’s route to stardom and it’s a pretty interesting one, from an act shrouded in mystery, You Don’t Get Me High Anymore’s video looks like a typical popstar video, and while the synths aren’t as present as on Fall In Love, the vocals have improved a lot. Not that they were bad but the quiet pathos on the title line is really good. It’s derivative, sure, but not enough people are doing this sort of thing and it got me listening to it a lot more than I ever did Fall In Love or Black Out Days.
One of the best rock sounds of the year, and one of the few that people seemed to notice, has been the 1975’s complete turnaround from weird vocal indie band to creating a singalong crowd anthem in The Sound. They’re using their popularity well I see. I mean, I eventually came round to Chocolate and their earlier tracks like this but honestly, like with alt-J before them, I prefer their more melodic and production-heavy songs. And, even though most of the lyrics are generic, it has this beauty:
A sycophantic, prophetic, socratic junkie wannabe
There’s so much skin to see
A simple epicurean philosophy
Yeah, the mention of different philosophical schools has me excited, I’m cool. But also they’re just rather wonderful words, particularly ‘epicurean’, to be heard singing. And the fact they are going full Epicurean means that they’re about seeking pleasure above all else and the sound of this song is very pleasurable indeed. That works.
30 . The Chainsmokers – Roses (feat. ROZES)
29 . Yeasayer – I Am The Chemistry
28 . Eir Aoi – Memoria
27 . Greta Salome – Hear Them Calling
26 . Jamala – 1944
25 . Jeff Williams – Red Like Roses (feat. Casey Lee Williams)
24 . Aimer – Brave Shine
23 . MO – Final Song
22 . BOOTS – CURE
21 . Clean Bandit – Rockabye (feat. Sean Paul & Anne Marie)
Two songs about Roses, let’s start off with the first, the highest from The Chainsmokers, who’ve already gotten a lot of love from me in their countdown. But it was their first tune this year that really showed how far they’d come and thus it was the one I stuck with. It starts off ‘take it slow but it’s not typical’, which is a good description of this song, I don’t think it’s typical at all, certainly not in the structure of a club banger, using a singer who’s already shown herself to be good in creating pleasing song melodies and using a lot of vocal distortion on the chorus. I also kind of always think that she’s talking about Haddaway rather than Hideaway so it also gets me thinking what love has to do with this song. A pretty great dance hit that’s almost indie in its structure and outlook. Future Chainsmokers songs would sound more typically mainstream and use more known singers hence bigger hits but this song, named after the singer they chose for it and in a pretty different sound-base for The Chainsmokers, it was a pleasure seeing this one get slightly big.
I started this year off, in my indie song discovery January, by picking up Yeasayer as an act I really liked. I did this by getting into Ambling Alp and 2080 as well as O.N.E from their older stuff just in time for their newest single, and in my opinion is their best. Choirs, little geeky chemistry lyrics, mostly referencing poisons as it happens, a beautiful warbling from Chris Keating, it’s a brilliant musical construct, all leading up to the glorious ‘My mother told me not to fool with oleander’, which I can mishear as Old Leander, an ancient Greek hero, but it’s the perfect climax to a very interesting and experimental song.
Eir Aoi’s Memoria was her debut hit and career move into the anime industry, as it doubled as the first ending to Fate/Zero. I don’t talk as much about endings as I do openings as you tend to skip them a lot more because of where they are in the episode, openings are to get you psyched up for the show while by the time you get to the end of an episode you either want to switch off or go to the next episode, not much in between. But Memoria is the biggest exception to that, I never skipped it. It shows the historical background of the main historical figures taking part in the story of Fate/Zero, back in their old lives, which is a recipe to giving me chills each time I watch it. Some are anime versions of famous paintings, like this one for Rider, going through Archer in his throne room, Lancer with his forbidden lover, Caster being dragged to the stake, Assassin looking upon a landscape, Berserker, identity hidden, looking over a lake, and ending with a very emotional painting for main character Saber. Memoria is a haunting midtempo that goes along behind this one in a super emotional song. Probably even more than Kalafina, this is the soundtrack of Fate/Zero for me. It is really glorious. Eir Aoi is probably my most reliable Japanese singer at this stage.
Up ahead of Poli is my third-favourite Eurovision song of the year and the one where clearly people couldn’t understand how it all went so wrong as Greta Salome’s Hear Them Calling was a huge anthem, an improvement on even the wonderful Never Forget (which also should have done much better and maybe that was an indication that this one was in trouble). It’s a pop song that kind of demands you listen over all the way to the chorus and beyond that, so I don’t know how it failed. Iceland need some love, and deserve to beat the Brits in something as penance. I can’t think what though.
And just edging ahead of it is the eventual winner, and possibly the weirdest winner of Eurovision in the modern age, but that just made it all the more amazing as Jamala’s 1944 came out of absolutely nowhere (proving the new voting system was a huge improvement to exciting proceedings), an addictive yet tearful eastern ballad with weird vocal styles that might lead some to call it an indie winner, and when the options were practically competent but dated pop songs I think it was definitely the right winner. It’s also just an indication of how strong Ukraine’s music scene has gotten, a few years ago Jamala was making throwaway pop, now she’s the hero of a country still going through some tough times but looks to come out of it with a huge musical cultural heritage and Eurovision 2017 to boot. Plus it has meaning by talking about a historical event, about a tragedy that Jamala’s ancestors were involved in, so it feels even more weighty because of that. Best winner since Loreen for me, in being the first one I’ve really ended up enjoying and playing tons after the contest.
Red Like Roses is the song by which most people get introduced to RWBY, by watching the first trailer, the Red Trailer, which shows off first main character Ruby using her scythe-sniper rifle on a group of wolves, with Red Riding Hood parallels invited and encouraged. It’s a mostly instrumental song but it has some very important lyrics, hinting at all of the arcs of the main characters.
Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest
White is cold and always yearning, burdened by a royal test
Black the beast descends from shadows (I always start to get chills at this part)
Yellow beauty burns gold
And then it descends into a bubbly epic instrumental designed to sink in the meaning of those words, which don’t mean anything to you as you start the series but once you get to know the characters each sentence makes sense for each one. There was also a part 2 of Red Like Roses which adds in a few more extra verses. Wonderful song and almost the best of RWBY but not quite, there’s one more song from there. Just one more.
Brave Shine is the third anime song in this section omg izzy you’re such a weeb, this time the second opening, not for Fate/Zero, but for Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. And it’s a really unusual pop song, it’s had a high-budget non-anime music video as well, so there’s an attempt to market it outside of Fate. But like with Memoria, it gives me serious chills on the ‘if you save my life’ bit and just most parts of the chorus, a song that I instantly noticed from watching the show and would look forward to as it showed the characters fighting to it, one of the best anime songs I can think of.
MO + scandinavian cross is one of the most unlikely pop stars to have crossed over lately, I think. Out of the ones that are big. From a lucky feature on Lean On, she’s now inflicting her perfect pop Scandinavian credentials on us all and Final Song was a pretty amazing example of that. I mean, it’s pretty good to have a pop song, even one talking about the night, to talk about the end:
“So hear me out before you say the night is over
I want you to know that we gotta, gotta carry on
So don’t let this be our final song”
Like that’s not amazing lyrics but they really sound good on the song. One of the best hits of the year anyway.
I’ve been missing Gorillaz-esque hip-hop. And what I mean by that is cool, swish sounding hip hop that doesn’t rely on the rappers image and indeed preferably hides it behinds a load of relevant images. And is not talking about any sort of party rap. Could be considered indie enough for Pitchfork to write about it. That sort of thing. C.U.R.E fits the bill for that, having some really cool swish opening lyrics and just generally making a really lovely listen through, an upbeat romp. He’s got some great writing credits on him and they show through here, it’s such a beautifully polished track.
Finally, the last #1 of 2016 for the UK, and a song that took me quite a while to listen to, as I’d near completely given up on the charts by then, even for an act I liked like Clean Bandit. Fortunately Rockabye proved to be worth the wait for me as it nearly soundtracked me out of 2016, with an epic instrumental chorus, Sean Paul shouting surprisingly epic things over the beat of the track, an unusual lyrical subject for a hit but one that’s proved to be quite familiar to Clean Bandit’s style, talking about the common worker and their life and glorifying what they do to manage. You’d have to be made of stone to not feel for the single mother in this song. And that’s a strength alone, making a hit about such a specific subject. That it sounds so good besides that is the icing on the cake as it brings you back to listen to it over and over again. At times I considered if this could overtake Rather Be, and I don’t think it’s quite there but they’ve done an excellent job here of keeping themselves in my affections.