Tracks of 2016: #19 Dua Lipa

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Pop. then.

This year has perhaps not produced much in the way to fill a compilation CD, and no, NOW compilations don’t count, they’ve long since collected together variations on the same drumbeat. I think maybe the people responsible for the NOW listings wouldn’t reduce themselves to the level of Commercial Radio playlist compilers. That would be a demotion and then some.

What good pop has, er, popped up has not exactly needed to pogo-stick whilst on fire to stand out. “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” merely walked into a single gay club, whistled, and carried off the money in a cloud of CKIn2U and Liquid Gold. I heard this song in a gay club surrounded by dozens of people united in two actions: singing along to the chorus and checking Shazam. Instant hit, just add water(ed down beer).

I am led to understand that there are now so many remixes of this single that the people who used to package 1990s dance singles on cassette with approximately 25 different versions per tape are considering it a touch outré. In a year of the over-saturated and over-played, this corker wins many more battles than it entered.

Tracks of 2016: #18 YJY

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Altar Flowers, remember them from a number of tracks ago?

If you liked them…give “Summer Lifeguard” a go. Blimey Charlie this is good. It’s a touch of Wilco and Weezer, and a hell of a serving of the type of charming indie I thought had withered on the vine. It was an instant hit to my ears, and they’re sometimes very difficult to please.

Youthful attitudes, flippant  “Unless I’m drowning, don’t give a shit about me,” what a lyric. What else to do but smile? I don’t care that it hardly goes anywhere. Some of the best songs take a long time doing nothing. And when it’s this much fun, let’s get in the water.

Tracks of 2016: #17 ACCÜ

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If there’s one album I would listen to so many times on repeat, and on my ownsome glued to headphones and MSN Messenger, it was Broadcast’s “Tender Buttons”. For fans of that album, and so many artists who swim in that particular pool, may I please introduce ACCÜ.

As a fan of Gwenno, this Welsh-language electronica track is right up my valleys, I can tell you. Mystical and ethereal, “Adain Adain” floats around with the right amount of darkness in the background, just as good electronica always should. If there’s no faint sense of pessimism, you’re not doing it right.

What does it all mean? Haven’t a clue. What I know is the way this song fixes itself in the right part of the music:imagination slot of my brain, the place where imaginary videos and invented lyrics all mingle together for their own enjoyment. The food being supplied by this track should keep them going for a tidy while. Da iawn.

Tracks of 2016: #16 Altar Flowers

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Funny what the Internet can do.

There’s meeting people at gigs because they’ve not got a plus+1 and you have (waves to the person to whom this refers.) There’s meeting people for brief moments of pleasure (shrugs shoulders, I’ve only heard about this on the bus.)

And there’s finding a band who you don’t just really like, but who you end up chatting to about, er, Eurovision, if I recall. Hello Altar Flowers.

I can hardly deny liking Altar Flowers very much. As you may have noticed throughout this rundown, I’m a sucker for good old honest songs with heart and substance; maybe it’s the long lost 1980s goth inside me who never had the chance to develop who loves Altar Flowers’ retro touches. Melodies as strong as eye-liner is fundamental, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Tracks of 2016: #14 Palomino Party

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What the Hell are we listening to?

That’s a question often placed straight at my door. At work (because I try to sneak on 6Music for a bit). At home (because I try to sneak 6Music on for a bit). At house parties (because invitations to use Spotify always turns my head into a mush of mainstream chart music and cheese at the worst possible times).

Question me again, then, folks, because here’s Palomino Party and I haven’t got an inch of an idea. To what am I listening? To whom? For why?

Great though, eh? Unhinged at the start, in that way which would cause the unsuspecting outsider to reach for the “skip” button. And you’re talking to an expert here, I had a barmaid use the BIG BAD JUKEBOX SKIP RED BUTTON OF DOOM before “One Night In Bangkok” had got past the orchestral sweep of its introductory movement. “Black Russian” turns into a sludgy, murky, pop-sprinkled guitar wigout and I ruddy love it, so skip button be damned, I don’t know much about this band at all although I’m certain we could prop up a few bars.

Tracks of 2016: #13 The Coral

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A conversation picked up at work, I think from something I heard on the radio, about those albums released at the height of 1990s Britpop-infused guitar frenzy. Many of the albums which came from that period now seem awfully dated and “of their time”. Further, of course, many of those bands have either moved lightyears away from those Britpop chart-toppers (that’ll be your Blur) or disappeared through various ways and fashions (that’ll be your Pulp.)

Then there’s those whose albums seem to be watchwords for the 1990s and early 2000s who have carried on quietly, methodically and doing so with loyal fans in happy rapture (that’ll be your Gomez, your James, your The Coral.)

The lights may have faded, the live music shows have all been yanked off air or marginalised, music itself may have transformed into an unrecognisable industry, yet here these bands remain. In the specific case of The Coral, remaining with songs far removed from the quasi-Merseybeat image of their mainstream hits: this new material is broad and brashy and satisfyingly trippy. I’ll suggest very early “The Actor” era-ish Moody Blues as a companion piece.



Tracks of 2016: #12 The Capital

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You know a good song when you hear it, yes? The innate sense of immediate approval, the pursed lips, the nod, the whispered “oh yeah”, the click of “Buy Now” or “Download This”. Something about a good old fashioned no nonsense song when all the elements of what has been recorded clicks with whatever you’ve been wanting to hear; that’s a darn good feeling.

In what I call a “previous life”, advice was given to me to never review guitar-based music as “raw”. It’s like saying “I support healthcare” as a politician: of course guitars are going to make a rock song “raw”, that’s the whole point. I retort now. many years later, how else could I describe “Hummingbird”, have you noticed the lyrics?

It’s not that this track, number 12 in my in-no-particular-order run down, happens to be the unofficial number 1 by the way. There’s been plenty of pursed lips and nods with my headphones in, let me tell you. “Hummingbird” blimey heck should be on far more lists than this one, and very high in the rankings too. What hits me about the song is how it’s clearly crafted but without any artificial polish: if there’s no way around the ban on “raw”, might I get away with “natural” ?

Or a less flim-flam way of putting it: a damn good song.

Tracks of 2016: #11 ZAYN

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“Green Man” by Mark Owen. Remember it? Of course you don’t. Nobody does. I doubt Mark does (if the “green” in the title means what it likely did, check the art work.)

Not long after the slow release/rapid collapse of Take That, “Green Man” sneaked out like a fart in a church, the first full album of a former member which didn’t ostensibly represent a full-on peroxide hair dye pill-chomping breakdown. That we know about. By most measures and considerations, Owen’s stepping away from boyband unity to mucky-haired indie boy was a disaster of epic proportions: those who were convinced that the lad had musical chops on the basis of “Clementine” soon found themselves knee high in festival mud and new-age whimsy. It’s not always sensible to leave the comfort of manufactured pop *and* reinvent your output all in one go.

Fast forward to 2016, slap bang in the middle of the immediate post-Bowie aftermath indeed, and reinvention was clearly the topic du jour. Enter stage left Zayn Malik. Sorry. I mean Zayn. Sorry again: ZAYN. Capitals. Important business. Significant. Goes well with a hashtag and sans serif fonts.

ZAYN took an almighty dump on just about every element of his boyband life in the moments between leaving and releasing “Pillowtalk”. Shit dumping on this scale would usually require an expert in colonoscopy. Achingly cool to the point of parody (HE SWEARS IN SONGS NOW! HE SAYS SWEAR WORDS!) this would have been the start of something quite significant (HE SINGS IN URDU ON THE ALBUM! WITH A THICK BRADFORDIAN ACCENT! TAKE THAT BREXIT!) were it not for commercial radio to take one collective listen to the follow up single and go “…..nah, not for us.”

Tracks of 2016: #10 Boxed In ft Formation

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Boxed In, back in.

So it goes that my annual selection touches on similar themes. Boxed In featured last year with “Full Circle”. How could I resist this fantastic groove, another to mix and mingle the blatantly retro with the cutting edge?

For “Running Out”, those retro touches are unbridled tributes to synth pioneers over a twenty-to-thirty year period. It rushes past you quickly and unashamed: this is power pop with something of the swish, the urban, the inner city. The outside world can be pushed aside with the strut of this track’s attitude, just put in the noise-cancellers and get out there.

I compare and re-visit the previous lists quite often. Patterns do emerge, of course they do. Humans like their patterns. Maybe there was, just at the back of my mind, a narrative reason behind choosing certain songs to follow each other. An inner DJ thinking process? Occasionally showing that I can review and research these things, now and then? A little from column a, a little from column b.

Tracks of 2016: #9 BOSS

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An unexpected selection.

Remember when a fringe element of the dance scene took it upon themselves to pretend that sounding like a Commodore 64 loading screen was somehow a “thing”? This track has that “thing” running through it. And it sounds fantastic. The retro bleeps-and-sparks are but one layer to this veritable signature dish of elements; and yes, I am “down with that”. It’s in the title. It all works.

BOSS sound boss, la. There’s a great use of the vocal equivalent of ellipsis about a third of the way through, the croak in the voice playful and a touch menacing, before the all-out indie feel makes way for something a touch more psychedelic. And yes, I’m “down with that”.