Sub-Ed’s Tracks Of The Year 2016
The partner piece to my albums and EPs of the year summary, I hereby present those tracks that have best soundtracked my year – the only rule being that each entrant could only be represented once in order to best share the love.
On heavy rotation throughout the year, these tracks truly rock/humble/excite – delete as appropriate. Do make sure you get to the bottom of the list. In a just world all these tracks would be in the top 10. To help you explore this list I’ve also put together a Spotify playlist with all those tracks that it has on its books (circa 90% – a few extra given over at Spotify to boost the list to an equal 100).
No doubt you had your own favourites. Here are mine (rough genre given in brackets):
1. Show Me The Body – “Two Blood Pacts” (Hardcore/Rap Rock)
Bladerunner foresaw the future as an East-meets-West soup of neon electronica. NYC residents Show Me The Body have other ideas, realigning rap-rock with heavy funk and hardcore punk, the melting pot of mayhem that ensues indicative of the modern metropolis they call home today. All the same, they may have stumbled across the thrilling sound of tomorrow.
2. Eagulls – “Lemontrees” (Post-Punk)
Upping their game exponentially since an also-ran debut, Eagulls have moved on (but not far) from Ian Curtis mimicry to the dreamier end of The Cure and The Chameleons. Not fixing nevertheless what wasn’t broken, “Lemontrees” still marauds in absolute misanthropy, the irresistibly bubbling bass-work stealing the show amongst a high-calibre roster.
3. ” PJ Harvey – “The Ministry Of Social Affairs” (Singer-Songwriter/Indie-Rock)
Stripped of the lyrical clumsiness that blighted parts of her Hope Six Demolition Project, “The Ministry Of Social Affairs” is an Orwellian exposé of social policy, blues and heavy jazz motifs decorating the statement artfully, angrily even. And therein lies the key, Harvey’s raw passion alone pulling the project through to a success.
4. DIIV – “Mire (Grant’s Song)” (Noise-Rock/Shoegaze)
It can be difficult to pick out a future classic. Tastes change. Tomorrow is unpredictable. “Mire (Grant’s Song)” may not make it due to essentially being a patchwork of previous greats, but – Zachary Cole Smith’s breathy vocal caught between shoegaze and noise-rock and traded off against impeccable guitar interplay – it already sounds like one.
5. Trementina – “Makes Me Think” (Shoegaze)
Blinding in its ferocity, “Makes Me Think” is woozy summer music for the tinnitus crowd. It’s like standing in the path of an exploding supernova, great waves of guitar scree coming close to vaporising Vanessa Cea’s dreamy vocal. And, what it lacks in originality, it compensates for with a supercharged surge that has designs on subsuming the whole planet.
6. The Body – “Prescience” (Doom/Black Metal)
Leaning only on Chip King’s black shrieking rather than Chrissy Wolpert and others’ pretty vocals as per much of the rest of the album, “Prescience” is as black as doom comes yet it’s strangely uplifting. That said, it’s distortion that rules as solemn bass fizzes in the void, ghostly choral work drifting down into the abyss as tectonic plates groan under elemental stress.
7. Conor Oberst – “A Little Uncanny” (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Folk)
Ruminations is the most comfortable and consistent Conor Oberst has together since I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. A curious examination of Jane Fonda’s political activism, as well as Ronald Reagan’s celebrity-cult ascent to become the POTUS, “A Little Uncanny” is one of its many stand-outs, Oberst’s nasal maxims stumbling out from behind his modest lips.
8. Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – “Exodus” (Singer-Songwriter/Poetry)
Certainly not going to win any prizes for brevity nor cheeriness, Mark Kozelek’s hook-up with Jesu was both abrasive and comforting, “Exodus” a particularly teary and necessarily tender ode to “all bereaved parents” written directly after learning of the passing of Nick Cave’s son. Kozelek’s as blunt as ever, but this is not a subject for candy-coating.
9. White Lung – “Kiss Me When I Bleed” (Punk-Rock)
[sic] magazine album-of-the-year winner 2014, White Lung haven’t changed much in two years and Mish Way’s feminist invective is again put to stunning use “Kiss Me When I Bleed”. It’s the sort of track you’d want at your back in a fight. You know it’s packing cold steel, but it doesn’t need it when its words cut this deeply.
10. Preoccupations – “Anxiety” (Post-Punk)
Doing a pretty good job of describing the “Anxiety” of its title, Preoccupations’ LP may have been a bit patchy, but its highlights were a rival for anyone this year. Completely unmissable, it opens the S/T album front and centre, a huge and unshakable monolith to paranoia, Matt Flegel’s deliciously dark vocal eating away at the fabric like acid.
11. Zig Zags – “The Sadist” (Garage-Metal/Thrash)
How much guitar can you fit in a single track? “The Sadist” throws them on top of each other, ever-threatening to combust, delaying the inevitable for an eternity, but making it all that much sweeter when it does deliver. Practically coming with its own beer-stained battle-jacket, Zig Zags are every parent’s worst nightmare.
12. Pinegrove – “Size Of The Moon” (Literate Indie/Punk-Rock)
A New Jersey trio making scruffy indie-rock that incorporates as much acoustic punk as it does tasteful alt-country is hardly a revelation these days – and that’s a good thing. Where Pinegrove come into their own is their deployment of raw emotion, “Size Of The Moon” the kind of accidental performance that stops you in your tracks.
13. Wall – “Milk” (Noise-Rock/Post-Punk)
Wall have just the one EP to their name but, wow, it’s a good’un. Frosty post-punk/noise-rock as only New Yorkers can manage, there’s shadows of many an icon in here. Think, inevitably, of Sonic Youth, but by way of Wire and without too strong an anchor to either, nor a sound bar their own. “Milk” is classic sounding stuff for the coolest of outsiders.
14. The Lemon Twigs – “As Long As We’re Together” (Indie/Psych-Pop)
With a notoriety owing as much to their haircuts as their tunes, The Lemon Twigs are US rich kids influenced by their parents’ record collections as well as their musical careers. They also made their debut on indie major 4AD, but don’t let any of that put you off totally as amongst undeniable flotsam that’ve found some of the year’s best melodies.
15. LUH – “I&I” (Indie/Rock)
Christ, former WY LYF man Ellery James Roberts knows how to do grandiose. Now at the slightly poppier end of loved-up epics, he’s abetted by girlfriend Ebony Hoorn as Lost Under Heaven. Many relationships of this nature, of course and unfortunately, don’t last. Their collective art, however, will surely endure in any case.
16. NAO – “In The Morning” (Pop/R&B)
Chart-friendly doesn’t always equal musically vacuous and, despite not yet translating into list-topping success, NAO is doing her best to inject a welcome dose of intelligent sass into crossover pop one wonky funk rhythm at a time. With tracks like “In The Morning”, her debut album, For All We Know, ticks over like a time-bomb.
17. Moonface & Siinai – “The Queen Of Both Darkness And Light” (Literate Indie/Rock)
Those bemoaning the theatricality of recent Moonface work are wholly missing the point. Spencer Krug has always favoured the over-the-top to the ordinary. And, alongside Siinai, some of his excesses are actually toned down, “The Queen Of Both Darkness And Light” a powerful flow that swirls to repeated climax.
18. Whyte Horses – “Elusive Mr Jimmy” (Psych-Pop)
Much-lauded in certain corners of the Internet, Whyte Horses is the project of Finders Keepers label co-founder Dom Thomas. Naturally it’s a lush and unpredictable exploration of psychedelic exotica as a result, Julie Margat’s sweet Franglais lyrics lending this touching extract a verdant vibe similar to Shimmering Stars.
19. Methyl Ethel – “Also Gesellschaft” (Psych-Pop)
There’s a whole sub-strata of lightly psychedelic indie fronted by dangerously fragile vocals and Methyl Ethyl is fresh to the party, naïve yet magnetic in personality. Some of Jake Webb’s grand theories don’t pan out, but some of them do and when they click you won’t want to spend the early hours with anyone else.
20. Yuck – “Yr Face” (Shoegaze)
Yuck have been accused of plagiary on numerous occasions and, arguably, unjustifiably so. It’s not like they’re the only ones robbing fuzzy alt-rock and mirage-like shoegaze blind. That doesn’t stop “Yr Face” from being a one-way ticket back to the early 90s though, a ride which once on board it’s impossible to get off.
21. Lust For Youth – “Sudden Ambitions” (New Wave/Post-Punk)
A comfortable fit with when post-punk became New Wave, “Sudden Ambitions” is a despondent lament over dark-hearted, dancefloor-ready synths. It’s very recent-wave Danish, unmistakably New Order/Depeche Mode too. And, yet, it remains as nailed-on a commentary of current malaise as you’re likely to hear.
22. Fear Of Men – “Ruins” (Synth-Pop/Downbeat)
A ghostly stutter of modern, R&B-inflected pop, “Ruins” is barely there in places, nothing more than an Angelo Badalamenti buzz-drone and Jessica Weiss’s coo. It builds all the same to a svelte, slow-motion drop, rattling percussion a stark contrast to nebulous synth work. It’s unclear really if “Ruins” is a dream or a nightmare.
23. Black Mountain – “Mothers Of The Sun” (Psych-Rock)
You can no longer expect a Black Mountain album to consistently deliver, but you can always count on Stephen McBean to bring monumental riffs. Amber Webber’s quiver is, of course, a weapon in its own right too, permitting McBean’s organ-filled Sabbath worship to also continue unabated and without any hint of derision.
24. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl” (Singer-Songwriter/Indie-Rock)
Hitting epic dead-centre, “Your Best American Girl” is Japanese-born Mitski’s break-out moment. From the very second she steps on those fuzz pedals, her song-craft, passion and scope all expand immeasurably. It’s heart-on-your-sleeve stuff, a kind of new age Americana and totally brilliant all at the same time.
25. ABRA – “Crybaby” (Pop/R&B)
Perhaps the least likely of the Awful Records crew to break out of Atlanta, ABRA is an R&B /electro-pop star-in-waiting all the same. She’s another making the most of the post-FKA Twigs/NAO axis and “Crybaby” is her True Panther EP highlight, a body-popping selection of 80s synths and neat Michael Jackson borrows.
26. The Gotobeds – “Why’d You?” (Punk-Rock)
Alternating between spitting acerbic punk barbs and Protomartyr-like, near-spoken choruses, “Why’d You?” is a short blast that nevertheless leaves a lasting impression. They say the best things come in small packages and The Gotobeds seem to make Christmas come early with each of their perfectly proportioned presents.
27. Kane Strang – “It’s Fine” (Post-Punk)
Kane Strang normally dwell in middling indie so a tune out of the blue that comes on like Interpol is bound to turn heads. And it’s a curve ball that plucks out its guitar lines so precisely you could set your watch by them, a fascinating back-and-forth with the disinterested vocal gently slaying all before it.
28. Swans – “Frankie M” (Experimental Rock)
Work through ten minutes of swampy, staccato noise and be rewarded by the sweet sting in the tale of “Frankie M”. Acoustic strumming quickly contorts into a groove, Michael Gira sailing his ship into the heart of Suicide from that point on. Naturally the guitars nag incessantly, ripping at the very fabric of space and time.
29. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – “Balance” (Psych-Rock/Shoegaze)
Masters of the killer opening track, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete have done it again with “Balance”. Equal parts the J&MC and MBV, dreamy vocal parts duet with reverbed strumming before the whole thing erupts in typically brilliant shoegaze fashion. Ironically enough, “Balance” is woozy enough to cause massive imbalance.
30. Miss Destiny – “Killers” (Rock)
Delightfully devoid of bullshit, “Killers” is pedal to the metal throughout. It locks on early and doesn’t let go too. It’s fast and truly aggressive music for dive bars and sweaty basements that tumbles into one another like a Zig Zags bar brawl. You may lose your heart to Miss Destiny if you’re lucky. You may lose an eye.
31. Let’s Eat Grandma – “Rapunzel” (Alt-Pop/Freak-Folk)
Improbably young teens Let’s Eat Grandma are kooky. There’s no way around it. Yet, for all their whimsy and cutesy mewing they’re onto something. “Rapunzel” is just one of a number of freak-folkish cuts that stands out from their repertoire. A couple more and shared bills with the likes of CocoRosie surely beckon.
32. Ghost Wave – “All U Do Is Kill” (Psych-Rock)
Released on the venerable Flying Nun label, Ghost Wave surprise by not making the rickety indie you might expect and instead letting fly muscular psych-pop that churns with organ parts and incessant riffs. It’s all quite disorientating, smeared out like the blurred, tactile fluorescence of peak carnival on the waltzers.
33. Children Of Leir – “Young Man” (Psych-Rock)
Stumble across “Young Man” blind and you’d automatically assume it was the product of someone like Moon Duo. Split between Leicester and Hamburg, Children Of Leir undoubtedly utilise similar levels of fuzz and drawling melodies, but they more than make them their own when stepping on the power pedals.
34. FEHM – “I Scared, I Stiff” (Post-Punk)
Leeds seems the capital of post-punk these days and FEHM draw from its history as well as its present on the monochrome “I Scared, I Stiff”, the opening missive from their ear-catching debut EP. Taking dystopian angst and running it alongside slo-mo guitar reverb, the results are almost anthemic.
35. Mannequin Pussy – “Romantic” (Indie/Punk-Rock)
Scratching the itch that Bully and Dilly Dally started last year, Mannequin Pussy are one of those bands completely overshadowed by the singer’s superlative, scratchy wail. Here on “Romantic”, Marisa Dabice rasps her way through walls of decent punk-rock, riding the quiet-loud-quite structure like a wave.
36. Puro Instinct – “Six Of Swords” (Synth-Pop)
Having done away with much of their early shoegazing haze and now come full technicolour instead, “Six Of Swords” is a smart, but nonetheless soft-focus slice of synth-pop. Taking its title from tarot, the lush choruses are just perfect, the remainder of the track strewn around them like a trail of rose petals.
37. Angel Olsen – “Intern” (Singer-Songwriter)
The mainstream may have woken up to Angel Olsen this year, getting their collective knickers in a twist over her latest LP, My Woman. The problem is it’s here weakest LP to date. It does, however, open with “Intern” – a stately swoop of a song that brings her ever closer to the likes of Sharon Van Etten as it goes.
38. Anohni – “Drone Bomb Me” (Singer-Songwriter/Electro)
Written from the perspective of a nine-year-old whose family has been killed by a drone, “Drone Bomb Me” features major synth drops and even less subtle lyrics. Anohni is, of course, Anthony Johnson and her striking intimacy over unfamiliar electro rings painfully as she tackles remote foreign policy head on.
39. Creative Adult – “Reality Tunnel” (Psych/Post-Punk)
Reverbed to the point of absolute dynamism, the guitar dominates on “Reality Tunnel” – a heads-down, full throttle dive into high octane racing, vocal delay dragged out to indicate sheer velocity, aural claustrophobia blown apart by cymbals that crash like starbursts. It’s white-knuckle stuff that’ll leave you breathless.
40. Public Memory – “Interfaith” (Darkwave/Downbeat)
A series of contrasts in tone and tension, the minimal “Interfaith” is dark and ethereal electronica that creeps like HTRK while its twinkling piano and synth-lines come straight from the DJ Shadow handbook. Robert Toher’s ghostly vocals haunt the resulting tapestry, making the serene really quite unsettling.
41. Odonis Odonis – “Game” (Darkwave/Post-Punk)
A total switch-up in sound for Odonis Odonis, “Game” splits the difference between stuttering darkwave and spicy post-punk, deploying rapid-fire drum machine compressions against morose vocals for predictably despondent listening. Best of all, the album is jam-packed with such bleak bangers!
42. Cullen Omori – “Sour Silk” (Indie/Rock)
Strong melodies drove Smith Westerns’ glam indie-pop onto success and former singer Cullen Omori clearly still has a few at his disposal for his solo work. You may double-take when you hear “Sour Silk” all the same. It’s a blatant Sleepy Jackson/Luke Steele rip-off, but that doesn’t stop if rom being pretty great.
43. Whitney – “No Woman” (Indie/Rock)
Almost impossibly fragile, “No Woman” is sun-flecked indie-rock bedecked in resolutely horizontal 60s melodies. Julien Ehrlich’s gentle mew sits atop the result, his soulful cry somehow both vulnerable and defiant. Another Phoenix from the ashes of Smith Westerns, Whitney make tender soul for tender souls.
44. Will Blundell & Becca Dunn – “Obey” (Indie/Rock)
Say what you will, but sometimes you just can’t beat a bit of honest-to-goodness song-writing. “Obey” is an unassuming, but ever-intensifying and impressive example in this vein, its buzzed-out rhythm swelling to consume all available space around Becca Dunn’s pretty vocal layering and soaring peaks.
45. Ulrika Spacek – “Beta Male” (Psych-Rock)
In long-playing format, Ulrika Spacek miss more often than they hit, but “Beta Male” is one such seesawing rocker than actually benefits from being enjoyed outside of context. Nonetheless, for most of its duration, it hammers away on just one circular riff. Good job then that it’s a memorable one.
46. The Limiñanas – “Malamore” (Psych-Pop/60s)
From a deeply satisfying album of soundtrack-like psychedelia, the gloriously retro and way cool “Malamore” (originally the title of an Italian erotic flick, beard-strokers) combines jangles and fuzz-tones like some Bobby Gillespie wet-dream. Consequently, as the sepia-toned credits roll, it near on demands repeated spins.
47. Woods – “Sun City Creeps” (Psych-Folk/Dub-Funk)
You’ve got to love Woods. They keep plugging away year after year jamming their thing, occasionally knocking out offhand moments of leisurely genius. Adding a strain of liquid funk to their usual psych-folk template, as well as seriously chill strings and horns, “Sun City Creeps” is another such gem to add to the list.
48. Exiles – “Search Lights” (Dream-Pop/Shoegaze)
Exiles write woozy songs so fully formed you’d swear they were NYC scene veterans rather than relative upstarts. The delightful “Search Lights” is their strongest track to date, a killer vocal swooping around dreamy shoegaze-ish structures, duelling guitars adding both backbone and direction.
49. Feels – “Small Talk” (Garage-Rock/Pop)
A deceptive hard-hitter, “Small Talk” avoids much of the cutesy garage-pop that peppers Feels’ debut album in favour of a sludgy guitar-athon that contorts from pensive bridges to coruscating passages of fuzz. It’s like biting through the coating of a candy apple only to find a razor blade at its core.
50. Foul Tip – “Strike 1000” (Garage-Rock/Fuzz)
The unquestionable highlight from a so-so album, “Strike 1000” is dumb fuzz-rock that drags its knuckles over ludicrous choruses to a turbo-charged finale that genuinely excites. That Foul Tip can turn in such brainless fun while still retaining musical merit is likely as much of a surprise to them as it is us.
The best of the rest (no particular order):
Daughter – “How” (Indie/Post-Rock)
Emily Wells – “Los Angeles” (Freak-Folk/Neo-Classical)
Cian Nugent – “Year Of The Snake” (Kraut-Folk/Punk-Rock)
LNZNDRF – “Beneath The Black Sea” (Indie-Kraut/Post-Punk)
Quilt – “Padova” (Psych-Folk/60s)
Big Ups – “National Parks” (Post-Hardcore)
Tim Hecker – “Castrati Stack” (Experimental/Post-Classical)
Muncie Girls – “Respect” (Indie/Punk-Rock)
CFM – “Brain Of Clay” (Garage-Rock/Fuzz)
Pop. 1280 – “Kingdom Come” (Noise-Rock)
Little Scream – “The Kissing” (Singer-Songwriter/Alt-Pop)
Posse – “Voices” (Indie/Psychedelic)
La Sera – “I Need An Angel” (Indie/Pop)
Savages – “Sad Person” (Post-Punk)
Mountains & Rainbows – “How To Spend Your Time” (Garage-Psych)
Big Deal – “V.I.T.R.I.O.L.” (Pop/New Wave)
Yung – “The Sound Of Being Okay” (Punk-Rock)
CCR Headcleaner – “Peace Dub” (Garage-Punk)
Hinds – “Garden” (C86/Indie Pop)
Olga Bell – “Randomness” (House/Pop)
David West – “The Happiest Man In The Room” (Synth-Pop/New Wave)
Gabriel Bruce – “Jesus Drag Queen” (Rock/Electro)
Chromatics – “Cherry” (Italo/Dream-Pop)
Thee Oh Sees – “Dead Man’s Gun” (Garage-Psych)
espher – “to the sky” (Ambient Techno/House)
Emily Jane White – “Pallid Eyes” (Folk/Singer-Songwriter)
Merchandise – “Flower Of Sex” (Indie/Post-Punk)
Ela Orleans – “You Go Through Me” (Synth-Pop/Goth)
Ex-Cult – “New Face On” (Garage-Punk)
Radiohead – “Ful Stop” (Indie/Electro)
Danny & The Darleans – “Let’s Stomp” (Rock ‘n’ Roll/Garage-Psych)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “I Need You” (Singer-Songwriter)
VHS – “Fully Realized” (Post-Punk)
Last Of The Easy Riders – “Mystic Legend” (60s Psych/Classic Rock)
Jubilee Club – “Move Over” (Electro/House)
Pill – “Medicine” (Art-Punk)
Zoee – “Betcha” (Electro-Pop)
Bon Iver – “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” (Glitch/Gospel)
Uniform – “Ghosthouse” (Noise-Rock)
Jenny Hval – “Period Piece” (Synth-Pop/Downbeat)
Skinny Girl Diet – “Bored” (Grunge/Punk)
Hoops – “Cool 2” (Indie/Dream-Pop)
Dreamtime – “Serpent’s Tongue” (Psych-Rock/Fuzz)
Katie Gately – “Tuck” (Alt-Pop)
Bayonne – “Living Room” (Folktronica)
Akranes – “U tke” (Trip-Hop/Downtempo)
Hamilton Leithauser / Rostam – “A 1000 Times” (Indie/Rock)
Joyce Manor – “Make Me Dumb” (Indie/Rock)
Bleached – “Sour Candy” (Rock/Garage-Pop)
JEFF The Brotherhood – “Juice” (Garage-Rock/Fuzz)