Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Best Of 2016 - part 5

JUMP TO: 100-81 II 80-61 II 60-41 II 40-21 II 20-1

As we prepare to put 2016 behind us, what better way to do so than by celebrating some of the good things to have come out of the past 12 months? Such as these 20 pop tunes that made even a mediocre year for music pretty enjoyable.  

Do you know what was missing from 2016? More songs like this. Big chorus, big production, big voice. "Wasn't My Fault" is the latest collaboration between Swedish producer Anders Hansson and singer Christie, who previously featured in my top 10 for 2012 with "Love Stuck". Back then, Christie was a member of girl group The Face, but this year she took centre stage to belt out "Wasn't My Fault" like the Kelly Clarkson-esque anthem it is.

OK, there were more songs like "Wasn't My Fault" in 2016, but you can never have too many tracks with an understated guitar-based verse and a pop explosion of a chorus, right? "Go Again" is the second appearance by Swedish singer Ida LaFontaine on this list - and if she keeps this kind of thing up, I expect we'll be seeing more of her.

Brand New Moves is a pretty appropriate name for Hey Violet's latest EP since it marks a slight change in direction for the band signed to 5 Seconds Of Summer's Hi Or Hey Records. Instead of the thrashy pop/rock found on their first EP, I Can Feel It, songs like "Pure" have a sleeker synth sheen.


Did someone say synthpop? It doesn't get sleeker and more sophisticated than this Richard X-produced track for German-born, London-based singer Nina. The brooding "Beyond Memory" has elements that remind me of Pet Shop Boys' "Love Comes Quickly", but it's a way better song. Let's hope Nina and Richard do some more work together soon.

We saw them at the other end of the top 100 with "Be Someone" and, as promised, here's the debut single by British duo Born Stranger, who were previously a trio called Strangers. The type of song I would've loved Hurts to have included on their second or third album, "Fire And The Flame" is equal parts ominous and uplifting - one of my favourite combinations in a synth-based act.

The Naked And Famous also featured in Part 1 with "Higher" - and while that would've been enough of a return to form for one year, they upped the ante again with this anthemic track on Simple Forms. The only thing I can't work out is why "Last Forever" hasn't been released as one of the album's official singles when it's clearly the best thing they've ever recorded.

Speaking of the best thing an artist has recorded, that's certainly the case with "Sound Of Silence", Australia's entry in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest performed by former X Factor winner Dami Im. Having given up watching The X Factor years ago, my only exposure to Dami had been her post-show singles, none of which really excited me. That's also true of many of the tracks from songwriters/producers DNA Songs, who have been behind hits for The Veronicas, Delta Goodrem and more ex-reality show contestants than you can poke a stick at. With odd exceptions - like Delta's "Wings" - I've found their work fairly generic. But they were clearly out to impress with "Sound Of Silence" - and they did. A dramatic Sia-like ballad that was easily the best thing at this year's Eurovision, "Sound Of Silence" played to all of Dami's strengths as a vocalist and is exactly the type of song she should be making. 

Whenever they've featured on my year-end charts before - including at number 1 for 2014 - it's been with regular collaborator Robyn. But in 2016, Röyksopp appear with fellow Norwegian act Susanne Sundfør, who sang on two tracks on the duo's final albumThe Inevitable End, and has registered on my year-end charts before both as a solo performer and with M83. "Never Ever" is Röyksopp's first single after they decided to do away with releasing full albums for good - and if this is type of thing we'll get instead, then that's absolutely fine with me.

Is it just me or is the six-month gap between the release dates of "Can't Stop The Feeling!" and the movie it's taken from, Trolls, an inordinate amount of time? Lengthy pre-promotion aside, the first new Justin Timberlake track since The 20/20 Experience was a much-needed dose of pure pop joyousness. Naturally, Max Martin had a hand in it, together with frequent co-producer Shellback (real name: Karl Schuster). One of those songs with cross-generational appeal - in my house, both my three-year-old daughter and I love it - "Can't Stop The Feeling!" sold millions of copies around the world in 2016, proving there's still a huge market for pure pop if only a bit more of it would be produced.

Pet Shop Boys' 12th studio album, 2013's Electric, was their best in 20 years and so I had high hopes for this year's Super, especially since Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe were working once again with producer Stuart Price. But while Electric singles "Vocal" and "Thursday" wound up in my top 20 for 2013 and rank alongside some of their classic tunes, none of the four singles from Super make my top 100. Thank goodness, then, for party-starting album track "Burn" - an oversight for official single release if ever there was one.

When I first heard this single, I assumed it was sung by a man performing in a Jimmy Somerville-style falsetto - it had that tone to it. Then I discovered British band Nimmo is actually fronted by two women: Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlett, who can both be heard singing on the track. The pair met at school before forming the group, which was at one point called Nimmo And The Gauntletts. With the buzz generated by "Dancing Makes Us Brave" in recent months, all signs point to a big 2017 for Nimmo.

It's certainly been a busy year for Tove Lo. Besides all the other projects I mentioned back in Part 1, she also released her highly anticipated second album, Lady Wood. Something of a concept album, Lady Wood is split into two halves: "Fairy Dust" and "Fire Fade". Second single "True Disaster", which is easily the catchiest thing Tove has released, falls into the former and its music video forms part of the "Fairy Dust" short film. Expect a companion album with another two themes in 2017.

2016 was quite a year of change for Scottish singer Nina Nesbitt, who we saw in Part 3 guesting on Feed Me's "What It Feels Like". As well as lopping off her hair and discovering synthpop on her Modern Love EP (from which "Chewing Gum" is taken), she left major label Universal Records after five years and is going indie from now on. Wonder what she has in store for 2017...

Back to Scandinavia now and, like "Too Young" from Part 2, "Fools Gold" is another track included on Dagny's Ultraviolet EP. On this buoyant burst of pop goodness, the 26-year-old Norwegian singer is joined by BØRNS, who, despite the slashed O in his stage name, isn't from Dagny's part of the world but is actually American singer Garrett Borns.

"Be The One", which we saw in Part 2, was the song which broke her in Australia, but follow-up "Hotter Than Hell" did the trick in the UK, becoming Dua Lipa's first hit in her home country (and second locally). Besides its killer chorus, one of the things I like about "Hotter Than Hell" is that it doesn't beat you over the head with its tropical house elements, making them just another element of the song instead of its defining feature. In a year when cheesy, hastily thrown together tropical house covers seemed to multiply exponentially, this track proved the genre wasn't all bad.

There's a lot to be said for quality over quantity - and while Swedish singer LNKAY might only put out one song a year, they're certainly good ones. "Overload" follows her debut single, "Hurricane", from last year - and if she keeps improving at this rate, she might just have my number 1 single for 2017.

I mentioned in Part 4 that Shura's debut album pulled together singles from the past couple of years. German singer Roosevelt (real name: Marius Lauber) delved back even further for his self-titled debut album this year, incorporating songs released as far back as 2012. "Belong" is one of the album's newer tracks and his current single - a blast of melancholic '80s-influenced synthpop.

One of 2016's biggest musical mysteries is why this single flopped. Taken from the soundtrack to Bridget Jones's Baby, "Meteorite" had everything going for it - it was a brand new song by one of 2015's breakthrough acts that came with a fun formation dancing music video. Upbeat and euphoric, it's everything I love about pop. Shame more people didn't share my enthusiasm for it.

Here's another single bursting with energy and excitement. "Physical" was the second track released ahead of St Lucia's Matter album at the very end of 2015 and has been in contention for my number 1 song all year. Possibly the only thing that worked against it was the overuse of the "whoop" noise in the chorus, which I find a little distracting. That aside, it's a brilliant song - and now I've seen this performance, I can't wait to hear it live next time St Lucia is in town.

You surely know the formula by now. Swedish female singer + huge chorus = pop perfection. Pretty much my definition of the ideal pop song in 2016, "Hardcore Heartbreak" is the latest release by Cilia, a singer who's undergone a couple of rebrands over the years. Previously performing as both See See and her real name, Cecilia Nilsson, she's now found her identity - both literally and musically. Well done on making 2016 a lot better, Cilia.

My top 175 for 2016 in full:

2           PHYSICAL St Lucia
3           METEORITE Years & Years
4           BELONG Roosevelt
5           OVERLOAD LNKAY
6           HOTTER THAN HELL Dua Lipa
7           FOOL’S GOLD Dagny featuring BØRNS
8           CHEWING GUM Nina Nesbitt
9           TRUE DISASTER Tove Lo
11         BURN Pet Shop Boys
12         CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! Justin Timberlake
13         NEVER EVER Röyksopp featuring Susanne Sundfør
15         LAST FOREVER The Naked And Famous
16         FIRE & THE FLAME Born Stranger
17         BEYOND MEMORY Nina
18         PURE Hey Violet
19         GO AGAIN Ida LaFontaine
20         WASN’T MY FAULT Christie & The Dream Beats
21         STAY Sigma
22         UNSTOPPABLE Paperwhite
23         HELP ME RUN AWAY St Lucia
24         ONE STRIKE All Saints
25         COME WITH US Sophie Ellis-Bextor
26         ALL FOUR WALLS Gorgon City featuring Vaults
27         WILD Monogem
29         DREAMER Coco Morier
31         THE TURNAROUND Gemini
32         ONE IN A MILLION Midnight To Monaco
33         BODY 2 BODY Dragonette
34         TEARS Clean Bandit featuring Louisa Johnson
35         SKYLINES Glades
36         YOU DON’T KNOW LOVE Olly Murs
37         I FEEL IT COMING The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk
38         WHAT’S IT GONNA BE? Shura
39         GOLD Years & Years
40         GONE MISSING Shift K3y featuring BB Diamond
41         BURY IT CHVRCHES featuring Hayley Williams
42         SWEET POISON Dragonette featuring Dada
43         BE THERE Generik featuring A*M*E
44         FIND ME Sigma featuring Birdy
45         STARING AT THE SUN Little Boots
46         PIECE OF ME MK featuring Becky Hill
47         BULLET Chelsea Lankes
49         MAGIC HOUR RAC featuring Little Boots
50         STRANGE WORLD Fallulah
51         NEVER ENOUGH Scavenger Hunt
52         COULDN’T BELIEVE Broods
53         SINGULARITY New Order
54         WHAT IT FEELS LIKE Feed Me featuring Nina Nesbitt
55         MAKE ME LIKE YOU Gwen Stefani
56         THICK AS THIEVES The Temper Trap
57         PEOPLE ON THE HIGH LINE New Order
59         EXPLODE Charli XCX
60         THIS AIN’T OVER Alex Newell
61         EYE FOR AN EYE The Strike
62         INTO YOU Ariana Grande
63         CLOUDS Amanda Winberg
64         I’M NOT RIGHT XY&O
65         FALLING FOR YOU Teenage Mutants featuring Laura Welsh
66         ELECTRIFY Oliver featuring Scott Mellis
67         TOO YOUNG Dagny
68         CHAMELEON XY&O
69         YOU JUST WALKED AWAY Ekkoes
70         ON MY OWN Paperwhite
71         ALL THE RAGE Allie X
72         BE THE ONE Dua Lipa
73         MISSING YOU Norde featuring Lucas Nord
74         GHOST Sleeping Wolf
75         DOUBTS Gorgon City
76         FEELING BB Diamond
77         COLD Ida LaFontaine
79         SAVE A LITTLE LOVE Laura Nox
80         GIVE ME YOUR LOVE Sigala featuring John Newman & Nile Rodgers
81         AMAZING Foxes
82         100 DEGREES KOLAJ featuring Quinn XCII
83         ROAD BLASTER M83
84         WORSHIP Years & Years
85         HIGHER The Naked And Famous
87         BODY SAY Demi Lovato
88         SCARS Tove Lo
89         TELL ME LIES Firefox AK
91         IF YOUR MAN ONLY KNEW Erik Hassle
92         MY TRIGGER (OLIN BATISTA MIX) Miike Snow
93         THAT’S MY GIRL Fifth Harmony
94         WHAT YOU DO Tigertown
95         RITUAL Marshmello featuring Wrabel
96         BE SOMEONE Born Stranger
97         REAL LOVE Florrie
98         ALWAYS Samantha Jade
99         HEAVEN Ekkoes
100        HANGIN’ ON Rozes
101        U-TURN Tegan & Sara
102        MY LOVE 4 U MK featuring A*M*E
103        I NEED YOU TONIGHT James Morrison
104        POSSIBILITY Autoheart
105        ANYWHERE Dillon Francis featuring Will Heard
106        SOMEBODY ELSE The 1975
107        WASTE MY TIME Girl Friend
108        SWEET TALK Scavenger Hunt
109        SHELTER Porter Robinson & Madeon
110        OLD HABITS DIE HARD Allie X
111        FREE Broods
112        WAITING FOR THE STARS Vitalic featuring David Shaw
113        GOOD GRIEF Bastille
114        BURN WILD Rozes
115        WANDERLUST Paperwhite
116        SWEET LIES Wilkinson featuring Karen Harding
117        NOTHING LIKE THIS Blonde & Craig David
118        THIS GIRL Kungs vs Cookin’ On 3 Burners
119        TOUCH Little Mix
120        GO! M83 featuring Mai Lan
121        BOYFRIEND Tegan & Sara
122        MORE & MORE Fleur East
123        THE POP KIDS Pet Shop Boys
124        SAPPHIRE Sophia Somajo
125        THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR Calvin Harris & Rihanna
126        UNDER YOU Nick Jonas
127        WORLD OF OUR LOVE Client Liaison
128        A LOVE SONG Ladyhawke
129        HEADING UP HIGH Armin van Buuren featuring Kensington
130        COLD TO THE TOUCH Ralph
134        STARBOY The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk
136        HEARTBREAK HI Avec Sans
137        RUSH Amanda Mair
138        PERTH Avec Sans
139        TROUBLE RIVRS
140        LOST Tender
141        NEVER ENOUGH Allie X
142        IN COMMON Alicia Keys
143        NEVER BE LIKE YOU Flume featuring Kai
145        I CAN ONLY STARE Sleigh Bells
146        TALK FAST NotNo
147        LOST (AS I AM) Superwalkers
148        ALREADY LOVE Great Good Fine OK
149        ALL NIGHT SG Lewis featuring Dornik
150        SECRETS X&Y
151        INNER SANCTUM Pet Shop Boys
152        BWU Tegan & Sara
153        GET AWAY Great Good Fine OK
154        STOP DESIRE / MONSIEUR ADI MIX Tegan & Sara
155        RAGING Kygo featuring Kodaline
156        VIOLENCE Tender
157        JUST A LOVER Hayden James
158        THE GREATEST Sia featuring Kendrick Lemar
159        SAY IT TO ME Pet Shop Boys
160        BREATHE Eric Prydz featuring Rob Swire
161        STILL FALLING FOR YOU Ellie Goulding
162        BE WITH YOU RÜFÜS
163        DESIRE Years & Years featuring Tove Lo
164        MY WAY Calvin Harris
165        NEVER GIVE UP Sia
166        CHANGE MY LOVE Craig David
168        SECRET LOVE SONG Little Mix featuring Jason Derulo
169        WORKING FOR IT ZHU x Skrillex x They.
170        CRASH Usher
171        SAY YOU DO Sigala featuring Imani & DJ Fresh
172        SHOUT OUT TO MY EX Little Mix
173        BLOW YOUR MIND (MWAH) Dua Lipa
174        PERFECT ILLUSION Lady Gaga
175        IN MY BLOOD The Veronicas
176        WORK FROM HOME Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla $ign

Hopefully, I'll be back to the full complement of 200 songs in 2017. My regular ARIA chart flashbacks return from January 12, and before then I'll sneak in another special post or two. Until then, Happy New Year!

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Friday, 30 December 2016

The Best Of 2016 - part 4

JUMP TO: 100-81 II 80-61 II 60-41 II 40-21 II 20-1

As happy as I am to discover new artists, it's always nice when one of my favourites from years gone by returns with fresh music - especially when it's an act I never expected to hear from again. Two of the entries in this batch of songs come from pop acts that previously enjoyed success on my year-end charts, and they slot in amongst some brand new names in music.

Craig David was a name I never expected to see on the charts again, and yet he was a regular on the UK top 40 this year. He doesn't quite make my top 100 - "Nothing Like This" with Blonde is at number 133 - but an act that owes him a musical debt is right here. UK garage artist Shift K3y (real name: Lewis Jankel) found success in 2014 with "Touch" and "I Know", two songs that wouldn't have sounded out of place in the early 2000s when 2-step tracks flooded the UK chart following Artful Dodger and Craig David's landmark "Re-rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)". Despite being Shift K3y's best effort yet, with a great vocal from BB Diamond (who we saw in Part 2), "Gone Missing" didn't enjoy the chart success of his earlier singles.

There were plenty of potential singles on Years & Years' Communion album, but unfortunately "Gold" didn't get a look-in - probably a wise decision after "Worship", which we saw in Part 1, performed disastrously on the UK chart. Anyway, I still liked "Gold" enough for it to rank here at number 39 for the year.

I'm all in favour of people taking their time to release an album - and it obviously makes economic sense for artists to do that in these days of declining album sales. British singer Shura really took her time. Her debut album, Nothing's Real, came out in mid-2016, and includes singles originally released as far back as early-2014 - songs like "White Light", which featured on my year-end chart for 2015. It also featured her best single to date, the infectiously upbeat "What's It Gonna Be?".

The Weeknd hit number 1 in America with two singles in 2015: "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills". For the last quarter of 2016, the title track of the Canadian singer's third album, Starboy, hovered between numbers 2 and 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, unable to go all the way... until now. This week, "Starboy" finally reached the top of the US chart for The Weeknd and Daft Punk, while in Australia, it's spent the last four weeks at number 2. I actually prefer The Weeknd's other collaboration with the French dance act, the cruisy "I Feel It Coming", even if it seems destined to be a much smaller hit, having not yet broken into the US top 20 or the ARIA top 10.

He's one of the most successful graduates of the UK version of The X Factor and even if he's not the reliable hit-maker he once was, Olly Murs still knows his way around a great pop song. Although it's the biggest hit from his latest UK chart-topping album, 24 Hours, "You Don't Know Love" only reached number 15 in the British chart - the first time Olly hasn't had a top 10 single from an album. Cue: the inevitable extended edition...

If it wasn't for a certain Eurovision entry, this single by Sydney dream pop trio Glades would be the highest entry on this list by an Australian act. Not bad for three school friends, singer Karina Wykes, and producers Cameron Robertson and Joseph Wenceslao, who've only been releasing music for a year-and-a-half. "Skylines" is taken from Glades' debut EP, This Is What It's Like

They ended 2016 with their single "Rockabye" becoming the British Christmas number 1 - a feat which bucked all sorts of trends due to it being the song's seventh week on top and Clean Bandit not being the winners of The X Factor or a charity organisation. I actually preferred their earlier non-Sean Paul single "Tears", which came out when they were still a quartet and featured, funnily enough, the winner of 2015's season of The X Factor, Louisa Johnson, on vocals.

A second appearance on this list now for Canada's finest synthpop exponents with this poppy promotional single from Royal Blues. "Body 2 Body" gives Dragonette their best placing on my year-end chart since 2012 - and that's going to take some beating.

From regular visitors Dragonette we now meet the first of half a dozen back-to-back newcomers to my year-end charts: synthpop duo Midnight To Monaco. The nu-wop (their term) act is comprised of producer Donnie Sloan, who's worked on all three Empire Of The Sun albums, and Canadian singer Ricky Ducati. One listen to their insistently catchy second single, "One In A Million", and it'll be stuck in your head. Also unforgettable: the song's provocative music video that follows a male prostitute through various encounters.

Next up, a guy that's actually been releasing music throughout the '10s - British singer/DJ/producer Thomas Slinger, who goes by the name of Gemini professionally. Atmospheric track "The Turnaround" is the first song of his I've stumbled across and appears on his first full-length album, Wanderlust

There aren't many details about this next guy, including his real name, out there yet. What I do know is that the typographically experimental m o r g xn is originally from Nashville and that "Love You With The Lights On" is his debut release. His original version of the track ticks along at a show shuffle, but the Savoir Adore remix adds a throbbing synth backdrop that's impossible to resist.

Another track underpinned by a throbbing synth track is this single by American singer/songwriter Nicole "Coco" Morier. The title track of her debut album, "Dreamer" is the first song performed by Coco that I've come across, but I do own a few of the songs she's co-written for other artists before now, including a number of Britney Spears album tracks and Australian number 1 single "Dirty Talk" by Wynter Gordon.

Time now for our obligatory entry from a Swedish synthpop performer - only this time it's a male singer. And like m o r g xn, it's another enigmatic guy who's a fan of putting spaces between the letters in his stage name. "Painting Pictures" is the debut single by T O F F E, and it's the only single on this list I don't own a copy of since it hasn't popped up on any of the iTunes stores for which I have accounts.

The last in our run of six newcomers (to my year-end charts, at any rate) is synthpop singer/songwriter Jen Hirsh, who, in her guise as Monogem, has actually been releasing music for the last couple of years. "Wild" is the first song to grab my attention and augurs well for her upcoming album, set for release in 2017.

With our six newbies taken care of, we'll finish off this post with six acts that have featured in my annual charts before - starting with Gorgon City, who we also saw back in Part 2 with "Doubts". I can understand why that single might not have been a big chart hit, but "All Four Walls" really should've put them back in the UK top 10 (although don't get me started on what a state the UK chart has been this year). With vocals from Vaults singer Blythe Pepino gives Gorgon City their highest placing on my year-end charts, beating the position of "Ready For Your Love" by one place.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor has long stopped having hits in Australia, but between 2001 and 2011 she was one of the most consistent performers on my personal charts, racking up multiple appearances with the singles from her first four albums. Then she had to go and get all experimental on fifth album Wanderlust, which received good reviews but didn't float my boat. Sixth album Familia saw Sophie ease back towards pop, but it's the Freemasons remix of lead single "Come With Us" that results in its position here. You can hear the original version in the official music video - it's good, but Freemasons add that extra disco sparkle to really breathe life into the song.

Now here's a group I never expected to be talking about in one of my year-end write-ups again. A decade after their last comeback with "Rock Steady", All Saints were back with a new album, Red Flag, and one of their best ever singles in "One Strike". Despite missing the UK top 100 completely, it's second only to "Pure Shores" among All Saints' singles discography in my estimation. The fact that "One Strike" places at number 24 for 2016, while "Pure Shores" finished at number 53 for 2000 speaks volumes about a) what a dud year 2016 was for music and b) what a great year 2000 was. 

Given his latest album, Matter, was released in January this year, it's little surprise that St Lucia makes his fifth consecutive appearance on my year-end charts. "Help Me Run Away" was the fourth single from the album and we'll see one of the earlier releases in the final batch of songs. 

We saw them back in Part 2 with "On My Own", and here's another song that wound up on Paperwhite's Escape EP along with "Wanderlust" (number 115 on this list) and 2015's "Get Away". What seems to be the Paperwhite version of a banger, "Unstoppable" is my favourite track by Ben and Katie Marshall.

The only one of eight singles taken from Sigma's debut album, Life, to be released after it finally appeared in late 2015, "Stay" was, like sixth single "Redemption", an unexpected chart disappointment. I'm not sure if the fact that an actual single version wasn't made available and didn't get the appropriate push had anything to do with that since for me, "Stay" is one of their best songs. It's also Sigma's first single since breakthrough hit "Nobody To Love" to not give a credit to its guest vocalist - in this case, Eyelar Mirzazadeh.

In Part 5: my top 20 songs for 2016, including that Australian Eurovision entry, the theme song to an animated film hit and an album track from my favourite group of all time. 

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