Surely no explanation needed here. Two minutes of the best rap music of the year. Two minutes of the best club music of the year. Two minutes of one of the year’s best producers, Kaytranada. It’s what songs of the year lists were invented for. I wasn’t 100% sold on ‘Coloring Book’, and would stick by ‘Acid Rap’ as his best work so far, and I have a few qualms about his rep as the biggest independent artist in the world when his “mixtapes” are on Apple Music, but still there’s no knocking this track.
The shamelessly retrospective songwriting of precocious teenage New York siblings The Lemon Twigs will send some running, but it hits me right in a soft spot. The 70s melodic rock of ELO, Wings, Big Star, Badfinger and Todd Rundgren are the obvious touchstones for their music so far, and I could bask in it forever. ‘These Words’ could just have easily been this high on the list, but the antics at the climax of this one clinched it. They are music students, and they know exactly how to use and subvert songwriting traditions. Fans of Foxygen will be right at home here.
Beyoncé had her supernova in 2016, and for the first time in a long time, there is a megastar in the music industry that is also operating near the cutting edge. I didn’t love everything about ‘Lemonade’, but there were quite a few great songs on there, and this faithful reinvention of pre-electric gospel was my clear highlight. Naturally, some Kendrick stardust doesn’t hurt it.
The unignorable, irrepressible, won’t-give-a-fuck spirit of Sleaford Mods has given the music world a jump-start over the last year or two. It couldn’t be more simple, but would fail in any other hands. This on one hand is a love letter to the eponymous toy car set from the 70s, but this is Sleaford Mods, so it can’t resist the occasional (ok, repeated) stab at the shallow, status-obsessed popular culture of 2016. Throw in some Ena Sharples and Ray Reardon, and you have one of the singles of the year.
Grime purists will scoff at choosing this most poppy and accessible of Kano’s output this year, and as much as I also like ‘3 Wheel-Ups’, this is the one that I enjoyed the most over the course of the year. As grime has enjoyed its flowering renaissance this year, and arguably its most successful and lucrative year ever, Kano has served as a returning hero, a sort of godfather figure. ‘Made in the Manor’ found crossover success too, including a Mercury nomination, and secured his status after a somewhat risky six year absence. This track is a sort of ‘State of the Game’ address, and actually provides quite a moving overview of how far Kano and his generation of British musicians have come.
Kendrick might be at the stage of his career now where he actually suffers from overhyping, but he does it to himself. Following on from ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ last year, he has released an album that purports to be a collection of rejects and castoffs from those sessions, and it is a better record than most artists achieve in their careers. It is similarly daring with its genre dabbling, and if anything pushes the jazz connections even further than TPAB did. Anyone who wasn’t already on board with Kendrick is unlikely to have their mind changed by ‘Untitled Unmastered’ (a more meaningful title than it first seems), but for those enjoying the ride, this is just another 35mins of treasure to be explored, plundered and revelled in. I really could have picked any track – I particularly like the long version of ‘untitled 07’, with all of its meandering jazz odyssey vibes – but I’ve stuck with one of the most direct tracks here.
Every time a year has drawn to an end since about 2001, the New Years predictions have talked about the possible release of the second Avalanches album. Well lo and behold, this time the predictions were right. SIXTEEN years after ‘Since I Left You’, the Aussie mixmasters finally stopped tinkering and let ‘Wildflower’ loose on the world. After all the fuss, it actually seemed to get a little overlooked in the end – perhaps because of its length, or perhaps the wait was just too long for some. Nevertheless, it was a smash, and this highly addictive lead single has been rattling around my subconscious ever since.
A new DJ Shadow album always brightens the music world up a little, and this year’s ‘The Mountain Will Fall’ was arguably his best since his legendary 1996 debut. This lead single gave us the first indication that something special might be coming, opening with that descending guitar arpeggio that calls to mind Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’. Managing to secure the services of RTJ was a masterstroke, and a testament to Shadow’s respect and sway in the industry. This track is great, the album is even better, don’t let it pass you by.
Anohni’s ‘Helplessness’ is one of the year’s most heralded and loved releases, and whilst I must admit that I did not connect with it as deeply as so many others did, few songs by any artist hooked me as tightly as this. Her voice has been one of music’s rarest experiences for years, dating at least as far back as the Mercury-winning Antony & The Johnsons days, through the brilliant collaborations with artists such as Hercules & Love Affair. The voice can soar gracefully through the record’s space like a cloud of starlings, or dart aggressively like a bird of prey, but it never slumps or relaxes. She knows all this of course, and wields her vocal chords with a judicious virtuosity.
One of the year’s most irresistible new stars was Heloise Letissier from Nantes, France, who goes by the name Christine & The Queens. For a number of years, she has been chipping away at the fringes of electro and pop music without catching a break, as evidenced by the storied history of this particular song. In its original form it went by the name ‘Cripple’, and it caused some inadvertent offence when performed live. She went back to the drawing board, restyled the song as ‘Christine’, and duly scored a significant hit across mainland Europe. It wasn’t until this year however, and the third rebrand, that she eventually gained traction in the mainstream, but once she got rolling she would not be stopped, in no small part to her extraordinary on stage presence.