2016 has been an absolute crap bag of a year, fortunately, the soundtrack has been sickening. There is a real excitement in the bubbling urgency of some of the UK and the globe’s emerging artists. There have also been phenomenal returns from a whole host of incredible acts, so compiling a list of our top 30 singles was no easy feat. Still, we tried, so we hope you enjoy (if your fav isn’t included, please don’t @ us ).
30. WHITE – LIVING FICTION
Flawlessly produced funky art-pop, WHITE have been creeping up on us throughout the whole of 2016, ‘Living Fiction’ is but the pinnacle of that. Sending their infectious melodies and massive chorus’ down from the heights of Scotland and placing themselves firmly as indie-pop underdogs, ready to compete with the likes of Clean Cut Kid and more in 2017.
29. FICKLE FRIENDS – CRY BABY
2016 has seen the world of pop separate down two paths, you have the road of mainstream pop, such as Olly Murs, One Direction and co and then there’s been this massive surge of sleek and silky alternative pop, Fickle Friends are a prime example of this. ‘Cry Baby’ soundtracked our Summer, the bubblegum pop/indie sound of it weaving it’s way into our ears, straight to our hearts.
28. SUNFLOWER BEAN – EASIER SAID
They’ve been touted as the “best new young thing” for what feels like an age, yet New York’s Sunflower Bean are still barely into their 20s. In the two years that it took the trio to deliver their debut album ‘Human Ceremony’, they have maintained an upwards trajectory as a buzz band of the moment, but like all buzz bands there comes a time where you are expected to deliver the goods. Known for their bratty, low-fi punk-tinged indie, ‘Human Ceremony’ offered a fair share of surprises, the title track an understated sway between co-vocalists Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen, however ‘Easier Said’ is a bittersweet and hazy psychedelic pop. Decorated with Cumming’s breathy falsetto vocal it feels simultaneously fresh and rose-tinted; yes, Sunflower Bean are a trio that persists in looking over their shoulder to decades prior, but in being so young, their pining for nostalgia can be forgiven.
27. ANTEROS – BREAKFAST
A track as delicious as its title, it is immediate like a shot of espresso and worth revisiting like your favourite hipster haunt that serves those mouth-wateringly moist blueberry muffins. ‘Breakfast’ evolved Anteros from tip list frequenters to serious contenders to make waves as gargantuan as the band’s legendary namesake.
26. BLOSSOMS – GETAWAY
Coined as ‘Abba meets Arctic Monkeys’ by The Guardian. “Getaway’ saw Blossoms indulge in their 80’s synths that much more, delivering an emotive, accessible indie-pop song that only further cemented their 2016 rise to greatness.
25. HAUX – SEASIDE
An enigmatic singer/songwriter working across the fields of music, film and photography, Woodson Black has been gathering a healthy following on both sides of the Atlantic throughout 2016. We were sent ‘Seaside’ along with a fairly unremarkable press release yet from the opening bars, we were immediately captivated. The manner in which Black’s tender, hushed vocal drifts and descends beneath brooding synth baritone was altogether spine tingling, a track that has naturally warm allure yet carries itself in bitter solitude.
24. GIRL FRIEND – TRAGIC ON THE DANCEFLOOR
As we mentioned earlier, 2016 has been quite a tricky year to manoeuvre with frustration, tension and anger all coming to contact in spectacularly cataclysmic fashion. So imagine our delight in April when Manchester duo Girl Friend arrived with the irresistibly infectious ‘Tragic On The Dancefloor’, a near perfect pop track with a simplistic structure and nods towards the dynamism of Duran Duran and Eurhythmics
23. SLØTFACE – EMPIRE RECORDS
Our new favourite Nordic indie-pop band with an explicitly punk attitude, Slotface, have gone from strength to strength this year, following the release of ‘Take Me Dancing’ which provided everyone with an absolute pre-drinks anthem. ‘Empire Records’ saw a more subtle infection, fuller sound and sign of their musical progression.
22. WARPAINT – NEW SONG
Who knew that Warpaint could sound so… happy? After all, until this point their entire output has generally centred in the murkily textured soundscapes such as ‘Elephants’, ‘Biggy’ and ‘Love Is To Die’, however in ‘New Song’ their inimitable choral clamour is reappropriated for groovy disco-funk. The band croon lovelorn-ly to finding a new lease of life, and indeed, third album ‘Heads Up’ saw them shake up their game, plucking apart their threads after their brief hiatus so as to find something new. ‘New Song’ is a band that is excited to create together again, and solidifies that Warpaint never did care about what you expected from them anyway.
21. M.I.A – FREEDUN
‘Freedun’ seemed to blow through to the edges of cyberspace in half a day and then disappeared almost instantaneously back into the void – but why? It was the return of one of the most prolific rappers of the 21st century and one of the most prolific pop stars of the past five years (surely, there is only The Biebs who can pose any contest to Zayn Malik and vice versa?), so why was it not blasting out of Radio One like 2007’s ‘Paper Planes’? Sure, it wasn’t quite as politically charged as we are used to from M.I.A, but the Zayn refrain proved to drag them both into a more central territory, helping Malik to continue to brush off the debris of 1D whilst introducing M.I.A to millions of new, young listeners. As a marketing ploy alone, it’s pretty commendable, though thankfully it’s a bit of a banger too.
20. ANGEL OLSEN – SHUT UP KISS ME
Anyone who is familiar with Angel Olsen, will know of her absolute talent for projecting emotions through the medium of her music. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ sees her take devotion under her wing and expressing it in it’s purest form (and also in an insanely infectious way, might we add).
19. BON IVER – 22 (Over Soon)
Justin Vernon has been away for a while. Perhaps his Bon Iver moniker was to never return to the stage, yet in August fans celebrated tentatively as track listings appeared online, including the forebodingly titled ’22 (Over Soon)’. Vernon at his most experimental so far, a tricky first listen yet once time invested you understand its quiet momentum and expressive nature. The album itself is a projection of an artist wholly confident in craft and style.
18. THE 1975 – THE SOUND
The 1975’s return was a pretty big deal. ‘Love Me’ saw them make the statement about the world of fame that we all needed to hear. But then ‘The Sound’, now that was exciting. It saw them take a completely different direction, infused with 80’s synths and an infectious melody, it was the ultimate party banger for the beginning of 2016 and that needs remembering.
17. LAURA MARLING – SOOTHING
Appearing unannounced barely two weeks ago, ‘Soothing’ was a surprise in every way. The latex-laden video – directed by Laura Marling – is one thing, but so is Marling’s consistent willingness to challenge herself as a songwriter. It is stringently clear that she is not one to be sated by releasing marginally altered iterations of the same thing, and ‘Soothing’ sees the singer-songwriter eagerly detour down a more sensual route. The bassline is evocative of the dalliance, luring listeners into ‘Soothing’s understated microcosm as it begins to intensify by the will of strings, all whilst Marling hauntingly whispers her words. It is purely intoxicating; her forthcoming album ‘Semper Fimina’ is awaited with bated breath.
16. ARIANA GRANDE – INTO YOU
We challenge anybody to listen to those opening bars and not want to immediately slut drop in the middle of Heaven. Ariana speaks to the leather clad power bottom in all of us.
15. BLACK HONEY – ALL MY PRIDE
Black Honey’s development this year has been second to none. They’ve slowly but surely transferred their dramatic, powerful live performances onto records (and now finally video thanks to ‘Hello Today’. ‘All My Pride’ fronted their EP release and saw them find a perfect balance between their now trademark Tarantino sound and an accessible, infectious melody.
14. PHORIA – EVERYTHING BETA
‘Everything Beta’ is impossibly big, an incredible feat of production and arrangement. Phoria had been teasing their earth-shattering sounds throughout 2015 and this year they delivered a debut album of epic proportions. A collection of tracks that mesmerise and transform when confined within a small handful of venues that they have performed in so far, whilst forever yearning for the gigantic platforms of Glastonbury and the like. This band is Britain’s potential protégée to Sigur Ros with burning amounts of potential and raw, unrestricted musicianship.
13. DRAKE – TOO GOOD
Like most Drake songs, you feel like you know them before you ever did – and that’s no bad thing. Surely, it is the key to his innate appeal and uncontested pop dominance both critically and in the charts? Yes, the narrative is getting old; a little too cry baby, a little too self-serving and pitying, but time and again it is forgivable when he delivers a banger such as ‘Too Good’ or its predecessor from ‘Views’, ‘One Dance’. Caribbean-beats, wriggling rhythms and ridiculously hooky choruses that are so infectious in their simplicity that its art form should be a crime.
12. INHEAVEN – TREATS
Seeing Chloe Little take centre stage, enraged by the world’s current situation; Inheaven delivered arguably their strongest track to date. They added a purpose to their music and it’s just one large leap toward the greatness that they’re heading for.
11. ELIZA SHADDAD – RUN
In a year with a whole heap of singer/songwriters delivering sincere, poetic pieces including Billie Marten, Frances and more, Eliza Shaddad’s music resonated above the quiet noise. Following on from the affecting ‘Wars’, the ‘Run’ EP and its title track is undoubtedly the Sudanese/Scottish musician’s most intelligent release to date. The mournful tone, devastatingly empathetic subject matter and dramatic build make for one of the most stirring singles of 2016.
10. SHURA – WHAT’S IT GONNA BE
Shura has certainly had one hell of a year, releasing her debut album ‘Nothing’s Real’, taking on the States with none other than Tegan and Sara and M83, not to mention the U.K tour she’s currently amidst. ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ is arguably the strongest track to come from her debut effort, receiving a multitude of support online/on radio… pretty much everywhere, that’s most definitely not hindered her rise to stardom.
9. BLOOD ORANGE – AUGUSTINE
Dev Hynes has had many incarnations over the years, but surely, it is as Blood Orange that he persists in creating his best work. An incredible lyricist and craftsman, he consistently creates worlds within his music of pure, cinematic heartache. There are many instances within this year’s ‘Freetown Sound’ where Hynes turns to spoken word deliver his message, juxtaposed with his soulful croons, however none are quite as immersive as ‘Augustine’s opening lines “My father was a young man/My mother off the boat/My eyes were fresh at 21/Bruised but still afloat.” In those few words, you are implicit in the weight of history, the pain of black suffering in America that still persists today and the hope that still glimmers within the black community for a better future. Along with Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table, Freetown Sound’ attempts to deconstruct the lives of the African-American community in the US by making it accessible to all.
8. WILD BEASTS – GET MY BANG
Another band refusing to play by its own preconceived conventions, Wild Beasts returned in 2016 sexier than ever. After leaving their native Kendal and heading Stateside to record the follow up to ‘Present Tense’. ‘Boy King’ is an unabashed and often grotesque creature filled with insatiable swagger and an immediate sex appeal. Its lead single is tongue in cheek, arrogant and frankly brilliant.
7. GLASS ANIMALS – LIFE ITSELF
Opening with exotic beats and Eastern, psychedelic schisms, as a listener, you are immediately enveloped in the smoky atmosphere of ‘Life Itself’ the utter hookworm of a first single from Glass Animals second album ‘How To Be A Human Being’. It turned out to be a brilliant album, but that is not to undo the aplomb in which ‘Life Itself’ is unveiled. Each track on ‘How To Be A Human Being’ carries its own distinct narrative through the eyes of a protagonist – courtesy of lyricist and vocalist Dave Bayley – and the protagonist of ‘Life Itself’ is a well-meaning young slacker, a guy whose habits we are all a little too accustomed with. “Daddy was dumb, said that I’d be something special” sings Bayley, before later recounting with “I can’t get a job, so I live with my Mom/ I take her money but not quite enough.” The frustration of being stuck in this scenario is palpable, and the boredom is fully realised. Check out raygun123.com for an insight into how our Joe Blogs spends his time. Yup, isn’t it great? Glass Animals don’t do things by halves.
6. METRONOMY – OLD SKOOL
The opening beat makes me want to do lines in a living room with garish 70s décor and that’s reason enough to include it in this list. In reality, this track has an attitude all of its own, a swagger swinging somewhere between Robyn and Hot Chip and a bass that threatens to swallow you whole. It’s one of the most unpredictable and left wing pop singles released in 2016 from a band constantly in change, constantly challenging their own conventions. Its sound, style, visuals and presentation are faultless.
5. JAMES BLAKE – TIMELESS
On his third album, ‘The Colour in Anything’, British wunderkind James Blake truly finds the perfect balance in his brand of electro-inflected soul, all whilst brutally, longingly spilling his guts over a lost relationship. ‘Timeless’ was originally slated for a feature by Kanye West, which later morphed into a remix incorporating Vince Staples. It’s worth a listen but pales in comparison to the original in every way. The humming synth that holds the bassline overlaid with skittish beats offsets Blake’s melancholy whooping croons, before suddenly abating to an urgent rippling synth, a dam flooded. Where is this love? Will he ever be free of it? A klaxon wails off course and intensifies – before nothing. Why ruin the journey of such a track by hashing in some rapping for hits, eh?
4. ANNA OF THE NORTH – Us
The Nordics have made some sensational pop throughout 2016. From the return of Niki + the Dove, the breakout from Liss or Aurora’s bewitching debut. Through the snowy saturation comes the duo Anna of the North, a formidable combination of ethereal vocal and momentous production values. Two original tracks have surfaced this year and ‘Us’ is the epitome of what the band does best; driving, soaring synth paired with R & B-Esq melody and an instantly memorable chorus. With a debut album potentially arriving in 2017, the pair is likely to be the next hottest thing to arrive out of such cold climes.
3. CHRISTINE & THE QUEENS – SAINT CLAUDE
While we await the many outraged voices of those asking why we haven’t put ‘Tilted’ in the top 30 and instead gone for ‘Saint Claude’, we’d like to commend Christine and the Queens on a year of greatness. Now celebrated as the face of the pop revolution, ‘Saint Claude’ has quietly shone brightly as a heartfelt and emotive, melodic track that’s just as great as ‘Tilted’ just with a quieter, underrated brilliance.
2. THE XX – ON HOLD
It has been four whole years since The xx last released a song, and if we’re being blunt, we were beginning to get worried. They have never been the most forward or limelight seeking of sorts, so would it really have been too much of a surprise had they slunk back into the shadows for a more peaceful existence? Thankfully, the calling was too strong and mere weeks ago ‘On Hold’ surfaced, unexpectedly, and took our breath away. Emboldened with a pulsing confidence that has blossomed since 2012’s ‘Coexist’, the track ripples with refracting shades of Jamie XX’s solo album ‘In Colour’, tainting The XX’s textured monochrome minimalism with a sound altogether more carefree and unabashedly pop. And it is pop, buoyant despite the heartache; The XX are shaking off their self-imposed shackles, and are all the better for it.
1. BON IVER – 33 “GOD”
There is an anxiety and inner cataclysm that anchors ’33 “GOD”’, the first song that was debuted from Bon Iver’s feverishly anticipated third album, ’22, A Million’. Since the earnest folk of 2007’s ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, the Bon Iver of 2016 is, at times, near unrecognisable. The honesty within ’33 “GOD”’ is palpable, but its message veiled in the turmoil of a flailing mind. The voices weave back and forth, Justin Vernon’s now-iconic falsetto echoing and jarring with its garbled antithesis, just as the lonely keys that introduce the track give way to tumulus beats, bassy drones and scattered samples (Paolo Nutini, if you please). At its core lies a crisis of faith and relationship purgatory, the fear of relinquishing the grip out of comfort and stepping out of stasis, and in being so apprehensively sincere, ’33 “GOD”’ is near perfect in its flawed contradictions.