Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Top 20 Tracks Of 2016

There's no way that 2016 can be rated as a good year for music considering the deaths of David Bowie and Prince early in these 12 months. So many acts favored by those of my generation were peers of those 2 giants, or a performer that was influenced by those 2 artists. And, frankly, little released in 2016 is going to endure in quite the same way that "Life on Mars?" or "Purple Rain" endures.

Still, a lot of bands and singers put out some great tunes over the course of the last 12 months and I did have to whittle this down a bit to get to my usual 20. So, offered up in no particular order, is my list of the 20 tracks that really grabbed me in 2016.

Kenifan's Top 20 Tracks of 2016

1. "I Can't Give Everything Away" by David Bowie (from Blackstar)

The final cut on the final album released by Bowie during his lifetime, "I Can't Give Everything Away" has taken on a grim subtext for listeners now. Looking for clues to to the singer's disease, and the secrets he kept while suffering so long with it, listeners can revel in this song's beautiful melody and vocal performance as it closes what is an otherwise bold and jarring (in spots) Bowie album.

2. "Really Something" by Pete Astor (from Spilt Milk)

The most recent solo album from the one-time Weather Prophets and The Loft front-man is a thing of beauty. Seemingly revitalized by being on Slumberland Records, Astor is in fine, fine form on Spilt Milk, nowhere more so than on "Really Something", the first single from the record. Winsome indie like this is always to be cherished. Welcome back Pete!

3. "Never Comin' Back" by Golden Daze (from Golden Daze)

The cut that jumped out at me from the debut from L.A.'s Golden Daze was the catchy-yet-understated "Never Comin' Back". Sure, the rest of Golden Daze is nice but this low-key number really stuck in my head throughout the year.

4. "Realization Hits" by Bent Shapes (from Wolves of Want)

I had a hard time narrowing down what Bent Shapes cut was gonna make this list. There are so many smart, infectious numbers on the band's debut, Wolves of Want, that I was really struggling for a bit. "Realization Hits" won me over instantly and I defy you to get this hook out of your head.

5. "Like Kids" by Suede (from Night Thoughts)

On an otherwise dour album, "Like Kids" soared. Suede sounded more alive than they had in ages and, dammit, if that wasn't a great, great hook (even if the rest of Night Thoughts was nothing like this one).

6. "Make Me Like You" by Gwen Stefani (from This Is What The Truth Feels Like)

I never bothered to get the new Gwen Stefani album but I certainly ran to my computer to buy this number from iTunes as soon as I heard it on TV. "Make Me Like You" is a rush of Altered Images-style New Wave pop that is quite possibly this year's catchiest mainstream single. One of the few songs on this list that my wife and I liked in equal measure, "Make Me Like You" is a burst of sunshine.

7. "Crooked Cop" by Beverly (from The Blue Swell)

I didn't think that The Blue Swell from Beverly was quite as good as the band's first album. Perhaps the absence of Frankie Rose contributed to that feeling, but who knows? That may be an oversimplification. Still, "Crooked Cop" charmed on the strengths of a superb melody. With a hint of shoegaze, this throwback indie number remains one of this band's very best numbers, and proof that this act probably didn't need Frankie Rose after all.

8. "Searchlights" by Dot Dash (from Searchlights)

D.C.'s own Dot Dash took a lot of chances with 2016's Searchlights. The band's longest record to date, and maybe their loudest, Searchlights seemed to signal that the group had finally fully integrated Steve Hansgen's guitar into the Dot Dash sound. No longer seeming like a power-pop group with a member of Minor Threat in it, Dot Dash had figured out a way to blend the pop and punk influences churning up from the members' past lives, even while turning the amps up a bit louder this time around.

9. "Rebel Black" by Angelic Milk (from Teenage Movie Soundtrack)

The song on this list that I played the most in 2016 was "Rebel Black" by Angelic Milk. The Russian band dropped a fine EP, Teenage Movie Soundtrack, on my favorite current label, PNKSLM, but it was this first single that blew my mind this year. Absolutely perfect as far as I'm concerned, "Rebel Black" could very well be my favorite cut of the year.

10. "Under London Skies" by The Close Lobsters (from Desire and Signs EP)

Few things made me as happy as hearing new music from The Close Lobsters in 2016. The legends were back, with the Desire and Signs EP, and "Under London Skies" seemed to be both a look back and a start in a new direction for the Scottish pioneers.

11. "Pretty Fucking Sick (Of It All)" by Joanna Gruesome (from single of the same name)

The Welsh trouble-makers were back in 2016, even if only for a one-off single. "Pretty Fucking Sick (Of It All)" is probably the punk-iest thing released on Slumberland Records in quite some time and it's aces. A blast of pure energy, the band seems to sum up a lot of the negative vibes in this most negative of years.

12. "I'm In Love" by Teenage Fanclub (from Here)

The first single from the fine new Teenage Fanclub album, Here, "I'm In Love" is also one of the band's most lyrical releases in ages. Channeling a whole lot of Big Star this time out -- maybe more than they normally do -- The Fannies here offer up one of the very best love songs in recent memory. Sublime and affecting every time I spin it, this is "I'm In Love" and if you don't love this, you probably should stop reading my blog.

13. "Seen Everything" by Terry Malts (from Lost At The Party)

The new Terry Malts album, Lost At The Party, served up a stylistic about-face for the Slumberland Records mainstays. If "Seen Everything" and the rest of the album offered up a slicker ride than earlier Malts releases, the long-player and single were still parts of a smart bit of indie business. Harnessing influences that ranged from The Nerves to New Order, Terry Malts cranked out one of their best albums with this one and "Seen Everything" was clearly a highlight.

14. "In A Moment" by Warm Sun (from single of the same name)

The newest D.C. super-group is Warm Sun. Featuring Basla Andolsun (Beauty Pill), Jason Hutto (Aquarium), Renata Ocampo, and Devin Ocampo (Faraquet, Medications, Deathfix), Warm Sun channel the best bits of The Dream Syndicate and Opal to make compelling indie with a trace of the West Coast about it. A new act, the band has only dropped a half-dozen cuts on Bandcamp so far with the standout being the sharp "In A Moment". Here's hoping that 2017 sees more music from Warm Sun.

15. "Blind Hills Chapel" by Diamond Mind (from Heavy Metal Sunshine)

Diamond Mind's Heavy Metal Sunshine is a fine album but it's not gonna make my 2016 'best albums' list. That said, this cut from the record was a shoe-in for this 'best tracks' list. The Bowie-isms of "Blind Hills Chapel" seemed very affecting in 2016, never mind that the number sounds like Rufus Wainwright covering the Thin White Duke more than it sounds like the late, great singer himself. Still, it's a haunting cut that I found hard to shake this year.

16. "Thurgood Marshall" by St. Lenox (from Ten Hymns From My American Gothic)

I was a bit late to the party when it came to St. Lenox but, dammit, am I on-board now! The busy "Thurgood Marshall" is unlike anything you've heard this year, or probably in this century, and it's also a good deal more inspiring than most of what passes for indie these days. Invigorating, intellectually stimulating, and hella catchy, this ode to the late Supreme Court Justice is one of the best cuts from one of 2016's very best albums.

17. "Our Own Devices" by J. Robbins (from the single of the same name)

Even as he teased about a new Channels record on Facebook, D.C. legend J. Robbins was also releasing new music under his own name. The shoegaze-y "Our Own Devices" married some awesome guitar noises with a strong pop hook. Sounding a tiny bit like an early Medicine release here, the post-Jawbox J. Robbins has not so much mellowed with age as he has harnessed a new set of sounds.

18. "Dis Generation" by A Tribe Called Quest (from We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service)

The brightest ray of sunshine in 2016 was the surprise return of A Tribe Called Quest. If the new album carried traces of Phife Dawg -- the rapper having thankfully recorded some new material before his early, tragic death -- tracks like "Dis Generation" belonged to energetic front-man Q-Tip. Bouncing along on a few buoyant samples from "Pass The Dutchie" by Musical Youth, "Dis Generation" made me happy and glad to be alive. When was the last time a rap single did that, am I right?

19. "Which Part's The Dream?" by The Jet Age (from single of the same name)

D.C.'s The Jet Age did not release a new album in 2016. They did, instead, drop a set of 6 new songs that hinted at a pretty darn good album to come in the new year. Narrowing down these 3 song-pairs to the best single number for this list wasn't easy. But, finally, the unique instrumental mix of "Which Part's The Dream?" easily secured this cut its place here. The way that the guitars from front-man Eric Tischler come in over top of drummer Pete Nuwayser's fine stick-work is a sublime thing on this expansive number. Anchoring all of this is, as always, the Geezer Butler-like bass-work of Greg Bennett. Even without the dream pop-style vocals, this single would be one of the best recent Jet Age releases. I can hardly wait for the next album!

20. "Aeons" by Chemtrails (from Love In Toxic Wasteland)

Pretty much everything released on PNKSLM gets my attention 'cause -- let's face it -- the label has been on a roll as of late. That said, this blast of C86-ish business immediately captivated me. A burst of pure noise pop of the very best kind, "Aeons" from Chemtrails may be full of lyrics that smack of some sci-fi dystopia, but the tune itself is a buzzsaw of promise, and one of the only genuinely chill-inducing indie-pop singles of the year. Hard to categorize, "Aeons" is a unique blend of earlier genre classics with something entirely modern.

[Photo: Wikipedia Commons]