We at musicmuso LOVE a list, who doesn't? there is one person who loves lists more than most people I know and that's my younger brother Pete. Some of my earliest memories of him involve him writing lists, favourite things, shopping lists for mother or just a list for list's sake!
I decided it was time to pull together a Top Ten list of tracks lifted from albums released during 2016, now, we're not saying that this is THE definitive list, it's purely what we think is a rounded selection of fab tracks lifted from some of the finest releases this year.
We've created our own Spotify playlist for you to listen to whilst reading through each of the track notes below, just grab a beer, hit play and read on....
1. RADIOHEAD - "Burn the Witch" (from the album A Moon Shaped Pool)
Masters of the unexpected album release, Radiohead's 9th album was sprung upon us back in May as a download, in June as a physical release, and September as a special edition vinyl collector's edition. The lead single was this slice of sinister, orchestral-tinged bleakness, which mentioned gallows, panic attacks and "red crosses on wooden doors". With perhaps one of the best music videos this year - 'Camberwick Green' does 'The Wicker Man' in the form of a council official visiting a rather Royston Vasey-style town where he ultimately meets his end, the song was not indicative of the rest of the album. With screeching violins that built to a climax at the song's end, it was like an alternative soundtrack to 'Psycho's shower scene, narrated by Thom Yorke. Which is quite an unnerving thought in itself.
2. DAVID BOWIE - "Blackstar" (from the album Blackstar)
Whether you were a fan or not, you couldn't deny the lasting impact Bowie has had on the field of music since his days as plain old David Jones back in the 60s. After his myriad alter-egos, image changes and flirtations with most known musical styles under the sun, many could have forgiven Bowie for wanting to retire and having a quiet life. But he kept the musical gifts coming. 'The Next Day', his first album for a decade, dropped in 2013, with 'Blackstar' ultimately to be his final offering. With decidedly shit timing, cancer claimed one of Britain's great icons just two days after it's release, but fans could be thankful at least that Bowie had left them such a varied (challenging?) album to get their teeth into. The title track, a near ten-minute opus containing clattering drum beats, Bowie's almost Gregorian chant vocals, and an ethereal, otherworldly aspect, combined with meandering sax. Around halfway in, the style changes to a slightly more upbeat tone - if the lyrics "I'm a black star" repeated over and over are possibly 'upbeat'! - but one thing's for sure; we've never had one like Bowie, and are very probably never likely to again.
3. UNDERWORLD - "I Exhale" (from the album Barbara Barbara We Face a Shining Future)
Returning with their ninth album (their first studio effort since 2010), the now-duo of vocalist/guitarist Karl Hyde and on 'everything else', Rick Smith, produced a concise, taught collection of songs proving that they've consistently delivered more to the table than just chants of "lager, lager, lager" that 'Born Slippy NUXX' had back in 1996. The opening track from 'Barbara, Barbara...' features Hyde's stream-of-consciousness, is-it-real-or-a-dream lyrics delivered in a dead-pan style, reminiscent of The Streets' Mike Skinner while on some urban-inspired trip. Smith's chunky beats augment a two-chord guitar buzz that is simplistic in nature, but yet never outstays it's eight minute running time. Underworld's live shows this year have proven that, while they might have fewer personnel than in years past, they've still got the edge in the field of thinking person's dance music.
4. THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS - "Sweet Dreams, TN" (from the album Everything You've Come to Expect)
Miles Kane and Alex Turner resurrected The Last Shadow Puppets this year, after what many expected to be a one-off side-project back in 2008. This 1950s-rock 'n' roll echoing track about lamenting a lost love was one of the LP's highlights, combining the trademarks Puppets sound of rock guitars and orchestral sweeps to grand effect, almost like the end theme to a film. With Turner taking vocal duties, this sounds like it could have come from his mini-album soundtrack to the excellent Richard Ayoade film 'Submarine'. It's enough to make you wonder if his Arctic Monkeys bandmates wish he'd stop writing such great tracks for other projects and let them record them instead!
5. PIXIES - "Head Carrier" (from the album Head Carrier)
With only six albums in thirty years (although to be fair there was a huge gap between 1993-2004) the release of new Pixies material always feels like a treat, and 'Head Carrier' (the album) was no exception. Back sounding fresh and alive, but still with that Pixies kookiness (the title track references a cephalophore - a saint who was martyred by beheading) nothing is really straightforward here. Tracks like 'Um Chagga Lagga', a frantic piece of thrash that harked back to their 80s incarnation, and 'Talent' felt like old friends already, and while we could have picked any of the twelve offerings, it was 'Head Carrier' with it's plaintive refrain of "going down the drain...again" capturing vocalist Black Francis at his curmudgeonly, brazen best.
6. THE WEEKND FEAT. DAFT PUNK - "Starboy" (from the album Starboy)
Taken from Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (better known as The Weeknd)'s second album, the 26-year-old Canadian takes what he accomplished on his debut 'Kiss Land', and the critically acclaimed 'Beauty Behind the Madness', and served up a natural progression on his third album 'Starboy'. While the track technically "features" French electronic outfit Daft Punk, their contribution feels more like a production role, with hints of their style leaking through in both the music and the vocals. With an excellent video that saw The Weeknd 'kill off' his previous physical incarnation before driving a flashy car accompanied by a panther (not safe, surely - how do you honestly explain that to a police officer if they flag you down?) it was really the total package in terms of a great song having the visuals to match.
7. KYLE DIXON & MICHAEL STEIN - "Stranger Things (Extended)" (from the album Stranger Things Vol. 2)
'Stranger Things', airing on Netflix, was very much a sleeper hit this year, spreading through word of mouth amongst box-set bingers hungry for their next fix. With an accessible eight-episode first season about a boy who goes missing (apparently to another dimension), the appearance of a telekinetic pre-pubescent girl called Eleven, a group of friends who get embroiled in both and a shadowy group of scientists hunting for the girl, it was a heartwarming, scary, nostalgic slice of drama that included nods to the likes of Spielberg, 'Twin Peaks', 'The X-Files' and 'The Goonies' in equal measure. The soundtrack was also a total winner, composed by two members of the synth group Survive. The theme tune, a homage to the likes of Jean Michel Jarre, John Carpenter soundtracks and the art of using true vintage equipment to get the sound just right. With it's synth burblings, washes and one-finger chord progressions, it summed up the atmosphere of the series absolutely perfectly.
8. SIA - "Cheap Thrills" (from the album This is Acting)
Despite this track being taken from her seventh album, it's telling to Sia's persistence that she only really "made it" back in 2014 when her album '1000 Forms of Fear' included the breakthrough hit 'Chandelier'. Since then, she's been very much in demand, working with a number of big names in the music business as very much a "must have" guest vocalist, alongside releasing her own material. Featuring a number of tracks written purely as a songwriter for others (the basis for the album title "This Is Acting") its hard to imagine another artist singing this reggae-tinted, almost tropical sounding track, which in another universe features guest vocals (rather to it's detriment) by Jamaican singer Sean Paul. But it's the regular, original, ready-salted version we're featuring here. Mainly because Sean Paul's a tit.
9. PIKOTARO - "P.P.A.P." (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen)'
The creation of Japanese comedian Kazuhito Kosaka, Pikotaro released this ditty in October, and straight away it smacked of trying to be the new 'Gangnam Style'. In a way, it succeeded, with over 95 million views on Youtube, and reaching the #1 spot in his native country. Its fair to say the whole "new Gangnam Style" thing never happened, but the song is damn catchy. Lyrically, it's a bloody mess - even Chris Martin from Coldplay has done better songs than this, but that's part of the appeal. A song about combining a pen and an apple to make an "apple pen"? There's some sort of genius there. I'm not sure how or why, but there is. It's the simplicity, I think - look at the lyrics in Kraftwerk songs ("I'm the operator/with my pocket calculator" etc.); a four-year-old could have written them, but they work. Is it irritating? Sure. Is it catchy? Damn straight. This wee bugger will get in your head and take surgical assistance to have it removed.
10. RICK ASTLEY - "Keep Singing" (from the album 50)
Say what you will about Rick, but if there was anyone in line for a 'comeback' award this year, it'd be him (we won't count that 2007 'Rickrolling' stuff as a proper comeback). Seriously - the man has been fighting off work offers with a shitty twig throughout 2016; he even appeared on the Alfie Boe & Michael Ball TV special, where 'Never Gonna Give You Up' was sung in a variety of styles. Having taken a right old licking for his frankly, awful output back in the 80s, as well has having an infinitely punchable face, he's proven he can keep on ticking with the best of them. After four albums, Rick retired - intermittently releasing albums in 2001 and 2005 - but it was his album '50', released this year (and yes, he actually is fifty) that I think its fair to say, surprised quite a few people. Since the 80s, Astley's voice has matured and deepened, and so when I heard 'Keep Singing' - the first track released to promote the LP back in April, I didn't know it was him at first. Soulful and confident, I was sure it was someone like Gregory Porter, such was the timbre of his voice. He might have a reputation as being a bit naff, but for me, Astley proved both his songwriting and vocal chops on this effort. The only downside is the raft of imminent "perfect gift for Christmas..." ads we'll probably have to put up with.
We'll be back again towards the end of 2017 with another 'Best of' Top Ten feature, until then, keep on rockin'....
Written by Pete Muscutt