29 December 2016

top 50 of 2016 | 10-1

10. Nina Nesbitt - "Chewing Gum"

Raging synths and big walls of drums fuel this powerhouse production, a track that somehow manages to exude confidence and self-deprecation at once. She's warning someone that she is a mess, and also that they don't mean shit to her. Really makes you think twice about the line "I'm just chewing gum," doesn't it?

9. Lady Gaga - "Perfect Illusion"

Though released with significantly less pageantry than past first-of-a-new-album-era singles, the impact of this track on Gaga's Little Monster fanbase was undeniable. She's on top of her songwriting game as she's ever been.

8. Troye Sivan - "Youth"

It's a very cool thing to watch someone find the right platform to express themselves. I remember looking up his performance of this track on The Tonight Show and seeing a comment that said "I remember when Troye wouldn't leave his room lol." That's the amazing thing about the era in which we live; many people have watched this guy go from a shy boy making YouTube videos for no one but himself to an internationally touring pop singer. The whole album is great, but this first single is just so perfectly Troye that it was hard not to pick it for the list.

7. Tegan & Sara - "U-Turn"

I saw Tegan & Sara live a couple months ago, and midway through their set, the other members of their band left the stage so that they could begrudgingly perform a few songs from their older albums. "I don't know about you guys," Sara said before they began this portion, "But our old stuff didn't make me want to dance." Truly creative artists evolve, and the resulting relationships it creates with both their fans and their art are interesting to watch, especially as an outsider. I'm just here to dance, ladies. Keep it up.

6. Absinth3 ft. Chelsea Owen - "Trust Is A Curious Word"

If you had played this song for me with no explanation or context, I'd have assumed it was an album cut from some one-named, one-album dancepop wonder from 1988 that I'd somehow missed in all my years of digging through record store bins and scouring Discogs, YouTube, and various retro message boards. That's how carefully 16-year-old Absinth3 has studied this aesthetic and perfected his ability to create faithfully in its image. Perfect use of a syncopated rhythm and marimba-like synth voices. (Full disclosure: He was cool enough to produce and publish a version of one of his songs with a vocal track that I wrote and performed and we're now friends and you should check it out too, but this song would have made the list even if he hadn't been so nice.)

5. Highasakite - "Deep Sea Diver"

They're like a really eccentric modern version of a-ha, kind of. This song makes me feel like I'm riding a jetski over increasingly tall waves, crashing down further each time but not caring because I'm having so much fun. Unfortunately, the studio version of the track is nowhere to be found on YouTube for quick listening, but you can listen to it on Spotify or roughly the first minute of it in this "behind the scenes" clip of a music video that I guess no longer exists.

4. FM-84 ft. Timecop1983 & Josh Dally - "Let's Talk"

Originally released last year by Timecop1983 ft. Josh Dally on their Reflections album, FM-84's mix of this track (which is included on his brilliant album Atlas) took it to the place that it really needed to be. The vocals are so incredibly powerful, and juxtaposed against this tall snare drum they create a tidalwave of sound that crashes right down on you.

3. Rihanna - "Kiss It Better"

I knew three tracks into Rihanna's 2016 release Anti that I'd just heard one of the years most brilliant songs. It starts with a bossa nova beat from what sounds like the drum machine that came with a 1970s home organ and very soon crashes into a sexy modern pop slow jam. The drums are rather minimal, but they flawlessly tie together razzy synth bass riffs and distorted electric guitar motifs. This is my favorite song she's done since "Umbrella," and kind of feels like a half-speed callback to another of my favorites, "Shut Up And Drive."

2. DownVega - "Give You My Love"

This track became my walking theme this year. Any time I had to march somewhere, especially with any kind of confidence or determination, it played in my head. This makes absolutely no sense in regard to the song's lyrical content, but the driving drum track is a hell of a march time keeper. I just really love this front to back, from its rhythmic opening to its very synthy ending.

1. Abra - "Crybaby"

Absolute dancepop perfection. Atlanta's Abra created this sleek, sexy jam about gaslighting that changes gears enough times to keep it from ever feeling its nearly six-minute duration. It recalls the 1990 sound of Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, but avoids the clich├ęs of something that is trying intentionally to sound retro. Her soft - yet at times, almost wailed - delivery gives the song an appropriate tone of vulnerability, switching to a more confident, leering sneer in the bridge as the lyrics shift in tone too. It's a shame people seem to be sleeping on her; this would sell out arenas.