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The Top 10 Songs of 2016 – 3, 2, 1 … Happy New Year

31 Dec

#3: “All We Ever Knew” by The Head and The Heart


Seattle is hotbed of musical talent, The Head and the Heart is just another success story from the Emerald Story. That said, The Head and the Heart do not all originate from Seattle; instead, many of the band’s members are Seattle transplants who found a home performing at a local open mic. The band quickly took off from there, and have come a long way from selling handmade denim sleeves of self-burned copies of its first album at local shows. Now, the band has toured extensively with several Indie outlets like Vampire Weekend, Iron & Wine, and Death Cab for Cutie. The year 2016 saw the release of the band’s third LP Signs of Light and the title track is the #3 song of 2016.

It is no surprise that “All We Ever Knew” found immediate alt/rock chart success. It’s anthemic, featuring strong percussion, jubilant vocal harmonies, diverse keys, and a string-laden bridge. The song features the same melodic structure, but it transforms several times with instrumental and rhythm. It is the upper echelon of alt/rock and representative of a band at the top of its game.

#2: “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow


“Genghis Khan” by Swedish Indie Pop trio Miike Snow was officially released as a single in December of 2015, but found its way on the band’s third studio album, iii, which was released in March of this year. Thus, the #2 song of 2016 is the aforementioned “Genghis Khan,” and if not for an impassioned release from Radiohead, the song would be #1

Miike Snow, a three piece made up of a duo of childhood friends who became consummate producers and a strong session vocalist from the U.S., came to prominence in 2009 with the release of “Animal,” a tremendously catchy song that demonstrated the skill of the band.

“Genghis Khan” just indicates the continued musical maturity of the band. The song is almost unspeakably infectious and dance-inducing. A true ear-worm, the song is carried by swinging synth and percussion and a vocal riff that sticks to a listener’s vocal cords; try listening to the song and not at least humming along to the riff. There is a bit of an insatiable quality to the song, a craving to listen to it on repeat. That is the mark of a successful producing. Paired with a video that is a twist on a classic James Bond scene, the song is a marvel.

#1: “Daydreaming” by Radiohead


I mean this as no disrespect to the other bands on the 2016 list, but Radiohead is in a class of its own. “Daydreaming,” the Music Court’s choice for best song of 2016, was released on the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, the first release from the band in five years. In a few words A Moon Shaped Pool depicts Radiohead’s malleable adeptness and Thom Yorke’s lyrical sophistication. “Daydreaming” evidences why Radiohead is one of the best bands releasing music today; while most bands find a niche and stick to it intransigently, Radiohead is constantly finding ways to push the boundaries of music.

The song is like modern art. There is so much to it even though one only ostensibly hears an ambient, melancholic piano motif. And when I mention complexity I am not even talking about the behind-the-scenes electronic elements, spooky vocal effects, and bookended pitch-warping. There is pain in the lyric, Yorke’s effortless voice tinged with inherent sadness and eerie airiness. The video, which was directed by renowned film director Paul Thomas Anderson, features Yorke walking through several doors to disconnected areas, seems to suggest the inevitable passing of time, and the somewhat desultory rhythm of the progression of one’s life. At around the four minute mark, the song begins to crescendo, each element becoming crisper and more defined. Yorke’s vocal becomes more strained and fragmented until the song concludes with Yorke, in the video, walking through snow to a cave and then lying by a fire while low-tuned cellos growl and Yorke repeats an incoherent, warped vocal, which is a apt; in the end, does anything make sense?

Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #9 (“Sweet Disaster” by DREAMERS and #8 (“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo)

26 Dec

And the list continues … We are in a bit of a time crunch, so until we reach the crux of the list, I am counting down two songs at a time. Outside of the fact that both the #9 and #8 songs of the year are considered alternative rock, there cannot be more different about DREAMERS and Kaleo – although Iceland, the hometown of Kaleo, is starting to seem more and more like Los Angeles, where DREAMERS is originally from, with all of the creative musicians spawning from the country of fire and ice. That said, I will take them for the way different musicians and we will start with #9.

#9 – “Sweet Disaster” by DREAMERS


DREAMERS – I don’t suggest you click that link if you are prone to epileptic fits – is a 3-piece eccentric psychedelic pop band who released their first LP in August of this year, and is thus a burgeoning artist on the scene. The album title, This Album Does Not Exist, is a perfect representation of DREAMERS – a band that almost wasn’t whose demeanor is now one of inclusive existentialism. This message is conveyed through a blend of several musical influences – a little Grouplove mixed with Miike Snow mixed with the psychedelic pop of the late 1960s. Add in a little good humor and take out all musical inhibition, and you have DREAMERS.

“Sweet Disaster” begins with a strung-out California-inspired guitar riff that carries over wispy percussion that provides subtle power to the vocal. At the choral crash, the instrumental turns more electronic, depending on astral synth under the pounding percussion. For a song on the early side of three minutes, DREAMERS packs in some noticeable complexity including a power-pop pre-chorus, key-driven bridge, and technically-impressive drumming towards the end. The song is just the beginning for this exciting band, and totally worthy of a spot on our countdown.

#8 – “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo


Kaleo is the next big thing from Iceland, a country that has brought us Of Monsters and Men, Seabear, and Bjork. Iceland is a hotbed of new music, and this oxymoronic introductory clause is an excellent symbolic representation of the music scene in the country, one that is setting the world ablaze while remaining true to its icy, dark roots. Kaleo does just that.

Kaleo, a 4-piece carried by the powerful vocals of JJ Julius Son, was founded in 2012 and released an eponymous first LP in 2013. By 2014, the band received heavy play from Spotify and it didn’t take long before Atlantic Records came knocking. While 2015 saw the release of the single listed here is the #8 song of the year, “Way Down We Go” was a track off Kaleo’s second LP A/B (released in June of 2016), and it was released as a single in the U.S. in October of 2016, so it is eligible for best song of the year consideration. Here it is on our list at #8.

JJ Julius Son’s voice is so soothing, is it not? It just effortlessly draws the listener in and then blows the listener back with its raw grittiness. The song is clearly carried by this tremendous vocal, but I would be averse not to mention the band’s haunting harmonies, heavy, toe-tapping percussion, and equally impressive guitar. The song finishes with a granular moan, and this reflects the entire piece, one of untested fervor, a song from a band that is willing to take risks and rock.

Top 10 Songs of 2016 – #10: “Ain’t No Man” by The Avett Brothers

24 Dec


It is apropos that we begin this year’s countdown with a song off The Avett Brothers’ aptly-titled 9th studio album True Sadness. While the clamor labeling 2016 as one of the worst years in recent memory is a bit hyperbolic and overstated, The Avett Brothers’ hometown of North Carolina is no longer classified as a Democracy any longer, so perhaps there is legitimacy to those hoping 2016 let’s the door hit it on its way out in a week. That said, music in 2016 was at least halfway decent, and that means the annual Music Court’s Top 10 Songs countdown is underway. So, in a year of mostly downs, I bring you song number 10.

“Ain’t No Man” is carried by the best bass riff of the year. It is easily the best. The jaunty bass is splashed with clapping percussion and the jocular harmonic jabs of Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford, the purveyor of the aforementioned bass riff. The song is the genius of the Avetts, fit with an in-studio genesis from the musically-inclined brothers (oddly enough not the only brothers on the list).  The song stomps with a confident and bold lyric, which I’d say is needed to be listened to on repeat over the next week prior to entering the new year. Here’s the chorus:

There ain’t no man that can save me
There ain’t no man that can enslave me
Ain’t no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in
There ain’t nobody here
Who can cause me pain or raise my fear ’cause I got only love to share
If you’re looking for truth I’m proof you’ll find it there

It is akin to puzzle pieces connecting when a lyric fits a song. The potent, positive message just reflects the song’s joyful instrumental revelry. It is a ditty, topping out at 3:30 soaking wet, and it feels even quicker than that, so, take it from me, the song is best listened to on repeat.

#9 soon to come …

Top Albums of 2014 – #4: Strange Desire by Bleachers

21 Dec


Back in November I lauded Bleachers as the purveyors of ridiculously catchy music that refused to leave the musical amalgamation that is my mind. My opinion of the band has not really changed; although, I must say that Jack Antonoff’s project has moved in my mind from just plain catchy to musically skilled and complex; Antonoff melds a theatrical pop sound fit with expeditious percussion and dulcet instrumentation with the essential quality of catchiness, which the songs most certainly have.

Bleachers released its debut LP Strange Desire in July of this year and several singles have been cherry picked from the album, each cherry perfectly ripe and delicious. Singles like “I Wanna Get Better” and “Rollercoaster” have hit the charts with a mini fervor, similar to Antonoff’s last uber-successful project (Fun). I think the songs have also just scratched the surface of popularity; in fact, I see a remarkably successful 2015 for Antonoff and his fellow bandmates.

Strange Desire is an 11-track affair with tracks featuring Grimes and Yoko Ono – yes, Yoko Ono. The first four tracks are all super hits in my mind; seriously, the tracks are each monumental jaunty pop pieces that get feet tapping and heads nodding. The ethereal, heavenly keys and 80s-esque harmony of “Wild Heart” is followed by the key-driven, percussion-soaked harmony-laden swooning “Rollercoaster,” which is the perfect hit-the-road-and-drive-anywhere song. This is followed by an Arcade Fire-like “Shadow,” which moves with a creative rhythm section and ends with a twangy guitar riff that leads into this:

“I Wanna Get Better,” which is one of the best songs of the year, is a melodic agglutination of anthem vocals, sprawling harmonies, infectious keys, and rock-out percussion. The song just kicks some much butt, and it is tempting to just listen to it on repeat. Plus, I must say it fits the New Years theme quite well because doesn’t everyone want to get better.

Check out more from Bleachers on its website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Top 10 Albums of 2014 – #10: After the Disco by Broken Bells

15 Dec


There was a time, I figure, in the wee morning hours of a Saturday in the 1970s when the last remaining bell-bottomed disco dancers stumbled onto the street, tired and bedraggled with sweat and the last remnants of a Donna Summers song, when the disco was physically empty but still bulging with the swollen heat of the night. In that small gap before the clean-up crew cleansed the disco in advance of another night of musical debauchery is where I picture Broken Bells’ second LP release, After the Disco, set and recorded. I have this image of band members James Mercer and Brian Burton climbing onto the weary stage and playing a few tracks to a crowd of memories; the music, a delightful mix of spacey modern disco tracks mixed with an alternative rock groove 20-30 years before its time. This thought exhilarates me, so much so that After the Disco is #10 on the list of top albums of 2014.

After the success of its eponymous debut in 2010 and follow-up EP in 2011, Broken Bells, a super-group made up of Shins’ frontman Mercer and revered producer Burton, was urged to release a follow-up, and After the Disco is that, a wildly entertaining, drawn-out, alt/space/rock agglutination of musical influences and decades. The album was recorded with a 4-piece choir and the 17-piece Angel City String Orchestra, which was conducted by Daniele Luppi, Danger Mouse’s partner on the 2011 album Rome. The album met with much praise, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Top Rock Album and Alternative Album chart and #3 on the Top 200 Albums list. It is an 11-track ode to music in the late 70s and early 80s, a depiction of a difficult musical transition that featured fizzling disco and incipient punk.

“Holding on for Life” is the top track on the album. It features the airy voice of Mercer in front of a tamed disco-like beat that shines like a slowed disco ball, almost like a disco track slowed down to a steady but unhurried pace. It is a song that just needs to be listened to, so I will let it do the talking.

You can check out the rest of the album on Broken Bells’ website. Make sure to follow the band on Facebook and Twitter

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