Get yourself a playlist going as the year winds to a close by filling your festive season with 20 of 2016’s choice tracks.
1. Elle King, ‘Good Girls’
(from Ghostbusters Original Soundtrack)
A lot was written about the 2016 all-girl remake of Ghostbusters (I liked it for the most part). The soundtrack wasn’t all that, but it did feature this absolute corker of a riotous girl power, tub-thumping anthem over the closing credits.
2. Justin Timberlake, ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’
(from Trolls Original Soundtrack)
I got married this year, and my wife likes this song. She dances with reckless abandon when she hears it. It’s from a cartoon called Trolls and it’s pretty cute; so is she.
3. Elton John, ‘Looking Up’
(from Wonderful Crazy Night)
Elton John’s 32nd studio album lacked the nuance and feeling of his more sombre 2013 outing The Diving Board, but true to its title, it was a fun time to be had, including some of his more jammin’ piano work in recent times on this album highlight.
4. The Monkees, ‘Good Times’
(from Good Times)
Now here’s a thinker. Davey Jones shuffled off this mortal coil some time ago, but The Monkees, who since their halcyon days of the TV show and Headquarters have seldom been together as a four-piece. They make a ‘comeback’ this year and this is as good as anything they ever did, and that’s saying a lot, considering they did ‘Daydream Believer’.
5. Parquet Courts, ‘Berlin Got Blurry’
(from Human Performance)
Rolling Stone calls this act ‘The finest American guitar band of the last five years,’ and their 2016 record Human Performance has me smitten. This track, all about being drunk in the continent, sounds like they resurrected the young Paul Weller … and everything about it speaks to me.
6. Beyoncé, ‘Formation’
Taking on institutionalised racism while pledging allegiance to the Black Lives Matter movement and victims of Hurricane Katrina, Beyoncé finds herself in powerful form on this striking protest song. The track includes her promise to take Jay Z to Red Lobster ‘…if he fuck me good’ and champion her own self-actualisation. We’re a long way from her and her ladies singing about their butts.
7. Merchandise, ‘Flower of Sex’
(from A Corpse Wired For Sound)
Brooding post-punk with more than a hint of their influences on their sleeves, Merchandise’s sound is unashamedly 80s-influenced (in a My Bloody Valentine/New Order-kind of way) with vocalist Carson Cox (the sex stuff doesn’t get more obvious when your frontman is a Cox) crooning his way through a scene one might have presumed went the way of the Thatcher government.
8. Sia, ‘Bird Set Free’
(from This is Acting)
So, here’s what I know: this lady’s from Adelaide, for some reason she doesn’t show her face when she performs, although she used to, and the album this song came from was a bit same-y. But this song is great.
9. The Strokes, ‘Oblivius’
(from Future Present Past (EP))
Julian Casablancas waxes nostalgic about his tormented past before finding clarity and admitting, ‘Untame me, it’s time/ I know the way uptown.’ That feeling couldn’t be more transparent than the song’s cathartic chorus, where he repeatedly belts, ‘What side are you standing on?’ It’s a very prescient track for the singer, and he’s not alone as Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. join his roaring vocal performance with this effort’s bounciest riffs.
10. Jack Garrett, ‘Worry’
A song which shows what this one man showcase – who already had a cult following – was capable of. I stumbled onto this during a random episode of Late Show with Stephen Colbert. And here we are. Great, infectious earworm, and timely, given the world…
11. Sunblower Bean, ‘Come On’
(from Human Ceremony)
This shows you can get a lot done in three minutes (that’s what she said): mix up Nick Kivlen’s noisy garage guitar and larynx-testing vocals with Julia Cumming’s more nuanced vocal styling and you get this little gem of a thing, a propulsive, roof-raiser, chronicling a New York band’s many sonic influences.
12. Iggy Pop, ‘Gardenia’
(from Post Pop Depression)
At 68, Iggy has still got it. Just think about that for a second: Iggy Pop is 68 years old. This shoegazing track from what one may very well presume is his last record (and good lord that man has lived), ‘Gardenia’ has all the longing hallmarks of his early 90s duet with B52s’ Kate Piersen (‘Candy’), but with just a touch more salt.
13. Band of Horses, ‘Casual Party’
(from Why Are You OK?)
One of the standouts of the band’s fifth album is this loose headlong rocker, frontman Ben Birdwell sings about being bored and angry listening to dumb midlife babble at a party, but not so bored and angry he’s gonna be a dick about it. Good times.
14. Paul Simon, ‘Wristband’
(from Stranger to Stranger)
The ever reliable Paul Simon’s Stranger to Stranger was experimental, at times haunting; this track (what would have been a single back in the day) tells the story of a rock star prevented from entering his own concert because he doesn’t have the proper accoutrements.
15. Sturgill Simpson, ‘In Bloom’
(from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth)
Having never got on the Nirvana bandwagon (I was just never there, call me crazy, but it just didn’t happen), I can only appreciate what one of country music’s more innovative troubadours does when he takes the bruising Cobain anthem, and slows it down to a whiskey-flavoured honky-tonk ballad; in doing so bringing out fresh nuance to the track one might presume Kurt would dig.
16. Maxwell, ‘Lake By the Ocean’
This is Maxwell’s second entry in the Xmas card CD catalogue (good for him!). This, after a seven-year hiatus, finds the lad returned turning smooth romance and sweet nothings into a musical painting, lyrically crafting landscapes to reflect the cleansing of a relationship.
17. David Bowie, ‘Lazarus’
A very Bowie thing to do is keep his long illness to himself and drop a sensational, experimental, all-too-personal album (featuring this all-too-prescient opening track) on us a few short, sad days before he called time on Earth. There’ll never be another Bowie.
18. Drake feat Kyla & Wizkid, ‘One Dance’
This lad, a Canadian rapper (such a thing exists) has been very big for a very long while now, and scored his first #1, after he made headlines for all the wrong reasons for his silly video with the bad dancing. Enough of that, he’s good now.
19. Chainsmokers feat. Daya, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’
(from Collage (EP))
Who’d have thunk that an electronic dance music charter would make a cynical 40-something’s end of year best of? The Chainsmokers’ hit (I presume it was a hit – I don’t monitor the charts as I once did) features newcomer Daya going to battle with the aggro, big room beats and ending up on top.
20. The 1975, ‘The Sound’
(from I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It)
A radio-ready, unreservedly mainstream pop crowd-pleaser which makes you move your feet whether you want to or not. Pretty boys with attitude, yes. Will they last? Who knows? At this point I was sold, so put this little ditty in your pipe and smoke it.
The 11th annual Christmas Card CD is now available, and like the Pirelli Calendar, is sent to a select few on a very exclusive list. Unlike the calendar, you can get one if you ask nice enough. Also, there are no naked ladies on or near the CD.