2016 served up a broad selection of good tunes which tickled our fancy…
2016 was a grim year that saw the loss of so many bright talents from the world of music, including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Pete Burns, Colin Vearncombe, Caroline Crawley and Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
While the temptation to focus too much on the past is strong in light of such losses, one of 2016’s strengths was in demonstrating that contemporary artists continued to produce good music from many genres. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 tracks that stood out for Wavegirl…
Never Ever – Röyksopp (ft. Susanne Sundfør)
During a period when electropop was being marketed by unscrupulous sorts as being purely rehashed 80s tunes, artists like Susanne Sundfør changed the rules with the superb Ten Love Songs album. As an album, it appeared to fit into its own particular niche with a confident approach to synth hooks, as well as some very personal lyrics.
Likewise, Röyksopp have continued to deliver a superb line in electronica that occupies several genres at once. Having previously collaborated with Sundfør in 2012 for the stunning ‘Running to The Sea’, the Norwegian outfit have brought her back onboard for ‘Never Ever’.
As a song, ‘Never Ever’ has many of the familiar Röyksopp licks with its crunchy synths, dance pop sensibility and percussive fills. But it’s Sundfør’s striking vocals that pull the whole thing together. Plus, the video is a superbly bonkers visual treat in itself.
Utopia – Austra
It was a nice autumn surprise to see Katie Stelmanis return with a new Austra tune ahead of their third album Future Politics. ‘Utopia’ continues Austra’s track record for baroque electropop with its bass rhythms and a good grasp of melody.
As ever, Stelmanis displays a mesmerising voice whose operatic trills result in a captivating tune. With lines like “I live in a city full of people I don’t know”, the song illustrates a concern for isolation, as Stelmanis explained at a special Future Politics showcase: “I think that kind of living in a city… just causes this really strong collective depression that I’m witnessing among all my friends in my community that I think is set to only get really worse from this point on, if we continue in this direction”.
Read the Wavegirl review of Austra’s recent Future Politics showcase performance.
The Dear One – Baltic Fleet
Baltic Fleet have been one of the sleeper acts of the electronic music scene of the past few years. Their third album The Dear One however showed that they still had plenty of steam still left in them.
‘The Dear One’ is a superb combination of simply synthpop melodies with a warm, wistful feel to it. It sounds like an OMD B-side track from an alternative universe.
Read the Wavegirl review of The Dear One.
Scattered Ashes – Minor Victories
The return of Slowdive as a group surprised everyone with a timely reassessment of shoegaze as a genre. Meanwhile, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell also found time to be part of ‘supergroup’ Minor Victories whose eponymous debut album we liked, but felt it was simply laying down foundations for greater stuff in the future.
Certainly the best track on the album is the phenomenal ‘Scattered Ashes (Song For Richard)’. Its’ widescreen rock approach with its fuzzy guitars and a guest vocal from James Graham (The Twilight Sad) is a heartfelt tune of love and loss that deserves repeated plays. The video of battling kitties and lasers is a winner too!
Read the Wavegirl review of Minor Victories.
Out Of Control – Lush
The welcome return of Lush also resulted in the release of the Blind Spot EP – newly minted songs from the band that had demonstrated their talent for immersive soundscapes on albums such as Split in the 1990s. The tracks on this release appear to be aiming for a middle ground between 1992’s Spooky and the aforementioned Split and it’s uncanny how seamless the join is between 1990s Lush and 21st Century Lush.
‘Out Of Control’ gives us shimmering guitars with a dense layer of immersive percussion. It’s got all the classic Lush licks, including the hypnotic and ghostly vocals. If you need a lesson plan in perfecting dreampop, then this track would be a good contender.
Read the Wavegirl review of Blind Spot.
Aftertouch – Princess Chelsea
Outside of working on her own material, Princess Chelsea had also experimented with cover versions to help develop her production techniques and song arrangements.
Having decided to collate these tracks onto a cover album proper, the title track for Aftertouch had been culled from an unreleased song by New Zealand chiptune outfit Disasteradio. The pure synthpop arrangement with killer hooks and airy vocals makes this track one of the standout moments of the album with some neat vocoder effects.
Read the Wavegirl Aftertouch review.
Dirty Air – Kid Moxie
Greek singer Elena Charbila has charted an intriguing career path that’s seen her involved with luminaries such as Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch and Rusty Egan. Operating under the name Kid Moxie, Charbila has crafted a particular style of electronic music that she once described as “cinematic pop”.
Her new EP Perfect Shadow showcased a fine collection of confident electropop numbers that oozed style and melodic charm. ‘Dirty Air’ was just one of the engaging numbers that the EP boasted with its warm synth rhythms and a breathy mesmerising vocal from Charbila. There’s a wonderful widescreen pop sensibility to the song – and also a wonderfully noir feel to the video. Also check out fellow Greek outfit Marsheaux’s solid remix job on ‘Dirty Air’.
Forbidden Desire – Fifi Rong
If there’s one artist that appears to have a strong work ethic in the current music scene, it’s Fifi Rong. It appears the talented artist and producer barely has one EP out the door before another one is just behind it, in this case the immersive soundscapes of her Forbidden Desire EP.
Title track ‘Forbidden Desire’ features the mixing talents of Emmy Award nominated engineer Robert L Smith (who’s previously chalked up an impressive resume that includes the likes of Lady Gaga and David Bowie). It’s got the trademark captivating vocals from Fifi front and centre, but also has a more immediate, icy presence to it lending Fifi’s material more clarity than the languid dreamscapes of previous outings.
Read the Wavegirl review of Forbidden Desire.
Christine & The Queens – Tilted
French outfit Christine And The Queens managed to make an impact this year via the subtle electropop touches of album Chaleur Humaine. Founder Héloïse Letissier, who has described Christine And The Queens sound as “freakpop”, managed to bring a Gallic charm to electronic music alongside visually arresting choreography for live shows. Huge in France, Christime And The Queens gained a broader audience through a 2015 US tour with Marina And The Diamonds.
2016 brought us the UK release of ‘Tilted’ whose oddly effective ‘reversed’ melodies and engaging beats helped pave the way for Chaleur Humaine. Originally released in its native France is 2014, Chaleur Humaine was reworked for a US and UK release with the inclusion of English lyrics for some songs and the addition of two additional tracks.
‘Tilted’ represents an approach that slips easily into accessible commercial pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a catalogue of work that features an intriguing talent at work.
Rendezvous – Princess Century
The tracks on new EP Rendezvous were recorded during the original Progress sessions, but had been shelved from inclusion as they didn’t quite fit the vibe of Progress. “The tracks didn’t quite work on the album” according to Maya, “but I felt they shared a weird Krauty EDM vibe…I love the concept they tied in with the single, Rendezvous: a meeting with someone that is arranged for a particular time and place and that is often secret.”
The title track actually has a slighter older heritage than the Progress material, having originally appeared on a Stellar Kinematics compilation back in 2013. Underpinned by a driving synthetic bass, ‘Rendezvous’ has a percussive appeal that offers a nod to the bassy tones of Austra, while also weaving in the sweeping electronic washes of the likes of Jean Michel Jarre. Its new guise also drops in some additional reedy synth fills to give the tune a much more expansive feel.
Read the Wavegirl review of Rendezvous.
Lazarus – David Bowie
The loss of David Bowie at the start of 2016 was an unexpected shock. ‘Lazarus’ arrived just days before Bowie died (from his critically acclaimed album Blackstar – which also saw him reunited with producer Tony Visconti)
‘Lazarus’ demonstrated that Bowie’s talents remained undiminished. Demonstrating once again his knack for crossing genres, ‘Lazarus’ plays with themes that eerily deal with life and death. The brassy jazz refrains echo classic Bowie in a song that manages to still lurk around you long after its brooding melodies end.
Animals – Dancing With Ruby
Taken from the EP Animals + Arachnids, Dancing With Ruby remain one of the more interesting homegrown electronic acts – and with ‘Animals’ there’s a particularly energetic electropop power at work. https://soundcloud.com/dancingwithruby
Sculie – Bruja
Barnsley indie rock trio Bruja surprised us with the tight rhythms of ‘Sculie’ which sounds like it dropped off a 4AD compilation from an alternative universe.
Ummagma – Winter Tale
Dreampop duo Ummagma had worked their magic with the ethereal ‘Frequency’ in 2015 and ‘Winter Tale’ continued along similar themes with a song culled from some arctic wilderness. Also includes remixes by AR Kane. https://ummagma.bandcamp.com/
He is responsible for design outfit Arc23 as well as writing for outlets such as J-Pop Go, Electronic Sound, All The Anime, Manga Entertainment and The Electricity Club.
He has been featured in a variety of press and media features including the Metro and Japan Update Weekly.