Wednesday, February 1, 2017

All Around Sound's Favorite Tracks Of 2016

Generally in years past I have found that compiling my collection of favorite songs of the year to be a much less arduous task than my favorite albums list. That's hardly surprising. Albums have much more songs to work with and much more opportunity to not come together how you'd expect. A favorite album has to either comprise of winner after winner or adhere to the form in an interesting enough way that you're able to look past it's missteps and yet this year in particular I found it much easier to pick out favorite albums than to pick favorite songs. There were a number of excellent albums that both were composed of excellent songs and were presented cohesively or interesting and standalone songs left a little something to be desired. An list of favorite songs composed exclusively of songs that were on your favorite albums list does not a compelling list make (and it's why I have an albeit occasionally broken rule that songs from favorite albums can't appear on the favorite tracks list). But 2016 wasn't without it's winners and several songs won a place in my heart or promised exciting things to come that they made an impression. Here's the list of songs that were revisited again and again throughout the year. Enjoy!

Adult Jazz - "Earrings Off!", Earrings Off! EP
It was pretty much anyone's guess how Leeds quartet Adult Jazz would follow up their brilliantly dense, intellectual art pop debut Gist Is. Though their debut never felt particular scattered, Earrings Off focuses in on the one topic of toxic masculinity in particular and shows the various implications of it. In the case of "Earrings Off!", Harry Burgess builds a song around an incident where his normally incredibly well behaved brother violently lashed out as a child when having his masculinity insulted by an older woman. Burgess explores how ingrained the concept of masculinity is even as a young boy and the expectations of it along to cacophonous soundtrack of horn blasts.

And The Kids - "I Dropped Out", Friends Share Lovers
Truth be told just about any song from And The Kids stellar sophomore effort could've ended up on this list. They write the kind of earcatching rock pop I often crave and their knack for seesawing between melodies essentially guarantees that you'll be singing their memories for days. And yet, I found myself returning to "I Dropped Out" probably more than any other track (although the title track was a very close second).

Angel Olsen - "Shut Up Kiss Me", MY WOMAN
Hard to say if there was a more anticipated follow up record than Angel Olsen's. At least not for me. While first single "Intern" reintroduced fans to Olsen's always resplendent vocal stylings, "Shut Up Kiss Me" was another charismatic display of Olsen's winning personality. Much like Burn Your Fire For No Witness scorcher "Forgiven/Forgotten", "Shut Up Kiss Me" is an uptempo electric affair that positions Olsen in total control. Olsen strikes the perfect balance of flirty and fun with badass independent woman who knows what she wants and has no problem demanding it.

Conveyor - "Caul", Ready Not Ready
Considering Conveyor always seemed to work on an album whenever I saw or heard from them, the hold up with Ready Not Ready was kind of an unexpectedly long one. And yet upon listening to it, it's not hard to see why: its essentially represents their work as band together. The band is as weird and self referential as ever but also just so good operating at peak performance with masterful efficiency. One of the first songs that I fell in love with years ago far before they were even ready to talk album details was "Caul". TJ Masters has cited Paul Simon as an influence as it's not hard to hear that here on the sunkissed track. It also features horn arrangements that fit perfectly with the bands interlocking guitars and elevate the foursome's already excellent musicianship to an impressive level.

Deerhoof - "Debut", The Magic
While I might have remembered Deerhoof's latest album too late to fairly give it a slot on my favorites list, Deerhoof still manage to amaze with their ability to keep pushing their sound forward innovatively and with freshness without completely blowing everything up or resorting to gimmicks. How they've manage to do this for the better part of two decades is equal parts musicianship, hard work, and magic and I for one am excited that they continue to do so.

Flock Of Dimes - "Everything Is Happening Today", If You See Me Say Yes
The journey from Jenn Wasner's first single to her debut full length album as Flock Of Dimes has certainly been a long one filled with detours with other projects and occasional releases to tide fans over. Though none of those releases made it onto the full length record they're still not only good as standalone single but also to gauge how Wasner's project has grown and develop. "Everything Is Happening" however is one of the singles released when the album had taken shape exploring, much like Wye Oak track "Watching The Waiting" released the same year, new beginnings. It's a stunner featuring lovely musical moments both big and small as well as some incredibly inspiring lyricism that demonstrates that Wasner's producing talents are on par with her lyrical prowess.

Hundred Waters - "Show Me Love" (Skrillex Remix) ft Chance the Rapper, Moses Sumney & Robin Hannibal
Since the initial leak that Skrillex was working on a remix of "Show Me Love" I was excited by the possibilities. Regardless of how you feel about his music Skrillex is an incredible producer and the idea that he would be visiting a track from definite faves Hundred Waters was thrilling. Add the news that Chance the Rapper was involved and I didn't have words to quantify my excitement level. Nevermind that "Show Me Love" is sparse and lovely and really incapable to being improved upon. I really didn't know. The Skrillex remix of "Show Me Love" is beyond anyone's expectations of what the song could be. It's a vertiable who's who of Hundred Waters' favorite musicians and collaborators who all do their very best to elevate the track to untold levels of brilliance. Everyone's crucial to the point that Hundred Waters essentially create a whole knew song built from the thesis statement of the original album opener. It's the gift that keeps on giving as each collaborator reveals themselves and practically forces you to replay it over and over; the hallmark of a truly great track.

Jenny Hval - "Conceptual Romance", Blood Bitch
I don't think there's any artist as skilled with doing so much with just a thought as Norwegian experimental artist Jenny Hval. And yet Blood Bitch is her fourth such venture and it's becoming incredibly clear that Hval's brilliance can't be some strange fluke (not that I ever thought it was). Blood Bitch continues Hval's winning streak on intricate but minimal carefully crafted art pop. "Conceptual Romance" is my humble opinion one of Hval's best songs not only on Blood Bitch but that she's done so far. Hval is not the type to revel in sentimentality and her moments of beauty often come with a price like a musical Hulder. "Conceptual Romance" is a sort of rarity in Hval's oeuvre as a love song. It's not without it's moments of intellectualism but ultimately affection wins out in its purity surviving Hval's attempts to deconstruct, examine, and otherwise dismiss it.

Julia Jacklin - "Small Talk", Don't Let The Kids Win
Introduced to the Sydney singer/songwriter from tourmate and fellow Australia based singer/songwriter Marlon Williams, I was immediately taken by Julia Jacklin's understated folk rock. She's sure to draw comparison to Laura Marling or Angel Olsen but she's firmly and fondly her own woman. A student of songwriters, Jacklin's songs feature simple yet effective turns of phase and she's efficient in her storytelling. "Small Talk" was an instant favorite off her very excellent debut album Don't Let The Kids Win for that very purpose. It's sparsely arranged surging forward in the choruses and pulling back in the verses. More than that it's so wonderfully wry. Even as she tosses and turns and rethinks decisions in the narrative, Jacklin is one cool customer, fully in control as her voice cranes and bends amidst placid guitars and mellow drums.

Landlady - "Electric Abdomen", The World Is A Loud Place
With Landlady releasing not one or two but four singles not only before the year's end but ahead of record The World Is A Loud Place's January street date, the Brooklyn based who's sophomore record Upright Behavior charmed and inspired essentially guaranteed they'd have a song on our favorites list. But it's definitely a slot they've earned. "Electric Abdomen", the opening track from their forthcoming record highlights exactly what's so deeply enjoyable about Landlady. Their brand of intricate, intelligent, and soulful funk pop is at its most infectious and well crafted on "Electric Abdomen" and you have a hard time non succumbing to the urge to dance.

Living - "Cerulean", Living EP
Maybe there's something in the waters of Bergen, Norway that leads many of their bands to seek musical escapism in music from warmer climates. Whatever the case Living the project of producer Lucas de Almeida is following in the footsteps of Young Dreams in their tropical infused pop with a noted difference: where Young Dreams embark on lush, symphonic journeys, Living now a four piece band with de Almeida at the helm keep thing firmly confined to guitar, bass, synth, loops, and samples. The result is a much different sound despite similar sources of inspiration for Young Dreams' Matias Tellez and Living's Lucas de Almeida. "Cerulean" was the first song I heard from Living as their self-titled EP was just beginning to take shape and it's arguably their best foot forward. Recalling Princeton's Rememberance Of Things To Come albeit without the string flourishes.

Marissa Nadler - "Janie In Love", Strangers
While Nadler's self-titled album and "In You Lair, Bear" still hold the place as the definitive favorite of her work, Nadler's subsequent offerings have come incredibly close to overthrowing them. Strangers, the follow up to her most personal record July, finds Nadler back in familiar territory spinning engaging narratives that aren't quite so close to her own life. The appeal of "Janie In Love", the introduction to Strangers, lies in how it elevates Nadler's sound to a heretofore unreached level of grandeur. Nadler, even when writing and performing with a full band, opts for a more minimal approach than the driving lushness of "Janie In Love". It's a winning decision that demonstrates Nadler's ability to find new ways to push her sound forward seven albums in.

Moses Sumney - "Lonely World", Lamentations EP
Thank heavens for having friends who are also seeking out the most exciting things to listen to. If not for the tip several years ago from Hundred Waters and their subsequently booking him to play at their music festival FORM Arcosanti not once but two years in a row I probably wouldn't have heard of Moses Sumney. Although with appearance on both James Blake and Solange's new albums it might not have stayed that way for long. What makes Moses Sumney so truly distinct is in his raw vocal power. "Lonely World" is cavernous and his vocals make the most both of it's expansiveness and the cacophonousness that Sumney uses to fill the space. Sumney relies almost exclusively on his higher register and it's a marvel at just how much he can do with it.

Porches - "Be Apart", Pool
Brooklyn indie rockers Porches. are the latest in a wave of bands abandoning the hallmarks of their characteristic sounds for remarkably different sounds. In the case of Aaron Maine he's steered the band towards the electronics of his synth pop project Ronald Paris and Pool is a similarly synthier affair. I've always preferred Porches. at their meaty darkly textured rock best on cuts like "Skinny Trees" and "Permanent Loan" and yet in their reinvention "Be Apart" ended up capturing my attention perhaps far more than any other song on Pool. Perhaps it's the similar dark pop articulated through different instrumentation. Maybe it's the fact that the lyrics are far more hopeful than the song's arrangement leads you to believe. One thing is clear it's the best example of what Maine's minimal synth pop can and should be.

Psychic Twin - "Lose Myself", Strange Diary
Patience is a virtue. That's especially true when you're waiting for new music from an artist you like. Psychic Twin's journey to a full length album has been more of a marathon than a sprint. Cross country moves, shifting lineup, and time spent tinkering away on production. But finally it's here and it comes in like a god damn wrecking ball. Strange Diary is an emotive statement: the slow gestation and resolution of feelings past, present, and future dealt alternatively with restless urgency or placid calm. "Lose Myself" is one of singer/songwriter Erin Fein's moments of flight: soaring vocals, lucid introspection, inescapable synth pop catchiness. It's pitch perfect musical escapism with bite.

Radiation City - "Sugar Broom", Synesthetica
For Radiation City's latest effort they had all the ingredients for a great album: listlessness, fatigue, a break up, a reconciliation. But while some bands are handed excellent emotional material to work with it takes a capable songwriter and even more capable band members to turn it into something worthwhile. Synesthetica essentially capitalizes on all of Radiation City's potential amped up both out of the urgency of Cameron Spies and Lizzy Ellison refusing to let the project fade away and also their newfound method of letting the songs gestate naturally before bringing them to the rest of the band. One of the highlights of Synesthetica is "Sugar Broom", an incredibly catchy number that combines Radiation City's dips into the surreal, autobiographical lyrics, and their genre blending. It's a lesson in less indeed being more and succeeds based on the simplicity of its melodies and the band knowing exactly how to complement Ellison.

Salt Cathedral - "Lift Me Up", Homage EP
There are few act capable of surprising me with each subsequent release as Brooklyn based Colombian duo Salt Cathedral. From their days as tropical prog pop quintet il abanico and their name change and Salt Cathedral EP to their pivot to electro pop and OOM VELT EP Salt Cathedral are constantly pushing themselves in new an exciting directions that even their most devoted of fans couldn't possibly predict. And that's how Salt Cathedral arrived with "Lift Me Up" a cut from their two song b-sides EP Homage. It's a stuttery, sample-laden dance jam that essentially shakes up their sound in an exciting way. Still rooted in their much appreciated constant of Juliana Ronderos' emotive vocals, Salt Cathedral essentially aim for the rafters in terms of the song's stature. Essentially a sort of musical experiment, it's incredible that Salt Cathedral can make songs of such grandeur without sidelining their love of pop and ultimately makes their upcoming full length even more of a mysteries. The sky's the limit for Salt Cathedral and they prove it with "Lift Me Up".

Sofi Tukker - "Matadora", Soft Animals EP
Since accidentally stumbling into their set at CMJ 2015, dance pop duo Sofi Tukker have managed to keep everyone's interest by releasing great single after great single eventually culminating in their debut Soft Animals EP. "Matadora" just happens to be my favorite song from an EP where each song is easily slated to your favorite. In "Matadora", Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern's strengths are at their most infectious: Hawley-Weld letting her nerdy side out and adapting a poem from Brazilian poet Chacal (a continuing source of lyrical inspiration for Hawley-Weld) and the production incorporating Spanish guitar flourishes and horns skillfully for flavoring while still relying on big danceable beats. It's Sofi Tukker at their best: minimal, careful but confident ensuring you head back for extra helpings.

Sondre Lerche - "I'm Always Watching You",
Though he's always been known as a bit of a pop connoisseur, perhaps the most characteristic quality to Sondre Lerche's music has been the interesting chords he affixes his songs. On "I'm Always Watching You", Lerche assumes a logical next step and goes fun on pop, laying down his jazz and tropicalia infusions for a tune that owes far more to the 80s pop he also grew up on. Add an inventive song subject and you've got the winsome appetizer to his forthcoming full length Pleasure out next year. There's no telling how the rest of it will sound but "I'm Always Watching You" combines the experimentalism of Please, the wit of Two Way Monologue, and the uninhibited badassery of Phantom Punch all seasoned with the experience of current day Lerche.

Sylvan Esso - "Radio", "Radio"/"Kick Jump Twist" 7"
Considering their backgrounds in folk outfits Amelia Randall Meath and Nick Sanborn are probably the last people you'd expect to start a electronic act and yet if their amazing self-titled debut proved anything it's that the two are unique suited to the task. While the duo have spent the time post album exploring out musical outlets (Sanborn returning to his electronic moniker Made Of Oak), the duo have promised a follow up is in the works and delivered a taste in the form of new single "Radio" and it's subsequent 7" pairing with "Kick Jump Twist". "Radio" is so catchy that it's incredibly easy to miss the message. It wasn't until setting it down and returning to it months later after many many frequently listens that I could hear and analyze the lyrics. Much like "Hey Mami" critiques catcalling and the culture around it, Sylvan Esso create on the most catchy radio-friendly tune to critique radio culture. If their "Slave to radio" chorus and it's frequent references to the ideal radio song length wasn't enough (it wasn't enough for me), "Do you have the moves to make it stick, yeah/to get the clicks, yeah" sets up the viral nature of some of the most popular chart topping pop songs. Sylvan Esso are fond of pop music so it's unclear if the critique is meant to be scatching or constructive but ultimately it turns out to be excellent fodder for one of their best songs to date.

Tiny Ruins & Hamish Kilgour - "Hurtling Through", Hurtling Through EP
The work of Tiny Ruins' Hollie Fulbrook and The Clean's Hamish Kilgour meeting up randomly in New York, Hurtling Through marks a decidedly more experimental direction for Tiny Ruins. Kilgour's percussion imbues Fulbrook's poetic prose with rich timbre while Fulbrook centers Kilgour's more chaotic tendencies. "Hurtling Through" is a meeting of mind and musicians who are remarkably different but finds the subtle overlap between them.

Uni Ika Ai - "Make You Better" Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind
Uni Ika Ai are that rare band that comes out of nowhere that is exactly what you're looking for. Composed of members of several other Brooklyn bands, the fact that they're so good at playing together is no surprise. However the fact that they could put together an album that's challenging and weird with crystalline moments of pure pleasure is. It's a indicator of a truly good band and "Make You Better" is the best song I can think of to illustrate exact how the band fits together. It is their most accessible but also the most demonstrative of the group's tight knit precision and the power a song gets when everyone believes in each other's skill and trusts them to do their part. "Make You Better" is all wild guitar patterns and unceasing forward momentum. Something far harder to execute than the rugged experimentalism that characterizes much of the group's debut album.

Weyes Blood - "Do You Need My Love", Front Row Seat To Earth
For her latest effort Natalie Mering recalls the pristine songcraft of 1970s California and the result is a bewitching collection of songs. While Front Row Seat To Earth is an incredibly engaging record as a whole I found myself returning to the dramatic grandeur of "Do You Need My Love" time and time again. Lyrically it's simple and yet mysteriously vague but bursting with raw emotion. On an album of winsome introspective moments, "Do You Need My Love" with its cinematic end credit like arrangement charms by virtue of its epicness. Even lyrically Mering pulls no punches "I felt your body scream to be set free". It's a song of thrilling contradictions: a big set piece with finale quality down to its fade out yet firmly in the middle of the album. Intimate despite it's silver screen aspirations and the grandness of its arrangements. Emotional stirring despite its elusive vagueness. It's a study in contradictions and a perfect piece of methodically craft folk pop all the same. Mering is at her best and so it's bound to be the surefire favorite of anyone lucky enough to happen upon it.

Young Dreams - "Of The City"
Initially introduced to their music via singles from Sondre Lerche, I've been a fan of Norwegian orchestral pop quintet Young Dreams for awhile now. While there were originally plans to release a new album this year, they ended up scrapping the entire album. Luckily for us, producer Matias Tellez saw potential in one of the tracks and after deciding that it just needed new dressings we were gifted with "Of The City" which expands the quintet's sound in a big way. The band's tropical symphonic pop gets a bit synthier and the results is a wonderful alchemy of sounds both futuristic and classic.

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