TOP 200 TRACKS OF 2016 (1-25)
The idea of setting in stone 200 tracks as the undisputed greatest works of music in a given year is slightly daft (especially in February the following year). What is ‘best’ depends on mood and situation as well as obviously personal taste. The track that blows your mind blasting out the car stereo as you pummel down a motorway in the dead of night is probably very different to the one you’ve got on repeat as you drown your sorrows on your couch after a breakup.
Anyway having rubbished the very thing I’ve painstakingly done for the last dozen years I hope you enjoy this years chosen 200. Other end-of-year lists were pored over in case I’d ‘missed anything’ and combined with my own 600 song longlist so that in my head at least this is definitively the greatest of the year.
Listen to the top 200 at your own leisure with playlists on most of the major streaming sites (it should be noted that they’re all missing tracks so the only way to hear everything is to scroll and play on the blog itself).
1. Benin City – All Smoke And No Fire
Your croissants are in my caf bro
your flat is in my dancehall
you’re parking in my market
this borough is all I know if I can’t stay here where will I go
When property developers evicted community music venue Passing Clouds from their Dalston home they stripped the building of it’s bright colours, murals and flags and painted it a uniform grey. The perfect dispiriting metaphor for the forces of gentrification and redevelopment sweeping across swathes of former ‘down-at-heel’ London as it’s cultural assets – music venues, nightclubs and libraries are replaced by nondescript tower blocks and fancy coffee shops.
Listening to ‘All Smoke, No Fire’ you can almost feel the spittle as Benin City’s Joshua Idehen rages against the destruction of local businesses and venues. The track hasn’t actually had an official release but the band made a video, come mini documentary in response to the closure of one of the UK’s most legendary clubs, Fabric and Passing Clouds in the space of one week.
Featuring members of the band and former club goers standing outside venues and businesses that meant a lot to them. So vocalist Shanaz Dorsett is pictured in front of Brixton Arches where businesses who’ve been in Brixton since the days when the big chains wouldn’t touch the place are now being turfed out so Network Rail can bring the big bucks from high street names.
Read Joshua’s eloquent piece over on Media Diversified for more.
2. Coldcut – Donald’s Wig (feat. Roses Gabor)
Coldcut X ON-U Sound – Kjara / Everyday Another Sanction (feat. Chezidek)
I promise some of the records in this list have had an actual old fashioned proper release… but next up, the unexpected return of my favourite ‘band’ of all time. I say band, Coldcut were my favourite band, DJ, VJ, producers and radio show all rolled into one. As a teenager they were my John Peel, opening my eyes to a world of music that crossed every genre and country. Their explorations into gaming and interactive video inspired me, and played a large part in my career – so obsessed was I that I interviewed Matt as part of my degree dissertation on ‘Interactivity, music and video’.
It was way back in 2008 that Matt & Jon announced they were working with producer Dave Taylor (Switch / With You) so as the years passed I assumed Coldcut were no more when suddenly the ‘Only Heaven’ EP featuring Roots Manuva & Roses Gabor appeared. The title track was the most heralded of the EP – and it’s a superb tune – but for me the real treasure was the humorously titled ‘Donald’s Wig’ which delivered what I always hope from Coldcut… the unpredictable. All skittering drums, parping horns and wonky synths, the tune charges along at a frantic place sounding not much like anyone else (whereas Only Heaven definitely sounds like Coldcut and many other producers circa 1995). The EP also came as an online ‘Meme generator’ critiquing the media and launching the Stop Funding Hate movement.
Releasing their music through interesting or envelope pushing mediums is a hallmark of Coldcut (such as their work with Hex on the Global Chaos game on the Amiga) and this time they’re totally ignoring the traditional singles then album pattern. A limited edition 7″ only release was next in collaboration with fellow legends On-U sound and Jamaican roots and culture singer Chezidek. ‘Everyday Another Sanction’ is a classic sounding slice of conscious reggae that come with a dub on the flip (you can hear snippets here).
And if it’s possible to have three tracks by the same artist in one position I’d like to finish with the best of all, the astounding ‘Kjara’. Sung entirely in what I guess is Hindi (perhaps) it’s like Jean-Jacques Perrey jamming with Ravi Shankar with production by dub specialist Adrian Sherwood. Again a collaboration with On-U sound, Sherwood played it at one of his regular (and essential) ‘At The Controls’ nights at the Jazz Cafe, but aside from a few plays by the likes of Gilles Peterson I know nothing more about it’s release. Listen to it at 2 hours 1 minute in on this Peterson/Sherwood show.
So to recap.. a roots reggae classic, a Trump themed skittering club drum and bass track and a slice of Hindi psychedelic dub Bollywood. Welcome back Coldcut 🙂
3. Swet Shop Boys – T5
“Trump want my exit, but if he press a red button
To watch Netflix, bruv, I’m on
I run the city like my name is Sadiq”
Not content with one of the greatest band names ever, Riz MC & Heems aka ‘The Swet Shop Boys’ released T5 containing the finest rap lyric of the year ‘I run the city like my name is Sadiq’.
It deals with the indignity of being racially profiled and in the case of one half of the rap duo, Riz Ahmed being seen as a potential terrorist rather that the venerated actor that he also now is. In a world of Brexit and Muslim travel bans we need protest songs like this especially when wrapped up in a tune as banging as this.
4. A Tribe Called Quest – We The People…. / Dis Generation
5. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Smiling (Quirky Race Doc) / Admitting the Endorphin Addiction
“I get “what up”s and nods but for the most part
Nobody smiles at me cause I’m a black man
Until the show starts”
After six years of consistently brilliant releases, 2016 felt like the year Open Mike Eagle finally broke through being ‘critically acclaimed’ to just mainstream acceptance of his greatness.
6. ANOHNI – Drone Bomb Me / Watch Me
7. Christine and the Queens – Tilted
8. Sleaford Mods – TCR
9. ThE DiAboLIcaL LibERTieS – DANceFLOORs oF EnGLanD
club upon pub, out of my constriction
heroes and ghosts, lost and still looking
for the dancefloors of England”
There aren’t many acts that warrant their own section in my vinyl but the many guises of Rob Gallagher have been an essential part of my musical landscape for 25 years now.
Starting with the joyful acid jazz of Galliano – who someone in my YouTube comments amusingly described as “so 90’s it hurts” on a on a clip I uploaded of them performing ‘Earth Boots’ on The Word – 90’s or not I loved them. After Galliano came Earl Zinger who even managed to turn his co-conspirator Gilles Peterson’s departure from Radio 1 into the funkiest celebration of a broadcasting career possible, and there were many others like William Adamson.
Now Rob’s back with ThE DiAboLIcaL LibERTieS, a collaboration with Alex Patchwork and it’s refreshing to report an artist who decades on is still brimming with ideas and energy. Standout track “Dancefloors of England” should be single of the week in every publication going (if singles and publications still existed). Over an urgent clattering beat and looped effects Rob intones on iPhone lit dance floors, sub bass and the moment you briefly notice who you’ve been dancing next to for two hours.
Do yourself a favour and nab a limited edition (300 vinyl copies) one-off pressing or head to Bandcamp for digital stylings.
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10. serpentwithfeet – four ethers
11. Wildhart – Shake Off
12. David Bowie – Lazarus
13. Kate Tempest – Perfect Coffee
14. Mal Devisa – Live Again
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15. Reginald Omas Mamode IV – Talk To Me
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16. Demarco – Backaz
A spat with fellow dancehall artist Mavado and a collaboration with Vybz Kartel have kept Demarco in the news last year and ‘Backaz’ is maddeningly catchy although the lyrics carry an XX rating.
Demarco sings the praises of a lady with a pussy that is apparently so ‘fat’ it weighs “about a pound and a half” and is in possession of a backside that when slapped “sounds louder than the clappers”. If that doesn’t put you off listening (and I’d understand if it did) then you’re in for a dancehall treat.
The video also stars an assortment of rump shaking ladies although it appears to start in a very unglamorous car park round the back of a cash and carry in Manor Park (actually it’s Demarco’s studio in Jamaica).
17. She Drew The Gun – Poem
well I hope you feel more comfortable doing your sight seeing
taking pictures, buying fucking Union Jack magnets and keyrings
Life give me something to believe in
18. Leandra & the Dream – Dont Wanna Be Poetry
After I’d raved about ‘Don’t wanna be poetry’ at the turn of the year Leandra got in touch to politely ask if I could change my use of gender based pronouns, ie could I possibly say ‘their brilliance’ rather than ‘her brilliance’. Actually there’s not much more to that story… a person choosing to define their own sexuality or how they’re described… yep seems fair enough, onto the music.
As I said at the time I’m baffled that Leandra hasn’t yet been heralded more widely. Hailing from New York, their music’s clearly heavily influenced by Chance The Rapper and as such is a must for fans of Chicago’s finest. There are also similarities to former Chance collaborator NoName along with Princess Nokia with whom Leandra shares a desire to give voice to ‘queer folks of colour’.
I wouldn’t want to define them solely by ‘queerness’ though, as NoName has said in the past “I’m a rapper not a ‘female rapper”.
Head to Soundcloud to explore Leandra and the Dream further.
19. Moor Mother – Deadbeat Protest
You can see my dead body at the protest
Moor Mother’s music combines social issues with a visceral blend of hardcore electronics and intense poetry, as if Saul Williams and Noname had joined Death Grips.
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20. Roger Robinson – Bun Bun Bun
Marching up and down is no solution, all they do is running up their mouth
but if you bun bun bun their buildings down
The ever reliable Jahtari previewed the Disrupt and Roger Robinson ‘Dog Heart City’ mixtape with the dub splendour of ‘Bun Bun Bun’. With Robinsons fabulous falsetto coupled with Pink Floyd style children’s choir sweetly delivering a message of resistance.
The album itself contains ten untold stories of life in the city. ‘Nightshift’ tells about the workers who clean the buildings where power is held, and the contrast between their lives and where they clean. ‘Flowers’ comments on the rate of young black men getting killed, where another victim dies even before the last mourning flowers have dried. There are stories about tower block life, the claiming of a postcode or how the city wears a Swastika like a proud badge in Post-Brexit UK.
Nab it on Bandcamp.
21. Sturgill Simpson – Breakers Roar
Thoughts turn to a love so kind / Just to keep me from losing my mind
Sturgill Simpson’s ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’ LP is a love letter to his newborn son that crams the hardships the country singer-songwriter has learned in his nearly forty years on the planet into a handbook to show the his child how to live and love.
“Breakers Roar” is about feeling empty and alone out at sea, possibly based on Simpson’s short-lived time in the Navy.
22. Mary Lattimore – Jimmy V
23. Sam Kidel – Disruptive Muzak
Sam Kidel’s twist on Muzak – that “background noise” variously known as “hold” music, “canned” music, or “lift” music – employing government call centre workers as unknowing agents in a dreamily detached yet subtly, achingly poignant 21 minute composition. Kidel played his music down the phone to the DWP and other departments, not speaking, but recording the recipient’s responses; subsequently rearranging them into ‘Disruptive Muzak’.
24. Clare Maguire – Elizabeth Taylor
25. HMLTD – Is This What You Wanted?