Tracks of 2016 – No. 10 – 1

There are a number of artists that almost made this list, including Black Mountain, Rihanna, Warpaint, Pumarosa and Sunflower Bean (to name a few). Ultimately, however, these are my musical highlights of the year…

10. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

From his brilliant second album, Kiwanuka’s ‘Love & Hate’ is a soulful, emotive and moving piece of music. Its many components, not to mention that great guitar solo, work together beautifully to create a truly stunning track.

9. Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?

2016 has been a great year for Shura as she finally got the attention she deserves with the release of her debut album Nothing’s Real. ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ is one of her best – upbeat with hugely relatable lyrics, plus it has a brilliant John Hughes inspired music video.

8. The 1975 – Somebody Else

The 1975’s second album I Like It When You Sleep… has some great tracks, but this is definitely a standout. I’m a sucker for synths, especially when they sound like this – perfect late-night, post-breakup state of confusion listening.

7. Leif Erikson – Real Stuff

I stumbled across this track by accident and was instantly hooked. It’s a timeless indie rock song and is hard to believe it’s by a band that only debuted music last year.

6. Formation – Drugs

Formation’s new releases never disappoint, but this one really is something special. Fusing their unique mix of punk and electronic elements, it’s like a drug for your ear drums. Gritty, edgy and cool – I honestly can’t get enough.

5. Metronomy – Old Skool

‘Old Skool’ is a track that manages to simultaneously sound completely funky and delicious, but also slightly disturbing – and I love it. This dichotomy is wonderfully realised in the music video starring a suitably bonkers Sharon Horgan.

4. NZCA Lines – Two Hearts

‘Two Hearts’ is one of the most irresistible songs I’ve heard all year. It’s futuristic disco sound is so energetic and powerful, I feel like I’m in a hypnotic state when I listen to it (in the best possible way).

3. Tegan and Sara – U-Turn

Tegan and Sara’s 8th album Love You to Death is a brilliant pop album, full of ridiculously catchy songs stuffed with 80s nostalgia. ‘U-Turn’ is my personal highlight – a gem of a pop song that I have found myself constantly playing on repeat.

2. David Bowie – Lazarus

On 1st January this year I chose ‘Lazarus’ as my Track of the Week. When I first heard this track I was struck by its lyrics and jazz influences but when Bowie’s death was announced just over a week later, the song took on a whole new meaning. Listening to it now, it is still just as beautiful as the first time I heard it, but even more tragic and poignant.

  1. Christine and the Queens – Tilted

Discovering Christine and the Queens’ music has been one of my highlights of 2016 and it all started with this song. With its unique bilingual lyrics, ‘Tilted’ is an anthem for embracing your true self and is pop music at its best. The music video and choreographed live performances of ‘Tilted’ also add to the sparkle of the song.

 

 

All hail Queen Christine

Héloïse Letissier’s story has almost become part of modern pop mythology now, the tale of a young anxious, broken-hearted outsider travelling to London and being taken in by three drag queens in Soho, who inspired our heroine to embrace her contradictions and thus give birth to Christine and the Queens.

It’s a story that only adds to the full effect of Christine and the Queens as one of the most exciting artists around today. This magical concoction of a fabulous origin story, a purposefully confusing name (inviting the question – who are the queens?) and of course, true musical talent and song-writing capabilities, is utterly unique and captivating. Where Héloïse ends and Christine begins is perhaps unclear but in the end it does not matter. On the one hand, the ambiguity only reiterates the provocation and challenge of societal norms seen in her work, particularly with regard to gender, beauty and being your true self. On the other, she has recently admitted that Christine is really her true self, albeit a freer and less filtered version and I suspect many of us wish we had a Christine.

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Christine and the Queens, photographed by Dustin Condren in New York City for Loud and Quiet magazine, 2016.

Obviously the average listener will probably not go into quite as much analysis or deep thought as I have done into this relationship. Yet this is precisely what makes Christine and the Queens so great, the fact that she works on all levels. She is accessible, firstly because her music is catchy and makes you want to dance. Her music videos and talk show performances also serve as future classics – full of Janet Jackson style choreography and simple but effective lighting and outfits. She is radio friendly and cool. But when you look more closely, you will see that there is so much more under the surface. And this is where it gets really interesting.

Having first watched Christine and the Queens perform on Jools Holland, I then eagerly sought out her other performances and knew I had to see her live and experience it for myself. Here was a woman often singing in lyrics I didn’t understand, in cool androgynous suits, dancing in a slick style that didn’t need stripper moves or a lack of clothing to grab your attention. It was totally refreshing. When you take all this into account – her dance moves, clothing and bilingual lyrics, you realise that everything about her has a deeper level. You don’t need to know this to appreciate her music, but it certainly does add an extra something.

Christine and the Queens’ debut album Chaleur Humaine was released in June 2014 in France and the adapted English version arrived on our shores in February this year. It is without a doubt my favourite album of the year (maybe even the decade so far), a perfectly crafted record showcasing the huge potentials of pop music. It works on various degrees, most simply as a selection of hugely catchy songs infused with a variety of musical influences, but also more deeply as a provocative and emotive commentary on gender and sexual politics.

But when performed live, it’s a whole other ball game. In the 2 years since she released her debut in her native France, Christine and the Queens has proved that she is in a league on her own when it comes to the live circuit. Her crystal-clear vocals, charming interactions with her audience and of course, intense and flawless dance routines are a winning formula, as I experienced on Thursday night. Playing her second sold-out night at Brixton Academy, she performed the most energetic, fun and exciting set I have ever seen in such an intimate venue.

Very few artists can truly achieve magic on stage, especially with just one album under their belt. For god’s sake many supposed legends rarely achieve what she did on Thursday night! From the opening ‘Starshipper’ to the funky choreographed transition songs (including the opening to Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Mon légionnaire’) and her gorgeously 80s pumped cover of Beyoncé’s ‘Sorry’, it was pure joy from start to finish. It isn’t just her sound that makes her so exciting, it is the combination of her dance routines with her wonderful male dancers, her overall message that you can be whatever you want to be and her whole look that makes her so influential and special. It felt like the most accepting party ever, one in which you don’t wake up with a hangover but wake up feeling inspired to be your best self. And what’s even more exciting is that this is only the beginning.

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Christine and the Queens takes her bow, alongside her dancers and band, after a triumphant performance in Brixton. (03/11/16)

When I was on the train home on Thursday night, still completely buzzing from the gig, I started typing my unfiltered reaction on my phone. This is what I wrote:

‘Wow. She was incredible. Her voice is incredible, her energy, her message, her awkwardness, her fierceness, her vulnerability, her aggression and dance moves, her clothes – everything.

And the way she speaks about openness and experimentation and owning yourself is just awesome. For her it matters that you are a person, first and foremost, rather than what gender. And she embraces the fact that she may want to dance like a ‘boy’ one song and not for the other.’

Christine and the Queens at Brixton Academy was something very special. In his recent autobiography, Bruce Springsteen writes about his firm belief that you can change someone’s life in one live performance, it may only take 3 minutes. Héloïse Letissier certainly is proof of this and in my experience, her performance only comes second to the Boss himself.

 

 

Track of the Week – Leisure ft. GoldLink

This week’s Track of the Week is the new release from New Zealand’s Leisure featuring GoldLink. ‘Nobody’ is a beautifully smooth R&B/electro track that is perfect for lazy sunny days.

Since last year, Leisure have released a selection of laid-back tunes, including the gorgeous ‘Got It Bad’. (Think Tame Impala vibes but with more of an R&B twist.) This new song ‘Nobody’ combines those chilled out sounds with the smooth vocals of GoldLink – resulting in a beautifully mellow gem of a song. I love the sleekness of this track and how it effortlessly blends a range of influences into a modern and fresh sound.

Listen to ‘Nobody’ below:

Track of the Week – Formation

The track I have chosen for this week is from Formation, an electronic band made up of twin brothers Will and Matt Ritson from London. It is a powerful, beat-heavy and driven track called ‘Pleasure’ and I think it’s brilliant.

I featured Formation’s track ‘Hangin’ as one of my tracks of the week last year and was captured by the group’s cool take on electronic music. They bring in elements of punk, funk and pop to their music and it creates a very distinctive sound. Their latest single ‘Pleasure’ is no different and I especially love how it blends together a fun but gritty sound. Make sure to also check out their tracks ‘Back Then’ and ‘All The Rest Is Noise’.

Have a listen to ‘Pleasure’:

Track of the Week – Pumarosa

At the end of last year, Pumarosa released their debut single, a hypnotic 7 minute track called ‘Priestess’, that caught the attention of pretty much every music blog and magazine going. The amount of hype that ‘Priestess’ single-handedly created for the band was something very special and since its release Pumarosa have featured in numerous ‘Ones To Watch’ lists (including my own) and have played festivals such as SXSW in Austin, Texas.

It is incredible how much excitement ‘Priestess’ created for Pumarosa and ever since I first heard it I have been eager to hear more. I was therefore very excited when their new single ‘Cecile’ was announced this week. On the first listen, I was struck by how much more concise it sounds than ‘Priestess’ but also how it still has the same captivating quality. Having listened to it countless times since, I love the slickness to ‘Cecile’, the tight vocals, the groove elements and the gorgeous jazz-infused ending. It reminds me at times of Arcade Fire and has definitely confirmed that Pumarosa are worth the hype.

Indie Track of the Week – Sunflower Bean

Picked as one of my ‘Ones To Watch’ for 2016, Sunflower Bean are a New-York based trio who do not fit into a clear genre. Personally, I think this adds to their appeal, as they blend elements of darkness into their dreamy sound. While it is difficult to place them in a genre, they certainly have clear alternative 80s influences (think The Cure, The Sundays etc.)

Their debut album Human Ceremony is released on Friday (5th Feb) and they will tour the UK from next week. Their latest release from the album, also called ‘Human Ceremony’ is a perfect example of their gorgeous neo psychedelic sound. Along with singles such as ‘Easier Said’, Sunflower Bean are clearly a band to watch out for and I can’t wait to hear their debut album.

Ones To Watch in 2016

Here are my picks of the bands and artists you should be listening to and watching out for this year. From indie to experimental synth, it looks as though it’s going to be yet another exciting year for new music.

Black Honey

Indie rock dripping in nostalgia with Lana Del Rey-esque sultry vocals. ‘Madonna’ is just one example of their incredibly stylish sounding repertoire so far.

Pumarosa

Atmospheric, hypnotic, captivating – Pumarosa’s debut single ‘Priestess’ (no. 3 in my tracks of 2015) immediately highlighted them as ones to watch. With only 2 other demos online I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.

The Big Moon

Perfect indie – tight, unpretentious, fun and oh so catchy. These girls have been supporting The Maccabees on tour, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from them soon. (Also this video is amazing).

White

Infectious indie pop with seriously funky vibes. Glasgow’s White have already released some hugely catchy tracks and their latest single ‘Living Fiction’ is no exception.

Sunflower Bean

Gorgeous psych-rock with alternative 80s vibes. Their latest single ‘Easier Said’ is irresistible and their debut album is expected next month.

The Japanese House

Perfect late night music from the alter-ego of 19 year old Amber Bain; full of experimental, 80s inspired synth-pop and androgynous vocals. Just listen to ‘Clean’ – pure bliss.

Blossoms

Arguably this year’s Catfish & the Bottlemen, Blossoms’ unapologetic indie pop is full of influences from Abba to Arctic Monkeys. ‘Charlemagne’ is a great example of their classic indie sound.

 

If these tracks are anything to go by, 2016 is going to be a very exciting year for new music!