Sunday, 17 April 2016

THE FIRST QUARTER: 2016'S TOP SONGS IN MID-APRIL

MUSIC MAKES THE WHEELS TURN
2016 has already been noted as a bit of a Shit Show, in terms of the many beloved musical geniuses who have upped and died. In that way, the year has posted a glum moratorium on joyful appreciation of its bounty. However, every wicked year yields great art and entertainment - the depths of WWII giving us Citizen Kane and Casablanca, for instance, as well as The Four Quartets. It is not obscene to note beauty, skill and accomplishment even amidst the rubble and collapse; it may even be important to do so - to dance during the Blitz. The human spirit needs its creative outlets to seek humanity in the inhumanity and the loss, which is legion.

Looked at this way, 2016 is a great year, for music, so far.  In an astonishing array, the year's releases so far include career bests from PJ Harvey, David Bowie, Kanye West, and noteworthy new songs from Turin Brakes, DIIV, The Pet Shop Boys, Weezer, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Primal Scream, Suede, Kylie, The Crookes, Tindersticks, Gwen Stefani, to name just a few that we played a lot of, and enjoyed. Even Kendrick Lamar's demos were a revelation a few weeks ago.

Given how years alternate appearances of artists (not everyone can drop a new record every year) we can still acknowledge that with 75% of the year still to come this is amazing. Wading through Eyewear's constantly shifting list of required listening, the earworms that keep on giving, we provide 16 songs that we can only assume will still be vital to our souls and hearts and minds at year's end:

1. David Bowie - 'Blackstar'
Had Bowie not died soon after release, this would still be a track of the year, but the uncanny timing and purposeful shaping of this near-posthumous artwork makes it of culturally-historic value, as well. At the centre of it all, then, is this canonical single, haunting, weird, and scary.

2. PJ Harvey - 'The Wheel'
PJ Harvey is now at near-Bowie status in our books. Artful, supremely questing, intelligent, morally indignant, and matching her vision with integrity of sound and purpose, her new protest album has about six songs as good as any ever written by a British musician. It is an astonishing LP, and this single, while tied with a few others in our affections, perfectly captures the intent of the whole: a collage of reporter's quotes and info-bytes, the contrast between the jaunty soul rock and the awful cruelty of the imagery establishes a rupture in our ability to comprehend the world picture being presented, and subverted.  The song drips with an irony as strong as that of Kubrick's - man is insane and murderous, but art can be moral.

3. Violent Femmes - 'Holy Ghost'
The Femmes were last at their disruptive, skittering, ramshackle, disruptive best about 30 years ago, which is why this fun, angry, spiritual anthem about loss of God and finding something else, maybe, in the search, smashes it.  Wonderful return.

4. Yeasayer - 'I Am Chemistry'
Not since OMD crafted a pop song out of the atomic destruction of Japanese cities has an indie band so cleverly fused toxicity with lyric charms. Singing as if Sarin and other nerve gasses and chemical weapons were the source of the song is bizarre, but somehow becomes deeply moving, and beautiful, as if Sir George Martin had stumbled across an anarchist's cookbook while high on LSD.

5. Paul Simon - 'Wristband'
No one needs another Simon song as catchy as 'You Can Call Me Al' and the odds one would appear at this stage of his career, clearly in gentle decline, is astonishing. So, here it is, as witty, political, light of feet, and upbeat as anything from Graceland - a late grace note from a genius.

6. Hannah Lou Clark - 'It's Your Love'
Who is she? Who cares? She has emerged with a driving pop song of such lo-fi cheek and quality, it soars above any playlist with thrumming excitement. Stage-fright, depression, angst, all defeated by, yes, love. Delightful epiphany of bubble-gum joy.

7. Kanye West - 'Ultralight Beam'
As ambitious as The Beatles and The Beach Boys, as much an artist as any of the Hip Hop giants have been, West is loved and hated as only leading figures in their art forms tend to be. This, his 'God dream' - is a weird soundscape becoming a call-and-response classic. The finest deconstructed gospel song ever written?

8. Animal Collective - 'FloriDada'
Capable of creating some of the most vital and sonically complex pop indie music of the new century, here the AC are, at the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement's Zurich inception, comically and zanily singing in quasi-vaudeville form of, yes, Florida, desire, life and art. As if The Marx Brothers had moved to Brooklyn to forge a new kind of musical comedy, this is thrillingly upbeat.  Pure ecstasy of inventive harmonies and nonsense.

9. All Saints - 'One Strike'
Who knew All Saints would one day sound classic? This machine-tooled resurrection of a style and POV about two decades from its first moment, arrives with such state-of-the-art expertise, it is marvellous to experience.  A pure pop hit of the first rank, with effective lyrics and gorgeous vocals. A palpable hit.

10. Rick Astley - 'Keep Singing'
Once a figure-of-fun meme, and before that an impossibly-gifted cute young man who in the late 80s was a world star for a few hits before suddenly retiring at 27, Astley is an icon the years had dusted over. Incredibly, he now returns, at 50, with a soaring Northern Soul style gospel song of such unabashed sentiment, it seems hard to swallow. This will either be a huge hit or a kitsch damp squib. Either way only a hard heart can ignore the power of this inspiring return.

11. Sia - 'Cheap Thrills'
The shy hit-maker has a chilling skill to establish instantly engaging dance moments, again and again. We could not resist, and were once again won over.  Thrilled, as always.

12. The Jezabels - 'Pleasure Drive'
The most clever song title ever? A song about the pleasure of pleasure, this usually-soaring-shimmer U2-meets-Simple Minds Oz-outfit headed by a woman with a voice as close to Karen O as law allows, have gone in a new direction, to shock just a bit, before retracting their nympho intent with the usual stadium high. It is still potent enticement.

13. M. Ward - 'Confession'
Droll, power pop Americana with a warped soul and a steadfast guitar does not have many finer progenitors than West Coast bard M. Ward - and here comes the man with his catchiest, cleverest song ever, sounding as if The Go-Betweens, Gene Pitney, and Lloyd Cole had merged in a sultry retro Twin Peaks episode never filmed; twang bam thank you, M.

14. Sunflower Bean - 'Easier Said'
Speaking of jangling guitars and indie nous, here comes highly-touted Sunflower Bean, with a song The Smiths could have killed for. Well, maybe not, but The Cranberries could probably sue. Great sunlit summer indie dream pop.

15. DMA's - 'Too Soon'
Talking of retro lawsuits, I am sure the Oasis brothers are lawyering up. This lad-sound so uncannily conjures the 90s of Britpop's heyday I half-expected T. Blair to appear contra D. Cameron at PM's Questions after hearing this time-warp bombastic number. Thing is, they are as good as Oasis, guys, and House of Love, the whole bunch of baggy wide-boys from 20 years ago. Half Mad-chester, half mad as a fox, they are surely the new group of the summer in the UK.

16. Postiljonen - 'Go!'
Imagine synth pop at its giddiest, imagine Madonna at her most upbeat, imagine dream pop at its most swooning, imagine a Nordic sheen to rival Robyn, imagine a song so up it is like injecting sugar while kissing Britney, and you have some idea of what this is like, complete with 'Purple Rain' noodlings - the quintessence of the 80s, the apogee of the retro-vibe currently sweeping the dance-floors. 'Remember our souls are burning too'.

So, the top 16 of 2016, so far.  But we loved more new tracks, from Savages, MOTHXR, Hinds, Mystery Jets, RAT BOY, Wild Belle, Wild Nothing, VANT, Eagulls, Matt Corby, Fat White Family, and love them still. Enjoy these - all on Spotify.
I LOVE THE MUSIC THAT EYEWEAR RECOMMENDS TO ME, MUCH MORE THAN THESE GIANT GLASSES I CANNOT FIT ONTO MY FACE, WHICH FLOAT BESIDE ME ALL THE TIME LIKE A GHOSTLY REMINDER OF MY NEED TO BUY MORE EYEWEAR BOOKS
 
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