The Chelsea Tribe’s Top 20 Songs of 2016

Bobby and I both agreed that Bowie unquestionably had best output of 2016, but having memorialized his unfortunate death earlier this year and giving “Lazarus” top honors for the best song of 2015. This year’s playlist has been curated to a different theme, mixing significant emerging talent with surprising comebacks from established rock / pop veterans. One pleasant common thread for 2016 is that we see a major dominance of talented female vocalists and musicians, featuring fantastic releases from The Kills, Warpaint, Bleached, Kino Kimono, GOAT, Sunflower Bean, Carla del Forno, etc. On a different note, being that this list is comprised of songs, versus albums, one notable ommission was the album, The Glowing Man, released by the reformed, eponymous group, Swans, led by Michael Gira. Given the controversy surrounding The Glowing Man and its conclusion of this particular iteration of the group, the expectations were high, but solely in terms of composition and songwriting the album is certainly worthy of acclaim, but its long-form structure is not really suitable for this list. However, condensing these songs to a narrower focus has resulted in an eclectic, high-energy mix to try inspire some semblance of hope in 2017, hopefully extinguishing the dumpster fire, 2016.

The Kills – “Doing It to Death”

Blending electronics and precise guitars to perfection, The Kills tend to lead their albums with some of their best singles. For example, 2011’s Blood Pressures had the interestingly synthetic reggae track, “Satellite” and the primitive, engaging “Future Starts Slow”. For their follow-up album, Ash and Ice, we could have easily selected “Heart of a Dog” or  “Siberian Nights” because the entire album is really one of the best overall of the year, but as a song, “Doing It To Death” is welcomed evolution in sound and consistency.

Warpaint – “Whiteout”

It’s been a gratifying trajectory to see Warpaint, one of L.A.’s quintessential female indie rock bands, shift their sound into a more “pop-friendly” arena, but there’s seriously polished musicianship across the board that keeps Warpaint authentic, amongst generic pop music. Head’s Up has been on major rotation all year. For the song, “Whiteout”, Jenny Lee Lindberg demonstrates one of the most authentic funk bass-lines since the days of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”. As a croup, it’s groovy, exciting, and evidently well-crafted, especially in a live context. While the album version is the best starting point to hear “Whiteout”, below is a prime example of the ladies nailing the track on WFUV live:

Iggy Pop – “Sunday”

We’ve been gloating about Iggy Pop all year on The Chelsea Tribe, with two relevant documentaries, Danny Says and Gimme Danger, both released in 2016, chronicling phases of Iggy’s iconic career, yet the “Godfather of Punk” still managed to release the impressive new album, Post-Pop Depression. To put it bluntly, with Joshua Homme doing a gist of the song-writing on the album, the listener is essentially hearing a Queens of the Stone Age album filtered through Iggy Pop’s vocals and lyrical content. Iggy still has Kermit the Frog croon, so it’s kind of funny to hear, but the album marks a fine pairing for both Josh and Iggy, who’ve had their hands in shaping various genres of modern rock. Realistically, how many more albums does Iggy have in him? We have to give Iggy Pop credit, where it’s completely due. Iggy has earned the right to make dozens of shitty albums and they’d still make the cut on any given year, but Post-Pop Depression rises above any reasonable expectations. Take the catchy tune, “Sunday”, for example:

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – “Girl in Amber”

It’s Nick Cave for fuck’s sake. He’ll likely be on many Top 10 lists at the end of this tumultuous year. If you interpret Cave’s latest album, The Skeleton Tree, as an audio obituary for the untimely, tragic death of his young son, the album is understandably a bit dreary and depressing. Accordingly, as a whole, it’s quite difficult to select a stand-out track from it, but upon viewing the companion film, One More Time With Feeling, “Girl in Amber” glows as simply one of the most soulful, visceral ballads of the year. In One More Time With Feeling, you see Cave in his most vulnerable persona, trying to almost “relearn” piano, amidst the eerie, atmospheric inflections of his long-time collaborator, Warren Ellis.

The Rolling Stones – “Commit a Crime”

The Rolling Stones could have just phoned it in for the rest of their seemingly never-ending career, but against certain odds, the legendary group released a fantastic album, aimed to be a crowd-pleaser. Going back to their early 1960s roots, Blue & Lonesome is purely a blues cover album, but by die-hard fan standards, the Rolling Stones excel at Chicago blues translations. More so, we hear Mick Jagger tearing through the harmonica, Keef and Ronnie doing the dual guitar balancing act, and Charlie Watts keeping the rhythm. “Commit a Crime” originally by Howlin’ Wolf, is one of the more rocking cuts on the album.

Brian Jonestown Massacre – “Oh Bother”

Just play this at your next party or wedding, especially if it’s Spanish-themed. People will think you discovered some great 1960s era song from the Mediterranean regions. The eclectic aptitude speaks volumes to Anton Newcombe’s versatility in creating numerous worldly sounds and instrumental arrangements. “Oh Bother” off of Third World Pyramid is a lively track, painting vivid imagery in your consciousness. Brian Jonestown Massacre, similar to Thee Oh Sees, are quite diligent in releasing new albums on regular basis, along with maintaining a rigorous touring schedule. Support the group in their efforts, if you get a chance to, in a city near you. While the finished album version is the one to seek out, below is an early demo version of “Oh Bother” that Anton posted to his YouTube:

The Raveonettes – “This World is Empty (Without You)”

The Raveonettes have taken an unorthodox approach to their latest recordings, at least in terms of a release schedule. Rather than all-encompassing album, the Danish indie rock duo has staggered their recent compositions, by publicly releasing each on a monthly basis, a la “Rave-Sound-of-the-month”. One of these so-called “sounds” from this year, “This World is Empty (Without You)” is a fantastic continuation of some their earlier synthesizer-driven tracks. While the end result of all the releases only wrapped up this month, this specific song is not only danceable and pop-centric, but is also a suitable starting point for uninitiated fans.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Amputation”

After a significant album gap of 18 years, The Jesus and Mary Chain have released their first single, “Amputation”, off their long-awaited, upcoming album, Damage and Joy. What’s particularly striking about “Amputation” is that it bears a lot of resemblance to their slightly more commercial sound from the Automatic and Honey’s Dead eras, but the group has diverged production duties from their most associated combo of Flood / Alan Moulder, in favor of Youth (Martin Glover), which is astonishing to find this hasn’t happened sooner, considering the overlap of Youth, as a producer, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, as a band. Many years may have passed since their last album, Munki, but it’s a good omen to see that the Jesus and Mary Chain have not missed a beat in songwriting. On a side note, it’s also a commendable feet to NOT see the Reid brothers at each other’s throats to get a new album completed.

Primal Scream – “I Can Change”

Primal Scream lead singer, Bobby Gillespie, has said the following to The Sun magazine about “I Can Change”, off their 2016 album, Chaosmosis:

“I’m not sure it’s commercial but Paul Weller kept telling me, ‘That should be a single! That should be a single!’”

It’s an accurate assessment from Paul Weller. “I Can Change” is a soulful, soothing track that came out of left-field for the Scottish group, even if it echoes some hints of  “Star” or “Get Duffy” from 1997’s Vanishing Point.

The Growlers – “Rubber and Bone”

Shifting gears from their traditional “beach goth” sound to something, dare we say, more commercial, Julian Casablancas was hired as producer / collaborator for The Growler’s latest album, City Club. It goes without saying, the personnel changes have been a bit divisive to long-time fans. If you get past at how some the new material closely sounds like the Strokes, as well as the absence of a couple key members of the group, there is still a lot to enjoy about City Club. Take “Rubber and Bone” for example, which has well-written, urban lyrics, loaded with Southern California themes, and musically, The Growlers veer into updated, modern territory, in which the group sounds like Kasabian, albeit Brooke’s vocals, but it all seems to gel seamlessly against the pulsating dance beat.


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