SWEETEST TUNES OF 2016 – INTERNATIONAL 16

Diamond Eyes

The SYN music team have developed an extensive Sweet 16 database which is undoubtedly the best place for anyone to discover new music. Containing upwards of 600 songs, it was a glorious nightmare attempting to cut this list down to 16. I’ve somehow managed to do so; these are my favourite international songs from the Sweet 16 playlists this year.

16. CARO – COLD COMFORT
Cold Comfort constantly skirts the line between cool aloofness and blistering rage, with a wobbly lead guitar line making way for chunky fuzz riffage in the choruses. The song makes great use of dynamics, with pauses and rises in intensity keeping the song’s melody interesting and fresh. Interesting.

15. NOTHING – THE DEAD ARE DUMB
The Dead Are Dumb is a tranquil track with a great ambient achieved with heavily reverbed guitar chords and softly sung vocals. While Nothing flirted with shoegaze elements on their first album ‘Tired of Tomorrow’, The Dead Are Dumb is probably their biggest step in that direction yet. It is refreshing to hear band leader Dominic Palermo’s vocals higher in the mix than on previous songs.

14. ELOHIM – HALLUCINATING
Hallucinating is an odd-ball piece of pop music with a clowning bounce. Elohim reaches the perfect balance between well-crafted melodies and joyous experimentation; her energy is infectious. Rather than being content with her smooth lead vocal, Elohim adds various sound effects that are endearing and child-like, perhaps replicating the silliness of the dreams we have. Definitely an intriguing first taste of an interesting, new artist.

13. TEMPLES – CERTAINTY
Certainty, the lead single for their album ‘Volcano’ to be released in March next year, represents a slight stylistic change for the band, with a greater focus on synthesizers than their previous work. Despite there not being any guitars present, Temples create a driving track with a carousel-like lead carrying the song forward and staying in your head for hours.

12. BLINK/182 – BORED TO DEATH
Bored To Death represents a return to form for the revitalized Punk veterans, releasing their first album in 5 years, and their first record without Tom DeLonge’s involvement. Opening with a spidery riff reminiscent of ‘Feeling This’, Bored To Death is sure to be a live anthem, containing big hooks, captivating drumming and tasteful synths at the end of the song. Whilst their new album ‘California’ was a touch disappointing, Bored To Death shows what the trio can do when they hit the target.

11. WESTERN MEDICATION – WITCH PARADE
Witch Parade is a cool, light-hearted track from Western Medication, a relatively unknown band from Nashville in the US. With a glistening, reverbed guitar sound, the song is infectiously happy sounding and positive. It evokes the Madchester movement that existed in the late 80’s/early 90’s in the UK.  A wicked sounding jam, I’m extremely interested to see what comes next for Western Medication.

10. MILD HIGH CLUB – SKIPTRACING
Skiptracing is the title track of Mild High Club’s second LP. Leading the album in, it is a great snapshot of the new record, less raw and more refined than their previous effort, ‘Timeline’. Floating along effortlessly, with the mix of live and processed drumming not robbing the track of its flow, Alexander Brettin’s restrained guitar strumming and subtle vocal harmonies are catchy yet relaxing at the same time.

9. RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – DARK NECESSITIES
Dark Necessities is the lead single of Red Hot Chili Peppers eleventh album ‘The Getaway’. For me personally, this song immediately engenders thoughts of ‘Poison’ by Rocket Juice and the Moon, a side project Flea undertook with Damon Albarn of Blur and the acclaimed Nigerian drummer Tony Allen. This song however, has a greater sense of urgency. A funky track with a great groove, Dark Necessities was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ twenty-fifth top ten hit in the United States, a record.

8. HIDDEN CHARMS – CANNONBALL
Cannonball is a dirty, noise rock track wearing unfamiliar clothes. Shrieking, discordant guitar bursts sound ready to take over the song at any time, but never do so, instead seemingly being confined within Hidden Charms’ disciplined dancing beat. This instantly creates an interesting dynamic that persists for the rest of the song, however it is done tastefully, never taking away the focus from the melody, which is interesting with a detached sounding vocal and background la’s that are as playful as they are sinister.

7. GREEN DAY – BANG BANG
A snarling return to form from one of America’s best bands. A throwback to the overloaded guitar tones of Nimrod, Green Day play a riff similar to ‘Territorial Pissings’ and make it even heavier, whilst still retaining the pop sensibilities that helped American Idiot become such a success. Whilst Revolution Radio was inconsistent and two paced, Bang Bang has a driving punk energy that drummer Tre Cool brings to the band in their hardest tracks.

6. RADIOHEAD – BURN THE WITCH
Burn The Witch, the lead single from Radiohead’s latest album ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is a tense track that enters to programmed drumming and staccato strings, arranged by guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Thom Yorke’s voice floats elegantly over the song typically. There is a heavy riff that underpins the chorus that could easily be reimagined on electric guitars, but they are not utilized, showing that a typical four-piece setup isn’t always required in contemporary rock music. With a distinct rise in intensity throughout the song (the strings are played much harder and discordantly as it continues on), an uneasy atmosphere is achieved, keeping the listener constantly on edge. Remaining intriguing always, Burn The Witch is an indelible taster to one of the best albums of 2016.

5. CRYSTAL CASTLES – CHAR
In spite of having a change in personnel (Crystal Castles changed lead singers prior to the completion of this album), Crystal Castles have rode a winner with Char. A claustrophobic dream pop track with breathy vocals and dystopian synthesizers, there is a desperate, melancholic melody hidden within the grandiosity of the track. A real grower!

4. MILD HIGH CLUB – HOMAGE
Beginning with a trippy sounding synth line that immediately evokes thoughts of a Sonic The Hedgehog soundtrack from the early 90’s, Homage is a well-structured piece of synth pop with neo psychedelic leanings. Whilst the song is laidback, there is enough going on to keep listeners interested, with many different synth tones and sounds popping up during the track. Mild High Club have mastered the art of creating advanced tunes that sound deceptively simple.

3. JOYCE MANOR – LAST YOU HEARD OF ME
A gloomy post-punk song that is extremely catchy. The band staggers the playing of their instruments, lending the song considerable power when all members eventually play as one. Whilst it catches the ear early on, the Last You Heard Of Me reaches greater heights almost two minutes into the song, when drummer Jeff Enzor starts to smash the symbols. The guitar begins to play a more frenzied rhythm and subtle synths enter in the background, in a tasteful display of playing akin to Frank Delgado’s work with the Deftones. All the band members play within themselves for the good of the song. A fantastic track.

2. DEFTONES – PRAYERS/TRIANGLES
Prayers/Triangles, the lead track to Gore, is an ideal single; poppy and tuneful enough to reach mainstream listeners, but also tricky and heavy enough to encourage continued listens. It’s almost as if Deftones have perfected their mid-tempo formula. What elevates this song above others of its vain, is its uneasy atmosphere – whilst previous songs like ‘Xerces’ and ‘Minerva’ both evoke triumphant feelings in the listener, ‘Prayers/Triangles’ is left ambiguous, neither happy or sad. Abe Cunningham’s crafty offbeat drumming drives the song forward into a chorus that blows the ears off its listeners, such is the guitar attack. Whilst you knew the rise in volume was going to come, that doesn’t make the transition any less thrilling. Great song.

1. HOOPS – GEMINI
Gemini, a lovely piece of dream pop, has the vote for my favourite international track of this year. Hoops have managed to create a grand atmosphere without the usage of distorted guitars, strings or synths. The production is excellent; the track is lush with varying guitar licks, all affected by varying guitar pedals – reverb, phaser and delay. The chord change signalling the chorus’s arrival is gorgeous, it soars and sucks listeners in to its beauty. Vocalist Drew Auscherman uses his vocals as another instrument, burying it in the mix and treating it with appreciable amounts of reverb. It allows for the song’s atmosphere to thrive and it works all the more better for it!

Playlist

  1. Gemini - Hoops
  2. Prayers/Triangles - Deftones
  3. Last You Heard Of Me - Joyce Manor
  4. Homage - Mild High Club
  5. Char - Crystal Castles
  6. Burn The Witch - Radiohead
  7. Bang Bang - Green Day
  8. Cannonball - Hidden Charms
  9. Dark Necessities - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  10. Skiptracing - Mild High Club
  11. Witch Parade - Western Medication
  12. Bored To Death - Blink/182
  13. Certainty - Temples
  14. Hallucinating - Elohim
  15. The Dead Are Dumb - Nothing
  16. Cold Comfort - Caro