2016 has been a devastating year for many but amongst all of it, perhaps as a response to what’s gone on in the world, music has risen above and given us one of the best years in recent memory.
These are the songs that left an impact on us this year. Some made us laugh, others made us cry. Some made us drop and others made us throw our hands to the top.
Illustrations by Bianca Bosso.
Klangstof – Sleaze
You’d be short to find a more succulent sounding synth all year, as Sleaze is embodied with one of the most commanding of 2016. Before Stranger Things re-invited us to love all things synthy, Klangstof shared one the year’s biggest alt-electronic anthems in Sleaze. In fact their debut album Close Eyes To Exit is incredible. Through tracks like We Are Your Receiver and Hostage, the Mind Of A Genius outfit are one the year’s biggest finds. Klangstof’s signing to the record label just instills its presence as one of the world’s most daring, yet solid rosters in the music biz. Itching to share, I sat on this track about four months before it was released and it was one of the hardest new music related tasks I endured all year. The sheer power of that commanding cosmic driven synth was enough to know that this track was going to be on a year end list. Generating a sense of warm euphoria, no if, buts or maybes Sleaze is without a shadow of doubt my selection for track of the year. – Harrison Kefford
PON CHO – Frozen (Feat. Paige IV)
Despite what our Eurovision placings say, Australia doesn’t actually have a great track record with pop. There’s a certain cultural cringe surrounding it that means it lacks the same sort of ambition as the UK or Sweden. Thankfully, this year we got PON CHO and Paige IV. They gave us electronic banger Lonely Walls earlier in the year but then they delivered their moment, the sprawling anthemic Frozen. It just ticks every box. The choruses are raw and desolate and then it works its way up to a chorus that smashes through the stratosphere. It’s technically a ballad but PON CHO’s forward-thinking production colours it and adds texture. And, it wouldn’t be write to talk about this song without saying that Paige IV is fast becoming the best vocalist in the country. Her work on this positions her for Sia-level greatness. – Sam Murphy
Porter Robinson & Madeon – Shelter
Porter Robinson proved in 2014 with his incredible album Worlds that he was one of the most intensely talented producers in the world, and joining forces with French producer Madeon in 2016 to create Shelter has proved to be an absolute masterstroke. The strength of this track is evident in that the duo have embarked on a largely sold-out world tour based around just this one song and as was the case with Worlds – Shelter is a veritable masterpiece in painting viscerally emotive aural images that evoke very really emotions and images in the mind of the listener. – Zanda Wilson
Rihanna – Needed Me
Upon the first few spins of ANTI, Rihanna‘s Needed Me felt limp. Amongst her wailing on Higher and forthright attitude on Consideration, it got lost in the grand scheme of things. But Needed Me is a good representation of the entire album because it grew and grew. What once felt limp, now feels icy and packed full of venom. She’s obviously hurting from a faded relationship but Needed Me explores the flip-side of that. This is a guy that pined for Rihanna and she tore him apart (“Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage”). She doesn’t want a “horse and a carriage,” type guy not the we needed her to sing it to believe it. The gritty, rawness of Needed Me says it all. We all need Rihanna and the fact that she knows it and works with it makes her all the more enticing. – Sam Murphy
Travis Scott & Young Thug – Pick Up The Phone
Explaining the appeal of the song is similar to explaining the appeal of Cadbury Turkish Delight. On paper it really doesn’t work but everytime you indulge, it just tastes so good. Sure, Young Thug and Travis Scott vocally slot together perfectly but the island-inspired synth coupled with the darkness of the auto-tuned vocal added to a hook centred on a phone is a juxtaposition so complicated it should be an inexplicable mess. And yet, Pick Up The Phone is hip-hop’s most addictive moment this year. The synth-work is deliciously melodic and it perfectly compliments Scott and Thug’s delivery, arguably two of the best hook-connoisseurs this year. For a song that coos, “it’s lit,” there’s an unexpected depth to Pick Up The Phone. “Never will I cheat on you/Never will I commit treason,” is about as earnest a hip-hop lyric as we got this year and suddenly, “pick up the phone,” becomes less of gimmicky play of music’s strange phone obsession (2 Phones, Hotline Bling) and more of a desperate plea for companionship. – Sam Murphy
ZAYN – Pillowtalk
Attention-span has never been a pop fans greatest strength. You’ve got to sell the song before the second verse otherwise the finger strikes the skip button never to return. ZAYN had to come out of the gates strong on his first solo single and he does exactly that. In fact, he sells the song in the first 30 seconds. “Climb on board, we’ll go slow in high tempo,” he sings selling the sex and darkness so simply and so effortlessly. Immediately we get what solo ZAYN is all about. He’s tense, raw and desperate to show he’s grown up. By the time we get to the chorus, we already know all this but who are we to say no to a soaring chorus with a lyric as strong as, “we’ll piss off the neighbours” ? A special compliment must also be thrown at the melodic brilliance and perfect alliteration of, “in the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day.” – Sam Murphy
Lido – Crazy
Crazy dropped ahead of Lido’s debut album this year and remains the most accessible track from it. His instrumental talent is matched only by his production ability, making Lido one of the most versatile artists going around at the moment, and Crazy is an incredible adaptation of orchestral-level textures and melodic interaction into a synth-driven banger. Although he goes on to create more complex tracks on Everything, it’s still hard to go past crazy as the ultimate representation of who Lido is and what he brings to the table. – Zanda Wilson
Tkay Maidza – Simulation
Tkay went down a very different path with Simulation from what we’re used to hearing from her. The track features very little rapping creating a catchy, clever cut that oozes a massive dancehall influence. The track was co-written with her DJ and producer LK McKay and fellow Aussie singer George Maple and it houses that warm feeling of familiarity. The song is all about overcoming complacency when aspects in your life that have been thoroughly calculated don’t go to plan and “cracks in the simulation become visible.” – Alistair Rhodes
Danny L. Harle – Super Natural (Feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
In true PC Music style, the label/collective inevitably took two steps forward and one step back in 2016. Though some of their less accessible artists continued to alienate the uninitiated; the likes of Danny L. Harle and A. G. Cook continued to open up a sad and joyous world of nostalgia in their music for a broader range of listeners, and bringing the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Caroline Polachek and Charli XCX into that world played a huge part. Super Natural still champions all of those intricacies that define PC Music but through Jepsen’s predictably yet no less catchy contribution, we’re left with a track that you might not want to like – yet you can’t help but enjoy. – Zanda Wilson
James Blake – Radio Silence
Brooding? Check. Eerie? Check. Swoon worthy? Double check. Album openers really don’t get much better than this. James Blake has a knack for all the above, and Radio Silence from his third album The Colour in Anything, continues the trend with flying colours. Underpinned by a haunting and reverb heavy vocal loop, the track builds with atmospheric intensity as Blake relays his frustrations over a relationship unexpectedly turning sour. The tension, coupled with Blake’s anguish filled delivery makes for some powerful listening. Radio Silence is another slice of effective, moody electronica and highlights yet again why the classically trained Blake is one of the most diverse artists kicking about the scene the days. Beautiful stuff. – Ben Kyi