Having made her name as a song writer and collaborator with the likes of Little Jinder and Steve Angello, Swedish singer/producer Julia Spada struck out on her own with the stunning "You're Mine".
A lovelorn dancefloor banger, it's the kind of song you wait for, holding off asking that person you've had your eye on all night until the DJ drops this glorious track. The timing is perfect; it's the last song before the lights come up, a relationship that's over before it started...but at least it's one night of something - passion, closeness, friendship, whatever - before the realities of the day kick in.
From the sharp beats and finger-click percussion, to the synths which sound like everything from sampled choir to twinkling starlight, to the way Spada's voice moves from plaintive in the verses to an incredible pleading falsetto in the chorus, it’s near-perfect pop.
2016 has been quite the year for Walsall’s Jorja Smith with the release of her debut “Blue Lights” back in January - which also won a nomination for Best Song at this year’s MOBOs - and a nod from the BBC Sound of 2017 list.
"Something In The Way” - lifted from last month’s Project 11 EP - is for us a superior cut, with Smith showcasing an impressive songwriting talent and soulful vocal on a quintessentially signature track. Relishing in unrequited love, Smith’s tones guide us through every stage of lovelorn narrative.
Harlea was quite a mystery when she dropped her explosive debut single "Miss Me" in September and the case remains the same. The North Londoner hasn't released anything since, nor given a whisper of an interview. But her no-frills ode to the addictive pains of a relationship has been enough to keep us fuelled for what's next.
On "Miss Me", Harlea's husky '60s croon soars above a bold backdrop of muscular drums and sassy glam-rock guitars - replete, even, with striking guitar solos. It's not the kind of music we expected to set the blogosphere alight in 2016, but it was the kind of entrance that couldn't be missed.
Bonzai has a wealth of EP material on Mura Masa's Anchor Point imprint but her shift to Columbia this summer brought with it her best music yet. If any track was to mirror contemporary trends of genre-blending it was "I Did". The Irish/American soloist never lets the listener rest on this bracing three minutes of future pop: her silky R&B vocals cut brusquely to deadpan; whirring synths morph into judders, and the opening metallic rhythm - easily mistaken for Georgia's "Digits" - is constantly swallowed and spat out.
It's a lyrical onslaught, too. Monotonous chants of "I did what you did/succeeded by any means" and "I step up to the altar/you wanna take a bow" ooze pure confidence. With such an inventive meshing of electro, R&B, hip-hop, pop and more, bonzai has every right to demand we bow down.
Peckham newcomer Cosima has won us over with a handful of gorgeously dreamy R&B cuts, but it's “Had To Feel Something” that keeps galloping round our brains. Cyclic bass and mechanical beats cast a spell that lulls all in earshot into a trance, but the South Londoner keeps you rapt with a velvet voice that slices through the woozy mist. The path that Cosima leads you down may not be technically the best for those involved – but it's impossible to resist. Sometimes you just have to give in.
“It's about feeling so powerless that you'd do anything to get some type control back,” Cosima says, “even if it means self destructing.”
2016 needed A Tribe Called Red. In a year of turbulent politics across their fusion of music and activism never felt more vital than on their album We Are The Halluci Nation. As Bear Witness of the band observed “it’s time now for us to come out and finally have the opportunity to depict ourselves, to show ourselves in a way that we want to be seen... We are here to represent indigenous people in the realest way, that we’ve never had the chance to show ourselves before.”
"R.E.D." serves as a rallying, uniting call. Based on an insistent underlying beat from the Black Bear drum group, Canadian-Iraqi rapper Narcy and Yasiin Bey (the artist formerly known as Mos Def) take on nationalism and rally against the “Coca Cola soul controller holy waters’ while A Tribe Called Red bring in stadium shaking levels of bass and synth: distorted, measured and brooding it brings all the elements together to send out a powerful message.
- Ro Cemm
“Witness” marked the welcome return of Mikhael Paskalev upon its release only a few short weeks ago, with '80s-tinted synths, big rock'n'roll melodies, and a bittersweet euphoria coursing through every breathless beat and forcing you up onto your feet. The Liverpool-based, Norwegian-Bulgarian maestro summons immense power during “Witness”, a rare, climactic anthem that stops you right in your tracks – it's an emotional sucker punch, drawing you in deep with charm and pop panache before socking you upside the heart with a devilish one-two. The visual accompaniment – a short film about dealing with Death with a capital D – is jaw dropping, and well worth checking out.
A genuine breath of fresh air for British guitar music; Leif Erikson quietly emerged at the tail end of 2015 with "Looking For Signs" - a wonderfully crafted no frills track that sparkled with promise. However it was the follow-up, "Never Get You Out Of My Mind", that truly cemented the young London five-piece as a genuinely exciting proposition back in the Spring.
A gorgeous lament that tells of "acceptance of the realisation that a first love that you thought would last is coming to an end," the track basks in analogue warmth that recalls The War On Drugs in all their wide-eyed Americana glory. Yet the real beauty is the space between the notes: nothing is crowded, everything in its right place. Leif Erikson are a band to believe in.
This year, there have been few voices more distinctive than the rich baritone of London-based RATIONALE (real name Tinashé Fazakerley). After a previous unsuccessful attempt breaking into the music industry, Fazakerley found himself writing for recent Brit Award Critics Choice winner Rag N Bone Man before relaunching his own career in 2015.
It was 2016, however, that had Fazakerley holding the world in the palm of his hand; netting a support slot on tour with Bastille, and plaudits from the omnipresent Pharrell. “Something For Nothing” premiered on this site back in January; the first of Rationale’s four singles released this year. The track – heavily influenced by his mother’s diverse record collection - sees Fazakerley laying soulful vocals over a steady guitar groove. The handful of flittering synths dotted over the expansive, yearning chorus keep the track sounding fresh and current, but Fazakerley songwriting expertise ensures that, at its core, “Something For Nothing” is as classic and timeless as the many influences stocking his arsenal.
Shura's 2016 is studded with successes, but “What's It Gonna Be?” is arguably the high point – it's the moment that captures all the magic of her live show, and touches the pop stratosphere with a chorus ripped straight from a John Hughes film. No matter where you are it'll bring a big, cheesy grin to your face - this is for boombox blasting and making joyous memories. Shura doesn't do things by halves, but even by her own lofty standards this is special. “What's It Gonna Be?” is a double dose of synthy, semi-nostalgic glitz designed to strike deep into your heart and make you move like tomorrow ain't coming.