Every year we think it would be lovely to put together a list of our thoughts on the best tracks released by musicians and bands from Northern Ireland. While it is indeed lots of fun rediscovering old favourites and enjoying all that great music, we forget the stress of narrowing it down to just 25 songs. 2016 was a stellar year for music and we think this is reflected in our list. In our opinion only, here are the Top 25 Northern Irish songs of 2016.
No 25 ►Dandelion Tea – The Crystal Dawn
Dandelion Tea like to flit between musical genres on a whim, but ‘The Crystal Dawn’ finds them at the peak of their musical powers. Throwing off slightly psychedelic vibes due to the jangly xylophone and synths, the four piece manage to create an ambient pop gem that will live long in the memory.
No 24 ►Susie Blue – People Like Us
Often using her talents to produce heartfelt melancholy, Susie Blue’s ‘People Like Us’ is a very different beast. Calling on her outsider status, Susie Blue utilises the power of her full band for their biggest track to date. ‘People Like Us’ is an alt rock inspired anthem for the disaffected with a big, big chorus.
No 23 ►Irontown Diehards – Fly High
Heavy rock and metal is perhaps a little under-represented in this year’s list but the Irontown Diehards make the cut. We praised their debut album, but can say that ‘Fly High’ stood apart from the rest of the tracklist with an electric guitar solo leading the way on this soaring ballad.
No 22 ►Son Of The Hound – I.O.U.
Omagh songwriter Michael McCullagh certainly likes to keep us guessing with his singles veering from genre to genre. The one that most stood out in 2016, is ‘I.O.U’ with a ditching of the acoustic guitars, letting McCullagh flex his itch for some 60s inspired rock.
No 21 ►Reevah – Daydreamer
Reevah aka Aoife Boyle appeared out of nowhere, half way through 2016 and dropped ‘Daydreamer’. Her debut single is sweet and melancholic release that doesn’t over elaborate on the instrumentation and leaves plenty of room for Aoife’s stunning voice to take centre stage.
No 20 ►Vokxen – Ignite
Co Antrim’s Vokxen capped off a fine 2016, by completing the Oh Yeah’s talent development programme, Scratch My Progress. The end product was the synth pop masterpiece, ‘Ignite’. An undeniable ear worm thanks to its infectious chorus, ‘Ignite’ sounds like the band’s best work to date. We look forward to what comes next.
No 19 ►Brand New Friend – I Was An Astronaut
It would seem rude not to have the song that helped propel Brand New Friend from the shadows to our Kickstart winners and then go on to become one of the most talked about bands of the year. ‘I Was An Astronaut’ is a slice of lo-fi pop goodness that throws out one of the biggest choruses of any release this year. Mark my words, the Castlerock four piece are destined for greatness.
No 18 ►Maverick – Whiskey Lover
On the heavy/classic rock end of the musical spectrum, comes Maverick. Taken from their second album, ‘Whiskey Love’ packs in huge guitar riffs, a sing-a-long chorus that instantly makes it a classic and proves why Maverick have been packing venues around the country.
No 17 ►R51 – Morocco
Any new release from alt rockers R51 was always going to be met with a good reception considering the greatness of Pillow Talk. The No Chill EP proved another strong release, but it’s ‘Morocco’ that we’ve picked out as a highlight. Combining the key components of the band’s sound: dreamlike verses, heavier choruses and big riffs underpinning Melyssa Shannon’s enticing vocals. All this without neglecting that all important hook.
No 16 ►The Bonnevilles – The Whiskey Lingers
For a two piece, Andrew McGibbon Jr and Chris McMullan sure know how to make a racket. Their third studio album is a perfect homage to their love of the old school blues rock genre. Inspired by the wait for a revenge, the fuzzy and domineering ‘The Whiskey Lingers’, is a real beauty to behold.
No 15 ►Swimming Tapes – Tides
While it could be argued that being based in London, rules you out of contention, there was no way we could ignore the glistening indie pop from Swimming Tapes. Consisting of a few fellas from Bangor, ‘Tides’ set the blogosphere alight with its dreamy overtones leaving us nostalgic for the adventures of summer.
No 14 ►Hannah McPhillimy – Ruins
A distinctive voice like no other, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to find Hannah McPhillimy on our list. ‘Ruins’ builds on her previous work by introducing more lush instrumentation and is driven by typically emotional and introspective lyrics. McPhillimy is maturing into the songwriter, we always knew she could be.
No 13 ►Hot Cops – Passive Passive
Hot Cops are one of the most talked about bands from these shores and amid a stream of well received releases, it was ‘Passive Passive’ that stood out. Squealing guitars merge with the often sarcastic and dark lyrics from Carl Eccles that go along way to showing why they justify all that praise.
No 12 ►The Wood Burning Savages – We Love You
The Wood Burning Savages are an incendiary live band and with ‘We Love You’, they finally realised their potential on record. The single is a powerhouse of energetic rock that never relents and while the title suggests it’s a loved up affair, it is actually a damning indictment of society today.
No 11 ►Rews – Miss You In The Dark
Female two piece, Rews have had a mightily successful debut year with lots of critical acclaim being thrown their way. 2017 looks set to be a good one too, particularly given the aggressive swagger of their last single. ‘Miss You In The Dark’ in its powerful, foot stomping nature, perfectly encapsulates this ambitious duo.
No 10 ►Brash Isaac – In The Dark
As the popular New Ancestors went on hiatus, up stepped Andrew Cameron. ‘In The Dark’ proved that he could make the transition from drummer to front man. Merging the best of his tried and test folk with a spirited alt rock vibe, left us in doubt that this was one of the best debut releases of the year.
No 9 ►Arborist – A Man Of My Age
Though firmly based in Belfast, Mark McCambridge manages to do justice to the legends of Americana through his work with Arborist. Following up ‘Twisted Arrow’ would always be difficult but, ‘A Man Of My Age’ accomplishes this with, six minutes of meandering folk that quite frankly calms the soul.
No 8 ►Malojian – I’ll Be Alright
Engineered by Steve Albini, Malojian’s third album is again winning them plaudits on shores further away than our own. ‘I’ll Be Alright’ is one of the gems from the album, littered with charming harmonies, bitter sweet guitar and the odd whistles. Undeniably alluring pop.
No 7 ►Callum Stewart – Parachute
Hailing from the North Coast, the still young Callum Stewart’s talents are no secret to those in the know. Filled with heartbreak, ‘Parachute’ sees Stewart’s pop vocals matched with smooth and clear production, and his strong songwriting matched with bigger pop sensibilities than ever before. ‘Parachute’ has understandably pushed Stewart to new heights and audiences this year.
No 6 ►Tuskany – Shapes
The killer second single from Belfast’s Tuskany is choc-a-bloc full of falsetto vocals and laden with synth driven hooks to make it one inspired classic that isn’t afraid to reference the 80s. We knew from hearing it live for the first time, that is was going to be a hit.
No 5 ►Michael Mormecha – Family
When you are the front man of one of Northern Ireland’s most loved bands, there is a certain pressure that comes with releasing music under your own name. Michael Mormecha clearly doesn’t feel any of that pressure, as ‘Family’ proves. A smorgasbord of textures that fuses pop with alt rock, the undeniable standout of Mormecha’s debut solo release.
No 4 ►Pleasure Beach – Magic Mountain
Perhaps Pleasure Beach have uncovered the romantic inside us but we found the lyrics “I’d wait like a mosquito in an amber stone for you.” to be irresistible. Arcade Fire esque in stature, ‘Magic Mountain’ is a stadium sized, dream pop anthem that continues to thrill long after its initial release.
No 3 ►Beauty Sleep – The Dark
Beauty Sleep were one of the success stories for these shores in 2016. Their effortlessly cool snyth inspired pop caught the attention of people from as far away as New Year and Tokyo and the band ended up playing at Other Voices and Electric Picnic. Their debut single in all its shimmery glory started it all off and still leaves us itching for more.
No 2 ►PORTS – The Devil Is A Songbird
2016 finally marked the release of a full length album from PORTS (formerly Little Bear). Expectations were high and the Derry lads didn’t disappoint. While we may have heard it before, the re-worked version of ‘The Devil Is A Songbird’ was an aural treat that we’ll re-visit for years to come.
No 1 ►Ciaran Lavery – Return To Form
A truly incredible year for Ciaran Lavery saw him generate millions of streams on Spotify, release his third album, win the NI Music Prize and tour new and unexpected places. The highlight for us though was the quite outstanding ‘Return to Form’ which was his best release to date and sets a high bar for what is still to come.
STREAM ►Spotify Playlist
You can listen to the full playlist via Spotify