We published our list of favourite songs released by Northern Irish musicians quite recently but thought it would be wise to get some external thoughts. As a result, we asked several movers and shakers within the local music scene for their opinions on the best releases from 2016. May we present to you, Outsourced: Top Northern Irish Songs of 2016.
Documenta – Love As A Ghost
My favourite track of 2016 is Love As A Ghost by Documenta Drone Pop, from the David Holmes curated Late Night Tales compilation. It was on the Documenta, Drone Pop #1 album last year, though there are a few subtle changes and inspiration from David Holmes on this version. I absolutely love how haunting and ethereal it is, with stunning vocal from Roisin Stewart. It takes me off to another place, literally. I love driving at night to the Late Night Tales record, but when this track comes on I just want to disappear into it.
Charlotte Dryden – Oh Yeah Music Centre
R51 – A Perfect Life
R51’s magnificent soundscape must be a nightmare to capture in a studio, but somehow songwriter/producer/ all round good guy Jonny Woods consistently manages to pull through. On another EP of beautifully melancholic pop songs, ‘A Perfect Life’ stood out for me with it’s Kate Bush evoking riff and inspired chorus. Another triumph.
Taylor Johnson – Encore NI
Documenta – Love As A Ghost
Joe Greene wrote this epic piece and Roisin Stewart delivers the stunning vocal. Originally released as part of the album Drone Pop #1 in 2015 and given its own space as a single this year. The track features on the recent David Holmes curated Late Night Tales compilation. I love this track and I want everyone to hear it. A timeless powerful swirl of epic beauty.
Davy Matchett – Third Bar Artist Development
Robyn G Shiels – If I Were Thy Demon
When I moved up to Belfast for a second time a few years ago, the name Robyn G Shiels was often mentioned in an almost mythological, half-whispered tone. Having caught him live on many occasions since, there’s no longer any mystery as to why that was the case. Robyn is truly a rare breed of craftsman; an artist that explores duskier territories and darker thoughts with an extraordinary sense of melody and unflinching artistic authority. Released just last month, ‘If I Were Thy Demon’ is a three-and-a-half minute distillation of all the above and then some. When you find yourself shrouded in the annual inevitable end-of-year doom next week, stick this one on repeat for some solace.
Brian Coney – The Thin Air
Callum Stewart – Parachute
Over the past few years Mid-Ulster’s Callum Stewart has popped up at random intervals with a number of finely crafted tracks that showcased the great deal of promise the baby faced singer-songwriter possessed. And just when you thought the big decisions and distractions of your late teens could sidetrack his musical ambitions he returns with the best pop track NI has produced in half a decade.
An electric scuttle of a modern slow jam, it shimmers throughout with slick production and exquisite vocals. It’s incredible how huge it sounds in parts and the track has the sophistication and bold confidence that made Bieber the king of commercial pop radio last year with ‘Love Yourself’ and ‘Sorry’. The entire package of the single release should be a case study for other local musicians on how to grab attention in the crowded landscape of new music. Almost half a million streams later and all eyes are on what Stewart does next.
Peter Cinnamond – BBC Radio Ulster
Conjuring Fate – Dr Frankenstein
In the field of hard rock and metal there have been a bumper crop of releases to headbang your merry head to, songs to chant along to, and tunes to neck a cheeky beer or three to. Whether you want the heavier end of stuff, or tunes with melodies that leave you hoarse signing along to there was a tremendous crop to chose from. However, with ahead of the release of their album ‘Valley of Shadows’ Conjuring Fate unleashed some Hammer Horror glory in the shape of ‘Dr Frankenstein’ complete with a great OTT video. Apologies to all who wielded an axe, but this is the choice – Dr Frankenstein wins it in 2016.
Jonathan Traynor – Belfast Metalheads Reunited
Wake America – Silly Boy
2016, may go down as one of the worst years to date. However, for the NI music scene we have to admit, it hasn’t been too shabby.
There have been many highlights, but for me, Wake America’s Silly Boy is the stand out.
It contained the perfect layering of synths, melody and riffs.
This unexpected release from Best Boy Grips’ Eoin O Callaghan exploded straight away, getting the nod of approval from local music guru Stuart Bailie and 6music’s Steve Lamacq…
So here’s to 2017, I for one am looking forward to hearing what else Wake America have up their sleeves!
Caoileann Hegarty – SoFar Sounds Belfast
Robocobra Quartet – Correct
It was a fairly clear winner for me this year. Robocobra Quartet are one of the most compelling bands that Belfast has produced over the last five years, an ingenious blend of beat poetry, punk rock and free jazz. But while they are definitely a clever band – almost to a fault at times – they don’t skimp on grooves. Correct is a perfect example – Chris Ryan’s hypnotic drumming is the perfect chassis on which to layer the sinister bass, skronking brass and his own, ever-more-deranged vocals. “Admission for one”? Take my money.
Chris Jones – Various Publications
Ciaran Lavery – Return To Form
It almost feels like an artist is temping fate when he names his comeback single “Return To Form”, especially when it comes off the back of a highly streamed, successful debut, although Ciaran Lavery need not have fretted, as the song marked a new high watermark for him. It’s certainly the most radio-friendly song that Ciaran has released to date ( if you exclude the polite f-bombs on the album version, and calls to mind “I’m Not The Only One” by Sam Smith, although with the choirboy swooning replaced with Lavery’s trademark world-weary ragged vocals. Definitely not a return to form, but a strengthening of it.
Christopher McBride – The Metaphorical Boat
Documenta & David Holmes – Love As A Ghost
I’m going to cheat and mention two here. I was working late nights in the run up to Atlantic Sessions and had David’s Late Night Tales on repeat. The festival was in honour of Henry McCullough, and you can’t not be moved by BP Fallon’s tribute to Henry, which I only discovered later was recorded in one take on the day of his funeral. Love As A Ghost, by the seven piece Documenta Drone Pop and sung by Roisin Stewart, is on the album after BP’s spoken piece. Mystical, meditative, serene, it just takes your head to a beautiful place. It needs to be listened to loud and in the dark – seven minutes of bliss. Every time I hear it live, it just stills the room. As BP says at the end of his tribute, you feel ‘very lucky to travel the path and meet magical people along the way.’
Carolyn Mathers – Snow Water
Hiva Oa – A Great Height
I don’t think I can pronounce their name properly but I have been incredibly excited by Hiva Oa this year.
Their EP MK 2, Part 1 is excellent from start to finish but opening track ‘A Great Height’ is the definite highlight.
A relentless and driving musical backdrop of thumping, borderline tribal drums and distorted electronica combines with melancholic vocals and engaging lyrics, which for me invoke memories of Radiohead during their turn of the millennium records.
Atmospheric, intense, compelling. I implore you explore the world of Hiva Oa.
John Cartwright – Stendhal Festival of Art
Dandy’s Loft – Khyber’s Pass
I really like this band. I’m friends with all of the members, and sometimes it can be difficult separating music from mates. But then sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes you listen to a song and think, “Yip. Tune.”
Khyber’s Pass did this for me (the whole EP did if I’m honest). It’s their first release, but sounds extremely accomplished. There’s a kind of restrained, trapped feeling to Khyber’s Pass. It paces back and forth driving itself mad, before saying “f**k it” three minutes in. Something is realised, and there’s relief in the form of an early 90s grunge-rock-climax; which is all right by me.
It’s also brilliantly produced with plenty to discover on repeat listens. As well as that, Khyber’s Pass is a song I can imagine being played in busy bars, people searching for it, and Siri being none the wiser.
Mike Bonner – Moving On Music
Arborist – Dark Stream
The music that has come out of Northern Ireland this year has been exceptional in its quality and variety – all parts of the sector have stood up- from krautrock-influenced shoe gaze, to analogue synth driven electronic. But as it’s nearly Christmas i wanted to choose a track that somehow leaned into the festive season, and as such i’m going to choose Dark Stream by the magnificent Arborist. I need to declare about five interests here-the band were historically on the Generator NI talent development programme, I know almost every member of the band individually (some members going back over 10-15 years to the early days of Skibunny gigs at Auntie Annies) but frankly if the record had dropped out of the sky it still would have been top of my dance card. From the melancholic opening horns to the snow-inflected animated video that accompanies it, it’s a masterful piece of songwriting leaning into both Roy Orbison and Harry Nilsson.
Mark Gordon – Generator NI
R51 – Surrender
There’s been so much Northern Irish music I’ve enjoyed this year (Jealous of the Birds, Paper Dogs) but my favourite song has to be Surrender by R51, taken from their newest EP No Chill (September 2016). For me, the centrepiece of this dreamy, atmospheric track is Melyssa Shannon’s utterly captivating vocals as they are what really grabbed me the first time I heard this song – the chorus even gave me goosebumps! The instrumentals on this track are fantastic too. The band’s shoegaze-influenced sound is what first drew me to them and it really shines through on Surrender, especially those watery guitar tones.
Rachel Young – Queens Radio
The Bonnevilles – No Law In Lurgan