Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.
More than any other of the various kinds of year-end posts, lists, and hyperbole, picking a favorite song of the year — a single track — is a deeply personal experience. What was your favorite song of 2016? What’s your favorite song ever? These things define us. They help us define ourselves to ourselves. After a point, it stops being music and it starts being a part of who you are — your own canon. It’s not just about what’s in constant rotation either on the mental jukebox, the physical turntable or any of the various other sound-producing devices in our daily lives. That can certainly be a part of it, but the question becomes about something more fundamental. What speaks to you in a language that you feel like no one else knows? Six months from now you might not remember what was number 19 on your top 20, but you can be damn sure you’re going to remember your Song of the Year.
Mine is “Artificial Light” by Comet Control.
Now, I guess what I’m saying is that if you have a different pick, I’m not inclined to argue with you, but when it comes to meeting my bizarre version of the criteria above, the closing track from the Toronto heavy psych/space rockers’ second album, Center of the Maze (review here), was second to nothing. After a tumultuous, spacious, sprawling seven songs before it, the five-piece outfit, who made their self-titled debut (review here) on Tee Pee Records in 2013, nestled themselves into unparalleled sonic warmth — an aural kindness to their listeners that shimmered and glowed for its duration, from the opening unfolding of its drifting organ and central guitar line to the outgoing resonance that hummed quietly to its fading finish. For what Comet Control were expressing in the track, their execution simply could not have been more perfect.
It was by no means the sum total of what Center of the Maze had to offer. Expanding on the breadth of their first outing, Comet Control seemed to revel in straddling the line between space rock and heavy psych. Earlier cuts like opener “Dig out Your Head” and the following “Darkness Moves” pulsated with cosmic push, and “The Hive” and “Criminal Mystic” seemed to have an easy time finding room for themselves between the styles, the latter track making a foundation for itself in acoustic guitar before bursting in with thicker tones. The band — guitarist/vocalist Chad Ross, guitarist Andrew Moszynski, bassist Nicole Howell, drummer Jay Anderson and keyboardist Christopher Sandes — lived up to and beyond the potential of the debut, and as a culmination of that, “Artificial Light” was the album’s greatest achievement.
They seemed to know it. One gets that sense both because they made it the closer and because of the was side B as a whole was arranged, with the ’60s organ bounce of “Golden Rule” leading into the more languid “Sick in Space,” which itself was something of an arrival in its languid flow and delivery of the title-line at the very end, setting the stage for “Artificial Light” to take hold and push further, which it did gorgeously. Recalling some of the high points of Ross and Moszynski‘s prior band, the woefully underrated Quest for Fire — who also released two full-lengths through Tee Pee before breaking up in 2013 — “Artificial Light” coated itself in a wash of lush dream-folk keys and guitar and Ross‘ sleepy vocal melody, but was no less defined by that than it was by the engaging hook of its two-stage chorus, beginning with the lines:
I’ll be your eyes
I’ll be your heart and your breath
Spread your wings
Or fall to your death
These lyrics balanced a very real human emotionality with the peaceful fluidity surrounding, a meeting of the worldly and otherworldly that, rather than establishing a contrast between them, seemed to pull them together and remind the listener how much the one needs the other. At 10 minutes long, “Artificial Light,” when you really got into it, still felt short, but I honestly think that would be the case even if the track topped half an hour or more. It could just go on perpetually, like space or the horizon. Comet Control captured a little piece of the infinite, made it their own and molded it into a gift they then presented to their audience. In its gentle presence and subdued melodic welcoming, I’m not sure how it could’ve been taken any other way than that.
I heard a lot of really great individual tracks this year. I did. See below. But the more I heard, the more special “Artificial Light” became. It was a song to which I almost constantly returned — defined my summer, hands down — and I know that as we move into 2017 and beyond it will continue to be one I’ll go back to and that I’ll continue to see my affection for it grow with time. In other words: a favorite.
Yeah, I know last year I did this as a list. The year before I had it this way. I reserve the right to change it up. Either way, as noted there were a lot of pretty special tracks I encountered this year, and I’d love to hear from you on what your favorites were as well. Here are some more of mine in no particular order:
Mars Red Sky, “Under the Hood”
Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues”
Asteroid, “Them Calling”
Hexvessel, “When I am Dead”
King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising”
SubRosa, “Troubled Cells”
Heavy Temple, “Pink Glass”
Worshipper, “Step Behind”
Greenleaf, “A Million Fireflies”
The list goes on. Like I said at the outset, I really do believe a favorite song is a deeply personal choice, so if you agree, disagree, whatever, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading. More to come as we start to wrap up 2016.