I’m not going to come out and pick the records of 2016 that I most admired. When listening to music what good is “admiration”? I admire lots of records that don’t inspire me to toss them on the record player. What good is an intellectual exercise in choosing music that appeals strictly to your objective, rational thought? No. I’ve never been here to tell you which records you *should* listen to. I’m going to tell you the records that lived on my turntable and in my CD player — the ones I played ad infinitum, the ones I played without conscious requiring a conscious decision-making process.
And as usual, I wouldn’t want to disappoint with a litany of selections cribbed from Pitchfork or NPR or god forbid Rolling Stone or SPIN. I will change the channel faster than you can say Car Seat Headrest. I didn’t toss on Solange or Beyonce when I needed a groove. I found both of those records to be pretty much just sorta overrated. And I was unable to really connect with David Bowie’s final album beyond a couple of gutpunch songs. Leonard Cohen’s climbing my favorites but I just haven’t spent enough time with it. I know. I know. Heresy. But it doesn’t just get a bye because it’s Leonard Cohen’s last record either.
Since Parquet Courts probably released six or seven records this year, it was only a matter of time before this Brooklyn “Americana punk” band found its way back onto the 30Hz countdown.
“Do You Need My Love” – Weyes Blood
The second Weyes Blood track on the Best of 2016 channels Dusty Springfield and Aimee Man and just makes me swoon. Natalie Mering shifts nimbly between vocal genres, even within the same song.
“Warning Call” – CHVRCHES
AHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH. And you thought because CHVRCHES didn’t release a record in 2016 I couldn’t put them on the countdown. IT AIN’T A 30Hz PARTY WITHOUT CHVRCHES. HEYYYY HOOOOO. Even their afterthought video game soundtrack songs own my universe.
“Time Moves Slowly” (feat. Samuel T. Herring) – BADBADNOTGOOD
Experimental jazz trio channels Isaac Hayes-era soul and groove. Instant chill that makes you feel at least three times cooler than you really are.
“Dust” – HAELOS
UK trio aims to update trip-hop for the 21st century. Whimsical Portishead, perhaps. Maybe the “ae” in their name aims to suggest general joviality.
“Blood On Me” – Sampha
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but these blurbs are growing increasingly lesser. 70 blurbs is approximately my breaking point for new thoughts. Most “Best of” lists would have a number of different writers tossing out blurbs. Divide and conquer. The staff at 30Hz numbers 2. I count my cat as an employee because he likes to sit on the keyboard when I write bl-g words. So now that I’ve padded the word count on this blurb to make it look more legitimate and change the brief / brief / brief cadence, I’ll tell you all I know about Sampha. He made guest appearances on every record in 2016 (no fibs), released this song and plans to release a debut full-length in 2017.
“Frankie Sinatra” – Avalanches
Was there a more anticipated release in 2016 that was met with more deafening indifference? Listen, I know we all wanted a world-changing record from Avalanches. After all, they made us wait 16 years for their follow up to the actual world-changing Since I Left You. Avalanches just needed us to listen to Wildflower with reasonable expectations. I first greeted this track with a little bit of side-eye. 16 years and this is all you’ve got? But the more that record played and the more Danny Brown’s unpredictable lyrical flow infiltrated my brain, the more essential “Frankie Sinatra” became. The only bad thing about Wildflower is that it isn’t Since I Left You — which remains *the* landmark record of sampling innovation.
“Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
What’s special about this song? Well, let me return to a concept that I consider essential to pop-culture appreciation — the notion of synesthesia nostalgia. I first wrote about the connection between music and film as one of the first bl-g posts I published on this site. Back when I wrote and thought about things more deeply to purge demons and whatnot. “Drive It Like You Stole It” stands as a testament to that connection. John Carney’s film provided one of the few truly authentic feel good moments of my 2016 — and this soundtrack, in its pitch-perfect echoes of the 1980’s popular music that I adore — just makes me smile. Music should do that from time to time. Gleefully reveling in a kind of nostalgia as a way to escape the demons chasing you.
“Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)” (feat. James Graham) – Minor Victories
I didn’t even add this song to the preliminary 2016 Hits list until late in the year. After one particular spin of the Minor Victories record I finally focused in on the vocals. “Is that James Graham?” I asked my 4yo. She said, “Yes!” without even hesitating. She likes to be agreeable when it has no bearing on her ability to have or not have dessert or go to the playground. James Graham, of course, is the lead singer for the Twilight Sad. Once I focused in on the “Scattered Ashes” vocal track, I was smitten. “Tell me what it’s all about / Shed tears for God’s rejected / Cut the cord, rewind the ending / Take my life back to the start” fronting an impenetrable wall of sound.
“River” – Bishop Briggs
Ballsy Scottish diva drops killer beats and befriends a gospel choir.
“Common Sense” – School ’94
Pop-friendly Swedish shoegaze. Nifty bassline and easy-breezy vocals from Alice Botéus. Perhaps a founding member of the Norwegian happy-time indie-rock movement along with the above-featured Sun Days and 2015 favorite Makthaverskan.
“Wardenclyffe” – S U R V I V E
Austin, Texas based analog electronic quartet has answered our pleas for a modern Goblin. (Maybe we didn’t necessary beg for a new Goblin, but a little revisionist history won’t hurt in this particular instance.) After contributing songs to The Guest (which in my mind were the best things about the movie), two members — Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein — produced the soundtrack to Stranger Things.
“Don’t Worry About Me” – Frances
Place yourself in a quiet room. Turn on “Don’t Worry About Me” and just sit.
“We the People…” – A Tribe Called Quest
Socially conscious, imminently relevant and a killer beat. This Tribe record will lead us through the fog of 2016 and beyond.
“Modern Act” – Cloud Nothings
More lo-fi guitar-driven pop rock from Cloud Nothings. I should dislike this track. The band exchanged a slight case of head-banging for a Top 40 hook… but goddamn its just so f’ing catchy and still boasts some exquisite scuzzy guitar work.
“Sister” – Angel Olsen
FINALLY! The Top 10. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief. Only a few more of these to go and then we can go our separate ways. Angel Olsen’s vocals on “Sister” transcend the rest of MY WOMAN… and I really really really like everything she’s ever done. This is a tempered, calculating Angel — using breath and silence to amplify the highs and provide extra depth where her fragile voice trails away, desperate, lonely, before building back up, hopeful, motivated. Cue guitar. Cue raucous jam. Check out her XMU Session live recording for this track if you can track it down.
“Life Itself” – Glass Animals
I’m in for a conga line. I tried to onomatopoeia the drum beat in this track; I just can’t. You try. Post your best Glass Animals onomatopoeia in the comments. Best one gets a free album download. Go. This is the reader participation segment.
“Hurts” – Emili Sandé
I’ve been trying to come up with a worthy title for Emili Sandé. Something like the Grande Dame of Gospel Hip-hopera. What do you think, sirs?
“Radio Kids” – Strand of Oaks
I’ve been to Goshen, Indiana so I feel comfortable suggesting that Tim Showalter is easily second best thing to ever come out of Goshen, Indiana. Howard Hawks also hails from the Elkhart County seat so I’m pretty sure he’s got the market cornered on most amazing Goshen export. This visceral, angsty rock track feels more War on Drugs than Strand of Oaks — but both bands are 30Hz countdown staples so no love lost here.
“Weak” – Wet
Listening to my 7yo perform Kelly Zutrau’s layered and repetitive echo-chamber vocals provides endless entertainment. A song of beautiful minimalism and subtle underlying synth.
“Burn the Witch” – Radiohead
I sometimes try to justify putting “Fake Plastic Trees” in my countdowns, at least this year I actually get to place a newly produced Radiohead song.
“Best to You” (feat. Empress Of) – Blood Orange
Rumor has it that Blood Orange (aka Devonté Hynes) thought this was a tossaway beat and didn’t know what the hell to do with it. He gave it to Empress Of (aka Lorely Rodriguez) and she came back with this vocal track. Reaction #1: Consider the fleeting and magical process by which artists create music — great music. How this track seems so natural, yet almost never came to pass. Reaction #2: Everyone needs better nicknames because Blood Orange and Empress Of are killing it.
“On Hold” – The xx
To me, Jamie xx is like the Wizard of Oz. I would love to sit in on a session to see how he works and creates. On the other hand, I don’t want to peek behind the curtain. He operates on an entirely different level than the rest of us mortals.
“Come Down” – Anderson .Paak
Speaking of beats. James Brown’s going to return from the dead to take this groovy-ass shit back.
“Hurt” – Låpsley
Not my typical choice for a #1. There’s no bombast. No melodramatic movements in four parts. Where’s the orchestra? Where’s the marching band? The toy instruments? “Hurt” is just the voice of British electronic singer/songwriter Holly Låpsley Fletcher and few ethereal electronic manipulation. But within apparent simplicity came bravado and depth and one of those choruses that makes you close your eyes and fancy yourself a tremendous chanteuse. “So if you’re gonna hurt me / why don’t you hurt me a little bit more / just dig a little deeper / just push a little harder than before.” In many ways these lines perfectly soundtrack our dumpster-fire year. Try harder, 2016, because you’re not going to break us.
Zero idea how this relates to scientist, astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan but it’s catchy enough that we should all be sufficiently distracted from investigative journalism.
“Breathe A*gain” – Couros
I fell for this track at the 52-second mark when this bit of ball-busting synth kicks in behind the placid vocals. I know nothing about this fellow who calls himself Couros but I’m going to need more than this four song EP, buddy.
“What You Get” – DIANA
Did you noticed I changed the color of the flames behind the numbers when I hit #50? Nice, huh? I thought change was in order. Back on topic. I became an instant DIANA fan after their 2013 record Perpetual Surrender. Super breezy, light-as-air vocals with the weight of a thousand heartbreaks and some nice musicianship that could have snuck into a late 70’s Hall & Oates hit.
“Black Crow” – Beyond the Wizards Sleeve
This ranks among the best non-Bond Bond songs in the history of James Bond. So much so that I retrofitted it into the opening for The World is Not Enough. Even Beyond the Wizards Sleeve liked it. “Black Crow” remains an oddity on the Wizards Sleeve record, which is a combination 60’s psychedelia and some electronic movement called “acid house.” If I were more hip with my electronic sub-sub-genres I’d explain what that actually meant.
“X-Communicate” – Kristin Kontrol
Kristen Welchez, aka Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls, decided she needed more thumping synths and less wall of guitar.
“Kogarishi” – Kikagaku Moyo
Tokyo-based low-key psych-folk pleasantries in the mold of the Fleet Foxes. Their broader range of influences found on their album includes Krautrock, Indian ragas and psychedelia. Music for people who want to bop idly.
“Doing It To Death” – The Kills
“It” is what you think, and the Kills barely veil “it” with any innuendo whatsoever… which is why it’s so comical/horrifying when my daughters (4 and 7) walk around singing “Double six’ing it night after night / we’re doing it to death / oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” — which in a weird way is a step up from their obsession with Tove Lo’s ode to wasted nights and recreational drug use.
“Heaven Sent” – Parker Millsap
Another late 2016 arrival on my countdown. Parker Millsap writes bluesy Americana songs with a slice of gospel. He sings like a weathered baseball glove. Cognitive dissonance strikes hard when you actually see Parker Millsap and he looks like he’s gone AWOL from his high school glee club. A remarkable talent with three records already under his belt.
“Sunday Love” – Bat for Lashes
Natasha Khan channels Kate Bush, fancies herself more grounded Bjork. On her fourth record (all of them excellent), 2016’s The Bride, Bat for Lashes proves she’s equal to those lofty influences.
“Beneath Fields” – Heron Oblivion
100 songs is a lot of blurbs. Trust me. I’m writing them. And I’d be impressed/flattered if you’re still reading them at this point. You probably started at the beginning intending to read them all, sure… but then the 60’s hit and you scanned a bunch of those, growing very weary of all of this, before skipping this page entirely in order to get to the prime-time 25. I get it. I do. You’re busy. I’m busy. It’s the holiday season. Tell you what. If you’re reading this, post a comment below telling me your 41st favorite song of the year. I won’t fact check. But it’ll be a personal understanding between the two of us. You care enough to read through the 40’s and I cared enough to write them for you. I’ll send anyone that posts their 41st favorite song one of my extra album download codes (while supplies last). Shhhhh. Don’t tell any of the arbs. It’ll be our secret. Also, this impressive debut record from psych-rockers Heron Oblivion sneaks up on you. Elaborate orchestration, sweeping, melodramatic movements. More than worthy of being your #41.
“Somebody Else” – The 1975
Fun fact: I hated this record the first time I heard it. Last week I considered three different songs from the 1975 for this countdown. That’s tied for the most with Minor Victories, Weyes Blood, A Tribe Called Quest and Savages — 4 records that will definitely appear on my Best Albums of 2016 list. We hear and digest music in strange ways. So much of that initial impression relies on mystic things like biorhythms (a word I first learned while playing Double Dribble for the NES) and appropriate presentation and venue and a willingness to let the music present itself on the artist’s terms — not according to your own rigid routines. It’s remarkable, really.
“Tuck” – Katie Gately
Experimental electronic musician that trades in beats, eccentric mixology and abstract international soundscapes. “Tuck” feels discordant, mismatched samples and loops that slowly settle into something perfectly aligned. You might not hear the unified harmony on the first or even second listen, but let it simmer, let the music come to you.
“Highway Anxiety” – William Tyler
Tyler has popped up on Best of 2016 lists from both NPR and Pitchfork. He’s worked with artists like Bonnie Prince Billy, Silver Jews, Lambchop and Hiss Golden Messenger. His father wrote songs for Kenny Rogers, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Oak Ridge Boys. William Tyler’s music is acoustic, melodic, post-rock country guitar. Gorgeous melodies, patient crescendos. A soundscape for the chapless urban cowboy of 2016.
“Your Best American Girl” – Mitski
One of the worthiest buzz records of 2016. Mitski released an excellent record in 2014 called Bury Me at Makeout Creek, but people have finally properly discovered this dynamic, vibrant indie-rock songstress.
“So Here We Are” – Gordi
Australia’s Sophie Payton steals some voice modulator mojo and sneaks into my 2016 countdown with an emotional gutcheck track that bests anything produced by modulator-lover Bon Iver this year. I’m sorry, Bon Iver fanboys and girls, but it’s true.
“Don’t Need to Be Them” – The Sun Days
After some emotional turbulence I need to turn this countdown around with a happy fun time track designed to get your head nodding. This accessible slice of indie-pop craftsmanship from Sweden’s The Sun Days features a constant wall of jangly guitars behind Elsa Fredriksson Holmgren’s sturdy vocals. You probably won’t think about it after the final snare, but you’ll dig it in the moment. Great music doesn’t always leave scars.
“You Ain’t a Star” – Psychic Temple
Thanks to Aquarium Drunkard for turning me onto this excellent album. I’m tired of using the term “psych” to preface anything that even remotely channels 1960’s-era psychedelia, but the band put it right there in its name so maybe it doesn’t nee repeating. Complex and layered musicianship rewards with full immersion and great amplification. Immerse yourself in Psychic Temple.
“Nobody Speak” (feat. Run the Jewels) – DJ Shadow
Whenever Run the Jewels appears they’re worthy of a countdown. DJ Shadow provides the beats. Run the Jewels provides a flow that punches like f’ing Mike Tyson. “Picture this / I’m a bag of dicks / put me to your lips / I am sick / I will punch a baby bear in his shit”
“Everything Is Happening Today” – Flock of Dimes
Flock of Dimes elevates me. Wye Oak’s singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner channels Tracy Thorn (much more so than Wye Oak), and there’s just something about this music that resonates at the frequency of 30Hz. We all need music that resonates at our own personal frequencies. To pick us up. To marshal us through our bad. To provide insurance during the good.
“Same Old Blues” – Phantogram
Other than that Big Boi collaboration last year I’ve never felt this widespread Phantogram love. Until now. “Same Old Blues” serves up soulful electro-pop that’ll turn the strongest willed humans into delusional shower crooners.
“What You Really Mean” – Violent Femmes
I could do karaoke to this song. I wouldn’t do it justice, but it fits into my vocal range. And for that I’ve always loved the Violent Femmes.
“Florida” – The Range
An electronic music producer from the hotbed of…. Providence, Rhode Island? The Range’s claim to fame is the thousands of samples he pulled from YouTube to assemble this record. The album’s a masterpiece of modern digital obsession. “Florida” provides a layman-accessible entrance into virtuoso kitchen sink electronica.
“The Spoils” – Massive Attack, Hope Sandoval
The Japanese have a word for the meaningful silence in music — ma. Massive Attack understands ma. They embrace ma in order to create masterpieces of melancholy electronic soundscapes. With the right vocalist these minimal compositions will stop time. “The Spoils” brings us to the painful, immediate present. The beautiful torture of being aware of your own humanity.
“Get Out” – Frightened Rabbit
Wondering who I can get in touch with to become the Hype Man for Frightened Rabbit. I imagine it involves drinking and telling everyone you know about this amazing band called Frightened Rabbit. I already do this; I just think I should get paid for it.
“Yesterday” – Yumi Zouma
Every so often you happen across a record, a record that comes out of nowhere to cause shock and disbelief. It’s the “it’s 4am, I’m drunk and every record sounds like when I heard Pet Sounds for the first time” kind of awesome. Only it was 3pm, I was undercaffeinated and staring at 10 pages I needed to copyedit for 5pm. This New Zealand band clubbed me upside the head with electro-pop and I’m still dizzy from impact.
Another hard-driving thumper from an indie-rapper who can do no wrong. Also, I have quite literally no idea what this song is about.
“Alaska” – Maggie Rogers
The result of a singer/songwriter weened on Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Berklee School of Music songwriting champion. Crafty electronic production and a simple hook.
“Wrong” – Big Smoke
Diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer in 2015, Adrian Slattery rushed to finish Big Smoke’s debut album in between surgery and chemotherapy. Before Slattery passed in May of this year, he asked Alabama Shakes producer Shawn Everett to come down under to help the band finish the record. The record’s a posthumous testament to a talent taken too soon, and “Wrong” is the earnest, Americana-esque rocker that swells with heart and hope in the face of the heartless human condition.
“Eva” – HAERTS
The first time I heard HAERTS — sometime in 2013 — I couldn’t stop raving about the song “Wings.” I tossed that little pop ditty into the 2013 Best Songs countdown. This is the evolution of HAERTS from accessible, pop-forward melody to sweeping, melodrama indie-pop that remains immediately engaging, largely due to Nina Fabi’s fragile voice that sounds as if it might crumble right before your ears.
“Casual Party” – Band of Horses
I’m one of those assholes that scoffs when someone tells me that they’re a fan of Band of Horses, because they haven’t made a decent record since 2007, maybe 2010 if I’m being generous. See? An asshole. I wrote off 2016 Why Are You Ok before even hearing a single track. So… my bad.
“Lost Boys” – Still Corners
We last heard Still Corners in 2013, when they released an underrated, dreamy record called Strange Pleasures. The band’s readjusted their focus on 2016’s Dead Blue, which emphasizes synths and cinematic revelry. “Lost Boys” is straight up 1980’s glam, flickering neon and glow-in-the-dark fluorescence.
“I Know That You Know” – Leslie Odom, Jr.
The world works in strange ways. Like how I watched the PBS documentary on Hamilton and learned the next day that the guy playing Aaron Burr had released a jazz vocals album with a Willie Nelson cover. While most of the record isn’t exactly my speed of lite contemporary jazz, “I Know That You Know” serves up a piece of vibrant, rage-against-the-dying-light piano composition that serves as a bombastic crescendo for Odom’s love-weary vocals.
“Higher” – Carly Rae Jepsen
Putting modern pop stars to shame with a B-sides record that’s better than most other divas’ A-game. Tricky little synths, a steady beat and Jepsen’s infectious hooks.
Shamelessly stolen from The Guardian’s list for the Best of 2016. If Guy’s timbre sounds familiar its because he fronted a little band called Elbow. (Don’t call me, Guy, buddy.) “Open the Door” is alt-rock Carnival, a roving, percussive band of minstrels sharing joy and a steady rhythm. I’ll admit in advance that if I’d had more time to absorb the record this track would have likely further climbed the charts.
“Control” – The Operators
Dan Boeckner could front a middle school band that only covers Smashmouth and I’d probably still chart it.
“With Her” (Chad Valley Remix) – Banoffee
Banoffee (Martha Brown) released “With Her” on her 2015 EP Do I Make You Nervous. Chad Valley’s made a living of late remixing and improving other artists’ work. Here, Chad Valley, aka Hugo Manuel takes Banoffee’s “With Her” and brings out the natural ebb and flow of the song, bridging the gaps in Banoffee’s uneven production with constant, fluttering background synth. The isolation and simplification of Banoffee’s vocal track further streamlines, creating a unified, more perfect version of the original track.
“Go!” – M83 (featuring Mai Lan)
I’ve changed my mind about this song so many times that I’m just going to go ahead and write this really fast so I don’t boot it off the charts again. Do not let my complicated love/hate relationship with this song somehow misrepresent my uncomplicated feelings about the disaster of an M83 record from which this hails.
“Settle Down” – Twin River
It’s not a 30Hz “Best of” countdown without some Canadian indie-rock jangle-pop up in your face.
“Faces” Damien Taylor Remix – David Hollebon
Hollebon’s greatest asset is his voice. He undermines his voice, which actually shares a register with Spoon’s Britt Daniel, with a tendency towards overproduction. Producer Damien Taylor introduces a slow build to the track, drawing anticipation for the grand crescendo, and final cathartic release of Hollebon’s full vocal capacity.
“In Heaven” – Japanese Breakfast
One of many sweet little ditties from Michelle Zauner. As Japanese Breakfast, she crafted one of the finest pieces of pure pop or indie-pop available in 2016. Original hooks, tinkly synths, grounded lyrics. She walked a dangerous tightrope above a saccharine pit of failed pop artists and came out with one of the finest records of the year.
“Tearing Me Up” – Bob Moses
High-school chums from Brooklyn bond over a love of 90’s punk, go their separate ways, re-team after individually working in the far off lands of Euro-techno and singer/songwriterdom to create a bouncy, bluesy, home-cooked killer jam.
“Turn Me On” – Dinner
Electro-pop Future, meet Electro-pop Past. It’s all about the primal pairing of toms and synth and lusty lady whispers.
“Used to Be” – Weyes Blood
Weyes Blood aka multi-instrumentalist Natalie Mering released the singer-songwriter record of the year. Sorry, Angel Olsen. Soaring vibrattos, layered instrumentation, complex emotional transcripts. Karen Carpenter backed by Angelo Badalamenti.
“Lying Has to Stop” – Soft Hair
Experimental sexy time music that fancies Flight of the Conchords and Marvin Gaye in equal measure.
“The End of Reason” – Kate Jackson
Kate Jackson, former frontwoman for the Long Blondes, 1990’s Debbie Harry, noughties fashion icon, crafts pop about driving on the U.K. highway system. Honest. It’s great to have her back — no matter the source of her inspiration.
“Take the Wheel” – Fort Frances
The best song you’d ever hear on a Starbucks coffeeshop playlist. I’m guessing. I get that chill, too-cool for drip coffee vibe from this band, purveyor of edgy Americana.
“Giant” – Banks & Steelz
I get all kinds of warm and fuzzies when rock artists team with rap artists to make a record. I still consider the Judgment Night soundtrack one of the best records ever released. I’m that delusional. Overall, I didn’t love the Banks & Steelz record, but I couldn’t shake this track despite how “easy” it felt. Like the chorus was just a tossaway Paul Banks (Interpol) scribble and the bits in between were filled with RZA being RZA. On the flipside of that — what the hell’s wrong with tossaway bits of Paul Banks songs and RZA being RZA? Not a damn thing. I surrender. Turn it up, maybe.
“Breaking My Light” – Minor Victories
Gloomy, otherworldly shoegaze supergroup featuring members of Slowdive, The Editors and Mogwai. Fly, decadent sadness, fly.
“Badges” – Yohuna
Sober, minimal soundtracking for sad sacks staring at the rising sun with the reluctant acceptance of a new day.
“Lazarus” – David Bowie & “You Want It Darker” – Leonard Cohen
I find it impossible to remove emotion from these two songs. Is each as good as I think? The swan songs from two of our most legendary musical artists, bowing out as only they could — with some of the most emotionally turbulent songs of their storied careers. You cannot distance either of these songs from the death of the artist. Therefore, I’m putting them here — technically outside the countdown — and yet bigger and more important than the countdown itself.
“Who’s Got You Singing Again” – PREP
The mid-tempo soft-funk burner comes from London’s PREP, who released their debut EP this year. Three words: Sincere. Jazz. Flute. I treat my countdowns like massive mixtapes. “Who’s Got You Singing Again” comes out of those David Bowie/Leonard Cohen tearjerkers with a much needed sense of hope.
“Mercy” – Eric Bachmann
The doo-wop-wop-wop intro gives way to a songwriter crooning melancholy existentialism, but with a catchy little hook. “Take your idols and fables / trick your mind so you’ll be able / to deal with pain and death and loss of those you love.” Despite all the song’s talk of emptiness and senseless pain, Bachmann makes your heart grow two sizes.
“Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)” – White Denim
Neo-soul begins its global takeover — or at least it’s relative omnipresence of this particular countdown — here. Funky falsetto backed by some Stax-era orchestration encourages random acts of unfortunate sing-along.
“What’s It Gonna Be” – Shura
Self-assured pop debut that channels Janet Jackson and Madonna at the most pop-forward points in their career. Shura, aka 25yo Alexsandra Denton, strikes right to the heart on this ultimatum song — is it forever or is it never? she asks, nay, she demands in the most danceable way ever.
“Man” – Skepta
U.K grime vet churned out one of the best rap records of the year and earned a Mercury Prize over sentimental favorite David Bowie. “Man” stands out as the highlight. Skepta’s tireless, persistent delivery found a fan in Drake, who pushed the record stateside. Therefore, Skepta’s Konnichiwa is also the best thing Drake’s ever done.
“Doctor Doctor” – Oh Pep!
It’s only an Khan-brand (TM) earworm if it’s not good. Lucky for us all, Australia’s female duo Oh Pep! lives up to their exclamation point. You won’t mind when this bounces around your noggin for a few days.
“Sleaze” – Klangstof
Psych-pop Amsterdam-based band featuring a Norwegian singer and producer weened on Radiohead and Sigar Rós and inspired of late by Alt-J. They fall squarely in between all of those bands to become something else — something immediate, atmospheric and accessible. “Hostage” may have been the more widely accessed cut, but this is the one that represents, in my mind, the band at maximum potency.
“Ladies Don’t Play Guitar” – Tennis
It’s not because I have the slightest of indirect connections to this band that they keep popping up on my countdowns — lead singer Alaina Moore’s my former and longtime dental hygienist’s younger cousin — it’s that they have an uncanny talent for channeling a lazy, retro, mid-tempo vibe. And that lazy, retro, mid-tempo vibe seems to be my preferred frequency. On this particular track, the lyrics “Tell me what can I give / If all my work is bleak and abstracted / Tried to build a legacy / That will not complicate the future of your own progeny,” feels very now and 2016 necessary.
“Branches Break” – GoGoPenguin
You may not have noticed but this experimental jazz trio was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize back in 2012. I could have picked a number of songs to represent GoGoPenguin, but I chose “Branches Break” as a fine intersection of classic three-part jazz composition and glitchy experimentation. If you fancy the experimentation more, check out “Protest.” If you fancy classical jazz, give “GBFISHYSIH” a listen.
“Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow
Stockholm’s Miike Snow’s solidified their place as a reliable indie-pop chart-topper with their 2016 album iii. This, their second single from the record, relies on a slick hook that could have come from a better, more electric version of Maroon 5. It’s pronounced “Mike” Snow, by the way. The two “i” thing helps with Google searches I’d imagine.
“Degraded (Edit)” – Preoccupations
The Band Formerly Known as Viet Cong. People call this “art-rock” but I have no idea what that means. I’ll call it scuzzy, cynical post-punk. The album version of “Degraded” takes ages to find its groove; this “edit” gets the point, stays there, needles you some more.
“Hands of Time” – Margo Price
Every year I seem to champion one “country” artist. This year, the 30Hz Recommended banner hung from the back of Margo Price’s pickup. This Emmylou or Loretta for the 21st century spins short stories through her songs, and this heartbreaking ballad oozes nostalgia for shattered ideals, childhood freedoms and a bygone era of country music.
“Can’t Let Go, Juno” – Kishi Bashi
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist K Ishibashi toured as a violinist for Sondre Lerch, Regina Specter and Of Montreal before going solo under the monicker Kishi Bashi. His 2014 sophomore record Lighght is an eclectic morsel of sonic pop-experimentation and “Can’t Let Go, Juno” picks up where that record left off. If you have a chance to see him on tour, likely opening for someone less talented, do so. And get a front row seat.
“Kismet Kill” – Haley Bonar
Canadian-born singer/songwriter Haley Bonar unfairly occupies a less visible indie strata than the similarly-styled Aimee Mann but also inspires comparisons to Mazzy Star with intermittent walls of guitar — as on “Kismet Kill,” her standout track from the 2016 album Impossible Dream.
“Crying in Public” – Chairlift
Just yesterday I learned that after ten years, Caroline and Patrick, the electro-pop duo known as Chairlift, has called it quits. Caroline will begin a solo career, and Patrick plans to focus on producing. That their final record, Moth, may have been their finest, most accomplished collection of music is a bittersweet send off. And this track, this soul-wrenching ballad about unrequited love, also happened to be the very first track I selected — way back on January 23rd — for a spot on this Best of 2016 countdown.
“Triumph ’73” – The Felice Brothers
These brothers from New York City via the Catskill Mountains channel a raw blend of folk music and Americana and clearly have a thing for Bob Dylan and Uncle Tupelo.
“Atomic Number” – case/lang/veirs
The indie-folk supergroup of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs sing like angels. Hell, maybe they are actual angels. I wouldn’t be surprised. Their voices envelop you with sweet, sweet comfort indie-folk. Like sitting in a chair of marshmallows drinking a glass of straight whiskey.
“Silly Me” – Yeasayer
Tossup between “Silly Me” and “I Am Chemistry” for Yeasayer representation on the Best Songs of 2016 countdown. Yeasayer occupies the 201x role of the Talking Heads. Constant experimentation, mid-tempo pop sensibility with an eye towards album construction and identity. Plus they called me out on Twitter when I said I wasn’t entirely sure about their latest record after an first listen. The band told me to be patient with Amen & Goodbye; they were right.
“I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore” – Lucy Dacus
Singer/songwriter with a streak of punk — but the punk elements imbue her music with a warmth and relatability. She’s an everygirl, making cutting and purposeful observations about social mores and the burdens of being young, smart and female in the 21st century.
“Below” – White Lung
An infectious ballad from loud, infamous punk rockers. At face value, “Below” is the most un-White Lung track in their entire catalog. Take another listen to the blistering drums and driving guitar that propel this ersatz “power ballad.” This is punk, melodic and intelligible, but punk rock nonetheless.
“Gamesofluck” – Parcels
Australia’s new wave disco act calls themselves Parcels and dislikes spaces in their track titles. They haven’t yet released a full LP or even an EP, but they’ve teased us with two excellent, highly danceable daytime disco tracks and I need more. We all need more happy-time.
“Bum Bum Bum” – Cass McCombs
Low-key guitar, tempered vocals, organ, bits of synth and understated greatness. I’ve never been a big fan of Cass McCombs but this song and his latest album Mangy Love have caused me to re-evaluate all of my old opinions regarding McCombs’ AM-radio sonic thoroughfare. Quite simply — I was grossly mistaken about Cass McCombs.
“Sun City Creeps” – Woods
Even a lesser Woods record deserves your ears. Wah-wah guitar, psychedelia and a smattering of Ennio Morricone bring out a more melodic side of Woods… and then the guitar solo — a playful, sure-fingered groove that could have only come from this lo-fi Brooklyn indie/freak folk/psych/jam institution.
“Love & Hate” – Michael Kiwanuka
The title track from Michael Kiwanuka’s brilliant second album serves as a testament to the UK neo-soulster’s growing isolation and disillusionment. The son of Ugandan emigrants, Kiwanuka presents sincere retro-styled tracks in the mode of Bill Withers and even Van Morrison. The lyrics will crush you, and the familiar orchestrations will sooth you — leaving you somewhere in the grey purgatory between the lines.
“Electric” – Brett
For their latest album, the electronic art-pop outfit claims to have been influenced by Jean Luc-Godard’s latest film Goodbye to Language. I don’t know how that informs anyone’s listening experience, but I can say that Brett’s album Mode allows listener identification and proximity whereas their 2014 debut stressed colder, synthetic isolation. I much prefer this direction. Also check out “Dans Un Autre Reve,” another standout track that just barely missed the final cut.
In honor the official meme of 2016 — the dumpster fire, I’ve also shifted my Best Songs of 2016 title from Killer Jams to Smokin’ Tracks. (Get it? Because the tracks are on fire!) I’m more than happy to light the fuse on this m’f’er known as 2016 and close the blast doors. As 2016 dealt blow after blow, many of us turned to music for solace. The year produced some of the most amazing music of the last decade. From the opening volleys of January until these last, merciful breaths of December, artists turned out beautiful, meaningful, socially conscious, melodic, energetic, hopeful, angry, militant, soul-affirming music — the soundtrack of 2016, the reminder that all is not lost — that all is never lost as long as there is music steering our ships through the blackest night. As one of hundreds (thousands?) of music writers churning out their “year end” lists, it’s our job as a collective community to make sure that all of this good doesn’t gets consumed by the quaking quagmire.
Commence the 30Hz 100 Best Songs of 2016 Countdown
Every year since 2005, my friend Mike at bsidesnarrative.com and I have been compiling our “Best of” lists. It’s a competition without a winner or a loser. It’s a way for us to communicate about music and share our thoughts without being able to chat as much as we’d like anymore. The above link will take you to his list.
2016 could have been known as The Year the Music Died. David Bowie, Glen Frey, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Prince, Guy Clark, Ralph Stanley, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones. The innovative. The inspirational. The poetic. Instead of mourning these legends, let us celebrate the music they gave us and the music they still inspire. Three of these artists appear on Best Songs of 2016 list, but their ongoing influence cannot be measured.
I always use this pre-show countdown to enter a disclaimer about how I consume and sample new music. I see no reason to quit a solid holiday tradition. My preliminary “Hits List” of any track that might fill a final spot on the countdown swelled past 300 this year, a new record… and I’ve been doing this for 11 years now. I obsessively listen to new release lists every single week in order to appear competent while compiling my “Best of” lists. This is serious business. And yes, it stresses me out, especially now, as I’m filling out the final roster with brutal, gut-wrenching cuts to songs that have been with me nearly all year.
Even if I were exhausted from listening to new music every week — and I am — I couldn’t stop. They never stop making new music. I do this because I listen to so many people tell me that “nobody releases good music anymore.” When someone tells me this, I can’t help but shrug and try not to offend. What they’re telling me is that they’re too lazy to do anything but turn on the radio or tell Pandora to play an algorithmically generated (read: soulless) playlist. The music is out there. You just have to look. A little.
Music is as vibrant and creative as its ever been… probably more so due to the unlimited avenues available for independent distribution. Here’s the flipside, however — there’s so much volume that it might be overwhelming. Find a writer or a blog or a bl-gger (ahem) that you trust, whose tastes align with or challenge your own. There are many great blogs out there that filter through the seas of information to pick their favorite tracks. A few times a month I visit Said the Gramophone and My Old Kentucky Blog. I read and consider reviews at Consequence of Sound and mock Pitchfork whenever possible. I write reviews infrequently for the Toronto-based Spill Magazine (as time permits). It’s out there.
Even if all you do is check in at the end of the year for my Best of 2016 list, I’m good with that, too. I put a lot of work into these countdowns and I’m happy you’re stopping by to hear/discover/enjoy music. After all, “Best of” is really just a misnomer. These are the tracks that moved me — a small cross-section of the music that filled my year, unfairly distilled into individual bullet points and rankings.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.