Best Of


best songs of 2016

Return to Best Songs of 2016 #75 – #51

 

 

50“Carl Sagan” – Night Moves

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.

 

46“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.

 

45“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.

 

44“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.

 

43“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.

 

42“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.

 

40“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.

 

39“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.

 

38“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.

 

36“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.

 

35“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.

 

34“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.

 

33“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”

 

32“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.

 

31“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.

 

30“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.

 

29“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.

 

28“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.

 

27“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.

 

26“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.

 

101 – 76   /  75 – 51   /  50 – 26  /   25 – 1

 

 

 

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best songs of 2016

Return to Best Songs of 2016 #101 – #76

 

 

75

“Mystery Fish” – Aesop Rock

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.

 

74“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.

 

73“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.

 

72

“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.

 

71

“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.

 

70“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.

 

69“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.

 

68“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.

 

67“L.I.E.” – Postiljonen

Mystical Stockholm dreampop outfit that sounds like M83 waxing nostalgic and pining for that secret sixth grade crush at 3am with a gin cocktail. (The best track on their record, “The Open Road,” was released last year as a single and appeared on the Best Songs of 2015 as well.)

 

66“Open the Door” – Guy Garvey

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.

 

65“Control” – The Operators

Dan Boeckner could front a middle school band that only covers Smashmouth and I’d probably still chart it.

 

64“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.

 

63“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.

 

62“Settle Down” – Twin River

It’s not a 30Hz “Best of” countdown without some Canadian indie-rock jangle-pop up in your face.

 

61“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.

 

60“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.

 

59“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.

 

58“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.

 

57

“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.

 

56“Lying Has to Stop” – Soft Hair

Experimental sexy time music that fancies Flight of the Conchords and Marvin Gaye in equal measure.

 

55“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.

 

54“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.

 

53

“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.

 

52“Breaking My Light” – Minor Victories

Gloomy, otherworldly shoegaze supergroup featuring members of Slowdive, The Editors and Mogwai. Fly, decadent sadness, fly.

 

51“Badges” – Yohuna

Sober, minimal soundtracking for sad sacks staring at the rising sun with the reluctant acceptance of a new day.

 

 

101 – 76   /   75 – 51   /  50 – 26 /   25 – 1

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