A little late to the Best Songs of 2020 party is fashionable. You’re tired of all the rest, now it’s time to read, well, just another list.
This is my yearly countdown of the best songs (as dictated by me, of course) from the past year. It’s already January 13th, which means that most of you sonic go-getters have already moved on to anticipating the fruits of 2021. I’ve been operating at a different pace for damn well near a year now (because 2020) so 13 days late just feels… right.
First, I’ll present my standard disclaimers. I’m just one listener. I read blogs and share picks and discuss new finds with my partner in listing, B-Sides Narrative aka Michael Smith (@BSidesNarrative on the Twatter); but I’m still just one pair of ears and one set of limiting and finicky preferences. A year ago I would have been paid for making observations such as these (believe it or not people paid me to hear my thoughts on music) so you’re getting unfiltered, unadulterated 30Hz for the cost of free. As David Byrne said on Remain In Light, “same as it ever was.” I’ve been giving these notes away for free for more than a decade. (Speaking of David Byrne, you should absolutely watch American Utopia now streaming on HBO Max because it’s a document of one of the greatest live concerts I’ve ever seen. Plus, it’s a Spike Lee joint, which makes it even more mind-blowing as an intersection of two brilliant but face-value mismatched creative minds. Like the positive side of crossing the streams.)
If nothing else, 2020 gave us reason to crave escape — be it through movies or music. I found many many many hours of solace in Bill Evans (this will come as no surprise to anyone in my family) — namely the albums Undercurrents and Moonbeams. I even found my 11yo daughter reading in her room listening to Bill Evans because “it was the only chill music that I could think of.” That’s called top of mind awareness. It’s also called molding young minds. As a result of this new listening trajectory, the kinds of music I consumed shifted. The frequency with which I sought out new and obscure music changed as well. Once the music magazine for which I was writing folded in April of 2020, my priorities shifted from “discovery mode” to “maintenance mode.” What’s next became what’s great and familiar. Oddly, I’m not sure that I heard more new music, but I heard and found many more different kinds of music. I dabbled in more contemporary jazz artists, world music and experimental. I can’t claim that too much of it is represented in my Best of 2020 Songs list, but it informed and broadened my palette for adventure. Instead you’ll find a similar assortment of electro-dream-pop and pulsing disco beats alongside the side dishes of alt-country and distressed bedroom singer-songwriters.
Keep digging through those crates. Keep searching for more music. Those unique voices and heartfelt pleas for change and hope and the sorrow of loss and life. Music, more than ever, needs to help guide us through the quagmire… and maybe some of these songs will help.
Spotify Playlist (Top 124):
30Hz Top 25 Best Songs of 2020:
“Say the Name” – clipping.
A call to words and/or arms. A protest song. Experimental, alt-rap from Daveed Diggs, aka Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson. This is the flowiest absence of flow you’ve ever heard. The cadence and language rattles in your brain, a train of the future forever arriving from the distance, just beyond sight.
“Blue Comanche” – Westerman
Smooth, buttery sonic landscapes fronted by hushed, high-pitched and hopeful vocals. My year-long tally of “hits” that struck a chord featured five songs from Westerman — the most of any other artist in 2020. This is the music that soothed savage souls.
“god’s chariots” – Oklou
I first heard Oklou on a long, late-night drive. Everyone else in the car had fallen asleep and the highway stretched out infinitely into the future. No cars, no sights other than the concrete under my headlights. Ethereal vocals and hookish electronic beats soundtracked the moment better than anything I could have chosen. The electronic artist of my year.
“Lilacs” – Waxahatchee
This could have been four other Waxahatchee songs from their latest LP, Saint Cloud. It doesn’t matter. Put them all here. I spread a few out over my 100+ countdown but Waxahatchee is a mood. Not quite country, not quite folk, not exactly alt. Katie Crutchfield’s voice speaks to everyone through its familiarity, relatability, sturdy during swells and fragile when it all falls apart.
“Lovers (Home Made)” – Anna of the North
A singer can manufacture emotion through nothing more than precise control of their vocal accentuations. The tenuous connections between syllables bears great responsibility. This one tears tears me the fuck up because the Oslo-based Anna Lotterud allows breath between perfectly chosen syllables, the breakdown of the artist, the deconstruction of the artistic creation. You’ll melt before she finally utters that “k” in “dark” during the very first verse.
“Live 4eva” – Magdalena Bay
I wrote about the promising home-brewed electro-pop upstarts Magdalena Bay for the now defunct music magazine Music Meet Fans. I’d link the article, but it’s been obliterated by the cruel mistress called failure. Mag Bay (Mica and Matthew) creates whip-smart little confections that take your face, kiss you full on the lips and leave you wanting more, more, more. Beats, relentless pluck and a deft musicality.
“Forever” – Nicole Atkins
Don’t you dare try to pin down Nicole Atkins with one of those reductionist music-industry labels. She’s Joni Mitchell Roy Orbison Steve Nicks Otis Redding Jefferson Starship. She’s a psychedelic soul singer songwriter. She’s a goddess. “Forever” lifted me up whenever it shuffled to the top. It’s not a song I would have necessarily chosen from an objective perspective, but it refused to not make me happy and that there’s a return on investment.
“4ÆM” – Grimes
Grimes channels Tibetan monks, block rockin’ beats, flight of the bumblebee and Martian dream logic. Just another Tuesday.
“JU$T” – Run the Jewels, featuring Zack de la Rocha, Pharrell Williams
I listened to a lot of garbage rap music in 2020 in search of the this spark that people claim is happening. It’s not for me. If you’re still telling me that Drake can rap, I’m turning down your volume. What’s that? I can’t hear that kind of stupid. I came of age when beats and rhymes (and samples) reigned supreme. What we hear today might be called progress, but apparently I’m a purist and that kind of progress sucks. El-P and Killer Mike have taken up the torch and this time they’ve got a bone to pick. No rap artist has produced more consistent greatness in the 21st century.
“Dionne” – The Japanese House, featuring Justin Vernon
The Japanese House channels Frou Frou. Remember Frou Frou? Hell yes you do. (Just say you do. Humor me.) Justin Vernon adds lo-fi soul like frosted tips. It might be possible to craft a song more perfectly aimed at unlocking my heart locker, but it would require an appearance from CHVRCHES.
“Paper Cup” – Real Estate, featuring Sylvan Esso
Lounging in a tepid pool, the morning after… pondering the limits of your own potential and holding a fruity cocktail in a Soho cup. You’re depressed that you’re right here at this moment, but you wouldn’t be anywhere else.
“Murder Most Foul” – Bob Dylan
I’m no Dylan acolyte, but this meditation on what we lost after the Kennedy assassination is Bob Dylan’s Iliad and his Odyssey.
“Spotlight” – Jessie Ware
Remember that troubling disco thread I mentioned in my list this year? This is just the blissful tip of the iceberg. Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? LP will make you question why the sounds of the 70’s ever disappeared. I’m even hearing some traces of Bill Conti’s score for For Your Eyes Only. I’m clearly deranged.
“Dying to Believe” – The Beths
New Zealand rrriot girls blister and burn through hooks and sass. Great guitar-driving rock was a rare sound in 2020, but this would have been a damn fine record in any year. This cut stayed with me from the start, meaning it was just as good with COVID as it was without. There’s something to be said for that kind of versatility.
“The Steps” – Haim
Haim’s new record found the band emerging from the long shadow of their ancestors and finding their own voice and creative vibe. Este’s new confidence in her vocal range, the merging of genres, the shifting tempo, a memorable hook. I’m a Haim junkie and I don’t care who knows it.
“Guilty Conscience” – 070 Shake
Danielle Balbuena calls herself an alternative hip-hop artist. This song doesn’t speak to that, but it does suggest that we have no clue how big this Jersey-born talent could get. No genre can hold her. Big voice, musicality, experimentalism. No reservations. If you find yourself swaying for no earthly reason you might be hearing the background synths to “Guilty Conscience” in the back of your brain.
“Cool for a Second” – Yumi Zouma and Japanese Wallpaper
Two of my favorite electro-pop/dream-pop artists unite and it’s like this song always existed, somewhere out in the cosmos, an ethereal tone above our comprehension. These two artists just turned the right frequency. If you’re just learning about Yumi Zouma or Japanese Wallpaper you’ve got listening to do. Prepare to be content beyond belief.
“Ferris Wheel” – Sylvan Esso
This duo just has an indefinable swagger. It’s a good song… and then there’s that call and response “hey” thing and that’s the earworm of the year. That one second. To which I can only surrender.
“So We Won’t Forget” – Khruangbin
Other than a certain buzzy lady named Phoebe, Khruangbin released the record of my year. This Houston trio could be spouting gibberish poems over these slick grooves and I wouldn’t care. Kitchen cleaner ads. Whatever you want, guys. These mellow vibes cut through the imprecise nature of language. I have no idea what any of these songs are about. Who cares? A fast ride on a plodding mule into the sunset — that’s the Khruangbin tempo.
“My God” – The Killers, featuring Weyes Blood
Brandon Flowers brought the Killers back from the dead with a new lineup, new guest vocalists (kd lang?!) and a new lease on life. I included “Caution” on last year’s list and Weyes Blood is also no stranger to my countdowns, having won the top album spot in two different years. This one wound up at #6 because this here’s a pair of artists I never knew I wanted together. If you’re still resisting the grotesque and garish beauty of this new album from the Killers, I don’t think I want your kind of juju tarnishing these vibes.
“Stay” – Valerie June
Tennessee soul artist teases further greatness with a one-off song release. See this girl live if you can, if concerts ever reconvene because she’s a force of nature, the anomalous intersection of New York soul and Tennessee folk music. She’s inimitable — a perfect distillation of the self through a singular sound.
“Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
Not much to say about The Weeknd that hasn’t already been said. I slept on this record and this song for months, but I’m glad I came back and gave it another chance. While I might not vibe with the album as much as his past efforts, it’s not for a lack of imagination. This guy’s a supernova and we’re just trying not to get burnt by the flames. It’s the synth that gets me, if I’m being honest.
“Breathe Deeper” – Tame Impala
Oh yeah. Tame Impala — how interesting. You would put Tame Impala on your list. Yeah. I would. Damn straight. Because while I’ve been a longtime fan, this album bangs by proxy. And “bangs by proxy” isn’t even the dumbest, most meaningless thing I wrote today. This is why I can’t write about music for more than an hour per day because things like that start making sense.
tie. “Too Late” – Washed Out tie. “4 American Dollars” – U.S. Girls
Okay, so confession. #2 is a tie because I miscounted and started my list at #26 instead of #25, but why waste mindless prose when you can just call #2 a tie and make everybody but Travis happy because they got left out at #27 and goddammit those Scots deserve to be happy, too. But I can justify this pairing as well. I flip-flopped these two songs back and forth until finally calling it a day and sealing the envelope. I sing both of these in the shower. I own both on vinyl and they’re both not my #1. So much in common. In any other non-Phoebe Bridgers, non CHVRCHES year they could have been #1. Both also exist on the same mid-tempo wavelength that channels A.M. radio and platinum artists of the 70’s. I’ve said nothing about either artist, but you’ve learned dark secrets about my listing convictions and that’s more than enough truth for one day.
“ICU” – Phoebe Bridgers
It was always ever going to be Phoebe Bridgers. Los Angeles’ favorite daughter dictated the moods of everyone she touched this year. It should come as no surprise that Punisher dominated my personal airwaves. When I first heard a Phoebe Bridgers song years ago, I championed this artist because she had something that others didn’t — her own thing, her personal pizzaz, in a sea of imitators. We’ve witnessed her potential grow in a few short years, but I’m convinced there’s still room for more. When Phoebe breaks down “ICU” just beyond the 2-minute mark, it’s easy to consider the song finished… a good, but then — HOLY MOSES! — it rises to a new crescendo, a transcendence above the other great songs on Punisher. The surge of bass and the layering of her vocals channels what I believe to be the purest form of spiritual enlightenment we mortals can achieve.
Welcome to the Best Songs of 2019 countdown. I’ll be your host.
I’ve compiled this list every year for more than a decade — since 2007 in fact. I exchange lists with Mike of B-Sides Narrative and we hem and haw and grumble about the songs we left off the list and the artists that we somehow didn’t hear during our sonic travels. There’s too much music for anyone to hear. I suppose you have a shot if your full-time job requires it. Even though I’m actually paid a small sum to write about music for Music Meet Fans, I barely even scratch the surface. I’d love to spend more time enjoying contemporary jazz, blues, and more experimental electronic music. I’m just one guy with a pavlovian response to female-fronted electro-pop outfits. Honestly if I didn’t consciously explore other artists, this list would consist of 80% female-fronted electro-pop. That’s my default setting. That’s the frequency that makes me purr.
The Best Songs of 2019 challenged me more than other years. My “Hits list” — the list that I assemble all year long featuring songs I’ve heard that I like/love/might grow to love ballooned to 300 in December as I tried to play catch up on all the music I missed. Selecting 100 became self-flagellation. So there’s 129 songs on my list. Sue me. Mike said I could. (He has more than 130!)
2019 challenged me in other ways, too. The volume of good music, the music that resonated, for one. Personally and professionally I had to confront a few demons as well. So these weren’t always just songs. These were sonic crutches. They were gateways to clarity and momentary peace. They were distractions and encouragement and moments of zen when the words just weren’t there. The right piece of music at the right time can improve your whole day. And if you improve every day with music, that’s a life.
Keep listening. Keep digging and keep searching for the music that resonates at your frequency. Don’t just turn on the radio and listen to whatever oldies channel comes on. Consciously dig deeper. The music that becomes yours doesn’t live on the surface. It lives in the shadows waiting to become exquisitely, personally yours.
Spotify Playlist (Top 128):
30Hz Top 25 Songs of 2019:
“Too Much” – Carly Rae Jepsen
I wish to have a sliver of the fun that Carly Rae Jepsen seems to have performing and being Carly Rae Jepsen. The Canadian pop icon’s music has grown up from her “Call Me Maybe” days. “Too Much” is mature pop songwriting from an artist that never seems to exhaust her enthusiasm for life.
“Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver
A month ago Bon Iver wouldn’t have sniffed the Top 100. I wasn’t fond of this song and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for Bon Iver’s new record. It wasn’t as good. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before. But then XMU beat this song into my brain. A switch flipped, and I finally saw this track’s fragile, haunting beauty.
“So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” – Caroline Polachek
A name that sounds like a Flight of the Conchords track backed by an inescapable hook, Caroline Polachek’s porcelain voice, and a dash of Hall & Oates musicality.
“Demands” – Makthaverskan
In my intro, I should have added female-fronted Swedish post-punk alongside female-fronted electro-pop as the sounds that just get me. “Demands” comes from a two-song EP which means that there’s (hopefully) another full record on the horizon. Can you hear the giddy in my voice?
“Fare Thee Well” – Jessica Pratt
I called Jessica Pratt’s 2019 record Quiet Signs a masterpiece in multiple conversations this year. Upon my first listen I added “Fare Thee Well” to my 2019 Final list and I’ve never second-guessed either assessment. You may not love her high-pitched delivery, but there’s an otherworldly synesthesia between her voice at music.
“Forgot Your Name” – Mini Mansions
Shamelessly plucked from Edgar Wright’s list. An infectious throwback banger from idiosyncratic DEVO-inspired LA-based pop outfit.
The simple backing piano and vocals give me hymn-brand chills. I’m not a religious man, but certain songs give me faith. Indianapolis Sisters Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz harmonies on this track might just qualify as angelic.
“bad guy” – Billie Eilish
I want to first confess that I don’t “get” Billie Eilish. Her whole thing confuses me and I assume that’s becomes I’m over 30. That said, “bad guy” is a fresh wound of a pop track. A rolling synthetic bassline, hushed vocals and a radical tonal shift. This artist’s got brass lady balls and even though I don’t totally understand her massive popularity, I get it.
“Sympathy” – Vampire Weekend
While everyone else was out repping that earworm “Harmony Hall” I was listening quietly to the rest of the record and “Sympathy” jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. It almost feels like Rostam’s back with the band.
“The Imperial” – The Delines
Lead singer Amy Boone underwent three years of treatment and rehab after her legs were broken when she was hit by a car in Austin, Texas. The band waited to release their second record The Imperial until her return. This track invokes a broken-down Dusty Springfield. Pitch-perfect neo-soul.
“Trampoline” – SHAED
My 7yo is obsessed with this song. She’s also obsessed with Ariana Grande and the soundtrack to some Nickelodeon show called Victorious. So take from that nugget what you will.
“Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” – Poolside (feat. Panama)
There’s a literal cottage industry of “Can’t Stop Your Lovin'” remixes. Don’t mess with the rest. Daytime Disco lives in this easy-listening mid-tempo groove. Life is better with Poolside on the turntable.
“Death Stranding” – CHVRCHES
It’s actually pretty funny that in a year without a CHVRVCHES album I still found the ways and means to add two CHVRCHES songs to my Best of List. This one comes from a video game that I never bothered to play. “Death Stranding” features the band’s regular flourishes. Slow build to a catharsis, perfect production. The way Lauren’s Scottish brogue comes through when she says “down.”
“Dylan Thomas” – Better Oblivion Community Center
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s side project puts all other side projects to shame. “Dylan Thomas” channels the Traveling Wilbury’s and modern, existential malaise.
“hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me” – Lana Del Rey
I won’t admit how many songs from Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell made it onto my 2019 Hits list (okay, it was five). This is personal, scorched earth songwriting that will stand the test of time. If we’re talking about any single record from this year 25 yeas from now it’ll be this one.
The Japanese House, aka London’s Amber Bain, has another one of those transcendent voices, instantaneous transporation. Whenever I heard a song from The Japanese House, I paused whatever I was doing so I can drape myself in her velvet.
“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture
Any song I call an “anthem” inspires me to sing the chorus wherever I am. Whatever I’m doing. It can be quite embarrassing when I’m listening on headphones because I lose myself in Pure Bathing Culture and especially this particular track. Suffice to say that I am not as talented a pop vocalist as Sarah Versprille.
“Not” – Big Thief
Adrianne Lenker uses negation to explain her world. “Not the meat of your thigh/Nor your spine tattoo/Nor your shimmery eye/Nor the wet of the dew,” she sings. Big Thief creates lush, beautiful soundscapes (see: “UFOF” and “Shark Smile”) but this is not lush and beautiful. This is forest after the fire. The riverbed after the drought.
“Oblivions” – The National
Essentially a B-side on The National’s wonderful new record “I Am Easy to Find” (which is itself a a kind of experimental companion to Mike Mills’ film of the same name). Matt Berninger sings backup vocals to Bryce Dessner’s wife Pauline de Lassus. It’s a meditation on the nature of the human condition within a marriage. Mills called it the masterpiece on the record. Obviously, I agree. You could pick something prosaic like “Light Years” but that’d be your wrong choice.
“All Mirrors” – Angel Olsen
Introspective deep-dives into the darkness. Listening to Angel Olson’s All Mirrors feels like being alone with your thoughts. It’s not a suicide record so much as a search for peace in the center of a tornado.
“Nothing Baby” – Magdalena Bay
Barely a song. A snippet. A hook. An homage to Gwen Stefani, perhaps. Found on Magdalena Bay’s tapestry of unfinished tracks, mini mix vol. 1, “Nothing Baby” has no peers. It hits its beat, embraces the wall-to-wall hook and then just ends. You could listen to this track a dozen times and not feel satiated and maybe that’s why it climbed all the way up to #3.
“Red Bull & Hennessey” – Jenny Lewis
I killed one song this year for everyone in my household. For Jenny this is a proper banger. It even features a pretty rocking guitar solo. There may have been “better” songs on “On the Line,” but this one made me love Jenny Lewis even more — as if that were even possible.
“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s having a moment and we’re along for the ride. “Remind Me Tomorrow” attained crossover notoriety despite Sharon’s further sonic experimentation. She performed “Seventeen” on Kimmel. Rolling Stone devoted an entire spread to the track as a “Song You Need to Know.” Van Etten looks back on being 17 with only a small amount of romanticism. It’s mostly a dirge for an uncertain future with the unique perspective of having lived the life in between. Unlike other years there was no controversy surrounding my choice for #1. The other songs stepped aside for Sharon Van Etten to assume the throne.
Just when I thought I wasn’t enamored with the music of 2018… I compiled my Best Songs of 2018 list and realized, well… that I wasn’t that enamored with the music of 2018. I fell at the feet of a few select albums and those albums consumed my year. My love for Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino forced me to re-evaluate the entire Arctic Monkey’s catalog. (It’s better than I remembered!) Of course I had a new CHVRCHES record, so I even had to grapple with my steadily increasing CHVRCHES fanboy tendencies (I’m incorrigible.)
Overall, however, 2018 was another year filled with highs and lows, just like any other. Even though popular culture continues to tout rap’s new directions, I can only shrug because what the hell is that even? What happened to beats, rhymes & life? You guys aren’t even trying to rhyme and god forbid we introduce a decent beat. Indie rock has fallen back into an interminable mid-tempo cruising speed, proper rock & roll failed to leave a mark, and I even liked not one — but two country albums. (What?)
At the outset I made an effort to digest a wider variety of music styles. As a result I spent more time with soul, blues and modern jazz. Genres in which I tend to live in the past. Each year I tend to discover many great jazz records… made in the 1950’s. My list reflects those efforts in fits and spurts and I even found a few terrific jazz records made after 1960. (The hell you say.)
And now for my yearly disclaimer. I’m just one human listening to music and these selections reflect my year in music. I share my picks because maybe you’ll find some new favorites for yourself. I also carry on because my friend Michael Smith at bsidesnarrative.com have been exchanging lists every year since 2007.
Music sustains us through the tough times and improves the good ones. It gives us hope for the future and convinces us we’re more deep and soulful than we really are. Music is a constantly renewing life blood. Never stop listening to new music.
The minute you stop listening to new music is the moment you become old.
101. “Falling Into Me” – Let’s Eat Grandma
100. “Mice” – Billie Marten
99. “Birds” – The Shacks
98. “How Can I Love You” – Yellow Days
97. “True to You” – Deep Cuts
96. “We Appreciate Power” Grimes (feat. HANA)
95. “Anthem (To Human Justice)” – Logan Richarson
94. “Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monáe
93. “New Birth in New England” – Phosphorescent
92. “Foundation” – Public Practice
91. “The Bug Collector” – Haley Heynerickx
90. “Once In My Life” – The Decemberists
89. “Thread” – David Bazan & Kevin Devine
88. “The Walker” – Christine and the Queens
87. “Wild Blue Wind” – Erin Rae
86. “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” – Ashley McBryde
85. “Everybody Wants to Be Famous” – Superorganism
84. “Bad Bad News” – Leon Bridges
83. “My Friend the Forest” – Nils Frahm
82. “Nearer My God” – Foxing
81. “Honeymooning” – Holy Motors
80. “It’s Alright” – Slow and Steady
79. “Lemon Glow” Beach House
78. “Meateater” – ALASKALASKA
77. “Tokyo Bay” – Nick Lowe
76. “Suspirium” – Thom Yorke
75. “better alone” – Lykke Li
74. “Straight Shot” – DeVotchKa
73. “Fireworks” – First Aid Kit
72. “MJ” – Now, Now
71. “Paper Trails” – Celebration
70. “Scream Whole” – Methyl Ethyl
69. “Egyptian Luvr” – Rejjie Snow (feat. Aminé and Dana Williams)
54. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” – David Byrne
53. “Blue Girl” = Chromatics
52. “Nobody” – Mitski
51. “Don’t You Know” -Durand Jones & The Indications
50. “Your Dog” – Soccer Mommy
49. “Semicircle Song” – The Go! Team
48. “Welcome to the Milk Disco” – Milk Disco
47. “Gold Rush” – Death Cab for Cutie
46. “Powder Blue / Cascine Park” – Yumi Zouma
45. “Don” – Ocean Wisdom
44. “Space Cowboy” – Kacey Musgraves
43. “List of Demands” – The Kills
42. “Far Behind You” – Lyla Foy (feat. Jonathan Donahue)
41. “Fallingwater” & “Light On” – Maggie Rogers
40. “Saturdays” – Twin Shadow (feat. HAIM)
39. “Modafinil Blues” – Matthew Dear
38. “This is America” – Childish Gambino
37. “Rosebud” – U.S. Girls
36. “Sense of Discovery” – Simple Minds
35. “Know My Name” – Das Body
34. “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” – Caroline Rose
33. “Late to the Fight” – LUMP
32. “Jeep Cherokee Laredo” – The War and Treaty
31. “Oh No, Bye Bye” – Sunflower Bean
30. “Confirmation” – Westerman
29. “Give Up” – I See Rivers
28. “How Simple” – Hop Along
27. “Can’t Do Better” – Kim Petras
26. “Honey” – Robyn
And now for my Top 25 portion of The Best Songs of 2018. Because I’m becoming more of a realist in my old age, I now recognize that nobody’s going to read 100 blurbs (we’re very busy Internet surfers). Instead of half-assing 100 blurbs, I’m only half-assing 25. You’re welcome.
“Heaven/Hell” – CHVRCHES (from the Hansa Sessions)
Just another song on CHVRCHES solid 2018 LP Love is Dead soared on this acoustic version with a blast of strings and stripped down vocals. It’s an entirely new song. Go ahead. Close your eyes, throw your head back and sing along. #NoJudgment
“Twanguero” – Electric Sunset
The search for new surf guitar artists usually proves futile. Spain’s Diego Garcia paid back that investment tenfold.
“Formless and New” – Rubblebucket
Psychedelic arty dream-poppers took the same old same old and added big beats, brass and pitchy synth to make something familiar but f#cking fresh as hell.
“Emily” – Clean Cut Kid
Easily the best cut from Fleetwood Mac in 2018.
“Eva” – HAERTS
Epic dream-pop in four movements.
“Roll (Burbank Funk) – The Internet
Irresistible California funk. Lush instrumentation, groovy bassline, and honey-dripped vocals.
“I’ll Make You Sorry” – Screaming Females
Punk-lite vets peak with their seventh record? Not saying they did, just saying it’s an argument you could make that wouldn’t be weird. Marissa Paternoster has the best name and warble in the business.
“Wide Awake” – Parquet Courts
“Peach” – Broods
Trippy, electro-pop from New Zealand has pinpointed your pleasure center with dreamy vocals over block-rocking beats.
“Short Court Style” – Natalie Prass
June Christy + Booker T. = “Short Court Style”
“Boss” – Little Simz
I haven’t been this enamored with a female rapper since Ice Cube gave the world Yo Yo in 1991. The rolling bassline will make you believe that you’ve got moves, too.
“Letting Go” – Wild Nothing
Wild Nothing’s sound perfectly distilled into one individual song. They’ll never be a more Wild Nothing song than the jangly, melancholic “Letting Go”.
“Strange Embrace” – Kitten
This poppy, hook-laden confection makes me purr.
“Night Shift” – Lucy Dacus
Swallow-your-soul storytelling with beautiful, tortured musicality. If you don’t know the name Lucy Dacus, you should get acquainted. Immediately.
“Future Me Hates Me” – The Beths
Riot grrls had a strong showing on the countdown because more so than any other 2018 microgenre the ladies recognized the power of a well placed guitar riff and a hooky chorus.
“Over the Midnight” – Jonathan Wilson
The first song added to my 2018 Hits List survived the gauntlet to earn a spot in the Top 10. Lush soundscape with Cat Stevens lyrical stylings.
“She Remembers Everything” – Roseanne Cash, Sam Phillips
Haunting strings and hooky, soul churning lyricism.
“Me and My Dog” – boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus)
If you would have said to me, “Jay, I charge you with creating the ultimate female singer-songwriter supergroup,” I would have chosen Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Now that you mention it, I would have added Maggie Rogers, too, but who am I to quibble?
“Not Tonight” – Ten Fé
London duo’s irresistible candy-coated alt-rock. A Khan-worthy ear worm.
“May Your Kindness Remain” – Courtney Marie Andrews
Repeated refrains or song titles can become grinding and pretentious — or beautiful and meditative.
“Four Out of Five” – Arctic Monkeys
Until now I’d always lost the Monkeys’ lyricism among the bombast. Clever twists of phrase and irony have never been more lounge lizardy.
“Driving” – Grouper
I am a child It is a gift that my mother gave me
Watching the pavement Stretch out and fade You gave me
Along the highway They look to see The nature of the crash To see the body
And it is time We’re on our way I wonder Whether you realize How much I love you
Today, the land Is slightly wider than the sky
And we are driving Oh, life Life in the tunnel Made of the sun frame
“Helpless” – The Regrettes
Hamiltonian cover refashioned for hooky riot grrrlllllls with perfect pop sensibilities.
“Graffiti” – CHVRCHES
I won’t apologize for my Lauren Mayberry obsession — I stand by my assertion that this is some of her best songwriting.
“Love It If We Made It” – The 1975
I dismissed this song after first listen, but it’s off-kilter backdoor not-a-pop-song pop qualities wore me down until I couldn’t deny this band’s emerging greatness any longer. This is my best song of all the best songs of 2018 at this very moment. Check back tomorrow.
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.