“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.
“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.