Songs of the Year

2016 Songs of the Year: 100 – 51

Tyler runs down the first half of his songs of the year, featuring Gucci Mane, Bibi Bourelly, Young M.A, Savages, Tone Lo, and many others.

I must confess, I’m not a song guy. That’s a stupid thing to say, considering that I’ve spent the good part of this year listening to over 400 albums that contain on average between 9-13 songs. But it’s true: albums speak to me a hell of a lot more than singles. There are those unbelievable, only capable within song moments (“Runaway,” “Holocene,” “Midnight City”)… but they are the exception, not the rule.

The song is a shout. The album is a treatise.

So let’s do some shouting! Spotify playlist to follow the final list tomorrow, in the meantime… YouTube!

100. Local Natives – “Coins”

This one’s for our fearless leader, David. “Coins” is the best song off a pretty bad Local Natives album, where they got lost in digitizing their soul. “Coins,” luckily, retains some of the trademark wistfulness of the Natives’ better moments, and buoys a second half of the record that’s not nearly as unconscionable as the first half.

99. Diarrhea Planet – “Lie Down”

Diarrhea Planet’s plot to take over rock n’ roll in 2016 was foiled by their ambitions outstretching their means… yet “Lie Down” is a wall of sound titan.

98. Free Cake For Every Creature – “Susie (Now I’m Cryin’)”

On it’s face a bit more of the recipe Free Cake put forward on their well put together Talking of Anything With You, “Susie” is more along the pop lines of their formula, and hints at a way forward out of the bedroom for the band.

97. Wilco – “Happiness”

The best track from a sleepy, laid back Wilco album, “Happiness” is a bunch of off-key, depressive poetic sights, Tweedy tying it together with the sighed off “happiness depends on who you blame.” Considering Tweedy’s long struggling history with drug abuse gives “Happiness” an even sharper edge.

96. Tove Lo – “Cool Girl”

The pressure to be something dramatic in pop music can make those who cast themselves against it an interesting air. Case in point – Tove Lo. “I speak my truth, no need to panic” goes the first verse before diving into a burbling snap-pop chorus. This girl doesn’t need you, and her music is all the more refreshing for it.

95. LVL UP – “Hidden Driver”

This song is basically what would happen if The Silver Jews covered Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers, Part 2 & 3,” in the absolute best way possible.

94. Kamaiyah – “I’m On”

Kamaiyah’s big entrance to her breakout year is a tasty slice of g-funk mastery, lo-fi enough to seem indie and boom-bap’y enough to capture any moderately hip-hop leaning ear. It’s a classic “rags to riches” hip-hop song, as if Kamaiyah was writing about her future as if it would come true. For the most part, it has.

93. Florist – “1914”

The crowded vocals, the simple guitar lines… “1914” is a deceptively rewarding song for its bare bones aesthetics. “A farewell from 100 years ago / “please remember to feed the cat / please remember that I’m never comin’ back”” reading like a Dear John letter, repeated ad nauseum over the course of history. This story has been told before.

92. Young Thug – “Hercules”

He would top this bizarre bridge in sheer ridiculousness on “Harambe,” yet “Hercules” is still the most clever, effective distillation of the Young Thug lifestyle as has been released so far. Playful, childish, violent and virulent, the codeine’d Thug is so heavenly layered on top of himself “Hercules” sometimes takes on the sound of psychedelia… fitting for this lost year of hip-hop.

91. Mitski – “My Body Is Made of Crushed Little Stars”

Being unable to reconcile ones place in the world (“I wanna see the whole world”) with the realities of how that world presses itself upon you (“I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent!”) is the central question of the second best track on Mitski’s breakout Puberty 2. Wailed over heavily distorted guitars, Mitski’s under two minute spitfire fugue trying to figure her shit out never bothers to find time for the answer, because jeez, the journey is so damn compelling who gives a shit? And that’s half the problem.

90. Car Seat Headrest – “Ballad of the Costa Concordia”

One of the great “lost to history” tracks will be Car Seat Headrest’s “(Not) Just what I needed” that features references to The Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” The version was pulled just prior to Teens of Denial‘s release because of legal trouble with Ric Okasek, and whether Will Toledo went back and re-recorded the spoken word bridge to his longest track to reflect this “mistake” is debatable, the meaning is clear. Teens of Style is about the choices we make that are clearly wrong, and trying to push past them and achieve some sort of bliss in that. Hell, perhaps there’s some bliss in “I give up.”

89. DIIV – “Out of Mind”

DIIV’s messy relationship with chillwave probably doom them to forever languishing in semi-fame, orbiting around the hipster superstardom of associated act Sky Ferriera. “Out of Mind” is the best song from another middling and wandering album, (not) coincidentally also the opener. DIIV always manage to fool the listener into sounding energized, for a while.

88. Anderson .Paak – “Celebrate”

God, we’re already getting into this, huh? Look, I mean, “Celebrate” is a beautiful, simple song about loving yourself and what you have, capping off an ebullient and lovely breakout record by Anderson .Paak. Yet the undercurrent is ever-present – “You’re doing well / I mean, you’re not dead.” It’s a somber, cut in line, reminding the listener that as much as they can enjoy .Paak’s music, they still probably won’t understand he or his crew’s perspective on the world.

87. Okkervil River – “Okkervil River R.I.P.”

It’s way too pat for Will Sheff to name the opening song to his comeback album “Okkervil River R.I.P.” Yet the yearning, pleading folk that comprises the next nearly eight minutes is such a fitting reset that the song title hardly matters by the end. Reckoning with the whole of his mildly successful, yet seemingly failed past, Sheff lays bare his artistic malaise, and in the process reintroduces Okkervil River.

86. Vince Staples – “Loco”

Good god, “Loco” goes in from its opening seconds. Alarming and insistent, Vince Staples explodes back into the public spotlight a year after his breakthrough Summertime ’06 with the off-and-on Prima Donna. For all of Staples’ menacing and seemingly off-the-cuff verses about being unable to balance his middle-grade fame with his desire to blow up yet also have the trappings of an individual, it’s Kilo Kish on the wonky chorus that steals the show. Appearing as the devil on Staples’ shoulder, Kish is confident, sneering and sensual… everything that Staples doesn’t need in the moment.

85. Bayside – “Vacant”

Somehow Bayside made it. One of the only LIHC (Long Island Hardcore) bands to make it to the mid-2010s, Bayside have subsisted on the just left of radio rock sound for almost ten years, refining and succeeding where others (cough Taking Back Sunday cough) have failed. Yet, “Vacant” would indicate that things aren’t always hunky dory. “I’m pretty vacant all the time” is a disturbing this to think nearly two decades into a music career, reckoning with a life that suddenly has no home. Yet, if it’s producing music to support that life… well, Bayside are still at it. That’s enough for now.

84. Soccer Mom – “3am At A Party”

Minor key and mysterious “3am at a Party” is the girl going to the shows finally getting a chance to speak her peace to the boy she pines for. It’s darkly confident, cooing come ons at the boy and snipes at his girlfriend. A second later, she’s back to romantic longing, unable to fully walk away from the desire she’s song comfortable.

83. Descendents – “Without Love”

The poppiest song on Descendents comeback effort Hypercaffium Spazzinate, “Without Love” is a blast of southern California punk-rock, smoothed around on the edges of the chorus for a radio audience that simply doesn’t exist anymore. No matter, “Without Love” is blistering, fast, catchy and amazing, hopefully reminding Mark Hoppus that his awful versions of Descendents songs on BLink-182’s new album just don’t stack up anymore.

82. Trust Fund – “Together”

The romantic, New Pornographers or Belle & Sebastian indie rock Trust Fund trade in could not be more on display on “Together.” Morose at moments (“I want to die” on any day of the week) and beautifully, simply emotional in others (“that’s our special time together”), “Together” is the sound of a band matching their elders.

81. Touche Amore – “New Halloween”

This song is not for the unprepared. Stage Four, Touche Amore’s tectonic, unbelievable and heavy newest album, is a downer’s masterpiece already, yet “New Halloween” manages to fit all of what makes the band special into three and a half minutes. Up-tempo and unrelenting, yet probing and self-effacing (“Like track two on Benji, or “What Sarah Said”), Jeremy Bolm’s narrative is capitalized in that last, tossed off phrase – “I still haven’t found the courage to listen to your last message to me.”

80. Naps – “Bad Vibrations”

It’s a ballsy move to name your song the antithesis of one of the greatest pop songs ever written, yet here are Naps, writing their scuzzy bedroom rock for the crowd that still really miss Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. “Bad Vibrations” is one of the chiller tracks from their album the most beautiful place on earth, and for once, the chill vibe works.

79. Chance, The Rapper – “Same Drugs”

Nathaniel Friedman, aka Bethlehem Shoals, aka @freedarko, wrote that it was a damned shame that Prince didn’t leave to hear “Same Drugs.” And it’s true. A calm, measured Chance writes about (what else) Chicago, and how it’s changed in the intervening years between his youth and Chicago’s present. In the meantime, Chicago has been overtaken by violence and death, and Chance walks through this change with clear-headed introspection. “Same Drugs” is a plea to remember one’s heart, despite what’s gotten in the way.

78. Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop – “Welcome to Feeling”

Love Letter for Fire would settle into a familiar, back country folk aesthetic, fitting for a Sam Beam record. But the opening salvo, the cello flecked “Welcome to Feeling,” indicates toward a mystical, romantic processional, a wandering among ethereal ideas, presenting themselves in real, and imaginary, ways.

77. Eric Bachmann – “Belong to You”

When he wants to, Eric Bachmann can push himself to make some truly beautiful straight country music, and for a moment, “Belong to You” is just that. The rest of his newest self-titled album would divert to other places, both welcome and not, yet “Belong to You” would be the most emotionally moving stanza of his effort.

76. Conor Oberst – “Til St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”

The year Conor Oberst has had, he’d be forgiven for closing his weary, cynical Ruminations with a sardonic, black comic story about drinking from dawn to dusk. The patron saint of depressives, Dymphna hovers the proceedings of Ruminations like a spectre, waiting for Oberst to exit the bar to take his life over. Perhaps she will, yet for the moment Oberst is sharing a drink with a compatriot, avoiding the future that he knows he has no control over.

75. Tegan and Sara – “Stop Desire”

Tegan and Sara’s mid-career shift to Robyn-esque wall of sound pop was entirely unexpected when it arrived, yet not seems inextricable from the Canadian sisters’ ethos. Their body positive, gender fluid pop is enlightening and effortless, and “Stop Desire” is probably their most natural and erotic, the simple hook wafting over the proceedings like air. Side note: peep the amazing Wes Anderson-referencing video that focus on tactile moments on pleasure, featuring the inimitable Reggie Watts.

74. Mutual Benefit – “Not for Nothing”

The simple pleasures of Mutual Benefit’s non-anthemic moments grow more appetizing as indie rock drifts more toward emotive catharsis, and the opening track from its newest record is a road-weary toss-off, focusing on intimate moments of a life on the road that might survive past us. Those moments mean something, and cataloguing and reckoning with them is important to Mutual Benefit. Luckily, it’s leading to some stellar music.

73. The Sun Days – “Don’t Need to Be Them”

Brit Pop! Hey! The Sun Days’ Album wasn’t an entirely fruitful return to mid-90s English guitar pop-rock, but for moments, their formula yielded some wonderful results, like “Don’t Need to Be Them,” about the ability to non-conform and be oneself.

72. The So So Glos – “Dancing Industry”

Nothing could match “Son of an American” The So So Glos’ incendiary opening track from their first record Blowout. Yet “Dancing Industry” is a fitting opening for their middling second record, and is most notable for having a give-no-fucks amazing music video, shot entirely on the MTA in New York with street performers. It’s a masterful use of commercial art form to push punk, something the Glos are very, very good at.

71. Craig Finn – “Screenwriter’s School”

The illusory boundary between what is real and fake could not be more blurrily drawn at a screenwriter’s school, which is where Craig Finn decides to draw his narrative of broken minds doing broken things. Commentary about Instagram and being able to separate fictional narrative from actual life is prescient, and “Screenwriter’s School” is sonically morose enough to match the subject matter.

70. Dowsing – “Wasted on Hate”

“Punk is dead! / And all your friends will be soon!” is a fiery way to start your newest record, and Dowsing know it. “Wasted on Hate” is merciless, tracking ever conceivable way to get angry possible (“lick the wound, with your tongue / tell the Internet what you’ve done”), eventually arriving at the cathartic chorus of “wasted on hate / it’s time to let go.” Indeed.

69. Margaret Glaspy – “Somebody to Anybody”

Her guitar virtuosity taking a backseat to her lonely strength narrative, “Somebody to Anybody” is a brilliant showcase of Margaret Glaspy’s potential stardom chops. The chorus, the real winner of the song, flips the script on what could be a generic romantic longing song, turning into a self-sufficiency anthem – “no, I’m good at no one.” With her guitar in tow, Glaspy is forging her own path.

68. Nathan Bowles – “Black Range / Hog Jank II”

Combining his virtuoso knack for merging psychedelic banjo folk and piano excellence, Nathan Bowles presents an original and interesting spin on instrumental country, a genre that could easily be co-opted as simply technically proficient. Just so, “Black Range / Hog Jank II” is emotional, it’s movements frantic, its insistency pressing forward constantly into an uncertain sphere. While the rest of his album would dart around this combination, “Black Range / Hog Jank II” officially presents Nathan Bowles a way forward to establishing his niche.

67. Savages – “Adore”

Mildly overrated though they are, Savages asks a fascinating question in the wake of the disaster of the past few years – “is it human to adore life?” Is it human to strive for happiness or contentment. Is it human to want? If so, Savages is human, worts and all. “Adore” is a slinking number, balancing their icy post-punk with slinking female vocals.

66. Slothrust – “Trial & Error”

In under two minutes, Slothrust define their great line – strength in subsistence, spitting towards those who would criticize the life that they live. Slothrust’s songs are frequently cataloguing the ends of things, and “Trial & Error” is no different. Yet here is something different, a brief end; nothing more to say except “sometimes things don’t work at all.” Luckily, this does.

65. Teen Suicide – “I Don’t Think It’s Too Late”

“I’m not dead, and I feel better than the last time I talked to you” goes the spoken word introduction to the most ebullient and bubbly song on Teen Suicide’s kitchen sink LP It’s a Joyous Celebration. The album’s sheer mass makes it nearly inaccessible, yet “Too Late” is such a sweet pill of post-MGMT indie-pop that it’s impossible to investigate further. It’s the most endearing bit of the band’s efforts to find peace in their circumstances.

64. Wye Oak – “Too Right”

Tween, the emptying out of the Wye Oak coffers in preparation for the next phase of the band, was a scattershot effort of giant folk-rock experimentalism, encapsulated in the tsunami of guitar effects and vocal psychedelia that is “Too Right.”

63. Bon Iver – “22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]”

Justin Vernon’s reintroduction to pop music, and thus the public’s reintroduction to Bon Iver, his primary project, was a moment of profound contradiction. The Spanish overdubs on the lyric video, the continuous shot of Vernon’s picture being set on fire, the batty song title… the cooing loop of “it might be over soon” all hinted that this was, at best, a coda for Vernon’s magnum opus. Instead, he produced 22, A Million.

62. Dirty Projectors – “Keep Your Name”

True to the project, Dirty Projectors little dart into the limelight of 2016 was a crooning lament for the loss of love, chopped and screwed to the point of teetering on the cliffside of oddball hip-hop. Dave Longstreth’s voice warbled and vocoder’d within an inch of its life, “Keep Your Name” is a reminder that the sonic adventurousness of Dirty Projectors isn’t gone, even if the band are largely in the shadows.

61. Angel Olsen – “Woman”

“Woman” doesn’t explode like the first half of MY WOMAN, Angel Olsen’s latest opus. It slithers into your cerebrum, Olsen’s sweet and deadly voice worming its way around the synth & bass backing. Until POW, Olsen’s guitar bursts forth and begins a descent-like solo into the end of the song. It’s a convincing artistic statement, when paired with Olsen’s words about someone being unable to comprehend Olsen’s nature as a woman.

60. Martha – “Chekhov’s Fingernail”

The second half of the furious start that Martha kick off their incredible Blisters In the Pit of My Heart with, “Chekhov’s Hangnail” blasts the band’s trademark punk energy into a whole new stratosphere, the frenzied pace the drums set for the band’s guitars barely able to keep the whole thing on the tracks. Typical of the album’s “let’s keep pushing even though everything is lost” thesis statement, “Hangnail” is the most visceral reminder that Martha are the best at crafting hooky pop-punk with a snotty message.

59. Young M.A “OOOUUU”

As she ascends the throne taken from Bobby Schmurda last year with his gun charge sticking, Young M.A seized upon an undefeated beat and straight sliced it to pieces. As a brash spurt of confidence rap, M.A can compete with the best of them – it doesn’t hurt that she has a built in unique voice (power hungry, female lesbian rappers don’t break through that often). She may not be destined for Nicki Minaj like fame, but M.A presumably has some fantastic features lined up next year.

58. William Tyler – “Highway Anxiety”

“Highway Anxiety” is the sound of the country music station starting to fade into the distance and you get further from its home base. The wall of synth that presses into the otherwise full-band placidity hints at a temporary moment of road-worn bliss, something to be treasured for its impermanence rather than stolen away as a keepsake. It’s William Tyler’s best song yet, and hints at his ever brightening future.

57. Kevin Morby – “Drunk and On a Star”

Bleary and in love, “Drunk and On a Star” might be the sound of Kevin Morby writing, a rare glimpse into his persona, a “head full of dreams.” The beauty of fiddling around on a guitar in the night sky, hoping to find something revelatory amid the liquored haze, “is beautiful and nothing worse.”

56. Katie Ellen – “TV Dreams”

The demise of Chumped, one of the most potential-filled bands of the pop-punk and emo revolution, was a sad day. That Katie Ellen, the lead singer and songwriter from Chumped, is still putting together songs akin to her former work is a miracle. “TV Dreams” was the best track from her newest record, and hints that we may not have seen the last of her.

55. The Hotelier – “Settle the Scar”

The most capital “e” Emo song from the magnificent Goodness, “Settle The Scar” managed to outdo emo stalwarts American Football at their own, math-y game. The way Christian Holden wails “I am” in the cathartic chorus underscores how excellent these guys are at doing pure emo, despite that they are steadfastly dedicated to pushing the genre forward for the rest of Goodness.

54. Hazel English – “I’m Fine”

Overlayed with images from idyllic 60s advertisements, “I’m Fine” as a lyric video takes on the air of Hazel English writing a song for Betty Draper, circa 1961. She “sharp uncertainty” of being a woman in that time period resonates with English, and she plumbs the idea of being “fine” on the outside yet frothing with paralysis on the inside to great effect.

53. Gucci Mane – “1st Day Out Tha Feds”

Oh my god I don’t care about anything about music writing because of this song.. This video, released days after Gucci was released from jail (the song was the released the day of his release, just in case you thought he took a break getting out), is everything you could want from the vibrant, unstoppable personality that is Gucci Mane.

52. Danny Brown – “Really Doe”

Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition was a misstep, but goodness gracious combining Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt with the typically vivacious and lewd Danny Brown is a recipe for disaster in the best way possible. Just to, somehow Brown and Lamar, delivering fantastic verses themselves, get wrecked by Earl Sweatshirt’s death-defying last verse, which closes with the best couplet of the year – “Well it’s the left handed shooter, Kyle Lowry of the pump / I’m at your house like, ‘why you got your couch on my Chucks?'”

51. Bibi Bourelly – “What If”

Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” would take centerstage at the CMA awards, and catapult the soft chorus of people begging for a true Southern country album from Queen Bey into a full-throated mob. However, lost in the mob is Bibi Bourelly, quietly destroying “Lessons” with her own dark country masterpiece, the pounding, earnest and soulful “What If.” Taking pages from Jack White’s songbook, Bourelly allows her honey smooth voice to crackle as she wails on those who don’t give a shit about her. Hers is the mantle Beyonce will presumably take; for the moment, Bourelly wears the crown.

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