2016 was, if anything, an interesting time to be alive. Often, music provided a shelter from the political turmoil of the outside world. Though I didn’t listen to that many albums this year, I still found music in 2016 to be just as fascinating as ever, and I will be listening to this year’s music for months to come. As a rock listener first and foremost, I would pick Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial as my album of the year. But my favorite songs spanned all different genres, from popular and lesser-known artists. Here’s an unranked list of my ten favorite songs of the year:
(click the song titles for a YouTube link if one exists, otherwise here’s a Spotify playlist with all the songs)
“Destroyed by Hippie Powers” by Car Seat Headrest
from Teens of Denial
Some hooks are so strong that you remember exactly where you were when you first heard it. When the chorus of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” first graced my headphones, I was on the balcony of our apartment in Ocean City. I spent the rest of the summer listening to Teens of Denial. From the blistering opening to the winsome, insecure chorus, “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” proves that you can’t fail to make a great song out of guitars, cowbells, and paranoia.
from Emotion: Side B
The biggest travesty of 2016 was not the election of a xenophobic, manipulative jerk to the highest office in the United States, but rather that a pop song as immaculate as “The One” just barely crossed the million play mark on Spotify. Carly Rae Jepsen wrote 250 songs for last year’s Emotion, and only 15 made the cut. In the summer of this year, she released a companion EP with 8 more songs from the project, but it’s still not enough. The world needs more Whitney Houston-in-1985 pop music, and that’s the end of it. The hook in the chorus of “The One” is an amazing thing. Where did it come from? It sounds like it was scooped out of the ether of the mid-80’s and preserved in amber until the summer of 2016.
from Next Thing
“Is It Possible / Sleep Song”, from Frankie Cosmos’s modestly titled Next Thing, is a Paul McCartney-style song suite, the likes of which we don’t see much anymore. It’s two songs connected into one, and it’s brilliant. The first half laments a deteriorating relationship, and the second half is resentful that the other person can move on and sleep it off, while she has to stay up all night worrying. So, it’s not “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey”, but it’s the same kind of thing. Frankie Cosmos gives her jingly songs a slight indie charm and a menacing power, and that’s apparent all over the album, especially here.
“Crazy – Live from Spotify House ’16” by Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves continues to prove herself as one of the most talented artists of her generation. Before listening, I assumed that this would be a cover of the Patsy Cline classic, but it is in fact a country version of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 masterwork of the same name. I was surprised, and then overjoyed at the fact that I was listening to one of the best covers I’ve ever heard. Kacey bends “Crazy” to her will, imbuing it with traditional country instrumentation like steel guitars and harmonica. This style fits the song astonishingly well, Kacey sounds amazing, the solos are raucous and brilliant, and the whole thing adds up to the best country cover since Johnny Cash took on Nine Inch Nails in 2002.
from A Good Night in the Ghetto
Kamaiyah’s tales of love and debauchery on the streets of Oakland rank among the finest music of 2016. Really, any song from A Good Night in the Ghetto could have been placed here. “Fuck It Up”, a collaboration with YG, is also one of the best tracks of 2016. But “Swing My Way” is something really special. Everything about the album: its delightful hedonism, the simple melodic rap hooks, the honest storytelling about a connection between two people; it all comes together here. The lyrics are just truth: “I like the way you walk, and I like the way you talk, so swing my way.” Kamaiyah isn’t shy about her yearning for something better.
from The Life of Pablo
In many ways, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo was the most 2016 album of 2016. It was fractured, confusing, and messy, and represents a transition more than a revolution. Pablo is not as much of a masterpiece as Kanye’s last two albums, but it’s still enjoyable all the way through. “Real Friends” continues in the somber, piano-laced vein of tracks like “Runaway” and “Only One” and exposes some of the underlying anxiety of a technology-rich world. We have everything we need to stay in touch. Do we use it?
from Zero Gravity
“Drip in My Walk”, a track released just weeks ago from 18-year-old rapper Kodie Shane, is almost impossible to wrap your head around. An artist this young coming right out of the gate with a pop-rap track this energetic, that flows this well? Songs like this don’t come around often. I love discovering artists right at the beginning of their careers and seeing where they go. Kodie Shane will go far. Mark it.
Danish pop singer MØ released the biggest sleeper hit of the year with “Final Song”, slowly racking up 250 million plays on Spotify over months without ever breaking out as a ubiquitous worldwide smash. What shocks me about this song is how conventional it is, how much it sounds like pop music in 2016, and how it uses those conventions to create something astounding.”Final Song” is endlessly replayable, and completely captures the hedonistic desperation of the dance floor.
What a surprise to wake up and find that your favorite band of all time, The Stone Roses, is releasing new music after a 22-year absence. They only released two songs, and of the two, “Beautiful Thing” most deserves to stand with their classic material. It’s a long, slow-burning funk-rock track, clocking in at seven minutes and evoking their old songs “Fools Gold” and “Something’s Burning”. I doubt they will release any more music, but “Beautiful Thing” is a worthy send-off to one of the greatest bands in history.
from Confront the Truth
Tony Molina’s last album, Dissed and Dismissed, sounded like a one-man Weezer. This EP, Confront the Truth, sounds like a one-man Beatles. But not any Beatles. The late-period, Abbey Road-era autumnal Beatles. And Elliott Smith. The guitar solo in “No One Told He” sounds like it was ripped out of an alternate take of “Something”. Regardless, Tony deserves more popularity, as he is one of the only young songwriters to have totally mastered songwriting and guitar-playing to this degree. The songcraft is staggeringly strong in these short little nuggets. I wonder what form he’ll embody next.
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Comment Questions: Do you agree with these picks? What were your favorite songs of the year?