If I’ve learned one thing in 2016, it’s that trying to fill 100 slots with songs and albums that I like is next to impossible. I don’t like that many things. I’m back down to 50, which seems like it is far more manageable for both me and anybody reading this post. Leave a comment, text me, or yell at me in person if you think I’ve missed your favorite song this year. I can almost promise I didn’t do it on purpose.
* Denotes that a song is not on Spotify for some bullshit reason
50. Rihanna – Desperado
Rihanna’s voice melds so perfectly with the slow meandering beat.
49. Dinosaur Jr. – Be A Part
J. Mascis’ voice may forever sound like he has cement in his nose when he sings, but he can still craft great rock songs with unbelievable solos.
48. Yeasayer – Gerson’s Whistle
Amen & Goodbye was a bit of a mess at points, but Gerson’s Whistle is proof that Yeasayer can still write songs that are up to par with their past work.
47. Dawes – We’re All Gonna Die
As a notable sucker for overtly depressing song lyrics, this song is right up my alley.
46. Frightened Rabbit – Woke Up Hurting
Just like the Dawes song, but with an upbeat backing track!
45. Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Human Performance is a bit more sing-songy than their past work, but they managed to make the style fit.
44. clipping. – Wriggle
I’m just happy Daveed Diggs took time out of his day portraying one of America’s founding fathers in the most popular musical on the planet to produce a song about S&M.
43. Crystal Castles – Kept*
I thought Alice Glass’ departure would completely destroy Crystal Castles, and for the most part it did. However, this one song off the album is worth the listen. It’s an unique mix to Crystal Castle’s typical sound, with the vocal chopping and sampling over a house beat.
42. Jóhann Jóhannsson – Heptapod B
This might be on here because of how much I loved Arrival, but Jóhann Jóhannsson managed to craft a damn fine song with warping drums and non-lyrical vocals that fits this movie so well.
41. Wilco – If I Ever Was A Child
Even when Wilco is playing it easy with simplistic songs, they are still able to create memorable and fully fleshed out ideas. The backing noodling guitar makes this song for me.
40. Mac Miller (feat. Anderson .Paak) – Dang!
Trust me, this will not be the last time you see Anderson .Paak on this list. His style of singing really fits with this beat. The Mac Miller part is there too, I guess.
39. BADBADNOTGOOD (feat. Colin Stetson) – Confessions Pt. II
This is another predictable outcome given my affinity for Colin Stetson. He’s my second favorite saxophonist working right now.
38. Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – FREEDOM*
Lemonade was an experiment in styles for Beyoncé. This one worked, and having Kendrick Lamar on a track never hurts. The drumline style drums adds a perfect punch to this beat.
37. Childish Gambino – Redbone
This song sounds nothing like anything Donald Glover has made in the past. This is good news, because I couldn’t stand his past work.
36. Pinegrove – Old Friends
Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall has a wonderfully lazy style to his voice. This is the best version of your local hometown garage band.
35. Injury Reserve – All This Money
Injury Reserve is constantly making some of the best underground hip-hop right now.
34. Laura Marling – Soothing
The minimal finger-plucked bass pairs so intimatley with Laura Marling’s voice. This song makes Semper Femina one of my most anticipated albums of 2017.
33. Portugal. The Man (feat. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Zoe Manville) – Noise Pollution
Portugal. The Man comes back from their longest hiatus yet with a song that sounds familiar but slightly tweaked. Also Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a feature for some reason. Still not sure about why that is.
32. Massive Attack – Voodoo In My Blood
Driving heavy drums kick off this song, and persist almost entirely through, giving this song an incredibly uneasy feel.
31. Angel Olsen – Shut Up Kiss Me
The way Angel Olsen sings the main title to this song might be my favorite little vocal delivery of 2016.
30. Kishi Bashi – Can’t Let Go, Juno
This song does sound like it could be in a Samsung ad, and I’ll be honest it might make me buy the product. As long as they promise it won’t explode this time.
29. Francis and the Lights (feat. Bon Iver) – Friends
Let’s be honest. This song would be better if it were all just Bon Iver singing.
28. The Weeknd (feat. Daft Punk) – I Feel It Coming
I’m so happy The Weeknd and Daft Punk decided to team up, but I wish it had happened sooner. Can you imagine if it was The Weeknd singing Get Lucky instead of old ass Pharrell. He could actually hit the high notes in that song.
27. Gordi – Can We Work It Out
I had no idea who Gordi was until I saw her open for Bon Iver. She killed it live, and I was happy since it introduced me to her EP. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2016.
26. Carly Rae Jepsen – Fever
I’m glad Carly Rae Jepsen kept with her 80’s vibe on her B-Sides compilation. Fever could easily have been one of the best tracks off E-MO-TION.
25. Clams Casino (feat. Vince Staples) – All Night
Vince is the absolute king of rapping over these minimal and space beats.
24. Death Grips – Houdini
I’m just as shocked as you are that Death Grips made an actually catchy chorus.
23. James Blake (feat. Bon Iver) – I Need A Forest Fire
James Blake’s production and songwriting style really fits with Bon Iver’s vocal style. The looped background vocal sets the stage for Justin Vernon’s soaring falsetto to take over.
22. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.
I’m just thrilled that this song got a proper release after he debuted it out of nowhere on Colbert. This studio version completely lives up to its live debut.
21. Kaytranada (feat. Anderson .Paak) – Glowed Up
The first 3 minutes of this song could easily be it’s own standalone track. While I do like the final 2 minutes, I just don’t think it matches the first half of the song.
20. Solange – Cranes In The Sky
A wonderfully soulful arrangement from the Knowles sister you know less about. All of the little string flourishes in the background really complete the sound of this song.
19. Noname – Yesterday
Noname is my favorite debut artist of the year. She has a natural ability to create a smooth flow over soulful keys. I can’t wait to hear more from her in the future.
18. William Tyler – Highway Anxiety
Nobody creates a soundscape with finger-picked guitars better than William Tyler. This might be my most played song of the year, just purely based on how many times I’ve put it on while working, driving, or zoning out on the subway. He effortlessly paints a serene and calming atmosphere warped over bends like a river for the full 9 minutes.
17. Car Seat Headrest – Vincent
Layered guitars, teenage angst, and gifted songwriting are the Car Seat Headrest calling card, and they’re at their best in Vincent.
16. DEAKIN – JUST AM
This is the style I wished that Animal Collective would have come out with. Short samples, meandering verses, and slightly echoed vocals. Reminds me of something that would have fit perfectly on the Fall Be Kind EP.
15. Anderson .Paak – Get Down
I told you that you would see more Anderson .Paak on this list. Is there anybody who’s style and performance brings more of a smile to your face?
14. Chance The Rapper (feat. Saba) – Angels
There is, and its Chance The Rapper. His smile and exuberance for his craft bleed into this song. It’s gospel for the current hip-hop scene, and on this song he’s perfected it.
13. Danny Brown – When It Rain
On the other side of hip-hop, you’ll find Danny Brown. When It Rain is dark, driving, and neurotic. There isn’t much low end to this song, but it doesn’t need it. The slow, uneasy build is just accentuated by Danny’s frantic style.
12. Jesu / Sun Kil Moon – Beautiful You
This is a 14 minute song about nothing. For some unknown reason I love it. It’s one of the most atmospheric and ambient backing tracks that Sun Kil Moon has used, and he turns it into an almost trance-like performance. His rambling style is accentuated by the slow chanty vocals that come in during the latter half. It’s a perfect song for a late night drive.
11. Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Mitski sure as hell knows to how to write a song with a payoff. The climax of this track might be the best lead-up to a big moment in a song in 2016.
10. A Tribe Called Quest – Dis Generation
Welcome back. There are innumerable hip-hop songs that try and pull off the mid-verse back and forth, but Dis Generation nails it. It also contains one hell of a Busta resurgence that America desperately needed.
9. Blood Orange – Hands Up
Dev Hynes has the rare ability to make a song about a terribly serious topic, but turn it into its most beautiful form. Hands Up sounds like a love song, but reads like a cautionary tale. Just incredible songwriting.
8. Schoolboy Q (feat. Jadakiss) – Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane
Schoolboy Q is clearly at his best when he’s dirty, grimy, and angry. Groovy Tony’s beat is just the perfect pair for Q’s voice. Also Jadakiss’ delivery on the line “Getting high watching NBA league pass” is low-key my favorite music moment of the year.
7. Run The Jewels – Call Tickerton
I don’t think I can love a beat more than this one. RTJ3 only came out a whopping 3 days ago, but this had skyrocketed up my list. It’s a 3 minute panic attack, and has one of Killer Mike’s best ever verses toward the end. It also incorporates a sample as the chorus better than just about any song I’ve heard.
6. David Bowie – Lazarus
You can’t help but think of the context that David Bowie wrote this song in every time you hear it. It’s a last hurrah, a swan song, and a fitting end if that is even possible. The saxophone layers with the distorted guitars and walking bass line make a fantastic arrangement. It’s a 6 minute track that gets better the entire time.
5. Frank Ocean – White Ferrari
On Blonde, Frank Ocean toyed around with minimal orchestration, and perfects it on White Ferrari. Rarely do you hear anything more than his voice, a held synth or acoustic guitar, and some backing percussion. He somehow creates a lush song without ever using more than 3 or 4 tracks. The last minute is raw and emotional, and shows why he’s one of the best songwriters right now.
4. Bon Iver – 29 #Strafford APTS
This song is the perfect mix of past, present, and future Bon Iver. He incorporates the finger-picked guitars of his first album, the saxophone group of his second, and the autotune and audio glitches of his latest, all while maintaining his signature sound. One of his most complete and fleshed out songs to date.
3. Kanye West (feat. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, & Chance The Rapper) – Ultralight Beam
Some of the best Kanye songs are when he cedes the floor to somebody else. While Kanye starts off this song, he quickly passes it off, and each feature builds on the soundscape of gospel choir and 808’s. Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and Chance The Rapper each effectively deliver their version of a sermon. You can practically hear Kanye grinning from ear to ear as Chance preaches his verse. This is everything.
2. Radiohead – Daydreaming
Radiohead can make phenomenal music with polyrhythms, odd time signatures, and in unusual keys, yet they still excel at the basics. Daydreaming is nothing more than some slow arpeggios at the core, but all the small additional layers make this song a masterpiece. The twinkling keys, ghastly vocals snippets, building strings, and synth layers flesh out the full orchestration. It also doesn’t hurt to have Thom Yorke’s emotive voice in addition to all of that. Jonny Greenwood’s experience scoring films sure as hell pays off on this fully immersive song.
1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – I Need You
2016 was a tough year for many people. The reasons may vary, but most of the world’s population can empathize over that common theme. That pain is so clear in Nick Cave’s cracking voice. The unexpected loss of his son is inseparable from the track, creating a powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The song is a simple concept, and every single part of it contributes to the feeling of loss, sorrow, helplessness, and pain. I Need You relates specifically for Nick Cave, but feels so relatable to the listener. As this unique and trying years ends, there’s no better advice than to just breathe.