Best of ’16: My Favorite Songs of 2016

2016 was trash, but goddamn, the music was good. Here is a handful of the songs that kept me positive, no matter how bad the news was. Thanks to everyone for the continued support and readership.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-15-06-pm61. MUNA
“I Know A Place”
About U (out 02.13.17 on RCA)

The LA trio’s ode to the healing power of sweaty dancefloors took on an even deeper meaning, as it was released only a few hours before 36 people tragically passed away at a 100% Silk event at Ghost Ship in Oakland. And though I’ve never been to that particular venue, I grew up going to many similar spaces around the Bay Area. As rents soar and cities continue to prioritize condos and Whole Foods’ over then its long-term residents, these spaces are becoming less regulated, more dangerous, and more important than ever.

60. Grizzle
Black Label II (Blacklink Sound)

Though little is known about young UK producer Griffin Haworth, we do know that his debut single is a goddamn banger. “Entreaty” twists a line from Trey Songz’s middle school dance classic, “Can’t Help But Wait,” in Eagle Scout-level knots, then slowly lets it unravel over skittering hi-hats and kaleidoscopic synths. It’s the kind of single that should be setting dancefloors ablaze around the world, but I guess my earbuds will have to suffice.

Digital Single

Everybody loves a comeback story, and the velvety-voiced Atlanta crooner is hopefully gearing up for a big one. Over bluesy, contemplative guitars, the 30 year-old lays bare the scars of 20 hard years in the music business. And weary as he may be, his voice has retained the same playful, youthful timbre that we first fell in love with all those years back.

“Honest” (f/ Yxng Bane)
Digital Single

There’s more than a hint of vintage Craig David vibes on this ultra-slick single from the rising East London vocalist. The recipe is straight forward — nimble keys, a tasty hook, jazzy drums — but the execution is first class, leaving me hungry for more from him in 2017.

57. Boosie Badazz
“Wanna B Heard” (f/ Slim Thug)
Out My Feelings In My Past (Self-Released)
If there’s one thing we aren’t doing in 2016, it’s hearing one another. For the last 15 years, the Baton Rouge native has been dutifully speaking for our country’s most marginalized, historically disenfranchised folks. On the striking “Wanna B Heard,” the 34 year-old shares the stories of members of his community, aiming to highlight their humanity that is constantly threatened by the media, police, politicians, and trash people on social media.

56. Skepta
Konnichiwa (Boy Better Know)
An anthem in an album full of them, I could have picked a number of tracks from Skeppy’s Mercury Prize-winning fourth LP, but I decided to go with the unapologetic, cocky swagger of “Man.”  Over an unexpected Queens of the Stone Age sample, the 34 year-old lets us know how awesome and annoying it is to be the face of UK hip-hop.

gemininegative55. Negative Gemini
“Body Work”
Body Work (100% Electronics)

Queens producer Lindsey French’s second LP is one of the best balanced electronic albums of the year. Living somewhere in the nether zone between the dancefloor and the bedroom, Body Work is filled with rave music with heart. Its standout track is a perfect distillation of that potent sound, as French’s longing, wistful vocals float between trance-inspired keys, new wave drum pads, and an energizing bassline.

54a. Thast
“Rep Your County” (Dave Luxe Remix) / Digital Single

54b. Thast 
“Gucci Bag” (Zora Jones Remix) / Digital Single
There are few things I enjoyed more in 2016 than the Tampa native’s ravenous Frrrrida flow, which is capable of making magic out of just about any beat it encounters. So it’s no surprise that when those bars met the expert production of special talents Zora Jones and Dave Luxe, the result is hotter than fish grease.

53. Ian Isiah
Digital Single

After a couple years away, the progressive NYC crooner graced us with a pair of warped, Sinjin Hawke-produced beauties. The first of which, “247,” highlights Isiah’s rare ability to heavily process his vocals without sacrificing emotion or tenderness, resulting in songs that simultaneously feel intimate and otherworldly.

kodak-black52. Kodak Black
“Vibin’ In This Bih” (f/ Gucci Mane)
Lil Big Pac (Dollaz N Dealz)
On this throwback single, the 19 year-old sounds like the long lost fifth Hot Boy, channeling the golden era of Cash Money. Though the Pompano Beach native is a versatile MC, he sounds best to me when he’s in fifth gear, and he matches his legendary guest bar for bar here. Though he spent a chunk of the year locked up (on charges that are still pending), Lil Big Pac was an unequivocal success, separating himself from a crowded pack and cementing himself as one of the most promising young rappers on the planet.

51. Young M.A.
Digital Single
To me, New York rap is like the Knicks; I don’t need them to be good to enjoy the NBA, but the NBA’s a lot more fun when they are decent. It was a solid year for NYC rap, and the Brooklyn native shone brightest amongst a crop of talented youngsters. Aside from her effortless bars, the best part of “OOOUUU” was its organic feel; it didn’t feel like a specific rip of a hot sound (see: Desiigner) or a regressive callback to a bygone era when NYC was the epicenter of rap. It just felt like a charismatic, technically gifted rapper having fun and talking her shit. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

114973550. Gaika
“The Deal” (f/ Alyusha)
Security (Mixpak)
The Londoner had a busy 2016, crafting a pair of excellent LPs that defied categorization. Gaika’s futuristic, challenging sound pairs elements of drone, post-Yeezus industrial sludge, modern R&B, and trip-hop to stunning effect. My favorite moment from him was probably his most subtle and straightforward — this gorgeous single with the young UK singer, Alyusha. Her mellifluous, powerful voice is a perfect foil for Gaika’s low-register vocals, forming a perfectly balanced duet.

49. Andy Stott
Too Many Voices (Modern Love)

The veteran Mancunian has made a ton of fantastic decisions throughout the years, but none have been greater than bringing the vocals of his old piano teacher Allison Skidmore to the party. She’s appeared on each of his least three albums, and her lithe vocals perfectly balance his foggy production, bringing his shadowy sound a little further into the light. One of the most accessible tracks of his career, “Butterflies” matches her slightly warped vocals with hazy synths, and the result is aqueous, mantric perfection.

48. Gucci Mane
“1st Day Out Tha Feds”
Everybody Looking (Atlantic)

While it’s impossible to imagine what two years in a maximum security prison would be like, Gucci’s unsettling comeback single does its damnedest to help you try. Over a suffocating Mike Will Made It beat, the masterful MC goes full Norman Rockwell, painting the ghastly portrait with horrifying vividness and disarming candor.

47. Lydia Loveless
“Midwestern Guys”
Real (Bloodshot)

The Columbus, OH native’s excellent fourth album is a feast of songwriting. The disc’s ten guitar-driven, alt-country tracks are uniformly sharp and substantive, and the 26 year-old is an incredibly skillful writer — capable of being sweet, sad, acerbic, and hilarious (often in the same song). Though I could have picked just about anything off Real, I’ll go with her takedown of Midwestern bros because if anybody deserves to be shit on in 2016, it’s them.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-20-10-pm46. Mitski
“Your Best American Girl”
Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
Very few artists are able to deal with the complicated construction and manifestation of our identities with the insight and clarity of Mitski Miyawaki. And “Your American Girl” is one of the best examples of that super rare skill. Her struggle to feel adequate and deserving of love is heartbreaking, relatable, and written with unrelenting grace.

45. PNB Rock
Goin Thru The Motions (out 01.13.17 on Atlantic)

The Philly native’s 2015 mixtape, RNB3, was basically the soundtrack to the first half of my year, and if I could have selected one of those tracks, it would have likely cracked the Top 10. That said, the bouncy “Selfish” more than stands up on its own, highlighting the melodic chops and effortless swagger that made RNB3 such a standout.

44. J HUS
“Playing Sports”
Playing Sports (Black Butter)
Though the rising Londoner kept a bit of a low profile after his 2015 breakthrough LP, The 15th Day, he still came through with some heat this year. “Playing Sports” is a perfect example of what makes him such an exciting, unique artist. Hus’ tracks bang without sacrificing an inch of melody, letting his effortless charm and dexterous flow take the wheel.

43. Migos
Culture (out 01.27.17)
While the Migos’ recent mega-smash “Bad and Boujee” is eligible for this list, it flashed on my radar a little too late, so I’ll go with this crystal keys and lyrical gymnastics of the mid-tempo “Cocoon.” While his verses are starting to get the respect they deserve, Quavo’s hook writing has always been underrated, and he comes through with a monster earworm here. As always, the main event is always their perma-innovative verses, and “Cocoon” is no exception with all three of the Migos dropping the kind of electric, creative verses that only they can. Culture is about to own 2017.

42. Burial
“Young Death”
Young Death / Nightmarket (Hyperdub)

Though he took the last two years off, the shadowy London producer has basically dropped an EP every winter since 2011. And while this effort doesn’t quite match the ecstatic heights of 2013’s Rival Dealer, its gorgeous A-side is a reminder of how singular and intoxicating his sound still is. “Young Death” mixes comforting, soothing vocal samples with his trademark cinematic synths and rainy percussion droplets to maximum effect.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-21-12-pm41. M83
“Sunday Night 1987”
Junk (Mute)

From the moment we saw its goofy cover, Anthony Gonzalez’s long-awaited successor to Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (aka: the one with “Midnight City”) was never going to get a fair shake. Though it’s undoubtedly too long and uneven (like all of his other albums), it has some beautiful moments that stuck with me, none more than this farewell to lost friends. His naive, innocent voice so perfectly captures the horrible ambiguity that death leaves us with — the ever-unsatisfying reality that you’ll never know where your friends went or why they left. The Frenchman calls out to nobody in particular (“Julia, Alexander… Where did you all go?”) knowing full-well that the question is feckless but also impossible not to ask.


40. Mikey Dollaz
Picture Me Rollin (self-released)

On the young Chicago rapper’s excellent Picture Me Rollin tape, Dollaz looked far beyond the city limits for inspiration. He enlisted a diverse array of producers from both sides of the Atlantic, the South, and even Australia, injecting a clutch of unexpected sounds into his take-no-prisoners brand of drill. The disc’s most explosive moment features one of those left-field choices. On “Commas,” Dollaz absolutely bodies the icy, Atari keys of UK progressive grime trio Silk Road Assassins, as his bellowing vocals contrast perfectly with the hyper-melodic arrangement for maximum impact.

39. Abra Cadabra
“Robbery” (Remix) (F/ Krept and Konan)
Digital Single

One of the fastest rising stars in the UK, the young Tottenham MC with the awful name dropped a clutch of potent tunes this year. He was rewarded for his efforts with a surprise win at the prestigious MOBO Awards, and his adorable, legitimate surprise hinted at the outrageously quick ascent he’s enjoyed. It only takes one spin of the sky-scraping “Robbery” to understand what all the fuss is about. Few can shift from raspy bully bars to melodic, ultra-smooth singing as easily or naturally as Abz does here, highlighting the multi-faceted talent that makes him stand out from the pack.

38a. Drake
“Fire & Desire” / Views (YMCMB)

38b. PartyNextDoor (f/ Drake)
“Come and See Me” / PARTYNEXTDOOR 3 (OVO Sound)

Fuccboi OVO is the best OVO. And two of the Godfathers of modern fuckery curl up with luxurious, 600 thread-count Noah “40” Shebib beats for some peak pettiness. On the former, Aubrey simultaneously expresses his eternal devotion while pulling away in the same breath, like only a god-level fuccboi can. It’s the equivalent of texting the diamond ring emoji to someone followed by a quick winky face. PND — a successful man-child in his own right — goes for the direct approach, rolling his eyes while a “lucky” girl resists his post-2 A.M. texts. It’s the kind of bullshit that we yell at our single friends for falling for but struggle to avoid when we’re the single ones.

37. Kodie Shane
“Losing Service”
Little Rocket (self-released)

This 19 year-old is the member of Lil Yachty’s Sailing Team most likely to blow up, thanks to her prodigious ability as a singer, rapper, and songwriter. The downcast “Losing Service” highlights all three of those talents, as she laments how we can slowly drift apart from our partners and the hopeless inevitability of its conclusion when the connection starts to fail.

36. DRAM and Erykah
Big Baby D.R.A.M. (EMPIRE)

An unforgettable duet between one of our true, treasured iconoclasts and one in training, “WiFi” is a gleefully left-of-center love song for the swipe right generation. Lyrics like “Boy, I got WiFi, And my service is nice at that” would fall flat in lesser hands, but the duo weave a surprisingly effective ballad that feels current and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

anderson-paak-2016-year-of35. Anderson .Paak
“The Dreamer” (f/ Talib Kweli & The Tilman Family Choir)
Malibu (Steel Wool)

Nothing kills a great story like a shitty ending. And Paak somehow conjures up a final act that lives up to the incredible 15 songs that precede it. Ironically, the song that this ecstatic, hopeful single reminds me most of is Kweli’s timeless “Get By.” And the legendary New Yorker helps Paak put a period on his masterpiece with a vintage verse. It’s the anthemic, beacon of light kind of single that should have brought us together in this rotten year, but like all nice things in 2016, we probably would have just ruined it anyway.

34. Pity Sex
White Hot Moon (Run For Cover)

Though it will sadly be her final LP with the group, Pity Sex frontwoman/co-founder Britty Drake said goodbye with a powerful, affecting set of songs. Its jewel, “Plum,” is one of the most heart-crushing songs you’ll ever hear, as Drake writes about her mother’s passing with astonishing detail and poetry that will suck all the wind out of you. Ironically, I would often skip over it while listening to the LP because it was just too much. Consider this your trigger warning.

33. Jenny Hval
“Conceptual Romance”
Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)

Just a year removed from her stunning apocalypse, girl (my 2nd favorite album of 2015), the Norwegian composer returns with a worthy follow-up. Its finest moment is this rumination on modern love. Though placid in instrumentation, the lyrics are anything but, as Hval lays her neuroses and fears bare to her partner. And dark as it may be, it ends on a hopeful note with Hval gently repeating “I’m working on it” as the contemplative synths and drum machines slowly fade away.

VIDEO IS NSFW (but v good anyway)

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-23-07-pm32. The Hotelier
“Soft Animal”
Goodness (Tiny Engines)

Instead of trying to recreate the profound darkness of their incredible breakthrough LP, Home, Like NoPlace Is There, the Worcester, MA trio decided to let some light into their sound. Of course, this is the Hotelier, so catharsis is still a huge part of the equation, but standouts like “Soft Animal” feature an extra helping of hope. It tells the touching story of a pure moment in nature, cruelly ended by a hunter’s rifle. And while vocalist Christian Holden doesn’t run from the sorrow, it doesn’t envelop him anymore, and he’s now able to appreciate the moment and divorce the beauty of the animal with the ugliness of the people around him.

31. Mssigno
Fones (XL)
The Londoner makes music that is hard enough for the club but soft enough for the bedroom, and his long-awaited follow up to 2013’s MssingNo EP is packed with his trademark emotional dance music. Featuring seductive vocals from the ever-underrated Clara La San, “Fones” is an exquisite slow-burner that builds to a subtle, yet satisfying crescendo.

30. Jamie Isaac
“Find the Words”
Couch Baby (Marathon Artists)
It might be because I spent most of the year doing a roughly 3-hour per day commute in the worst Bay Area traffic imaginable, but I can’t think of a lyric I related to more this year than “I’m stuck right here again.” That said, the Londoner’s gentle ballad about ennui resonates with me just as much in New York, beautifully bottling up that tasty, wistful nectar consumed by so many in the trains, cars, buses, and offices of America.

29. Shura
“What’s It Gonna Be?”
Nothing’s Real (Polydor)
One of the purest pop songs of the year, the Mancunian’s ode to first love will put stars in your eyes and its melody in your brain. The 25 year-old is one of a generation of exciting young artists who are creating pop that doesn’t adhere to the genre’s prehistoric playbook on gender and sexuality — crafting music that is gleefully unapologetic and full of life.

28. Future
“Low Life” (f/ The Weeknd)
EVOL (Epic)

We should have known that 2016 was about to be trash as soon as Future dropped this scumbag anthem on Xmas of 2015. “Low Life” is the anthem that this despicable year deserved. For five narcotic minutes, Future and the Weeknd douche out, so much that Future actually sings “if she catch me cheating, I will never tell her sorry” twice, just to make sure that he’s getting his point across. Of course, the magic of music is that horrible shit can still sound good. And goddamn it, this sounds good.

27a. Dave x AJ Tracey
“Thiago Silva” / Digital Single

27b. Dave
“Wanna Know” / Six Paths (self-released)

27c. Last Japan
“Ascend” (f/ AJ Tracey) / Digital Single (Coyote)
2016 was the year that two of the UK’s brightest young talents went global. Dave (fka Santan Dave) got the massive bump of having Drake jump on the “Wanna Know” remix, and AJ Tracey’s last single, “Pasta,” was premiered by Zane Lowe on Beats 1. And while it feels like their best work is forthcoming, both MCs put out some classics this year, none as thrilling as their electric ode to PSG’s center back, “Thiago Silva” and AJ’s collab with Last Japan. The sky’s the limit for these two.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-25-05-pm26. Lil Yachty
“Pretty” (f/ The Good Perry)
Summer Songs 2 (Quality Control)
Nobody pissed off more old heads in 2016 than the 19 year-old Georgia native. Though the discussion around the authenticity of his music was incredibly boring, the music Yachty makes is anything but. My favorite stuff of his always tended to be his softest — such as this sweet, heartfelt ballad with his BFF, Burberry Perry. “Pretty” is legitimately sweet, totally unforced, and begs the question: when you can write songs this affecting, who gives a fuck about bars?


6bb23a1a25. seprentwithfeet
blisters (Tri Angle)
Gospel played a role in a ton of secular music this year, but nobody did it quite like NYC vocalist/composer Josiah Wise. His stunning 5-song EP is a step past cathartic; it’s damn-near an exorcism. On standout “Flickering,” his voice may be trembling and exhausted, but it remains strong, serving as the final piece of connection between two people who are drifting dangerously far apart. His sound is singular and daring, dragging gospel music into new, undiscovered places.

chi-kanye-west-honorary-doctorate-art-institute-2015031724. Kanye West
“Champions” (f/ Gucci Mane, Quavo, 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti, Big Sean, Travis Scott, Desiigner)
Cruel Winter (TBD on G.O.O.D.)
Ironically, my favorite Kanye record of the year wasn’t on The Life of Pablo. “Champions” has an explosive, infectious energy that doesn’t quite exist outside of “Father Stretch My Hands.” And unlike that admittedly great song, the rapping on “Champions” is as brilliant as the production. 2 Chainz, Gucci, and Quavo are arguably the three rappers of the year, and though the Migos man’s verse is waaay too short, the trio absolutely body this thing. Wisely, ’Ye mostly stays out of the way here, letting the rappers do the rapping (shots?) and restricting Travis Scott to hook duty and Desiigner to ad-libs. In a perfect world, Big Sean’s verse would have gone to Quavo, but as we know, this world ain’t that.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-28-15-pm23. Reeko Squeeze
“Normal Dude”
Str8 Authentic (self-released)
The Lewisham native was one of the most consistent MC’s of the year, dropping an endless array of muscular drill tracks that sounded closer to 2012 Chicago than 2016 London. The best of the bunch, “Normal Dude,” is also the most emblematic of all the things he does so well. As a rapper, he is both menacing and melodic, casually dropping quotable bars and subtle vocal hooks without losing one ounce of his edge. 

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-29-51-pm22. Kevin Abstract
American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story (Brockhampton)
There’s more than a hint of Nostalgia, Ultra in the 20 year-old’s hugely promising second LP, and its most spellbinding moment is the hypnotic, cathartic “Echo.” Our story opens with Abstract staring at the stars, struck by crippling anxiety about who he is, how he got here, and what he’s supposed to do now that his boyfriend is gone. It’s the kind soul-searching that anybody who was ever a teenager (or human) can relate to, but it’s delivered with a depth and honesty that is rare and convincing.

jbreak-3-852x55021. Japanese Breakfast
“Triple 7”
Psychopomp (Yellow K)
Though much of the wonderful Psychopomp LP was written in tribute to her late mother, Michelle Zauner signs off by digging into her own past and wondering if she’ll ever find someone to start her own family with. Over haunting swaths of reverb, Zauner pines for the touch of a man who will never be fully hers, admitting that “I know the role I’m meant to play, the role of the other woman who will spend her life longing.” It’s a crushing and beautiful finale for an album that is dripping those kind of moments.

screen-shot-2016-04-26-at-23335-pm20. Beyoncé
Lemonade (Parkwood)
There’s nothing I can say about Queen Bey’s international fireball that hasn’t already been said by much, much smarter people. However, I will say how impressive “Formation” is both in construction and content. Miles ahead of a simple verse-chorus pop song, the track is a string of unforgettable movements; it’s just an incredible amount of musical ideas in just under five minutes. Lyrically, it’s obviously a statement that is impossible to ignore — the biggest artist in the world at the top of her game, holding absolutely nothing back and taking real chances.

smallcampcope19. Camp Cope
“Song for Charlie”
Camp Cope (Poison City)
“Song for Charlie” is one final emotional gut punch in a record full of them. On the phenomenal disc’s last track, Aussie singer/songwriter Georgia Maq says goodbye to her father with nothing but stunning honesty, grace, and a strummed electric guitar. Though she’s internally shattered, she battles to stay strong for her mother and siblings. Maq finishes the song defiant and determined, consoling her brother, Charlie, and telling him that he’s “gonna be OK, at least tomorrow, if not today.” If this song doesn’t knock the wind out of you, you might wanna go get something checked.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-33-36-pm18. Chairlift
“Crying in Public”
Moth (Columbia)
As tempting as the “D**ald Tr**p is president, we’re all crying in public” angle is, Chairlift’s gorgeous heartbreaker is more than the soundtrack to our national nightmare. It so beautifully captures the way that real love actually makes you kind of pathetic. That all of a sudden, after ____ years of life on your own, you now feel seemingly incapable of existing without a specific person (or animal), even for relatively short periods of time. It’s not one of the sexier or more dignified aspects of a relationship. But it’s real as fuck, especially when I’m sitting at home while my girlfriend is on a business trip, wondering what I’m going to do with my night and how the fuck I used to actually enjoy being single.

tinashe-05-desktop-vn117. Tinashe
Joyride (out TBD on RCA)
Though they don’t do it quite as much anymore, there’s still nobody that does it like The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. The dynamic duo serve up a delicious, timeless slice of Miami bass meets Love King, and the 23 year-old gobbles it up with aplomb, gracefully sashaying between the candy-coated keys and rolling hi-hats. “Superlove” is the kinda track that gets the best out of everybody involved and leaves you wondering why they all can’t get together more often.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-6-36-24-pm16. Kojo Funds
“Dun Talkin” (F/ Abra Cadabra)
Digital Single
African music has never had more influence in global hip-hop than it does right now, and this storming single is a potent example of that. Two artists with roots in West Africa and London, Kojo (Nigeria) and Abra (Ghana) link up for a propulsive track that matches the melody of the Continent with the edge of the UK. Both artists shift effortlessly from muscular bars to easy tenors, crafting a modern sound that is all their own.

rae-sremmurd-announce-first-annual-sremmfest15. Rae Sremmurd
“Black Beatles” (f/ Gucci Mane)
SremmLife 2 (Eardruma)
The most undeniable radio single of the year, “Black Beatles” is five minutes of delirious, insolent fun. But it’s also way more than that. Built around Mike Will’s unexpected, reverb-soaked keys and guitars, the Brothers Sremm and their spiritual big bro Gucci gleefully smash every tired rockist trope possible, LOLing at played out notions like the importance of playing instruments. Rap stars are the new rock stars, and there’s nothing you, your dad, or the fucking Foo Fighters can do about it.

wiley-00614. Wiley
“Can’t Go Wrong”
GodFather (Self-Released)
Nearly 15 years removed from his legendary debut, Treddin’ on Thin Ice (one of the first grime CDs I ever bought)the legendary 37 year-old’s delicious return to form shows that he’s still got plenty of gas in the tank. Far from an exercise in nostalgia, “Can’t Go Wrong” proves that Wiley can still handle monstrous sub-bass and double time hi hats with ease and that his trademark verses are as sticky and potent as ever.

2015davidbowie13. David Bowie
“I Can’t Give Everything Away”
Though his farewell album is full of honesty and hard truths, in pure Bowie fashion, he signs off by letting us know that there is still plenty more behind the curtain. Mystery and ambiguity have always been core elements of the Bowie experience. And though he gave so so so much to us in his 69 years on earth, he signs off with a wry smile, reminding us that no matter how much we think we know… we’ll never know the half of it.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-05-57-pm12. Car Seat Headrest
“Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales”
Teens of Denial (Matador)
So much of what makes Will Toledo’s 13th album such an impressive songwriting feat can be heard in this sprawling track. The Virginia native has an unusual knack for exploring unexpected avenues in his songs without sacrificing efficiency or meandering too much. It’s a bit like a (drunk) driver who takes you down a bizarre route but somehow makes great time. It is so hard to make six minutes feel like three, but Toldeo achieves that here (and all over Teens of Denial), thanks to his sharp, coherent storytelling and ability to load his songs with multiple memorable hooks. One of the most talented artists working in rock today.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-07-05-pm11. The Rhythm Method
“Party Politics”
Digital Single
I’ve always been a sucker for a throwback English house-party/coming of age tune (aka: anything that vaguely reminds me of “Weak Become Heroes”), and the South Londoners scratch all those itches on the wistful, nostalgic number. Our company for the night is the plain-spoken, vaguely poetic Joey and Rowan, the chintzy crooner. Though they might not seem like your dream squad at first glance, you’ll find that they make the walk home fun, even if the party is a bust.

img_2767-e146103254199810. 21 Savage x Metro Boomin
“No Heart”
Savage Mode (Slaughter Gang)
The nihilistic rapper that this shitty year deserved, 21 Savage spent 2016 carving out one of the most unique sounds in music. The Atlanta rapper’s bleak, down-tempo collab with Metro Boomin is full of threatening bars, super skeletal beats, and sneaky hooks that sound like nothing else. Though intimidation is the only element of the 21 sound that anyone seems to talk about, he has a subtle sense of humor and charisma, which he peppers through his unapologetic tales of life in one of the poorest, most dangerous communities in America.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-09-53-pm9. Dark0
Oceana (XL)
Though he’s always been a huge talent, I’ve always felt like the North London producer has been holding back just a little bit. On the lead single from his first EP for XL, he lets it allllllll out, crafting the life affirming, post-grime anthem that he’s always had in his locker. Built around a vocal sample with “Heartbroken“-level stickiness, “Forever” is four minutes of pure audio candy with each labyrinthine synth chord, dollop of sub-bass, and hi-hat in the absolute perfect place.

KING's first full-length album, We Are KING, comes out Feb. 5

KING’s first full-length album, We Are KING, comes out Feb. 5

8. King
“Hey” – Extended Mix
We Are KING (KING Creative)
A song I’ve loved since I first heard it on KING’s 2011 debut EP, the re-worked version makes the list this year both for its subtle enhancements (that coda) and the joy of hearing it in its proper context. We Are KING is the rare, quiet storm of an album that is worthy of a perfect love song like “Hey.” It’s a tender, unforced devotional that eschews the aspirational (#relationshipgoals etc) for the real and attainable, pulling you closer and celebrating the magic of real love. It sounds corny, but it is anything but.

solange-knowles-et-christopher-owens-nouveaux-visages-d-eleven-paris_exact1900x908_l7. Solange
“Cranes in the Sky”
A Seat at the Table (Columbia)
On the magnificent “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange chronicles a personal struggle with the perfect balance between raw honesty and ambiguity. Instead of divulging what exactly she’s struggling with, she chooses to focus on her many attempts to cope with the issue. It’s a subtle twist but an impactful one, giving “Cranes in the Sky” a universality and the power to help so many people with what ails them.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-04-59-pm6. Frank Ocean
Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
While the Internet was spending the last few years fretting over where Frank was, it turns out he was just out living his goddamn life like a normal (ish) person. He was losing his jacket, dancing like an asshole, and meeting interesting yet ultimately unfulfilling people at bars. Sounds about right for your late 20’s. Of course, while he wasn’t doing the things he sings about on “Solo,” he was also making one of the best albums of the last five years (more on that later) and developing a totally singular sound. But aside from all that, for four gorgeous minutes, Frank lets us know that he is just like us… an effortlessly cool, ridiculously talented version of us.

18-rihanna-tour-w1200-h6305. Rihanna
“Close To You”
ANTI (Westbury Road)
For her 8th LP, RiRi went with the “less is more” approach, scaling back the arrangements and guest artists and crafting her most consistent LP yet. Though she never gets mentioned as one of the world’s best pure singers (i.e. Adele, Beyoncé, Ariana), one spin of ANTI should remind you what a travesty that is. She’s got all the technical chops of the aforementioned singers, but there’s also a bite there, a palpable worldliness (I think the word is “soul”) that can go places other, more precious vocalists can’t. The final track from ANTI — the tearjerking piano ballad “Close To You” — proves this power, as her weary vocals add an extra layer of humanity that makes it extra special.

mgid-ao-image-mtv4. Pinegrove
“Old Friends”
Cardinal (Run For Cover)
The Jersey group’s crushing “Old Friends” examines how tragedy can leave you living too much in your head and not enough out in the world. One day, vocalist Evan Stephens Hall is avoiding someone from his past on the bus, and the next he is seeing some old friends at her funeral. It’s a song that I related to heavily this year, as I tried to make sense of loss in my own life. Losing friends should do nothing but make us more present and appreciative of the indeterminate amount we have with the ones we love, but anybody who’s ever been through it will tell you that it’s sometimes easier said than done. As more time passes, you can see things more clearly, and I’ll always be grateful to Pinegrove for helping me process and learn from tragedy in my own life.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-10-56-21-pm3. Kamaiyah
“How Does it Feel”
A Good Night in the Ghetto (Self-Released)
The Warriors have been to two straight Finals, the Raiders have the most exciting young team in the NFL, and the rap anthem of the year came out of Oakland. These are facts, not the fever dreams of my 15 year-old self. Since this is a music blog, I’ll focus on the ecstatic slap of “How Does It Feel.” For three glorious minutes, the 21 year-old slaloms through an undeniable slice of G-funk, imagining what the good life would be like with the melodic touch and flow of someone with the talent to make those dreams a reality. It’s the kind of single that is tailor made for the open windows, barbecues, and house parties of the Bay, and more than anything, it makes me miss home soooooo much.

the-1975-12. The 1975
“A Change of Heart”
I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It (Dirty Hit)
I could have chosen five or six tracks from the 1975’s brilliant second album, but Matt Healy’s narrative masterclass barely shades it. “A Change of Heart” is basically a great coming of age story told in just five minutes. Over a lazy bass and glittering keys, Healy poignantly and hilariously chronicles the great constant of your 20’s (and beyond?): changing your goddamn mind. His voice is pristine, and the lyrics ring so true, as he invites us on his journey to find himself… and if you look past the haircut and the tabloid headlines, you just might find that he helps you find yourself too.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-01-03-pm1. Prince Bopp
Digital Single
In the Internet age, real hidden gems are hard to find. But the unsigned Cincinnati artist’s hyper-melodic “Bandit” is one of those anomalies, confusingly not covered by a single blog that I could find. That said, Thunder Penguin’s got your back and will let you in on the best kept secret of 2016.

Prince Bopp’s auto-tuned croon takes us on his deeply personal journey from rejection to redemption, as he searches for his place in the world while grappling with who he is. It’s not a new story or a hugely novel way of telling it, but there’s this disarming, confessional quality to “Bandit” that I couldn’t shake off. It just feels realer, less calculated, and more human than anything else I’ve heard in 2016, and in a year like this, that counts for everything.

See ya next year. Thank you for the continued support. <3 <3 <3

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of '16, Featured

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