Best Songs of 2016 (So Far)

This time around, our annual task of compiling a list of the best songs of the year thus far was challenging (as it always is), mainly because many of the artists mentioned here have produced near flawless albums containing many gorgeous, standout tracks that – as cliché as it sounds – it is incredibly difficult to pick just one for each. For that reason, the tracks mentioned here are absolutely not an exhaustive list, and the list that will ultimately arrive at the end of the year may include the same/different tracks from the same artists mentioned here, as well as tracks from different artists entirely. So, that being said, here are our picks (in no particular order) of the best five tracks of 2016 thus far.

Sales, “Ivy”

Sales’ self-titled debut album was easily one of the years’ most underrated releases. When it was shared in April, the duo of Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih immediately received praises for their skilled camaraderie as well as the album’s cohesive take on their summery, low-fi aesthetic. “Ivy” was the all-around favorite, and everything from the way Morgan’s vocals drift seamlessly over the nostalgic, warm instrumentals to the nature of the lyrics as a lovesick ballad further prove that Sales are a gem in the DIY crown.

photo courtesy of artist

Japanese Breakfast, “Triple 7”

Michelle Zauner’s intimate debut album Psychopomp proved to be one of the best of the year, mainly due to the contrast between the soft, synth/dream pop aesthetic and Zauner’s piercing, personal lyrics. Despite the album’s wonderful singles that highlight Zauner’s ability to pinpoint the side effects of pain, loss, and love, closer “Triple 7” lingered in my mind well after listening to the album in full due to its almost avant-garde like feel. The lyrics are absolute poetry, and the gorgeous line “call out my name/ like something from the bottom of a well” is made even better with Zauner’s saccharine shriek, with plenty of passion built up behind its delivery.

photo by Phobymo

Porches, “Car”

“Car” was by far our favorite track on Pool, Porches’ debut album. Aaron Maine, the mastermind behind the operation, succeeded in creating such an introspective take on the dream/synth pop genre by presenting everything in waves, much like being submerged. “Car” is especially evident of this quality, as layers and layers of synth slowly build on top of each other, only being relieved as Maine exhales his vocals towards the end of the chorus. It’s a simple, yet gorgeous song, and I find myself listening to the entirety of Pool more and more just so this comes along.

photo by Jessica Lehrman

Night Moves, “Alabama”

Night Moves’ sophomore album Pennied Days is an absolute treasure trove of country-psych. It’s chock full of irresistible riffs, lovesick lyrics, and especially full of frontman John Pelant’s magnificent howling croon, which expresses itself in varying ways. Throughout a majority of the album, the raging, upbeat 70’s vibe is in full swing, but then takes a breather on “Alabama,” the album’s one gorgeous ballad. Towards the middle of the track, Pelant’s vocals magically and seamlessly transform from a dreamy falsetto to a thick brooding drawl, which, much like Night Moves themselves, remains charming, dangerous, and luxurious all at once.

photo courtesy of domino records

Car Seat Headrest, “Vincent”

There’s no doubt that Car Seat Headrest released one of the best albums of the year, but the fact that it was compiled of songs from his eleven previous albums on bandcamp as well as his first official album since being signed to Matador made Will Toledo a force to be reckoned with. Teens of Denial is truly filled with such honest, intense, and sometimes heartbreaking tracks, all with their own particular sort of beauty attached. The party-hating track “Vincent” and its absolutely killer opening guitar riff as well as Toledo’s brash, passionate howls makes it one of the most visceral tracks of the album, and evident of Toledo’s impressive skill as a musician.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi

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Men I Trust – “Lauren”

From the instant the bassline to “Lauren” by Quebec band Men I Trust entered my ears, I somehow knew right then and there that it would be one of the best songs of the year. The self-proclaimed indie dance/ trip-hop quartet was initially the collaboration between guitarist Jessy Caron and pianist Dragos Chiriac, which then became so successful that it was then expanded to a full project with the addition of two vocalists, Odile and Emma. “Lauren” – the second single from the group – revolves around a brilliant, bouncy, nostalgic bassline, which gives it such an irresistibly funky vibe. The breathy, mellow vocals that swell and contract alongside, however, contribute a much more ethereal, delicate feeling, allowing for such a unique, otherworldly sound. Its clear that this track was created with skill and finesse, and though it may sound simple, the feeling it brings is gorgeously intricate.

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photo courtesy of artist

Promises Ltd. – “Days of Lavender”

Promises Ltd., the collaboration between Jeremy Malvin of Chrome Sparks and Charlie Brand of Miniature Tigers, have announced the release of their debut EP as well as the first official single. “Days of Lavender” combines Malvin’s gauzy synth production with Brand’s smooth, hazy vocals, all while creating various textures throughout the track that, amazingly, never seem to plateau. Instead, it feels like a perpetual cycle of different styles that appear simultaneously smooth and vivid, and, in it’s six minute duration, never has a dull moment. The duo’s debut EP will be released on August 26th.

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photo by Michael Busse

Local Natives – “Fountain of Youth”

Local Natives have released the third single from Sunlit Youth, the follow-up to 2013’s stunning Hummingbird. “Fountain Of Youth” follows the already released, passionate “Past Lives” and the upbeat, vibrant “Villainy.” The new track has the same sun kissed, nostalgic vibe that the Los Angeles quintet is now famous for, with intertwining vocals, swelling instrumentals, and an overall wistful, yearning feeling that’s absolutely irresistible. Sunlit Youth will be released September 9th.

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photo by Renata Raksha

The Lemon Twigs – “These Words”

Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario form The Lemon Twigs, 4AD’s newest signees. The duo recently showcased their unique blend of funk and nostalgic retro style with the catchy, simple tune “As Long As We’re Together” last month, and now, they’re back with another taste of their addictive aesthetic. “These Words” has just about everything – swooning vocals, swells of piano, addictive synths, a funky bass line – all converging beautifully and tastefully together in a hazy, lo-fi sound. Both tracks were produced by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, which makes them even more impressive and indicative of the duo’s overall talent. There’s still no word on a debut LP release date, but after falling under the spell of “These Words,” we can only hope it’s soon.

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photo via the line of best fit

Wild Beasts – “Big Cat”

Back in May, UK synth pop phenoms Wild Beasts premiered the funky “Get My Bang,” the first taste of their follow up to 2014’s stunning album Present Tense. Now, the quartet has released the equally groovy tune “Big Cat,” which shows off the group’s sleek, polished take on their already synth heavy aesthetic. Despite the slight variation in sound, Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto is just as smooth and bright as ever, making us extremely excited for the new album. Boy King will be released August 5th.

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photo by Paul Phung

Turnip King – “Carsong”

Psych-rock quartet Turnip King will release their debut album Laika at the end of this summer, which seems appropriate given their wistful, nostalgic sound. The newest single “Carsong” captures the half-happy, half-sad feelings of – in the words of lead singer Lucia Arias – what it feels like to “spend time with someone you adore in the silence, freedom, comfort and privacy of a car” but also knowing it has to end at some point when you all go your separate ways. The track itself is full of gorgeous, noisy reverb and distortion, but all that heaviness is then cut by the soft, bright tones of Arias’s vocals. Laika will be released August 19th.

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photo courtesy of artist

Westerman – “Misantropé”

A few days ago, London-based singer-songwriter Westerman released the somber, yet gorgeous ballad “Mother Song,” which marks the end to this year’s Harvard EP – the artist’s debut release. Now that the EP is out in full, it seems appropriate to pick favorites, and out of all the tracks that appear on Harvard, nothing compares to the stunning “Misantropé,” which seems to represent not only Westerman’s acoustic folk influence, but also his spectacular songwriting. His soothing, impassioned voice floats above strums of guitar and violins, swelling gorgeously as he claims that this stunted version of love is “how it is/ not how it ought to be.” Westerman’s Harvard EP is out now.

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photo by Bex Day

Ice Choir – “Unprepared”

Ice Choir is the indie electronic project of former Pains Of Being Pure At Heart drummer Kurt Feldman. Their debut album Afar, released back in 2012, introduced his lush, 80’s new wave aesthetic. The upcoming release Designs in Rhythm should expand on that a little more, especially considering the nature of “Unprepared,” the first glimpse of the new album. The track is the perfect mixture of light and dense, as glittering, innocent sounding synth merges with deft, sparse drums. Feldman, in his calm, euphoric voice, sings of the contradictory feelings that come with love at first sight, and the saccharine sweet instrumentals reflect his wondrous tone tenfold.

Designs in Rhythm will be released on September 9th.

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photo courtesy of artist