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’ 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
“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