Year in Review: The 10 Best Songs of 2016

This year was an emotional one, and music seemed like the only place to truly express that emotion.  Artists and songwriters were brave, bold, and brash, choosing not to limit themselves in passion or tenacity, placing importance in honesty and vulnerability rather than wasting energy trying to suppress it. For 2016, we chose our list of tracks, as well as our list of albums, based on the idea that indulging in your heart is often times more rewarding than solely listening to the thoughts in your mind.

10. Men I Trust – “Lauren”

The simple, yet mesmerizing bassline that introduces “Lauren,” the gorgeous single from Quebec quartet Men I Trust, is the element that secured it a sure spot on our list. It repeats itself and reverberates throughout the track, providing a thick backbone to the contrasting voices of Odile and Emma, vocalists found by founding members Jessy Caron and Dragos Chiriac. The result is a nostalgic, hauntingly beautiful sound, one that we’re hoping will expand into a full length album in 2017.

photo courtesy of artist

9. Von Sell – “Names”

Back in October, Brooklyn artist David Von Sell released his absolutely stunning self-titled debut EP (which, consequently, will also be on our list for the best albums of the year). Most of the seven tracks that appear on the EP were shared beforehand as singles, with “Names” being the last before the full release. “Names” follows the same aesthetic as the other tracks, including the use of strong, shuddering synth and bold, complex instrumentals. However, it was the pre-chorus of the track that had us coming back, where Von Sell’s crystal clear voice floats on top of a meticulous piano melody. It’s a breathtaking moment in the song as well as the entire EP, and solidified, at least for us, Von Sell’s intense skill and finesse as an electronic artist.

photo by Jen Maler

8. Japanese Breakfast – “Everybody Wants to Love You”

Michelle Zauner’s newest release as Japanese Breakfast was the highly emotional album Psychopomp, dedicated to her late mother. “Everybody Wants to Love You,” one of the early singles from the album, feels out of place at first listen, due to its jaunty, upbeat nature as well as Zauner’s bright vocals. However, when listening to the track again with a more focused ear, it further represents Psychopomp’s major themes of both grief and elation; especially when paired with the video, which has Zauner enjoying a day out on the town while wearing her mother’s hanbok, which she wore to her wedding. With the colorful guitar riffs and quirky lyrics that make up this beautiful song, its clear Zauner wanted to celebrate her mother’s life rather than mourn her death, and, given its short duration, becomes a moment of pure sunshine in the album.

photo by Phobymo

7. Mitski – “Fireworks”

Mitski’s deeply personal album Puberty 2 explored the natures of happiness and sadness both individually and simultaneously, further analyzing what it means for them to exist in almost perfect harmony. The songwriting was like a knife to the gut, but also felt completely necessary, as Mitski’s soft voice soothed and healed the wound. “Fireworks” was one of the most raw and passionate tracks from the album – with Mitski giving one of the most beautiful vocal performances in the entirety of the album – with the lyrics unapologetic in the way they deal with the natures of depression and insecurity. The track, narrating the life of someone so depressed they forget how to feel, contains some of the most somber lyrics, but yet the song sounds commanding and powerful in its instrumentals, communicating the moment its time to deal with your past.

photo by Ebru Yildiz

6. Porches – “Car”

Every time we come across this single from Pool, Aaron Maine’s debut album as Porches, we are charmed by the subtle way it builds from a simple, glittering guitar riff to a multi-faceted masterpiece in a mere two and a half minutes. True to the album’s name, the track comes in waves, simulating the feeling of being submerged by sound. Maine and his band add their parts as the song rolls on, including sparse drums, ethereal vocal backing, and layers of subtle, yet arresting synth. Maine’s voice also builds in strength up to the end of the chorus, where he slowly and delicately exhales the last few notes in a gorgeous release of pressure.

photo by Jessica Lehrman

5. Pillar Point – “Dove”

“Dove” might be one of the most stunning songs to exist in Scott Reitherman’s career as Pillar Point, mainly due to its simultaneous power and intricacy. His masterful manipulation of synth is heard throughout the entirety of his brilliant sophomore album Marble Mouth, and it’s especially impressive and elastic in the house track “Dove,” as it swells and shrinks, oscillating freely between elation and melancholy. Reitherman’s voice is an omniscient entity in the track, swerving beautifully through his complex instrumentals, whether it exists as the main narrative voice or part of the underlying rhythm. The lyrics are equally stunning, with Reitherman delicately reminding us that “without love/ you’re just a stupefied dove.”

photo courtesy of artist

4. Night Moves – “Alabama”

John Pelant’s voice is absolutely magical, and no other track made us realize that more than Night Moves’ fervent ballad “Alabama,” taken from their sophomore album Pennied Days. Pelant switches seamlessly from a gorgeously shrill falsetto to a thick, brooding drawl without so much as a breath, and then switches back to falsetto again, all while surrounded on every side by shimmering country-psych instrumentals. He compares himself to an animal in a cage, and the one he loves as his tamer, commenting on her unparalleled beauty and his inability to process anything other than his desire for her. The raw energy and unrelenting passion that exists in this track is so potent and animated that it’s almost tangible, and the story Pelant conveys through his lyrics makes it a love song for the ages.

photo courtesy of domino records

3. Frank Ocean – “Ivy”

I bought the entirety of Frank Ocean’s third full-length album Blonde solely based on the first few seconds of “Ivy,” hoping to experience the last five years of obsession and anguish devoted fans went through for myself in a mere five days. After finishing the album, I kept coming back to “Ivy” due to the delicate subtlety I heard in Ocean’s somber, pained voice, as well as the nostalgic feeling for a life I never had. Deeply weathered by the frustrations of love and desire, but refusing to fail, Ocean paints a sheer coat on top of an already broken, chipped foundation, heard in the track as the eerily bouncy, wavering guitar plucks. It embraces Ocean’s “boys don’t cry” theme of Blonde, as it doesn’t shy away from emotion and sensitivity, and he apologizes, yearns, and screams that he and his beloved aren’t “kids no more,” and should have learned how to deal with heartbreak by now.

photo courtesy of artist/npr

2. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Will Toledo’s brilliant songwriting is seen and heard throughout the entirety of Teens of Denial, his first record for Matador under the title Car Seat Headrest. He’s a storyteller more than anything else, with each of his emotional, deeply personal songs coming from a place of extreme honesty. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is the stand out track from the album due to its mercurial nature; including everything from a falsetto drenched introduction, pained, soul baring interludes, and aggressive instrumentals pierced with pleading, yearning vocals claiming that “it doesn’t have to be like this.” Much like the rest of Teens of Denial, it’s incredibly self-aware, and completely indicative of Toledo’s intense talent as an artist.

photo by Cecilia Corsano-Leopizzi

1. Whitney – “No Woman”

When I visited Canada this past summer, “No Woman” was, by far, the one song I indulged in the most while I was there. I blasted it through my headphones on the plane, played it in the car for my relatives in the early mornings while driving through thick, melancholy fog and majestic emerald green pines, and listened to it in my room at our little rental house while prepping myself to go out for the afternoon to the little shops and restaurants that lined the waterfront. However, it was during a car ride one evening while we were there that I finally broke down, due to the simultaneous beauty of what I was listening to as well as what was right in front of my eyes. The introductory swell of piano and soft, nostalgic guitar strums provide cushion for Julian Ehrlich’s beautifully shrill, piercing voice, and the layers of drums, violins, and brass instrumentals all build on top of each other with divine timing, ending with a crescendo of absolute power. However, it was Max Kakacek’s absolutely stunning guitar solo that caused so much emotion, as I felt it along with the accompanying lyrics narrating the journey to embrace the unknown.  Not only does Whitney encourage you to find beauty in melancholy, but ultimately, allows you to  feel secure in your own loneliness, even when surrounded by mountains and trees.

photo by Laura Harvey

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