The Top 100 Songs of 2016

Top 100 Songs of 2016

best songs of 2016 Father John Misty80. Father John Misty – “Real Love Baby”
(Sub Pop)

Since Josh Tillman debuted his alter ego, Father John Misty, he’s commenced an assault on our consensus thought regarding lounge singers and their merit. His songs orbit around the rote tones of such acts but never align with what’s expected. On “Real Love Baby,” Tillman gives us a brief taste of what to expect if he completely embraced the gimmick. With a cheeky smile, his lyrics here are more straightforward than ever, allowing us to drop our guards and feel true happiness. It’s a sweetness we’ve never heard from this incarnation of Tillman and one we may never witness again. – Chris Willis


Esperanza Spalding Emily's D+Evolution79. Esperanza Spalding – “Earth to Heaven”
from Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord)

Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution is a project of a genuine genre collagist, remarkably patching a wide array of jazz, funk, rock and pop influences into a composite, skillfully crafted whole. Highlight “Earth to Heaven” is a prime example of the double bassist prodigy’s tight technical execution and superb sense of arrangement. The track’s chord progression succeeds the rank of early ’70s Joni Mitchell, but sonically mushrooms with Spalding’s extensive instrumental palette, effortlessly threading verse and chorus between a spritely piano and a thunderous, commanding bass. – Patrick Pilch


best songs of 2016 Brand New78. Brand New – “I Am A Nightmare”
(Procrastinate! Music Traitors)

It’s become exhausting, even for rabid fans (*raises hand*) of Brand New, to wait for their forever-impending fifth (and allegedly final) album. That being said, ”I Am A Nightmare” is without question the best straight-up rock song—irrespective of subgenre—of 2016. These days, hooks more dynamic than this anthem’s refrain don’t often show up on the pop, rock or R&B charts. The addictive riffs and pop-punk structure recall the band’s snotty teenage beginnings (unlike last year’s pitch-black “Mene”), but the plainspoken maturity in Jesse Lacey’s lyrics is new and profound. And that’s why fans want one last major statement from Brand New: They haven’t said everything they needed to, not yet. – Liam Green


best songs of 2016 Massive Attack77. Massive Attack – “Ritual Spirit” (feat. Azekel)
from Ritual Spirit (Virgin)

After a five-year absence from releasing new music, the title track of Massive Attack’s EP from the spring finds the band very much in form. Like much of the group’s most engaging work from the 1990s, there’s a dark, cinematic soundscape to “Ritual Spirit.” It’s a city in the middle of the night, a car drives by on a wet road lit from above, so there’s wavering reflections in the puddles. The lead character is in a black leather jacket. There’s a menace. And that’s just the slow, hypnotic opening guitar riff. Next comes guest vocalist Azekal’s falsetto singing the contradictory lyric “Climbing deeper…” For longtime fans, it’s good to know the band’s inertia remains creepy after nearly 30 years in the business. – Stephen Chupaska


Jessy Lanza Oh No76. Jessy Lanza – “Never Enough”
from Oh No (Hyperdub)

Jessy Lanza’s use of space on her latest LP is a pivotal progression point from 2014’s Pull My Hair Back. Her footwork-influenced pop minimalism—along with a newfound confidence as a singer—has pushed the Canadian producer and vocalist to the forefront of recent pop pioneers. The most compelling aspect of “Never Enough” is its role as a key example of radio-ready avant-pop; a paradoxical idea in itself. The track most notably evokes Madonna hits such as “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star,” constructing a rug-cutting spark with enough danceability to ensure the most rhythm-conscious listener to tap along. – Patrick Pilch


best songs of 2016 GLOSS75. G.L.O.S.S. – “We Live
from Trans Day of Revenge (Total Negativity)

The incredible west-coast d-beat act G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) blazed a short trail in the couple of years they were together, but will forever leave an impression. Released days after the shooting at Pulse Night Club earlier this year, “We Live” is G.L.O.S.S.’s most uplifting song to date, proclaiming that trans folk, queer folk and other outsiders live “even as we wonder why” and despite “childhood shame, internal blame” and “the urge to die.” It’s a pointed and harsh anthem of pride, clocking in at a mere 1:15, but it’s a message we unfortunately still need to hear as often as possible. Rest In Power, G.L.O.S.S., and thank you so much for existing while you did. – A.T. Bossenger


PUP The Dream Is Over74. PUP – “Pine Point”
from The Dream Is Over (SideOneDummy)

“Pine Point” is an unforgettable song, its lo-fi grit and tremendously anthemic vocals crafting a visceral folk narrative of loss. To call this track anything short of painterly in its ability to marry its own soundscape with affecting vocals so effortlessly would be an understatement. PUP is a force of nature both live and in the studio, and “Pine Point” is proof of that intensity. – Brian Roesler


best songs of 2016 Courtney Barnett73. Courtney Barnett – “Three Packs A Day”
(Milk!)

Nobody does clever and quirky like Courtney Barnett, and she delivers again with the jangly rocker “Three Packs a Day,” a song about someone with a serious instant noodle addiction. In addition to lyrics like “That MSG tastes good to me/I disagree with all your warnings,” the tune also features a fantastic Dylan-esque harmonica solo.  Of course, Bob never wrote about Mi Goreng. – Adam Ellsworth


Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide to Earth72. Sturgill Simpson – “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”
from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)

Contemporary country music thrives on epicurean live-for-today sentiment: You work hard, you deserve to play hard. Sturgill Simpson’s “Brace For Impact” posits a similar thesis but with a much darker motivation. You deserve to play hard because one day that tenuous, mortal tether is going to snap. It’s not terribly comforting, but against lines like “Bone turns brittle/And skin withers before your eyes,” Simpson taps into a black celebration via heavy rock riffs, a psychedelic synthesizer riff and eventually an emergency siren effect. Too far? C’mon. Like the man says, live a little—a little morbid humor never killed anyone. – Jeff Terich


best songs of 2016 Savages71. Savages – “T.I.W.Y.G.”
from Adore Life (Matador)

Savages are at their best when doing away with middle ground. When they’re floating in moody, melancholy ambiance, they’re sublime. When they’re firing on all cylinders, they sound like they could cause the ground to erupt in flames with just the sound of their instruments. “T.I.W.Y.G.” is clearly a case of the latter, explosive in its start-stop dynamics, rising up into a squall of melodic noise that extends well beyond post-punk into what could only be described as stunningly controlled chaos, all guided by a revolution of the heart. “This is what you get when you mess with love,” chants vocalist Jehnny Beth, in what sounds as much like a dare as a threat. At best it’s a frightening invitation into a glorious scrum, bruising and bloody all in the name of an ambiguous, intangible concept: “love.” To hell with halfway measures; this is what you get. – Jeff Terich

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