The Top 100 Songs of 2016

Top 100 Songs of 2016

best songs of 2016 Kvelertak70. Kvelertak – “Ondskapens Galakse”
from Nattesferd (Roadrunner)

When you think of “Norwegian metal,” dollars to donuts you conjure images of impenetrable screams and drones, facepaint and Cousin It hair, palpable fear and illegible band logos. You’ll find a lot of that going on in this Stavanger group’s third LP, but “Ondskapens Galakse” also proudly displays a lot of old-school hard rock and early heavy metal tradition. Their guitar trio clearly identifies jangle from Allman Brothers territory; the band’s minor-key arrangement wouldn’t feel out of place with Boston. Even Erlend Hjelvik tempers his vocals to a scraping yelp that might be familiar to fans of AC/DC and Motörhead. There’s much credit to be given for the ability to tone things down just enough so even metal greenhorns can play along at home. – Adam Blyweiss

Diarrhea Planet Turn to Gold69. Diarrhea Planet – “Bob Dylan’s Grandma”
from Turn to Gold (Infinity Cat)

Diarrhea Planet is a band of showboating guitar heroes whose live shows feel like half kegger and half Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon leap—with lots of guitar solos. Naturally, they warrant their own self-mythology anthem, and “Bob Dylan’s Grandma” is it, a three-minute origin story of the journey from hearing Jimi Plays Monterey (the title of the song is a tossed off joke from Jimi about Noel Redding’s hairstyle) to the endless hours and hours of blistered fingers it took to become Stratocaster superheroes. And yeah, there’s a lot of fancy fretwork on this one, from the rollercoaster peak hootenanny of its opening riff to the harmonized guitar solo. It’s not easy to shred as hard as Diarrhea Planet, and with a name like that they damn well better. But it’s even harder to make it an ode to virtuosity sound so fun. – Jeff Terich

best songs of 2016 Babyfather68. Babyfather – “Meditation” (feat. Arca)
from BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow (Hyperdub)

Dean Blunt, the mysterious, genre-morphing mastermind behind various projects such as Hype Williams and Graffiti Island, is one of the most prolific icons in London’s avant-garde scene. Following last year’s broodingly introspective Black Metal, he’s shifted gears for 2016’s politically charged “BBF” Hosted by DJ Escrow. Between the album’s sardonic social commentary and grating dissonance comes “Meditation,” an Arca-featuring centerpiece of accessibility amidst a highly enigmatic project. Shamelessly repeating an 18-line hook in critique of conventional hip-hop choruses, Blunt neatly distorts his language with enough ambiguity to fire up debate in YouTube and Genius comment sections. The end result is a hauntingly interpretive echo of Babyfather’s love, hate and sharp self-awareness. – Patrick Pilch

best songs of 2016 Death in Vegas67. Death in Vegas – “You Disco I Freak”
from Transmission (Drone)

I can’t think of better words to describe this cut than these from Death in Vegas founding member Richard Fearless: “Discordant, repetitious, far-out, Hi-NRG techno.” It comes from a place informed by the darkest corners of modern minds like, say, Simian Mobile Disco, as well as the everyday bleakness of first wave industrial and synthpop: Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, you know the drill. The moments chosen to pitchshift the main motif and drop in Sasha Grey’s vocals give the song an air of unsteadiness, a welcome and rare difference in 4/4 dance music. – Adam Blyweiss

best songs of 2016 Cymbals Eat Guitars66. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Wish”
from Pretty Years (Sinderlyn)

When the friend who introduced me to Cymbals Eat Guitars heard “Wish” for the first time, he immediately texted me: “I can’t believe how much I hated that.” And it’s easy, at first, to see why that might be his reaction. Texturally, the song is a real departure from the Staten Island-based band’s discography, particularly with the presence of that cacophonous saxophone and the extra strain that Joseph D’Agostino has layered into his vocals. But D’Agostino’s lyrics are the best they’ve ever been, painting the song’s examination of substance abuse with remarkable economy (“An inch ahead of the event horizon / Your pupils pinpoints and mine gigantic”). And as the song progresses, its rougher textures begin to make sense, as the lyrics—about a friend still struck in the self-destructive habits of his teenage years—convey a sense of tiredness, of aging, of regret. – Sam Prickett

Charles Bradley Changes65. Charles Bradley – “Ain’t It A Sin”
from Changes (Dunham/Daptone)

While Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band ups the RPMs on the R&B machine, the 68-year-old Charles Bradley yells in the spoken intro that he’s trying to be righteous and “give love all over the world” though he’s “tired of being used.” It’s a classic example of trying be faithful to God, or even to a lover, but you have your limits. You might be getting screwed and if fact you probably are. It’s not clear if Bradley is going step over the line, but he’s coming right up to it: “If you ain’t gonna do me right, I might just do you in / Ain’t it a sin.” Also notable is the sparse, punchy live-sound production. It feels like Bradley and the band are rehearsing in the upstairs apartment. – Stephen Chupaska

best songs of 2016 Stranger Things64. Kyle Dixon/Michael Stein – “Stranger Things”
from Stranger Things Vol. 1 (Lakeshore)

Something like a phenomenon, something like a Demogorgon. The Netflix series that embraced every early-’80s TV and movie convention possible—and then, as summer became fall, became a self-effacing, self-deprecating punchline for doing so—was supported by incidental music from members of Austin retro-electro act S U R V I V E. Dixon and Stein’s opening theme for the show would be extended, remixed and rapped over, but in its original form it spoke to the power and increasingly rare art of setting a memorable tone in advance of any dialogue. You may not be able to hum it, but like so many shows of the past—M*A*S*H, The X-Files, Dallas, Friends, even The Greatest American Hero, by God—you know what’s coming after it fades away. – Adam Blyweiss

Kevin Gates best songs of 201663. Kevin Gates – “2 Phones”
from Islah (BWA/Atlantic)

Kevin Gates refuses to fit in any particular category within the hip-hop universe. So it makes sense that his first true hit single would walk a fine line between the pop charts and street rap, boasting the best aspects of both. “2 Phones” is an undeniable jam, its monumental hook designed to rattle the fuck out of car and club speakers. While Gates doesn’t showcase his raw, confessional side on this one (he does that almost everywhere else on Islah, his greatest work to date), his facility with wordplay is on full display in the verses, particularly the triplet flow section that ends with the “I just finished up a new performance” line. Gates is a complex and contradictory character—e​ven on his club-smash track he’s trying to juggle mistresses, dope deals and studio time, and stressing out equally over each. – Liam Green​

best songs of 2016 Future62. Future – “Low Life” (feat. The Weeknd)
from EVOL (Epic)

I turn the Ritz into a poor house/ it’s like eviction number four now/go ahead and ash it on the floor now /girl, show me how you go down.” The opening lines of “Low Life” sets the tone for this trap ballad that pairs the Weeknd with Atlanta’s Future. They both seem to have influenced each other on this, as Future’s rapping has a more melodic quality that comes close to singing his rhymes in a manner that mirrors Tesfaye’s delivery.This duet brings out another side of Future that finds him rising above his peers. It’s the perfect soundtrack to a debauched binge in urban Babylon. – Wil Lewellyn

best songs of 2016 Death Grips61. Death Grips – “Eh”
from Bottomless Pit (Third Worlds)

Death Grips don’t give a fuck. Or rather, they want us to think that they don’t give a fuck. For all intents and purposes, they do seem pretty eager to remind us of that fact, though their press-baiting record label contract disputes, their skipped performances, their breakup announcement—and, most notably, through “Eh.” It’s a shrug of a song, with MC Ride mining his persona of aggressive reclusiveness to give us a catalogue of his total, unfeeling apathy. Like Death Grips’ best material, the edginess carries with it a kernel of cheeky self-awareness—”lil’ bits of eh gleaming, like Piss Christ”— but the real draw here is the woozy instrumental, which counterpoints Ride’s vocals with something accessible—almost whimsical. That the song works so well—and is realized so clearly—gives the song its compelling final layer: it’s proof that Death Grips actually do give a fuck about something. – Sam Prickett

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