The Top 100 Songs of 2016

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Top 100 Songs of 2016

burn-the-witch20. Radiohead – “Burn the Witch”
from A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)

“Burn the Witch” has existed at the fringes of the Radiohead mythos for well over a decade, having first been hinted at in the album art for 2003’s Hail to the Thief. But it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate time for the song to have been released—against a global backdrop of nationalism, xenophobia, and demagoguery—than the present. Like most of Thom Yorke’s politically leaning material, the lyrics consist of somewhat archetypical paranoia (“Abandon all reason / Avoid all eye contact / Do not react”), but against the anxious churning of Jonny Greenwood-orchestrated strings, we get the most visceral incarnation of the creeping political dread lurking beneath Radiohead’s discography. They’ve been having this low-flying panic attack for years—the rest of us are just catching up. – Sam Prickett

chance-the-rapper-suprise-album19. Chance the Rapper – “Same Drugs”
from Coloring Book (Self-released)

“Same Drugs” is not about drugs. Actually, it’s Chance the Rapper’s version of Peter Pan, sung over gorgeous piano and strings. The song focuses on Wendy, Peter’s childhood friend, and how she’s changed—she’s aged now, her hair is different, and she and Peter don’t have the same things in common anymore. Of course Peter has changed too (“A shadow of what I once was”), it’s just that he notices it the most when he looks at her. “When did you start to forget how to fly,” he asks Wendy, which has to be one of the most heartbreaking lyric of 2016. Really, he’s asking himself, and all of us. When did we all get so damn old? What happened to that childlike wonder? Can we get it back? Not entirely, no. But maybe we can grab a piece of it, even if only for a moment. We just need to remember the happy thoughts. All we need is happy thoughts. – Adam Ellsworth

ocean-frank-507ed3e6ed64b18. Frank Ocean – “Ivy”
from Blonde (Def Jam)

“Ivy” is an uncertain track, unhinged from reality. It flits between discordant memories, the kind you’d mentally replay in vain attempt to understand (“Everything sucked back then / We were friends”). A subdued electric guitar tries to keep the track on a linear path, but it wavers and dips, eventually giving way to harsh industrial scrapes and screeches at its close. The beat plucks throughout as if a quick heartbeat, and the glitchy squeals in the last 30 seconds of audio catch its narrator by horrified surprise. “Ivy” possesses a curiosity-fueling quality that made the long wait for Blonde well worth it; it withholds just enough emotional closure to keep you listening for answers ad infinitum. – Paula Chew

Savages summer tour17. Savages – “The Answer”
from Adore Life (Matador)

Where Savages’ 2013 debut Silence Yourself brought unbridled energy and a straightforward display of their intoxicating goth-rock attack, Adore Life is the band’s foray into a more complex, brooding kind of energy. Taking stronger influence from metal, noise rock and other genres that were only hinted at before, “The Answer” takes conflicting parts and blends them together beautifully to form a one-of-a-kind anthem. Each player tears into this song with their own unique attack; complex rhythms from Fay Milton compete with ravaging bass from Ayse Hassan, while Gemma Thompson absolutely destroys riff after riff. Jehnny Beth ties it all together with her haunting delivery, and the equation for post-punk perfection is complete. But don’t you dare shove this song off in a pile of other neo-post-punk singles: where others imitate, Savages innovate, and that’s what makes every listen so damn satisfying.- A.T. Bossenger

Carseat Head Rest shot by Photographer By Anna Webber in Seattle Washington for Matador Records.16. Car Seat Headrest – “Fill in the Blank”
from Teens of Denial (Matador)

Raucous guitars kick off the four-minute explosion that begins Car Seat Headrest’s Matador Records breakthrough. In the first track on Teens of Denial, Will Toledo boldly begins by talking back to the higher powers, imitating them as he sings, “You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it.” Holding nothing back, he expresses his frustrations with expectations and relationships. Toledo’s vocals are passionate and raw—he sugarcoats nothing and gives the listener everything from his deepest points. “Fill in the Blank” is a cathartic rock anthem, a moment of release for anyone in need of a bit of reassurance. The track elegantly comes to a close with a ritardando, framing the moment of epiphany Toledo broadcasts as the song reaches its stunning climax. – Virginia Croft

best songs of 2016 Anohni15. Anohni – “4 Degrees”
from HOPELESSNESS (Secretly Canadian)

Anohni’s “4 Degrees” comes into my headphones like a sudden downpour—emotion made corporeal. It’s intoxicating like a drug. Maybe it’s love. But that’s not quite Hegarty’s point here. Typically, I’d say that art is up to the consumer’s interpretation—which most artists themselves would probably agree—but that’s doubtful when the artist is so explicitly political. Especially on “4degrees.” Environmental issues seem like the type of urgent crisis that would garner bipartisan concern nowadays, but you’d be wrong! Perhaps there are more pressing issues in the immediate future. But we’ll have to deal with these sometime and, for once, stop putting it off. It’s been a long time since modern pop music has made me feel so alive—and guilty for it, naturally. – Ben Braunstein

blonde14. Frank Ocean – “Nikes”
from Blonde (Def Jam)

As the first song on a hugely anticipated sophomore album, “Nikes” is a bit of a gamble. For three minutes, Frank Ocean sounds like he’s been huffing helium as he wanders through a lightheaded stream-of-consciousness, gradually painting a picture of his drug-dealing cousin’s unfulfilled girlfriend. It’s not too far removed from the from-the-gutter character studies that made up much of Channel Orange—that is, until the song shifts and Ocean’s unfiltered voice bursts through the narcotized haze with a no-nonsense attempt at seduction (“We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you”). It’s never quite clear whose perspective Ocean is inhabiting in the song’s narrative—he shifts between several—but the song sets up Blonde as a study of authenticity. It’s a song about characters lying to themselves and each other; hell, Ocean even distorts his voice for most of the song. But the song’s sudden shift into outright sincerity (“I’m not him but I’ll mean something to you”) sets the table for Blonde’s mostly autobiographical material. This album isn’t a series of fictional character studies like Channel Orange, Ocean seems to be promising us. It’s about him. – Sam Prickett

best songs of 2016 Mitski13. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
from Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)

“Your Best American Girl” makes the sobering case that sometimes love actually doesn’t transcend different backgrounds or points of view.
The keystone cut on Mitski’s superb LP Puberty 2 is personal, intimate and likely autobiographical; the 26-year-old singer/songwriter is a native of Japan and led a peripatetic life before settling in New York. The crux of the matter is comes in a simple, perfectly weighted line: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/But I do, I think I do/And you’re an all-American boy/ I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl.” But it’s not really a pessimistic song—it’s about coming to grips with a feeling this equal parts honesty and anguish. If the truth does indeed set you free and know you gotta go, then Mitski’s guitar-bashingly great chorus is perhaps the slight pause, where you shore up your confidence before you leave the room. – Stephen Chupaska

Danny Brown When It Rain12. Danny Brown – “Really Doe” (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul)
from Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)

A good old-fashioned posse cut that makes up the centerpiece of Danny Brown’s album Atrocity Exhibition, “Really Doe” brings four of hip-hop’s most coveted flows together for the first time. According to Brown, this was a largely unfinished track that was in danger of dying when Kendrick heard it, took it home, and came back with the hook, bridge and his verse in place. From there, it was destined for greatness, and with Black Milk’s dark standoff production that sets it all on menace control, it becomes a time capsule of the game in 2016. While K-Dot holds it together, and Danny and Ab deliver great verses, the standout is Earl, whose slow and methodical flow carries a gravitas and authority that few can match. That he is still only 22 is difficult to accept. – Max Pilley

Beyonce Sorry Summer Jams 201611. Beyonce – “Sorry
from Lemonade (Columbia)

There was something so surprising and so deliciously sly in the poetic intro into “Sorry.” When Beyonce says “ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks,” you knew we were in for a dragging of epic proportions. We got “Sorry,” a gleeful and proud clapback that had all the world guessing just who this Becky with the Good Hair was. “Sorry” is defiant, a song that pushes back and flips you off for good measure. For those who have been wronged, “Sorry” is an anthem, who looked at the guilty party with a withering glance as they slam the door behind them. For anyone not in the position for epic dragging, it’s a wonderfully charged song that taps into vicarious fantasies of burning exes’ belongings or a public takedown of a shitty boss, or any other instance of fighting back for one’s dignity. Because sometimes it just feels so good to say, “boy, bye.” – Jackie Im

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