Monday, December 19, 2016

Top 100 Songs Of 2016, 50-21


As my weekly Loosies segment took precedent in my blog's life, a lot of songs came through my ears, like a forever revolving door of ideas, inspiration, and art. Thousands of songs, some embarrassingly weak or crass, others dripping with feeling or glory. Yet, I still can't help but feel disappointed with 2016's top-tier song output. My number one song, as you'll soon find here, is evidence of that. So while few tracks failed to floor me, forcing me to question my own tastes, a trove sat comfortably on a throne of greatness. As I was compiling this list, the final tracks towards the end of the year finding their way in, causing others to slip out, I couldn't help but feel the quality displayed here is of impressionable stature.

Much like my albums list, the top 100 songs of 2016 represent an idea in me bubbling since the year began. Everyone undergoes turmoil, and this year I encountered my toughest hurdle yet. Couple that with 2016's marred identity, with countless idol deaths and poisoned cultural events, and it's easy to see why I sought refuge in music. Don't fret, this idea never got in the way of quality. If a song deserved to be here, you'll find it. But the point remains that what can be found here, regardless of the impression the song lents to its listeners, are a collection of tunes that put me in a good place.

*These are all 2016 songs, with two rule of thumb exceptions. If it released in the final weeks of 2015, failing to make that year's list, you'll find it here. And if a single for an album this year released in 2015, never crossing my ears until 2016, then you'll find that here as well.

Also be sure to check out my best songs of 2015 and 2014.

Chance The Rapper | Summer Friends
Coloring Book

Before 'Friends,' the original version of 'Summer Friends,' allowed Francis & The Lights to finally burst into the starlight he was seeking, his first high-profile ordeal was Chance The Rapper's reworked version off Coloring Book. The early mixtape highlight found Chance dance around the inner-city struggles he faced growing up in Chicago. For the poetic emcee, this wasn't new ground. The production, which was atmospheric and minimalistic, wasn't either, both drawing similarities to Chance's best work, and my song of 2013, 'Pusha Man / Paranoia.' 'Summer Friends' is less of a landmark, but more succinct, with Chance and Francis sharing the vocal space, the former explaining the troubles, the latter drawing on the fear, agony, and sadness. 

Radiohead | Present Tense
A Moon Shaped Pool

If I had to describe Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool in two words, it would be harrowing beauty. This isn't new territory for the group, as they've been defined by such words for well over a decade now, but AMSP was especially forlorn. 'Present Tense,' a late album grower, defined this description better than any other song here. Now sure, 'True Love Waits,' the heartbreaking finale, may have been more scornful, but no song better showcased the harrowing instrumentation and riveting beauty of 'Present Tense.' Radiohead accomplishes this through progression, ending in a different land than where they started, shifting into new ground midway through, made effortless through Thom Yorke's desperate vocal performance. 

Young Thug | With Them
Slime Season 3

It seems like every time I mention 'With Them,' the origins in which I heard it come like second nature. With reason too, as the first song off Young Thug's Slime Season 3 wouldn't have made as great an impression had it not been blaring through the ears of a thousand stalwart model faces at Yeezy Season 3. In that moment, of all, it showed me how far Hip-Hop has come. Kanye was playing whatever tunes he felt acceptable after ineffectively revealing his next LP. A kooky cast comprised of Kid Cudi, Pusha T, and more, were vibing wildly behind him. The Kardashians were dancing in all white up in the rafters. Lil Yachty, then an unknown at the time, was quite literally sticking out like a sore thumb in all red. A trove of models stood motionless in homeless garments. And Thugger was there looking sad. It was a sight that represents 'With Them' well. 

Joey Purp | Girls @

Rightfully, Joey Purp's standout smash, 'Girls @,' bears strong resemblance to Azealia Banks' idiosyncratic shot at the haters, '212.' The single even lends itself to some of M.I.A.'s work, consistently of constantly fluctuating sounds that hardly function as instruments. That peppy, confident female edge is what makes the production of 'Girls @' so interesting, especially when the lead is played, this time, by a male who's known to boast over normal Chicago-style Pop Rap. Surprisingly, the appearance of the high-profile Chance The Rapper does little to sway the greatness of 'Girls @,' effectively succeeding on its progressive beat and evocative chorus alone. A little self-indulgence with a swath of confidence can't hurt when the backbone is just so infectious. 

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | Arthropoda

Even though 'Arthropoda' sets it duration at a pedestrian 3:38, the journey it takes feel infinitely longer. With limited time, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith creates two songs in one. At first, and throughout, 'Arthropoda' acts as a fantastical Ambient piece, nestled in the confines of a deeply wooded forest just as the full moon rises over it. Secondly, she crafts an addicting Art Pop piece that reminds listeners of Deradoorian's last work, The Expanding Flower Planet. However, rather than put Pop tangibilities first, Smith goes off the radar, just barely capable of attaining grasp of the human attention with a barrage of lightly caressed choir notes hitting on all cylinders. It's a sight to witness.

D.R.A.M. | Broccoli
Big Baby D.R.A.M.

'Broccoli' may very be one of the strangest Hip-Hop tracks to ever top the Rap charts. Take a step back and just see what we're witnessing for a second, as a yelping D.R.A.M. forces a toy piano and squelching bass under a pre-pubescent Lil Yachty whose first lines are "hey lil mama, would you like to be my sunshine?" This is so, so, so not Hip-Hop. And it's exactly that unparalleled creativity that allows 'Broccoli' to shine. For Hip-Hop it meant more than just a bubbly spring hit, as it signaled the shift to official Bubblegum Trap, held up on the pedestal as thee defining song of the genre. 

Isaiah Rashad | 4r Da Squaw
The Sun's Tirade

Isaiah Rashad exceeds more than other artists by simply staying on script. His sounds, styles, dialects, and flows are best when he's accentuating what he's already perfected. The first track on The Sun's Tirade did just that, maneuvering through his Southern roots with ease, including a hook that just resonated with his inspirations. Like the great 'West Savannah' that came before, Rashad excels when everything's running smoothly, not too slow, not too fast. '4r Da Squaw' acts as if it's on perennial cruise control, a Sunday morning drive with the blunt in hand if I've ever seen one. '4r Da Squaw' finds Rashad questioning his abilities, fears, and commitments, a telling revelation given the purpose of The Sun's Tirade's own delays. '4r Da Squaw' meant more to him than it did to us.

Kanye West | Wolves
The Life Of Pablo

'Wolves,' more than any other Life Of Pablo cut, has gone through a litany of iterations that represented Kanye's ever fluid ideas with the 2016 LP. First, there was the infamous SNL performance which, since the reversion, is also the best version, then there was the diluted mess that originally graced Life Of Pablo, with Vic Mensa and Sia removed, and then Yeezy removed Frank Ocean to create his own track, further disgruntling fans. It was the one with them all present where 'Wolves' flourished the most, thanks to Mensa and Sia's background vocals and the robotic dinosaur yelp leading into Ocean's part. It's a weird song with no formal beat present, pressing Ye's vision to the maximum.

Danny Brown | When It Rain
Atrocity Exhibition

Atrocity Exhibition wasn't short on stellar tracks. In fact, damn near the entire album was made up of them. Even after all the detours the album takes, the lead single, 'When It Rain,' still represents the album's whole better than any piece there is. Over Paul White's cutthroat synths, unorthodox percussion, and droning bass, Danny Brown found himself in a wonderland land basically created for him. It was weird, quirky, and dark, the perfect mix for the emcee who can be described with the same verbs. Even the structuring, which at first seems natural despite the instrumentation, hides hidden value, as it's not until the hook rolls around where we're properly greeted by the bass. 

M83 | Go!

Junk created quite a storm of controversy when it dropped earlier this year, and not without reason. M83's embark to kitschy 80's was a risky venture to say the least, and one that rarely worked. Even Junk's singles were a mixed bag, with lead 'Do It, Try It' stumbling horribly. However, it wasn't all bad, as 'Go!,' which featured delectable vocals from Mai Lan, powered through with amazing energy and fervor. The tonality present in the verses, which were quaint and reserved, only helped to accentuate the sheer gravity of 'Go!'s' monolithic chorus, which saw Lan erupting into a ball of fury, yelling "I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming for you." 

Swans | When Will I Return?
The Glowing Man

Third generation Swans has been marred by bloated set pieces designed to wow audiences with their beefy, but overlong output. However, on The Glowing Man there were restricted moments akin to their older material, where structuring challenges were back in place, allowing for better pieces to be displayed. The choice cut comes in duality thanks to 'When Will I Return?,' which allowed Michael Gira's wife to unveil sinister events of her past before Gira himself enters to accompany her. It's most similar to Swans' Neo-Folk past, especially when the massive arrangement of percussion, strings, and guitars fluidly move about the two's harmonized yelping in the second half. What would've been a by-the-books measure was made all the more palpable by Jennifer Gira's intense lyricism.

Yoni & Geti | Lunchline

Testarossa's first single, 'Lunchline,' didn't do all that much to explain the underlying story. However, what it did in spades was revel in Testarossa's Hip-Hop/Indie Pop world. The sparse, bright production, kudos to Yoni Wolf, perfectly surmised Testarossa's saturated content, teeming with unusual ticks and tricks that you typically wouldn't find on a Hip-Hop release. In his own quirky sense, 'Lunchline' fit Serengeti brilliantly, leaving him space to operate, dancing with punchy flows over a bevy of strings, background vocals, and spacial density. As far as Abstract Hip-Hop goes, catchiness isn't exactly a pressing matter, but on 'Lunchline' it's primary, as the chorus and Serengeti's vigorous energy help to give the single some much needed bounce. 

Death Grips | Trash
Bottomless Pit

It's hard to pick a standout from Bottomless Pit because, in some sense, they all are. By design, mind you, as Death Grips' 2016 release was their most straight-laced yet, filled to the brim with traditional bangers. For me, 'Trash's' pummeling bass and scattered drums did the trick though, only helping to elevate MC Ride's monotone delivery, a simultaneous commentary on consumerist culture, to effective levels. Not to forget Flatlander's work, the hook wouldn't be anything without his scaling, fluctuating synths, bringing in a noisy element that pushes against the robotic nature of the percussion. Still though, with his tongue-sharp flows and proper alliteration, MC Ride takes 'Trash' to the next level.

De La Soul | Here In After
And The Anonymous Nobody

1996 was the last time De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, two groups forever locked in history together, released an album in the same year. 20 years later and they both emerged as if called to from some omnipresence. While the latter's final send-off surpassed that of De La's, special pieces, like 'Here In After,' helped to ripen the infamy of one of Hip-Hop's best trios. Working with Damon Albarn, 'Here In After' felt like a spiritual successor to the last time the trio worked with the Gorillaz, filled with bubbling instrumentation, feel-good hooks, and concise verses that explained the sentiments of the day.

clipping. | Wriggle

Before clipping. took their talents to outer space, the group dropped a six-track EP of unused material. While Wriggle continued their tradition of warping experimentation and catchiness, no such track excelled in such a feat than the peculiar title track. In it, clipping. samples Whitehouse, a Power Electrics group, and their most popular tune 'Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel.' It's a rarity to find such abrasive samples in Hip-Hop, it's another oddity entirely to find an emcee daring enough to rap over it. Daveed Diggs did just that, in style, without second guessing just how absurd the finished project would sound. 

The Avalanches | Subways / Going Home

Two for the price of one, as I feel you can't listen to one without the other. Known for interlacing tracks through their samples brilliantly, 'Subways' and 'Going Home' might be the best example of that on Wildflower. With a dazzling Disco set kicking things off, cascading synths and all, The Avalanches stun once again with an ode to the 70's nightlife. First up is Chandra, a teenage girl from 1980, enraptured with production so lively and exciting it's hard not to admire. Next is Gene Dunlap, 1981, singing the praises of a dying Soul era. It's all so effortless, so tantalizing, so provocative.

Terrace Martin | Patiently Waiting
Velvet Portraits

In my futile quest to know everything about music, one such genre, long since abandoned in the past, always excites me upon hearing it. That's the early rumblings of Soul, the dying breath of Doo-Wop. On Velvet Portraits, Terrace Martin mainly dabbled in Jazz, coming hot off the heels of his work on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, but on 'Patiently Waiting,' joined by Uncle Chucc & The Emotions (a group created for this sole track), Martin went full-blown Soul. Chucc, better known as Charles Hamilton, decries of his girl's absence, a staple of the genre, before slowly dehumanizing himself as his sanity begins to unravel. The patience disappears and untethered human emotion takes over. 

Desiigner | Panda
New English

I don't listen to the radio that often, but I do my best to stay in touch with the latest antics Pop stars are advertising. For all the hit songs this year endured, two in particular, at least related to Hip-Hop, rose above the rest. Drake's 'One Dance' and Desiigner's 'Panda.' I've heard each dozens upon dozens of times and yet, while the former now irritates me to no end, the latter pushes me forward with the rush of energy I felt when I first heard it. There's nothing inherently special about 'Panda,' other than the fact that it's stupidly infectious. Desiigner's energy, unmatched by Trap's standards, thrives, even if the words he's saying have virtually no meaning.

Mick Jenkins | Drowning
The Healing Component

A six-minute track about police brutality with hardly a foundational beat doesn't sound like a single to me, and yet Mick Jenkins, daisy-pusher not afraid to confront, did exactly that with 'Drowning.' With help from BadBadNotGood, the unusual mammoth wades in swampy water searching for answers. A Chicago emcee and a Toronto Jazz quartet make an black magic seance pulled from New Orleans' dankest bogs? Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone. Not only that, there's a vicious verse uncovered midway through, the only Rap-centric moment here, and a P-Funk inspired bridge that erupts out of nowhere. It's a slow-burner, but 'Drowning' is entirely worth it.

Lil Ugly Mane | Collapse & Appear
Oblivion Access

Arguably Hip-Hop's most enigmatic figure, Lil Ugly Mane, a name that's laughably non-characteristic, ended his career on the highest of notes. Spending time curating Memphis Rap before releasing Avant-Garde genre collages, his final work turned to Experimental Hip-Hop to relish in his own demise. 'Collapse & Appear' is, essentially, that feeling reincarnated. Throughout it's near seven-minute duration, Lil Ugly Mane hardly appears, and only through intense electronic disruption. The strongest human pull, that of emotion, is the only thing remaining, as the artist at the helm barely holds it together. 'Collapse & Appear' is a spectacular aural exercise that sees LUM's greatest fear, "watching humans interact with machines," unfold before his very eyes.

David Bowie | I Can't Give Everything Away

There has been no shortage of discussion surrounding David Bowie's final magnificent opus, Blackstar. On the album's last track, 'I Can't Give Everything Away,' Bowie comes to learn he can't continue being the greatest musician in existence. Decades spent releasing music only to be faced with death. While he's facing a crisis in which he'll never return, there's still hope to be found. Making multiple allusions to his 'next life' throughout Blackstar, perhaps the most interesting of which happens here with a little harmonica. Sampled from his own work, 1977's 'A New Career In A New Town,' Bowie seems to imply implicitly that his work will never end, but rather begin anew somewhere no living person has been. 

Jenny Hval | Conceptual Romance
Blood Bitch

While Blood Bitch's artful concept may have flown over my head, the album's second single still haunts me. 'Conceptual Romance' nestles itself firmly in Hval's aural world, using drawn out synthesizers and minimal percussion to build magnificent atmosphere that feels in equal parts light and dark. At her height, Hval excels in structural progression, and 'Conceptual Romance' is no slouch, constantly keeping things interesting around every bend, whether it's her layered vocals in the hook or the fraught, off-beating heart that emerges in its final moments. On an album bathing in blood, the dark and murky kind, 'Conceptual Romance' stands a testament to the imagery's more peaceful side.

James Blake | I Need A Forest Fire
The Colour In Anything

We've never been in short supply of relational quandaries in the music industry. Love governs the medium. And yet, only a select few songs each year can attest to bringing something new to the table. Not the idea of starting over mind you, which is at the crux of 'I Need A Forest Fire,' but how the desperation is told. The lead, either James Blake or associate Justin Vernon, plea for a new beginning by lighting it all up. To them, land needs to be scorched in order for something new to grow there. It's a last ditch attempt, and the way the two mysterious songwriters excruciatingly delve into the idea makes 'I Need A Forest Fire' an emotional triumph.

Frank Ocean | Rushes

Endless, a series of outtakes thrusted into a concept on the detrimental effect of social media, felt dizzy, lost, and unsubstantiated. Yet, for those reasons and more, I felt the thrown away LP succeeded. Radiating that idea the strongest was 'Rushes,' the album's standout that only seems to catch its footing when Frank Ocean leaves. The first half witnesses him adrift on rocky waters, his future unclear and looming. It's not until the second half though, when those waves seemingly take over, where 'Rushes' catapults itself into Frank Ocean's lofty canon, as a beautifully arranged, acid-drenched percussion ride guides us back to the shore.

Nicolas Jaar | The Governor

In typical Nicolas Jaar fashion, Sirens tackled a slew of ambitious ideas. Contextually it was a revolution, not just politically, but culturally as well. But more than that, conflating intrigue even more, was Jaar's eccentric use of music and influence. His formidable Electronic is all over the record, of course, but laced in between the fabric is visions of a past. On 'The Governor' he echoes Elvis Presley, of all people, with a vintage Blues and Soul sound. He's got that drawl, that sharpened 50's charisma, and yet, underneath the past is disgruntled visions of the future, as 'The Governor' derails midway through using brass and percussion lost amidst uncomfortably split electro-clashing. 

Noname | Casket Pretty

It only took Noname two minutes to construct as powerful a message as one will ever see in 2016. With Kendrick Lamar and Run The Jewels out of view during the summer, there were only a few names left to hold the mantle of passionate political activist. With 'Casket Pretty,' Noname took the knowledge of living in Chicago and ran with it, forming a concise portrait that explains more than it needs to show. Her voice, weary, weakened, and defenseless, only helps to strengthen lines that trail off ("too many babies in suits..."). While Telefone certainly had hopeful tracks, moments like "Casket Pretty' were needed to understand the gravity of the situation.

dvsn | The Line
Sept. 5th

While dvsn's 'The Line' premiered in 2015, under mysterious circumstances just like the group itself, I first heard the anthemic R&B cut in it's proper positioning at the end of Sept. 5th, the duo's debut album. The previous nine songs teased what 'The Line' would bring, and that's a perfect union of R&B and Gospel, the likes of which any attempts made in 2016 have fallen flat to. Nineteen85, the producer of the project, makes supreme use of atmosphere, building tension around every bend. And as the outcry becomes too immense for just one man to handle, a choir comes in to save him, and his soul. 

Schoolboy Q | Tookie Knows II
Blank Face

On Habits & Contradictions, Schoolboy Q was still rooted in the streets. With Oxymoron, he ventured out to the limelight. On his third LP, Blank Face, the Black Hippy emcee attempted to merge both. Nowhere was that seen better than on its finale, which viciously snarled in the corners with sinister verses from Compton natives over production that could only come from the most expensive of studios. 'Tookie Knows II' succinctly surmises Blank Face, seeing Q's confidence pour out of his words, especially on the subdued hook, as Nez & Rio build an unsettling aura behind him and his posse. It's an unsettling track that works best on a late night cruise with devilish intentions.

The Avalanches | Harmony

Who knew that smashing music together created decades apart could result in something so beautiful. Well, The Avalanches did, as I'm sure you knew from their magnificent 2001 debut Since I Left You. On Wildflower, another masterstroke, the group accomplished that same feat, and nowhere was their, um, harmony better than on the aptly titled 'Harmony.' To think a song so effortless was the result of hours of intense cutting and pasting, in the digital sense, is awe-inspiring. 'Harmony' flows like an uninterrupted creek traveling to a destination unknown. It bends, weaves, and glides, all while schools of fish leap in and out of the water in unison. With 'Harmony,' The Avalanches dumped a smattering of puzzle pieces from different boxes on an empty canvas and somehow organized them into a vibrant collage of abstract imagery. 

A Tribe Called Quest | Dis Generation
We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

There's a lot of standouts on Tribe's supposed last album, but 'Dis Generation' beats out the competition by doing two things; effortlessly showing the talents and each member (and unofficial fifth Busta Rhymes) by having them trade bars, and promoting a message that surprises me to this day. Along with 'Kids...,' Tribe sides with the youth, Hip-Hop's youth included, rather than condemn their actions and act superior. For a group like ATCQ, purveyors of positivity and peace, this belief makes complete sense, but nonetheless, it's refreshing to hear older artists put their trust in a different generation. Even if those factors weren't included, 'Dis Generation' still thrives musically alone, using cutesy samples and Q-Tip's vibing vocals as a sure fire bridge. 

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