Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best in Music 2016

Here we go again.  2016 was another great year in music and these are my favorite songs and albums of the year.

10 Best Albums of 2016

1. Midnight Machines by Lights - In 2014, Lights released an album called Little Machines, full of fast-paced dance songs.  Two years later, and she drops this gem, almost a retelling of those same songs.  In Midnight Machines, Lights pares back her sound, letting her voice do the storytelling, and packs what were dance songs with an emotion that is staggering.  The songs are mostly accompanied by strings and the slow burn of each song is very impactful and just lovely.  It may have begun as an experiment, but it's stunning how these gems were polished off to reveal a beautiful gleam beneath the flash of synthesizers.

Key Tracks: Meteorites, Running with the Boys, Muscle Memory

2. 99 Cents by Santigold - Santigold has always been one to experiment with her sound, and she doesn't disappoint on her latest album, but she also crafts just great pop songs.  I love the build to the chorus on songs like Before the Fire, and the 80's beats of other songs like Rendezvous Girl are just delicious when blended into a more modern sound.

Key Tracks: Rendezvous Girl, Before the Fire, Who I Thought You Were

3. Royal Blues by Dragonette - Dragonette has embraced pop music with this album, complete with an unapologetic 80's sound and club beats.  This album is just bursting with happiness and you'd have to have no pulse to find yourself sitting still while listening to tracks like Darth Vader.

Key Tracks: Darth Vader, Detonate, Let the Night Fall

4. low kii savage EP by Kiiara - Kiiara has a unique sound, playing with electronics and vocals in fun and innovative ways for music that just hasn't been out there previously.  It's manufactured in a way that's just fun and fresh, taking full advantage of what the medium has to offer.  From the breezy sound of Feels to the playful beat of Gold, this is a very special album.

Key Tracks: Gold, Tennessee, Feels

5. Leo Rising by Karmin - This is an album full of catchy pop songs.  Karmin has never sounded better, and the duo's ability to craft hooks and songs that are hard to get our of your head, seems effortless.

Key Tracks: Sugar, Didn't Know You, Blame It on My Heart

6. Stranger Things Have Happened by Clare Maguire - Clare Maguire has a mature, beautiful album full of mostly pared back songs.  The strings are beautiful in naked songs like the title track, and she uses her voice like an instrument itself, almost operatically in Falling Leaves, but she also produces fantastic toe-tappers like The Valley.  Maguire proves that she is versatile, and somehow manages to make this album a cohesive whole.

Key Tracks: Elizabeth Taylor, The Valley, Stranger Things Have Happened

7. All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend by AURORA - AURORA has vivid imagery in her songs, and has a Sia-like feel to her music that gives it a sense of fun, even when it's rather dark.  And it's clear from how playful she is with her voice that she's having fun creating this music, and the result is an album full of great tracks.

Key Tracks: Conquerer, Warrior, Running with the Wolves

8. Lady Wood by Tove Lo - Tove Lo is just cool.  It permeates her music, and shines when she experiments with her sound.  From the funky R&B vibe to the perfectly-constructed pop, she has a strong voice that she uses to make her sound all the stronger.

Key Tracks: True Disaster, Imaginary Friend, Vibes (featuring Joe Janiak)

9. Prisoner No More EP by INGLSH - INGLSH has a beautiful, haunting sound, complete with unsettling electronic sounds and breathy vocals.  Many of her songs have a powerful empowering vibe to them, and they almost seem to sweep you away in their wake.

Key Tracks: Russian Roulette, Future, Shots

10. Lauren Alaina EP by Laura Alaina - There's always at least one country standout each year, and Lauren Alaina is it for 2016.  Apparently an American Idol contestant, Lauren Alaina has put together an EP of sassy songs with great hooks, many of which are more pop than country, but are nonetheless entertaining and fun.  Unfortunately this EP doesn't look to be available through iTunes anymore, as her record label is releasing a full album early next year with several of the songs, but the key tracks all look available, and if you try, you can probably still find this out there.

Key Tracks: Road Less Traveled, Next Boyfriend, History

Honorable Mentions
ArrangingTime by Pete Yorn
Bubblebath EP by That Poppy
FMA by Grace
The Altar by Banks
Video Tapes EP by Happy Sometimes

30 Best Songs of 2016

1. Gemini Feed by Banks - I'll be honest: It took me a few listens to even like this song.  But then I became obsessed.  I love all of it.  The resentment and accusatory pain of the lyrics.  The distorted vocals and thumping bass.  The chorus that keeps getting angrier and noisier every time we hear it.  It adds up to something unexpected and divine.

2. Meteorites by Lights - This is a beautiful ballad with a refrain that radiates quiet strength.  You just sort of feel this song inside you.  Lights is a talented song-writer and this pared back song flows beautifully with her solid voice accompanied by strings and drums.

3. True Disaster by Tove Lo - This song hits every note you could want in a pop song.  It has a great energy, and culminates in a powerful refrain that is impossible to keep out of your head.

4. Don't Believe in Stars by Trent Dabbs - This contemplative song has an easy grace to it.  It's a beautiful slow number that effortlessly draws you in. 

5. Tennessee by Kiiara - Kiiara is great at playing with sound in her songs, and Tennessee is a great example of her playing with vocals in cool ways.

6. Sugar by Karmin - This is a damn good sugary-sweet pop song.  The chorus, like the title, is delicious. 

7. Heard It From a Friend by LOLO - The Bluesy feel of Heard It From a Friend is delicious in itself, but the ferocity that LOLO bellows into the refrain is jaw-dropping. 

8. Big Man by Dia - The dreamy, ethereal sound of Big Man, coupled with Dia's bitter lyrics, make for one hell of a song.  Haunting and absolutely lovely.

9. Hell of a Girl by Grace - This whole song is great, from the retro vibe, to the ferocity that Grace sings with in the refrain when she proclaims "You messed up!"  If her remake of Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me doesn't convince you of her talent, this surely will.

10. Scar by Foxes - Foxes is a very versatile artist, but she excels in a song like this, where she can showcase her strong voice in a solid, empowering anthem.

11. I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix) by Mike Posner - This is a solid club song, with fun lyrics.  A great cool-down leads into a fun, frenzied chorus.

12. Summer Day by Zealyn - Aptly named, this is a breezy, beautiful song that absolutely personifies Summer.

13. Starboy by The Weeknd (featuring Daft Punk) - This whole song is perfectly constructed, but that lead into the refrain, and then the culmination of that build-up - it just all comes together for a very impactful final product.  Fantastic song.

14. Lit by Sometimes Happy - Lit is a great anthem from the excellent Video Tapes EP.  It sings in your blood and forces you to stomp along.

15. Water on Mars by Fauna Twin - From the very good The Hydra EP is this moody song with industrial sounds and a New Agey feel.  It's very different than anything out there and is just very hypnotic and kinetic.

16. Walking Up by Pete Yorn - Crooner Pete Yorn took five years off from releasing music, but came back with some great tracks on ArrangingTime, an album well worth the wait.  Walking Up is a slow-burner that has emotion brewing just beneath the surface.

17. Handclap by Fitz & The Tantrums - A fun, sunny song with a brisk pace that pulls you along, you'd be hard-pressed to hear this song and not clap your hands along with it.

18. Who I Thought You Were by Santigold - Santigold's funky sound gets an 80's makeover in this really catchy pop song.

19. In My Blood by The Veronicas - This is just a solid dance song that deserves a lot of play in clubs.  It has the feel of the great 90's dance songs I grew up with.

20. Darth Vader by Dragonette - This dance jam is frenzied, with a great refrain, and a delicious retro feel.

21. It's Quiet Uptown by Kelly Clarkson - From The Hamilton Mixtape, Clarkson sings one of the best songs from the musical, and utilizes her strong voice to great effect, injecting emotion into the song in all the right places.  A very lovely rendition.  Regina Spektor also performs Dear Theodosia beautifully with Ben Folds on the album.

22. Man on the Moon by Zella Day - This is a fun song that makes you want to sing along to the refrain.  It's a bit of a departure from Day's usual style, but I like this sort of sunny sound too, and it shows that she's versatile enough to be able to craft a variety of musical sounds.

23. Guys My Age by Hey Violet - A cheeky number, this song radiates cool.  Band Hey Violet throw a good amount of sassy could-care-less rebelliousness into their music.  They released an EP, Brand New Moves, this year with some other great songs too, like Pure and the title track, but unfortunately Guys My Age was not part of that package and it beat them out by a hair's breath for my favorite from the group.  Hopefully, a full album will drop in the near future.

24. Colours by Emma Louise - A slow-burner, Colours builds into a lovely chorus that has you swaying along with the music.  It feels effortless, but heartfelt at the same time.

25. Lost Youth / Lost You by How To Dress Well - This is another song with an 80's vibe that manages to sound fresh.  Great refrain.

26. The Equator (IV Fridays) by Brooke Fraser - Fraser released a series of these IV Fridays singles, many of which are really good, and will hopefully culminate in an album in the future.  Of the ones released thus far, The Equator is my favorite, with a strong chorus and haunting vibe.

27. Elizabeth Taylor by Clare Maguire - The retro feeling this song gives off is amazing, and demonstrates the strength of Maguire's songwriting.  With the piano and strings accompanying such a strong voice, she hits this one out of the park.

28. rEaR vIeW by  ZAYN - Let's face it: this former One Direction member is oozing sex on his debut solo album.  The way we croons, the longing in his all just mixes with that bad boy vibe for a final product that stirs something inside.

29. Couldn't Believe by Broods - This song has an awesome refrain accentuated by little grunts that actually really add to it.  It's interesting how a little sound can have you wanting to grunt along to a song.  But that's the power of songwriting.

30. Rebirth by Nina Diaz - This song radiates rage with Diaz' strong vocals conveying frustration and anger with a visceral force.  It makes you feel strong, like you're going to fight back, like some sort of mantra.

Honorable Mentions
Money by That Poppy
No Fear by Greyson Chance
Shore by Daniela Andrade
Siren Song by Jill Andrews
Way Down We Go by Kaleo