So far, 2016 has offered an eclectic blast of bubblegum and gunpowder (Lisa Prank), spectral 80s pop (Niki & The Dove), and lyrical sky shows of self-effacing honesty (Aesop Rock). Some pretty dope albums were released: check out ‘Get Gone’ by Seratones if you’re longing for the grit and gravy sensibilities of Alabama Shakes. Meanwhile, Kedr Livanskiy’s ‘January Sun’ brought the sort of chaotic, underwater terror that Mogwai would be proud of. New Zealand artist Kane Strang laid down some moody guitar licks on ‘Blue Cheese’ that could mirror the perennial gloominess of Billy Bragg. As we close in on the halfway point of 2016, I lined up some of the best cuts of the year – if you click on the song title, we send you to the track’s Youtube page. But if you’re a Spotify kid, we also have a playlist of the songs below.
12. Tacocat – I Hate the Weekend
Hardly Art has one of the most fierce and relevant rosters on the planet. From the flippant coolness of Colleen Green to the caffeinated snark of Chastity Belt, Jason Baxter and company are rolling out the heavy artillery. Tacocat, one of top sails of this label, released one of the best songs of the year in ‘I Hate the Weekend’, a harmonious, torch-wielding anthem of anti-conformity. With confetti in one palm and rocks in the other, Tacocat delivers these lyrics with an incensed urgency: “At the end of every week/they flood into our streets/homogenized and oh so bleak/got a hall pass from your job/just to act like a fucking slob”. At a taut two minutes and five seconds, this is a blistering, nail breaking track that is full of questions and exclamation marks.
11. Summer Cannibals – Say My Name
Kill Rock Stars released one of the raddest albums of the year in ‘Full Of It’ by Portland’s Summer Cannibals. Singer/guitarist/slayer of worlds Jessica Boudreaux hums, roars, and belts in the orchestrated riot that is “Say My Name”. Imagine Sleater-Kinney producing a song by The Sundays, and you’ll get a rough idea of this sun-flecked ode to repetition compulsion and the burning wick of desire. The cozy “oooohs”, reminiscent of a Saint Etienne song, strut over wicked guitar riffs. This is a great punch bowl of sadness and hope. If you haven’t seen them live yet – and, damn, they just ended their tour – you’re missing out.
10. Aesop Rock – TUFF
As of late, hip-hop artists have molted their incendiary and sometimes breakneck deliveries in favor of rhyme structures so slow and coagulated that they sound like a milkshake being poured onto the floor. Here, Rhymesayers emcee Aesop Rock eschews that nonsense, and splits atoms with his serpentine elocution. The New York born artist burrows his hands into esoteric landscapes, and emerges with clever wordplay, strange word combinations, and culturally aware references. There are fantastic lines such as “I still hang band posters and buy black-lights/Crib decorated like a dorm room at Brandeis/Still pretend I’m gonna build another half-pipe/Never mind the Ford-era christening and pants size” – it is this type of self-awareness that builds hilarity by employing specificity and humor. This is, without a doubt, the best hip-hop song of the year so far.
09. Lisa Prank – Luv Is Dumb
I have a deep affection for the pastel-and-carnage attitude of Robin Edwards (best known, here, as Lisa Prank). The fabric of her music lies in barbed quips, flower patterned leggings, and headdresses that look like Fritz Lang would have designed them. With the whiplash brevity of “Luv Is Dumb” – 90 seconds of unharnessed chaos – Edwards pokes fun at emotional irrationality. There’s unrelenting distortion, euphoric refrains, and the simplicity of dissatisfaction. “I’m not the type to call you all the time, but your love is making me dumb.” This is Motown punk in wayfarers.
08. Florist – Thank You
The spines of fallen leaves, warm, unfiltered fruit pulp on a hot summer day. Slivers of light cascade across old memories. Florist’s “Thank You” is, perhaps, the most confessional song I’ve ever heard. There are bones buried beneath the hushed and playful instrumentation. The composition is like the ghost of a Saddle Creek record. You think of Jen Wood. Jenny Lewis. Ben Gibbard. Of early 2000s records that were never made, but you somehow heard. The words to this aching song resonate on a visceral level. They complicate with simplicity. They are unpretentious but still intangible. The themes are bleak and ever-relevant: mortality, the dissipating sea foam of a youth gone by; the loose soil beneath your feet. The feeling of God, water, and hopelessness.
07. Porches – Underwater
The detached melodies, strange reverberations, and morose battle cries in Porches’ “Underwater” are beyond eerie – they live on their own gaseous planet. The slow, skeletal instrumentation is the perfect canvas for Aaron Maine’s powerfully vulnerable vocals. It’s a hypnotic waltz in the belly of a funhouse.
06. M83 – Do It, Try It
1980s posturing, cultural wanderlust through daydream filters, and the redistribution of emotional currency through a strange and spectral medium. M83’s “Do It, Try It” is like a pop music ghost tour, where sights and sounds come across as wandering apparitions. There’s a beauty in the reverb; a pining for simplicity. The refrain of “do it, try it” wanders like a floating orb. It’s the perfect anti-single of 2016.
05. Operators – Cold Light
Dan Boeckner’s hoarse baying creates a bloodied landscape that is almost like listening to a bizarro Bruce Springsteen. Grease, spit, ashes – the preferred tools of Boeckner. Since his storied days in Wolf Parade, the guttural singer/songwriter has been creating emotionally eviscerating songs in the key of Tom Petty. Pitchfork dubbed Operators “nightmare pop”, and that might be the most appropriate branding of their sound. With “Cold Light”, the Canadian born musician erects imagery of metropolitan mystery. “Put your heart in the hands of the city,” he sings. There is dancing, uncertainty, and fleeting beauty. “Maybe it will be alright.”
04. Polica – Summer Please
Channy Leaneagh of Polica is enigmatic, powerful, and quietly controlling music in 2016. Her immensely commanding voice isn’t heard in “Summer Please” until two minutes into the song. And when you first hear her ferocious lilt, you know you’re in the hands of something bigger than you. The uncanny valley is strong with this specific song. There are manipulated vocals, warped melodies, and the ethereal layering of these components. The entire album is a revelation, but “Summer Please” is essential.
03. TV Girl – A Song About Me
With TV Girl’s carnal themes and unreliable narrator, Brad Petering’s lyrics feel perfectly bare – a refusal to retreat. It’s a slideshow of revised history. Here, the statements condemning his doomed relationship are rebutted by Madison Keaton’s spitfire vocals. It’s a structural feat that brings to mind The Postal Service’s “Nothing Better”. Electric waves being met by volleys of sadness and defeat. Meanwhile, the pattering of artifice comes in the form of a drum kit. “Song About Me” lives in a dream, floating somewhere between a DJ Premier beat and a track from the band Ride. The combination of horror, attraction, and emotional stasis is jarringly hypnotic. A popcorn ceiling texture. Petering’s lyrics seer with both depth and simplicity. Sex as resignation. Beauty as burden. And the chorus is shrill discord.
02. Niki & The Dove – Lost Ub
This is like a Stevie Nicks song as produced by Marianne Faithfull. It belongs in some alternate 1970s timeline. From the gorgeously perceptive and devastating lyrics to the yearning ebb of Malin Dahlström’s vocals, this is a total miracle of a track. The entire LP, in fact, is fantastic in its ability to run its fingers over the rings of time. “Come on, show yourself/In a crowd somewhere/Let me know you’re alright/Where you are right now/Let me close my eyes/When I look again/Let me see your face/Let me hear you say/That it’s alright”. Just bury me right now, because those lyrics murdered me and I’m just awaiting my casket. No big deal.
01. Splavender – Honeysuckle
Here, Splavender’s lyrics are unpretentious, aesthetically textural, and composites of a place and time. “Honeysuckle” employs aching honesty, cozy instrumentation, and the skeletons of old exchanges to paint its sun-bleached imagery. Only TV Girl’s “If You Want It” and Cymbals Eat Guitar’s “Another Tunguska” have carved out narrative unease in a similar block of contemporary marble. The monotony of calendar days, the incessant use of substances, and the expectancy of fights are cavalierly sung about as if our storyteller is comforting himself by using a carefree, breezy, and hushed delivery as a coping method – it’s incredibly sad, realistic, and crushing. “Yet I know I’ll always have to sleep in alone.”