Last year, I put together a list of my 100 favorite songs of 2015 and passed it around to my friends that always hit me up for music suggestions. I’m sharing this year’s version of that list here for you guys that want a diverse list of music that was released in 2016. It features pretty much every genre but country.
I’ve broken down my 20 favorite songs individually below, but also have the full 100 song playlist at the bottom of this post. Outside of the top 20, this playlist features songs from Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Catfish and the Bottlemen, The xx, Miike Snow, Lido, Tycho, The Strokes, James Blake, Bon Iver, St. Lucia, a number of Anderson Paak songs (his output in 2016 was that impressive), Phantogram, Underworld, and Blood Orange, among others.
Here’s the Top 20:
20. BROODS – “Are You Home”
I’ve been a big fan of the New Zealand duo since their debut EP a few years ago. On their second record, this song stands out as the track that gives me the most feels. Hearing Georgia Nott sing “I’ve been drinking and I’m thinking that I don’t want to fight” squeezes my heart before the extremely dance-y beat takes over.
19. BANKS – “Gemini Feed”
Much of BANKS’ debut record was a lot of one great thing: dark downtempo alt-pop. On “Gemini Feed,” one of the first singles from her follow-up record, BANKS punches up the BPMs and the song sounds like it could’ve fit Nelly Furtado during her time working with Timbaland.
18. Luna Shadows – “Waves”
Luna Shadows came out of nowhere like a shooting star in 2016. Releasing single tracks month by month, her debut EP exploded onto my radar thanks to a friend that works with the LA-based singer-producer. This song has a massive sound and the chorus consumes you immediately. “Nothing’s wrong with going off in a daydream,” she sings in the opening lines of the track. Those words fit the vibe of the song like a glove.
17. liv – “Wings of Love”
This project is quite an eclectic mix. It features Lykke Li, members of Miike Snow as well as a member of Peter, Bjorn and John. Hearing Lykke Li’s vocals on a song that sounds out of the Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac is something to take in. It has me immensely excited to see what is still to come from them.
16. DMA’s – “Timeless”
The release of an incredible Oasis documentary this year had people salivating for the return of Britpop more than any recent year. But if you were paying attention, you’d have already known the successor was already among us. Aussie trio DMA’s nail the Britpop sound with eerie accuracy, no more so than on this loud as hell lead track from their debut record. It took an interview with the band to clarify exactly what the hell singer Tommy O’Dell is shouting in the chorus, but that didn’t keep me from listening to it about 100 times when I got an advance copy of the record.
15. Kendrick Lamar – “Untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016”
It was crazy to see how Kanye West put so much effort into his 2016 release The Life of Pablo and it didn’t come close to making me feel the way Kendrick’s masterful untitled. unmastered release did. The song features some very simplistic songwriting but it just works. It was great to see Kendrick employ this song as the opener at his jaw-dropping FYF Fest headlining set in August, the crowd yelling “Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate” along with the rapper.
14. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People”
The legendary hip-hop collective’s triumphant return after a nearly two-decade long hiatus was one of the best things to happen in a mostly shit 2016. The album was a welcome respite from the terrible presidential election results earlier that week. Hearing the late Phife Dawg’s vocals on the track is a gut punch knowing it’s the last we’ll hear from the iconic rapper. But they carried the track incredibly well on SNL that same weekend and if they do tour behind the record as they plan to, it’ll definitely be worth checking out.
13. Day Wave – “You”
One of the more minimalist songs from Oakland-based lo-fi power pop dude Day Wave, the melody sounds much like a slow-tempoed version of The Cure’s “In Between Days.” Jackson Phillips’ vocals are perfectly melancholy.
12. KAYTRANADA ft. Craig David – “Got It Good”
When we tell our grandkids about the Great Craig David Revival of 2016, we’ll point to this KAYTRANADA track that David’s vocals appeared on as part of the Canadian producer’s epic 99.9% record. The beat immediately washes over you like a hot shower, and the British R&B singer’s vocals are as smooth as butter. It’s a great song on a record chock full of them.
11. Lucius – “Gone Insane”
One of the most gutwrenching songs of 2016, I got literal goosebumps when watching Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe scream the song’s final words at each other at Spotify House at SXSW. It was one of the most emotional moments I witness happen on a stage all year. The studio version of the song captures that same magic, it’s the musical equivalent of an ugly cry, their voices cracking a bit in the final moments, a stark contrast to their usual pitch perfect vocals. If you don’t feel something when listening to this song, one thing is obvious: You have no soul.
10. Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
I’m very late to the Car Seat Headrest bandwagon but hopped on after seeing their Treasure Island set in October. Will Toledo sort of reminds me of Beck, if Beck had gone a more emo route with his songwriting style than Beck had. This is a six-minute epic and the final breakdown will give you goosebumps as Toledo shouts “It doesn’t have to be like this” over and over before the climbing harmonies.
9. Lapsley – “Hurt Me”
Lapsley also made our Best Debut Albums list last week and this is the standout track from her killer first effort. Hailed as the next Adele, Lapsley taps into those feels on this track similar to how adept Adele is at capturing that. This song features a perfect blend of R&B and electro-pop and her vocals soar on every verse.
8. M83 ft. MAI LAN – “Go”
M83’s new album Junk was way different than anything they’d done in the past. It wasn’t as synth-driven as their breakthrough record but it still featured quite a few killer jams. None were as exciting and fun to dance to as this collaboration with MAI LAN. There were few moments as fun as throwing my hands up to this song on the festival circuit at stops like Coachella, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo and Firefly.
7. Gallant – “Weight in Gold”
The sexiest song on this list – Gallant was named to our Best Debut Albums of 2016 list last week and this song was the linchpin to the record and what broke him out in a big way. In the long absence of Frank Ocean before Frank’s two records emerged late this year, Gallant was one of the acts carrying the alt-R&B torch in a big way. This song will stand the test of time as one of the better R&B tracks of the decade.
6. Warpaint – “New Song”
Sticking with the theme of bands taking a new step – Warpaint went in a more poppy direction with the lead single from their killer 2016 record Heads Up. “New Song” is far and away the most dance-y song the band has ever released and the simple chorus is an instant earworm that you’ll find yourself humming after one listen. The track turns a vocal harmony from Emily Kokal into the song’s opening beat. It also utilizes the strengths of this band in a new way: the backbone of Warpaint has been drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg ever since Stella joined the band prior to their last record. The layered vocals of Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Lindberg are top notch as well.
5. Angel Olsen – “Shut Up Kiss Me”
Speaking of artists going in a new direction and progressing rather than sticking with what they know – this singer-songwriter wrote a much different record on MY WOMAN than her breakout record Burn Your Fire For No Witness. The latter was a much quieter record than the new one, and the new record’s breakout song was easily this track. It retains the vintage sound Olsen has become known for but is a much more pop-driven tune than anything on the previous album.
4. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
I can understand why a lot of people will not like the direction that Donald Glover has gone in with his latest album, the Parliament Funkadelic sounding Awaken, My Love! It’s an album devoid of any bars – there are no “II. Worldstar” type songs on this record. But if you’re a fan of when Andre 3000 went left of center on the OutKast double album like I am, you will appreciate this new side of Childish Gambino. The best single “Redbone” is very hazy and proves Glover to be quite the vocalist. I probably played this song a dozen times in a row when it first appeared online and I haven’t slowed down much on it since.
3. Flume ft. Tove Lo – “Say It”
Probably the most remixed electronic track that isn’t The Chainsmoker’s “Closer,” this Flume collaboration with Tove Lo was a perfect marriage. Tove Lo proved on her debut record a few years ago she’s the progression from Kesha – a pop star that can sing and write about partying and being scandalous and it works great. Hearing her sing, “Let me fuck you right now, oh oh oh,” in the final line of the song’s hook
2. Francis and the Lights ft. Bon Iver – “Friends”
People were wondering, “Who the fuck is this Bon Iver knockoff on this Chance the Rapper song ‘Real Friends?’ when Chance’s mixtape dropped earlier this year. It turned out Francis and the Lights’ version “Friends” was the better version, with Bon Iver guesting on the track that also featured production from Kanye West. I’ve been a fan of Francis dating back to his It’ll Be Better record in 2010 but never could’ve foresaw the brilliant record he dropped this year, Farewell Starlite! Now Francis has gone on to work with the likes of The Weeknd, Cashmere Cat, Chance and others in 2016 as his career looks to propel to great heights.
1. Anderson Paak – “Come Down”
This was the rare case where a song that becomes unavoidable is also one of the best songs of the year. Whether it popped up in an NBA on TNT commercial, in the latest Madden game or wherever else, I never got tired of hearing the funky bass line open this killer track from Paak, who had as big of a breakthrough year as anyone. The hook in this song is perfect and constantly bounces off the walls of your brain after you hear it for the first time.
LISTEN TO OUR ENTIRE 100 FAVORITE SONGS OF 2016 PLAYLIST BELOW: