Clearly, I like writing about music (which really just means I like organizing my favourite music), so I've made a list of my Top 14 Favourite Songs Of 2016. I tried to narrow it down to 10 or 12, but couldn't eliminate any of these 14. Also, I simply listed them in alphabetical order and put a star next to my top 4. Here it goes ...
Formation, from Beyonce's newest opus Lemonade, is undoubtedly one of the most, if not *the* most, important song this year. It will surely be remembered as one of the great political works of art this era (the entire album and all of its accompanying videos will be). Formation, in particular, though, is an incredibly powerful song. We all know Beyonce can sing (really sing), but it's nice to hear her tap into her grittier side, especially given the song's celebration of her heritage and southern roots. The song's trap beat is hypnotic and the lyrics are as unapologetic as they come ("I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils"). The video for it, as you already know, is stunning - both a subversive middle finger to racists in power and a love letter to black culture.
Blackstar, the opening track on David Bowie's final album, is a gorgeous and haunting ride through Bowie's psyche during what he knew were the last months of his life. It's a romantic concept - spending every last ounce of energy and time you have on this planet channeling how you feel about your impending death into a brilliant work of art, but I can only imagine it's far, far harder than any of us realize, which makes this album such an astonishing feat and a testament to Bowie's love for the craft. Blackstar is as beautiful, complex and mysterious as the man himself.
Garbage returned this year with a single sounding so much like classic Garbage, it feels (for exactly 4 minutes) like nothing has changed since 1995. Sometimes I sense that people have forgotten how great Garbage was and maybe it's because Shirley Manson never burned out or made a solo pop album. Who knows? Regardless, their self-titled album is one of my all time favourites and their new album Strange Little Birds is a solid return to form. It's full of dramatic and heartfelt electronic rock, like only Garbage can make. Empty is a standout and one of the best rock songs this year.
Ghost have nailed it once again. Square Hammer, the single from their recent EP Popestar, is my second favourite song this year and easily the most addictive. I can't think of another artist (who writes all of their own material) currently releasing as many insanely catchy and well crafted songs, and at such a steady pace, as Ghost. Con Clavi Con Dio, Ritual, Year Zero, From The Pinnacle To The Pit, He Is and now Square Hammer are all among my favourite songs released this decade by any artist. And those are only slightly better than most every other song in their discography. Seriously, I can't recommend Ghost enough, as long as you a) don't mind dark imagery/lyrics and b) don't believe metal can't be melodic and even poppy while still being heavy and kicking ass.
(I wore this outfit a little while ago, but never posted it. It's a sweater from Nordstrom over a little cropped hoodie from Bob's over a dress from a fancy boutique. I wore the dress to my senior prom.)
Queens Of The Stone Age are my favourite band, so it's no surprise that I love Iggy Pop's new album Post Pop Depression, on which Iggy enlisted Queens' lead guitarist and singer/songwriter Josh Homme not only to play guitar, but to produce as well. (Josh then enlisted Queens' keyboardist and sometimes-guitarist Dean Fertita and Arctic Monkeys' drummer Matt Helders to join.) Iggy, of course, is a legend and sounds fantastic. Every song on this album is inspiring. I could've chosen the eerie and pretty Gardenia for this list, but Sunday wins out. It's classic-sounding and driving. I love the video for it, too, with its juxtaposition between the lush, swampy land of Florida where Iggy resides and the sun-baked desert of Joshua Tree where Josh is from. It's breathtaking.
John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, released his second solo album, Beulah, this year, which he introduced with the excellent What's So. This song has the old school, outlaw country vibe that Barton Hollow has, which made me fall in love with The Civil Wars in the first place. Also, John Paul's voice is like the smoothest wine to me - one word and I'm hooked. Like many songs on this list, the video for it is great as well. What I love most about country music is that it finds beauty in the everyday routine, in small town life and in tradition. It finds joy cruising down country roads and curing hangovers with an omelet at Waffle House (which pretty much sums up the 3 road trips I took this year). John Paul, of course, delivers this ethos with a slightly ominous, Southern Gothic tone, as per usual.
This is my favourite song of 2016, hands down. This song, off Mantar's second album Ode To The Flame, is what my heavy metal dreams are made of. This song is what I search every corner of the Internet for, hoping and waiting ever so patiently to find. I may have listened to this song 20+ times in the 24 hours after I first heard it. (It's possible that I'm listening to it right now.) Seriously, though, this song is just so heavy and catchy at the same time. The riffs are pummeling and the chorus slays me. Also, it's worth noting that this band consists of only 2 people, which makes their sound even more impressive. (Interesting tidbit as well: in the video for their song Cross The Cross, which is another standout, you can spot an old school Ghost poster on the singer's wall.)
Metallica was absolutely my gateway to metal. My 2 oldest brothers listened to them religiously when I was little and I was drawn to their music even then. While I agree with the popular opinion that everything after the Black Album has been hit or miss at best (I like most of the Black Album, though it's no Master Of Puppets), I'm always interested in hearing what Metallica makes. There are more of their songs on my list of Favourite Songs Of All Time than any other artist (3: Welcome Home (Sanitarium), One and The Unforgiven II). Their new album Hardwired ... To Self Destruct is a double album and can feel like too much at once, but there are some excellent songs on the tracklist. My favourites are Moth Into Flame and Spit Out The Bone, both of which possess the ferocity and relentlessness I love from Metallica.
PJ Harvey has always danced to the beat of her own drum and I love her for it. I especially enjoy when she taps into her slightly more rock n' roll side, like on all of Dry or This Is Love. The Wheel, from this year's The Hope Six Demolition Project, is a return to that and, in my opinion, one of the best songs of her career. Its handclap rhythm and use of saxophone are fantastic and the chorus is melancholic perfection. The video for it, shot in Kosovo and Washington DC, is beautiful as well. I'm realizing right now how the videos I love most on this list are all similar, in that they focus on everyday life, ordinary people and run-down buildings. That's always been more interesting to me than images of glamour and luxury.
This is probably the most left field choice on this list, not because it's pop/R&B, but because I've never been a huge fan of Rihanna's music. I like Rihanna and think she's an important figure in pop culture - her lasting popularity is a testament to her talent and how much she means to so many - but I've never liked overly auto-tuned, Max Martin-approved Top 40 pop. I just don't enjoy it. Rihanna, however, does seem to be exploring new paths. I'm especially into the trap influence on Bitch Better Have My Money and the sexy slow burner Kiss It Better. The vibe of this song, and Rihanna's vocal performance, so perfectly encapsulate sexual tension, I physically feel it.
I'm a huge fan of Run The Jewels. Their last album was brilliant and so far, RTJ3 is shaping up to be incredible as well. Legend Has It is as ferocious and funny as previous standouts Oh My Darling, Don't Cry and Blockbuster Night (Part 1). I also love their darker, more somber songs like Crown and Angel Duster. I really hope this new album has a couple songs in that vein as well. Much like Ghost (who I talk about above), it honestly feels like every song Killer Mike and El-P make is on another level. They simply don't make bad songs.
Russian Circles is an instrumental post-rock band I discovered through Chelsea Wolfe, who sang on their 2013 song Memorial. Their new album Guidance is one of my favourites this year and is solid from start to finish. This album is a ride, with each song bleeding into the next, like a sunset bleeding into the mountains, only to be replaced by a sea of stars. It's full of twists and turns, but always flows effortlessly - building walls of noise and then stripping it back to peaceful ambience. Vorel is a glorious peak.
I've been a fan of Sturgill Simpson ever since I stumbled across the phenomenal It Ain't All Flowers in 2014, which stopped me dead in my tracks. I enjoyed most of the rest of his last album (which Flowers was on), but his new album A Sailor's Guide To Earth steps it up in every way. His music has always combined traditional country with elements of 70's psychedelia and rock (psychedelic country, if you will), but A Sailor's Guide To Earth carries even more influences and sounds, including a cover of Nirvana's In Bloom. The standout for me, though, is Brace For Impact (Live A Little). This bluesy, psychedelic country-rock song is easily one of my favourites this year. (Also: congrats to Sturgill for his AOTY nod at next year's Grammys. I'm excited to see what this recognition leads to.)
Tobacco is an electronic musician, who's also a member of Black Moth Super Rainbow. Home Invasionaries is my favourite song off his new album Sweatbox Dynasty, but I really think his music can only be fully understood in album format. It's heavily distorted, off kilter and psychedelic. When I listen to it, I feel as though I'm trapped inside a video game from the 80s and am suddenly a neon blob of pixels bleeping and blooping around without a care in the world (which is a much cooler sensation than I would've imagined). Tobacco's videos are equally trippy, too, featuring things like clips of 80's workout videos and bizarre masks blinking and twitching in front of images of Pert shampoo being squirted into sinks. If you watch one video, though, I suggest watching this live performance. I saw him/them live this year while driving through Columbus, Ohio and it was awesome.
That, my friends, is it for this list. I hope you had a wonderful 2016.