Top 30 Songs of 2016: Non Hip Hop

by Ben Pinette

Time to expand the good ol’ horizon. Here are the non hip hop tracks that I couldn’t stop
playing in 2016. Discussion is welcomed in the comments section. Enjoy and thank you for being here!

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30) Crystal Castles – ‘Their Kindness is Charade
CC have grown a lot over the years and they continue to wow me both as a fan and critic. They blend genres with ease, usually creating heavenly melodies in the process. Production is heavy.

29) Tokimonsta – ‘I’m Waiting
I’ll never grow tired of this artist. She’s just too versatile. Her 2016 EP FOVERE is worth checking out, and this tranquil cut shines above the rest. Love the vocals.

28) Bankz & Steelz – ‘Can’t Hardly Feel
Interpol and Wu-Tang. Who woulda thunk it? ‘Cant Hardly Feel’ is off of Anything But Words, the debut project from Paul Banks and The RZA. Chorus is catchy. Verses are tight. It all works. Hopefully this is only the beginning from these two!

27) Justice – ‘Alakazam!
Now this is crazy. If you’re looking for something completely different, look no further. Justice brought the fury on this electronic track, aptly naming it ‘Alakazam!’ Whether it’s on in the background or you’re enjoying it with a good pair of headphones, this is a fun listen in any environment.

26) Tenement – ‘Roads of Home
The simplicity of this song is what makes it for me. So genuine. It’s also a change in style from these guys, which may be another reason why it stands out. Lyrics are relatable as well, strong song-writing. Whole album is great.

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25) Angel Olsen – ‘Never Be Mine
2016 was Angel’s year. Her album MY WOMAN was incredibly well-received, and was filled with memorable tracks. If I had to pick one though, this would have to be it. There’s an aged sound to it, almost timeless in a way. That voice!

24) Yeasayer – ‘Prophecy Gun
Yeasayer in the house! Such a cool band. They dropped their fourth album back in April, and this atmospheric cut has been in rotation ever since. Experimental rock at its finest.

23) Petite Biscuit – ‘Once Again
Hard to put into words why I like this song so much. It’s more of a feeling, I guess. Whenever it comes on I’m instantly put it a good mood, and nothing else matters. Gold Panda vibes.

22) Local Natives – ‘Ellie Alice
These guys have put out some straight gems in the past, so I had high expectations on their latest album Sunlit Youth. Lucky for me, my expectations were met just from this performance alone. One of their best.

21) Whitney – ‘Golden Days
What do you get when you mix the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra? Why, Whitney of course! Their debut album Light Upon the Lake is a masterpiece, and ‘Golden Days’ captures the comforting sound that can be heard all throughout the album. Try not to smile when playing this one. I dare ya!

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20) Flume – ‘Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)
Flume destroyed the pop charts this year. One of the few artists right now that can appeal to hoards of different audiences across multiple genres. Although Skin is filled with deep cuts, it’s biggest single is the one that I fall back on the most. A powerhouse behind the boards.

19) Car Seat Headrest – ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
Greatest song title of 2016? It’s up there. Don’t sleep on Will Toledo! One of the top artists and writers in the current alternative/rock scene. Have yet to hear something I don’t like from him. Bright future ahead.

18) Francis and the Lights – ‘Friends (feat. Bon Iver)
Once this finally clicked with me it was over. I was in love and there was no turning back. Almost sounds like a symbolic sign of good fortune, if you will. Francis has received comparisons to Bon Iver all year so it was only right for them to link up and collab. Fantastic production too.

17) Burial – ‘Young Death
‘Young Death’ hits me right in my core. It’s the repetition of the “I will always be there for you” line that gets me. Sounds so earnest. Beautiful music!

16) Wild Nothing – ‘Alien
The way this song creeps up on you is perfect. It almost reminds me of the ocean. At first the waves don’t seem like much, only breaking on the soft sand. But, before you know it, the tide has come in and they begin to hit harder, trapping you within the water. Only difference is we’re drowning in a synth-filled utopia rather than an ocean, but you get the drift. Dreamy.

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15) Bibio – ‘Wren Tails
‘Lovers Carvings Pt. 2’ would have been a better title (I kid). Honestly, that’s probably why I’m drawn to this track so much. They do sound alike. ‘Wren Tails’ is barely a minute and a half, but that’s what makes it so pure. It stirs up all sorts of emotions and then leaves as quick as it came. Thank you for this one, Bibio.

14) Joe Fox – ‘Like Jesus
A$AP Rocky you magnificent genius! How’d you find this guy!? Truly a blessing. Fox keeps it short and sweet on here, singing smoothly over his acoustic guitar. Streets ahead.

13) Radiohead – ‘Ful Stop
A Moon Shaped Pool was another album I had a tough time picking my favorite track from. They’re all so good. The ominous tone and driving bass on ‘Ful Stop’ were enough for it to take the crown however. Vintage Yorke; Radiohead have long cemented themselves as legends at this point.

12) Bon Iver – ‘00000 Million
Justin Vernon is one of the best musicians of our generation. Just when you think you have a good gage of his sound, the dude will pull a 180 and completely flip the script. Yet, he still shines in whatever genre he’s focusing on. That’s exactly how I felt on the latest Bon Iver album 22, A Million. What a project. Addicted to this piano.

11) Animal Collective – ‘FloriDada
If you made me describe Animal Collective to a stranger, I’d have to say that they kinda make children’s music, but for adults. That makes sense right? Listen to this lead single from their tenth album Painting With if you don’t believe me. Always gotta dance when this comes on.

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10) Maggie Rogers – ‘Alaska
Shouts to Pharrell and NYU!! I view this as a perfect pop song. Vivid imagery, tranquil production and simply gorgeous vocals come together on ‘Alaska’ – well done Ms. Rogers. You turned a lot of heads this year, and I have high hopes for you in 2017.

9) Skrillex & Hundred Waters – ‘Show Me Love Remix (feat. Chance the Rapper, Moses Sumney & Robin Hannibal)
Positive energy explodes from this song in each second. Skrillex worked his magic yet again, and singers were on their A-game as well. Don’t get me started on that Chance feature, either. Another outstanding pop song from this year.

8) Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon – ‘Kids
What a time to be alive. One of my favorites songs of the entire year is from the original score to a sci-fi show created by Netflix. If you told me that in 2011 I would have laughed in your face. Now, I’m buying you Indian Food and we’re catching a matinée. How the turntables have turned. For real though, this track is guaranteed to instill an instant rush of nostalgic joy inside of me upon every listen. That’s all that needs to be said.

7) The Avalanches – ‘If I Was a Folkstar
Let’s think about how insane this duo is. Not only is there fresh Toro y Moi, but we also mix in The AVALANCHES! They were in hiding for over fifteen years, so this is meant to be special. And don’t worry – it is. Groovy as all hell overall, but familiar at the same time. Nobody compares to The Avalanches! Nobody.

6) Sunflower Beam – ‘Easier Said
Shouts to my Pops for this. He bought Sunflower Beam’s Human Ceremony album on a whim earlier in the year, exposing me to the group for the first time. The track’s upbeat guitar paired with Julia Cumming’s vocals is quite the combination; ‘Easier Said’ is just a taste of what’s to come from this band. A care-free anthem to self-acceptance and better days ahead.

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5) Daniel Caesar – ‘Get You (feat. Kali Uchis)
Top-tier example of modern soul. Caesar’s cunning pace is enough to perk any pair of ears, masterfully controlling the suave instrumentation beside him. Having Kali Uchis then come in after him is an unbeatable touch; her voice straight hypnotizes me. Can I point out how good this chorus is too? Angelic.

4) Childish Gambino – ‘Me and Your Mama
Seeing Gambino this high up on a non hip hop list seems pretty nuts. But, have you heard this though? It sounds like Bootsie Collins meets Prince meets Black Sabbath, but still with its own personal zest. Rock, funk, neo-soul – it’s all here. The sheer range of Glover’s singing is also more than impressive, as he hits notes in all different octaves. Buttsoup Barnes may have pulled the biggest upset all year, mad props must go the man. Crushed it.

3) Charles Bradley – ‘Changes
Charles Bradley is the success story we all love to see. At the age of 68 he’s currently the most popular he’s been in his entire career, duly in part to his 2016 album Changes. Bradley’s been singing since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the past few years in which he finally got big on his own. You can really sense the passion in his performance – wishing him good health and care.*

2) James Blake – ‘I Need a Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)
Fun fact: ‘I Need a Forest Fire’ was neck and neck with my current number one pick for most of the year, and it actually was in first for a short while. Although it did drop to number two after my final evaluation, everything about it still deserves to be praised. Absolute bliss once that beat kicks in. Vernon being backed by Blake is almost too good to be true, and the production is equally as moving. Forget the drunk drivers and killer whales actually, THIS is the best song title (and my top vocal performance) of 2016.

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1) Kaytranada – ‘Lite Spots
If you forced me to listen to this song on loop for the rest of my life, I probably wouldn’t care. Yeah, it would turn me insane, but at least I’d be having a killer time the whole way! How could you not!? Right from the first time I heard this song it embedded itself into my brain. The fact that this is pure Kaytranada is a scary thought too. His remixes are no longer the focal point. Uncharted territory is on the horizon. He’s proven to the entire world now that he can sound even deadlier with just original sounds instead of samples, and congratulations are in order. A monstrous banger of good vibes and sunshine – nothing beats it (literally, it won. so nothing did beat it. have a safe New Yeas and see you in 2017 🙂 ).

 

Honorable Mention
David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’
BADBADNOTGOOD – ‘Speaking Gently’ & ‘Cashmere’
The Avalanches – ‘Colours’ & ‘Kaleidoscope Lovers’
Beck – ‘Wow’
The Gaslamp Killer – ‘In the Dark Pt. 2’
Miguel – ‘waves (Tame Impala Remix)’
Bat For Lashes – ‘Never Forgive the Angels’
Radiohead – ‘Burn the Witch’ & ‘Present Tense’
Tycho – ‘Epoch’
Childish Gambino – ‘Redbone’ & ‘Stand Tall’
Michael Stein & Kyle Dixon – ‘Stranger Things (Extended)’
Blood Orange – ‘Best to You’ & ‘Better Numb’
Steven Julien – ‘XL’
DIIV – ‘Loose Ends’
Whitney – ‘No Woman’ & ‘No Matter Where We Go’
Parquet Courts – ‘Steady on My Mind’
Mitski – ‘Your Best American Girl’
Bon Iver – ‘8 (circle)’ & ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’
Dr. Dog – ‘Good Grief’
The Head and the Heart – ‘Signs of Light’
Moglii – ‘Golden Lights’
Charlotte Day Wilson – ‘After All’
Grandaddy – ‘Way We Won’t’
Massive Attack – ‘Ritual Spirit’
Tokimonsta – ‘Starlight Lace’
For Everest – ‘Reasons #2-7’
Kaytranada – ‘Track Uno’ & ‘You’re the One’
Artificial Pleasure – ‘I’ll Make it Worth Your While’
Flying Lotus – ‘R2 Where R U?’
Tenement – ‘Your Shadowed Alleyways’
Angel Olsen – ‘Give it Up’
Wiley College Choir – ‘Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray’
Opia – ‘Falling’
James Blake – ‘Love Me in Whatever Way’ & ‘Waves Know Shores’
Krrum – ‘Hard on You’
Balam Acab – ‘&&&heartsss;;;’
Crumb – ‘Vinta’
Foreign Air – ‘In the Shadows’
Loyal – ‘House For You’
Bishop Briggs – ‘River’

 

 

*Post edit: So I found out this dropped in December of 2015 actually. I’m going to let it slide this one time out of sheer admiration for the song and since it was in December, but this is it! All future songs must be released within the same calendar year. No buts!

 

images via Justin Vernon, Jenn Five, Crystal Castles, Petite Biscuit, Joe Fox, Maggie Rogers, Daniel Caesar, Christina Cheng, Alexandra Gavillet and Kaytranda

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