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Top 50 Songs of 2016

on December 05, 2016, 12:00am
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Kevin Morby30. Kevin Morby – “Dorothy”

Singing Saw

As many guitar players would attest, the urge to grant your instrument a name is palpable. You spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours playing with the thing. You make memories together, share experiences, and open yourself up in ways that are very, very real. The guitar becomes more than a way to make noise; it becomes a companion and a confidant.

On the second single from his fantastic third album, Singing Saw, Kevin Morby decided to pay tribute to his own instrument, “Dorothy.” Just like B.B. King’s Lucille, Eric Clapton’s Blackie, or Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Dorothy holds a special place in Morby’s heart, and in the song that carries its name, he wistfully recalls “the places I’d been/ With you always at my side.” He wants to hit the town where “y’know we could go all night.” It’s romantic without being cloying. Tender, with the right amount of irreverence. –Corbin Reiff

Buy: Amazon

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Young Thug and Travis Scott29. Young Thug, Travis Scott – “Pick Up the Phone” (ft. Quavo)

Jeffrey/Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

Why doesn’t Young Thug have more hits? For a while now, the twisted ATLien has been excelling on steel pan-driven future-cop production that sounds thick on the radio, but Thugger’s ongoing commercial growth hasn’t exactly been an uninterrupted ascending line. Then there’s Travis Scott, a pilferer-in-chief whose albums go gold. With Quavo in the back seat, the trio forged “Pick Up the Phone”, Thug’s highest charting single to date.

Making a plea to “your girl” to pick up that phone, the trio bask in Vinylz’ digitalized Caribbean flavor and each other’s company. This is party music — the lean poured on thick, weed smoke all over the beat. Travis swears, “Never will I cheat on you” while barely keeping a straight face. Quavo name drops Macauley Culkin and Brian McKnight. But there’s no denying who the star is. Thug rides the sunny beat with the elegant swagger of Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring, his trademark idiosyncrasies on display. The zigzagging sounds of a skewered pop deity is no revelation to anyone who copped the first Slime Season. –Dean Van Nguyen

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DMAs28. DMA’s – “Delete”

Hills End

The knocks against CoSigned band DMA’s seem to be that they’re a Britpop outfit writing about the troubles of young men in a time when guitars are deader than doornails and listeners are clamoring for songs that speak to larger social issues. My response remains, “Yeah, but it’s really good Britpop, and don’t you recall when you first turned to music?” Yours was a world, like the one found in the songs on Hills End, that only knew sunrises and sunsets, rainy skies, and temperatures that spiked or spiraled depending on that last letter, phone call, or text. “Delete”, a song about unfriending an ex on social media, may sound like juvenile subject matter, but listeners never think that as the soft acoustic strummer slowly intensifies and finally bursts into a glowing haze of guitar and voices. And we get it. Because, of course, figuring out how to part ways and move on isn’t a problem we leave in our adolescence. In a time when many artists are commenting on where whole masses of people stand, a song like “Delete” reminds us that so often our lives boil down to where we stand in the eyes of one other person. –Matt Melis

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Moses Sumney27. Moses Sumney – “Lonely World”

Lamentations EP

It is a goddamn lonely world sometimes, isn’t it? The dark void can scream louder than any other voices around you, and it’s hard to survive in this brutal dystopia of 24/7 digital connectivity. “Lonely World” is granite, yet gauzy; Los Angeles singer-songwriter Moses Sumney sings about loneliness, but his weighted words balance Thundercat’s bass, Ian Chang’s drums, and Tosin Abasi and Joshua Willing Halpern’s guitar beautifully. Sumney revels in his idiosyncrasies, his glorious falsetto soaring over lush guitars and choral percussive layers. Words that shouldn’t stretch do, and the space between them veers off in unexpected directions. “The sound of the void flows through your body, undestroyed,” he sings, his voice surreal, haunting, and yet wholly embodied, tying together the themes of the song. Sumney continues to tease out his amazing talent and grand ambition with each new track, and he does both expertly on the grand yet intimate “Lonely World”. –Lior Phillips

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Drake26. Drake – “One Dance”

Views

Drake was inescapable in 2016. The turtleneck-loving Canadian hip-hop artist achieved a level of cultural ubiquity that few musicians have ever reached, and he did so without producing a particularly excellent album or dramatically transforming his sound or persona. This, in and of itself, is remarkable. But it would be a discredit to Drake (and to the music-listening public that demands his omnipresence) if we didn’t highlight “One Dance” for its standalone excellence.

Built around a simple piano melody that allows for throbbing tropical polyrhythms to surround and encompass it, the dancehall- and afrobeat-inspired club smash is a prime example of cross-cultural convergence in pop. It also — and this should never be overlooked — offers multiple hooks for the listener to latch on to, whether it’s Drake’s melodic chorus, Kyla’s “Baby, I like your style,” or Wizkid’s break. Add it all up, and there’s only one thing left to say: Damn. –Collin Brennan

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tribe we got it from here thank you 4 your service Top 50 Songs of 201625. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”

We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

There is rarely a second act in the world of hip-hop. In 2016, A Tribe Called Quest has defied all expectations by returning after a nearly 20-year absence to produce We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, an album as vital as their groundbreaking releases of the early 1990s. With “We the People”, Q-Tip, Jarobi, Ali Shaeed Muhammad, and a posthumous Phife Dawg have crafted a theme song for life in Trump’s America, particularly for people of color. Opening with an ominous bass buzz and an emergency siren, the appropriately grimy track sets the stage for Q-Tip to fire darts at the state of the American nation, where the powers that be are “in the killing-off-good-young-nigga mood,” while “VH1 has a show you can waste your time with.” Phife Dawg’s verse sounds particularly prescient, asking: “Who can come back years later, still hit the shot?” A Tribe Called Quest, apparently. –Scott T. Sterling

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chairlift moth album stream listen Top 50 Songs of 201624. Chairlift – “Ch-Ching”

Moth

It’s always a bit surprising to remember Chairlift are a duo. Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly juggle countless instruments in the studio and on the stage. At the start of the year, they released “Ch-Ching”, but for some reason their renaissance abilities hit like brand new, leaving us wondering how they pull off such a massive sound with only two bodies behind the helm. The intro ripples with horns and a whistle, a combination of coquettish nature. Then, like a slap to the wrist, the sound cuts clean, and a massive bubble of production takes over. Synth flickers in, hand claps jitter, and saxophones hiccup. The sounds toy with one another but never actually touch, giving the illusion of a desire that cannot be captured. Then there’s the best instrument of all: Polachek’s voice. “Nobody will help you ’til you go and help yourself,” she sings. “Take it and don’t wait for it to come from someone else.” She skates through falsettos and leans into her lyrics, pulsing in an entirely unique way, before enunciating the titular word, a verbal dangling of her own luck. Chairlift have always been good at dynamic synth pop, but on “Ch-Ching”, they create a world of sound bigger than ever before. —Nina Corcoran

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Solange23. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”

A Seat at the Table

“Away, away, away, away, away…” Solange sings as if words could will our futures, pummeling a crystal ball with syllabic repetition. “Cranes in the Sky”, the highlight of the younger Knowles sister’s A Seat at the Table, comes from a world in which R&B and soul have been cryogenically suspended for over a decade, thawed, altered, and revitalized with threads of electronic-tinged pop. But it’s Solange’s spirit that’s struck the match. Over snapping snare rim, limber bass courtesy of Raphael Saadiq, and insistent string hum — a veritable downtempo R&B take on Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Symphony” — she enumerates the ways in which she’s tried to live a happy life. But though she tries to drink, shop, run, and sleep it away, there are always construction cranes blocking her clear path to the sky. Freedom and happiness aren’t yet within her reach, just always a little too far away. It’s hard to tell whether her emotional honesty or the skyscraping harmonies are more breathtaking. –Lior Phillips

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jamila Top 50 Songs of 201622. Jamila Woods – “Blk Grl Soldier”

HEAVN

“We get loud about it/ Oh now we’re the bitches,” Jamila Woods sings on this stunning track from her full-length debut, but the loudest thing about “Blk Girl Soldier” is the truth. The Chicago-based Woods may be a killer chanteuse (as Coloring Book’s many appreciators can attest), but she’s also a poet and activist, and while her lovely voice certainly plays a part in the success of this gem, it’s the latter two roles that really bring it home. Like “Formation”, “Blk Girl Soldier” acts as a call to arms of sorts, but unlike Beyoncé’s monster track, Woods simply lays out the facts (“We go missing by the hundreds/ Ain’t nobody checkin for us”) and pays tribute to some of the black women who’ve fought for freedom and justice in years past (“Rosa was a freedom fighter/ And she taught us how to fight”). Last, and most importantly, she celebrates, in that rich voice, the black women and girls out there, right now, living big lives in a hostile world. Sure, it sounds beautiful; sure, the production (by Jus Cuz and SABA) is shimmering and lush, but when a song says as much as this does, any other pleasures it provides are just gravy. –Allison Shoemaker

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angels Top 50 Songs of 201621. Chance the Rapper – “Angels”

Coloring Book

At this point, “Angels” sort of feels like the ending to Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. Apologies if you haven’t seen the 21-year-old neo-noir crime thriller, but the whole thing essentially boils down to Chazz Palminteri’s startling revelation that the con-man he’s been after for the past 106 minutes was right before his eyes the entire time. So, what the hell does this have to do with Chance the Rapper?  Well, anyone who listened to his vivid Saba collaboration when it first dropped last October might have foreseen the MC’s meteoric rise in 2016. In a little over three minutes, Chano details his mission statement (“Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play/ I’m the blueprint to a real man”) while insisting he won’t change in the slightest (“I’m still at my old church, only ever sold merch/ Grandma say I’m Kosher, momma say I’m culture”). The real revelation, however, is how Chance is able to weave in more funereal themes without skipping a beat. When he and Saba sing, “I got angels all around me they keep me surrounded,” they’re paying respects to those they’ve lost and those they love. It’s a gorgeous juxtaposition, fueled by Lido’s production and the soulful melodies of The Social Experiment, and one that captures the unwavering optimism of Chicago’s true mayor. –Michael Roffman

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