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Top 50 Songs of 2016

on December 05, 2016, 12:00am
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savages adore life album stream Top 50 Songs of 201620. Savages – “Adore”

Adore Life

Over the course of this year, Savages worked hard to redefine their intensity. What was once a feeling of noise and anger, of proving themselves to be a loud band, is now a feeling of life, of proving themselves to be a band that fights back against every curveball. “Adore” catches the London four-piece in an undertow everyone knows well. Is it better to love fearlessly or fear love? Gemma Thompson distorts her guitar like she’s peeling metal back, Fay Milton drums with the hint of menace around the corner, and Ayşe Hassan’s bass rolls like it’s about to belch. Swimming in its path are words of terse reflection. “Is it human to adore life?” singer Jehnny Beth asks. It’s a query loaded with guilt, alarm, and uncertainty — one that challenges the person saying it to embrace it in all that it means. But then, after restless questioning, she accepts it with a simple phrase: “I adore life.” She repeats it, over and over, as the music swells in tandem, a statement turned holler turned catharsis. It’s the biggest moment of the song, second only to what she says right after. Beth flips that sentiment outward, staring listeners straight in the eyes, and with a chilling tone asks, “Do you adore life?” —Nina Corcoran

Buy: Amazon

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tegan sara love you to death album Top 50 Songs of 201619. Tegan and Sara – “Stop Desire”

Love You to Death

Because they are twin sisters, and because their music is presented under one banner, casual fans of Tegan and Sara might be unaware that songs written by Tegan and songs written by Sara are actually separate entities. And with their last two albums embracing the duo’s pop sensibilities and leaving their indie rockin’ days (and Tegan’s guitar) in the dust, both have managed to find their niche within their new chosen genre. Love You to Death’s flashiest moments, lead-single “Boyfriend” and the spare, vulnerable “100x”, are Sara songs, but like “Closer” on previous album Heartthrob, Tegan has penned the record’s biggest anthem. “Stop Desire” is all breezy ’80s fantasy, whisking through at a treadmill’s pace and feather-light in its aesthetic. But lyrically, there are stakes. In fact, the song is the embodiment of sexual tension, but for the band, it’s come to mean even more. “Tonight, you’re fuel for my fire” is a common caption on social media for their tour, tapping into the song’s call to action. Pop music is nothing if not immediate, and “Stop Desire” hits that nail on the head. –Philip Cosores

Buy: Amazon

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floridada Top 50 Songs of 201618. Animal Collective – “FloriDada”

Painting With

When Animal Collective marked their return through the overhead speakers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, fans picked apart lead single “FloriDada” with excitement. Was overwrought pronunciation of the title during the chorus mocking the state? Was it an ode to artistic anarchy in the 20th century? Was that Yamaha demo mode sample a smirk at pop music’s affinity for ripping others off? Forget it. “FloriDada” is Animal Collective returning to their childlike imagination and curating hallucinatory epiphanies as an aftereffect. They revive the drumming of “The Purple Bottle”, the covert piano of “Water Curses”, the descending vocal harmonies of “Winters Love”. The genius of Animal Collective can’t be replicated. It’s a bunch of hands drawing in a pool of spilled paint, each action energized by its own heartbeat, somehow working together. It’s only when Avey Tare’s psychotic laugh rings out that they offer a moment to pause — that is, until you’re shoved back into the ecstasy barely a full second later. Anxiety bogged them down on past releases, but here, if just for one song, they slide into their weird world of pop once more, making listeners dance to the sound of insanity — and if you look close enough, the band is finally dancing along, too. —Nina Corcoran

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that part Top 50 Songs of 201617. Schoolboy Q – “THat Part”

Blank Face LP

If Schoolboy Q has spent most of his career playing the Robin to his TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s Batman, 2016 was the year that the Boy Wonder emerged from out of the shadows and proclaimed himself a “Walking living legend.” Blank Face LP is easily one of the most intense and dark releases of the year, and at the center of it all stands this single, “THat Part”.

There are actually two versions of this song, and frankly, it’s difficult to pick which one is superior. On one hand, you have the Kanye West-featuring album cut that carries a lot more style than substance (“Beggars can’t be choosers/ Bitch this ain’t Chipotle”). On the other hand, you have the Black Hippy Remix version that comes with contributions from Kendrick and Jay Rock — denser, more elaborate, and technically resounding. It’s noteworthy, however, that on both tracks, when stacked up against two of the biggest stars in rap, you never lose sight of Q as the focal point. No question, the man is “back and poppin’.” –Corbin Reiff

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leonard cohen Top 50 Songs of 201616. Leonard Cohen – “You Want It Darker”

You Want It Darker

“Vilified, crucified, in the human frame/ A million candles burning for the help that never came.” Leonard Cohen, versifier laureate of passionate matters of the heart, greeted us to his 14th and devastatingly final studio album, You Want It Darker, by incorporating operatic choir and keys underneath his distinctive deep growl. The song’s religious explorations feel that much more prophetic considering his passing not long after the album’s release; oh, it’s darker all right, from the prophetic self-reflection of the inevitability of death, to the sardonic beckoning. “Hineni, Hineni/ I’m ready my lord,” Cohen slowly decrees — Hineni (הִנֵּֽנִי) being Hebrew for “Here I am/ I am present.” He sings of the “million candles burning for the help that never came,” potentially symbolizing the candles lit to honor those passed in the Jewish tradition — or even for the million murdered at Auschwitz. When Cohen accuses that “you want it darker,” he seems to be challenging God for allowing life to be extinguished. Or could he be challenging the listener, for not being the help that was needed? Or even just offering himself up, at the end of his life, ready to meet the almighty? As with the best of Cohen’s deep discography, there are no clear answers, though his voice rings out powerfully. As death neared, his tone was murkier and his pen was stronger than ever. –Lior Phillips

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rihanna anti new album release Top 50 Songs of 201615. Rihanna – “Work” (ft. Drake)

Anti

There’s no shortage of ways in which Rihanna has demonstrated her total lack of fucks to give, but this particular demonstration has got to be the most chill. “Work” isn’t the kind of track usually presented as an album’s lead single: It’s got a dancehall beat and a lackadaisical pace, lyrics laced through with Creole and Jamaican patois, a Drake verse that’s both essential and oddly anticlimactic, and a minimalist feel at odds with its relentless lyrics. Those aren’t the only contradictions present in “Work”, either, as Rihanna gives voice to a woman who’s both halfway out her lover’s door already (“You took my heart on my sleeve for decoration”) and prepared to plead for another chance (“If I get another chance to/ I will never, no never neglect you”). Sweating sex without ever truly aiming for sexy, dusted with a despair that never really feels all that pressing, “Work” simply … is. It arrives, it exists, it fades, and you play it again. –Allison Shoemaker

Buy: Amazon

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wilco schmilco Top 50 Songs of 201614. Wilco – “If I Ever Was a Child”

Schmilco

Give Wilco three minutes and they’ll bring you to tears. They’ve done it for over two decades, and Schmilco is no exception. “If I Ever Was a Child” is the album’s cotton-covered arrow, one that feels warm and cozy as it strikes the heart. “I never was alone,” Jeff Tweedy pines over light acoustic guitar, adding: “Long enough to know/ If I ever was a child.” Like Nick Drake and Cat Stevens before him, the Midwestern bard pairs a few curious reflections (“Well, I jumped to jolt my clumsy blood”) with some dreamy imagery (“And I cry like a window pane”) that go down like a midnight cup of cocoa. It’s a team effort, though, and the track hits all the right places emotionally because of the little flourishes that each member brings to the campfire. Drummer Glenn Kotche, bassist John Stirratt, and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone keep things steady and friendly; Mikael Jorgensen warms his hands over balmy organ fills; and Nels Cline’s slide guitar peeks in like the early morning sun. When Tweedy contends, “I slump behind my brain/ A haunted stain never fades/ I hunt for the kind of pain I can take,” we’re right there with him, watching the molten embers pop and twirl against the blueish hue of his soft-spoken melodies. “Kumbaya” next? –Michael Roffman

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blonde frank ocean1 Top 50 Songs of 201613. Frank Ocean – “Ivy”

Blonde

When Frank Ocean sings “We didn’t give a fuck back then,” it’s hard to know how much he truly believes the sentiment. A literary lyricist who is able to weave narratives in his songs, Ocean’s “Ivy” is an ode to the past in all its fractured beauty. Built on a subdued pop rock guitar line and showcasing Ocean’s singular vocal precision, “Ivy” plays with memory, drifting through the stages of a past love that was spoiled by the confusion of youth.

“I could hate you now/ It’s quite alright to hate me now,” he says, profound words from the mind of someone who likely has always cared but was unable to express his feelings when confronted by a partner’s love. “Ivy” ends with Ocean shrieking the word “dreaming,” a Prince-esque flourish and a nod to a fellow artist unafraid to explore the pain of love in dreamy, gorgeous reflection. –Zack Ruskin

Buy: Amazon

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sia cheap thrills12. Sia – “Cheap Thrills”

This Is Acting

Considering how masterfully she shape-shifts from sound to sound, subgenre to subgenre, it’s a wonder that Sia ever wrote for anyone else. This Is Acting is composed of songs written for other pop stars, and the title hints at the play-acting nature Sia felt when conceiving herself as their voice — though she has the ability to sell the emotion of all of these songs, an Oscar-worthy performance. Chief among those roles is “Cheap Thrills”, her Rihanna track, which rides a lush island rhythm and revels in the good times that crash through the hard times. “I don’t need no money/ As long as I can feel the beat,” she slides, stretching her lithe tones acrobatically across the shouted choral backing. As her more collagist aesthetic blends with the music world that she’s created, an incandescent mixture of the electronic, the acoustic, the organic, and the synthetic, Sia always feels familiar, capable, and welcome. “Cheap Thrills” is a classic pop track that would work in 1996, 2006, or today thanks to Sia’s genius, hooky songwriting, and powerful voice. –Ben Kaye

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 Top 50 Songs of 201611. Anderson .Paak – “Come Down”

Malibu

From the shimmy of the hi-hat to the staccato punch of his syllables, it’s clear that Anderson .Paak is a percussionist. He thinks about the beat, making sure that every second is perfectly designed to get you moving. The layers of funk groove on “Come Down” never stop, a party that Andy throws to celebrate his own arrival — at once he’s lifted so high up, and yet all he wants to do is get down like James Brown. “It took too long to get this high off the ground/ Don’t run, just stay awhile,” he jabs in that smoky delivery, over top of the slinkiest bass this side of Funkadelic. Hi-Tek’s production weaves in and out of samples of the Israeli anthem, together with .Paak turning it into a soul groove that fills the dance floor. Anderson .Paak rose in 2015 through his work with Dr. Dre, but he celebrated his arrival as his own star in 2016 — and nowhere as boisterous or fun as “Come Down”. –Adam Kivel

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