Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top Songs of 2016

So 2016 is a wrap, and in terms of music, it was a pretty great year. I've decided to take the time and list my top songs for the year, starting with #10 and moving up. Picking the order seemed easy at first (at least, for the top 5). But a lot of songs fought for their claim to the list, and I'll also include some honorable mentions at the end. 

Bad Suns was a a band that I had listened to a little here and there, their first album being a pretty solid debut (especially Cardiac Arrest). When I heard this song though, I knew it was going to be an instant hit, at least for me. It has a sense of urgency to it that I hadn't experienced with their previous work. The bass grooves, the drums are tight, the synths add just enough depth, and this all comes together to form a fantastic instrumental for Christo Bowman's vocals to float over. His use of falsetto during the chorus gives an incredible contrast to the instruments. The best moment of the song is the guitar line during the final chorus, cycling up and down in a manner that adds to the desperate tone of the song. Definitely the type of song that you can listen to again and again.

Issue's first album was a hit and miss debut, but they really began to shine on their sophomore attempt, Headspace. They finally found the right balance of their hardcore foundation and their pop/R&B tendencies, and this song encapsulates that balance very well. Alternating between softer vocals and stripped down instrumentals during the verses and a huge wall of sound during the chorus, they managed to finally click with their own sound in a way that kept me coming back for more. Tyler Carter's vocals continue to impress me, both with the range he can span as well as the wide variety of emotional tones he can access. A fantastic lead single that led into a great album.

I had heard of Banks before 2016, but I had never really given her much attention until this single dropped for her latest album. I was blown away by the raw emotional power she is able to draw on. The song cuts deep, stirring the heart with sorrow and anger simultaneously. Lyrically, I was very impressed; she manages to string together words in a way that is causes the listener to really take notice and creates a vivid story for the imagination. Her vocals alone would be impressive, but the instrumental adds to the power of the song; she combines hip-hop tendencies with singer-songwriter sounds and synths to create a striking song.

This song is absolutely infectious with it's cheery tone and sense of innocent fun. The rest of the songs might not reflect this same tone, and normally I don't like songs that don't have some sort of weight or dimensional aspect to them. This song, however, makes it impossible to not dance along to the groove it creates. Even as I write this, I'm bobbing my head along, and I'll confess to the many times I've listened to this song in my room and danced and screamed my lungs out. It's got energy and good vibes, and sometimes that's all you need from a song. The inner romantic in me gets its fix from this tune, with the snappy bass and the fantastic backing vocals singing of a love that doesn't care about the rules and worries of the world.

Crown The Empire is a band I've watched closely since seeing them over a year ago. Their live show was incredible, and I was thrilled when I heard they were planning on putting a new record out this past summer. "Zero" was the lead single, and it set the tone for what became one of my favorite records of the year. "Zero" found the band shying away from a strictly metalcore sound and moving more towards a heavy rock sound. David Escamilla's screams are still very much present, but the over all sound moves away from breakdowns and towards a overall melodic sense. The chorus feels powerful, it feels big and epic and it remains a blast to listen to currently. 

Maika Maile was the former lead singer of There For Tomorrow, a band I very much enjoyed in middle and high school. After their disbanding two years ago, Maika finally released his first solo effort, and it was so much more than I could have anticipated. The versatility of his voice is astounding; I always loved it in the pop-punk/alternative rock setting he had previously been in, but I knew from the moment I heard this song that this was Maika in his element. The hip-hop swagger of the beats, combined with the riffing guitar, create a minimalistic instrumental over which Maika lays out his heart, bearing his feelings and pains for all to see. As it goes on, it gains some airy synths and an atmospheric sense to the tone, building in the tone and drive until a fitting stripping down of just vocals and occasional beats, which Maika crying and crooning more and more softly until the song fades and the listener is left breathless. Easily the most underrated song on my list, so do yourself a favor and listen to this one. 

One of the few shining points on an otherwise disappointing follow up album, The Weeknd started his "transformation" with this incredible collaboration with the boys in the helmets (Daft Punk). They creates this techno/R&B/hip-hop smash hit that has been getting heavy airplay since its release. I was very surprised when I saw they were working together, but I knew it was a success when I listened for myself. It's catchy, it's got swagger, it's haunting, it's everything I was hoping for in The Weeknd's follow up to his previous stellar album, Beauty Behind The Madness. While the rest of the album, Starboy, doesn't live up to the same standard, this song was worth it all. 

The song heard round the world - this single lead to one of the greatest comebacks in recent music history. Blink-182 was a reputable band before, but lots of internal fighting led to the band falling to the wayside for most of the 20th century so far. After recruiting a new member, Blink finally found the groove they were looking for, and this song was a perfect indication of it. Lyrically it's fun, with some interesting wordplay and great lines like "life's too short to long". Instrumentally, it hits hard and gave 2016 the pop-punk revival it didn't know it needed. Each member's contributions are evident and strong, and create a unified sound that the band has been missing since their self-titled release in 2003.

Pvris has become one of my favorite bands over the past two years, and this song in particular exemplifies why. The build of "Empty" is absolutely incredible; it takes epic to a whole new level. It feels raw and honest, with lines like "I'll confess I've just been obsessed with life and death and emptiness". Instrumentally, it builds off choral synths and Lynn's incredible vocals. The way that she is able to flow from such soft tones to the jaw dropping high notes of the climax continues to baffle me. To this day, the song gives me chills. It is something truly beautiful; a perfect amount of building while still feeling unexpected. Absolutely stunning.  

The song of the year. I knew this was going to be my favorite for a long time. It was impossible for it not to. I remember the first times I listened to it, falling instantly in love with the vibe of the song and later on becoming completely enraptured by the lyrics. "Our love has gone cold, you're intertwining your soul with somebody else" continues to move me every single time. The overall theme of the record was something that resounded with me on so many levels, and the way that The 1975 managed to take 80's era synths and electronically driven beats and make them truly beautiful will always impress me. It drives along, it makes you dance but it also makes you think and contemplate your past loves, your previous relationships. It's such a gorgeous song; I really can't express it enough. It will forever remain as one of my all time favorite songs, it's as simple as that. 

Honorable mentions:

"Wherever I Go" & "Fingertips" - OneRepublic
I've always enjoyed this band, and their latest return to the music world was a success on many levels. These two songs were standouts to me, for various reasons. "Wherever I Go" was a radio ready hit that you can't help but dance to, full of swagger and catchy tones. "Fingertips" was a song that made you stop in your tracks, one that really pulled you in and forced you to listen with intention and focus. Both were great in their opposite natures, and reflected on the album as a whole being wonderful.

I will forever enjoy the work this group does, and while their latest album didn't capture the same intensity of their last few albums, it was still a captivating listen in it's haunting and chilled out sound. "Hello" is a perfect example of this idea, with a very minimalistic sound that combines Joey's ghost-like vocals with a brooding bass and delicate finger-picked guitar tones. A perfect song for those late night moments when you lay in bed and stare at the ceiling or at the stars. 

A bit different from most of the songs on this list, this song comes from Logic's stellar mixtape, Bobby Tarantino, the grand and proud follow up to his hit album The Incredible True Story. The album sees Logic shed his humility to call out his haters in an arrogant way that surprisingly works. He has the skill to back up his claims, with a knack for stringing raps together at breathtaking speeds that continues to astound me. This song in particular sees him reflecting on the way in which he can switch between humility and swagger, and how he's just a man and not some set of stereotypes and expectations. His talent is undeniable, and I can't get enough of the insane lyrical gymnastics he does. He could give Eminem a run for his money.