Let’s face it. I agree, you agree, we all agree. 2016 was… terrible.
But look, there’s no need to dwell on it. In fact, I’m of the belief that we should move on. And the best ways to move on is, of course, to celebrate of the few gems 2016 had for us.
As is the case with most “Top ___” lists, this one is a bit loose. It’s hard for me to rank songs definitively, so aside from the top 5-10 or so, take the order of these tracks with a grain of salt. Here are a few of my personal favorites.
I was really happy to see the return of Two Door Cinema Club this year, they’re one of my old favorites. Unfortunately, their new music didn’t quite live up to their old music, at least for me, but this is a pretty good song. It’s got a good groove, and was enough to make both my dad and I turn our heads the first time we heard it on the radio. Possibly the reason it’s so low on this list is because I wish it lived up to “Something Good Can Work” or “Changing of the Seasons”, but it stands on its own fairly well.
This song very quickly became a family favorite, partially, I admit, because of the appeal of Empire of the Sun’s earlier minor hit, “Walking on a Dream”. We had a bit of an inside joke regarding how difficult it was to make out the lyrics of “Walking on a Dream”, although the bright atmospheric pop never seemed to leave our heads. “High and Low” has a lot of the same great qualities, but with approximately 80% more enunciation! Amazing.
“River” is one of those songs that makes me wish I was a better singer because GOD are the vocals of this song ever powerful. If you want even further proof of how top-notch these vocals are take a listen to the live version. That’s pure talent right there. While the vocals do steal the show, they’re only enhanced by the loud, boisterous electronic sounds played against the quieter acoustic sounds in the verses.
I love Grouplove. Their song “Tongue Tied” will forever be my quintessential summer song, and they’ve managed to charm me track after track over the years. And with “Welcome to Your Life” they’ve done it again. This bouncy, positive song maintains a careful balance between a traditional rock sound and a poppier beat. The chorus is simple but meaningful, and I love both lead singers Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi’s opposing but still harmonious vocal performances.
If you’re looking for a group that’s truly unique without straying too far into the weird zone (a zone I nonetheless often find myself occupying, honestly), I highly suggest Glass Animals. This is not their last appearance on this list, and it’s due in part to how incredibly solid each new track they’ve put out this year has been. “Youth” specifically is atmospheric, combining soft vocals and unique electronic sounds to craft a truly pleasant track. I loved this song the moment I first heard it.
Speaking of soft, atmospheric tunes done by solid bands, here’s “Somebody Else”. This song has an unmistakably sad quality to it, which I think is one of its strengths. This song is subtle and lovely, and I wish I had further to say about it than that. Honestly, it speaks for itself. Go give it a listen.
I talk big about appreciating subtlety and artistry in music, but lets be honest. Sometimes you just want to put on something loud and angsty and a little tongue-in-cheek to scream the lyrics at the top of your lungs to. “Favorite Liar” hits that spot so well. It’s loud and unapologetic in both its instrumentation and its lyrics, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. If you’re a fan of early Fall Out Boy, I highly recommend this track.
Aaaand it’s Glass Animals again! I feel like talking about this song would be repeating a lot of what I said earlier, so I’ll skip it and talk specifically about this track. “Life Itself” is smooth and quiet, with rather blunt and honest lyrics that I really enjoy. If you like the song, please give the lyrics a read – they’re so very unique and simultaneously sad and hilarious at the same time. I’m a big fan of lyrics in general, but this song is a winner all around.
Here’s another band constantly putting out great stuff. It’s such a joy to listen to Fitz and the Tantrums, they have such an incredible energy. This song in particular is so danceable but never takes away from the beautiful leading vocals from Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs. It also doesn’t hurt that the lyrics are kind of… memorable? My friend and I still can’t quite figure out what the titular “Handclap” is an innuendo for, but it’s definitely an innuendo for something. Maybe it’s best we don’t know.
Every year, I choose one band to listen to the entire discography of over Spring Break. This year was Saint Motel! While I honestly enjoy their older stuff a bit more than the tracks on their newest album, Saintmotelevision, “Move” is a driving, fun track with a memorable chorus. It’s not deep or particularly meaningful, but it honestly doesn’t have to be – it stands on pure simplicity alone. Also, horns. Thank you Saint Motel for always including the horns.
Time for the Top 20! And bottoming out the best of the best this year is this fun, spacey track from M83. I liked this song the first time I heard it on the radio, but it was only after I listened to it a few times that I realized that it has a lot going for it. I like the use of saxophone and other horns, the whimsical, stuttering lyric delivery, and the juxtaposition of the quiet verses and louder chorus. And, of course, the guitar solo.
There’s always one or two pure pop songs that make it onto my favorite list every year, and I gotta say, I’m happy it’s this one. DNCE is led by Joe Jonas, yes the Joe Jonas. (Fun fact: The Jonas Brothers was my very first live concert experience, a fact that mortified me until this year, when Joe Jonas made liking him cool again with this band).
“Toothbrush” is a fun little love song. Sure, it’s not all that incredibly deep, but it’s certainly got a distinctive sound compared to some of the other pop music 2016 gave us this year, with that high pitched falsetto crooning and up-tempo guitar. It’s a feel-good tune and it makes me feel good! It accomplishes what it sets out to do, and isn’t that the most important thing?
(Also, just a note, this isn’t a Top 30 music videos list, but the music video for this song is one of my favorites purely because it’s got a love interest that isn’t model thin. Check it out. Support body positivity. Bless.)
This year was my last year being in marching band. I’m gonna miss a lot of things about being in the band, and one of those things is our stretch routine. At the beginning of every rehearsal, our drum majors would put on a song and the whole band would do a choreographed stretch routine to it. While a lot of songs make the rounds every year, I really liked having this one to start practice to every so often.
“The Sound” combines The 1975’s usual echoey sound with a bit more of a driving, uptempo beat carried by the piano and synth parts. I also am a big fan of the lyrics – they’re equal parts cynically hilarious and also kind of sweet?
Ah, Fitz and the Tantrums. They always know how to get me wanting to dance, and I think of every song on this list, this one is the happiest, party-est track of them all. The lyrics are so dang catchy and that just enhances the already infectious beat and instrumentation. I’m surprised this song hasn’t hit the pop stations yet – at least as far as I know – because it certainly dips into the pop genre to great effect.
Milky Chance tends to put out a lot of sleepy-sounding music. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, per se. I loved “Stolen Dance” when I first heard it, sleepy vocals, trance-like music and all, but it was really nice to hear “Cocoon” pick it up a little bit. The vocals are still very chill and laid back, but they pair surprisingly well with the snappy beat, and it’s refreshing to hear a little more power and intensity in the vocals.
I’m waiting for the day these guys make it big so that I can flaunt my hipster cred and talk about how I heard them first and yadda yadda. Lake Street Dive is one of those hidden gems that puts out consistently great tracks. Please check them out.
Specifically, “Call Off Your Dogs” has a very retro vintage feel that immediately sets it apart. I also am a huge, huge fan of lead singer Rachael Price’s powerful and pure vocals. If you listen to this song for nothing else, listen to it for her incredible talent and control.
14. Vice – POP ETC
Speaking of powerful control, this song is entirely that. “Vice” is a driving track with a distinctive sound I just adore. Honestly, I’m sitting here listening to it at a loss for words at how else to describe it. It’s just really great. I claim to be so good at words but I’m not good enough to figure out what it is I like about this song. It’s just a genuinely good song.
Where were we? Ah yes, the english language, being used to describe music that I like. Young the Giant is a strong contender for my next Spring Break band, and considering they also have the next song, I think this is fate trying to tell me I should give their whole discography a try. If this song had hit airwaves a little earlier I feel like it could have edged out the next song, “Something to Believe In”, but as it stands I’m just now getting to know this unapologetically powerful track. It stuck in my brain from the very first time I heard it. I love how it balances out a spacier sound with more straightforward rock sounds.
Here they are again! My favorite part of “Something to Believe In” is the vocals. While I get the general idea that the song is about religion and faith systems, what exactly it says about them is a bit more up in the air. Personally, I’m in the boat that this song is commentating on the fact that belief in oneself is just as powerful as belief in a faith system, but if you go to the genius article about this song, you’d find the complete opposite interpretation. Maybe it’s just personal opinion? Who knows. Regardless, the vocals are convincing and the delivery has such an angry, bitter quality to them that it’s hard not to take notice. The instrumentation and inclusion of a choral background only serves the emotion in the song.
If we’re talking about emotional music, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned heartbreak song and “The Less I Know the Better” is a top notch example of this. The guitar riff is distinctive, and the vocals strike that balance between empathetic sadness and realistic bitterness over its situation. I’m a big fan of the complete blunt honesty of these lyrics, especially the line where it talks about not wanting to wait forever – it seems like too often these sorts of songs paint love as a selfless thing, while in reality it has its roots in selfishness as well. This song chooses to focus on that idea, making it stand apart.
I’m always immediately a fan of songs that get very personal, and “Circadian Rhythm” is definitely an example. According to singer Nikki Monniger, this song was written for a close friend of hers who passed away, and that knowledge only serves to make the emotion of this song more potent. This song is just beautiful. It tugs on the heart strings with its lovely lyrics and dark-sounding instrumentation.
Have I mentioned yet how much I love wordplay and puns in lyrics? It just combines so many of my greatest loves together. “Good Grief” is a song about grief, but it would probably take a few listens for anyone to get that, since it seems like such an upbeat little number. (Coincidentally, this makes this song a prime example of lyrical dissonance, which is another song trope I adore).
I love the childhood motif of this song, and I think it really adds to the emotion it sells. This is not a happy song, and the innocent hide-and-seek references juxtaposed by the very adult themes is really powerful. Lead singer Dan Smith tells it well.
This will not be The Lumineers last appearance in this list (spoiler alert). Their newest album “Cleopatra” is really solid overall, but there’s a reason why this track is the most popular tune off of it.
The lyrics are mournful and lovely and they’re performed with real emotion by lead singer Wesley Schultz. The instrumentation is echoey and beautiful. Plus, it’s got a distinctive piano riff won’t ever leave your head. Not to mention the chorus, which is super catchy and easy to remember, and the inspiration for thousands of hipster edits.
“Heaven help the fool who falls in love…”
Laugh it up, but this song is high quality, even if it can be a bit ham-handed with the innuendo. Surprisingly enough, the obvious phallic reference in the title is not indicative of the rest of the song – in fact, some of the lyrics are downright clever (but still dirty, sorry in advance).
But I’m not here to only talk about the innuendos. Let’s talk about the striking falsetto vocals and playful piano accompaniment. Paired with that Miike Snow electronica polish, this track is clean and simple (even if its subject matter is not).
A lot has been said on the internet about That Poppy, how she is the quintessential new pop musician, how weird she is, how she might be connected to the illuminati…
Is this song just a mishmash of pop song tropes that work in order to commentate on how mainstream music is no longer original? Maybe. I don’t really care. Whether I agree with that assessment is a topic for another post, but all of that doesn’t matter. I love this song. I think it’s great.
I love the subtle pun in the title. I love the clever lyrics. I love the Gwen Stefani-esque slow jam sound it has. Maybe pop music is bad and unoriginal, but this is a perfect pop song anyway. It will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life, and I’m happier for it.
Okay, I need you to do something for me. Watch the music video for this song. All the way through.
Did you do it? You better have, because this song has the greatest music video ever and I’m not exaggerating.
Unfortunately, this is not a “Top 30 Best Music Videos” list, but that’s no matter, because this song is excellent as well. Catchy as all-get-out, it grabs you immediately and never lets go until it’s over (probably fitting, considering this song is about an overbearing ex-lover). The hard piano chords in the background give this song a violent, jarring sound, but also provides some definite melody and harmony that provides interesting contrast that is so very distinctive and works so well.
You know those songs that make you feel 100% cooler just by putting them on as you walk down the halls? You know, those songs that make you feel like you can crush your enemies underneath your boots just by keeping in step with the beat of the song? Yeah? This is one of those songs.
This song heavily focuses on its bassline and percussion, and it picks up such a great groove that it’s honestly a crime that the radio version of this song cuts out so much of the instrumental opening. It’s a little long, sure, but it pulls you into the mood in a way unmatched by any other song from this year.
Once it actually gets into the vocals, the excellence continues with soft, catchy lyrics that never let up on the groove already established by the opening. There isn’t too much depth in the lyrics themselves, but I don’t mind it too much, because the simplicity suits it. Nothing complex here, just some good beats and a great track.
Technically speaking, I first fell in love with this song last year, when it was released as a single, but by god, this song is so good I’ll put it on every list. Every list. It’s beautiful.
Lead singer Brendon Urie’s gorgeous voice is just the cherry on top of this vintage-sounding track. Heavy on the brass (just like I like it), this song is the epitome of class. It swells and flows and is just a joy from beginning to end.
Plus, because I always like to point out the lyrics and meaning of music, this one is actually kind of adorable. Shoutout to the guy who told me he thought this song was too depressing – buddy, it’s about the singer getting married. No tragedies here, just high quality tunes.
This. Song. Is. Hype.
I mean, for obvious reasons, the brass line in this song is enough to get me MEGA HYPE but honestly the lyrics certainly help too. THOSE GOOD, GOOD, SHAKESPEARE REFERENCES. Also, the well-written and well-thought-out lyrics I’ve come to expect from Bastille. This song is a deeply personal look into the feeling of jealousy, but don’t let that description fool you into thinking this is some sweet, mournful tune. Nope. This song was my go-to “get ready to kick brass” song before marching band competitions this year.
All of Bastille’s new album was incredible, but this one is hands down my favorite. Lead singer Dan Smith has the perfect voice for this song. Low and rich and powerful, but with an unmistakably light and beautiful quality at times, going right along with the swagger the instrumentation of this song brings. It’s perfect. I love it.
In so many words, I’d have a tough time explaining just why “Cleopatra” so thoroughly stole my heart this year, but I’ll try my best.
This song captures all that is charming about the Lumineers – the soft, folksy instrumentals and vocals – combined with an incredibly touching story. Now, I won’t lie, I love songs that tell stories (I’d love to write a whole dissertation on songs that tell stories, honestly), and the story of “Cleopatra” is definitely one of my favorites. It’s about a woman, represented by Cleopatra, who, in a bad time of her life, rejects the marriage proposal of the person she loves. As a result, they leave and marry another, and Cleopatra laments how she missed her chance to be with them, and speaks on her acceptance of the fact that she will likely die alone.
And what’s even better? It’s a true story. According to lead singer Wesley Schultz, the song was inspired by a taxi driver he met in the Republic of Georgia.
Yeah, okay, it’s depressing, I know. But this song is surprisingly hopeful for its subject matter, and leaves me with such a bittersweet feeling of calm. It’s an incredibly written, beautifully symbolic retelling of a moving real-life tale, and it’s my favorite track of 2016.