2016 served up a great year in music. Chance the Rapper released his critically-acclaimed Coloring Book, headlining a great year for the Rap/R&B genres, a couple of Indie powerhouses released long-awaited albums and a number of relative new kids to the mainstream scene staked their claim for recognition.
As we approach Grammy season, it’s time for my Top 10 Songs of the Year ranking. A couple of familiar faces found their way back onto the list this year, but a band from Montclair, New Jersey surprised me and found their way into one of the top slots.
Donald Glover made his return to the scene with an eye-popping evolution. Childish Gambino has gone from a simple rap project for Glover to a glorified funk experiment on his newest album, “Awaken, My Love!”, that would give Funkadelic a run for their money. The first track from the album, which was also the debut single, came as a big surprise, with Glover choosing to instead show of his vocal chops over his bars. The change comes as a welcome one to some, who had started to become bored following the release of his album because the internet. A harmonious opening to the track is quickly overtaken by a fuzzy bass line and some truly powerful vocals from Glover. Laden with a number of different tracks for vocals and instrumentation, this is one of the most diverse, intricate and best songs of the year for me.
Though many rap albums were overshadowed by Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak released Malibu, a 16-track behemoth that I feel deserves far more recognition than it is currently receiving. On the opening track from the album, Brandon Anderson raps meaningfully over a smooth, jazzy beat about family struggles and trying to make ends meet. Anderson has a relaxed approach to his rapping, which makes his entire album, but especially this song, very easy to listen to. This entry is certainly not one to be forgotten quickly, and Anderson is going to be here to stay for a number of years.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first to give Cleopatra, the sophomore outing from the Denver, Colorado folk group, a chance. While dotted with chart-toppers and radio stalwarts, I found their eponymous first album formulaic and boring after a few listens. Those mistakes have been fixed on Cleopatra. Angela is a perfect example of this. Not meant to be a single off the album, it’s easily my favorite from the entire entry due to the somewhat-simplistic nature of the song that is executed to perfection. Many might point to songs like Ophelia or Sleep on the Floor as the best from the album, but Angela holds the top spot in my mind from an inspiring follow-up work.
Alright, so I’ll admit I cheated a bit on this one, but The Life of Pablo was an altogether great album, it just so happens that the best song off of the album is carried by those other than West. Specifically, verses by Kelly Price, and especially Chance the Rapper, really shine. Price provides a stunning display of vocal talent while Chance provides one of the hardest-hitting verses of the year, rivaling anything off of his own album. Unfortunately, the rest of The Life of Pablo fell just short of the incredibly high bar the opening track set for it, but when it’s a track this great, it’s not too surprising that it did.
The title track off of Glaspy’s debut full-length LP, Emotions and Math is another seemingly simple song that is made by the vocal talent of the singer. Glaspy’s lyricism and vocal grit pair well with the straight-forward and digging guitar line. She displays a good range throughout the song and a craftsmanship to shape a good tune. Despite this being her first full-length record, Glaspy’s experience from Berklee shows through in her expertise and lack of reliance on effects to craft a strong first outing.
Dark Days is one of the many fantastic songs off of a much-anticipated record from Local Natives. Their first full-length release since Hummingbird in 2013, Sunlit Youth continues to show a development and honing of the sound we’ve come to know and love from Local Natives, with a continued growth therein. Paired male and female vocals lead to some great harmonies that sync excellently with the layered guitar tracks from the Los Angeles indie band.
Another highly-anticipated album was A Moon Shaped Pool, the first release in five-years for the British indie giants, Radiohead. A symphonic and stunningly beautiful record from top to bottom, Daydreaming stood out from the rest. Slowly building and hauntingly beautiful, the band works their magic on this hypnotizing track that really speaks for itself.
Though often maligned by critics, this stood out as the best song off of the third, and possibly final, Bon Iver record, 22, A Million. Consisting of only auto-tuned vocals from front man Justin Vernon, the power comes from the emotion with which Vernon sings, which is palpable beneath the digitized voice. Despite being a complete record from top to bottom, this song sticks out among from the rest by being pretty different from the others and was one of the few tracks that stuck with me immediately after the first listen.
This one comes as a surprise, even to me. If you showed me the rest of the list at the beginning of the year, I’d say it was about spot on, but arriving at this entry, would have responded with a confused “Who?” Pinegrove was a happy surprise that I stumbled upon earlier in the year and Old Friends, the first track off of Cardinal, their most recent release, has been on repeat for me since I originally heard it. The honest lyricism and entirety of the folk-rock instrumentation make this song a joy to listen to time after time. Though this is their first major label release, expect to see much more Pinegrove, hopefully soon.
For me, the track of the year came from one of the best, if not the best, release of the year in Chance the Rappers Coloring Book. A song that is pure energy, highlighted by great verses from Chance, Lil Wayne and even 2 Chainz, easily took the top spot and it wasn’t even really close. It pulls from many elements that made Acid Rap the mainstream hit it was for Chano, while adding great elements, like the choir in the background. It’s easy to see why he’s grabbed a number of Grammy nods, and will probably walk away from the show with quite a few.