Top 10 Songs of 2020

What a year. Obviously this has been memed to death as the year faded and we arbitrarily look to “2021” for brighter times. I had meant to do a top 25 list of my favorite songs, but I’ll chalk it up to 2020 and the difficulties of making anything happen. The songs below are my favorites from the year. This year more than ever I tried to pick songs that truly encapsulated what it felt like to live in 2020. I hope to release lists for best TV shows, albums, and movies soon, so keep checking this space. Here’s to 2021!

10. “exile” by Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)


Perhaps the most indie-head poser choice from the excellent surprise album that Swift dropped mid-
quarantine, but this duet with Bon Iver is gorgeous with its layered vocals, which overlap to express the
feelings of a tumultuous relationship. There’s just nothing better for us sad sacks, thank you Taylor.

9. “Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia


A pretty straightforward end of the album ballad that finds its place here because of 35 seconds where
Samia shifts from hushed longings into an emotional and impassioned cry. Sometimes all it takes is
moments like this that stick with you and you wish to hear over and over. This is one of those for me.

8.“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers

The official album opener and first single from Bridgers’ sophomore album is another somber and
quietly beautiful track, if you’re listening to these one by one I’m sure you’re sensing a theme.

7. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy

Sophie Allison’s ode to self doubt and depression is representative of a lot of how I felt and I’m sure
most of us felt at one time or another this year. She sings “hey I’ve been falling apart these days /
Watching my heart go ‘round and around / Circle the drain I’m going down / Tryna seem strong for my
love / For my family and friends / But I’m so tired of faking”. I don’t think there’s a much better way of
putting it.

6. “Martin & Gina” by Polo G

There’s a couple of outliers on this list and this is one of them, a joyous song about trying to get the girl
that ironically comes from an artist known for writing sad songs. Polo G’s vocal inflections are infectious
resulting in a song I couldn’t get out of my head for most of the year.

5. “Dressing America” by TORRES

TORRES sings this ode to her love with a restraint that falls somewhere in between joy and frustration.
Her amour keeps coming up with excuses to doubt their relationship, but TORRES assures her “Come on,
woman / I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short
notice”. It’s a beautiful song of devotion, with bits of lingering doubt that prevent it from becoming a full
on love song.

4. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” by The Chicks

I went back and forth on many songs from this album to include in this top 10, but I ended up choosing
this. The chorus goes: “I see a wildfire comin’ / Burnin’ the world that I’ve known”. While this is not explicitly about an actual wildfire, when they sing those words the emotion is palpable, taking the sorrows felt from the end of Natalie Maines’ relationship and transporting each feeling into 2020 where California wildfires destroyed so much and prevented one of the only comforts we had at the time in the ability to hang out outdoors.

3. “Take_it_Back_v2” by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats

This is a straight up riot; a punch to the face both in the verses and beats. Curry uses multiple voices to
the point that I had to look up whether there were guests on the song. Kenny Beats samples a song from
“Shake Hands with Danger”, a video from the construction company Caterpillar raising awareness about
safety on construction sites. It feels like something from an old cowboy movie. You may need to wear a
hard hat just to listen to it.

2. “walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels (feat. Gangsta Boo)

RTJ released their fourth album early, saying that the album felt timely in the aftermath of the killing of
George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed. Their music has always felt like
protest music and “walking in the snow” features a song where Killer Mike imagines the cops choking
him repeating Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe”. It’s haunting and infuriating. Our world has
tragedy on repeat and our country consistently treats Black Americans as subhuman. “walking in the
snow” wraps all of the sorrow and the fury into one.

1. “The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens

“The Ascension” brings everything I’ve felt for the last four years together in one 6-minute magnum
opus. Everything I once thought about the world seemed to sink before my eyes, opening up a hell on
earth that I suppose I knew existed, but not in the ways that were revealed. When it comes time to
stand up for goodness where were those who taught me to be good and to stand for what’s right? Sufjan sings:
And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning, a season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation, I should have resigned myself to this
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation while you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration while you killed it off with all of your holy mess
What now?

The song ends with Sufjan singing “what now?” Some have seen the end music as a hopeful ascension of
good, while others see this unanswered question as him embracing the unknown. Maybe it’s both
hopeful and dark. But what better question is there as we head into this new year, leaving behind one
that was universally awful: What now?

Top Songs of the Year (150-101)

Soccer Mommy

The year in music was for me one of breadth rather than depth. This is likely due to the sheer availability of music, with streaming services enabling access to essentially every song in existence. This makes it harder to dive deeper, whereas previously you would invest $15 on one album and leave it in your cd player for the next 6 months, now there’s always something new at your fingertips. That being said, I was able to listen to more bands, more genres, and a more diverse selection of music than I ever have in my entire life. Each Friday I added every new record of interest onto my phone, ready to see what new discoveries there were to be made. As I discovered songs I liked, I threw them into a playlist, “Best Songs of 2017”, and kept them there until a few weeks ago when I began to sort through it. The result was 167 songs, many more than my typical 100 song ranking, so, I decided to release my favorite 150, beginning with 150-101 in alphabetical order. This range of artists and songs are just the beginning of the things that accompanied me throughout the year and I’ve decide that as I go along, the day before I release my best of, I’ll do a list of runner ups that I also enjoyed. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and I just want to share all of it with you. Here’s my tentative schedule:

Dec 10- Best songs pt. I (100-76)

Dec 15 – Best songs pt. II (75-51)

Dec 20 – Best songs pt. III (50-26)

Dec 22 – TV Show runner ups

Dec 23 – Top 10 TV Shows

Dec 24 – Best songs pt. IV (25-1)

Dec 26 – Podcast runner ups

Dec 27 – Top 10 podcasts

Dec 28- Top Beers

Dec 29 – Best Album runner ups

Dec 30 – Top 10 Albums

Dec 31- Review of 2017 Pop Culture Goals

Jan 1 – 2018 Pop Culture Goals

Jan 2 – Best Movies of 2017

Best songs of the year: 150-101

Listen on Spotify

Or Apple Music

Agent blå “Rote Learning”

Alex Lahey “Backpack”
Allison Crutchfield “Dean’s Room”
Alvvays “Plimsoll Punks”
Amy O “Soft Skin”
Arcade Fire “Good God Damn”
Blue Hawaii “No One Like You”

Calvin Harris “Heatstroke (feat. Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, Ariana Grande)”
Charly Bliss “Black Hole”
Charly Bliss “Ruby”

Cloud Nothings “Enter Entirely”
Cloud Nothings “Things Are Right with You”
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile “Continental Breakfast”
Drake “Ice Melts (feat. Young Thug)”
G-Eazy “No Limit (feat. A$AP Rocky & Cardi B)”

Gang of Youths “Keep Me in the Open”
Half Waif “Frost Burn”
Ibeyi “Away Away”

Japanese Breakfast “Soft Sounds from Another Planet”
Jay Som “Baybee”

LCD Soundsystem “other voices”
Lil Yachty “All Around Me (feat. YG & Kamaiyah)
Lil Yachty “Better (feat. Stefflon Don)”
Migos “Call Casting”
N.E.R.D. & Rihanna “Lemon”
Nana Grizol “Mississippi Swells”
Nana Grizol “Nightlights I”
No Thank You “The Unbearable Purposelessness of Being”

Noga Erez “Dance While You Shoot”
Offset & Metro Boomin “Nightmare”
Paramore “Forgiveness”
Phoenix “J-Boy”

Planetarium “Saturn”
Priests “Pink White House”
Rostam “Gwan”

Rostam “Never Going to Catch Me”
Smino “blkswn”
Soccer Mommy “Death by Chocolate”
Soccer Mommy “Waiting For Cars”

Tall Friend “Small Space”
The National “Walk it Back”
The New Pornographers “High Ticket Attractions”

The Weather Station “Thirty”
Thundercat “Walk on By (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
Torres “Skim”
Vince Staples “Yeah Right (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
Wolf Alice “Beautifully Unconventional”

Young Thug “Me or Us”
Young Thug “You Said (feat. Quavo)

Top 10 Broadway Songs of 2016-17

The Tony Awards are this weekend, wrapping up Broadway’s season of shows, in an all night dedication to the year’s best theater. While the awards are the most conducive awards show to its form (live performances), I’ve always felt they need to add a best original song award. The Oscars manage to find three new original songs to award every year, why not add something to award the best song, which is ostensibly the highlight of most musicals anyway.

In the name of all things ranked, I decided I would come up with a list of the best songs, both for personal pleasure and to introduce what was out there this year. I experienced almost all of these from their soundtrack release, which is admittedly not fair to a lot of these shows which are enhanced when placed live on a stage and in the midst of a story, but this isn’t always possible (obviously).

This list was eligible to any new shows that were also Tony-eligible (no revivals), as well as any off-Broadway shows that were released in this time period. As it goes, not every Tony eligible show had a soundtrack released and thus could not be considered. That being the case, there are only four shows on this list and one that is featured very heavily, that’s just how this art form works.

I’ll link an Apple Music playlist at the end for you to enjoy.

 

10. “Halfway” from Amelie 

This is the only show I’ve actually seen in person, so I am probably biased to enjoy it more than the others, but unlike critics and audiences, I found it an immense delight. “Halfway” is a duet between young and adult Amelie, reflecting on the lessons her mother taught her, lessons that were highly affecting, yet completely debilitating.

9. “Day One” from Groundhog’s Day

The opener to Groundhog’s Day introduces us to the ornery Phil Conners, the news reporter who continuously relives the same day as originally made famous by Bill Murray. Here, Conners contemplates his career as he suffers through what he sees as an absurd celebration in Punxsutawney–the epitome of small town America. It’s a ten-minute track that overviews the town, the main characters, and gives us the heart of Conners, a bitter man looking for something grander than what he’s got.

8. TIE “Words Fail” & “So Big/So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen 

I couldn’t pick between the two emotional closers to Dear Evan Hansen, the former sees the protagonist coming to terms with the mistakes he’s made throughout the show, finally expressing his innermost thoughts about not having a father; the latter flips the script, examining these damages from the perspective of his mother. This is the best of Broadway, emotions expressed through heart wrenching song, what else can you ask for?

7. “Pierre” from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812

The Great Comet is a little frustrating to listen to, there’s a lot going on (which is surely amplified by seeing it live), and the lyrics are almost entirely transcripts straight from Tolstoy’s “War & Peace”, which means there is little rhyming or pop conventions. The show is inventive with its meddled genres and high drama, but grows tiresome by the time the second act hits. “Pierre” follows the prologue, giving us a Josh Groan ballad complete with a Russian choir interjecting throughout, creating the standout track from the show (though “No One Else” is close).

6. “Times Are Hard For Dreamers” from Amelie

The single of sorts from Amelie is a fun, poppy introduction to Philippa Soo as adult Amelie. It’s catchy as can be, a piano driven track that actually has its own “pop version” on the soundtrack. It’s rare that Broadway songs break through into mainstream playlists, but one could easily sneak this into a driving playlist and no one would bat an eye.

5. “One Day” from Groundhog’s Day

While “Day One” gives us insight to Phil’s thoughts, “One Day” let’s us into coworker Rita’s  struggles as a woman in the news industry, the objectification there, and her difficulties with love. She’s written a little too one-note, focusing acutely on her desires to find a good man, but Barrett Doss makes up for it with a great performance. It ends with the entire town expressing their dreams for tomorrow, heightened by the fact that Phil is having to live this ‘one day’ repeatedly and there is no tomorrow for him.

4. “Requiem” from Dear Evan Hansen

“Requiem” offers the unique perspective of a family mourning the loss of a member who they were all at odds with. Lead by Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) asking why she should “play the grieving girl” if their relationship was something she never enjoyed. It’s a heartbreaking, but realistic look at family, heightened by the mix of lies and false hopes the characters have throughout the show. “When the villains fall, the kingdom never weeps.”

3. “Anybody Have a Map?” from Dear Evan Hansen

The show’s opener is essentially a duet between two mothers struggling with their sons and their life’s direction. It’s a deceitfully upbeat track, setting the tone for the murky waters that are to come. You’re going to have fun with this show, but you’re never quite sure how much fun you should be having. I’m not sure whether the show’s writers intended this to be the case, regardless, they know how to write some great songs.

2. “Sister’s Pickle” from Amelie 

It picks up a motif we hear Amelie’s mother sing early on and introduces both the crush Amelie is developing on Nino, as well as the anxiety that will cripple her throughout the show. It’s a tiny track, but absolutely infectious, the height of what attracts you to Amelie, the altruistic ball of delight that she is.

  1. “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen

This was probably the big breakout track of the year, an acoustic driven bouncing and poppy track that introduces the world to Evan Hansen. The music and lyrics were written by Pasek & Paul, now famous for having written the lyrics to La La Land, “Window” is tonally opposite from the songs that made up that film. It’s the sort of song one can listen to endlessly, the single that makes this the show you should introduce your non-musical loving friends to and ultimately the best song to come out of musical theater in the last year.

Listen to the whole thing here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/playlist/top-10-broadway-songs-16-17/idpl.ff5c6294d0654027bc9a153eed1def65

Other good songs: “No One Else” from The Great Comet of 1812, “Stuck” from Groundhog’s Day, “Playing Nancy” from Groundhog’s Day, “If I Had My Time Again” from Groundhog’s Day, “The Bottle Drops” from Amelie, “For Forever” from Dear Evan Hansen, “28 Hours/Wherever We Are” from Come From Away

 

 

Top 10 Albums of 2016

Unranked Honorable Mentions:

Jeffery by Young Thug

Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q

Cashmere by Swet Shop Boys

Emotion Side B by Carly Rae Jepsen

Freetown Sound by Blood Orange

The Dream is Over by Pup

Rot Forever by Sioux Falls

Paradise by White Lung

Cody by Joyce Manor

I Had a Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

As you can tell by the long list of honorable mentions above there was a ton of pretty good stuff that came out this year. I considered almost every one of these for my number 10 album of the year and even as I sit here I’m not satisfied with everything I’ve mentioned, so here are a few more that I also enjoyed (A Seat at the Table by Solange, Puberty 2 by Mitski, WORRY. by Jeff Rosenstock, Stage Four by Touché Amore, plus The Hamilton Mixtape which I didn’t even count for this list). It was a good year for music, one that I felt was pretty balanced–I doubt that very many of these will make my best of the decade list, but I enjoyed so much of them.

10. iiiDrops by Joey Purp

joey-purp

From the opening moments of iiiDrops Joey Purp speaks with a purpose. There’s an urgency both in his raps and his beats, which make you feel as if he’s standing on a soapbox preaching to anyone who will listen. That’s not to say it’s all sincere, he’s got a fun track with Chance the Rapper which was his biggest hit of the year (“Girls @”), but for the most part he’s socially conscious, speaking out about Chicago, and the ups and downs experienced there. “Photobooth” is the best song on the album, but “Cornerstore” exemplifies the urgency Purp brings to it.

9. Moth by Chairlift

chairlift_-_moth

This is the first album I ever really listened to by Chairlift, a duo who announced their separation just weeks ago, ultimately a shame because their final album is a wonderful work of synth influenced indie pop. Moth throws together a collection of wonderful melodies matched with grooving, uplifting beats. “Crying in Public” was a constant go to for me (I named it my number two song of the year)–it’s a incessantly calming song, filled with positive vibes, while “Polymorphing” probably gives the best overview of the electronic catchiness of the album as a whole.

8. Leave Me Alone by Hinds

hinds

Hinds is a Spanish indie rock band, their debut album is filled with loosely constructed garage-y songs that get by on the band’s enthusiasm. It’s a wry rock album, drifting from solo to chorus and vocalist to vocalist but always feeling more fun than sloppy. I would play this on any beach day even if the band’s approach is antithetical to the tight construction of the Beach Boys. “Warts” has a fun and memorable guitar lick and features the band almost obnoxiously singing “ba da ba da ba ba” in a way that will make you smile.

7. Goldman’s Detective Agency by Martha

martha-blistershires-copy

Every review I’ve read of this record loves to mention the Canadian group’s progressive politics, perhaps because it’s not immediately noticeable in the band’s Warped Tour pop-punk vibe. Catchy pop-punk like this is not known for its anarchic perspective, even if that’s where the genre evolved from. Martha’s views are probably why it’s garnered success in the indie scene, and they certainly deserve it for pushing those boundaries, but this album thrives on how perfectly catchy it is. It makes use of alternating vocals from its male and female vocalists (though they might argue there’s no need for gender distinctions) to make perfectly layered guitar-driven pop songs. “Ice Cream and Sunscreen” features both vocalists in a song that brilliantly crescendos from sunny strumming into full pop-punk.

6. Hopelessness by ANOHNI

anohni

The bleakness of ANOHNI’s album title is squeezed out into every second of her album here. She truly believes in expressing that sentiment and uses slowly drawn minor electronic music to do so. It’s an ethereal experience, lamenting the state of the environment, Obama’s presidency, and the government’s spy tactics. It’s sorrowful all in all, with “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?” reaching peak existential cry.

5. Blackstar by David Bowie

blackstar

There’s no better way to describe Blackstar than haunting. It’s an album filled with references to life’s culmination, regret, and resurrection, released just days before Bowie would end up passing. Musically it soars, meandering through long songs with jazz interludes and that classic Bowie performance. Donny McCaslin and company are the backing band, offering up some of the best musicianship on any album that came out this year. “Blackstar” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” are both reflections on life, filled to the brim with pathos.

4. TIE: Lemonade by Beyonce; Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper; The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

Okay a bit of a cheat here, but these three albums are pretty inarguably the biggest representations of popular music this year. All three released albums to great accord and fanfare, pushing boundaries and reclaiming the album as a viable option in 2016. I looked forward to each and listened to each as much as anything else this entire year, yet I find major flaws and sections I don’t really like in each. Their songs filled my best songs of the year lists, but I find stretches of each unignorable-y skippable. I figured why not combine them all in one big cheat, both recognizing their brilliance and how cautious I am to label them my favorites of the year.

Coloring Book

chance_3

Chance was the breakout star of pop music this year (though you should check out my best albums of 2014 list, which includes his wonderful mixtape Acid Rap in my top 10– *humblebrag*) and Coloring Book saw a lot of traction. There’s good reason for this, it’s a gospel-filled sincere rap album with guests from Lil Wayne to Kirk Franklin to Justin Bieber. At first I didn’t like some of the production choices (particularly on the intro to “All We Got” which I felt was really messy), but I kept returning to it over and over. Some songs grew on me (like “No Problem” which ended up being one of my favs from the year), while others I still find kind of boring (“Summer Friends”; “Mixtape”; “Juke Jam”). There are parts of this album I will forever return to and others I probably won’t listen to again.

The Life of Pablo

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Kanye consistently promised us the world with this record and by making so many promises he kinda shot himself in the foot. He rushed its release and as a result it… feels rushed. There are a lot of great ideas throughout the whole thing, but some of them end before they have any right to, while others seemingly drag on forever. “Ultralight Beam” is the song of the decade and its flashes of brilliance show up throughout a lot of the album, but Yeezy should’ve cut out some of that filler, let some songs live in the bonus material realm, and come in with a nice tight 12 track album. But for now we can use the skip button and wait for that Trump/Yeezus ticket that we’re bound to have four years from now.

Lemonade

beyonce-lemonade-poster-thatgrapejuice-600x647

The most fun I had on Twitter this year was reading people’s reactions to the release of Lemonade on HBO, it was hyped up and met everyone’s expectations for what a new Beyonce album should be. I think the issue I have here is I wanted it to be more similar to her self-titled record which was an absolute I’m the emcee here feminist hip-hop anthem. Lemonade obviously is a singularly focused album about a supposed infidelity and all that comes with it–and that part works–but I didn’t enjoy her stray into more bluesy, Americana songs as much as I like what she was doing previously. It’s a personal preference and one that really only shows up on about a third of the album.

3. untitled unmastered. by Kendrick Lamar

kendrick

Leave it to Kendrick to unexpectedly drop an album of B-sides and have it be one of the best things that came out all year. It’s not as tied together as his two full-lengths, and you can certainly see where each song might have fit if it had made it to Butterfly or MAAD City, but this allows for nine songs to come together in untethered bliss.

2. 22, A Million by Bon Iver

bon-iver

When I named Bon Iver’s self-titled album my favorite of 2011 I figured it was a cliche pick from an artist who had peaked in popularity, but I couldn’t ignore how brilliant the album was. This is exactly how I feel about 22, A Million which further elevates Justin Vernon’s project into the avant-garde. He used special technologies to layer his vocals here, pushing his sound into a textured wonderland that is both worlds away from his twee acoustic debut, while somehow managing to capture the same tone. The whole thing is beautiful and I appreciate his willingness to push to the fringes of music. It’s been rewarding every time.

  1. Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

car-seat-headrest-teens-of-denial-compressed

Will Toledo’s indie rock project is a masterclass in rock ‘n roll for the internet age. Born out of the DIY Bandcamp scene and having released something like nine albums across the past six years, Headrest shows what is possible for indie rock in 2016. While self-produced quirky lo-fi jams are a bastion of rock music, Headrest expands those ideas to their fullest, creating huge anthems that pull together vast ideas. His music is a like a well curated Tumblr blog, featuring references to all sorts of things, poetic ramblings, and memes alike. Like someone who grew up with the internet, Teens of Denial is an ironic piece of sincerity–there are tongue-in-cheek moments and others where you have to ask if Toledo is even trying, but it all pulls together in an amazing effort.  Most importantly the songwriting is brilliant, these are rock songs that can stand alongside anything that’s ever been written and is why Teens of Denial is my favorite album of the year.

Top 100 Songs Pt. I (100-68)

tolentino-carly-rae-jepsen-1200

Part one of three of the year’s best songs, listen with caution, it’s all good but it’s not all safe.

100. “Storyteller” by Mourn

99. “Froze” by Meek Mill (feat. Lil Uzi Vert & Nicki Minaj)

98. “Reup & Bake” by Cousin Stizz

97. “Higher” by Carly Rae Jepsen

96. “Goldman’s Detective Agency” by Martha

95. “Kanye West” by Young Thug (feat. Wyclef Jean)

Who would have thought that unintelligible mumbling could be so bubbly and catchy? Young Thug might be saying words during the chorus of “Kanye West”, I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that he’s created this brilliant evocation of drunken stumbling in the most charming way. Wyclef is also a great addition here adding sincere Wyclef-isms to the background of this ode to Yeezus.

94. “Ride Out” by ScHoolboy Q (feat. Vince Staples)

93. “22 (OVER Soon)” by Bon Iver

92. “Never Be Mine” by Angel Olsen

91. “You” by Slingshot Dakota

90. “The One” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae continues to be the best songwriter in pop music, releasing an EP of B-sides from last years Emotion that are better than pretty much anything else in the genre. Pop QUEEN.

89. “Seven Rings” by Future

88. “Wasted On You” by Bleached

Pure bubblegum pop-punk that would be a perfect fit both at a crowded punk show and on the soundtrack of some 00’s Disney Channel Original film.

87. “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd (feat. Gucci Mane)

I talked about this in the Top 10 Pop Hits of the year list, check it out. 

86. “Do You Need My Love” by Weyes Blood

85. “untitled 07” by Kendrick Lamar

The three-minute (or s0) music interlude at the end is probably best exemplifies why this song was left on Kendrick’s overflow of ideas that made up untitled.unmastered (not featured on the video above), but that kid’s choir singing about Compton is just so epic.

84. “Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)” by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

Now I love me some doo-wop, but if you told me that the singer of The Walkmen and the songwriter from Vampire Weekend would come together to make a really good straight forward rock record that included a solid song that was influenced by doo-wop, I wouldn’t have believed you. But–here we are.

83. “Ice Cream and Sunscreen” by Martha

82. “Hi Roller” by Lil Uzi Vert

81. “(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem]” by Car Seat Headrest

80. “Adore” by Savages

This song takes the perspective of one who has acknowledged the world as a place filled with troubles, leading them to come to an existentialist crisis of sorts, but rather than questioning whether there is any value in the world, they question the perspective of the world as a bad place. It’s a nihilist anthem that is somehow filled with hope. Vocally Jenny Beth sings this track with a world-dreary tone, but allows glimmers of hope to echo throughout each word she says. The end of song repeats “I adore life” in an almost disturbing declaration of good in the world.

79. “Whateva Will Be” by A Tribe Called Quest

I need to spend more time with this record to truly discover what songs are the real highlights, but at this point in time this one feels the most complete–capturing that Tribe vibe whilst fitting perfectly into a modern landscape.

78. “Copy/Paste” by Sioux Falls

77. “See the Love” by The Brilliance

While art is probably at its best when it’s speaking truth to discomfort us in some way, this song is a calming jolt of joy that is absolutely necessary.

76. “Hocus Pocus” by Animal Collective

75. “Stairs” by Joyce Manor

74. “Girl Loves Me” by David Bowie

73. “All We Got” by Chance the Rapper (feat. Kanye West)

72. “Drone Bomb Me” by ANOHNI

71. “Hidden Driver” by LVL UP

This song is pure and unashamedly a rip-off of Neutral Milk Hotel, but LVL UP pulls it off so wonderfully that it fits alongside the brilliance of Aeroplane more than it feels like a tribute song.

70. “In Heaven” by Japanese Breakfast

69. “FML” by Kanye West (feat. The Weeknd)

68. “Aaja” by Swet Shop Boys (feat. Ali Sethi)

There are a lot of great songs on the Swet Shop Boys debut album and while much of the album is influenced both musically and lyrically by the respective Eastern cultures of Heems and MC Riz, never does it shine as bright as in “Aaja”–a delightful dancy track that uses a classic Bollywood chorus to reference modern romance.

 

Top 10 Pop Hits of 2016

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Alright, the rules are: it must be a song that placed in the top 10 at some point on Billboard’s charts and it cannot have been on last year’s list. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward.

10. Alessia Cara “Here”

This song isn’t that good, let that be known, but it deserves credit for becoming the pop introvert anthem (the real introvert anthem is Courtney Barnett’s “Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party”, but pop deserves their own). Introverts need their own jams and to hear a song say “I would rather be at home all by myself not in this room” and “How did it ever come to this / I shoulda never come to this” allows for 26 years of party going anxiety to be released from my body in pop solidarity. Thank you Alessia.

9. Charlie Puth w/ Selena Gomez “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

I have little to say about this song, it just wasn’t as terrible as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (which does does have four seconds where it’s pretty good) or as bleh as “Closer” which despite being #1 for a third of the year I can barely recall. When it comes to rating pop music that’s all you need sometimes.

8. Flo Rida “My House”

Flo Rida is like Bruno Mars or Pitbull, he’s never been cool but he sure is plain enough to capture the top of the charts consistently. “My House” might be Flo Rida at his coolest, he’s just so casual here, like have you ever heard anyone tell you to pop open champagne with the amount of nonchalance that Rida does here? Mad respect. (I must admit here that most of the times I heard this song was during this Spotify commercial, which I like quite a bit?)

7. Mike Posner “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”

The best part of this song is the opening where Posner name drops Aviici. Why don’t more pop artists do this? Way more middling artists would rise to fame if they dropped tabloid-esque stories in the middle of their songs. The next Haim album should be a list of songs inspired by that time they hung out with Taylor Swift at the beach. I’m shocked that John Mayer hasn’t released a whole album featuring with each track named after his celebrity sexual exploits. This would be gold, c’mon people!

6. Rae Sremmurd “Black Beatles”

Really only a hit due to its usage in the viral video meme #TheMannequinChallenge “Beatles” is a solid addition to a duo that will probably be providing us with hyped up trap singles for the next ten years.

5. Rihanna w/Drake “Work”

This year saw the Rihanna and Drake ‘ship reach its peak (and probably its finish?) and “Work” was at the center of it. They released two I can’t really tell if this is empowering to women music videos for the song, each featuring Drake up on Rihanna in their real life will they or won’t they relationship. At this point I have no idea where their standing is, but I hope the mythology continues because the two are a perfect musical match.

4. Rihanna “Needed Me”

Rihanna is gold when it comes to making hits, but she’s never quite reached the album-maker level status of someone like Beyonce. She came close with this year’s Anti, but it contained a lot of filler. “Needed Me” is surprisingly the only other single to chart in the top 10 from the album and it’s one that shows Rihanna potential as more than a pop artist. It’s actually kind of strange that this was a radio hit at all, but nonetheless it features that unique DGAF island vibe that she has come to represent.

3. D.R.A.M. w/ Little Yachty “Broccoli”

This song owes its success to Chance the Rapper who paved the way for the ultra-sincere upbeat hip-hop jam (and also featured both artists on his mixtape). D.R.A.M. and Yachty bring so much delight to this song, it’s absolutely infectious, capturing the spirit of D.R.A.M.’s album cover (which you should really check out). Hip-hop has evolved from capturing inner city life, boasting about wealth, the I can be sad emo phase, and now it’s turned to sincerity–essentially turning into those moments in Saturday Night Live when a character breaks–it’s kinda cheesy, but there’s so much glee that it works.

2. Desiigner “Panda”

I often find myself deferring to the out of nowhere hits when it comes to ranking the pop charts. It’s no surprise that Desiigner made a name for himself this year, but “Panda” truly did come out of nowhere. I suppose we’re going to get one rapper making trap music to surprising success per year (last year was Fetty Wap and now Desiigner), much like there was a string of indie rock bands with top hits in the preceding years. The song will outlive Kanye’s sampling of it, I even went to an Angels game where MVP Mike Trout had it as his walk up song, so ya know it’s good.

  1.  Beyonce “Formation”

I almost ranked a couple of these songs ahead of this one, but when it came down to it I could not ignore the importance of “Formation”. It’s an anthem for women everywhere, but particularly for women of color. I’m going to try to go through as many of these lists as possible without doing a state of the nation, but I mean look at the state of the nation… Beyonce has slid perfectly into her #Feminist role, grabbing the mic, making herself the emcee, and paving a way for the woman who gather behind her.

Honorable mentions: That one part in “Can’t Stop the Feeling” when Justin Timberlake sings “Nothing I can see but you when you dance…”; DNCE “Cake By the Ocean”; Adele “Send My Love”; 5th Harmony “Work From Home”

Peak Singalong: A Playlist

Everyone loves singing songs they know. Blasting the perfect song through your car speakers can bring a group of people together in elation and may even result in seatbelt constrained dancing and/or smiles–a sure sign the people with you are having fun. The following playlist is designed to bring you to that point of elation, to make you the coolest person in your car, and ultimately to help you reach peak singalong.

Before diving in, we must go over a few rules that helped to create this, the most perfect collection of songs to sing to; these are listed below:

  1. It has to be a song that everybody knows. My senior year of high school a bunch of my friends went to Chilis to celebrate my friend’s birthday. On the way home we played mewithoutYou’s “January 1979”, all of us yelled along to Aaron Weiss’ manic vocal delivery and had an amazing time doing so. But, how many of you could sing lyrics from that song right now? Thus, not acceptable—most people with you must know the song.
  2. It has to be foolish. There are great songs that people like to sing a long to, The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” is a great example of this— the most acclaimed band of all time singing a song that people enjoy singing along to; however, adding “Hello, Goodbye” to a singalong playlist does not help one reach peak singalong. Peak singalong involves each person in the car screaming their lungs out in foolishness, not caring what they look like or who sees them. To reach this state, the song must inspire foolishness and must have some level of kitschiness. The Beatles are just too good of a band to bring about the cheesiness required, but one hit wonders and momentary pop stars are perfect for this.
  3. It must be good. Rule #3 is an amendment to Rule #2. While the song has to have a kitsch level to it, it must also be a good song. There are certain songs that are very foolish and may inspire some level of singalong, but won’t get you to peak singalong. Baja Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” or “The Macarena” are both examples of this—they’re funny to play but one can only keep up the I’m ironically having fun bit for so long (usually not the length of one of these songs). Thus the song must actually be enjoyable to listen to in order to fully bring about singalong-ness.

Songs on any singalong playlist will reflect personal tastes which will naturally be based on upbringing and the era of music each person grew up in, that being said, this is the definitive peak singalong playlist for every person.

You can follow along on the embedded Spotify playlist (or here) (sorry Tidal subscribers)

Peak Singalong: A Playlist:

  1. “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton
  2. “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch
  3. “My Immortal” by Evanescence
  4. “Behind These Hazel Eyes” by Kelly Clarkson
  5. “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne
  6. “Numb” by Linkin Park
  7. “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy
  8. “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard
  9. “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
  10. “Perfect” by Simple Plan
  11. “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls
  12. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
  13. “Take On Me” by a-ha
  14. “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer
  15. “My Boo” by Usher w/Alicia Keys
  16. “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)” by Fergie
  17. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

 

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…

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10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.

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9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

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8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.

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7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.

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6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

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5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

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4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.

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3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.

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2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.

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1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

Top 100 Songs of 2015 (Part II: 78-51)

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Part II of IV. Check out part I here.

78. Natalie Prass “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

77. Florence + the Machine “What Kind of Man”

I don’t agree that the latest album tops 2011’s Ceremonials (I adore that album maybe more than anyone else), but if you’re into Florence’s dramatically belted approach to pop music you’ll always enjoy what she’s putting out. “What Kind of Man” features that same anguish-filled questioning: “What kind of man loves like this?” she asks–Florence doesn’t just rattle your soul, she tears open your chest and grabs it making sure you know exactly how she feels.

76. Beirut “At Once”

A minor entry in the global spectrum of Beirut’s indie rock stylings, it’s beautifully pleasant.

75. Vic Mensa, Kanye West “U Mad”

74. Titus Andronicus “(S)he Said/(S)he Said”

73. Johanna Warren “Black Moss”

72. Justin Bieber “Sorry”

71. Sports “Reality TV”

Another perfect fit for my women in rock music piece from a couple months ago, Sports perfectly capture why slacker indie/punk/whatever is so fun. It’s minimalist, a quick jolt of energy that is strangely satisfying despite being so easy to digest.

70. FKA Twigs “In Time”

69. Tame Impala “Cause I’m A Man”

68. Jack U, Skrillex, Justin Bieber “Where Are U Now”

67. Omi “Cheerleader”

66. Miguel “FLESH”

65. Julien Baker “Something”

64. BØRNS “Electric Love”

The track’s opening lines: “candy, she’s sweet like candy in my veins” is an apt descriptor of “Electric Love”, an almost sickly-sweet combination of falsetto and highly produced funky guitar riffs.

63. Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Multi-Love”

62. Eskimeaux “The Thunder Answered Back”

It starts off slow and ethereally, before drums start to slowly come in, the beat picking up over Gabrielle Smith’s repeated lyrics. The song crescendos into Smith shouting “you coward, you hummingbird” over and over. It’s reminiscent of the neo-folk trend from a couple years back, which didn’t always work, but I guarantee you that you’ll break into random accusatory “YOU COWARD, YOU HUMMINGBIRD” shouts once this track grabs you.

61. Diet Cig “Harvard”

60. Disclosure w/LIONBABE “Hourglass”

I haven’t read anything to confirm this theory, but I am 99% sure this song is a tribute to “Space Jam” by Quad City DJs, yes, the theme song from Space Jam (minus all rap parts). It starts off with a simple beat which at any moment feels like it could break out into the melody of “Space Jam”. LIONBABE’s vocals are also eerily similar to that of Quad City DJs, I expected an “errrybody get up” to pop in throughout the first minute of the song. All similarities aside, the track works well on its own, offering a smooth dance track that avoids Disclosure’s pitfall of relying too heavily on big name stars to carry their songs.

59. Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney “FourFiveSeconds”

58. Julia Holter “Everytime Boots”

57. Majical Cloudz “Downtown”

Majical Cloudz feel like spiritual successors to Radiohead and Coldplay (before they went off on strange pop-experimental ventures). Devon Walsh sounds like a more laid back Thom Yorke, singing over Matthew Otto’s subtle electronic music which has the feel of a film score more than anything.

56. Julien Baker “Everybody Does”

Baker’s debut album is a sparse and soul-baring affair. She’s armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and some painful experiences that need to be let out. Parts of her album show her finding hope in the darkness, but here she lets her deepest fears play out, concluding “you’re gonna run when you find out who I am; you’re gonna run, it’s alright everybody does”.

55. Kelly Clarkson “Invincible”

I accidentally stumbled on this song while surfing through Clarkson’s top tracks on Spotify. It’s a bona fide jam and while not quite up to par with her greatest songs (but let’s face it she has two of the best pop songs of the last 20 years), Clarkson is definitely at her best here.

54. Low “Lies”

53. Panda Bear “Crosswords”

52. Sufjan Stevens “Should Have Known Better”

51. Autre Ne Veut “Age of Transparency”

Autre Ne Veut is branded as PBR&B for playing R&B music through the lens of hipster irony. “Age of Transparency” opens with a quiet build, filled with saxophone and a piano in the background. Arthur Ashin’s falsetto kicks in–his voice can be quite powerful, but is never quite devoid of playfulness. All of this builds into an exploding chorus that absolutely makes those quiet moments of build-up worth the wait.

Top 100 Songs of 2015 (Part I: 100-79)

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Part 1 of 4

100. Jill Scott “Closure”

For Jill Scott, closure means one last fling, but don’t let that fool you, she’ll go no further than that. With a humorous outro, Scott lists all the food her ex-lover will no longer be able to consume because she doesn’t care enough about him to give him breakfast.

99. Drake “10 Bands”

98. Pusha T “Untouchable”

Pusha kills it here, rapping  about “Netflix Narcos” over a sick beat and Biggie sample.

97. Major Lazer, MO, DJ Snake “Lean On”

96. Speedy Ortiz “My Dead Girl”

95. Future “No Basic”

94. Lady Lamb “Milk Duds”

93. Beach House “Sparks”

92. Sia “Alive”

In the ranking of wannabe Adele songs, this one places 2nd (ahead of Adele’s “Hello” and behind a song to come). It’s an emotional ballad that was actually written for Adele, but Sia, being the queen of taking songs meant for other folks and making them her own came through with quite the emotionally packed song here.

91. Lady Lamb “Violet Clementine”

I didn’t think Lady Lamb’s (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper)  latest lived up to her debut album, but here we hear everything that makes her great: the passionate vocal delivery, the oddly poetic lyrics, and the long musical interludes.

90. Titus Andronicus “Dimed Out”

This is Titus Andronicus at their most punk, a 3-minute rager that both stands alone and fits into their 90-minute rock opera.

89. Vince Staples “Norf Norf”

88. Julien Baker “Good News”

87. Sufjan Stevens “Fourth of July”

86. Titus Andronicus “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”

85. Kanye West w/Theophilus London “All Day”

84. Miguel “coffee”

Miguel fits perfectly into sensual R&B, which at times can near disgusting in his overtly explicit expressions. However with “coffee”, he becomes almost sweet in his declaration that he will make “coffee in the morning” for his amour. It’s the opposite of the aforementioned “Closure”.

83. Natalie Prass “It is You”

Prass straddles several unique lines with her music: modern folk artist, 50s darling, and Disney princess. It’s a strange combo, but is so unexpected that it totally works. As a fan of all three of those lines, Prass totally works for me. Here she sounds like something out of a musical and boy is it great.

82. Disclosure “Jaded”

81. Drake “Star67”

80. Florence + the Machine “Ship to Wreck”

79. Colleen Green “Deeper Than Love”

Green is interesting because she at times gives out a Best Coast minimalist folk/punk vibe, but then something like “Deeper Than Love” will come out which is a 6-minute lonesome and slightly creepy almost new wave-ish track showing just how talented and unique she can be. It’s a subtly gripping track that will eat at you for days.

 

Check out the rest of the best of the year stuff here