Why hello there! Very excited to be sharing part two of the best songs of 2016 with you right about now. Of course, if you haven’t read through part one, that should be your first port of call. Click through on “part one” in the sentence you just read. And now – onto the hits!
80. DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You
Instead of pushing Purpose up the hill in 2016, JB instead spent the year as a key team player. It was a surprising move for the young man commonly considered to be pop’s bratty only child; and it didn’t go either unnoticed or unrewarded. DJ Snake has spent the last couple of years pushing the Venn diagram of pop and EDM further and further together to create amazing technicolour soundscapes. That evolution continued in its fully-realised form on “Let Me Love You” – with Bieber’s emotive flair and Snake’s drop-heavy Eastern gurgle, this team-up was entirely complementary and wholly fruitful.
79. Tim Heidecker – In Glendale
If Randy Newman had attempted to write a song like “I Love LA” a little later on in the piece with a bit less of a chip on his shoulder, he may well have ended up with “In Glendale.” The title track to Heidecker’s solo album is more wry and playful in its inter-city takedowns, accented by cheerful horns and some instantly-memorable “la la la”s. It’s corny and a little daggy, but that’s a reflection on Heidecker himself – rather than enter this project with an over-importance on earnestness, he’s striking a balance through knowing winks and broken fourth walls.
78. Oathbreaker – Second Son of R.
The ambience and restraint of “10:56” into “Second Son of R.” on Oathbreaker’s stunning second LP Rheia isn’t so much the calm before the storm – we’re practically building up to a natural disaster here. The Belgian outfit quickly asserted themselves as the year’s must-watch metal band, serving up breathtaking epics such as these that even dared defy the immediate margins of the genre. As vocalist Caro Tanghe reveals the devastating final lyric – “You’ll never know the person that I am” – she literally breaks into hysterics and shrieks until the song skids to a halt. Truly, truly unforgettable.
77. The Finks – Jamie’s Got a Baby
Relationships with single parents, as anyone who’s survived small-town Australia will attest, have the potential to get messy and inextricably complicated. Rarely, however, does this get brought up in the medium of song. Enter Melbourne lo-fi hopefuls The Finks, who cleverly weave such a story through sunken barroom piano, croaking cello and drums so quiet they sound as though they were recorded while the titular baby was asleep in the other room. Bonus points for including the sledges “tosser” and “total prick” into what is otherwise a gentle, introspective slow-dance. Aerosmith could definitely learn a few pointers from this “Jamie.”
76. The Peep Tempel – Rayguns
In one of the best double-meaning one-liners of 2016, Blake Scott warns that “the regime is coming – and they’re all on ice.” It’s just one of the many endlessly-quotable lines spat through the speakers in the two-and-a-half minutes it takes for “Rayguns” to complete its veni vidi vici cycle. Between “social Mick” and workers in “Tony’s little factories,” no-one is safe. Much like in Ezekiel 25:17, The Peep Tempel strike down with great vengeance on the lead single from their third LP. Truthfully, it’s songs like “Rayguns” that have allowed them to get to this point to begin with.
75. CFO$ – The Rising Sun
Thanks to the work of production and songwriting team CFO$, the WWE is in a real renaissance period in regards to its wrestler’s entrance themes; arguably not seen since the glass-shattering, wall-breaking heyday of the Attitude Era. Of all the great new themes to emerge in 2016, one stood tall above the rest – the baroque/drum-n-bass hybrid you never knew that you needed, which brings NXT superstar Shinsuke Nakamura to the ring every night. Its melodramatic flair and big beat is matched head-on with its unmistakable army of violins, which make for strange bedfellows but ultimately worthy adversaries. Championship material.
74. REMI feat. Sampa the Great – For Good
“For Good”’s groove was been locked in well before either Remi Kolawole or Justin Smith were born. The bongos are hypnotic, the bass-line is more a strut than a walk and the upstroke guitar funk is so cool you just know there’s a lit cigarette still ashing away in the headstock. Out front, Kolawole is doing what most sharp-dressed mid-20s dudes are doing: chasing tail. To borrow from Craig David, however, Rem is slicker than your average. “For Good” is the proof in the pudding – and when Sampa the Great hits back in the third, the deal is sealed.
73. Touché Amoré – Palm Dreams
“What was it that brought you west?” After the passing of his mother, Touche Amore’s Jeremy Bolm is California dreaming – and the sky, indeed, is grey. He openly ponders her life in juxtaposition with his, each word crashing against urgent waves of guitars and brisk drums. “Palm Dreams” may be one of the more accessible moments of Stage Four – thanks partly to its catchy “on my own” refrain – but in no way does this blunt the emotional impact; nor does it lessen the songs surrounding it. It’s a worthy centrepiece of what may be Touche’s crowning achievement.
72. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – Astonished Man
It’s been a couple of years since we heard from tUnE-yArDs – album four when? – but its figurehead, Merrill Garbus, has her fingerprints all over this slinky, left-field experiment in pop from Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Though that’s her chopped up vocals, inverted harmonies and buzzing synth-bass, it should be stressed this is just as much Thao Nguyen’s moment as it is Garbus’. Probably even moreso, given what a huge sonic risk Nguyen and co. have taken here. It’s completely paid off in their favour – “Astonished Man” is an abstract analogy you can dance to.
71. case/lang/veirs – Best Kept Secret
In a year where the idea of democracy as a working structure was seriously brought into question, the self-titled collaborative effort from Neko Case, kd lang and Laura Veirs showed why we need it more now than ever. On “Best Kept Secret,” it was Veirs’ turn to take the lead with a gorgeous ode to an old, dear friend; with the other two more than holding their own as her key harmony vocalists and back-up singers. When they fire off a big-swinging “da-da-da” around midway through, it’s a sweetly triumphant moment that showcases the complementary nature of this three-way dance.
70. Major Lazer feat. Justin Bieber and MØ – Cold Water
Diplo hit paydirt twice in 2015 across two inescapable singles: “Where Are Ü Now,” the dolphin-cry EDM smash that turned pop on its head entirely; and “Lean On,” the million-selling moombathon marathon that turned into an evergreen song of the summer. For “Cold Water,” it made perfect sense to combine the guest stars of these breakout smashes. This simple math meant big numbers, as the hook-laden jam immediately made its presence felt on daily radio rotation and a permanent high-end fixture of the weekly Spotify charts. Songs like this cement Diplo and co. as mastermind curators and new dance-pop mainstays.
69. The Drones – Private Execution
At least previous Drones album openers – “Nail It Down,” “I See Seaweed” – took a moment to build up to their moment of bludgeoning cacophony. On “Private Execution,” you’re dropped in immediately; left to fend for yourself. This new-look version of the band – a returning Christian Strybosch, a synth-wielding Steve Hesketh – are rewriting the rulebook nearly 20 years on from their original formation. A headspin of odd time signatures, bass snarl and belligerent noise simultaneously leaves listeners gasping for air and begging for more. Forget going straight to DVD – “Private Execution” is an instant cult classic.
68. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life
At the start of 2016, there was a genuine worry Japandroids had gone completely M.I.A., never to return. In the final quarter, all systems were go once again; and the race toward album number three began at long last. The Canadian duo came charging out of the gate with its lead single and title track, resuming business as if the last three years had never happened. A classic blend of urgency and earnestness, “Wild Heart” recharges the batteries, fires off on all cylinders and serves as a timely reminder of why celebration rock matters. It’s time to get fired up.
67. Bruno Mars – 24k Magic
In a parade of P-funk synths, rim-spinning grooves and B-boy braggadocio comes “24k Magic,” Bruno Mars’ all-80s-everything comeback special. Few pop artists genuinely sounded as though they were having as much fun as the pint-sized Filipino chart-buster, who took the lessons learned from his Mark Ronson collaboration, the inescapable “Uptown Funk,” and took it to lofty, vocoder-laden heights. It’s nigh-on impossible to be unhappy as this track cranks through your system, bass booming and fingers pointed skyward in a bout of Saturday night fever. Bruno, unquestionably, knows how to do it – trust him and hop in the lowrider already.
66. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – People-Vultures
Admittedly, it’s difficult to pick a highlight from Nonagon Infinity – an endlessly looping, seamless album; you could arguably present the entire piece as the standout. Still, there’s something pretty darn righteous about when the song slows to a quarter rhythm and the septet go full Sabbath and prepare to unleash hell in the name of science fiction and the sweet leaf. It’s one of the more creative passageways of the Nonagon loop, switching up the pace and throwing in a few curveballs for good measure. Bonus points for the double-drum assault that even Bill Ward himself would approve of.
65. DJ Shadow feat. Run the Jewels – Nobody Speak
When it comes to DJ Shadow, diehard fans are quick to point to the legacy of his modern classic, Endtroducing; while other detractors will point out that it was 20 years ago and (perhaps fairly) ask what he’s done for us lately. Enter the coolest single Shadow has been attached to in a considerably long time, reinforced by the unstoppable force that is Run the Jewels. The record crate sifting for Shadow resulted in reworking Caterina Valente’s “Ol Man River” into pure 2016 swagger – a left hook, sure, but one that’s still guaranteed to knock you the fuck out.
64. Solange feat. Sampha – Don’t Touch My Hair
For too long, Solange Knowles has been looked over. Disrespected. Undermined. Trivially and unfairly compared to her immediate family. In 2016, Solange took back the power and made the album of her career – a Miseducation for a new generation; delving into identity and racial politics with bravery and defiance. Although she keeps it 300 in the delivery on this striking centrepiece of said album, A Seat at the Table, it’s very evidently done through seething, gritted teeth and the iciest of stare-downs. With “Hair,” Solange has made a huge turning point artistically – at long last, she is untouchable.
63. Danny L Harle feat. Carly Rae Jepsen – Super Natural
The second that UK bubblegum-bass producer Danny L. Harle posted a snap with Canada’s Pitchfork pop-star Carly Rae Jepsen, it was flooded with comments hyperventilating over what these two could possibly come up with. Spoiler alert: It was worth every last “OMG!!!!!!” In a perfect world, “Super Natural” would have been the inescapable song of the summer – a glistening, glossy moment of glory that makes no bones about its starry-eyed affection or its candy heart stuck to the sleeve. When Carly pleads “you gotta believe in me,” no-one is more believable. They just fit, Danny and her. More, please.
62. The Hard Aches – Glad That You’re Gone
Ben David is never the hero of his tales. Yes, there are wrongdoers that surround his every decision, but he’s in among them on the same level making the same damn mistakes over and over – “No-one’s as selfish as I am,” he laments at one point; “I’m lonely as fuck,” he confesses at another. Still, out of this vicious cycle comes glimpses of hope. With a charged chord progression and the impeccable Alex Upton keeping time, The Hard Aches dish out another key life lesson – at long last, the protagonist is being the change they want to see.
61. Drake feat. Wizkid and Kyla – One Dance
The impact of “One Dance” cannot be minimalised – at well over a billion streams, the song was easily the most popular track purely on objective charts and graphs. From a subjective standpoint, it’s worth noting the cultural exchange of a Canadian rapper taking elements of African and Jamaican music to create something unlike any other song released in this or most other years. With “One Dance,” Drake took his global empire literally – it’s a fascinating study in music as a language and as a dialogue. The fact it’s a banger is secondary to this, but it certainly helps.
Listen to all the top songs of 2016 so far via the Spotify playlist below: