Ten Songs Not to Be Missed in 2016
2016: how is it half over? How is it more than half over? Better late than never, here are our 10 favorite singles of the year so far. (Hey, at least it’s not as delayed as the Frank Ocean album.)
1. Holy Ghost! – “Compass Point”
Holy Ghost! are a reliably excellent band, but they might be at their best when they revel in potential. “Compass Point,” from the duo’s Crime Cutz EP, taps into the same devil-may-care attitude of 2011’s “Do It Again” that makes uncertainty seem thrilling rather than terrifying. The way Alex Frankel intones, “Let’s fall in love, we like it when it hurts,” it sounds like an invitation that’s already been accepted. Disco is an inherently romantic genre, and Holy Ghost! know how to achieve its maximalist bliss, horn section and all, with a result that’s nothing short of revelatory.
2. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
Mitski’s charisma comes from a life hard-won, her wisdom dispensed from experience that shows that nothing is effortless. The singer and songwriter is determined to make her own narrative known, and on “Your Best American Girl,” she delves into a story that often goes untold: the feeling of never being enough as a person of color trying to date white people. Though it’s a song that’s only truly relatable to a specific audience, it’s universally tearjerking as her voice soars alongside wailing guitars.
3. Wild Beasts – “Get My Bang”
UK art-rockers Wild Beasts’ latest full-length Boy King, out August 5 on Domino, is a strong contender for album of the year, thanks to its impeccable songwriting and smart, sexy ruminations on power and gender dynamics. The prowling, nocturnal “Get My Bang” features Hayden Thorpe’s signature falsetto both silky and feral, balanced against Tom Fleming’s baritone, echoing the layered nature of the self. The presentation of identity is complicated, and no one’s fit to explain it like a band that’s grown in sound and aesthetic vision as much as Wild Beasts have.
4. Museum Mouth – “Incubus Tattoo”
If you haven’t listened to our friends Museum Mouth before, “Incubus Tattoo” is a good place to start. Showcasing the band’s knack for melody alongside singer Karl Kuehn’s distinctive vocabulary (opening line: “They say you’ve got a big brain, I swear you use it just for evil thoughts), the track tackles the inevitability of losing friends with typical humor and aplomb. It certainly takes a special something to name your record Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig, and the North Carolina trio’s combination of oddball charm and genuine emotion make Museum Mouth a refreshing breakout voice in punk.
5. Whitney – “No Woman”
Formed from half the ashes of Smith Westerns, Whitney’s golden hour-lit guitar pop taps directly into the brain’s pleasure centers on their debut album Light Upon The Lake. Introductory track “No Woman” tenderly takes stock of single life, cozy in a way that’s familiar to anyone trying to keep themselves warm. While decidedly more pastoral and organic, Light Upon The Lake ticks many of the same boxes as Discovery’s effervescent LP did back in 2009; it’s a compact album of expertly-arranged, pretty pop songs that convey a heartfelt romanticism concerned solely with the moment. Forever can wait, these feelings are for now.
6. Metronomy – “Old Skool”
On latest album Summer 08, Metronomy mastermind Joseph Mount goes back to the on-edge sound of 2008’s Nights Out, following two albums of retrofuturistic lounge pop. Immediately more danceable than anything on 2013’s Love Letters, “Old Skool” is an impressive return to form. While there’s a sheen of latter-day sophistication, the rippling synths and Mount’s faintly nervous vocals convey the tightly-wound energy of someone who can never truly relax. “Old Skool” channels discomfort on the dancefloor with a bassline that just won’t quit.
7. Music Band – “Fortune Guns”
If you’re going through kind of a weird time all of the time, Music Band’s Wake Up Laughing is what you should be listening to right now. Album centerpiece “Fortune Guns” serves as its manifesto, chronicling everyday malaise that’s backed by an unbreakable optimism. Something good is coming, and that something is going to be accompanied by sharp hooks and the tight sound of three dudes who are just plain really good at playing together. Music Band are a continuing testament to our friends at Infinity Cat Recordings’ relentless belief in the life-affirming power of straight-up rock and roll.
8. Parquet Courts – “Human Performance”
In a world where bands get marketed as being Instagram-famous, Parquet Courts are decidedly apprehensive about embracing modernity. It’s their near-timeless sound, connecting their Texan roots with their current home base in Brooklyn, that’s brought about their rapid ascent over the past few years. (Most of the rock dads who pack out their shows probably aren’t on Snapchat, anyways.) Few can capture the claustrophobia of inner life as astutely as Andrew Savage, and his perma-nostalgic tone injects a particular gravitas into breakup songs like “Human Performance.” As an artist full of aphorisms about simply being a person in the world, the title says it all.
9. Majid Jordan – “Learn From Each Other”
After kind-of-not-really becoming a household name after being featured on Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” Majid Jordan had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, the duo have plenty of cool-toned romanticism to go around, and their self-titled debut LP is a natural pick to put on repeat. Album opener “Learn From Each Other” is dedicated to keeping an open heart and mind, and when you hear its urgent pulse, you can’t help but feel a little less closed-off yourself. Majid Jordan’s sultry sound matches humid summer nights as well as chilly winter mornings, which frankly seems like some kind of wizardry, though there’s no better way to describe the magic invoked in every note.
10. Ra Ra Riot – “Absolutely”
With Need Your Light, Ra Ra Riot made one of this year’s underrated gems. Four LPs in, the indie pop staples are a bolder, more confident band, embracing brighter colors and the kind of uplifting spirit that only comes from letting go of hangups with age. Frontman Wes Miles’s perpetually wistful voice is the perfect instrument to deliver “Absolutely”’s sunny side up message, a reminder to cut loose from expectations and take the good with the bad. If you’ve been asking “Can I live?,” Ra Ra Riot have the answer.