All of your favorite albums are composed of your favorite songs and this year gave us a lot to choose from. Feel free to make a playlist, because we can guarantee our top picks are second to none.
Eli Shively, General Manager: “All Skaters Go to Heaven” by IAN SWEET
IAN SWEET’s Jilian Medford describes “All Skaters Go to Heaven” as a song about perception vs. reality — loving the person you’ve built someone up to be in your head instead of who they actually are. “It’s not me that you want / It’s my funny haircut and the way I talk about skateboarding,” she croons over a rim click-heavy percussion groove and a fuzz-drenched guitar hook that slowly rocks the listener into a trance. Despite her accurate assessment of the romantic situation at hand, she remains conflicted through the track’s wailing emotional climax, pitting her own desire for the excitement of skating against her partner’s nagging concerns (“Are you wearing a helmet? / Are you protected?”). It’s a strikingly honest account of struggle that’s so painfully relatable for a good majority of the relationship-seeking population, set to some brashly addictive indie noise with real earworm potential. What’s not to love?
Sam Tornow, Editorial Director: “It’s A Little Uncanny” by Conor Oberst
For long-time fans of Conor Oberst, Ruminations is the album listeners’ have been waiting for since Cassadaga. It was recorded in the span of 48 hours while the once-prodigy tried to fight off exhaustion from a brain tumor with a harmonic, piano and guitar. And in the middle of it all exists, perhaps, Oberst’s most telling and over-arching, self-reflective song in years, “A Little Uncanny.”
Laid on a foundation of basic-guitar chords and elementary harmonica, Oberst masterfully paints the picture of the world from the eyes of a troubled soul who has finally had a chance to recollect. Like a preacher, he projects different anecdotes that come together like a pulp novel: becoming brainwashed by drinking society’s Kool-Aid, the sexualization of Jane Fonda on weapons of mass destruction, how Reagan’s hatred had been the catalyst for him to start reading classic Russian authors. And in the fashion of a beaten man, Oberst ends with a broken plea to heavens over the lost lives of his inspirations: “I miss Christopher Hitchens, I miss Oliver Sack, I miss poor Robin Williams, I miss Sylvia Plath.”
Jon Fuchs, Music Director: “33 ‘GOD’” by Bon Iver
22, A Million is an album most did not see coming. Justin Vernon’s experimental approach to his typical indie sound is incredible, with lyrics so deep and thought-provoking, the entire album needs several listens to comprehend what the hell is going on.
One of the most mind-blowing tracks on the record is “33 ‘GOD’,” a loud, effects-heavy banger covered in religious allegories and beautiful samples from the likes of Jim Ed Brown, Paolo Nutini, Sharon Van Etten, and more. Vernon’s already moving vocals are better than usual, with tear-jerking emotion in every single syllable. It all eventually leads up to the climax of the song, a jumbled mess of pitched samples, reverb-soaked synths and insane percussion that’ll send shivers down your spine. Say what you want about how 22, A Million sounds overall, but there’s no denying that so much heart and effort was put into the entire project, and the beauty that is “33 ‘GOD’” is only proof of that.
Chuck Greenlee, Copy Editor: “Burden You” by Pity Sex
Pity Sex’s “Burden You” is without a doubt the year’s most passionate love song. Britty Drake’s soft vocals over the fuzzy guitar are able to rip apart your heart strings between the passionate lyrics. “I want to burden you / I want to burn in you,” Is able to tell the tale of not wanting to be let go by a lover. The chorus then hits and you are ruined, “I’ll never say I loved you / Because you know I still do / I’ll always think of your lips / When I’m moving mine against his.”
The song takes the angle of not being able to forget a former lover while attempting to move on. Anyone who has been in any relationship can relate to troubles with moving on from the past.
Devon Hannan, Features Editor: “Falling” by Xiu Xiu
Twin Peaks and noise pop – two of my favorite things. Xiu Xiu’s rendition of the timeless soundtrack from Angelo Badalamenti may not be superior, but what can be said of Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, is that it brought so much new instrumentation and experimentation to the table, all while keeping the same, signature Twin Peaks jazzy vibe.
“Falling,” originally by Julee Cruise, is a beautiful and minimalist dream-pop track. This song compliments the rest of Xiu Xiu’s cover masterfully as the ever so apparent bass lines carry into other tracks on the album such as “Laura Palmer’s Theme” and “Into the Night.”
“Falling” is not only is a staple on the masterfully crafted album, it is also a fantastic standalone piece. Xiu Xiu takes the song to another level, adding screeching synths and a powerful build that even Badalamenti himself would have to applaud. You don’t even have to like Twin Peaks (but you should) to admit that this track is absolutely out of this world.
Eli Schoop, Copy Editor: “No More Parties in L.A.” by Kanye West ft. Kendrick Lamar
This song epitomizes Kanye’s 2016; A collaboration and love from his esteemed contemporaries. It serves as a fitting story about mental breakdowns and the struggle of ego versus mania. The pressure shining through an already hollowed-out human being making a classic track once again. In other words, it’s “Chop Up the Soul Kanye” pitted against “The Always Rude Kanye.”
Yes, we all know being a Kanye fan seems like a futile gesture. Why defend a clueless, paranoid misogynist that can’t go a week without putting a foot in his mouth? But there is a Kanye inside all of us, a visceral loudmouth with a penchant for self-flagellation and schizophrenic pontificating, yet more benevolent than we can imagine. That is the true lesson of “No More Parties In L.A.”: the weight of one man lest not be judged if we are not in his shoes, because he loves you like he loves himself.
Carly Preston, Staff Writer: “Yesterday” by Noname
Chicago rapper Noname has proven herself as an innovative and charming voice in current hip-hop through the release of her first mixtape, Telefone, a clever, yet graceful record encompassing sweet, soft beats over melancholy and whimsical lyrics. The opening track, “Yesterday” immediately shows this dichotomy, making it a contender in any 2016 End of the Year list.
A simple overlay of harmonies dripping onto beautiful cord progressions lay the groundwork for a dark yet surprisingly beautiful eulogy. “When the sun is going down and the dark is out to stay / I picture your smile-like it was Yesterday.”
“Yesterday” highlights the childhood-like innocence Noname so desperately wants to hold onto, while juxtaposing it next to her feelings of mourning over all the friends and family she’s lost. Lines such as, “My halo said goodbye and the floor hit me / Fill the lining in the pine box, my granny fill the time slot / ‘Don’t grow up too soon / Don’t blow the candles out / Don’t let them cops get you,’” stands out particularly as a painfully heavy line contrasted with a lightly spoken and subtle, feminine progression.
“Yesterday” not only sets the mood right away for the emotional ride that is Telefone, but also is representative of the ride that was 2016. Despite the all the lows, deaths, and the scary unknowns that lie ahead, we can still produce something so beautiful and simple.
Tanner Bidish, Contributor: “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)” by Car Seat Headrest
This song takes an often overlooked – in my experience – view of drug use. Essentially, Joe spends a day tripping on acid and mushrooms, and in a turn of events, he finds out that drugs suck. He, instead, isn’t enlightened, but paralyzed with anxiety. The Biblical reference to the town he’s living in, “I walked around town and thought I was in Sodom / There were filthy people seeking comfort for their bodies / It was so obscene,” floors me, and the hallucination of Jesus paralleled in the second verse of Joe’s father is thoughtful lyricism that my ears can’t take for granted.
It’s the malice, dissatisfaction, and isolation of adolescent hedonism in this track that resonates infectiously with adolescent heathens, probably better than any other song this year. Will Toledo lifts the vail of romanticism around substance that Car Seat Headrest rocks out in, and what I consider to be, the best track of 2016.
Justin Cudahy, Contributor: “Me and Your Mama” by Childish Gambino
2016 has been a good year for Donald Glover. He released his own app, created and starred in his own show, Atlanta (Which is great, by the way), and was recently cast for the role of Lando Calrissian in the upcoming standalone Han Solo Star Wars film. Amid all that, Glover still found the time to create a new album, Awaken, My Love!, becoming Childish Gambino once again.
In this album, Gambino decides to stay away from rap and instead adapts to a more soul, funk and R&B style which I personally enjoy more, despite what other fans may say. The opening song, “Me and Your Mama” is perfect from beginning to end, which sounds like a lullaby at first, but suddenly takes a complete 180 halfway through and turns into what sounds like a complete nightmare. The composition and instrumentals are reminiscent to that of Pink Floyd, accompanied by vocals which will make you question whether it’s Gambino singing, or James Brown. This is one of the few songs that would actually be acceptable to blast from your car.
Claire Klodell, Contributor, “Sick Love” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
In 2016, The Red Hot Chili Peppers woke up from their five-year hibernation and released The Getaway. It was the band’s first in-studio album since I’m With You in 2011. Their third single from the album happens to be my absolute favorite, titled “Sick Love.” Aside from the fact it sounds like a jam someone’s dad would get down to in a pair of New Balance sneakers, that doesn’t stop me from listening to it on loop.
When Anthony Kiedis belts out, “Sick love is my modern cliché,” he is coming to terms with the idea that while a dark and passionate love affair seems insanely over-done, it is relevant within his life, and therefore, is his modern cliché. Elton John is featured on piano on the track, which only serves as further evidence this is a true anthem for dads everywhere … And me.