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Emerald Recommends: The best songs of 2016

Although 2016’s musical legacy is bound to be remembered more for the stars that died than the actual music itself, there was no shortage of great songs created. The Emerald’s music writers have selected their favorite songs of the recently concluded year.

Craig Wright’s top songs:

5. “Easy Eating” by Naked Giants

Equal parts psychedelic-punk and classic rock, Seattle’s Naked Giants play with an absurd amount of energy both onstage and on record. “Easy Eating” kicks off the band’s debut R.I.P E.P. with some stick clicks, a reverb-filled guitar and a quick splash of feedback. From there, it bursts into a guitar-filled attack led by Henry Lavelle’s perfectly-timed, razor sharp riffs. Gianni Aiello’s effects-heavy bass sound adds a menacing low end to the track, and Grant Mullen’s drumming powerfully punctuates every interaction.

This is a band to watch closely.

4. “Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen

Easily the most unconventionally catchy rock song of 2016, “Shut Up Kiss Me” is propelled by Angel Olsen’s yearning vocals as she attempts to salvage a failing romance. Olsen’s trembling vocal introduction makes the chorus that much more powerful as she bursts out a series of commands for her lover to “shut up kiss me hold me tight.” Much like in Sleater-Kinney’s breakup anthem “One More Hour,” Olsen knows the inevitable end has come; luckily, she decided to turn her misery into a rock song that remains fresh after more than 50 listens.

3. “Lazarus” by David Bowie

David Bowie may be gone, but his farewell performance will not be forgotten soon. Blackstar was released days before he died from a private battle with cancer, making the first lines of “Lazarus” that much more haunting: “Look up here, I’m in Heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” As the song progresses, it turns from a somber death march to a triumphant celebration: “This way or no way/You know I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Now, ain’t that just like me?” Bowie may have left this world, but first, he left us with a final masterpiece.

2. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” by Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo wisely summarizes one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning into adulthood with a single sentence: “There’s no comfort in responsibility.” In “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” Toledo realizes it’s probably time to stop living a carefree life and attempt to change for the better of himself and society. Although the song clocks in at 6 minutes, it continues to change and grow like so many of Toledo’s best works. From Toledo’s opening solo falsetto to the closing chant along, there is no shortage of clever lyrics, and the instrumentation perfectly matches the song’s frustrated but hopeful content.

1.  “Hands Together” by The I Don’t Cares

Paul Westerberg has been a world-class songwriter since his days with the Replacements, but rarely have his lyrics packed such a devastating punch. On “Hands Together,” the closing song on Wild Stab, Westerberg analyzes his life by taking inventory of his relationship with household items including “a cup of coffee that likes to be called a mug,” the TV, newspapers and, most hauntingly, the bed he alone occupies after a divorce in 2014: “The pillows are exhausted to hold my head again so soon / The dreams I had before are now too bored to even show up / And the blankets are embarrassed / It’s only me that they cover up.”

Westerberg sings like he’s telling a secret he’s not entirely comfortable sharing, but the 12-string guitars and I Don’t Cares’ partner Juliana Hatfield allow him ample freedom to navigate his thoughts. It’s chock full of witticisms and sarcastic self-deprecation, but in the end, Westerberg seems to conclude that loneliness is an inherent part of the world: “Give my regards to midnight / Tell him he ain’t changed a bit / Long, tall, dark and handsome, still lonely as shit.”

“Hands Together” is easily the best song Westerberg has written since 1987’s “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

Sararosa Davies’ top songs: 

5. “Barely 21” by Seth Bogart feat. Tavi Gevinson

Seth Bogart released his first studio album without the moniker of Hunx and his Punx in early February. Listening to “Barely 21” feels like binging on Halloween candy. It’s a sickly sweet song with vocals that get stuck in your head easily, like the way candy gets stuck in teeth. Bogart’s repetition (“So cry, baby cry”) is almost too much, but it’s still a good song. This song in three words? Annoying, but great.

4. “Emotions and Math” by Margaret Glaspy

The title track from indie-rocker Margaret Glaspy’s debut full-length album, Emotions and Math, is sharp in every way. Glaspy’s voice has an almost insular, inverted quality to it in this track, like her body is holding the air in. When she sings, “I was a rolling stone,” it’s like a knife is slicing her voice in half. This track is a great introduction to Glaspy’s vocal and musical style.

3. “Good as Hell” by Lizzo

Minneapolis-based hip hop artist Lizzo makes the case for self-love in “Good as Hell.” The song features horns that tie together lyrics like, “Hair toss, check my nails/baby how you feeling/feeling good as hell” and the occasional “Yas, lord.” It’s the perfect anthem for girl power or for rousing spirits during hard times. Samantha Bee had Lizzo on her show the night after Donald Trump was elected; the segment was called “Lizzo Saves Us All,” and “Good as Hell” does indeed save from despair.

2. “Old Friends” by Pinegrove

Pinegrove may be indie rock, or emo, or alt-country. The world will never truly know the Montclair, New Jersey band’s genre because it blends influences a lot. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall’s voice takes a country twang at times in “Old Friends,” but that’s not the only quality to the song. Hall sings about losing friends and how “Port Authority is a sort of fucked up place” in the way any great emo band does. With words like “solipsistic” and guitar riffs that layer like Tetris pieces, “Old Friends” still defies the conventions of indie-rock. It’s clear that Pinegrove knows the rules, so let the band break them.

1. “Fill in the Blank” by Car Seat Headrest

“I’m so sick of fill in the blank/accomplish more, accomplish nothing,” Will Toledo practically yelps in the opening track of Teens of Denial. University of Oregon grad Andrew Katz’s frantic drumming and Toledo’s fuzzy riffs move the song forward to the climax: “You have no right to be depressed/you haven’t tried hard enough to like it.”

“Fill in the Blank” is a song for those moments of catharsis that 2016 was full of. It’s a song that fits its album, its time and its place. It stands at the top because of the way it exists inside and outside of the context it was born in. 2016 was a year for fuzzy guitar riffs and lyrics detailing angst, and 2017 might need those sounds, too. Car Seat Headrest’s “Fill in the Blank” is my song of 2016 because it can and will exist long after Dec. 31 rolls by.

Emerson Malone’s top songs:

“Don’t Touch My Hair (feat. Sampha)” – Solange

On A Seat At the Table, Solange created an affective portrait that, as former Emerald music writer Daniel Bromfield once noted, ought to be remembered as one of the model protest-soul albums from the Black Lives Matter-era. Solange illustrates the understated authority of a patriarchal society and the subtle influence of white supremacy. Solange equates her coiffure, her “crown,” with her dignity, her essence and her “pride.” She and British electronic musician Sampha go back and forth until they harmonize an unanswerable inquiry: “What you say to me?” Consent, identity, beauty and agency are tucked into “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which is the core tenet of A Seat At the Table: through a modest scope, revealing a hard truth.

“Shut Up Kiss Me” — Angel Olsen

Here’s the jam: sometimes you want to preserve a relationship that’s more trouble than it’s worth; sometimes communication in a tender love affair is distressing and liberating in equal measure. This sentiment is scarcely as beautifully delivered as it is in this cut from Angel Olsen’s My Woman. The perilous nature of love is being filtered through Olsen’s strained vocal chords: “At your worst I still believe it’s worth the fight / I could make it all go away / Tell me what you think and don’t delay / We could still be having some sweet memories / This heart still beats for you / Why can’t you see?” If nothing else, “Shut Up Kiss Me” is a plea for attention, an admission of vulnerability and a heartfelt need for respect. “Stop pretending I’m not there, when it’s clear I’m not going anywhere,” her voice shakes. “Shut up! Kiss me! Hold me tight!” she persistently cries, wanting to push away and embrace her lover all at once. Love, as it were, may be a battlefield, but it makes for an amazing pop song.

Casey Miller’s top songs

“Never Be Like You” by Flume

Never has a song’s beat gripped me by the heart like Flume’s “Never Be Like You” did the first time I heard it. It’s heartbreaking and relatable, about one too many mistakes in a relationship. Flume is one of the top DJs in the world right now, and “Never Be Like You” was the first single from the insanely successful Skin album dropped this year. For at least three weeks straight, everywhere I went on (and off) campus had this song bursting through the windows, the beat demanding to be heard. I certainly wasn’t complaining, as it’s one of those timeless songs that I now associate with some of the best times of my freshman year.

“Caroline” by Amine

One of my favorite feel-good songs, “Caroline” is the song you blast in the car, with the whole back seat rapping every verse. Clearly Amine knew that would be how it was perceived, as his music video for “Caroline” was he and his buddies driving around town singing about the girl who keeps playing hard to get. It’s fun, lighthearted, and easy to sing along to, making “Caroline” the ultimate frat party, house party, or even small kickback song. Every girl wants to be Caroline, and every guy has a girl like Caroline in their life. It’s relatable, catchy, and never gets old.

“One Dance” by Drake

When you think of “the song of the year,” at least one person in every friend group would bring up this song. It’s a classic jam from everyone’s favorite sad boy/meme/Canadian/rapper, who had an amazing year after the stellar release of Views. After the pop culture phenomenon of “Hotline Bling,” this song was the perfect follow-up to prove that while Drake can hit the #1 spot in the chart, he can also make it with real lyrics and rhythms.

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Casey Miller

Casey Miller