Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2016: Favorite Songs

The final days of 2016 are upon us, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for some long lists that try (perhaps in vain) to sum up the best music I was listening to this year. As always, I’ll start with the individual songs that stood out to me the most. The in-depth reasons why I love these songs so much are mostly spelled out in the album reviews I’ve linked to from here, but in addition to the usual video evidence, I’ve also included a quick blurb for each of the Top 30 entries, just to keep it from being a long list with no explanation whatsoever, I guess.

I’ve also made a Spotify playlist that collects a lot of these highlights, if you’d like to spend a few hours following along. (That one’s ordered more as I discovered the songs, not so much how I’d rank them now, and it’s limited to one track per artist.)

1. “Float”
Switchfoot
Where the Light Shines Through

Joyous, infectious funkiness in 7/4 time. No matter what I am doing, I simply must stop and tap out the bizarre beat on a nearby object.

2. “Go!”
M83 feat. Mai Lan and Steve Vai
Junk

Shameless 80s nostalgia, with rubbery synths all over the place, unabashed sax and “space guitar” solos, and energetic, kinda seductive female vocals. Every time I listen to this one, I never want it to end.

3. “Heaven Sent”
Parker Millsap
The Very Last Day

Lyrically, this is the most profound song I heard all year. Its tale of a gay son seeking acceptance from his preacher dad means a lot to me, as an ally helping to work toward full acceptance of LGBT Christians in our churches.

4. “Local Construction”
Relient K
Air For Free

RK’s pop-punk past collides with their piano-rock present, in a delightful song about realizing you’re always a work in progress.

5. “Outside / In”
Sherwood
Some Things Never Leave You

“I know the path to take, and I’m the only one in my way.” This is the song that reminds me to stop making excuses, get out there, and make the changes I want to make. Also, that huge guitar breakdown at the end kicks so much ass.

6. “Song of the Sun”
Timbre
Sun & Moon

The perfect mix of sunny baroque pop and a painstakingly composed classical arrangement. It’s the pure sound of springtime.

7. “Sleepin'”
Relient K
Air For Free

Yep, Relient K gets two songs in my Top 10! An offbeat, ukulele-driven slice of acoustic joy; definitely one of the best surprises on an album that was full of them.

8. “Ghost of a King”
The Gray Havens
Ghost of a King

An epic bit of storytelling in the body of a concise indie pop masterpiece. I feel like I’m transported to a fairy tale world every time I hear it.

9. “The Rain Keeps Falling”
Andrew Peterson
The Burning Edge of Dawn

For such a gentle, witty, and easygoing guy, Peterson really caught me off guard when he lifted the veil on his own depression, and managed to inspire me in a similarly dark time of my own life, by finding the promise of some light peeking through on the other side.

10. “Pretend”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

This Tears for Fears-esque romp puts a fun spin on the persona a man tries to present when he’s still getting over his heartbreak and trying to get back out there into the dating pool.

11. “Somebody Else”
The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It

Such a soothing, melancholy, 80s-throwback synthpop ballad… with some brutally cynical lyrics about no longer being in love with someone but not wanting to let them move on from the relationship.

12. “Burn the Witch”
Radiohead
A Moon Shaped Pool

The staccato strings pretty much carry this one with their tense, nervous atmosphere. Panic wins out over reason, and turns a peaceful democracy into a monstrous thought police state. Radiohead tried to warn us against turning into “Trumpton”. We didn’t listen.

13. “Stratosphere”
MuteMath
Vitals

The image of Paul Meany, standing by his lonesome up on top of the lighting rig as MuteMath opened an amazing concert, sticks in my memory as I listen to this lonely but gorgeously crafted electropop track.

14. “Something About You”
Lucius
Good Grief

Plenty of “girl power” in this bouncy pop/rock track about the sisterly bond between two women. The unpredictable melodic turns really help to set it apart from the usual synthpop-throwback stuff that every indie band seems to try at some point.

15. “Quiet Moments”
Lauryn Peacock
Euphonia

Kind of a funny name for the busiest, most upbeat track on Lauryn’s album. It’s a baroque pop powerhouse that never gets dull despite its six-minute length.

16. “Adventure of a Lifetime”
Coldplay
A Head Full of Dreams

The Eastern-tinged guitar riffs and the disco-inspired rhythm bring to mind a cross between the creative heyday of Viva la Vida and the joyous, colorful pop of Mylo Xyloto. I don’t mind Coldplay being “pop” if this is how they go about it.

17. “Roma Fade”
Andrew Bird
Are You Serious

Definitely the catchiest thing Bird has done in ages. The whistling, the exotic violin melody, and the quirky, kinda-creepy wordplay are all hallmarks of his sound; they just haven’t collided in such a satisfying way in quite a while.

18. “Looking For America”
Switchfoot feat. Lecrae
Where the Light Shines Through

Switchfoot’s collaboration with Christian rapper Lecrae also feels like a warning America failed to listen to. Thinly veiled white supremacy and callous disregard for the poor aren’t how America is supposed to go about turning back toward God.

19. “Anger”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Emotions

A bit edgier than SAL’s usual fare, this track doesn’t so much express anger as it laments the damage done by words said in anger that can destroy something good in mere seconds, and yet it can take years to repair it.

20. “FloriDada”
Animal Collective
Painting With

People either find the rush of overlapping vocals, disorienting synths, and bizarro lyrics to be the most annoying thing ever, or the most addictively catchy thing ever. There’s really no in between. Thankfully I was in the latter camp right away.

21. “Rest in Pleasure”
Esperanza Spalding
Emily’s D+Evolution

Esperanza’s warm bass notes and multi-tracked vocals are like a soothing bed of blankets that wrap around the listener in this ode to a perfect moment of intimacy in which two lovers feel completely safe with each other.

22. “33 ‘GOD'”
Bon Iver
22, A Million

Justin Vernon works out some sort of issues with God and religion in his usual cryptic lyrical style, to the tune of a memorable piano riff, energetic drum fills, and just the right amount of vocal pitch-shifting to give it a suitably alien atmosphere.

23. “God Hates Flags”
Five Iron Frenzy
Between Pavement and Stars EP

Reese Roper’s undergone a bit of a personal journey from “Love the sinner, hate the sin” to where he is now – more of outspoken an ally to folks who have been mistreated by the church. Judging from this in-your-face rocker, he gets about as angry as I do over hardline conservative homophobes who aren’t even bothering with the “love” part at all.

24. “Hydro”
Falling Up
Falling Up

Falling Up had a steady stream of great songs on their final album, which came out so late last year that I could only shoehorn a song or two into my 2015 list. The beautiful combination of harp, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and overlapping vocals singing this song’s beautifully strange chorus in a round suddenly jumped right out at me on January 1st, and pretty much shamed me for not including it last year.

25. “Ebony and Ivy”
Esperanza Spalding
Emily’s D+Evolution

A little bit of rock, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of breathless poetry… Esperanza throws it all into a blender as she takes aim at the whitewashing of higher education. Call it brilliant if you want (because it is), but don’t you dare use backhanded compliments like “articulate”.

26. “The Sound”
The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It

I thought this was a fun little disco-throwback tune when I first heard it. The boy-band implications never even occurred to me, but I can totally see it now. (The rumor is that they almost gave it to One Direction. Yikes.) It’s incessantly catchy and the hook is exceedingly silly, but Matty Healy’s admittedly pretentious verse lyrics are a lot of fun to chew on.

27. “Light Up”
MuteMath
Vitals

I didn’t fully appreciate this ode to keeping the spark alive in a long-lived marriage when I first reviewed Vitals, but it was an obvious highlight of MuteMath’s live show, and now there’s no question about it being one of my favorites by the band.

28. “Dusty Trails”
Lucius
Good Grief

Lucius ended their second album on this gorgeous acoustic track, a well-wish to all sojourners out there in the audience that would have been perfectly at home on a 70s-era soft rock album designed for road tripping. Don’t give up on the destination just because the journey gets ugly from time to time.

29. “Play it Right”
Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso

I’m really cheating with this one, because the album came out in 2014, and the sinngle was pretty much the origin of Sylvan Esso, when it was created as a remix of the also-excellent acapella version by Mountain Man in either 2012 or 13. It’s just a delightful, danceable tune about the sheer joy of making music exactly the way you want to make it.

30. “Small Bill$”
Regina Spektor
Remember Us to Life

Leave it to an artist born in Communist Russia, and now living in capitalist New York, to give us such a vivid painting of money as our slave-driving master. I expect a combination of quirkiness and creepiness from Regina’s darker songs, but I generally don’t expect them to be this beat-driven and hauntingly catchy.

31. “Mountaintop”
Relient K
Air For Free

32. “Shadows of the Dawn”
The Gray Havens
Ghost of a King

33. “Hades Pleads”
Parker Millsap
The Very Last Day

34. “Zhivago”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

35. “Almighty Gosh”
Lucius
Good Grief

36. “Find What You’re Looking For”
Flint Eastwood
Small Victories EP

37. “Chariots”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

38. “Down Side of Me”
Chvrches
Every Open Eye

39. “Somewhere Now”
Green Day
Revolution Radio

40. “If the House Burns Down Tonight”
Switchfoot
Where the Light Shines Through

41. “Laser Gun”
M83 feat. Mai Lan
Junk

42. “The Fall”
The Honey Trees
Bright Fire

43. “Balconies”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

44. “Black Honey”
Thrice
To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere

45. “Bang Bang”
Green Day
Revolution Radio

46. “The Distance”
Out of the Grey
A Little Light Left

47. “Evil Eye”
KT Tunstall
KIN

48. “Dreamy Bruises”
Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso

49. “Show Me a Leader”
Alter Bridge
The Last Hero

50. “If the Walls Move”
The Gray Havens
Fire & Stone

51. “Love Me”
The 1975
I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful, Yet So Unaware of It

52. “Life Itself”
Glass Animals
How to Be a Human Being

53. “Make Them Gold”
Chvrches
Every Open Eye

54. “Taste”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Senses

55. “Anthem”
Gungor
One Wild Life: Spirit

56. “Bagels in Kiev”
Animal Collective
Painting With

57. “Feel”
House of Heroes
Colors

58. “Sight”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Senses

59. “Prove It”
Crowder feat. KB
American Prodigal

60. “Angela’s Eyes”
Guy Garvey
Courting the Squall

61. “Too Young to Fall in Love”
Owel
Dear Me

62. “There Will Be Time”
Mumford & Sons feat. Baaba Maal
Johannesburg EP

63. “Sweet Love of Mine”
Joy Williams
Venus

64. “Your Hands Hold Home”
Timbre
Sun & Moon

65. “Flares”
Falling Up
Falling Up

66. “Runnin'”
Relient K
Air For Free

67. “You With Me”
Jimmy Eat World
Integrity Blues

68. “Too Bad, So Sad”
Metric
Pagans in Vegas

69. “Pennies and Youth”
Brooke Waggoner
Sweven

70. “Wona”
Mumford & Sons feat. Baaba Maal, The Very Best & Beatenberg
Johannesburg EP

71. “Vapor”
Gungor
One Wild Life: Soul

72. “Meticulous Bird”
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
A Man Alive

73. “Mama”
Steven Page
Heal Thyself, Pt. 1: Instinct

74. “Rangers”
Falling Up
Falling Up

75. “Pining”
Parker Millsap
The Very Last Day

76. “Whale”
Gungor
One Wild Life: Spirit

77. “Thick as Thieves”
The Temper Trap
Thick as Thieves

78. “Madness”
Lucius
Good Grief

79. “The Traveling Man”
Marah in the Mainsail
Thaumatrope

80. “Empty Threat”
Chvrches
Every Open Eye

81. “What If I’m Wrong”
The Temper Trap
Thick as Theives

82. “Alien Apes”
Gungor
One Wild Life: Body

83. “Dropped Off”
Out of the Grey
A Little Light Left

84. “Morning Blues”
Parker Millsap
The Very Last Day

85. “My One Safe Place”
Andrew Peterson
The Burning Edge of Dawn

86. “Truth Lies Low”
Andrew Bird
Are You Serious

87. “No Song Left to Save Me”
Steven Page
Heal Thyself, Pt. 1: Instinct

88. “Hands Up”
Parker Millsap
The Very Last Day

89. “I’ve Been Over This Before”
John Paul White feat. The Secret Sisters
Beulah

90. “Unconditional Love”
Esperanza Spalding
Emily’s D+Evolution

91. “Black Magic”
Band of Skulls
By Default

92. “The Window”
Thrice
To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere

93. “On Giant’s Shoulders”
Future of Forestry
Awakened to the Sound

94. “The Heart of Me”
Miike Snow
iii

95. “Night Girl: Nycteris Sees the Sun”
Timbre
Sun & Moon

96. “The Burglars”
Animal Collective
Painting With

97. “Closer to You”
Sherwood
Some Things Never Leave You

98. “Patron Saint of Rock and Roll”
Jon Foreman
The Wonderlands: Sunlight

99. “Let Bad Religion Die”
Gungor
One Wild Life: Spirit

100. “We Make Our Stars”
House of Heroes
Colors

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