In response to Rolling Stone’s recently released list noting the “30 Best Songs of 2016 So Far,” I thought I would compile my own set of thirty, organized in alphabetical order. Some of these tracks have been mentioned in previous “Friday Music Focus” blog posts, but given how good the music is, I relish the opportunity to promote any and all of it again. (Given the abundance of tunes here, I minimized the accompanying text to one line for each entry.) In most cases I have included non-video clips so that you can focus on the music rather than on visuals, but a few examples called for music videos or live performances that I felt would enhance those experiences. Enjoy!
Argument City, “Spirit of ’58” – A barnstormer of an anthem from a young band that I expect to do more great things; the song was written to support the Welsh football team in this year’s Euro 2016 tournament.
Bat for Lashes, “Sunday Love” – Swirling synths mesmerize the listener in this tale from Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes), a track from upcoming concept album The Bride.
Blossoms, “At Most a Kiss” – This indie group has been getting quite a bit of press in the UK, as well they should since this particular earworm is one of the catchiest singles of the year.
David Bowie, “Girl Loves Me” – Right up to the end, Bowie was weird, off-kilter, funny, spellbinding, totally his own creation.
DJ Shadow feat. Run the Jewels, “Nobody Speak” – You have three minutes to psych out your enemies… go!
Garbage, “Empty” – “Good things come to those that wait, or so they say,” sings Shirley Manson; I’m sure that Garbage fans agree after hearing this welcome return for the band.
Guy Garvey, “Open the Door” – Watching the music video for the new solo single by Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, performing with in-studio brass players, is as enjoyable as listening to it on the radio (it gets played quite a bit on BBC Radio 6 Music).
Margaret Glaspy, “You and I” – Her low-key style of singing, sense of humor and ear for guitar hooks remind me of a combination of Courtney Barnett and Elliott Smith.
HANA, “Underwater” – A somewhat eerie, somewhat Massive Attack-esque soundscape courtesy of Montana-bred singer-songwriter Hana Pestle.
Mick Harvey, “A Violent Poison (That’s What Love Is) [Un Poison Violent C’est Ça L’amour]” – Mick Harvey has done it all in the last four decades – guitarist and drummer for the Boys Next Door/the Birthday Party; pianist and drummer for Crime & the City Solution; drummer, guitarist, bassist, pianist/keyboardist/organist (and probably much more) for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds; drummer on Rowland S. Howard’s two solo albums; co-producer of PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning albums Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) and Let England Shake (2011); all the while making solo albums for the last twenty years – and I’m happy to say he has returned with a third album of translated Serge Gainsbourg covers, Delirium Tremens (the previous two being Intoxicated Man (1995) and Pink Elephants (1997)).
PJ Harvey, “The Wheel” – A five-and-a-half-minute epic about the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, a survey of victims who are stuck in a cycle of violence that people have done little or nothing to prevent (“Hey little children don’t disappear/I heard it was 28,000/Lost upon a revolving wheel/I heard it was 28,000…”).
Helen Love, “A Boy from Wales Called Gareth Bale” – Veteran Welsh indie group Helen Love released an absolutely delightful dance track in support of the nation’s star football player, a song complete with samples of sports commentary, lines from Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” quotations from St. David (patron saint of Wales) and all of it wrapped up in a music video that looks like it was made on a near-zero budget with the Windows Movie Maker computer program.
Meilyr Jones, “Return to Life” – Inspired by a number of life-changing events that happened three years ago (hence the name of his new album, 2013), the Welsh-born singer-songwriter has crafted a lovely song that ends with an on-the-street recording of a Japanese accordionist whom Jones often saw busking in Rome.
Alicia Keys, “Hallelujah” (live on “SNL”) – I chose this live version of Keys’ new single, rather than the studio recording, since this performance has a more impassioned vocal and a less abrupt ending (here Keys really draws the last notes out).
The Kills, “Heart of a Dog” – American vocalist Alison Mosshart and English guitarist Jamie Hince return after a five-year hiatus with their new album, Ash & Ice, and this excellent second single, which has attitude to burn.
The Last Shadow Puppets, “Aviation” (live on “The Late Late Show”) – The last time I played this track at a party it didn’t get much of a reception, but maybe that’s because the listeners didn’t have the advantage of watching Alex Turner doing his hip-shaking and hair-thrashing.
Lush, “Rosebud” – Twenty years after their split, Miki Berenyi and Lush (one of the seminal “alternative” British bands of the 90s) have returned, going back to the roots of their dreamy guitar sound with the addition of more mature singing and songwriting.
Massive Attack feat. Azekel, “Ritual Spirit” – Massive Attack has been making hypnotic, exhilarating music in collaboration with other artists for the last quarter-century, and this latest guitar-and-bass-driven song is no exception.
Declan McKenna, “Bethlehem” – Even though I wrote about how much I like this song just a few weeks ago, now that the music video has been released I thought I would include it here; if this kid is this good at age seventeen (don’t you just love that guitar tone that he uses throughout the song, especially in the chorus’s riff?), then how great will he be in a few years’ time?
Minor Victories, “Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)” – Minor Victories, a supergroup made up of members of British bands Slowdive, Mogwai, Editors and film collective Hand Held Cine Club, have made what can best be described as an uptempo elegy.
Pet Shop Boys, “Twenty-something” – The titans of British synthpop have returned to take millennials to task for their technological obsessions and their short attention spans, among other irritants.
Primal Scream feat. Sky Ferreira, “Where the Light Gets In” – Brilliant dance-pop in a collaboration between a classic band constantly reinventing its sound and a young singer-songwriter who is beginning to make her mark on the music world.
Psychic Ills feat. Hope Sandoval, “I Don’t Mind” – Hope Sandoval, perhaps best known as lead singer of the seminal 90s dream-pop band Mazzy Star, contributes beautifully feather-light vocals to this seemingly folk/blues/country-inspired song from New York City-based band Psychic Ills; I don’t know much about the group, but I like the atmosphere of the song and how pleasantly the two singers tell us of a destructive relationship that they can’t, and on some levels don’t, want to leave.
Rihanna, “Kiss It Better” – Since Rihanna released her eighth album, ANTI, most of the critical focus has been on her first single, “Work”; my favorite track, however, is “Kiss It Better,” a slow jam fueled by a guitar riff played by Nuno Bettencourt (if you remember the 80s/90s band Extreme, he was their lead guitarist).
Santigold, “Before the Fire” – This track has one of the best beats of the year; someone at ABC realized the same thing since the song was featured on an episode of “Quantico.”
Savages, “Adore” – The highly praised London post-punk band returned this year with a slow-burning masterpiece, a melody that wraps itself around you until finally it throttles you with its intensity.
Suede (aka The London Suede in the US), “I Can’t Give Her What She Wants” – On their seventh album, Night Thoughts (released in January), Brett Anderson & Co. set the bar for new music in 2016; here we have delicate baroque balladry that blooms into an even more strangely beautiful sound, louder yet still ethereal.
Tacocat, “Men Explain Things to Me” – Seattle pop-punk band Tacocat’s latest album, Lost Time, is full of short, to-the-point songs like this one: a tribute to all the men who try to oppress women in physical, verbal and any other ways.
“Vinyl” soundtrack: Alex Newell, Jess Glynne, DJ Cassidy and Nile Rodgers, “Kill the Lights” – After reading the unfortunate news that HBO series “Vinyl” has been canceled after only one season (I was hoping that at least a few of the many complicated plot strands would be resolved next year), I listened to the show’s terrific soundtrack again and remembered the greatness of “Kill the Lights” (intended to be an “authentic” early disco track circa 1973).
Zayn, “Drunk” – Former One Directioner Zayn Malik impressed me with his first solo effort, Mind of Mine, the highlight being “Drunk,” a fittingly intoxicating ode to summertime lust.