The Top 50 Singles of 2016



Ask someone what their biggest fear is, and they’ll likely give you a simplistic or humorous phobia. But at the heart of any fear is the unknown. And I think that’s why whenever I get asked the question I’m inclined to answer “death” – the greatest unknown. Ever since music was invented, artists have provided their own reassurances, their own questions, their own fears, regarding death. In writing “Black Stars”, Xenia Rubinos was coping with the death of her father, and in doing so, has provided her own take on the unknown. The track gives some indication of celestial growth, becoming a part of the cosmos after dying. Through this, we live eternally as part of the universe. It’s as beautiful as it is terrifying to accept, to believe that we become one of the millions of stars, living for millions of years. Bluntly, it’s an unusual answer. But when we’re faced with our greatest fear, any answer is comforting.     – Zach W.


Sometimes a single can act as a representative for an album better than actually listening to the entire album can. “And I Grew into Ribbons” does this to an extreme fault. With sounds like they were recorded inside a glitching industrial freezer, vocals disintegrate as they evaporate. A collision of experimental ideals. A collision of eras. This Heat and Throbbing Gristle galloping towards each other. This single screams of numbness and thrusts itself into a realm of nihilism. It’s a suicide note, a single that should end an album. Instead Street Sects have opted to being their album with an affront on the senses and sensibilities. They of course dissect these ideals further on the album. But “And I Grew into Ribbons” tests the waters. I think I hear a horse dying buried in the back of the mix. Let that serve as your placebo or nocebo.   – T. Pennington


I remember my high school graduation. After four years of following the rules and competing against my friends to be the best. I had my cap. My gown. My honors cords. My medals. I dressed up like that, got in my car, and drove to the local college auditorium where the students met and waited for the ceremony to begin. Do you know what it’s like to force yourself to attend clubs that don’t matter? Care about grades that don’t matter?Care about this ceremony that didn’t matter? We were all the same. We had the same medals, cords, degree. What was the point? It took me years before I realized what the point was. The point was that it didn’t matter. Getting to the point where it no longer matters, where we’re gifted freedom to do anything. Graduation was the symbolism of an arrival at a new stage in our life. Graduations are always about the future. At least, they should be.  Kero Kero Bonito helped show me that with its hand-clapping percussion, a synthetic applause – a reminder of the stale artificiality of what should be a joyous event.  But KKB flipped it; made me see graduating in a less cynical light, and that’s possibly the best thing music can do.    -T. Pennington


YG’s unapologetic response to Donald Trump’s candidacy is a lot more powerful now. Built around the same kind of protest chants that propelled Kendrick’s “Alright”, “FDT” is an outcry of immediacy without the universalism of outrage that came last year. Whereas Kendrick spoke to assure, YG speaks for a select few, voicing out what so many of us cannot say. In a post-election America, YG’s plea of “Don’t let Donald Trump win” is rendered more painful than a lot of us ever anticipated. Now, it doesn’t feel fueled by anger. Now, it’s an artifact of the kinds of irrational, emotional preventative measures that failed. It’s the antithesis to Jeezy’s prideful “My President”; instead, YG gives no-thoughts, often-unintelligent spews of confusion and disgust. With the win, “FDT” has been elevated to a much more lasting status. And with that, it’s certain to carry an unintended, unexpected sense of misery and doom from now until this era of xenophobia and backwards hatred is over.     – Zach W.


“There’s way too many features on this” is a sentiment I’ve felt about a lot of Kanye projects post-808’s. And that’s most certainly the case on “Champions”. But were posse tracks ever meant to be fine-tuned? Can you really ever have too many dumb verses about luxury, tied together with non-rhymes, a mixed-bag of ad-libs, and Desiigner yelling incoherently in the background? Didn’t think so. Because when Ye hits the Ye-Button™, and brings Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, and to a much, much, much lesser degree, Big Sean, to hit that button with him, it’s sure to be a good time. Besides, with Kanye fresh out of debt and Gucci fresh out of jail, there’s a lot to be celebrated.     – Zach W.


Fuck what you think of SJWs. Fuck what you think of privilege. Fuck what you think of the alt-right. Fuck what you think of Black Lives Matter. Fuck what you think of Brexit. Fuck what you think of police officers getting away with murder. Fuck what you think of Trump. Fuck what you think of punk music. And if these statements make you cringe, you probably can’t handle the music or message Trans Day of Revenge. The only release came out this year that felt justified in its invocation of violence and that was G.L.O.S.S.’s “Give Violence a Chance”. Anything that can be considered an establishment is inherently corrupt in their eyes, which circumnavigates any sense of paranoia and instead opts for preemptive assault. They embodied punk in every move they made, even choosing to dissolve rather than sign a fifty-thousand dollar record deal. It takes guts to stick to one’s ideals, but it’s even better when they can make a punk anthem that’s as pummeling as it is ideologically rigid.     -T. Pennington


It’s hard to listen to older FKA twigs material. Specifically LP1. It’s not that that album isn’t brilliant; it is. A masterful mix of glitchy hip-hop beats and sensual singing with hooks that ooze charisma. What makes it hard is the influence it’s had. Listening to production that Tahliah Barnett would sing vivid love songs over is now being used by a plethora of artists, for a variety of reasons. It’s all of good quality, but hearing ANOHNI shout about environmental injustices over these beats feels awkward, clumsy. Especially with the phenomenal “Good to Love”. We rarely get a chance to see FKA twigs make music that isn’t overloaded with confidence, but “Good to Love” showcases these insecurities about falling in love with just as much passion as her boastful exercises. The underlying music is one of gazing at stars while also attempting to muffle these passions. Bubbling artificialities and vocal effects electrify in the third act, evoking a victorious tone when she chants “It’s good to love, it’s good to love, it’s good to love.” A silent, internal struggle. One that is impossible to convey without the confidence we’ve seen from Barnett in the past. And one no other artist can match.    -T. Pennington


I’ve written ad nauseam about the uncanny valley and how when things almost add up to being normal, they become most unnerving. As cliché as it may be at this point, “AS Crust” is uncanny valley’s musical equivalent, dressed in a digital sheen of paranoia and confusion. All signs point towards electronic banger. The ricochet beat bounces, but the synths behind it feel sterile. The pitch-shifted croons feel automated and inauthentic. That opening bass line is a warbling warning of anxiety. At its surface, “AS Crust” feels like a well-produced beat. But its repetition and confounding, surreal additions (the startling high-frequency beeps, the incomprehensible hook, the audio glitches and splices) make it feel unworldly. Like a hologram or a dehydrated meal, “AS Crust” is horrifically futuristic, brimming with artificiality.     – Zach W.


  • get down
    • Informal (phrasal verb of “get”)
      1. enjoy oneself by being uninhibited, especially with friends in a social setting.
      2. to make someone feel sad or lose hope

If we take this definition of “get down”, there are a multitude of functions this song can provide. It can represent the inability feel dejected, to lose hope, or to feel sadness. It can represent the way that other interfere in the process of feeling uninhibited. But, if we combine these two meanings, we discover a third meaning. One that represents a vague and intentionally antagonistic view of the world.     – T. Pennington


Tracksuit Mafia, Boy Better Know. My ones, my team. Meridian, bad blocks, London boys, active boys. You get me? Despite his affiliations, Skepta has always felt harmless. He talks a big game, reps a big crew, but intimidation isn’t what makes Skepta so great. There’s a sense of throwback when you listen to “Man”, as if he’s taken us to a time where hip-hop was punctuated by MC beef and the call outs that came with it. Konnichiwa thrives on its lyrical potency, and Skepta, as an MC, has control and determination that oozes confidently regardless of his subjects. In one second he’ll condemn you for wearing clothes that are too preppy, in another he’s asking his accountant to move some money so he can buy more land. He has a penchant for lyrical directness, something that in an era of woozy, mumble raps shouldn’t go unnoticed. On the second verse of “Man”, he suavely explains that other rappers have had their moment, but the limelight is over with the return of the Godfather of the Tracksuit Mafia: “So you had a good solo career? Had a few big songs over the years? Back then you was a real Top Boy/But right now fam, nobody cares”.     – Zach W.

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