Top-Ten Songs of 2016

All the music you should have been listening to this year.

10. Beshevli, Ilya. “Wanderer.” Wanderer. Village Green, 2016.

An elegant combination of strings and piano. Uptempo yet contemplative. This is particularly good music for winter and autumn night walking. It’s what I’ve been getting into during these closing months of 2016 anyway.

9. GoGo Penguin. “Quiet Mind.” Man Made Object. Blue Note, 2016.

Man Made Object is a very good, if curious, album. GoGo Penguin is a trio that marries experimentalism with minimalism. The result of this union is a kind of pacing acoustic electronica. “Quiet Mind” is the album’s finest example of this style. Worth a listen or thirty.

8. Spektor, Regina. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” By Dario Marianelli & Regina Spektor. Kubo and the Two Strings (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). Warner Bros., 2016

This is George Harrison’s greatest contribution to The Beatles songbook. Regina Spektor is fantastic. The quasi-traditional Japanese arrangement really rounds it out.

7. Seymali, Noura Mint. “Ghlana.” Arbina. Glitterbeat Records, 2016.

Live version. Not the recording listed.

Noura Mint Seymali is a Mauritanian rocker, emphasis on rocker. This track drives so hard. Get pumped!

6. Yorn, Pete. “Summer Was a Day.” ArrangingTime. Capitol Records, 2016.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for despairing pop music. Plus, this one features one of the best bass lines of the year.

5. Gjeilo, Ola. “The Ground.” By Tenebrae, Ola Gjeilo & The Chamber Orchestra of London. Ola Gjeilo. Decca/London, 2016.

This is the year Ola Gjeilo joined Max Richter and Philip Glass as one of my favorite contemporary composers. If you’re a fan of Anglican evensong — and, really, who isn’t? — then “The Ground” is made for you. It’s a variation of the chorale from his Sunrise Mass and is every bit as moving but just a tad more intimate. Lovely.

4. Sahra Halgan Trio. “Matis.” Faransiskiyo Somaliland. Buda Musique, 2016.

It’s impossible to listen to this and not break out into some form of embarrassing dance. I do every time the song comes on. I don’t know what this woman is singing about, nor what language she’s singing it in but I love it anyway. You will too.

3. Toshinskiy, Ilya. “Close to Home.” Red Grass. Hadley Music Group, 2016.

A Russian does bluegrass. Equal part mournful nostalgia and triumphant optimism. And a killer banjo performance to boot.

2. Radiohead. “Present Tense.” A Moon Shaped Pool. XL Recordings, 2016.

Live recording.

According to my Apple Music library I’ve listened to this song sixty-seven times since its release earlier this year. “Present Tense” has everything you need from a Radiohead track: Thom Yorke’s restrained mumblehum echo-heavy vocal stylings and an incredibly sad electronic/acoustic hybrid musical arrangement. I’m going to listen to it three more times tonight.

Pharrell Williams’ reaction to hearing Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska” for the first time at an NYU Masterclass session captures exactly why this is the best song of 2016. I’ve been listening to “Alaska” ever since that video blew up the internet. It’s a daydreamy pop masterpiece melding backwoods nature meditations with subtle electronic dance rhythms. What a talent!

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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