Best of 2016

For the 13th year in a row, I’ve assembled a long playlist of my favorite songs of the year—which is to say, the songs I liked best from the 2016 albums that I listened to, plus assorted singles and other tunes that caught my ear. Because I impose a one-song-per-artist rule, it’s not quite true to say that I preferred these 138 songs to all others. Rather, they’re the highlights of What I Heard in 2016.

For the last few years, what I’ve heard has largely been shaped by my reliance on Spotify to stream new music. In terms of the annual playlist, that means two things: 1) I simply hear many more albums and songs than I did in the pre-streaming days, meaning that the size of the playlist has expanded considerably; and 2) if it’s not on Spotify, I’m less likely to include it. I’m not proud of that, but the fact that my Spotify subscription provides me with access to almost everything I want to hear (and plenty more besides) means that I’ve become lazy about seeking out what it doesn’t have. (An exception in 2016: I bought Lemonade from iTunes.)

The sequence of the playlist always takes a little work to get right. Despite the fact that it’s 10 hours long and no one is realistically going to listen to the whole thing in one go, I still strive to order the songs in a way that makes for a pleasurable listening experience. In other words, this isn’t 138 songs on shuffle; the goal is to transition through clusters of similar genres and/or production aesthetics. So we begin with glittery pop, end with rootsy folk and country, and in between take detours through electronic, jazz, hip-hop, indie rock, R&B, and modern composition.

For the record, my favorite track—#1 on my Pazz & Jop ballot, if I still voted—is probably “Closing Shot” by Lindstrøm, a caffeinated space-disco jam that I fell in love with as soon as I heard it. I’ve been a fan of Lindstrøm going back to “I Feel Space” (2005), and “Baby Can’t Stop” (a collaboration with the singer Christabelle) was one of my top tracks of 2010. But “Closing Shot,” with its swirling synths and focused zip, feels like a pinnacle.

Best of 2016 (listen on Spotify)

  1. Shura, “What’s It Gonna Be?” (Nothing Real)
  2. Teen, “Gone for Good” (Love Yes)
  3. Chairlift, “Moth to the Flame” (Moth)
  4. James Vincent McMorrow, “Rising Water” (We Move)
  5. Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy, “Make Me…” (Glory)
  6. Blood Orange, “Best to You” (Freetown Sound)
  7. Charlie Puth ft. Selena Gomez, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” (Nine Track Mind)
  8. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Cry” (E•MO•TION: Side B)
  9. Tegan and Sara, “Boyfriend” (Love You to Death)
  10. The 1975, “The Sound” (I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it)
  11. Classixx ft. How to Dress Well, “Just Let Go” (Faraway Reach)
  12. Ariana Grande, “Into You” (Dangerous Woman)
  13. Katy B ft. Chris Lorenzo, “I Wanna Be” (Honey)
  14. Sylvan Esso, “Radio” [single]
  15. Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna, “This Is What You Came For” [single]
  16. AlunaGeorge, “I Remember” (I Remember)
  17. Kiiara, “Gold” (low kii savage)
  18. Banks, “Gemini Feed” (The Altar)
  19. Tove Lo, “Cool Girl” (Lady Wood)
  20. Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles” (SremmLife 2)
  21. Zayn, “Pillowtalk” (Mind of Mine)
  22. Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me” (Hopelessness)
  23. Porches, “Be Apart” (Pool)
  24. Bat for Lashes, “Sunday Love” (The Bride)
  25. Junior Boys, “Over It” (Big Black Coat)
  26. Jessy Lanza, “VV Violence” (Oh No)
  27. Lindstrøm, “Closing Shot” [single]
  28. Alex Anwandter, “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón” (Amiga)
  29. The Avalanches, “Subways” (Wildflower)
  30. Leon Vynehall, “Paradisea” (Rojus (Designed to Dance))
  31. Gold Panda, “Time Eater” (Good Luck and Do Your Best)
  32. CFCF, “Pleasure Centre” (On Vacation)
  33. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, “Stranger Things” (Stranger Things, Vol. 1)
  34. Com Truise, “Sunspot” (Silicon Tare EP)
  35. The Range, “Skeptical” (Potential)
  36. Lone, “Backtail Was Heavy” (Levitate)
  37. The Field, “Pink Sun” (The Follower)
  38. Underworld, “I Exhale” (Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future)
  39. Cymbals Eat Guitars, “Wish” (Pretty Years)
  40. Shredded Sun, “Oxidation” (Land Lines)
  41. Merchandise, “Lonesome Sound” (A Corpse Wired for Sound)
  42. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, “Robot Stop” (Nonagon Infinity)
  43. Savages, “Sad Person” (Adore Life)
  44. Warpaint, “New Song” (Heads Up)
  45. Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark” (Jessica Rabbit)
  46. White Lung, “Below” (Paradise)
  47. Wye Oak, “If You Should See” (Tween)
  48. Yuck, “As I Walk Away” (Stranger Things)
  49. DIIV, “Dopamine” (Is the Is Are)
  50. Wild Nothing, “TV Queen” (Life of Pause)
  51. M83 ft. Jordan Lawlor, “Walkway Blues” (Junk)
  52. Wild Beasts, “Big Cat” (Boy King)
  53. Bullion, “Never Is the Change” (Loop the Loop)
  54. Field Music, “Disappointed” (Commontime)
  55. Lydia Loveless, “Heaven” (Real)
  56. Brandy Clark, “Girl Next Door” (Big Day in a Small Town)
  57. Maren Morris, “80s Mercedes” (Hero)
  58. Whitney, “No Woman” (Light Upon the Lake)
  59. Bibio, “Town & Country” (A Mineral Love)
  60. Esperanza Spalding, “Judas” (Emily’s D+Evolution)
  61. Xenia Rubinos, “Don’t Wanna Be” (Black Terry Cat)
  62. David Bowie, “Lazarus” (Blackstar)
  63. BadBadNotGood ft. Colin Stetson, “Confessions Pt. II” (IV)
  64. Donny McCaslin, “Shake Loose” (Beyond Now)
  65. Jeff Parker, “Executive Life” (The New Breed)
  66. Homeboy Sandman, “Talking (Bleep)” (Kindness for Weakness)
  67. Kanye West, “No More Parties in LA” (The Life of Pablo)
  68. Danny Brown, “Ain’t It Funny” (Atrocity Exhibition)
  69. Joey Purp ft. Chance the Rapper, “Girls @” (iiiDrops)
  70. Beyoncé, “Formation” (Lemonade)*
  71. M.I.A., “Visa” (AIM)
  72. Temi Dollface, “School Your Face” [single]
  73. A Tribe Called Quest, “Dis Generation” (We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service)
  74. Kendrick Lamar, “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014” (untitled unmastered.)
  75. De La Soul ft. Snoop Dogg, “Pain” (and the Anonymous Nobody…)
  76. Anderson .Paak ft. Schoolboy Q, “Am I Wrong” (Malibu)
  77. Bruno Mars, “24K Magic” (24K Magic)
  78. Nite-Funk, “Let Me Be Me” (Nite-Funk EP)
  79. Robert Glasper Experiment, “Day to Day” (ArtScience)
  80. Mayer Hawthorne, “Love Like That” (Man About Town)
  81. Jamila Woods, “Blk Girl Soldier” (HEAVN)
  82. KING, “The Greatest” (We Are King)
  83. Ngaaire, “Diggin” (Blastoma)
  84. NAO, “Get to Know Ya” (For All We Know)
  85. Laura Mvula, “Phenomenal Woman” (The Dreaming Room)
  86. Santigold ft. B.C, “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” (99 Cents)
  87. D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty, “Broccoli” (Big Baby D.R.A.M.)
  88. GoGo Penguin, “Unspeakable World” (Man Made Object)
  89. The Bad Plus, “Staring at the Sun” (It’s Hard)
  90. Bon Iver, “33 ‘GOD’” (22, A Million)
  91. Sarah Neufeld, “We’ve Got a Lot” (The Ridge)
  92. Radiohead, “Burn the Witch” (A Moon Shaped Pool)
  93. Nico Muhly, “Coffee Expert” (Confessions)
  94. Phantogram, “Barking Dog” (Three)
  95. Jóhann Jóhannsson, “Heptapod B” (Arrival OST)
  96. James Blake ft. Bon Iver, “I Need a Forest Fire” (The Colour in Anything)
  97. Jenny Hval, “Conceptual Romance” (Blood Bitch)
  98. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “Envelop” (EARS)
  99. Floating Points, “For Marmish Pt. 2” [single]
  100. Tortoise, “Gesceap” (The Catastrophist)
  101. Clipping, “A Better Place” (Splendor & Misery)
  102. Cavern of Anti-Matter, “Blowing My Nose Under Close Observation” (void beats/invocation trex)
  103. Róisín Murphy, “Ten Miles High” (Take Her Up to Monto)
  104. Beth Orton, “Moon” (Kidsticks)
  105. Alicia Keys, “In Common” (HERE [deluxe version])
  106. Drake ft. Wizkid and Kyla, “One Dance” (Views)
  107. El Guincho ft. Mala Rodríguez, “Comix” (Hiperasia)
  108. Chance the Rapper ft. Knox Fortune, “All Night” (Coloring Book)
  109. Rihanna ft. Drake, “Work” (ANTI)
  110. KAYTRANADA ft. Anderson .Paak, “Glowed Up” (99.9%)
  111. Solange, “Cranes in the Sky” (A Seat at the Table)
  112. Maxwell, “Lake by the Ocean” (blackSUMMERS’night)
  113. Frank Ocean, “Pink + White” (Blonde)
  114. Charles Bradley, “Changes” (Changes)
  115. Michael Kiwanuka, “Love & Hate” (Love & Hate)
  116. PJ Harvey, “The Wheel” (The Hope Six Demolition Project)
  117. Iggy Pop, “Gardenia” (Post Pop Depression)
  118. Parquet Courts, “Human Performance” (Human Performance)
  119. Anna Meredith, “Taken” (Varmints)
  120. Twin Peaks, “Walk to the One You Love” (Down in Heaven)
  121. Frankie Cosmos, “Sinister” (Next Thing)
  122. Colleen Green, “U Coulda Been an A” (Colleen Green)
  123. Angel Olsen, “Shut Up and Kiss Me” (My Woman)
  124. Miski, “Your Best American Girl” (Puberty 2)
  125. Beverly, “Victoria” (The Blue Swell)
  126. Beach Slang, “Punks in a Disco Bar” (A Loud Bash of Teenage Feeling)
  127. Against Me!, “Crash” (Shape Shift with Me)
  128. LVL Up, “Pain” (Return to Love)
  129. Car Seat Headrest, “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” (Teens of Denial)
  130. The Hotelier, “Sun” (Goodness)
  131. American Football, “I’ve Been So Lost for So Long” (American Football (LP2))
  132. Cass McCombs, “Bum Bum Bum” (Mangy Love)
  133. Ryley Walker, “The Halfwit in Me” (Golden Sings That Have Been Sung)
  134. Case/Lang/Veirs, “Atomic Number” (case/lang/veirs)
  135. William Tyler, “Gone Clear” (Modern Country)
  136. Steve Gunn, “Ancient Jules” (Eyes on the Lines)
  137. Big Thief, “Masterpiece” (Masterpiece)
  138. Miranda Lambert, “Vice” (The Weight of These Wings)

(*not on Spotify)

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