It’s that time again. I thank you readers, Sean Chin and the entire Live in Limbo team for welcoming my assemblage of favourites of the year once again. I am always privileged to be allowed this podium time after time. With the albums of the year list, it has been a group effort with most of the members of the site, and I am pleased to see the results that came from that experiment. However, I, being the sole compiler of the songs, performances and films list, do not wish to take ownership of what the site represents; rather I work under the influences of Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and the late Richard Corliss of Time; I aim to merely represent the site with a list I feel can still benefit our readers. I have made these lists (and an end-of-year surprise tribute) due to my gratitude for Live in Limbo, and I am grateful to help the website out despite being a singular voice.
It’s been one hell of a year! We have a lot of notable entries from political and social statements, dominating females and newcomers with something to say. We’ve had a number of tearful farewells and the welcome of returns that have been just as emotional. 2016 has been one twisted ride, but it sure churned out some impressionable material; 25 of those examples have made this list of what I feel are the top 25 songs of 2016.
25. Alicia Keys-She Don’t Really Care
Here is by far the greatest album Alicia Keys has released. The social themes are in line with those of other releases this year, yet Keys makes it known that she is no imitator. She Don’t Really Care carries a big beat underneath a listing of locations as you march from place to place. The song ends with a rendition of Nas’ One Love to bring it all back together; cultures will share a unified admiration.
- Esperanza Spalding-Good Lava
Formerly known as the musician who upset many young Beiber fans when she snatched his Best New Artist Grammy back in 2011, Esperanza Spalding has taken over 2016 to make her identity known for other accomplishments to other audiences. Good Lava is an example of her technical bass playing being accompanied by her new experimental art rock mentality. The song resonates with Janelle Monáe eccentricity and with Dirty Projectors misdirection. it can’t be easy to make pop complex, but it works here. Esperanza Spalding sure was this year’s biggest surprise in terms of dominating forces, that’s for certain!
23. Kristin Control-X-Communicate
My entry for the most forgotten starlet of 2016 is the rejuvenated Kristin Welchez of Dum Dum Girls fame. Her revival as 80’s angel Kristin Control was made official with a noteworthy album X-Communicate. The title track has soaring singing during the chorus above corroded synths, and the verses to connect it all are good old neon nostalgic. Kristin Welchez has publicly declared her love of the era many times before, and this single is great evidence of that. It’s a damn shame that her name has disappeared from the critical eye since the album’s release, because there is some quality passion here.
- Kaytranada-Lite Spots
Polaris prize winner Kaytranada may have had a lot of negativity come from yours truly on past podcast episodes. I didn’t get him live, and I’m not sure if I still quite get his album 99.9% (it’s getting all of this praise for a reason). One thing I can admit is that he clearly has a song for everyone, because Lite Spots is a jam for me. This happy song reminds me of the magic found in early Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers (and the music video is amazing to boot!). Lite Spots is the song that reminds me to keep giving 99.9% a chance, since I’m clearly in the 0.1% here.
- Anderson .Paak-Come Down
Brandon Paak Anderson has certainly made a name for himself these last two years. He worked on Dr. Dre’s comeback, Kaytranada’s debut, A Tribe Called Quest’s return and then some. His own release Malibu has officially catapulted him with the help of these collaborations, but it’s music like Come Down that has made him remain at the very top. Come Down grooves like an old mo-town jam in a hidden speakeasy, but it is the guitar lick and Paak’s already-familiar singing that modernizes it all. Is Come Down dangerous or alluring? I’m not sure, but I want more dammit!
- Danny Brown-Ain’t it Funny
When Danny Brown named his latest Atrocity Exhibition (after Joy Division’s song), I’m not sure we were ready for where this headed. The album was spectacular, but the shining moment is Ain’t it Funny: a song that melts underneath you and scorches your every step. The production oozes all around acidically, and Danny Brown’s frantic vocal-work has never sounded more appropriate. When he asks the titular question, you cannot help but panic instead of agree. Ain’t it Funny is a great sign of things to come for the more daring acts in modern hip hop.
19. Bon Iver-33 “GOD”
22, A Million is the result of Justin Vernon’s artistic visions being pulled every which way from all of his collaborations and projects. The return of Bon Iver was much more distorted than we could have imagined. One of the more accessible takes on this new direction is with the single 33 “GOD”; it certainly has its way with production magic but in a much more controlled environment. Of course, 22, A Million is a splendid release from start to finish, but it was perhaps 33 “GOD” that made this new experiment understandable the most.
18. PJ Harvey-A Line in the Sand
The Hope Six Demolition Project may have not stuck well with everyone when it came to its subject matter. However, A Line in the Sand is a great sister song to Let England Shake’s The Glorious Land. Whereas The Glorious Land told tales of old wars, A Line in the Sand is a song that is angry about the times now. Its message gets heard loud and clear, especially when Harvey falsettos “enough is enough”. The vocals are from a distant cry, but the trampling drums are right here. A Line in the Sand is a sign that PJ Harvey is still going strong no matter how you feel about what she is saying.
17. Mitski-Dan the Dancer
Mitski Miyawaki made the same impact Courtney Barnett made last year this time around. I feel that Mitski’s indie rock anguish may not be as lyrically woven, but musically you feel the grief is much stronger here (I have to say I do prefer it this way, as the lyrics are more relatable to me here). The single Dan the Dancer brings to mind the great 90’s and 00’s self-loathing acts like Jack Off Jill and Queenadreena. We haven’t heard young rebellion quite like this in years, and it is a sound I have long missed. I cannot wait to see where Mitski goes from here.
16. Chance the Rapper-Mixtape
I’ll get a lot of flack for this one, I’m sure. Coloring Book had many uplifting neo-gospel songs that brightened a dark year, but something about the ominous sounding Mixtape has echoed in my head for most of 2016. The backing melody sounds like it comes from an eerie 60s film. The chorus feels a bit out of tune; enough so to cause an attraction to the uneasiness. Then there is the triad of lyrical fury, from Chance, Young Thug and Lil Yachty (the winner here). Sorry, everyone. Mixtape may not be as happy, but it’s memorable for damn sure.
Late 2015, no one really knew what dvsn even was. All we knew was that Drake loved them. Fast forward to 2016, and they’re one of Canada’s hottest exports. Hallucinations was the ticket to their success, with the soundscapes that transcend the barriers of time while the vocals soar to the skies above. All of your bases are covered here, and there is nowhere to find empty space. dvsn represents the removal of a certain amount, and Hallucinations represents the desire to bring the whole back together.
14. White Lung-Dead Weight
Paradise is a quick burst that comes and goes, but the entire 28 minute outburst is well worth it from these Canadian punk rockers. Dead Weight opens the album tremendously with some delicious punk riffs (the kind you can only find in the great north nowadays, either from White Lung or Fucked Up). The unnerving subject matter may be a bit difficult to swallow, but you are viciously dragged along, and before you know it it’s gone.
2016 wasn’t just Beyoncé’s year. I’d argue it was an even better year for Solange, who proved that she could make a splash with critics the year her sister released Lemonade: That’s pretty damn impressive. Mad is a wonderful R&B track that presents one of the key vocal melodies Solange perfectly weaves on this wonderful album. it also contains great lyrics from Lil’ Wayne: something you just don’t witness much anymore. Mad is a combination of two forgotten souls who made their case known in four minutes; well said.
12. Death Grips-Hot Head
Bottomless Pit is by far and beyond the best release Death Grips have spat out in a very long time, and it’s mostly thanks to the first two demonic songs on the album: I Give Bad People Good Ideas and Hot Head. The rest of the album just cannot keep up (despite still being solid), especially with the possessed Hot Head that works as a sonic assault on your thought patterns. The chorus makes some sort of semblance, but it isn’t long before you are pummelled mercilessly once more. Death Grips, can you please keep going down this road? It’s beautiful.
11. A Tribe Called Quest-Black Spasmodic
A Tribe Called Quest suffered their own loss this year with the passing away of Phife Dawg. The album named by him, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, proudly presents his legacy (as well as his group’s) with the best hip hop release of the year. It was damn hard to just pick one song off of this glorious record, but Black Spasmodic may take the cake. The joyful reggae-esque backing with the wordplay flurries on top brings us the kind of glee hip hop has been missing lately (save for acts like Run The Jewels). We needed Tribe back, and it couldn’t have been better.
10. Radiohead-The Numbers
We were treated to two special versions of this new Radiohead cut: The album version and the Paul Thomas Anderson directed duet between Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke. The former is a grandiose rhythm that rattles your headphones upon your ears with a deep atmosphere. The latter is a stripped down pseudo-acoustic rendition that is much more inorganic. Both are unsettling, and you will be stirred regardless of the version you prefer.
9. Car Seat Headrest-Fill In The Blank
The prolific Will Toledo’s project Car Seat Headrest has not had as much success as it received this year when it became a full band’s effort. Something about the hour-plus-long Teens of Denial just struck with audiences and critics. The opening number Fill in the Blank may easily have that answer for us. This infectiously addicting number has melodies we have missed from Weezer, The Strokes and other young rocker greats for years (especially that great chorus). It seems like this is their time, and I hope it lasts.
8. Leonard Cohen-Steer Your Way
One of the many musicians we lost this year was Canadian poet Leonard Cohen. His voice deepened as his career extended into his 80’s, but never was it more appropriate than on his farewell album You Want it Darker. Steer Your Way sounds like a cut that could have ended up on his earlier classics, yet it is a counting down of the days during his final hours. Many would be terrified during their last days: Cohen crafted worlds with words.
- Beyoncé-All Night
On her magnum opus (Lemonade) that trumped her magnum opus (Beyoncé) that yet again trumped her magnum opus (4), Beyoncé has again and again surpassed herself. Lemonade is full of strengths, powerful themes and confidence, but the throwback All Night stuck with me the most. It’s classic Beyoncé with the mature contexts she has infused in her material as of late, and it resonates the most without having to boom nearly as much as the other songs.
6. The Avalanches-Colours
Well over a decade since Since I Left You, The Avalanches finally came out with Wildflower: a psychedelic adventure into the jungle. There were so many songs to pick from that brought me to euphoria or to tears: The catchy Subways, the Jennifer Herema bearing Stepkids, the J-Dilla-esque Sunshine and more. In the end, Colours won on a slim margin. The melting landscapes pour into your brain, and while all of it doesn’t appear structured at first, it all falls into place without much effort. It’s a basking underneath the firework lit sky.
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-I Need You
Some artists this year braved death when it came to themselves. Nick Cave experienced the death of his son during the recording sessions for Skeleton Tree. While most of the album was written before the accident, the delivery of the music came after the event and you can feel every piece of hurt within every second. I Need You is a key example amongst droning purgatories of a song off of Skeleton Tree that faces the severity head on; it is depressing but a feeling we have all felt before.
4. Frank Ocean-Ivy
You just don’t find songs like this that often anymore. There is enough emotion and spirit with a few simple guitar licks and a sung melody to get you by; that’s how strong the construction is. This conveys the swirling thoughts Frank Ocean has while he wraps around concepts like being told he is loved. Like a Joni Mitchell tune within the wee hours of the morning, Ivy resonates and shimmers as Ocean contemplates. It’s self reflection represented audibly, and it’s gorgeous.
3. Kanye West-No More Parties in LA
Kanye West at his lyrical best and Kendrick Lamar letting loose; what’s not to love? With Madlib’s bass-grooving production behind the reckless wordplays, No More Parties feels like a cruise down the highway at top speeds. However, it’s saying something when West is being more mindful than Lamar on this track. Lamar engages in pleasures while West worries about the safety of his children and that he is a role model to his therapist’s child. It was the song of the summer without being released in the summer.
- David Bowie-Dollar Days
“I’m dying to” or “I’m dying, too”. Either of those expressions is devastating. It’s a surge of passion or a nervous confession. Both are present throughout Blackstar, and Dollar Days is a prime example of Bowie’s mindset as he runs through the trees on earth before exploring the afterworld. It’s a touching farewell that ranks up there with Bowie’s best.
1. ANOHNI-Drone Bomb Me
ANOHNI has always been an outspoken activist of many causes, but nothing she has done was quite as vocal as HOPELESSNESS: her first album as a solo musician and not as a member of Antony and the Johnsons. The opening cut Drone Bomb Me has personified 2016 as a whole, and that’s why this song tops my list for 2016. It opened the year to ANOHNI’s new electronic sound and gained new life after her refusal to perform her Academy Award nominated song Manta Ray at the ceremony. The song, which depicts the viewpoints of a young child whose family has been killed and who wishes to die to be with them, simply just echoed throughout the year. Brexit, Trump, shootings, bombings, deaths by cop and more; we’ve seen our fair share of separation, battling viewpoints and shallow hatred this year. As a trans woman, ANOHNI has experienced her own share of bigotry, yet her messages triumph over the callousness especially with a song like Drone Bomb Me, of which is almost beautiful in its self sacrifice. The ultimate political song is the one that accepts the controversial action, thus showing the strength of the artist and the evils of the topic. Drone Bomb Me was risky when the year started, and it sure as hell felt even more risky once the year ended, yet it still wins on top and is the song of 2016.