2016: Favorite 50 Songs Our picks spread across five themed mixes

Anonymous, 2016, Completely Automated, digital oil on canvas, 1017 × 785 px

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by Marty Slattery


Blithe Field

“Milkshakes In The Rain”

[Orchid Tapes]

There’s something about high school that follows you. All the intensity and wonder, experiencing maturity for the first time — we’ve built a whole culture around imitating this feeling. Twee, indie pop, stick n’ poke, chasing after youth in the hope that it might bring true freedom. But I remember sitting on the school bus every day and being sad for no reason. I remember feeling ashamed, thinking that I was too boring to hang out with the misfits, but too weird to ever be cool. When I heard “Milkshakes In The Rain” earlier this year, its slow dissolve bedroom aura reminded me of all of these things as they actually were, hopelessly romantic yet astonishingly real. Suspended endlessly in the past, these feelings still manifest in every inch of my being, relived in my heart as a blossoming history of melancholy, and I am thankful to be who I am.


Bon Iver

“8 (circle)”

[Jagjaguwar]

The relative infamy surrounding the writing and recording of Bon Iver’s debut 2007 album seems to have shifted the group’s lyrics in a more impenetrable direction. It’s easy to imagine why “Someday my pain will mark you” might have appealed to a 19-year-old back then, but why did “All the news at the door/ Such a revelry” resonant so much at 21? Although any “meaning” escaped me, the interplay between Vernon’s voice, the saxophones, and drum during the delivery of the line “To walk aside your favor/ I’m an astuary king” provided a spark of comfort in a year that otherwise felt so dark.


James Blake

“My Willing Heart”

[Polydor]

With its jawdropping snap and unfurl, this Colour in Anything standout is over all too quickly. As it shifts from exhaled trepidation to tense bemusement, we can imagine a much more substantial stormcloud feeding lightning to this fleeting system. Wisdom comes suddenly, and fascination is chased till that awareness is muted to a soft glow. It’s a song of waking up and a song of fading back to that dream before it slips away. It’s a beautiful danger, but distant enough to make it seem like warmth on the horizon, well worth drifting toward.


Frank Ocean

“U-N-I-T-Y”

[Def Jam]

In a certain way, between “Mine” and your ambience, “U-N-I-T-Y” is the thing that relates me and separates us: “How do I crop your new bitch out my Vine?” Frank slips reference, spits self, so I keep it underground, draw contact. Where am I and where is Frank when “I’m all on my lonely, burst in tears on his shoulder” and then, a you: “Are you slowin down? Are you holdin down?” You and I are me, pronoun refugee. “U-N-I-T-Y” is conjugated disjunctions, you and me and him and us, the body dissecting re-piecing, hardwood grammar, Apple Jack sweetness, the person’s verse.


Jenny Hval

“Conceptual Romance”

[Sacred Bones]

There’s nothing conceptual about why Blood Bitch highlight “Conceptual Romance” kicked ass. Sure, Hval sang about the “original wound, the origin of the world” as a kind of ritual self-healing, but what healed us most was Hval’s mastery of form: the vocal compression, that warped choral synth patch, the key shift at 0:28, the subtle synth dynamics in the chorus. Then there was that incredible final minute, where Hval told us she wanted to show us something. As the song retreated into itself, what she revealed was as primordial and absolutely vital as Blood Bitch’s central theme.


Fear of Men

“Island”

[Kanine]

When it’s all godsplained to us, will we change? Will we redeem the confidences that our resolute bracken-wading has eroded? Especially when prolonged existence has convinced us our alienation can help us comprehend what is happening without having been swept up in it? “Island” was an unlikely anthem to the difficult task of transitioning the crushing awe inspired by the well-heeled among us into conviction to be forever unmoored ourselves. It was a sad song, but one that was staccato-rhythmically ratcheted to make you correct your posture, see past your shoes, and go forth already.


Frankie Cosmos

“Embody”

[Bayonet]

I’ve been holding a weekly after-hours gathering here at TMT HQ to cultivate togetherness. Each week, we enjoy pastries and ginger tea cross-legged in Meeting Room C and open up to one another. We were all starting to feel much closer until somebody posted a flyer for a meeting group called Whiny Twix Crepes with the same place and time as my group (guys, I get it, not funny). Since then, only the intern shows up (who I think has a crush on me, but I’m like “ew, no!”) and I’ve started to bother less with “togetherness.” Oh well!


Japanese Breakfast

“Everybody Wants To Love You”

[Yellow K]

Put on this Psychopomp highlight, let it shimmer and encompass you, allow its eminently catchy, soaring chorus to become your mantra. Repeat infinitely. In a world where everybody wants some, but even Jay Z never gets enough of it, love can be an elusive thing. “Everybody Wants To Love You” is not necessarily a “love song,” but it is a song about trying to find it. Or, at the very least, it’s a song about getting into bed with the kind of person who is going to make you breakfast in the morning. Everybody wants to love food.


Thee Oh Sees

“The Axis”

[Castle Face]

It begins in my cheeks. The capillaries fill, glowing red. A heat rushes over my face, warming at first but then burning. Beads of sweat on my forehead are vaporized before they finish forming. Vision blurs, then leaves entirely. I reach for my brow but find a viscous, pulpy mass sliding away from bone. It starts as a dripping, but flows more freely as more of what I was turns to liquid. All of my hate, my insecurities, my fears and anxieties pour out of me and into a puddle at my feet.


William Tyler

“Gone Clear”

[Merge]

Cruising along a winding backroad with no apparent agenda or deadline, enjoying the breeze and the scenery. “It’s all good baby,” you’re thinking to yourself. For a while. But it turns out that all this was merely a blanket of false security, and suddenly there’s a motorik sense of doom driving into your skull that builds and builds and doesn’t let up. But then it lets up and maybe things will be OK again, maybe? William Tyler says all this with his guitar on “Gone Clear,” and maybe he wasn’t kidding when he said he’d written a record to capture “the cultural uncertainty of this vanishing America.”

Click to the next page to hear the “ALLEY” mix by S. David.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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