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 4: “ALLEY” mixed by S. David


Lolina

“Chance”

[Self-Released]

Immigrant nomad, or: overload of intake is a strict diet every human body should consume by way(s) of direction(s) and discipline(s). Grams was always terrified of life because of how lucky she was, so “Chance” became this mambo that existed well into her 90s. She wasn’t a single mother, but could you imagine being a single mother in 2017? CUT TO: Every woman alive living in a world of equality. A world without males may be Earth’s only hope, but for now, “Free parking. Ughh — Whitehall? ‘Chance.’” Play the devastating game of parenting, alone. Even if you have to grasp — never let go, forever.


Arca

“Sin Rumbo”

[Self-Released]

There’s a temptation to describe the music of Arca by alien names — “otherwordly,” “transcendent,” “out there.” But the gift of Arca is that he lives on the same planet that we do yet can bring into existence sounds that nobody could quite dial into without his guidance. At its best, Arca’s work can maybe only be compared to the images it makes you dream up, and “Sin Rumbo” is Arca at his best: robust, emotional, frightening, and weirdly familiar, like walking into a room that you once saw in a dream.


Macula Dog

“Smokestack”

[Wharf Cat]

Macula Dog are to pop music what Tim & Eric are to television. Beyond the obvious comparisons (two guys, kinda weird, either love ‘em or hate ‘em, etc.), what the two teams excel at are flaunting the mechanics of their artform, breaking it down to their most rudimentary expressions, and then having a whole lot of fun in ways both hilarious and artistic. “Smokestack” embodies Macula Dog’s agenda well, quite simply because it breaks down all the rules of pop to their most mundane expression, leaving you wondering how we ended up with an entirely different rhythm by the coda.


Klein

“Arrange”

[Self-Released]

“Arrange” was one of only a few tracks on Klein’s excellent debut that could pass as a “song.” While much of Only reveled in disconneted interludes and ambiguous mood pieces, “Arrange” most clearly exposed Klein’s spiritual upbringing, leveraging a sort of noisy, psychedelic, alleyway gospel. But the track, a mesmerizing composite of chugging flattened-fifths, hiccuping snares, and Klein’s transportive vocals, inspired movement and possession, with streams of fluids and pheromones splashing and secreting alongside music that was at once incantatory and fleshy, both blessed and blissed out.


James Ferraro

“Market Collapse”

[Self-Released]

In the hellfire 2016, it was especially terrifying to see such a touching vision of what it “means to be human” in Ferraro’s Human Story 3. 2016 realized the dystopian vistas of NYC, Hell and Skid Row; the year consumed their blight so that they became the existential-site-metropolis for everyone except the plastics. Funny, then, that the album’s stand-out piece, “Market Collapse,” provides such a seamless soundtrack for the way our artifices fall apart in remarkable machination. An optimistic vision of collapse, the piano cascades with pure, Sakamoto-esque emotionalism — the tired text-to-speech announces our dilapidated, plastic psychosis as-is: “lo, the fallen towers…” it says, “in praise of individualism,” it soothes.


serpentwithfeet

“Four Ethers”

[Tri Angle]

A voice so pure, so enlightening it grabs the heart and lifts. Combine vocal elevation with movements built and deserved only with open-roofed halls boasting perfect acoustics. Kept warm, nestled in the middle of serpentwithfeet’s unblemished blisters, the work of Josiah Wise (with help from The Haxan Cloak) is haunted, like seeing a friend swim through the River of Styx, reaching down as far as the body allows, asking them to open their eyes and come home.


Jeremih

“Royalty” (feat. Big Sean and Future)

[Def Jam]

You’ve heard Dre Moon’s production work before, because no one went through 2014 without hearing the tiresome earworm of a track that was “Drunk In Love.” But that Grammy-winning co-songwriting credit didn’t result in anything like Moon’s production on Jeremih’s “Royalty,” which was a different beast altogether. Actually, it wasn’t a beast at all. With the club jam-packed and the song’s three protagonists in a haze of hedonism, Moon slunk out into the cold, crisp late-night, crafting in the process one of this year’s most deliciously ominous, hopelessly fragile R&B cuts. Its minimalism was deadly and its simplicity disarming: three chords, hi-hat barely there, the beat landing in only the most crucial moments. 4 AM vibes. Back streets. Weed. Patrón. Chemistry. Key moment: 1:14, the unnverving pause before Jeremih floats one of his most delicate verses yet.


clipping.

“Wriggle”

[Sub Pop]

In Censorship Now, Ian Svenonius explains how the twist “promulgated a new world of utter individualism.” As “the first completely alienated dance form,” the twist released dancers from the bondage of the “pair, line, couple, or group” and punctuated rock & roll’s transformation into “a culturally enforced paradigm, which cut across race and class lines.” Fast-forward to now, and the command floating atop the seizing feedback, non-discriminating warbles, and steady smacks of clipping.’s “Wriggle” makes paradigm enforcement more direct. Listener following circumstance of the bound subject on Wriggle’s cover, clipping. send shocks and force a wriggle.


Lotic

“Formation (Election Anxiety/America Is Over Edit)”

[Self-Released]

America is over. Perhaps, for artists of color and queer artists born in a white country, it was always over. As James Baldwin said, “You go to white movies and, like everybody else, you fall in love with James Dean, and you root for the Good Guys who are killing off the Native Americans.” Even electronic music provides great psychological collisions when, in Baldwin’s words, “you realize all of these things are metaphors for oppression, leading into a kind of psychological warfare in which you may perish.” Rather, Lotic is the prime mistress of a generation of producers who take aim at the source. Emphasizing the roar of the all-black drum corps storming at the center of Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl performance, Lotic hardens the drum-line, stripping all melody out of “Formation” to reveal an urgent, screaming veil of protection against the horrid American theater. He rages at the center of the storm — a “hymn to madness, ending in madness… the hand becomes a fist.”

M.E.S.H.

“Follow & Mute”

[PAN]

I found Damaged Merc impossible to avoid this summer, all four of its songs worming their way around their own difficulty and into laptop DJ sets, causing consternation on the dancefloor and nervousness in the alley on the walk home. “Follow & Mute” is the paradoxical choice cut of a record with no filler, beginning with a teetering gabber buildup and culminating in an impactful conversation between a vocal sample and a chorus of grimy drum hits. It is a destabilizing assemblage in which samples play off one another like ricocheting objects, and emotional senses emerge only to be swiftly complicated. Above all, it speaks a language both its own and of our anxious world.

Click to the next page to hear the “COUPE” mix by Reggie MT.

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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