10. On The Lips-Frankie Cosmos
Greta Kline’s Bandcamp presence is matched by few, if any, other indie songwriters. Now 22, she started releasing demos under the name Ingrid Superstar in 2009, later adopting the moniker Frankie Cosmos. Her songs rarely exceed two or three minutes and often focus on the minute details most of us never think twice about, let alone mine for creative fodder. She’s written over 100 off-beat pop songs over the years, and her progression into one of indie pop’s strongest songwriters can be traced from her countless releases on Bandcamp. Kline’s skill for packing vivid details and observations in roughly two minutes is on display on indie-pop gem”On The Lips,” which appeared on her 2016 record”Next Thing”. Lively guitar riffs pair well with Kline’s simple, but profound, musings on a romance that never quite takes flight.
“I’m sorry I’m high let’s go, sometimes I cry cause I know / I’ll never have all the answers, separated by a Subway transfer,” she sings wistfully at the end of the song.
Chicago four-piece Grandkids released second LP “This Guitars” Dec. 16. “Seamripper,” the first single from the release and one of the strongest tracks from the album, was written by front woman Vivi McConnell “during a period of deep confusion”. As McConnell details the the worries and fears tormenting her work days, the song’s sound grows chaotic and moody, weaving frenetic guitar riffs that pair well with the post-college cubicle angst she’s experiencing.
8. Mystery-Rose Hotel
Rose Hotel is the solo project of Bowling Green songbird Jordan Reynolds. Rose Hotel dropped a debut EP “flowers by the window” in early 2016, later taking it down because it didn’t quite pack the punch Reynolds craved in a debut release. The closing track from the four-song EP, however, proved to be a song that resonated with me throughout 2016. Reynolds recalls Angel Olsen and Stevie Nicks on “Mystery,” a moody track that showcases the 24-year-old’s ability to turn quiet introspection (in this case the changing dynamic of a crumbling relationship) into a poetic and fierce statement of independence. Reynolds’ best lyrics seem to be ripped straight from the pages of her diary. Whether describing the sensation of the newfound loneliness she’s experiencing (“I’ll go out alone and I’ll go out alone alive”) or coming to terms with the pain of severing ties to a once close relationship (“These eyes ain’t yours anymore”) Reynolds proves to be a voice inching closer and closer to tapping into her full potential.
7. Feel No Ways-Drake
“Feel No Ways,” is the most infectious pop banger on Drake’s latest album “Views,” a collection of songs that proved to be a contender for record of the summer. “I should be downtown whipping on the way to you,” he laments to an ex over dreamy synths, but Drake’s not wallowing in sadness like he’s been known to do. The track is a kiss-off of sorts, as Drake recounts countless reasons he’s not hung up on his old flame anymore.
“There’s more to life than sleeping in and getting high with you / I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do,” he admits of the doomed relationship over a blissful beat.
6. Shut Up Kiss Me-Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen’s “My Woman,” the fourth LP from the poetic and prolific songwriter, is a departure from the stark, moody folk songs that helped garner her a cult following. “Shut Up Kiss Me,” released this summer in advance of the album’s September release, blends 1960s country influences and more modern rock and pop sensibilities blissfully. Olsen, playing the part of retro roller-rink vixen in a silver tinsel wig, conjures the campiness and teenage melodrama that defined the golden era of the skating rink, disco ball and all.
5. Sex & Drugs- A Giant Dog
Austin, Texas four-piece A Giant Dog made their debut on Merge Records in early 2016 with infectious, acerbic LP “Pile”. The record was one of my favorites of the year, though it seems to have been neglected in many year-end “Best of 2016” listicles. It plays like a collection of anthems for freaks and outsiders, drawing heavily from 1970s punk and glam rock. Album standout “Sex & Drugs,” is a frantic, coked-out earworm that finds Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen lamenting the bad habits and reckless behavior that defined their increasingly blurred youth. The 2:17 track sounds reminiscent of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” while also recalling the bite of The Pixies drugged-out classic “Where Is My Mind”?
“All the sex and the drugs and we would get it from thugs / And all the people we fucked and all the hippies that sucked / And all the hearts that we broke and all the liquor and coke / All the weed that we smoked we were so hungry and broke / We can’t tell all your kids about the things that we did,” Ellis and Cashen squeal in a chorus that is both wildly hilarious and terrifying.
4. Nikes-Frank Ocean
After a four-year hiatus, Frank Ocean returned with his anxiously-awaited record “Blonde” in 2016. The first sampling from the record was“Nikes.” Ocean channeled a painful heartbreak by layering minimal drums, varying vocal styles and a free song structure that allowed underground influences to seep through. The song also pays homage to Trayvon Martin, southern hip-hop icon Pimp-C and A$AP YAMS. The stunning visual features mesmerizing B-roll, from NSFW nudity, glittery nights out on the town and a rapping Chihuahua.
“We’re not in love / But I make love to you / When you’re not here / I save some for you / I’m not him, but I mean something to you,” Ocean sings with trademark clarity.
After staying quiet in 2015, pop icon Beyonce returned on Feb. 6, 2016 with the surprise release of politically-charged music video “Formation”. Released the day before the Super Bowl, most of America managed to have the song memorized by the time she performed during halftime festivities. The music video features Beyonce flicking off the camera atop a sinking police car. It was a bold political statement, as she staunchly professed her support of the Black Lives Movement and voiced frustrations on the racial climate surrounding police brutality.
Mike Will-Made It’s production opens with sparse trap beats which flow impeccably into a marching band stomp. “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils,” Beyonce sings over wobbly synths, unabashedly celebrating her Blackness.
2. Hands of Time- Margo Price
Margo Price’s hard-luck country debut “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” (released on Jack White’s Third Man Records) was the hard-fought breakthrough the Nashville-based songwriter had been working towards for nearly a decade. The highly-autobiographical record is a peek into the gritty and triumphant life of Price. The daughter of an Illinois farmer, Price dropped out of college to pursue a career in Nashville. Her road to country stardom was paved with gut-wrenching heartbreak and setbacks. “Hands of Time,” a 6-minute country song that details much of the adversity Price encountered, recalls the three chords and the truth realness of country music’s golden era. The track narrates much of Price’s life, from losing the family farm as a child to detailing the struggle of making ends meet playing smoky honky-tonks and the devastating agony of losing her first child. Price’s power, outside of her alluring world-weary drawl, stems largely from her authenticity and skill in putting her remarkable life into song.
“Still I keep a’running fast as I can
Trying to make something honest with my own two hands
And I ain’t got the breath to say another bad word
So if I ever said it wrong won’t you forget what you heard”
- Your Best American Girl-Mitski
Much of Mitski Miyawaki’s music is penned for outsiders, those who’ve struggled or are just now accepting their otherness. Mitski was born in Japan and moved around on a nearly yearly basis growing up due to her father’s occupation. As a result she never truly acclimated and perpetually felt out of place. “Your Best American Girl,” the lead single from her brilliant fourth LP “Puberty 2,” is a self-empowerment anthem, a song about not living up to expectations. Over the course of the song she reflects on her mixed identity as a half-Japanese and half-American woman, how a budding romance is doomed due to the fact she can’t assimilate seamlessly into all-American white culture.
“In the U.S., I don’t quite feel American and I don’t quite feel white enough,” Mitski told Nylon Magazine in April. “But then, to fellow Asian people or in Japan, I’m also a foreigner. I’m mixed, I’m half white, I’m not Asian enough, I don’t understand… I’m stuck in this kind of middle ground of not being allowed in either camp.”
“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / but I do, I think I do. / And you’re an all-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl,” Mitski sings, her voice tinged with sadness, but she’s also taking pride in her own heritage in the midst of her introspection.