I know this is extremely late, but better late than never, right? Here are my top 30 songs of 2016, listed in alphabetical order by artist, with a limit of one per artist.

  1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – “Green Like the G Train, Green Like Sea Foam”. Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s Americana side project kept going strong in 2016, with the release of an EP called Bittersweet. “Green Like the G Train, Green Like Sea Foam” is a pretty straightforward stomper, sounding almost like a Wonder Years song but with acoustic guitars and horns instead of electric guitars and keyboards. It showcases Campbell’s penchant for poignant storytelling, which I’m hoping he continues to carry forward into his future work.
  2. Battle Lines – “Warfare”. Battle Lines’ highly energetic shoegaze is nowhere better exemplified than by “Warfare,” which remains restrained throughout its verses and chorus before exploding into a distorted wall of sound in the bridge. However, the tempo never lets up, driving forward with intensity from start to finish.
  3. The Black and the White – “Torn Up”. This is cheating a little bit, since this song was released earlier than 2016, but the EP on which it features, My Heart Is Compromised, was released last year. In any case, this danceable synthpop tune is hella fun. If As Tall as Lions is never going to reunite, then at least Julio Tavarez and Cliff Sarcona are still churning out great music.
  4. Brand New – “1996”. Just like with the previous track, there’s an argument to be made that I’m sort of cheating here, but whatever. The original version of this song was leaked back in 2006, but Brand New released a reworked version of it in 2016. Sonically, it’s somewhere between Deja Entendu– and Devil and God-era Brand New with highly descriptive lyrics about family and friends dealing with a loved one’s terminal illness. But somehow, it’s one of the band’s most fun tracks, with a supremely danceable guitar riff kicking off in the bridge.
  5. A crow is white – “Let It Die-You Shall Die-“. On A crow is white’s most recent album, they largely abandoned their psychedelic brand of noise rock for something jazzier. While they experimented with jazz pop and big band on other tracks, “Let It Die-You Shall Die-” could more accurately be described as “lounge fusion.” Bolstered by a highly catchy keyboard riff, singer Kana Yaginuma’s airy, ethereal vocals give the track a laid-back vibe.
  6. Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Have a Heart”. One of the most memorable tracks on Cymbals Eat Guitars’ 2016 release, Pretty Years, is actually a love song. Frontman Joe D’Agostino wrote it about his relationship with Field Mouse frontwoman Rachel Browne. Musically, it’s a showcase for the band’s lo-fi neo-psychedelia, which has rightfully earned them a lot of critical acclaim.
  7. David Bowie – “Lazarus”. This list is unranked, but any list of the best songs of 2016 that doesn’t include David Bowie’s “Lazarus” is simply wrong. “Lazarus” is the best song of 2016, bar none. A mournful jazz-prog ballad written while Bowie was dealing with his impending death, Bowie skillfully juxtaposes the holy imagery of heaven with the quotidian imagery of drugs and cellular phones, demystifying death while not detracting from its importance. This is one of the greatest artistic statements I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. So much so, that I’m ignoring the fact that the track was originally released back in 2015 and am using the fact that the album on which it features, Blackstar, was released in 2016 to include it on this list.
  8. Emma Ruth Rundle – “Real Big Sky”. What is it about songs about death that bring out the best in an artist? “Real Big Sky,” the closing track of Emma Ruth Rundle’s 2016 solo album, Marked for Death, concerns the slow death of a loved one, and it is some of the singer-songwriter’s best work. Featuring nothing but Rundle’s voice and an acoustic guitar amplified to the point of distortion, it’s a powerful way to end an album.
  9. Frightened Rabbit – “Woke Up Hurting”. Frightened Rabbit’s 2016 full-length, Painting of a Panic Attack, kind of went under the radar (to the extent that a Frightened Rabbit album can go under the radar). It wasn’t a particularly noteworthy album – it was basically Pedestrian Verse Pt. 2, but slightly more atmospheric – however it did produce one of the band’s best tracks in “Woke Up Hurting,” which successfully marries the album’s droning atmospherics to some folksy stomping. The lyrics are about alcoholism, which is exactly what you’d expect from the Scottish kings of sad-sack indie rock.
  10. From Indian Lakes – “Happy Machines”. From Indian Lakes frontman Joey Vannucchi is the master of the buildup. “Happy Machines,” the opening track off the band’s 2016 release, Everything Feels Better Now, starts off with an ethereal synth line before adding percussion and various layers of distorted guitars, and then concluding with a guitar-driven wall of sound. As with a lot of music, the devil is in the details, and Vannucchi understands the details better than anyone; there’s nary a note out of place on the track.
  11. Heavy English – “Shake”. Heavy English finally dropped their hotly-anticipated debut, Pop Wasteland, last year. I was expecting a lot of blues-rock songs calling to mind Lowcountry-era Envy on the Coast. What I didn’t expect was one of the catchiest dance-rock tunes I’ve ever heard in “Shake.” Seriously, those guitar riffs are siiiiiick.
  12. The Hotelier – “Soft Animal”. The Hotelier’s brand of “pastoral punk” doesn’t always resonate, but when it does, the results are spectacular. “Soft Animal” is one of my favourite tracks of the year, featuring highly descriptive lyrics about encountering a shy deer – strange subject matter for a song, perhaps, but the band perfectly captures the mixed feelings of wonder of apprehensiveness that come with such an encounter.
  13. Idlehands – “Glass Eyed Boys”. Though Idlehands broke up last year, they did so after releasing a final single, “Glass Eyed Boys.” Trading in their Circa Survive-esque experimental post-hardcore for something in more of a dream poppy vein, they penned their finest song yet, featuring intricate drum work and a dredg-inspired bassline. It’s a shame we’re not going to hear more of this new direction from the band.
  14. Japanese Breakfast – “Jane Cum”. Though most of Michelle Zauner’s debut full-length (recorded under the moniker Japanese Breakfast) mixes dream pop and indie rock, “Jane Cum” takes her music in more of a post-rock direction. With no percussion other than a bass drum, Zauner builds up a wall of sound that sounds like an impending thunderstorm. It’s powerful stuff.
  15. Jimmy Eat World – “Through”. Picking a Jimmy Eat World song for inclusion on this list was actually tough, because Integrity Blues had four or five utterly fantastic tracks. I could have easily picked opener “You With Me” or slow-burner “Pretty Grids,” but instead I settled on one of the album’s shortest tracks, “Through,” a straight-ahead rocker that calls to mind the band’s work on Futures. This is a band that hasn’t lost their energy even as they’ve matured.
  16. Mat Kerekes ft. Anthony Green – “Direction”. Citizen’s grungier direction on 2015’s Everybody Is Going to Heaven didn’t work terribly well, so it was refreshing to hear frontman Mat Kerekes’ more acoustic work on Luna & The Wild Blue Everything. “Direction” is the perfect encapsulation of the record, with catchy acoustic guitar riffs and hand percussion. Anthony Green’s verse in the song is some of the most appealing work he’s done in years.
  17. Minor Victories – “The Thief”. Shoegaze has made a comeback in a big way over the past few years, with ’90s favourites My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver releasing critically acclaimed albums. It was only a matter of time before a supergroup tried their hand at the genre. In this seven-and-a-half minute epic, shoegaze supergroup Minor Victories, consisting of members of Editors, Mogwai, and Slowdive, shows off their post-punk bona fides before launching into a shimmering, distorted wall of sound.
  18. Nothing – “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)”. Speaking of shoegaze, Philadelphia darlings Nothing have been chugging away at it for a few years now, releasing their sophomore effort, Tired of Tomorrow, last year to critical acclaim. “A.C.D. (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)” is a fairly standard shoegaze track, musically speaking, but lyrically, its imagery of rot, decay, and infection is more than a little disturbing.
  19. Pity Sex – “Pin a Star”. Pity Sex has always had a great ear for melody, and on this simple track about being vulnerable in a new relationship, they combine the distorted guitars of lo-fi indie rock with the catchy tunes of dream pop for a winning combination. The duelling male/female vocals in the final hook are a highlight.
  20. Polkadot Stingray – “HALCYON”. While most of Polkadot Stingray’s work is in more of a jazzier, standard J-rock vein, the opening track from their Honenuki EP verges on math rock; it could be a Tricot track if the guitars were a little more staccato. In any case, it’s a stellar track from one of Japan’s rising rock bands with some stunning fretwork.
  21. Porter Robinson & Madeon – “Shelter”. While this track is probably best known for its anime music video, it deserves to be recognized as a fantastic electropop track all on its own. This is some hella catchy stuff, and the glossy production calls to mind the work of The Chain Gang of 1974, but, you know, better.
  22. Radiohead – “Ful Stop”. Radiohead is often criticized for being too weird, and rightfully so. (I still think Amnesiac is a bad album. Fight me.) But sometimes their strange experiments pay off, like the roiling, propulsive “Ful Stop.” The lyrics are fairly simple, telling of negative, regretful post-breakup feelings, but Thom Yorke’s anguished crooning really sells them.
  23. Santigold – “Rendezvous Girl”. Santigold has had a strange career, mixing and melding various styles of pop with wild abandon. On “Rendezvous Girl” she dabbles in new wave to paint a portrait of what it might be like to work as an escort. The joyous instrumentation doesn’t paint the subject matter as dangerous or repulsive; Santigold approaches the topics of her music without judgement.
  24. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”. We all like to bash the Grammys for being out of touch with good music, but sometimes they get it right. Solange’s Grammy for Best R&B Performance for this song is well deserved. “Cranes in the Sky” is a simple song about existential ennui, but its gorgeous, Eastern-inspired instrumentation makes it one of the most memorable tracks of the year.
  25. Thrice – “The Long Defeat”. Thrice has long written songs about the hatred, fear, and perdition that plague the world, but “The Long Defeat” is one of the few that expresses any sort of optimism. Lead singer Dustin Kensrue inspires his listeners to fight back against the tide of fear. We may lose in the end, but at least we tried.
  26. Tricot – “Blue”. Tricot’s music on their 2016 EP, Kabuku, is a little more subdued than their previous work. For its first minute-and-a-half, it seems like closing track “Blue” is going to be a subtle ballad. But then it explodes into the band’s trademark high-energy math rock. It’s a little more straightforward than some of their previous work, but no less appealing.
  27. White Lung – “Below”. On “Below,” White Lung abandons their signature hardcore punk sound to write something verging on a goth-pop power ballad about the value of beauty in culture. Still, Kenneth William’s trademark fancy fretwork remains intact, and his furious strumming in the song’s coda is a highlight.
  28. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “I Feel It Coming”. Starboy wasn’t the return to form I was hoping for from Canadian alternative R&B artist The Weeknd, but the album’s closing track, featuring Daft Punk, adds a sly disco groove to The Weeknd’s sound, giving it a shot of funky energy that makes it instantly memorable.
  29. Wintersleep ft. Geddy Lee – “Territory”. The first thing you notice about Wintersleep’s “Territory” is that it has an extremely propulsive bassline for a song from a laid-back indie rock band. That’s because they managed to get Canadian rock legend and Rush bassist Geddy Lee to play on the song. In fact, replace the lead guitar line with a synthesizer, and “Territory” wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-’80s Rush album.
  30. Wye Oak – “If You Should See”. Wye Oak delved even further into dream pop on Tween, producing some of their weirdest and most inaccessible work yet. “If You Should See” is a synth-laden soundscape with reverb-drenched guitars and vocals. But it’s also worth mentioning drummer Andy Stack’s kitwork, which is damn impressive.

That does it for my 30 favourite songs of 2016, about a month after I should have posted them. Let me know what your favourite songs of 2016 were down in the comments.

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