My favorite songs of 2016

I have been woefully negligent of this website, and while it pains me to disappoint my three regular readers, I’ve been busy, injured, the down arrow on my keyboard doesn’t work and there haven’t been many releases I’ve felt positively compelled to write about.

However, I thought it would be worth recording my thoughts on my favorite songs of the year, and since I’ve been so derelict in my blogging duties, I’m going to run down my 40 favorite tracks from 2016.

These aren’t going to be particularly deep insights, but here they are along with the required Spotify playlist in no particular order.

  • “Have You Ever?”- Twin Peaks

    This is probably my most listened to song of the year. It’s a perfect homage to ’60s rock while also being shout-along barroom perfection.

  • “Real Friends”-Kanye West

    The non-Chris Rock parts of “Blame Game” are my favorite Kanye song. Introspective Kanye is best Kanye,

  • “You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit”-Tacocat

    A funny, insightful and ridiculously catchy song about an unexpected breakout and the anti-climax of not getting to exercise any righteous fury.

  • “Sex & Drugs”-A Giant Dog

    The jauntiest tune on a lively, awesome rock album filled with them. Naturally, the very next track is titled “& Rock & Roll”.

  • “Oh Sarah”-Sturgill Simpson

    This song embodies everything that was awesome about Simpson’s self-produces, excellent psych-country album from this year. “Oh Sarah” is sweet, it’s deeply personal, Simpson’s voice sounds fantastic and the instrumentation is varied in a way that is simply absent from a lot of modern country.

  • “Fool”-Frankie Cosmos

    I always forget she’s Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cate’s daughter, but always remember she’s an expert at crafting quirky, wonderful guitar-driven pop.

  • “Cherry”-Chromatics

    I involuntarily head bob when I hear this song. It hasn’t happened in public yet, thankfully.

  • “Back Into It”-Islands

    My dad injured is back in a severe car accident this year, haven’t gotten around to showing him this song, which is simple joy of a rock song.

  • “Unforgiving Girl(She’s Not)”-Car Seat Headrest

    Teens of Denial was not a lean, taut effort, and this is often cited as one of it’s shaggiest and expendable songs.  I love its improvised vibe, call-and-response lyrics and  varied styles. It sounds like live rock music.

  • “Door”-Nice As Fuck

    Drums, bass and Jenny Lewis come together for an excellent piece of post-punk dance music.

  • “Piano Player” The Hotelier

    Don’t judge an album by its cover, these songs are equally appealing as Goodness‘ NSFW cover art was repellent.

  • “Vroom Vroom” Charli XCX

    This song has some of the corniest white girl rapping this side of Fergie, but Charli kills the hook as she’s wont to do, and the SOPHIE production gives her both some of the sweetest and most aggro music she’s ever worked with.

  • “No Matter Where We Go”-Whitney

    I was a big fan of the Smith Westerns up to their third album and was sad when they disbanded. This whispy, summery rock scratched an itch I thought was here to stay.

  • “Strive”-A$AP Ferg

    I’d take Ferg over Rocky any day.

  • “(Girl we Got A” Good Thing”-Weezer

    The best song on Weezer’s best album in  more than a decade is a beach-ready ode to a promising relationship just starting to bloom. It’s a Blue Album type song with some Maladroit-esque guitar shredding and melody changes reminiscent of Pinkerton. Just a phenomenal track.

  • “Can’t Get Enough of Myself (Feat. B.C.)-Santigold

    In my perfect world, this song would’ve dominated Top 40 radio in spring.

  • “Audrey’s Dance”-Xiu Xiu

    I once saw Xiu Xiu open for Swans. For some reason, it was just a buff silver fox type and a machine that made pulsating sounds. This is much better

  • “We The People…”-A Tribe Called Quest

    RIP Phife Dog. Q-Tip’s flow has always been one of my favorites.

  • “Big Body”- ScHoolboy Q

    Blank Face had a lot of dark moments, but oddly the Tyler, The Creator-produced song was the party jam with a Dogg Pound feature.

  • “Learn in School”-Muncie Girls

    This is a damn fine self-empowerment punk anthem about carving your own path.

  • “Ice Cream and Sunscreen”-Martha

    It’s clear from the opening guitar strums this song is an ascendant bottle rocket destined to explode, but it is still so very satisfying when it does.

  • “To Be A Ghost”-Jeff Rosenstock

    I love that a kiss off to the internet includes a gut-punching lyric about police brutality. That a song this incredibly cynical has a soaring chorus is a testament to the weird lane in which Rosenstock operates very proficiently.

  • “Lump Street”-Frightened Rabbit

    Icy synthesizer backs much of this depressing look at a pair of ragged, impoverished lovers. Cancer and violence metaphors abound. Still, things finish with a triumphant sprint celebrating flourishing love despite a total lack of nourishment from the environment.

  • “Have a Heart”-Cymbals Eat Guitar

    Remember that catchy Goteye song? What if it was about a lifetime of personal shortcomings before finding love and becoming a better person? Listen and find out.

  • “Casket Pretty”-Noname

    This already sounds classic.

  • “Pain”-LVL UP

    Tell your friends it’s Neutral Milk Hotel, and they’ll probably believe you.

  • “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams”-Camp Cope

    A pitch black comedy of a song about a woman disillusioned by sexism becoming a conspiracy nut.

  • “Fear O The Light”-Katie Dey

    A woozy cacophony, lots of reverb and chipmunk vocals somehow make a very compelling pop song.

  • “Here in Spirit”-Jim James

    I’ve never been a big My Morning Jacket song, but James’ newest solo album struck a chord. This song’s piano and hip-hop drumbeat particularly got a hold of me.

  • “Home”-Common

    Wish I could tell 14 year old me that both Common and Weezer would one day put out quality albums in the same year. This is the most engaged Common has sounded in years, and the beats are gorgeous.

  • “Come Down”-Anderson.Paak

    This puts the jam in “James Brown pastiche”.

  • “Dumb Baby”-The Coathangers

    This sparse punk number simply rocks. Like the rest of  the one-time The Black Lips sister band’s 2016 release was thoroughly enjoyable, and for me this was the stand out track.

  • “No Problem(Feat. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz)”-Chance The Rapper

    It just sounds like Chano has fun making music.  A great chorus and interesting guest spots from Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz make this one of the most memorable songs of the year.

  • “Trying to Lose Myself Again”-Bleached

    Just a gnarly rocker from the band I like to imagine as what would happen if HAIM spent time in the Thunder Dome instead of California.

  • “Ready for the Magic”-Honeyblood

    If you like Bleached and the Coathangers, you’ll like Honeyblood.

  • “Ivy”Frank Ocean

    I didn’t appreciate this hazy, perfect crooning about growing old and growing apart until I listened to the Katie Dey album. Somehow it calibrated things just right and made me open to a shoegaze R&B marriage.

  • “Patriot”-Crying

    Chiptune and cheesy, ’80s guitar licks are somehow a perfect match. Haven’t seen this hyped anywhere outside of Stereogum, where this album was super revered for some reason.

  • “A 1000 Times”-Hamilton Leithauser+Rostam

    If the Walkmen had covered the old folk tune “500 Miles” made famous by Perter, Paul & Mary it would sound a ton like that. I mean that in a really good way. Plus, Leithauser’s voice sounds great.

  • “Gamma Kinfe”-King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

    Including  cut off of an infinitely looping concept album was pretty difficult. If thise sounds good to you, listen to the whole thing.

  • “A Loving Feeling”-Mitski

    I now realize how badly I need a Mitski version of 69 Love Songs. Her hilarious and profoundly sad take on love, lust and relationship power dynamics is 92 seconds of absolute bliss.

Some hard truths about Weezer from a Weezer fan

 

Weezer have just put out a new track, “Back to the Shack”. The Red Album is six years old, so it must be time for the band to trot out another back to the roots effort. I love this band, and I do actually like “Back to the Shack” but it’s probably safe to approach this with some cynicism.

Conventional wisdom holds that Weezer is a band making sometimes enjoyable but bland music, which pales in comparison to their early brilliant work. They are essentially The Simpsons of power pop bands–wonderful and popular in the ’90s but shadows of what they were in their prime. Much like their animated counterpart, Weezer have amassed a dedicated fan base, which loves to lament the current conditions of things while simultaneously attempting to cull highlights from recent efforts. Of course, fans flocking to early work is an almost universal occurrence.

I was thinking about some of Weezer’s earlier, lauded output today, and some truths about the band dawned on me.  In hindsight some of their early work is probably praised too thoroughly, and their third and fourth albums are dismissed too quickly. The mythology surrounding the work is actually absurd in my opinion. Also, many of the idiosyncrasies, which now get the band mocked have been present all along. Plus, given the band’s producer and strong start, their decline should have been obvious from the start.

  • In retrospect, Ric Ocasek producing an excellent debut album was sort of ominous

Ric Ocasek is most famous for being the front man for the awesome new wave band The Cars.  The Cars debut is so loaded with hits that even members of The Cars joke it’s essentially a greatest hits collection. Nothing in The Cars’ discography comes close to matching the quality of their debut, which is sort of disconcerting, because Ocasek produced Weezer’s eponymous debut. The album, called The Blue Album by fans, was an absolute smash hit and contains many of Weezer’s best songs. Although, I personally feel Weezer did go on to create other good, or even excellent, albums, Ocasek’s involvement seems like foreshadowing in hindsight.

  • Weezer’s first four albums are their first two albums done twice

I’m a big fan of Weezer’s self-titled album produced by Ocasek. The one referred to by a color. You know, the album with the ode to vacations. The one with the outrageously catchy song with lots of background “Ohhs.” The one with a falsetto-voiced genre pastiche.

The Blue Album and The Green Album, the band’s third album, have all of the above in common. Both were produced by The Cars’ lead singer and the songs referenced are “Holiday”, “Island in the Sun”; “Buddy Holly”, “Photograph” and “Surf Wax America”, “Hash Pipe” respectively.

Pinkerton and Maladroit differ quite a bit, but are both follow a similar premise: imagine Weezer, but through a different, harsher rock subgenre prism.  Pinkerton is Weezer’s grunge album, and Maladroit is Weezer’s cheesy metal album. Both are phenomenal guitar records, and neither record sold particularly well. Both albums are highly regarded now.

I love all four of these albums, but Weezer basically found two winning formulas and worked them twice before returns totally diminished.

  • The Hip-Hop appropriation has been there from the beginning

There was definitely some negativity when Weezer teamed up with Lil Wayne for “I Can’t Stop Partying“, and before that the rap featured in the lengthy suite “I am the Greatest Man that Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” was met with mixed responses but mostly harsh snickering. This absolutely boggles my mind. Sure these songs were cheesy, and Rivers Cuomo has no business rapping, but he’s been doing it from the very beginning. “Buddy Holly”, the band’s signature song, starts off with the lyrics, “What’s with these homies dissing my girl/ what do they have to front?”; There is a Public Enemy quote in Pinkerton‘s “El Scorcho” and “Dope Nose” on Maladroit references busting rhymes. Weezer’s songs have included lame use of Hip-Hop lyricism from the very beginning, for some reason it’s only laughable now.

  • Return of the Rentals and Pinkerton are probably better combined than Songs from the Black Hole would have been.

There is a lost Weezer concept album/ rock opera, which is speculated to be amazing. It’s one of their bizarrely numerous similarities to The Beach Boys.  The album was going to be called Songs from the Black Hole, SFTBH, and it was going to be a space opera allegory for the band’s sudden meteoric rise. For a variety of reasons, the album never came out, and if Wikipedia is correct, only three demo copies of it exist. However, because many of the songs intended for the album were either used on Pinkerton or have been released as b-sides or rarities, fans have cobbled together their own copies of SFTBH, and it’s generally underwhelming. The rough mixing of many of the tracks is to blame for this, but somehow a geeky Weezer space opera is not as wonderful as you might expect.

One of the events frequently cited as contributing to the non-release of SFTBH was Matt Sharp’s formation of The Rentals and the subsequent release of Return of the Rentals, ROTR. There’s probably some truth to this. The Rentals’ album definitely mines the same sonic terrain as some of Pinkerton‘s wonderful b-sides. Plus, ROTR is a pseudo-concept album about a band reunion that inexplicably features a lot of imagery related to space and robotics. Furthermore, Sharp and Cuomo have a rocky relationship, and Cuomo has cryptically hinted that ROTR derailed the project in the past. Cuomo has also called the incredible song Only in Dreams, “Gay, gay Disney gay,” in the past, so his online statements are best taken with a grain of salt. This kerfuffle often overshadows the quality of The Rentals’ off kilter debut.

ROTR is an awesome, delightful synth-rock record. It isn’t life changing, but it’s hummable, catchy and weird. It also spawned a modest radio hit with “Friends of P”.  Considering the stature of Pinkerton, it doesn’t seem like the legend surrounding SFTBH is totally deserved. It might not ever exist in a truly finished form, but it also may have been a disaster that spread Weezer too thin, and in its place are one of the best albums of the ’90s and a goofy, solid pop album.  I think it’s a fair trade.