In a year when we lost so many talented music legends (so long to Bowie, Prince, Sir George Martin, Glenn Frey, Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, Leonard Cohen and more), maybe it’s fitting that I’m thinking to myself “Where has all the good music gone?”
2016 was not a great year for new music discoveries (or presidential elections), but I’m happy to share the 14 songs that did make me sit up and take notice. A real hodgepodge of new artists and old favorites. I hope you enjoy.
You can click on the videos below to hear each track, or if you’re a Spotify user, feel free to listen to my playlist here. Happy holidays and all the best in 2017!
Need the MP3 files? You can download a zip file here.
1. “Humbug Mountain Song” – Fruit Bats
This little indie band out of Chicago, who first made my collection way back in 2005, makes a welcome return to form with this foot-stompin’ ditty. Love the twangy banjo and mysterious lyrics. Pass the moonshine!
2. “Midas Tongue” – Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop
Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam pairs up with Jesca Hoop for this slightly spooky duet. With its plucky guitar beat throughout, I’m not quite sure what they’re singing about, but it works all the same.
3. “Off the Ground” – The Record Company
This good ol’ fashioned bluesy rock song – not known for its lyrics (a bit repetitive I’d say) – would feel right at home on any Classic Rock station today. The three-man group out of L.A. reminds me of the band Morphine with that bass-heavy guitar.
4. “Atomic Number” – case/lang/veirs
A super group of sorts with Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs but not a power number. Instead we get a soft, acoustic gem that features the lead singing of Ms. Case (one of my favorite female voices out there). Here’s hoping her next collaboration is back with The New Pornographers.
5. “All We Ever Knew” – The Head and the Heart
After breaking through in a big way back in 2011, this Seattle six-piece group delivers the poppiest sing-along of the year replete with a syrupy chorus of “la-la-las.” What can I say, I love pop songs and this one sure fits the bill.
6. “The Bird” – Anderson .Paak
One of the newcomers of the year. Born as Brandon Anderson Paak, he first hit the scene in 2012 as Breezy Lovejoy, but changed his name again to Anderson .Paak with this breakthrough album. A jazz/hip-hop hybrid undoubtedly influenced by Stevie and Marvin. Love the smooth piano and trumpet bits woven underneath a solid bass line. Mmm.
7. “Cool Papa Bell” – Paul Simon
While we may have lost such legends as Bowie and Prince, thank God we still have living legends like Paul Simon. At the ripe ol’ age of 75, Rhymin’ Simon’s still going strong with his ever-evolving sound. Love the wordplay in this one (especially his sly use of profanity) and nod to Cool Papa Bell, one of baseball’s fastest players ever. Wall-to-wall fun!
8. “Midnight. Hallelujah.” – Jonatha Brooke
After treating fans with her first ever one-woman musical called “My Mother Has 4 Noses,” Jonatha returns to her roots with this gospel-driven hymn. Taut songwriting from another one of my favorite female voices. It’s a crime she’s not more well known.
9. “If I Ever Was a Child” – Wilco
Another year, another Wilco song makes my collection. Almost a given it seems. This go-round, “front man Jeff Tweedy is at his most low-key and wistful with vocals that sound like they were recorded with a baby sleeping in the next room.” (Rolling Stone)
10. “One More Night” – Michael Kiwanuka
Following up on his terrific 2012 debut effort, Michael Kiwanuka is back with the same soulful punch. A simple, straightforward song that grows on you with repeat listenings.
11. “In a Drawer” – Band of Horses
With backing vocals by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame, Ben Bridwell and his Band of Horses deliver this bouncy number about finding it. Kind of a silly song, but damn if I don’t love the hooks!
12. “Longer” – Lydia Loveless
A pop/rock nugget with a country vibe from Ms. Lawless, who’s making a name for herself this year after 8 years in the biz. As the Boston Globe puts it, “Loveless continues to manifest a remarkable combination of bruised vulnerability and desperate longing, alongside a tough, self-deprecating resilience.” That about sums it up for me.
13. “White Ferrari” – Frank Ocean
Last appearing in my 2012 collection, Frank returns with this mood-shifting ode from “Blonde” that includes a line right out of The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” to help recapture a joyride at age 16. Mesmerizing tune. And listen for a cameo from Bon Iver toward the end.
14. “Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street Soundtrack
Last but not least, a fun song from the “Sing Street” movie soundtrack. Written by Gary Clark, one of my favorite singer/songwriters from the ‘80s (anyone remember the band Danny Wilson?), it’s played toward the end of the film and really captures the sound of that decade (reminiscent of Hall & Oates, Huey Lewis and others). If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it on Netflix. Definitely one of my favorite films of the year (directed by the guy who also gave us the music-driven movies “Once” and “Begin Again”).