There is a way we do these around these here digital parts. My list of the top ten albums of the year is followed by the sharing of a quintet of songs, probably not featured on one of those albums, that I think are also among the significant highlights of the music year just past. I’m not claiming these are the five best singles or songs of the year. Instead, it’s simply a batch of tracks that, at one point or another, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
Lucy Dacus, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”
Dacus saunters through the door Courtney Barnett kicked open, delivering smart, wry lyrics undergirded by punchy, purposeful, tuneful guitar rock. The tale of shifting identity in emotional defeat is ruefully lovely and spot on. Technically, this first showed up in late 2015, but it grew far more prominent when Dacus’s No Burden was released in the spring.
Though I was atypically open to and excited about some artists from the broader pop realm this year (still somewhat reflexively in the guys-with-guitars mindset that defined my teen-aged self, I would not have considered Beyoncé to be a likely contender for my best album of the year selection at the dawn of 2016), my taste largess didn’t fully extend to Rihanna’s much-lauded Anti. This piercing torch song is the exception. It’s a stunner.
K. Flay, “Blood in the Cut”
Intoxicating and icily bruising, this is the exact kind of song that once took an honored place on our college radio station party mixes, strategically positioned so it would whir up late in the night after enough social lubricant had been administered to ensure fearless, full-throated crowd harmonizing with its caustic, fearless stridency.
This was my spiritual lifeline after the results of the 2016 election came down like a toxic rain.
“California” originally appeared on Grimes’s masterful 2015 album, Art Angels. This remixed version was created because Grimes had a video in mind and wanted to finesse the sound to match her vision. Reportedly, she considers the album version to still be the definitive take on the track. I’m not choosing sides. They’re both fantastic. This modified “California” performed the magic spell of making me truly hear a song I already knew well, emerging with a heightened appreciation for its merits. In that experience is everything I love about music: the glorious pliability of the listening experience, the way meaning and impact changes depending on how and when you hear it, and the way a real artist — and Claire Boucher definitely qualifies for that title — can exact thrilling transformations with a flick of their talent.