…and the playlist of favorite music of 2016 are made! Instead of doing a countdown and then “bonus” tracks at the end, this year’s playlist is an exercise in flow. Hope you enjoy and may your 2017 be awesome.
1. Santigold – 99¢
On Santigold’s third album — a bright, bubbly, and confident pop confection — she is clearly having fun. At times poking fun at current trends, puffing up her own feathers, or simply slamming an ex, 99¢ continues her genre-blending style of R&B, new wave, pop, and reggae through the shiny sheen of a cheap plastic commodity concept. Granted, this is no where near a concept album, but the music overall fits starting with the hilarious first track “Can’t Get Enough of Myself.” This perfect little pop song nails the selfie-obsessed culture from the first verse, “If I wasn’t me, I can be sure that I’d wanna be,” and continues with even better lines: “Ain’t a gambler, but, honey, I’d put money on myself,” “Got so much flavor put me on the buffet,” and “So hot they be wiping me down.” The thing is Santigold’s lyrics are key to her music.
Then there is the other book-end song. “Who I Thought You Were” is an outstanding new wave diss on an ex who let fame go to his head: “Hey now take a look at you/Hosed down in a million dollar suit/But I knew you when that wasn’t you/I knew you when you had a clue.” Ah, my favorite track “Rendezvous Girl” though. Hilariously frank and self-assured, this is also one of my favorite songs about being a high-class hooker, “I put a man in a casket/I got another thinkin’ he’s in love/I’ll break it to ’em with a velvet glove” and then the ultimate line: “Got more power/In my calendar/Than the Queen herself.”
However fun 99¢ is, it wouldn’t have any weight without some emotion. “Chasing Shadows” is a beautiful dissertation on the loneliness of fame (“Neon sign goes red/’You are here’ it says/Well, at least someone knows where I am”) and “All I Got” is part melancholy, part revenge tale of working hard for her fame and someone riding that work (“How you get something for nothing at all/Build an empire for yourself/Don’t take this personal, go to hell… Put all I got in your way”). While the rest of the album is not as accessible, it’s still worth the effort especially with tracks like “Big Boss Big Time Business” where she lets you know who’s in charge and “Outside the War” which is all creepy tones with Siouxsie-style cooing.
99¢ basically stayed on repeat this entire year. The fun and sass, the humor and attitude, all made this — for me — a perfect set of songs to get through the year that was 2016. The year overall may have sucked, but Santigold kept things light and grounded which is why it’s my favorite of the year.
Favorite songs: “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” “Chasing Shadows,” “Rendezvous Girl,” “All I Got,” “Who I Thought You Were”
2. David Bowie – Blackstar
Seriously, what is left to say about Bowie’s final gift to those of us bound to this earthly realm? Even before his death two days later, I had played the thing multiple times completely impressed that a man this far into this career and his life was still pushing boundaries and experimenting with his sonic palette. Stuffed full with — in hindsight — meaningful imagery of death and rebirth, the beauty of Blackstar is its accessibility. Yes, it’s weird with all the space jazz going on, but never once does Bowie forgot the hooks. He still wants his music flowing into ears with many gorgeous melodies riding the freaky arrangements. Whether it’s the cult-infusion of “Blackstar,” the A Clockwork Orange vernacular in the lyrics of “Girl Loves Me,” or the earnestly frank “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” Bowie’s swan song ranks up there on equal footing of his 70’s output. The world needed David Bowie except we had forgotten. Blackstar reminded us.
Favorite songs: “Blackstar,” “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” “Girl Loves Me,” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”
3. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
While it can be argued quite easily the Grammys aren’t relevant, it it nice to see an relatively unknown artist included in the popularity contest. Sturgill’s surprise Album of the Year nomination caps a year of him flat out telling Nashville they have been releasing drivel for the past two decades and garnering accolades from those very people he criticized. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is his advice-riddled love letter to his new born son and it’s a whopper of humor, genre-blending, and meditation on being a new father. He has a beautiful, traditional country voice: deep and pleasant as it rides waves of interesting musical arrangements. “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” starts out a traditional country song, brings in some pretty strings and, then — half way through the song — breaks out the amazing Dap-Kings R&B horn section. He even uses washes of electric keyboards throughout. It works beautifully. The best songs are full of humor (“Keep It Between the Lines”) or go against the traditional country music topics (“Call to Arms”), but the writing is strong here. He even throws a Nirvana cover (“In Bloom”) smack dab in the middle. It’s a low-key affair which has its meaning changed by the album’s subject matter. The line “He’s the one who likes/ All our pretty songs/And he likes to sing along…” could easily be a hopeful sentiment that his first born will enjoy his daddy’s work. “A Sailor’s Guide…” won’t win the album Grammy, but the attention is enough and hopefully will bring many more listeners to this amazing work.
Favorite songs: “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” “Keep It Between the Lines,” “Sea Stories,” “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”
4. DUST – Agony Planet
Welcome to Agony Planet. A harsh, dangerous place where only the bravest thrill-seeking ravers go to party. Outside is a world filled with hostile aliens and wastelands of acid pools. Inside is a huge compound filled with dance music so menacing, you wonder if it’s meant to party or to warn — which is the reason Agony Planet is on this list. DUST does an amazing job of taking house and techno – genres filled with repetitive beats and hooks — and creating a sci-fi horror techno rave soundtrack around them. Only a few songs have vocals (by a woman named Greem Jellyfish), but those are the songs where the horror and madness are most visceral making Agony Planet quite unlike any dance record on Earth. Meanwhile, inside the club, something sinister is about to be born unbeknownst to those lost in the music…
Favorite songs: “Breeding Pit,” “Xenocide,” “Tell Me,” “She Woke Up in Water”