The 50 Best Songs of 2016’s First Quarter
by Steven Spoerl
Now that nearly everything’s back up to speed on the three major fronts (streams, full streams, and music videos), it’s time to re-direct the attention to the very best material that emerged in the first three months of 2016. After listening to literally thousands of new songs throughout the course of this year, 50 songs will be embedded below (the original list was just over 50 and the last three cuts were from Public Access T.V., SOAR, and Retired), with the first several artists listed having multiple songs vying for the feature.
Due to the time constraints, each of the songs — while worthy of several paragraphs — will receive a line or two of text. All of the songs that competed for the feature spot will be hyperlinked. All of these songs, in one way or another, genuinely stood out from the rest of the pack- and beyond that, several of them have proven their worth via their staying power.
From moments of devastating vulnerability (“Low Hymnal”) to electrifying bursts of visceral energy (“DVP”), there’s a lot to digest. Whether carrying the status of new, emerging, proven, or elder statesman, the artists that comprise this list have viable year-end potential. All 50 of these tracks deserve investment. Dive in below and explore a large handful of 2016’s finest gems.
Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion
After making their mark with a string of consistent releases, Bent Shapes delivered their strongest effort yet with Wolves of Want, which was highlighted by the surging powerpop number “New Starts In Old Dominion”. | Also worth hearing: What We Do Is Public, Realization Hits
Culture Abuse – Turn It Off
A seething mess of chaos and cacophony, Culture Abuse‘s “Turn It Off” was one of young 2016’s most immediate post-punk tunes. Sharp and unrelenting, “Turn It Off” more than makes its mark. | Also worth hearing: Dream On, Peace On Earth
Audacity – Lock On the Door
Self-described by the band as a “Third Eye Blind rip-off song”, “Lock On the Door” is the band’s most successful grime-coated excursion and retains every bit of its predecessors’ considerable charms. | Also worth hearing: Umbrellas, Dirty Boy.
Mulligrub – Homo Milk & Man in the Moon
Mulligrub managed to impress when they were just starting out and they’ve grown noticeably in a surprisingly short period of time. If this two-song package is any indication, there are some extraordinary things in Mulligrub’s future. | Also worth hearing: Europe
Mo Troper – First Monkey In Space
Mo Troper’s Beloved is my early front-runner for Album of the Year and with songs as perfectly crafted (and presented) as “First Monkey In Space”, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Big Star-meets-Tony Molina is a very, very good look. | Also worth hearing: After the Movies
Jawbreaker Reunion – Cosmos
Another early year-end candidate came in the form of Jawbreaker Reunion‘s breathtaking “Cosmos”, which saw them tapping back into the lovesick despair that made “E.M.O.” so unforgettable. When the back half kicks in on his one, it’s a moment of powerful transcendence. | Also worth hearing: Small Investments
Kal Marks – Coffee
A sprawling, bruiser of a track, “Coffee” sees Kal Marks continuing to dominate the realms of aggressively down-trodden post-punk, fully equipped with a messy handful of grunge influences. It’s another masterclass from a band who are very nearly peerless. | Also worth hearing: Mankind
Tenement – The Block Is Safe Again
One of three songs on this list to be experiencing a cleaned up re-release, “The Block Is Safe Again” is vintage Tenement. All you really need to see to know that this is incredible is the last word of that first sentence. | Also worth hearing: Freak Cast In Iron
Nicole Dollanganger – Chapel
Another song that experienced a re-release, “Chapel”, saw Nicole Dollanganger embracing her softest sensibilities and conjuring up something spellbinding. Let it wash over you and give into its dreamlike state, pay attention, though, and you’ll be plunged straight into a delicate nightmare. | Also worth hearing: Beautiful and Bad
Big Ups – National Parks
Shortly after hitting their five year anniversary, Big Ups unloaded a behemoth of a record in Before A Million Universes. The high-wire tension act of “National Parks” was one of its many peaks, providing an able showcase for the band’s commanding sense of self. | Also worth hearing: Hope for Someone
Tancred – Sell My Head
One of 2016’s most pleasant surprises has come in the full-blown emergence of Tancred. Spiky, formidable, and exceptional, everything Jess Abbott’s project has unleashed this year has hit its target. Store this one away right next to the fiercest songs from Palehound and Speedy Ortiz. | Also worth hearing: Control Me
Eskimeaux – WTF
After claiming this site’s Album of the Year distinction, the Epoch quartet known as Eskimeaux has returned with a shimmering new EP. “WTF” continues the band’s winsome penchant for expertly crafted, bittersweet pop songs with a gentle ease. Good luck shaking that chorus section. | Also worth hearing: Power
Solids – Blank Stare
Following a string of strong releases, Solids have a career high on their hands with the Else EP, which boasts four enthralling tracks that combine a host of influences into something melodic and menacing. “Blank Stare” is the EP’s highlight. | Also worth hearing: Wait It Out
Eureka California – Cobwebs on the Wind
Eureka California have proven themselves to be a remarkably consistent band and they’ve rarely ever been granted the spotlight they deserve. Versus, their latest effort, is their most engaging thanks to the jittery energy that propels tracks like “Cobwebs on the Wind” and “Caffeine”. | Also worth hearing: Caffeine
Banned Books – Fuselage
Very few records this year have caught me as off guard or sent me reeling as quickly as Banned Books, the exhilarating self-titled effort from the Philadelphia noise-punk figureheads. “Fuselage” contains some of the band’s most exceptional — and propulsive — work to date. | Also worth hearing: Everything I’ll Ever Need
Hudson Bell – Box of Bones
One of the most difficult decisions to make in compiling this list was which of these two listed songs to feature. “Box of Bones” got the edge for the extraordinary hooks and some jaw-dropping sections of sheer perfection. Hudson Bell is putting together something unreal and more people should be taking note. | Also worth hearing: Hey Doll
Plush – Sheer Power
A sweeping, magisterial work of lush decadence, “Sheer Power” announced Plush’s 2016 run with a heaven-sent explosion. Dynamic, powerful, gorgeous, and towering, “Sheer Power” is the band at their most gripping and one of early 2016’s most spine-tingling offerings. | Also worth hearing: Please Don’t Let Me Go
PUP – DVP
As expected, when PUP resurfaced after making one of the most beloved punk records of this current decade, they were even more feral and wild-eyed than when they left off. “DVP” isn’t just the band’s fiercest song to date, it’s also one of their strongest. Get out of the way or get run over (repeatedly).
Greys – No Star
Another one of Toronto’s finest punk acts, Greys, have been putting together a deeply impressive run over the past few years. They’ve yet to make a bad song and thrive off the tension they inject into the kinetic “No Star”, which expertly balances the band’s most melancholic sensibilities with their most explosive.
The Sun Days – Don’t Need To Be Them
2016 has already had its fair share of excellence in powerop but right now, no one’s doing that genre better than Sweden, who’ve gifted us another extraordinary act in The Sun Days. Album, the band’s debut record, offers up a whole bevvy of what are likely to go down as some of 2016’s loveliest tunes, like the gorgeous “Don’t Need To Be Them”.
Frankie Cosmos – On the Lips
The last of the songs on this list to have a prior release, “On the Lips” finally gets the full band treatment for Frankie Cosmos‘ sprightly Next Thing. Already considered a standout of a very crowded discography, “On the Lips” is pure Frankie Cosmos: light, charming, and memorable.
Oceanator – Nowhere Nothing
Very few songs over the past several years have had a section that laid me as flat as the outro to Oceanator’s “Nowhere Nothing”. The project of Vagabon drummer Elise Okusami, Oceanator’s already showing an astounding level of promise. As a standalone song, it’s breathtaking. As an artist’s introductory number, it’s flat-out unbelievable.
Yoni & Geti – Madeline
Serengeti’s carved out a respectable place for himself throughout the course of a very consistent career. WHY?‘s Yoni Wolf is rightfully regarded as one of this generation’s most remarkable lyricists (by certain circles, at least). Their collaborative project is only just getting started but the lilting powerpop of “Madeline” bodes well for the duo’s future.
EERA – Drive With Fear
“Drive With Fear” was the first song that really pulled me into EERA‘s fascinating world. Combining elements of dream-pop, ambient, and noise into an extremely tantalizing package, the project from Anna Lena Bruland’s landed on something intangible that seems ready to pay dividends as it goes forward. This song alone’s a piece of magic.
Tacocat – I Hate the Weekend
Tacocat returned with “I Hate the Weekend”, advancing the band’s commendable aversion to disappointing by amplifying what they do best: carefree basement pop that deals with life’s more mundane moments. Sugary, sharp, and well-informed, “I Hate the Weekend” will stand as one of 2016’s greatest anti-parties.
Dilly Dally – Know Yourself
Watching Dilly Dally unexpectedly pull out this Drake cover last year at CMJ prompted what I can only describe as a near-out-of-body experience. I wrote about it extensively a few times and was hoping an official recording of the cover would make its way out into the world. When it arrived, it didn’t disappoint; “Know Yourself” is an absolute monster.
Lucy Dacus – Strange Torpedo
“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” was one of the best songs of last year and I haven’t been able to shake it since its release. Fortunately, Lucy Dacus had a new batch of equally exceptional songs to round out the incredible No Burden, including “Strange Torpedo”, a very strong showcase of Dacus’ knack for hyper-intelligent songwriting.
Weaves – One More
Weaves have undergone one of the more impressive transformations in music, transitioning from an intriguing world-leaning act to a full-fledged basement pop group. “Shithole” was one of the first indications of their radical switch and they’ve followed it up with the vicious, teeth-baring noise-punk of “One More”.
Free Cake For Every Creature – First Summer In A City
Katie Bennett’s Free Cake For Every Creature project has excelled in making airy bedroom pop that’s grounded by a relatable honesty. “First Summer In A City” is an instant standout, instantly capitalizing on the act’s most breezy and road-weary sensibilities. The slide guitar work here is a thing of quiet perfection.
Woods – Morning Light
Another band that knows a thing or two about breezy, road-weary sensibilities is Woods, who have sculpted an entire career out of combining the two. One of the most remarkably consistent bands going today, they’ve managed to produce a career highlight with the easygoing, piano-speckled Americana of “Morning Light”.
Music Band – Fortune Guns
Basement pop meets basement punk is where this site pulls most of the bands it features most prominently. Music Band exists squarely in that intersection and have nearly perfected that marriage. “Fortune Guns” is the latest piece of thrilling evidence.
A Death Forest Index – Myth Retraced
“Myth Retraced” is the kind of song that slowly washes over the listener, pulling them deeper in with each successive wave as the current gets increasingly stronger. A collaboration between A Death Forest Index and Savages’ guitarist, Gemma Thompson, it’s a dark, fractured miracle of a track.
Carey – You Were Right
Old Flame Records has long specialized in retro-leaning basement pop, building up a roster of acts that have — appropriately — been granted a lot of attention from this site. Carey‘s the latest band to get in on the action and they kicked 2016 off with the blazing “You Were Right”, which more than lives up to the label’s high standard.
Wood Lake – Hollow
Easily the heaviest song on this list, “Hollow” is a swift masterstroke from emerging act Wood Lake. Combining the very best elements of post-hardcore and shoegaze, the band’s latched onto something that feels as exhilarating as it does singular. Gorgeous and punishing isn’t an easy combination to pull off but Wood Lake’s got it down pat.
Dead Stars – Unpopular
Dead Stars have shown up on this site a few times thanks to their ’90s-infused take on basement pop and “Unpopular” is another very worthy addition to a strong discography. Clean when its called for and distorted when it matters, “Unpopular” finds the band in fine form.
Such Hounds – I’ve Been Lost
Riding a syncopation lifted from The Damned’s classic “Neat Neat Neat” in the introduction, Such Hounds’ “I’ve Been Lost” quickly transforms into a beast of its own, lacing its emphatic powerpop with a punk sneer. Insanely catchy and playfully welcoming, it’s a breath of fresh air in an all-too-often overly serious musical landscape.
Told Slant – Low Hymnal
The first time I heard a note of Told Slant‘s “Low Hymnal” was when it was being recorded in DBTS. I’d wake up and listen in on Felix Walworth meticulously recording the song, wondering how the finished version would play. When I heard the rough take, I surrendered myself to chills, on the verge of tears. Now that it’s done, that feeling’s returned.
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
The year Bury Me At Makeout Creek came out it came very close to capturing this site’s Album of the Year distinction. Mitski‘s made a lot of moves in the time that’s followed, watching her audience grow exponentially in the process. “Your Best American Girl” is more than strong enough to allow that trend to continue; it’s a dynamic behemoth.
Yung – Pills
Yung were one of the first bands to really impress me at last year’s CMJ. I’d enjoyed what I’d heard from them previously but their was something intangible happening with their live show that converted me into a full-fledged believer. “Pills”, an expertly crafted basement pop number, serves as a welcome reminder that they’ve elevated their game.
Patio – Arbitrary Numbers
Fortunately, for everyone, Patio‘s only grown more confident since their demo (and their first show). Their upcoming EP, Luxury, is chock-full of memorable post-punk, including “Arbitrary Numbers”, the release’s minimalist pull track. Intelligent, catchy, and well-informed, it shows the band’s well on their way to being a recognizable name.
Jean-Michel Blais (ft. Bufflo) – Nostos
One of the more beautiful piano compositions to have emerged in some time, this collaborative effort between Jean-Michel Blais and Bufflo is a haunting, masterful run that’s weighted by what scans as genuine emotion. All of the ambient elements that spring up manage to enhance the vivid nature of the piece’s most emotive moments.
Fog Lake – Rattlesnake
From its melancholic opening moments to its uneasy close, Fog Lake‘s “Rattlesnake” is a gripping journey through unsparing self-examination. Haunting, haunted, and oddly unnerving, the relatively tranquil “Rattlesnake” is a miniature masterpiece that should go quite a ways in elevating Fog Lake towards a desirable status.
Tangerine – Sunset
Tangerine have all the energy you’d expect from an exciting emerging act but are able to differentiate themselves thanks to how effectively they wield that energy. “Sunset” is a perfect example, a frantic, sun-soaked, punk-tinged powerpop number that plays like the band was having difficulty containing their sheer joy over the prospect of simply making music.
Bob Mould – The End of Things
At this point, if you’re reading this site, it’s highly unlikely that Bob Mould‘s an unfamiliar name. The Hüsker Dü co-leader has been on an absolute tear with his solo releases of late, his finest work on those rivaling the best of the band that made him a legend. The fire-breathing “The End of Things” shows that he has absolutely no intentions of slowing down.
Catbus – Fracas
Patio‘s Lindsey-Paige McCloy and Alice Suh make another appearance on this list as part of this new, Phyllis Ophelia-led project that announced itself by way of the uniformly excellent “Catbus”. Post-punk, ’90s pop, and minimalism are woven together here to instantaneously memorable effect. The chorus alone stands as one of 2016’s strongest musical moments.
Museum of Recycling – Stillove
Last year, I was fortunate enough to host the demo premiere of “Stillove”, the standout track from new Big Ups side-project, Museum of Recycling. Heavy, atmospheric, and unrelentingly bruising, “Stillove” sees Joe Galaragga embracing his most melodic sensibilities to spellbinding effect. Get crushed under its formidable weight.
Leapling – Alabaster Snow
While Leapling have had a sizable handful of great tracks leading up to 2016, “Alabaster Snow” showed the band operating on a different level entirely. Easily the band’s best song to date, it’s a chaotic mixture of powerpop and vicious noise-punk that keeps things clean and winds up being even more engaging for its unconventional choices.
Dusk – My Own Design
Tenement‘s Amos Pitsch and Holy Sheboygan!‘s Julia Blair have both had their turn at the helm of Dusk and now, on “My Own Design”, the band moves darn it.‘s Ryley Crowe to the forefront. “My Own Design” is just as timeless and perfect as “(Do the) Bored Recluse” and “Too Sweet“, definitively proving Dusk as a whole belongs at the head of the WI music scene.
The Gotobeds – Real Maths/Too Much
It took me a while to come around on The Gotobeds after the lead-off single from their last record left me fairly cold. This time around, I’d happily go all in on “Real Maths/Too Much”, a pointed burst of post-punk that lingers long after its left. Fiery, insistent, and played with an intense amount of feeling, it’s the band at their absolute best.
Big Thief – Real Love
Another likely contender for multiple year-end lists arrived in the form of Big Thief‘s “Real Love”, a breathtaking tune that’s breathing new life into Saddle Creek’s increasingly impressive roster. A towering masterclass of pure songwriting, “Real Love” is jaw-dropping at nearly every turn, from the sky-bound guitar work to the plaintive honesty that grounds the whole affair. If the rest of the band’s upcoming Masterpiece comes close to matching this song, it’s tongue-in-cheek title won’t carry a shred of irony. “Real Love” is four minutes and 17 seconds of sublime perfection.
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