In spite of all of the bad news, 2016 was a great year for music. Here are my top 10 favorite songs released in 2016, in no particular order: (and here’s a link to the list on Spotify)
1. Home in Your Heart, Elephant Revival
Alex and I had a front-row view of Elephant Revival at the 930 Club in April. They began the show with an acoustic rendition of Ring Around the Moon that rendered the venue hauntingly silent from the first note. Seeing Bonnie play the washboard live added a new dimension to my appreciation of their instrumentation. I bought their (then) newly released album, Petals, at the show and nearly scratched a hole into “Home in Your Heart.” I’m a sucker for strings and simple harmonies with words about home.
2. Damn Sure – Laura Gibson
Also in April, a friend and I ventured to IOTA to see Laura Gibson touring her (then) newly released album Empire Builder. Her performance was as emotionally raw as the album, which draws on the aftermath of her cross-country move to New York City for graduate school. “Damn Sure” is about the irony of leaving good things behind.
3. Best Kept Secret – case/lang/veirs
I discovered case/lang/veirs shortly before Newport Folk Festival and angled to get a good seat for their set. While recent festivals haven’t been as politically charged as the years of Baez and Dylan, with The Staves’s loud and clear “don’t f***ing vote for Trump” as an exception, k.d. Lang’s closing refrain from “I Want to be Here with You” echoed pre-election hopes.
The hungry fools
Who rule the world can’t catch us
Surely they can’t ruin everything
4. Vincent – Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo starting making records in the back of his parents’ car, hence the name Car Seat Headrest. Vincent is on Toledo’s twelfth album, which he released at the age of 23. The song reminds me of the rock and roll my dad played for me
5. Life Crisis – River Whyless
River Whyless played an earnest set at Newport Folk Festival and were my most-listened to band in 2016. In addition to Life Crisis, Bath Salt, Miles of Skyline, and Cedar Dream III are favorites.
6. Wendell Kimbrough, formerly Director of Worship Arts at my church in DC and currently Artist in Residence at Church of the Apostles in Fairhope, Alabama, released a highly anticipated album of original hymns this summer. He gave me a rough cut of the album when we visited last fall, and “Eternal Weight of Glory” quickly became an anthem of hope during a difficult season in my career, this verse in particular:
Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.
In line with the name of the album, Psalms We Sing Together, Wendell toured the album in churches on the east and west coast this year. Wendell has a gift for writing songs to be sung by a congregation and shared how he uses Sunday mornings to experiment and iterate.
7. Hey Big Star – Kishi Bashi
Kishi Bashi’s third studio album, Sonderlust, was released in September 2016. Though Sonderlust was written during a season of heartbreak in Ishibashi’s life and is more reflective in tone than his previous work, Hey Big Star reminds me of the poppy hooks that make me a fan.
8. Ophelia – The Lumineers
Ophelia is another delicious ear worm from the Lumineers. This episode of Song Exploder tells the story of how it was created.
9. Sia – Cheap Thrills Remix
I first heard this song during the leg series in a Monday night pilates class of which I was a frequent flier, and it made me smile every time. I chose the Spanglish version because lyrics are distracting when you just want to dance.
10. Become Younger – Peals
Peals sent their first album, Honey, to Bob Boilen on a thumb drive inside of a jar of honey. Sounds gimmicky, but the music’s good enough to justify it. This song had me tapping my feet from the first time I heard it on All Songs Considered. The interwoven, rolling melodies remind me of what Sufjan Stevens did with strings on his early albums, and the electronic instrumentation on the Broken Bells’s self-titled album.
I was giddy to discover that Spotify created a list of my most-listened to songs in 2016. It looks about right to me; these are my go-to tunes for that extra boost of energy at work or a soundtrack for a weekend road trip. In my opinion, fun things like this, in addition to avoiding the obnoxious and sometimes uncomfortable (!) ads, make that $9.99/month subscription totally worth it.