Yes, 2016 was a banner year for music, filled with all sorts of surprises. There were artistic leaps forward, unexpected reunions and plenty of newcomers. Here’s a look at the year’s best songs:
10. Lori McKenna, “We Were Cool” (CN) Few singer-songwriters can so fully conjure a specific scene the way McKenna regularly does. “We Were Cool” traces a relationship through the pop songs they listened to in the car and the feelings associated with them. It’s poignant and pretty and exactly the kind of storytelling Americana needs.
9. Mitski, “Your Best American Girl” (Dead Oceans) Mitski Miyawaki surrounds her tender, vulnerable tale of insecurity with roaring grunge-era guitars to create one of the most delicate songs to pump your fist to in years.
8. David Bowie, “Blackstar” (ISO / Columbia) The title track of the legendary artist’s final album showed how he was an innovator until the end, using an evolving mix of rock, jazz and electronic beats for his multilevel discussion about death and immortality.
7. Taking Back Sunday, “Tidal Wave” (Hopeless) The Long Beach-based rockers turn up the Ramones-fueled rage with a punk protest anthem that is both catchy and thrilling.
6. A Tribe Called Quest, “We the People . . .” (Epic) The long-awaited return of A Tribe Called Quest did not disappoint, especially with this unflinching demand for inclusion at a time when conscious rap is so sorely needed.
5. Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (Capitol Nashville) There were plenty of great throwback soul ballads across numerous genres this year, but Urban crafted the best by keeping it simple and heartfelt.
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4. Paul Simon, “Wristband” (Concord) A brilliant meditation about privilege and fairness disguised as a parable about an overeager bouncer charmingly told over an infectious world beat.
3. Rihanna featuring Drake, “Work” (Westbury Road / Roc Nation) “Work, work, work, work, work” still works. Nobody text me in a crisis.
2. Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam” (G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam) Kanye has had a wildly uneven year, and his album “The Life of Pablo” reflects that in some ways. But “Ultralight Beam,” his twist on gospel music with help from Chance the Rapper, Kirk Franklin, The-Dream and Kelly Price, is the highest high. It shows how his stream-of-consciousness rhymes can also tell the truth and inspire.
1. Beyoncé, “Formation” (Parkwood / Columbia) It’s a simple message, really: “Believe in yourself. Work hard. And you, too, can slay. OK?” In practice, though, Beyoncé’s dance manifesto is thoroughly upsetting to the world’s power structure, especially when she’s given so many an anthem that they can practically chant for inspiration. All with hot sauce in her bag, swag.
HONORABLE MENTION De La Soul featuring Damon Albarn, “Here in After” (AOI); Miranda Lambert, “Vice” (Vanner / RCA Nashville); Solange, “Cranes in the Sky” (Columbia); Savages, “Sad Person” (Matador); Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles” (Ear Drummer / Interscope); Radiohead, “Burn the Witch” (XL); Chance the Rapper featuring Jeremih & Francis, “Summer Friends” (Chance the Rapper); The Avalanches, “Frankie Sinatra” (Modular); Frank Ocean, “Pink + White” (Boys Don’t Cry); Drake featuring Rihanna, “Too Good” (Young Money / Cash Money); Fifth Harmony featuring Ty Dolla $ign, “Work from Home” (Epic); Mac Miller featuring Anderson .Paak, “Dang!” (Warner Bros.); Car Seat Headrest, “Fill in the Blank” (Matador); Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me” (Secretly Canadian); Bon Iver, “29 #Strafford APTS” (Jagjaguwar)