Train Fou - "Peuple Pollock". We all already know the notion of Schrödinger's Cat: a tabby in a box, at once dead and alive, somehow someways both until an observer checks. OK so that's Schrödinger's Cat. Let's talk now about Train Fou's "Peuple Pollock", a spectral and subdivided pop song, with shades of yesterday (Yeasayer and Massive Attack) and tomorrow (???). It's loop music, sample music, but with a forward-leaning groove, heavier and more abrupt than we're used to - much of the skeleton's made of trombone blarps, like snippets from a post-Inception movie trailer. I like it for the way it makes hay, serious hay, from elements that might otherwise feel naff (it was the same on Train Fou's previous, saxophone-y single). There's a sense that Train Fou (literally "crazy train") are taking these ridiculous, tacky, playful elements and using them as building-blocks for non-silly music, music with mettle and conviction. Which brings me back to my frail Schödinger's Cat allusion. Imagine not a crate with a(n) (un)dead feline: imagine a cassette Walkman with the buttons' functions rubbed off. Shove a button down: somehow someways it's FFWD and RWD at the same time. Until you listen, it's everything - shuttling, reversing, playing regular time. In-out music, moonwalked or faked. Remember - nobody knows what you're thinking until you tell them, unless you tell them, and you can always lie.
[discovered via La Souterraine's Sainte Pop compilation / more Train Fou]
ミツメ (Mitsume) - "あこがれ".
Suzy is a cactus, sunlit and loping, comfy in a J.J.
He's a friend of Pepe's, the old Pepe, before Pepe changed. They used to go down to the arcade together, watch older kids playing Street Fighter II. Then they'd stand by the dirty river, shouting slogans at swans. Pepe brought cheese sandwiches for lunch; Suzy had tuna salad.
Sometimes people ask Suzy where Suzy's from. He's not like most other cacti - he's friendlier, with a moist handshake. My family's from the Azores, he tells them. They own a garden hotel. "Suzy" is short for Suzanismo - which "is a boy's name, on the Azores. It's Portuguese."
Suzy keeps his apartment tidy. His kitchen counters are clean, his fridge is nicely stocked, his TV's properly mounted. He keeps a single magazine on the square, teak coffee table. The magazine is Thrasher magazine. In the fridge there are salad fixings, yoghurt drinks, bags and bags of oranges. Sometimes Suzy wears oranges on his face - he just sticks them on the spikes, goes out like that. Nice oranges, Pepe says. Suzy smiles, shrugs. Suzy's happy and weird. Suzy's comfy and no problem.
Suzy's bedroom's in the back. Suzy practices karate in the privacy of his room, with the red curtains drawn. His goal, if he thinks about it, is to save somebody someday. An innocent party, in an alley behind a bar - he'll karate-chop the adversaries, kick em to the kerb. In the meantime his karate practice is private, solitary, the most serious thing he does.
Suzy's favourite artist is Matt Furie.
When he gets on his skateboard it's like he's telling your favourite joke.
On a Sunday, Suzy makes fruit salad. Grabs the fruit from the icebox with the spines of his limbs, chucks it banana by apple by orange onto a beautiful burled cutting-board. He slices the banana thin, leaves the oranges in thick wedges. The morning's shouting sunshine through the window. Something from Tokyo's on the turntable. All the fruit's loose in a bowl; he adds grapes, raspberries, a few scoops of passionfruit. The secret ingredient's triple sec: one glug from the bottle. He isn't sure yet who the fruit salad's for. Maybe he's eating it himself. Maybe everyone's coming over.
[Mitsume aren't from the Azores / they're not cacti / they're from Japan / buy]
Trust Fund - "Like a frog".
A cathedral of marshmallow - the dyed kind, pale green and cotton-candy pink, marshmallows for looking at more than eating. It was designed over six years and took 80 more to build. Portico, cantilever, gothic spires like arrows to the sky. Artisans were brought from the other side of the world - architects, sculptors, carpenters, glaziers, mallow-masons, plumbers to raise the holy water. What a cathedral it would be. What a cathedral it was. A cathedral of marshmallow - the dyed kind, pale green and cotton-candy pink. When it was finally finished the bishop stood in its nave and closed his eyes, feeling God upon him. The pilgrims came, the congregants. They worshiped there. When no one was looking, they delicately licked the walls. Seven months later, the cathedral melted in a fire.
10:42 AM on Jan 16, 2017
These are my 100 favourite songs of 2016: songs I love more than sparklers, epilogues and guava with lemon.
I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.
I have been making these lists for 12 years: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.
You can also download the complete 100 songs in four parts:
Said the Gramophone is one of the oldest musicblogs. We try to do just two things, well
: finding good songs
, and writing about them
. We don't mess about with tour-dates, videos or advertising. We post new songs and old songs, write impressions, stories, essays, clumsy dreams of what we hear.
Said the Gramophone has four authors: Emma Healey, Sean Michaels, Jeff Miller and Mitz Takahashi. This list is all Sean's dumb doing - don't blame the others for my bad taste.
If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my weekly column in The Globe & Mail. I also wrote a novel about inventions, love and music.
Among these 100 artists, 50 are mostly American, 29 are Canadian, 15 are British and there is 1 Australia, 1 Japanese, 1 Nigerian, 1 Norwegian, 1 Polish and 1 South African act. It is my least diverse list in years. :( This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect.
37 of the frontpeople/bandleaders are female-identified, 62 are male-identified and (at least) 1 is transgender.
My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.
My favourite albums of 2016 were Pinegrove's Cardinal, Nicolas Jaar's Sirens, Kaytranada's 99.9%, ANOHNI's Hopelessness, Jason Sharp's A Boat Upon Its Blood, Michael Nau's Mowing, David Bowie's Blackstar, Tim Hecker's Love Streams and Wacław Zimpel's Lines. I strongly recommend that you buy these records and listen to them in full.
Some songs that you heard in 2016 may have been omitted from this tally because I heard them before this year, and included them in my Best of 2015.
Without further humdrum:
- Mitski - "Your Best American Girl" [buy]
The last part of this year has been utterly unrelenting. That word, "unrelenting", feels particularly right: 2016 did not stop, did not yield; it did not diminish in strength or severity; it did not give way to kindness or to compassion. The year has come and kept coming; even when I left Montreal to spend a month in Taipei, it followed me. This year will follow you wherever you go. The only way you will stop it is by outlasting it. Lay low. Wait for the calendar to change.
When faced with something unrelenting, the only way to survive is to be just as relentless yourself. When tragedies keep coming - heartbreak, death, diagnosis, injustice - you must go on as well. You do not have to do it perfectly or prettily, to remain dignified or dry-eyed. You can just be. Beaten-up, heartbroken, hopeless even - still, go on. Still go on.
My favourite song of 2016 is Mitski's "Your Best American Girl". It's a song about love and weakness, flushed faces and failures, and about going on all the same. It's about refusing to relent. A furnace-door thrown open, guitars as loud as bagpipes, the flash of a ring as it's thrown through the air. Mitski is 26 and she is doing it, outlasting it, weathering her storms.
The first time I wrote about "Your Best American Girl", in March, I wrote about the way new songs sound like old songs, and also the way they don't.
- Beyoncé - "Formation" [buy]
"Formation" drills, trills, smoulders over a dry beat; it's Beyoncé in her Southern mode, stalking, swinging like a pendulum. What's new isn't the gist of the song - boasts of status, bragging raps - but the signifiers Beyoncé uses to make her point. Particularly in Melina Matsoukas' breathtaking music video, the pop star's personal life takes a back seat to the living history of African-American struggle. In this sense, the five-minute video's so much more explicit than the three-and-a-half-minute single - an interesting reminder of the way politics tend to operate in today's mainstream pop music: moderate on the radio, radical on YouTube.
- John K Samson - "Select All Delete" [buy]
This song is the sound of someone sketching my silhouette, in pencil, after an hour, a minute, a second too long staring at this dumb fucking screen. "Select All Delete" never uses the words "online", "internet" or "screens"; John K Samson never tries to rhyme "iPad" with "saudade". However it was written in the days after the Weakerthans frontman read Michael Harris's book The End of Absence, which considers the way our lives have been diminished by the devices we keep nearby. "The good old days were mostly bad," Samson admits, "but I recall how dark the night got then / how absences could make me glad." He remembers sleeping better and feeling less jealous, less strange. He remembers a world less indiscreet. "Select All / Delete," Samson sings, and you imagine a writer pushing away from their computer. Or else maybe, hopefully, a little more than that: a writer pushing away from his computer, reaching for a piece of paper, an envelope, a pen.
- A. K. Paul - "Landcruisin'" [buy]
It's a little like Blade Runner and a little Purple Rain. "Landcruisin'"'s sonic textures seem decades old. Thatcher-era synthesizer patches, drum sounds, reverb: these things can be music's equivalent of a patina. Yet A.K. Paul and his brother, Jai Paul, apply this patina to shapes that oughtn't wear it - if "Landcruisin'" were architecture, its spires would twist into outer space.
- Pinegrove - "Size of the Moon" [buy]
Whenrever I write about music, I write about songs I've found the words for. I listen for the songs that have been rattling through my life, or else I look through a folder of songs I love, and I work out the one(s) I can find the words for. I hadn't, and maybe still haven't, found the words to write about Pinegrove's Cardinal, which grew steadily, stealthily, into one of my very favourite records of 2016. I did not expect it to do so. At first its sound did not seem very new. Its sentiments did not seem so powerful. But I am here to say: it is new, it is powerful. Just men with guitars, singing their feelings - yet rock'n'roll is alchemy, and Pinegrove have transmuted a familiar thing. It reminds me not of Damien Jurado, Bright Eyes or protozoan Arcade Fire so much as some of the qualities I admired in each of these. But these are much younger songs, by younger men, with fewer tricks, and some banjo, and a little magnesium-white guitar feedback. "Size of the Moon"'s a song about squandering seasons; it's humble and living and just fucking marvellous.
- Wye Oak - "If You Should See" [buy]
An outpour of a song, with Jenn Wasner's weary voice and then the overwhelming everywhere shimmer of the music around her, douse and dazzle. Pop music like light through rushing water.
- Leonard Cohen - "You Want It Darker" [buy]
I wrote about this song in September, when Leonard Cohen was still with us:
The glad news of a new Leonard Cohen LP has been blunted by the revelation that Cohen isn't well. The record was recorded in part from a medical chair ... [and] on the title track, released this week, it's hard to shake the impression that Cohen is staring at the same horizon as David Bowie was on January's Blackstar. Cohen has the same steadiness of voice and seriousness of purpose: "If you are the dealer / Let me out of the game," Cohen intones. "If you are the healer / I'm broken and lame." It's a song about admitting error and accepting judgment. "Hineni, hineni," he sings, Hebrew for "here I am," "I'm ready, my Lord." And yet there is a familiar playfulness in the artist's voice, and the track is illuminated by some of the best production of any Cohen song in years. The voices that sing with him are a Jewish men's choir, from a synagogue in Westmount. Instead of making the music prettier, they help it sit up taller; maybe they even help it stand.
I first wrote about Leonard Cohen for McSweeney's, in 2008, after seeing him perform in Montreal. And then I penned a clumsy farewell in November, when he left us. (He hasn't left us.)
- Rihanna ft Drake - "Work" [buy]
The principle of a mantra is that something can change - something at once inside & outside - through the repetition of a single word or phrase.
I can't explain "Work" any better than Emma did:
In lush years, when we all remember what it really means to repeat yourself, pop music gets good again. You get to give yourself up to its enchantments without hesitation or reserve. These are the times when we remember the difference between a list and an incantation - how every word has a new dimension hidden inside of it, one that you unlock by saying it enough, with the right melody threaded through.
- Wacław Zimpel - "Lines" [buy]
The Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel applies layer after layer of soft, felty sound, as if insulating the listener from everything outside of the music. Think of stepping into a rainforest and the way nothing else exists, beyond. Contrary to expectations, a cacophony can be gentle, or nourshing - like the interweaving rhapsodies of La Monte Young, Steve Reich or Moondog, like the works of Canada's own Colin Stetson. "Lines"' best moment comes late. A clarinet part appears at the song's two-thirds mark - forceful, unexpected, staggeringly beautiful and luxuriantly tacky. A clarinet at its sax-iest - less saxophone than dream saxophone, the sort of sax that appears at the feet of a character in a fantasy movie from 1985, in the first scene of a Kurt Weill production from 1929. It brings the whole track into focus and then, just at "Lines"' peak, the whole landscape starts to shimmer, as if the place you were transported to has decided to go away, withdraw, vanishing back across the horizon.
- Solange - "Cranes in the Sky (Kaytranada remix)" [buy]
Kaytranada did not reinvent Solange's gorgeous "Cranes In The Sky". Mostly he just made it faster. Faster, more urgent; a question that demands an answer today. If it was a song like new thin cotton over clean hot skin, the cotton's even thinner now.
- Martha Wainwright - "Around the Bend" [buy]
One of our great singers performs one of the best songs she's ever written. Candid and beseeching, bold and forlorn, like a Frank O'Hara poem, or like an old Dylan tune, before he played golf and won Nobel Prizes. When I saw Martha play this live, last year, it froze me to the spot: it seemed too honest then. But it's too late now. The secret's out.
- Sugarboy - "Hola Hola" [website]
The debut single by the Nigerian artist Sugarboy, whose afrobeat-inflected reggae will change any room it's played in. Sinuous, lush and expansive.
- The World Provider - "Autumn Wheels" [buy]
Maybe we can squeeze a little more autumn out of this year. We can postpone the winter, or try to, listening to the World Provider's fuzzed-out guitars and failing falsetto, casting memories back to past Novembers. November 1997, perhaps; November 1979; November 2003... "Autumn Wheels" is a tune that draws from many eras - Big Star jangle, Sebadoh jumble, Devo and Kurt Vile and a little of the Animals' world-weary organ - but Malcolm Fraser's got a perfect knack for the hooks that last forever, evergreen. "Autumn wheels make it all right," he sings, "frozen meals by candlelight / perfect feels cut down to size." Simple joys, humble pleasures, the kind of wisdom that's waiting in the first smear of frost across the grass.
- Shura - "What's It Gonna Be?" [buy]
A new gem cut in a familiar style. A song like a teenage fantasy, an 80s credits sequence, a lover running as fast as they can.
- Drake ft Rihanna - "Too Good" [buy]
The more intimate, and resonant, of Drake and Rihanna's 2016 duets (if only it were quite as good a song as #8). It's a track like an enchanted circle - a circle on the ground where two feuding lovers can meet and maybe (OK actually probably not) hear one another out. So beautiful in its sound, even as Drake and Rihanna talk at or through each other, project images onto each other's bodies, reach out to one another, grasp.
- Chance the Rapper ft 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne - "No Problem" [buy]
A track about freedom, slaloming across a gospel loop. Chance, Chainz and Tunechi rap their ebullience; hands are raised; ribbons catch in the air. (Though to be truly honest, this Ellen video's the thing.)
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "Rings of Saturn" [buy]
You would be forgiven for mistaking "Rings of Saturn" for a love song. I did. It's the dark jewel on Cave's latest record, with a refrain that may appear, at first, to be trained on a perfect, fervid lover. "This is the moment/ this is exactly what she was born to be," Cave sings. "This is what she does/ this is what she is." He intones the words atop a shimmering stammer of synths and a wordless, yearning backing vocal; their sensuous effect is only accentuated by "Rings of Saturn"'s competing tempos: the languid music, slow as limbs in bedsheets, and Cave's accelerating verses, like a quickening of the blood.
But Rings of Saturn is not a love song, at least not in the conventional sense. And Skeleton Tree, the album that encloses it, is not one of Cave's familiar rhapsodies of lust. In July, 2015, Cave's 15-year-old son, Arthur, fell to his death after taking LSD. Although much of the LP had already been written, and even recorded, at the time of Arthur's death, the effects of the tragedy rippled outward, transfiguring what had already been done. Some of these songs were revised or demolished over the past 14 months, others were not. Yet somehow all of this material seems riddled with grief, as if Cave's anguish leached backward through time, without respect for chronology.
If "Rings of Saturn" is a serenade, it's not a serenade to anything good. The "she" Cave is singing to is variously a spider, a funnel web, a fly, a jellyfish. Perhaps Cave is remembering an old betrayer. Perhaps it's a song to a former lover, some wicked ex. But if it's none of these things, then it might be the most dangerous kind of ballad there is: a love song to Death herself, cruel and lustrous, as she's weaving. Songs to Death can have beauty and have power, but we must be so careful where we leave them, or whom they find.
- Snowblink - "How Now" [buy]
"How Now", Snowblink's newest single, is possibly the best thing they have ever released. It's hot. It's not yet quite dark. Gesundheit sings as gorgeously as ever - Snowblink were once a band playing poised, pretty chamber pop - but it's not all cotton and jasmine. There's something brinier, too. "Honey still hot from the tired bees," Gesundheit sings, "sweet sap weeping from our favourite tree," sweat-salty despite the sugars. In this it reminds me of another lusty fable, Feist's "My Moon My Man", and Leslie Feist appears here, too, in a brief backup role. However "How Now"'s desire is even closer to the surface, rippling free across tangled appeals, bothered horns, Goldman's low enticements. "You and me, let's get together," Gesundheit proposes. "Watch what you call for," he responds. "All birds have a call."
- ANOHNI - "Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?" [buy]
ANOHNI's album Hopelessness is thrilling, profound and occasionally nauseating. The nausea's from the heaving synths as well as the hopeless subject matter - climate change, violence, complicity. Sonically, "Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?" is a rare moment of breakthrough: a song that sounds of triumph, set in a major key. Of course it's not actually victorious. ANOHNI spends these three and a half minutes straining against the man-made binary of human beings vs natural world - and although for a few moments it seems like she may even break free, of course she can't, quite. Her question goes too deep, the answer's too obvious to see.
- Frankie Cosmos - "On The Lips" [buy]
"I'll never have all the answers / Separated by a subway transfer," sings Greta Kline, that rhyme like a kiss. "On The Lips" is brave and delicate, like the most dangerous kind of daydream. 109 seconds of fantasy, or else of crooked problem-solving, Kline doesn't tell us which.
- Timbaland ft Mila J - "Get No Betta" [download mixtape]
Never mind the mixtape intro at the top of this song - everything gets easy once Mila J starts singing. "Get No Betta" is a ravishing tune, beautiful evidence of everything Timbaland's still got.
- Dirty Projectors - "Keep Your Name" [album out in 2017]
The most somersaulted, inside-out break-up song I've ever heard. Regret poured backwards until it's thick as tar, sour as vinegar. The theorists theorize that it's a message from Projectors founder Dave Longstreth to his ex (and former bandmate) Amber Coffman, and there are two reasons that I hope this is false. The first is that the song is too ugly, too indiscreet; the second is that I do not want "Keep Your Name" to be the final answer to Dirty Projectors' impregnable question.
- A Tribe Called Quest - "Movin Backwards" [buy]
TRIBE CAME BACK (!)
It is free refills. Music that's pure relief - rhyme and rhythm, beat and leap, restoration. A reminder of a kind of solidarity - kinship despite difference - or else a reminder of other artists' dexterity - an admiration for everything you can't do, and others can. Moving backwards but making progress; this isn't my song but I'll borrow it.
Phife Dawg lives forever.
- Tim Hecker - "Music of the Air" [buy]
- EASYFUN ft Noonie Bao - "Monopoly" [soundcloud]
Joyous, adamant, light as zinc. ... Followers of [Gramophone] will know my fondness for a certain flavour of shiny, 100-per-cent synthetic pop music. PC Music's EASYFUN finally go all-in with melody, working with the Swedish singer Noonie Bao. Her vocal line is wistful and pretty, almost Robyn-like - and a very human foil for EASYFUN's shards of electronic glitter.
- Janet Jackson - "Alright (Kaytranada remix)" [Kaytranada soundcloud]
Let me put it this way: this song is my ringtone.
Montreal's mighty Kaytranada goes kaleidoscopic on Janet's "Alright", from 1989. He did what DJs sometimes do: He found a magnificent old record and cut the thing to ribbons, knit it into something else. In this case, Janet's original is the "something else." "Alright"'s true substance consists of a long-lost Brazilian groove - "Mirandolina", by mid-70s act Burnier and Cartier - which Kaytranada found somehow, somewhere, and transformed into newness. The finished edit is beautiful and fresh, hot and vivid. It's like a golden wheel of fortune, a Price is Right samba with Janet Jackson as its guest. There's nothing I'd rather hear on a dance floor, or in my kitchen, or running through melted snow. The next time you need an argument for getting up in the morning, going out or getting on with love - get this. And repeat.
- Kanye West - "30 Hours" [buy]
A last-minute addition to West's manic-depressive new album, The Life of Pablo, "30 Hours" feels immediately beloved. Not because of the rapping - West's as inconsistent as ever, the most successful second-rate comedian in the biz - but because "30 Hours" is built atop a sample from Arthur Russell. Russell, who died in 1992, was a classical composer, experimental songwriter, disco beat-maker, cellist, singer. Like West, he was a generational talent; unlike West, he has become a symbol of something subtle, specific and hard to describe. By borrowing from Russell's "Answers Me", "30 Hours" gains a flicker of what's noumenal, just beyond understanding. What's basic and crass becomes profound, or at least confounding.
For me, what takes this one over the top is the ad lib section at the end - there's no other song this year where I feel as much like I am standing in the room with the artist, present in a giddy/weary late-night moment.
- Nicolas Jaar - "No" [buy]
A conversation between Nico Jaar and his father; a conversation about Chile on 5 October 1988; a conversation about the way freedom and defiance are intertwined. "We already said no but the yes is in everything," a singer sings, in Spanish. Maybe it's the moan of a man who is mourning his defeat. Maybe it's his suggestion for a way forward. Maybe it's both. A contradiction, like every memory: the thing as it was versus the thing as you remembered it into being.
And then above and beneath "No"'s words there are its sounds - gunshots, falling mortars, winding ivy and a rhythm to dance to. The ruins of a place (where things are still growing).
- Young Thug ft Quavo - "Pick Up The Phone" [buy]
There is something Sesame Street in Young Thug's weird one-of-a-kind hip-hop, but something invisible too, or ultraviolet. He seems silly and also somehow omnipotent, as if The Count had no reflection, or shadow.
- Surf Harp - "POOL BOY" [buy]
I came to adore this song without ever listening to the words. I heard the words but I didn't listen to them. The lyrics were like geometric objects, floating place-holders, among all of "POOL BOY"'s crisscrossing pleasures. The content mattered less than the sound, and less than the drums' redoubled smashes, the squeaks of sax, the ladders of guitars all lonesome, crowded, west. It was only when I sat down to write about this song that I paid attention to what Surf Harp's singer is singing. Only then did I try to squint with my ears, straining to understand. Only then did I read the lyrics on the band's bandcamp page. And so I come to you from the other side, the land of full comprehension, with advice: the words don't matter very much. They are vivid and melting and good, they are broken and knitted at the same time. But they matter less than the fact of them as geometric objects, the sound of them alone or in chorus; they matter less than the smashes, the sax, the crowded guitars. Talk is cheap, cacophony is precious.
- A Tribe Called Red ft Tanya Tagaq - "Sila" [buy]
A thrilling, dumbfounding collaboration between two of the country's most important artists: the dance producers of A Tribe Called Red and throat singer Tanya Tagaq. This song feels like a spell - something that could turn a solid to liquid, a moon to a sun, a weapon to jelly. Uninhibited and irrepressible, its jabbering beats coiled around Tagaq's thunderbolt voice.
- Taiko Super Kicks - "低い午後 (hikui gogo)" [buy]
A lazy and miraculous unfolding. The singer sings a happy play-by-play over meandering, crisscrossing guitars - fast guitars and slow guitars, wah and chorus guitars, Hawaiian and staccato guitars, a bassline like a snoring pug. You think you've got its number and then the song ducks into an alley, shifts to a higher speed, and finally the whole thing lights up - sparklers or flares, the dynamite plunger plunging. It's a slow thrill and a long beauty, and it's from Tokyo. (Thank you to Dan at Pruning Shears, who called this his favourite song of 2016.)
- Pup - "DVP" [buy]
Victory for the fuck-ups, however obtuse or temporary. Although this noisy song is about haplessness and failure, there's something else here too, in the composure of those high, Charlie Brown-like "oohs". The fuck-ups of Pup have companions, or conscience, or secret certitude. There are more endings yet.
- Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - "Little Black Buzzer" [buy]
One of the past year's most successful, left-field collaborations is an album called Everything Sacred, uniting (1) the Scottish singer-songwriter James Yorkston; (2) Jon Thorne, long-time bassist for the English trip-hop outfit Lamb; and (3) New Delhi's Suhail Yusuf Khan, who plays the stringed, short-necked sarangi and sings in a classical Indian style. "Little Black Buzzer" is the most endearing of the album's songs, and probably its oddest. The song is a cover, first recorded by Ivor Cutler, and it bears the ink-smudged hallmarks of Cutler's work: a perfect cadence, irreverent wit, simple wisdom. It's the story of Morse code operator nursing a chilly rear-end, "sitting ... on top of the world," repeating and repeating the same transmitted message: "Di-di-di-di-di-di-da-di-di-di-di-di-da-da-da." Or, in English, "Here I am." [See also #7.] For this version, Yorkston sings his Morse in harmony with Lisa O'Neill, an Irish singer with a bit of that Billie Holiday creak. The two of them are just preposterous enough, their silliness undercut by wonderful, briny strings: cello-like sarangi and nyckelharpa, plus Thorne's plucked double-bass. Just as you feel you've figured the song out, Yorkston and O'Neill pass the microphone to Khan. He closes the number with supple, percussive Hindi, singing the dit-dash code as if he was born with a finger on the telegraph key.
- Vince Staples - "War Ready" [buy]
Rap that's anxious and insistent, but wide-lensed. Staples doesn't use his verses to repeat himself: there's lots on his mind; there's room for everything. Produced by James Blake, with a generous Outkast sample.
- Bon Iver - "____45_____" [buy]
It's hard to even make out Bon Iver any more, there's such a cloud around him. The mists and fumes and evaporations of things he's said or people who have loved him or celebrities he's played basketball with. But my partner remembers when he was just a friend's friend napping on her couch, and through her somehow I can still imagine this Justin Vernon's silhouette. He is overrated and insufferable and underrated and brave. A lot of what I've done at Said the Gramophone, since 2003, comes down to trying to find a language for describing music. And so I have nothing but respect for Vernon's project, too: searching for a vocabulary, in melody, harmony and lyric, for all he just doesn't know how to say.
- Plants and Animals - "No Worries Gonna Find Us" [buy]
A little Abbey Road and a little Tusk, a little starlight on the Mile End train-tracks.
- Radiohead - "Daydreaming" [buy]
There is a point at which you can no longer retrace your steps.
- Shearwater - "Stray Light at Clouds Hill" [buy]
Sometimes you take strength from something you are not expected to take strength from. Something powerless lies upon the ground, or inside your heart, and you pick it up. It is yours now, an amulet or a weapon. In this way I think of King Arthur's sword in the stone: here is a hilt, what is it worth, what is it good for, until the right person lifts it? Look at your life. There are hilts everywhere.
"I rode in the crosswinds," Jonathan Meiburg sings. "I sleep in the open / I slide through the fences." He is a bodiless singer, invisible and armoured, glitter in his eye. "I move in starlight," he says, over echo and echo, over a bed of shining darkness. We are weak until we are no longer weak. We are passed through and over until abruptly that passing-through, that passing-over, becomes our greatest strength. We are no longer weak ghosts; we are comrades, walking through walls.
- Whitney - "No Woman" [buy]
A bit of fuzzy, sun-stroked folk, becalmed by its small orchestra. As Whitney's album-title suggests, it feels a little like there must be another version of this song somewhere - and this is its reflection, light glancing off a lake.
- Michael Nau - "Unwound" [buy]
A very long time ago, Michael Nau was Page France, one of my favourite early discoveries here. Even if it hasn't necessarily aged that well, that music will always be a private treasure. Nau has spent the intervening years changing, searching, first as Cotton Jones and now under his own name. And Mowing is the best thing he's made, a beautiful and dusty record, recalling some of my favourite works by Little Wings, Kath Bloom, Harry Nilsson, and even in places the Velvet Underground. "Unwound" is like a half-deflated soul song, the spiritual you'd sing after a long Tuesday commute.
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - "Under Your Always Light" [buy]
The brilliant writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson returns with a song that feels like light outrunning dark. Its words are addressed to and about Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Listening, Simpson's poetry runs toward you like a living thing - toward you and past; you can whirl, and watch it go. "Under Your Always Light" exists outside of sorrow or fury: it feels wider than that, alive & unending, knowing, lit up by the flying sparks of its electronics.
- Noname ft Ravyn Lenae & Joseph Chilliams - "Forever" [buy]
Noname's dextrous raps dance across "Forever"'s strummy, ear-catching production. Most of Telefone (which is terrific) measures the MC's light presence against her serious woes and world-weariness. Not here - "Forever"'s almost purely positive. Noname and friends use inspirations like Missy, Nina and Andre to build their own exit, up the skylight.
- Rostam - "Gravity Don't Pull Me" [homepage]
The syrup wash of certain particular heartbreaks. Some heartbreaks are syrup wash, others are ice dazzle, others are hail. Some are black hole. At the Planetarium you sit back in low chairs and they sweep you through the universe. Atmosphere, horsehead, milkyway. Syrup wash, ice dazzle, black hole, hail. Between the shows you sip cold water from a gray fountain, a tall stream. There's a rip in the sky that isn't quite visible, beside the bare-blue white squint of sun. If you could find the rip you'd go there, you'd slip through. You'd fold in beside the lost parts. There is a button on the side of each chair that lets you adjust the height and incline according to your preferences.
Rostam Batmanglij was until recently a member of the band Vampire Weekend.
- New Dog - "Here All Days" [buy]
This is a song I listened to many times before my son was born. Lonely and contemplative, silver with dusky light. What I heard before was its melancholy, its rearward reflection, Anar Badalov's poetry like the unspooling footage of a previous evening. "All the people that I love / I can count you on one hand / the other one I keep in my pocket." It was a story of letdowns, foreshadowings.
Now I hear it differently. "My dad / he taught me never to run," Badalov sings. I hear that word, "dad", and it lands differently.
"Here All Days" is the same song it was. A song of rearward reflection, lonely and contemplative. But now I find that it is also pointing toward tomorrow. It is a person's possible future - not an ugly future, just a dusky one, a little sad, a little true. I can't hear it without thinking of M listening to it, on some long-distant night, wherever he is. "My dad / he taught me / never to run." Is that what I will teach him? When will I decide?
- Snow Roller - "Kar Kar Binks" [buy]
When I first wrote about this elastic, emo-ish rock song I called it an electrified valentine. A young man in love with a mile of electric fence. And I praised its shooting-star, chorus-pedalled joy of a guitar solo.
It's an undangerous danger, like certain kinds of crushes or drunkennesses. The way a guitar part can feel utterly new, just-written, while also nostalgic - awash in dreams of Weezer's Blue Album or even Jimmy Eat World's Clarity, as if it's a cover-song run too many times through Google Translate.
- Kaytranada ft Anderson .Paak - "Glowed Up" [buy]
Kaytranada is 2016's MVP: besides this song, he produced or remixed three other songs on this list. "Glowed Up" is my favourite on the Montreal producer's stellar 99.9%; it's an astral team-up with dry-voiced Anderson .Paak. Kaytranada makes "Glowed Up"'s schistose stutter-beat into something rolling, fluid, loose as water. A song in two parts.
- The Tragically Hip - "Tired As Fuck" [buy]
Despite the news that Gord Downie is very sick, he is still with us, still pouring art out into the world. Better that those of us who were touched by his work use the remaining time to shout our gratitude - for the concerts, ballads, rockers, riddles; for putting little sensations in our way; for instructing us to turn breezes into rivulets. On "Tired as Fuck", Downie sings about being tired and going on: "I want to stop so much I almost don't wanna stop." The delivery of that last bit, "almost don't wanna stop," makes it sound like a pleasure that's being wrenched away. It's heartbreaking without quite being sad: Downie has always had a way of making mischief out of sentiment.
- Drowzy - "Hide N Seek" [buy]
I have not yet danced to this track, not in public, but it has wrapped me up like a maypole. Sometimes I think I could listen to it forever, like a soundtrack for any forward movement, trying, momentum. (Drowzy is the new dance music project by Stephen Ramsay of Young Galaxy.)
- Dieterich and Barnes - "Out and About" [buy]
"Out and About" is a subdivided racket, an orderly commotion. There's something mathy about the way Deerhoof's John Dieterich and A Hawk and a Hacksaw's Jeremy Barnes manage their crazed sounds - something mathy and also something brazen, as if a conference for mathematicians and a festival of brass bands got booked into the same hotel. Imagine the lobby, overflowing with fanfares and calculations. Imagine the hotel bar, bandleaders and Nobel Prize-winners clinking glasses. It's a screwed pop that seems inherited from old folk combos, sixties funk and psych, a late-90s love of impetuous electric guitars. Pat your head, rub your belly; put on some Sly Stone at the same time as Vivaldi; force disparate forces to play together until they begin, oh-so-strangely, to sync up.
- The 1975 - "If I Believe You" [buy]
A peculiar young British band - to be perfectly honest, it's hard to work out if they're genius or terrible. Their production is fascinating and contemporary - there's some Prince in it, some Daft Punk, some Duran Duran, some James Blake. But they also occasionally sound like the sort of "futuristic" band that might appear in an awful 90s sci-fi movie, stinking up The Fifth Element soundtrack. I prefer them at their most intimate, on songs like "A Change of Heart" and "If I Believe You". Here, the 1975's bleeding synths sound like thoughts as they're softly forming; they contrast strongly with the song's simple trumpet and gospel choir. The choir, in particular, is masterfully deployed - it's like its own keyboard patch, a hot ray of voice.
As for the lyrics, which concern God and faith - well, maybe don't listen too closely.
- Andy Shauf - "Quite Like You" [buy]
Andy Shauf's The Party is an album about a party. Not an Animal House kind of party; more like a Party kind of party, or like something filmed by Jonathan Demme. As a producer, Shauf employs a perfect, inventive mixture of prim arrangements and intoxicated audio effects: it's the sound of an evening unravelling. On "Quite Like You", follow the lyrics' comedy of manners, wince at the ending. Listen to the nimble groove, comfortable as shag carpet - and then the slur of the guitars, or even Shauf's voice, very slightly out of phase.
- D.R.A.M. ft Lil Yachty - "Broccoli" [buy]
Someone give a Grammy to "Broccoli"'s loopy, idiotic flute part, the one winding round D.R.A.M.'s grin. Don't give a Grammy to Lil Yachty, who almost sinks this song.
If Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song is out there somewhere, "Broccoli" is playing in the elevator.
- Fred Squire - "The Book of Love" [buy]
Mostly Squire's song is about how he reads the Book of Love and then forgets what he read. Time after time, Squire explains, he has had to return to the book's dog-eared pages. Time after time, he has screwed up the follow-through. "I make mistakes sometimes / I often don't get it right." The Book of Love is evidently missing a chapter on best intentions, but I hope Squire's lover will give him some credit: as the musician keeps singing, loudly, over rising organ, his devotion seems as clear as an inscription on an inner page.
- Tenement - "Witches in a Ritual" [buy]
As if someone punched holes in Pavement with a hydraulic press, filling the gaps with straw and jelly beans.
Jeff told this song as a story of teen friendship, magick and bubble tea: "So the best new punk is basically boogie-rock now, and that's fine with with me."
- Beverly - "Crooked Cop" [buy]
It probably wasn't the best year to release a jangly love song called "Crooked Cop". The song's central metaphor hadn't bothered me until I sat down to write about it; until that moment its red and blue lights just cruised on past. It's been on for months, casting starbursts round my rooms, bittersweet as a teenage mixtape. Yet if Beverly were led by a man, I'd probably be saying that I'd heard this kinda thing before. Glittering guitars, handclaps, reverb - we know all this, right? We already have a (teenage) fanclub for it. But it's Drew Citron's singing that changes the foreground of the music, linking it across time and space to something as far-away as Sandy Denny. (In this she reminds me of Alvvays' Molly Rankin.) The singing is something else - at the front and in harmony - like the song's feelings are fraying and a moment later, in nostalgic retrospect, getting woven back together.
- Julie Doiron - "Thought of You" [buy
A team-up between Julie Doiron and Montreal-Toronto garage-pop band Nancy Pants, recorded as part of a three-day Grenville Tapes session.
Nancy Pants's loose, garagey warmth is a perfect companion to Doiron's openhearted pronouncements; it feels as if they've been playing together forever, rolling with the punches, touching at the frays, dancing to The Troggs's "Wild Thing" with sunshine in their hair.
- Angel Olsen - "Sister" [buy
A bare-hearted cry from one woman to another, and Olsen's made sure her band is prepared, well-rested, ready to follow her to the racuous heights. There's some Neil Young in Olsen here, and/or certainly in her guitar.
- Georgia Ruth - "Week of Pines" [buy]
From Wales, a folk-song riding on the back of a motorik. Ruth's gentle lyricism is harnessed to the gallop of her band.
- Vesuvio Solo - "Tension" [buy]
Montreal's Vesuvio Solo raise the curtain on a midnight-coloured jam - there's a little OMD in it, maybe even a little Elvis Costello, but any nostalgia's ersatz, unconvincing. Like Ariel Pink, this band's looking forward, not back, toward a future that's black and velvet.
- Tegan and Sara - "U-Turn" [buy]
Cascades of synths that sound algorithmic, self-programmed. But Tegan and Sara's earnest rhymes still seem as if they were revised in a spiral-bound notebook, notes in green uniball in the margins.
- Schoolboy Q - "TorcH" [buy]
Hip-hop that sounds haunted - gremlins peeking from the corner, werewolves howling on the hill, a cast of characters half zombie-killers, half Thriller extras.
- Kwesta ft Cassper Nyovest - "Ngud'" [buy]
"Ngud'" would be mindless party music in someone else's hands; frankly, it would be enough to have been left to Cassper Nyovest's hands. But the headliner here is Kwesta, another of South Africa hip-hop's biggest names, who sounds as if he has spent all month in a burning house. Kwesta's scorched croak has a lil' Lil Wayne in it, or even a little Ja Rule. And despite "Ngud'"s ravey synths, despite Nyovest's bland genericness, the track feels beautifully brittle, splendidly tense. Drake's made a career reconnoitering nightlife's achey ennui; on "Ngud'", Kwesta is a reminder of the same nights' sharp edges, their stakes.
- Charlotte Cornfield - "Mercury" [buy]
Charlotte Cornfield's songwriting is ravenous. Even here, in uneasy happiness, the 27-year-old sounds like she will wolf down her life as fast as she is able. The windfalls, the crises, the concerts, the chance encounters - she'll sprint through them all, collecting burrs. This is work in the tradition of Dylan or Townes Van Zandt, but Cornfield rightly cites newer artists such as Courtney Barnett, who treat their world-weary troubadouring with millennial wryness, a semicolon wink ;) "I only felt it for a while," she admits, singing of a man who called her beautiful. "The same way I do putting my guitar in its case / coming off stage into the aisle. / I can't remember / no I can't recall / the way / that I unfurled."
With a guest appearance by Ought frontman Tim Darcy.
- Sorry Girls - "This Game" [buy]
I was swept off my feet by Sorry Girls' debut single, a song that marries Lorde-like electro-pop and the drums-heavy disillusionment that drew me (in part) to Basia Bulat's early work. The band's a duo - singer Heather Foster Kirkpatrick and producer Dylan Konrad Obront, who live in Montreal - and this is the first thing they've ever released. That's a high bar, but I like to imagine that a song like "This Game" can act less like a measuring stick and more like a turbine, a little engine prodding Sorry Girls to keep hitting the practice space, to keep pressing record. Art-making mostly comes down to persistence; long live anything that eases the outpouring of blood, sweat and tears. Sorry Girls know how to write and sing a hook, they know how to make breathless what could easily be a lament. They're as well-served by their confidence as by their vulnerability - after all, pop music's greatest flavour is probably "bittersweet."
- Sarah Toussaint-Lévéillé - "L'écurie humaine" [buy]
Hopeless and hopeful, "L'écurie humaine" ("The Human Stable") is a song of letdown and marimba. Its feeling reminds me of a rainstorm in the depths of night - when it's too dark to see, when you have to trust that the storm's out there, pouring. Co-produced by Socalled - and I'd never have ever guessed.
- Cass McCombs - "Bum Bum Bum" [buy]
A blood-black song about violence and injustice, the lousy American dream. And yet set to McCombs' pleasant, Smog-like ditty, with the title as a jingle to hum at the end of each grim verse.
- Hannah Diamond - "Fade Away" [soundcloud]
PC Music's Hannah Diamond finds a surprising depth of melancholy in the froth of this electronic pop track. One of the year's best break-up songs.
- Daniel Romano - "Maybe Remember Me" [buy]
A galloping, spurred country song, with AM radio strings and an unexpected, almost Ethio-jazz adieu. It's a song about what comes after a relationship, when you don't know whether to cry tears or spit venom or wax lyrical.
With subtle and magnificent lyrics.
- Azealia Banks - "The Big Big Beat" [download mixtape]
The bones of this song are a chipped, unruly Notorious BIG sample and it's this sample that makes the rest of it feel worthwhile. Biggie's voice lends a gravity to the sections of New York house, but it's also a reminder of why we got hooked on Banks in the first place: it's her flow, the way each syllable leaps and pours from her lips.
- Kate Maki - "This Place" [buy]
A song about a dream. Or maybe not a dream - maybe a tired old today. Maki's voice follows and then diverges from Fred Squire's marvellous electric guitar. Lots of new paths painted here, before the song bows out.
- Lambchop - "NIV" [buy]
Kurt Wagner's strange, wondrous FLOTUS project saw him experimenting with vocoder-y talkbox tools, letting those sounds rest next to Lambchop's more familiar things - bass and piano, wide open spaces. The result's not hip-hop but it doesn't feel like folk music, or rock, or anything else. "NIV" feels like weather, or topography - not ambient music either, but a frivolous description of some momentary land.
- Car Seat Headrest - "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" [buy]
Everything old is new again. One of the hallmarks of 2016 was the way grungey, lo-fi 90s-style rock and punk-rock felt fresh and necessary. Partly it's just the progress of time (see this year's #1), or the cycles of things, or the malaise in the air. But I think it's also the fact that this genre is finally being led by people other than frustrated, straight, white, North American men. And this has helped some of us fall back in love with a genre we believed we had left behind.
- Monomyth - "Falling In Love" [buy]
Falling in love has never sounded so slippery. The happy jolly-rancher skid of it, the yikes and sloopy whoops! of it. They call it swooning: love like a faint. With guitars painting bright and dripping colours, a chorus like sloshing tides, a singer who's tottering, heart as high in his chest as a fireman on a ladder.
- Adele - "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" [buy]
I am mostly immune to, and entirely skeptical of, Adele. However I heard this song in the car, on the radio, and I thought it might be Sia, or Lorde, which speaks to this song's mercurialness - neither glad not sad, cheerfully bittersweet, one of the rarer flavours of growing older.
- Okkervil River - "Mary On A Wave" [buy]
Okkervil River have made up for a couple middling records with a really good one - smoother, lusher, than anything they've made before. They were once perhaps my favourite band, and although "Mary On A Wave" has little in common with something like "Okkervil River Song", both are folk-rock songs with a sense of groove, a length of patience, a set of Will Sheff's precise and interlocking rhymes.
- Homeboy Sandman - "Talking (Bleep)" [buy]
Perhaps you will remember the way the adults sound in the Peanuts television specials - teachers and parents squonking like trombones at Charlie Brown. For "Talking (Bleep)", the Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman employs a similar effect to represent the hopeless maunderers in his life. Verse by jumpy verse he takes aim at the browbeaters, dummies and timewasters, as well as his poor ex-girlfriend, layering likeable, sufferin' suckatash between scribbles of squeaky horns.
- Sinéad Harnett - "Say What You Mean" [buy]
Wobbly, starlit British pop, produced by Kaytranada. Her best glass, the most famous works, were made during earthquakes. She'd begin a piece during the first tremors, in spite of them - melting in the crucible, working the molten solid, blowing the glass into form. She worked through the wobbles; she didn't care; she could make the finest things even as the land leaped, as the ground leapt beneath her feet.
- Jessy Lanza - "Oh No" [buy]
Dancing's about as easy as not-dancing. Getting up's about as simple as falling down. Keep "Oh No"'s drums in your pocket like spare change.
- David Bowie - "No Plan" [buy]
A gorgeous leftover from David Bowie's final album sessions. ("Blackstar" was among my very favourite tracks of 2015.) I like to think of this as Bowie's love-song to himself, to living or to life, the Earth's tiny spinning orb.
- ZAYN - "Blue" [buy]
A lullaby by One Direction's first defector - his softest falsetto and his gentlest doo-wop.
- Weyes Blood - "Seven Words" [buy]
Not unlike #68, in its way: "Seven Words" is the sound of a woman trying to work out what to do with the feelings in her heart, the words in her head, after a relationship is over. But Weyes Blood's Natalie Mering isn't using pop music to convey her meaning, nor the old familiar of solo folk-country. Instead, she has arranged a slow, orchestrated unveiling - elaborated, choral folk music that seems connected to Judee Sill's Laurel Canyon oratorios as well as to the Roches' knowing ballads.
- Burial - "Young Death" [buy]
A wonder of texture and mood, and an evolution of technique by one of my favourite electronic artists. Whereas Burial's past creations were mostly lonely, sunless, the weather's lifted here. Something beautiful's come in.
- Tift Merritt - "Dusty Old Man" [buy]
There's so much excitement to "Dusty Old Man" that I'd run after it all day. Straining toward that stomp, the swoop of fingers over frets, Sam Beam's shouted back-up vocals, and of course Tift Merritt's nonpareil presence - the hidden velocity of her, the way you can feel the swiftness of her thoughts.
- Paul Simon - "Cool Papa Bell" [buy]
One of the pleasures of this song is simply that Paul Simon wrote, recorded and released it at age 75, in 2016. Too few of our artists go on experimenting, adventuring into their 70s - for every Simon, Parton and Cohen there are a thousand other artists (both paupers and millionaires) who retired from the game. "Cool Papa Bell"'s got the same confident lope and shimmy of Simon's earlier work, but something else too, grown-up and free. Despite "Cool Papa Bell"'s robust use of the word "motherfucker", I don't feel like Simon's all try-hard, nor that he's struggling to live up to some past accomplishment. He's just playing, rhyming, declaring phrases that are fun to declare - not unlike someone like Destroyer. He's written a song about the baseball player Cool Papa Bell but it ain't some wise historical treatise: Bell's just here because his name is amazing, and it sounds great over this silly tuba groove.
- Kishi Bashi - "Say Yeah" [buy]
Kishi Bashi's blue-eyed soul got dropped into a boiling cauldron, or into whatever silver solvent they use to make silicon micro-chips.
- Anderson .Paak - "Parking Lot" [buy]
.Paak's recollections are as light as dust on a dancing high-hat. (Thanks Vinny.)
- Blood Orange - "Best To You" [buy]
Cleanly-tailored pop from New York/London's Devonte Hynes, working with the American singer Empress Of. Yet the song gets its freshness from a couple of rare musical corners: a beat that feels almost Balinese, pulsing with gamelan, and a sliding vocal hook that twinges to a Chinese scale.
- Joey Purp ft Chance the Rapper - "Girls @" [buy]
Come for Chance's Ta-Nehisi Coates rhyme, stay for the stop-start groove and the Pringles-can beat. I'm a little disappointed in the narrow breadth of Purp & co's libidos, but everybody's entitled to their types. Emma wrote about it in May.
- Jason Sharp - "Still I Sit With You Inside Me (Pt 2)" [buy]
Composer and saxophonist Jason Sharp's debut LP for Constellation Records feels like a cousin to albums by Thee Silver Mt Zion and Matana Roberts - it's its uneasy equilibrium of beauty, anxiety, and something not so simply sentimental. Sharp uses electronics to disrupt and threaten the music's most melodic moments - there's a sense that such pretty things are fragile, or perhaps indulgent. "Still I Sit With You Inside Me (Pt 2)" is my favourite on the album for how starkly it teaches this lesson: your heart starts swinging on that pretty pendulum of guitar and fiddle, then the shadow moves in.
- Pusha T - "F.I.F.A." [buy]
I love Pusha T, but he's just the scaffolding for this thundering, burbling Q-Tip beat - one part organ-grinder, the other part light brigade.
- Big Thief - "Masterpiece" [buy]
Love the rambling tangle of this song, the sense of clear feeling when in fact the song's a little tricky to unknot. "Masterpiece"'s noisy, full-hearted folk-rock boasts great guitar solos and wry rhymes. A song like an arrow drawn on its bow - not clear whether the target's friend or foe.
- Primetime - "Pervert" [buy]
Terse, horny punk-rock; imagine your lover dancing naked with scissors. Jeff wrote: One part of the initial burst of punk rock was singing about everyday life, adventures close to home. Primetime pick up on this, sending us funny, sassy, and totally nonchalant postcards from the workaday world. ... "Pervert," which feels like an answer song to "Orgasm Addict" lost in the mail for forty years.
- Carly Rae Jepsen - "Higher" [buy]
- Ariana Grande - "Into You" [buy]
As different as they are, "Higher" and "Into You" seem similar in their construction; it's as if Jepsen and Grande followed similar recipes but used very different ingredients. Whereas Grande's love-song sounds poisoned somehow, "Higher"'s got the tang of aspartane. One is down, the other up; one is hopeful, the other probably doomed. Each is five seconds off from exactly four minutes: some intern must have crunched the numbers at record label HQ. (Read Emma on Carly Rae.)
- Maggie Rogers - "Alaska" [buy]
Electro-pop with a light touch and a gorgeous hook, Rogers's "Alaska" went viral after a demo brought Pharrell Williams nearly to tears. "I've never heard anyone like you before, and I've never heard anything that sounds like that," he said. I wouldn't go that far: there's a straightish line leading from Everything But The Girl to Lykke Li to Braids to Rogers, and Alaska's not the first melancholy dance track to spread like quicksilver across SoundCloud.
But innovation in pop music is usually a boring conversation, anyway. "Alaska" dazzles with the ambiguous longing of its refrain, the juxtapositions of its musical components: Neptunes-like fingersnaps against Fleetwood Mac-like drums; ponging steel drums against sighing synths; and Rogers's clever way of singing. Her voice in the verses has the loping confidence of a free roamer, mirroring lyrics about independence, reinvention, hiking through alpine streams. In the chorus all that strength drops away: "You and I," she exhales in a windblown falsetto, "there's air in between." It's quite suddenly affecting, at least to me - a gust of vulnerability across all that imperviousness.
- Margaret Glaspy - "Emotions and Math" [buy]
A rowdy still-life of a paticular epiphany: when your realize that you're fucked and lazy without your partner. Glaspy's version of this story is vivid and kinetic, anchored on a heavyweight bass-line. It's somewhere on a spectrum alongside Liz Phair, Aimee Mann and Billy Bragg, but none of them would quite write a verse like this: "I was a rolling stone / Out on my own But now that you're here / I'm just living in fear / Of you leaving." What squalid fun.
- Jenny Hval - "Conceptual Romance" [buy]
I started listening to this song when my friend Steve told me that it had trapped him in a maze. It kept sending him back to the beginning, back to the beginning. He couldn't stop listening to it. The first time I listened, I had no trouble turning it off: that unclear groove, Hval's precocious, self-serious lyrics. But every time I went back, "Conceptual Romance" sounded colder + sweeter. It was more like turkish delight.
- Young M.A. - "OOOUUU" [website]
A song that's low smoke and blurred figures, catcalls you can't make out. Like all the best party rappers, Young M.A. spits lines that feel esoteric as well as earnest. I don't know what it means but I believe her, and I want to hear it again.
- Loscil - "Monument Builders" [website]
Here's a song for America. It has no words.
And that's 2016's century of songs, or the way they seem today. There are so many that didn't make it, that I wish I were pointing you to. Thank you to everyone who sent some favourites in. There will be so many I've missed (there are so many I'm already remembering). Maybe make your own suggestions in the comments.
At Said the Gramophone we spent the year writing as often as we could about wonderful songs, and old songs too, messages slipped in bottles. If you're new to the site, please come again (or subscribe).
Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in things that are important.) Be kind to each other, burn things down, hold on, hold on, hold on, do good and do better.
A Tribe Called Quest - "Movin Backwards". I have been feeling like a row of cups, some of them full and some of them not. Spilled one day, filled the next, empty then overflowing. The changes have been too fast, too sudden, to follow. I am an inconsistent row of cups. I am thirsty, I am prosperous, I am doomed, I am safe, I am among friends, I am alone. Just a row of cups. When Tribe's Jarobi and Tip arrive, with Anderson.Paak and Consequence, it is as if they are holding pitchers of water. It is free refills. Music that's pure relief - rhyme and rhythm, beat and leap, restoration. The reminder of a kind of solidarity - kinship despite difference - or of other artists' dexterity - an admiration for everything you can't do, but others can. Moving backwards but making progress; this isn't my song but I'll borrow it. [buy]
Monomyth - "Falling In Love". Falling in love has never sounded so slippery. The happy jolly-rancher skid of it, the yikes and sloopy whoops! of it. They call it swooning: love like a faint. With guitars painting bright and dripping colours, a chorus like sloshing tides, a singer who's tottering, heart as high in his chest as a fireman on a ladder.
[buy the brand new Happy Pop Family]
Cool American - "Tom Courtenay" (Yo La Tengo cover).
Harold spent the first hour thinking about the way it felt as if he had been to this party before. Not literally this party, but parties indistinguishable from this one. There were all the same people and all the same songs. There were the same rooms with the same conversations and the same shades of drinks. Everybody was holding a glass bottle or a plastic cup, except Harold, who keps his hands balled up in his green hooded sweatshirt. He had taken the tea before coming. In his own kitchen, with water from the electric kettle, while his parents slept upstairs. He didn't know why he wasn't buzzed yet but he wasn't worried either. This wasn't the first time. He kept wandering through the people and songs. He started noticing the spaces between the guests, gaps in the air that themselves held a shape, in a way. He started hearing the way different conversations rhymed - the same cadences or even the same sentences, repeated. He started to count the colours he saw, just out of curiosity: black, that's one; grey, two; yellow, three. He made it to fifteen, burgundy, before he ran out of colours. "I've seen all the colours," he said to himself. He realized he had said it out loud. The song changed. The carpet was like a wine-coloured lawn. A man stood with his head in the mirror talking to a girl like two candles. Each doorway was a three-sided rectangle. A four-sided triangle, Harold thought, and he understood that the tea was working. He went outside, where the moon was like a hole punched through a piece of water. There were cicadas singing. There were moths. Harold sat on the cold back step beside a girl who was kissing the boy next to him. He watched divers plunge into the swimming pool, their wings upraised. The water was sapphire blue. She smelled like oranges. He knew it would be autumn soon because the summer was almost over. Harold quietly didn't begin to cry.
[this outstanding cover is from a charity record for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. There are also versions of songs by Prince, the Magnetic Fields, Nelly Furtado, and many many more. Gramophone-friend Tyler Bussey's "This Must Be The Place" cover deserves its own accolades. Please buy the comp, fling a donation their way, because this Yo La Tengo cover alone deserves a night's worth of jukebox tokens. / More from Cool American.]
A contest: In early 2014, I won a strange contest. The prize was a dinner with the extraordinary Anil Dash, including travel from Montreal to New York. Two years later, my life has changed a lot. The same eccentric sponsor has now launched a contest where the prize is a mentoring dinner with me. Maybe we can talk about writing, or music, or novels, or trying to be a good person, or making mixtapes. Maybe we can talk about everything you know and I don't. The winner will also receive accommodation and airfare to Montreal from anywhere in the world. Enter here (it's free), please share, and look out for other so-called Sage Suppers, promising meals with interesting people.
There's lots more in the archives:
see some older posts
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs
. All tracks are posted out of love
. Please go out and buy the records
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All songs are removed within a few weeks of posting.
Said the Gramophone
launched in March 2003, and added songs in November of that year. It was one of the world's first mp3blogs.
If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors
. Follow him on Twitter
or reach him by email here
. Click here
to browse his posts.
writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This
is her website and email her here
is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True
and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter
is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker
in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here
Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet
. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by Matthew Feyld
wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here
to browse his posts. Email him here
wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star
. Click here
to browse his posts. Email him here
our favourite blogs
(◊ means they write about music)
Back to the World
A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe)
A London Salmagundi
Words and Music
Gorilla vs Bear
Clouds of Evil
The Dolby Apposition
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews
i like you [podcast]
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
The Clear-Minded Creative
Passion of the Weiss
Juan and Only
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin)
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad
In FocusAMASS BLOG
The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
The Hood Internet
things we like in Montreal
le pick up
au pied de cochon
vices & versa
+ paltoquet, cocoa locale, idée fixe, patati patata, the sparrow, pho tay ho, qin hua dumplings, café italia, hung phat banh mi, caffé san simeon, meu-meu, pho lien, romodos, patisserie guillaume, patisserie rhubarbe, kazu, lallouz, maison du nord, cuisine szechuan &c
drawn + quarterly
+ bottines &c
casa + sala + the hotel
blue skies turn black
montreal improv theatre
cinema du parc
yoga teacher Thea Metcalfe
The Morning News