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    Nov 11, 2016

    23 Excellent Songs You May Have Missed In 2016

    Just a bunch of really great tunes from an eclectic mix of artists who should be a lot more famous than they are. Spotify playlist included!

    1. Xenia Rubinos, "Lonely Lover"

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    There’s barely anything in this track aside from Xenia Rubino’s big soulful voice, her nimble and funky bass line, and Marco Buccelli’s percussion, but the song feels so robust that it's easy to not notice that.

    2. 30/70, "Local Knowledge"

    This Australian band emulates the neo-soul vibes of Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, and Lauryn Hill, but filter that through a more fragmented and abstract aesthetic similar to that of Flying Lotus. Very jazzy, very stoned.

    3. Leapling, "Alabaster Snow"

    "Alabaster Snow" is just as lovely as it is noisey, with frontman Dan Arnes' sensitive tenor just barely rising above the crashing distortion of his guitar. The melody is gorgeous, and the sentiment is vulnerable and open-hearted.

    4. No Panty, "Singin' My Song"

    Salaam Remi, a producer best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Nas, imagined No Panty as a party; a physical space to go see mixtape rappers perform live. The party became a group – Nitty Scott, Bodega Bamz, and Joell Ortiz, all NYC rappers of Puerto Rican heritage – and the group made a record, and this song sounds like the very best kind of party.

    5. Miya Folick, "Pet Body"

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    Miya Folick sings with a passion and flair for drama not unlike Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker, but is sometimes a bit more playful and deliberately camp in her phrasing. Folick leans into this approach when she’s conveying sarcasm and irony, which is to say, a lot of “Pet Body.” She’s singing about feeling alienated from her own body in humorous terms – “I’m just a brain with a pet body,” “I’m just a sack of flesh, don’t take me so seriously” – but it’s a dark joke at her own expense.

    6. Pip Blom, "Truth"

    Dutch singer/songwriter Pip Blom has a talent for writing simple earworm melodies over blunt alt-rock rhythms, and "Truth" is almost certainly going to get locked in your brain for a while. You've been warned.

    7. Angelic Milk, "Rebel Black"

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    Angelic Milk is music made by a Russian teen who seems to be obsessed with a romanticized concept of the angst-ridden American teenager. "Rebel Black" owes a lot to '90s rock, but it's glossy and sentimental in a way that makes it feel sorta like the Hollywood movie version of it.

    8. Noname featuring Raury and Cam O'bi, "Diddy Bop"

    There’s something in the sing-song lilt of Chicago rapper Noname’s voice that makes her verses feel both playful and a bit sad at the same time. She always sounds like she’s making an effort to stay optimistic and kind, and that effort is wearing on her more than she’d like you to notice.

    9. Speedy Ortiz, "Emma O"

    "Emma O" is gorgeous and melancholy, and is easily the most accomplished song Speedy Ortiz has released to date. So why did they opt to release it on a stopgap EP along with a few lackluster remixes? Who can say. It's nice that it's out in the world, though.

    10. The Frightnrs, "Nothing More to Say"

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    This band from Queens, New York make music that is a dead ringer for classic reggae and rocksteady music produced by the Studio One label in the 1960s and '70s. What they lack in imagination they make up for in craft – they internalized the style of those amazing old records so well that "Nothing More to Say" could easily be a lost Jackie Mittoo or Sugar Minott tune.

    11. Relaèn, "Twines"

    This is incredibly spacey and jazzy R&B from Germany of all places. The vocal performance on “Twines” is lovely, but it’s secondary to the gentle glow of the chords, the assertive but laid back snap of the beat, and quite possibly the best synthesizer solo of the year.

    12. Ari Lennox, "Night Drive"

    Ari Lennox is an R&B singer, but you can hear a lot of jazz and hip-hop in her phrasing. "Night Drive" has a lovely nighttime ambiance, but the beat keeps it grounded and physical with crisp, precise snare hits.

    13. Lou E, "What Do You Do It For?"

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    A lot of indie acts think they know how to write a jangly, melodic pop tune like this, but focus too much on the jangle and only give you the most basic effort with the melody. Not so with Lou E! There’s a richness to the vocal melody and bass line in “What Do You Do It For?” that could pass as vintage British Invasion – maybe not Lennon/McCartney level, but certainly on par with your better Hollies and Kinks songs.

    14. Bullion, "Never Is the Change"

    The young producer Bullion channels Hot Chip on this track, pairing a disarmingly lucid vocal performance with a groovy dance track heavy on bleeping synths. Another amazing keyboard solo here!

    15. The Scary Jokes, "Catabolic Seed"

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    The Scary Jokes’ Liz Lehman is a bit like a young Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal with her seemingly effortless gift for melody, tendency of tying her songs together into long suites, and focus on writing about her emotional state with great precision and a high level of self-awareness. “Catabolic Seed” is essentially about trying to pull yourself together after getting rejected by a crush, feeling frustrated by chasing fantasies, and just having poor luck in general. But Lehman’s words dig a bit deeper than that, and tip back and forth between self-loathing and reasonably decent self-esteem.

    16. Saba featuring Noname, "Church/Liquor Store"

    Saba and Noname are speaking a lot of truth in this song about systemic racism – he’s mainly focused on a legal system set up to get as many black kids in jail as possible, and she’s talking about gentrification, a comparatively subtle method to the same end of pushing non-affluent black people out of cities. Both performances are very nuanced – Saba more on a lyrical level, as he expresses frustration without shrinking the problem down so it loses its complexity. His depiction of Chicago isn’t particularly sentimental, but he’s heavily invested in the place and keeps his details vivid and specific.

    17. Negative Gemini, "Don't Worry Bout the Fuck I'm Doing"

    The title sets you up for something aggressive, but the all the anger and frustration is buried beneath a chill face and a groove that would be hypnotic if it wasn't quite so loud.

    18. Sales, "Ivy"

    The sound of “Ivy” is fragile and tentative, conveying the feeling of attempting to communicate someone without disrupting some delicate emotional equilibrium. This Florida band channels some strong Beach House vibes here, but Lauren Morgan's vocals a lot more raw and vulnerable than anything that band has done.

    19. Lucy Dacus, "Direct Address"

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    Lucy Dacus keeps singing “I don’t believe in love at first sight” in this song, but every other line suggests otherwise, as she describes feeling totally paralyzed with lust for these men she sees in passing. Her lyrics are rich with details, and her guitar parts are subtly sophisticated for indie rock.

    20. Fudge, "Young Vet"

    Fudge is Prefuse 73’s hip-hop project with rapper Michael Christmas, and a lot of the thrill of it is hearing Prefuse bend his eccentricities as a composer into the consistent rhythmic frame of rap. If you’ve ever heard Prefuse 73’s music, a track like “Young Vet” will be very recognizable as his work – there’s just something about the way he chops up sound that’s like an audio fingerprint. He gives Christmas just enough stable measures to rap over, but the sound shifts a lot more than a typical rap track, and Christmas often seems like he’s being pushed into shaky ground.

    21. Half Waif, "Nest"

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    Nandi Rose Plunkett has a lovely voice, with a crisp vocal tone and refined inflection close to that of Annie Clark on the first two St. Vincent records. She could easily get by on the sheer prettiness of her voice, but she resists that all through her first record as Half Waif, twiddling the knobs to warp the texture and shape of it at sometimes unpredictable intervals.

    22. Anchorsong, "Oriental Suite"

    Anchorsong’s music bears a striking resemblance to that of Four Tet, at least in the sense that they’re both working within the same set of rhythmic, melodic, and textural parameters, and have similar ideas about how a song should progress. There’s a shared internal logic, and a similar way of conveying a lot of soulfulness and emotional nuance in the tiny fragments of the human voice. “Oriental Suite” is mainly focused on its instrumental melody line – I think it’s some sort of mallet instrument? – but those vocal snippets give the song its depth.

    23. Lance Skiiiwalker, "Lover's Lane"

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    Lance Skiiiwalker’s music has an odd wooziness to it that falls somewhere on a continuum between “way more stoned than you intended to be” and “coming down with a flu.” A lot of his first album, Introverted Intuition, is built around ambient tones, audio scuzz, and beats that seem as though they could collapse or disintegrate at any moment, but by the time you get to “Lover’s Lane” at the end of the record, the sound has gelled into something more sturdy and elegant.

    Here's a playlist including almost all of the songs featured in this post.