On December 29th, my "20 Favorite Albums of 2016" list drops, but there's so much good music out there that one list couldn't fully represent what the year had to offer. It's hard to make an album that's consistently great from start to finish, especially in an age where individual songs are given more and more importance. So this list is intended to pay lip service to some great standalone songs. All of these come from albums that won't be on my top 20 list, either because it's a great song on a mediocre album, or one on an album that's good but not quite good enough to crack the top tier. So, without further ado, here's a list of fifty standalone songs, listed in alphabetical order (with one exception, I limited myself to one song per artist):
AlunaGeorge - "Hold Your Head High"
I'm pretty bummed out that UK duo AlunaGeorge went in a more traditional dance direction with their second album, because their first album featured some of most forward-thinking production of the last few years. But I can't deny that this song is a banger.
Ariana Grande - "Leave Me Lonely" [ft. Macy Gray]
Torch songs are Ariana Grande's sweet spot, and this baby might be her best one yet. Also shout out to an unrecognizable Macy Gray sounding like an old 70s sample.
The Avalanches - "Subways"
The Avalanches returned this year after a 16-year hiatus with Wildflower, an album that comes close to recapturing the magic of their legendary Since I Left You. The kaleidoscopic joyride that is "Subways" was a wise choice to have as a single, because its instant gratification makes it the best song on the album.
Blood Orange - "E.V.P."
If there's one critically acclaimed album from this year that I understand the least, it has to be Blood Orange's Freetown Sound. (Well, Bon Iver's album is pretty high up there too.) Dev Hynes is a talented guy, and I've liked his work before, but as a whole Freetown is an overlong snoozefest. Still, the handful of songs that get the blood moving are fantastic. "E.V.P." is one of them -- it's got a funky strut that would have made Prince proud if he had been able to hear it.
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Body Language"
Carly Rae Jepsen released a series of B-sides to her terrific 2015 album Emotion, and for the most part, you can see why they were left on the cutting room floor. They're all good, but they're either not quite at the level of the official album tracks or they're too similar to something on there. With a roller rink vibe that recalls "Boy Problems," "Body Language" falls into the latter category, but a part of me doesn't care, because it hits so hard. Jepsen has a way of emphasizing certain words or syllables in interesting ways, and I just can't get enough of how she says "Stay me tonight, if you wanna talk it over" in the chorus.
case/lang/veirs - "Best Kept Secret"
The collab album between Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs is total NPR-core, but that's not always a bad thing. And even though Case is the one whose work I enjoy the most independent of the group, it's Veirs who steals the show on the peppy, sweet "Best Kept Secret." You won't be able to get that chorus out of your head after one listen.
Chairlift - "Show U Off"
The other day I saw some critics on Twitter making fun of Chairlift for making "indie pop music for car commercials," but I think ribbing like that ignores the tinges of R&B that have always been in the band's sound. It's most pronounced on "Show U Off," which gives Caroline Polachek an opportunity to show off her fantastic, crystal clear voice. The little vocal runs on this song sound like something Mariah Carey would've done in the 90s, and it's delightful to hear stuff like that again.
Cleo Tucker - "Fast Dust"
I was a big fan of the solo EPs released by the ladies from the fantastic duo Girlpool this year. All four of the songs on Cleo Tucker's sound like they could be reworked into Girlpool tracks, but with enough differences that they stand on their own. Take highlight "Fast Dust," for instance, which evokes the same sense of melancholy and wistfulness found on When the World Was Big, but also feels a little more scuffed up. I can't wait for another Girlpool album, but this is a satisfying holdover.
D.R.A.M. - "Cash Machine"
David Bowie - "Dollar Days"
DIIV - "Healthy Moon"
Drake - "Too Good" [ft. Rihanna]
Of Drake's "Look at me, I know about Caribbean music" trilogy on Views, "Controlla" and "One Dance" are the two more popular songs, but "Too Good" is the best one. Drake and Rihanna mind-meld together over this lithe, hip-winding beat for four and a half minutes and it's a real joy to behold.
dvsn - "Hallucinations"
Harmony Tividad - "Joseph's Dad Demo"
Hearing the solo output of the two members of Girlpool offered up an interesting insight into their differing creative impulses. Though I prefer Cleo Tucker's EP, Harmony Tividad's glitchy, electronic tinged work is pretty effective too. Closer "Joseph's Dad Demo" is the most put together of the EP's four songs, and it's also the best.
Hinds - "Castigadas en el Granero"
The Hotelier - "Two Deliverances"
Into It. Over It. - "Required Reading"
Isaiah Rashad - "Wat's Wrong" [ft. Kendrick Lamar & Zacari]
Jamila Woods - "Emerald St." [ft. Saba]
Japanese Breakfast - "The Woman That Loves You"
Joanna Newsom - "Make Hay"
Joey Purp - "Girls @" [ft. Chance the Rapper]
John K. Samson - "Fellow Traveller"
Jojo - "Edibles"
Katie Dey - "Fear O' the Light"
Katie Dey - "Only To Trip and Fall Down Again"
Kaytranada - "You're the One" [ft. Syd tha Kid]
Local Natives - "Dark Days" [ft. Nina Persson]
Lucy Dacus - "I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore"
LVL Up - "Pain"
Margaret Glaspy - "Emotions and Math"
Martha - "Precarious (Supermarket Song)"
Mitski - "Once More to See You"
Modern Baseball - "Every Day"
Noname - "Diddy Bop" [ft. Cam O'bi & Raury]
NxWorries - "Get Bigger/Do U Luv"
Rae Sremmurd - "Real Chill" [ft. Kodak Black]
Saba - "Bucket List" [ft. Matthew Santos]
School of Seven Bells - "Open Your Eyes"
Schoolboy Q - "Ride Out" [ft. Vince Staples]
Sioux Falls - "Dinosaur Dying"
The Strokes - "Threat of Joy"
The Sun Days - "You Can't Make Me Make Up My Mind"
Tegan and Sara - "That Girl"
Waxahatchee - "Angeles"
Vince Staples - "Big Time"
Wilco - "If I Ever Was a Child"
Wild Beasts - "Celestial Creatures"
Wolf Parade - "C'est La Vie Way"
Yuck - "Only Silence"