earthings! 2016: My ten favorites of the year

Here we are again – the end of the year, or at least the end of our year here on earthings!, as we take that long holiday break to recharge, or whatever passes for that these days. And it’s been a busy year, or perhaps because we found ourselves juggling a lot of things on many fronts – lots of changes off screen, and a bunch of new features on screen. But I digress. Here we are again – the end of our year on the blog, which means I trot out my ten favorite songs of the year – not a definitive list by all means; just a reflection of what I’ve liked, considering that I seem to have listened to less new music and more K-pop these past few months. So, here’s the list, arranged alphabetically as always. [NB]

 

“Changes” by Charles Bradley | Charles’ story is pretty interesting: he has been performing at clubs for decades, mostly as a James Brown impersonator, but he would only strike it big, so to speak, after the folks at Daptone Records (home of the recently passed Sharon Jones) discovered him. “Changes”, the title track from his third album, somewhat captures those momentous past few years, with heaps of conviction that elevates him from a bar impersonator to a performer worthy of filling theaters (and the song, from a steaming pile of cheesy gloop to an enpowering anthem).

 

“I Can’t Give Everything Away” by David Bowie | In hindsight, it’s a shame that David Bowie died so soon after the release of Blackstar. The album was supposed to be an enigma for the years to come: flowing sounds hiding opaque intentions. The record’s closing track is the closest to a thesis statement the album had: after an adventure in sounds and words, David suddenly goes, “nope, I’ll keep this all a mystery.” Not that his death just a few days after its release diluted the strength of the song: despite what we know now, it remains a jubilant, defiant closer – final words from an artist whose depth also hides a lot, and made him somehow better for it.

 

“I Belong To You” by Haley Reinhart | Interesting what American Idol does to you: go far enough and you become a sensation, but then a few years down the road and you’re back to relative obscurity. (Of course there are exceptions. Of course.) When we began this blog Haley Reinhart was just preparing to release her debut album. Almost five years later she releases her follow-up, Better, which sees her have more freedom to explore her sound, resulting in the sublime “I Belong With You”: the perfect storm of climactic instrumentation and Haley’s deliciously versatile voice. I remember reviewing this album and hitting this point in the record, and going, “oh, I missed you too, Haley.”

 

“Gardenia” by Iggy Pop | Iggy sprung a surprise on us at the beginning of the year by announcing that he has finished a whole new album, Post Pop Depression, with the help of a few friends in high places. This year seems to be the year of records where veterans grapple with their legacies, and Iggy manages to do so while keeping up the playful, occasionally promiscuous, often rowdy image. Yes, he’s grown and all that’s been polished with time, but you’ll still hear those qualities across the album. Also, this song is pretty catchy – an earworm of mine for months.

 

“Ang Pagtatapat” by Johnoy Danao | Would you believe this is the first Filipino track on our yearend lists? And yes, we could do better, but indulge us as we continue to make sense of the local scene. But, here we are, picking a track from Johnoy Danao’s latest album, Salubungan, and a song that seems to be custom-made for me. Spry, feel-good folksy, and definitely universal, while at the same time feeling incredibly specific – or perhaps it’s because I cringe at how often I fell in love, or thought I fell in love, in college, to people that will never really even like me back. And I was foolish enough to even agonize confessing. But I digress.

 

“Galaxy” by Ladies’ Code | This is the year when I lost myself in K-pop, and while I have a bunch of standout tracks on that front this year – Stellar’s “Sting”, Red Velvet’s “Russian Roulette”, APink’s “Only One” (which, in a classic case of role reversal, I like and Shalla doesn’t) – I’m putting Ladies’ Code’s improbable comeback, “Galaxy”, to the list. Released over a year after a vehicular accident that killed two of their members, the now three-piece channeled all that context towards a new, mysterious image, and a sound that’s alluring and classy. But above all, this song stood out for its quiet strength above everything else.

 

“Side Pony” by Lake Street Dive | This song took a while to grow on me, but the title track to Lake Street Dive’s sixth album is irresistible. And I thought I already liked “Call Off Your Dogs”, the album’s lead single. Lake Street Dive proved to be quiet, competent players on their new record, channelling their Motown, soul and jazz influences through a decidedly hip, urban filter. The result is a track that may not win the dance floor, but wins all those other moments when you’re alone – say, brushing your teeth – and you feel like doing a triumphant jig before you face an ultimately sucky day. Also, this is another earworm.

 

“Don’t You Give Up On Me” by Lissie | While Lissie’s third album, My Wild West, didn’t exactly light things up, this song did. Okay, I’ll concede it took a lot of plays on the (foreign) radio stations I listen to for this to drill in, but it has the things Lissie does best that I found lacking in most of that album: that anthemic feel, that climax she does well (especially when she utilizes her voice’s best qualities) and that natural, trying-to-keep-it-all-together feel of her best songs. Constant (but not annoying) rotation reminds me of Lissie’s best – and I hope to hear that in a better package next time.

 

“Alaska” by Maggie Rogers | This song also got here because of constant rotation – that Belgian radio phase that I was rudely interrupted from (and now can resume – thank you, VRT folks, for going back to TuneIn). Maggie Rogers’ breakout hit is also one of those quiet workers: it crept up on me the first time I heard it, and it continues to creep up on me when it plays on the background as I, say, do some household chores, or some writing for the many things I find myself writing for now. While she’s released a new song since, we’re still waiting for a full record, but that should be out next year. More creepers, then?

 

“Burn the Witch” by Radiohead | Finally, Radiohead. I was supposed to go for “True Love Waits”, which finally had a studio version after years of going around as a bootleg, but I’m instead going for the first single to their new record A Moon Shaped Pool. I like its urgency – those stabs of orchestral mess that provide both the light and the shade to Thom Yorke’s trademark half-unintelligible singing. Funny how this song – a statement against groupthink, something that seems very relevant considering how this year is panning out, especially here – feels clear and confusing, reassuring yet discombobulating, at the same time. But then, what else do we expect from Radiohead?

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