Sam’s Top 23 Songs of 2016

(Sequenced for flow – not ranking – purposes.)

Tyvek “Choose Once” (In the Red)
My single of the year, from my album of the year. So raw, so good.

Mass Gothic “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” (Sub Pop)
Family Sing-Along Song of the Year honors go to this raucous doo-wop jam.

DIIV “Under the Sun” (Captured Tracks)
Shining down from a shimmering crack in the clouds that hung over 2016.

A Tribe Called Quest “We the People…” (Epic)
I could have chosen any of a half dozen tracks off this album but this here’s the anthem, get your damn hands up.

Francis and the Lights w/ Bon Iver “Friends” (KTTF)
Alan Parsons meets auto-tuned R&B meets, well, Bon Iver.

Half this song is impossible to dance to; the other half is impossible not to dance to.

De La Soul “Royalty Capes” (AOI)
I wish this album had been more fulfilling than my anticipation of it, but there are some real gems amidst the scattershot experiments. This one’s about why a guy can’t find vintage De La on any of the streaming services.

Homeboy Sandman “Heart Sings” (Stones Throw)
Homeboy Sandman w/ I Am Many “Real New York”
(Stones Throw)
Sometimes he rhymes slow, sometimes he rhymes quick.

Beach Slang “Spin the Dial” (Polyvinyl)
“I was born at the bottom
But I never belonged
I’m hardly ever right
But I’ve never been wrong”
Could’ve been ripped straight from Paul Westerberg’s notebook.

The Men “Dreamer” (We Are the Men)
What you’d imagine to be playing anytime a parent pounds on their teen’s bedroom door and yells, “Turn it down!”

The Radio Dept. “Committed to the Cause” (Labrador)
A slinky statement of a song with hints of Prefab Sprout and St. Etienne.

Parquet Courts “Steady on My Mind” (Rough Trade)
Mmmn, Velvet-y.

Grandaddy “A Lost Machine” (Sony)
Man, this album can’t come soon enough…

James Blake “Love Me in Whatever Way” (Polydor)
That laugh track makes this even more heartbreaking than your average James Blake song.

ot to, not to w/ Noah Smith “Regretta I” (Other People)
Listen very closely.

The xx “On Hold” (Young Turks)
I know their 15 minutes of fame should be long gone, but that Hall & Oates sample…

Sonny & the Sunsets “Needs” (Polyvinyl)
The album where Sonny fell in love with a drum machine and made some goofy babies like this one.

Sunflower Bean “I Was Home” (Fat Possum)
Critics fawned over their debut but I found most of the album kinda boring. That said, this single is some transcendent psych rock amazingness.

Terry Malts “Used to Be” (Slumberland)
Terry Malts has been to me in the early 20-teens what The Wedding Present was to me in the early 1990s – completely durable and indispensible.

The Intended “Don’t Wait Too Long” (In the Red)
Rollicking goodness from Detroit’s garage (or basement, as the case may be) scene.

Leonard Cohen “It Seemed the Better Way” (Sony)
I’m a man of faith but after a year like this one, I get it. I really do.

David Bowie “Lazarus” (ISO/Columbia)
As my grandmother was bedridden and dying of cancer she’d ask my mom to open the curtains so she could watch the birds in the tree outside her window. When I first heard the bluebird line, I crumbled into a sobbing mess. Bowie gave until the very end…ain’t that just like him?

Josh Ritter

What I said about Josh Ritter a year and a half ago pretty much stands true today, except that now there’s another great release to add to his repertoire, including the fantastic, Dylan-esque “To the Dogs or Whoever” offered here. They don’t make as many songwriters these days who can encapsulate the sweeping American experience and still sound as personal as your oldest and dearest friend, so set yourself to downloading (especially “Dogs,” “Kathleen,” and “Harrisburg”) and have a great weekend.

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Almost three years ago, Run DMC lost their “one-man band” Jam Master Jay to a fatal shooting in Queens. In his memory, I’m posting one of the remixes available on the recently reissued Run DMC catalog and sharing my first memory of Run DMC… It all began in Mr. Beasley’s music class, sixth grade. Realizing that we weren’t about to get our song books out and sing “Kookaburra” anymore, Mr. Beasley started taping “MV-60,” an early MTV-like music video show, and playing it in class. Among the other videos that left an impression — Yaz’s “Don’t Go,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” Art of Noise’s “Close to the Edit” — was Run DMC’s “Rock Box.” Mr. B also let students bring in their own records once a week, which is how I heard that first DMC record. It was so raw and real from end to end. By contrast, Sugarhill Gang was disco and Run DMC was rap. Thanks to Run DMC, my ears we ready for Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, among others. Come to think of it, thanks to Mr. Beasley as well: you were a good music teacher.

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Cypress Hill

Cypress…Cypress Hill! So massively appealing, like the gangstas you’d take home to meet mom, yet there ain’t no love songs up in here (unless you count “I Love You Mary Jane”). What’s their secret? Those hypnotic DJ Muggs loops don’t hurt, but I think it’s all in B Real’s delivery. His nasal, sing-song flow allows for the possibility that maybe he’s just funnin’…about “comin’ to gat ya,” at least. All I know is, back in college, whenever I dropped “Hand on the Pump” for a party full of mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly Mormon undergrads, the room went bananas. So yeah, I’ve included just a handful of the 100+ MP3s of remixes, side projects, collabos, and rarities B Real has made available for free on his personal site (now here is something Sony can’t understand…). Bless him. Bless us, every one. (Especially you, Tofu Hut!)

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