One of the great joys of being an editor is choosing song and album of the year choices annually. This is my fifth year compiling this list. I think there are some really compelling choices here. I’ve made a few editorial choices I’d like to explain. One, I’ve decided to mix “known” bands with some of the emerging artists we feature. Please listen to the ones you haven’t heard of, not just the famous ones. The point is to find new music. Second, I’ve chosen to blend genres a bit more this year. If you think of me as a go-to for folk music, this year you’ll find a bit more rock and traditional music mixed in. Don’t hate me. Please stick around for the rest of these over the next two weeks.
20) Van William (feat. First Aid Kit) – “Revolution”
-This is a nice new folk tune, complete with great gang vocals from the exceptionally talented artists in First Aid Kit. The lyric “you wanted revolution” really hits home. When the horns and delightful vocals enter the song, I can’t help but swoon. It’s an incredibly joyful song that keeps me coming back over and over. It seems to be garnering quite a bit of popular attention and I’m happy for that. This is a great sound.
19) Katie Buxton – “You Flew”
-What is love if you have to beg for it? The heart of this song is phenomenal. It’s disquieting, making me take pause no matter what I’m doing. As my wife suggested, Buxton’s vocals are similar to Emily Hearn. That’s pretty great company. The song’s prayerful delivery conveys both intimacy and sincerity. I could honestly listen to this kind of chill pop music all day.
18) Cadence Kid – “Hold On Me”
-For my first foray into indie rock on this list, I’ll introduce Cadence Kid. This was one of those songs that just jumped out of the speakers for me. The groove is addictively good. There are some nice timeless hooks here, including the organ “bah bah bah.” The smooth vocal slides through the track for some really great sounds that gets your head bobbing. The lyrics, too, are romantic and positively addictive.
17) Ariela Jacobs – “Lost”
-Ariela Jacobs is one of the best pure vocalists I’ve heard this year. This track has a simple profundity that struck me from first listen. It has a comforting style that I adore. Her lyrical style is like a diary entry or internal dialog. The way that the pacing changes from rapid to slow, from deep to mundane, from sincere to fleeting… it’s just all so good. The refrain, “I can’t wait to be alone” is aching in its depth. When the full band enters, the sound transcends to new rewarding heights.
16) Luc – “Don’t Go Soon”
-Luc’s delivery is subtle and contemplative. The song includes some electro elements, but what really makes it stand out for me is the way that the vocal comes across with such eloquent simplicity. It’s almost a poem. Sometimes this type of vocal performance comes across as trite or unfulfilling, but here it has a ton of weight and significance. “I hope you don’t go soon,” is a lyric we can all understand.
15) The Wealthy West – “I’ll Get By”
-If you like gospel music, traditional music, or old fashioned down home music, you’ll really like this one. The thing is you have to be a little patient. The song starts off good, but you have to make it to about the 45 second mark to hear the harmonies. Then you’ll understand why the song made this list. The vocals are just fantastic! I know it’s redundant to say I love a song on this list, but I really do love this song. It gets my toes tapping. The fact that it’s a song about perseverance is just about as perfect a song can be for 2016.
14) Rob Baird – “Run of Good Luck”
-Maybe it’s because he reminds me a little of Jason Isbell, or maybe I just like a good country song, but Rob Baird really struck a chord with me this year. Okay, after you’re done groaning about that pun, give this track a listen. It’s about moving on in a difficult stage of life. This one just hits so close to home I had to pick it. I like the sonic construction, too, with that steel guitar soaring in key parts. The vocal is nice, the melody enjoyable, and the full composition just… right.
13) Paul Pfau – “See You Better”
-Apparently Paul Pfau was on one of the popular singing TV shows, but I didn’t find him there. I just stumbled across him in some of my musical cruising over the past year. But this guy is really talented and I fell for this song really fast. The pop singer songwriter style comes across perfectly. The chord progression of this song has always been one of those patterns that gets me. The fact that it’s punctuated with romantic and endearing lyrics makes it all the better. It’s sweet. Wanna dance?
12) Palmas – “Flowers”
-I love the historic relevance of Palmas’ song “Flowers.” It sounds like a time from the 1960s. The first time I heard the track my jaw dropped. The last time I heard something like this were The Postmen when they covered a Simon and Garfunkel song. It’s that kind of legit, too. The vocal harmonies are perfectly delivered. Obviously the title “flowers” conjures images of the flower children of counterculture fame, but beyond that the entire production elicits images of… uh… let’s call it a “free mind.”
11) Vintage Talk – “Habits”
-People who typically follow my music picks will click play on this one and just smile. Oh yeah, this is a Greg Jones tune for sure. The melody is rich, the harmonies richer, and the beat is optimistic and bouncy. I enjoy it for all of those reasons, sure, but I really enjoy this song because it feels like a perfect storm of richness. When the piano rolls into the bridge and the chords climb up with a gentle minor progression, I fill with love and joy and all good things.