It’s not much of a stretch to say that 2016 has redefined the notion of what an album is and can be. All of the year’s most hyped releases to date, from Beyoncé’s Lemonade to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, share one thing in common: the element of surprise. Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book brought up the not-quite-age-old question of “Is it an album or a mixtape?”, while Kanye West’s constant tinkering with The Life of Pablo transformed the album into a shifting, fluid construct. Against this backdrop of grand statements and bold experimentation, the song itself has ironically become a kind of anchor, a two- or three- or four-minute cultural artifact that still feels comfortable in its own skin.

    (Read: Top 25 Albums of 2016 (So Far))

    Of course, maybe that’s because the rest of the world has been changing in ways that accommodate smaller, more concentrated impressions like the pop song. The sudden rise of streaming has opened up a vast library of music for immediate consumption, leading many listeners to spread their tastes thin and inhale new bands or artists on a song-by-song basis. Who has an entire sleepy afternoon to commit to Kevin Morby? Better to check out “Dorothy” first and see if it grabs you. Songs leave a powerful first impression that may even end up as the defining impression. Mitski won’t release Puberty 2 for another couple of weeks, but everything we need to know about that album and its important place in the indie rock universe can be found in the three and a half minutes of “Your Best American Girl”.

    Looking over our list of the 25 best songs to emerge from 2016 so far, it seems we can divide them into two rough categories: beauties and bangers. The former includes songs as diverse as Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” and Pinegrove’s acoustic stunner “Cadmium” — songs we prize for their ability to tug incessantly at our heartstrings. The latter category, exemplified by Chance’s roller rink insta-classic “All Night”, features songs that punch instead of tug. In a time when so many albums seem existentially designed to keep us on our toes, it’s a comfort to have songs that go straight for the gut.

    –Collin Brennan
    Associate Editor


    25. Kvelertak – “Nattesferd”


    Sounds Like: If Ragnarok were a kick-ass party you threw when your parents were out of town.

    Key Lyric: “*unintelligible Norwegian*”

    Why It Matters: Music about the end and futility of all things can still be loads of fun.

    Song in a GIF:


    –Sean Barry

    24. A Giant Dog – “Sex & Drugs”


    Sounds Like: A speed freak pogo-sticking across the giant piano keys from Big.

    Key Lyric: “We can tell all your kids about the things that we did/ We can’t even remember being young”

    Why It Matters: While not exactly pro hedonism (the song predicts that there will be chemical-related consequences down the line), A Giant Dog manages to find no-frills, no-snark joy in bad decisions — a far cry from the nasty snarl of some of their garage-rock peers.

    Song in a GIF:

    giant dog

    –Dan Caffrey

    23. Sing Street – “Drive It Like You Stole It”

    Sing Street (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

    Sounds Like: The ghosts of Hall & Oates performing “Maneater” from the belly of a saber-toothed tiger.


    Key Lyric: “I’m outta here, no turning back/ In a baby blue Cadillac/ Just when I was stalling, I heard an angel calling, ‘This is your life. You can go anywhere.'”

    Why It Matters: More so than any other original song on the Sing Street soundtrack, “Drive It Like You Stole It” proves that ’80s kitsch can still have muscle, balancing chrome-dipped guitars with a club-ready back beat for a song that’s as anthemic as anything by Beach Slang or Japandroids. The sloganeered lyrics might even be better, too.

    Song in a GIF:

    sing street

    –Dan Caffrey

    22. Pusha T – “M.F.T.R.”

    Darkest Before Dawn

    Sounds Like: Bricks of cocaine raining from the sky like an R-rated version of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.


    Key Lyric: “I’m Kim Jong of the crack song/ Gil Scott-Heron to the black poem”

    Why It Matters: Pusha T treats rap like it’s a hobby compared to his drug-dealing cash flow, revitalizing his late-era output with the braggadocious charm of an up-and-coming MC.

    Song in a GIF:

    pusha t

    –Dusty Henry

    21. James Blake – “Radio Silence”

    The Colour in Anything

    Sounds Like: A poignant soul ballad that plays during the end credits of an alternate timeline version of Donnie Darko.

    Key Lyric: “I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me/ We lived in love with each other so long”


    Why It Matters: The sound is contemporary heartbreak, and the repetitive lyrics convey the desperation of the situation and show Blake’s command over the subtleties of vulnerable, emotionally transparent songwriting.

    Song in a GIF:


    –Derrick Rossignol