Am I a little late in getting this posted? Of course. I’m always late. But even so, I wanted to share a few of my favorite albums and songs from 2016.
The only criteria I had was that the album had to be released in 2016. Even though there were good songs “released” this year, the albums came out in 2015 and didn’t qualify. Sorry, T-Swift.
Here’s what I danced/cried/jammed to in 2016:
Favorite New Album: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
I saw Coloring Book before I heard it. Overnight, the album cover was plastered all over our neighborhood in Chicago. I had no idea who Chance was, so I had no idea what pictures of this guy were doing all over the city. A few days later, Sam brought some intel home from his co-workers that Chance the Rapper dropped a new mixtape, and the artwork we’d seen everywhere was the cover art from the mixtape.
Sam was all about Coloring Book from the start. He tried to share this enthusiasm with me on a road trip back to our hometown in Michigan, but I just wasn’t feeling it. It was ok, but I didn’t know what to make of it because it was so different than my normal taste in music. Sam was doing his best not to look dejected, because he was totally into Chance, so he kept trying different songs to win me over.
Then he played “Same Drugs.” This song (see below) transformed my entire perspective on Chance. I felt his vulnerability, his passion, and his creativity. In a moment, I recognized his genius and fell madly in love.
As evidenced by this blog post, Coloring Book became not only my favorite album of 2016 but also my most influential album of the year. The serendipitous alignment of this Chicago artist’s mixtape and our new life in this city could not have had a more monumental impact on my life. I listened to Chance on my marathon training runs, letting his music guide me through 500 miles around Chicago. When I had a shitty day, he powered me through and fueled my swagger.
This album is interwoven into Chicago, into my sense of place here, into the part of me that now knows this city as my home. Just a few weeks ago, I went to the public library and saw Chance standing off by himself waiting for an event to start. Because I never say anything cool to celebrities, I told him, “I thought I envisioned you,” which probably made no sense to him but made complete sense to me. I often imagine Chance walking these same streets and think about how this city has influenced his art. If I had a chance to say something to him again, I would thank him for putting his soul into his music and giving me a sense of place in my new home. I can’t imagine Chicago without Coloring Book.
Favorite Old-But-Newly-Discovered Album: One-Trick Pony – Paul Simon
Maybe more so than Chance the Rapper, this was the year of Paul Simon for me. I started listening to his albums on my walks to work and learning more about his albums that came pre-Graceland. He’s always been one of my favorite artists, but the more of his music I listen to, the more I love him.
But why One-Trick Pony? Great question. Mostly I chose this album because I had to choose a single album for this list. It’s also because I can run to some of the songs (“One-Trick Pony,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Late in the Evening”) but still get all pensive and moody over some of the other songs (namely “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns”). I love its versatility, and that I can listen to it on repeat without ever getting sick of it.
Favorite Song (Female Artist): “Final Song” – MØ
A lot of the music I listened to in 2016 was specifically selected for marathon training. My playlist changed weekly, swapping and removing and adding songs so I wouldn’t get bored.
This song consistently made the cut because it’s just so dang happy. It’s fun and it’s got all the right hooks. New female artists are hard for me to latch on to, especially in an age of regurgitated pop beats and overloaded synths. This song has the right formula to keep me interested over and over again. Plus, I like the artist’s name is pretty much my name. Not gotta lie about that.
Favorite Song (Male Artist): “Same Drugs” – Chance the Rapper
You know those songs that feel like they are written specifically for you? This, to me, is one of those songs. For one, the falling-out-of-love is told entirely through Peter Pan analogies. Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories, and I love the subtle references Chance drops through the entire song.
Songs like “Same Drugs” are so rare. Before this song, it felt like an eternity since I’d last heard something this powerful. Yeah, he’s not a classically-trained singer, but he doesn’t have to be. Chance sings this song from a place of vulnerability, honesty, and sincerity. It’s poetic but colloquial. It’s personal but universal. This kind of truth is void from music these days, and it feels like rain listening to Chance open up his heart in this song. I simply can’t get enough.
Favorite Song (Band or Group): “Bored to Death” – blink-182
I was disappointed when the new blink-182 album came out. It’s no secret I’m a diehard fan and have been for over a decade. So when I heard they were making a new album sans Tom DeLonge but still under the blink-182 moniker, the first words to float to my mind included washed up, desperate, and trying too hard. This describes how I felt about the band and the music, and I was anticipating hating the album.
To be honest, a lot of the songs are pretty uninspired and typical pop-punk cookie-cutter. It still sounds like blink-182, but it also sounds like a funneled version of music from a band imitating the essence of b182 without adding anything new or creative. If Mark and Travis weren’t involved in the album, I probably wouldn’t’ve even listened to it.
The exception, maybe, is this song. It tells the same story of self-inflicted, Schadenfreude pensiveness I love about blink-182’s best songs, but it’s unique enough to stand apart from their previous work. It could also be that I’ve lived the words in the bridge many times in my past. Whatever it is that makes this song works, it works for me.
Favorite Cover Song: “Hotline Bling” – Kalle Mattson
Drake released “Hotline Bling” earlier this year, and it pretty much blew up all over the place. The first few times I listened to “Hotline Bling” (and was cornered into watching the viral video over and over, against my will), I was kinda meeeehhhh about it. It was fine. It was whatever.
Then this cover version popped up on Spotify. I’m not really big into cover songs, but within the first five seconds, everything clicked. Suddenly the entire song and the sentiment behind it made sense to me. I’ve had a fair share of drunk dials and severed relationships and that lingering feeling of “What happened, anyway?” I listened to it for three hours on repeat after that. Thanks to Kalle for translating this song into the bittersweet, nostalgic language I understand.
Favorite Running Song: “Closer” – The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey
Not gonna lie: when The Chainsmokers came on the scene a few years ago, I rolled my eyes…but couldn’t help but nod my head to the beat. Their songs are so formulaic—geared directly at millennials like myself—that it almost hurt listening to them. The first time I heard “Selfie,” I immediately dismissed them as a band I’d hear in clubs and reluctantly dance to for the rest of my life.
“Closer” took me by surprise, though. At first I dismissed it as another song by two white guys with a computer, but instead, I finally saw The Chainsmokers in their true tongue-and-cheek brilliance. Everything about this song captures the things that drive me crazy about other people my age, but also somehow also mirrors my personal experiences with shocking clarity. Apparently, I’m not the only one to recognize the hypnotic nature of this paradox: Billboard perfectly summed up the song as “the millennial zeitgeist in brilliantly infectious fashion.”
I once listened to this song on repeat for an entire 6-mile run. The beat is just too addicting, and it matches my pace well. Maybe it’s something about living in an urban metropolis at this age, or maybe it’s because I’ve made a lot of bad decisions when drinking, but I’ve finally embraced the fact that this song resonates with me. And for that reason, I’ll keep listening.
Favorite Late-Night Emo Song: “00000 Million” – Bon Iver
We were driving back from our marathon in Milwaukee this October. I hit my personal running goal and Sam completed his first marathon. We didn’t shower because the hotel wouldn’t budge even 15 minutes from our check-out time. After a quick lunch, we started our drive back to Chicago caked in mud, chilled from rain, smelling like sweat, and our legs stiffening with lactic acid. I took the first leg of the drive and Sam fell asleep within 20 minutes of getting on the highway, which meant I could listen to whatever I wanted.
22, A Million was released two days before our marathon and I hadn’t listened to it on account of all our marathon prep. I turned it on, quietly so as not to wake Sam, and settled into the drive.
From the start, it felt right. We were leaving Justin Vernon’s home state, a place of wild and wood (not too unlike my home state). The love of my life slept soundly at my side. The highway was quiet and the open road was mine. The album drew to a close as we approached Chicago—our unexpected home, somehow the home we sought for so long—and “00000 Million” brought us into the city.
At last, I’ve found peace in my heart. It’s taken me a long to get here. I’ve battled a lot of internal demons over these years of change, uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear. This song reminds me that no one’s journey is easy, but in the end, every struggle is a part of what makes getting to the other side so gratifying.
Favorite Shameless Pop Song: “PILLOWTALK” – Zayn
We were so far from the stage when we saw One Direction perform in 2014 that we were barely even in the stadium. They even looked tiny on the jumbotron screens. Despite being a few hundred rows back, though, Sam and I both sensed the same thing: Zayn was sad. He looked dejected and disengaged the entire show, as if he wanted to be anywhere else in the world. (Sam was particularly sad about this because Zayn is his favorite 1D member.) So when Zayn left 1D about 6 months after the concert, I was sad but not at all surprised.
However, I was surprised at how quickly I got over it when he released “PILLOWTALK.” Zayn was always the strongest vocalist in 1D, but hearing him express himself and sing the kind of music he wants to sing is really incredible. He quickly distinguished himself from the musical genre that made him famous and jumped head-first into a sound entirely his own. It’s raw, it’s pure, it’s genuine. I’m proud of him, and I can’t wait to see what he brings to us in the future.
Favorite Dance Song: “Cheap Thrills” – Sia
As if Maddie Ziegler’s presence in Sia’s music videos wasn’t enough to make me love her whole artistic vision, she just keeps cranking out songs that I can’t stop listening to. “Cheap Thrills” is one of those songs that could convince me to go out at 11 pm when I’m already yawning in my sweatpants.
The beat, the lyrics, the subtle synth….everything. I just wanna dance every time I hear it.