The running joke is that 2016 was kind of a dick to everyone (except the Chicago Cubs). Culturally, there were quite a few things to scowl at: A plethora of iconic deaths, wars and rumors of wars, election nonsense, a refugee crisis, dogs and cats living together...mass hysteria. Some superficial, some not so superficial. It was a rough 12 months for the general public, and it doesn't look to really be getting better.
But the sad and selfish truth is, I had a pretty rough year despite all those things. Some of these hardships I've talked about in public and social media, but I've mostly stayed pretty brief. I lost a job, lost a grandparent, and lost my marriage, which in turn led to the very dissolution of life as I've known it. It's a torture that still plagues me every waking day, and probably will for a long time. On top of that, I've also watched helplessly as some closest to me went through tragedies of their own. Needless to say, my life has been torn apart, and I've spent the better part of the last 6 months picking up the pieces as best I can. Little by little.
As a disclaimer, I can't promise this collection of audio nuggets won't depress the hell out of you. Then again, if you're looking for that then by all means, indulge! And if not, don't worry, they aren't all sad sap (just most of them). Rest assured, when the occasional lighthearted number did find its way into lifting my spirits this year, you can bet your ass it deserved recognition on this list.
Anyway. Sorry for the intro. These are the songs that scored one of the most life-altering years of my existence, and the hardest span of time in my life. It felt like they deserved a bit of introducing.
And this year I decided to draw tributes to my Top 5. So those get the juicy presentation below.
Each song links to a video of it when available. Dig in.
Here's the rest if you want:
25-6 (regular nerd extras)
50-26 (ultra nerd deep cuts)
When Chino starts with "I don't miss you, I don't care where you are now," I get the feeling he doesn't really believe that. He wants it to be true, but he knows it isn't. At least that's what my own experience has taught me. Regardless, the important part is rebirth. He understands there needs to be painful death before glorious resurrection. The song shifts moods from dark and bass driven to skybound and hopeful after declaring "When I reawake, I'll reawake in the waves." Then the chorus dives head first into the waves triumphantly. Already one of the most powerful and melodic tracks in their impressive discography.
4\\I Need a Forest Fire\\by James Blake
(ft. Justin Vernon)
I didn't think much of this song the first time I heard it. In fact, I almost forgot it existed until I revisited the album months later, with a new perspective. Suddenly the line "I need a forest fire" exploded in my psyche. Burning away the dead and regrowing something better and more fertile from the ashes. And this song takes place in the depths of that realization. It's not exactly a positive discernment, but surely a necessary one. It's not "I think I could use a forest fire..." or "May I have a forest fire?" It's "I NEED A FOREST FIRE." Once again, death is needed for rebirth. Pain is needed for growth. I always thought these two had similar voices, and somehow I never imagined I'd hear them fusing to perfection like this. But I wouldn't mind if they started their own band and kicked my heart in the ass like this now and then.
3\\I Will Love Again\\by Bat For Lashes
The first time I listened to this song in its entirety, I just sat in my car and cried. About everything. It's amazing how perfectly a piece of art can attach to you when you need it most. And usually it just requires being in a certain place to truly catch it. Natasha Khan always has had a flair for the melodramatic, especially on The Bride. But it was this simple, silent whisper of affirmation that stood out miles above the rest of the album and shed some light on the darkest hours of this dark year.
2\\Decks Dark\\by Radiohead
Back in 2011, James Blake released my favorite song of that year with "Lindisfarne I/II," barely edging out Radiohead's "Give Up the Ghost." I mentioned that the song (from his debut album) had me eagerly awaiting this young talent's inevitably wonderful career. Little did I know that five years later, Mr. Blake would once again edge out my favorite band of all time to produce a song that could not have channeled my broken soul better had I written it myself. I also didn't expect it would be in the form of a simple piano ballad. Blake is a minimalist master, and as a primarily electronic artist that empty space pulls you in that much more with a song this organic.
This is a man laying his bleeding heart on the table and lamenting the loss of someone he intended to have forever. But it has to go both ways. At some point you "listen to the sounds" and realize there's nothing more you can offer a person. "You must not be looking \\ you must not be trying like I'm trying." These were emotions that tore me in half. In my life, no pain has been greater than failing to find "the colour in anything" after trying so hard to paint a worthy story together. This song put those emotions to music. Sometimes I wonder if I can even come back to songs like this as the years go on - as the colour comes back. I suppose I'm looking forward to finding out one day.