Editor's note: Our friends at KUTX share their favorite songs of 2016. For even more of the year's best music, visit the KUTX website.
Thanks for everything 2016. To say you were a wild, emotional roller coaster of year would be an understatement. One thing that can't be overstated enough is the fact that good music can help keep the wheels on the tracks, and man was there some great music this year. From our playlist to yours, here are some of our favorite songs from 2016.
Jody Denberg, host:
"Heartbeat Smile" by Alejandro Escovedo
Catchy first single from the new Burn Something Beautiful. This songwriting and production collaboration with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey rocks in a T. Rex-style sweetened by the poppy backing vocals of Kelly Hogan. Looking forward to their forthcoming episode of Austin City Limits, as who knows how often this gang will get together in the same room. Following three fruitful collaborations with Bowie producer Tony Visconti, this is a nice change-up but still in the same ballpark.
"Atomic Number" by Case/Lang/Veirs
On paper this trio didn't inspire my anticipation, but this amazing song exceeded any expectations. It took a few times for this gem from Neko, K.D., and Laura to sink in, but once it did it was earworm city. "Latin words across my heart/Symbols of infinity" — this lyric is now tattooed in my DNA. It's a good thing.
"Lazarus" by David Bowie
What can one say? This year started out with the release of the Black Star album and then we lost Mr. Bowie two days later. Things haven't gotten better since. Hard to pick a favorite from this brilliant swan song album, but "Lazarus" is as good as any. And that’s saying something. And that video ... whew.
"Been To The Moon" by Corinne Bailey Rae
The third release from this British songbird didn't disappoint, but this song is the standout. If you've read about Corinne's trials and triumphs, it gives "Been To The Moon" that much more resonance. Otherworldly yet rooted in human concerns, this song gets extra points for her incredible performance of it in Studio 1A prior to her Austin City Limits Music Festival appearances.
"EVP" by Blood Orange
Okay, so I know Blood Orange is a gent named Dev Hynes, born in Texas but raised in the United Kingdom. And he recorded for years as Lightspeed Champion. Other than that the rest is a mystery, and sometimes I need to let the mystery be. Soul and funk from the future in the now, and something to tide us over till D'Angelo’s next album comes (if and when). And I don’t know what "EVP" is either. Time to shut up and groove.
Jeff McCord, host and music director:
"All Night" by Chance The Rapper ft. Knox Fortune
Chance's Coloring Book detours into spiritual areas less traveled in hip-hop. Yet, like Anderson .Paak's "Come Down," "All Night" is a bit of a comic outlier, seemingly about being unable to get a drunk friend out of his car. It also possesses a funny, biting edge so lacking in a lot of present-day indie rock.
"Holda You (I'm Psycho)" by White Denim
Strong stuff. The lyrics are possessive and outright scary (see the subtitle), but wrapped in a indelible, four-minute slab of furious funk rock from a band who doesn't know how to do anything halfway.
"Drunk Driver/Killer Whales" by Car Seat Headrest
Behind Will Toledo's ridiculous nom de plume is a writer of real insight (though I gotta admit the "killer whale" analogy here eludes me). Still, this is powerful work about responsibility, acceptance, and a real struggle to get things right. "We are not a proud race/It's not a race at all/We're just trying/I'm only trying to get home." Its musings and a monster hook will stay with you, like it or not.
"Singing Saw" by Kevin Morby
The title track from one of the year's best albums. This Lubbock songwriter went through stylistic gyrations before arriving at his sound, and the seven-minute-plus title track exemplifies it best: emphatic, repetitious, and instilled with a quiet burn.
"River Anacostia" by PJ Harvey
Another unforgettable record for Harvey. Buried deep in her new album, this soulful dirge is propelled by tribal drums and Harvey's haunting wail. "What will become of us?" Good question, PJ.
Rick McNulty, host and genius behind "Left of the Dial"
"Katchi" by Nick Waterhouse
Apparently "katchi" is the kind of massage you receive from a loved one. The groove and melody is so amazingly catchy and yet so basic, you know it's gonna hook you the moment you hear it. My favorite part is that it sounds like it was recorded in 1957 at Cosimo Matassa's tiny little studio off the back of his family's grocery on Rampart Street in New Orleans. Like everything he recorded there, it's rudimentary but timelessly classic.
"High Castle Rock" by Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band
Guitars! Guitars! Guitars! This might be my favorite instrumental of all time, and that's saying something. It's a glorious feast of swirling guitars and they're absolutely unstoppable until they land with a mighty crash 10 minutes later. Imagine a breathtaking instrumental version of "Marquee Moon" — it's that good. If you dig guitars in the slightest, this one's for you.
"Big Cat" by Wild Beasts
This is my favorite "pop" song of the year. Structurally it couldn't be simpler, and it's no more than four notes, and yet I can't escape singing along with the hook: "Big cat, top of the food chain/You can look/But don't touch." Maybe it's about a dominatrix or a naughty house cat — they both make you feel small and unworthy — but in any case, I'm ready to remove the collar.
"These Words" by The Lemon Twigs
I vividly remember the moment we heard this track in our weekly music meeting. We fell off our chairs laughing, not quite sure if it was an elaborate joke. Then we listened to it again and stopped laughing. The two twigs threw in the whole kitchen sink: Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Dr. Dog, and '70s sitcom themes. It's a head spinner, a tickler, a mini-masterpiece. I can see the Lemon Twigs sailing the waterway as the new champions of yacht rock.
"No Matter Where We Go" by Whitney
I'm a sucker for a song that mentions riding around with the windows down, and this one has it in spades. This is a perfect slice of guitar pop that sounds like it was recorded in a teenager's dingy bedroom. It's as if Big Star rewrote "Earn Enough For Us," which is to say that it combines the sugar of British pop with the spice of American determination. The fact that they're from Chicago makes it a little more special.
Elizabeth McQueen, host and producer of "This Song":
"Pray You Catch Me" by Beyoncé
Do you really want me to pick one track from Lemonade? Well, honestly, I can't. But I'll choose the first track off this amazing piece of art because it signals, from the first note, that Beyoncé is trying to do something different. Something expansive. And what follows is the best work in any genre or medium of 2016.
"Good As Hell" by Lizzo
Lizzo is a hope-bringer and a fear-conqueror. I'm thankful for her and I'm thankful for this song, which makes me see the light in the darkest of rooms.
"Soul Force" by Third Root ft. Da’Shade, Riders Against the Storm, Bavu Blakes, and Vocab
We just started playing this at KUTX and I can't get enough of it. It features some of the best rappers in Austin backed up by Adrian Quesada's production and it makes we want to dance and do the right thing.
"Paul" by Big Thief
Adrienne's voice gives me to chills and I feel a connection to all humanity when I hear this melancholy masterpiece.
"Shut Up Kiss Me" by Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen made a pivot into lo-fi rock and I love it. I fell down a hole with this one and ended up having learn the drum part before my soul would let me rest.