Staff List: Riley’s Favorite Songs of 2016

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Over the next few weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2016, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.

These are Riley’s 50 favorite songs of the year. You can take a listen to all 50 on his Spotify playlist (here).

50. “All to Myself” – Amber Coffman

Like her work in Dirty Projectors, Amber Coffman’s solo single is packed with lush harmonies and vibrant production; the result is ridiculously pretty.

49. “Girls @” – Joey Purp

With their best imitation of a Neptunes beat, Joey Purp and Chance the Rapper exchange quirky bars and prove positivity still sounds dope at the lunch-table cypher.

48. “Turn Me Around” – Half Waif

The ornate and percussive pop songs of Half Waif are both human and otherworldly, remarkable for their vocal performances and their deep, warm production; “Turn me Around” is one of 2016’s most stunning pieces of indie pop.

47. “Healthy Moon” – Diiv

Is The Is Are is best consumed whole, but “Healthy Moon” stands on its own pretty well, too; DIIV stays in their wheelhouse with layered guitar lines and shuffling percussion, but annex twinkling piano for a richer sound. 

46. “Get Bigger” – NxWorries

Everything Anderson .Paak touched in 2016 turned to gold, including this vibey Knxledge beat from the duo’s solid collaborative project Yes Lawd!

45. “Feel No Ways” – Drake

Like Nothing Was the Same, Views’ best offering doesn’t find Drake rapping, or even sing-rapping; instead, “Feel No Ways” is a dreamy alt-r&b track that kinda sounds like Blood Orange.

44. “Melanin Man” – Brasstracks ft. Masego

Brasstracks cranks his signature horns and brings on Masego for a soulful, swinging throwback anthem.

43. “Sick Trips” – Toby Coke

“Sick Trips” is a sharp indie rock jam from Toby Coke’s debut that I think might kinda be about going to space?

42. “Runner” – Kevin Abstract

Of all the visceral, mesmerizing moments on American Boyfriend, I think my favorite is the explosive hook of this song where Kevin Abstract almost sounds like Justin Bieber.

41. “Second Life” – Secret Space

The Window Room is one of the most rewarding rock albums of 2016, and there are plenty of songs that could’ve been on this list – the anthemic finish to this song is what really puts it over the top for me.


40. “Shiver” – Gates

In the wake of Turnover’s genre-shifting Peripheral Vision, Gates’ “Shiver” is the most striking piece of dreamo (as I like to call it) so far; high-pitched synths and shimmering guitars help this album highlight stand out.

39. “Bombay” – Fluffer

Fluffer’s experimental take on indulgent electronic pop is the most slept on party music of the past few years; “Bombay” is a good introduction.

38. “Pick Up the Phone” – Young Thug & Travis Scott

On this collab track, two of rap’s most celebrated oddities bring out the best in each other; so much so that it ended up on Travis Scott AND Young Thug’s album.

37. “Somebody Else” – The 1975

The lush, bubbly, futuristic pop of the 1975’s latest LP turned out to be one of the year’s most divisive releases; I encourage naysayers to give this one another try – there’s truly something intoxicating that permeates this collection of songs.

36. “R.I.P.C.D.” – Flatbush Zombies

Its their sickest creation, no need for further analysis; like most of 3001: A Laced Oddysey, Meechy dominates the cypher-style track with grimy flow and impressive one-liners.

35. “No EQ” – Into it. Over it.

On “No EQ,” Josh Sparks’ flashy work behind the kit is as enthralling as Evan Weiss’ evocative lyricism, and Standards is all the better for it.

34. “Wow” – Beck

If Beck’s past is any indication of his future, we should’ve learned to expect curve balls by now; “Wow,” a boom-bap-flavored pop song, is one of the most drastic and rewarding pivots of Beck’s prolific career.

33. “Beyond the Display” – Secret Space

You can’t go wrong with any song on Secret Space’s excellent debut LP, but the ethereal-yet-human “Beyond the Display” is my personal favorite.

32. “Quite Like You” – Andy Shauf

A bouncier cut from Shauf’s immersive new LP, “Quite Like You,” cleverly recounts the darker shades of our character brought about by desire, jealousy, and comfort.

31. “Really Doe” – Danny Brown

Its songs like “Really Doe” that you’ll point to when some old-head says rap isn’t good anymore – and Earl’s verse you’ll point to when someone asks your favorite verse of 2016.

30. “Not Again” – Ratboys

The latest from Chicago rockers Rayboys is simultaneously sugar sweet and explosive, making for one of 2016’s most addictive indie-rock offerings.

29. “Apple Cider I Don’t Mind” – Modern Baseball

This arena-sized alt-rocker from Bren’s side of Holy Ghost isn’t necessarily the type of song you’d expect from Modern Baseball, but its earworm hook and impassioned vocals make it one of the band’s best so far.

28. “Work” – Rihanna

After a complicated year, I grew much more fond of simplicity; Party wrote a hit.

27. “Fake I.D.” – Joyce Manor

The boys in Joyce Manor have always had a knack for snappy and sophisticated teen drama, but never did one of their songs toe the line of corniness like “Fake I.D.” – and even if you found it to be a little much, Joyce Manor fans will be yelling out “WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT KANYE WEST” at “Constant Headache” levels for years to come.

26. “24K Magic” – Bruno Mars

Following the biggest smash of his career, the inescapable “Uptown Funk,” Bruno Mars returns with a saucy, 90s-indebted party jam your mom will probably like – good luck pretending you don’t.

25. “Follow The Leader” – Foxygen

After an interesting couple of years since their incredible 2013 LP, I wasn’t so sure Foxygen was gonna come back, but boy did they come back; “Follow the Leader” is another gorgeous tip of the hat to 70’s rock and offers a heartening message: “follow the leader, and the leader is you.”

24. “Mandy” – Posture & The Grizzly

Like most songs on I Am Satan, “Mandy” is a searing pop-punk song about being depressed out of your mind – sometimes, that’s all you need.

23. “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski

The best thing an artist can offer is their perspective; On “Your Best American Girl,” Mitski uses her singular perspective to deliver a message that is fervent, clever, and empirical.

22. “4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy)” – Cymbals Eat Guitars

With this track, Cymbals Eat Guitars cement themselves as the figureheads for existential rock songs, dishing out the instantly quotable “how many universes am I alive or dead in?” – I, for one, am glad they wrote this song in this one.

21. “Smoke & Felt” – TWIABP

Every time TWIABP releases a song, I find myself returning to it for months;, this cut from their Sorority Noise split is another complex, lucid indie rock epic, and sometimes I throw it on just for the little guitar lick at the end.


20. “ULT” – Denzel Curry

On perhaps the grimiest, most atmospheric beat of 2016, Florida’s Denzel Curry lays down two mind-bending verses and an addictive chorus that sounds like its right off the Eminem Show.

19. “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

The contagious positivity of Chance the Rapper probably had the very label execs he’s talking about in this song bumping it in their cubicles anyway (also, thank god for 2 Chainz on this).

18. “Broccoli” – D.R.A.M. & Lil Yachty

Play the first 5 seconds of this song at a party and watch what happens – this is the musical equivalent of skittles with all the spiritual nutrients of the song’s namesake.

17. “Aphasia” – Pinegrove

Cardinal is an album full of lines you’ll probably see photoshopped onto pictures of trees on Tumblr for years to come, and ironically, a lot of those quotables come from a song called “Aphasia” – a truly gripping song where Evan Hall finds the right words to say he can’t find the words. Sheesh.

16. “Hard Work” – Theo Katzman

Theo Katzman, drummer & vocalist of Ann Arbor funk rhythm troupe Vulfpeck, carries that infectious blend of fervor and humor to his newest solo track – a rock ‘n’ soul song about longing for validation after all that hard work he’s put in for love.

15. “Commuter” – Equipment

The youthful burst of inspiration and focus it takes to write a song like “Commuter” is astounding to me; it’s literally a song about being jealous of your friends who went off to college, and it blows my mind every time I hear it.

14. “Kill Me” – Posture & the Grizzly

Even with a song title like “Kill Me” on an album called I Am Satan, Posture & the Grizzly manage to make their blistering self-deprecation a surprise for the listener; its real triumph, though, is how polished and anthemic they make it all feel.

13. “Wyclef Jean” – Young Thug

The first song on Thug’s most recent (and best) project, Jeffery, shows off the emcee’s acrobatic delivery and ever-expanding versatility atop a reggae inspired beat I didn’t know he’d sound so good on.

12. “Solo” – Frank Ocean

Boy, what I wouldn’t give to see Frank Ocean sit at a Rhodes for an hour; On “Solo,” music’s most elusive superstar delves deep into his love/hate relationship with being alone.

11. “Blk Girl Soldier” – Jamila Woods

Jamila is known as much for her voice as she is for her frontline position on American social justice; “Blk Girl Soldier” combines passion with poignancy for an anthem we need more now than ever.


10. “Come Down” – Anderson .Paak

This bass line, man – holy shit.

9. “Ivy” – Frank Ocean

“Ivy,” like much of Blond, is keen, delicate, and genre-less; Its a song I could never imagine before it existed, and now can’t remember a time when it didn’t.

8. “Best to You” – Blood Orange

From the song’s opening moments, Empress Of’s crystalline vocals are warm and captivating, pairing nicely with Dev Hynes’ as he infuses urban soul into the year’s best dream pop song.

7. “Glowed Up” – Kaytranada

Alien synths and Kaytranada’s signature deep bass tone are the perfect playground for hip-hop’s most exciting voice, Mr. Anderson .Paak – and the second half of “Glowed Up” is even more intoxicating than the first.

6. “Direction” – Mat Kerekes

Far and away from Citizen’s latest record, Kerekes builds “Direction” around a thumb-on-the-body acoustic guitar riff and a feature from Anthony Green; It is difficult to pinpoint just why its so damn good, but I’ve had it on repeat since it came out.

5. “Digits” – Young Thug

2016’s most irresistible banger is all the brazen eccentricities we’ve come to love about Young Thug in one compact, nutritious bite of brag rap perfection that makes “We got London on da track” worth hearing each and every time.

4. “Ultra Light Beam” – Kanye West

Kanye’s antics and struggles aside, the moment that “Ultralight Beam” started playing in Madison Square Garden is a moment I’ll never forget as a music fan; and Chance’s verse is a hip-hop landmark the world will revisit for years to come.

3. “Drunk Drivers Killer Whales” – Car Seat Headrest

Of all Will Toledo’s compelling lamentations of life and self, his take on drunk drivers is his most inspired; his cracked-voice contemplation evolves into a thrashing sing-along even the dude from Smashmouth can get down to.

2. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” – Kanye West

What could redeem Kanye’s “bleached asshole” line? If you said a flawless Metro Boomin beat, gorgeous choir vocals and the best hook of Kid Cudi’s career, you’re right.

1. “Real Love Baby” – Father John Misty

Originally a Soundcloud loosie, “Real Love Baby” is perhaps Father John Misty’s most resonant song to-date; it’s one of those special pop songs the Beatles forgot to write – it feels like a classic the first time you hear it.