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Jimmy Drenovsky’s Top 10 Songs of 2016

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I’ve never been a fan of ranking music. My music interests ebb and flow more often than I can keep track of (I’m sure many could sympathize). Ranking songs, albums or artists is always incredibly subjective and relies heavily on which one I listened to the most, among other factors. I know had I made a Top 10 for 2015 it would be a different one today than December of last year — most of my favorite music from that year I only just discovered in 2016. Alas, here I am. 2016 was an astounding year for music: despite many highs and lows, somber deaths and unexpected cultural changes, I was blown away time and time again by the music released. After much time and effort, I’ve gone as far as to compile my list in numbered order: this was a year of music that deserved every effort I could give. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty. I’m sure you think I’m crazy. I’m also sure that five years from now many of these songs won’t even be in my Top 20 for this year because there’s so much I didn’t get a chance to listen to. Just consider this my Top 10 as of Dec. 17, 2016.

“Easier Said” – Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean is one of those bands I’d been hearing raved about by music publications most of the year, but I held off listening to for most of the year as well. Something about a band being hailed as “the next (insert legendary artist)” upon the release of a debut usually pans out as an oversell. When I did finally tune in, I was impressed. The definitive album highlight was “Easier Said,” a song that evokes classic soft rock sounds of The Pretenders and Cowboy Junkies with Julia Cumming’s beautiful vocals leading the charge. While it was hit-or-miss throughout the album (with most misses coming when guitarist Nick Kivlen sings instead of Cumming), “Easier Said” shows a world of promise for a still-developing band.

 

“Normal American Kids” – Wilco

It feels almost criminal to have one of Wilco’s best albums of their career only put a song at No. 9 on my list, but the reality is: Wilco isn’t a band defined by a “best song.” They never have been. Through 10 studio albums, they have one of the deepest repertoires of any band today and “Schmilco” is up there with their best work. It’s beautifully understated and with so much focus put on Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting, it’s really rather difficult to find a time when they miss the mark. I went back and forth with what song to choose (my favorite changes all but constantly whenever I listen to the whole record), but album opener “Normal American Kids” is a perfect intro to a near-perfect album. Give the whole album a listen. Trust me.

“Come Down”-Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak started 2016 with a bang when he released “Malibu” Jan. 15. This was a year dominated by two genres: indie rock and R&B-laced hip hop. .Paak’s second full-length was a champion in the latter category. In many ways this felt like the year hip-hop responded to the gripes of music purists asking, “Where are all the instruments?” As leader of his band The Free Nationals, .Paak regularly plays live drums while rapping or crooning through sets, and “Come Down” was the explosive fire of their performance. It’s dripping with the effortless swag that has elevated Anderson .Paak to heights that his 2014 debut “Venice” simply never reached. For a primer into how great this band really is, give their Tiny Desk Concert a watch (Come Down is the first song) and try not to become obsessed.

 

“Wanted You”-Twin Peaks

Man loves woman. Woman doesn’t love man. It’s a story as old as time, but this doesn’t feel recycled; this is as raw as emotion gets. One of my top tracks from my most-played album this year, “Wanted You” is exemplary of everything Twin Peaks did right for their third album. The track is simple and raw, hearkening back to the days when The Rolling Stones dominated the air waves. “I wanted you / but you didn’t want me” wails Clay Frankel on the chorus. With verses spiraling into serene daydreams and likely substance-induced hallucinations, it always comes back to that simple refrain. Simple but right is exactly why this song makes my Top 10.

“Blessings (Reprise)” – Chance the Rapper

“The people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be.” Well, Chance the Rapper definitively proved in 2016 that he is indeed the people’s champ. Few would disagree that this was the year of Chance. On an album that was chock-full of unforgettable songs, something was different about this album-closing reprise of “Blessings.” With some of the strongest, most beautiful lines on “Coloring Book,” Chance wrapped up the impossible. And he left us with a full two minutes of reflection on the same refrain that somehow doesn’t get old. “Blessings (Reprise)” is a song that just feels good.

 

“No Woman” – Whitney

Whitney’s lead single off their debut album captures everything that sparked their success this year. It’s a beautifully understated song with sneaky-good instrumentation and can be summed up in one word: serene. Though they didn’t pop onto my radar until late in the year, Whitney fast became one of my favorite bands of the year, due in large part to “No Woman.”

 

“Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West

I listen to a lot of music. I do. With that, I can definitely say I have never listened to a single song on repeat for three and a half hours. Well, until “Ultralight Beam” was released. Probably doesn’t hurt that Chance the Rapper features more prominently than Yeezy himself in this tune. It’s hard for me to put into words how much this song means to me. When I try to describe it to people, there’s one way that feels right: “Ultralight Beam” is chicken soup for the soul.

 

“Drowning” – Mick Jenkins

With Mick this makes four Chicago artists on this list (along with Twin Peaks, Whitney and Chance) all doing really different things. Doing them damn well, might I add. I could write pages on how good Jenkins is, but I’ll let this song speak for itself. Its relevance to the socio-economic strife of this year is striking and the video that goes along with it is breathtaking. Hands down my favorite music video of the year.

 

“33 “GOD””- Bon Iver

With the new album “22, A Million,” Bon Iver did something special. As a self-described “lyric person,” I usually find the words first in a song. I find the meaning from the songwriter’s perspective and try to fill his or her shoes. It’s how I listen and it’s how I get hooked on things. Never before have I listened to an album and felt so truly moved by the soundscapes it created. With much of the lyrics distorted and incomprehensible, I was left with just the sounds hitting my ears and it made me feel. “33 ‘GOD'” has a pulse that Bon Iver’s music has never had before. It uses the full palette of sound to craft something electric, powerful and beautiful all at once.

 

“Real Love Baby” – Father John Misty

And in a year of incredibly powerful music, something just feels right about the simplicity of “Real Love Baby.” It’s a pop song through and through, but it is just infectious. It was a peculiar year for Josh Tilllman: he picked a lot of battles, made a lot of enemies and made headlines for just about everything except the music he released. The only song he officially put out in 2016 (he released a couple random things on SoundCloud sporadically), “Real Love Baby” is a departure from his past work as well. It’s much simpler than just about every song he’s written, but it is perfectly crafted. Quite simply, “Real Love Baby” is as tasty of a jam you can make. Well done, Father John. Well done, artists of 2016. Can’t wait to see what’s coming out next year.

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About the Writer
Jimmy Drenovsky, Assistant Publicist

Jimmy Drenovsky is a junior at Marquette who spends most of his time procrastinating his engineering responsibilities by finding new and obscure music through various avenues. He gets a sick thrill out of talking about bands no one’s heard of with strangers and acquaintances alike. Born and raised in Chicago, Jimmy has found a new home in the Cream City. When not doing music or radio things, Jimmy can be found gallivanting around Milwaukee searching for good food and good people.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Jimmy Drenovsky’s Top 10 Songs of 2016”

  1. Patrick on December 24th, 2016 2:58 pm

    Love the Bon Iver

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