2016 was the year when the people of the United States of America voted for one of the most incompetent presidential nominees of all time to lead their country. It also saw the highest number of celebrity deaths in a year. The list of catastrophes that occurred last year could go on and on, but it is important to have a positive outlook on life. So, on a cheerful note, it has to be said that 2016 was also a pretty good year for the music industry – apart from a number of legends meeting their untimely demise. The following are 50 of the best songs released in 2016 that may have passed under your radar in no particular order. Just don’t expect Zayn Malik’s “PILLOWTALK” or Beyoncé’s “Formation” to show up on this list.
An old-school alt-rock track by Canadian band Wintersleep that has a hint of Springsteen about it and cool vocodered parts.
Indie-rock/dream-pop act go big with saxophone thrown in for good measure.
“No Matter Where We Go”
Sun-tinged third single from the Chicago-based duo’s debut album “Light Upon The Lake”.
Walking On Cars
Although first released in 2015, it became the first single from this Irish quintet’s debut album “Everything This Way”. Ridiculously catchy.
Two Door Cinema Club
“Are We Ready? (Wreck)”
A driving slab of a tune that has every hallmarks of a great TDCC track. Also featured as one of the songs on the soundtrack to everybody’s favourite football video game “FIFA 17”.
Dubbed as the missing link between Elton John and Coldplay by The Telegraph, and this song says it all.
Not far from his usual output with Keane, but still a sterling effort from his debut solo album.
TK The Architect
“Wait Up Slow Down”
An indie hip-hop ditty by Japanese-American rapper/multi-instrumentalist Zach Takayuki Zangi that reminds us to slow down and take a breather from life.
“Were We Once Lovers?”
Its funky bassline alone is worth the entrance fee, while vocalist Stuart Staples is in great form here.
Uncharacteristic synthesizers abound in this big track from Jonathan Meiburg and his bandmates.
Another song on this list that is featured on the soundtrack to “FIFA 17”, but still a banging song nonetheless by the Nashville indie-rock outfit.
The Icelandic multi-instrumentalist and producer returned in 2016 with his new album “Island Songs”, and “Particles” – featuring vocals from Of Monsters And Men singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir – is a thing of beauty.
The title track from the Tokyo-based Japanese audio-visual artist’s third album is a trip to ambient bliss.
My Life As Ali Thomas
A gem of a track that recalls Of Monsters And Men and Daughter at their finest from this Thai quartet.
“I Feel You In My Bones”
So giddy and positive – listen to that chorus! – it should sound at home as a soundtrack to a Disney film.
“The Radiant City”
Another Icelandic composer on the list. His 2016 album “Orphée” is a grand yet sombre experience, and “The Radiant City” is a haunting and spectral classic.
With a drum beat that kicks off the song and relentlessly troops on throughout the entire track, “Separate Lives” has charm aplenty in its melodies and overall sound. A throwback to the heyday of trip-hop yet with more pop.
This first single from jazz-meets-electronica trio from Manchester, England off their second album “Man Made Object” starts off with a lulling piano riff before it ascends into an ambidextrous rhythmic fiesta.
“I Wish I Was Sober”
A yearning to escape from the dark side of alcohol consumption perfectly executed in the form of a celebratory song.
deepsea drive machine
Fusing electronic and rock seamlessly, Japanese trio deepsea drive machine will hypnotise you with this synth-led track that seems to go on forever to pleasure your eardrums.
Indie-folk band Daughter’s sophomore effort “Not To Disappear” did not gain as much plaudits as its predecessor, but it showcased their expanded sonic palette, as demonstrated by the heavenly “To Belong”.
Choir Of Young Believers
A perfect introductory track for those who are not familiar with this Danish chamber-pop ensemble. A slick, sophisticated song with ghostly melodies.
The Boxer Rebellion
British-American band The Boxer Rebellion are the masters when it comes to heartfelt anthems, and the 1980s pop-tinged first single from their 2016 album “Ocean By Ocean” is a shining example of their ability to produce such stirring masterpieces.
Ben Lukas Boysen
There has always been a cinematic touch to German producer Ben Lukas Boysen’s sound, but “Nocturne 3” takes things down a notch to create a woozy yet gorgeous soundscape led by a light drum beat and his gorgeous piano playing.
The Album Leaf
“Lost In The Fog”
An engaging instrumental by the critically acclaimed solo musical project of Jimmy LaValle that rustles one’s emotions without the use of words.
“The World Is On Fire”
A singer-songwriter whose name should be in lights by now. “The World Is On Fire” is taken from his seventh album “Furnaces” and serves up a visceral experience that evokes scenes of a dystopian world.
A chilling offering from Norwegian outfit Klangstof that is atmospheric and slightly reminiscent of Radiohead before their evolution into the beast that they are now.
Malaysian post-rock ensemble mutesite has earned rave reviews last year for their debut EP “Re:Start”. There are math rock touches here and there, but their sound leans more towards the cinematic side of the genre.
Yes, Mystery Jets are still alive and kicking and they have sonically evolved again on their fifth album “Curve Of The Earth”, as showcased by its first single “Bombay Blue”.
The Radio Dept.
“We Got Game”
Swedish synth-pop heroes The Radio Dept. finally emerged from their cave to dish up a new album last year, and this politically charged ditty is glossed over with shimmering synthesizer riffs and a Pet Shop Boys-like overall sound.
With a huge sound and clanging guitars that owe a lot to U2’s The Edge, New Jersey natives Wyland have the potential to become the biggest thing to come out of the USA. Try listening to “Without You” and try your best to not get goose pimples.
Working For A Nuclear Free City
There’s a little bit of funk, a truckload of electronics, and a whole lotta soul in this twisted knockout of a track by a band renowned for having their song “Dead Fingers Talking” featured on “Breaking Bad”.
“Get My Bang”
Indie-rock combo Wild Beasts still focuses on sex and desire, but their sound has gained groove and a lot of funk in their latest album “Boy King”, especially on first single “Get My Bang”.
Electro-rock pioneers Stateless has yet to offer anything new after their 2011 album “Matilda”, but frontman Chris James released a solo EP titled “Space In The Clouds” last year that is more synonymous with Stephen Fretwell and Glen Hansard than his previous works. This acoustic gem features British singer Lorna Rose on guest vocals.
The unique vocals of Søren Holm that sounds like he’s got a vocoder built in his larynx stands out in this brilliant pop ditty by the young Danish quartet.
It may deal with love and losing it, but Ro Ransom has found the magic formula to turn melancholia into one for the dance floor without losing its soul with “Doppelgänger”.
Sensual and lovelorn, “Location” was one of the songs that brought 18-year-old Khalid and his soulful voice into the limelight.
“They Don’t Own Me”
It is such a shame how the career of one Richard Ashcroft has turned out. With his last two albums panned, he actually returned to form last year with “These People” but ironically, the people couldn’t bother. Well, they should have, as the likes of “They Don’t Own Me” will make you remember that Mr Ashcroft is a legend in his own right.
Possessing a sound that is all summery and tropical, it’s hard to believe that producer/DJ Roosevelt is from Cologne, Germany. “Night Moves” sounds like Friendly Fires with an underlying moodiness that will still get your hands up in the air.
“Overflowing” sounds like a Tycho song armed with haunting vocals – apt, given that one-half of the duo is a touring member of the Scott Hansen-led band.
“Information In The Voice”
Sounding more like a parody to the current crop of R&B and electronic artists, former Arab Strap man Malcolm Middleton hits all the right spots with “Information In The Voice” and his 2016 album “Summer Of ‘13”.
“A Hundred Ropes”
A supergroup of sorts with members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors in their line-up, Minor Victories have come up with a winner with their thumping yet cinematic track “A Hundred Ropes”.
Although Malaysian indie band Foxlore has since gone into a state of indefinite hiatus, their debut album “Release Me, My Ghost” became a fitting tribute to their (maybe) temporary retirement from music, with “Resurrect” possessing all the right attributes to become a great track.
Juno And Hanna
The title track to the Malaysian sibling duo Juno And Hanna’s debut release is a piece of electronic goodness that is at once airy and downtempo.
One of the current darlings of the local indie music scene, Kimokal has crafted one of the albums of 2016 with “O”, with “IKYK” being one of its standout tracks.
The Jakarta-based indie-rock/dream-pop unit released their latest EP “Another Life” back in November 2016, and its title track pinpoints a slight change in their musical direction and maturity in their songwriting.
“Suara Kita Suara Tuhan”
A song that was first revealed to the public way back in 2012, it still sounds as fresh as ever when it was repackaged and included in their self-titled debut album.
The current It band in the region, Indonesian dream-pop trio Peonies are as simple as they can be with their arrangements and melodies, but as demonstrated by their song “Falling”, such a humble combination may yield to an explosive result.
Youthful Medan indie rockers Pijar made local music critics stood up and listened when they released their album “Exposure”. A listen to their songs, such as “Moon River”, reveals a sound reminiscent of a less-polished Hot Hot Heat, Tokyo Police Club, and their ilk.
The Trees & The Wild
The people’s choice for the best local album of 2016, a lot of hopes and dreams were hinged on the album after a long time away from the spotlight for the band. It turned out to be a majestic folk/post-rock record worth its weight in gold. Its title track is a slow-burner with chant-like warped vocals that culminates in a storm of crashing cymbals, synths and guitars.