Figueroa's Top 50 Songs of 2016

2016 is gone, but it left us a lot of great music. Here are my favorite songs of the year. As usual, they are in alphabetical order so that they all carry equal weight.
  1. 1.
    AlunaGeorge, feat. Popcaan - I'm In Control.
    If you're not dancing after hearing this song's Caribbean beats, alluring vocals and sexy lyrics, you need to ask yourself if you're deaf or just dead inside.
  2. 2.
    ANOHNI - Marrow.
    "Marrow" describes planet Earth as a cancer patient. Rather than realizing that she needs to rest, humans continue exploiting her, even if it means eventually killing her. And ANOHNI is not afraid to point out worldwide culpability. The idea that The United States is mainly responsible for Earth's sickness does not hold true anymore. Over somber electronic beats, ANOHNI delivers a melancholic performance, stating that "we are all Americans now."
  3. 3.
    Alex Anwandter - Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón.
    Based on the title alone, you would think that "Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón" ("It Is Always Friday In My Heart") is a song that celebrates the repetitive weekend party culture. However, "Viernes" is actually a protest dance song (!) that defends the rights of the gay and working​-class community by using Friday as an allegory for freedom. "Viernes" explains how repressed groups can escape by realizing that the 'weekend' can be everyday, as long as you speak up and demand freedom now.
  4. 4.
    The Avalanches - Sunshine
    "Sunshine" is one of the quieter moments found in The Avalanches' sophomore album "Wildflower." In it, they sample the vocals from the 1970's all-female harmony group The Fuzz, but here the voice is stretched and looped throughout, while chirps and ocean sounds can be heard on the background, thus creating a peaceful trip for the listener.
  5. 5.
    BADBADNOTGOOD - Speaking Gently
    The songs starts as a simple melody that crescendos into a complex composition due in part to drumbeats that add urgency, and a saxophone section that ties it all together to create an unforgettable frenzied moment.
  6. 6.
    Beyoncé, feat. Kendrick Lamar - Freedom
    The organ on this song creates a retro-vibe reminiscent of 1960's gospel music. It's almost as if Beyoncé wants to transport us back to the birth of the civil rights movement to remind us that unfortunately not much has changed since those days. In the height of the #blacklivesmatter movement, this song resonates today more than ever.
  7. 7.
    James Blake - f.o.r.e.v.e.r
    Sometimes a piano and a soothing voice is all it takes to connect with an audience regarding personal relationships. James Blake understands this concept better than anyone, and he uses those two things to his advantage to share the cautionary tale of loving too little, too late.
  8. 8.
    Blondage - Lucky Black Skirt
    Gender-bending roles is not a new concept in the music world. Artists like Prince and David Bowie have done it before, but it's always fun to see emerging artists learn from their predecessors. Blondage defy gender roles both in their appearance and their music. A slender long-haired man and a woman with a buzzed-cut use a classic gender identifier: clothes. It's not clear who wears the lucky black skirt in the relationship, but in the end the audience is lucky to enjoy this synthpop gem.
  9. 9.
    Blood Orange, feat. Empress Of - Best To You
    Dev Hynes has a musical sensibility that is best appreciated when heard through female vocalists. Lorely Rodriguez, better known as Empress Of, pours her heart out to her lover while Dev himself plays the inner voice of reason by repeating over and over "Do you really want to? Did he even notice?" He is so convincing that by the end of the song, Lorely makes one final statement: "I can't be the girl you want but I can be the thing you throw away." It's a heartbreaking realization.
  10. 10.
    Bon Iver - 33 "God"
    Whether you're religious or not, it can be safe to assume that almost everyone has cursed God at one point in their lives. Bon Iver's lyrics are puzzling, but one thing is clear: Justin Vernon manages to curse God and ask to be saved at the same time. It's a powerful contradiction that only a true believer would understand.
  11. 11.
    Bosco Rogers - The Middle
    Catchy whistling sounds, along with guitar riffs coated in a 60s-influenced surf-rock style make this song a two-minute-and-thirty-seconds slice of pure fun!
  12. 12.
    David Bowie - Lazarus
    Now that David Bowie is no longer with us, it is so difficult to listen to "Lazarus" post-mortem. His opening line "Look up here, I'm in heaven" breaks my heart everytime. My only comfort is knowing that during the recording of this last album he was aware of his upcoming departure, and he used that knowledge to gift us one last immortal musical note.
  13. 13.
    Bishop Briggs - River
    Bishop Briggs came out of nowhere using this song as her presentation card. Her stripped and raw emotion makes me yearn for her whole album.
  14. 14.
    Buscabulla - Tártaro
    It's always interesting to hear artists fan-out about other artists, but Buscabulla decided to write their admiration in a musical love letter to salsa music icon Frankie Ruiz. "Tártaro" (Frankie's nickname) manages to capture the sensuality of salsa as a genre while paying tribute to Ruiz in a sharp-tasting song.
  15. 15.
    Café Tacvba - Un Par De Lugares
    When a loved one is no longer with us, we use the magic of memory to be transported to places where we were happy with them. This song manages to capture those moments, using the universal language of music.
  16. 16.
    Chairlift - Crying In Public
    Have you ever loved someone so much that you thought you were going to explode? Have you ever loved someone so much that that explosion manifested in something unexpected like tears? Hearing this song about crying (is it happy or sad tears?) in public is as powerful as if we were watching it happen. It's beautiful and painful at the same time.
  17. 17.
    Digitalism - Destination Breakdown
    "Destination Breakdown" is the type of song that gets played to get anyone pumped-up, which makes sense since it sounds like an epic 80's-influenced song about looking forward to new places where you can start new beginnings.
  18. 18.
    DJ Shadow, feat. Run The Jewels - Nobody Speak
    This song is the perfect choice for a night of drinking debauchery. It manages to be funny and obnoxious at the same time. Perhaps its over-the-top ridiculous lyrics describe everyone's inner crazy thoughts as a way to cleanse our brains while we release some steam.
  19. 19.
    Elandh - Fiesta House
    It seems that a popular trend this year was to look to our past -in this case, the 80's and the 90's- for inspiration. And Chilean synth-pop Elandh did just that. Using piano keys, a powerful 90's female vocal sample, and lyrics that on the surface seem disposable, they managed to tell a story of running away to start new beginnings. Nothing wrong with a dance-oriented personal renewal.
  20. 20.
    Escondido - My Heart Is Black
    We've all done things in our lives that we regret, and vocalist Jessica Maros sounds genuinely distressed as she realizes that she has a black heart. Don't worry, Jessica. Keep in mind that the first step to change is admitting you have a problem, even if you think that there's no turning back.
  21. 21.
    Glass Animals - Life Itself
    English indie band Glass Animals share the story of someone that is unemployed and living at home, but full of pride and addicted to codeine with coca-cola. It sounds like a terrible situation, but since the music transmits a quirky positive sound, as a listener you can't help but just go with it and appreciate the weird, fun ride.
  22. 22.
    El Guincho, feat. Mala Rodriguez - Cómix
    El Guincho takes the stereotype of the quiet, geeky, socially awkward comic book reader and flips it around to present a confident guy envied by everyone. A guy that shows up to the party only to leave with the prettiest girl there. It's the classic case of the superhero hidden alter ego found in comic books. It just happens that Pablo's alter ego is a fast-paced beat-maker that uses auto-tune (like some sort of robotic entity) to tell us that what we see are his "comics converted into beats."
  23. 23.
    PJ Harvey - The Community Of Hope
    In "The Community Of Hope," Polly Jean Harvey puts a mirror to society as she takes us through a tour of a failed poor community whose only hope is the upcoming new Wal-Mart.
  24. 24.
    Justice - Randy
    Justice is back with an uplifting pep talk for the 'Randy' in all of us. And they do so using 70's-influenced sounds mutated with present day electro beats to tell us never to give up. I'm definitely using this song to pump myself up for this upcoming new year.
  25. 25.
    KAYTRANADA, feat. Shay Lia - Leave Me Alone
    With a vibrating bass so deep it practically gets under your skin, Canadian dj KAYTRANADA brings out a confident vocal energy in Shay Lia that gives her the courage to ask her former lover to finally let her go.
  26. 26.
    Kings Of Leon - Waste A Moment
    This song takes us on a trip where the protagonists are living in the now with no regards to past or present. It's a refreshing thought when you live in a world preoccupied with learning from the past or planning for the future. They tell us that today matters more than you think, so start living in the now.
  27. 27.
    The Last Shadow Puppets - Sweet Dreams, TN
    A song about feeling at your lowest point because the person that kept you all together abandoned you, "Sweet Dreams, TN" is a self-castigating plea song for a second chance that may or may not be granted.
  28. 28.
    James Vincent McMorrow - One Thousand Times
    Like The last Shadow Puppets in "Sweet Dreams, TN," James Vincent McMorrow also asks a former lover to give him a second chance. But since McMorrow has a soothing voice and spins the plea by looking at the positive rather than the negative, it's easy to imagine that when he asks "what if I could change, if you could save me?," the answer he will get is a definite "yes," and that leaves the listener with a glowing hopeful feeling.
  29. 29.
    Miike Snow - Genghis Khan
    If you've ever had raging thoughts of jealousy, then you can surely identify with the protagonist of Genghis Kahn. While jealousy in relationships can be toxic, in this song the listener can safely observe from the outside without consequences. Jealousy never sounded so much fun.
  30. 30.
    Laura Mvula - Phenomenal Woman
    So-called 'female anthems' in the music industry are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, when Laura Mvula sings about female empowerment using her presence, voice, and music, she commands our attention. And although the lyrics are simple, her message is not. I dare you not to view feminism in a more positive way by the end of the song.
  31. 31.
    Nicky Night Time, feat. Antony & Cleopatra - Careful Baby
    The opening verse states that "there are two different types of love: the one you riddle, the one you always dream of." From then on, it becomes very obvious that this is a classic story of a lover playing mind games with two people. When love games are played within love triangles, it never ends well.
  32. 32.
    Niki & The Dove - Hurts So Much
    Everything about this song smells of Prince. Malin Dahlström vocals, along with the syth-driven melody, and 80's structure of the song present a very convincing tribute to Prince. They even go as far as referencing one of his songs ("Thieves in the Temple") by adding the title as an almost throw-away line, but any Prince fan (Niki & The Dove included) can recognize it as a hidden tribute to one of the greatest songwriters that 2016 took away from us. Prince would be so proud.
  33. 33.
    Frank Ocean - Pink + White
    Frank Ocean shares the personal story of one of his childhood crushes. The innocence and playfulness of those times seem more important to him now that he's dealing with the complexities of adult relationships. Memory is a wonderful time machine.
  34. 34.
    Anderson .Paak - Come Down
    Anderson .Paak sings this song with the fear and urgency of someone that is both high on life & drugs. This double-high feeling is confusing. At some point he pleads to himself, "let me get down!" And he answers by saying "you might never ever come down." Any type of high can be dangerous when not done in moderation.
  35. 35.
    Parquet Courts - Berlin Got Blurry
    Lead singer Andrew Savage shares a snapshot of that moment of self-realization that it's time to grow up. The lyrics read like a flashback-list of the things he's done/never did on his road to maturity.
  36. 36.
    Pet Shop Boys - The Pop Kids
    Nostalgia is the star of this song. Remembering one's past glory days --which in this case means being the top of the crop music explorer among your friends. And this nostalgia also applies to the music of the song itself --a 90's synth-pop memory heard through present ears.
  37. 37.
    Porches - Be Apart
    Aaron Maine sings that he wants "to be apart," but it's never quite clear from what. Is it a lover, a friend, or simply himself? His voice sounds elongated and dreamlike, like he's talking to himself. Perhaps he's so far in his own head that he can't get out.
  38. 38.
    Radiohead - Burn The Witch
    When energetic violin players open the song, it's obvious that you've landed in Radiohead territory. One of the things I enjoy about this song is that it feels like an ageless musical folk-tale. And Thom's voice can easily transport you to a land where witches rule, but not for long. As they slowly burn away, the listener becomes a complicit witness.
  39. 39.
    Rihanna - Desperado
    "Deperado" is easily the stand out track from "Anti," Rihanna's latest epic record, but the reason that makes it rise above the others might not be so obvious. It's a song that sounds like a ticking bomb waiting to explode. The tension created by the music and her voice hints that a musical maturity is coming, wrapped by her personal growth.
  40. 40.
    Roosevelt - Move On
    Marius Lauber aka Roosevelt is a 90's kid that most likely picked up his love for 80's synth-pop from his parents. Or it might be the opposite: he might have picked up those 80's records as a ways to rebel against them. Whatever the season was that made him be obsessed with 80's music, we are glad he did. An 80's synth-pop sound with a 90's sensibility in 2016 makes for an enjoyable combination.
  41. 41.
    Santigold - Banshee
    Santigold is a musical chameleon. She can easily change from pop to rock to hip-hop, to any dark musical note --sometimes within the same song! And it's this musical fluidity that allows the listener to get lost in her songs. "Banshee" manages to do just that, as it is both a dance-hall inspired party song and a warning anthem to both her fans and haters alike.
  42. 42.
    Solange - Don't You Wait
    Don't let the simple melody along with Solange's ethereal quiet vocals fool you: she's not happy. She's tired of giving it her all and not getting the same in return. She's had enough and she's not gonna wait for things to turn around. The song can easily be about a lover not being reciprocal, but based on the album's themes, this song is most likely a middle finger gesture to an entitled society that has neglected her as a woman of color. Sometimes the meek voices can resonate the most.
  43. 43.
    St. Lucia - Love Somebody
    Do you miss power ballads from the 80's and 90's? Well, your prayers haven been answered! St. Lucia presents us a song where the lead singer Jean-Philip is tired of being alone. We feel your pain, man.
  44. 44.
    Sylvan Esso - Radio
    "Don't you look good sucking American dick?" This line encapsulates the whole message of the song: what are you willing to do to sell your music to the establishment? It's a powerful comment on the music industry and the frustrations that artists feel as they try to reach a broader audience.
  45. 45.
    Tegan and Sara - Boyfriend
    "Boyfriend" is a love song to one's own dignity; a song about making the right choice even if it means letting go of the person you love. In the end, the person you need to love first and foremost is yourself.
  46. 46.
    Tennis - Ladies Don't Play Guitar
    It's sad to think that a woman is willing to settle for a lesser man by changing everything about her: what she does, what she likes, who she is. "I can be the archetype of whatever you're feeling." Love can be so self-destructive.
  47. 47.
    Tove Lo - Cool Girl
    Even after Tove Lo says to her lover that he can run free and she won't hold it against him, he seems confused. And that's because there is a misconception that women can't separate sex from actual relationships. Our singer spends the whole time trying to explain to her flame that everything is okay, and she seems angry and frustrated that she's not making her point to him. But she does get through to her audience. We empathize and root for her.
  48. 48.
    Two Door Cinema Club - Lavander
    When you're life seems too hard to deal with, a fantastical dream with lavender fields taking place on another planet is a welcomed change. But then reality sets in again. The lead singer screams over and over again that "gravity is losing its hold!" Unfortunately the fear of not being grounded is stronger than any whimsical dream, and in the end our protagonist has no choice but to face his reality.
  49. 49.
    The XX - On Hold
    What's better than a new The XX song? How about a song that samples Hall & Oates!
  50. 50.
    Yeasayer - Silly Me
    If your partner gets frustrated when you make the same mistakes over and over, the last thing you wanna do is trivialize her/his feelings. "Silly me, where's my head?" is not the answer they're looking for. You might as well say goodbye to the relationship.