This isn’t a definitive list of the year’s best tracks. It’s an alphabetically ordered selection of songs our staff writers and editors found themselves putting on repeat in 2016. You can listen along with our Spotify playlist.
“Adore You,” NAO
The last half of For All We Know, in many ways, examines relationships unravelling. In the single “Girlfriend,” the British R&B singer NAO wonders if she can discard enough baggage to be a partner. In “Bad Blood,” her nostalgia is tinted with the pain of a former paramour’s obliviousness. On “In the Morning,” she’s too civil to rebuff someone who adores her. In each instance, NAO has blame to place, on a lover, a friend, or herself. But “Adore You” is the turning point that precedes all of those tracks, where love is at once suspended and terminal. The ’80s synths and soft background vocals are disarming even as NAO sings about being intoxicated, addicted, and then consumed.
“Ain’t It Funny,” Danny Brown
Though “Really Doe” and “When It Rain” have gotten the most attention of the songs on Danny Brown’s brilliant Atrocity Exhibition, “Ain’t It Funny” remains my stubborn favorite. Maybe it’s the dissonant mess of horns and alien-like synths that have no right being as catchy as they are. Maybe it’s Brown’s hectic, unhinged flow, or the way the unbearable darkness of the album seems to come to a head. Here, Brown is still his charismatic, funny, and party-loving self—but he leaves you with the demented image of him cackling in the face of Satan and ingesting far too many substances while swaying at the edge of a cliff. You get snippets of just how dire things are: “Nose bleeds red carpets / But it just blend in.” “Broke serving fiends / Got rich became a addict.” “Might need rehab / But to me that shit pussy.” As afraid as you are for him, hearing him slip further and further out of control, you can’t stop listening—but you’re not laughing, either.