We've spent 2016 listening to all the new music so you don't have to (because that is literally our job). And now that the year is nearly halfway over, we've rounded up some of our favorite songs so far! There are hits like Drake's "One Dance" and Rihanna's "Work," of course, and we clearly have a soft spot for Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book. But we've also included music by some rising artists and bands we love as well, from the bright-eyed rap of Oakland's Kamaiyah to Mitski's searing rock. Find our massive list of favorite songs of the year below, and read on for our staff's blurbs on some of their top picks!
No one expected "Identikit" to be this great. When Radiohead played it on their 2012 world tour, it wasn't a showstopper — more of a skeleton, really, just some tricky rhythms with a hint of a hook on top. It's no "True Love Waits" or "Burn the Witch," in the feverish ranks of fan legend. But it surpasses both those songs in the crucial category of moments most likely to ricochet around inside your brain for the rest of 2016. The rhythm section bobs and weaves under Thom Yorke as he sings about broken hearts and bad weather, doing battle with a choir of ghost-Yorkes, until Ed O'Brien torches the whole work with a quick guitar solo. The effect is something like 2000's "Idioteque" or 2011's "Lotus Flower" — the high-water marks of Radiohead's patented panic at the disco — but with a warmth and sincerity those songs dodged. This time, he's not dancing to escape the real world, but to mourn. —Simon Vozick-Levinson
Lil Uzi Vert, “Ps & Qs”
He’s cocky as hell, but Lil Uzi Vert just wants everyone to have a little fun. On "Ps & Qs," he’s gleeful, boasting "more money than your last man, of course.” Yet there is little that the Philadelphia rapper doesn't do with a sense of youthful joy. The highlight from his latest mixtape, Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World, is one of 2016's brightest moments, and he knows it — catch him stunting on all of his lesser peers (“Oh, sing it / He ain’t got no money”). The accordion-like sample by the producer Don Cannon gives the song a bounce that sets it apart from the rapper's more trap-indebted songs and stands out in a sea of SoundCloud bops. —David Turner
Anohni, “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?"
The most arresting song on Anohni’s debut album, Hopelessness, floats the biggest question you could possibly ask in 2016: Where did humanity go wrong? When did we become enemies of our world, no longer its children? Throughout the record, Anohni incubates a transcendental desire to return to the soil, to give in to entropy and become victim to global violence instead of one of its perpetrators. “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?” crystallizes that yearning as Anohni asks plainly to return to the state of primordial chaos that birthed her and the rest of the human race. —Sasha Geffen
The year so far has been rap-game NASCAR; just when you think you've got your song of the summer figured out, somebody cuts in and threatens to top the order. Busdriver's "Much" was already high on my list before he dropped an unbelievable rework of Chance the Rapper's "Juice." Stunt on your haters through the power of clean eating. Start a Soul Train line in the checkout aisle of your local vegan co-op. Make a smoothie so good it will steal your girl. Kick-start Goop for backpack rappers. The world is yours. —Meredith Graves
Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me”
“Drone Bomb Me” is the beating heart that begins Hopelessness, setting the tone for the album’s personal politics, cooing an invitation in its opening line: “Love, drone bomb me.” Turning one of the Obama administration’s darkest hallmarks into a trumpeting romantic appeal, Anohni uses intimacy to challenge drone warfare’s anonymous execution tactics: “It’s a feminine way of using an expression of confounding vulnerability to try to outwit a perpetrator that you can’t subdue,” she explained in an interview. But her words wear no metaphor — she asks for her head to be blown off, guts strewn on the grass, each harrowing detail packed into a chorus sung in one of the most stirring vocal performances of Anohni’s career. “Drone Bomb Me” defies passive listening, snaps you to grim attention. “After all,” she sings toward the end, zeroing in on the song’s twinned tragedy and tenderness, “I’m partly to blame.” —Eric Torres
Mr. Fingers, “Qwazars”
The first record Larry Heard, a.k.a. Mr. Fingers, bought was a 45 of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everybody Is a Star”; he was nine years old in Chicago in 1970. And though Sly’s black empowerment message has been reduced to “every child is special in her own way” or fame blah blah blah, Heard was transfixed by the song’s spiritual, mystical, and cosmic intimations. Now, with “Qwazars” — released 31 years after his first track, the deep-house moon shot “Mystery of Love” — he’s still stargazing. As a result, this subtly wondrous music levitates well beyond the dance floor. Synth chords intone and toll, spiraling over fuzzy kick drums as a deep voice asks, “What’s going on?” One might infer that Heard’s making an Afrofuturist statement about our still-maddening earthly limitations, but that feels willful. Sepulchral, ceremonial, liberating, meditative, and, well, sly, “Qwazars” is simply too good to define. —Charles Aaron
Jessy Lanza, "It Means I Love You"
Jessy Lanza has said that her sophomore record Oh No was the product of newfound confidence, and nothing illustrates this more than "It Means I Love You." It builds from a simple kick-drum beat into a prickly landscape of frantic synths and keyboards, with Lanza's breathy voice, often criticized for being too shy, eerily pitched up and down. "You know you were never strong," Lanza sings confrontationally after the beat drops, beckoning those to find her love. And if you truly want it, you're going to get it at its most alien: glitchy, synthetic, and intimidatingly cool. —Hazel Cills
BadBadNotGood, “Speaking Gently”
This instrumental owes its life to the spectral keyboard and flutes that wander in and out of the chorus like luminescent phantoms. It reminds me of fog by a night-black ocean. It reminds me of the eerie creaking wood of abandoned boats. It reminds me of Scooby-Doo. "Speaking Gently" is cartoonishly creepy. BadBadNotGood have grown into something of a hip-hop house band coming out of Toronto, having risen to fame on covers of Odd Future, Gucci Mane, and Waka Flocka, as well as collabos with Ghostface, MF Doom, and Kaytranada. "Speaking Gently" is a B side to the mournful single "Time Moves Slow," featuring Sam Herring of Future Islands, and feels like a logical extension of The Roots' exquisite Al Hirt–inspired "Stay Cool." The insistent backbeat and Kaytranada-esque glitch bars are so seductive and propulsive that they make even the intrusion of an actual sax solo feel bizarrely earned and intrinsically ... not terrible? —Carvell Wallace
Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla, “One Dance”
Not that I’m biased, but with “One Dance,” my best friend Drake hand-delivered the song of the summer. Featuring Wizkid and Kyla, the track embodies an overload of emotions we usually tend to associate with Aubrey (see: “As soon as you see the text, reply me”), but it’s picked up by Drake’s singing, Kyla’s accompaniments, and that perfect beat. Which is exactly how I’ve justified singing along and dancing to it since April. Because if Drizzy can let loose to his jam on SNL, I can do the same standing in line at an Applebee’s. —Anne T. Donahue