A Short Best Songs of 2016 List That Not Coincidentally Also Makes for Pretty Good Protest Music

Humor me in stretching for a silver lining. One good thing about the entirely dystopic, almost (I reserve the right to delete the word almost without notice from this sentence should it become necessary) apocalyptically bad, rise of Donald Trump and the fake news neo-Nazi brigade is that it makes me want to live. It makes me want to drink all the delicious wine I was saving for old age right now, just in case the seas swallow my old age. (Or my wine! Pathetic seas! Terrible!) It makes me want to go for bike rides in a park before Exxon starts fracking there. It makes me realize how much I like my life. And it has rejuvenated music for me from wilted shades of pale pastel to bright fucking red.


Here, then, a short list of my favorite music of 2016, with a heavy focus on protest music as I head off to the Women’s March. Am I listening to this music with 20-20 regrets, or is it prophetic?

Radiohead: Burn the Witch. As a reviewer somewhere online said, with this album, and *particularly* this song, Radiohead has finally managed, after years of bumbling around in what we’ll call “near-dread” territory, to perfectly create the exact sound of dread. Thom’s drone-hum, so much more effective than Anohni bashing me over the head with drone lyrics. The agitated strings, the disjointed, on-point lyrics. If there were ever a line to describe how I’ve been feeling since the election, “This is a low-flying panic attack” is it.


Kate Tempest:  Europe is Lost. Not gonna lie, I bawled my eyes out while listening to this 20 times in a row maybe two or three nights after the election. I quit my 50-hour-a-week-plus job a couple of months earlier, and while it would be fake news to attribute that move to any single thing, I’d like to offer up the experience of one particularly jarring night a few months before as emblematic. On the night in question, I went from loaning a friend 20 bucks so she could buy enough food to make it through the week to, a 20 minute subway ride but an unimaginable distance away, a pricey industry dinner, where we argued, as wine flowed freely into our New York media bubble, about journalists’ duty to be objective in the age of Trump. This song captures everything I was feeling about how I was living my life (“And the hunt for the bigger buck/here in the land where nobody gives a fuck”), to how I was and am feeling about inequality (“Half a generation lives below the bread line/Oh, but it’s happy hour on the high street”) and feeling so small (Riots are tiny though/systems are huge.”) Not a hopeful song, this – “I can’t see an ending at all, only the end” – but a cathartic one.


DJ Shadow: Nobody Speak. Given…everything, including the end of civility, this video seems especially prophetic. Hey, you wanna hear a good joke? Nobody speak, nobody get choked. Hopefully by the time the UN or the House of Representatives or whatever actually degenerates to this level I’ll be living in an off-grid cabin in the woods with an army of mostly friendly pitbulls ruled over by a cat emperor and won’t have to witness it. This paragraph is signed by a libtard snowflake. Thank you very much.


Nicolas Jaar. No. This lovely song is about a campaign to say no to eight more years of Pinochet in Chile. The mood of the vocals is so detached, you may not even need to understand Spanish to know that the lyrics translate loosely to “Nothing ever changes around these parts…You don’t need to see the future to know what will happen.” But don’t ignore that beat – it’s determined.


PJ Harvey: The Orange Monkey. PJ Harvey keeps putting out albums that top my best of year list, even if they’re not the albums I like the most. She did journalists to shame with this album, written after trips to the likes of Afghanistan and DC. Obvious orange monkey imagery possibilities aside, this is a gentle song that I *think* is about understanding how we got to where we are, and finding happiness in difficult circumstances.


Beck: Wow. This is one of those songs that gloms onto you straight out of the device. No growing into it or multiple listens needed. Just a happy dance-around-your-living-room song from a happier time, back when Trump was just a loud buffoon, and not the Loud-Buffoon-in-Chief. Still, I think it’s got staying power with its message to take pleasure in the present. “My friends, your friends/Love ’em every day like it’s just about to end.” And, after all, no one can stop you from dancing around your living room, unless of course you’re living in a real-life version of Footloose. Whoops, did I say that?


Beyonce: Formation. Everybody put your hot sauce in your bag and start defending your civil liberties. We’re all gonna have to go hard these next few years. So slay. See you all at the Women’s March? Oh, and here’s a longer Spotify playlist with more music that I liked in 2016.

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