There was no shortage of inventive, dynamic releases coming out of the D.C. area in 2016. For our final year-end list, we spotlight the songs that stuck with us throughout this intense year. Also, if you haven’t yet, check out our roundup of best concerts photos of 2016.
We’ll be taking the week off to relax and enjoy the holidays–and hope you do too! DCMD will be back on Tuesday, Jan. 3 with more good stuff.
“Diana Ross” — K A G
I was particularly excited to see lots of local discordant electronic releases towards the year end (Brookland-based Black Lodge was a runner-up in this category). Katie Alice Greer of Priests released the absolutely killer EP A in October, the production of which was inspired by “weird suburbia, formidable famous women, and the 1947 film Black Narcissus.”
“Sister Ruth” of this extended play hits all those notes in appropriately unsettling fashion, the sparse lyrics fading into the background instrumentation of witch house base pulses and Elephant 6-esque instrumental accents. Greer’s thesis on “Sister Ruth,” that “your sexuality is nothing like you say… it’s something you could never really keep at bay,” reflects a coalescence of lyrical form and instrumentation, an unpacking of orientation coupled with a loose cacophony of increasingly difficult textures. It’s difficult listening for certain, but EP A hits all the right notes of being visceral, ethereal, and just plain cool.–Connor McInerney
“Paused Parade”–Young Summer
Young Summer, known for her bright and buoyant synth-pop offerings, threw a curve ball when she released her smooth, jazzy tune “Paused Parade” this summer. Co-written with Aqualung’s Matt Hales, “Paused Parade” is a testament to Young Summer’s sweeping versatility as a songwriter and producer. A comforting feeling of serenity and peace immediately washes over you once the stripped-down, piano-driven track comes on. While it wasn’t the loudest or flashiest release, “Paused Parade” still managed to stand out among the many other tunes that came out this past summer.–Jenna Robinson
“Lies are Chic”–Dawit Eklund
Dawit Eklund’s productions are far from your typical house tracks. Although the upbeat rhythms carry a familiar feel, the producer’s timbral choices create a fascinating soundscape. Ominous bells ring out against a bubbling bassline to create a parallel sense of happiness and unease.–Sam Catherman
Sometimes the simplest things can have the most meaning. Listening to “Broken Glass” with some time elapsed, I am still blown away by the fact that a song with such sparse genetics–a thinly-reverbed guitar and bass paired with an itinerant “army on the march” drum beat–can sound so room-filling at the same time. –Jamie Robash
“Silurian Stomp”–Fellow Creatures
One of the most memorable local releases of 2016 was Fellow Creature’s self-titled album, which included inventive tracks like “Silurian Stomp.” Flip-flopping between a frenetic, pulsating energy and calm, quieter state, “Silurian Stomp” is a wholly-immersive listening experience that lyrically speaks to the first creatures who walked on the earth. The breadth of sound and instrumentation “Silurian Stomp” captures is striking, yet these elements never get muddled or obscured during the song.–Jenna
D.C. rapper Eshovo brings his powerful yet slick vocal style to this smooth, choppy beat produced by local musician Tony Kill. Jumping in and out over a distorted vocal sample and a sufficiently-plump kick, Eshovo keeps the tradition of D.C.’s independent hip-hop scene alive and well throughout his 2016 release, #000000.–SC
Snail Mail’s Habit should be on everyone’s year-end list, but “Thinning” as a tune resonated with me this past month, a succinct description of those periods in which seemingly endless work and bad health culminate to form a sense of unending dread. While for the most part reminiscent of a lo-fi summery feel, it is in late autumn (and perhaps the city’s post-election climate) that Lindsey Jordan’s lyrics and vox help ease the seasonal slump of shorter days and colder nights. Perhaps in questioning the nature of consistent discomfort, indicating “I don’t think there’s anything wrong,” one can move past an uncomfortable existence and accept it as the new norm easily. Still, the dream remains of sunlight and wasted time, the whole experience partially eased by Snail Mail’s warm tones and uptempo fun.–CM
“When Reality Sets In”–Aaron Abernathy ft. Zo!
A honest confession, here–there was so much new music coming from D.C. this year that there were a lot of releases that I didn’t get a chance to write about. D.C. musician Aaron Abernathy’s latest effort, Monologue, was on that list of albums that I regret not having time to talk about.
If you’ve had the pleasure of listening to Abernathy’s new album, it goes without saying that the man can out-sing any of his seasoned contemporaries, and he proves that point on “When Reality Sets In.” It’s a soulful slow burner that packs in more glass-shattering falsettos than a Prince record, complete with a soaring guitar that ties the whole thing together.–Jenna
“Night Terrors” — CrushnPain
I had the pleasure of interviewing CrushnPain earlier this year regarding the artistic process that went into All Mountains. Austin Gallas spoke at length about the childhood and adulthood experiences with nyctophobia. He described waking in the “middle of the night screaming in a sweaty rage,” an experience that informed the writing of “Night Terrors.” That unsettling element is still there, but “Night Terrors” switches up quasi 808 beats for a banger with a diverse sound and infinite replay. The track gets busier, adding layers of increasingly intertwined synths that are resampled and chopped up before fading back into an eerie reverb. Equal parts wild and dark, it stands out as some of the best-produced music coming out of D.C. this year.–CM
“Fall in Love”–GoldLink ft. Ciscero
Virginia emcee GoldLink combines catchy melodies, funky baselines and infectious flows that make you want to dance. He selects his beats, often leaning toward a house vibe, before digging into traditional hip-hop rhythmic schemes. “Fall in Love” is a shining example of what makes GoldLink a powerhouse in the city’s music scene.–SC
“Heads Are Weak”–Brushes
After performing with Baby Bry Bry and the Apologists, D.C. musician Nick Anway formed his own project called Brushes. His 2016 EP, Whatever, Again, was a strong debut that brought to the forefront Anway’s dexterity for crafting earnest, highly-emotive songs and extensive range as a vocalist. “Heads Are Weak” was one of the best tracks off that record that captured his masterful musicianship.–Jenna
We named Flasher’s “All Over” as one of the best tracks of the year (so far), and after some time has passed, that title still stands. There’s an unrestrained, cathartic energy to “All Over” that makes it an unsettling, yet compelling, listen. Most recently, the group re-released their EP via Sister Polygon Records, and you can grab their 12-inch record here.–Jenna
Known for his lyrical candor, Oddisee wrestles with a number of thoughts and issues on “Things,” like money, fame and putting his purpose into perspective. The song switches from an inward reflection to a more collective, broader assessment of how minorities are treated by the public and talked about in the press; “We just want to matter more tryna be the matador in the pit of bull.” In just under four minutes, “Things,” sums up a lot of the fear and uncertainty that looms over this country, a feat that only a skilled emcee like Oddisee could articulate so eloquently.–Stephanie Williams
Back in July, I reviewed Greenland’s fifth record, Shitty Fiction. After re-reading my piece, I realized I hadn’t touched on the beloved title track which lands smack dab in the middle of the record. Revisiting “Shitty Fiction,” it became clear how its miasma of droning guitars and one-two punch drum beats, wisely woven with vocalist Jamie Green’s deft vocals, reminded me of the Cure’s Seventeen Seconds and Pornography. And, I believe just like those Robert Smith relics, that Shitty Fiction will sound just as good decades from now.–Jamie
Flavor Waster imbued their opulent 2015 debut It’s Always Sunny When You’re Cool with a plethora of style choices, fusing punk with symphonic and electronic dance music beats. This year’s re-release of It’s Always Sunny brought with it a few previously unreleased tracks, one of them being the bombastic and fantastic “Cathedral.” It’s diverse in its own right, serving at once as a social commentary on the privatization of prisons and an excellent synth-heavy gem.–Jamie
“Pardon Me if I Stare”–Wanted Man
Combining the sweet, heavy-hitting sounds of ’70s rock with a raw and modern energy, Wanted Man is one of the most intriguing bands in the area. Released this summer on their self-titled album, “Pardon Me if I Stare” evokes a sultry, wobbly mood with its pounding rhythm and screaming guitar solos.–SC
“Tell Me”–Cautious Clay ft. Zeroni
Pairing intricate beats with snippets of guitars, flutes and keyboards, “Tell Me” pulls the listener into a new dimension. Zeroni’s lush, reverberated vocals bring you back to Earth just in time for a soulful saxophone solo.–SC
At once, April+VISTA makes music that sounds grounded and accessible, yet feels transported through another dimension. “Beasts,” from their 2016 EP Note to Self, is probably the best example of their musical wizardry. On this song, April+VISTA serves up otherworldly beats paired with the soulful, fervent vox of April George. –Jenna