I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler: Favorite Songs From 2016

January 02, 2017

Aubrie Sellers' New City Blues. #1: "Light of Day," Aubie Sellers (New City Blues)

I didn't really think of this as the song from 2016 that would define the year for me, but it ended up being the one I played the most in my spare moments. And it does fit the year's events, both personally and politically. It's a midnight ride through the swamps, the insistent beat urging you to push forward, because that way is the only way. With some old-school echo and reverb, the guitars approach psychedelic country, an emerging style being championed by Sturgill Simpson these days. The daughter of Lee Ann Womack, Sellers is pure Nashville royalty, yet this song makes no apologies for being just as much rock as country.

#2: Brandy Clark's Big Day in a Small Town. "Homecoming Queen," "Since You've Gone To Heaven," Brandy Clark (Big Day In A Small Town)

In country music, as men pen tributes to their trucks, it is left to the women-folk to bear witness, through their songs, to the current state of things.

As pointed out in the excellent Switched On Pop podcast, Nashville has been leaning heavily on nostalgia to manufacturing hits--songs that appeal to the U.S. populace's hazy notions of when things were better. I cheated and put these two songs together because for me they are two sides of a single coin. "Homecoming Queen" is about being only 10 years out of high school, and already feeling nostaglic for a time when you were on top of the world. "Since You've Goneto Heaven" is a song from a daughter to father about how the family has fallen apart since he's passed away.

Brandy Clark is pure Nashville country pop, but both songs expertly turn nostaglia on its head. The fondness of the memories they relate only serves to highlight how crappy current state of things currently are. These are not soings about Brandy's family, or your family. They are songs about the jobless existential despair killing way too much of the U.S. midlands. Can't get much more country than that.

#3: Charles Bradley's Changes "Changes," Charles Bradley (Changes)

Talk about nostaglia! Here's an old school R&B cover of a one-off Black Sabbath 1972 ballad inspired by the drummer's divorce. That Bradley could see any soul at all in this whitest of all sad hard rock songs is a minor miracle, much loess the fact that he made it sould like a soul classic to begin with. This song even has some meta going on: It was first released as a single 45, for record store day in 2014. By the time it hit this year's album of the same name, it was already a stone cold classic from another era. 1972 was a pretty tumultuous year, which may be a reason we look longingly back on it in 2016.