Best Rock Songs of 2016
In 2016, the best rock music went emo. (And no, there were no nostalgic homages to Fall Out Boy.) Though of course some artists are more deserving of this designation than others, emo was never about observing any aesthetic; it was more or less about ripping hearts out. Headlined by the likes of The Hotelier’s Goodness, Pinegrove’s Cardinal, and Joyce Manor’s Cody, this year’s rock was often as passionate and introspective as it was raging and electric.
In curating this list of gems below, most of the year’s defining songs were part of this emo wave. (It’s no surprise three out of ten songs feature the Run for Cover Records logo.) But even so, these songs are a mixed bag musically and offer distinctive experiences. This list’s contents may not even be enjoyed together as a whole. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that rock is increasingly become a feeling and it’s hardly set in stone.
Hope to see you back here next year, when every song on this list will be by Japandroids.
PUP, “My Life Is Over and I Couldn’t Be Happier” (SideOneDummy)
In one song, PUP becomes a wrecking crew that doubles as a commiseration source for the cheated. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to punch stuff and burn things, if only for two-and-a-half minutes.
Joyce Manor, “The Last You Heard of Me” (Epitaph Records)
On “The Last You Heard of Me,” Joyce Manor really came to own the Weezer references pinned on them for so long. There’s nothing rehashed about this song, rather, it feels like the impetus for a new era of pop-punk.
Pinegrove, “Old Friends” (Run for Cover Records)
The warmth of Evan Stephens Hall’s voice and lyrics when combined with the largely acoustic backing proves particularly infectious on opener for Pinegrove’s Cardinal album. It’s the perfect backdrop for what’s to come.
The Hotelier, “Opening Mail for my Grandmother” (Tiny Engines)
The most devastating moment in music this year is when frontman Christian Holden sings this song’s chorus. As the guitar cuts out and he delivers the last “I’m coming for you” into a brief oblivion, the listener’s left to pick themselves up off the ground.
Chumped, “Not the One” (Anchorless Records)
The year opened up on a sad note with the announcement that Chumped was breaking up. But the pop-punk band left us with one last song that’s titled and plays like we shouldn’t miss them dearly when we definitely will.
Whitney, “No Woman” (Secretly Canadian)
For playing in a band that makes such beachy and, at times, sedated soft-rock, Whitney guitarist Max Kakacek absolutely shreds on a clean guitar tone like few before him, as witnessed here.
Sheer Mag, “Can’t Stop Fighting” (Static Shock)
The strength of Christina Halladay’s voice and the noodly, garage riffs underneath have always made Sheer Mag a relentless power-pop force. It makes sense they front a mission to keep fighting, even in extremely adverse situations.
Parquet Courts, “Human Performance” (Rough Trade Records)
The vulnerability and sense of melody in “Human Performance” strays from the Parquet Courts of old (crafting songs like the incessant, one-chord racket of “Sunbathing Animal”), but might have positioned the band to be a quality crossover rock act.
Modern Baseball, “Wedding Singer” (Run for Cover Records)
Modern Baseball served as a supporting act on Brand New’s tour earlier this year, and this song’s probably why they made it onto a stadium stage in the first place.
Crying, “Wool in the Wash” (Run for Cover Records)
This near-virtuosic piece of guitar rock yearns for youthful days full of video games, wolfing down sweet tarts, and watching Sailor Moon.
Tiny Moving Parts, “Headache”
Diarrhea Planet, “Bob Dylan’s Grandma”
Jeff Rosenstock, “Wave Goodnight to Me”
Car Seat Headrest, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
LVL UP, “She Sustains Us”
Ty Segall, “Mandy Cream”