2016: A Year In Music

I was introduced to the concept of “personal weekly music charts” a little over six years ago, now, and started making my own at the same time.  The practice of creating your own Billboard-esque charts to really reflect on your music on a weekly basis, and then to have them to reflect on for ages to come, is one that I can say was always rewarding.  Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly time-consuming, particularly if you tend to do a lot with them as I did, and, all told, I only ever went all-out in creating them for one full year (2011).

The one vestige of this practice that has never faltered for me is the creation of a year-end music chart.  Even if I don’t have a week-by-week guide of what music I enjoyed, I still have to step back and evaluate my music year, and I can listen to music all year with the knowledge that, if I really love a song, I’ll get a chance to recognize that somewhere by placing it on one of my year-end chart’s 100 slots.

It’s difficult to compose such a thing without any definitive metric—I determine it solely based on the amount of enjoyment and importance I feel a song has had for me in the year, which are incredibly subjective and difficult to determine en masse—but I put in the effort nonetheless.  I go through what I’ve listened to all year and sort the most significant ones into a potential list of songs.  I then narrow it down to 100 songs, and go down the list asking myself if X song should be lower or higher than Y song, and so on.

In spite of whatever else 2016 has thrown at me, it has been a year full of fantastic music, between newly-released music, music that I discovered belatedly, and some music that I was previously familiar with, of which I came to a new appreciation.  Though the number of songs that helped me make it through this year far exceeds what you see here, I’ll let the music chart I’ve constructed speak for me about what my music year has been like:

2016-year-end-cropped

(For a clearer version of this image, go here.)

I could probably write pages upon pages about this chart, about most of the songs individually and their impact on me, quoting lines from each song that have strongly stuck with me and resonated in my head all year long, but I’ll spare you of that and instead, I’ll just hone in on a little exposition about my top five.

5. “Hallelujah” – I’m sure it seems bizarre that this is the first of three songs by Joshua Hyslop just in my top 5, particularly when I have access to so much other music, but he has by far been my favorite artist of the year and his music has resonated with me that strongly. The mournful cello and mellow piano that dominate “Hallelujah” just set a flawless tone, more so because of Hyslop’s vocals and the gorgeous guest vocals, and it all perfectly accompanies the lyrical themes of mortality and loss. It’s poignantly atmospheric and it’s been a perfect song for the many rainy days of 2016.

4. “Pol Roger” – While a relative latecomer in 2016 given that I came upon it toward the end of October, this song just blew me away right off the bat, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it and reveling in its awe-inspiring nature. It’s everything that I felt listening to Jimmy Eat World’s “23” and “Invented” for the first time and every time since (possibly even more, as I indicated in my album review of Integrity Blues), and it’s a reminder that this is why I love the band, that it’s not sheer nostalgia that lets me know that they’re a band consistently capable of making powerful, emotional works of music that you can’t stop playing. Everything, from the inclusion of oboe and horn to its impactful lyrics, makes it an unstoppable musical force.

3. “End Of An Era” – This song, for me, is a twofer; as I stated in my review of the album it comes from, it is essentially the ultimate Marianas Trench song to date, and as a fan of the band, it completely blew me away as a result. Old melodies and lyrics returning alongside completely new material to form a cohesive, (nearly) 8-minute beast of a song is truly a feat. The impact of this was so far-reaching that it breathed new life into their old song “Low” for me, one that I hadn’t gotten into originally, but revisited due to the lyrical reference to it within “End Of An Era.”  (You’ll note that this was significant enough to land it in my top 100 of the year.)  Beyond that, though, it’s just a song that houses an entire emotional journey, one of pain and struggling through an impossibly difficult period.  I know that 2016 was a rough year for me and for many of my friends, and so the discussion of struggling within the song encompasses much of my experience of the year, and the theme of finding closure and peace that it ends with is how I feel at its conclusion.

2. “World Spins Madly On” – Though this is a cover of the original song by The Weepies, Joshua Hyslop completely brings new life to the song with a slower, somber atmosphere that truly replicates the feeling of being isolated and lost that the lyrics convey. On a personal note, it’s also been incredibly cathartic for me. When I first came upon the song, it was a poignant reflection on a person who disappeared from my life.  When one of my closest friends passed away, it took on a new meaning, a mourning of that loss and the relentless onward progression of life when time was at a standstill for me.  It’s been so important to me, in fact, that for a while, I was thinking it might top my chart for this year.  But it didn’t quite make the cut.

1. “Time Alone” – I’ve written about this song two times on here now—referencing it in my artist highlight on Joshua Hyslop, and in my individual post on the song—and it’s still not enough to express how much this song means to me and how much I’ve fallen in love with it. I fell in love with it so much and so immediately that I put it on last year’s chart, even though I got it only weeks before the end of the year. The instrumentals are simply gorgeous, the interludes making poignant use of steel guitar, and they’re powerfully complimented by Hyslop’s vocals and the song’s lyrics, with their parallel structure and how hard lines like “Time alone can waste you” hit me every time.  I don’t know that I can properly verbalize all of the reasons that this song deserves the top slot on my chart above the other 99; all I know is that I haven’t been able to stop listening to it for this whole year, to the extent that, without realizing it, it’s become my 11th-most-played song within my iTunes library in only a little more than a year of owning it.  It’s a powerful and beautiful song that is the defining song of 2016 for me, not so much in its strict meaning but due to its poignant tone and timbre.

As I said, 2016 has been a fantastic year of music for me (but then, music is a part of the year that rarely disappoints me), and I love being able to make something to express my appreciation for it all in the form of a chart, not to mention having the opportunity to properly and tangibly reflect on it all.  By all means, if you have the time and motivation, I highly recommend trying your hand at a chart like this of your own, and if you do, feel free to share it with me!  Making music charts is always more fun when you have people to exchange them with, and I love seeing how others’ music experiences and listening habits differ from mine.

With all that said, Happy New Year to you all!  I hope 2017 turns out to be as rewarding musically as 2016 has been.

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