The 15 Best Houston Songs of 2016

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As technology evolves and popular tastes devolve, the song’s position as the fundamental musical currency is in no danger whatsoever. Certain Luddites and vinyl fetishists may cling to albums, but a single song will always be the fastest, most direct and often cheapest means for musicians to get their message across, no matter the physical or digital medium. So while it may be hopelessly subjective to call these the “best” songs of 2016, even the most skeptical observer should be able to glance through this list and gain an inkling of what kind of year it’s been for Houston music.

DISTANT WORKER, "The Diplomat"
Clipd Beaks, one of America's great undersung bands, used to bill themselves as a mix of Primal Scream and This Heat, markers that work well here too. Distant Worker has a knack for working out strange figures on the axis of propulsion and atmosphere. It was hard to prefer this track over Animal Data's rambunctious sleng-teng closer "Pornovenise" and its line "Is this Houston Texas or Paris France," a coy lampoon of our civic pretensions. But "The Diplomat" is a little more forward in the lineup, with a rock-ready tempo and a cool shower of acid lines about the impotent diplomacy of playing nice, whether with the bland bloodlust of these imperial times or the toothless growls of protest culture. TEX KERSCHEN

DRAKE feat. PIMP C, "Faithful"
The late Pimp C had a history of outright hijacking songs from far more famous and notable names; see Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin” for proof. He does just that on one of the better tracks from Drake’s smash record, Views, which dropped in April. Pimp actually kicks the track off with a fire verse that shouts out UGK partner Bun B, and this is a good thing on two levels. One, a fire verse is a fire verse. Two, Drake is an emcee who tends to play to the level of his competitors. On a track like “Faithful,” rapping alongside someone the caliber of Pimp C makes Drizzy raise his game. The result is one of the best tracks on one of the year’s most successful albums. CLINT HALE

DOEMAN, "American Me"
Off the heels of his debut album, The Gold Blooded LP, Barrio god Doeman brings his signature swagger and lyrical potency to his sophomore album, O.B.E. (Outer Body Experience). Hypnotic and menacing, here he continues his reputation as one of Houston's rawest and most talented rappers. MARCO TORRES

This summer, Discos Peligrosa released a flirty tropical tune featuring Houston rapper Fat Tony and Bombón’s La Comadre Mel. Though the collective traditionally champions sounds that connect the dots between cumbia, hip-hop and club music, Bombón’s “Dame Un Beso” (“Give Me a Kiss”) veers a little off-course to provide a breezy vibe that matches Tony’s effortless lyricism. The tune shot high onto Spotify’s United States Viral 50, and on iTunes’ “best of” picks and playlists. The single is out now on iTunes. MARCO TORRES

In July, I noted that Cooley Kimble's "Higher" was the best rap song of the mid-year. The James Brown/"Do It to Death" sample is already a gorgeous piece of uplift, but it's the tone and message that will suck you in — liberation, feeling free, and being unable to feel the lows when you've got the Lord on your side. Chance The Rapper and a host of non-Houston acts brought religion and faith back into daily conversations in regards to hip-hop. Cooley Kimble also brought those things out of people, in a year that most deservedly needed it. BRANDON CALDWELL

GIANT KITTY, "Don't Stop That Bus"
Can we take a moment to appreciate the most fun song to come out of Houston this year? “This Stupid Stuff” got Giant Kitty some well-deserved national attention, but its this tribute to America's favorite time traveler turned messiah figure turned master assassin Keanu Reeves that caught my attention the first time I saw them live and then again when listening to their album. It also makes a very simple request we can all get behind: no more accent-talking Keanu. Please. CORY GARCIA

ILL FADED feat. Kam Franklin & Fat Tony, "Do My Thing"
Dreamy and uplifting, "Do My Thing" pits three of Houston's most creative and passionate musicians on a confidence-building track. Haters better get out of the way of the Get Faded movement taking over venues and dance floors from H-Town to Mexico City. MARCO TORRES

JERK, "Delicacy"
Even more than the other tracks on JERK’s debut EP, "Delicacy" plays like an obscure disco 45 single at 33-1/3 RPM. The sparse rhythmic framework, coupled with Austin Smith’s pitch-shifted and otherworldy voice, conjures the feeling of “something’s not quite right here," a pervasive discomfort that, rather than putting off the listener, inspires a curiosity satiated only by repeat listening. And if you’re like me, maybe you even try dragging a finger on the turntable to slow it down further and live deeper in the grooves. ERIC SMITH

One night in October, Lyric Michelle performed songs from her stunning 2016 album Miss Direction for a lucky crowd in House of Blues' Foundation Room. It was a stripped-down set, just a guitarist and the spoken-word poet/singer/rapper, who ordered the set list to tell her story. The whole tale was enrapturing, but the highlight was “My Pain,” the best Houston song of the year. On record, it soars with support from Jack Freeman and Donte Newman. Live and unplugged, it touched the vulnerable and insecure places within us. By the song's end, we were victorious and defiant, like the woman who was singing her life with her words. It may be this year’s best, but it’s also one for the ages. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

MIDDLECHILD, "First Times"
"First Times" is about as sunny as you’re likely to hear these '90s-emo throwback boys get. Their now-engaged (as of this week, congrats) front man and songwriter appears to have been going through a happy and colorful period while writing this. Luckily for the band, as well as for Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who so desperately need a break from bustin’, this summer single destroys the myth that only tortured artists can make meaningful art, bursting at the seams with youthful energy, joy and crunchy guitars. ERIC SMITH

THE REAL MCCOYS, "'Till You're Gone"
I loved their entire Folk Drunk debut album, but the one that always sticks in my head is “’Till You’re Gone.” A ditty for those of us who see the ridiculous moments of life and shrug them off, “’Till” is a succinct, catchy reminder that any of this will only matter for the briefest of moments. Or, as songwriter and vocalist Josh Raught sings, “There’s only so many trips around the sun, only so much gas in the tank.” It’s got a Texas-size vocal hook and a philosophical theme — you can’t write a song bigger than that, folks. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

SIK MULE, "Selfie Nation"
A generation or two after ZZ Top inscribed the spoils of their bawdy blues-rock pursuits into songs like “Precious and Grace” and “Tube Snake Boogie,” Sik Mule — another fuzz-blasted Houston power trio — picks up right where the bearded ones left off with this lumbering swipe at the swipe-addicted contemporary dating scene. Rather than landing as yet another judgmental screed aimed at those me-first millennials, though, this mingling of psychedelic soul and a slippery rock beat, taken from Sik Mule's eponymous debut LP, rings much truer as a sympathy note for the unsatisfied but ever-hopeful Tinderellas of the world. CHRIS GRAY

WATERPARKS, "21 Questions"
Pop-punk is a young man's game. The old guard can be counted on for great live experiences but not necessarily great studio efforts (hi, Blink-182 and Green Day), and that's fine; plenty of bands out there are writing really great tunes, including Real Friends, Neck Deep and Houston's Waterparks. Double Dare is one of 2016's most solid records, with “21 Questions” being the emotional crescendo that ties a nice bow on the whole experience. It starts intimate, builds to a nice anthemic ending and pulls off the group “whoa-ohs” that pull me straight back to the bands I loved back at the start of the '00s. Real excited to see what they do in 2017. CORY GARCIA

Houston being notoriously cheap on the music front, we miss out on a lot of talent — not least of which is Twisted Wires, who swore off playing in their hometown, or really anywhere, for less than a dump truck of money. Fortunately for us, the Internet runs on bitcoin, a currency based on unicorn lust and sunken Spanish ducats. The Internet still was working (last I checked) so drink deep on the "0000," a double-aged nectar of nihilism from Houston's finest recluse, now available through the trendsetting label Italians Do It Better. TEX KERSCHEN

XO feat. RIZZOO RIZZOO & SOSAMANN, "Off the Lot"
The world became flat for a moment as DJ XO's hypnotic sing-song anthem connected to everyone and everybody. A star-making turn happened when the upstart released "Off the Lot" late last year. It bubbled until it couldn't be ignored and by the middle of summer 2016, it became the most played local rap track of the year. Inescapable and ubiquitous, and it thankfully wasn't sullied by an unsanctioned remix or two. Rizzoo Rizzoo and Sosamann operate in spastic blurts of energy. It's the perfect contrast to XO's smooth confidence. BRANDON CALDWELL

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