The 50 Best Singles by Phoenix Bands in 2016, Part One

This list was pulled from more than 200 songs from this year and largely ended up being the list of songs that I could sing off the top of my head. Unlike last year, this list is not arranged chronologically based on release; it is based entirely on how I felt about these songs and the staying power they have in my mind. I also restricted this list to one track per artist, because otherwise roughly 12 artists with singles going steady would have dominated the list.

50. The Apaches
 "Space Chase"
Of anything I've heard the Apaches do, "Space Chase" is my favorite so far because I'm a total sucker for surf rock of any kind, and this sounds like it could have been pulled straight off an album by any classic surf band circa 1960. They've even made a very amusing video for the whole affair, which is nearly as fun in a public-domain sort of way as the song itself. What's more is that the music matches perfectly.

49. Ricky Fitts
Ricky Fitts is a fresh new indie pop outfit that gets down to danceable electronica right out of the starting gate. "Nightmare" isn't music for heavy analysis; it's music to get your legs moving, your ass shaking so you can just dance the night away. Here, the church organ opening is a soft seduction, but if you're not dancing in your seat by the 30-second mark, you may want to re-evaluate how you enjoy life.

48. Cheap Hotels
 "I Need Some Sleep"
This song is the centerpiece of their Long Summer EP, and it's easily one of my favorite tunes of the entire year. Also, the casual reference to Lou Reed immediately caught my attention. This is just fun music for fun people, so if you hate fun, you may want to pass on Cheap Hotels. But if you're all about post-punk beach rock, this record was tailored just for you. I will definitely be tracking this band for the rest of their existence, as I simply can't get enough of their sound.

47. W.A.S.H.  "Cocaine (Featuring Lady KO)"
I gave this only one spin before I was hooked, not unlike the drug for which it's named, but this is more addictive. It's a short number, like all of their best songs have been so far, and the lyrics are really easy to remember: "You know we always down with the boys who have the COCAINE!" It doesn't really leave much to the imagination, except I'm not sure if this is a serious anthem for the women out there who are actually like this or a wry commentary on that phenomenon. "Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Motherfucker" indeed!

46. Huckleberry "Wild Ricky"
"Wild Ricky" was my immediate favorite from Huckleberry this year. While it stays true to their signature Americana rock sound, there's a heavy emphasis on the "rock" part of that. The guitar work found here is some of the most aggressive they ever put to record, and the vocals match in a like-minded way. There's still some lap steel action here, but it's not as up front in the mix as it has been on past efforts. If this isn't the best song they've committed to record so far, it's definitely the most balanced from a genre perspective.

45. Troubled Minds
 "Silk Flowers"
It's impressive how much musical territory Troubled Minds can cover in any single song selection, and nearly none of them go in the direction you think they will from the start. A great example of this is "Silk Flowers," which you think is going to be pure screamo laden with the guitar weight of Helmet, but only half a minute in and they are hitting indie rock territory quickly, with a hint of the angst that made early Nirvana and the Pixies so great. It's all about being trapped in someone else's confines and being angry about it. The best line: "You asked me to speak, then you sewed my mouth shut / now you're blaming everyone for this rut."

44. Sunday At Noon
 "Brain Damage"
"Brain Damage" rocks harder than anything Sunday At Noon have done before, but in a way that suggests they may have been checking out some classic records by Van Halen, AC/DC, and maybe GN'R — a welcome addiction to their existing sound. This is just great rock 'n' roll with a touch of metal to it, filled with riffs, howls, and screams — every second of it is a primal joy. It will be interesting to watch where this band goes. They could move just as comfortably into Stone Temple Pilots territory as they could into a Van Halen trajectory, or maybe some synthesis of both. Their potential to rock seems limitless.

43. Day Before Plastics
 "Hot, But"
It's a slow burner, but an instant DBP classic with a great groove that has their patented melancholic whimsy. The joy of the best Day Before Plastics songs is the various influences that they distill into their work. There are hints of anything you could name here, from Caribbean folk music to straight indie rock. The group also has fantastic harmonies that have a latter-day Talking Heads feel to them. It's not a new direction for DBP, but it is a fantastic extension of their continual journey in defining their sound and creating a signature style.

42. Rob Kroehler
 "The Gadabouts"
Rob Kroehler treads a line in his piano pop found somewhere between Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, with a true sense of storytelling. "The Gadabouts" is a perfect synthesis of his anachronistic sound, which on this tune makes the closest approach to Nilsson that it's ever taken — clever asides and all. He says it's "a (mostly) autobiographical tune. Musically and lyrically, honest." It seems like a song that's just fallen out of time, a distant time.

41. French Girls
 "Couples Skate"
If you ever got hung up on records by the likes of Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, or Heavens To Betsy, French Girls is right up your alley. This is completely true of "Couples Skate," which almost seems wrong to play digitally, since it's begging to be pressed to a 45 single. There is just sheer joy in the crunching guitar and the catchy-as-hell assault on your senses as the singer ruminates on asking a boy to a couples skate. It's got a great sense of innocence to it; at the same time, the raving guitar provides the danger.

40. Painted Bones
 "Straight Into The Sun"
Every time I've seen Painted Bones, they have closed their set with "Straight Into The Sun," and it has blown me away every single time. This happens to the point where the last time I saw them I was waiting through their set just to hear it, like I needed to get my fix. And boy, did they deliver — it's a perfect set closer and my favorite track on their debut EP, without a doubt. It is Arthur Detrie's finest moment, and it's my understanding he's the one responsible for the monster riff that powers this rock 'n' roll juggernaut.

39. Sunset Voodoo
"Sweet Release"
I just fell in love with this tune immediately, perhaps because it was not what I was expecting and I was delightfully surprised. This is straight up alt rock, and it's stayed as one of my favorite singles of the year. It's not as heavy as some of their other songs I've loved by them, but this one has an almost pop feel to it that makes it wonderfully infectious and more than a bit addictive. I found myself singing it walking down Mill Avenue the day after I heard it and couldn't figure out what it was for a moment. It's definitely their most professional song they've released, and it is instantly radio-ready.

38. The Darts
The debut record from the Darts is a wonderfully aggressive barrage of guitars and vocals in the red, with everything fuzzed out to the max. It's a pretty cathartic record from beginning to end, but my favorites seem to be the shorter numbers like "Take What I Need" and this song, "Revolution." The energy here is visceral, unhinged, and possessed by sheer rapid drive. This is music to lose your mind to with a Farfisa organ in tow.

37. The Technicolors
 "Space Cadet"
"Space Cadet" seems to meet in the middle of the Technicolors' Brit pop leanings on Listener and the more minimalistic synth rock of their last EP. The spare, minimalism of the music forces Smiley's voice and lyrics right to the front of your consciousness, and here he's giving his best Dylanesque delivery I've heard to date. To be clear, it comes across as Dylan meets Jeff Buckley, and the results are pretty brilliant. It's the vocal hook that's catchy as hell, and the inflection used on the actual words "Space Cadet" is something to swoon over in no uncertain terms.