2016 is the year local hip-hop marked its artistic renaissance and bred generation-defining, underground anthems that garnered critical acclaim. It’s also the year that paved way for new acts like Beast Jesus, Calix, Manila Magic, Ninno, and Memory Drawers, the year that reaffirmed Ang Bandang Shirley and The Itchyworms’ place in the pantheon of OG greats, the year that legitimized Logiclub Collective as the group to beat, and the year that landed Sud at the top of controversy and made them instant crossover stars with millions of Youtube and Spotify streams—for better or worse.
For what it’s worth, 2016 is a great year to discover the wealth that is homegrown music. From digital obscurities to ubiquitous pop hits, we honor the best releases of the past 12 months with our year-end list tradition. From an initial tally of 500+ songs that made it in our radar, we trimmed it down to 100 tracks that push for bold, creative statements, regardless of genres and production differences.
Side note: Beast Jesus’ 16-minute opus “Eros Obfuscate” and Ang Bandang Shirley’s indie-rock sing-along “Siberia” were released last week, the very same week we finalized our list. Both songs are eligible for 2017’s year-end list for Top 100 Tracks, and not this year.
100. LeagueofPaul :: Light beams (Feat. Similarobjects)
Leagueofpaul bursts out of the gate with “Lightbeams,” a collaboration with prolific producer Similarobjects. His refusal to conform to hip-hop tropes is refreshing here, taking a sharp left turn with infectious verses that showcase his ability to keep up steam. With Similarobjects’ dusty, soulful production taking center stage, this fire of a jam guarantees to get you down and grooving for the rest of the month.
99. Souvenir :: TSS
It’s hard not to be captivated by Souvenir’s sad bastard folk, especially with a song called “TSS” that feels both like an elegy to a past lover and a lullaby that moves in pretty interesting direction. There’s uncompromised integrity here—quiet moments that transcend its lo-fi limitations, a whispery voice that reveals some lingering pain, a melancholic longing that finds strength in its own fragility. Think of it as a Cass McCombs B-side filtered in a warm, new tone or an attempt to map the geography of one’s ailing heart.
98. Tandems’91 :: Something About You
Fans of Tandems ’91 deserve to throw a party as the post-disco trio ended their hiatus with the release of “Something About You.” Soaked in plush arrangements and steady, trance-like pulse, their latest jam follows the familiar sonic blueprint that we’ve come to love from the electronic band. It captures the best of their abilities, the most rippling of tricks, and the charismatic appeal. Good stuff as expected, but a change of vibe would definitely shake things up for their future releases.
97. The Mad Lilacs :: Bed Talk
“Bed Talk,” the latest track from The Mad Lilacs, is the sound of a band capable of exceeding lofty expectations by unmasking their personal struggles through music, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel or immature others would perceive it. It tears through a tale of romantic intimacy long gone, conveying both despair and longing in equal measure. It’s comforting to hear Elo Dinglasan open up his feelings while keeping us right there with him—at the edge of breakage. When he sings, “delude me into thing about love though it was never really there,” it’s hard not to fall apart as he cradle the fuzz spun from his own sadness. There’s that crack in his voice, the inexplicable anthemic rush that surges when he sings on the top of his lungs, with the mantra “something a man needs” repeated to exhaustion. It’s all part of what makes the song a repeat-worthy experience: youth, innocence and heartbreak. Pain makes everything worth it.
96. Pet School :: The Crying
Just when you thought that witch house has gone out of style, Pixel Collective’s resident outsider Pet School dropped the track “The Crying” in an attempt to reintroduce the beautifully skewed sound in its accessible form. Haunted and intricately laced with layers of hypnotic textures, Pet School’s latest demo drags you to its slow-moving pace, witching its way to the darker corners of an abandoned room and filling every bit of the space with dramatic kind of mood. It sounds like a cross between Salem and Purity Ring, with synths picking up like rays of hope against soundbites of brooding atmospherics.
95. Zion Aquino :: Defenseless
It’s pretty unusual to go through trials without errors, and R&B crooner Zion Aquino knows this virtue by heart. His previous singles were steeped in middle-of-the-road balladry: soulful but old-fashioned, harmless but uninteresting at best. But not everyone is gifted with that singing voice, a league of its own in my opinion, and it’s something that comes from a place of authentic skill and raw vulnerability. When such tool is properly used as a weapon, accented by towering production flourishes that highlight the power and nuance of his singing style, the result can be quite pleasing.
“Defenseless,” Zion’s new single off the upcoming album Grateful Soul, veers away from the formulaic premise of his early releases to great effect. It hints at his capacity as a credible pop artist who knows when to switch gears and captivate the audience. Ambition is obviously at work here, lifted by haunting string arrangements and fiery production tricks that could pass off as George Michael circa Patience. Zion remains the big draw here, especially with his ability to sprinkle gritty sultriness when needed and hold back for a more heartfelt outcome. Not everyone can interpret the bigness of “Defenseless” and not allow its power throttle to overshadow the talent. Zion does it effortlessly and is rife with it.
94. Mirror Masks :: Rabbit Hole
With its irresistible melodies and fine-tuned production edges, “Rabbit Hole” seems like the exact opposite of Mirror Mask’s brooding, ethereal pop circa 2014. Angie Pablo’s breathless vocal is now more front and center here, and the entire vibe is post-summer goodness—thanks to Jam Lorenzo’s tasteful guitar licks and Josh Crae’s playful music direction. Soft, soothing sounds touch down on subtle experiments, going for sugary low-key one minute and corrosive crunch to balance it out the next. This track finds Angie and her pals coloring outside the lines without going completely off the grid. Good stuff.
93. Similarobjects :: Gil Plus
Similarobjects has a knack for stretching everyday sounds into something strange and unrecognizable, never allowing his music to be boxed in a single category. Marked by abstract formlessness, his work covers micro-genres from the unconventional facets of electronic music, treating us to an array of moods and soundscapes that evolve through time. His newest track “Gil Plus” serves as another great addition to his ever-expanding catalog, mapping out disjunctive sonic palettes that seem inspired by his love for Final Fantasy. The result is a distorted, positively cavernous reimagining of house music: its maze-like shape shows that there’s so much more beneath the surface. The idea that sounds can be twisted, disfigured and turned into something bigger than a concept, is a philosophy engraved on most Similarobjects’ tracks. Listening to “Gil Plus” gives off that familiar feeling.
92. Reese Lansangan :: Exploration No. 5
Despite the absence of a full band, Reese Lansangan manages to broaden her minimal setup with songs that tackle a wide range of subjects: grammar misuse, space geekery, stalkers, smooth talkers, name it—it’s in her area of expertise. Reese’s versatility as a songwriter is an asset, a lilting texture that complements the nakedness of her sonic palette. It’s when she writes songs as raw and honest as “Exploration No. 5” that you can see a side of her outside of her music’s intrinsic sweetness: that cutesy weirdo who doesn’t mind talking about anything at greater length, be it “strange fascinations or what we hate, our admiration for aliens and languages and things.” However, part of me wants to give the song the embellishment that it needs—a few strings here and there, probably a fuller arrangement that will showcase the nuances of her storytelling, or maybe lay it in the hands of producers like Mikey Amistoso or Jazz Nicholas to give it the vibrant bombast that it needs. But I am totally fine with the song in its current mold: feather-light, subdued, her ambition dialed down for a more intimate listening experience. Even the simplest formula of a guitar and a ukulele can do wonders especially if the song carries a certain warmth we could all relate to, and “Exploration No. 5” takes us to that familiar place, hearts bumped at the center, beating and brimming with pride.
91. Devices :: Flowers
Devices’ first single “Flowers” has the charismatic verve to stand up to any doubters. While most bands in the college-rock vein often take the trend-bait route or the jazz-soul mélange occupied by the Jensens and the Suds, Devices chases the unexpected, working in conjunction with the sunniest of indie-rock hooks and exploring warmer, secluded corners of pop music. This new blueprint serves as the centerpiece of their latest track. It swings wildly from lackadaisical detachment to disaffecting charm, worth hearing not so much because of what they sound like, but what they’re capable of doing with it given the limitation and all.
90. Analemma :: Bounce
Aside from wringing out stripped-down confessionals for her solo acoustic project, Kai Atienza fronts psychedelic soul band Analemma whose debut EP Evodia shows fearless creativity despite the inherent lack of subtlety in terms of production. Inarguably the best song of the record is “Bounce,” an iridescent showstopper whose flair for theatricality and sonic unpredictability is a revelation in itself. Ambition is pretty much the virtue here, but it’s done in such a tasteful way. From the dramatic shifts in structure to the soulful delivery, the track morphs from a skittery electro-R&B jam to a prog freak-out that brings to mind Janelle Monáe on acid—whatever that means. Spin this track in repeat and indulge.
89. Tall Ice Lung :: How I Wish I Met You Sooner In My Life
Tall Ice Lung is an amalgam of everything blissful about late ‘80s and early ‘90s indie-rock: the slumbery pop instincts of Field Mice, the fuzzy drama of Jesus and The Mary Chain, the blurry resonance of Sebadoh. It’s an analog sound that veers away from contemporary stylistic traits, finding comfort in scrappy basement jams, away from sunshine and people. “How I Wish I Met You Sooner In My Life” fits in Francis’ distinct songwriting sense, where lo-fi functions more than just an aesthetic catchphrase, and exists as a way of living, a romantic expression done with clear intentions. Nothing can distract Francis from being upfront with his feelings, neither the fuzzy mix nor the scrap of noise trying to stomp on it. It’s when he sings, “I loved you dearly ever since. I could go on and on about you” that you feel a level of earnestness so pure, you just stare in blank space and stay quiet to feel every bit of it. There is heartbeat in noise.
88. Olympia :: Nothing Wrong
After countless of collaborations with fellow Logiclub talents CRWN and Aries, Olympia steps up her game with first solo outing “Nothing Wrong.” The post-R&B seductress pursues the twisted game of love in scrabbling, atmospheric beats and pillow-talk echoes, conveying emotional fracture and empowerment at the same time. “Won’t be your slave, I won’t be your slave again,” she holds her ground as if it were the last straw. Her delivery is sweet but sinister, soft but self-assured, but you can feel how she has finally come to terms with understanding and owning her confidence even in just a short period of time.
87. SkinxBones :: Bury Me In The Forest (Feat. Den Sy Ty)
It makes me excited seeing Skinxbones and Den Sy Ty in the same billing together. These two have brought the ace game back in abstract rap via last year’s “Mercurial Indica,” feeding off each other’s energy with otherworldly radiance. Their latest collaboration “Bury Me In the Forest” seems to rely on the familiar blueprint that they’ve established: that sense of pessimism jabbed over atmospheric textures, amplifying the tension rather than holding back. Here, Den Sy Ty runs circles around the beat without stepping into a pit, dropping lines like “Slave to my own fate, feeling hollow / No golden passes, I’m alone” with menacing self-doubt. But there’s sense of animated confidence in the delivery, pretty much like Danny Brown getting his mojo back as he spits bars on top of a cloudy instrumental. As for Skinxbones, he rips the sky open with his trademark mix of trap beats and soaring, disembodied production, going for easy-going transcendence instead of a hard-hitting jam.
86. Serif :: All I Think About
Serif’s music is strikingly amorphous in a photographic sense, like headlights blinking in a misty city night. Its subtle seduction doesn’t recall anything on the internet now, going off the rails and immersing into the more eccentric pulse of bedroom R&B. “All I Think About,” their newest single, skips prevailing trends and anchors pop instincts with bristling digital soundscapes, attention-grabbing falsettos, and animated throbs. There are moments when the production atmospherics kind of obscure the romantic intent of the track, but these things shouldn’t worry listeners. Part of what makes Serif interesting is its ability to transpose intimacy to music with its aesthetic choices–no matter how moody or dark, sensitive or assertive it is. On “All I Think About,” Serif looks to innovation with a decidedly heartfelt perspective, delivering as much personality as their more popular alter-ego, Tandems ’91.
85. Sarah Geronimo :: Tala
Sarah Geronimo’s transition to grown-up fanfare has elicited a chorus of praises from music critics and fans, with singles “Ikot-ikot,” “Tayo,” “Kilometro,” and “Dulo,” catching fire at pop radio. Her fiery display of attitude and command contributed significantly to the sonic identity of these songs, but more than Sarah G herself, it’s composer-duo Thyro and Yumi that we should all blame for challenging the pop diva to come out of her shell and render empowerment anthems with Sasha Fierce-like sassiness.
Geronimo’s latest single “Tala” off her latest album, The Great Unknown steps up to the plate with its irresistible hook. The tandem of songwriter Nica Del Rosario and producer Jumbo de Belen has yielded quite impressionable, career-pleasing hits for Nadine Lustre and Yassi Pressman, and on the newest Sarah G joint, the duo manages to forge a connection with pleasing results. “Tala” isn’t as strong as her other lead singles “Kilometro” or “Ikot-ikot,” but it is enough to solidify Geronimo’s reign as a pop-star chameleon who can toss a few winsome winks at anyone who might feel skeptical about her work. Against a backdrop of tropical inflections, burbling synths, and a sparse hip-hop backbeat, Geronimo lets us peek into her romantic feelings—intense, spirited, and full of optimism. She’s definitely back on track with this one.
84. Pedicab :: What’s The Algorithm?
Shying away from their more accessible material, Pedicab dives deep into ’80s obscurity with the propulsive punk-funk riffs of “What’s The Algorithm.” Everything about it screams Gang of Four: the jolting stops and starts that scrape across the song like a sticky, oiled groove, the post-punk urgency, the spike-drenched noise in the background. There’s no attempt to crossover here, but there’s palpable move to infiltrate the dance floor, classic Pedicab style. Diego Mapa coaxes his audience to respond in the one-liner chorus, turning the mathematical into a new wave gospel that we all deserve to hear at some point.
83. Karencitta :: Oblivion
Unsigned Cebu-based rapper Karencitta started beefing up her portfolio with the release of her debut album, So Help Me God. But we got a taste of her boundary-busting commitment on “All The Way Up,” an Ankhten Brown-assisted banger that shimmers with undeniable personality and skill. Third single at this point, the nu lady of Filipino hip-hop spits knotty rhymes over a reggae-accented beat via the Scarecrow-produced track “Oblivion.” Her bars are out for war, but she certainly knows when to pull the ripcord for a more subtle, tasteful approach.
82. Loba Y Lobos :: Babaylan
We have little reason to doubt Loba y Lobos’ sincerity, even if his songs are often couched in fragmented memories. His work, set to bare acoustic guitar arrangements and tinted with sepia-tinted richness, elevates that vagueness into a work of introspection, and it’s extremely rare to find a singer-songwriter capable of documenting his own fragility without the need to completely lay everything else in the table. That’s the inherent uniqueness in “Babaylan”— the metaphor could be a god, a muse, or an old flame. “Babaylan, ano ang iyong nakikita,” Jacob pours his heart on the chorus, singing it with entrancing stare into the old abyss. When Jacob sings, people pay attention. His fragile murmurs, his pauses and intimations, are a perfect fit to his words, adding light to melancholy. The song exposes the pain without revealing so much details, and when Jacob turns the emotional into a creative upheaval, it doesn’t seem forced at all.
81. Rico Blanco :: Wag Mong Aminin
Hugot is at the centerpiece of Rico Blanco’s “Wag Mong Aminin,” a theme that the former Rivermaya frontman has been playing around with depth and understanding since the ’90s, masterfully touching on specific aspects of Filipino sensibility that others often fail to do so. Blanco knows how to write an anthemic ballad with disregard for conventions, but he also is also a pop thespian capable of turning everything in his hands into a smash hit. “Wag Mong Aminin” works around this premise, its accessibility cutting across generations, triggering old feelings and inducing sparks.
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