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.
60. Dreamlovers4eva :: Moon Kittens
Dreamlovers4eva’s “Moon Kittens” is shimmering, balmy dream-pop at its finest. If you’re into Jesus and the Mary Chain, Mazzy Star and Yumi Zouma, you might enjoy this woozy sonic trip featuring Identikit’s Sandy James Buladaco on vocals and Beejay Esber on guitars. Seek escape to the outside world and listen to the song as it melts in narcotic loneliness.
59. Tether :: Anything and Everything
There’s more than enough personality of their own on “Anything and Everything” to transcend their time-worn influences. From the lurching casio-tone keys to the low-key drumming, Tether delivers a Sarah Records-influenced sound with contemporary appeal, lodging its way to your head for days. Sure, it defies expectations by getting rid of the usual fuzz for a stab at a more stripped-down approach, but there’s nothing Tether can apologize for on their latest single. Subdued by tempo and fidelity, this campfire tune is the best we’ve heard from them yet.
58. Shirebound and Busking :: Mula Sa Pantalan
Moving away from the lush, dusty instrumentation of 2014’s “Waltz of Two Left Feet,” Shirebound and Busking’s “Mula Sa Pantalan” gestures towards an intimate universe all his own, something you can’t quite comprehend because it’s bare, small and lonely from the inside. “Alam kong bilog ang mundo, pero mula rito tila kuwadrado at heto ang dulo mula sa kinalalagyan ko,” Iego invites a glimpse into his wounded sentiments, all told in remarkable detail and poignancy. His voice grows more and more affecting atop stripped-down guitars and handclaps, his love for words neither feels contained nor gasping for air. “Mula Sa Pantalan” succeeds most when it amplifies the slightest moments that will otherwise be left out, with Iego managing to pull us deep into his own reverie.
57. Spazzkid :: You’ll Only Love Me When I’m Gone
A lot of electronic producers have taken inspiration from dancehall, appropriating its colorful textures and island-infused rhythms while gazing triumphantly towards the present. Mark Redito follows the similar approach with “You’ll Only Love Me When I’m Gone,” a chopped-and-screwed banger that plays like an invitation to dance and catch up with your own feelies. Despite it being a buoyant tune, Mark Redito explores the themes of “loss” and relationship fallout on this particular track. “It’s a challenging theme to engage with, but I think that we should acknowledge ‘loss’ and how it can potentially shape us for the better,” Redito shares in his interview with THUMP. It turns out pouring your heartbreak on the dance floor is the kind of relief that we need to give in sometimes.
56. The Ransom Collective :: Settled
The Ransom Collective has its heart wide-open with “Settled,” channeling the carefree infectiousness of their previous singles and not leaving their much revered youth behind. It’s a track of genuine intent: optimistic lyrics about taking risks, swoon-worthy arrangements that sail skyward to a climax, harmonies and strings adding to the alluring power of the song. Everything about it aims for bigness, with the need to get its message across through a stadium-sized platform. While the track is full of pop-hook goodness and anthemic punch, it would be refreshing to hear The Ransom Collective explore a side of them outside of pastoral sunshine. For now, we’ll bask into their unrestrained passion and enjoy this while looking forward to the greater days of summer.
55. Olympia Maru :: Noon
While it’s customary for new music acts to approach underground oddities with a modern flair, Olympia Maru takes a giant step forward by clinging to the past with awe-inspiring familiarity. Their new track “Noon” cranks a subdued version of their ‘90s noise-pop influences, holding up to nostalgia while pulling the punches with excitement. It sounds exquisitely remarkable in lo-fi doses, but is not without the necessary ambition to get it somewhere down the trail. The guitars ring like chimes, slightly fuzzed out while retaining its soft, lovely moments. And then you’ll hear the wayward vocal lines surge force, lazing away into the ambiance with nuanced tenderness. Get on this thing of beauty while it lasts.
54. Hana ACBD :: Reverie
The striking thing about “Reverie” is that it allows Hana ACBD to throw her emotional locker in the open, giving us a piece of herself no matter the mood. In small brushes of soulful keys and lo-fi trap beats, she pours her heart out with diarist confidence. She sings, “with all that’s gone and all that’s broken, you mended with words unspoken,” as if sunshine found its way home amidst the irreparable darkness of the past. It’s when artists let their guard completely that we see an honest reflection of themselves in their art. “Reverie” is Hana ACBD speaking out in the open, for herself, for everyone who can relate, for that one person whose love matters the most.
53. Turncoats :: People Watcher
There are few good things we’ve come to expect from Baguio-based bands gaining traction online, but nothing on the level of Turncoats’ idiosyncratic appeal. Their latest track “People Watcher” combines the saturated prettiness of a summer record with warm, fuzzy atmospherics. What begins as a slow-burning excursion blooms into something beautiful and memorable, showing admirable ear for pop melodies regardless of its fuzzy edges and assertively fragile mix. While most of the tracks in their demo dump lean towards the more hermetic side of post-rock, “People Watcher” makes you wonder what comes next from a new band who has yet to prove themselves in the long run. For now, this song is enough to get you hooked.
52. Ryoku x Clara Benin :: Here Comes The Feeling
Despite the huge breadth of sounds explored in “Here Comes The Feeling,” Ryoku remains audibly interested in restraint. His work outlines the shape of a particular feeling, familiarizing himself with the nuances of Clara Benin’s lyrics while delving even deeper into emotional territory. Nothing here wallows in grandiosity and crowd-pleasing histrionics. In documenting a profession of adolescent love through Benin’s words, the young electronic producer allows the wistful, melancholic tone to build into something that you can also dance to. He gives in, only to turn a little off-kilter in terms of groove. You know someone’s a pro when he gives the floor to his muse unselfishly, allowing her to shine and take risks. Ryoku works on this premise, quiet and clear, his production touches lending a lightness to the mood.
51. Big Hat Gang :: God’s Bluff
It’s quite unforgiving to have something as intricately glacial as Big Hat Gang’s 5 escape our curatorial radar a few months back, a criminally underrated EP that sets its sight on assimilating dance music traits with unblinking rhythms and odd risks. The best among the bunch deserves a much-deserved welcome: “God’s Bluff”—a hazy sunshine daydream of a track unravels like a sweet revelation. Stabs of arpeggiated synths melt with flamenco-sounding guitars and drowsy beats, cutting through the pulse with bleary-eyed softness. Happy feelings abound, simmer rises above the sequined groove, and delicate synth breakdown conquers the space without warning, taking an offbeat detour into the blinding light. The dance floor is all set, and the dancing goes on until light fades to black.
50. Curtismith :: LDR (Prod. by CRWN)
For all its commercialized machismo, hiphop is, in fact, not subjugated to the male ego. It is easy to overlook the wide-ranging themes of hiphop, as it is often portrayed as a bedlam of violence, addiction, and a fleeting, purposeless diversion for those who are closely engaged with it. Clearly, it’s dismissive and barely scratching the surface. In fact, rappers with imperceptible level of notoriety are just as capable of writing the most powerful and most affecting songs unrelated to politics, race, class, fame, and wealth – but women. And not in any way patterned after hiphop’s murky history of misogyny and objectification, but of genuine, romantic nature. The point is, a hiphop song and a love song can be mutually exclusive. Rap, as opposed to a ballad or serenade, is no less of an authentic profession of adoration and love.
‘LDR’, a standout track from Failing Forward, the latest EP of Logiclub hiphop artist Curtismith, is a wide-eyed declaration of love, but without a trace of desperation or display of grandiosity. Even the inflection on “I cannot deny my desire, I’m a monster / But goddamn, girl I want you,” sounds like he’s thinking out loud more than actually saying it to someone else. Produced by frequent collaborator and fellow Logiclub member, CRWN, ‘LDR’s beat structure is as straightforward as its lyrical content, yet gorgeously helmed in stark simplicity. While it’s not Curtismith’s lyrically strongest song, it is one of his most charismatic – “See, your eyes never lie with a vodka / Come on, fly with Sinatra” which references the opening lines to Frank Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly With Me’, wherein the man heeds the woman to escape or elope somewhere distant and enjoy exotic alcohol, which is about as long distance as their relationship can possibly get.
Whether you take Curtismith’s words at face value or dig deeper into them, it’s undeniable how he inordinately presents details to tell his stories, a self-confessed idealist whose songs are definitely worth scratching the surface. (Mary Christine Galang)
49. Jess Connelly :: Rich $hit (Feat. Eyedress x RH Xanders)
It’s refreshing how Jess Connelly managed to breathe new life into the possibilities of contemporary R&B without fully committing to its commercial potential. Her work, with boost from frequent collaborator and producer CRWN, showcased a confident personality capable of turning small infinities into memorable highlights. As always, she sings to the high heavens with just the right balance of seduction and class, a feat done effortlessly.
Connelly’s new single “Rich $hit” thrives on the familiar playground: smooth and manicured production that makes it impossible for listeners to tune out. Eyedress and RH Xanders deserve the accolades for appropriating cosmic slow jam vibes and molding it into something languid and affecting. But it’s Jess Connelly’s sultry, emotive vocal performance that peels things back to its nakedly delightful essence. Devoid of any artifice, Connelly captures attention with a voice that pleads and searches for real love.
48. No Rome :: Think of Me (Feat. Unit)
No Rome has always flirted with the more loosened strain of R&B in his previous releases, occasionally indulging in mood and atmosphere rather than seduction. Hearing him apply the basics and extremities of such aesthetic blueprint on new single “Think of Me,” excites me. He’s an expert of the bedroom songcraft, drawing influences from underground oddities while making sure it captures the stretch of your imagination. Part of the allure of “Think of Me” comes from Rome’s sonic adventurism—his beats sliding easily into the pockets of low-lit tremor, aiming for space in the sparse, cold production. It’s a surefire jam that’s entirely at odds with what radio is playing nowadays, but it mines a certain level of accessibility that wafts through the room like the smell of a fresh scent.
47. We Are Imaginary :: A Good Kind of Sad
While most songs on We Are Imaginary’s latest album, Death To Romanticism have found new footing in the noisier, more left-field spectrum of indie-pop, “A Good Kind of Sad” remains stuck in the past. Which is not to say it’s a bad thing. Jangly guitar lines flourish along a serving of minimal synths, but the perfect pairing of melodic instincts and strong, catchy chorus echo the best moments of One Dreamy Indeterminate Hum, their debut EP released under Lilystars Records. That being said, it’s refreshing to see We Are Imaginary revisit some of the tricks that worked in their formative years and apply it to their new material with the same level of curiosity, yet different perspective.
46. Taken By Cars :: Soothsayer
Sometimes it takes a while to understand the beauty that comes with waiting. After what seems like a 4-year hiatus, Taken By Cars returns with “Soothsayer,” their new single off the upcoming album slated to be released on March 2017. Capable of delivering lovelorn effervescence by the hook, Taken by Cars’ latest offering heads toward a more lightweight, dream-pop affair. You’ll hear more Lush and Cocteau Twins than Bloc Party or Blondie this time, an attempt to transport you to a place of heavenly bliss rather than a neon-lit dance floor familiar to music fans of Ending of The New Kind era. More of this, please!
45. Adult Sleepovers :: Loving Isn’t Like Us
Plucked from an early demo with now-defunct shoegaze outfit Mount Analogue, “Loving Isn’t Like Us” doesn’t really come off as a shocker by Francis Maria Regalado’s standards, but its ascension to psychedelic pop perfection by way of swirling, effects-heavy guitars and reverb-laden atmospherics hits the sweet spot despite its underlying melancholic tone. The track is obviously a paean to a former flame lost, its message drowned with hazily piercing noise to imply a specific kind of longing—one that sees no redemption in forgetting. “I’m just so tired of seeing (you in) other people,” Regalado sings with a hint of resignation. The dense instrumentation tries to hide the pain, throbbing and wandering in the empty space for no reason but to escape. Moving on is a bitch.
44. Quest x Clara Benin :: No Greater Love
Quest has spent most of his career trying to put local urban music on the map. So far, his efforts are met with respectable achievements, commercial-wise: “Dati,” “Sige Lang,” and “Saludo” were some of the most memorable crossover hits under his name, songs that somehow integrate strong pop instincts with contemporary appeal. “No Greater Love,” his latest single is no stranger to this pursuit: a radio-friendly R&B track brimming with little, rumbling sonic details. Clara Benin lends her ethereal, crisp vocals to make sure that its commercial viability doesn’t go to waste, while Quest drops some sentimental poetics that have all the qualities to make everyone root for him.
43. Assembly Generals :: Sa Kalawakan
Proof that there’s freedom in reaching out to the skies and lifting your soul from whatever’s holding it down, Assembly Generals’ latest single “Sakalawakan” is a liberating anthem that dares to seek enlightenment, even when the heartless universe tries to extinguish the fire. It’s brash, unapologetic, and brave, but it also a big-armed embrace to everyone struggling to find their purpose, completely frustrated of how the world has turned out. The intro sets the tone: a pummeling beat that drifts and recedes in the hard-hitting mix, Deng Garcia singing the mighty hook—shaky, weightless, but captivating in its nakedness, funky samples that avoid the expected. While its sonic immediacy cuts through the marrow, Switch’s rap verses manage to keep us away from the moment and let our minds drift to somewhere calm and redemptive. “Sa kalawakan ako’y inyong iwanan hanggang maabot ang katotohanan,” he hints at a grim world than can be fixed if only we’re open to possibilities, but he does so without sounding preachy, without the need to show an enduring legacy of some sorts.
42. Fisherfolk :: Trial By Fire (Feat. Teenage Granny)
“Trial by Fire” is cut in the same cloth as every pulsating, synth-pop track out there inspired by the hairspray infectiousness of ‘80s music and Drive Soundtrack. Its smallness feels secured, working within a limited sonic range that resembles something like unearthed transmissions from the past. Akira Medina and Aly Cabral did a fantastic job of grappling with subtle inflections instead of going for a dramatic, long-winded stretch. The arpeggiated synths move inside a tight space where their otherworldly voices cocoon in comfort, waiting to spread its wings come sundown. It doesn’t need gimmicky theatrics to prove its point. The chemistry is enough to get us all hooked.
41. Thenils :: Pull
There seems to be a deluge of sensitive gents playing lo-fi pop music by playbook, taking their approximation of Sarah Records and C86 close to their bedroom heart. Iggy San Pablo’s solo project comfortably fits into this lemon squeeze of some sorts, but here’s the catch: he dishes out endearingly whimsical jams in the Garageband tradition. In a manner that is straightforward and heart-warming, “Pull” reimagines woozy sunshine goodness the same way Nick Drake does in his sleep, but probably a little less inspired and more internet friendly. Iggy’s songwriting sounds more personal than he has for some time, which is not to say that Rusty Machines’ work is inferior compared to his solo project. Different strokes for different folks as they say it in cliché. Speaking from an outside-looking-in perspective, Iggy does a fine job providing his wallflower sentiments on “Pull” in a distinct way that separates it from Rusty’s.
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