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All Songs Considered

We had some memorable conversations with a lot of our favorite musicians in 2016.

I could call this list "The Songs I Love To Drive Around With." More often than not, these 2016 songs set you up for a brilliant climax, often an unforgettable chorus. And I found a wide variety of artists that made songs with that memorable character, artists ranging from barely 20 years old to a reflective 82, from Niger to Nashville, from British hip-hop to yearning falsetto. I'd be thrilled to turn on a radio and hear this broad world of sound represent the Top 40.

Bob Boilen's Top 40 Songs Of 2016

"What did you get from Santa, honey?"

We dropped a classic today (what)
We did a tablet of acid today
Lit joints with the matches and ashes away
SKRRRT! We dash away
Donner and Dixon, the pistol is wrapped on the way

Trent Reznor promised new Nine Inch Nails material by the year's end, and has now delivered with Not The Actual Events. The EP, recorded with co-conspirator and now official band member Atticus Ross, is among Reznor's heaviest and most manic work. "Branches/Bones" and "The Idea Of You" team with chaotic punk, and the industrial doom of "She's Gone Away" and "Burning Bright (Field On Fire)" rivals Godflesh in its gloomy clank.

We at NPR Music love a big, flashy rock 'n' roll concert as much as the next person. But we're especially fans of those moments when our favorite artists bring their music into smaller spaces, when singers and guitarists and producers and drummers reckon with the particular intimacy and joy that go along with performing in close quarters.

More love songs should sound like a vintage Dodge Charger slamming into a brick wall. The Sacramento noise-punk band So Stressed channels the chaotic scuzz of Spazz with ramming speed, but pulls a brooding melody out of a jam.

So Stressed announces its third album, Please Let Me Know, with a lovesick bruiser titled "The King's Wig." Guitar, synth and drums careen at incredible speed with surprising control until the sludgy anti-chorus, as Morgan Fox declares (threatens?), "I only think about you / I only write love songs, and I would not change it for anything."

Grouper's music exists between the hues of memory, reflected in quiet swirls of guitar and Liz Harris' voice. Her most recent album, 2014's Ruins, stripped away much of the ambiance (to chilling effect) and played with environment as an instrument.

Bob Boilen is like a child this time of year, his eyes and ears full of wonder, as he traipses through the NPR Music offices, vigorously jingling his collection of sleigh bells. He believes, in his heart, that he's truly getting everyone in the spirit of the holiday season. But it's always been a steady source of irritation for me.

So the other day Martin Atkins sent me an audio file that made me smile. It's called Bad Day, and it's sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

Martin, a funny guy driven by a kind heart, used to be the drummer for Public Image Ltd. This is the story of how he quit that band — even though they had a big hit with "This Is Not A Love Song" — and wound up digging ditches for Bon Jovi's drummer in New Jersey.

Recommended Dose is devoted to surfacing the world's most intriguing underground dance music, and our 2016 mix is no exception. The 25 tracks that make up this 2-hour mix came to us from small dance communities all over the globe. Berlin and Vancouver are obvious hot spots right now (and that's reflected in the mix), but there are developing scenes in Atlanta, D.C., Melbourne, Glasgow, Cairo and Tokyo that are generating truly memorable tunes.

On weekends, I love to cook and listen to records. It's a ritual that began out of a necessity for meditation from the week — minding a pot of grits and sipping tea while Neil Young or Leon Thomas LPs spin in the background.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is back with an incredibly infectious new song called "Fireproof." It's the first single from the band's upcoming full-length, The Tourist, due out Feb. 24.

"Fireproof" is a thumping, synth-heavy look at how naive people can be. "I know it's hard to win," sings frontman Alec Ounsworth. "But how could I have thought that we'd ever lose."

Two weeks from our bleak midwinter, Big Freedia is coming through for y'all. New Orleans' Queen of Bounce has just released an EP titled A Very Big Freedia Christmazz, and it serves up the booty-shakin' holiday cheer we all need. It includes the requisite covers — "'Twas The Night" and "Jingle Bell Rock" — rendered ridiculous and glorious, plus two originals ("So Frosty" and "Santa Is A Gay Man").

Here we are at the end of 2016, a year fraught with national strife and general WTF-ery. What better way to soundtrack the fraying of nerves of America than the first At The Drive-In song in 16 years?

The Jesus And Mary Chain will release a new album next March, nearly 20 years after the band's last full-length release, 1998's Munki. The new album is called Damage And Joy, and our first taste of it is the grimly-titled but relatively poppy single, "Amputation."

There is no name for the music Krallice makes, only a sphere that encompasses it. In recent years, the band's mutant metal has become what can only be called extreme chamber music, with pieces averaging 10 minutes and an insatiable thirst for newness.

You'd be forgiven for viewing nominations for the 59th Grammy Awards, announced Tuesday morning, as a battle between two powerhouse singers: Beyoncé, whose Lemonade leads the field with nine, and Adele, whose 25 has been a sales juggernaut since its release late last year.

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NOTE: Voting for this year's best-albums list has closed. Check back Wednesday, Dec. 14 for the results!

What were your favorite 2016 releases? Using the form below, write in and rank the five albums you loved most this year. Your No. 1 favorite album goes in the first space, your second-favorite in the second, and so on. We'll tally the votes and share the results in the All Songs Considered podcast on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Today's All Songs +1 podcast is a conversation with The Antlers' Peter Silberman on how hearing loss would eventually lead him to create his first solo album.

There are times when a beat can save your life, and others when it's the last thing you need. For the past three weeks or so, the sound of drum machines has mostly felt numbing — dissociative from the reality of the culture, and not in a good way. The music that has best soundtracked the current feeling of confusion and embattlement is mostly dark, ambient and atmospheric, though not without hope.

This week, all the songs I play ended up being about the ways people, particularly women, empower themselves in the face of difficult times. Singer Sam Phillips offers a feast of sound in less than two and a half minutes with "World On Sticks," a song about the indomitable human spirit.

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