Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald.
She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.
The 14 Best Songs of 2016 from the desk of Aimsel Ponti
Written by: Aimsel Ponti
If I had all the time in the world this list would be longer. It might include Lady Gaga and Norah Jones, because they put out fantastic albums this years with songs I love. It might include a TON of other acts both local and nationally known. But 14 is also just the right number because it’s an honest list, these truly are my favorite songs of 2016. Some of these acts I got to see live, others I just adored from the comfort of my headphones and car.
I chose these songs for a number of reasons but mostly because they’re the ones I just plain loved the most this year and are the ones I listened to the most and are the ones that struck my heart and soul the most. The first two songs are in first and second place on my list, the other are in a 12-way tie for third place. I love them all and hope you do too. But I also hope you think about what some of your favorite ones of the past year are. Life can be so hard sometimes. I find solace, hope, inspiration, humanity and love in music. Few things are more important. Happy listening.
SHEL "Is the Doctor in Today"from “Just Crazy Enough”
This is the song that I listened to by far the most this year. Triple digits for sure. If my favorite
songs of 2016 had to be narrowed down to just one , this would be it without question. SHEL is a band I
discovered in July when they performed at One Longfellow Square. They're four sisters from Colorado and
"Just Crazy Enough,"released in May, is their second album. Their debut came out in 2012 and it too is
spectacular. Impossible to categorize, the band's name is an acronym for its members. Sarah is on violin,
Hannah's on keys, Eva's on mandolin and lead vocals and Liza's on drums and does this beatbox thing
that's incredible.This song truly had me at hello, which is literally the first word of the song. I
indeed feel all the things when I hear this it especially when three out of the four Holbrook sisters
sing the line "Maybe you hear me late at night/I've been searching all my life/Is there anybody there?"
No matter how many times I listen to "Is the Doctor in Today" I am completely transfixed. I've now seen
them perform it four times live and I'm going for number five ASAP. And here's two of many cool facts
about SHEL; "Just Crazy Enough" was co-produced by Brent Maher (Grammy-winning famous Nashville producer
and Dave Stewart (not just *any* Dave Stewart, the Dave Stewart who is half of the freaking eurythmics).
The other cool fact is that "Just Crazy Enough" is also home to SHEL's stunning take on Metallic's "Enter
Sandman." Find them at shelmusic.com
DAVID BOWIE "I Can’t Give Everything Away" from “Black Star”
The day we lost David Bowie was one of the worst days of my life. I still haven't quite come to terms
with it. I bought "Black Star" the day it was released, Bowie's birthday on January 8. That weekend I
listened to it three times and realized that it's an absolute masterpiece. Then on Monday morning,
January 10 my phone rang at 6 a.m. and my friend Sarah was on the other end of the line telling me the
news. It took me many months to be able to listen to "Black Star" again and I still can't do it easily.
But again, the album is a masterpiece and "I Can't Everything Away" is my favorite for reasons I can't
entirely explain. It's gorgeous and heartbreaking and Donny McCaslin's saxophone, Tony VIsconti's
production, DB's vocals, all of it. Every second.
JONATHA BROOKE “Nothing Hurts Like Love Hurts” from “Midnight.
Hands down, Jonatha Brooke is one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters ever since her days as half
of the duo The Story. She can pretty much do no wrong and her latest album "Midnight. Hallelujah" is no
exception. I've long said that Brooke has a kind of "catch" in her voice that makes songs like "Nothing
Hurts Like Love Hurts" all the more meaningful.
JULIANNA BARWICK "Same" from “Will”
"Will" is one of the most haunting and mesmerizing albums you'll ever hear. I am still upset with myself
for not making it to Barwick's show in April. I included the song "Same" on this list because I almost
can't handle how good it is. When you listen to it, do so with your eyes closed and let it wash over you.
It's tranformational and beautiful and the synths are divine and her vocals will make you cry if you're
not careful. You won't even know what you're crying about but you'll feel all the things and will be
better off for it.
AMOS LEE "Vaporize" from “Spirit”
At some point I need to listen to the rest of Amos Lee's latest record, "Spirit" because if "Vaporize" is
any indication, it's a spectacular bunch of songs. Trouble is, I love "Vaporize" so much I keep playing
it over and over. It all comes down to that one word. Who knew that the word "vaporize" could mean so
much when sung? It's a fairly bitter love song but his voice is so soulful and the piano is lovely and it
all just comes together with such perfection that you'll be anything but bitter when you hear it.
PORT OF EST "Sister Wolves" from “Onyx Moon”
Port of Est is the Maine duo of Hannah Tarkinson and Todd Kitchens. Their electronic pop album "Onyx
Moon" is extraordinary. I could have picked any number of songs from it as a favorite but went with
"Sister Wolves." For five minutes and 19 seconds your ears will be thanking you because Tarkinson's voice
over a lush bed of synths and percussion will transport you to that secret place that only you know
AOIFE O'DONOVAN “Stanley Park” from “In the Magic Hour”
The very first song on Aoife O'Donovan's "In the Magic Hour" is my favorite on her record "In the Magic
Hour." Her voice is as lovely as it gets and the song is poetic and impassioned with lines like "I'm a
poor wayfarer and I got no one to dry my eyes/Time to lay this body down/In the frozen ground, the frozen
ARC IRIS “Moon Saloon” from “Moon Saloon”
Arc Iris, out of Providence, RI, are one of the most unusual bands I know. In October I wrote that the
album "Moon Saloon" will "take you on an expedition across delicate soundscapes and into gorgeously
textured territory." And I really mean it because you'll hear cello, trumpets, guitars, drums and keys
all with the sweet and expansive voice of singer Jocie Adams. I chose the title track for this list
because it's six minutes and seven seconds of stirring, achingly gorgeous music that will bring you to
the moon and the back and you'll touch down for a landing at the end feeling awash with emotion.
RACHAEL YAMAGATA “Nobody” from “Tightrope
Rachael Yamagata has been a favorite singer of mine since I first heard her "Happenstance" record back in
2004. Her voice is smoky and big. It can also be delicate when it needs to be. Yamagata doesn't hold
back in the song "Nobody." It's fire and brimstone packed into a plea that has her on her knees and the
listener in the palm of her hands. at least this listener.
HALEY BONAR “Better Than Me” from “Impossible Dream”
Haley Bonar has released seven albums but I didn't clue in until recently when she dropped "Impossible
Dream" and played at SPACE Gallery in September. The album's a half hour long and every second is worth
your time. There's a 90s feel to some of the songs and they're all songs you'll want to befriend. "Better
Than Me" is mid-tempo shapshot of a song with a biycle, cicadas and the running theme of hiding out.
WEAKENED FRIENDS “I Don’t” from “Crushed”
Hell yes! That's my go-to phrase about Portland trio Weakened Friends. Sonia Sturino's on vocals and
guitar, Annie Hoffman plays bass and sings backing vocals and Cam Jones plays drums. Their EP "Crushed"
is a fuzzy, frantic six-song collection that reminds me to rock out from time to time, especially to "I
Don't." So great.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER “He Didn’t Mention His Mother” from “New View”
Eleanor Friedberger is an indie-rocker who recorded her album "New View" in a converted barn studio in
upstate New York. She was inspired for these songs by her musical heroes including Van Morrison, Neil
Young and Yoko Ono. I'm all about the song "He Didn't Mention His Mother" because of the jangly electric
guitar and a steady beat lead into “I feel just as crazy as I did last night/I feel like I’ll get up and
go/Today I am frozen but tomorrow I’ll write about you.” Friedberger's is clear and inviting and this
song is tremendous.
SONYA KITCHELL “Follow Me In”
from “We Come Apart”
Again the opening track at a record won me over immediately. Such is the case with "Follw Me In" from
Sonya Kitchell's "We Come Apart." I wrote about her in January and said that " If I could transport
myself back to the ’90s, when making mixed tapes for crushes was still a viable thing, this song would be
on side one. 'Follow me in, come on follow me in,' repeats Kitchell in a hypnotic voice that’s layered
like delicate flowers pressed in a book of love poems."
case/lang/veirs “Atomic Number” from "case/lang/veirs"
Holy bananas. This record! Neko Case, K.D. Lang and Laura Veirs got together and made a record together
that is so good that it almost seems unreal. All three voices shine in the perfect song "Atomic Number."
The song's got it all, vocals, strings, mood and an ethereal essence to it that you have to hear to