This time last year, we were already running out of superlatives to use for Leon Bridges and his overnight rise to stardom. Fortunately, there's been plenty more to get excited about in the first half of 2016, including a number of North Texas artists who seem poised to follow in Bridges' footsteps. But which songs have been the best so far this year? It's not too soon to stop and take stock.
10. "The Meek" by Gensu Dean Feat. Denmark Vessey
There is certainly something to be said for collaboration. “The Meek” is a track from Whole Food, an upcoming collaboration from Dallas producer Gensu Dean and Detroit hip-hop artist Denmark Vessey. Dean’s production is heavy on percussion with smacking beats and simple chords that are surprisingly lyrical. It’s a great track and Vessey tears it apart. Jeremy Hallock
9. "I'm With That" by the Outfit, TX
In 2015, this trio released Down By the Trinity, a sharp, thought-provoking album rich with unique production. Its gothic brooding was also a departure from the Outfit's 2012 LP Starships and Rockets, which proved they could do the classic Houston-to-Dallas sound as well as anyone. In 2016, they’ve released a slew of tracks featuring the best of both worlds. “I’m With That” is a bass heavy anthem featuring Mel Hawkins and JayHawk Walker at the top of their game, refusing to mince words. They're not slowing down, either, with plans for the upcoming Green Lights: Everythang Goin’ EP. Mikel Galicia
8. "Cosmic Queen" by Pearl Earl
Last year, Pearl Earl dropped the Karaoke Superstar EP and staked claim to being one of the most entertaining live acts in North Texas. In May, the Denton quartet dropped "Cosmic Queen," a sonic, spacey exploration with the same excitable vocal delivery and faux-Japanese accent. Released just before an East Coast tour in May and June, the track winds a gnarly guitar riff around an infectious groove and killer party spirit. Like the EP that preceded it, "Cosmic Queen" is wild, good fun and perfect for a sing along. Evan Henry
7. "Country Girls in City Dresses" by Doug Burr
More than any other song Doug Burr has released in recent memory, the pastoral "Country Girls in City Dresses" would fit perfectly on Burr's immaculate 2007 record In the Garden. The raw acoustic strums and Burr's melodic whisper make for a combination that's flat-out gorgeous in its effortlessness. But then electric highlights step in and brighten the proceedings with just enough vibrance. The atmospheric ambience lends a softness without stalling the tune's sun-kissed Cali-style country-rock vibe. With longtime mates Glen Farris Squibb and Dave Sims on hand, Burr highlights the profound beauty of the sheerly simple. Kelly Dearmore
6. "Neon Lights" by Siamese
Avant-glam band Siamese is yet to release an album, but as far as statements of intent go they couldn't have put things more succinctly than they do on "Neon Lights." The four-piece wraps its shoegaze in a curtain of ever-changing theatricality, and the song follows in kind: It starts off fast, but singer Teddy Waggy drags on the title words with a sunshine-drenched melancholy, keeping with the varying mood. Happy chords are intermittently derailed onto a forlorn note and "Neon Lights" results in a simple but memorable melody, marked by Waggy's downright dreamy pop vocals. Eva Raggio
5. "Animal Rites" by John Congleton
The opening bow on John Congleton's first post-Paper Chase LP sounds like a cross between his past and present. With air-raid keyboards, a sinister piano line and distorted drum beats, "Animal Rites" is plenty familiar, but it's full of new sounds, as well. Way more upbeat than what Congleton has been known for, the tune shows what he has learned as a producer in the past five years and how he has grown as a songwriter. Still loving to stick with macabre metaphors about life and society, "Animal Rites" features one of the most memorable lines in recent memory: "If you want to see a dead body, take off your clothes." Eric Grubbs
4. "Gold Link" by Sam Lao
"Come on over here and get to know me," Sam Lao implores on the chorus to "Gold Link," and in many ways that's the story of everything this multitalented rapper and singer is about in 2016. Two and a half years after releasing her debut EP, West Panetgo, Lao delivered SPCTRM, the much-anticipated followup, and did it all on her own terms. Smart, slinky and sassy, "Gold Link" is an irresistibly smooth track, every bar dripping with Lao's self-assuredness. She knows exactly what she wants, and songs like this is how to make it happen. Jeff Gage
3. "Sign Off" by the Dividends
"Sign Off oozes with effortlessness. This is Sarah Jaffe in top form as a vocalist, with too-cool, moody lyrics and a chorus with an attitude that seems to look down on you, annoyed, and say, “I can sign off on that.” The production from S1, the other half of Dividends, is cinematic, like Will Hunting doing math: This is easy for him and he wants you to know it. “Sign Off” has so much potential as a single that it's hard to believe Dividends would play a single show and move on after releasing it, but that's exactly what they plan to do after performing last week at Trees. Still, don’t be surprised if you hear "Sign Off" in a commercial. JH
2. "Go Flex" by Post Malone
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Post Malone’s second official single, “Go Flex,” is primed to soundtrack the most memorable of your summer nights. Similar to “White Iverson,” the breakout, viral hit that launched the Grapevine native into stardom in 2015, "Go Flex" features his signature reverberated vocals laced with an infectious hook that begs to be played on repeat. The song also features smooth guitar strumming played by the Malone himself, which isn’t anything new for him but marks the first time he’s featured it in his recorded music. If his performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! was any indicator, there will be plenty more where that came from as the release of Malone's debut full-length approaches. MG
1. "My Church" by Maren Morris
For the second year in a row, someone from west of Dallas is talking the world by storm. Last year it was Fort Worth's Leon Bridges, and this year it's Arlington's Maren Morris. Like Bridges' Coming Home, Morris thrives on an appreciation for what made the classics, well, classic — and "My Church" is her way of spreading the good word. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash get their nods, but Morris doesn't need the boys to make her point; having cut her teeth as a Nashville songwriter, she knows all about the lure of the sacred and profane, and the saving grace in cranking up that FM radio on the open road. JG