Tuning into the media often felt nightmarish this year, whether you got your news from the morning paper or the sleepless churn of Facebook and Twitter: a president with the temper and attention span of a child, a newly resurrected threat of nuclear war, terror attacks, neo-Nazi rallies, a rat race between professional pundits and amateur internet posters alike to offer the most incisive or outlandish takes on our collective meltdown. Some of the year’s best music grappled directly with this American chaos; some refracted it toward stories of personal struggle or triumph; some sought to offer temporary solace; some pursued a vision that stood apart from the news cycle entirely. Whether it was Kendrick Lamar rapping about all of the history inside him over a bombed-out beat or Lil Uzi Vert’s world-conquering dissociative anthem, whether it was Big Thief’s down-home depiction of heartbreak or love sending Carly Rae Jepsen soaring through the clouds, all of the music on this list spoke in some way to our capacity to live through storms like the one we’re currently enduring. These are the best songs of 2017.
The 101 Best Songs of 2017
101. Harry Styles - "Sign of the Times"101. Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times”
101. Harry Styles - "Sign of the Times"
Sometimes, you first encounter a song in the perfect time and place. This was nothing like that. I was in a Wings Bargain Beachwear on the North Carolina coast, surrounded by Budweiser towels, hermit crabs, and fidget spinners, when a gloomy power ballad stole over the PA like winter itself, its first lines an ominous premonition that rang outward from this sunny interstice to take in a whole chilling year: “Just stop your crying / It’s a sign of the times / Welcome to the final show / Hope you’re wearing your best clothes.” Who the fuck was this? I yelled “shut up!” at Google when I saw it was dewy heartthrob Harry Styles, in his new direction after One Direction, now a wind-whipped doomsayer bestriding sheer, icy soft-rock cliffs. From their ores, he smelted steely verses and silver-bullet choruses for a summer anthem that wouldn’t let us forget we’re probably living in the end times. Who knew the kid had such mettle? — BRIAN HOWE
100. Kesha – "Praying"100. Kesha – “Praying”
100. Kesha – "Praying"
Kesha won’t be the last onetime wild child to embrace gospel-tinged balladry, but how often does lyrical testimony come with so much at stake? Breaking a years-long professional silence, “Praying” transcended frenzied coverage of Kesha’s still-unresolved dispute with former producer Dr. Luke to make a statement like no press release could. Her old glittery, rainbow-hued aesthetic endures, lifted heavenward by the hair-raising howl she unleashes after declaring that it’s bigger than her—because “some things, only God can forgive.” The many women who found strength to become public accusers this year, whether famous entertainers or regular Facebook posters, probably know how she feels. — ANNA GACA
99. N.E.R.D. ft. Rihanna - "Lemon"99. N.E.R.D. ft. Rihanna – “Lemon”
99. N.E.R.D. ft. Rihanna - "Lemon"
Pharrell Williams reframes guests’ skills in strange ways throughout N.E.R.D.’s comeback album, but tapping Rihanna to rap about million dollar cars was his best idea. Rih opens with an iconic humblebrag that steals the show: “I get it how I live it/I live it how I get it.” Then she conjures a blessed image: driving five miles per hour in a Bugatti with the hazard lights on, blowing smoke, directing paparazzi. Alongside Pharrell’s frantic yips about the CIA, Kool-Aid, and borders, Rihanna couldn’t be less paranoid, and her style is a refuge. It helps that the beat is a minimalist wonder, like a Neptunes slap stripped of everything but drum and bass. – TOSTEN BURKS
98. Spoon - "Can I Sit Next to You"98. Spoon – “Can I Sit Next to You”
98. Spoon - "Can I Sit Next to You"
Frontman Britt Daniels is anything but coy on Spoon’s sexy, strutting “Can I Sit Next To You?” from their ninth album Hot Thoughts. The indie-music veteran poses the question only twice during the boogying I’ve-been-watching-you pursual, but when Daniels slides from confident swagger into a longing yawp, you know what he’s after—and it’s not just the stars in your eyes. Spoon has always had a knack for earworms, but this tune is the Austin band’s most hip-shaking release in years. — LIZ CANTRELL
97. Dua Lipa - "New Rules"97. Dua Lipa – “New Rules”
97. Dua Lipa - "New Rules"
Dua Lipa is the agony aunt to the heartbroken, all dressed in pleather and ready to hammer rules into your head. Her trop-house testament to leaving your ex in the dust is brash yet comforting, trouncing along with its aggro horns and looping synths, Dua’s voice as your shrewd guide through a messy night filled with temptation. The underlying sense of despair is made clearer with Lipa’s hauntingly deep voice that says she’s been in your shoes, too. It’s witty, it’s wise, it’s catchy beyond belief, and it makes one thing clear: sisterhood can get you through anything. As long as you don’t pick up the phone. – MONIQUE MELENDEZ
96. Jay-Z - "Kill Jay Z"96. Jay-Z – “Kill Jay Z”
96. Jay-Z - "Kill Jay Z"
Jay-Z couldn’t go any bigger. He boasted himself into an impossible corner, where he had to be, like, the Rock of Gibraltar and Jesus Christ at the same time, just to one-up himself. He planked on a million, bought the Basquiat, refuted all slights and invented more. He screamed “Looooooooove!” He held every facet of his protean self-confidence to the light. All that remained was to tear down the impervious edifice he’d built. With thrilling recklessness, No I.D. gave Jay a track that sings of emergency and regret, daring him to dive into the wreckage of his relationships. You keep waiting for the turn, the brag hidden in the self-abasement. It never comes. Jay-Z executed a hostile takeover of the corporation he turned himself into, and it’s astonishing, like Walmart having a public existential crisis. “If everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane”—this is a real pivot in Shawn Carter’s driving, defining exceptionalism. The last words, “Bye, Jay-Z,” feel more than rhetorical. He has killed something, with characteristic timeliness. After all, this was a year when all kinds of American monuments let go of their old, desperate grandeur and fell. — BRIAN HOWE
95. Gunn-Truscinski Duo - "Seagull for Chuck Berry"95. Gunn-Truscinski Duo – “Seagull for Chuck Berry”
95. Gunn-Truscinski Duo - "Seagull for Chuck Berry"
“Seagull for Chuck Berry,” by the guitar-and-drums duo of Steve Gunn and John Truscinski, is a smeared and dreamy instrumental composition, the musical equivalent of an autumn breeze across a waterfront vista. The two players are, among other fine qualities, expert conveyors of mood. Gunn’s guitar gradually intensifies over the course of the track, moving from drifting sustained chords to fragments of melody to outpourings of distortion and feedback. But even at its loudest, “Seagull for Chuck Berry” never breaks from its state of meditative stillness—a counterintuitive, but effective, tribute to the late guitar master named in the title. If the jitter and twang of Berry’s playing gave the impression of bodies in motion, “Seagull” provides an opposite and equally powerful sensation: a mind completely at rest. — ANDY CUSH
94. Peaness - "Seafoam Islands"94. Peaness – “Seafoam Islands”
94. Peaness - "Seafoam Islands"
Chester, U.K.’s Peaness have a cheekiness that’s implicit in their name. (Say it to yourself now silently: Peaness.) But the mastery of twee that this oft-overlooked trio has acquired in just two years—specifically, its chiming guitars, cooing vocals, hooks that implant themselves in the frontal lobe on first listen—is no joke. “Seafoam Islands“ winks at the band’s shared obsession with Pokémon while reveling in the romantic. The result is a laid-back love song that matches furrowed-brow verses and a bouncing-ball bassline with a chorus that strips the cheese from the gloppy love theme to St. Elmo’s Fire and leaves behind just its sugar-spun melody. — MAURA JOHNSTON
93. Lana Del Rey - "In My Feelings"93. Lana Del Rey – “In My Feelings”
93. Lana Del Rey - "In My Feelings"
No one does high drama like Lana Del Rey, and Lust for Life sleeper hit “In My Feelings” is a heartbreak ballad so smoky and exquisitely brooding it could soundtrack the most catastrophic of blowups. Woozy, distorted synthesizer pulls the air in close, as Del Rey’s typically breathy voice spirals to its breaking point and billows out to enormous proportions in the chorus. “Who’s tougher than this bitch? Who’s freer than me?” she demands, only because she knows her ex’s wandering eye doesn’t have an answer. Sad, beautiful Lana Del Rey, or so you thought—but more than a woman scorned, she sounds furious to be underestimated. — ANNA GACA
92. Stormzy - "Big for Your Boots"92. Stormzy – “Big for Your Boots”
92. Stormzy - "Big for Your Boots"
In the year when versatile young spitter Stormzy became the most famous British grime MC this side of early-aughties Dizzee Rascal, “Big For Your Boots” was a gnashing mission statement. The debut single from Stormy’s breakthrough first album, Gang Signs and Prayer, is as thorough a display of grime’s tenets as any of his most viral singles—laying wastemen prone via savage boasts on icy throbs produced by Sir Spyro and Fraser T. Smith—and in the trash-trail left by Brexit, its urgency provided a much-needed release. As an anthem for the #Grime4Corbyn movement, what more proof do you need than Labour MP David Lammy lobbing its bars at Theresa May by way of a Twitter dis? This was truly Stormzy’s year. — JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
91. Taylor Swift - "Getaway Car"91. Taylor Swift – “Getaway Car”
91. Taylor Swift - "Getaway Car"
If only more of Taylor Swift’s reputation were like “Getaway Car,” a gleaming, four-minute romantic thriller with a twist everyone saw coming. It’s a dark song that feels bright, even as the synths hang as heavy as auto exhaust and pulsate like incoming sirens. With one foot out the door and the other on the accelerator, Swift’s heroine is calculating, deceptive, and deliciously unapologetic. The key change heralds her treachery; she grins as she confesses she’s narced on her partner and barely conceals her glee as she makes off with the loot. By the end, she’s not riding but driving, leaving her hapless mark patting his empty pockets in the rearview mirror. Of course it’s all fictional, as Swift insists with her dramatic combinations of imagery—poison! Old Fashioneds! shotguns!—but coming from her, it’s believable nonetheless. — ANNA GACA
90. Kirin J Callinan ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis, & Jimmy Barnes - "Big Enough"90. Kirin J Callinan ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis, & Jimmy Barnes – “Big Enough”
90. Kirin J Callinan ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis, & Jimmy Barnes - "Big Enough"
If you know this song, it’s probably just from 61-year-old Australian singer Jimmy Barnes screaming wordlessly at the top of his lungs over a generically pulsating EDM beat while projected in the sky over mountains and canyons. It was one of the year’s most enduring and rewarding memes, but what you may not know is that it’s attached to a song that earns that catharsis. “Big Enough” begins with Alex Cameron and Kirin J. Callinan singing to each other as two cowboys circling around romance. “But this town might be big enough…” Cameron’s verse trails off, before Callinan follows with the answer Cameron’s character doesn’t want to hear: “I’ve raced without my horse, and then I ate my horse’s meat straight from my horse’s bones,” sings Callinan. “’Cause this dog must roam alone.” But then the two sing as one, and it turns out, as is often the case, that the allure of possibility makes it hard to truly say no: “All cowboys need to trust / That this town might me big enough / For both of us.” This is what leads to Barnes’ wailing, and despite Callinan and Cameron nudging up against something uncomfortable here—two straight guys basically rewriting Brokeback Mountain but without working for any of the pathos—what we end up with is a perfectly ridiculous manifestation of wanting to make something work but not knowing if it will. Sometimes you really do just want to scream. – JORDAN SARGENT
89. Perfume Genius - "Slip Away"89. Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”
89. Perfume Genius - "Slip Away"
We don’t need any more songs about falling in love. Songs that truly capture the giddiness of that experience are harder to find. “Slip Away” is one of them, a composition in constant motion, from drum beats that evoke feet pounding pavement to the sonic explosion that follows Mike Hadreas’s first exhortation to “let all them voices slip away” to the sweaty tangle of piano that closes the track. It isn’t just a mash note, though. That breathless pace also suggests that these lovers are running from something sinister—and in 2017, it didn’t take much imagination to picture yourself fleeing an angry mob. Hadreas’s assurance that “They’ll never break the shape we take” may be directed at one particular person, but it’s a message of resilience to us all. — JUDY BERMAN
88. Niall Horan - "Slow Hands"88. Niall Horan – “Slow Hands”
88. Niall Horan - "Slow Hands"
No one expected the blonde and boyish Niall Horan to emerge as the breakout artist after the breakup of One Direction last year, not from a band that also included two ridiculously good-looking born stars in Zayn Malik and Harry Styles. And it’s true that the latter two are still the likeliest candidates for enduring pop careers–Malik with his Taylor Swift duet and au courant sultry nocturnal R&B; Styles with a hotly discussed debut album and a legion of rock writers eager to anoint him the second coming of Mick Jagger. But neither has released anything quite as good as “Slow Hands,” Horan’s sexy and soulful second single. He brings convincing grit to a track that bends the industry’s current fetish for the sounds of the ‘70s a little further from Studio 54 and closer to Muscle Shoals, with a simple but swaggering rhythm section and infectious blues guitar line. And though the lyrics are occasionally clunky–who thought it was a good idea to include a prominent reference to sweaty dirty laundry in the chorus of a song about getting it on?–Horan sells them without a problem, aided by a perfectly breezy melody and stuttering modern vocal production. Horan was a relatively unassuming presence within his old band, but with “Slow Hands,” he proved that he is perfectly capable of crafting great pop on his own. – ANDY CUSH
87. Kamasi Washington - "Truth"87. Kamasi Washington – “Truth”
87. Kamasi Washington - "Truth"
The best composition on Kamasi Washington’s 2017 EP Harmony of Difference is naturally the one that embodies the title. The EP-closing “Truth” retains most of the composer and bandleader’s hallmarks—the operatic background vocals, the long runtime, and the ecstatic soloing—plus, there’s plenty of ecstasy pouring out of the oceanic percussion, Kamasi’s clarion sax, and the frolicking bass. But the point here is the melody that threads the 13 minutes, in how expressive individuals can co-exist within a groove. “Truth” works as both a moment of serenity and a fantastical allegory. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
86. Freddie Gibbs - "20 Karat Jesus"86. Freddie Gibbs – “20 Karat Jesus”
86. Freddie Gibbs - "20 Karat Jesus"
Year after year, Freddie Gibbs spits with such ruthless, relentless efficiency that it’s easy to take his tank-tread gangsta lyricism for granted. “What if Schoolboy Q is the new Ghostface Killah?” is the wrong question to ask in a world where “20 Karat Jesus” exists. A four-producer epic that flips midway through from dank pitch-shifting to soaring gospel, Jesus” packs cinematic multitudes into five airtight minutes. Few rappers can conjure up and animate drug-slinging intrigue with such brio, reveling in the particularities of language, flooding every frame with vivid detail. “Fresh up on the highway with the higher power, how you want it?” Gibbs asks, adding, “Mama say I live next door to the death ’cause I live in the moment.” Son of God riding shotgun or not, he remains a consummate salesman. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
85. The Drums - "Blood Under My Belt"85. The Drums – “Blood Under My Belt”
85. The Drums - "Blood Under My Belt"
It used to be easy (and kinda fun) not to take the Drums all that seriously. They were the bleached-blonde pretty boys of the deadbeat summer of 2009 and their earliest singles (“Let’s Go Surfing” and “I Felt Stupid“) felt far too lightweight to support founding member Jonny Pierce’s massive ego. But the Drums’ audience greatly increased as the hype de-escalated and on this year’s “Abysmal Thoughts”, Pierce recognized he needed to have something to say. So the upstate New York native opened up about gay-conversion therapy, “butching” his natural speaking voice, and feeling rejected by his Pentecostal family, giving an urgency to “Blood Under My Belt” that made the indie-pop single feel important. Whereas Pierce’s experiences as a queer artist were once crucial subtext, they’re now right there in the open, lending an autobiographical heft to what’s very much a quintessential Drums song: jumped up rhythms, sparkling guitar leads, and ripe metaphor (specifically, an eyebrow-raising tweak of “blood on my hands”). If it still feels like sacrilege to say, “Hey, that sounds like the Smiths,” well, you know that Morrissey used to feel he wasn’t taken all that seriously either. — IAN COHEN
84. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - "Marine Tigers"84. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Marine Tigers”
84. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - "Marine Tigers"
There’s a saying about resentment—it’s like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. I imagine this feeling is familiar to anyone reading this list, having spent the year reading our best and brightest mercilessly dunk on Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, Ben Shapiro and such, only to be left with the impotent rage of realizing it had no effect whatsoever except making you feel like shit. And if The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die found redemption scarce in 2017, what chance did the rest of us have? The centerpiece of their brazen Always Foreign, “Marine Tigers” spends its first half sitting on two generations’ worth of righteous anger from Puerto Ricans facing American xenophobia (“You walk around the new neighborhood / But your heart’s not in it / To learn any more about this country / The apartment you have to live in”), and while it leads to one of the band’s proprietary orchestral blowouts, there’s no implied promise to rise above, to make evil afraid of evil’s shadow, or to rage against the dying of the light. In TWIABP’s “January 10th, 2014″ video, the abuser gets killed at the end. This time, David Bello instead yells “I told you so!,” as its protagonist just trashes his apartment, making “Marine Tigers” is a quintessential protest song for 2017—one not for fighting back, but opting out of an America that isn’t worth saving. — IAN COHEN
83. Sevyn Streeter - "Before I Do"83. Sevyn Streeter – “Before I Do”
83. Sevyn Streeter - "Before I Do"
How do you keep from falling apart when your friends confirm your worst fears about the guy you’re dating? I don’t know. R&B singer Sevyn Streeter doesn’t either. What she does know is how to helm a first-class single about realizing he’s a shit. Although “Before I Do” interpolates the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love),” the acoustic guitar and programmed percussion recall ’90s R&B hits by TLC. Appropriate, since with “Before I Do,” Streeter reaches a comparable level of craft: the way in which the melody lifts during the devastating “I wanna let go, but I don’t really know / I heard you got a girlfriend” is some Babyface shit. — ALFRED SOTO
82. Converge - "I Can Tell You About Pain"82. Converge – “I Can Tell You About Pain”
82. Converge - "I Can Tell You About Pain"
Converge has the remarkable ability to innovate their aggression and expound upon familiar themes of agony and isolation, even after 30 years of doing it. On “I Can Tell You About Pain,” their first single since 2012, Converge waste no time getting down to brass tax, pushing every frenetic meter to the limits of hardcore sludge. The band deftly maneuvers between vastly disparate time signatures with remarkable precision, and the gritty production that made 2001’s Jane Doe a metalcore staple is front and center in this gut-punch of a song. But thirty years of experience have allowed vocalist Jacob Bannon to explore the versatility and malleability of his acerbic shrieking, too. On “I Can Tell You About Pain,” Bannon vacillates between blood-curdling screams and exuberant clean vocals. “I swear that I’m trying,” Bannon cries to his dysfunctional partner. Taken together, the song imbues a sense of endless suffering that more than warrants its title. – ARIELLE GORDON
81. Drab Majesty - "Cold Souls"81. Drab Majesty – “Cold Souls”
81. Drab Majesty - "Cold Souls"
Drab Majesty is an intergalactic drag post punk duo from L.A. and “Cold Souls,” from their album The Demonstration, is draped in shimmering cleans and thick, warped ’80s synths, yet it moves like a dirtbag rocker you won’t switch off the classic rock station. Demonstration centers around Heaven’s Gate, the suicide cult whose mission was to Advance Beyond Human, but Drab Majesty wield the most divine force of them all: The Lick. “Souls” posits that death isn’t the end of life, but the beginning of enlightenment. Escapism isn’t enough now, and while I don’t advocate joining a cult, the transcendence offered here sounds way more appealing. — ANDY O’CONNOR
80. Japanese Breakfast - "Machinist"80. Japanese Breakfast – “Machinist”
80. Japanese Breakfast - "Machinist"
If there were noise in space, the whooshing wind and needling notes that open “Machinist,” from 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet, could be the sound of a spaceship tumbling end-over-end through the darkness. According to Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, the song (and its self-directed video) tells a sci-fi concept story about a solitary space explorer who falls for her onboard robot and begins to salvage her ship, hoping to build her lover a body. Her lyrics are a little more opaque about romantic estrangement, but the suggestion is vivid enough to picture the scene: the dim-lit spaceship, near empty, a little behind on scheduled maintenance. Zauner excels at songs that approach with a warm, open-book honesty, and yet leave room for vast mystery. The slinky, Bee Gees-esque gurgle of “Machinist” sounds like nothing else in her catalog to date. If dance music continues to be part of the Japanese Breakfast sound, consider this to be first contact. — ANNA GACA
79. Brian Eno with Kevin Shields - "Only Once Away My Son"79. Brian Eno with Kevin Shields – “Only Once Away My Son”
79. Brian Eno with Kevin Shields - "Only Once Away My Son"
Headphones-brandishing adventurers of a certain age are hip to these U.K.-based icons’ output-rate extremes: producer/soloist Brian Eno, incessant; My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, infrequent. “Only Once Away My Son,” their nine-minute long collaboration, probably should’ve premiered on an episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk. Shields wrests brilliant, escalating feedback from his guitars; Eno garnishes that conflagration with interstellar effects, lends it 3-D clarity, and figures out on the fly just how that fury can blast the two men well across the cosmos. Together, they’re dreaming as hard as they can. For those of us stuck back on Earth, those boundless dreams—dreams we desperately need—are a Heavenly blessing. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
78. Björk - "Blissing Me"78. Björk – “Blissing Me”
78. Björk - "Blissing Me"
After 2015’s Vulnicura barreled through with noisy electronics, Björk built this year’s Utopia with lush flutes and cooing vocals. Embracing the gorgeous lineage of early tracks like 1997’s “Jóga” and 2001’s “Cocoon,” “Blissing Me” is the crown jewel in an elaborate headdress of breathtaking acoustic energy, as the vocalist sings about intimacy in the age of internet overload. “Is this excess texting a blessing? / Two music nerds obsessing,” she sings over the steady pluck of harp strings. Falling in love through the buzzing exchange of texts and MP3s, Björk explores these strange new courtship rituals made possible by networked technology with an outpouring of giddy sensuality. “He asked if I could wait for him / Now, how many light years this interim / While I fall in love with his songs?” A painful ode to all the devices that make long-distance relationships even possible these days, “Blissing Me” finds something warm and deeply human in the cold technological present. — ROB ARCAND
77. Creek Boyz - "With My Team"77. Creek Boyz – “With My Team”
77. Creek Boyz - "With My Team"
The rap crew is alive and well, but the rap group has rarely felt as endangered as it does today. That made it slightly sweeter that one of the best out-of-nowhere rap songs of the year came from the Baltimore foursome Creek Boyz, whose “With My Team” sounded like nothing else in rotation during a year in which rap was dominated by stoned, depressed loners (many of whom make great music, for the record). It’s an anthem in the mold of Nappy Roots—homespun, communal, soulful, and almost twangy—that unflinchingly frames life under systematic oppression but also celebrates the day-to-day triumph of surviving it. “Every day we on our grind, Baltimore too many niggas dying,” goes the the chorus. “Gotta watch out for me and mine, every day I’m with my team.” The details are personal and local, but the sentiment is universal. — JORDAN SARGENT
76. Fever Ray - "IDK About You"76. Fever Ray – “IDK About You”
76. Fever Ray - "IDK About You"
Moving focus from the postpartum to the postcoital in the eight years between her debut as Fever Ray and her geodic 2017 followup, Karin Dreijer (née Anderrson?) mined a fortune from carnal hunger on Plunge. “IDK About You,” a libidinous tryst overture, rollicks as a club-ready pick-up anthem. Synths tinge this future pop with a shadow of Dreijer’s electro best, while co-producer Nídia wrangles a flurry of toms into a galloping kuduro beat that as much as defibrillates lust. Meanwhile, sampled moans intersperse the title’s hook, making for an instantly plugged-in sensation. But the bywords “I don’t know about you” are not just an articulation of mystery. It’s a turn of phrase that implies a shared desire, a mutual understanding, an avowal of bedfellows. Try and resist. — DALE W. EISINGER
75. Shabazz Palaces - "Shine a Light"75. Shabazz Palaces – “Shine a Light”
75. Shabazz Palaces - "Shine a Light"
Shabazz Palaces’ current direction into increasingly cryptic sound art may threaten to evaporate the Seattle collective into surrealist vapors. Yet both of their 2017 Quazarz adventures had moments of exquisite acuity, with “Shine a Light” among the best of the lot. Centered on a great sample of Dee Dee Sharp’s “I Really Love You,” it conjures aswirl of star-dazzled space soul, and frontman Palaceer Lazaro harmonizes dreamily with the same kind of unabashed ardor as the wack mumble rappers he frequently admonishes by “shining a light on the fake.” The self-proclaimed flossy “street prophet” with “mind elastics” knows how to evolve with current trends, although he’d likely never admit it. — MOSI REEVES
74. Grouper - "Children"74. Grouper – “Children”
74. Grouper - "Children"
Released in early August to benefit transgender charities, this stark Ruins outtake reaffirms Liz Harris’ knack for exploding melodic wisps into melancholic whorls. Sung at just above a whisper, “Children” dons plaintive piano chords to shield against the Black Mirror-esque fairy tale implied in its lyrics. And while some darknesses are eternal, it’s no surprise that Harris opted to revisit her vision of this one. “Wish I knew a way, to erase these bitter traces / Of the patterns and the powers that we’re used to,” she muses. Sure, she could be contemplating the president’s offhanded Twitter military transgender ban, but she could also be reacting to two or three dozen other inversions of a conventional wisdom that we can no longer afford to take for granted. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
73. The Black Madonna - "He Is the Voice I Hear"73. The Black Madonna – “He Is the Voice I Hear”
73. The Black Madonna - "He Is the Voice I Hear"
The Chicago DJ’s first single in more than two years is dance music that functions as an homage to dance music, a tribute to the original forms and textures from which house music continually re-spins itself. “He is the Voice that I Hear” is, in other words, a loop, a throb, a pulse in a vacuum that gradually acquires depth and detail through repetition. Pianist Christoforo Labarbera opens the song with chords that lurch in jazzy rhombuses; Davide Rossi’s strings scribble cursive loops around the track as they would in a boogie or disco song. It’s a house track enthralled by, and responsive to, its influences, believing that genuine emotional transport is located in art that’s suffused with its own context as possible—and that there’s aesthetic pleasure to be had in losing oneself in the depth of community and shared experience. “He is the Voice that I Hear” is what it feels like to belong to something greater. — BRAD NELSON
72. Sun El-Musician ft. Samthing Soweto - "Akanamali"72. Sun El-Musician ft. Samthing Soweto – “Akanamali”
72. Sun El-Musician ft. Samthing Soweto - "Akanamali"
For all that house music shares with the oceanic rhythm of waves—their perpetual motion, their suggestion of life without entropy, their ability to evoke intensely emotional responses—it feels rare to hear a track that actually undulates, as if it’s gently brushing and defining the edge of a shoreline. This is the remarkable musical effect of “Akanamli,” a song assembled by South African producer and DJ Sun-EL, a song interwoven with the weightless ribbon of Samthing Soweto’s voice, which adds glittering wavelets to the cumulative swell and drift of the track. — BRAD NELSON
71. Alex Cameron - "Runnin' Outta Luck"71. Alex Cameron – “Runnin’ Outta Luck”
71. Alex Cameron - "Runnin' Outta Luck"
For his second solo album Forced Witness, Australian concept-rocker Alex Cameron embraced a louche, chauvinistic persona you’re not even supposed to like. On lead single “Runnin’ Outta Luck,” eternal optimism comes in the shape of a sleazy gambler declaring his undying affection for a down-on-her-luck stripper. “We’re good in the back seat, but we’re better up front,” he tells her, intoxicated by love and maybe other things. The real-life Cameron illustrates his stories with the seedy absurdism of a Coen brothers script (“There’s blood on my knuckles ‘cause there’s money in the trunk,” the lyrics continue), his criminally smooth delivery set off by sideman Roy Molloy’s saxophone. Unmistakable backing vocals from the Killers’ Brandon Flowers suggest we’ve heard this brand of swaggering glam-rock defeatism once or twice before—but if you want to win, you have to keep playing. — ANNA GACA
70. GoldLink ft. Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy - "Crew"70. GoldLink ft. Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy – “Crew”
70. GoldLink ft. Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy - "Crew"
“Crew” is an indelible piece of rap music, working on the most base levels while attaining transcendence: You can emphatically nod your head to the beat; Brent Faiyaz’s R&B hook is supple and smooth and easy to sing along to; Shy Glizzy’s verse delivers a rush of dopamine every single time it hits. This undersells the subtle qualities of At What Cost’s lead single, however: the distant, twinkling synths; how GoldLink’s slippery flow has finally found its perfect complement in Teddy Walton’s cavernous, seductive beat; just how damn hard the snare hits, pulling the song down to its center of gravity. “Crew” was a spring surprise, a summer anthem, and fall comfort food. It’s short enough to replay endlessly and always feels like it’s over too soon. The song’s so good they released five “Crew” remixes as a stand-alone EP and it still didn’t feel like enough. It’s a perfect three minutes of music. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ
69. EMA - "33 Nihilistic and Female"69. EMA – “33 Nihilistic and Female”
69. EMA - "33 Nihilistic and Female"
In the press materials for 2017’s Exile in the Outer Ring, Erika M. Anderson described this album’s creative persona as “a woman who swallowed a scumbag teen boy whole.” Based on “33 Nihilistic and Female,” he’s of the Reznor-grunge persuasion. The setting, meanwhile, is the cyberpunk dystopia of The Future’s Void mapped onto the parts of the country where it happens: empty strip malls, crumbling parking lots, forgotten towns and overlooked people nevertheless, seething with life. To Anderson’s credit, this scenery isn’t decay fetishism or red-state tourism, but the territory she’s explored since her time in psych-folk DIY duo Gowns. And she doesn’t pull punches, asserting herself through a burned-out dirge. As nihilism goes, this has got plenty of life. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH
68. Dua Lipa & Miguel - "Lost In Your Light"68. Dua Lipa & Miguel – “Lost In Your Light”
68. Dua Lipa & Miguel - "Lost In Your Light"
This new take on new wave is cooler than expected—tweaked and calibrated for popularity, sure, but Dua Lipa’s oeuvre gave it an edge, and the synthetic cowbell and motoring guitar on “Lost in Your Light” were a leather-clad example of the London-born Albanian singer’s slick grit. It was nearly shocking how perfectly she and Miguel matched, both in the way their spirits intimated a promise maybe they couldn’t keep and the way their voices fit like a throaty, yearning glove—a banging reminder that you can still be soul mates for just a night. As glossy escapism goes, “Lost in Your Light” hit every point, and we needed it. — JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
67. Red Velvet - "Red Flavor"67. Red Velvet – “Red Flavor”
67. Red Velvet - "Red Flavor"
“Red Flavor” is musical carbonation, an arrangement of bubbles fizzing and bursting in vertical columns like Candy Crush Soda Saga. It’s the kind of K-pop song that’s never not overstuffed with detail: artificial horn-stabs trade off with fluorescent, melted-popsicle synths, which drone over constantly mutating percussion and a distorted voice that repeats the song’s title in deformed loops. Earlier Red Velvet singles (“Dumb Dumb,” “Ice Cream Cake”) were more austere and inelastic vehicles for the intellectual and culinary confusion caused by acute feelings of desire. (Both “Ice Cream Cake” and “Red Flavor” associate physical attraction with the consumption of dessert). But “Red Flavor” is pure bubblegum in both the musical and physical sense: extremely elastic and sticky, a crackling ball of matter from which vividly-saturated and flavorful colors bloom. — BRAD NELSON
66. Young Thug - "Do U Love Me"66. Young Thug – “Do U Love Me”
66. Young Thug - "Do U Love Me"
It was a year that trop house and “island” gestures (hi, Taylor) further dominated the airwaves, less like earworms and more like that death bug from The Wrath of Khan. Leave it to Thugger (and London on da Track) to swoop in with an effervescent, shiny dancehall riddim to recenter ourselves, and also reiterate how as a musician, he is unparalleled in transforming the mundane to the utterly weird. “Do You Love Me” navigates well-tread territory—Thug and his boys, rich and famous, are faced with an abundance of wonderful women willing to go the extra mile to make them feel great—and yet he combines gross-out visual bon mots (“Bust in her hair / Milky Way”) with a martian’s sense of vocalization, an Atlien in Kingston flexing like he was born to do. “Don’t you know who we are?” is a great come-on in this context, but for the sake of us all, no one else should ever try it. — JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
65. Downtown Boys - "A Wall"65. Downtown Boys – “A Wall”
65. Downtown Boys - "A Wall"
It’s no surprise that Downtown Boys chose “A Wall” as the opening track for their third album, Cost of Living. The song draws attention to several of the Rhode Island punk band’s trademarks, now given a fuller update with production by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto: a saxophone blaring out a melody, Born to Run-adjacent guitar-and-bass lines, and finally, lead singer Victoria Ruiz’s primal, exacting vocals. Calling out the album’s title, or perhaps referring to universal basic income, Ruiz demands, “How much is enough? / And who makes that call?” It’s a fearless way to open a record, and this is coming from a band whose last one was called Full Communism. But nothing speaks more to how much we needed Downtown Boys this year than Ruiz belting out: “A wall is a wall / A wall is a wall / And nothing more at all.” While Ruiz told me earlier this year the lyrics for the record were written before “the current regime was inaugurated,” it’d be too comfortable to believe that the borders and bigotry that Downtown Boys repeatedly asks their listeners to interrogate didn’t exist before 2017. They did—and “A Wall” is here to prove it. — DAYNA EVANS
64. Wolf Alice - "Don't Delete the Kisses"64. Wolf Alice – “Don’t Delete the Kisses”
64. Wolf Alice - "Don't Delete the Kisses"
Over two albums, British foursome Wolf Alice have phased effortlessly among ’90s genres like college-rock, alt-rock, and riot-grrl, but “Don’t Delete the Kisses” is something big, pneumatic, and very modern. The track begins with crushed-out, but deceptively calm, airy spoken-word vocals, then segues incandescently into a bold, shimmering chorus of smitten self-doubt (“what! if! it’s! not! meant! for me?”). Singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell’s verses careen, unedited, through scenarios of Irish goodbyes, makeouts, xoxos, gossip, texting anxiety, emoji, and the fear of being a “romantic cliché,” then living that cliché, but just the good parts. “Don’t Delete the Kisses” is like the blissed-out counterpart to Charli XCX’s deadly anxious “You’re the One.” Little surprise the anti-pop pop star recently paid homage to this Wolf Alice tune with a worthy cover. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH
63. Jacquees & DeJ Loaf - "At the Club"63. Jacquees & DeJ Loaf – “At the Club”
63. Jacquees & DeJ Loaf - "At the Club"
“At the Club” is so smooth and lush and over so soon (just shy of three minutes) that it feels like the tidiest possible appendix to the tradition of R&B songs about falling in love within the space of the club. The production, by W$KHARRI, is a set of synth blurs that have the bruisy glow of spotlights grooming dancing bodies; it’s a gorgeous yet uncomplicated setting for both the frictionless curves of Jacquees’ voice and the thick, cottony notes that DeJ Loaf summons from herself, which sound woven out of exhaled weed smoke. “You had me at hello,” she sings, “What’s up, what we gonna do when we leave this club?” It’s a question that feels like the most blunt appendix to all the romantic space that opens up after the club. — BRAD NELSON
62. Frank Ocean - "Chanel"62. Frank Ocean – “Chanel”
62. Frank Ocean - "Chanel"
Frank Ocean’s circumspection about his sexual fluidity has never indicated a lack of courage. It’s evidence of how precarious LGBTQ acceptance people is in hip-hop, and how brave Ocean was even to hint. And it’s why “Chanel,” his first solo song released since 2016’s still-reverberating Blonde, was rapturously embraced as a bisexual anthem, even though Ocean has never embraced the term. The surprise single has everything we love about him: his charming casualness, his sweet, sparing use of Auto-Tune, his smooth modulation between rapping and singing, and his cunning double-exposed lyrics. But it also has unambiguous pronouns and a progressive sense of masculinity, set in a context of braggadocious wordplay that normalizes, rather than tokenizes, them. “I see both sides like Chanel,” Ocean chirps lightly, extracting a panoramic vision of human sexuality from the luxe connotations of that double-C logo. Just being able to say who you are—it shouldn’t feel like a luxury, but, for some people, it still is. — BRIAN HOWE
61. Randy Newman - "Wandering Boy"61. Randy Newman – “Wandering Boy”
61. Randy Newman - "Wandering Boy"
The operatic scope of Randy Newman’s newest album Dark Matter makes it perhaps not the best place to start with the songwriting legend’s 50-year catalogue if you’re unfamiliar. But the record’s poignant closer, “Wandering Boy”—a play on an early 20th century parlor song—is a delight unto itself. The premise: At a family gathering, possibly mid-toast, a father sends heartbroken best wishes to his youngest son—prodigal, still lost somewhere out in the world. It’s an expression of undying paternal love—one he’d likely never say to the kid’s face—that’s invested with all the unsettling ambiguity (one wonders, from a certain vantage, if he’s dead and his father just doesn’t know yet) that propels so much of Newman’s best work. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
60. Lomelda - "From Here"60. Lomelda – “From Here”
60. Lomelda - "From Here"
Texas-reared singer-songwriter Hannah Read writes lyrics that often sound like one side of a dialogue, and that cadence is central to the slow burn of “From Here,” the highlight of her road-folk band’s undersung 2017 album, Thx. On “From Here,” the narrator’s initial small talk is set to a lopsided groove, which throws emphases onto weird syllables, making an awkward conversation boil over to what is undoubtedly one of the year’s great codas: wild, octave-plus yodeling that’s a paean to isolation (“it’s just mee-hee-hee-eee-eee“). Throughout Thx, tunes on this one’s level emphasize that Read—who also plays with Jersey alt-country band Pinegrove, but whose musical universe has much in common with Big Thief—is one of the most promising new talents to emerge this year. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
59. Lana Del Rey - "Love"59. Lana Del Rey – “Love”
59. Lana Del Rey - "Love"
In 2017, Lana Del Rey was the real-life love witch America needed. She promoted her fifth studio album Lust for Life by hexing Trump. The album’s retro trailer found her casting spells inside the Hollywood sign, a scenario that looks remarkably prescient post-Weinstein. And she lived up to that supernatural hype on “Love,” a slow, booming track that undercuts the youthful, vintage-style romance the single is supposedly celebrating with the refrain, “It’s enough just to make you feel crazy.” Lana’s signature listless alto is best suited to songs like this, songs that are wistful, swoony, ironic, and faintly hysterical at once—American flags inverted to become distress signals. When she quotes the Beach Boys’ “Don’t worry, baby” in its final moments, you know she means just the opposite. — JUDY BERMAN
58. Tay-K - "The Race"58. Tay-K – “The Race”
58. Tay-K - "The Race"
No rapper mythologized his legal struggles more memorably this year than Tay-K. The 17-year-old Texas transplant from Long Beach released “The Race” on the same day he was arrested in connection to two murders and a robbery after three months on the run. The song charted. Resigned to losing his case, over a cheery Playboi Carti-type beat featuring candied keyboard, the teenager compares taking a life to doodling pictures and elementary school math. The juvenile spin on violence creates a dissonant desire to dance, while illustrating the farce of law enforcement’s desire to try Tay-K as an adult. His shameless glee was infectious, whatever that says about the infected. – TOSTEN BURKS
57. Alex Lahey - "I Love You Like A Brother"57. Alex Lahey – “I Love You Like A Brother”
57. Alex Lahey - "I Love You Like A Brother"
Twenty-five-year-old Melbourne, Australia upstart Alex Lahey plays scrappy, energetic punk-pop with an aw-shucks honesty that’s as relatable as anything you’ve heard this year. As a songwriter, Lahey has a knack for teasing out contradictions in plain sight and putting a fine point on conflicted feelings. Nothing beats the jubilant “I Love You Like a Brother,” which isn’t a romantic let-down, but a testament to big-sisterly love delivered with a dash of authentic begrudging acceptance. “We don’t get a choice, so let’s stick together,” Lahey sings to her real-life younger brother, and you know she means every word. — ANNA GACA
56. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX - "1 Night"56. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX – “1 Night”
56. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX - "1 Night"
In the scheme of intelligent moves a producer can make to elevate her or his career, hiring Charli XCX to feature on a track is up there as one of the smartest. XCX, who sings the hook on Mura Masa’s “1 Night,” works a kind of hypnotic magic in making the song—which sits alongside an otherwise eclectic, pop-adjacent album—feel like a bonafide No. 1 hit. There’s just something about that voice. Alex Crossan (who performs as Mura Masa) has a hunger for exploring a range of global genres that outpaces even Drake’s omnivorousness, and on “1 Night,” a steel-drum beat is somehow both air-tight and silly. Crossan and XCX are ages 21 and 25 respectively, and the slickness of Crossan’s production combined with Charli XCX’s enormous, ‘00s-pop-reverent vocals gives one hope: If this is what the future of pop music sounds like, we’ve got a lot to look forward to. — DAYNA EVANS
55. Frank Ocean - "Lens"55. Frank Ocean – “Lens”
55. Frank Ocean - "Lens"
In a series of one-off post-Blonde singles, “Lens” stands out as one of Frank Ocean’s densest and most melodically rewarding. Like many Ocean tracks, it’s the story of casual sex getting complicated as someone inevitably catches feelings, but as the story unfolds, the songwriter trades the dizzy referencing of “Provider” for something heavy on metaphor with a drawn-out Auto-Tune drawl. “Despite our history / Somewhere in your nights you’re stuck when you think of me,” Ocean sings with the hook. Equal parts measured wordplay and string-drenched indulgence, “Lens” is a song about the good times and briefly forgetting the messy situational realities to lose yourself in late-night California bliss. — ROB ARCAND
54. Fleet Foxes - "Third of May / Ōdaigahara"54. Fleet Foxes – “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”
54. Fleet Foxes - "Third of May / Ōdaigahara"
The idea of white male companionship feels relatively minute in 2017’s hellscape. Still, Fleet Foxes’ frontman Robin Pecknold manages to spring a convincing odyssey out of his ode to bandmate Skyler Skjelset, whose birthday lends the song its heady title. Throughout “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” Pecknold’s lucid and literary imagery and the song’s voyaging instrumentation conjure an emotiveness that persists for an impressive nine minutes. As grandiose as those two facets are, the true impact lies in how they synchronize: The song’s wistful opening guitar strums part for the cinematic second movement, where the kick drums economically bubble under the descending strings, evoking the image of spirits inextricably tied together weightlessly in firmament. “If I lead you through the fury will you call to me?” Pecknold howls. This friendship’s gonna last. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
53. Pile - "Rope's Length"53. Pile – “Rope’s Length”
53. Pile - "Rope's Length"
After the two comparatively noisy and bombastic albums that preceded it, A Hairshirt of Purpose presents a more thoughtfully restrained side of Pile, a Boston-born quartet that approaches post-hardcore indie rock with the ambition of Romantic orchestral composers. Frontman and songwriter Rick Maguire’s sense of pacing is most evident on the six-minute “Rope’s Length.” The song begins with an extended feint: a rush of rolling snare drum, a descending bass line, swelling ambient sounds, repeated interlocking figures on guitar—the sort of music that all but guarantees a cathartic break is coming soon. After a solid minute, the suspense reaches its apogee, and you’re sure that something’s gotta give. Then … nothing. The instruments swiftly peter out, and two mournful guitars are the first to break the brief silence, like a driver and passenger climbing from their car after tumbling into a roadside drain.
The ascent of “Rope’s Length” is slow and irregular from there. Maguire’s haggard voice and ear for unexpected melodic turns are both in top form, leading the band through a ballad that’s complex changes seem deliberately to avoid the satisfying climax hinted at in the introduction. Many of Pile’s best-loved songs offer brief eruptions of rage or ecstasy—and at first, the reticence of “Rope’s Length” might feel like a fault. But listen for long enough and the beauty of its strange trajectory emerges. Writing convincing outbursts of emotion is hard; sustaining tension for this long without releasing it is even harder. — ANDY CUSH
52. Phoenix - "J-Boy"52. Phoenix – “J-Boy”
52. Phoenix - "J-Boy"
The lead single from Phoenix’s excellent Ti Amo, “J-Boy” was—somewhat to my surprise—my most listened to song on Spotify this year, and for good reason: It’s a driving, sparkling synth-pop gem that’s about love, shoplifting, kamikaze and, uh, dying coral? “It’s a sort of romantic sci-fi feeling I like,” frontman Thomas Mars told the New York Times about the lyrics. “That direction came in part from being bored with my own voice; I tried to find a sci-fi voice that’s kind of a character.” Whatever the motivation for the nonsensical lyrics (“Send me on the lonely other side of the world / With a couple of guys and no alphabet”), it clearly worked; “J-Boy” is as thrilling and compulsively listenable as Phoenix’s best songs, if not more so. — TAYLOR BERMAN
51. Widowspeak - "The Dream"51. Widowspeak – “The Dream”
51. Widowspeak - "The Dream"
The dream isn’t real; it’s not even the kind you have at night. The dream is possibilities, lost potential, the high price of opportunity cost, and the question Molly Hamilton had in mind when she wrote the sighing opening track of Widowspeak’s fourth full-length album, Expect the Best: Where could you be, if not here? It’s an inner turmoil so fraught that, by rights, “The Dream“—a hypnotic send-up to the American fiction of going west—ought to shudder and to roil with the frustration of it all. Instead, its rustic strummed chords and honeyed slide guitar feel adrift over decades. Through a haze of reverb worthy of Mazzy Star, Widowspeak make stagnation feel like a captive audience of one. — ANNA GACA
50. Big Thief - "Black Diamonds"50. Big Thief – “Black Diamonds”
50. Big Thief - "Black Diamonds"
By the time closer “Black Diamonds” rolls around in Capacity’s sequencing, Adrianne Lenker has told the story of her young mother giving up her old brother for adoption and sang a tribute to her best friend that she has said “feels like crying and laughing at the same time.” The album is an intensely emotional ride, and “Black Diamonds” serves as a perfect palate cleanser. That’s not to suggest it’s lightweight: In it, Lenker wakes up in cold sweats and dares to hand herself over to a new relationship while inviting her partner to do the same. “Come on, let me make a man outta you,” the vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter sings, “I could gather you and you tell the truth / You could cry inside my arms / You could cry inside my arms like a child.” It’s a welcome invitation at the end of a long, taxing, intensely emotional journey. — EMMA CARMICHAEL
49. Vince Staples - "Big Fish"49. Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
49. Vince Staples - "Big Fish"
With “Big Fish,” Vince Staples distilled Big Fish Theory’s quirky U.K. club dynamics into a singular three-minute gem. For fans of the L.A. rapper, the Christian Rich-produced track feels familiar yet new, blending skittering keyboards reminiscent of Jamie xx with the kind of swaggering funk we imagine a New West Coast rapper should sound, even though Staples has never made such an overtly G-funk cut until now. “Quarterbackin’ like I’m 40 Water,” he brags—and his additional details about surviving Compton’s unforgiving violence seem secondary to his boastful confidence. Juicy J’s killer hook is the icing on this fish cake. — MOSI REEVES
48. Jay-Z - "The Story of O.J."48. Jay-Z – “The Story of O.J.”
48. Jay-Z - "The Story of O.J."
If regrets and side-eyed subliminals stud 4:44’s sour crown jewel, this single’s radioactive-airplay chorus keeps listeners laser-focused on its core thesis: Skin color isn’t something that can be discarded at will. For brown, black, and yellow Americans, that’s hardly news, so what made “The Story of O.J.” so powerfully resonant in this racially torturous year? Primarily, a soulfulness slotted somewhere between defiance and resignation. Producer No I.D. stirs and stammers Nina Simone, Funk Inc., and Kool and the Gang cold cuts into a dusky, vintage stew; conceptually taut and deceptively intimate, Jay-Z is rapping, in essence, over the most deeply despondent Portishead song Portishead never wrote. — RAYMOND CUMMINGS
47. St. Vincent - "New York"47. St. Vincent – “New York”
47. St. Vincent - "New York"
In an interview with the New Yorker in August, Annie Clark, who plays under the moniker St. Vincent, explained that “New York,” the first single to release from her sixth album MASSEDUCTION, was written about a “composite” character, that the “only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” wasn’t who people were speculating it was. One of the best things about New York City is how many feelings it can evoke—in all different directions and for all different people—and Clark’s gift for unloading intimate feelings while maintaining a strict mysteriousness is a skill she seemingly learned on and around First Avenue. Fans welcomed Clark back this year as she shapeshifted into a more deliberate pop star (Jack Antonoff produced MASSEDUCTION), but only if she plied us with a little of that shot-to-the-heart emotion, the kind that makes her—and the city she writes about—so easy to love. — DAYNA EVANS
46. Yaeji - "raingurl"46. Yaeji – “raingurl”
46. Yaeji - "raingurl"
“Raingurl,” from Korean-American producer Yaeji, is deceptively simple art: A thick house beat swallows up the song, but it’s the throbbing, underlying sense of melancholy that warrants obsession. The Bronx-born artist whispers the verses in Korean and English, creating a sense of intimacy like when someone pulls you into a corner to talk at a loud club, and anyone who wears glasses understands the struggle of foggy spectacles amid smoke machines that Yaeji references in the bridge (“Mother Russia in my cup / And my glasses fogging up”). “Raingurl” taps into feeling displaced, self-aware, but ultimately free on the dance floor, a generational anthem for young people who are all too aware of their anxieties but want to dance them away any chance they can. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ
45. Tove Lo - "Disco Tits"45. Tove Lo – “Disco Tits”
45. Tove Lo - "Disco Tits"
“Disco Tits” is a corruption of “discotheque,” just the sort of naughty wordplay that comes naturally to Swedish-born pop auteur Tove Lo. Her zany raunchiness and ear for hooks coalesce on this swirly, super-baked club track, where drugs, dancing, and sex become all-over arousal and seemingly every other line is punctuated by an invitation to take another hit. At least half the joke is in the music video, which reveals the song’s helium-distorted vocal samples as the speaking voice of a fuzzy little Muppet type who’s more than willing to entertain Tove Lo’s advances. Yeah, it’s a little freaky—but maybe you just didn’t know how to ask.—ANNA GACA
44. Destroyer - "Tinseltown Swimming In Blood"44. Destroyer – “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood”
44. Destroyer - "Tinseltown Swimming In Blood"
Dan Bejar has probably never attempted to write a topical song, so any resemblance to real current events is purely coincidental. But here we are anyway, with a mournful New Order synth track that proclaims, “What comes ‘round is going ‘round again,” and a songwriter who explains, “When I think of Tinseltown, I think of being turned out by the pimp that is show business.” All this, plus an unmistakably post-punk vibe is Destroyer’s way of retelling that timeless tale of a delicate soul sliced to ribbons by a heartless industry—an anthem for anyone who isn’t so much crushing it as being crushed. With a sprawling outro of distant flute and strangled horns, “Tinseltown” is passes with peaceful resignation, like a freeway billboard that reads, “Your disillusionment here.” — JUDY BERMAN
43. LCD Soundsystem - "Oh Baby"43. LCD Soundsystem – “Oh Baby”
43. LCD Soundsystem - "Oh Baby"
The opener of a surprisingly great album that once again deals with aging and middle-aged reckoning, “Oh Baby” is a driving synth-pop dirge that transforms Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” into, well, an LCD Soundsystem song. A tale of a failed relationship doomed never truly to end, it at once feels universally relatable and oddly specific, all the while being self-referential and aware in a way typical of the band. “You’re already gone / Yeah, you’re already gone,” James Murphy croons during the song’s climax (which, lyrically and sonically, evokes 2007’s mournful “Someone Great”), dashing any hopes of things working out before hinting at the song’s very end that maybe they just might. — TAYLOR BERMAN
42. Miguel ft. Travis Scott - "Sky Walker"42. Miguel ft. Travis Scott – “Sky Walker”
42. Miguel ft. Travis Scott - "Sky Walker"
Splish. Where the lead singles of Miguel’s previous albums (“Coffee,” “Adorn”) were R&B songs made up of a dreamy crystalline latticework, “Sky Walker” is an emptier and more aqueous composition, all lazily-linked water molecules: a queasy bassline that lurches and throbs like a cloud of ink twisting through water, individual splashes and splishes of percussion, a shimmer of synthetic harp, and an electric guitar issuing Prince-esque lightstreams. Even without the visual aid of the music video, the song sounds engineered to simulate the seductive haze hovering over a poolside in summer. Travis Scott’s verse barely deviates from Miguel’s own drowsy steering between notes, and for a moment Scott appears like a brief wave generated by the song, which is itself a wave-pool. — BRAD NELSON
41. Mount Eerie - "Real Death"41. Mount Eerie – “Real Death”
41. Mount Eerie - "Real Death"
After the passing of his artist wife Geneviève Castrée in July 2016, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum was crushed. Alone to raise his daughter without the woman he’d built a life with, the veteran DIY songwriter struggled to see any beauty or meaning in the small observations that once defined his early work. “Our little family bubble was so sacred for so long,” he shared with the touching announcement of self-released album A Crow Looked at Me and its first song. “We carefully held it behind a curtain of privacy when we’d go out and do our art and music selves, too special to share, especially in our hyper-shared imbalanced times.”
But with Castrée’s passing, this bubble of privacy broke and death’s lasting impact found itself front and center. “Real Death,” the first single, revealed Elverum’s struggling with the cruel consequences of this difficult new reality. “Death is real / Someone’s there and then there not / And it’s not for singing about / It’s not for making into art,” offers Elverum in the song’s opening lines. It’s not for making into art, but at least we have art to help face death’s void, if only to leave us all with an album that’s more tender, heartbreaking, and brutal than anything else released this year. — ROB ARCAND
40. YBN Nahmir - "Rubbin Off the Paint"40. YBN Nahmir – “Rubbin Off the Paint”
40. YBN Nahmir - "Rubbin Off the Paint"
YBN Nahmir’s home-recorded viral hit is simple: witty Spongebob-sampling intro, catchy looped violins and 808s, two minutes of rapping without a hook, and a “gang, gang” coda. It takes a charismatic 17-year-old to keep your attention, and Nahmir succeeds with Rick and Morty jokes and joyous bursts like, “40 poppa, hit a mobsta, turn his brain to pasta,” grounded by lines paying tribute to dead and incarcerated friends. He’s brash, “Police always at my fuckin’ crib, I don’t tell ‘em shit,” and clever, “I’m just passing a breeze,” and probably a star—at least for one verse. – TOSTEN BURKS
39. Priests - "Nothing Feels Natural"39. Priests – “Nothing Feels Natural”
39. Priests - "Nothing Feels Natural"
The title track of an album full of clamoring anthems, “Nothing Feels Natural” is a surprisingly tame moment for Priests sonically. Amid panic about the state of the world and the burdensome consequences of it all on a personal level, the band settles into a steady post-punk groove as Katie Alice Greer spills out about desire in an era of hopelessness. “If I go without for days, will I finally hallucinate a real thing?” she shouts, a dry rhetorical question as if asking what could possibly be saved as it all burns to the ground. On an album so much about the ways that personal experience comes manifest itself politically, “Nothing Feels Natural” questions the stakes of all of this, throwing up its hands in frustration without ever surrendering to nihilism. — ROB ARCAND
38. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber - "Despacito (Remix)"38. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber – “Despacito (Remix)”
38. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber - "Despacito (Remix)"
To employ a regretful cliche, a great song is one that can stand the test of time. Though the sound of “Despacito” is very definitively rooted in the late 2010s, it’s hard to actually remember a point in history when that meandering cuatro intro and drawn-out lyrical payoff didn’t exist. Ubiquity does not always guarantee quality, of course, but the reach of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (and its subsequent remixes) was so profound this year that it managed to transcend genre, time, space, and even personal taste in a way that was unprecedented. The Justin Bieber “Despacito” remix became the first primarily Spanish-language song to top the Billboard Hot 100 since la “Macarena” over 20 years ago. The video for “Despacito” broke the record for most-watched YouTube video of all time—it was watched four billion times by October. The audio was streamed at the same clip, too: combining the remix and the original, at 4.6 billion plays, “Despacito” became the most streamed song of all time by July.
Which is not to say that whatever Bieber’s Dorito-dusted fingers touch turns to gold, but hearing the Boy King murmur in Spanish certainly piqued the literal world’s interest. “Despacito” was such a breakout hit this year for a number of reasons, but most of all for its proud embrace of that dirty, steamy, honest sensuality. “Despacito” means “slowly,” after all, and in hearing Bieber croon, “The way you nibble on my ear,” and Fonsi plead, “Quiero desnudarte a besos despacito” (roughly, “I want to undress you with kisses slowly”), you couldn’t walk into a grocery store, a doctor’s office, or even to your mailbox without wanting to get down at least a little bit. Nowhere was that confirmed more than in a terrifying video that went viral this fall of a wooden mouse puppet straight-up letting loose to the original version of the song. If even a lifeless puppet can groove to “Despacito,” its time-withstanding ubiquity was earned. — DAYNA EVANS
37. Jay Som - "The Bus Song"37. Jay Som – “The Bus Song”
37. Jay Som - "The Bus Song"
Melina Duterte, the one-woman band Jay Som, has a knack for taking on serious topics in the most whimsical tone possible. Everybody Works, the Oakland, Californian’s debut LP as Som, has a moody rager titled “1 Billion Dogs”—and there’s “The Bus Song,” which takes this skill to an extreme. She sings of early relationship disputes (“But I like the bus!” a full chorus shouts, 40 seconds in), the existence of ghosts, secrets and “make believe.” It’s easy to get lost in this world, where the complicated process that is getting to know someone sounds so wide-eyed and sweet. “The Bus Song” is all youthful yearning and pillowy chords, building from a single guitar into a full orchestral climax. It’s powerful enough to make you want to stand for something, even if that “something” is the bus. — EMMA CARMICHAEL
36. Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna - "LOYALTY."36. Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna – “LOYALTY.”
36. Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna - "LOYALTY."
What better way to express loyalty than by sampling a recent hit by a local artist—Bruno Mars’s “24k Magic”—that in itself was meant to pay homage to L.A.’s rich history of talkbox g-funk? As a sultry duet between two weed-kissed voices, “Loyalty” is an immersive experience of equal-octave harmonies that approximates the otherworldly sensuality of the best ’90s R&B jawns. But as with most Lamar songs, it’s also a sublime love letter to Los Angeles itself, as Kendrick deals out his values and bona fides (“You actin shifty / You don’t ride”) and he and Riri embody the city’s herbal essence. — JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
35. Moses Sumney - "Doomed"35. Moses Sumney – “Doomed”
35. Moses Sumney - "Doomed"
Moses Sumney’s stunning debut Aromanticism largely concerns itself with debunking the America’s obsession with coupled love. It’s a radical idea even though he doesn’t waste any time explicitly purporting it to be. In fact, the unclassifiable singer-songwriter plainly lays out the thesis on the album’s most sublime moment “Doomed”: “Am I vital / If my heart is idle / Am I doomed?” Sumney is luminous here within the percussion-less drones’ warmth—his falsetto angelic, his sentiments human. There’s an intimate familiarity to Sumney’s presence where suddenly his ideas don’t seem radical at all. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
34. Lorde - "Homemade Dynamite"34. Lorde – “Homemade Dynamite”
34. Lorde - "Homemade Dynamite"
It’s not often someone as young as 20 can bust cliches wide open with the force Lorde does. “Homemade Dynamite” quite literally detonates deceptive, early moments of attraction, letting “things come out of the woodwork” with a healthy dose of cruel sarcasm, “right?” Maybe it’s Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s penchant for clarity in the rearview, or our own willingness to put abundant faith in others, but “Homemade Dynamite” makes no explosive claims about blame laid on others. We’re the architects of our own undoing, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can avoid the grizzly details of the impending wreck. It’s the actual detonation—the softest moment on the song—that best relishes the unexpected. It might all be a dud, but a dud wired to self-destruct, nonetheless. — DALE W. EISINGER
33. Japandroids - "No Known Drink or Drug"33. Japandroids – “No Known Drink or Drug”
33. Japandroids - "No Known Drink or Drug"
Early on, Japandroids promised they would keep smokin’ and drinkin’ until their dreams come true, an incredible life plan and also foolproof marketing. The dreams of Celebration Rock were abstractions to be chased indefinitely, and so that just leaves you with Japandroids songs, which are awesome to get drunk and high to. So if there was anything truly alienating about this year’s Near to the Wild Heart of Life, it wasn’t the synths or that the album’s producer had worked with grown-ups like the National and Interpol—it was the idea that something so mundane as love could be the final destination on Fire’s Highway. But all Japandroids songs are love songs, and so “No Known Drink or Drug” wasn’t Brian King picking up an acoustic guitar and getting vulnerable, man—those slashing guitars and dramatic drum rolls make a night of Delta blues and Domino’s (or dominos) sound as electric and thrilling as a blitzkrieg love and a Roman candle kiss. Only Japandroids could make a chorus of “No known drink and no known drug / Could ever hold a candle to your love” sound credible. They’ve worked the adrenaline nightshift for a decade, so you can trust them when they tell you calling it an early evening with your girlfriend’s an even better high. — IAN COHEN
32. Migos - "T-Shirt"32. Migos – “T-Shirt”
32. Migos - "T-Shirt"
After “Bad and Boujee” gave Migos the biggest hit of their career, they upped the ante and arguably outdid themselves with “T-Shirt.” Nard & B’s beat hums like a drone, a bleakly futuristic sound that fit the platonic ideal of the “Migos flow”—that percussive triplet pattern that took over rap four years ago and sounds fresh again here amidst the song’s empty spaces. Their flows are so crisp and physical they take impressionistic flight. (Consider Takeoff’s “Neck, water faucet, mocking birds mocking, Act’ pint stocking”). Quavo solidifies “T-Shirt” as Atlanta rap canon the moment he interpolates a Shawty Lo couplet on the song’s hook, a fitting tribute from one iconoclast to another. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ
31. Kendrick Lamar - "ELEMENT."31. Kendrick Lamar – “ELEMENT.”
31. Kendrick Lamar - "ELEMENT."
Some of us prefer the Kendrick Lamar who “makes it look sexy,” or rather sound that way—the one who errs on the side of rapping like he did on “Money Trees.” On “ELEMENT.,” the West Coast rapper croons the hook, juggles Tupac-like flows (and, just for fun, one from Juvenile), and raps mostly about being better at rapping and selling more records than anyone else. The song embodies arguably the most unfailingly effective version of Kendrick: As rap music’s playful eternal student, he’s hometown-proud, consummately musical, observing the cultural landscape from his own rarified corner. Co-producer James Blake adds some important uncanny sonic gravitas here, lured out of mediocrity to back rap’s biggest blockbuster auteur as the British electronic artist did for pop’s biggest (Beyonce, Frank Ocean) in 2016. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
30. Priests - "Suck"30. Priests – “Suck”
30. Priests - "Suck"
Katie Alice Greer’s sarcastic critiques of commercialism and patriarchy aren’t for the sake of self-righteousness, but to express the personal toil caused by those constructs. “Suck” drives that dynamic home when it arrives at the tail end of Nothing Feels Natural. Ushered in by Taylor Mulitz bass groove—a coolant following the screed of the preceding track, “Puff”—Greer stretches her performance to give her lines a convincing specificity. “Why do I always have to be the police to get you to shut up when I speak?” is acerbically delivered, and the resolution—“I can tell you myself that you just suck”—comes with a whiplash crassness. But most affecting is when Greer breathlessly and vulnerably pushes her vocal range as she sings the word “be” in the hook. The phrasing makes sense: It’s a two-letter verb that’s really fucking hard to do. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
29. SZA - "Drew Barrymore"29. SZA – “Drew Barrymore”
29. SZA - "Drew Barrymore"
When SZA first began work on her debut album, she named the songs after actresses, she told Teen Vogue last year. Only Drew Barrymore, the spunky, self-conscious heroine of so many millennials’ school-age sleepover classics, made it to the finished product (and a winking cameo in the music video). “Drew Barrymore” is about real-life acting, the kind one attempts in front of an old flame and his new girlfriend. “She’s perfect and I hate it,” SZA confesses, and then, as though she’s just stepped back within earshot: “Oh, so glad you made it.” But two-faced social niceties can do a number on a person, and with a moody watercolor palette and razor-sharp emotional detail, “Drew Barrymore” captures how loneliness and resentment curdle into feelings of worthlessness. — ANNA GACA
28. Aly & AJ - "Take Me"28. Aly & AJ – “Take Me”
28. Aly & AJ - "Take Me"
“Take Me”—the comeback single from erstwhile teen-pop stars-turned-sitcom actors Aly & AJ—begins, like so much pop of the time, with glassy ‘80s prom synths, triggering a nostalgia that many of its listeners can only imagine. But what begins to unfold like a dime a dozen single these days quickly skids off course, with the onset of the chorus triggering the glistening production to spin outward like a car that just blew a tire. On first listen “Take Me” may sound broken, but soon you’ll feel that car not sputtering in a cloud of smoke, but locking into place and revving back up, pedal hitting metal. The result is a song about modern dating that attacks you with a certain edge. “I know that you would want it,” the duo sings. “I if I could sink my teeth into you.” In the video, they play vampires. — JORDAN SARGENT
27. Future - "Mask Off"27. Future – “Mask Off”
27. Future - "Mask Off"
“Mask Off” should have never been a radio hit. When masterfully sequenced as the seventh track and near the center of Future, it unfolded like pearly gates enveloped in sulfur. Producer Metro Boomin’s opening notes, lifted from “Prison Song” from the 1976 Broadway musical Selma, encapsulated Future’s evolution from the chanting “Tony Montana” baller to an enigmatic pill-popping recluse near-perfectly. Hearing that moment for the first time may have been one of the most indelible experiences that 2017 rap had to offer, but its subsequent radio ubiquity didn’t offer the same initial, visceral pleasure. Perhaps we were chasing that first high with decreasing returns just like Future, forever locked in a vicious circle of “Percocet, molly, Percocets.” — MOSI REEVES
26. Kelela - "LMK"26. Kelela – “LMK”
26. Kelela - "LMK"
In a just world, “LMK” would be ubiquitous—every station, every playlist, pop and R&B and everything on the outskirts. In this one, it’s a standout on the already-highlight-packed Take Me Apart: a precision-engineered beat by Jam City and Kelela with preternatural swagger and feelings to hide. As in Roisin Murphy’s song of the same (spelled-out) title, you don’t repeat “let me know” this often unless it’s got feeling, and behind the facade, lines like “ain’t that deep, by the way” tossed out like quick backpedaling and glances back toward her girls, are clues: a bridge that pushes right up to the line of a giant key change and the heightening fervor of Kelela’s delivery, all the way up to acrobatic whistle-register melisma at the end for those paying attention. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH
25. Selena Gomez - "Bad Liar"25. Selena Gomez – “Bad Liar”
25. Selena Gomez - "Bad Liar"
Why yes, Selena Gomez did, in fact, release the Blow’s best song in years—with a Talking Heads sample, no less. Co-written with pop-songwriting wonder twins, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, “Bad Liar” sounds distinctly like a mid-aughts indie-pop “not-quite love song” with its softly spoken verses, minimal instrumentation, and double-dutch rhythm—a percussive novelty of clapping-game slaps, fingersnaps, and xylophone taps. Similarly, the single’s lyrics also employ whimsically utilitarian metaphors that buffer vulnerability with layers of transactional cleverness. In “Bad Liar” one of Gomez’s romantic overtures is to roleplay airBnB host with her not-quite love: “In my room, there’s a king-sized space / Bigger than it used to be / If you want, you can rent that place / Call me an amenity.” Another is to pass a RISD mash note: “Paint my kiss across your chest / If you’re the art, I’ll be the brush.” But the real coup here is that this all takes place over the unmistakable throb of Tina Weymouth’s “Psycho Killer” bassline, the ultimate art-school allusion. Much like its video—which reimagines Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly” Airplane! parody as That ‘70s Show starring an erstwhile Disney princess—“Bad Liar” is an exuberantly wry pop homage to homage. — CAMILLE DODERO
24. Julie Byrne - "Sleepwalker"24. Julie Byrne – “Sleepwalker”
24. Julie Byrne - "Sleepwalker"
Julie Byrne’s twinkling, finger-picked acoustic introduction to “Melting Grid,” from her hushed second album Not Even Happiness, bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” But it is “Sleepwalker,” which immediately precedes “Melting Grid” on the 2017 LP, that feels like the cosmic yin to the yang of Dylan’s classic song about hitting the road after a bad relationship. While Dylan narrated the first bitter steps toward freedom from his ex, Byrne considers coming in from the cold to a new love, after years of rambling independence. “Couldn’t I look up at the stars from anywhere? / And sometimes I did, I felt ancient / But still I sought peace and it never came to me,” she sings. Her verses are filled with conversational language that might feel clunky if her melodic line wasn’t so graceful—she grows “accustomed to” solitude, laments “misuse of the power” that past partners had over her—but in Byrne’s gifted hands, these phrases serve to elevate everyday experience to the level of poetry, blending a pleasantly hippieish spirituality with the autofictional impulse of writers like Ben Lerner and Lydia Davis. Not Even Happiness concerns itself with travel and stasis, coexistence and independence, domesticity and freedom; “Sleepwalker” expertly distills these themes into a single song. — ANDY CUSH
23. Young Thug ft. Millie Go Lightly - "Family Don't Matter"23. Young Thug ft. Millie Go Lightly – “Family Don’t Matter”
23. Young Thug ft. Millie Go Lightly - "Family Don't Matter"
“Country Billy made a couple milly / Tryna park the Rolls Royce inside the Piccadilly” is how Young Thug kicks off the second verse of “Family Don’t Matter”—and the song could have earned a spot on this list on the strength of those lines alone. You can just imagine him, stepping out of his Ghost and grinding his cowboy boots into the shattered glass-window debris, tipping his ten-gallon hat by way of apology to a flabbergasted waitress. Thug pitched Beautiful Young Thugger Girls both as his “singing album” and his “country album,” slapping an image of himself playing acoustic guitar on the cover and singing along with a mouth full of hard consonants in a preview snippet posted to Instagram. For the album opener, he went whole hog with the Grand Ole Opry cosplay, crooning over strummed chords on the chorus and peppering his verses with an indelible “Yeehaw!” ad-lib. The rest of BYTG mostly just sounds like Young Thug—which is definitely not a bad thing—but the zonked-out Martian cowboy conceit was intriguing, and “Family Don’t Matter” provides a glorious view into what might have been had he fully committed to it. — ANDY CUSH
22. Pissed Jeans - "The Bar is Low"22. Pissed Jeans – “The Bar is Low”
22. Pissed Jeans - "The Bar is Low"
A rollicking sludge rock anthem, Pissed Jeans’ “The Bar Is Low” rips into the ways in which a man’s relative lack of accomplishment is overlooked—and often praised—because at least he isn’t worse (“You haven’t climbed a mountain / Barely walked up a hill / But that’s good as gold / Cause you’ve never killed”). Released in early 2017, the song seems especially prescient in our year-end, post-Weinstein climate of reckoning for shitty men across all industries. “It just sure seems to be / Quite an easy bet / Those we adore just haven’t spilled their secrets yet,” frontman Matt Korvette sings, before growling the song’s chorus: “Never been exposed / They’ll never know.” The bar is high for finding a more scathing indictment of male mediocrity. — TAYLOR BERMAN
21. King Krule - "Dum Surfer"21. King Krule – “Dum Surfer”
21. King Krule - "Dum Surfer"
While King Krule’s gifts as a young musician have long been legend, he’s only recently given those talents a needed focus. This came after stumbling onto the idea that our humanness—both its physicality and emotion—are not signs of our beauty but instead of our decrepitness. His new album The Ooz gets a bit indulgent as he explores that concept, but the backbone comes from how “Dum Surfer” appears as the sonic embodiment of it, and how those double-timed clacks and clean strums slush about in its musty space. Punk in attitude and jazzy in its swing, King Krule’s opus finds him combining his desperate influences under what’s now a singular voice. Even the aggressive British-ness of that voice feels purposeful, giving the lucid imagery (“That cat got slashed in half like that”) the threat of a rusted knife. But the true kicker is how naturally danceable “Dum Surfer” is, itself becoming a manifestation of King Krule’s thesis. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
20. Charli XCX - "Boys"20. Charli XCX – “Boys”
20. Charli XCX - "Boys"
Women deserved plenty of things we didn’t get this year. Equal pay. Free birth control. Bosses who treated us like employees, not scratching posts or incubators. But at least we had this minimalist banger and its accompanying all-star cheesecake video, which afforded everyone unlucky enough to desire dudes a well-timed excuse to objectify and to belittle them. “Boys” is an “Area Codes” of our own—a sparkly, percussion-driven manifesto from a woman too busy collecting conquests to make an appearance at your party. — JUDY BERMAN
19. Sampha - "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano"19. Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
19. Sampha - "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano"
The heartbreak at the center of Sampha’s debut LP Process is about intangible distance, that disconnectedness with home and kin when they’re within a hug’s reach—a heartbreak that’s even more acute with the ones who aren’t. Sampha’s mother Binty Sisay passed away in 2015, and “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is a dedication to her and the instrument that sat in his family’s London home since he was three, the one that showed him, as the song puts it, he “had something some people call a soul.” It’s a sparse ballad that easily invites empathy, casting a piano as a childhood solace from the world’s madness and a punctuation of death’s finality is pure and deeply relatable imagery. The song’s climaxing hook arrives once, early, before Sampha peters toward a sweetened silence, not in resolution but acceptance. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
18. DeJ Loaf - "No Fear"18. DeJ Loaf – “No Fear”
18. DeJ Loaf - "No Fear"
In a different time, DeJ Loaf’s splendid reuse of Mary J. Blige’s melodic lines on “Real Love” might have skirted the upper reaches of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. But in a year when people seemed to prefer lukewarm electronic pop and pharmaceutic flow, the Detroit vocalist’s unabashedly sanguine ode to self-esteem and overcoming inner doubts went largely unappreciated. Much as she has done throughout her brief career, DeJ Loaf confounds expectations, side-stepping another sing-song thug rap like “Try Me” or a goofy teenybopper duet with Lil Durk, in favor of a song that speaks to her resilience, whether it be love or simply escaping her childhood shyness. The recording industry may not quite know what to do with her yet, but DeJ Loaf keeps winning all the same. — MOSI REEVES
17. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow"17. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
17. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow"
When Cardi B dropped “Bodak Yellow” weeks before the Fourth of July, few music publications took notice. At its face, “Bodak Yellow” is a straightforward trap song, its foundation a beat producer J. White crafted within 15 minutes and a flow Cardi adapted from the song’s namesake, South Florida’s Kodak Black—a product that snobs could easily write off. But as “Bodak Yellow” blasted from every bodega and backyard barbecue, the single forced everyone to realize its potency and scaled the charts in the process, making our favorite regular degular schmegular girl from the Bronx the first female rapper with a solo No. 1 on the Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill.
The power of the track lies in Cardi B’s ability to infuse her raps with the same essence that draws us to her social media accounts, with a seamlessness and authenticity that few can emulate. There’s her audaciousness, which embraces sex wholeheartedly and reframes the desire around her in an almost humorous manner. There’s her story, an aspirational tale of a girl born into struggle who now pays her momma’s bills, an aspiration for many millennials of color. And above all, there’s her braggadocio, a encouraging boastfulness that makes you feel like you, too, can make money moves, even if your checking account is woefully in the red. — MONIQUE MELENDEZ
16. The Weather Station - "Thirty"16. The Weather Station – “Thirty”
16. The Weather Station - "Thirty"
“Thirty“ is perhaps the least peaceful moment on Ontarian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman’s least peaceful album. It’s a restless, four-on-the-floor rock song, invested with hints of lonesome bluegrass and Lindeman’s beloved British folk in the guitars, but her vocals trace a less straightforward, more serpentine path. She describes a relationship building from the first electrifying hints of connection through the beauty and awkwardness of its coming-of-age. She leaves out its context, but describes the rest of life that surging imperfectly around it: gas prices, lapsed prescriptions, the gossip from an estranged father. A year is a collection of moments, and the blinding realizations that pass into obscurity too soon afterwards. “That was the year that we lost or we won,” the musician-actor clarifies, at the bottom of her range. Lindeman is working through an experience in real time, rather than pretending to have false perspective that hasn’t actually sunk it yet. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
15. Mark Eitzel - "The Last Ten Years"15. Mark Eitzel – “The Last Ten Years”
15. Mark Eitzel - "The Last Ten Years"
Charon, the boatman of Greek mythology, still turns up in contemporary literature and a song from time to time, endlessly ferrying passengers between the planes of the living and the dead across the River Styx. But he’s never looked quite the way he does in “The Last Ten Years,” the masterful album-opener from songwriter and American Music Club bandleader Mark Eitzel. Eitzel’s narrator is a career drunk on his way home at the end of a long night; though he’s clearly seen better days, he still retains a certain rakish elegance, or thinks he does. Bleary-eyed and gregarious, he travels through the city in the back of a cab to a destination that’s either his apartment or his eternal resting place, or both. He spends the song in a rambling negotiation with his silent chauffeur, addressing him as “Mr. Ferryman,” forking over all his cash and halfheartedly boasting of a life spent drinking liquor behind velvet ropes. With sumptuous lounge-rock production from former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and Eitzel’s whiskey-soaked voice, it’s a nearly perfect four minutes of music and storytelling, lent a note of sadness by the narrator’s knowledge that his charm offensive will ultimately prove to be futile. The ferryman, he admits in the first verse, “don’t give a damn who’s cursed or blessed.” No matter the quality of the conversation or the size of the tip, we all end up in the same place. — ANDY CUSH
14. Playboi Carti - "Magnolia"14. Playboi Carti – “Magnolia”
14. Playboi Carti - "Magnolia"
Among this year’s few small pleasures was noted curmudgeon Joe Budden losing his shit over the nonchalant joy of “mumble rap” ascendants. Demanding encyclopedic hip-hop knowledge of nascent artists—who idolize Marilyn Manson over Melle Mel—shows how diasporic 50 years in progress have made rap. It also shows a certain power-transfer panic, even if that power is not so much wrested at The Breakfast Club as it is coaxed over Soundcloud. This isn’t to say newcomers burdened with “mumble rap” pejoratives are deaf to bygone MCs—they’re simply attuned to the broad strokes of 2017 “rap.”
Enter Atlanta-born 21-year-old Playboi Carti, who found national success with “Magnolia” by pulling lore of the (not-so-distant) past into the jabbered parlance of the present. Riffing off the 2015 2 Milly track “Milly Rock,” Carti interpolated dance moves into do-or-die deals. In title and tone, Carti paid homage to the storied Magnolia Projects, where a handful of New Orleans artists got their start. (Lil Wayne graced “Magnolia” with a freestyle in July). A$AP-concentric Carti namechecks New York in the first lines and drops interstate slang throughout the track, and with casual confidence and his clout goggles on, he explodes regional fealty and torch-passing platitudes.
Even before its official June release, “Magnolia” lodged itself in the cultural consciousness, spawning fidget-spinner memes (sorry, Matt Ox) and finding praise from rap’s first billionaire, when Jay Z tweeted a grip of rappers who inspired 4:44. Moreover, “Magnolia” will likely go down as the best and brightest of the “mumble rap” phenomenon—a breakthrough moment of familiar bravado, brand-new joy, and unmistakable free spirit. — DALE W. EISINGER
13. French Montana ft. Swae Lee - "Unforgettable"13. French Montana ft. Swae Lee – “Unforgettable”
13. French Montana ft. Swae Lee - "Unforgettable"
The popularity of “Unforgettable” couldn’t have peaked in a more appropriate month—it was August, a humid, melancholy time of year for a humid, melancholy type of song. Its lite Afrobeat foundation gave both French Montana and his guest, Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, about the gentlest track on which either had ever appeared, and they delivered laidback wisdom for the masses. Who could ever argue with “a fuckin’ good time never hurt nobody”? Adding both joy and social consciousness to the mix, the song’s video was shot in Uganda and featured that country’s Triplets Ghetto Kids, who, according to the bio on their YouTube channel, “chose to use dance as a way of staying away from violence.” Who could ever argue? – RICH JUZWIAK
12. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - "To Follow & Lead"12. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “To Follow & Lead”
12. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - "To Follow & Lead"
In a recent interview, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith recalled a recent trip to her parents’ home in Washington state’s Orcas Island, lamenting the degree which “everything in their house beeps.” Despite the fact that the composer and singer-songwriter’s excellent 2017 album The Kid is contemporary electronic music—the kind a skeptic might claim consists mostly of just random “bleeps and bloops”—nothing really beeps on the album. Smith eschews modern equipment when making music, so the release’s most immediate single, “To Follow And Lead,” somehow gets pop mileage out of an odd brew of analog electronic sounds both chunky and dinky. Sometimes, they combine to form something boxy and abrasive, other times sumptuous and epic in scope. But while decisive hooks and a clamoring backbeat make “To Follow And Lead” one of the album’s most streamlined songs, it’s just as daring, and undoubtedly great, as anything else on The Kid. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON
11. Drake - "Passionfruit"11. Drake – “Passionfruit”
11. Drake - "Passionfruit"
“Passionfruit” was released in late March, but it’s a song that feels like it’s existed forever. This is a testament to the interminability of 2017 or to the consistency of Drake’s emotional secretions over the years—or both. When Drake is feeling vulnerable, which seems to be most of the time, his voice turns velvet and the mysterious subject of his songs—with her vaguely drawn silhouette and devastating inability to respond to his text messages in a meaningful enough way—feels like someone universal, a generation’s nonspecific, torturous love interest. (“Passionfruit” is also the rare Drake effort in which he does not sound wholly condescending while doing so, perhaps a sign of growth.) The magic of “Passionfruit” comes from Nana Rogues’s hypnotizing dancehall beat, which sounds like stepping into a millennial pink bubble and bopping around for a bit—cozy if also a little performatively melancholic. — EMMA CARMICHAEL
10. Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Living in the City"10. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Living in the City”
10. Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Living in the City"
“I got hurricane, and Big Danny is wasted,” Alynda Lee Segarra sings to begin “Living in the City,” the first proper song on Hurray for the Riff Raff’s sixth album The Navigator. “He said I’m the sweetest thing that he’s never tasted.” It’s an opening line worthy of a novel, creating an atmosphere of humid unpredictability and two compelling characters: the drunken buffoon and the narrator who knows him well enough to use his nickname, however reluctantly she weathers his advances. The lyric also conveys an unmistakable setting: the boozy streets of New Orleans, home of an absurdly potent rum cocktail that presumably got its name from its ability to knock you over like a gale force wind. Over a sparse and lackadaisical three-chord country-rock groove, Segarra unspools similarly vivid imagery, all of it charged with the alternating melancholy and boundless possibility of the summer season. A crammed apartment building in the first verse is filled with “14 floors of birthin’ / and 14 floors of dyin’;” a gang of friends stands on a rooftop at night and shouts until the morning. Like the rest of The Navigator, the song is rich with details from Segarra’s life as a Puerto Rican kid in the Bronx who fled the big city to make a life as a musician in Louisiana. But its simple refrain will be instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever slogged across a scorching American sidewalk, whether in Houston or Baltimore, Detroit or L.A.: “Living in the city / It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard.” –ANDY CUSH
9. Lorde - "The Louvre"9. Lorde – “The Louvre”
9. Lorde - "The Louvre"
Over-the-top, outlandishly idolized new love is the stuff that the best pop songs are made of, and “The Louvre” is easily Lorde’s strongest to date. (Yes, this song could be played in tandem with Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” and yes, while doing so, it would sound remarkably similar in structure and pace. Lorde’s song is better, though.) The directness of her internal monologue is hilariously refreshing and entirely relatable; the honest, lightly-manic analysis of a newly-sparked romance is often the most fun part of having one, after all. So Lorde needles at her new love’s question marks, blows off her friends to envelope herself in the anxious uncertain possibility of something good, and will broadcast herself as a “psychopathic crush” should you think she’s not in this for real. The playful tension breaks into floating hook, an easy way to coast past all overthinking and enjoy the ride for a while. In the end, a good crush is worth all the melodrama. –PUJA PATEL
8. The War on Drugs - "Strangest Thing"8. The War on Drugs – “Strangest Thing”
8. The War on Drugs - "Strangest Thing"
Adam Granduciel, the War on Drugs’ front-lungs, is pretty okay as far as vocalists go—not much range and all—but like his decidedly non-Midwestern forebearers, his voice scans “heartland” because it sounds like he’s wearing a denim jacket and pondering into the middle distance. As a lyricist, well … the 38-year-old likes to talk about pain and rain and skies and oceans. But try as he might to tell us about being “in between the beauty and the pain” on “Strangest Thing,” no guitarist in 2017 proved more capable of showing us. It’s no slight to Granduciel’s grand designs that his most towering and glittering monument to majestic melancholy falls apart without electric guitars or with a four-minute radio edit. While even that would have to include the astonishing architecture of the chorus, modeled equally on “Ten Years Gone” and the Cure’s Disintegration, this song is its guitar solo—a two minute hard sob where Granduciel has the expressive capacity of Mary J. Blige. If the War on Drugs have been tasked with nothing short of ensuring the future of guitar-based rock, it’s because “Strangest Thing” shows what otherwise reserved guys can do when they gotta make the song cry. — IAN COHEN
7. SZA ft. Travis Scott - "Love Galore"7. SZA ft. Travis Scott – “Love Galore”
7. SZA ft. Travis Scott - "Love Galore"
SZA spends some time knocking around increasingly ornate but fairly subdued melodies in the verses and bridges of “Love Galore,” singing about playing and being played with uncommon nuance. And: full throttle soaring. The song’s hypnotic chorus finds her teasing syllable after syllable out of the word “love” repeatedly, as if finding new meaning in such a well-worn concept. It comes as a revelation in the tropical-sounding track (which its singer has compared to “Kokomo”), just as SZA herself felt like a revelation as one of the few female R&B breakouts of the year—or few women that could be heard on R&B radio, period. I never could have predicted that SZA would be so embraced in 2017, but I’m so thankful that she was. – RICH JUZWIAK
6. Paramore - "Hard Times"6. Paramore – “Hard Times”
6. Paramore - "Hard Times"
“They made a song about depression and it sounds so happy,” a YouTube commenter wrote and that ain’t even the half of this song’s coup. “They wrote a song with trop-house accents by way of Alphabeat and the English Beat and it embarrasses no one”: Now, that’s the real achievement. Although the Nickelodeon-friendly video and plink-plonking pre-chorus synth may create the impression that “Hard Times” is an “eighties” single, Paramore aren’t necrophiliacs, on the hunt for the horrified remnants of their Dubya-era emo constituency. With co-writer Taylor York inserting well-deployed upstrokes and returning drummer Zac Farro doing rolls when we least expect, Hayley Williams gave one of her most ebullient performances—she’s an exclamation point in human form. Its verse-chorus-verse-middle-eight has the ruthlessness of penicillin: It may cure you or make you sick. — ALFRED SOTO
5. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO Tour Llif3"5. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3″
5. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO Tour Llif3"
This was the year Lil Uzi Vert went from Soundcloud prodigy to bona fide breakout star. After tracks like “Do What I Want” and “You Was Right” helped secure his place among 2016’s freshman class, Uzi finally struck radio gold with “XO Tour Llif3,” his first No. 1 single and defining track as an artist destined for Top 40 stardom. The song was everywhere this year—rattling through blown-out car stereos, buzzing from Bluetooth boomboxes on near every uptown train—the single had the sort of infectious energy you could literally feel in the pulse of the streets. With an electric, almost pop-punk warble snapped into its rigid Auto-Tune grid, “XO Tour Llif3″ found something special in the sugary space between Fueled By Ramen radio rock and tinny ringtone rap, proving that even as genres grow more and more fluid, a flawless hook still triumphs over everything else. — ROB ARCAND
4. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"4. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
4. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"
Cult-pop diva Carly Rae Jepsen released only one new song under her own name in 2017 (not counting a Target promo), so “Cut to the Feeling” carried more than its fair share of our playlist load this year. (In June, Spin named it the best song of the year so far.) Fortunately, the exuberant single is up to the job: Three-and-a-half minutes of perfectly calibrated pop, “Feeling” lines up its shots and then knocks them down with the giddy electricity of a video-game speedrun. The backing keyboard still believes in old-school house; every time the beat quits, a mob of handclaps spark up in its place; Jepsen’s soaring pre-chorus vocal leap could make the “Run Away With Me” sax blush. Originally written for the 2015 album Emotion and released this year on the soundtrack for animated film Leap!, “Cut to the Feeling” is equal to anything on Jepsen’s standalone projects. — ANNA GACA
3. Big Thief - "Mary"3. Big Thief – “Mary”
3. Big Thief - "Mary"
Written and first played in Adrianne Lenker’s grandparents’ home, a place the singer sweetly remembers as “defining coziness in my life when I really needed it,” “Mary” is the quiet highlight of Big Thief’s intense Capacity. Nestled at the end of the album, the song reflects on the swaddling nature of childhood and safety of intimate friendship from the perspective of someone whose feet are firmly cemented in adulthood. Nostalgia is prone to sentimentality, sure, but “Mary,” named after Lenker’s close friend, takes a few listens to understand why this particular try lands so gracefully. The song is bittersweet in the realization that the affection we assign to the ones we adore most—the specks of light and comfort we mine from them, the love and friendship we find as a result—should perhaps be directed inward.
In Lenker, it’s easy to feel the momentum of that self-embrace. The folksy vocal play of Joni and Joanna are delicately weaved through a dusty organ before cascading into a warm refrain. Her gorgeous warble skips into a quick, alliterative flood of images from her youth—“Monastery monochrome / Boom balloon machine and oh / Diamond rings and gutter bones”—that embolden her present. It’s heartening to watch that timeline shift, to hear something so devastatingly beautiful turn purposefully clear-eyed and bright. If there’s a through-line in “Mary,” it’s that in our fondest memories of family and friendship, we’re mirroring parts of ourselves. –PUJA PATEL
2. Kendrick Lamar - "DNA."2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”
2. Kendrick Lamar - "DNA."
Kendrick Lamar’s oeuvre already carries plenty of essential bangers, but none of them quite matches the ambition and audacity of DAMN. Track Number 2. In Generation Y music history, there’s never been a song that reifies the dichotomy of Black America’s lineage—the trauma and pride—to this extent. “DNA.” is “Alright” weaponized.
The visceral bump of the track’s first half mainly rides on Kendrick Lamar’s writerly talents, which add severity to Mike WiLL’s Saharan production. Kendrick’s personal contradictions—”Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA”—are unapologetic in their humanness. His polemic—”Yuse a bitch your hormones prolly switch inside your DNA / Problem is, all that sucker shit inside your DNA”—is a rallying cry. His description of the “Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption” is panoramic and enveloping, as if we’re all implicated in this mess. It’s a stream-of-consciousness missive that’s delivered with experiential, rhythmic precision.
But it all exists for that second half, where the Rick James sample and the bass come forth to bruise. It’s a battle cry that uses a Geraldo Rivera sample as a metonym for what’s being fought against: “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” The comment is an obvious bit of absurd alarmism that expresses one of white America’s most ironic biases—how white America twists logic to other the African-American identity, despite its own part in creating it. The rebellion against this idea is what makes that hairpin twist as brutal as it is beautiful. — BRIAN JOSEPHS
1. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - "Slide"1. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos – “Slide”
1. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - "Slide"
Calvin Harris long ago ascended to the top of EDM’s trash mountain of glowsticks, discarded wristbands, and water bottles filled with vodka. Thanks to lucrative residencies and an astronomical show rate, the Scottish DJ has ranked No. 1 on Forbes’ annual list of richest DJs for five years running. But despite also being one of the genre’s most consistently rewarding producers, money couldn’t buy him respect, something he telegraphed this year when he released “Slide,” his instant classic collaboration with Frank Ocean and two of the Migos. Much like when Daft Punk briefly aimed to turn the clock back on contemporary music, “Slide” was accompanied by single art in which the “back cover” meticulously catalogs the song’s credits, from songwriting to mixing to recording location to mastering. But it’s what is listed dead smack in the middle of the image that makes its true purpose clear: a series of instruments—Yamaha C7 piano, Ibanez 1200 bass, PPG Wave 2.2, etc—all of which, it’s noted, were “performed by Calvin Harris.” Just to be extremely clear that we didn’t miss anything, Harris released home video of himself recording each instrument into his computer, showing us exactly who built, brick by brick, the wall of sounds displayed on his desktop screen.
It is a bit funny, then, that “Slide” is far from revolutionary, and may actually be the opposite. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to merely call it a nice little summer jam that floats along pleasantly with the breeze. A cruising locomotive of squiggly synths, rippling handclaps, and murmuring bass, the song is buttoned-up and studious of its funk and disco influences, so much so that it resembles less the things its referencing than Chromeo’s references of those references. What pushes “Slide” into transcendence is its guests: Frank Ocean, his voice smooth as lotioned skin, sings about yet another untethered romance, but this time with an intensely relaxed demeanor that implies he enjoys the chase; Quavo, who takes the baton, doesn’t so much as rap a verse as he purrs cooly into your ear; and then Offset, who does rap, and about as well as anyone did this year, deviating from the theme but scribbling imagery so good (“She swallowed the bottle while I sit back and smoke gelato”) that you don’t even notice. What’s most surprising is not that Calvin Harris would make a song this good (listen to “Thinking About You”), but in that his transparent attempt to establish his musicianship he still knew enough to step aside and let the real stars shine. Humble gets no respect, someone once said, except maybe in this case. — JORDAN SARGENT