It’s safe to say none of us will be nostalgic for the first six months of 2017. Rarely has the national and global situation felt so unpredictable—but great music still comforts, empowers, distracts, and pleasures us, whatever the circumstances. Below, explore 50 of SPIN’s favorite songs of the year to date: Paramore’s big pop moment, Sampha’s balladeering, Hurray For the Riff Raff’s poignant commentary, Kendrick Lamar with some of his best, Carly Rae Jepsen’s unbridled joy, and Julie Byrne’s haunting studio moments. The songs that have brought us together this year spanned ebullient, escapist pop music, pointed rap about despair, rock music that dreams of Italy, and much more. Some of these songs were written to address the present moment and others were finished much earlier, but in our accelerated new reality they’ve all already demonstrated their lasting relevance. These are the 50 Best Songs of 2017 So Far.
The 50 Best Songs of 2017 So Far
50. Harry Styles - "Sign of the Times"50. Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times”
50. Harry Styles - "Sign of the Times"
I was never really a Directioner, but whatever Harry Styles’ new fanclub is called… well, maybe I’d sign up for that email list. We’ve heard plenty about how his debut self-titled album rips from every successful classic rock artist ever, and Noel Gallagher even said that his cat could’ve written “Sign of the Times” in 10 minutes. It’s true that you can basically predict what the whole song is going to sound like just based on the opening piano accompaniment and the song’s very first line—”Just stop your crying / it’s a sign of the times”—but Harry easily sells what easily could have been a generic power ballad in someone else’s hands. He is a professional after all. — Geena Kloeppel
49. Arcade Fire - "Everything Now"49. Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”
49. Arcade Fire - "Everything Now"
Arcade Fire’s last album, Reflektor, wasn’t for me. The once-saviors of indie rock were trying to make their fans dance; the songs were supposed to be groovy, but weren’t very groovy at all. Luckily, while the band’s comeback single “Everything Now” furthers that sound–it helps that it was co-produced with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey– it isn’t just a dance song. It’s practically an ABBA song. It’s there in that almost aggravatingly chipper piano melody, those swelling strings and rat-a-tat rhythm, the insistent chants of “everything now!” The lyrics are fantastically sarcastic and dreary, playing off the instrumentation to sound fun even when though Win Butler is going through something. He sounds wistful as ever as he opines how our cornucopia of modern pleasures have made life more routine, instead of expanding its possibilities. “Every inch of space in your head / Is filled up with the things that you read,” he sings. “I guess you’ve got everything now.” There’s a little flute solo that sounds like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” as well as a big, canned chorus of “na na na”s at the end.
The video, in which the band wears grey jumpsuits and performs around a idyllic hamlet stuck in the middle of the desert, reinforces the concept, as does their repeated refrain of “Infinite Content,” which describes all those entertainment options. Everything should be so nice… but it’s not. We should be living in the future… but it kind of sucks. This could be a super fatuous idea for Arcade Fire to beat us over the head with. Who wants to listen to a bunch of rich Canadians caterwaul about how we’ve lost the feeling? But it works, in spite of that kneejerk avulsion. “I want it,” Butler sings as the chorus repeats the title on end. “I need it.” Whenever that piano kicks in, it sounds like a beaming smile as the world dissolves into meaningless sludge. Does anything else feel more appropriate for 2017? –Jeremy Gordon
48. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX - "1 Night"48. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX – “1 Night”
48. Mura Masa ft. Charli XCX - "1 Night"
The young British producer Mura Masa’s “1 Night” begins like a painfully acute post-tropical house dance-pop collaboration, with Charli XCX cooing over a drip-drop marimba pattern. It builds up to what feels like the inevitable drop, but then something novel happens: Mura Masa sucks all the air out of the song, before gently unleashing a refrain built just out of Charli’s oh-oh vocals. The effect is like submerging yourself underwater for just a second and then bobbing back up for a leisurely float. The slightly askew take on a conventional mutation of EDM recalls Jamie xx’s most appealing solo work, while also briefly removing Charli from the clutches of PC Music and giving her a song that’s, well, exceedingly pleasant to listen to. — Jordan Sargent
47. Palm - "Walkie Talkie"47. Palm – “Walkie Talkie”
47. Palm - "Walkie Talkie"
At a time when the genre loosely defined as “indie rock” couldn’t seem more plain, Philadelphia-via-Hudson quartet Palm do something that’s as hard to describe as it is dizzyingly, blisteringly new. On their 2015 debut Trading Basics, the group stacked strident guitar lines atop droning, psychedelic vocals to build a refreshing collage somewhere between Panda Bear and New Dark Age-era Polvo with just a touch of chorus and delay. The first single from their upcoming Shadow Expert EP with Carpark later this month, “Walkie Talkie” is a racing take on all of what made their debut so memorable. With rolling drums and jagged stabs of stereoscopic guitar, the track defies reference, soaring into absolute chaos with what could only be called a “chorus” in the vaguest, most abstract sense. How can a single so harsh and structureless really sound this blissful? That’s a secret the mysterious four-piece don’t seem too eager to reveal. — Rob Arcand
46. Actress - "CYN"46. Actress – “CYN”
46. Actress - "CYN"
As Actress, Darren Cunningham makes throbbing techno for the end of days. His brand of dark and moody dance music is noticeably barren, clashing thin, textural samples with hushed synth elements that were always more interesting for the strange polyrhythmic patterns they produce than the stomping, made-for-dance maximalism made by other DJs. It’s experimental, but never far from its Detroit or London origins, and on “CYN,” the artist achieves something distinctly deconstructed. Flipping a dusty live clip of New York rapper Ramellzee into a dark, downtempo piece, the track relies more on abrasive bass than the looped kick of AZD’s other material. As it slowly introduces glassy harmonics in the mids and highs, “CYN” juggles a certain push-and-pull paradox central to every great Actress track. Is it dance music? Is it the soundtrack to Peter Berg’s Rihanna-led Battleship-pocalypse that never was? Who knows, but it sounds so fucking right when it hits you. — Rob Arcand
45. French Montana - Unforgettable ft. Swae Lee45. French Montana – Unforgettable ft. Swae Lee
45. French Montana - Unforgettable ft. Swae Lee
Swae Lee is generally the commanding presence on Rae Sremmurd songs, but he’s rarely sounded better than he does on French Montana’s “Unforgettable.” The song started as a Swae solo demo featuring the Nigerian vocalist Wizkid before making its way into French’s hands. The star here is clear, though. You have to make it 75 seconds into “Unforgettable” before you even hear French’s voice—instead, the song is driven by Swae, who hangs like lingering smoke over a glistening dancehall-inspired Mike Will Made It beat, sounding like a shining new voice in R&B over the course of his verse-length chorus. French, to his immense credit, manages not to screw it up. –Jordan Sargent
44. Sylvan Esso - "Die Young"44. Sylvan Esso – “Die Young”
44. Sylvan Esso - "Die Young"
Sylvan Esso’s new album What Now is an optimistic and sweet take on new electronica, though you wouldn’t know it listening to the single “Die Young.” The first verse begins with openly morbid imagery: “Was gonna leave early, so swiftly / Maybe in a fire or crash off a ravine / People would weep, ‘How tragic, so early’.” With synths that hit like a gong and an offbeat bass rhythm that pulls and releases tension throughout, “Die Young” is an ode to the angst and existentialism on the other side of being in love. — Geena Kloeppel
43. SOB x RBE, "Lane Changing"43. SOB x RBE, “Lane Changing”
43. SOB x RBE, "Lane Changing"
SOB x RBE are a Bay Area quartet that boast a musical chemistry that sounds like the logical result of an adolescence’s worth of inside jokes; DaBoii, Yhung T.O., Lul G, and Slimmy B told The Fader that the roots of the group were at their local Boys and Girls Club. The loose relationship to the beat in their raps in the tradition of their hometown hero and champion E-40, as well as more recent predecessors like NhT Boyz. T.O. provides a melodic rock amongst the exuberance, channeling contemporary Cali hook technician Ty Dolla $ign or The Weeknd, depending on the mood. “Lane Changing” is not yet their biggest hit–”Anti” and “Different,” posted last year, were the loosies that got them on labels’ radar, racking up millions of streams–but it’s their most singular achievement thus far. It’s a breathless volley of taunts and shoutouts; the raps duel with a ribboning vocal sample and a frenetic beat to make Mannie Fresh proud. “Keep a small circle/New n*ggas I can’t trust those,” Slimmy B says, and it’s this devotedly in-house approach which will hopefully continue to make SOB x RBE’s continuing stream of local hits something singular as well as marketable. — Winston Cook-Wilson
42. Geotic - "Actually Smiling"42. Geotic – “Actually Smiling”
42. Geotic - "Actually Smiling"
You know “smize,” Tyra Banks’ word for smiling with one’s eyes, rather than one’s mouth. Well, it’s impossible to smile in a song, but Geotic (a.k.a. Baths’ Will Wiesenfeld) figured out how to smize. “Actually Smiling” glows with the kind of warmth it’s hard to put into words, so Wiesenfeld doesn’t bother: The only lyrics are barely-verbal coos that sound like a comforting friend placing a hand on your back and whispering, “You know, you know.” Wiesenfeld is playing on a pop song structure, sort of, but before long the synths and drum pads all splash together, an impressionist fantasy of soap bubbles and sunshine and bleep-bloop bliss. — Anna Gaca
41. The War on Drugs - "Thinking of a Place"41. The War on Drugs – “Thinking of a Place”
41. The War on Drugs - "Thinking of a Place"
Over the last decade, the War on Drugs have been hard at work refining a certain hazy sound that’s heavy on reverb and light on lyrical insight. “It’s jam music…for millennials” goes a certain, probably common refrain from fans, but goddamn does it sound good. Like their coastal northeastern contemporaries Real Estate, “Thinking of a Place” slows down, settling into warm synth pads, reeling slide guitar, and lush, full-bodied acoustics with a warm, evocative, immediate familiarity. Singer Adam Granduciel leans in on what can only be described as his straining Springsteen voice, grasping out at the stoned solipsisms of a certain Nobel Prize-winning songwriter in ways that always tend to land a little gracelessly. But what it doesn’t have in breathtaking lyrics, the track quickly makes up in 100% Pure Unfiltered Summer Vibe—the sort breathtaking, effortless cool you only ever come across with a certain caliber of rock band. Despite the chilling throwback of the band’s namesake, “Thinking of a Place” is as good a reminder as any that the War on Drugs was really always that effortless rock band. — Rob Arcand
40. Tee Grizzley - "From the D to the A" ft. Lil Yachty40. Tee Grizzley – “From the D to the A” ft. Lil Yachty
40. Tee Grizzley - "From the D to the A" ft. Lil Yachty
Lil Yachty has essentially become a living, breathing debate about where the borders of rap music are drawn and who gets to enforce them. It is a tiring, useless conversation that accomplishes little beyond driving attention to those who engage in it, but Yachty himself provides a great salve in the form of “From the D to the A,” his collaboration with the Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley. Yachty may not be a traditional enough rapper for many, but he does a fine impression of one here, trading back-and-forth verses with his more lyrically inclined (and talented) counterpart. The song succeeds not just because of the unexpected context it places Yachty in, but because of each rapper’s attention to detail. The verses build off each other in a way that feels at once spontaneous and orchestrated, with the sort of effortless cool that probably wasn’t exactly so. — Jordan Sargent
39. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee - "Despacito" (Remix) ft. Justin Bieber39. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – “Despacito” (Remix) ft. Justin Bieber
39. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee - "Despacito" (Remix) ft. Justin Bieber
To be clear: Justin Bieber is the least sexy part of “Despacito.” To be fair: He’s faking it on a Spanish-language earworm while Luis Fonsi breathlessly croons about making his lover’s body scream like crashing tide on the beach where you both lay. It’s a shame Biebs hasn’t learned the words to the song he helped make #1 hit simply because it’s of his ethos—a lusty seduction that lands thanks to sweet, doe-eyed warbling and a clever producer’s reggaeton-pop influence. Cynicism and the genuine frustration over the way this song made it to U.S. radio aside, the song is a perfect summer jam and, on the remix, everyone sounds convincing as hell of that. –Puja Patel
38. Japanese Breakfast - "Machinist"38. Japanese Breakfast – “Machinist”
38. Japanese Breakfast - "Machinist"
After the smash-success of last year’s Japanese Breakfast debut Psychopomp, many were unsure where songwriter Michelle Zauner would take the project. The act had already bridged the gap from bedroom Bandcamp sensation to mid-tier indie rock mainstay, and Psychopomp was easily one of the biggest records of the year. But on “Machinist,” the first track from her upcoming sophomore effort Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Zauner unveiled something…weird. With disco rhythms, science fiction imagery, and now even AutoTune, the track leapt through some of the slickest, most danceable moments from the band with a new level of production unheard of from the once-largely-DIY project. With the sort of mid-tempo drums and palm-muted guitars of an Ariel Rechtshaid production, “Machinist” is a stunning glimpse of a bold new direction for the still-young project. — Rob Arcand
37. Father John Misty - "Ballad of the Dying Man"37. Father John Misty – “Ballad of the Dying Man”
37. Father John Misty - "Ballad of the Dying Man"
Father John Misty is the sweetest smartass at the party. It’s the jokes and derision that get the most of the attention, but his best work is shot through with real empathy for the doomed citizens of Earth. Pure Comedy is his most ambitious album by a long shot, and his most cynical. For much of the record’s runtime, he’s watching and judging the proceedings of the planet from on high, rather than mixing it up with the fools and weirdos, as he did on his fantastic first two releases. One lively exception is “Ballad of the Dying Man.” Against a gorgeous pop arrangement that makes a singlehanded case for the ongoing powers of analog recording, Misty takes stock of one poor fellow’s life, spent stewing and doling out criticisms of those “overrated hacks” he deems less sophisticated or morally upstanding than he. The dying man is plainly ridiculous, but we’re still moved to sadness about his death and the futility of his pursuits. Later in the record, Misty witheringly refers to himself as “another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddamn seriously,” and in “Ballad of the Dying Man,” he’s self-aware enough to understand that the character he’s constructed will look quite familiar to some of his fans. Once again, it’s the humanity that makes the song stick. — Andy Cush
36. SahBabii - "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick" ft. Loso Loaded36. SahBabii – “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” ft. Loso Loaded
36. SahBabii - "Pull Up Wit Ah Stick" ft. Loso Loaded
At the very beginning of the year, 20-year-old Atlanta rapper SahBabii came out of nowhere with “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick,” a colorful, sweetly sung lullaby about, well, a drive-by shooting. The contrast between the song’s subject matter and the fact that it sounds like a nursery rhyme might be a little unsettling, but it’s nonetheless the exact sort of charming and mindlessly catchy song that has sustained Atlanta rap over the years, with bird-call ad libs as memorable as the chorus itself. — Jordan Sargent
35. Wilder Maker - "New Streets"35. Wilder Maker – “New Streets”
35. Wilder Maker - "New Streets"
Can a song taste like lemonade? “New Streets,” by the chilled-out Brooklyn band Wilder Maker, sure makes a good argument. With gentle shakers, a tap on the cymbal here and there, and a hint of sax, the song passes by lazily like a cool gust of wind on a hot day. The song is melodically rich, but not in a boastful way—“New Streets” is breezy yet conscious, and youthfully optimistic but with a dose of reality that comes via a hearty drum kit. The vocals are compelling, the crunchy guitar outro is a sweet treat, and the build up of this song into a full blown band-jam just feels, like summer, just right — Geena Kloeppel
34. The xx - "Say Something Loving"34. The xx – “Say Something Loving”
34. The xx - "Say Something Loving"
We may not hear them gasp, but on their new album I See You, the xx comes up for air after a career of being submerged in icy water. Lyrically, single “Say Something Loving” reveals a deeper and more refined band: “Say something loving,” Oliver Sim sings, with Romy Madley-Croft soon joining in. “I just can’t remember the thrill of affection.” Their voices may reveal insecurities and inner conundrums, but musically, the xx have honed in on a lush and spacey soundscape that softens the cold combination of guitar and downbeat instrumentation that they once patented, meaning you may actually want to play this one come summer. — Geena Kloeppel
33. Downtown Boys - "A Wall"33. Downtown Boys – “A Wall”
33. Downtown Boys - "A Wall"
There’s something about the first word in the title of “A Wall,” the jubilant piece of punk rock that opens Downtown Boys’ forthcoming third full-length Cost of Living. “A wall is just a wall,” frontwoman Victoria Ruiz shouts over and over. “And nothing more at all.” On some level, of course, she’s talking about the wall. But to give the distinction of the definite article to Donald Trump’s plans for a barrier on the Mexican border is to afford the wall with power and status it doesn’t deserve. The wall is a symbol for a bankrupt ideology, and when you strip that away, all that remains is the physical fact of the thing: it’s just a wall. Musically, “A Wall” aims higher than just about anything in Downtown Boys’ catalog to date. It thrums with an openhearted energy that recalls “The Ties That Bind,” a classic album opener from Bruce Springsteen, whose working-class poetry has made him an unlikely lodestar for the band. (Maybe it has something to do with the saxophones, too.) So far, Downtown Boys’ reputation rests in large part on their kinetic live show and their unapologetic leftist politics; “A Wall” is a signal that they might have a great album in them, too. — Andy Cush
32. Selena Gomez - "Bad Liar"32. Selena Gomez – “Bad Liar”
32. Selena Gomez - "Bad Liar"
Selena Gomez’s singles usually sound a bit out-of-time, mining plaintive pop melodies in the Britney/teen-pop idol tradition over lithe but unassuming instrumentals, instead of turning to herky-jerky, trap-ified flows or other forms of musical mask-play. Restraint has always been operative in her music, and that luxury is afforded to her by the team of industry people she surrounds herself with, who help her craft semi-muted pop records, with a limited margin for outright error. Gomez has had 7 top 40 singles since 2013, three of them from last year; she’s still learning how to make her cautiousness her deadliest weapon.
If “Bad Liar,” her first new solo single in a year, is tied to any pre-existing sound in recent pop music, it is the spare, fragile, witty-playful architecture of “Royals.” It is almost as if, just as Lorde is adopting Antonoff-ian walls of sound and abandoning her old dynamic range to appeal to the dance floor, Gomez has stepped in to mine the New Zealand pop star’s old appeal. But, really, “Bad Liar” has its own lustre; it’s too intimate and jam-packed a musical event to give anyone space or time to consider the arithmetic that led to it. It boils over with joy and irreverence to match its lyrics; tongue-twisting lines like “If you want you can rent that place/Call me an amenity/Even if it’s in my dreams” become musical butterflies in her stomach.
Gomez’s voice sounds controlled and pristine in the mix; the producers have limited and contained it, rather than beefing it up with an excess of reverb and alien pitch contouring. It’s exactly in the right space on the record to make feel you’re listening to her across the table at a coffee shop. The technique here is almost the inverse of the approach on Gomez’s big radio hit of the moment, the Kygo collaboration “It Ain’t Me.” That song, just like the Bob Dylan song it shares its anchoring phrase with, is based around an acoustic guitar and aims to create the illusion of intimacy at first, before becoming dizzyingly busy, building Selena’s voice into a choir and then rending it into weird slivers. On “Bad Liar,” on the other hand, everything is cleared out of the way in the production so that she can go into conversational, syllable-crammed detail without the record going top-heavy. –Winston Cook-Wilson
31. Sampha - "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano"31. Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”
31. Sampha - "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano"
The first notes of the piano are gorgeous, but Sampha’s voice is what takes this song about the piano in his mother’s home to soaring heights. The song also takes on a certain pain and meaning given that his mom died recently from cancer: “They said that it’s her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close,” he sings. “And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go.” Yet the thing about Sampha is that his voice is so soothing that even a song like this never hurts too much—just enough. — Geena Kloeppel
30. Arca - "Desafío"30. Arca – “Desafío”
30. Arca - "Desafío"
As Arca, Alejandro Ghersi has long made present the human forms within the laptop. Across a medley of mixtapes, albums, and early EPs, the 27-year-old composer has smashed, warped, and pitch-shifted a variety of vocal tics, stretching familiar sounds into a chilling and deeply alien experience made stranger by Jesse Kanda’s eerie, fleshy forms. But with the release of his third, self-titled LP, the producer finally laid bare his own voice in quivering, fragile verses. One standout from the release, “Desafio” flips the delicate sparseness of early singles “Piel” and “Anoche” into a roaring torrent of fuzzy, noise-drenched electronics. Caught between ballad and operatic romance, Ghersi’s flighty falsetto soars to new heights as the short epic wrings every ounce of pain and heartbreak from its syrupy, melancholic center. — Rob Arcand
29. Pissed Jeans - "The Bar is Low"29. Pissed Jeans – “The Bar is Low”
29. Pissed Jeans - "The Bar is Low"
For an unrelentingly loud and noisy band, Pissed Jeans have always known how to groove and swagger. “The Bar Is Low,” the first single from their latest album The Bar Is Low, has that Swamp Thing-as-Mick Jagger thing going on, with frontman Matt Korvette managing to make distorted bass and buzzsaw power chords sound sexy. Lyrically, it’s something close to a mission statement for the band, which has always found humor in the foibles of entitled men. Korvette paints a picture of a self-professed “noble guy,” whose greatest accomplishments include holding down a shitty job and refraining from committing murder. What makes him so admirable? Nothing really, it’s just that for privileged people like him, the bar is lower. Inch by agonizing inch, Pissed Jeans are attempting to raise it. — Andy Cush
28. Amber Coffman - "No Coffee"28. Amber Coffman – “No Coffee”
28. Amber Coffman - "No Coffee"
Former Dirty Projector Amber Coffman’s debut solo album is haunted by the ghosts of soul music’s greatest vocal stylists, squeezed through a Dave-Longstreth-shaped keyhole (her collaborator on all of its tracks and disgruntled ex). All of the record’s singles and most of the record have an immediate appeal, but none are as warm of “No Coffee,” a meditation on fraught love dominated by rising tides of underwater synth bass, and pitted against Motown guitar chops. Its backdrop is top-heavy and full of strange hiccups; on its surface (in melody, chords, and vocals) it’s perfectly symmetrical pop. Coffman’s voice has the space it needs to succinctly describe a relationship turned emotional tug-o-war game (“Baby I need you in a serious way/Can’t give you all this love when you push me away”). Where the work of Dirty Projectors without her dares you, against your better judgment, to step into its insular universe, Coffman’s music is inviting and instinctive above everything else–out to prove nothing. — Winston Cook-Wilson
27. Paramore - "Forgiveness"27. Paramore – “Forgiveness”
27. Paramore - "Forgiveness"
Paramore’s new album After Laughter continues an interest in ‘80s pop that the band first explored on their self-titled 2013 record, but its best song is the one which abandons the spiky new-wave of initial singles “Hard Times” and “Told You So” for the lush, soft-rock of a different set of influences. “Forgiveness” remembers Fleetwood Mac through the same gauzy filter as Haim, but it also feels more personal than it might let on at first. As the song blooms, you can pick up a slight twang in Nashville native Hayley Williams’ voice, as if it was actually something that Haim wrote for Kacey Musgraves. “Forgiveness” is at once an experimental departure for Paramore, but also a nod to its deepest roots. – Jordan Sargent
26. Mark Eitzel - "The Last Ten Years"26. Mark Eitzel – “The Last Ten Years”
26. Mark Eitzel - "The Last Ten Years"
Mark Eitzel, American Music Club’s undersung hero, seems to be addressing the boatman to the underworld–the one his album is named after–in “The Last Ten Years,” but it’s more likely he’s singing to himself. The music shimmers with the patina of sophistipop from the end of last century–Prefab Sprout or Aztec Camera–but none of those bands ever paused to groan and sneer quite as cruelly as Eitzel does here. He asks: “Mr. Ferryman, do you party where you’re from?” and we wonder “Is that hell?” In the chorus, we imagine where his last ten years went and what substances aided in their disappearance. This song alone–Hey Mr Ferryman’s clear standout–makes Eitzel the slickest indie-rock antihero of the year. — Winston Cook-Wilson
25. Pile - "Leaning on a Wheel"25. Pile – “Leaning on a Wheel”
25. Pile - "Leaning on a Wheel"
“Leaning on a Wheel” is the highlight of Boston-reared punk iconoclasts Pile’s strongest studio achievement, A Hairshirt of Purpose, embodying their propensity for pivoting balletically between uncompromising atonality and alluring, sometimes tenderly beautiful chording and vocal melodies. Their arpeggiated harmonies in “Wheel” wind their way to haunting peaks and valleys, while the lyrics describe an uneasy stasis: “Head down/And eyes peeled/I wouldn’t call it driving, more like leaning on a wheel.” Pile founder and lead singer Rick Maguire’s disarming vocal twang and bum, bluesy guitar notes overtake the song when the band quiets down a bit, giving it a fragile, lonesome quality that might seem to be ideologically at odds with Pile’s other major musical impulses: hyper-technicality and punk brutalism. In the hands of musicians who hadn’t been honing this style for well over a decade, it might seem like a bad combination. But this many albums and fierce basement gigs in, Pile know how to get a stew going. — Winston Cook-Wilson
24. Spoon - "Do I Have To Talk You Into It"24. Spoon – “Do I Have To Talk You Into It”
24. Spoon - "Do I Have To Talk You Into It"
When Spoon’s Britt Daniel played acoustic guitar at a SXSW panel this year, he picked “Do I Have to Talk You Into It”—not because it’s his favorite song from their new album Hot Thoughts, but because, he said, it was the only one of its complexly layered compositions he’d worked out a good way to perform solo. It’s hard to remember just how he managed, because “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” is high-concept Spoon: It quivers and clatters on practically everything except a classic strum, and that’s before the loudest of the synths cuts in like a cold wind. So what if you can’t quite hum this song—as soon as you speak the title, you’ll catch yourself slipping into that ineluctable Daniel diction. You know: And the words get stuck on the tip of my tongue… — Anna Gaca
23. Playboi Carti, "Magnolia"23. Playboi Carti, “Magnolia”
23. Playboi Carti, "Magnolia"
A$AP Rocky made a career out of artfully curating regional rap sounds to construct songs and an attendant persona that felt like the knife’s edge of modernity. But he might have never done it better than his friend Playboi Carti, whose rising solo hit “Magnolia” is a laconic and deeply catchy doodle that scribbles New York and Chicago slang atop thick, rumbling bass that evokes the rap of the Deep South. It might not end up being the most memorable rap song of 2017, but it might be the most illustrative. — Jordan Sargent
22. Jacques Greene - "To Say"22. Jacques Greene – “To Say”
22. Jacques Greene - "To Say"
Jacques Greene’s Feel Infinite was a dizzying LP of a genre and style never much indebted to the full-length format, and “To Say,” the album’s third single, offered a pulsing tech-house jam just as fresh as his countless club-ready 12″ releases. Unfolding around a singular four-on-the-floor kick and wispy ARP-esque synth, the track layered a thumping Juno bass and breathy, barren vocals to create a strange sort of R&B-infected house. With the sort of signature flute sounds we’d later learn he surprisingly admires in the work of Gucci Mane, Kodak Black, and Migos, the single is a house track with little of the baggage of such. Ditching the standard 90s nostalgia to instead embrace the silky R&B of collaborator How To Dress Well, “To Say” offers an alternate reality where tech-house and alt-R&B don’t feel so far removed from one another. — Rob Arcand
21. Real Estate - "Darling"21. Real Estate – “Darling”
21. Real Estate - "Darling"
Thanks to a crystal clear guitar hook, a combination of fuzzy keyboards and resilient hi-hat, and an almost phantom vocoder, “Darling” is the exact sort of memorable indie rock tune the world has come to expect from Real Estate. Every line is a harmonic response to another, bouncing off the walls in the little song-world the band created on their newest album In Mind. The arrangement hugs Martin Courtney’s vocals as if it was in love, and performed live, there’s even a harp to add to the warmth. “Darling” is loud enough to feel like a spring awakening but just quiet enough to soothe. — Geena Kloeppel
20. Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Living in the City"20. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Living in the City”
20. Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Living in the City"
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra can capture a spirit with one snatch of conversation or a single mis en scene. She does it over and over again on “Living in the City,” the glorious roots-pop standout from this year’s The Navigator: “Hotbox summer days / We’re just sneakin’ by the river,” or, “Standin’ on the rooftops / We’re just yellin’ til the morning.” Brylcreemed little electric riffs spark off the acoustic guitars; the nasality in Segarra’s voice sounds like all the cares in the world. There’s tragedy here, birth and death, a friend named Gyspy done in by bad junk—but on the roof in the heat you still feel like it’ll never all catch up to you. “Just living in the city” is a million lives at once. — Anna Gaca
19. Priests - "Suck"19. Priests – “Suck”
19. 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
18. Jlin - "Nyakinyua Rise"18. Jlin – “Nyakinyua Rise”
18. Jlin - "Nyakinyua Rise"
“Nyakinyua Rise” opens with a steady, mostly unaccompanied pulse. For many producers of dance music, that would be an inauspicious introduction–think of the untz untz heartbeat that powers techno–but in the middle of Jlin’s second album Black Origami, it catches your ear. More often, her footwork-indebted tracks layer rhythms across one another like Jenga blocks, into elaborate structures that might collapse if just one element were shifted out of place. Here, we have a single shaker sound, dancing across the stereo field but holding fast to the beat. Soon enough, a drum hit sneaks through the cracks, maybe a timbale, followed quickly by a few cowbells. Then another drum, something lower and fiercer, and a second shaker. Then more drums, more bells, a gaggle of shouting voices. The stripped down beginning, it turns out, was just the sound of “Nyakinyua Rise” warming up before delivering an onslaught of percussion that is awesome–in the Biblical sense–even by Jlin’s maximalist standards. When it arrived as an advance single before Black Origami, “Nyakinyua Rise” announced Jlin’s departure from proper footwork, toward a still-unnamed zone that is entirely hers. – Andy Cush
17. Kodak Black - "Tunnel Vision"17. Kodak Black – “Tunnel Vision”
17. Kodak Black - "Tunnel Vision"
The title of “Tunnel Vision” refers to Kodak Black’s unwavering focus on success in the face of forces he believes are conspiring to hold him back or waiting to snap him up when he falls: guns, girls who don’t listen, the penitentiary. The song’s melodic hook reflects the unidirectional path–and the claustrophobia–of traveling through a subterranean passageway. It’s just three adjacent notes, most of them stretched out for several words at a time, moving slightly up or down sometimes but always trudging forward. The 19-year-old rapper’s real-life troubles with the law, including accusations of sexual battery and beating up a woman bartender at a strip club, suggest he’d be better off above ground, or at least raising his head and looking around every once in awhile. Though there are brief moments of levity in “Tunnel Vision,” like when Kodak raps that his mama once told him to “Kill these niggas, son, keep it goin,” the song’s real appeal is in its somber monotony. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, but it might be dark and slow going before you get there. — Andy Cush
16. Drake - "Passionfruit"16. Drake – “Passionfruit”
16. Drake - "Passionfruit"
Like his still-classic Rihanna duet “Take Care,” Drake’s “Passionfruit” has the muted thump of a heartbeat, which makes for both an appropriate and oddly soothing engine for a song about a romance that is in the final stages of slipping away. This one has the gray, misty moroseness of the city, London, that inspired much of his great More Life, but it’s most notable for being a starkly spare and confident composition. The song hinges on a single drum fill and simple but evocative lyrics (“Tension / between us just like picket fences”) that render a broken relationship more maturely than anything he’s ever written. — Jordan Sargent
15. Grizzly Bear - "Mourning Sound"15. Grizzly Bear – “Mourning Sound”
15. Grizzly Bear - "Mourning Sound"
Grizzly Bear’s complex compositions ought to be esoteric, but they often resonate because they rarely indulge in abstraction—the kaleidoscope is always vivid with color. “Three Rings,” the first release from the band’s new album Painted Ruins, was was very much in that vein: a clap-and-stomp number that dilates into an arpeggiated, cosmic waltz. But Grizzly Bear’s proclivity for these sorts of arrangements does not mean that complexity is their lone trick. Their more accessible songs, where the instrumental threads are untangled and traceable, are also essential, a fact that anybody who’s heard Ed Droste scratch his doo-woop itch on “Knife” can attest to. This isn’t to argue that leaner Grizzly Bear is superior to the shape-shifting, “On a Neck, On a Spit” Grizzly Bear. But their latest single “Mourning Sound” is exciting in the same way as when you realized that Vampires of the Modern City could not possibly suck once “Ya Hey” dropped.
“Mourning Sound” doesn’t bother with any metamorphosis. Instead, it mainly sticks to a crunchy bass line augmented by synth twinkles and Daniel Rossen’s distant guitar work, which all congeal into an unusually Cars-like nocturnal sheen. The band’s trademark elegance emerges via the ghostly backing harmonies and idyllic string plucks, reminding us that the quartet is here to haunt as well as thrill. Still, Grizzly Bear errs more toward the latter, and the Wayfarer-wearing pose the song strikes is a thin mask for Droste and Rossen’s fatalism. “Let love age / And watch it burn out and die,” laments Droste, who writes with a tortured grace. On “Mourning Sound,” the instrumentation is just as taut as the bitterness, and the results are all the more bracing. — Brian Josephs
14. Frank Ocean - "Chanel"14. Frank Ocean – “Chanel”
14. Frank Ocean - "Chanel"
On Blonde’s “Seigfreid,” Frank Ocean punctures the song’s balmy psychedelia with a stunning proclamation: “I’m not brave.” The common narrative dictates that Ocean’s sexual fluidity is a seditious act in an industry generally opposed to it, but “Chanel” serves as crystalline proof that his being isn’t inherently subversive. Whereas the “Chanel” lyric “my guy pretty like a girl” might read as bold elsewhere, it soothes with its contentment here. “Chanel” is a phlegmatic piano-centered space that allows Ocean to take on an impressionistic form, where the instant quotables flow easily but are still potent presentations of the self. It’s an enveloping three-and-a-half-minutes in which Ocean’s truth is the only one that matters. – Brian Josephs
13. Kendrick Lamar - "ELEMENT."13. Kendrick Lamar – “ELEMENT.”
13. Kendrick Lamar - "ELEMENT."
In which Kid Capri introduces one of modern rap’s most bizarrely fatalistic rallying cries outside of “All my friends are dead”: “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me / Y’all know what happens on Earth stays on Earth.” But that prologue, and of course “ELEMENT.” itself, are significant because of how they materialize from out of DAMN.’s framework. There’s a tragedy in a black maternal figure’s prayers, as they often feel like futile pleas in the mist of surrounding violence. This is bleak reality, but it’s a fact of life that nonetheless empowers Lamar, who spends the beginning third of DAMN. steering away from To Pimp a Butterfly’s consciousness and into the physical. There’s nothing that feels ironic about this: The venom that flows through his allusions and rebukes (“Last LP I tried to lift the black artist / But there’s a difference between black artists and wack artists”) that inspires vicariousness. “ELEMENT.” reminds me most of a podcast appearance Ta-Nehisi Coates did earlier this year where he talked about Tony Judt’s Postwar, a chronicle of Europe’s bleak history following World War II. Despite the evil described, Coates said “that book just liberated me.” That didn’t really make sense to me until track four. — Brian Josephs
12. Lorde - "Green Light"12. Lorde – “Green Light”
12. Lorde - "Green Light"
An attractive quality of Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine was the simplicity of her musical textures—many of its songs could be performed a capella to a drum machine with barely any loss in power, ready for an endless stream of rappers to hop onto. (I spent a week driving around Miami, listening to the Rick Ross remix of “Royals.”) But artists love to break their own constraints, and Lorde’s remix-proof comeback single “Green Light” came with all the deluxe add-ons thanks to co-producer Jack Antonoff, a lover of knotty pop structures. Lorde said the title doesn’t reference the symbolic green light at the end of The Great Gatsby—here, it’s literally a traffic light—but like Fitzgerald’s doomed hero, here she sounds like she’s chasing something she’ll never get. That’s partly because of the lyric, but also the sound, where a piano builds to a full gallop as her voice goes deeper and twisted. Someone at SPIN said the song was very *listens to Kate Bush once*—and it is, but Kate Bush is great, and so is this. Max Martin told Lorde and Antonoff the song was incorrect, but if you don’t care about chart placement it sounds perfectly messy and frenzied, its own voracious thing. — Jeremy Gordon
11. Phoenix - "J-Boy"11. Phoenix – “J-Boy”
11. Phoenix - "J-Boy"
What could be nonsense phrases in the mouths of lesser singers turn into sensual koans when sung by Phoenix’s Thomas Mars—”mint julep testosterone” is still getting the once-over from Genius users, unaware that point is in your heart, not in your head. And so I spent days wondering what the title of “J-Boy,” the French band’s first single from their new album, Ti Amo, was supposed to stand for. J-Boy sounds like the name of a superhero, perhaps Mars as some champion of love advocating for Phoenix’s most romantic album yet—or maybe it was slang for some kind of rough n’ tumble but surprisingly tender youth, out here on the mean streets of Paris. What was the J-Boy? Where did he come from? Of course, “J-Boy” turns out to be an acronym for the candy-coated hook at the center of Phoenix’s fluffy single. “Just because of you,” Mars coos, “These things I have to go through / Is it so bad? Is it so true? Is it still you?” It’s an artful way to express the truest of emotions—Phoenix in a nutshell, complete with an indelible video staged at a phony Italian talk show. — Jeremy Gordon
10. Future - "Mask Off"10. Future – “Mask Off”
10. Future - "Mask Off"
It turns out debilitating drug addiction does sound better with a flute. Arriving near the midway point of Future’s self-titled album, the Metro Boomin-produced “Mask Off” appears as a seance amidst that project’s pugilism. Molly and percocet are Future’s common vices, but thrown against that sample, Future conjures them as charms. The results of this alchemy was a surprise perhaps even to the alchemists: It’s easy to forget Epic attempted to position “Draco” as the album’s big hit before the memes took over. In 2017, at least one thing remains a democracy — Brian Josephs
9. Julie Byrne - "Sleepwalker"9. Julie Byrne – “Sleepwalker”
9. Julie Byrne - "Sleepwalker"
NYC-based singer-songwriter Julie Byrne’s breakout LP Not Even Happiness creates the feeling of barreling down the open road in the passenger’s seat gazing out in the window. “Sleepwalker”’s vigorous fingerpicking creates the motion in sound, with Byrne’s short, unrhymed stanzas distilling love, loss, emotional trauma, and unexpected edification with concision and gentle, captivating crypticness. She comes to cosmic landing points at the end of each haunting phrase, telling a story about being young in a voice that feels ageless: “They often spoke as though I had been set free/But I traveled only in service of my dreams/I stood before them all, I was a sleepwalker.” She lives the past and the moment (the lines on the highway flickering and passing under the car) at the same time. — Winston Cook-Wilson
8. Migos - "T-Shirt"8. Migos – “T-Shirt”
8. Migos - "T-Shirt"
Even No Label-era Migos fans have to be taken back at their current ubiquity. “Versace” proved they were stars, and yes they’ve grown since their breakthrough single’s peak, but chart that progress and “T-Shirt” still feel like a sudden leap—entelechy in motion. This is catalyzed by the producers Nard & B, whose beat—which sounds like a reverse recording of sizzling ribs set to a 4/4 beat—provides an enticing pocket for the trio’s xylophonic yet rigidly on-beat rapping. Migos’ newfound regality is also emboldened by biographical asides: When Takeoff barks “I’ma get that bag, nigga, ain’t no doubt about it / I’ma feed my family, nigga, ain’t no way around it,” it’s both a self-pledge and the Golden Rule here onward. Quavo’s “Seen it with my eyes, dope still alive / Real mob ties, real frog eyes” is a visual detail that also reveals Migos’ overlooked talent as imagerists. The refrain—”Seventeen five, same color t-shirt”—was a fairly esoteric reference. But now it’s a daily word. — Brian Josephs
7. Mac DeMarco - "My Old Man"7. Mac DeMarco – “My Old Man”
7. Mac DeMarco - "My Old Man"
What does it take to make Mac DeMarco, avatar of all that’s goofy and groovy, reflect on his own mortality? Not so much, as it turns out: On the opening track of his new album This Old Dog, a look in the mirror is all it takes to put the Mac in a pensive state. “Look how old and cold and tired and lonely he’s become,” DeMarco sings, but he doesn’t sound genuinely scared—just as gentle and inevitable as the passing of time. New Mac DeMarco, same as the old Mac DeMarco, what a relief. — Anna Gaca
6. Lana Del Rey - "Love"6. Lana Del Rey – “Love”
6. Lana Del Rey - "Love"
Lana Del Rey’s “Love” is like a sequel to “Ride,” the opening track from the 2012 Paradise EP. But five years on, that song’s slick, weary angst has billowed into something angelic and free. “Look at you kids with your vintage music / Coming through satellites while crusin’,” Del Rey begins, the shotgun honey elevated to the watchful eyes on the billboard above. The near desperation of “Ride” (”I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy”) becomes a sympathetic, “It’s enough to make you go crazy, I know.” “Love” is blown-out and beautiful, grainy like an old photograph, cosmic in the sense that it sounds both raptured and stoned. By Lana Del Rey standards, it’s experimental in its sheer hopefulness. And all the way through come those stray bits of percussion, the sounds of guns cocking, here to remind you she’s still ready to Bonnie and Clyde this if you are. — Anna Gaca
5. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - "Slide"5. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos – “Slide”
5. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos - "Slide"
There’s a glorious alternate universe out there where it’s always 80 degrees and sunny and Frank Ocean is the biggest pop star in America. The song of the endless summer is “Slide.” Calvin Harris, the Scottish producer and DJ who’s credited as the lead artist, never used to be a guy you’d dream of describing as “tasteful,” but his beachy disco backing track is all stylish restraint: a strutting bass line played on an honest-to-god guitar, some Fender Rhodes, handclaps soaked in echo like crisp chlorinated water. Ultimately, the song belongs to Frank, who slides through the mix with charming unconcern. “I sit back and smoke gelato,” raps Offset during Migos’s middle-section cameo. That’s a strain of weed, if you’re not keeping up. And while “Slide” surely sounds great stoned, its cool and silky vibes are just as suited to laying by the pool with a cup of the real thing. — Andy Cush
4. Paramore - "Hard Times"4. Paramore – “Hard Times”
4. Paramore - "Hard Times"
With “Hard Times,” the lead single off their upcoming album After Laughter, Paramore seem to be signaling a willingness to stand out as that very endangered species, the crossover rock band, by pushing even further into pop than ever before. This is signaled immediately, with bongos and marimbas that open the song before its drums and guitars really steady it. The riff is easily the most danceable thing they’ve recorded, and the refrain that punctuates the chorus—”Hard times!”—feels like a bit of very classic ’80s pop songwriting. The song then ends with an outro that pushes the guitars into the background in favor of synths and unintelligible vocoder scribbles. There’s no mistaking what kind of single Paramore is pushing here, but all of this serves to accent what is still a rock song (and rock band) at heart. The levels have been tweaked again, but only just a bit.
What Paramore has pulled off with “Hard Times” does not seem easy. They’ve expanded their sound, at once quite obviously but also subtly, in the margins, and come out of the other side with what immediately feels like one of the best singles of their career, and one of the best pop songs of the new year. In a New York Times story, Paramore made it clear that “Hard Times” was meant to be a precursor for their most pop album yet. They also say that they once again eschewed proposed collaborations with industry songwriters and producers, instead following a natural path to this landing spot.
This shouldn’t feel as rebellious, or even as exciting, as it does, but such is the state of popular music. It’s also an interesting experiment, even if you don’t care for Paramore’s music. Can a rock band make rock music, but also pop music, in 2017, and be as popular as Zedd? As much as I want to know the answer, I’m still kind of scared to find out. –Jordan Sargent
3. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO TOUR Llif3"3. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO TOUR Llif3″
3. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO TOUR Llif3"
What more can be said about the teens that won’t be said again and again? They wear unserious haircuts; they play with too many fidget spinners, tech decks, yo-yos, or whatever the latest craze; they will never waste a second being a victim of anyone’s authority, no matter how the adults bellow and hoot. How little they care. The teens will always be undefeated, though that doesn’t mean they’re always right–many crazes come and go, leaving no more of an imprint than a mid-sized Wikipedia page. But everything now and then, something becomes so undeniable that even the olds and finger-waggers must embrace get over themselves, and its power. Hence “XO Tour Llif3,” a Soundcloud loosie-turned-anthem of the moment from Lil Uzi Vert, the rising rapper who beautifully melds angst and insouciance in this wailing turn-up over dead friends and abused pills. He shuffles from droll, sing-songy kiss-offs (“I don’t really care if you cry / On the real you should’ve never lied”) to spitfire raps and voice-cracking laments about his suicidal urges with the breeziness of someone updating their Instagram story. It sounds both painfully detached and painfully committed, the most teenaged duality possible. You can dance to the rolling snares and ghostly, two-note riff while also getting in your feelings—it’s a song for all seasons. The debates over the longevity of Uzi and his peers will continue, but close the book on this one. It’s a classic. — Jeremy Gordon
2. Kendrick Lamar - "DNA."2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”
2. Kendrick Lamar - "DNA."
Thanks to the ubiquity of streaming, and the Thursday-at-midnight album release time that has become the industry standard, much of the adult music listening world–those of us who want to hear things when they come out, but can’t be bothered to stay up that late on a weekday–end up encountering records for the first time on our Friday morning commutes to work. Traffic jams and train cars are hardly the ideal environs for quiet contemplation of sound, but they made a surprisingly apt venue for the opening minutes of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.–surely the most eagerly anticipated release of the year thus far. After the vocal harmonies, the strings, the little monologue about the blind woman, the mocking snippet of Geraldo Rivera, we got (we got we got we got) the biggest, baddest beat we could possibly wish for on Kendrick’s grand return from the jazzy wilderness of To Pimp a Butterfly, with drums so loud they sounded like the result of a studio malfunction and Kenny rapping like he was ready to overturn a school bus. I heard “DNA” on a particularly crowded and delayed New York City subway ride, and by the time I got to the song’s final third, with Kendrick circling a newly changed and somehow even harder beat like Muhammad Ali around a wounded opponent, I felt moved to attempt some ill-advised feat of strength of my own against the bodies piled into this shared bit of personal space. But then I looked around at their heads–plugged up with headphones, bobbing in time, steely expressions ready to take on the day–and figured a few of them were probably listening, too. — Andy Cush
1. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"1. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
1. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Cut to the Feeling"
Well, it’s right there in the title, isn’t it? Carly Rae Jepsen is the pop circuit’s human cannonball, modestly lurking in the background until she’s ready to put it all on the line for the sake of something spectacular. Here she is soaring through the ceiling to cut to the feeling, a burbling chime and shade of PC music’s blunt drums igniting her initial ascent. In a neat two-and-a-half minutes, the song boils down to the catchiest parts of a good pop anthem without forsaking the details—we’re given a stadium stomp and clap track from the start, and that chime sounds like our heroine’s video game affirmation to “level up.” It makes perfect sense that it first appeared in an animated film. It’s great because it was made for something else entirely.
The cult of Carly Rae has never been more deserving of its idol-worship than now. “Cut to the Feeling,” which was written for Emotion, rounds out her trifecta of emboldened pleas for two people in like to just… you know… go ahead and say so. Where “Call Me Maybe” saw Jepsen as coy, hopefully insecure and “Run Away With Me” was a pitch for the thrill of secret intimacy, “Cut to the Feeling” is a celebration of being free from giving a fuck. Sure, there have been plenty of iconic pop songs that tackle the specifically knotty nature of navigating new love—Whitney’s “How Will I Know” and Mariah’s “Emotion” (heh) are at the top of this list—but Carly has perfected doing it without uncertainty. “Cut to the Feeling” is a sugar rush of one-liners best belted at the top of your lungs, surrounded by people who can relate to how difficult it is for someone to adequately express something real. What more could we ask for? –Puja Patel