The year is 2017. The critical darlings Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Mac Demarco, Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire, and Kendrick Lamar all release their new album. Slowdive puts their new album in twenty two years. Selena Gomez has an amazing song. Paramore has amazing album. Carly Rae Jepsen graces us with her latest masterpiece, but again Jepsen being alive herself is already a grace. Taylor Swift makes amends with one of her exes: music streaming services. Katy Perry talks about her feud with Swift and addresses it on her new album. If I had time machine, I would’ve gone back to 2016 and said this prophecy. People may ridicule me, but I will definitely have the last laugh. Musically, 2017 is an insane year in music with all veterans and rookies all work together to put amazing songs. This is a bad year for music critics as they can’t put their headphone down, thanks to all these new releases every single week since January, and their minimal health insurance doesn’t cover tinnitus.
In no particular order, as usual, please find some of the best songs that contribute to this tinnitus outbreak.
1. Sampha, “No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)”
In his simplicity, Sampha pours every soul that he has in a song about his piano and his mother. He freezes time, he eternalizes himself in “No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)”, a mellifluous piano-driven ballad that’s gorgeous and mesmerizing.
2. Lana Del Rey, “Love”
Millions of people die when they see Lana Del Rey smiling and winking on her “Love” music video. But, seriously, when is the last time you see Del Rey smiling? “Love”, her lead single from her latest album Lust for Life, is so nostalgic. It’s as warm as a “coffee shop”, a reminisce of youth love that’s passionate and lustful.
3. Sorority Noise, “No Halo”
“So I didn’t show up to your funeral/ But I showed up to your house,” the frontman Boucher wails in chorus of “No Halo”. This one simple sentence is the most painful couplet that you’ve heard throughout the year, but no other band can depict grief, sepulcher, loss, and depression as vivid as Sorority Noise. “No Halo” is the finest example how Sorority Noise paints the tragic picture of death. It’s sad, but picturesque.
4. Francesco Gabbani, “Occidentali’s Karma”
Though Gabbani’s “Occidentali’s Karma” only managed to snatch 6th place in this year’s Eurovision, it remains to be one of the most intriguing songs in the contest. Its quirky beat oozes social criticism. Hidden beneath the funky beat, Gabbani voices his disagreement toward cultural appropriation.
5. Diet Cig, “Tummy Ache”
There’s a gargantuan power hidden beneath Alex Luciano’s shy voice on “Tummy Ache”. As she ventures around the patriarchal culture of a punk scene, it’s okay to feel nervous and have a tummy ache, but Luciano boldly states that she doesn’t “need a man to hold her hand”. “Tummy Ache” is quirky pop-punk song that’s surprisingly relatable for everyone who’s about to embark on unknown territory.
6. Mount Eerie, “Real Death”
After the death of his wife, Phil Elverum feels directionless. He questions the existence of the after life, but he also questions the meaning of his existence. “Real Death” is authentically written from the deepest of Elverum’s heart. It’s really visceral. Instead of being catatonic, he tries to restrain his emotions. In the end, he fully understands that no matter how long the words that he uses, it still can’t convey what he feels. What he knows is just that he will always love his wife. A simple “I love you” at the end is more than enough.
7. Mac Demarco, “On the Level”
Mac Demarco’s quiescent persona that he shows you from his chill and lethargic music may fool you. Every song that Demarco puts is multilayered that you can peel over and over and you will still get some surprise. On paper, “On the Level”, that reminisces you of his 2014’s “Chamber of Reflection”, is simple enough. It’s still typical Demarco: simple instruments, concise lyrics, and sluggish vocal, yet it has familial feeling, a struggle and travail that Demarco went through to get an approval from his father.
8. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”
I have to admit that when I listen to “Slip Away” for the first time, I don’t like it as much as Hadreas’ previous works, but “Slip Away” is a song that’s digestible after a few listens. “Slip Away” is pretty majestic, it has grandeur atmosphere that wraps the song. Unlike “Queen” where he still bridles his voice, on “Slip Away” Hadreas lets all out. With his newly-gained courage, he protests with a bravura performance.
9. (Sandy) Alex G, “Bobby”
There’s an inexplicable charm in “Bobby”, the lead single of Giannascoli’s outstanding album, Rocket. On an album where he seems to have some fun experiment, “Bobby” is like and unlike anything that he’s ever released before at the same time. With a sprinkle of fiddle and banjo twang, Giannascoli introduces us to his new friend Bobby pictorially and reminds us a sacrifice that we’re willing to do for people that we genuinely love.
10. HAIM, “Want You Back”
Boy, I can’t tell you how much I miss hearing the Haim sisters in my ear and they do not disappoint. After teasing “Right Now”, they grace us with “Want You Back”, a song that makes us remember why we all love HAIM at the first place. They maneuver between their own polished arrangement, talking about taking love for granted that they regret which we all can correlate to.
11. Calvin Harris, “Slide (featuring Frank Ocean and Migos)”
Remember when Calvin Harris is great? Yes, of course because he’s great in “Slide”, a song of summer that’s released four months too early. Harris seems to lose his fume on Motion, but it’s just because he just needs some refreshing collaborators, and who else should he turn to aside from Frank Ocean and Migos? Since the song starts and Ocean comes in, rambling about buying Picasso’s boy with pipe, “Slide” is a bubblegum fun experience. Harris tones down his cacophonous drop beat, and just fully relies on simple Rhodes piano, bass, and Roland Jupiter-8 synths. That’s how you make your summer jam.
12. Girlpool, “It Gets More Blue”
We all have reached to a consensus that “It Gets More Blue” is amazing and “I faked global warming just to get close to you” is an eternal proof that we can do everything for our love. Tucker and Tividad’s new direction on Powerplant may be different from their 2015’s Before the World Was Big. They’ve filled the void with more drums that makes people complain they sound like generic indie band. But is there any other indie band that bravely confesses they fake a global warming just because they love someone?
13. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”
I don’t care what you say, but “Bad Liar” is really amazing. If you tell me two years ago that one day Gomez will sample Talking Heads and produce a gorgeous pop song called “Bad Liar”, I would say you watch too much Disney Channel. She shows her maturity in a steamy pop song, the best one so far this year. Her vocal may not be her greatest asset in her toolbelt, but when an HR manager told you that you twist your weakness to be your strength, Gomez simply understands. As she navigates between the beat, she sensuously twists her voice. She sounds shy, but sexy at the same time, as if that were ever possible.
14. Stormzy, “Cigarettes & Cush (featuring Kehlani)”
Stormzy’s greatest song on Gang Signs & Prayer may be “Big For Your Boots”, but when I hear ballad, I hear good song. Featuring Kehlani and uncredited vocal of Lily Allen, “Cigarettes & Cush” is a slow-burner jam about chilling out with your girlfriend and cigarettes. Stormzy sounds gentle in this part, as if he tried to caress the moment. The track is sweet and earnest, a nice surprise from the album.
15. Thundercat, “Show You the Way (featuring Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald)”
On one of the most unlikely collaboration ever, “Show You the Way”, Stephen Bruner invites the rock star Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald to something that’s theoretically hard to pull off. But, Bruner isn’t called a virtuoso because of nothing. Bruner becomes an excellent host in this peculiar party where he leads the maestros to glide in his thumping bassline. Its vocal proportion is carefully calculated, creating an idyllic balance between Bruner, Loggins, and McDonald.
16. Arca, “Piel”
Arca is where Alejandro Ghezi finally reinvents himself. The most conspicuous thing from the album is his vocal which he finally decides to contribute due to Bjork’s holy guidance. “Piel”, the first taste of this album, is the first time where he metamorphoses into something that’s raw and authentic. Translated from Spanish for “skin”, “Piel” sets the theme for Arca, where it’s all about transformation and transition to be a new person.
17. Jens Lekman, “How We Met, the Long Version”
Probably the funkiest song on his latest album, Jens Lekman’s “How We Met, the Long Version” is written from a macro scale. Lekman explains the process of a couple meets, starting from the creation of the universe. “Nothing becomes something,” he begins, perfectly captures the concept of romantic relationship. The rest of the song elaborates the journey of this odyssey. No one knows if it’s “fate or chance”, but Lekman audaciously believes that they “made it happen”.
18. Kehlani, “Undercover”
When Kehlani’s album, SweetSexySavage, was dropped in the tranquil and quiet month of January, it explodes. SweetSexySavage is a perfect R&B record, strongly led with “Undercover”, one of this year’s best R&B record. She samples Akon’s “Don’t Matter” at the beginning, but she cruises at her own boldness next where confidently shuts people off with a “fuck-it” attitude.
19. Lorde, “Perfect Places”
Melodrama is Lorde’s journey in her solitude and loneliness. It starts with “Green Light” where she parties hard and ends with “Perfect Places” where she searches for peace and settlement. “Perfect Places” is easily the best song on Melodrama, where it captivates a young adult’s restlessness, a transition from adolescence to adulthood. Lorde ends the song with a cliffhanger, a universal question of ours, “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?” We may need another four years to find her answer.
20. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
“HUMBLE.” is a major departure from jazz-influenced To Pimp A Butterfly, but knowing Lamar, we know that there’s a lot of layer to peel from “HUMBLE.”. On “HUMBLE.” where the cadence is sawed with stabs of piano and electric guitar, Lamar is heavily influenced by his relationship with God. With the most sing-along chorus that Lamar has ever put out (“Sit down/ be humble”), “HUMBLE.” challenges Lamar’s competition. He tries to be humble, but he fails. “HUMBLE.” is victorious in every side of way.
21. Slowdive, “Sugar for the Pill”
The shoegaze veteran Slowdive’s first album in twenty two years doesn’t pick up from where they have left. Instead, their latest self-titled album explores new sound, as clearly shown on “Sugar for the Pill”. It’s a delicate soft-rock song, with a steady string of bass and drums, led by Neil Halstead’s gentle voice, singing about ended relationship. The atmosphere is bitter, but Slowdive, with their maturity, accepts it with such grace.
22. Jay Som, “The Bus Song”
A bus is perfect place for a contemplation. Its distinctive smell, passenger’s noise, and romantic situation where you can watch buildings, trees, and people passing from the window let your mind wander. Time feels like stopping when your ride a bus. On Jay Som’s “The Bus Song”, an ode to this public transportation, Duterte tries to hold on to the relationship that’s about to end like “loose knots”. They need more time, and what’s other place except for a bus where time halts. We never know how their relationship goes, but we know that Duterte is ready to let go.
23. Priests, “Nothing Feels Natural”
Priests’ title track, “Nothing Feels Natural” is filled with anxiety. In a press release, Katie Alice Greer admitted that when they wrote the song, she wasn’t sure that the record will be complete, let alone released, and that’s when she feels depressed and frustrated. Greer’s voice is hushed and full of uncertainty. It’s unlike any other songs on the album. She ends the song with the fading “I can’t wait” outro when it’s drowned between the shimmer.
24. The Courtneys, “Minnesota”
On what seems to be the most criminally underappreciated album of the year, The Courtneys finds their groove. This Canadian trio is charming with their garage-rock and lo-fi sound that’s especially reflected on “Minnesota”, where Payn, the lead singer, worries about the state of her relationship. But she knows ending it is urgent. “I never wanted you to go, but you had to,” she confessed.
25. Big Thief, “Mythological Beauty”
The first taste that you’ll get from listening to “Mythological Beauty” Big Thief’s lead single of their sophomore effort, Capacity, is it sounds vulnerable. The drums are quiet, the guitar is softly picked, and Lenker croons. But, as you examine the song more, you’ll find that there’s nothing vulnerable about “Mythological Beauty”. As Lenker reflects on her childhood with her young mother, “Mythological Beauty” becomes a tale about a strong mother and her forgiveness.
26. Flasher, “Burn Blue”
Taylor Mulitz, the guitarist of Priests that we’ve just talked before, who also happens to lead Flasher, the Washington D.C.’s post-punk band, clearly knows how to separate between Priests and Flasher. While Priests is more explosive, Flasher takes the quieter route. “Burn Blue” the B-side from their 7”, for example, is a slow-burner post-punk track that’s full of contradiction, yet harmony as it’s symmetrically composed. It’s really marvelous.
27. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/Ōdaigahara”
Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes’ masterpiece was released on May 3rd, 2011, and it’s no wonder when they choose “Third of May/Ōdaigahara” as the first single of their equally wonderful album, Crack-Up. The song is about the friendship between Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset, whose birthday is also on 3rd of May. “And as the sky[e] would petal white, old innocent lies came to mind,” Pecknold shouts out to Skye. The song’s nuance is filled with longing, memories of past, and nostalgic feeling that never fail to make you shiver.
28. Grizzly Bear, “Three Rings”
Just like every other Grizzly Bear’s other songs, there’s a lot to unpack from “Three Rings”, the lead single for their anticipated Painted Ruins. “Three Rings” is as monumental as “Sleeping Ute” and “Two Weeks”, and it’s a glorious return from Grizzly Bear. The first part of the song is full of Droste’s question. “Will you move on again?” he begins the song, but it is answered on the second part, where Droste and Rossen softly sing together, “Don’t you ever leave me/ Don’t you feel it all come together.”
29. Phoenix, “J-Boy”
Months after “J-Boy” was released, I just realized that it actually stands for “Just because of you”. But, I guess that’s mostly because of how Phoenix presents this song, making “J-Boy” a vivid persona. “J-Boy” is clearly a departure from their 2013’s Bankrupt! where it’s started with a bombastic electro disco sound that reminds us of Passion Pit. Mars’ vocal cruises easily with the synths while he tells a romantic story set in a dystopian world where “kamikaze” happens and “stealing from homeless girl” is the new normal. “J-Boy” cannot be more fittingly released.
30. The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
My friend once told me that listening to Matt Berninger’s baritone voice could make her pregnant. Long gone are her wish on The National’s “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” where Berninger’s doesn’t flaunt his heavy baritone voice. Yet, he tries to reach for high notes desperately, “I can’t explain it any other way.” as if he gasped for some air. What can’t he explain? It’s probably the “different kind of thing” that The National has up in their sleeve. Like Janus, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” oversees both past and future sound, an uncharted territory that they’re about to explore.
31. Father John Misty, “Ballad of the Dying Man”
Father John Misty’s strongest suit is probably his social satire, and his best work usually has some sick sense of humor, such as “Bored in the USA” and “Ballad of the Dying Man”. The latter oversees the death of a foolish man who feels his social commentary is important to the universe. With the rise of stupid people who are able to operate social media, “Ballad of the Dying Man” tragically slaps those kind of people.
32. The War on Drugs, “Holding On”
On “Holding On”, the latest single from The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, Adam Granduciel contemplates the state of his relationship. “Am I holding on too long?” he inquires. Compared to the immaculate 11-minute track of “Thinking of a Place”, “Holding On” tastes more packed, with Duffy’s guitar and synth-line. But, as Granduciel navigates from verse to verse, you can hear the craftsmanship of The War on Drugs. “Holding On” is definitely a gorgeous track.
33. LCD Soundsystem, “call the police”
For a very much anticipated comeback, LCD Soundsystem’s “call the police” is definitely satisfying if you don’t expect an electronic-driven song a la “Dance Yrself Clean”. Instead, “call the police” is adorned by bassline that reminds us of 80’s U2. With an alarming speed, Murphy screams “We all know this is nothing”, until it climaxes it the end. “call the police” rises and soars above any other LCD Soundsystem’s works.
34. SZA, “Supermodel”
As the first track from her debut album, CTRL, “Supermodel” sets the expectation for the remaining songs, but SZA sure doesn’t disappoint. With just a string of guitar, she confesses her insecurities, that she’s so concerned about her relationship. On an interview with EW in 2016, she admitted that she had cheated on her boyfriend with his friend. “Supermodel” is where SZA strips naked, it’s where she confesses to everything.
35. Yves Tumor, “Limerence”
It is not fair to put Yves Tumor’s “Limerence” as one of the best tracks in 2017 as it was first released in 2015. But, when it’s included on PAN’s compilation, mono no aware, “Limerence” is easily the highlight of the album. “Limerence” is calm, yet playful. Even without recording of a woman who debates her boyfriend whether they should leave bed or not that he injects, “Limerence” is already full of emotion. It carries you away.
36. Charly Bliss, “Black Hole”
Eva Hendricks’ cutesy voice may mislead you, and it’s going to be the death of us. On Charly Bliss’ debut album, Guppy, Hendricks’ voice is the distinctive quality of the album. It’s hard to pick one best song from the album, but “Black Hole” is definitely up there. Hendricks gleefully takes us on a macabre festival that looks insane and intense. “Take me on a date/ Take me anywhere/ Was I insane?” she admits. But, hidden beneath this joyful song, it’s definitely a sinister break-up song.
37. Future, “Mask Off”
At this point, there always seems to be a song that’s used as whatever-challenge on social media. Starting from “Harlem Shake” to “Black Beatles” last year, these songs are benefited from the viral change. It’s Future’s turn this year. Sampling Tommy Butler’s “Prison Song”, “Mask Off” is where Future explores his past tough life and juxtaposes it with the opulence that he just gained. He may ride “a four-door Maybach”, but he can’t lie that at once he relied on “food stamps”. “Mask Off” is where Future courageously shows his vulnerability.
38. Waxahatchee, “Never Been Wrong”
Crutchfield solemnly admits that women are never wrong. “I love being right, especially with you,” she sings in the end of the first verse. But, for a post-breakup song, “Never Been Wrong” is already a scathing classic indie rock. With a swirling electric guitar, she complains the end of her relationship. She’s angry, she blows things, before she finally admits her defeat, that the end it’s her lover that’s “never been wrong”.
39. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Cut to the Feeling”
Right from the start, “Cut to the Feeling” already excites you. In just less than 30 seconds, Jepsen already catapults the song to a exploding chorus, taking you directly to clouds above where you can “play with the angels”. In a world that gets worse and older, we need more Carly Rae Jepsen’s songs.
40. Kamasi Washington, “Truth”
Expanding for more than thirteen-minute, Kamasi Washington’s “Truth” is clearly an epic work. But, with just piano, electric guitar, wordless chorus, and Washington’s greatest weapon, saxophone, he can convey his message of harmony of difference. The point is clear here. While those instruments are clearly different from each other, they can still make harmonious communal music. “Truth” becomes the song that unites people.