the-70-best-songs-of-2017

The 70 Best Songs of 2017

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors – “Machine”

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. “Machine” is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song’s subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. – Tristan Kneschke


69. Arcade Fire – “Creature Comfort”

This is a big, bold statement of intent from Arcade Fire. There is a clear and admirable desire for the band not to spend too long in the same space and to mine their DNA to reinvigorate themselves. The big synths and angular new wave of early ’80s the Cure sound fresh and like nothing the band has done before. Despite the retro stylings, the subject matter is refreshingly current as the group deal with the quest for personal validation from family, friends, and strangers, the anxieties of negative body image and the relentless pursuit of fame at the expense of everything else. The band cleverly offer a metaphorical panacea for all of these ills in the form of “Creature Comfort”. Something to numb the pain. This is a song that leaves you anything but anesthetized. – Paul Carr

68. Alt-J – “In Cold Blood”

As far as songs about murders at pool parties go, “In Cold Blood” is actually pretty heady. In true alt-J fashion, it’s hard to tell what’s a red herring and what’s actually relevant to the song, but as with the best songs, it doesn’t particularly matter when it’s this catchy. The random snippets of binary code, the allusion to C.S. Lewis’ Caspian, the extended coda of “La la la”s, these are diversions from the subject at hand, perhaps because the gravity of the matter would make for too heavy a song, perhaps because alt-J delights in being obtuse. Still, with imagery as vivid as “Hair the way the sun really wants it to be” and “Lifeless back slaps the surface of the pool”, it is still appropriately shocking, and yet morbidly catchy, particularly once the horns kick in. It makes you feel guilty for enjoying it, which is probably just perfect as far as alt-J is concerned. – Mike Schiller

67. The Mynabirds – “Golden Age”

The transition from 2016 to 2017 needed an elegy, an understated anthem of disillusionment and sorrow, and this is it. With its staid piano melody and Laura Burhenn’s velvet vocals, the song taps into the sucker-punch trauma of feeling like social progress’s trajectory was a bait-and-switch that made the eventual collapse that more crushing. The lyrics read as a litany of topical grief — the deaths of Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, worsening climate change, rampant police brutality, the severing of family ties amid political lines, and, presciently considering when it was written, the emboldening of American Nazism by Donald Trump’s presidential election. Dour stuff, to be sure, yet Burhenn isn’t ready to seal the mausoleum. Rather, “Golden Age” is the sound of an ideal beaten but unbroken, its swollen eye still focused on the future. It’s a rail against complacency and surrender and offers needed comfort and warmth, while still being goosebumps-inducing in its call to arms. It might be a lofty comparison, but “Golden Age” is a spiritual successor to Lennon’s “Imagine” in the current climate. – Cole Waterman

66. Sir Sly – “High”

The premise isn’t too groundbreaking: a group of young indie poppers with hip haircuts singing about getting high. What sets Sir Sly’s take on getting high apart from many others is how current it is. Sir Sly’s “High” nails the mindset of many a millennial as the group sings about “wondering what peace would be like” – drugs as a means of escape from this very specific wave of global turmoil. On top of that, the chorus is mind-blowingly catchy, the beats enticing. This is a social statement you can dance to, an escapist earworm and a party anthem for our times. – Adriane Pontecorvo

65. Taylor Swift – “…Ready For It?”

The essence of pop music is saying the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. This is how life works too. We settle into routines and measure our lives by the degree to which those routines shift or are disrupted over time. Most of Taylor Swift’s songs are about what happens when you think about romance the way songs and movies tell us to, but she never seems to run out of new ways to frame that experience.

Usually, it’s a matter of melodies or words, but sometimes, it’s also a matter of sound, of putting her compositions in an environment that’s a little unstable. She does this on “…Ready for It?,” which is the most sonically mischievous and audacious song she’s released. Over a harsh, sneering rhythm track, Swift covers familiar ground–the rush of new love, the relationship between reality and fantasy–but it doesn’t feel that way because the song has a few clever ideas it gets just right: a trio of distorted bass notes that begin and repeat throughout the song; and low-pitched, synthetic brass notes that hit during the pre-chorus. Both signal that something is different, that no matter how many times we fall in love, it will always feel new. – Mark Matousek

64. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”

Nobody has cornered the effervescent side of North American pop music quite like Carly Rae Jepsen has in the past couple years. Arriving on the heels of 2015’s triumphant Emotion, “Cut to the Feeling” continues that soaring momentum. Not a whit of the song is particularly groundbreaking; instead it is a classic formula executed to perfection, building from tense verses to a chorus that explodes like fireworks. Nolan Lambroza’s production is shimmering and radiant, the perfect backdrop for Ms. Jepsen, who conveys the song’s feeling of euphoria with her trademark charisma. It’s the type of pop music that puts a smile on your face. – Adrien Begrand

63. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – “Continental Breakfast”

At one point in “Continental Breakfast”, Courtney holds up a video of “Kurt and Courtney”, the chronicling of the relationship of lead singers Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, two of rock’s greatest misfits. The synergy between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett is less fraught; it’s downright amicable. It’s not difficult to fall in love with both songwriters as they bounce around their domestic lives, interacting with babies, children, and elders alike, with smiles the whole way through. If you don’t find this video endearing, you probably don’t have a soul. – Tristan Kneschke

62. Animal Collective – “Kinda Bonkers”

Animal Collective follow up last year’s Painting With album with more of the same on new EP The Painters. Like much of their best work, “Kinda Bonkers” is bursting with ideas. Built on tabla percussion, see-saw keyboards and parallel vocals that bounce, ping and collide, the band throw everything they can in to see what cooks. All of these different ingredients are whipped up into a customary, trippy, psychedelic sponge. The whole thing is as irrepressible and energetic as you would expect, but it somehow feels more rounded. More straightforward and undemanding, never feeling like it might collapse under the weight of the hooks and melodies the band has crammed on every tier. – Paul Carr

61. ANOHNI – “Paradise”

ANOHNI’s inimitable vocals are like a fixed quantity in her music, ensuring that most anything she sings retains an element of pained, graceful beauty no matter how harrowing or grisly the topic. “Paradise”, another collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never following last year’s HOPELESSNESS, pushes this principle to its limit. The track is a tortured dirge barely disguised as bass-heavy synthpop, a veil disintegrating at the seams. ANOHNI sings as one caught between global concerns and her own personal, particular pain, lamenting the solipsistic confines of being but a single “point of consciousness”. Perhaps the paradise she evokes, a “world without end”, is one where the boundaries of the self are dissolved altogether, opening the way for empathy. And yet any clear vision of that utopia is clouded amid the wailing electronics, making it clear that we’ll have to contend with our own kaleidoscopes of pain for some time to come. – Andrew Dorsett


60. Slowdive – “Star Roving”

If Slowdive came back and made Souvlaki, Part II, fans would likely be fine. That they didn’t is a testament to their artistic ambition, best exemplified by “Star Roving”. Slowdive’s music was always grand in scope, but “Star Roving” marries that with a force and weight that their lighter-than-air early singles rarely came close to. It’s the shoegaze equivalent of stadium rock, sounding positively epic while somehow maintaining the sense of insularity that feels an intrinsic part of the genre. “Star Roving” is a goosebump-inducing triumph, one that assures us that Slowdive’s reunion was about much more than making a quick buck off of nostalgia. – Kevin Korber

59. Nikki Lane – “Jackpot”

On “Jackpot”, the breakout track from Nikki Lane’s third album, Nikki pushes her tough vocal twang to the top of a gambling metaphor, ordering a galloping Telecaster and a stabbing piano across deserts and down rivers to go all in with a renegade lover. It’s a wild ride as Nikki borrows a fair share of Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas” and channels a young Loretta Lynn rolling the dice on a multi-state adventure as a y’all-ternative highway queen. And when Nikki punches it on the chorus, she raises the stakes even higher on a thrill-a-second winner. – Steve Leftridge

58. Sudan Archives – “Come Meh Way”

Inspired by fiddling styles of her namesake country, musician and producer Sudan Archives hypnotizes with eerily dissonant vocals, fast-bowed violin loops, and deep electronic beats that move single “Come Meh Way” steadily forward. The composition is incomparable, the song both catchy and hauntingly strange. As Archives’ voice meanders in two low layers, the notes of her strings provide a wail that walks the line between chordophone and sounding uncannily like another voice. Together, she and her instrument are an incredible pair, and on “Come Meh Way”, they build a whole new soundscape in a mere two and a half minutes, one that sounds like no fiddle music before it. – Adriane Pontecorvo

57. Charly Bliss – “DQ”

There’s a moment in Charly Bliss’ video for their stand-out single “DQ” that sums up the appeal of the song and their debut album, Guppy, well: at 1:48, frontwoman Eva Hendricks – who also wrote and co-directed the video – grimaces at the thought that “maybe I don’t come close”, the shot breaking away soon after but not before a hint of laughter creeps into her expression. Even at the lows of adulthood – dead-end jobs, unrequited love – Charly Bliss finds a way to spin them into an anthemic reclamation of unbridled joy that are as infectious as any song released this year. It’s an optimism necessary for any epoch, a prescription as simple as adding an extra smile to your day. – Brian Duricy

56. Methyl Ethel – “Ubu”

Methyl Ethel fuse together every great ’80s new wave song from the swaggering bass, the glistening keyboards and the shimmering keyboards to create a psychedelic surround sound sweep of majestic indie pop. It’ll instantly take you back to the time when there were dancefloors for the misfits. Where the soundtrack to your night were pop bands who looked like genuine outsiders, parachuted in from another world. Ubu is an a enigmatic and androgynous pop nugget that is, simply put, bonkers. Happily, it’s also as arty and as pretentious as anything from the ’80s but with a hook this catchy, it comfortably stands shoulder to shoulder with anything that has preceded it. – Paul Carr

55. Fleet Foxes – “Fool’s Errand”

Fleet Foxes’ epic, soaring folk vocal harmonies are as iconic a trademark as can be found in today’s music. And they deliver them again on “Fool’s Errand” off 2017’s Crack-Up, a song about disappointment delivered through biblical and philosophical allusion and steeped in English folk tradition. Whether Robin Pecknold was frustrated with the election outcome, or whatever it was, he comes to the realization that people futilely get their hopes up time and time again only to be let down. Sonically, these thoughts are pondered over verses that march through cluttered winter woods before the pace quickens into the clearing of the chorus and ends in the melancholy twilight of a piano coda. – Chris Thiessen

54. ODESZA – “Late Night”

ODESZA’s “Late Night” is the perfect segue from spring into summer. Airy and free, it wafts between bass hits like a breeze. Ethereal vocal effects add a particular magic to the single, balancing out driving beats with a delicate touch. Even without words, this song inspires, rising on an elevated melody and never looking back. It’s a warm, starlit song full of possibilities, never too heavy to keep going. – Adriane Pontecorvo

53. NxWorries – “Lyk Dis”

In an uncertain world, it’s a good feeling to see Anderson Paak, an actual and indisputable gift to humanity, pretty much everywhere there’s good music to be heard. On “Lyk Dis”, producer Knxwledge keeps things impeccably smooth, and Paak sells no-strings-attached sex with charm and that liquid voice, just raspy enough to make him feel closer than he is. His beacon of a smile and Knxwledge’s unshakable coolness in the middle of an intimate rooftop recording session are all that the collective NxWorries needs to make this song an even better experience than simply listening to it. There’s only one problem with this song: it’s too short. This track is like a deep tissue massage — soothing, intense, sensual – and it’s not the kind of thing you want to rush. Paak always does know how to leave me wanting more. – Adriane Pontecorvo

52. Valerie June – “Shakedown”

Valerie June brings us a gospel that speaks in tongues and gets down and dirty on “Shakedown”. A bluesy twang gives her folk sounds grit while June sings up a storm and unfettered keyboards rock without getting slick. If you’re not catching serious spirit, listen again and again and again: the simplicity is catching, and one listen isn’t enough. This is music that wakes the whole body, with knee slaps and hand claps all implied. This is a song made to shake the sins from your skin and your skin from your bones, and it’s got some heavy grooves. – Adriane Pontecorvo

51. Sturgill Simpson – “All Around You”

Well, a thing doesn’t always have to be subtle to be beautiful, does it? Fresh off his Grammy win and a surprise appearance in the “Album of the Year” category comes the video for the song he played at that particular ceremony. Just in case we weren’t sure of Simpson’s stance on our current president, he makes it very clear here. In the video, a child — and, one is to assume, all the purity of heart and mind that child is meant to represent — gives an iron-fisted Trump the what-for, smashes a heart-shaped hole in a tremendous wall, and rids the world of war machines. It’s comforting to see these sorts of messages come out of the heartland and at a time when Simpson’s audience is as broad as it has ever been. For its part, the song itself is as beautiful and appropriate as it could be. It’s a tale of perseverance and strength and love in 6/8 country-gospel style, complete with a few brilliant Dap-Kings horns to bring it all home. Just lovely. – Mike Schiller


50. Paramore – “Told You So”

For all the words written about Paramore’s struggles to keep the band intact amid a revolving door of supporting members, the bedrock has always ben the musical partnership between singer Hayley Williams and guitarist Taylor York. From the revelatory 2007 single “That’s What You Get” through 2013’s spectacular self-titled fourth album, the duo continues to break new ground with each new recording. “Told You So” immerses itself in the multicolored tones of 1980s pop, its syncopation, choppy guitar work, and marimba owing a great deal to the more Caribbean and African inspired sound of new wave, with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen adding just the right touch of Tine Weymouth-inspired bass melodies. Capped off by a winning vocal performance by Williams, this track was an immediate highlight of the summer of 2017. – Adrien Begrand

49. Everything Everything – “A Fever Dream”

My computer doesn’t like “Everything Everything”—it warns of a “repeated word” error. Now, in the not too distant past, Everything Everything probably would have fought against my computer, using a mix of British wit and slander. But today, the group wouldn’t waste its energy on technological trifles—not in these times of crisis, both global and at the smallest synaptic unit.

The title track of Everything Everything’s fourth effort fits beautifully within the context of the album— about a big spiritual quest sabotaged by an even bigger ego quest. “A Fever Dream” ponders the question of how we may conquer our existential fears when our neighborhoods seem to be caving in on us with their own ontological weight.

In “A Fever Dream”, liturgical chants announce an unclad piano ballad. Jonathan begins: “I hate the neighbors / They hate me too / The fear and the fury / make me feel good / So don’t have a meltdown / It’s all in a dream / How did we get here / and how do we leave?” In the buildup to the chorus, instruments interlock like a CPU running its hardware, working at a solution. The chorus begins: “Lord, I see a fever dream before me now / Lord, I see a fever dream before me now…” I’d love to write it out for effect, but the line recurs 28 times, and the song remains virtually in chorus mode for the remaining three-and-half minutes.

In its feverish recitation, Everything Everything attempts to send a message to the heavens the way a program attempts a command over and over, only to run into the same system error. Inevitably, it will quit unexpectedly or fry its circuits in the process. By their own admission, the band hasn’t yet realized its dream, but I have full faith Everything Everything will continue to repeat itself until the dream comes true, or die trying. – A. Noah Harrison

48. Grimes – “Venus Fly” feat. Janelle Monáe

Grimes and Janelle Monáe finally shed their human disguises on “Venus Fly”. As full-on intergalactic goddesses, they echo and spit fire against resounding beats and electric strings. The resulting track is larger than life: furious, fearless, impeccably produced dance music bouncing from the airwaves of a distant and fantastic world. This is marching music for alien armies, explosive and vibrant in such a way that it could only have come from the overflowing creative minds of Grimes and Monáe. Both visually and sonically, they make a perfect pairing, commanding, high-energy, and endlessly innovative. “Venus Fly” might be the best track on Grimes’ fantastic Art Angels, and this sumptuous video is worthy of it. – Adriane Pontecorvo

47. Missy Elliott – “I’m Better” feat. Lamb

Following the exuberance and bombast of “WTF” and “Pep Rally”, “I’m Better” takes a dark and skeletal turn, making for the most classic Missy offering yet of her comeback. Supported by a menacing, minimal three-note motif, the track expertly applies and then withdraws the bass and electronics to create a sense of dynamism. Lamb’s laid-back delivery and carefree lyrics feel oddly ambiguous or even deceptive in the context of the song as a whole; he comes across like a mysterious character yet to reveal all of his cards. What’s more, the music video just further confirms how adept Missy Elliott is at synthesizing fashion, song, and dance to make potent artistic statements. – Andrew Dorsett

46. St. Vincent – “Los Ageless”

Annie Clark’s virtuosity on the guitar manifests not just in windy soloing, but also in some of her most straightforward guitar parts. “Los Ageless”, one of the best songs on Masseduction, Clark’s superlative fifth studio LP as St. Vincent, demonstrates the unending and almighty power of that most fundamental components of modern guitar technique: The Riff. The scuzzy, note-bending riff at the center of “Los Ageless” – as well as the chugging distortion in the song’s bridge – builds a menacing atmosphere that’s accented by Clark’s dystopian rendition of Los Angeles. Her lyrics depict an LA not unlike the one spoken of in countless films, books, and records: seasonless, labyrinthine, fixated on unattainable beauty. But Clark’s lyrics build to a haunting chorus refrain that gets at something elemental and magnetic about the city: “How can anybody have you? / How can anybody have you and lose you? / How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?” On the strength of its riff alone, “Los Ageless” would be a top rock jam of 2017, but it’s in the precision of Clark’s artistry that it becomes a truly timeless tune. – Brice Ezell

45. Kesha – “Praying”

Kesha gets dark here. I mean really dark, as in suicidal and ready to die blackness. So she decides to pray. First she pleads for herself and then for those who have done her harm. One could interpret this as personal, in terms of an existential crisis (re: help me, Lord). One could interpret this as a description of her well-documented record industry blues (Dr. Luke) and an acceptance of her fate. Or one could see this as an act of retaliation. She may have gone through hell, but now she’s on the other side. Kesha sees how small one’s problems really are in the whole cosmic scheme. She knows that the best is yet to come. As the adage goes, living well is the best revenge. – Steve Horowitz

44. Jason Isbell – “Hope the High Road”

Jason Isbell’s catchy, hard-hitting single ranks up there with the best rockers from throughout his career. A simple riff, tripled in bass, electric, and acoustic guitar, drives the track as Isbell muses generally about the state of the country in 2017. Strong backing vocals from Amanda Shires, active drum fills, and subtle but effective organ fill out the sound. Fittingly for a song about taking the high road, Isbell doesn’t name his targets. But with lines like, “Last year was a son of a bitch / For nearly everyone we know” and “There can’t be more of them than us,” it’s pretty clear whom Isbell is venting his frustration at. Ultimately the song finishes with a sorely needed positive message: “I hope the high road leads you home again / To a world you wanna live in.” – Chris Conaton

43. Arca – “Reverie”

A six-degrees of separation game centered around linking the ne plus ultra of contemporary artists perpetually existing outside of temporal restraints would gravitate towards Arca, the Venezuelan producer born Alejandro Ghersi, whose music and accompanying visuals by Jesse Kanda challenge not what beauty is, but if beauty must always be a pleasant experience. This is no clearer than on the most powerful single from his self-titled album, “Reverie”, where his ghostly vocals feel uncomfortably pristine over a cacophony of industrial sounds that never sync long enough to establish familiarity. That he and Kanda’s video – for a song that is still at its heart a damn impressive pop song – is described as “conceived” by the pair reflects its naturalism, and how something so alien could only come from the human experience. – Brian Duricy

42. (Sandy) Alex G – “Sportstar”

(Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket will likely be best remembered for its turn toward the country genre, the abstract, Frank Ocean-channeling piano ballad “Sportstar” is proof of the album’s surprising versatility. As Rocket‘s centerpiece and its most affecting moment, the song’s airy, impressionistic quality belies darker themes of power and desire. Alex G’s Auto-Tuned whine has an almost adolescent quality to it, and the song’s lyrical progression is suggestive of the transition into adulthood, beginning with simple imperatives (“Let me tie your Nikes”, “Let me wear your jersey”) before evolving into a complex meditation on pain and memory. Even in its limited running time, the song is a tragic, if somewhat opaque, microcosm of obsession and objectification across a lifespan. – Andrew Dorsett

41. Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry”

“Sorry Not Sorry” takes an abstract concept–vindication–and approaches it through the lens of hip-hop and gospel. They collide on the song’s hook, where a booming, synthetic bass frequency and what sounds like a digitally-composed choir combine to simulate the feeling of proving everyone who’s doubted you wrong, of knowing the world is at your back. The duality comes through in Lovato’s voice as well–a modern, verbal sleight of hand (“I’m sorry… I’m not sorry”) delivered as a sermon of divine self-empowerment. It’s inspiring and a little petty, in just the right proportions. – Mark Matousek


40. Ibibio Sound Machine – “Give Me a Reason”

A master drummer once said that if you can hear a song without it making you dance, you are sick. Hearing “Give Me a Reason”, it’s easy to understand just what he meant. On the second single off of British-Nigerian band Ibibio Sound Machine’s sophomore album, Lagos meets London in an explosion of retro color and sound. They’ve moved forward a decade since we last heard them, exchanging highlife influences for funky Afrobeat. Singer Eno Williams commands attention with both her voice and her moves, while the electronics pay more than a little tribute to the Talking Heads. “Give Me a Reason” has nothing but grooves; it’s the ultimate feel-good music, and it’s almost impossible to listen to it without jumping up and getting down. – Adriane Pontecorvo

39. Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It”

Since their inception, Run the Jewels has set the bar phenomenally high, and with every new single they seem to manage to vault cleanly over it. Here they mix a deceptively simple backing with their thunderous flow with words flipping and leaping like salmon during mating season. As always they blend a serious contemporary message with their wry sense of humor. The call and response bridge is remarkably effective, showing that this isn’t just a band, this is an institution. – Paul Carr

38. Perfume Genius – “Die 4 You”

The first couple of minutes of “Die 4 You” evoke Portishead’s classic “Roads”, all trembling minor-key keyboards and whispered high-pitched vocals. The last couple minutes are something closer to a classic R&B slow jam, something like a Sadé song through a slightly skewed lens. Apparently, it’s about erotic asphyxiation, which lends a vaguely sinister (or, at least, dangerously exotic) bent to the proceedings, a feeling exacerbated by what appears to be a literal pile of flesh being seduced in the video. The whole thing just feels a little off, like it’s designed to make you uncomfortable, but that only adds to the intrigue of what is at heart a beautiful, beautiful song. – Mike Schiller

37. Father John Misty – “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution”

Father John tackles the modern age and wins. It’s hard to write an anti-consumerist tune and not come off as monumentally preachy, but he just about does it. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” combines the “Instant Karma” drum sound with an early ’70s Elton John piano part to great effect. A pretty vocal melody belies the gravitas of the lyric (“The super-ego shatters with our ideologies”) and the arrangement is crammed with lovely details — horn parts and orchestral swells pop up at unexpected moments. It’s all squished into just over four minutes. This, ladies and gents, is a real piece of work and someone needs to get their body weight in awards for the stop-motion video that accompanies the tune. – Ian Rushbury

36. Goldfrapp – “Anymore”

Goldfrapp eschew the more intimate narratives of Tales of Us and head back to the warmer embrace of their synth led, electroclash sound. However, unlike the more forced, tight leather of Black Cherry this continues the more fully realized sound they achieved on Supernature. The song itself is a feast of surging, escalating synths that ebb and flow with Alison Goldfrapp’s sensual vocals sounding vibrant, full and still tantalizingly out of reach. For a band who are unafraid to change their style continually, it sounds like a classic Goldfrapp song but somehow new, as the band laces the track with ambient swells. Once again Goldfrapp have found a way to push themselves into new places. – Paul Carr

35. Migos – “T-Shirt”

2017 was another banner year for Atlanta hip-hop, with it taking an even firmer hold on the overall musical landscape. While various artists could be seen as the face of that (Future, Young Thug, Gucci Mane, 21 Savage, Playboi Carti, and so on), Migos stood center stage in 2017, as a trio and individually. This was the year Migos took their sometimes rag-tag style of tag-team, wordplay-based trap-rap to new artistic heights and new mainstream prominence. While “Bad and Boujee” was their biggest, most omnipresent hit of the year, “T-Shirt” is the best demonstration of their abilities, most representative of the way they turn street slang into poetry that in its choppy surfaces seems abstract but in reality is rooted in reality. With Takeoff on the hook, in their verses Quavo and Offset each take bird’s eye and streets’-eye views of the role the drug trade plays in urban America, why dealing can look to youth like the only way up and out. Parents who care but can’t understand and Migos’ new ‘rock star’ status as rappers both emerge as characters in their own right within this taut tale built of creeping funk. – Dave Heaton

34. Young Thug – “Safe”

In a year during which Young Thug explored the limits of chaos (Young Martha, Super Slimey) and just what makes a love song (Beautiful Thugger Girls), his first offering was instead the contemplative (yet-to-be-formally-released-as-a-)single “Safe”. Bass cuts through an otherwise airy production that lurks behind his signature vocal contortions – whole phrases become uninterrupted syllables, he changes timbres multiple times within a verse – which, on their own, would make for a compelling song. But given his former manager’s prediction that he’d be either “dead or in jail” within ten years, the tucked-in proclamation “I get to run around in peace every day” is, like the best of the Young Thug experience, at once radical and liberating. – Brian Duricy

33. The War on Drugs – “Thinking of a Place”

The War on Drugs were hardly the most likely candidates to produce a song that felt “timely” and resonant with current affairs in 2017, given as they are to celebrating perennial rock staples like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and David Gilmour. And to be fair, “Thinking of a Place” is mostly a love song with mystical preoccupations, offering exactly zero scathing indictments of, say, climate change or the Trump administration. Yet it is the convincingness of the song’s “long black night”, and the weathered determination with which it persists, that made this song such a vital force of healing during a truly brutal year. On a more elemental level, it is also among the most well-paced 11-minute songs you’ll ever hear, its gradually shifting shape perfectly calibrated to inspire a kind of wounded hope. Stuck on a road with no end in sight, this is a song about survival. – Andrew Dorsett

32. Björk – “Blissing Me”

After the poignant heartbreak of 2015’s Vulnicura, Björk returns to us reincarnated as a beam of light on “Blissing Me,” an airy song overflowing with new love and restored hope. Never one to shy away from over-the-top expression, the track’s video portrayal of Björk in pale blue tulle perfectly suits the sweetness in the song. As she whirls, alone in a white space, she could not look more elated. This is as straightforward a love song as Björk has ever written; at the same time, she sacrifices none of her artistry. Delicate harp lines and wordless backing layers rise, ethereal, to create an unmistakably individual atmosphere reminiscent of some of 2001’s Vespertine. Björk has created on “Blissing Me” a new personal paradise, one that captures her at her most vulnerable, and it’s a joy to see her feeling rapturously happy. – Adriane Pontecorvo

31. Low Cut Connie – “Revolution Rock N Roll”

From the beginning, rock has expressed the vitality of sexual energy. That’s why parents were upset with Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. They knew the sound would lead their children to boogie. Low Cut Connie provide that same vibe for today’s audiences. The group tells the kids to “rip it up” and “jump into the fire”. Adam Weiner preaches his orgasmic sermon with a flamboyant air. He may be lazy, crazy and drink too much, but he knows the direct way to the soul is through the body. His piano and the rest of the band members’ performances reinforce the message with a pulsating beat. You can’t sit down to this music. You just gotta get up and move. – Steve Horowitz


30. Sinkane – “Telephone”

Sinkane brings the electric funk from start to finish on “Telephone”, an ultra-hip blast of dance music and brassy soul. There’s something about it that sounds familiar in the best way; Sinkane’s voice is smooth and classic, and the sparkly synth blips come together with more traditional instruments in a way that sounds perfectly organic and stunningly balanced. This is what we need to kick off 2017: a song that never loses momentum, a chorus to sing along to, and a video made of neon lights and sheer elation. This is infectious in the best way and it’s one of the best singles of 2017. – Adriane Pontecorvo

29. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “The Punishment of Luxury”

A shining example of synthpop in 2017, “The Punishment of Luxury” is an impossibly cynical song in a glittery, fluorescent shell. Reminiscent not only of OMD’s ’80s output but also of classic Information Society and New Order, the latest track from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is a straightforward indictment of consumer culture and those who would champion it. Also, you can dance to it. It is expertly produced and performed, showcasing a band finding yet another peak in a long career full of them. – Mike Schiller

28. Tove Lo – “Disco Tits”

Tove Lo’s latest sex-romp classic is so great that it didn’t even need the music video where the muppet eats her out — but we’re still glad that it exists. Over a thumping beat and one of her most explicit choruses to date, Sweden’s favorite sex-positive singer gives all the humor and weirdness that we’ve come to expect from here, somehow being 100% not suitable for radio while also somehow being even more accessible than her singles off of Lady Wood. Her new album may be a bit of a letdown, but at least this instant bedroom classic anchors it, proving that regardless of how well the record label is promoting it, we’re not going to be forgetting about Tove Lo anytime soon. – Evan Sawdey

27. Randy Newman – “Putin”

Dark Matter contains some of the most touching ballads of Randy Newman’s career, but the legend’s trademark satirical rascality also proved to be stronger than ever as Newman pulled out acerbic barbs destined to be misinterpreted by irony-challenged audiences everywhere. “The Great Debate” is a droll theatre piece that nails the current ideological canyons between us, and only Newman could’ve written “Putin”, a song that skewers Vladimir’s outward machismo as a cover for insecurity while the Putin Girls cheer him on. Leave it to Newman to remind Americans of their own president’s sycophantic loyalty to the Russian leader and to blow up the toxic masculinity that poisons the whole sordid show. – Steve Leftridge

26. Ariel Pink – “Another Weekend”

Ariel Pink has never taken himself completely seriously. His Dedicated to Bobby Jameson contains plenty of goofball cuts like opener “Time to Meet Your God” and “Santa’s in the Closet”, but Pink lets his guard down for his serious side too. “Another Weekend” seems as if it was birthed in the haze of a hangover, a musical idea that persisted long after the pain had evaporated. Tracks like these crystallize the album’s dedication to Jameson, the obscure (forgotten?) singer-songwriter, as if Pink is cognizant that he might befall a similar fate. And while Pink can’t help but subtly joke around in his video, taken by itself, “Another Weekend” is a somber, sober meditation on just how little time we have. – Tristan Kneschke

25. Radiohead – “Lift”

From the 2017, expanded version of OK Computer, OKNOTOK, comes this previously unreleased gem. Stylistically, “Lift” owes more to 1995’s The Bends than to its more spikey and angular follow up, which may explain why the band weren’t keen for it to appear on the original version of OK Computer. In spite of it being well received every time they played it live, it didn’t fit the new remit for Radiohead 1997 and was actively disliked by the band. “Lift” is richly melodic and accessible, contrasting a lovely lightness of touch with a claustrophobic lyric. This could have been a huge hit and sent the band down a path that they probably didn’t want to travel. – Ian Rushbury

24. Oneohtrix Point Never – “The Pure and the Damned” (ft. Iggy Pop)

Oneohtrix picked up the Soundtrack Award at the Cannes film festival for his score to the disturbing, tense thriller Good Time, a seedy crime thriller finding Robert Pattinson at his most sociopathic. Oneohtrix’s moody, sterile synths heighten the impending doom throughout the film, but “The Pure and the Damned” is the film’s ultimate reward. Playing across the end credits, the track features none other than the self-styled god of punk himself, Iggy Pop. Iggy’s guttural voice is stripped of screaming, however, and somehow provides a tender touch, which serves as a reprieve for the harrowing two hours the viewer has just endured. – Tristan Kneschke

23. Kelela – “Frontline”

In the second line of the song, Kelela dedicates “Frontline” to a lover as an explanation for why she’s ending things between them. Finally ending a cyclical, on-again, off-again relationship sounds extremely difficult, but if Kelela has any reservations about it, she certainly doesn’t advertise it. What results is something of a savage kiss off in which Kelela flaunts her success and makes clear her apathy towards her ex-partner. Devastating lines like “Cry and talk about it baby, but it ain’t no use / I ain’t gonna sit here with your blues” are even more brutal when you consider the message is being translated through one of this year’s sleekest sounding songs, aided both by Kelela’s knack for embellishment and Jam City’s slick production. For all her cold remarks though, she hints she might not be as over the relationship as she’d like to think. The midpoint of the track brings a short note of reassurance. “It’s not the ending,” she states twice, implying that maybe the song is as much for her as it is for anyone else. – Chad Miller

22. Gary Numan – “My Name Is Ruin”

Gary Numan’s gritty industrial phase — which can’t really be called a phase anymore, given that it’s been going on for nearly a quarter-century — has always been hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it sounds exactly the way you’d hope the guy who sang “Cars” would sound if he took a left turn into Hell. Numan brought his 12-year-old daughter along on this particular trip down below, and by adding some excellent background vocals and doubling her father on the chorus, Ms. Persia Numan fills in the gaps of a song that could easily have sounded empty and soulless. On the contrary, “My Name Is Ruin” is dark, intense, and shockingly vital. – Mike Schiller

21. Curtis Harding – “Need Your Love”

Curtis Harding combines sweet soul and a funky bass line to create a smooth confection that makes one want to dance, hug, and kiss. It’s roots may lie in the music of a previous era, but the music’s silkiness makes it modern and timely. It challenges without being rebellious by invoking past glories. Everybody needs love. That was true then. It is true now. It will be true tomorrow. Harding brings it all together by focusing on the rhythm and creating the mood for whatever good feelings one wants to share with another. – Steve Horowitz


20. Zola Jesus – “Exhumed”

“Exhumed” is a glorious, frantic mash of VHS and digital degradation, referencing equal parts The Blair Witch Project and The Ring. While Nicole Hummel has always situated herself within a gothic style, this year’s Okovi is poignant all the more for its departure from Taiga‘s pop sentiments. In 2017, Z returned home, and “Exhumed” is its best illustration. The track is a brutal catharsis, with its chilly strings and industrial beat, transcending mere darkwave (though no doubt goth kids will be listening to it while applying black eyeliner). It’s the gorgeous stuff of nightmares – better leave a light on. – Tristan Kneschke

19. Lana Del Rey – “Love”

In a year riddled with tragedy and unrest it was Lana Del Rey who came through with a song that cut through all the misery and offered a tiny glimmer of hope. It’s almost as if this world has gotten too cynical for a simple song about love to connect with people, but Del Rey’s stunning debut single from her third album did just that. “Look at you kids with your vintage music,” she winks on “Love”, all the while creating a pitch-perfect pastiche of classic torch songs and teen ballads, from references to Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. Accentuated by its stark backing arrangement, the track’s power lies in ins simplicity and directness. Love might not be all you need, but it sure does make life worth living. “It don’t matter because it’s enough / To be young and in love,” Del Rey croons, urging listeners to embrace the feeling. – Adrien Begrand

18. Selena Gomez – “Bad Liar”

As a teeny-bopper Disney star, Gomez was responsible for some truly irritating Top 40 fodder back in the day, but with 2015’s Revival, she developed a distinct brand of minimalist dance-pop, using stark, bare instrumentation to make remarkably compelling songs. “Bad Liar” is a brilliant continuation of that, swiping the bassline from Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and turning into a rambling, stream-of-conscious pop song that is at turns funky, at turns slinky, and always, always sexy. In a world made out of excessive EDM synth breaks, the whispered strut of “Bad Liar” feels less like a break from that cookie-cutter Eurodisco and more like the remedy for it. Refreshing doesn’t even begin to describe it. – Evan Sawdey

17. Portugal. the Man – “Feel It Still”

It can feel kinda weird when a band has a crossover hit. For the majority of people, it’s their first encounter with the artist so it’s fair for them to assume that this is their first stab at song writing and lo and behold they have hit the jackpot, struck gold and cleaned up all in one go. In the case of Portugal. the Man, “Feel It Still” is from the band’s EIGHTH album. As to why it has hit such a nerve is open to question. Maybe, it’s a question of timing. Maybe its upbeat mix of ’60s guitar pop, ’70s soul and funk with a modern twist serves as a perfect antidote to the plethora of anodyne chart music that has been co-written and produced to within an inch of its life. Maybe, it’s because it’s just such a damn simple and catchy song that never fails to animate even the most hardened heart Whatever, the reason let’s hope this song is the entry point for many more to dig into the bands back catalogue. – Paul Carr

16. Khalid – “Young, Dumb, and Broke”

Easily the coolest song of the year, “Young, Dumb, and Broke” slides in like a senior into pottery class: that is with red eyes and a big heart on their sleeve. On an album decidedly about being a teen in this day, “Young, Dumb, and Broke” is the thesis statement. Over a simple organ, bass, and drums combo, Khalid calmly croons the thoughts of a high schooler, but mostly it’s about caring a lot while just not caring at all, for real. “I can not give you everything. You know I wish I could,” Khalid sings. Well, you gave a generation of songs a jam worth remembering. That’s enough for 2017, at least. – Christopher Laird

15. King Krule – “Dum Surfer”

It’s testament to just how dark King Krule’s album, The OOZ, is considering the catchiest song on the album, “Dum Surfer,” documents a narrator’s drunken adventure spent puking, getting into a car accident, gloomily reflecting on life, and taunting God. It’s a lot to process in what I’m both inclined and disinclined to call a pop song, especially when told through ramblings consistent with the narrator’s inebriated state. Don’t worry if you’re not in the mood to revel in the narrator’s dread just yet, though. With its slippery saxophone, punchy guitar, and its aggressively inescapable hook, “Dum Surfer” has plenty of sonic distractions destined to keep you coming back for more, regardless of your mood. – Chad Miller

14. Lorde – “Green Light”

As an opening salvo, the first we heard of the follow-up to Lorde’s excellent debut album, “Green Light” was startling. Upbeat, aggressive, and downright poppy in its construction, “Green Light” was and is a brilliant way to separate herself from everything that came before. The existence of “Green Light” got even more interesting once the album was released, as the album is a perfect, beautiful mess of largely uncommercial tracks, designed to confront more than to welcome. In that context, “Green Light” is a red herring, a little bit of easy listening before more difficult material like “Sober” or “Supercut”. Whether a confrontation or an invitation, however, “Green Light” is an ecstatic ode to letting go, the kind of song you can get caught up in, the kind of song that could use an extended single edit because four minutes just isn’t enough time. It’s a shame that this one never reached the height of “Royals” on the singles charts; it is a superior track by every qualitative measure. – Mike Schiller

13. Charli XCX- “Boys”

Charli XCX capped a banner year which saw the release of what may be her most accomplished release to date, Number 1 Angel—full of bubbly, sexually-charged poptimism and audacious femininity—with a single and self-directed video that channeled those energies into a more low-key style of decompression pop. But “Boys” goes beyond its buoyant beat and sweet-and-simple lyrics, toward a perfectly natural reorientation of pop music’s often problematic sexual power dynamics. Alongside a mixtape which centered fresh, up-and-coming female and queer voices, Charli’s “Boys” reiterated pop in 2017 as a proudly, unapologetically feminine space—and yet it’s so chill, sugary, and genuinely adorable, you might have never noticed. – Colin Fitzgerald

12. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA”

Front to back, “DNA” is pure skill. It starts as a relatively straightforward, fiery screed, with a sparse beat whose only function is to get out of the way of Lamar’s lyric. There are rhymes within rhymes, a little bit of self-aggrandizement, a little bit of humility, and a lot of history. Lamar is detailing the burden he bears as a Famous Black Man, and doing so with anger, with energy, and with incisive wit. And yet, none of that prepares you for the last minute of the song, when Mike Will Made-It throws that Rick James sample in there (the one that sounds a lot like the one from Kanye West’s “Runaway” because it’s sampled from the exact same recording of the exact same song), and Lamar just goes off in the sort of career-defining way that will be used to demonstrate his verbal dexterity for years to come. It’s the sound of an artist breaking through the ceiling; it’s an already-established, critically-adored artist reminding us that he hasn’t stopped topping himself yet. – Mike Schiller

11. Haim – “Want You Back”

The fire has already swept through and ravaged everything in sight, but “Want You Back” smolders. All chances of recovery are distant, but the singer yearns dearly, and so the song raises that stubborn emotion like some kind of flag. How fitting then that the song kicks off Haim’s powerful sophomore album, as the album is all about the process of living through all this mess, but on “Want you Back” Danielle Haim is not ready to move on just yet. When she says, “I’ll take the fall and the fault in us… Just know I want you back” you can almost see her, sifting through the ruins, trying to find something worth holding on to. – Christopher Laird


10. LCD Soundsystem – “Call the Police / American Dream”

This was it, the big comeback, the absolute confirmation that “the final show” was not really the final show, and goodness, it was perfect. A double-A-side single, its split personality mirrors that of the album its two tracks are culled from. “Call the Police” is beautiful classic LCD Soundsystem, the sort of slow burn that starts out sounding fairly ordinary, and then piles layers and layers and layers on top of more layers until it is something interesting, and exciting, and cathartic, all while James Murphy sings and rambles with his own increasing intensity. For fans, it’s like coming home, a comfortable mattress in a comfortable room. “American Dream” is the surprise, though, a ballad that cuts away at why LCD went away in the first place, a wrenching ode to middle-age ennui and insecurity housed in retro synths that live somewhere between Soft Cell and the Cure. Combined, the two tracks made for a comeback we could be confident in, the kind of comeback where the quality is high enough that you don’t have to wonder why Murphy decided to return at all. The music is answer enough. – Mike Schiller

9. Blanck Mass – “Please”

One minute into Blanck Mass’ electro-industrial anthem comes its uniquely discernible lyric: a feminine Ohhhh ohhhh, plea-ease. Plea-ease. Plea-ease. Perhaps “discernible” is an overstatement, but the psychic pairing of garbled vocals and the titular “Please” fills the gaps in our perception well enough. Several pleading rounds disintegrate into the next lyrical section: a more masculine Hyeeee hee-ee-heyuh hee-ee-heyuh. Ahohhyuh-yo heeee-heeee hee-ee-heyuh hee-ee-heyuh. A script of impassioned dialog for two lovers. Comfort in desperation

Musically, the track is vast and unforgiving. “Please” layers and un-layers like a great Mayan pyramid; each entrance mirrored by an exit equal in magnitude. Knifelike synths slice the silence and streaks of ether smear horizontal time. Soon, space is mottled by a-musical percussion; shards of matter crash, clunk and tumble into a beat begging for a dancer. Over seven-and-a-half minutes, we’re sucked from the vacuum, only to find ourselves right where we started, the speck of an event horizon ever-shrinking into nonexistence. – A. Noah Harrison

8. Algiers – “The Underside of Power”

Algiers walk in between the past and the future on their album’s searing title track. The intro is a disorienting combination of echoing vocalizations and buzzing electronic percussion underneath Franklin James Fisher’s vocals. Then, the real drums kick in, and Fisher’s pleas against a system that callously oppresses whole groups of people are backed by a soundtrack that echoes the glory days of Motown with a renewed, modern urgency. Politically-charged soul music isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it has rarely been so forceful as it is here. In drawing from the language of an oppressive past, Algiers find a way to grapple with and rail against an oppressive present. – Kevin Korber

7. Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”

Ever since Kill the Moonlight, Spoon have been unable to break their habit of making good-if-not-classic albums (although boy did they try hard with Transference). What shocks about Hot Thoughts isn’t so much the group’s total integration of synths and keyboards so much as the fact that these new textures back some of their most fiery, aggressive songs they’ve ever recorded. The album’s title track is a phenomenal piece of pop songcraft, with slinky basswork and glockenspiel bells framing one of the catchiest guitar riffs the band has ever come up with. Britt Daniels says he has hot thoughts all in his mind, and he’s not wrong: one listen to “Hot Thoughts” and that song will be swimming in your head all day. – Evan Sawdey

6. SZA – “Love Galore”

In her short time on the scene, Solána Rowe, who releases music as SZA, has quickly become one of recent music’s most engaging storytellers, and “Love Galore”, her strangely danceable documentation of young love is no outlier in her impressive discography. The song is part kiss off, part love letter, and above all, a searing, unglorified representation of the messiness (and occasional horrors) found in modern relationships, all dispersed through disjointed waves of narrative which ultimately ask if love is enough. I don’t know the answer, but with Rowe’s unflinching honesty and strikingly confident performance, I’m glad she’s the one here to ask the question. – Chad Miller

5. Fever Ray – “To the Moon and Back”

Whether operating as Fever Ray or as one half of the Knife, Karin Dreijer is best known for her challenging and transgressive electronic music. When she feels it’s appropriate, however, she can also turn out a massive pop song without sacrificing any of her radical vision. The Swedish disco of “To the Moon and Back” is the best example of this since the Knife’s 2002 classic “Heartbeats”. The song’s sturdy, infectious bass line beckons your hips to sway even as rapid-fire, chirping synths encourage something closer to wild flailing. It’s as close to a full-body experience as pop music gets. When things finally turn explicit at the end, “To the Moon and Back” also assumes its proper role as one of the best celebrations of queer desire in pop history. – Andrew Dorsett

4. Lorde – “Perfect Places”

The difference between Lorde and almost every other pop star who makes songs about teenage longing is that Lorde charges hers with the complete certainty teenagers can have in their perspectives. “Perfect Places” is about drinking, doing drugs, and hooking up with strangers, all in the pursuit of the feeling that one is fulfilling the promise of youth. So our narrator does it again and again and her voice multiplies, asking, “What the fuck are perfect places, anyway?” She never answers that question, but the experience of her asking it is riveting, as if she is watching fault lines form beneath her. This is Lorde’s great talent: conjuring an incredible intensity of feeling on song after song, over and over again, as if her life depends on it. – Mark Matousek

3. Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”

There is so much packed into this song that it’s hard to know where to start talking about it. It is, actually, about the piano, about the way Sampha had an understanding with it that was hard to find with other humans. It is also about his mother, whose home is where the piano lived, who passed away as he was writing the album. It is also about nostalgia, the way that people and things take on added significance with the passing of time. It is about love, and pain, and humanity, and all of that is filtered through an ode to a piano. It’s rare that an artist can so effectively convey ideas so universal through a tale of something so specific, but Sampha pulls it off, with enough aplomb and sensitivity to fuel a jet. – Mike Schiller

2. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE”

The first single from DAMN and Lamar’s first #1 single, “HUMBLE” by itself only hinted at the depth of the album’s explorations of morality. Yet it wears proudly both Lamar’s brashness and his readiness to draw meaning from individual words. One of DAMN‘s over-reported paradoxes is the degree to which “PRIDE” is its most humble song and “HUMBLE” its most boastful. Here Lamar tilts towards the biblical notion of the word, as in humbling yourself before God. In the song he emulates God, in an archetypal hip-hop way. Everyone else needs to bow down, humble themselves before his greatness. It’s a celebration of Lamar’s rise and the rise of hip-hop to commercial glory and fame – related to a case for ‘real’-ness that’s both typical and atypical in its specifics (“ass with some stretch marks”, not letting “the meds talk”). For an album built from interwoven ideas, DAMN has a handful of savage, all-encompassing anthems within it. “HUMBLE” tops that list, one of 2017’s most ubiquitous songs by its most prominent, dominant artist. Play after play, it never sounds less audacious. – Dave Heaton

1. The XX – “On Hold”

The first taste of the XX’s superb I See You is a sleek and ultra-modern pop duet that’s infused with genuine feeling. The vocal interplay between Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft, over a glistening electronic groove, is somewhat reminiscent of the Postal Service classic “Nothing Better”. Both singers deliver terrific performances, conveying obvious pain and regret while studiously avoiding expressing too much emotion. It’s an all-too-human response, wanting to avoid seeming overly needy or dramatic, especially in this social media driven age in which maintaining a stoic pose at all time is of paramount importance if one wants to hold on to some semblance of pride. “On Hold” is a snapshot, a moment in a relationship that many have experienced, captured through an engaging melody that’s catchy yet subtle and understated. A beautiful piece of work, and another example that great pop music is still alive and well, even though it might not be in the Top 40. – Chris Gerard

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