Music

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.

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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