2017 WAS AN odd year in music. A lot of good stuff came out but I found it exceedingly difficult to really summon much enthusiasm for most of it. Very few songs and albums really went beyond being ‘good’, this year. I think what it came down to, for me, was a lot of musicians went rather low-key and homogeneous with their sounds. It lead to a lot of music lacking any sort of personality to the point where the songs just weren’t distinctive, despite being technically excellent. For example; I really enjoyed Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator and A Deeper Understanding by War on Drugs. But unless I was paying attention to the track list whilst I was listening, there were points where I didn’t know what song I was listening to. Hell, even Bjork’s Utopia suffered from that affliction to a degree. Say what you want about The Life of Pablo last year, but for all its faults it certainly wasn’t lacking in clearly defined songs. In the end, it caused me to retreat from current music a bit and listen to older releases from Peter Gabriel and Dinosaur Jnr. As a result, this list was perhaps the most difficult one to create since the website began.
Well, that’s enough hand-wringing. Here is my list:
Honourable Mention: Selena Gomez – Bad Liar
I didn’t even know this song existed until a couple of weeks ago. But MAN is this some high quality pop music. Yes, it is a bit on the nose to sample ‘Psycho Killer’s bass-line, but Selena’s unique vocals (I wouldn’t say she is a great singer) and the cowbell during the chorus just really appealed to me a great deal. I enjoy pop with personality and Selena Gomez has it in spades with the production choices she makes and the songwriters she uses. I feel like she is a weirdly underrated pop star who deserves more recognition for the quality of her music.
10) Calvin Harris – Slide (feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)
Calvin Harris is a terrible producer of lowest common denominator club bangers. However, his attempt at summery electro-funk music was actually a reasonable success. ‘Slide’ is the best song on the album and that is all thanks to Frank Ocean. If The Weeknd is for the winter, Miguel for the spring, Frank Ocean is for the summer. His voice just epitomises lazing about on the beach as the sun sets, maybe with a girl, whilst smoking some weed. ‘Slide’ was the song of the summer, for me, and kept me in a sunny mood even in a wet city.
9) 2 Chainz – Its a Vibe (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz & Jhene Aiko)
‘It’s a Vibe’ is easily the most self-explanatory song in this list. The beat, the verses and the singing is just some smooth listening to “vibe” to. It isn’t deep or meaningful in any capacity, but taken as a whole I find this song thoroughly enjoyable. Favourite feature? Weirdly, Trey Songz; I just liked his lazily melodic voice, which is odd because I can’t stand his music normally.
8) Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut to the Feeling
For the third year in a row Carly Rae Jepsen has released an absolute banger. As you have probably noticed over the years, I am a sucker for anthemic pop songs and ‘Cut to the Feeling’ is just an incredible one of them. The passion in Jepsen’s vocals along with the powerful production combines to create a really feel-good song with a superb chorus.
7) Paramore – Rose Colored Boy
Paramore, at school, is/was for milquetoast emos who like a bit of edge but don’t want to go fully in on the genre. Their pivot to synth-pop came as a real surprise and what really shocked me was just how great it was. The production was enjoyable, it is catchy and Hayley William’s emo-band chops gave her voice a unique quality not heard in more traditional pop music. I also enjoyed the subject matter about it being OK to feel sad on the occasion and how it is even healthy to do so instead of being “rose-coloured” all the time. This song is perhaps my biggest musical surprise in 2017.
6) Charli XCX – Boys
Charli XCX has released a lot of music this year. 2 full mixtapes and a single that is/was meant for her album, Boys. ‘Number 1 Angel’ was better than ‘Pop 2’ but honestly Charli’s most polished song is also the best song she released this year: Boys. It is just a fantastic pop tune with a fun message of objectifying men. 2017 has been a year of men fucking up royally, to put it mildly. So it was nice to hear them brought down a peg, even if it is in a tongue in cheek manner.
5) Kelala – Blue Light
I thought I was over ‘Alternative R&B’. I got to thinking that the entire concept had been watered down thanks to everyone copying The Weeknd and/or FKA Twigs in some way. However, Kelala showed me that the genre isn’t entirely dead taking it in some incredibly strange directions, both sonically and structurally. Much like FKA Twigs, she uses Arca (and other producers) and waters his signature noise-music style just enough to make songs that are actually enjoyable to listen to but still encapsulate his terrifying style. Honestly, I could choose any song from Take Me Apart, but ‘Blue Light’ is perhaps the song that shows this the clearest. The insane bass that jumps in at the chorus, Kelala’s disturbing vocals and the atmosphere forms together to make a song that is a very intense – but still pleasurable – listen.
4) Bjork – The Gate
I recently got into Bjork, so to find out she was releasing a new album this year was very exciting. I thought it was great, if a bit…monotonous in spots. ‘The Gate’ is a real highlight. The way it transitions from airy spacious chamber music to something a whole lot heavier and stranger when the ‘chorus’ kicks in is a moment that legitimately made my arm hair stand on end. The entire song feels alien at spots, which certainly fits right in with the aesthetic Bjork was going for. Seriously, I don’t think there is a music artist alive who can evoke such strong imagery with their music. One exception is perhaps Arca, who funnily enough is Bjork’s co-producer for the entire album.
3) Jay-Z – The Story of O.J.
I don’t like Jay-Z. He has just never gelled with me on almost any level. However, ‘The Story of O.J.’ doesn’t sound like a Jay-Z song. His entire persona is strangely low-key and the beat is so simple I almost found it to be harrowing. It’s like No I.D. decided to match Jay-Z’s simple and matter-of-fact lyrics about racism in America with a beat, and an incredible Nina Simone sample, that is just as skeletal. This song totally blindsided me as it is a follow-up from a man who released perhaps the most overblown rap album of the decade. ‘The Story of OJ’ is proof that old rappers can still bring it in a big way (ball is in your court, Kanye).
2) Jay Som – The Bus Song
I was in an open-minded mood and decided to listen to an album some random off the internet said was really good. That was Jay Som’s Everybody Works and I have to say, I am glad I decided to give the album a go. It was excellent from start to finish. The real highlight is easily, ‘The Bus Song’. The song that really typifies the whole low-fi summery aesthetic the album is going for. I love the idea of finding romance, both the natural and the human kind, in public transport. Making the best of a less than stellar situation appeals to me a great deal as a subject and ‘The Bus Song’ typifies that idea perfectly.
1) Sampha – (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano
What a profoundly heart-breaking song ‘…Like the Piano’ is. It is a simple piano ballad about Sampha wishing to go back to somewhere safe: his family home with his recently deceased mother. As someone who moved out of his familial house within the last year, it really hit me on an emotional level. There are still days I wish I could permanently go back. I don’t know if it is, objectively speaking, the best song of the year or even the best song on the list. But damn it this song really caught me in a particular emotional state and never let go throughout the entire year. Same can be said for Process, to be honest. And it is my list, so I have no second-thoughts about considering ‘…Like the Piano’ the best song of the year.
Other excellent songs released this year: Passionfruit by Drake, Rolling (feat. Khalid & Future) by Calvin Harris, Be The One by Dua Lipa, XO Tour LIife by Lil’ Uzi Vert, 911/Mr. Lonely (feat. Frank Ocean & Steve Lacey) by Tyler, The Creator, Ghostface Killers (feat. Travis Scott) by Offset, 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, Diving Woman by Japanese Breakfast, Mask Off by Future, Reverie by Arca & Pain by War on Drugs.