Top 100 Songs of 2017

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top 100 songs of 2017

best songs of 2017 Fleet Foxes10. Fleet Foxes
“Third of May/Ōdaigahara”

from Crack-Up (Nonesuch)

In the F. Scott Fitzgerald essay which serves as the namesake for Fleet Foxes’ latest album Fitzgerald mourns the passing of memory. “For the moment, I can only cry out that I have lost my splendid mirage. Come back, come back, O glittering and white!” After a six-year hiatus, Robin Pecknold’s “Third of May” found him returning in a similarly entrapped state.  May 3rd could be seen as the culminating date of this nostalgia. It is, after all, both the birthday of Pecknold’s bandmate and best friend Skyler Skjelset and the anniversary of his band’s beloved album Helplessness Blues.

And so, what do we do when we are trapped by memory? As Fleet Foxes have always done they took the interpersonal and looked outward at the lashing rain, toward the sight of sea, sand, and leaves in an effort to ground our metaphysical ennui. “Third of May” is balm to a timeless burning wound and music as a healing ritual. “Light ended the night, but the song remained” it starts. The song remained. – Wesley Whitacre

Cloakroom Time Well review9. Cloakroom
“Seedless Star”

from Time Well (Relapse)

A remarkably heavy group—signed to on a metal label—with a history of emo-band tours and a penchant for dense and dreamy shoegazer textures, Indiana’s Cloakroom is, in spite of all this, arguably the best Alternative Rock band in America right now—caps mandatory. “Seedless Star,” a highlight among highlights on second album Time Well, descends from the lineage of cosmic alt-rock alumni such as Hum and Failure, balancing a blown-out, crushingly distorted sensibility with the serene sounds of Doyle Martin’s undersea-drift guitar during its lengthy verses. Martin’s lyrics tell of a particularly poetic kind of aimlessness, but he could just as easily be describing the beautifully crushing contradictions in the band’s own music: “Slivers of heaven/Hanging in the breeze like a guillotine.” There’s even a moment where Martin makes a pretty dramatic hard transition with the press of a stompbox, the kind of grunge-era production trick that one would expect to hear on Matt Pinfield-era 120 Minutes. With its seven-minute runtime, almost overwhelming layers of nuance and slow-reveal replayability, “Seedless Star” otherwise steers clear of clichés, reinterpreting their influences through massive, cosmic means. Cloakroom didn’t miss the train to Mars, they built their own. – Jeff Terich

best albums of 2017 Slowdive8. Slowdive
“Sugar for the Pill”

from Slowdive (Dead Oceans)

“Sugar for the Pill” is immediately pretty in the way so many Slowdive songs are; it’s clear the band hasn’t lost their magic. And magical is a great way to describe this. Yet it takes its time to really warm up. In signature fashion, Neil Halstead’s vocals are a bit obfuscated; maybe not as much as usual, but you may need to focus in intently to hear his words. He compares a “blizzard of gulls drumming in the wind” to “lovers alive, running in the dark.” His voice is somehow both soft and worn with age. “You know I had the strangest dream,” he sings, “lying in a bed of greed; [but] I rolled away – this jealousy will break the whole.” The guitars are a bit clean-sounding; Halstead has said he fitted his guitar with bubble wrap to limit feedback. The bass, especially during the verses, is powerful, and the synths add a spacious touch. “Sugar” feels modern in an only-slightly cynical way, its textures almost syrupy, like refined, uh, sugar. It’s a little different for them, but dang is it awe-inspiring. – Ben Braunstein

best songs of 2017 Vince Staples7. Vince Staples

from Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)

On an album (Big Fish Theory) that, not infrequently, sounds like it’s chronicling the year 2666, “BagBak” is placed square in the hellish now of 2017. Vince Staples packs an ocean of vitriol into slightly more than two minutes, over a menacing funk beat that’s more than a little reminiscent of OutKast. His autobiographical accounts and stories about the lives and crimes in his Long Beach neighborhood are usually channeled through precise observations and pitch-black humor, but he’s not interested in nuance or subtlety on “BagBak.” The track is nothing short of a war cry, a screaming exhortation to galvanize a culture and a generation into knowing, and going precisely after, its true enemy. “Tell the One Percent to suck a dick because we on now/Tell the president to suck a dick because we on now” ain’t necessarily elegant, but now is not a time suited to elegance. It’s the sort of appropriately directed rage we need. – Liam Green

best songs of 2017 Frank Ocean6. Frank Ocean


Last year proved to be both an eventful and enigmatic one for Frank Ocean, dangling Endless in our view before the big reveal of Blonde, after which it would’ve been safe to foretell Ocean’s withdrawal for another few years. Fortuitously, 2017 brought us “Chanel,” a raw, lo-fi musing on his own bisexuality, its first verse an open acknowledgement of same-sex love delivered with masculinity and confidence. “My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell / I see both sides like Chanel / See on both sides like Chanel.” It’s filled with dizzying stream-of-consciousness lines laid out over a muffled beat and faded piano melody, an elaborate painting of a man made with rapid-fire lines that balance the material and the existential. – Jonathan Ortiz

Run the Jewels 35. Run the Jewels
“Talk To Me”

from Run the Jewels 3 (Self-released)

In the ongoing family squabble between rap’s new school and veteran lyricists, there are precious few artists who can maintain their own lanes while remaining relevant. The Gucci Manes of hip-hop are seldom seen, while throwback tours, such as that of Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill this year, and sad trash-fire pairings (see frenemies Jay-Z and Future) tend to often be the routes most traveled. Count on the Jedi side of this equation, El-P and Killer Mike. As solo artists and as Run The Jewels, they have operated at a consistently high level musically and lyrically for years. El’s kept his futuristic sound up to date since his Company Flow days and Killer Mike’s uncompromising political commentary is still unbowed, and even more unhinged in the Trump era. “Talk to Me” is classic Run The Jewels because it isn’t trying to be younger, hipper or smarter than you. Instead, Mike welcomes you in with his vivid storytelling, like he did in 2012’s “Reagan,” while El-P conjures up a soundscape of chunky beats, synths and dropped calls that offer a remind why this is an art. Current events keep them interesting, but Run the Jewels’ quality keep them germane to the day. – Ernesto Aguilar

The National Sleep Well Beast4. The National
“The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”

from Sleep Well Beast (4AD)

The National didn’t change their sound for this year’s Sleep Well Beast, but they certainly expanded it. Exhibit A is the album’s lead single “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness.”  Like a lot of the band’s best work, the track is propelled by Bryan Devendorf’s drums, but here those drums are tribal and militant. More out of left field is Aaron Dessner’s turn as full-on guitar hero during his unexpected scorcher of a solo. “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” is The National as an all-out rock band for the first time since 2005’s Alligator, and even back then they never let it rip like this. As urgent as the music is, Matt Berninger is ultimately signing about sleeping, and the total shutdown he requires to dream the dreams that will get him and all of us through the next four to (please God not) eight years. The result is a canonical National song, in the same league as “Mr. November,” “Fake Empire,” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” Rock on. – Adam Ellsworth

best songs of 2017 King Krule3. King Krule
“Dum Surfer”

from The Ooz (XL)

A dense fog seems to roll in with “Dum Surfer,” replete with horror-movie style ghoulish moans and anchored by a heavy, ominous bassline. It’s as dark as Archy Marshall’s King Krule project has ever sounded; even his bleakest earlier tracks (like the nihilistic “Has This Hit?”) featured slick, clearheaded production. “Dum Surfer” exists in a drunken haze, its lyrics unsparingly chronicling a debaucherous night out. Marshall pisses and pukes his way through the song, draining an encounter with “a girl from Slovak” of any potential romance—but following the album’s titular fascination with human excretion. “Dum Surfer” is a dirty, visceral, bar-rat horror story that plays like the disheveled, unlikely cousin of “Monster Mash” (a comparison Marshall appears to welcome with lines like, “He’s mashed, I’m mashed, we’re mashed”). It’s not the only time Marshall invokes horror-movie elements on The Ooz—there’s some Cronenbergian elements to “Half Man Half Shark”—but “Dum Surfer” stands as the record’s creepiest track, as well as one of Marshall’s best to date. – Sam Prickett

best songs of 2017 Sandy Alex G2. (Sandy) Alex G

from Rocket (Domino)

It takes a couple of listens to decode this early single from (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket, but by round three it becomes more clear—”Bobby” is either his own insecurities personified, or perhaps an ode to a beloved animal. Who else “wakes you when he goes to work” and has you on their mind while laying on their back? (Sandy) Alex G has a knack for layering his tracks, creating subplots and interweaving tales—this one simultaneously expressing love for a human, himself and possibly even a furry friend. Emily Yacina adds soulful fiddling in all the right places, her vocals lending the track a sense of rustic yearning. “Bobby” takes (Sandy) Alex G down a more folk-driven path than usual, but it’s a welcomed change, his voice soothing and comforting.

The accompanying music video evokes the same level of warmth, shuffling through scenes of Alex in his Subaru, the band rehearsing the track, and cartoons of boisterous animals. A nostalgia for the suburbs rings out through shots of sunset-speckled bike rides on backroads and dive bars. This approach feels right—(Sandy) Alex G settling into a brand of gooey folk-rooted goodness, a change of sound that feels like the natural endpoint of where Alex Giannascoli’s songwriting was headed all along. – Virginia Croft

best songs of 2017 Humble.1. Kendrick Lamar

from DAMN. (Top Dawg/Aftermath)

There aren’t many rappers or popstars left who haven’t invited Kendrick Lamar onto a track only to to have it taken over by K-Dot. Showing up on “Control” was both the best and worst thing to happen to Big Sean, and everyone from Thundercat to Maroon 5 has had their currency go up by the sheer act of Lamar dropping a few bars in the studio. And he knows it. Don’t you think that he doesn’t know it.

“Humble.” is his admission of greatness, not so much a challenge to every emcee eyeing his throne as it is a taunt. It’s psychological warfare. And what makes Kendrick’s admission of superiority so galling is that it’s true. We know it. Everybody knows it. He’s just rubbing salt in the wound.

Or is he? Clever dude that he is, Kendrick has a way of turning these things in on himself as he did on “The Blacker the Berry,” and “Humble.” thus ends up as much a reminder to himself to never lose perspective. But then again, he uses the two verses in this standout single from DAMN. to simply lay waste every last thing around him, offering a brief reminder of his humble roots before escalating into a hurricane of wordplay and one-liners. He’s also depicted as the Pope in the video, so there’s that. There’s nothing quite like seeing a champion in his element, and Kendrick’s still waiting for a worthy challenger. Until then, sit down. Be humble. – Jeff Terich

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