And the beat goes on.
Welcome back to my countdown of my Top 50 Songs of 2017. If you’re just joining us, then yesterday we counted down the first 20 slots of this ridiculous yearly exercise I do for my own pleasure and nobody else’s. You can catch up on all of that here. Today, we’re covering the next 20.
30] WALK THE MOON
What If Nothing
Oh my God, this song is so fucking dumb! No, for real, listen to it! It STARTS with “I can take a beating like a good pair of headphones!” This is why I didn’t call “Feels” the stupidest chorus of the year in the last part; WALK THE MOON friggin’ soared past it on a rocket-propelled hang-glider! They “can stand the test of time like Harrison Ford!” It’s SO DUMB AND I LOVE IT PIECES! For real, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but intentionally so. This isn’t the Maroon 5 kind of dumb, where Adam Levine accidentally looks stupid by singing “animalsmals” with a straight face because making music to them is a job. “Headphones” is the sound of a band HAVING FUN and willing to look the fool because, hey, that shows life going on in there! Plus, the song fucking rips, sprinting and stomping and generally preparing to tear gigs a new one where it inevitably finds its true calling. I love it, sue me.
29] DJ Khaled
“Wild Thoughts (Feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller)”
In the year of our lord 2017, I have a DJ Khaled song in my Top 50 Songs of the Year. There’s a temptation to attribute this largely to the expertly deployed Santana sample that provides the song’s structure and insanely catchy post-chorus interlude, and whilst it is important, it’s really down to just how sexy the song is. Lyrically, it is filthy as all heck, with metaphors and similes so tortured that they become absolutely absurd, and yet end up being sold like holy hell by Rihanna’s delivery. I’ve grown to properly appreciate Rihanna over the past two years – that year off she had in 2014 helped in no small part; it really makes one appreciate an artist with the immediate charisma and personality of Rhi when your alternative is Rita Ora – and performances like these are lead evidence as to why, and also why it would sometimes sneak into my brain and not leave for days on end. Also, Bryson Tiller is on this and… he doesn’t embarrass himself, which is something.
“Want You Back”
Something to Tell You
Something to Tell You, whilst not quite the Disappointing Second Album that some have pegged it as, never manages to best its opening shot, as perfect a synthesis of Rumours and Tango in the Night-era Fleetwood Mac as anyone could manage. But, much like with the rest of HAIM’s discography, although it’s clearly been influenced by that kind of Californian AM drivetime radio from before any of the sisters were even born, it’s no mere rip-off, with an R&B bounce and plenty of vocal manipulations that place it firmly in the here and now. The real star, though, as it often is with this band, are the harmonies, with Danielle’s lead being backed-up and accentuated at every turn by Este and Alana, leading to that chorus sounding like a million bucks.
27] Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice
More than anything else, “Over Everything” just feels perfect. The kind of song you can just press play on, place your headphones over your ears, and not think of anything for the next six and a half minutes. It’s the song for those moments of contentment, when you’re just walking without a care in the world on a beautiful day and just want to lose yourself in it. It’s a big old aimless hug of a song, which gives it away as a Kurt Vile composition rather than a Courtney Barnett, but the shared relax fun that the two are clearly having as they record it – you can practically hear the two exchange smiles with one another between verses, and the extended outro solo couldn’t be more laid back if they’d tried – is vital to the song’s feel. I played it a lot on my birthday whilst waiting for a friend; it seemed fitting.
26] Benjamin Booker
“Witness (Feat. Mavis Staples)”
Upon the release of “Witness,” Benjamin Booker posted a short essay detailing the inspiration for the song: his fleeing to Mexico in early 2016 to escape writer’s block, and eventual realisation that he was really running from the fear of being a black man in America and the paralysing sensation that, in the face of daily news stories showing young black men just like him dead as a result of police racism, he wasn’t doing anything about it. It’s powerful writing, but it’s also arguably unnecessary, because the song itself already succinctly gets the message across, particularly in that warm yet devastating chorus. Where Algiers utilised gospel music for aggression, Booker uses it for anxiety and bystander’s guilt, whilst Mavis Staples (who turned up almost everywhere this year) puts in a fantastic guest turn, standing out from the choir without overpowering it.
25] Neck Deep
“Where Do We Go When We Go”
The Peace and the Panic
I have a deep and abiding fear of death, the mere thought of which (if it hangs in my brain for more than a brief instance) can give me full-blown anxiety attacks, and one that is not at all helped by my depression, so I can be very heavily affected or comforted by songs that tackle the subject in nuanced or unique ways – this is basically the reason why I gave the #1 slot to David Bowie last year. And though I never became overtaken by it like my younger brother did, I also enjoyed (and still have a soft spot for) my fair share of pop punk as a child of the 00s. Hence “Where Do We Go When We Go,” the closer from Neck Deep’s brilliant third album, in which Ben Barlow confronts the spectre of death, and the prospect of there maybe not being anything on the other side of it, and resolving to make the most he can out of this life just in case that faith is unrewarded. It doesn’t rewrite any pop punk rulebooks, and “pain pain/go away/come back another day” skirts right up to the line of cheese, but “I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me” is a line that pop punk careers are made on and, yeah, it is kinda inspirational.
24] The Go! Team
I have documented my love of The Go! Team many times before across many different forms – most prominently in “The Scene Between” entry on 2015’s list – so I want it on record that “Mayday” has only stalled out at #24 for the simple reason of it having been released on November 30th. It’s been practically the only single that I’ve been bumping for the last month, and it would probably be Top 10 material had I more time. The Go! Team just make me so goddamn happy and capable of taking on the world, and “Mayday” is no different, mashing up the band’s own “Milk Crisis” and “The Running Range” into a ball of energy that charges forward on a Morse code beat. There’s still nobody else making Go! Team-like music, and they keep finding enough hooks and surprising nuances to take their sound, thirteen years on, that I am in no danger of tiring of them any time soon.
23] The Amazons
Every year, I end up getting inordinately attached to one straightforward no-bullshit rock or indie rock song by a band that effectively lucked into writing one damn great song on an album that’s otherwise immediately forgettable and non-descript. Blame it on my being a veteran of the mid-00s Indie Landfill, but it does mean that I can sniff out a great meat-and-potatoes rock song from 200 paces. This year’s “winners” are The Amazons, a British rock quartet whose debut album is virtually indistinguishable from Blossoms’ last year – and even, in the grand tradition of British indie band debuts, ends on a lethargic and endless piano ballad for “variety” – but who, in fairness, also managed to pen “Black Magic.” Is it original? Not in the slightest. Is it much different than the other songs on their self-titled? Not really, except for two crucial differences: they loaded this one with all of their hooks and, unlike everything else on the album, this ROCKS! Consequently, it sounds MASSIVE and dramatic, and stands out as the year’s best straight rock track.
22] Demi Lovato
“Sorry Not Sorry”
Tell Me You Love Me
With each successive album, Demi Lovato gets closer and closer to putting out a genuinely, all-the-way-through great pop record. Tell Me You Love Me is not quite that, but they’re getting there, and it’s a step up from Confident. “Sorry Not Sorry” is even almost better than that album’s self-titled opener, swapping the prize-fighter rumble and world-conquering horns for gospel-tinged pop with enough swagger to power a thousand debauched nights on the town. Yeah, it’s another “screw all the haters” anthem in a pop landscape reaching “screw all the haters” overload, but “Sorry” has something that all of those other wannabes don’t: Demi Lovato’s sheer raw power. Theirs is a voice that could level condemned buildings on its own, and they sell the absolute hell out of every last line here. When they finally unload on that last chorus, the result makes for the best “haters” anthem since Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” and perhaps even the final statement on the subject for at least a while.
21] The Age of L.U.N.A.
“Body & Soul”
Coco – EP
The more that I hear of The Age of L.U.N.A. – which stands for Living Under No Authority, for the record – the more I become convinced that they are the second coming of the Fugees. There’s the dynamic, obviously, of two male MCs (Kyote Noir and Butch Arkas) and a soulful female vocalist who can also hang when given bars (Daniella Wizard), but it’s primarily there in their music, in their efforts to marry casual flexing (“Some men are like Netflix/Me and my brothers like Prime Time”) with more spiritual and meaningful lyrics (“Dreams are gold and all/But life’s cold as ice/And if you don’t act now you can just watch your life/Watch it fade in the background”). “Body & Soul” is the best evidence yet of this theory, and floats along a gorgeous garage-indebted beat, and I cannot wait for that debut full-length to drop next year.
Shake the Shudder
“NRGQ” is disco. Full-on disco, or at least what happens when you strip out the most irritating aspects of Hi-NRG but leave the disco foundation and elevated tempo. It wastes absolutely no time in getting prospective listeners grooving, with that pulsating bass, cheeky synth riff on the bridge, and classic diva wails of album-guest vocalist Lea Lea. There’s joyous camaraderie on the chorus, as Nic Offer and co. lose all sense of fear about the outside world through the joy of dancing, and infectious sass on the post-chorus break that’s just a bundle of fun to memorise and then repeat back on further listens. It also destroys live, for whatever that’s worth.
“Energy (Feat. Stormzy & Skepta)”
Energy – Single
This kind of pure flex is the sort that you can only put out at the moment when your genre has effectively conquered the world. “Energy” is a victory lap for grime, where its two biggest names at the moment, Skepta (whose Konnichiwa won the 2016 Mercury Prize) and Stormzy (owner of threee solo Top 10 singles and the only grime album to make it to #1 on the UK Album Charts), collaborate with a third rising star, Avelino (who also produced), to tear a beat of pure, well, energy to shreds. Try listening to this without getting hyped, it’s basically impossible. Yet, even though this should carry the air of laurel-resting, not one of these MCs slack, with Ave getting the best line of them all (“Don’t be a sheep when you can be a GOAT”), Stormz putting beatjackers on blast, and Skepta even inferring a passing of the torch on his verse. Small wonder this has been spotlighted for FIFA games.
18] Everything Everything
A Fever Dream
It can be absolutely paralysing to live in the world today, to see injustice rife on a global scale and feel utterly powerless to be able to contribute or affect change in any meaningful way. The world doesn’t run on the actions of one person in the middle of a giant throng, but it can often feel like it does, particularly in an online social atmosphere where everybody is sweating their arses off to appear the most woke out of everyone else. That can feel exhausting and detrimental to one’s own mental health, especially if you’re at a loss as to how you can help when your own situation is not much better, yet the guilt and the horror is banging down your door. Everything Everything zero in on that draining weight with “Can’t Do,” making that desperate screaming admission at the centre of its chorus into a robbed catharsis, along a throbbing House Pop foundation. It’s also about Jonathan Higgs’ writer’s block, but this is the kind of band where it really can be two things.
Lorde is not “wise beyond her years.” To keep utilising that refrain when describing her phenomenal lyricism is to perpetuate the false notion that young women somehow don’t know their own mind fully. Lorde is still young, she’s hyper-aware of herself and everything around her, just like many her age. The genius of “Supercut” is not in the imagery she uses to describe a failed relationship, it’s the fact that she’s singing about it at all. I have frequently disappeared into my head to envision a version of myself talking to friends and crushes where I am the perfect, witty, charismatic, caring person who does everything right, only to be met with the cold hard light of reality whenever I try to engage like that outside of it. Lorde’s genius – her gutting, raw genius on this career-best song – is putting the words together to describe a natural action performed and experienced by almost every listener her age (or close to her age). Lorde is not “wise beyond her years,” she is her age and she’s a pro at communicating it.
“Big for Your Boots”
Gang Signs & Prayer
There is a reason why this was everywhere this year. From radio, to television shows, to awards ceremonies, to YouTube mashups and parodies, to adverts for phone networks, to ringtones, to car stereos, to gyms, to the leaking headphones of bus passengers… This fucking BANGS! Stormzy rips through possibly the tightest bars of his career – almost every single line seems to have been precisely crafted to garner an “OH SHIT!” reaction from somebody, my personal favourite being “Get out the booth/Go home to your son/It’s never too late to commit” – but what really sells it is his inimitable delivery. Just the way that he pronounces “boots” instantly makes that hook snap like almost no other Rap hook this year, and coupled with Sir Spyro’s old-school grime production, the results are both insanely catchy and capable of making one want to dropkick the nearest fuckboy into outer space.
“I apologise.” No matter how many times that Jay repeats that sentiment throughout “4:44,” it still shocks in ways that immaculately-crafted punchlines from young and hungry rappers could only dream of. Here is Jay-Z, THE Jay-Z, the man who has spent close to a decade actively refusing to talk about anything of substance or open himself up on-record in any meaningful way (and also phoning it in lyrically), admitting that he fucked up. Opening himself up, baring his soul, tangibly aching, owing up about his past sins and infidelities to the woman who made an era-defining masterwork about her hurt and heartbreak over these very things last year, and pledging to do better. How weird is that? To hear a rapper – hell, not just any rapper, THE rapper for a lot of people – earnestly admit fault without trying to deflect blame or half-ass it simply cos he got caught, in a genre where this kind of thing almost never happens because it doesn’t sell records? “4:44” is raw, it’s painful, it has awkward ideas of how conception works, it barely rhymes, and it is brutally honest in the way I love my hip-hop to be, and that’s all before we get to No I.D.’s masterful flip of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations.
14] Joe Goddard
The absolute worst thing that the EDM boom did for dance music was take all of the gay out of it, replaced with fratty straight dudebros who only care about the drops and think that the hope, euphoria, and inclusivity of the early house scene are for pussy girlygirls. Fortunately, Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, combined with an inspired sample of 70s funk band Brainstorm’s “We’re On Our Way Home,” has crafted a glorious throwback to those beautiful, soulful, halcyon days with “Home.” A track that crests a gorgeous unfolding euphoria, relying on no fancy tricks or pummelling drops – the first time I heard it through headphones, I had to double check that I wasn’t listening to one of those user-altered versions, until I realised that your brain fills out the rest of the chorus itself – and pulling a fantastic (uncredited) guest vocal turn from Daniel Wilson. It’s one of the year’s finest pop songs and, if there’s any justice, should be a staple of dancefloors for years to come.
How in God’s name this did not become a huge crossover smash, I have absolutely no idea. Have you listened to this? I know that everybody else is losing their minds over the songs either side of it on the album (“Drew Barrymore” and “The Weekend”), but “Prom” is the inarguable highlight of CTRL, for real. All of the ways in which anxiety manifests on this song – from the lyrics where SZA realises she’s not maturing as fast as her partner is (“Fearin’ not growin’ up/Keepin’ me up all night/Am I doin’ enough?/Feel like I’m wastin’ time”), to the John Hughes movie-instrumentation, to the way that the song just builds and builds and builds, to how the release on the chorus doesn’t even feel like a proper release because a cathartic release isn’t possible with this stuff, to the way it’s clearly still going even as it fades out of view… Like, that all sounds heavy, yet it is wrapped up in the most irresistible pop song of the whole year. So, again, how the hell did this not crossover, yet “Despacito” was #1 for 11 weeks?!
12] Kendrick Lamar
Oh, how I agonised over which song from DAMN. to put on here. The downside to crafting an endlessly-repeatable album of near-perfect absolute bangers is that it means that picking the One Track from it during list time is insanely hard and can stunt one’s eventual ranking on the list. That said, although the picking was incredibly hard – Rihanna almost made a guest-threepeat with “LOYALTY.,” and for the longest time I was going to give this spot to the harrowing “FEAR.” – DAMN. is such a phenomenal album that Kendrick would have probably ended up around here whatever I picked. But I went “DNA.” over everything else because it’s the total package. It’s hard as fuck, Mike WiLL Made-It’s beat is enormous, Kendrick’s bars alternate between outstanding boasts and anxious self-reflection without ever compromising in intensity, and the flip in the last minute, when the pre-song Geraldo Rivera sample rears its ugly head again and Kendrick reveals that we need to redefine what our entire concept of “going in on something” means, is some of the most exciting music I have heard all year.
11] Little Dragon
Shit. I’ve just listened to this again for paragraph-writing purposes and is it too late to move it up into the Top 10? Please? I’ve made a terrible mistake! I cannot, in good conscience, leave a song this stuffed with hooks, that’s this catchy, that’s this bouncy, and that’s this much goddamn fun out of a Top 10 Songs of the Year list. I can’t do it! It’s a miscarriage of justice! Listen to that zipping ping of the chiptune bouncing around the song, and Yukimi Nagano’s instantly recognisable voice extolling the giddy high of first love, and the club-ready movement that the song inspires! I’m properly bouncing along in my chair right now as I type these words, making unplanned gestures with my arms in the air like I do not care! Can there really be 10 songs from this year that were better than “Sweet?” I guess we’ll find out, but I’m just going to cue this up once more before then.
Tomorrow, we reveal the Top 10.