“These the Best Musi-” No, wait, that’s awful, don’t use that.
Welcome back, one and all, to the final part of my yearly countdown of the Top 50 Songs of the previous twelve months. On Monday, we covered numbers 50 to 31, which you can check out here. On Tuesday, we did the next 20, numbers 30 to 11, which you can also check out here. Today, we do the last 10 so you can all stop pretending like you care and we can get back to talking infrequently about movies.
10] St. Vincent
That chorus is a monster. A giant, all-powerful, world-conquering beast of a thing that sounds like the biggest thing going on in your life at the moment that you hear it. It’s passionate, it longs, it aches with loss, and it doesn’t even get a proper reprise on the (superior) album version because, after Annie lets slip a little too much emotion than her character intended during that last build, the song instead crashes into a minute and a half of drifting in the ether. Said drift also contains one of the album’s most devastating lyrical confessions – “I try to write you a love song/But it comes out a lament” – and runs as a beautiful counterpoint to the tightly-coiled, dramatic funk of the song’s first half. “Los Ageless” also just sounds amazing, from a pure production standpoint. The fuzz of the guitar constantly jutting into space, a cold and minimalist space that nevertheless feels full and busy, all allowing that chorus to kick even harder. It’s massive yet incredibly personal, the sound of real heartbreak spilling all over an artificial stage.
09] LCD Soundsystem
“how do you sleep?”
James Murphy could not have made this song seven years ago. LCD Soundsystem are far more earnest and heartfelt than their cynics would have you believe – I overheard two people dismissing them in a record shop the other month because they’re “not about anything” and I wanted to beat them around the face with their wrongness – but there was still a detachment and self-aware irony to even their most heartfelt songs (“We set controls for the heart of the sun/One of the ways we show our age”). No, James needed time, he needed distance, and he needed self-reflection if he was going to write something as raw and deeply personal as “how do you sleep?,” the deserved centrepiece of american dream. For almost 10 straight minutes, first over a cavernous void that eventually drops three separate times (each one more delirious than the last), James ethers ex-DFA co-head and former friend Tim Goldsworthy out of existence with not just direct blistering venom (“I miss the laughter/But not so much you”) but also the best song he has ever done. To borrow the words of one of LCD’s former contemporaries, dancing is the best revenge.
08] The Horrors
“Something to Remember Me By”
“Something to Remember Me By” is a better New Order song than anything New Order themselves have come up with in nearly three decades. V sees The Horrors stepping their game up to such an insane degree that I was sent scurrying back through their discography to make certain that this really is the same wildly-inconsistent band, but “Something to Remember Me By” somehow manages to make the rest of V look like amateur hour by comparison. It’s just absolutely beautiful, a tidal wave of emotion and grief and melancholy and catharsis barrelling out of whatever speakers it is playing from at 200MPH that somehow, even after it has released, keeps building to stratospheric heights that don’t let up until the very end, thanks to Paul Epworth’s production making everything sound massive. Farris Baldwin sings, instead of just pointing himself in the vague direction of a pitch and hoping things will work out, and he sounds amazing! This is an all-timer of a song, I swear; entire bands will be started because of this one song!
07] Charly Bliss
Have you found yourself wanting to hear a version of Weezer fronted by one of the Powerpuff Girls and without that whole Rivers Cuomo thing skeeving up every decent comeback out? Then may I, and apparently every other music critic on the planet (these guys broke through in a major way this year and it really could not be more deserved), introduce you to Charly Bliss and the perfect pop song? “Black Hole” has exactly two verses, both of which take turns also being the chorus, a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic as old as time, two solos that basically just copy the vocal melody with the overdrive pedal turned up to 11, and an unashamed Last Chorus Key Change! And it’s perfect. It’s just a perfect song, I don’t know what else I can say. You couldn’t change or improve it in any possible way, and when it is playing it sounds like the greatest song of all-time because maybe it is. Shit, have I put this too low? Well, Spotify playlists are too difficult to edit properly, so TOO LATE NOW!
Four years ago, Paramore penned “Still Into You,” an adorable joyous ode to remaining in love long after that first encounter, that never came off as immature or fantastical, because Hayley Williams is one of her generation’s best lyricists and I WILL fight people over this. This year, and (likely) inspired by her (now ex-)husband Chad Gilbert cheating on her whilst on the road, Williams and co. penned “Pool” about the moment that shine disappears entirely. It’s about the moment when you get deeply hurt and you shoulder on, not because of those butterflies from “Still Into You” (those are gone), but because you’ve put too much work into and are too used to this relationship to seriously consider an alternative. Even as its drowning you, even as its tearing you apart inside, and even as you wonder if it’s better to get it over with, “[you’ll] dive back in” in the hopes that, this time, “[he] won’t leave [you] sinking.”
05] Vince Staples
Big Fish Theory
If Kendrick Lamar was the king of the rap game in 2017, then Vince Staples was so close behind that it was practically a photo finish. Nobody else in the game is even close to these two at the moment – not for nothing that Kendrick was the only rapper to guest on Vince’s Big Fish Theory – and not even Kung Fu Kenny made a song as hard, as forceful, and as satisfying as “BagBak” these past twelve months. The techno production is fierce, effectively daring the listener to sit still throughout the frenzy, but it’s Vince’s lyrics that push the song over the top. Vince has become one of the finest political rappers in recent times, and here he goes in with blunt direct force over his anxieties of being gunned down by the police, America’s broken prison system, the overwhelming Whiteness of political representatives (“We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office/Obama ain’t enough for me, we only getting started”), before finally ordering the 1%, the government, and the President to “suck a dick/cos we on now!” That last one is one of the few stretches on the album where Vince raises his voice, and the intensity of his delivery makes it one of the most inspirational sentiments committed to record this year.
04] Wolf Alice
Visions of a Life
Are there better songs on Wolf Alice’s sophomore album? Yes. Yes, there are; it’s an album with “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” of course “Yuk Foo” isn’t the best song on the record! It’s puerile, vulgur, atonal and mean, and if it’s meant to be a Riot Grrrl noise wall throwback then why is Ellie Rowsell’s voice plonked on top of everything else instead of down and dirty in the mix, and why pick it as the lead single when it sounds like nothing else on the album? To which I respond: that’s the point. Visions of a Life is an album all about anxiety and insecurity, and “Yuk Foo” is the point where years of shit, burdens, expectations, and anxiety vomit themselves out in a furious, violent two-minute blast of pure unfocussed rage. All of them, every last thought, no matter how ill-conceived it may be upon reflection. It’s the desperate scream to be heard, to be acknowledged and respected, and the immediate catharsis that comes from finally just letting someone have it. Cathartic is how I feel every single time I listen to this song, getting swept up in the energy, sneer-laughing at the exact same time and the exact same way that Ellie does when she announces “Now I’m fucked/And that fucks you too,” and getting goosebumps at that last feedback delivery of “shit.” There were better songs on Visions of a Life, but none that I need more this year than this one.
03] Arcade Fire
I am still firmly aboard the Arcade Fire train, but, I will be frank, I am also so glad that Win Butler lunged for the “Break glass in case Régine Chassange needs to save the album” lever when Side B of Everything Now kicked off. “Electric Blue” isn’t just phenomenal because of it riding in after the dire stretch of “Chemistry” through to “Infinite_Content,” though. Chassange’s disco diva backing vocals turn out to be a secret weapon for Everything Now – she’s what manages to keep “Creature Comfort” firmly in the Jam pile as Win’s clumsy-as-hell lyrics threaten to send it veering off a cliff – so when Win finally cedes the floor to her for her first solo lead since “Sprawl II,” of course she kills it. Lyrically training its eye on failed romances and trying to find comfort in pop songs, Régine’s delivery makes her a heartbroken participant in the pain rather than a judgemental observer (WIN) and that leads to a song bruising with emotion that only becomes greater the higher her register climbs. She’s also working with a melody that’s catchy and pleasing even before it starts being repeated for the outro, and the mid-tempo funk Eurythmics take-off for the instrumentation grooves like it’s 2am on the dancefloor but you don’t want to go home because it would only remind you of what you’ve lost. Could Win let Régine sing lead on the vast majority of their next album, please?
02] The xx
I See You
Yes, those are horns. Yes, this is still The xx. Honestly, I wasn’t that shocked by that the first time I hit play on I See You. Jamie xx’s 2015 solo album, In Colour, was, for all intents and purposes, the third xx album, and what “Dangerous” does is establish that Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim are now going to deal with their anxieties, insecurities, and fears in the open instead of shutting themselves away like they had done before. “Dangerous” is still The xx – horns, bouncing club beats, and all – but this time, at least for four minutes, they’re ready to put themselves out there and tackle things head on. Every fibre of their being is telling them no, that it’s not safe, that they will get hurt, that everything will end in tears, but they don’t care, they’re going to try anyway, damn the consequences. The xx are my band, the band that best encapsulates me, that makes music seemingly solely for me based around my mental state at that time, and “Dangerous,” in addition to being an absolutely killer tune, was the kick in the pants I needed to face 2017. To meet the world head on, at least for a while, this tune was all I needed; to me, it had the power of a thousand “Eye of the Tiger”s or “We Will Rock You”s. Had my year been anything other than the absolute pits, it may have been #1, but don’t let the fact that it’s not diminish the achievement of “Dangerous.” It got me to feel hope. Me!
“Strobelite (Feat. Peven Everett)”
When I choose my Song of Whatever Year It Is, it’s never just as simple as which song is the best. If it were, then “Black Hole” would be up here and I’d be struggling to find more words to describe a perfect song. But it’s also not always the song I liked the most, either. If it were, then “Dangerous” would be taking its rightful place in this spot. Sometimes it could be because a song made me feel like no other did throughout the previous year, which is how David Bowie claimed top honours over The 1975 last year. If that were the only case, then “Yuk Foo” would be taking up this space. So you’d probably think it’s the song that I’ve listened to the most, which would make “Electric Blue” the winner. But then, by that metric, I’d also be making Everything Now the Album of the Year and, no matter how much I like everything else on it, I cannot in good conscience award Album of the Year to a record I am physically embarrassed by a full 10 minutes of.
Truth is that my Song of the Year comes down to an unknowable feeling of rightness. When it comes time to make these lists, I’ll whittle down the contenders, and almost as soon as I get my 50, I’ll just know for certain which one feels right and move it to the #1 slot, where it has always stayed since I started doing these lists. And as 2017 rumbled miserably and inexorably on, I slowly realised what my Song of the Year was going to be. Aside from “Electric Blue,” it was the song I played the most this year; aside from “Yuk Foo,” it was the song that made me feel the best whenever I heard it this year; aside from “Black Hole,” it was the best song I heard this year; and aside from “Dangerous,” it was the song I just plain liked the most this year. That song was “Strobelite.”
Gorillaz are my favourite band. Sometimes it switches for a brief period when the hot new flavour comes along to Arctic Monkeys or Kasabian or The Go! Team or The xx or LCD Soundsystem, but the title always comes back to Gorillaz. They were my first favourite band and, even despite hiatuses longer than some bands remain broken up for, they have never let me down when it comes to the music. And you can gripe all you want about the lack of 2D and of the virtual Gorillaz in general on “Strobelite,” but the song is just sensational and possibly my favourite thing they’ve ever done. Peven’s vocals are absolutely phenomenal, the funk is infectious, those sporadic pops kick harder than a lot of actual Rap beats, everything just sounds incredible, the hook is a jackhammer, and the lyrics – focussed on the anxiety of living in society in 2017, connected forever to the latest horrors via social media, the slow erosion of nuance in modern conversations, and the crushing weight of just trying to make it through to tomorrow with some kind of hope – summed up this year perfectly.
Those are the fancy reasons for why “Strobelite” is my Song of 2017. The real reason is that it just felt right.
Woo, we made it everybody! Good job! That was certainly a ride, wasn’t it? And, oh Christ, I’ve spent nearly 10,000 words on this venture, what am I doing with my life? Thanks for reading, if you have been reading! Why not share your own Favourite Songs of 2017 lists in the comments, if you have them? There was a metric fucktonne of music this year, so I’ll be more than happy to dive into stuff I may have missed!
And now, before we all move on: as promised, here is a Spotify playlist of all the songs, in case you’ve got three and a bit hours to kill or need a really weird New Year’s playlist!
Callie Petch’s heart engages into heartless throes.