As I've said many, many times in my self-indulgent roundups of the year in music, there's one main rule for these year-end charts: they must be completed by 11:59 PM on December 31st of the year in question, and thus they remain an honest snapshot of my feelings about the music released that year at that time. Mostly I keep saying this as an excuse for my lists' sometimes embarrassing missteps or omissions. This applies often to late-year releases like Arcade Fire's Funeral (only #10 that year!) that I didn't have enough of a chance to listen to before the deadline, but there are others I really should have figured out. For instance in 2012, Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" blew my mind with its haunting blend of eerie synth backdrops and lyrical inversion of the standard hip-hop party track, but I only put it at #10 on my list that year. In retrospect, I think it should have been #1.
It's easy not to make that mistake in 2017. DAMN. is the unquestioned critical favorite of the year, currently nearly 300 magic critic points ahead of Lorde on Album of the Year's 2017 aggregate chart. While Lamar is no stranger to critical acclaim, it's to me all the more impressive that he created this masterpiece not by diving deeper into the jazz-inflected complexity of To Pimp a Butterfly, but by honing in, focusing and clarifying. While Lamar admitted the album's working title was the ironically ambitious "What Happens On Earth Stays On Earth," the plain declaration of DAMN. is symbolic of the album's straightforward urgency, like its meme-ready cover art, perfect for our smartphone-swiping era.
The album invites you in with the sweetness of a lullaby, acapella voices and an understated backing track behind a quiet, unassuming story. But it wastes no time in shocking you out of your complacency with a single gunshot and a sickeningly pathetic, it-would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn't-so-awful sample of Fox News' The Five quoting his lyrics out of context. And then, bam, "DNA." drops on you like a thousand nuclear bombs. (More on that song below.)
From a production perspective, each track has a hypnotic lope that mixes Lamar's reverence for classic '60s and '70s soul with a confidence and immediacy, allowing the individual musical ideas to stand on their own. "YAH." seems to nod to J Dilla with its momentary trilling arpeggios and reversed tones, but unlike the late producer's famously "drunken" beats, there is nothing swervy or loose here. On the contrary, the beats march forward with purpose and precision, a perfect counterpoint to the lyrics' laid back sing-song, rendering their attack all the more devastating.
This focus doesn't disallow room for musical ambition. "XXX." swerves from dreamy psychedelia to sparse, radar-booping bassy trap to siren-wailing Public Enemy style atonality to a jazzy interlude featuring, well, U2, all in an awe-inspiring 4 minutes and 14 seconds. Like the famously earnest Irishmen, Lamar is grappling with the greatness and horrors of America here, effortlessly panning and zooming from the historic scale of the American flag "wrapped and dragged with explosives" to the all-too-fresh wound of watching Barack Obama be replaced with Donald fucking Trump. There's so much here, but it's not crowded or overwrought, just thrilling.
"PRIDE." pulls off a similarly mind-bending trick, reverting to the most basic and organic of backing tracks, an acoustic guitar and simple drum beat, while the lyrics are swallowed by electronic warping and weaving. There's a breath of psychedelia here as well, but again, executed with a clarity and care, almost minimalism, that lets the various Prince-like vocal multitracks shine: "I can't fake humble just cause your ass is insecure."
Of course it's the final track "DUCKWORTH." that exists as the grand finale to this story, a refocus on Lamar's own too-crazy-to-be-fiction origin story, a tale he's seemingly been waiting his whole life to tell, of a life (well, two lives) almost cut short before it began. Instead, through his father's generosity at a single instance, this life grew to epitomize the whole point of Lamar's work: even though we're trapped in our circumstances, inscribed inside us as strongly, even more strongly, than genetic code, a moment of truth and compassion can change history. Before he can finish his last word, the same gunshot from track one interrupts him and we rewind to the album's opening line, looped back to the beginning. Rather than a defeat or an admission of entrapment, this rewind feels like a celebration, a DJ's rewind in awe of the track he's just played: look at what we have accomplished and how lucky we are to be where fate has led us. For an album so steeped in the pain of history and the cursed injustices of the present moment, how inspiring that DAMN ends on a note of hope.
I have no memory of how I stumbled across Juana Molina's "Un Dia" back in 2008. I knew nothing about her, and her Spanish lyrics were inscrutable to me, but the track's quiet yet intense strangeness and almost Krautrock riff burrowed its way into my brain. I was reminded of one of my favorite movies (maybe my #1?), David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, whose inscrutability on first viewing was part of its charm, and despite not totally understanding what was going on, its emotional intensity washed over me like a flood. In 2013, her album Wed 21 landed at #10 on my year-end list; back then, I felt a little ostentatious comparing Molina's ability to create an irresistible earworm riff utilizing the oddest of time signatures and textures to the masters of the form Radiohead, but with this year's Halo she has more than fulfilled the grandiosity of that prediction.
It turns out that the Argentinian artist has long been a student, and pioneer, of entrancement: as a child of a tango musician and actress, she was encouraged to create, but her first musical efforts were endless, looping melodies she would repeat endlessly, an innocent hypnotic reverie. On launching a commercial career, she understandably restrained those instincts into more seemingly palatable forms, but eventually technology caught up with her in the form of a sampling loop station, and her mesmerizing tendencies were finally allowed to flourish.
While her previous albums, recorded in her isolated ranch house studio, evoked a strong sense of her native Argentina, she decamped to Arizona to record Halo, and there's a desert sparseness here, as if she has begun from a more truly blank canvas than ever before. My Spanish is still pretty useless, but it's clear immediately from the cover art that Halo is darker and more mysterious than her previous work, a bone staring intently at the viewer with almost accusatory eyes, invoking both ancient spirits of death and something, well, sort of Muppetty. There's a winking, teasing quality here alongside the eeriness: opener "Paraguaya" tiptoes in with a delicate, winking dance: minimal bass tones and staccato effects give are eventually joined by lamenting strings whose chords never quite resolve, and above it all Molina's own whispered, flanged voice, otherworldly.
While electronic elements are more central on Halo than any of her previous albums, the signature hypnotic guitar riffs are still here: "Sin Dones" delivers an irresistibly groovy single bar pattern that builds in tension until finally breaking into what can only be described as a real rock-out. Elsewhere, Molina seems to acknowledge non-Spanish speaking listeners like myself, with songs that eschew literal lyrical meaning, yet still utilizing her voice in myriad complex ways, from haunting "ahs" and "oohs" to childlike proto-language, like on "A00 B01" which joins a minimal, glassy and almost atonal synth loop with scat-like syllables.
Of course, just like in Mulholland Drive, there is deeper meaning here, if you're willing to look for it (or just run the lyrics through Google Translate). The album's title references a folk legend of a halo of light that floats over buried bones, and much of the album evokes the obscurely mythological, in stories that seem pulled from ancient fairy tales, their protagonists desperately calling on occult solutions to their problems, which inevitably, of course, come back to haunt them. In "Paraguaya," the narrator, infatuated, administers a love potion to the object of her affection, it works its magic, yet the falseness of the victim's emotion gnaws at the narrator until she is sickened by his love; she swallows the potion herself to rekindle the desire, only to lose him, and lives cursed, alone with her redoubled unrequited adoration. Other tracks paint more abstract, dreamlike pictures of regret and loss, poison apples and burning forests, lakes that wash away memory. It's an album that seems both out of time and utterly devoid of genre, a mythical counterpart to PJ Harvey's war-ravaged Let England Shake.
I had never seen Molina live until this year; planning to attend the 2017 Sonar festival in Barcelona, I was thrilled to find her name on the lineup, and on arrival, horrified to discover her set time was just before my one unmissable responsibility, a participation in a panel program. I set up for the panel, and then begged the moderator to allow me to run and catch as much of Molina as I could, promising I'd be back in time. I sprinted across the enormous venue in searing Spanish midday heat to see that much of the crowd had dispersed when the easily danceable beats of the previous performer had ended, but those that remained were captivated by her performance. While backed up by a few additional musicians, she was utterly the master of the proceedings, wielding her loop station like Reggie Watts, layering riffs and vocals on top of each other, the audience rapt with attention. I stayed until the last second I could and sprinted back to the panel, where I nearly died of heat exhaustion, but then had the most engaging and fulfilling discussions with creative spirits from around the world. It was a magical moment that felt partially engendered by the purity of the artistic vision I'd just witnessed. Halo may not be for everyone, but for those willing to venture across the desert into its unfamiliar territory and brave its haunting spirits, it is a profoundly rewarding journey.
James Murphy's one-man "band about a band about writing songs about writing songs" delivered its first dose of epic self-aware post-dance punk anxiety with "Losing My Edge" back in 2002, as (half of) a shell-shocked nation came to terms with the fallibility of American democracy and the daily assault on truth and language that was the George W. Bush administration. It seems fitting, urgent and necessary, then, that Murphy has abandoned his now-legendary retirement at this even more horrifying moment. American Dream has its moments of bitter history-aware #resistance, like the Trump-baiting "you're waking a monster that will drive you from your hoary holes of gold / And your body will get cold" on "call the police," but it's so much more than a protest album. Dream is a portrait of grief, regret, friendships ended and heroes we've all lost, and the anguish of feeling your artistic expression can never live up to that of your idols. It sure comes close though: "emotional haircut" soars with Joy Division-esque post-punk thrust, "other voices" nods to classic techno with its atonal synth line, and "oh baby" tick-tocks with the mechanical energy of Suicide. Final track "black screen" devotes 12 minutes of majestic, elegiac synth tones to eulogize David Bowie, and Murphy's awe at becoming his friend and collaborator for an all-to-brief moment is palpable, and heartbreaking. American Dream is something that once seemed impossible, but amazingly, when it arrived, it was even better than we could have hoped.
Kelly Lee Owens
Kelly Lee Owens
While the 27-year-old Welsh-born Londoner's debut full-length album revels in hypnotic dream pop, throbbing techno, and eerie drone, Owens has a sound all her own that feels like something very new. Her resume includes a stint as a bassist in a shoegaze band, and while there is no shortage of immersive soundscapes here, I actually might point to another section of her resume as more influential: her time as a nurse in Wales. This album is healing, in the broadest sense of that word, and the least cliche—this isn't a Hallmark card encouraging you to never give up, but a reminder of what we live for. Opener "S.O" basks in the thrill of love, the open-ended line "Didn't know it could be so..." lets you fill in the blank. "Keep Walking" feels like a hymn to the city, "Anxi." flirts with unease before returning to believe in "family and reality," and perhaps most quintessentially, "Cbm" delivers an irresistible techno pulse to revel in sensation: "the colors, the beauty, the motion." While Owens has in interviews separated the album into structured "songs" and dancefloor "tracks," they feel unified by one goal: an honest, sincere rejoicing in the majesty of sound, the glory of experience.
It's tempting to connect Jlin's music to her biography: a native of Gary, Indiana who once worked at a steel mill, the producer exemplified an industrial take on the Chicago-based hyperspeed footwork genre on her 2015 debut Dark Energy, symbolized by the chunk of smoking black rock on the stark cover. Black Origami, however, launches from these already auspicious beginnings into previously uncharted territory, a staggeringly intricate exploration of the nature of rhythm and its use throughout history. There are moments of melody: a brief major chord pattern from what sounds like a cheap retro synth opens the album as if inviting you in, but it is soon undercut by an atonal buzz, off-pitched strings and vocal snippets, swirling around in disorienting layers. Elsewhere, "Kyanite" nods to Middle Eastern tones and "Holy Child" offers brief clips of an operatic voice, but mostly this album is about the drums. And what drums: Jlin finds infinite variation in the triple-time rhythm, an ecstatic whirlwind of skittering, clattering percussion (it's telling that Aphex Twin was known to play her tracks during his recent DJ gigs). Another highlight of the Sonar conference in Barcelona was listening to the irrepressibly positive producer describe her creative process, answering a question about gloom in her work by saying "darkness isn't negative, it's creating from an uncomfortable place." Black Origami fearlessly explores a maze of darkness, forcing the listener to react to what is essential about rhythm itself, ultimately removing you from context, from preconceptions, something deeply uncomfortable but ultimately thrilling, and life-affirming.
Wow, was I a shoegaze nerd. It helped that peak shoegaze happened to coincide with a particularly fuzzy, drug-blurred moment in my life, when college opened up a vertiginous horizon of possibilities that we barely understood, and crappy weed helped take the edge off. Back then, though, my bands were Lush, Ride, Swervedriver, and of course My Bloody Valentine; for some reason I never quite connected with Slowdive at the moment. I have no excuses. So I admit to a lack of urgency in getting around to checking out their 2017 reunion, an unbelievable 22 years removed from their previous album. But the album seemed to stalk me: coffee shops, bars, Uber rides, I'd hear fleeting moments of hypnotic beauty, at times quickly Shazaming to remind myself who it was. Sure, I was familiar with the first single "Star Roving," but each new song I stumbled across stopped me in my tracks: "Slomo" with its Cocteau Twins-like lullaby, "Don't Know Why"'s soaring high notes, the regret-suffused "No Longer Making Time." Perhaps most affecting is the album's surprisingly straightforward centerpiece, "Sugar For the Pill," whose stripped-down tone reveals what a gifted band this really is, even without (too many) effects pedals, the lyrics, seemingly about a dissolving relationship, impressionistic and dreamlike. These decades-long breaks are becoming a thing, but I'm fascinated how each band approaches them differently: Portishead imposing restrictions on never using any old instruments, forcing a reinvention; My Bloody Valentine giving the impression they were just oblivious to the outside world's concept of time. Slowdive have done something simpler, more difficult in how effortless they've made it seem: they just made their next album.
It's kind of amazing that the year's most evocative and honest exploration of the loneliness inherent in contemporary smartphone-enabled (disabled?) romance has come from the artist whose writing credits—Nicki Minaj and Beyonce's "Feeling Myself," Rihanna's "Consideration"—are anthems of confidence and swagger. And it's instructive, I think, that this work comes from the land previously known as "R&B," a genre whose definition seems to finally be collapsing under the weight of its arbitrary racial framework. Opener "Supermodel" is a gritty guitar-driven rock song, "Doves in the Wind" chugs with a crunchy psychedelic loop, and "Prom" is claustrophobic synth pop. Each track wields sound irrespective of genre in service of the story, and what stories: secret homeboy banging, weekend man sharing, a grab for valium. As she admitted in an interview, this is some "grimy shit." While SZA has offered that the tales of infidelity, heartbreak and romantic failure are all autobiographical, it doesn't really matter, since these feelings are universal: profound self-doubt, desperation, wishing to be normal, whatever that is. The album almost didn't see the light of day (apparently due to some sort of label nonsense), and SZA herself never expected "Weekend," with its Timberlake sample, to be cleared for release. So watching her captivate America in December with that very song on Saturday Night Live was an unforgettable moment. Here's hoping she continues to rule in 2018.
Time Spent Away From U Lobster Fury
Throughout the history of, well, art, the names of "movements" or "genres" have been fraught with controversy, often invented by critics as insults, then railed against righteously by the artists themselves. "Impressionism" was initially meant to mock the artists' superficiality, and "hip hoppers" started as a joke on the music's left-right army cadence. So here we are in 2017, and "lo-fi house" is a thing, an understandable reaction to the sonic overload of EDM and meticulously engineered tech house played on perfectly-calibrated Function One sound systems. This new genre is distinguished not only by fuzzy distortion and thuddy, sub-neglecting kicks, but by artists with kind of silly names: DJ Boring, Ross From Friends, Mall Grab. DJ Seinfeld had himself previously only registered in my consciousness for a hilarious piece of vaporwave cover art, so needless to say I did not expect him to produce one of my favorite albums of the year, one whose tinkering with limited fidelity serves to elucidate a central theme of nostalgia and wistful melancholy. Vocal samples are wielded in a way that evokes Burial's seminal 2007 album Untrue, snippets of regret and heartbreak transmitted from faraway times and places. "Too Late For U and M1" embarks on a retro rave rhythm while the title phrase reverberates over and over; "Time Spent Away From U" loops a sorrowful piano melody, and "U Hold Me Without Touch" evokes the yearning and poignancy of DJ Shadow at his most forlorn. Final track, simply titled "U," features a melody that would crack the hardest heart, and then doubles down with a sample of Bob Geldof describing the overwhelming nature of grief and heartbreak. It was one of the most unexpectedly moving moments in music this year.
There's a constant drumbeat, here in Trump's America, of reactionary douchebag horror at the expanding visibility and understanding of queer and feminist sexual philosophies, with an implication that the purity of romance or lust itself is being destroyed in the process. But ironically, it's actually those of us losing sleep over Trumpism who feel like we just aren't in the mood these days. On Plunge, Swede Fever Ray fiercly reclaims fucking in the face of tyrrany, and throbbing, groovy beats in defiance of oppression. "To the Moon and Back" inhabits Ray's otherworldly persona with a sexy come-on, and "This Country" explicitly equates sexual and political liberation: "Gag me, awake my fighting spirit!" Who knows what the future will bring, but I hope in the coming years I can stay even half as furious—and horny—as Fever Ray.
AZD Ninja Tune
Last year, British producer Darren Cunningham, otherwise known as Actress, collaborated with the London Contemporary Orchestra on a piece for Boiler Room, and his 2017 album AZD seems to show the influences of that work, with dramatic strings and an overall greater clarity than his previous work. But what Actress creates still sounds like it was beamed over a static-distorted signal in the dead of night. "Runner" hisses and pops over its seductive, eerie groove, while "Dancing in the Smoke" (complete with Bizarre Inc. referencing sample) feels like a lost tape from the weirdest rave in 1992. "There's an Angel in the Shower" could almost soundtrack a show like "Stranger Things" if it wasn't so invested in retro camp, or a new "Blade Runner" that maybe wasn't quite so white. This is techno from an alternate universe, one I'm glad we can tune into.
11. Kelela - Take Me Apart (Warp) A who's who of contemporary electronic producers backs up the debut album by this DC-based singer/songwriter, and the result is a perfectly balanced mix of truly groundbreaking sounds and effortlessly accessible vocals.
12. This Is the Kit - Moonshine Freeze(Rough Trade) UK singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kate Stables has one of the most unique voices in contemporary alt-folk; her fourth album illustrates seemingly eternal mysteries with beguiling charm and the inventiveness of Stereolab.
13. The Blaze - Territory EP(Animal 66) In just 18 minutes and four proper songs, the mysterious French duo redefined emotive deep house, rendered inseparable from their awe-inspiring accompanying videos.
14. Perfume Genius - No Shape(Matador) A majestic, operatic achievement that remains delicate and even sweet in its approach to love, spirituality, and life.
15. Manik - Undergroundknowledge(Ovum)
Like a deep house version of David Holmes' seminal 1997 album Let's Get Killed, Undergroundknowledge is a cinema verite hymn to the history of New York City.
16. Sampha - Process(Young Turks) The UK singer's voice has graced some of the most hypnotic tracks of the last decade, from SBTRKT to Solange, and now his debut solo album reveals grace, control, and purity of emotion.
17. Yaeji - EPs (Godmode) One of the most auspicious new voices of the year, a young Korean-American producer weilding house and trap like she owns it.
18. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid(Western Vinyl) An incredibly ambitious and yet surprisingly accessible electronic panorama, describing nothing less than the entirety of a life.
19. Laurel Halo - Dust (Hyperdub) Uncategorizable experimental pop music, playful and unpredictable.
20. Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory(Def Jam) Staples tweeted this should be up for "Best Electronic Album," and with producers including Flume, Sophie and Jimmy Edgar, he has a point.
21. Big Thief - Capacity(Saddle Creek)
22. Tornado Wallace - Lonely PlanetRunning Back
23. Arca - ArcaXL
24. Little Dragon - Season HighLoma Vista
25. Tyler, The Creator - Flower BoyColumbia
26. DJ Python - Dulce CompaniaIncienso
27. Bicep - BicepNinja Tune
28. Syd - FinColumbia
29. Com Truise - IterationGhostly
30. Prostitutes - Dance TrackszDiagonal
31. Boliden - SurfacesSeagrave
32. Charlotte Gainsbourg - RestBecause
33. Joe Goddard - Electric LinesDomino
34. Toro y Moi - Boo BooCarpark
35. Mount Kimbie - Love What SurvivesWarp
36. Ride - Weather DiariesWichita
37. Tomas Barfod - PalomaFriends of Friends
38. Prins Thomas - Prins Thomas 5Prins Thomas Musikk
39. The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song MemoirNonesuch
40. Zavala - FantasmasFake Four
41. OG SENPAiii - [Headspace]Raund Haus
42. Migos - Culture300
43. Awa Poulo - Poulo WaraliAwesome Tapes from Africa
44. Ibibio Sound Machine - UyaiMerge
45. Jimpster - Silent StarsFreerange
46. The xx - I See YouYoung Turks
47. Amtrac - 1987 EP / True Value EPOPENERS
48. Kingdom - Tears in the ClubFade to Mind
49. Felix Leifur - In General EPDirt Crew
50. Brian Eno - ReflectionWarp
51. The National - Sleep Well Beast4AD
52. Jay-Z - 4:44Roc Nation
53. Kid Koala - Music to Draw ToArts & Crafts
54. Daniel Brandt - Eternal SomethingErased Tapes
55. nthing - It Never EndsLobster Theremin
56. Bing & Ruth - No Home of the Mind4ad
57. Tinariwen - ElwanAnti
58. Dungen - HaxanKemado
59. Bonobo - MigrationNinja Tune
60. Soft Error - MechanismVillage Green
61. Lee Gamble - Mnestic PressureHyperdub
62. Ryuichi Sakamoto - asyncKAB America
63. Amadou & Mariam - La ConfusionBecause
64. Thundercat - DrunkBrainfeeder
65. Spoon - Hot ThoughtsMatador
66. Rer Repeter - In Fine StyleBokeh
67. Teengirl Fantasy - 8:00 AMPlanet Mu
68. Kllo - BackwaterGhostly
69. Lowly - HebaBella Union
70. Justin Walter - Unseen Forceskranky
71. Geotic - AbysmaGhostly
72. Haramia Tapes - PfunkApollo Records
73. Blondes - WarmthR&S
74. Visible Cloaks - ReassemblageRVNG
75. Kauf - RegrowthOne Half
76. Swanox - Jokes About RainNot Not Fun
First of all, let's be clear that this is Murphy's most effective electro groove maybe since "I Can Change." For all their rep as bringing dance music to the rock party, much of the LCD output is either a bit slow ("Dance Yrself Clean") or fast ("North American Scum") to really slip into a party set, but coming in right at 121bpm, "tonite" is unstoppable, a two-bar bassline that's everything you need and nothing you don't. It's the solidity of this musical architecture that allows Murphy to confidently soar into one of his most death-defying lyrical high wire acts ever, dense with tricks and allusions, coming in at 483 (!) total words. Jumping right in, he wastes no time reminding us we're all gonna die, then twists to give thanks for that news since life, "it feels like forever." In inimitable LCD style, there's an irresistible build as vibrato tones swell and rise, and the lyrics veer blindingly from deleted internet profile pictures to wasted youth to the terrible people who will forever control our lives until taking a breath to admit, well, your self doubt and misery: that's all lies. It was the perfect response to the shitshow that was 2017, and an urgent reminder not to internalize the horror.
There was no more haunting hip hop loop this year: evocative of "Swimming Pools" in its perfectly balanced tension and yet 100% 2017, with its single-bar repetition and throbbing trap subs, and the lyrics a devastating rejoinder to the infuriating casual racism on display in the Geraldo Rivera sample, at once a diatribe against the willful misinterpretation of hip hop music in the media, a fiery reclamation of power, and a self-aware admission that this furious response in this art form is part of the trap: "I wish I was fed forgiveness." It's the mantra of many of us in the Trump era, a constant battle between the justified call to arms and the understanding that the war is itself the problem. But the pain and struggle we carry with us in our genes is also the key to our greatness.
The synergistic brilliance of this track joined with its video (also directed by the French duo) made me wonder why more musicians don't also make their own videos, but then I guess I realized immediately that's actually pretty hard, and my appreciation for the rarity of this accomplishment here only deepened. The song itself wields the simplest of deep house elements with perfect balance, and the vocals sound phoned in from a faraway land, pitched and filtered and with an unidentifiable accent, the words impressionistic and odd, like they were fed into Google Translate: "These people are my heroes / From distant sky / They light me up with flying clouds." The video elucidates the themes of homecoming, returning to traditions and at the same time rebelling against them, somehow making this territory your own again.
"Mask Off" is based on a magnificent flute loop I could listen to for days, apparently lifted from a 1970s movie about Martin Luther King, or maybe it was Grover was played it. Either way it's mesmerizing, and Future responds to it by spitting short, impressionistic staccato phrases that balance the languid sample with some bouncing propulsion, although that propulsion may be a billion teenagers chanting, "molly, percocets."
This Is the Kit
I first heard "Freeze" on a random segment on National Public Radio, where different hosts were asked to present their favorite song of the moment. Of "Moonshine Freeze," World Cafe's Talia Schlanger said her first thought on hearing it was "can I take a bath in this?" That's how hypnotic and enveloping the Krautrock-evoking backing track is, you just want to live there forever. It's incredibly restrained yet expertly detailed (assisted by The National's Aaron Dessner on production) and on top of it all are some incredibly complex vocal moves, with odd turns of meter that almost never match up with the groove but feel totally natural nonetheless. They're singing something almost mystical about triangles, the onset of change, grand cycles and "the natural order of things," and I'm not sure I have any idea what it means, but when those horns come in at the end, wow.
Camelphat & Elderbrook
Okay, I'll admit a bit of trepidation about this one here, what with the recent controversial revelation that the song's seemingly inscrutable lyrics might actually be about slipping someone a roofie. Erp, maybe not the best timing, if that's true, Elderbrook? I'm withholding judgment, since this track was the unrivaled club champion of the year, made all the more impressive since, especially in the dance music business where churning out track after track of EDM-by-numbers is so dominant, "Cola" was made with zero expectations, and its success was a shock to everyone involved. But there's something inherently irresistible in its quiet, subtle builds, the spooky pads, the triple-time buzzing synth tones, and the singalong "bum bum bums." There wasn't a track I played or heard more out this year, and every time it felt like it started the party. (Note: terrible video *not* embedded above, and I seem to remember Camephat's "Constellation" also had a terrible video I refused to embed--let's step it up in the video department Camel pals)
Emerging just a few days into 2017, "Star Roving" totally blindsided me, a mature return to form for the long lost shoegazers which seemed to incorporate the not only the best of their own work but also the more recent developments of fellow fuzzy rock enthusiasts like Ride and My Bloody Valentine. The track balances sturdiness—a double-time rhythm and clarion call guitar line—with the hypnotic rapture of Neil Halsted's vocals. An expansive, cinematic five and a half minutes that reaffirmed what shoegaze could accomplish, and more.
"Theme From Q"
An unassuming bit of, well, breaks, with a sheen of jaunty garage, not exactly the sound of 2017, but the Berlin-based DJ de- and reconstructs the track throughout its seven minutes, tossing in atonal whines, bass warbles, and even, out of nowhere, a bit of Seinfeldian slap bass. Despite sounding not much like anything else this year, it managed to move dancefloors around the world, apparently becoming the hit of the summer in Ibiza, since it happens to balance both a propulsive energy and an easy, loping 123bpm tempo, perfect, I'm assuming, for beachside dance parties. I could use one of those right now. By the way, talk about a track that took off unexpectedly: this is actually the B-side.
"drink i'm sippin on"
An understated reinterpretation of bassy, skittery trap and hip hop production, joined by the hypnotic deadpan vocals of this young New Yorker, effortlessly switching between Korean and English. The track embodies a worldliness that seems especially of the moment, with K-Pop and other multilingual efforts breaking into the American pop charts like never before. "Drink" is a bit too weird and languid for the radio, however, inverting the typical pop/hip hop celebration of getting wasted: the drink she's sipping on is being herself.
Amadou & Mariam
The Malian duo are known for their intricate, melancholic guitar-driven sound; all the more amazing that they succeed so effortlessly at '80s-inflected electropop with a pure, summery joy, and even some robot singing. It evokes the recent re-release of Umoja's funky "707," 30 years after it was produced, and sounding fresher than ever.
11. SZA - "Love Galore" A perfectly formed short story that sets the stage for SZA's album of brutally honest revelations. Plus, that little pop sound!
12. Ride "Charm Assault" The other shoegazers who returned this year, with a blast of straight ahead rock 'n' roll, complete with head banging meter changes and the chiming guitar lines I can't believe I lived without for so many years.
13. Sampha "No One Knows Me Like the Piano" Perhaps the most straightforwardly beautiful three minutes of popular music this year, and for any of us who spent hours plinking away on their mother's piano, utterly heartrending.
14. Actress "RUNNER" Broadcasting live from Jupiter, it's interstellar pirate radio techno, get on your anti-gravity boots.
15. Kelela "LMK" Warped pop music that would have been a #1 hit in a just world.
16. The Black Madonna "He Is the Voice I Hear" Epic, orchestral disco, a tribute to the origins of house music (and an early sign, coming out as it did in January, that the Black Madonna would own 2017).
17. Kendrick Lamar "HUMBLE." The sinister piano line, instantly recognizable wherever it was heard in 2017, and it was heard a lot, but it never got old.
18. Tune-Yards "Look at Your Hands" Initially, plays as a groovy bit of silly nonsense, until you realize what we hold in our hands defines our inequality.
19. The xx "On Hold (Jamie xx remix)" Elevating the original to ecstatic new heights, complete with additional, stricken vocals: "I thought that you'd come back to me."
20. Jay-Z "The Story of OJ" Deliberately challenging, even disturbing, sampling a 1966 Nina Simone song about slavery, witnessing to how far we have--and have not--come.
21. Bjork "The Gate"
22. Fever Ray "To The Moon and Back"
23. Unit 2 "Sunshine (KiNK Remix)"
24. LCD Soundsystem "call the police"
25. SZA "Doves in the Wind"
26. Thundercat "Show You the Way"
27. Lorde "Green Light"
28. Toro y Moi "Mirage"
29. Don Rimini "Planet Earth"
30. Grandaddy "Evermore"
31. Flume "Hyperreal"
32. Little Dragon "High"
33. Lil Uzi Vert "XO Tour Lif3"
34. Bicep "Glue"
35. Stormzy "Big For Your Boots"
36. Vessels "Radiart"
37. Burial "Rodent"
38. Perfume Genius "Slip Away"
39. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma "Song of Summer"
40. Octo Octa "Adrift (Avalon Emerson's Furiously Awake Version"
41. Goldfrapp "Anymore"
42. Lone "Crush Mood"
43. Georgia "Feel It"
44. Yaeji "Raingurl"
45. Amtrac "Piano Boy"
46. Geotic "Actually Smiling"
47. Puzzle "Dice"
48. Actress "X22RME"
49. Little Dragon "Sweet"
50. Jlin "Nyakinuya Rise"
51. Joe Goddard "Home"
52. Beck "Dear Life"
53. Dusky "Cold Heart"
54. Kauf "Let Slide"
55. Charlotte Gainsbourg "Deadly Valentine"
56. Jimpster "Where You Are"
57. DJ Seinfeld "U"
58. Ibeyi "Deathless"
59. Vince Staples "Big Fish"
60. Migos "T-Shirt"
61. Calvin Harris "Slide"
62. Pote "Verz"
63. Fisher "Ya Kidding"
1. David Bowie - Blackstar
2. Kaytranada - 99.9%
3. Leon Vynehall - Rojus (Designed to Dance)
4. Solange - A Seat at the Table
5. A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service
6. Jessy Lanza - Oh No
7. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
8. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
9. Ian William Craig - Centres
10. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
1. Drake - One Dance
2. Solange - Don't Touch My Hair
3. Kanye West - Ultralight Beam
4. David Bowie - Lazarus
5. Leon Vynehall - Midnight on Rainbow Road (Beat Edit) / Blush
6. Beyonce - Formation
7. ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me
8. A Tribe Called Quest - We the People...
9. Jenny Hval - Conceptual Romance
10. Kaytranada - LITE SPOTS
1. Jamie xx - In Colour
2. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
3. Tame Impala - Currents
4. George FitzGerald - Fading Love
5. Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa
6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
7. Floating Points - Eleania
8. Bob Moses - Days Gone By
9. Grimes - Art Angels
10. Hunee - Hunch Music
1. Tame Impala - Let It Happen
2. Jamie xx - I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)
3. Grimes - Flesh Without Blood
4. Kendrick Lamar - Alright
5. Drake - Hotline Bling
6. Jamie xx - Loud Places
7. Camelphat - Constellations
8. Death Cab for Cutie - Black Sun
9. Panda Bear - Boys Latin
10. Linstrom - Home Tonight
1. Caribou - Our Love
2. FKA Twigs - LP1
3. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2
4. Todd Terje - It's Album Time
5. Beck - Morning Phase
6. Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband
7. Perfume Genius - Too Bright
8. Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers
9. Leon Vynehall - Music for the Uninvited
10. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!
1. Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You)
2. Caribou - Can't Do Without You
3. FKA Twigs - Two Weeks
4. tUnE-yArDs - Water Fountain
5. Run the Jewels - Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)
6. Little Dragon - Klapp Klapp
7. Caribou - Our Love
8. Tove Lo - Habits (Stay High)
9. iLoveMakonnen - Tuesday
10. Todd Terje - Delorean Dynamite
1. Kanye West - Yeezus
2. My Bloody Valentine - m b v
3. Disclosure - Settle
4. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
6. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
7. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
8. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
9. Special Request - Soul Music
10. Juana Molina - Wed 21
1. Daft Punk - Get Lucky
2. Kanye West - Black Skinhead
3. The National - Sea of Love
4. Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home
5. Sophie - Bipp
6. Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge - White Noise
7. [tie] David Bowie - Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Remix by James Murphy)
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
8. Kanye West - New Slaves
9. Chris Malinchak - So Good to Me
10. DJ Rashad - I Don't Give a Fuck
1. Tame Impala - Lonerism
2. Com Truise - In Decay
3. Grimes - Visions
4. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
5. Beach House - In Bloom
6. Chromatics - Kill for Love
7. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - Trouble
8. Allah-Las - S/T
9. Hot Chip - In Our Heads
10. Jon Talabot - fin
1. Grimes - Oblivion
2. Nas - The Don
3. Bear in Heaven - Sinful Nature
4. Julio Bashmore - Au Seve
5. Hot Chip - Motion Sickness
6. Actress - Caves of Paradise
7. Santigold - Disparate Youth
8. Tame Impala - Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
9. Disclosure - Latch
10. Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools (Drank)
1. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
2. Little Dragon - Ritual Union
3. Com Truise - Galactic Melt
4. TV On the Radio - Nine Types of Light 5. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
6. Tycho - Dive
7. Low - C'mon
8. SBTRKT - S/T
9. Machinedrum - Room(S)
10. The Field - Looping State of Mind
1. Gil Scott Heron & Jamie xx - I'll Take Care of You
2. PJ Harvey - Words that Maketh Murder
3. Lil Wayne - Six Foot Seven Foot
4. Julio Bashmore - Battle for Middle You
5. The Drums - Money
6. James Blake - Limit to Your Love
7. M83 - Midnight City
8. SBTRKT - Wildfire
9. Washed Out - Amor Fati
10. Jay-Z & Kanye West - N****s in Paris
1. KANYE WEST - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
2. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - This Is Happening
3. THE NATIONAL - High Violet
4. CARIBOU - Swim
5. TAME IMPALA - InnerSpeaker
6. VAMPIRE WEEKEND - Contra
7. BONOBO - Black Sands
8. ARCADE FIRE - The Suburbs
9. HOT CHIP - One Life Stand
10. GORILLAS - Plastic Beach
1. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - Dance Yrself Clean
2. BIG BOI - Shutterbug
3. KANYE WEST - Power
4. ARCADE FIRE - The Suburbs
5. MAGNETIC MAN -
I Need Air
6. GORILLAZ - Stylo
7. TENSNAKE - Coma Cat
8. ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI - Round and Round
9. JANELLE MONAE - Tightrope
10. CARIBOU - Odessa
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – Merriweather Post Pavillion
2. THE XX – S/T
3. FLAMING LIPS – Embryonic
4. BIBIO– Ambivalence Avenue 5. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART– S/T 6. BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW- Eating Us 7. BLOCKHEAD – The Music Scene 8. MOS DEF – The Ecstatic 9. BAT FOR LASHES – Two Suns 10. LITTLE DRAGON – Machine Dreams
1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – "My Girls"
2. PHOENIX –"1901"
3. MAJOR LAZER – "Pon De Floor"
4. GRIZZLY BEAR –"Two Weeks" 5. JOY ORBISON – "Hyph Mngo" 6. MIIKE SNOW - "Animal (Fake Blood remix) 7. BAT FOR LASHES – "Daniel" 8. LA ROUX– "In For the Kill" (Skream) 9. MASSIVE ATTACK – "Psyche (Flash Treatment) 10. JAY-Z – "Empire State of Mind"
1. PORTISHEAD – Third
2. TV ON THE RADIO – Dear Science
3. LIL WAYNE – Tha Carter III
4. M83– Saturdays = Youth 5. HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR – S/T 6. THE VERY BEST -Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit Are the Very Best 7. SANTOGOLD – S/T / SANTOGOLD VS. DIPLO – Top Ranking 8. FLYING LOTUS – Los Angeles 9. BEACH HOUSE – Devotion 10. KANYE WEST – 808s and Heartbreak
1. SANTOGOLD "L.E.S. Artistes"
2. LIL WAYNE "A Milli"
3. MGMT "Time to Pretend"
4. GLASVEGAS "Geraldine"
5. FAKE BLOOD "Mars"
6. KANYE WEST "Love Lockdown"
7. VAMPIRE WEEKEND "A-Punk"
8. DJ MUJAVA "Township Funk"
9. PORTISHEAD "Machine Gun"
10. CUT COPY "Hearts on Fire"
1. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM Sound of Silver
2. RADIOHEAD In Rainbows
3. M.I.A. Kala
4. LIL WAYNE –Da Drought 3 / The Carter III 5. OF MONTREAL – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? 6. KANYE WEST -Graduation 7. BLONDE REDHEAD – 23 8. JAY-Z – American Gangster 9. CARIBOU – Andorra 10. GUI BORATTO – Chromophobia
1. Rihanna – "Umbrella"
2. LCD Soundsystem – "All My Friends" / "Someone Great"
3. Battles – "Atlas"
4. M.I.A. – "Boyz"
5. Kanye West feat T-Pain – "Good Life"
6. UGK feat. Outkast – "Int'l Players Anthem"
7. Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"
8. Timbaland feat. Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake – "Give It To Me"
9. Justice – "D.A.N.C.E."
10. Dude N Nem – "Watch My Feet"
1. J DILLA Donuts
2. TV ON THE RADIO Return to Cookie Mountain
3. SONIC YOUTH Rather Ripped
4. BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT S/T
5. GNARLS BARKLEY St. Elsewhere
6. THOM YORKE The Eraser
7. THE FLAMING LIPS At War With the Mystics
8. GHOSTFACE KILLAH Fishscale
9. YEAH YEAH YEAHS Show Your Bones
10. THE KNIFE Silent Shout
1. GNARLS BARKLEY "Crazy"
2. HOT CHIP "Over and Over" 3. NELLY FURTADOw/ TIMBALAND "Promiscuous" 4. CHRISTINA AGUILERA "Ain't No Other Man" 5. SILVERSUN PICKUPS "Lazy Eye" 6. THE FLAMING LIPS "The W.A.N.D." 7. RIHANNA "SOS" 8. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE "My Love" 9. JUNIOR BOYS "In the Morning" 10. THOM YORKE "Black Swan"
1. M.I.A. Arular 2. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS Twin Cinema 3. BLOC PARTY Silent Alarm 4. BECK Guero 5. ENGINEERS S/T 6. KANYE WESTLate Registration 7. TOM VEK We Have Sound 8. VITALIC OK Cowboy 9. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM S/T 10. DANGER DOOM The Mouse and the Mask SINGLES
1. GORILLAZ "Feel Good Inc."
2. (Tie) KANYE WEST "Gold Digger" / The Legendary K.O. "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People"
3. M.I.A. "Bucky Done Gun"
4. AMERIE "1 Thing"
5. TOM VEK "C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)"
6. DAVID BANNER "Play"
7. CIARA feat. LUDACRIS "Oh"
8. LADY SOVEREIGN "Random"
9. PAUL WALL feat. BIG POKEY "Sittin' Sideways"
10. KELLY CLARKSON "Since You Been Gone
1. BLONDE REDHEAD
Misery is a Butterfly 2. FRANZ FERDINAND S/T 3. KOMEDA Kokomemedada 4. AUTOLUXFuture Perfect 5. DANGER MOUSE The Grey Album 6. AIR Talkie Walkie 7. THE STREETSA Grand Don't Come for Free 8. TV ON THE RADIO Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes 9. DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979You're a Woman, I'm a Machine 10. ARCADE FIRE Funeral
1. FRANZ FERDINAND "Take Me Out" 2. JAY-Z "99 Problems" 3. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM "Yeah" 4. NINA SKY "Move Your Body" 5. M.I.A. "Galang" 6. TV ON THE RADIO "Staring at the Sun" 7. SNOOP DOGG FEAT. PHARRELL "Drop it Like It's Hot" 8. FAITHLESS "Mass Destruction" 9. ELTRO "Motorboat" 10. ERIC PRYDZ "Call on Me"
1. THE WHITE STRIPES Elephant 2. NADA SURF Let Go 3. DIZZEE RASCAL Boy In Da Corner 4. THE RAVEONETTESChain Gang of Love 5. RADIOHEAD Hail to the Thief 6. LUNGFISH Love is Love 7. SOFT PINK TRUTHDo You Party? 8. YEAH YEAH YEAHSFever to Tell 9. HIDDEN CAMERASThe Smell of Our Own 10. THE STROKES Room on Fire
1. OUTKAST "Hey Ya" 2. THE WHITE STRIPES "7 Nation Army" 3. 50 CENT "In Da Club" 4. PANJABI MC "Beware of the Boys (Mundian to Bach Ke)" 5. THE CURE VS BJORK "Hidden Forest" (GordyBoy bootleg) 6. JUNIOR SENIOR "Move Your Feet" 7. LUMIDEE "Never Leave" 8. ELECTRIC SIX "Danger! High Voltage" 9. ADAM FREELAND VS. NIRVANA "Smells Like Freeland" 10. BEYONCE "Crazy In Love"
1. THE STREETS Original Pirate Material 2. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE Songs for the Deaf 3. INTERPOL Turn on the Bright Lights 4. 2MANYDJS As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 5. DOVES Last Broadcast 6. SLEATER-KINNEY The New Beat 7. COLDPLAY A Rush of Blood to the Head 8. WILCO Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 9. DJ SHADOW The Private Press 10. FELIX DA HOUSECAT Kittenz and Thee Glitz
1. THE WHITE STRIPES "Fell in Love with a Girl" 2. FISCHER SPOONER "Emerge" 3. MISSY ELLIOTT "Work It" 4. EMINEM "Without Me" 5. THE STROKES VS. CHRISTINA AGUILERA "Stroke of Genie-us" (Freelance Hellraiser bootleg) 6. THE HIVES "Hate to Say I Told You So" 7. KHIA "My Neck My Back" 8. KYLIE MINOGUE "Can't Get Blue Monday Out of My Head" 9. NELLY "Hot In Herre" 10. YEAH YEAH YEAHS "Bang"
1. LowThings We Lost in the Fire 2. Spiritualized Let It Come Down 3. The Strokes Is This It 4. Beta BandHot Shots II 5. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club S/T 6. New Order Get Ready 7. Richie Hawtin DE9: Close to the Edit 8. RadioheadAmnesiac 9. Basement JaxxRooty 10. The White StripesWhite Blood Cells
1. Missy Elliott - Get Ur Freak On 2. Gorillaz - 19-2000 3. System of a Down - Chop Suey 4. Nelly - Ride Wit Me 4. (tie!) Jay-Z - Izzo (HOVA) 5. Groove Armada - Superstylin' 6. Madonna - Don't Tell Me 7. The Faint - Agenda Suicide 8. Tool - Schism 9. Weezer - Island in the Sun 10. Utada Hikaru - Traveling
ALBUMS 1. GRANDADDYThe Sophtware Slump 2. RADIOHEADKid A 3. GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR! Levez vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven! 4. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGERated R 5. PRIMAL SCREAM XTRMNTR 6. DOVESLost Souls 7. AT THE DRIVE INRelationship of Command 8. EMINEM Marshall Mathers LP 9. YO LA TENGOAnd Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out 10. OUTKAST Stankonia
1. Zombie Nation "Kernkraft 400" 2. Aaliyah "Try Again" 3. Madonna "Music" 4. Queens of the Stone Age "Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" 5. Armand van Helden "Koochy" 6. Azzido Da Bass "Dooms Night" 7. Storm "Time to Burn" 8. Belle & Sebastian "Legal Man" 9. A Perfect Circle "Judith" 10. Detroit Grand Pubahs "Sandwiches"
1. The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs
2. Sleater-Kinney The Hot Rock 3. MobyPlay 4. Death in Vegas The Contino Sessions 5. Low Secret Name 6. Queens of the Stone AgeS/T 7. Built to SpillKeep It Like a Secret 8. Godspeed You Black Emperor!Slow Riot for New Zero Canada 9. Royal TruxVeterans of Disorder 10. UnderworldBeaucoup Fish SINGLES
1. Ginuwine "What's So Different" 2. Underworld "King of Snake" 3. TLC "Silly Ho" 4. Basement Jaxx "Rendez-Vous" 5. Aphex Twin "Windowlicker" 6. The Roots w/ Erikah Badu "You Got Me" 7. 702 "Where my Girls At " 8. Len "Steal My Sunshine" 9. ODB "Gimme My Money" 10. Moby "Bodyrock"
1998 - LOST :(
1. Spiritualized Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space 2. Built to Spill Perfect from Now On 3. Pavement Brighten the Corners 4. The Chemical Brothers Dig Your Own Hole 5. Yo La Tengo I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One 6. Radiohead OK Computer 7. Primal Scream Vanishing Point 8. Roni Size Reprazent New Forms 9. Fatboy Slim Better Living Through Chemistry 10. Dandy Warhols The Dandy Warhols Come Down SINGLES
1. The Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" 2. Blur "Song 2" 3. Roni Size / Reprazent "Share the Fall" 4. Fatboy Slim / Pierre Henry "Psyche Rock" 5. Cornershop "Brimful of Asha" 6. Oasis "D'You Know What I Mean" 7. Dandy Warhols "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" 8. Gus Gus "Believe" 9. Notorius B.I.G. "Hypnotize" 10. Bjork "Joga"
Why yes, all these are charts were made
at the end of each calendar year and have
not been changed since, despite possible
changes of opinion.