I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard some truly incredible music this year. So it’s almost inevitable that we all come out with our ‘best of’ lists. That said, curating a list of the best tracks from records released this year is a daunting proposition. Of course, I am not going to listen to everything released this year. That would be insane! However I’d like to think I’ve come across a significant portion of interesting material released in 2017. I’ve chosen here 15 tracks that are simply a snapshot of my eclectic love and taste in music this year. Enjoy!
Julie Byrne – “Sleepwalker”.
I stumbled across almost by accident very early on this year the album Not Even Happiness. From it comes Julie Byrne’s Sleepwalker, a song that captures Byrne’s infectious husky voices and the raw brilliance of her acoustic guitar. Much of the album is the same, rich with indie folk sensibility and tingled with reverberate sounds (return or re-echo of sound), but the sleepy intimate Sleepwalker speaks most to me, especially Byrne’s finger-picking adeptness. Interestingly, there is no chorus, which compels you to really listen to her lyrics. Byrne’s sings, “I travelled only in service of my dreams/ I stood before them all a sleepwalker,” a song in essence about her time travelling constantly and living on the road in the past few years. But it is also according to Byrne’s observations, a strange ode to love about how even though she searches for love and fulfillment, it basically isn’t the solution she seeks.
Ty Segall – “Break A Guitar”.
Ty Segall breaks most rules when it come to recording. He isn’t afraid to record whatever he likes, whenever he likes (an album a year, for decade so far) which always keeps fans guessing what style of garage-punk-psychdelic-rock now fancies his mood. His current self-titled album may be an overreaching example of what he does best, especially on his epic Warm Hands (Freedom Returned) or Orange Color Queen. But for me the opener Break A Guitar spells disaster in good way. Of course, there isn’t really anything truly profound about this song, just maybe a sense of indulgence or satisfaction of Segall own desire to unleash a power-chord apocalyptic anthem. Oh yeah, and break or blow to pieces a lot of guitars!
Hurray For The Riff Raff – “Hungry Ghost”.
Hungry Ghost is a song that almost comes out of left field on Hurray For The Riff Raff’s album The Navigator. It’s a danceable three-minute gem with synth lines (notably drums and bass guitar) that expand beyond Alynda Segarra’s folk/country/ blues sound. In concept, Hungry Ghost, like the rest of the album, deals with frontwoman, Alynda Segarra’s, own experiences growing up as a kid and the things that now trouble her about America. (Throughout the album she explicitly speaks out about things like ethnicity, race and sexuality.) In short, Hungry Ghost is truly a coming-of-age song that Segarra sings with gritted determination, “I’ve been a lonely girl / But I’m ready for the world.”
Skating Polly – “Hail Mary”.
Skating Polly, the stepsister duo of Kelli Mayo, 17, and Peyton Bighorse, 21, are a band that continues to gain traction in indie circles with their raw and rough 90’s inspired alternative rock leanings. So it didn’t come to me as a surprise, when earlier this year I heard that Skating Polly had teamed up with 90’s alt-rockers, Nina Gordon and Louise Post of Veruca Salt, one of my favourite bands of all time. Sure, some of the success of Skating Polly’s EP New Tricks, which contains three songs – Louder in Outer Space, Hail Mary and Black Sky – can be attributed to Gordon and Post prowess at recognising a good melody and bass of a song, that slowly builds with guitar layers reminiscent of their own work, but the rest is pure Skating Polly with their unfashionable approach to songwriting. The result is a number of cool songs, especially Hail Mary, which is according to Mayo and Bighorse, “about being addicted to poisonous people”.
Lorde – “Homemade Dynamite”.
With some of interesting synth sounds and her ability to stay true to her minimalistic strengths, Lorde wrote Homemade Dynamite, a track that almost feels out of place on Melodrama. The opening verse without a doubt sets the mood for a fun and reckless song that it builds up to be. “A couple rebel top gun pilots/ Flyin’ with nowhere to be, oh/ Don’t know you super well/ But I think that you might be the same as me/ Behave abnormally.” Interestingly Lorde said earlier this year of Homemade Dynamite that, “Sometimes it is just about having your arms around your friend’s shoulders and being drunk and being into the same song.” I quite like that explanation of celebrating, truly engrossed in the moment, which is probably why I really love this song, particular her black humour and that one amazing line in the song, where she simulates her heart exploding like dynamite, “Now you know it’s really gonna blow/ Poooof!”
Ed Sheehan -“Shape Of You”.
It’s difficult not to escape the infectious sound and personable lyrics of Ed Sheeran, especially given that at one point during the release of Divide, he set the record of most concurrent songs on Billboard and other charts around the world. That said, I have to admit I am unashamedly an Ed Sheeran fan, not a huge one, but a fan nonetheless. While, his song Perfect at present has grabbed our attention, it was Shape Of You that made me buy my first Ed Sheeran album. Why do I think it is one of the best songs of the year? Because, unlike Perfect, which is heartwarming and thoughtful, Shape Of You is arguably far from what we would come to expect from Ed Sheeran.
Lana Del Rey – “Love”.
With enough standout material on Lana Del Rey’s latest album, I find myself spoilt for choices to single out just one song that defines Lust For Life. But when push comes to shove, I must admit I am still utterly mesmerized by her first single Love that was unveiled prior to the release of the album some ten months ago. “You get ready, you get all dressed up/ To go nowhere in particular/ Back to work or the coffee shop/ Doesn’t matter ‘cause it’s enough/ To be young and in love”, Del Rey croons on the album’s most anthemic track, letting herself feel and her heart whoop for joy for once. Love is definitely a far cry from some of her creepiest tracks, like Off To The Races or Born To Die, which were songs that she made for herself and arguably a reflection of where she was at in her life. Love is for all intents and purposes a song that I feel Del Rey pretty much wants us to know she is ok. But it is also her attempt to reaffirm her belief in nostalgia, youth and the future.
St. Vincent – “Los Ageless”.
Annie Clark has elevated her status as a postmodern goddess with her fifth album Masseduction this year. She succeeds in spades in releasing her “deepest, boldest work yet”. Masseduction is intimate and raw and cuts straight to the point about much of her state of mind lately. Like any good saga or personal crusade, Clark bares her soul on this album, especially on New York where she languishes for “the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me.” But New York is only one of many tantalising tracks that is layered with amazing synth lines and her signature guitar sound. I really do struggle to single out simply just one standout, when the entire album could easily feature on this ‘best of’ list. Be that as it may, I am going to nominate Los Ageless as one of the most incredible songs of this year. It is I believe a direct swipe at the ugly side of LA and what women must do to be beautiful at all cost. Clark’s clever protest in the chorus of Los Ageless “How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose your mind, too?” pretty much sums it up!
Wolf Alice – “Yuk Foo”.
They seriously must be doing something right in the UK because someone forget to Wolf Alice that rock is supposed to be dead. Wolf Alice is the incarnation of almost everything that is great about 90’s alternative/punk/indie rock. They indulge in its excesses but make it their own, but at the same time are quite self-assured to jump from one genre to the next as it suits them. There is so much to like about their sophomore album Visions Of A Life, but if anything was to signal their fiery return in 2017, it was Yuk Foo, a blistering punk song, only two minutes in length, with a daring angry Ellie Roswell screaming her lungs out with such hate and contempt. It was not the lead single I expected to hear ahead of their album launch, but helped set the tone what I love about these Londoners, especially their unapologetic guitar-driven vehemence.
Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times”.
Let’s set the record straight here first. I have never been a One Direction or Harry Styles fan and I don’t see that ever happening in the near future. Period! But what I like about Sign Of The Times is its otherworldly sound and melancholic sentiment. The best review I read described it something along the lines of it being an apocalyptic power ballad. It is definitely epic, a little too repetitive for my liking, but nonetheless Bowie-esque! Furthermore, it is such a fitting song that suits this shitty world we currently live in. From the sick epidemic culture of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment of women, war and dislocation of tens of thousands of refugees, to the rise and surge of geopolitics to the right, this is a year that I would happily like to see put behind me.
Foo Fighters – “The Sky Is A Neighbourhood”.
A few months ago, I wrote that the Foo Fighters had challenged me to reconsider my praise for them. Sure they are great and their longevity has made them rock icons, but the persistent attack of blistering guitars at the time had really numbed my senses. The back-end of the album was really enjoyable, a nice change to the seriously loud, front-end of shredding guitars and Taylor Hawkins’ heavy hitting drum work. So, you would think from my whinge here, I am going to choose one of the albums ditty acoustic numbers as one of my favourite songs of the year. But you know what? I’m not, because The Sky Is A Neighbourhood is still as good as anything the Foo Fighters have recorded before. It is a guitar chugging rock anthem inspired by a Dave Grohl hobby: “One night I was lying out looking up at stars. Just imagining all of these stars as places that have life on them as well, and I decided that the sky is a neighborhood, that we need to keep our s— together in order to survive in this universe full of life. But I had no music yet. I just had the title. So every day I would walk around, kind of humming this thing in my head.”
Molly Burch – “Please Be Mine”.
The talented Austin-based Molly Burch is one of this year’s break out artists. Her debut album Please Be Mine is what I believe to be a conscious attempt by Murch at telling her story as a cycle of love and loss and it’s tumultuous effect on her. From it comes her self titled single Please Be Mine, which never fails to send a shudder down my spine and is reminiscent of my teenage years of longing for someone I cared deeply about. “I told you once, I’ll tell you again/ You really are my very best friend” Burch sings with that amazing inflection in her vocal styling. Her lyrics here may seem rather ambiguous allowing for interpretation, but nonetheless I feel lost in nostalgia, especially listening to that folky/bluesy twang of guitar, before we both it seems spin out in romantic burnout.
Queens Of The Stone Age – “The Way You Used To Do”.
QOTSA’s new album Villains now seems quite aptly named in light of the backlash its frontman has felt this month. I’m not so sure even a more sincere second apology offered up from Josh Hommes, for kicking Shutterstock photographer Chelsea Lauren, camera, which subsequent smashed into her face, earlier this month can save him. He unfortunately has an alleged history of bad behaviour and has proved many times over that he is an asshole! I thought long and hard about excluding The Way You Used To Do from this list as a protest, but in the end, it stays only because it sits as one of a handful of really clever and inventive rock songs made this year. Jon Blistein from Rolling Stone probably best sums it up: “The Way You Used to Do” boasts a blown out bluesy guitar riff but moves forward with a light, danceable touch as singer Josh Homme’s vocals sift between a wail and delicate croon.”
Pink – “Beautiful Trauma”.
The similar style and fun replicated on her albums Funhouse (2008) and The Truth About Love (2012) has not been lost by Pink in her hiatus over the last five years. In August this year, she released What About Love, the first single from her seventh album Beautiful Trauma, a rousing and empowering ballad. But it is the title track Beautiful Trauma that really showcases Pink’s solid return with her powerful vocals and presence, especially her willingness to poke fun at situations and herself.
LA Witch – “Drive Your Car”.
I recently became a slave to LA Witch and their seductive self-titled debut album. Tracks like Untitled and Get Lost seriously ooze with reverb-drenched guitar jangles that when played loud enough truly exasperate the tinnitus in my ears. That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Importantly, LA Witch’s harsh and jarring sound is wholly complimented by frontwoman, Sade Sanchez’s haunting vocals, especially on my favourite track called Drive Your Car. In my minds eye I can honestly see this song ending up on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack!
Interestingly, I recently asked Sade, in our interview, to explain to me a little more about how she uses her voice to create that reverb sound: “ I’d say it’s vice versa: the reverb is what helps me use my voice. I see my voice the same way I see my guitar. I wouldn’t really wanna play my guitar dry. I wanna plug it in and play with effects, textures and tones. That’s the same thing I wanna do with my voice.” And with that quite simple explanation it’s so easy to appreciate the peculiar sounds and vocal styling of Drive Your Car, one of my favourite tracks of the year.
Photo credit: The header image of Lorde performing at the 2014 Lollapalooza music festival is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.