2017 in Review

2017 is a serious contender for best music year of the decade so far. It’s just as well, considering how the year went in all other avenues (well, the films were actually pretty great, too). But no more on that. Let’s put the year to bed. This is the best music of 2017. You may disagree, but I listened to more music this year than you did.
25. Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie - Sleeping Around the Corner
These two have written a bunch of the greatest songs of all time (and I’ll fight you on that score), and well into their old age (68 and 74, respectively), they could still write a killer chorus in their sleep. This song being exhibit A.
24. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - Holy Mountain
Same as above, really. Noel’s 50, and has gone as experimental as I guess he possibly could. Still, it’s an immediate pop song, and there’s not really anything that weird about it. That tin whistle thing, sampled from some obscure 70s song, is beyond catchy.
23. The National - Turtleneck
The National have really taken their sound as far as it can go. There are few surprises left. Enter guitar solos, a first in their 7 album career. On this track, singer Matt Berninger also lets loose vocally in a way he usually only does live, which I’ve been missing in their recorded output.
22. The Killers - Run for Cover
The best song from these guys since 2004, basically. Catchy and sharply produced. I could’ve done without actually using the phrase “fake news“, though.
21. Perfume Genius - Wreath
Catchiness hasn’t really been what Mike Hadreas has been about, but he pulls it off here. With a yodel, no less.
20. Moses Sumney - Doomed
A weightless, beautiful ballad that allows Sumney’s fantastic voice to take center stage, as it should be.
19. Kendrick Lamar - HUMBLE.
Not sure how Kendrick manages going “mainstream” while remaining one of the most artistically dedicated rappers on the planet, but he pulls it off. This song is hilarious and also awesome.
18. LCD Soundsystem - Oh Baby
The return of one of my favourite bands finds them mostly staying in their well-established lane, but this song does manage to bring a heretofore unexplored croon to James Murphy’s voice. I’m liking the results.
17. Richard Dawson - Soldier
Not many people go about writing medieval sounding folk songs these days, but here’s Richard Dawson dark aging it up. The story - a soldier fearing the coming battle and longing for the arms of his lover - is simple but beautifully told.
16. King Krule - Dum Surfer
Filthy as they are, I want to live in the sonic spaces Archy Marshall creates.
15. Roger Waters - Broken Bones
Not really someone I expected to care about by this point, but Waters delivers some of his best writing in decades, and some of the best singing of his life. I just wish he’d shut the fuck up about the Israel boycott, already.
14. High Contrast - Shotgun Mouthwash
T2 Trainspotting needed to open with the same kind of punch that ‘Lust for Life’ once brought to the proceedings, and this was the song to do it. It’s punchy, kind of weird, and a lot of fun.
13. Mount Eerie - Real Death
In 2017 i rediscovered Phil Elverum, one of my favourite songwriters of all time. And yes, this song absolutely showcases what a great songwriter he is, but the subject matter leaves a lot to be desired. Which is not his fault, and kind of the point of the song to begin with.
12. Kesha - Praying
Never in a million years would I have imagined I would one day unconditionally love a Kesha song, but here we are. Her vocal is astonishing, and the fact that I can say that about the same woman who warbled her way through ‘Tik Tok’ is pretty unbelievable. But I‘ve found I cannot listen to this song without sobbing uncontrollably, which is just downright impractical.
11. Algiers - Walk Like a Panther
A bastard hybrid of punk, rock, gospel and soul, Algiers hit hard on all fronts. The vocal is absolutely unhinged.
10. Feist - Any Party
A song that kind of stretches back and forth between frail emotion and badass, Kinks-y guitar displays. Turns out, Feist is great at both.
9. Hundred Waters - Blanket Me
No song this year was better served by repetition. A good portion of this song has the title phrase being repeated like a mantra, folding vocal upon vocal, and instrumental layer upon instrumental layer. The result is mesmerising.
8. Craig Finn - God in Chicago
Literally a short story set to music, 'God in Chicago' falls on the slightly depressing side, but more than anything, it's a deeply touching, human story, and the music cushioning it is beautiful. Like all great short stories, it provides the outlines, and lets you fill in the blanks.  
7. Mister Ferrari - Bangin’ on the Radio
If I could get you to listen to just one song on this list, it would be this one. This Stockholm-based band is due to release their debut album in 2018. They sound like a great, lost British garage rock band from the 1970s, and this is my favourite song of theirs. Also, that's my brother on bass and backing vocals. Yeah, blah blah nepotism, but I just fucking love this song and this band, and they wouldn't place on this list if that wasn't the case. Listen to the song here and here.
6. Father John Misty - Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution
Another short story: The governments and corporations are all overthrown, and humanity returns to a pre-technological age. Global warming is halted, even reversed, and everyone is miserable and bored out of their minds. Classic Josh Tillman. It's hard to pick a favourite from an album like Pure Comedy, but the chorus is the best moment on the entire album.
5. Fleet Foxes - Third of May / Ōdaigahara
Fleet Foxes go prog folk. This nine-minute opus takes a while to digest, but once it does, it reveals itself as one of their very best songs, up there with 'Ragged Wood', 'Helplessness Blues' and 'The Shrine / An Argument'. It manages some riveting starts and stops, but mostly it's just plain gorgeous.
4. The Mountain Goats - Rain in Soho
A dramatic song with hammering pianos, booming drums and some silly but still cool choir backing. The progression of verses and choruses is expertly structured, and by the third verse 'Rain in Soho' absolutely rips.
3. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
A great rock song is hard to argue with, but also to talk about. This is the best rock song of the year - every sound is where it should be, nothing is missing, the playing and singing are meticulous. Enough said, really.

2. Lorde - Green Light
So apparently, Max Martin called this song "incorrect songwriting". Actually, he might be right. It's also a perfect pop song. Everything works - the house piano, the catty and cathartic lyrics, the sing-song bridge and the confetti-raining-down chorus. A contender for greatest pop song of the decade.
1. Young Fathers - Only God Knows
A Young Fathers song topped my 2015 list. And they have a new album coming out in 2018, which means they have a real shot of topping my 2018 list as well. I don't like being this predictable, but the thing is, Young Fathers is the best new band of the 2010s, and it's not even that close (much love to Majical Cloudz and Death Grips, though).
'Only God Knows' was given to T2 Trainspotting to close the film out, and while it did that admirably, it's too great a song to be looked at in such a limited context. It's a sprawling, loud, messy, life-affirming gospel song. The Leith Congregational Choir makes an appearance. Kayus Bankole, usually the sideman if such a thing can exist in this group, gives the manic, barking vocal performance of a lifetime. If you like music, you should like this song.
10. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
A lot may have changed since 2011, but you wouldn't know it listening to LCD Soundsystem here. It's still business as usual for them. When you're one of the greatest bands of all time, though, that's not really a bad thing. Besides, some darkness does creep into the music, to great effect: 'I Used To' and 'Black Screen' are heavy with sorrow for the loss of David Bowie (a noble song subject if ever there was one), and 'How Do You Sleep?' is an absolutely savage takedown of an old friend. Their true glory days may be behind them (it's hard to come back from a 3 hour farewell gig at Madison Square Garden, frankly), but American Dream shows they've still got juice left in the tank. Also, I got to see them live in 2017, a privilege I never thought I'd have.
Essential tracks: Oh Baby, I Used To, How Do You Sleep?, Call the Police, American Dream
9. The Mountain Goats - Goths
John Darnielle has been telling stories for over 20 years at this point. And he really is a fantastic storyteller (also a very nice guy, at least on Twitter - we both have Summoning tattoos). 'Rain in Soho' may be my favourite song on the album, but it's actually a bit of an outlier, as it's really the only song without a clear narrative to present. Elsewhere, the lead singer of Sisters of Mercy faces the mundane humiliation of returning to his hometown, a failing musician decides to pack in his career and takes a job at LucasArts, and a forgotten band is given a tender euology that quotes their Wikipedia page. All in honour of goth culture, though mostly without any goth music being played.
Essential tracks: Rain in Soho, Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds, The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement, Shelved, Abandoned Fleesh
8. King Krule - The Ooz
I think Archy Marshall's King Krule project might actually be best compared to the original British punk bands of the late 1970s. Strip away the (gorgeous) underwater sonics and the genre blending, and what you're left with is an angry young man with an ugly but powerful voice, exploring general disaffection. Or, put in a less pretentious but equally annoying way: #relatable. (Please forgive me).
Essential tracks: Biscuit Town, The Locomotive, Dum Surfer, Czech One, Vidual, Half Man Half Shark
7. Feist - Pleasure
I first heard Feist back in 2011, when she was going through a bit of a transitional period, moving away from indie pop towards a rootsier, more stripped back sound. I guess if her transition led her here, all is as it should be. On first listen, this album really underwhelmed me, but it somehow clung itself to my subconscious, and I had to listen again. And again. And these low-fi, shaky songs truly blossomed.
Essential tracks: Pleasure, Get Not High, Get Not Low, Lost Dreams, Any Party, A Man Is Not His Song, Century
6. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
Somehow, this guy keeps evolving. Not content with making two of the most acclaimed hiphop albums of all time, he goes ahead and makes a third one, with yet another album-spanning, complex theme. Only, this time, he goes from the jazzy, funky To Pimp a Butterfly to tackle pop-rap, of all things. And he's fucking great at it - 'LOYALTY.' is the kind of song Drake would have killed for, but it's better than Drake ever could've made it. Go figure.
5. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
Together with Feist, this is a good indictation that I should never trust my first impressions: I was so disappointed with this album when I first heard it. It felt like an underwritten (or overwritten), lesser version of Helplessness Blues, several years after that would've been acceptable or understandable. But when I'd had time to adjust to their ambitious nature, these songs revealed themselves as intricate, stunningly produced and performed, and very worthy follow-ups to their predecessor.
Essential tracks: I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar, Cassius, Kept Woman, Third of May/Ōdaigahara, If You Need to, Keep Time on Me, Mearcstapa, Crack-Up
4. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me
There have been quite a few albums about grief in recent years, but none quite like this. I don't really want to talk about it - it's all a google away if you're curious. I'll just say that these songs are deeply beautiful, deeply human things, and deserve to be heard, if you can stomach them.
Essential tracks: Real Death, Seaweed, Ravens, Forest Fire, Swims, Toothbrush/Trash, Soria Moria, Crow
3. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
Every year, I seem to discover a still-active, long-running rock band that I realise I should've started listening to much, much earlier. This year, that band was Spoon, a remarkably tight, fun and consistent rock band. And here's Hot Thoughts, one of their best albums. Keys dominate in a way they haven't previously, and while there are plenty of punchy rock songs, they also pull off some spacey, low-key numbers, including a sax-drenched instrumental closer. Great songwriting, great sound and no filler.
Essential tracks: Hot Thoughts, WhisperI'lllistentohearit, Do I Have to Talk You Into It, First Caress, Pink Up, Can I Sit Next to You, I Ain't the One, Us
2. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
The world is burning, if mostly figuratively. It's hard not to get cynical and dejected. Josh Tillman - a glorious, dejected cynic - pisses on the flames and gives his thoughts on the human condition. He has many, many, many thoughts, most of them hilarious, depressing or both. Pure Comedy is like a great 70s piano rock album, like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Sail Away, only performed by a self-aware narcissist. In the end, it's actually an uplifting experience, because Tillman is too good a singer, songwriter and comedian for it to be otherwise.
Essential tracks: Pure Comedy, Total Entertainment Forever, Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution, Birdie, Leaving LA, When the God of Love Returns, There'll Be Hell to Pay, So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain, In Twenty Years or So
1. Lorde - Melodrama
I like 'Royals', but I did not realise what I was getting with this album. Maybe it would've helped to know that David Bowie referred to Lorde as "the future of music". But really, I couldn't have expected the best pop album of the decade when I first turned on Melodrama. I just figured I'd find a song or two that were worth hearing again. But the first song was 'Green Light', and then every subsequent song was a spacious, tightly written pop masterpiece. These are drinking songs sad to be drinking songs, hate songs angry to not be love songs, and pop songs that don't realise that they don't need to be this sophisticated, but persist in being perfect. This album is a fucking masterpiece from beginning to end. And Ella Yelich-O'Connor is 21 years old, because I apparently need an inferiority complex.
Essential tracks: ALL OF THEM

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