By: Emily Miller
It’s hard to believe but we are almost half way through 2017, which is the perfect time to talk about music. This year has been a really eclectic one, with many songs unlike anything I’ve heard of before. They are politically, environmentally, socially and artistically unique.
Let’s honor them.
Note: In order to spread the love, an artist could have only one song on the list. Otherwise it would have just been a Father John Misty and Kendrick Lamar playlist.
20. “Mythological Beauty” by Big Thief
It’s hard to put into words why this song is just so lovely. There’s an other worldly sound to it, that I somehow associate with nature and outdoors. It’s partly the melody, partly the unique vocals of Adrianne Lenker. There’s an urgency to her message, yet the song never loses its mellowness and ease.
19. “Anymore” by Goldfrapp
Even though this song has an incredible dance beat, there is an overall darkness to it that I haven’t experienced with a song that, upon first listen is upbeat. There is a pulsating frustration, energy and sexuality that runs deep. Paired with lyrics like “You’re what I want / You’re what I need / Give me your love / Make Me a freak,” this song is ridiculously wonderful.
18. “Love Triangle” by RaeLynn
The love triangle is a pop culture trope used by writers to create conflicting love stories between three people. I thought I had seen every incarnation of it, until RaeLynn brilliantly relates it to a child stuck in the middle of a divorce. She spares no details as she goes into the heartbreaking realities of growing up in a toxic separation. It’s beautiful and raw and will leave you hurting each time.
17. “Thinking of a Place” by The War on Drugs
A dreamy piece of indie rock come to life. This isn’t a song, it’s an 11 minute experience. Let the story, and that gorgeous guitar solo wash over you.
16. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” by Sampha
We’ve all heard sad men play sad songs on the piano. Sampha somehow makes it entirely original. It’s a love ballad to the instrument that he turned to after his mother’s cancer diagnosis. It’s powerful and surprisingly quiet. Yet it’s that quiet that makes it so loud.
15. “Third of May / Odaigahara” by Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes fans have been waiting six long years for a new album. Listening to this new song, I think fans can universally agree that it was worth the wait. It’s an ode to childhood friendships and it’s just stunning. “Night ended the fight / but the song remained / and so I headed to the wall / turned tail to call / to the new domain.” The lyrics and the melody literally and figuratively soar.
14. “Roman Godlike Men” by Temples
I want to say this is an incredible rock song, but that doesn’t entirely fit. There is vibrancy that pulsates through this no matter the tempo and a surprising pop fusion that comes through about two thirds of the song that adds this feisty space jam level. Regardless of the genre, the four know how to groove.
13. “The Bus Song” by Jay Som
This sounds like a song 2005 Emily would have listened to, and I mean that in the absolute best possible way. It’s perfectly simple and refreshing and describing in great lengths why the song works, seems to go against the point of the song itself. So I’m going to stop here and just say listen to it and get nostalgic.
12. “In Cold Blood” by Alt J
Completely reinventing themselves once again, Alt J has created another wholly unique and genre defining song. With reggae rhythms combined with an impressive horn section, a “la la la” pop hook, and lyrics like “My pool summer, summer, pool, summer vibes killed In cold blood” makes this the alternative choice for summer song.
11. “Pleasure” by Feist
Feist full of raw emotion sings again and again, “it’s my pleasure” over an incredible guitar riff. Yet never once do you think she’s actually getting any pleasure through this. There is a fury and anger that never goes away despite how many times she repeats and insists, ‘it’s my pleasure.’
10. “French Press” by Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever
This song is so easy going, it’s easy to ignore it as just another indie rock song. It’s deceptively simple and sounds like it belongs on a beach. But listen to it on repeat and it becomes positively enthralling.
9. “Dangerous” by The xx
8. “Nothing Feels Natural” by Priests
“If I walk a hundred days / Does it mean I get to say you can’t talk to me that way” She starts out singing listlessly, but slowly she regains her power. Finally when she screams ‘That Way” we know she has found her voice, literally and figuratively. It’s an honest and empowering song, for all of those in an unsettled state.
7. “Pa’lante” by Hurray for RiffRaff
This song is too good to let me speak for it, so I’m just gonna leave some sample lyrics here to speak instead. “Oh I just want to go to work and get back home and be something.” / “Colonized and hypnotized, be something.” / “From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante.” Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy lynched in the South in the 1950s. Pa’lante is Puerto Rican slang for ‘Onward, forward.’
6. “Die Young” by Sylvan Esso
A perfect combination of optimism and cynicism so rarely captured in a love song. And no one does a scattered synth like Sylvan Esso. No one.
5. “Orange Color Queen” by Ty Segall
I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to The Beatles every time I listen to this song. It could be his dynamic playful lyrics like “You’re beautiful lazy / Orange color lady / The morning sun, it wants to know / Where you’ll go.” It could also be the breezy yet imaginative melodies that spring up throughout. It might simply be Ty Segall’s dreamy vocals. Whatever it is, I’m instantly transported to another time and it’s wonderful.
4. “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar
His entire album DAMN. is a masterpiece, though HUMBLE. is my personal favorite. Backed by a sinister beat throughout, his lyrics are especially scathing. He casually takes on body standards like “show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.” He also warns off his competition with “get the fuck off my stage/I’m the Sandman.” Though really he doesn’t have to, there is no competition. No artist is more on top of their game right now than Kendrick Lamar. Hold up bitch, sit down / be humble.
3. “Pure Comedy” by Father John Misty
Pure comedy? More like pure genius AMIRIGHT?
No but actually, this song is a masterpiece. Please listen to the song in it’s entirety. I included the SNL version because part of his magic is watching him perform. He is magnetic.
2. “Green Light” by Lorde
“Green Light” is a Frankenstein’s monster of hooks, melodies and choruses of entirely different songs. Not only does Lorde seamlessly blend them altogether, the song is better because of it. By far the catchiest song of the year, never has not being able to let go of that someone, sound so upbeat and celebratory.
1.”Witness” by Benjamin Booker
This is the song for 2017. Gospel soul queen Mavis Staples sings the opening and chorus asking “Am I / Gonna be a witness” Booker sings “See we thought that we saw that he had a gun / Thought that it looked like he started to run” describing every situation that’s gone horribly wrong in this country. He repeats these words until Staples powerfully cuts him off and once again asks am I gonna be a witness? This time though it’s clear she’s not asking herself or Booker, she’s asking us. There are troubling times ahead, and Booker wants to know if we will be a witness and be complacent, or if we will rise above and say something.