Monday, December 11, 2017

100 SONGS FOR 2017

100 SONGS FOR 2017


When the last days come, we shall see visions
More vivid than sunsets, brighter than stars
We will recognize each other, and see ourselves for the first time
The way we really are
Mountain Goats, “Against Pollution

Here is what I need from you: I need you to have a plan for the darkness. 

It doesn’t have to be the best plan. We don’t even need to agree on it. You don’t have to promise me anything. I don’t need you to tell me there’s a way out when there isn’t. I don’t need you to save me.

But the darkness is everywhere, and I need to know that you’ve thought about it.

I had a rough year in 2017. Probably you did, too. Personal and professional, public and private, the darkness was never far away. And it was getting stronger. I could feel it. I could hear it. It was background noise. It was everywhere.
… panicked scene as the gunman began to fire haphazardly … vehicle jumped the curb and accelerated into the unsuspecting crowd … latest in a rash of suspected arsons targeting local mosques … months later, much of the island is still without power … an estimated thirty million people would lose health coverage … largest public gathering of white supremacists since … among dozens killed in the record-setting wildfires … leaving little doubt that the order is meant to function as a so-called “Muslim Ban” … scope of the genocide appears much larger than originally reported … fifth woman to come forward in recent days with detailed allegations of sexual misconduct … twentieth woman to come forward … hundredth woman … a disturbing increase in violence against immigrants … a disturbing increase in violence … the shooter had a history of domestic violence … the shooter had a history of domestic violence … the shooter had a history of domestic violence ...
The darkness demanded my attention, demanded that I grapple with it, demanded that I subdue it, even if only temporarily. So, when I listened to music in 2017, I needed artists who had considered this. I needed songs that came from that place.

This is a lot to ask from pop music: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus … plan for the darkness. 

Three minutes. Maybe three and a half minutes. Or else I start to get distracted.


This is the message we have heard from her and declare to you: Carly Rae is light; in her there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5, in an alternate universe where the Bible was written about Carly Rae Jepsen


Maybe you have already skipped ahead to the list of songs that follows this essay. If not, here’s how it starts:
(1) MUNA - “I Know a Place”
(2) Carly Rae Jepsen - “Cut to the Feeling”
I want to make one thing clear from the outset: “Cut to the Feeling” is the purest manifestation of pop joy that we have in this fallen world, and it probably deserves to be my Song of the Year. 

But it’s not going to be, and I feel like I need to explain why. Mostly, though, I need to apologize to Carly Rae.


Hanif Abdurraqib is one of America’s two preeminent Jepsenologists (Jia Tolentino is the other), and he has written two foundational texts that bookend our scholarship here. One is called “Carly Rae Jepsen's Public Displays of Affection,” the other is called “Carly Rae Jepsen and the Kingdom of Desire,” and they are both about … darkness, I think.

Or, if not darkness, they are about the inexplicable magic of pop music and how it means so much to people like Hanif, and Jia, and me, and you, hopefully (otherwise honestly reading this is going to be a bit of a chore). People who are, by and large, too old to feel this way, but still do. How it allows us access to places that would otherwise be off limits.

Carly Rae Jepsen has maybe the most coherent plan for the darkness of anyone currently working in pop music. Her plan, at all times, is to power through it, to overcome it with light and joy and all of the emotions that aren’t sadness. Abdurraqib describes Jepsen’s mission as “trying to unlock the hard door, the one with all of the other feelings behind it,” and elsewhere as “a search for a small mercy — another window out of some unexpected wretchedness for whatever hours your time, body, and money can afford”:
This is the difficult work: convincing a room full of people to set their sadness aside and, for a night, bring out whatever joy remains underneath; in a world where there is so much grief to be had, leading the people to water and letting them drink from your cupped hands.
This is what 2017 did to me: Too often, I couldn’t set the sadness aside. 

It felt naive. It felt dishonest. More to the point, it felt impossible. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. This perfect miracle of a song wanted to take me to a place of overflowing joy and I just couldn’t come along for the ride, like the song was an adorable puppy who wanted to play with its human at all the most inopportune times. “Hey! Cut it out! Stop it! I can’t Cut to the Feeling with you right now Carly Rae Jepsen! I’m really tired, and I have a lot of work to do, and I haven’t put away any of the laundry, and also the world is literally on fire. Maybe let’s listen to Waxahatchee or The War on Drugs or something.”  

Abdurraqib closes his most recent Jepsen essay with an eye toward another world:
It might not be this one, but there is certainly a small and brief world in which Carly Rae Jepsen is the biggest pop star there is. And everyone there loves someone they can’t have, or has someone they can’t love. And everyone is all right nonetheless, because everything is fleeting. You can’t feel everything at once, until you can. [...] And in Carly Rae Jepsen’s fleeting, brilliant world, it feels like there is nothing outside that might try to steal what joy you’ve managed to accumulate, in spite of the odds.
But we don’t live in that world, and in 2017 that fact alone made me angry, that we live in this world, and not a better one. And I didn’t have a lot of confidence that a better world was coming.


When did it all become so dark?
Are you afraid to say?
Sourpatch, “Cynthia Ann


The particular psychic injury that I suffered in 2017 was that I learned to fear the future. Maybe you've felt that way for a long time. Maybe this was always obvious to you. Maybe you think it's painfully naive that it took me until 2017 to feel this way. Well, maybe so. But we're all here now. The only thing that truly unites all segments of the political spectrum is our conviction that the future is going to be Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. We’re just arguing over whose fault it is. It’s why fascists want to build a wall, it’s why millennials don’t want to have kids, it’s the animating belief behind so many of our current cultural psychoses. And I know we didn’t all used to be this way. 

A few years ago, I happened upon an essay by anarchist writer David Graeber called “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit” that I find myself returning to fairly often. Graeber covers a lot of ground in the piece, but one of its central themes revolves around changing attitudes towards the future. Not so long ago, belief in a utopia just around the corner was largely justified. “Those who grew up at the turn of the century reading Jules Verne or H.G. Wells imagined the world of, say, 1960 with flying machines, rocket ships, submarines, radio, and television—and that was pretty much what they got.” The next generation wasn’t so lucky. They dreamed of a Jetsons future, a post-scarcity future where everything was plentiful (maybe your food came in pill form, but no one went hungry), a post-work future where helpful robots freed humans from drudgery and monotony. Those kids grew up to be pitied for that optimism, told that those dreams were nothing more than impossible fantasy, science fiction. The new iPhone is going to have a higher-resolution screen than the current iPhone, that’s progress. You should be thankful for that. 

Looking to the future now, it seems like the most plausible scenarios offered by popular culture are variations on “warring tribes killing each other for access to drinkable water.” And there’s a whole cottage industry of people who will tell you that the future will be even worse than you can imagine.

Every civilization that came before ours had an apocalypse story, a prophecy about the end times, and one way to look at them is that they were all eventually proven wrong, because the world is still here. Another way to look at them is that they were only wrong in terms of scope. For all of them, the world did end.


The best book I read in 2017 was Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It’s a marvel, an apocalyptic novel without an explicit apocalypse, a heartbreaking but hopeful story that succeeds in making the plight of the refugee universal. By the end, the world as we know it has been transformed so as to be unrecognizable.

Reading Exit West, the reader is left with the impression that Hamid has spent a lot of time thinking about the future, and about the way attitudes toward the future can impact the way we view the present. This impression turns out to be correct. Hamid has spoken extensively about this in the press, including, for some reason, a charming and wide-ranging interview with the soccer podcast Men in Blazers, which I highly recommend.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Hamid put it like this:
Part of the great political crisis we face in the world today is a failure to imagine plausible desirable futures. We are surrounded by nostalgic visions, violently nostalgic visions. Fiction can imagine differently.... We certainly need it now. Because if we can’t imagine desirable futures for ourselves that stand a chance of actually coming to pass, our collective depression could well condemn humanity to a period of terrible savagery.
This, I think, should be a rallying cry for all of us. Plausible desirable futures. 

Listen: I think it’s too late to think about avoiding some kind of apocalypse. Because it’s coming. We can’t stop it. Things are going to get worse. Massive changes are going to happen faster than we can react to them. And there won’t be a miracle - we aren’t going to wake up tomorrow to an app that solves racism or a hot new startup that disrupts income inequality. We need to think about what we can do, for each other, if things continue to deteriorate. And I’m really fighting the urge to turn this into a DSA testimonial but they are so good at this. What can we do right now? What can we do for each other? Is there an apocalypse we can live with?


Let me be your eyes
A hand to your darkness
So you won’t be afraid
Velvet Underground, “I’ll Be Your Mirror


In the face of the darkness, it’s easy to adopt a bunker mentality, and I worry I did this for most of 2017. If we haven’t hung out in a long time, I’m sorry. That’s on me. I often felt like I had no choice but to shut down all non-essential functions and just try to survive the day.

In the future, it will be nearly impossible to explain what we all went through in 2017. Even now, I’m not sure I could explain what I’ve been going through personally. Your darkness isn’t my darkness. (My darkness has been front-page news pretty often, but that’s kind of beside the point.) That doesn’t mean we’re not going through it together. 

“I’ll Be Your Mirror” was the first dance at my wedding. It means a lot to me. It’s the truest definition of love I’ve ever heard. It’s the truest definition of art I’ve ever heard. It’s a sacrament. It’s a hymn.

Because it makes no promises about the darkness. The darkness will be there forever. But we can help each other through it. This is all we can do, but maybe it's all we need to do. For some reason, this is so easy for me to forget.


Where do you go for answers in times of confusion? Whose counsel do you seek? Maybe you think of a trusted friend, or a mentor, or a close family member. Maybe you think of a poet, or a philosopher, or one of the great thinkers of human history. You probably don’t think of “twenty-something USC art students.” You definitely don’t think of “twenty-something USC art students who used to be in a ska band together.” But … maybe you should. Because in 2017, more often than not, I turned to MUNA’s “I Know a Place.” And I’m here to tell you that it helped.

As a concept, “I Know a Place” has been around for awhile. Written for a friend diagnosed with liver cancer, it quickly became a rallying cry for the LGBT community at large. After the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, the metaphorical “place” became painfully literal. By the time the song received a proper album release in 2017, the song’s value sadly turned out to be its applicability to every subsequent tragedy, speaking to our collective longing for a place where “everyone’s gonna lay down their weapons,” whether literal or figurative. 

As lead singer Katie Gavin put it:
“I Know a Place” was never supposed to be a funeral hymn. It was meant to be a work song, like Yoko Ono’s full-page ad in the New York Times that proclaimed, “War Is Over!” in December of 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War. We wrote our song to be the voice in your head that tells you to celebrate peace during wartime, because our battle is only just beginning, and one day our war really will be over.
It was also meant to serve as encouragement for our community to remain vulnerable and kind and hopeful in the face of violence. We cannot build a better world without first imagining what that world might look like, and by creating that space inside ourselves first.
In terms of optimism, that was often as far as I could go. I could celebrate peace during wartime. I could imagine what a better world might look like. In 2017, “I Know a Place” was my plausible desirable future. It confronts the darkness head on, looks in in the eye, understands it. 

But if you want to go out dancing, I know a place.


So, six hundred thousand words later, I think that’s where I come out on this. There were two really good songs about dancing that I listened to a lot this year. After careful consideration, I have decided that one of them is slightly more meaningful to me than the other one. And hey, we got to go on a fun little journey into apocalyptic philosophy together. 

Here’s a list of songs. Let them be your eyes. One hundred hands to your darkness. So you won’t be afraid.


(1)   MUNA - “I Know a Place”

No matter what you love, someone on the internet hates it. "I Know A Place" is currently the third-highest scoring song of the year on The Singles Jukebox, with three 10s and two 9s, but there's still one reviewer who called it "synth-Lumineers syncbait with horrific faux-Caribbean stylings," and my greatest achievement of 2017 is that I have made it the entire year without tracking that person down and scream-crying at them about how much I love this song.

(2)   Carly Rae Jepsen - “Cut to the Feeling”

I guess the next step in my CRJ fandom would be to see that animated ballet movie, but I'm not quite there yet.

(3)   White Reaper - “Judy French”

Stereogum called this song "a power-pop radio-blaster built from old Camaro parts," and there's just no way I could ever improve on that description. So let's move on.

(4)   Iron Chic - “My Best Friend (Is a Nihilist)”

I saw these guys at Thee Parkside a few weeks ago, and they rocked so incredibly hard. I don't get to a lot of legit punk shows, especially at tiny venues like Parkside, and it was such a different energy. I felt like an outsider, for sure, but I loved it. Also, a dude in the front row had the greatest mohawk I've ever seen:
(5)   ONSIND - “Sectioned”

In middle school, our whole class had to memorize John Donne's "No Man Is An Island." I thought this was stupid, since I was at an age when I thought everything was stupid. "The bell doesn't toll for me, it tolls for the guy who died. It's not that complicated, everybody." I wasn't ready to talk about themes like shared humanity or the unspoken connections that underpin the very foundation of society or the duties we owe each other simply by being alive at the same time in the same place.

Now, though, it's all I want to talk about. And "Sectioned" get there in fewer words than Donne.

(6)   Japandroids - “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”

I can't remember why I was in a bad mood the day we saw Japandroids at The Fillmore. I was just in a bad mood for most of the year. We went, and stood at the side of the stage, near the bar. As the band worked toward the double-shot closer of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" / "The House That Heaven Built," I slowly made my way to the front, to get tossed around by the crowd, to get covered in other people's sweat, to work through some of the mass of stress that seemed to settle on me whenever I allowed myself to think about it. 

It was ecstatic. It was a borderline religious experience. I left the show transformed, for at least a few minutes.

Ilana filmed it, and it's a comical shot - I'm way too tall for a mosh pit, half the time I'm getting thrown around to the point that I'm facing away from the stage, and most important of all ... the band sounds terrible. Brian King absolutely cannot sing "The House That Heaven Built" live. I don't know how he did it for the album.

But I didn't care. And no one in that pit cared either. The power of rock music somehow transcends the requirement that its heroes perform it with any requisite skill. We all showed up at The Fillmore hoping to experience a very specific emotion, and we did. I would absolutely go see Japandroids again (this was our third time seeing them) even knowing they'll probably sound bad. That's why I go to so many shows. It doesn't have to be good to be magical.

(7)   Craig Finn - “Tracking Shots”

Still getting used to the new dreams ...

So that Japandroids show ... Craig Finn opened, touring in support of his second solo album, the stripped-down We All Want The Same Things. It was a changing of the guard in the purest sense. Ten years ago, The Hold Steady were the headliners, acolytes of guitar rock in its purest form. Japandroids have spoken at length about the impact THS had on them. Now the spotlight was theirs, and Craig Finn was obviously thrilled to play the cool uncle, slowly aging out of the scene but still with a few tricks up his sleeve. He came out for the encore to do AC/DC's "If You Want Blood (You Got It)," and it felt like a rock family, a community where people take care of each other. I don't know, maybe that's just what I want it to be. But the potential is there.

(8)   Generationals - “Turning the Screw”

I would pay $100 right now to hear CHVRCHES cover this. I'm sorry Generationals, you know I love you, but you are just borrowing this song from Lauren Mayberry.

(9)   Oso Oso - “Reindeer Games”

I mean, if you want, we could just stay here ...

I can't explain exactly why, but out of every song I heard this year, this is the one that would be most at home on a Music From 'The O.C.' soundtrack compilation. I mean this as a massive compliment, but your mileage may vary.

(10) Phoenix - “Fior Di Latte”

In doing last-minute internet research, I have learned that:
Fior Di Latte is semi-soft, fresh cheese made in the style of Italian mozzarella. This cow's milk cheese is produced by Paesanella Cheese Manufacturers in New South Wales, Australia. Smooth, extremely fresh, little tangy in flavour, elastically textured cheese finds its way mostly on pizzas and other over based dishes because of its superb melting characteristics. 
So, probably that's a metaphor for something? I don't know, and I'm probably not going to find out. Instead, I'm just going to keep obliviously enjoying weightless French pop music. I recommend you do the same.

(11) The Hold Steady - “Entitlement Crew”

Look, we are now ten years into the greater 100 Songs project. If I haven't talked you into these guys by now, it's probably not going to happen. And that's fine. I just hope you have a band who makes you feel the way The Hold Steady makes me feel. I don't care who it is.

Thanks for listening, thanks for understanding.

(12) Partner - “Everybody Knows”

Put your faith in ideas, not in heroes. I am here for two-person queer glam-punk bands, now and forever. Sure, the guy from PWR BTTM turned out to be a sexual predator, and it's weird to put this list together without them, but we don't need them. We don't need anyone who uses power to prey on others. It doesn't matter how talented they are. Because even here, in the totally made up genre of two-person queer glam-punk bands, we already have a better option just waiting for a chance. Let's give it to them.

(13) HAIM - “Little of Your Love”

Written for Trainwreck, although it wasn't ultimately used in the movie. I'm choosing to believe this is because of a long-standing feud between the Haim sisters and LeBron James.

(14) Alvvays - “In Undertow”

You find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can ...

Teenage Fanclub frontman Norman Blake adds backing vocals on this, which is symbolically perfect, as Alvvays are heirs to the throne of that exact vein of shoegaze-tinged dream pop. Sad songs that make you feel better.

(15) Charly Bliss - “Glitter”

Lindsey Zoladz wrote a great article about Charly Bliss for The Ringer, which includes this line:
Her words create an atmosphere of macabre and unruly girliness — like a Lisa Frank tableau in which one of the unicorns is smoking a joint and does not realize he is bleeding.
I'm not even going to try to improve on that.

(16) QTY - “Rodeo”

For all bands writing songs longer than about two and a half minutes ... why? You don't need to. It turns out that you can write super-tight arrangements with multiple hooks, male and female vocals, two killer bridges, and a euphoric tension-and-release bit ("eight hour day of work!") in 150 seconds. These random kids from New York are doing it. So why aren't you?

(17) Phoebe Bridgers - “Motion Sickness”

Her debut album is called Stranger in the Alps, so she somehow has the same sense of humor as me and my law school roommates.

From the opening guitar hum to the perfectly detailed lyrics ("You gave me fifteen hundred / To see your hypnotherapist / I only went one time, you let it slide / Fell on hard times a year ago / Was hoping you would let it go and you did"), the whole thing evidences an attention to detail that sets her apart from the pack.

(18) St. Vincent - “Los Ageless”

A fine addition to my Los Angeles Is The Worst playlist, alongside "Los Angeles Is Burning," "Drinking in LA," "Leaving Los Feliz," and "Why You'd Want To Live Here."

Of course, 2017 is the year I learned that there are now parts of LA that do San Francisco better than San Francisco, just cheaper, and with better weather, so I'm not really sure why I need that playlist anymore.

(19) Pale Waves - “There’s a Honey”

There's a scene in 30 Rock where Kenneth starts to say, "As a white man ..." and Jack interrupts to let him know that, demographically speaking, Kenneth closer to an inner-city Latina, and I relate to that. While I know that in real life I'm an entitled thirty-something San Francisco yuppie, I don't feel like that matches my musical identity. Demographically speaking, I'm closer to a Sad Manchester Teen.

The elevator marketing pitch for Pale Waves is exactly six words long ("The 1975 with a girl singer") but why would it have to be any longer? I'm already buying.

(20) Liam Gallagher - “Wall of Glass”
(21) Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - “Holy Mountain”

Speaking of former Sad Manchester Teens who are now mildly embarrassing middle-aged men, it was a big year for the Gallagher brothers. Both solo albums are worth your time, even if neither is as good as the worst Oasis album (JUST GET THE BAND BACK TOGETHER ALREADY!). I just love having both of them back in the public eye, being their ridiculous selves. Since everyone chooses sides, I am Team Liam, even though I have little doubt he's a terrible human being. He is by far more entertaining.

Exhibit A: The Liam Making Tea video. My friend Elliot and I have an idea for a show where Liam just does mundane things and talks about them. Imagine going to a minor league baseball game with Liam Gallagher. Imagine trying to navigate public transit in a foreign city. Imagine raking leaves.

Exhibit B: Interviews. When Liam gives interviews, it leads to headlines like this:
Exhibit C: Insults. Noel says Liam's new music "sounds like Adele shouting into a bucket." Pretty good burn. Liam says Noel's new music has “too many notes in it." I don't even know what that means. Liam is playing a different game than the rest of us.

Exhibit D: Liam's lead single is better. Sure he needed a team of songwriters and producers (led by Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow), but it's impossible to argue with the results.

(22) Charli XCX - “Boys”

So look, Charli obviously doesn't care what I think of her career choices. That said, I'd been worried. I wanted more "Stay Away" or "You're the One" True Romance-era dark-pop Charli, and I had my doubts about the new chip-tune stuff she was doing with AG Cook and PC Music. "Boys," though, gets it right. It's got that same bouncy 8-bit sensibility, but with the weight of real emotion behind it. Plus, the video took over the internet for a couple weeks, and that always helps.

(23) Rostam - “Bike Dream”

Rostam is writing songs for everyone these days, but he kept one stunner for his own solo album (though it is fun to think about what this sounds like as a Frank Ocean song, or a Charli XCX song).

(24) Kesha - “Woman”

In a year drowning in epic AF clapback side-eye empowerment anthems, this was easily the best one, because even though pop music is a team sport, with dozens of songwriters and producers shaping every track, lived experience still matters. Kesha is a motherfucker. She's earned that. I just wouldn't believe any of this coming from, like, Katy Perry.

And, of course, in a year where every happy thing just reminds you of other terrible things, "Woman" is the first star turn for the Dap-Kings Horns after the passing of their long-time bandleader Sharon Jones.

(25) FRANKIE - “Paper Doll”

Nuance died in 2017. So did subtlety, and subtext, and any other tools for conveying meaning beyond just screaming your point over and over again until the other side gives up. It's exhausting.

"Paper Doll" is a 2017 pop song. It's big and dumb and over-produced and completely over-the-top ... and I love it wholeheartedly and I wish every song on the radio sounded like this. A pop song isn't a policy position. Just hit me in the face with it.

(26) Portugal. The Man - “Easy Tiger”

We'll get to "Feel It Still" later, but it's a miscarriage of justice that "Easy Tiger" wasn't the breakout single from Woodstock.

(27) The New Pornographers - “Whiteout Conditions”

New Pornographers songs are never obvious to me. They're one of my favorite bands of all time, and will happily admit that I often have no idea what Carl Newman (or, on past albums, Dan Bejar) is saying. So this one is super-catchy and upbeat, but it seemed to resonate with me on a deeper level, and ... ahh, it's about depression.
So we've solved that mystery.

(28) Lorde - “The Louvre”

It's a good sign for Melodrama that most people I know have different favorite songs from the album. On the other hand, those that didn't pick "The Louvre" are just wrong, and deep down I think they know it.

(29) Stormzy - “Big For Your Boots”

My favorite rap song of the year, starting with a fantastic beat that comes off like a grime update on a Timbaland classic. Stormzy is charmingly all over the place, vowing to learn to play guitar, shouting out his love for Adele, and threatening to both kick you in the face and throw you in the trunk of his car like he's auditioning for the UK edition of Celebrity Homonym.
(Are we keeping a running count of 30 Rock references in these blurbs? We should be.)

(30) Wolf Alice - “Don’t Delete the Kisses”

In early 2016, I saw Wolf Alice open for CHVRCHES at the Fox in Oakland. I'd been listening to My Love Is Cool on repeat for most of the year to that point, and I was excited to see those songs performed live. I also wanted to introduce the band to as many of my friends as possible.

That show was a disappointment. Wolf Alice played to a few dozen people in a cavernous venue, muffled sound echoing across empty space and canceling any emotional impact. They played five of six songs and left to polite applause.

A year later, NME is calling them the best band in Britain, and who am I to disagree? Visions of a Life is near the top of most year-end lists, and the band capped their victory lap tour with a sold-out show at Alexandra Palace. Ilana and I saw them in Manchester, playing to a frenzied crowd hanging on their every word.

I don't know if it will happen, but Wolf Alice has a shot at becoming the voice of this generation in a historically significant sense. They seem to be at the forefront of so much that's happening in young London, most notably their full-throated support of the Corbyn movement (and, weirdly, his full-throated support of them):
In recent years, straight-ahead guitar rock has fallen by the wayside in the cultural zeitgeist because, fairly or not, it's viewed as a genre for white dudes and white dudes only. In Ellie Rowsell's hands, it's something else. After watching an impressively diverse crowd at the 02 Apollo thrashing as one, it's fun to think about where Wolf Alice might take it next.

(31) Worriers - “Future Me”

There are five comments on the YouTube video for this song, and one of them is a complaint that it rips off "Cartoon" by Soul Asylum. First of all, that is a deep cut, YouTube commenter. That song came out in 1988. Second, though ... I kinda see the similarity.

So, even though it's unfair to Worriers, I'm going to hijack their blurb to talk about Soul Asylum for a bit. I listened to a lot of Soul Asylum in 2017. (It's a goal of mine to dig into my heritage a little bit - I haven't traced my lineage back to the vikings, but I've traced it back to Minneapolis alt-rock). For that year-end Your Top Songs playlist Spotify puts together, nine of my top ten came out this year, and the one exception is "Misery." From a pure songwriting perspective, I think "Misery" is perfect. There are three separate hooks in that song that could be career-defining choruses for someone else.

Here's a weird glitch in the social media fabric. Several times this year, I have thought to myself, "I should post about how good 'Misery' is." But ... it's called "Misery." And, if you read the first five million words of this post, you know I've had a pretty rough year. And the last thing I want to be accused of is that kind of dramatic vaguebooking where someone just posts an Elliott Smith song without comment just so people will respond asking if they're okay. So I never posted it. And so, apropos of very little, I'm telling you now. "Misery" is an awesome song. I'm in a good mood right now and I'm telling you that anyway.

(32) Destroyer - “In the Morning”

Some artists are successful because they are relatable. They give a voice to thoughts and feelings their audience already had, but couldn't express. Other artists are successful because their worldview is so completely alien that it allows their audience access to insights that audience never would have had otherwise. Dan Bejar is in the second category. On the making of his new album, Bejar said:
Sometime last year, I discovered that the original name for [Suede's] “The Wild Ones” (one of the great English-language ballads of the last 100 years or so) was “Ken.” I had an epiphany, I was physically struck by this information. In an attempt to hold on to this feeling, I decided to lift the original title of that song and use it for my own purposes. It’s unclear to me what that purpose is, or what the connection is. I was not thinking about Suede when making this record. I was thinking about the last few years of the Thatcher era. Those were the years when music first really came at me like a sickness, I had it bad. Maybe “The Wild Ones” speaks to that feeling, probably why Suede made no sense in America. I think “ken” also means “to know.”
That ... makes no sense to me. But, in reading it, I know there's a deep truth in there somewhere, just out of reach of my understanding. And, if I'm ever going to really get to it, it will be because someone like Bejar led me there, with oblique lyrics and music that doesn't sound like Suede but captures the specific feeling of a specific time and what it meant to one specific person. He's like a spirit guide.

(33) Beth Ditto - “We Could Run”

Some moments were made to last, but this ain't one ...

It's fascinating to me that musical skill is not necessarily a prerequisite for musical genius. So many of my favorite songs come from artists with fairly rudimentary abilities (literally any person on earth could have come up with the guitar line from "Satisfaction," but only one did), and in fact technical virtuosity often makes music less enjoyable (think of that American Idol-style showing off where some off-brand Christina Aguilera vamps on one syllable for like 45 seconds).

That said, sometimes there's no substitute for once-in-a-generation talent. Beth Ditto can really really sing, and her songs succeed because of her singular talent. If "We Could Run" was an Ellie Goulding song, you would actively hate it.

I picked this one out of the many standouts on Fake Sugar because it sounds most like a Gossip song, which probably wasn't Beth's goal when she went solo, but hey, The Gossip were great.

(34) Jake Shears - “Creep City”

I have seen like four musicals ever, so I don't have a lot of opinions on them, but I just learned that there's one musical-related fact that I actually have an opinion on, so here it is.

Drum roll:

Jake Shears is going to play Charlie in Kinky Boots next year and I think he's going to be great.

(35) Selena Gomez - “Bad Liar”

She got a kidney transplant and dated The Weeknd, but the biggest 2017 Selena Gomez news in our house is that she's a Talking Heads fan, and that David Byrne is apparently a Selena Gomez fan.

(36) Superorganism - “Something for Your M.I.N.D.”

Eight person band living in a four-room house in East London, crafting brilliant collage-pop like The Avalanches used to make. I can report from personal experience that if you walk into any record store anywhere in the UK, this song will start playing within ten minutes.

(37) The Menzingers - “After the Party”

Everybody wants to get famous / But you just want to dance in a basement ...

Pitchfork called them members of the "post-30 punk club" and "classic rock bards with expired Warped Tour laminates," which I think they meant as digs, but personally I'm really excited about the way pop punk is aging. I'd rather they were writing songs like this than trying to hold on to teen angst.

(38) Alex Lahey - “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself”

This is how Alex Lahey takes over your life. As 2016 drew to a close, you'd never heard of her. Then "You Don't Think You Like People Like Me" shows up on your friend Carl's Guest List Week post. It's pretty good. She's an Australian slacker singer-songwriter. You lump her in with Courtney Barnett, file that information away in the back of your mind somewhere. She puts out singles throughout 2017 and you don't pay much attention to them.

At the end of 2017, you find yourself in London, with tickets to three concerts in four nights. Because you're never content to leave well enough alone, you start looking at who might be playing London on that one open night. Hmm, Alex Lahey. Interesting. Could be fun. But you're exhausted, and not that familiar with her music, and so you make a half-hearted attempt to sell the show to your friends, but you never seriously consider going.

Your curiosity piqued, you start listening to I Love You Like A Brother, which had just come out the previous month. It's incredible. It's poppier than Courtney Barnett, faster and louder and catchier and it has surf-rock harmonies. It's exactly what you'd been looking for. Regret sets in immediately. You missed the London show! What were you thinking? Does she have any US shows coming up? She does! Is she coming to San Francisco? She is! We need to get tickets! We need to get to the venue! What time is she going on? We need to get there early! We can't miss anything.

Again, you didn't really know who she was a month ago.

Anyway the show was last night and it was great.

(39) The Rentals - “Elon Musk Is Making Me Sad”

And what have you done with your life? We all do this. We all find the worst possible comparison points and beat ourselves to death with them. There are pro athletes younger than me who are now retiring after storied careers. There are now coaches who are younger than me. Soon, I'll be watching a new class of stars who were born after I graduated from high school. It's hard to even type those words. Death is imminent.

Here, The Rentals go all in on the worst possible comparison. Nobody looks successful next to Elon Musk. The twist, though, is that The Rentals are led by former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, so Sharp has to admit that, even compared to Elon Musk, he had the lead at one point. Musk wasn't in a decade-defining band. Musk wasn't in the "Buddy Holly" video.

Sharp deals with his feelings of inadequacy by writing a seven-minute space opera where he begs Musk to send him to Mars. It's probably healthier than my coping plan, which involves watching Gopher basketball games and wincing noticeably when they bring up the fact that Richard Pitino is 35.

(40) Jesus and His Judgmental Father - “Lunartick”

Fun reminder of that part of the year when I could only discover new music by going to Martha's Bandcamp page and just clicking on everything in the "Recommend If You Like" section.

Plus it's got that "Automatic Stop" abrupt-euphoria verse/chorus transition.

(41) MUNA - “Everything”

I go to concerts to experience something new. It sounds counterintuitive, but I'm not really there to hear the songs. I already have Spotify. I already have most of this on vinyl. I want to learn something. Set list construction is fascinating, a behind-the-curtain look at what the band thinks of their own songs. What do they open with? What do they close with? What do they save for the encore?

How do these songs live in the wild? What sounds better at a dangerous volume through a massive PA system? What makes the crowd lose their minds? What songs feel different once you've heard them performed live?

We saw MUNA at the Independent, and it was one of my favorite shows of the year. We were there with a big group, the day before Ilana's birthday, and everyone was there to celebrate. They covered "With or Without You" and "Edge of Seventeen." They closed the set with "I Know A Place," which was absolutely as euphoric as I hoped it would be.

But, for whatever reason, "Everything" stole the show for me. It seemed louder, bigger, and more intense than anything else. After the show, I immediately wanted to go back and listen to it again, and the album version felt transformed. I still feel that way.

(42) Phoenix - “J-Boy”

This song is called "J-Boy" because the repeated line in the chorus is "(j)ust (b)ecause (o)f (y)ou." Once you realize this, you (a) feel really smart for figuring it out, then (b) feel really dumb for how long it took you to figure this out, then finally (c) wonder how many more simple real-world puzzles are right in front of your nose every day and you never realize it.

(43) Future - “Mask Off” (Remix f/ Kendrick Lamar)

The original was fine. Future somehow managed to make a flute loop sound menacing, and the "Percocet / Molly Percocet" hook was catchy enough that I'd sometimes embarrassingly realize I was mumbling it to myself in mixed company.

Most remixes don't add much. This one is next-level. It's not a dig at DAMN. to say this this is Kendrick's best verse of the year. And his controlled fury is such a necessary counterpoint to Future's narcotic haze, it's hip hop's peanut butter and chocolate. Or, I guess, hip hop's molly and Percocet.

(44) The Mountain Goats - “Rain in Soho”

I'm pretty sure I would have voted against John Darnielle's decision to write and record an entire Mountain Goats album without guitars and, to be honest, a lot of Goths doesn't really do it for me. "Rain in Soho" is great though, spooky and ominous. If you're going without guitars apparently it helps to have the Nashville Symphony Chorus.

(45) Generationals - “Keep It Low”

According to Spotify, this was my most-played song of 2017, which surprised me a little bit. Then again, it came out in January and I never got sick of it, so maybe it's not that surprising.

(46) (Sandy) Alex G - “Bobby”

Music recommendation algorithms are getting better every day, but I'd really like a computer program that could tell me what it is about both this song and "For the Widows in Paradise" by Sufjan Stevens that cut directly to my soul. Because it's the exact same feeling, and it has to do with fragility, and simplicity, and ... something else that I can't quite place.

(47) Dua Lipa - “New Rules”

It's fitting that Dua Lipa is probably best-known to Americans generally as the face of a massive Google Pixel 2 advertising campaign, because Ilana and I saw her at the Brixton Academy in London earlier this year and every person in the crowd had their phone out the entire time. It's not a complaint as such - everyone experiences live music in their own way, and if you find joy in watching grainy thirty-second videos of the show the next day, that's awesome. Do it. Just pointing out that there is near-perfect overlap between Dua Lipa fans and people who believe every second of their lives needs to be documented, and I'd like there to be some kind of academic study of this.

(Also, "New Rules" is a great song. I don't want my amateur crowd psychology to come off as sarcasm. She puts on a highly entertaining show.)

(48) Luis Fonsi - “Despacito” (Remix)

Remember the first time you heard "Despacito"? Like, I'm serious, do you remember it? Because I sure don't. It's tough to come up with these rankings at the end of the year, because I'll be honest, I could probably go about eighteen months without hearing "Despacito" and be just fine. It's the most-streamed song of all time. But ... it has that honor for a reason. There was a time, long long ago, when this was fresh and new and exciting. It was everyone's song of the summer, and for good reason. If I had to pick a time capsule song for the year, it's probably this one (or "Bodak Yellow"). So I don't know. There's probably no way to rate this one objectively.

(49) Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - “Tupelo”

In real life, Jason Isbell seems as grounded as they come. Sober for years, a new father in a happy marriage, frequent baseball tweeter. He just played a free show to get out the vote for Doug Jones. If I could choose any artist on this list to spend an afternoon with, it might be Jason Isbell.

The protagonist of "Tupelo," though, has some demons. He's fallen off the wagon, driving drunk, and dreaming of a Tupelo that sounds terrible ("You get about a week of spring and the summer is blistering"). It's only redeeming quality is oblivion - "There ain't no one from here that will follow me there."

In interviews, Isbell is bracingly candid about how hard it is to write characters like this - characters that are not him, necessarily, but certainly could be a parallel universe version of him. I can only hope he keeps doing it.

(50) ONSIND - “Immature”

It's seems to me the one thing that unites my friends is that we all just wanna fucking die. 

Half of ONSIND are also in Martha, the greatest band in the world, and 2017's We Wilt, We Bloom brings more of the same catchy dispatches from the class war that we've come to expect from Pity Me's finest.

(51) Kendrick Lamar - “HUMBLE.”

"HUMBLE." was Kendrick's second Billboard #1. His first - which is going to be an infuriating trivia question for future generations - was Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." There is no scientific unit large enough to measure how much better "HUMBLE." is than "Bad Blood."

(52) Allison Crutchfield - “I Don’t Ever Wanna Leave California”

In a year when both Crutchfield sisters put out really good albums, Allison takes top single honors, at least as far as this blog goes. She's getting her old band Swearin' back together (they're opening for Superchunk in SF in February), so it's a good time to remind you that "Kenosha" is a perfect song.

(53) Los Campesinos! - “5 Flucloxacillin”

31 and depression is a young man's game ...

Aging gracefully is tough, and it must be even more difficult for a band originally known for its youthful precocity. In 2006, the Los Campesinos! sales pitch was some variation on "hyper-literate but misanthropic teenagers who are probably too smart for their own good." When you grow up, though, the guy who passes off insults as insights is just a jerk. I would have bet against LC!'s staying power, and I'm glad to be proven wrong. Sick Scenes is the grown-up (though still misanthropic) album I didn't think we'd ever get, and I'm interested to see where they go next.

(54) Wolf Parade - “Valley Boy”

Supposedly written in tribute after Leonard Cohen’s passing, which makes me feel extra guilty that I regularly sing the lyrics to “Sk8er Boi” over it. Hey, they’re all Canadian.

(55) The National - “Carin at the Liquor Store”

I don't know who held the belt before them (maybe Wilco?), but The National are the undisputed dad-rock champions of the world right now. Subconsciously, almost reflexively, this makes me dislike them. Dad-rock? No way! I'm cool! And young! And people who feel the need to tell you they are cool and young almost always are, right?

(56) Alvvays - “Dreams Tonight”

I want to create one of those word clouds for Alvvays reviews: "woozy," "dreamy," "shimmering," "starry-eyed." What I'm saying is that I don't think anyone else really knows how to write about Alvvays either. 

(57) Nine Inch Nails - “Less Than”

Ilana has a real soft spot for dance music that's also terrifying. I didn't think that was something I was into, but between this and "Black Skinhead," I'm coming around on it.

(58) Run the Jewels - “Down” (f/ Joi)

Pop the tape in, baby, we got shit we wrote for you ...

Run the Jewels has always been cinematic, and I love that Killer Mike describes this song as "the scene in Carlito’s Way right before that motherfucker comes out the bathroom."

I don't know if I necessarily get it, but I like artists that think in those terms.

(59) LCD Soundsystem - “Tonite”

It makes me happy that other people on the internet think James Murphy looks like Steve Bannon, because that was absolutely not something I was going to say out loud unless I knew I wasn't the only one.

(60) Little Mix - “Power” (f/ Stormzy)

Little Mix opens their live show with this, and I know that, because I've seen Little Mix live, in Glasgow, in what was probably the year's most traumatic event that I also thoroughly enjoyed. I'm honestly not sure I have enough space to describe it here. My therapist has a lot to sort through already, but we should really be spending more time talking about this show.

(61) Kirin J Callinan - “Big Enough”

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Please watch the video for "Big Enough." Please start at the beginning and watch, uninterrupted, through at least the 2:35 mark.

(62) Cardi B - “Bodak Yellow”

I spend a lot of time wondering if our civilization's biggest problems are structural or representational. Do our problems stem from the fundamental organization of our society, or that fact that we put exclusively male sociopaths in charge of it?

Take the economy. I think the problems are structural, caused by the fact that we've built a system which pretty much only benefits soulless billionaire vampires. I do not think things would improve if a higher percentage of those soulless billionaire vampires were women. I think the problem is that we have soulless billionaire vampires in the first place.

Now take East Coast hip hop. Misogynistic. Homophobic. Ultra-violent. Probably a little past its prime (as evidenced by the fact that hip hop writers talk themselves into every new Jay Z album like old white music writers do with U2).

Now put Cardi B in charge of it. Suddenly its awesome. The problem was representational.

(63) Car Seat Headrest - “War Is Coming (If You Want It)”

On CSH's Bandcamp page, the song's description is simply ""This is a song about not murdering people." Seems like a sentiment we can all get behind.

(64) Phoebe Bridgers - “Scott Street”

There's something uniquely wonderful about Phoebe Bridgers that sets her apart from other similar-on-paper singer-songwriters, but I don't know what it is, so you get a blurb along the lines of "I live a block off of Scott Street, and I hum this song to myself whenever I see the street sign. Don't usually have an open container with me, though" because I'm just dodging the question.

(65) Martha - “The Winter Fuel Allowance Ineligibility Blues”

If you're asking me, right now, Martha is the best band in the world. We saw them in London in March, and it was hands down my favorite show of the year. The entire crowd was locked in on the band to a degree I've never seen before. Not one person had their phone out. At one point, I found myself in the front row, and wanted to get a quick shot of the band, but I honestly felt guilty about it, like I'd be ruining the show for others if I was the one idiot sticking his phone in someone's face. It felt like a real community. I wanted to get to know everyone in the crowd around me, to go get a pint with them and learn about their lives.

The downside to this show was that it was a label showcase for a label - Fortuna Pop - who was closing their doors. Martha was (and may still be) artistically homeless. 

So, let's be real for a minute ... how much would it really cost to start a label for the express purpose of putting out Martha's new record? I really want to do this. Martha, please call me.

(66) Kesha - “Rainbow”

On Rainbow, Kesha approaches trauma from a few different perspectives. "Woman" is the empowerment anthem, whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger. "Praying" is a meditation on forgiveness. "Rainbow" comes from a different place. It's built on vulnerability. The repeated exhortation to "put those colors on, girl" really hits me because it's Kesha talking herself into it. She wants to be the badass sequined heroine from "Woman," but you don't just flip a switch and transform into that, not after what Kesha's been through. It would be so easy to continue to "live in the darkness." Maybe you don't want to put those colors on today. But you have to. And tomorrow, too. And hopefully that's how healing happens. I mean, I don't know. I'm not going to lecture Kesha on overcoming trauma. She seems to be doing great so far.

(67) HAIM - “Want You Back”

Because time is a flat circle, the cool kids in LA will be forever trying to write Fleetwood Mac songs, and in 2017 no one does that better than the Haim sisters.

(68) Mallrat - “Better”

Massively talented Aussie teen keeps writing great songs, though she told Stereogum her dad likes this one best. He's wrong - I mean, "Tokyo Drift" is still untouchable - but I share his optimism about her future.

(69) John Moreland - “Amen, So Be It”

I have no idea where this bit of Springsteen-inspired brilliance came from. I think I saw a random tweet about it. More and more, that's how music discovery works for me now - songs just appear from the ether. I don't have a system. I very easily could have missed this one. Glad I didn't.

(70) White Reaper - “The Stack”

They called their new album The World’s Best American Band, which seems maybe a little grandiose, but they do hail from Muhammad Ali's hometown, so maybe boasts like this come with the territory. As Ali said, "It's not bragging if you can back it up," and in 2017, White Reaper did. 

(71) Big Shaq - “Man’s Not Hot”

First of all, you have to understand that Big Shaq is in on the joke. He knows this is ridiculous, and that's a big reason why this is so good.

I've heard dozens of American hip-hop songs largely based on the rapper making gun sounds, but this is the first British hip-hop song I've ever heard in that vein and it's ... kind of adorable, really.

Also, if you haven't noticed by now, I'm basically here to talk about two things, (a) the Gallagher brothers, and (b) Jeremy Corbyn. What do they have in common?
Bringing. People. Together.

(72) Waxahatchee - “Hear You”

You give up half your life / Talking trash, up all night ...

So difficult to choose one song from Out in the Storm. "Hear You" wasn't even mentioned in Pitchfork's review of the album, and to be honest I'm not sure why it's the one that stood out for me. It sounds ... the sharpest? Does that make sense?

Anyway, Katie Crutchfield is a genius and I want to remind everyone that PS Eliot's "Sore Subject" is a perfect song.

(73) Harry Styles - “Sign of the Times”

This is not at all what I expected from Harry Styles. I expected pretty much the same thing from the solo members of One Direction - dance songs featuring someone equally famous, probably a rapper.

Instead, Styles gave us this huge Bowie-esque ballad. It's deceptively simple, but covers so much ground. It has depth. It's the kind of song that will survive 2017 when so many pop hits won't. 

Rolling Stone's song of the year, and obviously I don't agree, but I get where they're coming from.

(74) The Clientele - “Lunar Days”

This is the year that the monster will come ...

(75) The War on Drugs - “Pain”

Maybe this marks me as a philistine, but every War on Drugs song sounds exactly the same to me. I like the way they sound, and I don't want them to change anything, but you could also probably swap out pain with something else from A Deeper Understanding and I'm not totally sure I would notice.

(76) Brian Fallon - “Forget Me Not”

The consummate Springsteen super-fan, Fallon pays ultimate homage to The Boss by making up a sports term that absolutely no one has ever used before. Where Springsteen's "Glory Days" foil threw that "speed ball" (not a thing), Fallon's protagonist asks his girl to bring his "football top." I ... I have no idea what that is. Is that a jersey? Shoulder pads? What?

Also, when Fallon yells "Stacy!" at various points in this song, it sounds just like when Josh yells "Rodney!" in the Shamanda sketch on 30 Rock

So, after two sarcastic comments, just let me say for the record that I love Brian Fallon and will absolutely support whatever he does forever.

(77) Wolf Alice - “Yuk Foo”

A cool thing about the UK music press is that they're not afraid of cross-gender comparisons, so sonically Wolf Alice often get compared to bands like Arctic Monkeys and (especially) Blur. If that comparison holds, this is absolutely their "Song 2." A blast of noise and speed for a band not known for either. It's electrifying at shows. Seems unlikely to have "Song 2"'s second life a a jock jam though.

(78) Portugal. The Man - “Feel It Still”

This gets compared to "Pumped Up Kicks" a lot, and the writer almost always means it in the pejorative sense, but I always have a soft spot for a novelty alt-rock hit. With "Feel It Still," I'm mostly just happy for Portugal. The Man. They've been toiling in relative obscurity for years despite a string of absolute gems ("So American" and "Modern Jesus" among my favorites). So sure, I don't know if this is the song they would have picked to hit it big, but I'm still glad it's happening. 

(79) Beth Ditto - “Fire”

Again, music writing is just an exercise in stringing together nonsense words in an attempt to capture the essence of art. One reviewer described "Fire" as a "predatory throb [that] explodes into a chugging fuzz-rock boogie streaked with squalling guitars." And I get it. That actually makes sense to me.

(80) Worriers - “My 85th Rodeo”

Beyond "first world problems," there is a more advanced class of complaints known as "San Francisco problems." Here's a San Francisco problem: You randomly stumble upon this band called Worriers. You'd never heard of them before. They sound great. You start doing a little research. Turns out they're on tour. Turns out they're playing San Francisco ... that very night. It's too soon! You need more time to get to know them! You can't go to their show the same day you first learned they existed! Why does this great band have to be playing at a cool, tiny venue in your city on a date that is not emotionally convenient for you?!? That's a San Francisco problem.

(81) Big Thief - “Shark Smile”

"Masterpiece" was the most egregious omission from 100 Songs for 2016. It should have been somewhere between (6) and (8), and as a penance I have listened to it several thousand times since then. 2017's Capacity might not have a song on that level, but it's well worth your time, "Shark Smile" being my personal highlight. We saw Big Thief at Rickshaw Stop earlier this year, and Adrianne Lenker is electric, holding the audience's attention on even the quietest and most delicate tracks.

(82) Lizzo - “Truth Hurts”

The Vikings are 10-3, and apparently Lizzo is dating one of them. What a season! Skol!

[Fast forward to the Vikings losing a playoff game in the most painful way possible.]

[It's already happening. I wrote this as "10-2" earlier this week, then had to update after the Panthers loss.]

(83) Sigrid - “Don’t Kill My Vibe”

Norway really making inroads into Sweden's pop dominance. Is the highest Scandinavian on our list really all the way down here at 83? Disappointing.

(84) Sheer Mag - “Expect the Bayonet”

I have played Sheer Mag for a bunch of people, and literally every one of them has hated it. So, maybe you'll be the exception. I hope so.

My #1 Sheer Mag jam is "Fan the Flames," a blistering anti-gentrification album that made its Spotify debut as part of 2017's Compilation. So I thought about including it in 100 Songs for 2017, but ... it came out in 2015. I know that. I'm not going to lie to you guys. For some reason, my internal integrity on the rules of this list is very important to me.

So, in addition to collecting prior EPs for Compilation, Sheer Mag also released Need to Feel Your Love, a full album of new, 2017-eligible material. "Expect the Bayonet" is the best of that set, part of a wave of punk rock with explicit class war themes (I mean, Downtown Boys put out an album called Full Communism, Sheer Mag isn't going quite that far yet).

If you like Alabama Shakes but not Sheer Mag, I question your taste.

(85) Noel Gallagher - “Fort Knox”
(86) Liam Gallagher - “For What It’s Worth”

OK, we're grouping them together again because it's absolutely impossible to talk about one and not the other. These two songs are an interesting point/counterpoint on what the two brothers are hoping to get out of their solo careers. Noel seems interested in making music that doesn't necessarily sound like his past work. "Fort Knox" is a Kanye-influenced nod back to Madchester-era Factory Records and artists like Primal Scream, where you could just ride a groove for four minutes without worrying about whether it had any kind of traditional verse/chorus structure. Liam is explicitly trying to make new Oasis songs, and it's working. "For What It's Worth" fits somewhere between "Don't Look Back In Anger" and "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" on the Oasis ballad spectrum, and if you'd told me it was actually a Dig Out Your Soul-era b-side, I would have believed you.

In the past, I've tried to remain neutral in the Blur vs. Oasis wars, since they're both great, but 2017 pushed me over the edge. I would absolutely pay ridiculous sums of money to see a reunited Oasis in concert anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, Blur played in LA a few years ago and I never seriously considered going. Sorry, Damon.

(87) J HUS - “Did You See”

There are so many reasons to hate white supremacists. It's a profoundly immoral belief system, indefensible on every possible level. But, in addition to that, it just doesn't make any sense. All that talk about the purity of European civilization and the sanctity of the Western canon? It's nonsense. Stick with that and you doom yourself to derivative art forever, made by artists whose only goal is to make a decent copy of what came before.

What you really want, and what art needs, is Gambian kids growing up in East London listening to 50 Cent. That's how you get J HUS. That's how you get "Did You See." That's how you get something new. That's how we move society forward.

(88) Sorority Noise - “No Halo”

An album consistently described as "raw," a lead single explicitly focused on dealing with grief, yet built on a melodic emo framework that's just catchy enough to keep the heavy lyrical content from becoming crushing.

(89) Alex Lahey - “Every Day’s The Weekend”

First song on the album, first song in Lahey's set. If you're introducing the world to Alex Lahey (and I plan to do that a lot in 2018), this is a pretty good starting point.

(90) Pale Waves - “Television Romance”

Ilana and I saw Pale Waves at Rickshaw Stop a couple weeks ago, at a time when the band had three recorded songs that existed anywhere in the known internet universe. The crowd was predominantly pop-goth teens, the kind that would probably elicit a snarky comment about Hot Topic if you saw them on the street.

As you can imagine, Pale Waves played more than three songs ... and these kids knew all the words to all of them. The band would announce a song we'd never heard of, and the entire crowd would go nuts in knowing anticipation. How?!?

The show made me feel old, but in a good way, like there's so much more out there in the world than just the stuff I know about. And these kids with unfortunate haircuts are out there finding it, not because they're being spoon-fed the next big thing by big corporations and media conglomerates, but because they're seeking out art that resonates with them. I hope Pale Waves takes over the world next year.

(91) Japandroids - “In a Body Like a Grave”

Japandroids will always be known for their straight-ahead party rock anthems ("Young Hearts Spark Fire" / "The House That Heaven Built" / "Near To The Wild Heart Of Life"), but the secret to their awesome power comes from how well they know their enemies: age, complacency, quiet desperation. The brutal first verse of "In a Body Like a Grave" calls them all out by name:
Christ will call you out
School will deepen debt
Work will sap the soul
Hometown haunts what’s left
Love will scar the heart
Sun will burn the skin
Just the way it is
And way it’s always been
Battles may occasionally be lost but, to Japandroids, the war is always theirs to be won. When you feel defeated, you need to go even harder: "Break the bank like you’re breaking a bill / And love so hard that time stands still"

(92) The Spook School - “Less Than Perfect”

We saw The Spook School open for Martha in London earlier this year, and it was just pure joy. I didn't know much about them, which made it even better, like found money. Seriously, it looked like this:
The ballon release happened during a song called "Binary," which, as you could probably guess, deals with some weighty themes about gender norms. But it's a celebration. If there's a charge for pop music as we turn the page on 2017, it is exactly that. It can be a way to surface important but challenging issues in a non-intimidating context. I don't know if a Spook School song, by itself, can change someone's life, but it could easily be the first step along that path.

(93) Jay Som - “The Bus Song”

East Bay singer-songwriter who loves Carly Rae Jepsen, rescue animals, and public transit. If you told me one artist on this list had been created by a computer program specifically to appeal to me, I would guess Jay Som.

(94) QTY - “Michael”

Unlike "Rodeo," this one takes awhile to get to the point, but it's worth it.

(95) Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - “Over Everything”

Before this album came out, you absolutely could have convinced me that Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were the same person. Even now, I'm not sure. Lotta Sea Lice was less than the sum of its parts but when you start with parts like Barnett and Vile, you're still doing okay.

(96) Frontier Ruckus - “Positively Freaking”

Good artists know their weaknesses. This song is just over two minutes long because it would be exhausting if it were any longer. As it is, it's a winning blast of literate folk-pop, and then it's over. Frontier Ruckus know better than to overstay a welcome.

(97)The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Anymore”

I wanted to die with you ...

(98) Pet Symmetry - “Everyone, If Anyone”

In 2013, Pet Symmetry put out a two-song 7-inch single called Two Songs About Cars. Two Songs With Long Titles. One of the songs was called ""A Detailed and Poetic Physical Threat to the Person Who Intentionally Vandalized my 1994 Dodge Intrepid Behind Kate's Apartment." It's really great. "Everyone, If Anyone" isn't as good, and it's title is also much shorter. Not sure if correlation equals causation here, but maybe.

(99) Stars - “Alone”

I went to college in a pre-Twitter age, a pre-listicle age, before the algorithms took over, before people had jobs like "aggregator" and "curator" which just mean that they find things and show them to other people. Cool stuff was out there on the internet, but you had to find it yourself. I didn't know how to do that, but I was willing to give it a shot. I religiously read a website called "Tiny Mix Tapes," where people would submit ideas for mixtapes and other people would make them. The ideas were all completely insane ("Sometimes I feel like dying so I can reach the transcendental plane of existence after the cosmic annihilation of the self") but the mixtapes were exquisite, blending popular and obscure, hinting at a depth of taste

Back then, though, "playlist" was literally just a list of songs. No YouTube links, no Spotify, so you had to find something that sounded cool (maybe the playlist had a couple songs you knew and liked), then go pirate MP3s individually. It was basically the Wild West.

I say all this because that's how I first heard Stars, some proto-hipster adding "Elevator Love Letter" to a playlist called, like, "The potential is always greater than reality." Lifelong connections spring from nothing, keep trying.

(100) Sløtface - “Magazine”

Ilana was adamant their name was pronounced "slutface." I said, reasonably, there's no way that's possible. Well, she's right this time:

The band's name (originally "Slutface") was chosen to juxtapose with their feminist message and grab attention. In an unreleased 2016 interview, the band said that the controversial name didn't cause them too much trouble back home, with their increasing popularity even leading to the Norwegian government to pay them to tour high schools in their home country. Despite Norway's large English-speaking population, the band said that the name was not nearly as provocative there as it would turn out to be in the UK and America. 
On 1 April 2016, citing "social media censorship", the band permanently renamed themselves to Sløtface, - still pronounced "Slutface".
Patti Smith would never put up with this shit.
Patti Smith would never put up with this shit.
Patti Smith. Would. Never. Put. Up. With. This. Shit. 


  1. thanks Aaron! Looking forward to listening to the top 100 about 3 times over the next week and then honing in on my top songs and listening to those on repeat.

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