STAFF LIST: Eli’s Top 10 Songs of 2017
Posted: by The Editor
Over the next couple weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2017, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.
I listened to a lot of songs this year. These 10 are my favorite. @ me, pls.
The fourth record from Perfume Genius is one of the most far-reaching pop traverses of the year, truly embodying the formless nature of its title, No Shape, without ever losing itself along the way. In the time since it dropped in May, the record’s lead single, “Slip Away,” remains not only the strongest track, but a complementary pairing to the dusky, industrial ambience of Lorde’s Melodrama. The song’s clangy, deep percussion recalls the claustrophobic production of “Homemade Dynamite,” and the crashing entrance of its lavish chorus is especially reminiscent of the verse/hook dynamics of “Green Light.” This isn’t to insinuate there was some cross-pollination going on here (the albums dropped less than two months apart, and Perfume Genius isn’t yet influencing popstars), but rather to note the vast potential for an indie artist who draws comparisons to some of the most widely-adored pop tracks of 2017.
After emerging from a public slumber with the best album of 2016, Frank Ocean thankfully stayed awake throughout 2017. For the second year in a row, he released some of the most brilliantly innovative music that spans multiple genres and proves once more that he’s in a league of his own. “Biking” was the second of four singles he dropped this year, a summery cut that effortlessly bridges the hard-hitting hip-hop of its featured artists (Jay Z and Tyler, the Creator) with the celestial alt-R&B of Blonde tracks like “Self Control” and “Ivy.” No one else can swing from indie-pop crooning, to swift rapping, to soulful belting as seamlessly as Ocean. Truly, nobody. Also, he and Tyler have such impeccable chemistry at this point (see “911/Mr. Lonely” from Tyler’s Flower Boy) that they legitimately outshine Jay Z on this track, quarantining him to a lo-fi intro verse that flounders before the former Odd Future fellas. Oh, what a world we live in.
Despite the bout of Soundcloud rappers receiving much of the scene’s attention, Brockhampton are the most exciting new hip-hop act to break out this year. Perhaps that’s what they wanted, though, given their open dissociation with the genre through both their multi-faceted music and their self-identification as a boyband, not a rap group. “Junky” is a track from the second edition of their SATURATION trilogy—which will be completed on 12/15—and is arguably the 15-member crew’s greatest feat thus far. Sleek flows, dominating energy, a hefty dose of personality and some of the best bars of the year: “Is it homophobic to only hook up with straight niggas? / You know, closet niggas, masc-type / Why don’t you take that mask off? That’s a thought I had last night.”
For the third year straight, Prince Daddy & the Hyena released some of the best punk music of the entire decade, and they’re finally beginning to get recognized for it. Their three-way split with Mom Jeans and Pictures of Vernon sold 300 vinyl copies in less than 24 hours, and although the now-SideOneDummy dudes in MJ were the main draw for that, “Thrashville ⅔” is the best track on the record. The band receives loads of Weezer comparisons (with varying degrees of accuracy), but the blaring, cramped mix of this cut is the closest they’ve come to replicating the kinetic energy of Pinkerton. It’s also a straight-up pop banger that sees frontman Kory Gregory and Kississippi songwriter Zoe Reynolds trading lines with a level of finesse that typically takes years to attain. It’s a stunning collaboration and a huge progression from where P Daddy were even half-a-year ago. There’s a lot of talent coming out of the Counter Intuitive clan, but this band is out in front.
Five years after the neo-folky Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth unveiled his solo, self-titled attempt at carrying on the band’s name, and the seven-minute “Up In Hudson” is enough in and of itself to prove his success. The song narrates Longstreth’s side of his breakup with former bandmate Amber Coffman, and the track’s character—both emotionally and musically—evokes the spirit of Kanye West, who he blatantly namedrops in the third verse. Lyrically, it’s a one-sided account of their relationship’s timeline that seems to manifest from a headspace not unlike the one Kanye was in on 808’s & Heartbreak, and the track’s extended coda unabashedly borrows the blueprints from the lengthy second half of “Runaway”. Not that these appropriations are unwelcome, “Up In Hudson” is a magnificent song, and one that became even more mystifying once I heard Longstreth break down its composition in this Song Exploder podcast. Much like Kanye, the appeal is in his ability to be so forwardly biased that you almost end up taking the side of the antagonist, wrapping yourself up in the universe of the song and experiencing a strangely visceral emotional reaction.
Although “HUMBLE.” and “LOYALTY.” populated radio stations and Spotify playlists all summer long, DAMN. isn’t a singles album. It’s an album that deserves to be played from front to back (or perhaps from back to front) and choosing just one song to showcase all of its depth is futile. If I were to pull just one, though, it’d be “FEAR.”. Despite the intensity of “DNA.”, the isolation of “FEEL.” and the uneasiness of “LUST.”, I think “FEAR.” contains the most compelling narrative—yes, even moreso than the certifiably cinematic “DUCKWORTH.”. Hearing Kendrick, at his most forthright, wrestling to make sense of his success, his religious beliefs, his mortality, his loyalty to both his family and his fans, and his very personality, is simultaneously engrossing and heart-wrenching. In addition to being the thematic knot of the entire record, its three verses feature a range of Kendrick’s deliveries; domineeringly aggressive, suspiciously subdued, and long-winded yet precise.
Bleached have low-key been one of the tightest groups to spawn from the early 2010’s surf revival, a style they’ve mostly shed at this point in favor of toothy alt-grunge that legitimately contended with the anthemic prowess of Against Me! on this year’s fall tour. The L.A. quartet dropped the four-song Can You Deal? EP back in February, and the project’s title track has maintained its standing as not only the band’s best song to date, but one of the best rock songs of the year. Frontwoman Jennifer Clavin subtly channels the rap-rock fusion of No Doubt’s heyday during the verses, breaking out into Shirley Manson-esque fervor during the track’s garagey earworm of a hook. Bleached are a unit, though, and the song’s appeal lies within the lead vocal’s cohesiveness with the spiny bassline and savory harmonies. Few bands of their caliber sound as naturally fun as Bleached do on this track, and even fewer can replicate such a fluid dynamic on stage as well as them.
Much like their music, Cende’s career was a brisk jaunt. The pseudo-supergroup (which featured members of Porches and LVL Up) swung open the door and sprinted down the driveway this year; releasing their debut record, landing an opening slot on one of the hippest tours of the summer (joining Alex G and Japanese Breakfast), and recording a promising Audiotree session—only to return home before the evening even began, calling the band quits in early November. “What I Want” is the highlight of their day in the sun, a glowing indie bop that boasts both the pop tact of Porches and the prudent craft of a lengthier LVL Up track. Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos) makes an exceptional cameo on here as well, her voice gliding above the crisp rhythm section, accented with jubilant violin strokes that flutter alongside her silky croon. It’s somewhat of a family reunion for the Double Double Whammy household, and it’s an impressive display of what the genealogy has gone on to accomplish in the years since moving out and taking residency in the high castles of Sub Pop and Domino Records.
“Pop” had never been a word to appear in the vernacular surrounding Xiu Xiu, the experimental post-punk veterans who’ve consistently dropped some of the most challenging music to be accepted by the wider indie rock community over the last decade. And although 2017’s Forget was deemed by many critics to be their most accessible yet, it’s still a demented, at times terrifying, selection of avant-garde art-rock that seems intent on self-destructing as soon as it begins assembling any sort of discernible structure. “Wondering” is the exception. It’s a shimmering electro-pop jam that contains an actual hook—a seriously catchy one, despite Jamie Stewart’s signature, breathy intonations—and a propulsive dance beat that’s fit to soundtrack a gothic end of the world party. Xiu Xiu’s songs usually sound like a dying man’s last words, but this song sounds alive. Unconcernedly, shamelessly, momentously alive. In our current day that’s a rare feeling, and I wouldn’t have guessed Xiu Xiu would be the ones to provide it.
I’m gonna say it again: there is no other artist like Frank Ocean. He’s a gift to this earth and we should be grateful for his presence every single day. “Chanel” was the first of his sporadic single drops this year, and even now, eight months after its release, it never ceases to amaze me. On this track he somehow outdid the minimalism (an odd paradox, yes) we thought he mastered on Blonde. With very little bass, a dash of ambiguous acoustic percussion, and a modest weave of ethereal keys, he inexplicably sounds like he could simultaneously be performing in both a living room and an arena. He sings each line like it could be the hook, and honestly, any one passage in here could be. If you attempt to make sense of the track using conventional compositional standards, there are actually two distinct choruses; the “See both sides like Chanel” and “My pockets snug…” passages, respectively. However, as heavy-handed as it might sound, attempting to break down Ocean’s music the way we do for other artists feels pointless. He’s the post-modern response to R&B, to hip-hop, to pop music, and to rock music. Although it contains elements of all four of those genres, “Chanel” renders each one useless. It very well may be his most inventive work to date.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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