Top 10 Songs of 2017

10. “Brave” – Jonathan Coulton

There’s no shortage of recent tunes about how people on the internet suck, but Jonathan Coulton stands out by wryly examining the issue in the first-person with “Brave.” From the perspective of a self-righteous online troll, he captures the pathetic swagger of men that think their anonymous little online flame wars are somehow noble excursions in modern bravery (“Counting up the lonely nights, all the little slights / I’m taking to my grave / When I torch the place, cover up my face / that will make me brave”). The tune’s psychology makes for a far more cutting and clever takedown of the culture than simple call-out songs, and the swift guitar melodies on the choruses provide an irresistible musical hook.

9. “Leaving LA” – Father John Misty

Do you get the joke yet? Do you get the “joke” of all of this? Over the course of 13 sprawling minutes, “Leaving LA” finds Father John Misty somewhat exasperatedly examining the own mythical musical figure he’s created, then stripping away the satire to find if there’s any substance. Over a few repeated chords and sparse string accompaniment, he lays out unvarnished lyrical sketches of fame, love, a traumatic childhood incident in a JCPenny, ambition, his lack of guitar prowess, and more, while not being afraid to gaze into the proverbial mirror (“Oh great, that’s just what we all need / another white guy in 2017 /  who takes himself so goddamn seriously”). When laid out together and looked at from a distance they form the persona that’s revered by many and loathed by many others. When examined up close, they just form another flawed human being. Get it?

8. “Smoke Signals” – Phoebe Bridgers

Serving as the haunting introduction to Stranger in the Alps, “Smoke Signals” quickly establishes everything a listener needs to know to be absolutely floored by Phoebe Bridgers. There’s the sincere yearning in her soft voice. There’s the songwriting deftness of detail (“One of your eyes is always half-shut, something happened when you were a kid”), the dexterity and cleverness that leads to using “Walden it” as a verb, and the ability to evoke melancholy through the personal and universal (including the deaths of Lemmy and Bowie). There’s the reserved musical backing that marries light guitar, string and electronic sonic specters fading in and out of the frame, and the gut punch of the chorus’ plodding bass line. “Smoke Signals” is the type of entrancing track that you can get lost in for a whole afternoon.

7. “Green Light” – Lorde

After the pop perfection of Pure Heroine, the pressure was squarely on Lorde. Rather than deliver more entrancing electro-pop, she decided to announce her return over with a piano-driven track. As the solid chords morph into a jaunty rhythmic bounce, “Green Light” opens its sonic ceiling and blossoms into a break-up dance party for the singer and all her best mates. She was just looking for that proverbial green light to move onto the next phase of her life, career, and sound. No need to wait for it any longer. It’s been found.

6. “Run for Cover” – The Killers

A sleek blend of Sam’s Town‘s Americana and Hot Fuss‘ headstrong bravado (almost grown-up cousin of that period’s stellar b-side, “Under the Gun”), “Run For Cover” manages to deliver panic with a swagger. Brandon Flowers excels with vocal performance that feels on the edge of bursting through during the verses before exploding in cathartic warning on the chorus. In case anyone forgot, peak The Killers can trade blows with any rock band on the planet.

5. “Mesa” – Cayetana

If there’s one thing that makes Cayetana’s New Kind of Normal stand out from the melodic indie punk pack, it’s Allegra Anka tremendous lead bass work. “Mesa” captures Anka’s playing at its bouncy, sugary, ear candy peak. The steadiness of Augusta Koch’s ever-repeating guitar chord progression and Kelly Olsen’s tight beats lay a foundation for each delightful bass outburst when the growled lyrics about doomed relationship plans take a pause.

4. “In Your Head” – Daddy Issues

Find a song with a better opening salvo than “Fuck you forever.” I dare ya. From that brilliantly blunt greeting, Daddy Issues crafts a grunge pop gem about the delusional imagined fantasies of a spurned ex-boyfriend. Over a steadfast wave of distorted guitar and bass, Jenna Moynihan coldly delivers line after line that cuts the legs out from underneath said dude’s dreams of her being constantly sorrowful, hating his new girlfriend, and forever pining for him (“Imagining me sad when you’re sad, makes you feel a little better”). There really can’t be enough middle fingers directed at toxic men in 2017, and “In Your Head” is a double-barreled salute.

3. “In Undertow” – Alvvays

You know how it’s fascinating when people put up isolated vocal tracks of classic songs? I’d love to listen to every single isolated track of “In Undertow” by Alvvays. Each layer of the song feels so detail rich: the softness of the opening keys, the sudden changes in background guitar rhythms, the dreamy sway of Molly Rankin’s vocals as the lyrics maturely examine a relationship post-break-up, the comparative harshness of the tone on the guitar solo, and so on. All the parts come together to create an ethereal soundscape that feels like a magical carousel ride. I just want to take a turn riding all of the horses.

2. “Glitter” – Charly Bliss

Bubble gum power pop doesn’t get much sweeter than “Glitter.” It’s damn near cavity-inducing. As Eva Hendricks sings about the friction in a relationship where both parties kind of treat each other horribly because of their extremely similar attention-craving personalities, the rest of the band continuously builds a musical tension that’s paid off in the euphoric outbursts each chorus (and for one guitar solo). The whole package feels like a devious fangs-out smile in the sunshine. (There’s also the part that I’m 99% sure the song is directly dragging one of the signature “Horrible Men of 2017.”)

1. “Tonight” – Dude York

Few things can be as frustrating as feeling like you’re hopelessly wasting your time and mental energy on someone. Dude York balls up all those emotions and turns them into pop rock bliss on “Tonight.” As Peter Richards intercuts chunky rhythm guitar with bursts of lead lines, Claire England’s bright yet biting vocals lay out the internal struggle of trying in vain to read such a situation (“The way you talk to me, makes me feel like just a friend”) before eventually getting fed up with all of it. After the prechorus’ dismissive line “Let’s wrap this up, there’s somewhere else I gotta be…”, the titular repeated one-word chorus feel like a anthemic release of all those pent up frustrations. Realizing that one can simply slough off this weighty mental burden, the second verse’s opening line–”Holy cow, the air feels so fucking good!”–rings with a life-giving relieved jubilation. Armed with Dude York’s precise pop sensibility, the tune bubbles with a sense of hope on the horizon. Better days can start tonight.


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