Our Top 25 Songs of 2017.
25. Algiers – “The Underside of Power” [Matador]
For the record, when Franklin James Fisher talks, he’s very soft and polite. It’s only while singing and raging against capitalism that he becomes a brimstone-slinging preacher. There’s been plenty of fantastic political music in 2017, but no one gets righteous fury quite like Algiers. And it helps that “The Underside of Power” is damn catchy. Doo-wop, soul, post-punk and noise-rock are all scrambled together into a single that, in some much cooler universe, went straight to the top of the charts. It’s rare to find something this fiery, preaching truth to power, that’s also a pop smash hit. Yes, it’s the classic ideal of “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but “The Underside of Power” also speaks to the arrogance, ignorance and stupidity that also seems to reek out of political institutions from Myanmar to Chicago. “It’s a game that can’t go on!” urges Fisher over a popping bassline. And he is speaking to how unsustainable it all is but, more importantly, how the breaking point is within sight. Just “hold on” and ride the blood-pumping energy to a new world. A magnificent spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” “The Underside of Power” will be blared across the globe when the revolution takes place. – Nathan Stevens
24. Ariel Pink – “Another Weekend” [Mexican Summer]
Ariel Marcus Rosenberg splits his personality when performing as Ariel Pink. Depending on the song, he’s either a disturbed trickster using sugary melodies to disguise his most perverse ideas, or he’s a sincere romantic ruminating on ideas of life, love and mortality. “Another Weekend” is firmly in the latter camp, and it’s one the best ballads to come out of his robust, meandering catalog. Tinged with a sense of regret and loss, the song is an heart-rending moment from an artist who rarely seems so emotionally naked.
Unlike most Ariel Pink songs, which arrive with either a sultry tone or a level of gonzo bombast, “Another Weekend” is languid and subdued. As he often can, Pink convincingly sounds beyond his years, singing of a perpetual lost weekend without fulfillment of any kind. His life seems to be endless, empty hedonism, an unnamed person representing a sort of happiness that he callously tossed aside. The retro, tape-hiss haze that seems to characterize so much of Pink’s work takes on a different meaning here; it signifies a life that someone is just getting through, that hazy feeling one gets when you’re only going on because you can’t put life on pause. That familiar malaise serves as a reminder that, beneath all of his self-conscious weirdness, Ariel Pink is just as human as the rest of us. – Kevin Korber
23. Aldous Harding – “Blend” [4AD]
“Hey man, I really need you back again/ The years are plenty.” This is how the 27-year-old Aldous Harding opens “Blend,” the opener of this year’s Party. Sung gently over the sound of her guitarist/keyboardist Invisible Familiars’ gentle fingerpicking until she’s joined by a simple, quiet Casiotone beat. The portrait Harding paints is an abstract one, one where you can only see small pieces of her grief if you really squint – “She’s gonna struggle day to day/ But she deserves a place“, “Got problems of the heart”, “A few of your letters came from Limoges“. It never feels like it’s a breakup song, but rather one about the ugly sorrows of distance and absence.
I was lucky enough to catch Harding at this year’s Pickathon, and while the version of this song that exists on Party is a truly special song, the song takes on a new life when played live – as is seen in her KEXP performance. Harding is an intense performer, and easily the most expressive one to breakthrough in 2017, and this shines through as she gently bobs onstage, her face contorted with emotional weight. Worth watching following this is the video for the song, which I will not spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it. “Blend,” along with Party and Aldous Harding herself, feel completely separate from the sounds being made in 2017, and while the world needs more artists like her, one can’t imagine replicating it; she’s in a class all her own. – Hollister Dixon
22. LCD Soundsystem – “How Do You Sleep” [Columbia/DFA]
Perhaps the most surprising reference points in James Murphy’s panoply of stated and implied influences are the mainstream acts, and the most persistent touchstone of American Dream’s centerpiece “How Do You Sleep” is Peter Gabriel, whose hallucinatory “Red Rain” lays out a primitive blueprint for LCD Soundsystem’s own nightmare. The track creeps out on several layers of faintly warbling synths and cautious, stumbling percussion before foghorn blurts of noise puncture the void. When Murphy’s vocals enter the mix, they sound like futile calls from shore, a man gazing out on a churning sea with no lighthouse to illuminate the way. Murphy has written and arranged emotionally haunting songs before, but this sounds literally haunted, a one-sided conversation between ghosts. Gradually, the track escalates, but in a way that compresses the sound like coal being pressed into a diamond, folding over shuddering new synthlines into the mix, creating an expanse then finding the claustrophobia within it. Murphy has rarely sounded better on the mic, calling out with muted despair and affecting a vibrato in sustained notes that connotes absolute agony. When the song truly erupts, it recalls an early rave jam like “Yeah” fully transposed into a new era of LCD’s songwriting and ambition, creating a full-on soundscape while nominally fitting within a demented rubric for dance music. The band’s best track since “All My Friends,” “How Do You Sleep” is that song’s harrowing opposite, a descent into hell in which loneliness is the greatest horror of all. – Jake Cole
21. Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy” [Sub Pop]
“The comedy of man starts like this/ Our brains are way too big for our mother’s hips.” Not bad for an opening line.
Father John Misty’s music sounds a little like Elton John and Randy Newman, but with sweeter pipes and a Comp Lit PhD. With little more than a slinky, piano bar arrangement, this song shuffles along for over 6 minutes, with the lyrics, rather than the music, serving as the source of rising intensity.
What can at first sound like ironic detachment becomes, with each passing verse, seething resentment toward humankind, toward the false beliefs it forces itself to accept and to all the ignorance, hatred, violence that seems to follow from them. It’s an “us vs. them” song where us equals them. But by describing “us” as “them,” Misty shows us how f-ed up we truly are.
The full band, horns and all, kicks in at the four-minute mark, providing an infectious bit of restrained dissonance before FJM’s vocals take the reins again, leading to a final verse that, finally breaking in its anger, ends with a modicum of solace and perhaps even redemption—“But the only thing that they request is something to numb the pain with/ Until there’s nothing human left/ Just random matter suspended in the dark/ I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.”
Given reports that we will have a new FJM album soon, it will be interesting where he goes from here. Pure Comedy was a great album, but it also has a sense of exhaustion about it. One hopes the new material will find a way of shedding its heavy skin. But it was a great ride while it lasted, and its title track will stand as a lasting trace of FJM’s mad musical. 2017—pure comedy. – Dylan Montanari