2017: Favorite 50 Songs Pick a song, close your eyes, and turn it up

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Rick Weaver


Malibu

“Held”

[PAN]

“Life hits me hard again.” As if I’m suspended under ice, I look numbly upward at an unclear refraction of the world’s light in Malibu’s music. Life has hit me in all kinds of ways to “Held”: slow like rays of sun on a late-afternoon walk, fast like raindrops, footsteps, or push notifications; soft too, but in the many times I went back to it deliberately, mostly hard. Like a lot of the tracks on the PAN “ambient” compilation mono no aware, “Held” isn’t really “ambient,” but it envelops us, carrying us almost out of the world the way “ambient music” should. A voice whispers, its vowels dropping into a languid croak, their slack indistinction making way to clear, auto-tuned sighs. A crystalline drone passes into the gravelly “ambience” of footsteps and rustling branches and then into a gently phasing guitar melody. Like a lonely, fatigued ballad made for a confused and apocalyptic future, “Held” dragged its music and lyrics behind like a carpetbag, never moving its eyes downward from the light. Lyrics not available.


Ryuichi Sakamoto

“andata”

[Milan]

Death-haunted music has been pervasive in listicles of the last couple years. Sufjan Stevens. David Bowie. Leonard Cohen. This year, Mount Eerie’s phenomenological account of grief will be the big one. But we can’t forget Ryuichi Sakamoto. He survived cancer, but the other outcome shrouded “andata”: Its first sturdy piano theme, subsumed by organ-timbre’d synths, felt a little too funereal — too easy, dying spoken of by the living — but the electronic simmers, rumbles, and whistles that initially appeared at the periphery, then eventually at the center of the mix, expressed something much more uncomfortable: the line between those who’ve seen the casket and those who’ve seen themselves inside it.


Grouper

“Children”

[Yellow Electric]

Sounds need hands. No piano rings without the pin of our prints, the kiss of drifting palms. From stillness, fission; in friction, singing. Tones grain with us. No piano sounds without its every part. You wouldn’t call it “piano” without its parts. No sounds without human hands. This idiophone world, struck and ringing, does not resolve on its own. We gasp, but only for want of more air. “Children,” Liz Harris, Grouper, are parts of of us, touched. We have killed so many of our parts. You wouldn’t call it “world” without its every part. Sounds beg repair. Hands beg grace. “Children” begs us, on.


Mark Templeton

“Cab Lights”

[Graphical]

Nostalgia was an integral part of my experience listening to “Cab Lights.” When I heard its luminous harmonies, its shifting atmospheres, I imagined a fog illuminated by city streets. And what is nostalgia if not a fog? The song’s starts-and-stops and staggered sampling made it difficult to decide when one idea ended and another began, like a conversation overheard in a cab, on a train, or, god forbid, in an Uber pool. The kind of conversation you only half-listen to while thinking, “They remind me of someone… some thing I used to know.” That very moment was what “Cab Lights” embodied for me: the past inside the present, the void wherein the future meets forgotten memories.


Pharmakon

“No Natural Order”

[Sacred Bones]

By now we’ve grown accustomed: a year of a Pharmakon release is another year in which Margaret Chardiet’s vocal cords risk detachment, elongation, and border on lashing us through our listening devices. Contact overall didn’t belie this standard that was set several years ago; instead, album finale “No Natural Order” slapped us with an evil that was even more intense than usual for the NYC-based absurdist herself. A metered screeching emerged toward the end of the track, and the sound almost seemed outside the range of human capacity. An image of Father Karras thus signals our best recourse should things get too heavy.


Future

“Mask Off”

[A1/Freebandz/Epic]

Cars on fire. Melancholy piano chords. He drives at night. Fog. “Ethereal wooshing.” A robbery. And that’s just the intro to the music video, whose terrifying imagery prompts the question, “Why not take molly and percocet?” In “Mask Off,” Future channeled true urban existential horror, offering in the song’s three and a half minutes the year’s greatest anthem of maximalist self-negation. Why do the greatest rap songs so clearly tell us the truths that we aren’t able to grasp when we read the news? Because in our bad politics and our formalism, we circumvent truth by imposing moral platitudes. Future understands this better than a lot of us — he understands that we are beyond good and evil. The truths here? Morality is relative, so chase a check. Life is alienated, so drink promethazine. Fuck it, mask off.


KeitaroTamura

“chorororo”

[Lynn]


My physical healing took place in the first half of 2017, my emotional struggle and spiritual recovery in the second. “chorororo” — a track off KeitaroTamura’s release on the TMT-adjacent Lynn imprint — summed up the full-year term though, scoring frightening nights in intensive care and euphoric runs along the canal. Just as significant, KeitaroTamura’s pulsetrack gave sounds to the mundane: its constant stir mimicking tires moving over tar lines and water hitting lock siding, looped and looped then double-timed. Its whisper-soft melodies and drone pulses were certain companions for a journey I was destined to take but whose destination was far from certain.


Laurel Halo

“Jelly”

[Hyperdub]

Quarantine was my favorite album of 2012, which is weird because I don’t care for flying, and Halo’s voice tastes like an airplane, that nauseatingly distinct blend of jet exhaust and instant coffee and aluminum tomato juice. “Jelly” tasted a little different (yet not much better), like Turkish delight and dried blood and stale champagne. It’s probably a good thing critics don’t often describe sound by how it tastes, especially sound this unidentifiable. In 2017, a trail of fumes both noxious and alleviating drifted into the VOID that 2016 left behind, and much of it has lingered in a blinding cloud of dust. What made “Jelly” so sensational was that its clashing notes didn’t taint our memories of its delicate, fractured poetics. Halo’s real triumph with “Jelly” then was that, through its “haze of delightful noise,” she rewired our senses. Whether through olfactory coercion or genuine movement, Laurel Halo won us over yet again.


EMA

“Blood and Chalk”

[City Slang]

How old were you when you realized the world was a hostile place? When you first sensed its trembling fingers probing the surface of your body for a crack wide enough to pry open? The opening strains of “Blood and Chalk” were the loneliest sounds Erika M. Anderson has made since her former outfit’s “Cherylee.” Yet there was beauty to be found here. Beauty in the loneliness. Beauty in the self-immolating grandeur of its climax. Beauty in accepting that, when the worst has happened, when the world has discarded the pulped and powdered remains of our bodies, for a little while at least, we were alive.


Angelo Badalamenti

“Dark Space Low”

[Rhino]

When the lights go out, will you be there? Something that never happened, deep under my skin, has got me so emotional. Questions in her mouth, in a world of blue. The secret is risky. Yet something is different. Heartbroken, “Dark Space Low.” Oh, Angelo! The song is a negative glow in Lydian mode that plays the same in reverse. A song for covering your face with your hands, to cover your only one-another. The sun comes up and down each day. Why don't you come over to my house? I'm floating. Come back this way.

Click to the next page to hear the "CLIFF" mix by C Monster.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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