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 3: "CLIFF" mixed by C Monster


Mount Eerie

"Ravens"

[P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.]

All poetry is dumb. In the face of death, what is there to do after the fact? When all — knees, brains, words — fails? Can there be any more grands récits, of the natural world and of the elements, to tell? "Ravens" was a snapshot of real death, the plaintive sigh of an aching body. It made no pretensions to a universal truth in its uncompromising particularity; dates, places, "lifeless pictures." Phil Elverum avoided sublime gesturing, but his word, written or spoken, remained. In the face of death, his was a life structured by lack, a presence defined by absence — "Death is real... And I'm still here."


Sun Araw

"Amplitude"

[Sun Ark]

In mapping out the astrological trajectory of The Saddle Of The Increate, Sun Araw once again managed to take us a level deeper this year — only this time, it turned out our uncharted territory was back home on the range. Cameron Stallones has always proclaimed to be more of a "zones" and "spaces" guy than a songwriter, but "Amplitude" was the sound of all those loosely associated noodles binding together with more harmony than ever before. From the peak of the mountain, we could still see the distant fantasy cities of On Patrol, the spiritual academy of Ancient Romans, and the microscopic mirages of Belomancie, but more important was the vast desert expanse ahead, unexplored and just waiting for somebody to giddy-up.


Julie Byrne

"I Live Now as a Singer"

[Ba Da Bing!]

At the end of Julie Byrne's Not Even Happiness, an album of hazy, fingerpicking majesty, lies “I Live Now as a Singer,” a track whose rippling synths were simultaneously at odds with the album’s sound and a pure, final realization of it. She contemplated her journey West and, looking into the cosmos, she recited the album’s coda: “At night beneath the universe, you walk with me/ Shall I be ever near the edge of your mystery.” She was floating away, but she was also more grounded in reality than ever before. A sense of transcendental acceptance. What’s more CLIFF than this song?


Big Thief

“Mythological Beauty”

[Saddle Creek]

A paean to young motherhood and female resilience, the standout single on Big Thief’s sophomore effort Capacity found compassion in the travails of a mother navigating her way through parenthood in her teens and twenties. Largely autobiographical, “Mythological Beauty” tracked front woman Adrianne Lenker’s early life in the Midwest from the second-person perspective of her stoic matriarch. Recounting her subject’s experience of giving up a son for adoption and later brushing with her daughter’s mortality, Lenker refigured her mother from imago to fallible human. And in its affecting refrain, “Beauty” offered its own maternal reassurance: “You’re all caught up inside, but you know the way.”


Avey Tare

“Melody Unfair”

[Domino]

Somewhere far away, stalactites glow in the reflection of the cave reservoir. Climb all the way up through the granite and the soil, and eventually you’ll reach the trees. A wind curves its way through the branches, but something isn’t quite right… she’s gone. There is no cave, no reservoir, no trees, just the creaking floorboards of this old house, an echo ringing through the halls, a song that’s hardly been written. Piece by piece, it all starts to come back, the difference between what you imagined and how it really happened, a comfort and a curse in the same breath. Lie down on the bed, imagine the world outside — it always felt so much more real in your head anyway.


Yves Tumor

“E. Eternal”

[Self-Released]

Echoing out of the pain and rage of the past toward unlimited futures, held captive in the chasm of eternal life, “E. Eternal” is a hymn out of time and space, resistant to the infernal lure of flesh and earth, the chattering of distantly remembered voices, the thrust of human language. All is reduced to nothing, the titter of the whippoorwill, cries emptied of meaning. The spirit is willing to endure, but the body cannot. A guitar loop lulls you toward abject sublimation. Give in, let it whisper into your soul. Peace on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

“Untogether”

[Milk!]


Although it wafts like an inspired bittersweet one-off after some G N’ R-level boozification (“Sour mash!”), Belly’s ballad always jarringly stood out among the flanged hooks of their 1993 debut. With a more ornate arrangement, Courtney and Kurt bestow the already-cutting lament (“Sometimes there’s no poison like a dream”) with fresh new leveling power. And closing their collection of fun moody rockers on such a sour note was just right. Upon exiting the merry thrall, with overtired awareness, we were slumped with the weight of the untogether and the distance from those more together than ourselves.


Richard Dawson

“Ogre”

[Weird World]

Mud, manure, darkness. Through pangs born into serfdom. A life of grief and hard labor cut short by the plague, famine, war. The fate of your father and those before him. Dust returning to dust. The promise of eternity ensnared by the near certainty of damnation. Murk and nothing more. Your only escape? Flesh and its delights. To lord over your own kingdom, the brews and spirits of yore a portal to the rites of the ancients. At last, solace. An original clarity. The world lit by a flame burning through time, beyond reason. Nature becomes the clay of slumbers, yourself a playground for forces impossible to resist. Uncanny. Everlasting. Citrinitas.


Group Doueh & Cheveu

“SKIT 1”

[Born Bad]

Take the cosmopolitan synth-punk inclinations of French band Cheveu and fuse them with Group Doueh’s Saharan reimaginings of rock and you get “SKIT 1,” a short bit of rock & roll as enamoring as it was freewheeling; Hassaniya Arabic rolling over deliberate bluesy riffs with whimsical keyboard whistles. I initially mistook it for something outlandish and novel, but “SKIT 1” was quite earthly and natural. It was a testament to just how well Group Doueh and Cheveu have worked together, bridging more gaps than just the musical or artistic.


Valerie June

“Man Done Wrong”

[Concord]


In the year under our President of glut, the tone and texture of Valerie June’s “Man Done Wrong” felt far more auspicious and foreboding. The idea of shadows terrorizing June’s narrator into giving up seemed similar to the year’s second-half upheaval of the harassing patriarchy. Yet the soulful stomp of “Man Done Wrong” also spoke to the time when the blues told us all we needed to know: a beaming light of legitimate news coming from the darkest areas of our own society. The neighbors were listening through the walls, but I don’t know if they were truly hearing it all — too much atmospheric data and psychic disconnects in the community sprouting forth, the creep of June’s dirge matching the crawl of our emergence into an age of sin.

Click to the next page to hear the “ALLEY” mix by Pat Beane.

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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