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 4: “ALLEY” mixed by Pat Beane


Chino Amobi

“EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II)”

[NON WORLDWIDE]

There was a sense of urgency in “EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II)” that wasn’t met by any other composition on the album. Some of its other tracks would give you a sense of respite, but not this one. The rapped words, squashed between distorted samples and aggressive arpeggios, gave no promise of forgiveness or redemption; it instead evoked an overpowering, divine rage, one disillusioned yet ultimately expressing loss — the anger that survives when all else is lost. Couple with it the angelic voice of Embaci and it all felt properly distanced, as if mourning for everything that had to be destroyed in the absence of light.


Perera Elsewhere

“Karam”

[Friends of Friends]

On “Karam,” Perera Elsewhere sang 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” in the Upside Down. Dubbed out, stripped down, slowed and throwed — this was a lollipop dropped from careless or uncaring hands, covered in dust, gnawed by the rats. It was brown acid trip hop. “Karam” means “generosity” or “bounty,” but if Fiddy’s vision was one of spending all you’ve got, “Karam” inhabited the unanticipated instant after this offering — the moment when you have nothing, when turning out your pockets spills the emptiness into the world, where it catches in contagion until everything is hollow.


Elucid

“Dutch Wax”

[Backwoodz Studioz]

Discarded localities, alien ambitions, forgotten female rapper phantasms… of what do you speak? Language dictates realities, hoarse-voiced in a Horse Latitude and re-mastered for a New Year in No York, DOA. When symbolism is a capital offense, windtalkers of the world unite. When they ask if you’re communicating in code, record another travelogue. Commission a t-shirt that reads “FREE EVERY GODDAMN BODY.” Don’t ask about the fabric. Not every alley is dark, but “There’s healing on every corner.” Silly rap kids; “jarring” is for jelly. Cleanse via violent vomiting. “Have you been good to yourself?”


Macula Dog

“Plastic Lassie”

[Haord]


In a biker flick gone bald, Macula Dog took their new pet, Sally, for a ride. “No view of the driver,” they said. We tried to catch a glimpse anyway. Its head was shaved down to the brain, cerebrospinal fluid splashing on the blacktop. The driver didn’t notice us gawking, its googly eyes fixed sideways on Sally the immaculate dog. Her pink tongue and her slobber / Sliding toward me. CSF and slobber mixed in the fresh country air. Yes, it was good to get out of Dodge, if only for the day.


MHYSA

“Strobe”

[Halcyon Veil]

The club is never empty. This is an increasingly relevant truth for “club music,” one of which MHYSA is hyper-aware. “Strobe,” one moment of R(hythm) from her debut of explorative B(lues), is crowd music as much as club music. The track’s snowballing litany gathers shutters and snaps from an audience that orbits (and here illuminates) the voice and the body of the black woman — MHYSA’s exemplar. Their gaze elevates, not deteriorates. Their increasing attention moves the track toward a final entropy, but never hinders the axis of the body and voice that are still there, rising. “Click, click, click, click, click.”


Actress

“Dancing in the Smoke”

[Ninja Tune]

AZD, Actress’s formal return from almost-retirement, brought with it an air of accessibility, which rose out of an urban sidewalk grate for reasons that dwellers can only surmise have something to do with keeping sewer mutants warm and docile. Those sewer mutants are an imagined threat, while notions of poverty-stricken yet technologically advanced cities seem much more real to anyone who’s witnessed hints of a growing divide firsthand. Confused electronics infiltrated “Dancing in the Smoke” like a computer virus, while perpetual calls to “dance” acted as hypnosis for the future ride. What else can we do?


Mount Kimbie

“Blue Train Lines” (feat. King Krule)

[Warp]

In electronic music especially, vocal features can feel a bit rote; if an instrumental’s a little sparse, the label might find someone who can anonymously complement the song’s established mood. Not so with “Blue Train Lines.” The words “feat. King Krule” open up a vast expanse of possibilities by themselves, and doubly so when paired with the equally unpredictable Mount Kimbie. The train here rolled to a stop in unfamiliar territory — gritty, howling post-punk courtesy of a pair of Warp Records signees. It was Mount Kimbie, but not as we knew it — yet it was all so forceful and fully realized that their prior catalog seemed suddenly inadequate.


Arca

“Urchin”

[XL]

When Alejandro Ghersi released “Urchin” as a random track in 2015, many remarked how it sounded like a leftover from previous album Mutant (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing). Rather than give us more of the same in 2017, Ghersi opted to show off his lovely voice across most of his self-titled album. In not featuring that voice on “Urchin,” the song now stands in stark relief. It begs for an explanation of how something so gorgeous could materialize from so little: a lonely piano figure folding over and over into pressurized texture, and in just under four minutes, it’s all over. Sad, moving, perfect.

Alice Glass

“Natural Selection”

[Loma Vista]

Alice Glass’s allegations of abuse against her former Crystal Castles bandmate Ethan Kath were prescient for how the year’s latter few months would play out on a larger scale, when dozens of men in the public eye were also accused of sexual predation. “Natural Selection” was 2017’s sonic accompaniment, an abrasive, feminist catharsis featuring Glass’s distorted screaming amongst brutal synths, crumbling percussion, and cut-and-paste production. It was a whirlwind two minutes and a sober reminder that the truth is oftentimes ugly.


Johnny Jewel

“Windswept” (reprise)

[Rhino/Italians Do It Better]

One of the most moving sequences in this year’s Twin Peaks: The Return was a small one: Agent Cooper golem Dougie Jones, silently touching the feet of a cowboy statue as nightfall comes. Haunting, sad, and impossible to put into words, this was the series at its best, and carrying this moment was not the music of regular composer Angelo Badalamenti, but of spiritual successor Johnny Jewel, heroically rising from the ashes of Dear Tommy to bring new nightmares to life. Hello, Johnny. How are you today?

Click to the next page to hear the final mix, “COUPE” by Dylan Pasture.

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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