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


I have a reputation for being ruthlessly optimistic, which is why I typically hate this kind of shit: yearly ritual lamentations on things like racist soap commercials and weird presidential takedowns of professional football players; in retrospectives like this, it seems like we always group our collective grievances in odd numbers, truncating our listing of injustices for brevity and politeness. This approach — of remembering and marking a year like we’re scratching off days on a culturally misappropriated doom calendar — has always struck me as insincere and offensive, but then it ends, and it’s weird looking back at what we went through and what got us through. Another arbitrary amount of time has passed, and yet it really does feel heavy. Death is real. Words fail. Mask on. Fuck it, mask off! So we pick a song and close our eyes and turn it up.

And what were we blaring this year that warped time’s mundane and oppressive rhythms? What mutterings slowed us down when we were spinning out of control? What sounds launched us through uncertainty and landed us somewhere a little more familiar, if even for just a few minutes? There was no high canon guiding our self-care other than what we needed, and aren’t we all a little less particular about what kind of noise lifts us up when we’re fumbling through our first yoga class at the GYM, screaming obscenities into the glowing rectangular VOID, remembering love and loss on the brisk face of the CLIFF, shuffling home through the ALLEY at night, driving away from it all in the COUPE? We don’t have EVERYTHING listed here, but for us, a lot of these tracks were EVERYTHING this year.

So, in that spirit of dissolving hierarchies of taste, this list is not ranked; instead, here are five themed mixes of our Favorite Songs of 2017. How you interact with them is your choice: you can nod along, you can face the noise stoically, you can dance, you can laugh at some of our choices, and most importantly, no matter what anybody tells you, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. However you remember 2017, just know that you’re not alone, and don’t let a crotchety optimist like me tell you to smile through it all. Just pick a song and close your eyes and turn it up. You’ll know what to do when you hear it.


PART 1: “GYM” mixed by Corrigan B


Joe

“Tail Lift”

[Hessle Audio]

Given its title, it was unsurprising that Joe’s “Tail Lift” was concerned with momentum. Like the piece of machinery it’s named after, “Tail Lift” was always pushing things upwards. Over the course of its nearly six-minute runtime, the track shook and shimmied, balancing chirps, whistles, chimes, and bells over an insistent, doubled beat that was constantly falling over and into itself. These propulsive movements were adorned, interrupted, and joined along the way by fellow sonic travelers drawn to the upbeat procession — children’s voices, glassy keys, miniature melodies — suffusing the track with a caffeinated, off-kilter mien. Dalliances with the weird were frequent here; cartoonish pops, drums, and squeaks bursting into view as the track underwent one of several mini-implosions, its parts falling to the ground before being picked up again, their order jumbled, soldered-together edges overflowing with molten metal. “Tail Lift” was the sonic embodiment of this aleatory backyard readymade: equal parts humorous, conceptual, and functional; archly constructed and strangely satisfying.


Lil B

“Wasup Jojo”

[BasedWorld]

Feels like a track might be the wrong kind of unit for looking at something by Lil B. Like, look at scales of magnitudes, not at atoms. But on the other hand, everything in the universe is literally in everything else. And I mean that — all of the BasedWorld is in everything Lil B does, and when Black Ken, in its nostalgic Bay Area references, seemed like it was doing something out of reverence for “ancient history,” it turns out that those things were sucked into Lil B’s ambit too. He’s not referring to them; they refer to him from now on: “Wasup JoJo” — it’s a NODE, the busiest in the switchover.


Fever Ray

“To the Moon and Back”

[Mute]

Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer is so notorious for her enigmatic identity and arresting visuals that we often forget just how gifted a songwriter she is. “Hey, remember me/ I’ve been busy working like crazy,” she reminded us on “To the Moon and Back,” her first song of new music since 2009. A bouncy synth-pop jam more reminiscent of the playful Deep Cuts-era Knife material than Dreijer’s previous output under the Fever Ray alias, the song was crafted from a series of expertly layered synth lines that built to a orgasmic release, a tantalizing taste of what we had been missing.


Nídia Minaj

“Puro Tarraxo”

[Príncipe Discos]

I don’t get into aerobics, but half of Nídia Minaj’s kuduro beats could function as Zumba fodder. If you threw on “Puro Tarraxo” though, you were plain fucked. There was the semblance of slowed-down reggaeton in there, but it was too slow to follow properly; besides, every rhythmic element was either tripping on its time signatures or moshing with the others. It was the sound of getting down on the yoga mat for about 20 seconds before realizing you were waaay too out of shape for this, but holy shit everyone else is doing it so you’ve gotta keep going gotta keep going gotta keep going gotta keep *faints*


FOOZOOL

“AZAT Ազատ”

[Club Chai]

Club Chai, a collective whose mission is to “[centre] diasporic narratives, women and trans artists, DJs, and producers,” is important. Club Chai Vol. 1, their first major release, put the Oakland-based label on the map, and co-founder FOOZOOL’s track “AZAT Ազատ” was a diamond among its many gems. Effortlessly mixing an opera-backing sample with a gritty guitar lead, the track exemplified what Club Chai Vol. 1 is all about: dance tracks full of “how the hell did they think of that” moments. We’re already chomping on our nails in anticipation for volume 2.


Kelly Lee Owens

“Anxi.” (ft. Jenny Hval)

[Smalltown Supersound]

Have you ever wondered where those joggers go? You know, the ones you see every day on a routine? Oh, sure, they go in a loop: From start to end, a simple route with clearly defined points of direction. No deviation. No direction. But are they going somewhere? Do they even see anything on their path, observe the world around them? Are they even there? I think not. Joggers mechanize. They aren’t going anywhere. They’re fulfilling maintenance that has no bearing, no effect in the long term. They’ll break down eventually. What meaning will they have then?


DJ Hell

“I Want U”

[International Deejay Gigolo]

Taken from Zukunftsmusik (the title of which is German for “music of the future”), DJ Hell’s “I Want U” is a song about fucking. Specifically, as is obvious from the track’s associated artwork lifted from legendary homoerotic fetish artist Touko Laaksonen (a.k.a. Tom of Finland), it’s about huge, strong men fucking, but the instrumental worked for anyone with genitals. This face-blast of industrial techno pumped harder than Louis C.K. in front of an aspiring female comic, but unlike Louis, this track won’t make you feel disgusting inside after the experience. “I Want U” was an affirmation, an ode to the bears among us. It fed all kinds of muscles.


Lorde

“Supercut”

[Republic/Lava]

Drunk as shit. Tumble, starfish, curl. In bed, not in love. Not in love, not in love. Say it without opening Instagram. Too late. Illuminated by neon at the dive. Rose light. Obsessed with it. And you, fuck. Remember yelling along to our favorite songs all summer while driving the hell out of town? Remember glittering my eyelids before the party? Remember wearing backless velvet? I tried getting over it. Promised I would. Hated it. Shit, we were radiant. Magic. I forget why it ended. The crush, the rush. The energy. I would do anything. Text me? Please?


Ariel Pink

“Time to Live”

[Mexican Summer]

He’s one part Bowie, one part nonsense-babbling toddler; he has arguably released more #1 smash hits than anyone in history, but in a dearly departed genre. Here, Ariel Pink returned to the cassette-left-on-the-dashboard production style of his early work, fording two and a half minutes of wind tunnels and monsters before his Trump-era call to arms gained full force. There was a layer of absurdist comedy to his divinations and absolutist pronouncements, but he committed 110% — as we all must. He turned into Princess Ariel for the watery coda and headed home with another W.


POBBLES

“POBBLES”

[PC Music]

I’m still not sure what a POBBLE is, but I think I want to eat one. The hyperactive Tomagatchi/marshmallow hybrid was offensively PC Music and also possibly the end to human despair. Accompanied by a video that must have been a nightmare to animate, the collaboration between A. G. Cook and Always & Forever Computer Entertainment had enough juice to fry a battery. Where can I buy a POBBLE? Are they like pets? Should I water it? Whatever it is, I’m sure my dentist advises against it.

Click to the next page to hear the “VOID” mix by Rick Weaver.

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.

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.

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.

PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Dylan Pasture


SOPHIE

“It’s Okay To Cry”

[MSMSMSM INC]

In the last few years of an astonishing output, SOPHIE has been steadily building a toolbox of highly constructed, highly delicious femininity over a series of tracks probably best summarized as “bangers.” But with “It’s Okay to Cry,” an uncharacteristic ballad, those tools are unleashed into the realm of the personal and the political. Along with its accompanying music video — yes, the best of the year — SOPHIE constructs a featherlight and deeply moving space of play and emotional outpouring, sparsely shimmering sheafs of bass pushing forward her constantly modulated but extremely present vocals, as she reminds with a completely serious wink that it’s OK to cry.

Casting a hyper-stylized movement from rainbows to thunderstorms with a giddy rush of knowingly false universality that feels so real, she opens up a feminine space for herself and us to feel, respond, become, cry. She touches her lips. There’s a catch in her voice. A breath is taken in. Modulations and divergences from tone and structure become the center. Her voice, production, and body merge. The chorus repeats, so soft, so gentle, until there’s a downpour and everything crashes joyfully, tearfully open, the borders of the feminine torn open as we and her burst in. Coming-out is rehabilitated as a generative process. She collapses the wretched distinctions between synthetic/organic or, worse, between real/unreal, of bodies, genders, and emotions.

It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. It’s very beautiful. In the shuddering collapse of this year, crying is fine; crying can be a space of transit, crying can feel good. SOPHIE’s nipples look like mine, as my body undergoes its own flux, its own chemical rearrangement. That recognition is not meaningless, one of many possibilities among chemicals and filters and goofy pop arrangements. It’s OK. I can’t stop crying, and I don’t think I want to.


Charli XCX

“Boys”

[Atlantic/Asylum]

Boys. If there’s one thing that’s clear from the eminently catchy “Boys,” it’s that Charli XCX is all about her boys! Bad boys, good boys, boys with eyepatches, boys with HBO Go logins… boys. L.A., Puerto Rico, Toronto acting as New York in the movie Cocktail: everywhere she goes, boys. However, is there such a thing as too many boys? At what boys do boys start boys everything over? When boys constantly boys on friends (boys boys excuses) on account of boys the boys, maybe boys too many boys. Boys boys accumulating boys boys results boys boys boys boys boys boys fantastic boys boys boys “Boys”? Boys boys boys boys boys boys — boys boys boys boys boys boys “Boys” — boys boys BOYS BOYS BOYS boys “boys boys boys.” Boys. Boys.


Playboi Carti

“Magnolia”

[Interscope]

For a year in which an awful lot of rap happened, “Magnolia” is an incredibly useful shorthand. Ten seconds in, you’ve already heard 2017’s definitive opening line and the unforgettable tag of the producer who ruled the year. 2017 was a year of overnight, often confounding, stardom — What the fuck is this? 30 million views?! — but “Magnolia” leaves no such questions. It’s an immediate and undeniable hit, a sort of avatar of the broader SoundCloud movement made presentable for the broadest possible appeal. It was inescapable, the difficult-to-measure internet stardom of the year’s emergent talents made tangible and therefore overwhelming. Even greater than its aux cord omnipresence was its influence; every week there was another “Magnolia,” but at the end of the year, only the original remains.


Lil Uzi Vert

“XO Tour Llif3”

[Generation Now/Atlantic]

Precarity is a fitting idiom for our collective moment. Contoured by crisis after crisis, an affective brinksmanship has pushed us to the edge. Ongoing police brutality, violently emboldened white supremacy, and racialized deportations have us teetering, chattering, hypervigilant. But Uzi persisted, agile and gamboling, attuning to the rhythms of the precarious everyday. Jumping in the NASCAR, fast car, we revved with Uzi. And with the unbothered traipse of the tongue on the teeth, he dropped the “s” of the exhaustingly appropriated “yas” into his iconic ad lib and finagled it into something nimble, something revitalizing. I’m alright. Are you alright? Yaaaaaaaaa.


Tay-K

“The Race”

[Self-Released]

“Fuck a beat/ I was tryna beat a case”: Tay-K disavowed rap while rapping. It is no longer novel to point out how virality, how virtuality involves itself in reality; in 2017, this whole dichotomy is parodically frail. But because “The Race” was released the day Tay-K’s fugitive state was arrested, there were those who insisted on a perversely mythified linear causality. Rather, “The Race” incepted a (real) immanent hallucination that slipped away as we listened, 1:44 of “Pi’erre Bourne x Playboi Carti type beat,” dissipating, supplanting what it ripped and stepped on, that is, cut: its jongleur MIDI flute and wheeled-up vocals an obscene caesura between two harshed states: evasion, incarceration. No intro nor outro. (Self-)Cruel in its Spongebob physics, drawing doodles. Past tense, subtraction, fizzling with a constitutive negation. “But I ain’t beat that case/ Bitch I did the race.” The race was the song. We listened to, re-mixed “The Race,” which was already over.


milo

“Sorcerer”

[Ruby Yacht/The Order Label]

Like much of his other work, who told you to think?????!?!???!???!???! found milo simultaneously behind the mic and at the DAW, painting each track with his alter-ego Scallops Hotel’s sprawling, fragmented production style. Few MCs could match how easy he made it all seem. Even skittering hi-hats — which are reaching store-bought, birthday-streamer levels of tackiness — were made refreshing once again under the guise of this bearded philosopher, whose verbal acrobatics didn’t disappoint. “I flourished in the lag time,” he said, again and again, as synths twinkled and samples rumbled. Bear witness to milo’s reflective, quiet anger, slowly becoming cathartic acceptance.


Cardi B

“Bodak Yellow”

[Atlantic]

“Bodak Yellow” was a snack in the middle of a full-course meal. Fem icon, Gangsta Bitch, and bride from B, Carti B earned an impenetrable respect ranging from huge to tiny. All the middle school girls volleyball teams singing “You get popped/ You a goofy/ You a cop/ Don’t you come around my way/ You can’t hang around my block.” Beast mode is: Carti B removing the body (“I don’t dance now”) from ownership of self (“I make money moves”) to her armor (“These is bloody shoes”), aside from the obvious Alpha-move elephant in the room. We need more of this now more than ever!


Lil Pump

“Gucci Gang”

[Tha Lights Global]

Lil Pump wasn’t as controversial as XXXTentacion or as deep as Lil Peep or as innovative as Playboi Carti. But the 17-year-old dominated the stream game in 2017, and he had the analytics to prove it. Which was curious, since what Pump offered on “Gucci Gang” was actually shockingly straightforward: monosyllabic bars like he’s staring at a computer screen, dropping signifiers of hedonistic youth — brands, meds, loins — over a viral-optimized concoction of trunk simulations and Miami concentrate. He says “Gucci” 53 times. If this sounds like the making of an ephemeral, on-the-surface SoundCloud rapper who’s passing through meme-like before the next big thing, then you’d be right. What of it?


Frank Ocean

“Biking” ft. JAY-Z & Tyler, The Creator

[Blonded]

Frank Ocean returned in 2017 with a low-density posse cut starring the auteur legend himself as millennial chillout messiah, JAY-Z in a comeback year delivering a half-mumbled ad lib verse, and an uncharacteristically low-key Tyler, The Creator in the meaty role of streetwise ambassador. The world spun slowly under their Gucci sandals and PK Rippers, but BMX Aristotle was there to braid luxury brand callouts into a hook worthy of a windswept cruise down Ventura Boulevard at dusk, and that was enough. America is dead; long live the spirit of California. Long live Frank Ocean.


Yaeji

“Passionfruit”

[GODMODE]

It teaches us to talk to one another. It teaches us to listen again. It’s the work and rework, it takes time. Yes, “music begins with osmosis, remixing a form of embodiment of another.” It reminds us again. Music begins with osmosis, reforming the bodies of others. Yes, it’s always borrowed. Yaeji, insisting, showing us: it’s in the stew, “the side dishes are all shared.” Don’t “pick up the pieces […] music coheres in their distance. [who could] ask for more than the wholeness of fragments?” Yaeji: fractured, whole, miles away.

Click to the next page to view and listen to the entire list.

PART 1: “GYM” mixed by Corrigan B

[00:41] Joe - “Tail Lift”
[04:01] Lil B - “Wasup Jojo”
[06:24] Fever Ray - “To the Moon and Back”
[10:40] Nídia — “Puro Tarraxo”
[12:55] FOOZOOL - “AZAT Ազատ”
[16:39] Kelly Lee Owens - “Anxi” ft. Jenny Hval
[19:59] DJ Hell — “I Want U”
[23:46] Lorde - “Supercut”
[27:59] Ariel Pink - “Time to Live”
[33:10] POBBLES - “POBBLES”


PART 2: “VOID” mixed by Rick Weaver

[00:00] Malibu - “Held”
[06:24] Ryuichi Sakamoto - “andata”
[10:53] Grouper - “Children”
[13:24] Mark Templeton - “Cab Lights”
[16:22] Pharmakon - “No Natural Order”
[22:56] Future - “Mask Off”
[26:08] KeitaroTamura - “chorororo”
[43:02] Laurel Halo - “Jelly”
[47:48] EMA - “Blood and Chalk”
[51:02] Angelo Badalamenti - “Dark Space Low”


PART 3: “CLIFF” mixed by C Monster

[00:00] Mount Eerie - “Ravens”
[06:56] Sun Araw - “Amplitude”
[09:39] Julie Byrne - “I Live Now as a Singer”
[13:42] Big Thief - “Mythological Beauty”
[18:54] Avey Tare - “Melody Unfair”
[24:15] Yves Tumor - “E. Eternal”
[28:44] Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - “Untogether”
[33:45] Richard Dawson - “Ogre”
[40:50] Group Doueh & Cheveu - “SKIT 1”
[43:27] Valerie June - “Man Done Wrong”


PART 4: “ALLEY” mixed by Pat Beane

[00:28] Chino Amobi - “EIGENGRAU (CHILDREN OF HELL II)”
[04:16] Perera Elsewhere - “Karam”
[07:46] Elucid - “Dutch Wax”
[09:11] Macula Dog - “Plastic Lassie”
[11:38] MHYSA - “Strobe”
[14:11] Actress - “Dancing in the Smoke”
[20:31] Mount Kimbie - “Blue Train Lines (ft. King Krule)”
[25:08] Arca - “Urchin”
[28:59] Alice Glass - “Natural Selection”
[31:22] Johnny Jewel - “Windswept” (reprise)


PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Dylan Pasture

[00:02] SOPHIE - “It’s Okay To Cry”
[03:46] Charli XCX - “Boys”
[06:28] Playboi Carti - “Magnolia”
[09:15] Lil Uzi Vert - “XO Tour Lif3”
[11:53] Tay-K - “The Race”
[14:03] Milo - “Sorcerer”
[16:27] Cardi B - “Bodak Yellow”
[19:55] Lil Pump - “Gucci Gang”
[21:46] Frank Ocean ft. JAY-Z & Tyler, the Creator - “Biking”
[25:55] yaeji - “Passion Fruit”

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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