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
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.
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.
“To the Moon and Back”
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.
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*
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)
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?
“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.
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?
“Time to Live”
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.
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.