I put significant digital wear and tear on these puppies last year. This is a list of songs from 2017 that soundtracked creative ventures, initiated impromptu dance parties, and also found me in moments of solace. I hope they can do the same for you.
Beg For It – ZURI
There’s illusive grandeur within the production of Beg For It, an ethereal pulse that warbles into existence just before the chorus and fully kicks-in as Zuri Marley assures us she’s not going to take an unresponsive lover’s bullshit sitting down. That chorus hook is bittersweet in that it’s hopeful but despondent—it mirrors that feeling of being able to see a future with someone and at the same time open to succinctly moving on to something new.
Never Lost – Amtrac
The undercurrent of fleeting pleasure. The soothing, groovy bass line. The subtly reverbed vocals. The familiar Amtrac hook that kicks in at 3:30 and builds into a cathartic crescendo. It’s not hard to put my finger on why I fell for Never Lost so hard: I’m still nostalgic for Came Along.
Morning Before My Plant Dies – Thalab
Thalab’s MBMPD has developed into an anthem of mine, or maybe that’s just A Good Swim in its entirety. It encapsulates a dreamy coalition between self-worth and self-deprecation. How much can I really let slide before my plant dies? I have my eyes set on some shiny new goals and even though I’m aware of all the steps I keep taking in the wrong direction, there’s a certain satisfaction in testing how far I can go before those aspirations diminish entirely.
Naive – The xx
It’s frightening how much of one’s identity can become muddled in an emotional cacophony of addiction. The fixating. The numbing. The shame. Sitting with the realization. Feeling it. Verbalizing it. Letting others see it. But then, that’s why we sing about it; if we can’t dispense with the stigma through art, then what’s the point?
Trivial Motion – Shy Girls
I saw Shy Girls open for Slow Magic at the Roxy in Los Angeles and it reminded me of seeing Rhye at Coachella—both groups were too intimate and emotionally intricate for the occasion. People talked through Shy Girl’s entire set and when they finally played Trivial Motion, not surprisingly, I felt alone in my bubbling enthusiasm for the track. Shy Girls is not only a band that deserves your ear, but also willingness for an acute emotional connection.
Sour Mango – Gabriel Garzon-Montano
The conversations I entertain in my head more often than not manifest themselves in my dreams, especially when it comes to misgivings about old flames. The desire to see an ex after years of separation is a scenario I’ve played out before, but when it awakens in a dream, its vividness can be alarming. Sometimes it’s a swirl of actual memories interwoven with imaginary expectations of the person, based on tidbits of their life siphoned from social media. And if the desire to see them again is powerful enough, the brain conjures a version of them so convincing that for a brief moment after I awake, it leaves me feeling like I actually saw them again. And with the resurgence of consciousness, the question usually surfaces: Do they still dream of me?
Bike Dream – Rostam
Twenty-first century boogie conceived by the garden window. Sampled vinyl crackle. Strings on top of strings. Live and programmed drums layered scrumptiously. Liquid buzzy synth and pitch-shifted chord progression. Anthemic guitar influenced by Johnny Buckland. A bold statement about queer experience. Try to get through Rostam’s Half-Light without at least once getting chills.
Reverse Faults – Sampha
I’ll admit it—I didn’t listen to all of Process and still haven’t, but this song stuck with me all year long. It’s unconventionally catchy. The title matches the surreal reverse quality held within the melody. Sampha’s visual metaphors are rich and mirror the production. It’s hard to resist the ethereal adrenaline rush as the chorus explodes and Sampha urges us to take the brake pads out the car, recognizing that desire to at times release our emotions recklessly.
Remain – Jay Som
Everybody Works is an incredible album, both a startling and soothing amalgamation of distortion and indie rock tendencies. Remain is a track I wish lasted twice its duration. Our pinky promises were never meant for this. There’s a melancholic sense of autonomy found in the guitar chords as Melina Duterte plunges us into a relationship that’s on the precipice of something unexpected, but not necessarily undesirable.
Hard Feelings/Loveless – Lorde
Hard Feelings/Loveless is an invitation into Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s brain complimented by Jack Antonoff’s eccentric and perfectionist production. This is one of those songs where you’re sonically, emotionally, and lyrically transported into the recesses of a broken relationship, riding the synapses of a mending heart. And after two minutes of an infectious rhythm, this deep cut explodes into a violently catchy breakdown—sound skitters and overmodulates, mirroring a torrential emotional state, beautiful and painful, but ultimately indicative of the restoration of one’s self-worth.
Outre Lux (ft. Madison McFerrin) – Photay
I remember a night drive to San Diego on which I listened to the entirety of Onism in a sort of delighted stupor, like I had stumbled upon an artifact that demanded my unwavering attention. Outre Lux, in particular, is mesmerizing. At the same time it’s stunning, it’s also a poignant lament from Madison McFerrin. The intro finds her voice emerging from a fog, posing the question: can you see me? When she finally comes into focus, she hovers confidently amidst the production, leading you by hand to an enticing break down from Evan Shornstein, and then dives back into the depths.
Crowded Spaces – Banks
A track originally sent to me by my sister after it’s appearance at the end of an episode of Girls, this Jillian Banks and Jack Antonoff produced slow burn would perhaps have fallen amongst the cliché in the hands of less adept artists. To my sister, it perfectly encapsulated the emotional quality of being comfortable with a relationship and then unceremoniously having it torn away. What do you do when you’re already isolated from your friends by an illness and suddenly the one person you depended on most is gone? To process is to wade through layers upon layers of anxiety and grief.
Downfall – Kllo
The film-like quality. The contrast of colors and deep shadows. The pensive but enshrouded glare from above. Australian newcomer Kllo’s album artwork for Backwater speaks volumes before you’ve even queued the first track. And when Downfall begins, Kllo’s musical identity clicks into place; Chloe Kaul’s voice languidly whisps into existence and Simon Lam’s lush production ushers it forward with an R&B, electro-funk confidence. This persona continues to unfurl with standouts Virtue, Predicament, Dissolve, and By Your Side.
Mean to Me – Stella Donnelly
There’s pleasure in blasting Stella Donnelly with the windows down while driving through a strip mall parking lot. It comes from a feeling of wanting to share something raw and beautiful with others, but it also comes from the hope that perhaps a lyric will stop someone dead in their tracks. Donnelly can do that. Her voice is transfixing. On Thrush Metal, Donnelly isn’t afraid to confront stigma related subjects. Boys Will Be Boys addresses culturally ingrained misogyny and the rape of a close friend. On the other hand, Mean to Me could easily soundtrack a lazy day at home, but also stands as an indictment of a lover who’s emotionally manipulative and underappreciative of your presence in their life.
LA Trance – Four Tet
This song encapsulates the disembodied feeling of living in a liberal bubble like Los Angeles, while the rest of the U.S. marinates in a political and moral upheaval. It’s like driving in a car, enjoying the climate-controlled environment, and looking out the window where absolute chaos ensues—it’s surreal and frightening, and sometimes paralyzing. It begs the question: What are you willing to sacrifice to break the trance?
Cycle – Teen Daze
Themes for Dying Earth isn’t necessarily a record you cue up when you want to feel hopeful about the current state of the world, but it’s still an album that carries an optimistic undercurrent. Cycle personifies that idea; its listless intro I sometimes cannot stomach, but when it opens up at the 30-second mark, I always stick around. The drab, modulated piano is accented by gorgeous ethereal vocals and the whole song blossoms from there. The refrain, you are the only one that speaks into me and breaks the cycle, tends to carry new meaning with each replay; it’s a mirror for whatever needs to be projected on it.
Confused 4EVR – Blond Ambition
Every time this song ignites around the 50 second mark, I’m already lost in a barrage of surreal after-dark hallucinations—a rockslide crumbling onto a highway under the harsh glare of car headlights or a stream of people on a loop where they never can quite cross a massive city pedestrian scramble, perpetually stuck in motion. It conjures a club vibe you can dance to and simultaneously let your mind eerily wander through.
Chanel – Frank Ocean
At the moment of writing this, Chanel has 73 million streams on Spotify. Can’t you see Frank is the big man? It’s hard to write about Frank Ocean without wanting to come up with something profound. It’s a testament to his continued ability to write enigmatically about life experience—you can rely on him for down-to-earth personal insights, gender and race criticism, and a deconstructive perception of society. He’s both aware of his place in culture and ready to tear it apart.
Girls @ (ft. Chance the Rapper) – Joey Purp
Girls @ is a smart song. On the surface it’s a banger, but upon closer inspection it’s a unique, inclusive, and humorous take on commonly tread subject matter. The track really shines when Chance the Rapper jumps aboard, describing his love for women of all sizes, touting his attraction to Ta-Nehisi Coates-reading-girls in the club. Joey Purp’s writing, combined with Chance’s verse, elevates the track to sardonic cleverness. And there really is no question that the beat is infectious.
FEAR. – Kendrick Lamar
I’m sitting here writing this as two white kids play basketball across from my park bench. Their parents are nowhere to be seen. Their minds are 100% focused on the game. The sun shines through sprinkler streams aimed at vibrantly green grass. Scooters and bikes lay scattered around, their owners distracted by the joys of privilege. It’s a serene suburban landscape, quiet and well kept. Real fear rarely visits here. These kids are the byproduct of a country’s indifference to the fact that the American dream is, in part, built on racial inequality. I am one of those kids.