Best of ’17: The Best Songs of 2017

So that’s it. 6 years of ThunderPenguin are in the books. As always, here’s a round-up of my favorite songs of the year. This was one of the toughest lists I’ve ever made, and I hope something on this list brings you the light it brought me. Thanks so much for reading this year. Love you guys.

Though it’s missing some things, you can listen to most of this list on this Spotify Playlist.

ALEXG66. (Sandy) Alex G
Rocket (Domino)

Easily the weirdest song ever written about sports, “Sportstar” is a cracked chronicle of fandom. Alex’s heavily processed vocals and spacey guitars give the whole thing a dissociated vibe that seems to mirror an obsessed fan’s imaginary relationship with his or her favorite star. As with any one-way relationship, there’s deep pain intertwined with the infatuation, and he does a really nice job of highlighting that both lyrically and sonically.

65. Ariel Pink
“Feels Like Heaven”
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (Kemado)
Every few years, something weird happens, and I really dig an Ariel Pink song. It’s always the poppiest thing on the album (i.e. “Round and Round,” “Put Your Number in My Phone), and it’s almost always the only thing I like from it. Though “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” is better than most of his records, nothing jumped out at me like this little blissed out slice of 60’s psychedelia. Feels like heaven, indeed.

64. Desire
Windswept (Italians Do It Better)
The year is 2047. Our robot overlords have condemned us to a life of servitude. There is no sun, and a thick perma-fog hovers like death over the only inhabitable villages left. Johnny Jewel tweets “DEAR TOMMY: COMING 2048.” I glumly close my browser and turn on one of three excellent IDIB comps that he had put out that year.

63. Kommode
“Fight or Flight or Dance All Night”
Analog Dance Music (Random Two Syllable Word)
I must admit, when I first heard that the long-awaited side project from Kings of Convenience’s Eirik Glambek Bøe was called “Analog Dance Music,” I worried that it might be a little bit “old man yells at cloud” dance music. However, it turned out to be a rock-solid collection of breezy, languid disco that didn’t feel that far from KOC’s best up-tempo tunes. This, its lead single, is a perfect representation the record: well-constructed, well-sung, and well pleasing.

62. Mayorkun
Digital Single
The Nigerian charts were on fire this year, a veritable goldmine of inspiring, genre-fluid sounds from artists scattered all over the continent. This ecstatic love song from one of the country’s brightest young stars was a real standout. Mayorkun’s voice has a playful, innocent feel, which interacts beautifully with the track’s nimble guitars and clavé beat. He’s one to watch in 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 1.48.10 PM61. Farruko
TrapXficante (Sony)
Relationships are tough for any 26 year-old… especially when that 26 year-old is one of Puerto Rico’s biggest rising stars. But Farruko has a novel idea; he’s looking for a girlfriend only for the workweek, leaving his weekends free to creep. Something tells me this plan has some serious holes in it, but on “Lunes-Viernes” (Monday-Friday), he seems pretty confident that he’s beaten the system. And he presents it so smoothly here that I’m almost starting to believe that he can pull it off. Good with that luck, bro.

60. Father John Misty
“Pure Comedy”
Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
Though I’m not sure I needed 13 songs about politics, the disc’s title track is a successful manifesto of the world according to Uncle Sam Misery. Starting with our humble origins, Misty (né Josh Tillman) aims to sum up human history in six dramatic minutes. He’s always had a knack for a 70’s piano ballad, and “Pure Comedy” boasts the kind of craftsmanship that Sir Elton and Billy Joel would applaud. 

59. Ryan Adams
“Shiver and Shake”
Prisoner (PAX-AM)
Most of Ryan Adams’ recent breakup LP sounds like lost B-sides from Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love” sessions, none more than “Shiver and Shake.” Even by his standards, Adams sounds crushed here, stewing in regret and faraway synths. Though the message is downcast, the medium is subtly sublime, as the guitar and keyboard filigree dances gracefully around Adams’ weary voice and strummed electric chords.

58. Khalid
“American Teen”
American Teen (RCA)
From the outside, being an American teenager in 2017 doesn’t seem like much fun, but Khalid disagrees. Staring down the barrel of an uncertain future, the 19 year-old Texas singer finds beauty and opportunity in insecurity. Blessed with a gorgeous, easy tenor, he glides over spacey synths and a driving bassline, reveling in the promise of youth and the camaraderie of his friends. It’s not a terribly original idea, but it’s well executed and will be the perfect for the last scene of a coming-of-age movie that is sure to get me choked up.

57. Waxahatchee
“Recite Remorse”
Out in the Storm (Merge)
Katie Crutchfield’s gorgeous fourth LP with Waxahatchee is one of the most cathartic, rawest break-up albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s centerpiece is the crushing, “Recite Remorse,” an honest admission of her struggle to fight back from heartbreak. Backed by lonely keyboards, she painstaking details her anguish and the power her partner wielded over her during their relationship and even after they split up.

56. YoungBoy Never Broke Again
AI YoungBoy (Never Broke Again)
Everything you need to know about the artist formerly known as NBA YoungBoy is right there in his name. The 18 year-old Baton Rouge native has the ravenous work ethic of someone desperate to win, dropping three quality tapes this year alone. The best of the three is AI YoungBoy, an electric collection of melodic Southern hip-hop. “Untouchable” is a great representation of his reflective, potent sound.

55. Vince Staples
Big Fish (f/ Juicy J)
Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
As much as I dug the UK electronica influence on Vince Staples’ excellent second album, my favorite track is the one that sounds most like his hometown. Aided by an addictive, repetitive hook from Juicy J, the Long Beach rapper tracks his incredible journey to becoming one of the most visible young rappers on the planet. Vince’s vocals slither through the skeletal beat, leaving you with bars that will stick in your head long after the song finishes.

54. Drake
“Teenage Fever”
More Life (OVO)
*extremely 2 Chainz voice* When I die, bury me in petty ass Drake R&B songs. I don’t care if he’s already made 15 versions of this same track, I’ll keep buying as long as he’s selling. “I met someone new last night, and we kicked it” is peak Petty Drake (again, the BEST Drake), because you know he’s texting it to one of his exes. Pretty soon, he’ll be texting the same thing to this new girl who will have since become his ex, and the cycle will repeat. Never ever change, Aubrey. 

53. Kendrick Lamar
“Love” (f/ Zacari)
DAMN. (Aftermath)
Though I don’t love the either of the singles (or, really, much of its first half), King Kenny’s fourth LP has really grown on me throughout the year. I considered going with the dazzling technical storytelling of “Duckworth” or “Fear” or the alluring RiRi collab “Loyalty.” However, I stuck with “Love,” because it showcases a side of Kendrick that we really haven’t heard that much about: his relationship with his fiance, Whitney Alford. A lot of people talk about commitment, but from the outside, it appears that Kendrick has actually lived it. The two have been together since high school, and it’s fascinating to hear him sing about the beautiful complexity that years together brings.

52. The War on Drugs
“In Chains”
A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)
The fact that my favorite song on Adam Granduciel’s gentle-guy rock opus changed week-to-week is indicative of the record’s biggest strength and weakness. Impeccably crafted and consistent but without a ton of peaks, A Deeper Understanding feels more like a nice drive down Highway 1 than a thrilling rollercoaster. However, Granduciel gets out of third gear on the final crescendo of “In Chains,” pushing his limited voice hard and framing it with swelling sax and a majestic piano line.

114973551. GAIKA
“Battalion” (f/ Miss Red)
The Spectacular Empire I (Warp)
So many of the Londoner’s songs feel like mini battles, often for the soul of his hometown. “Battalion” is no exception. Its militaristic intro could double as Voldemort’s walk-out music, and Gaika sings about a woman who stands up and fights for the young people of his city. His futuristic, post-apocalyptic sound (think: Travis Scott, but good) would turn American shows into absolute warzones. Hopefully in the next few years, he’ll get the push that he needs to get there, because he’s already got the tunes.

Posted on by TP1.COM in Best of 17, Featured

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