Best of ’17: The Best Songs of 2017

jorja-smith-2016-rec35. Jorja Smith x Preditah
“On My Mind”
Digital Single (FAMM Limited)
Jorja Smith was three years old when Craig David dropped his classic debut “Born to Do It,” but the 20 year-old rising star took me back to ‘94 with the garage swing of “On My Mind.” Over a delicious two-step beat courtesy of fellow Brummie, Preditah, Smith says goodbye to a trifling ex, basking in her newfound freedom and looking forward to her insanely bright future.

34. French Montana
Unforgettable (f/ Swae Lee)
Jungle Rules (Bad Boy)
Aside from “Bodak Yellow” (which just missed this list), this was the most ubiquitous New York song of 2017, and for good reason. Though Swae Lee’s slithering vocal deserves most of the credit, French does a nice job of not getting in his way. Few artists would have been content to be the best supporting actor of their own movie, but the 33 year-old has always been a canny operator, knowing that the best way to own the crowd is to keep them wanting more. Also, no shots to Slim Jxmmi, but Swae Lee is a goddamn star.

33. The National
Dark Side of the Gym
Sleep Well Beast (4AD)
Buried near the end of a thoroughly miserable (but surprisingly enjoyable) album is one of the sweetest songs the National has ever written. Genetically engineered for first dances at Brooklyn weddings, “Dark Side of the Gym” is a swooning, gentle waltz that pairs the dreamy early days of a relationship with the stoic resolve that comes with years of commitment.

32. Lil Yachty
“Like A Star”
Teenage Emotions (Quality Control)
Of all the young rappers you could be mad at, Lil Yachty should be last on your list. While a litany of less interesting artists with real ass issues skate by unscathed, the oldheads have been lining up to bash the 21 year-old his whole career. He seems like a genuine guy who just wants to make fun, goofy music for kids his age. He’s never been in trouble, makes legitimately unique music, and actually glorifies sobriety. Honestly, it makes no fucking sense. And though Yachty has laughed it off in public, you can hear little tics of frustration all over Teenage Emotions, even on its most joyous song, “Like A Star.” On one hand, he revels in his success, sweetly thanking his fans and his mother for their support, but he also can’t help but wonder why everyone is so pissed off at him. You and me both, Yachty.

Together2017_MrMitch-940x64031. Mr. Mitch
“VPN” (f/ Palmistry)
Devout (Planet Mu)
I’ve gone back and forth on the #tweeboi coo of London singer Palmistry, but he sounds brilliant when backed by the soft production touch of grime mastermind Mr. Mitch. “VPN” chronicles the frustration of being far from the one you love. Mitch masterfully frames Palmistry’s lithe voice with neon keyboards and kick-drum triplets that beautifully knit together. “Devout” was such a huge step forward for Mitch as an artist and songwriter, and I can’t wait to see where he takes it from here.

30. Jacques Green
“True” (f/ How to Dress Well)
Feel Infinite
The 28 year-old’s long awaited debut LP is an immersive love letter to the dancefloor, utilizing gooey synths and R&B vocal cuts to wield maximum emotional impact. That said, its finest moment is its most acerbic, as longtime musical BFF Tom Krell takes aim at an ex who has done him wrong. Though Krell has explored poppier seas in recent year, he still sounds best over looser, more experimental sounds, unbound by the confines of a pop structure.

29. King Krule
The OOZ (True Panther)
I was all excited to make this astute point about how Archy Marshall is the David Lynch of music. But after a quick Google Search, I realized that not only have 4,000 other people made the same point, but the 23 year-old Londoner has spoken extensively about how much Lynch has influenced him. Fresh take or not, you can really hear it on this haunting, misty sleeper — the standout from his similarly beguiling LP. Like the best Lynch stuff, “Logos” exists in a waking dream with Marshall’s ginger barnet replacing Jack Nance’s iconic flattop, dragging his feet through a surreal dreamscape that is also terrifyingly real.

28. OMB Peezy
“When I Was Down”
Digital Single
There’s always been a kinship between the hip-hop of the South and the Bay, and nobody is better qualified to bring the two sounds together than the Alabama-born, Sacramento-raised the 20 year-old. The young phenom’s melodic, relentless flow recalls Third Coast greats like Boosie and early Wayne, but his beats slap like they’re from an E-40 tape. The result is a delicious, unique sound that simply refuses to let up. His best song of the year, “When I Was Down,” is a classic come-up track which signals that Peezy knows exactly how much potential he has.

27. Migos
Culture (Quality Control)
The Migos remind me of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona teams. It was almost like all of the players shared one brain, communicating telepathically to create the most beautiful football the world had ever seen. Takeoff is Carles Puyol — the consistent, ever-present backbone of the group — while Offset is in the Busquets role, criminally underrated, but crucial, knitting it all together. Quavo is obviously Messi, ungodly talented but loyal to his team. They’re all stars in their own right, but when they’re interchanging flawlessly together, they’re unbeatable.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 2.07.07 PM26. Grouper
Paradise Valley (YELLOWELECTRIC)
It wouldn’t be a ThunderPenguin year-end list without a track from the legendary Liz Harris. “Headache” is a dreamlike dirge that opens with the haunting story of her mother wandering deep out into the ocean and ends with Harris drowning in a sea of loneliness, wondering why love keeps letting her down. Like most Grouper tracks, the listener must connect the dots themselves. But it’s impossible not to see the symmetry between the two women, blindly pushing their way through the darkness searching for something to hold on to.

25. Bad Bunny
“Soy Peor”
Digital Single
Though I get why people use it, I hate the term “Latin Trap.” Instead of celebrating the unique amalgam of reggaeton, bachata, and American street rap and that folks like Bunny, Ozuna, and Farruko created, it frames the artists as imitators rather than innovators — just random Puerto Rican kids ripping of Future and Travis Scott. Luckily, the off-putting label didn’t slow them down any, and the scene enjoyed massive success all year. The best of the bunch came from the movement’s brightest star, the precocious 23 year-old from San Juan. Somehow both downcast and anthemic, “Soy Peor” sees Bunny slithering his moody, auto-tune warbles through misty synths and crackling percussion. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 2.08.37 PM24. Sevdaliza
Ison (Twisted Elegance)
It may seem like Sevdaliza’s heartbreaking trip-hop ballad, “Hero,” is about an ex — from infatuation to rejection to acceptance. However, it’s actually about the complex relationship between a mother and child. The 30 year-old Iranian-Dutch vocalist explores how both sides long for the other’s love and understanding though they are likely to see the world totally differently. It’s a fascinating study — especially from the perspective of a first-generation immigrant who grew up in a totally different environment than her parent — that is elevated by a rich, elegant synth arrangement that starts sparsely before swelling to an overwhelming climax.

23. 21 Savage
“Nothin New”
Issa Album (Slaughter Gang/Epic)
Though I’d argue that 21 Savage’s music has always had political undertones, the last song from his major-label debut is the most overtly socially-focused track he’s ever released. The 25 year-old has never been one for metaphor or sugarcoating, preferring to tell it like it is. That said, this isn’t a Macklemore or Logic song, so don’t expect an easily digestible moral or happy ending to this story. It’s just an unflinching, unapologetic, Rockwellian portrait of life in the swaths of America that most in Washington (and San Francisco and Brooklyn) continue to pretend don’t exist.

22. Lil Durk x Lil Reese
Supa Vultures – EP (OTF/Empire)
In the five years since “I Don’t Like” broke, the Chicago rappers at the heart of drill (Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and Lil Reese) couldn’t have gone in more different directions. Keef relocated to L.A. and created his own microverse of experimental rap. Durk relocated to Atlanta in search of rap superstardom, and though he had an excellent 2017, he’s still not quite there. Unlike the others, Reese stayed home and dutifully dropped more of the gritty drill that made him famous. They’re good on their own, but they’ll always be great together, especially when Young Chop is on the beat.

21. Julien Baker
Turn Out The Lights (Matador)
The 22 year-old Memphis singer has one of those truly rare voices that can just suck all the air out of your lungs. On “Appointments,” that voice is trapped and chugging slowly through one of life’s darkest tunnels, struggling to believe that there’s any light coming. It is forlorn and defeated, offering friends and loved ones escape routes off of her slow track to nowhere. Then, just about 30 seconds from the end, it shifts. Buoyed by the support of other voices, Baker fights back, defiantly proclaiming that though she doesn’t know when the light will come, she’ll fight like hell to get there.

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

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