Best of ’17: The Best Songs of 2017

unnamed(6)10. Creek Boyz
“With My Team”
Digital Single
It may sound trite, but the more you go through in life, the more you realize how much friends matter. The Baltimore quartet’s breakthrough single is one of the purest expressions of friendship you’ll ever hear, as each of the members joyfully sing together and finish each other’s sentences. Though death and sorrow are around every corner in inner city Baltimore, the four members stand united together, fighting off the demons with pure positivity and optimism. The world needs music like this, now more than ever.

phoebebridgers-630x4209. Phoebe Bridgers
Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)
A heart-crushing folk ballad in an album full of them, “Funeral” chronicles Pheobe’s devastating journey from a fan’s funeral to her childhood bedroom to another late night awake doing nothing. But it isn’t just the sorrow that makes the 23 year-old so special; it’s the humor, self-deprecation, confusion, and little bit of joy that creeps into every single one of her songs. Sure, Bridgers sings a lot about misery, but she isn’t a misery. She’s one of the truly rare ones who can vocalize the complex, emotional ambiguity that makes us who we are. 

aa8da2678. Stormzy
“100 Bags”
Gang Signs & Prayer (#Merky)
Stormzy’s long-awaited debut was everything I’d hoped it would be — a surprisingly tender, gospel-kissed grime autobiographical tour de force. Across 16 songs, the 24 year-old lets it all out and lets us all in, sharing his journey to the top and his struggle to keep his head. Big Mike looks to his friends, his faith, and his city to keep him grounded, but nothing matters more to him than the support of his mother. His quiet tribute to his “Mumzy” would bring a tear to anyone’s eye and is so much more genuine than these type of songs tend to be. It is touching, heartfelt, and makes it impossible to do anything but route for him. Hashtag Merky 2018 and beyond.

frank-ocean-wolfgang-tillmans-07. Frank Ocean
Digital Single (Blonded)
Frank Ocean’s music doesn’t exist in black and white; it is painted with the rich colors that are formed when the lines get messy and the paint bleeds together. Which is to say, his music exists in the real world — where people don’t fit into boxes, where loose ends and ambiguity reign. “Chanel” is one of the clearest windows into that worldview, a sonic mishmash that doesn’t conform to genre, stereotype, or song structure. It’s the kind of song that only Frank could put out, and watching him continue to distance himself from the pack, is nothing short of incredible.

N78_Slider_4-1024x5126. Sophie
“It’s Okay to Cry”
Digital Single (MSMSMSM Inc)
On October 19th, the British producer tweeted a simple message — “WHOLE NEW WORLD.” — with a link to her first new music in two years. Little did anyone know how new this world really was. First off, the track ushered in a totally new sound — her glitchy, warp-speed samples were replaced by a Disney princess piano line and her first ever recorded vocals. Secondly, it was her first time using female pronouns and presenting herself as a woman. It is a bold, hopeful direction with a clear message of acceptance and love, accompanied by one of the most arresting and powerful videos I’ve seen this year. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 12.07.01 PM5. Dawn Richard
“Break Me”
Digital Single
In a year characterized by countless examples of horrific abuse, nobody captured its devastating effects more viscerally than the inimitable New Orleanian. Misunderstood by much of the mainstream press (Pitchfork described the track as “lustful surrender,” *vom*) and ignored by too many music fans, this SoundCloud loosey is as stark and raw a song as I’ve heard this year. Over Leonce’s downcast, glacial synths, Richard wearily sings of the “bruises that he left on me” and admits that months later she could still “feel him on me.” It’s a terribly sad, mischaracterized song that deserves to have made more of an impact this year.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 12.08.04 PM4. Sampha
“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
Process (Young Turks)
It happens differently to everyone, but if you really love music, you can remember the moment it tapped you on the shoulder and came into your life. 29 year-old Sampha Sisay beautifully chronicles the formative experience of his father bringing their family a piano when he was just three years old. The spare ballad is so intimate that it almost feels ripped from a home movie that he’s sharing just with you. It’s just a beautiful song about the secrets that music shares with us when we are young, and the ones we share back as we grow. 

sza-musician-social3. SZA
Ctrl (Top Dawg)
Though nominally about an ex-boyfriend who couldn’t see her potential, I can’t but feel that the stinging “Boyfriend” was also aimed at the industry and record label that had never really believed in her. As recently as 15 months ago, the 28 year-old was fed up and ready to walk away from music, due to Top Dawg’s refusal to put out an album that didn’t conform to the industry’s strict standards of what a black female artist was supposed to sound like.

Thankfully for us, she persisted, Top Dawg relented, and we got one of the best albums of 2017. “Supermodel” is refreshingly messy, an honest portrait of the conflicting emotions rejection elicits in us. She’s vulnerable yet vindictive; liberated yet frustrated; cocky yet insecure. Above all else, she’s fully human, which alone makes her the rarest of characters in pop music.

bad-gyal-en-sevilla-1506007170.112. Bad Gyal
Slow Wine Mixtape (Self-Released)
Though it dropped at the end of last year, young Catalan reggaeton alchemist Alba “Bad Gyal” Farelo’s debut possesses some of the most vital, exciting sounds I heard in 2017. Though I could have selected 2017 singles “Jacaranda” or “Nicest Cocky” for this slot, I had to go with the track that got me on the Bad Gyal bandwagon (“Badwagon”???).

“Fiebre” is an apt distillation of what makes her sound so electric, which mixes reggaeton, dancehall, R&B, rap, and Rihanna worship into something unique and utterly modern. And though her production is sterling, there’s no confusion about who is behind the wheel. Farelo has that rare star quality that could take her from Internet famous to a legit household name. Expect her to blow up in 2018.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 12.13.53 PM1. Kelela
Take Me Apart (Warp)
It was a hell of a year for music, but there wasn’t much competition for the top spot on this list. In the six years of ThunderPenguin, there aren’t many artists I’ve written about more — from her stunning early 2013 breakout single “Bank Head” all the way up to her long-awaited major(ish) label debut this year.

From the beginning, her ability to bridge the gap between the brainy, eccentric sound of producers like Nguzunguzu, Kingdom, and Jam City and legitimate dancefloor-friendly R&B was extremely rare. And when the stakes were highest for the 34 year-old — her first album with a big promo push — she doubled down on her vision, eschewing big name producers for longtime collaborators. My god, they didn’t let her down. First single, “LMK” is the Kelela experience cranked turned up to 11. Over an inch-perfect arrangement from Jam City (who had a sneaky incredible year), Kelela drops one of the finest vocal performances of her career, rolling her eyes at dudes who play games while dropping melodic hook after hook. It’s everything she’s always been, just at a grander scale, and it’s so inspiring to see someone overcome all the obstacles, fulfill her potential, and really win on her own terms.

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

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