From Loveland’s Favorite Songs of 2017
While I was frank about my feelings towards the slate of albums in 2017, the top songs are a different story. There wasn’t an album that stood out to me as a classic in 2017, yet there were a good handful of songs that will be in my rotation for years to come. Here they are.
Read my favorite albums list first, and scroll to the bottom of this post for these songs in a Spotify playist.
40. Vince Staples — Big Fish
My first encounter with Vince Staples came in 2011 on a few tracks produced by Michael Uzowuru (who later went on to produce for Frank Ocean). I liked Staples, but I never really saw any mainstream potential. He was one of several artists seeming to operate in Odd Future’s orbit at the time, and he was just a kid. The first Staples tracks I heard were recorded before his 18th birthday. Flash forward to 2017 and he’s one of the most critically respected hip-hop artists of the year. Anyway, “Big Fish” is bouncy, weird, and aggressively catchy.
39. John Mayer — Emoji of a Wave
This title is pretty bad, but the song is good. John Mayer is the master of these kinds of muted love songs, and this may be the most drab of them all. While his laidback lyrics typically smolder with emotion and feeling, “Emoji of a Wave” is tepid and sleepy in the right ways. There’s not much substance here, but does it matter?
38. Cardi B — Bodak Yellow
Solo female rap songs pretty much never go #1, but this did. I don’t think I need to explain the appeal of Bodak Yellow to you.
37. John Moreland — It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)
I love music like this. John Moreland exists at the crossroads of country, singer-songwriter, and smooth rock. I’d like country music a lot more if 99% of mainstream country music weren’t boisterous pop music about pickup trucks. (I’m generalizing, but you get the idea.) Moreland’s music is wonderfully restrained and refined, taking only the best elements of country and making something a little off the beaten path. “I used to have a prisoner’s point of view, now I only care for being seen by you.”
36. Drake — Portland
Drake named this one “Portland” after America’s stereotypical “weird” city. The song boasts about originality and never letting anyone “ride your wave.” It seems fitting, then, that the opening line is the most Drake-y line of all time: “My side girl got a 5S with the screen cracked, still hit my back right away.” Also, I can’t stay away from this beat. It’s addictive.
35. Khalid — Saved
This song about procrastinating on closure is, ironically, hard to get away from. Khalid’s music is the kind of thing that’s so upbeat and catchy that it buries itself into your brain and keeps you coming back until you’re maddeningly sick of it. It’s like a plate of cookies: Delicious, but I already know I’m going to keep eating until I’m sick. “Saved” is my favorite from American Teen because of its off-kilter beat and interesting melody.
34. Tyler The Creator — I Ain’t Got Time
Tyler’s 2017 offering was my favorite of his career because of the way it strayed from his path a bit. I guess it makes this selection ironic, because this is by far the closest to Tyler’s stereotypical style of anything on Flower Boy. Buried in the chaos of the beat are lines like “Nat Turner would be so proud of me, cause all these m***********s got their style from me.” There’s also a great reference to Lil Boosie’s “Wipe Me Down.”
33. Rex Orange County — Edition
Rex Orange County is not the same as Frank Ocean, so I hate to make that comparison, but there are strong vibes here. It’s less than two minutes long and has some absurd songwriting. Nobody at 19 years old should be able to write, “She came in the room. Chicane in the road. Now my mind is racing.” I think this kid has big things coming because the raw talent is evident and, even at 19 years old with a fairly deep catalog, he’s never really missed on anything. The potential is massive. Buy stock now.
32. Brand New — Can’t Get It Out
Any song that starts with ominous strumming and distant whistles is going to be up my alley. I think the reason I loved Science Fiction so much compared to Brand New’s other albums is because it showed their ability to mold those aforementioned elements into something menacing yet still palatable. “Can’t Get It Out” is a perfect microcosm of that achievement. I never had to try to like it; it came naturally.
31. Lil Peep — U Said
This is a song about escapism. It’s something that dominated Lil Peep’s music and eventually claimed his life last month. The first part of “U Said” serves as a kind of window into that life. “I wish I didn’t play a part to break you. I wish I didn’t do a lot of the s — t I do.”
30. Harry Styles — Sign of the Times
Harry Styles’ solo career never got past the runway for me, but “Sign of the Times” is a five and a half minute monster of a ballad. It dances in the right places before dropping into something heavier right on cue. It’s like an Adele song but more existential than it is personal.
29. BROCKHAMPTON — JELLO
BROCKHAMPTON’s flow on “JELLO” is absurd. For whatever reason, all the contributing members are rapping in a higher-pitched voice. It makes everything even more dizzying. At one point, Matt Champion says, “Pack it up like a clown car (honk, honk). Bet you know my name from here to Hong Kong, bet I get along. Make some commas, karma, come on, watch ’em sing along.” I think I got lost in that line for a solid 30 seconds.
28. Offset & Metro Boomin’ — Ric Flair Drip
This may be all in my head, but I think rappers in 2017 have such a higher level of sonic awareness than rappers 10 or 15 years ago did. I don’t know that there’s a single lyric on “Ric Flair Drip” that connects with me, but it sounds phenomenal. Seriously, it’s intoxicating. The lyrics, the flow, the chorus, the melody, the beat. It’s like a waterpark in musical form. I’m convinced babies would love this song for the exact same reasons I do.
27. Drake — Gyalchester
I think Drake is a meme at this point, and the weirdest part of it is that the only Drake songs I like anymore are the ones in which he’s seemingly portraying a caricature of himself. “Hermès link, ice-blue mink,” this one opens. At one point, Drake says, “She wanna get married tonight, but I can’t take a knee ’cause I’m wearing all white,” and it’s probably the most insane line of 2017. He follows it up by saying, “Me and my broski are twins, but we don’t look alike,” and now I can’t tell if he’s being serious or what he’s even referring to — but I know I love it. Next, “I don’t take naps. Me and the money are way to attached to go and do that.” This song is an achievement. Put it straight into the Library of Congress.
26. Tyler The Creator — Pothole
Contrary to the other Tyler song I chose for this list, “Pothole” is a perfect example of Tyler’s switch in direction.“I had to switch gears on ‘em,” he insists. “Fishtail in the rearview mirror on ‘em.” Unlike early work by Tyler, this is a shining example of something moving from concept to execution without a hitch. The premise is clear and it’s delivered flawlessly. Tyler finally seems like he’s able to wield his prodigious creativity.
25. Perfume Genius — Slip Away
Prior to 2017, I didn’t know anything about Perfume Genius. In fact, I guess I still don’t. I do know that this song is something special. From the wobbly, quivering intro to the chorus that comes blasting through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, everything here just feels right. It feels like a song that’s just shed its skin by an artist that’s seemingly done the same.
24. BROCKHAMPTON — STAR
I think this might be the most reference-heavy song I’ve ever heard. By my count, BROCKHAMPTON references 25 actors and movie characters, seven athletes and teams, three musicians, and Barack Obama. What I’m mostly thrilled with here is the stunning Secret Agency Cody Banks reference. I need more hip-hop that references early-aughts Disney flops. Please continue to remind me of Frankie Muniz and Hillary Duff in a fashion that’s genuinely impressive.
23. Father John Misty — Total Entertainment Forever
This song is some serious Aldous Huxley/Neil Postman business, so I guess it’s fitting that it opens with the most unbelievable line of 2017: “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.” Most of FJM’s music has this kind of irritating “edgy” tone of someone who just completed an intro to philosophy course in their freshman year of college, but I think “Total Entertainment Forever” possesses enough self-awareness to make up for it. Plus the composition of this one is great. Listen to those horns.
22. Lana Del Rey — Love
I have literally written thousands of words on this blog about how post-Born To Die Lana Del Rey has been relentlessly disappointing, but this one returns to some kind of form. She paints a tapestry of young, blissful ignorance. It’s a kind of love letter to naiveté and it’s fantastic. I has a kind of new maturity, but many of the elements of early Lana that I’ve been missing so much. I want more of it.
21. The Smith Street Band — Death To The Lads
I guess you could say this is like the inverse of the song I just talked about. While Lana Del Rey expresses a kind of jealousy for the young and reckless, Smith Street Band’s Wil Wagner uses “Death To The Lads” to put his stupid ways to rest. “Staying in a hotel full of pilots; I can’t believe that they are smoking. If you’ve mastered the art of flight, why would you spend half your time choking?” The whole thing is observant and triumphant.
20. John Moreland — Lies I Chose To Believe
I think I realized what John Moreland reminds me of. He’s early-career Justin Vernon. Before Vernon started Bon Iver, he was in DeYarmond Edison, a band that sounds remarkably like this one from Moreland. The muted percussion and nostalgic pianos mixed with the wistful, southern twang of Moreland makes me wish I lived off the beaten path and drove a car that’s 20 years older than mine. Even the album artwork stirs something in me.
19. The National — Day I Die
I knew this was going to be a good one when the percussion first hit. Many will bristle at the following comparison, but the first moments of this song remind me of the best kind of Coldplay. We quickly leave that place, but it’s only to tread on some familiar ground for fans of The National. In the first lines we get a reference to Leonard Cohen’s fantastic “Chelsea Hotel №2” and a name-drop for Cleveland, which I’m literally unable to ignore. This one is intricate in a sneaky way, describing a failed relationship that’s only coped with in emotional under-the-influence bursts. “For years I used to put my head inside the speakers in the hallway when you get too high and talk forever.”
18. Arcade Fire — Creature Comfort
I (generally) like Arcade Fire. I (generally) hated this album. That being said, “Creature Comfort” is a heater. It feels like a pretty fair commentary on life in 2017. Objectively, everything is incredible but few are appreciating it: “Born in a diamond mine. It’s all around you, but you can’t see it.” Humans are fame-obsessed: “God, make me famous. If you can’t, just make it painless.” And everyone is numb to it all: “We wanna dance but we can’t feel the beat.” Anyway, all of this is completely hidden by one of the more compelling instrumentals this year. It’s laughably danceable considering how critical it is.
17. Mount Eerie — Real Death
This is barely a song, in my eyes. Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum lost his wife to cancer at just 35 years old and A Crow Looked At Me sees him desperately sort through the rubble. Not just “the love of my life is gone” in a broad sense, but the dirty nuts and bolts. Rather than try to explain it, here’s the second verse, which pretty much sums up the album: “Crusted with tears, catatonic and raw, I go downstairs and outside and — you still get mail. A week after you died, a package with your name on it came and inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret and, collapsed there on the front steps, I wailed. A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now. You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you, though you clawed at the cliff you were sliding down, being swallowed into a silence that is bottomless and real.”
Read my full album review:
16. Frank Ocean — Biking
Frank Ocean didn’t even release a formal project in 2017, yet his random tracks released through his Blonded show leave their mark on this list. In 2012 or 2013, Jay Z on a song with Frank and Tyler would’ve been some kind of dream collaboration. In 2017, I’m mostly just stunned it worked. Tyler is above average, Frank sounds like a damn angel, and Jay Z works in his 4:44 vein of being minimalist and… interesting. Seriously, it’s 2017 and Jay dropped “E.T. on the handles. Handlebars like a Xanax. Shammgod with the AND1 moves.”
15. BROCKHAMPTON — GUMMY
There are some crazy ’90s west coast hip-hop vibes here, and the chorus is anthemic: “Cash don’t last, my friends will ride with me.” Kevin joked on Twitter that he was trying to sound like M.I.A. with the vocal effects used on the hook, but it actually works. BH has an unbelievable knack for crafting these kinds of songs that sound bizarre and chaotic while really being extremely tight and cohesive. It’s a skill that’s well beyond their years.
14. Kendrick Lamar — HUMBLE
This is nearly a perfect Kendrick song. I don’t know that K Dot has ever released an album track that wasn’t quality, but every album still needs singles. What results are essentially a handful of nuanced, multi-layered “pop” songs. Section.80 had “ADHD” and “Ronald Reagan Era.” Good kid, m.A.A.d city had “Swimming Pools” and “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” To Pimp A Butterfly had “King Kunta” and “Alright.” This time around we get “DNA” and “HUMBLE.” It’s a banger with some layers to it.
13. The Smith Street Band — 25
Being 25 years old, I think a large part of the whole experience is fumbling around for your place in the world. Wil Wagner squashes any thoughts of romanticism about these growing pains: “Breathing out cold air in my own house and wondering why I couldn’t afford a solution to that by now. And I’m sure everything seems romantic; in reality it’s uncomfortable to deal with.” He writes about what it’s like to live with mental illness (“I don’t know if I’ll be able to complete what other people do each day without noticing”) and chronicles the discomfort that comes from plowing headfirst through the resulting adversity (“One bad week for a life of breathing”). Above all else, the instrumentation rips. I saw this performed live earlier this year and I think I nearly died.
12. The Menzingers — Lookers
This is the lead single from The Menzingers’ After The Party — an album which I courageously placed at #1 on my year-end favorites list. As a noted fan of things that reference other things, this struck a chord. We get a Jack Kerouac reference, a Tom Waits reference, and somewhat of a Bruce Springsteen reference. More than anything on the album, “Lookers” is ruthlessly upbeat while waxing poetic on nostalgia and lost days of youth.
Read my full album review:
11. Rex Orange County — Best Friend
This is butter, and perhaps the most mature “friend zone anthem” ever written. Rex Orange County finds himself on the outside of a relationship and thusly aspires to become the best friend. Maybe there’s a long term play to be more than that, but it isn’t the point of the song. There isn’t really a lot of lyrical depth here, but I think that says a lot about Rex, because he flexes writing chops on other songs but chooses to lay off here in order to make his most poppy single yet.
10. Sorority Noise — No Halo
On my albums list I criticized this one a bit. In comparison to Sorority Noise’s last project, I didn’t think it was as consistent front to back. However, the top two or three songs on this may be the band’s best. “No Halo” sees lead singer Cameron Boucher struggling to cope with loss. The passing of his friend Sean is a significant theme of the album and it rears its head here as Cameron loses sleep and wonders why it wasn’t him that died. “God called you fulfill a vacancy; I tried to see why it wasn’t me.”
09. BROCKHAMPTON — GOLD
The BROCKHAMPTON boys released three projects in 2017. While Saturation III arrived too late to be included with any of my favorites of 2017, I’m not sure any song on there would’ve topped “GOLD” for me. I think my favorite thing about this song is how unconventionally great it is. I’m a big lyrics guy, for the most part. I wouldn’t say “GOLD” has poor lyricism, but it’s lyrically great in a sonic way rather than a meaningful way. The whole thing just sounds good. “Rock the boat like a one-eyed pirate. Rick James, I get glitter on my eyelids.” And “Swan dive down the 405.” And “I feel like Ratatouille when I’m whippin’ the cheddar.” These are just kids but they have a grasp of something greater.
08. Lorde — Homemade Dynamite
A year ago, I would not have predicted that a dark party song by Lorde would be in my 2017 Top 10, yet this ended up being a no-brainer. This one reminds me a lot of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” as the second verse transitions from party to reality, describing a deadly drunk driving accident: “Might get your friend to drive, but he can hardly see. We’ll end up painted on the road, red and chrome, all the broken glass sparkling.”
07. Lil Peep — Awful Things
Lil Peep died last month of a drug overdose. While “Awful Things” may not give a much insight into that fact as other songs of his (see elsewhere on this list), it’s served as a touchpoint for his memory. “Awful Things” was arguably the greatest achievement of Peep’s career at the time of his death and so it makes sense to see it used as the anthem of his passing. At a memorial, Good Charlotte delivered an intriguing cover. It’s a song about a toxic relationship and the desire to ruin everything because of it. “Burn me down ’til I’m nothing but memories.”
06. Kendrick Lamar — DNA
“DNA” is like a Kendrick Lamar word vomit. He’s coming to terms with his heritage and ancestry and turning the thing into a quilt of words. “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA. Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA. I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA. I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA.” Built into the bedrock of the song is the most absurd Geraldo Rivera quote you’ve ever heard, and its placement on both the intro and the first song of the album seem to indicate its role as an inspiration. DAMN is angry in all the right ways.
05. Lorde — The Louvre
I was in Paris in 2015 and went to The Louvre. I saw the Mona Lisa and then promptly fell asleep on a bench, which has to be a metaphor for something. I’ll get back to you on that. Lorde’s tribute is about the sunniest days of a relationship. It’s a song about falling in love and it uses France’s most famous museum as a kind of metaphor for that. In 2016, Frank Ocean whined “You text nothing like you look.” In 2017 Lorde says “I overthink your punctuation use.” I wonder if older generations have any clue what these lines mean, but they’re instantly, perfectly relatable to me. The best moment of the entire album comes in the third verse. “We’re the greatest. They’ll hang us in The Louvre. Down the back, but who cares — still The Louvre.”
04. Frank Ocean — Chanel
I know I mentioned this already, but I find it incredible that Frank was able to leave his fingerprints on this list despite not releasing an album this year. I expected nothing from him in 2017 and yet he was still able to land a song in the Top 20 and the Top 5. On “Chanel,” Frank uses the fashion brand’s logo as a metaphor for his life. “I see both sides like Chanel,” he croons over a plodding beat. “I got neeeeeew money, and it’s aaaaaaall cash” will be stuck in my head for months.
03. Sorority Noise — Disappeared
The album cover of Young Luck, Sorority Noise’s first-ever release from 2013, features a photo of five children running — a kind of homage to the innocence of childhood. Lead singer Cameron Boucher has lived a lot of life in the four years since. For better or worse, he’s had to grow up to survive it. I guess it makes sense that the You’re Not As _____ As You Think album cover features five more people running, this time much older than they were in 2013. “Disappeared” is dark, but hides it by covering everything with a sunny tone and rephrasing the most devastating lines in subtle ways. On the deaths of what we can assume to be five friends: “Just this year, I lost a basketball team to heaven and I’m sure they’re shootin’ jumpers with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” The stark reality of death is hidden beneath the surface until the end of the second verse, where Boucher makes the brave choice to be blisteringly specific: “So go out and have some fun. Let loose and I’ll daydream of the noose that took my friend Sean’s life.” The album isn’t as optimistic as previous work, but it documents Boucher slowly coming to terms with it all.
02. The Menzingers — After The Party
“After The Party” is a beautiful collage of a song that boils down an entire album of ideas, concepts, and memories into a single four-minute blitz of imagery. It’s a song that celebrates the tiny moments in life that tend to make up the fabric of the whole thing. “It’s the little things my mind commits to etch behind my eyelids…” It’s a celebration of the tiniest, most meaningless moments that make you fall in love with someone: “Your silhouette in high top sneakers and hardcore from laptop speakers.” The song lends itself perfectly to a music video, so luckily they came through with my favorite of the year. This song is incredible.
Read my full album review:
01. Rex Orange County — 4 Seasons
This is the closest thing to a perfect song that came out in 2017, and I’m thrilled to say that it came from some random kid from England. Rex Orange County crashed onto my radar in a big way this past year. The first time I heard this song buried in the middle of his Apricot Princess album, I knew it was over. It had to be one of my favorites of the year. Unbelievably, the song grew on me even more over time, aging like a fine wine. I haven’t listened to a song in 2017 more than this one. There are so many flawless components that go into this. The opening part is a lonely ballad followed by a literal Shepard tone plunge into something vaguely hip-hop that clearly builds toward something mysterious. Eventually, it happens right around the middle of the song and Rex breaks out into the most intoxicating melody of the year. “And we don’t even need to mention all the things that matter, or anything you’re stressing ‘bout. Just tell me why your day was good, and love me after hours.”
It’s a song about the loneliness of life and how it’s solved by relationships and human connection while also serving as a criticism of how damn temporary and prone to ruin they tend to be. “I said the likelihood just frightens me and it’s easier to hide, but I can’t ignore it endlessly: eventually things die,” croons Rex about this inherent fragility. “But if only he’d remember my name one final time.” Now he’s singing about his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s, a topic that surfaces in various parts of his music.
It’s a maturity that’s well beyond his years propped up by musical craftsmanship well beyond his generation.