A hazy tune, which is actually a pretty dark way to kick off the countdown. Here Mike talks about his infatuation with masculinity, and the rougher aspects of it. For me, it's all about that hazy shuffle that takes over in the last three minutes of the song, which just seems to linger like a dank smell over the proceedings.
Now I'm driving down this open palm/Burning up the back of my hand
A lurching, dark epic about regrets over a relationship ending. What could have been a piano based ballad turns into a dramatic piece, overwhelmed with production ticks and huge drums, reminiscent of no one less than Kate Bush. Kate seems to be a popular touchpoint this year, as we'll see further on in the countdown.
Oya; open, close, fasta, fasta/Kick, open, fasta, fasta
This wasn't planned, but I just realised that Kah-Lo and Riton have now appeared at #94 in my EOY two years in a row. Another dancefloor jam, which follows on from Rinse & Repeat, it's a dance song about doing a dance, and taking it very seriously. That makes it super fun, and a blast to have a dance to!
What a charming little ditty. These Aussie girls, with a surprisingly strong pedigree of artistic work behind them already, pulled off a miracle with this one. I'm eagerly awaiting their next track to see if they can do it again!
Probably the song that should have embodied 2017 more than any other song. A public battle for a sexual assault survivor which leads up to a song that addresses exactly how she feels. That one note (you know the one) felt like a huge catharsis for Kesha, and it's honestly so good to see her come through everything, and give a performance this good.
Of course, the song's message didn't really resonate with what would occur later in 2017. While Kesha has some choice words for the un-named abuser in her song, the world would suddenly start getting very angry about these type of injustices. Unfortunately for Kesha, her measured approach then looked quite quaint. But it works for me, and I'm happy that she's starting to find peace. Last edited:
Another great song from RABBII, after they hit much higher in my 2016 EOY. All I need to do is post their disclaimer for the song here:
“ Disclaimer: For anyone who feels like we’re out on a murder spree wanting to kill them, we’re not. Feel better? Good. We want the social construct of Man to die. The Man that is responsible for almost all rapes, who fight wars, who marches in white supremacist rallies.. you get our point, right? Again, not the actual men, but the idea of that man that our culture has created. Still angry? Well, then we really can’t help you. You should try yoga.”
I don't know a lot about either artist here, but this song is a gem. Apparently, it's a statement of intent from HANDSOME, setting out to be a queer artist. But the song stands on its own as special, sounding like something that belongs next to Banks and Sampha on a playlist, and expands into an amazingly huge sounding Kite String Tangle-esque closing section. Last edited:
MØ appears in only two songs in this countdown, but just missed out with a couple of songs! She brought charm and energy to songs by Charli XCX and Snakehips, but it's her solo work that has really stood out this year. This minimal banger takes the “Issues” blueprint and turns it into a loving song about partying with your bestie. Those huge horn strikes work amazingly, and it's great to see MØ starting to get attention for more than just Major Lazer features.
I've been picking this band as the next big thing, since they dropped Thorns in 2016 (which slipped into the 80s in my EOY last year). They still haven't taken the next step in the wider world, but this track is a big step up in my eyes. Perfectly mixes their eclectic mix of influences into something that sounds like a Middle Eastern cover of Liberty X's version of Ain't Nobody. If that's not a reference point you know, just give in to the power of that catchy chorus.
"Romantic love has been distilled into algorithms of data Where love is reduced to nothing more than the neurotransmitter 'dopamine,' biochemically no different than addiction to cocaine Imagine that, right?"
Mura Masa had a great 2017. All the work leading up to his debut album paid off, with an awesome album including highlights like Firefly, Lovesick, and What If I Go. Adding to those hits though, he grabbed Charli XCX for 1 Night (which was on earlier), and Christine & The Queens for Second To None (which was unlucky to miss out here). Nuggets is the clear banger though, and Bonzai works so well with the beat.
How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too?
I always like the odd track from a St Vincent album (Marrow and Digital Witness being two faves), and the same thing has happened with MASSEDUCTION. This one comes with a devastating chorus line, which just makes such a huge song that much more melancholic. Of course, the outro doubles-down on the sadness, but it's all about that singalong hook.
The sky's falling, baby/Drop that ass 'fore it crash (higher)
It wasn't the album I wanted from one of my favourite artists of the last 17 years, but at least this track jumped out at me. This is a perfectly structured combination of Vince and the Gorillaz aesthetic, and sums up the “apocalypse party” theme that Damon was aiming for on this new album.
So touch my body/That’s what you want/But don’t touch my heart/As if I could ever be the one you love
Good ol' Danny. He smashed with his Carly Rae featured, and backed it up with a killer EP this year. 1UL is the highlight, but the whole thing is worth a listen, for sure. It's trademark Danny, you can't mistake this for anyone else! The chorus is huge, of course, but it also sounds like a chart-topper from a different realm. A WW Spotify #1 in my heart
How I'm supposed to have a good time when death and destruction's all I see?
It's been hard to rank Vince's songs this year. While I would probably consider Big Fish Theory my favourite album of the year, this is as high as we see Vince on my singles list. It's also why we've seen 3 songs from him in the last 15 tracks (4, if you include his Gorillaz feature)! As an album, it's very replayable, coasting through different eras and sounds from a variety of dance music. As singles, the songs do lose some of that collective impact.
However low these songs seem, trust that this album is fantastic. With Summertime '06 and Big Fish Theory, I actually think that Vince has dropped two rap albums that belong in the best of the decade pantheon. Not many rappers in the 2010s can claim that.
This song as my number one Tei Shi song wasn't expected when the album dropped, but it really grew on me. She released an exceptional album, full of great songs, but this one is big pop song, as opposed to Keep Running (a bit darker) and Justify (weird af). As a big pop song, it's immaculate, and something that you could hear artists like Carly Rae or Charli XCX on. If she follows this muse, I could see Tei Shi grabbing a much higher slot here next time, and landing on real charts too.
Just know you've got nothing to hide/It's okay to cry (It's okay to cry)
The official coming-out party for SOPHIE was one of my favourite things of 2017. The absolutely special and lovely video is the real star here, as SOPHIE revealed herself in the best way possible (and showed just how fierce she could be!). The song itself feels like everything she's wanted to hear, that the people close to her accept her for who she is. That the song explodes in a frenzy of excitement and joy in the last 20 seconds makes me feel like SOPHIE received that acceptance, and that's just so awesome.
But can you dance while you shoot? Can you shoot while dancing?
Technically a 2016 song, this one really blew up in 2017, even appearing on an Apple ad now! But I couldn't be happier for Noga, as her album deserved every bit of praise it received. This bit of funky, twitchy music couldn't have a more serious reason for existing. It's actually quite astounding how Noga manages to make the government seem like a boss, whilst also showing how it manages to knock you down at every turn. She's not playing a blame game, she's asking “how can we dance?”. I think her answer is that we have to.
Don't trust the ones who love you/'Cause if you love them back/They'll always disappoint you
Susanne was, of course, the star of my 2015 countdown with 4 very great tracks, which have only improved over time for me. For this album, Susanne went for a more pastoral sound and that didn't really work too well for me. The lone exception was this huge track. I'm all about that final section, and the wishing and longing for the someone who would really get her. Of course, she seems a bit overdramatic, but that just adds to fun.
What a year for Amber. She's got so much coming for her in the upcoming years, and I'm already imagining her make the transition to fully fledged pop star. After her beautiful first EP, 3:33am (featuring Lose My Cool, and S P A C E, which appeared here earlier), explored feelings surrounding the death of her mother, Amber came out firing with her first post-EP track.
Heatwave is the definition of a banger, digging into very tropical vibes via the drumming and vocally drawing on some kitschy '70s rhythms. It's all about the confidence, though. This song oozes confidence. I want to go dance the night away with her!
Break necks, I'm the chiropractor/Come on down, you know I gotcha
Did I mention “BREAK NECKS I'M THE CHIROPRACTOR”? If you ever need a song to get you hyped, this is the one. Released in December, this was one of the latest additions to my EOY, but I've probably undersold how much I love this song, to be honest.
Penelope come back and check on me/I need you to rescue what's left of me
Although appearing only once in my EOY, Col3trane has deeply impressed me with his music thus year. Some have said that this song is basically a Frank Ocean indebted track, and I agree, but he pulls it off so well. That change up in the centre of the song is fantastic, too.
So what do you want to be when you grow up? Michael Jackson
Speaking of new artists impressing, Duckwrth released an awesome mixtape this year, with 3 of the songs appearing on this EOY chart. MICHUUL. is the pick of the bunch, with its hip-house style verses juxtaposed against the slower choruses and back half. There's a couple of ways to get on my good side, and having a hip-house inspired section of your song is one of the easiest ways to get through to me (see also, Down On My Luck by Vic Mensa, and anything cupcakKe has been up to).
I wish I had a better excuse/Like I can't even lie, you got me
The thing about Boys is that it's an entirely an exercise in subverting tropes, something Charli's been doing her entire career, to be honest. In Boys, she takes the “girl who obsesses over a boy” trope and flips it so that it's about boys as a whole. The use of the video game sound makes it feel like she's just a collector of moments with boys; she's not interested in a relationship, just the rush and the thrill. She does the same in the music video, getting all her male friends to be the subject of a female gaze. Their achievements don't matter in context of the clip, just their looks and bodies.
I wonder if I could ever ask for more/If I'm ever gonna ask for more from a lover
MUNA blasted into my consciousness with the great I Know A Place in 2016, though earlier singles like Loudspeaker are awesome too. This one fills the Robyn-shaped hole in my heart. It has all the hallmarks of a sad banger, and they pull it off with ease.
It's been a little while since we have ended/We haven't mended, we haven't mended
Vera had a massive 2017, and Perennial was one of the best albums of the year (and my fave Aussie album). Even with 3 songs making this EOY, I could have found space for Regular Touch and Magazine too. Mended is the huge ballad on the album, and it's definitely huuuuuge. Vera's voice is something magical, and she puts it to good effect here (even if her best vocal performance this year was probably on Fracture).
Baby, can we burn it slow-low-low-low-low-low-low-low?
Jaira was one my finds of the year, releasing two really great first singles (including Ugly, which towards the bottom of this list). Burn Slow feels very of 2017, it takes a lot of the trends that were prevalent in 2017 and just tweaks them to make it a little weird. Particularly, the thing that grabs my attention is the hook in the chorus, taking something like a Kiiara chop up and playing with it into her own vocals non-chopped. It's that little tweak that takes this from a good pop song, to one of the best of the year.
While it sounds like a song just waiting for a killer remix, it works amazingly well by itself. It's quite a powerful meditation on what going out means to a young person, and gains new meaning when you find out that Oliver was dealing with alcoholism before the making of this album.
As Rae has said before in an interview, it's fitting that this was the first thing we heard from her on this album cycle, as it's like nothing she's done before. Feeling like her version of an early Bjork song, Rae really delivers with her vocal performance. The way the instrumentation pulls and pushes emphasises the rebirth process, and makes the whole track work.
Visuals have been so important for Kendrick in this era, and definitely helped me connect with some of his songs in a more direct fashion. In LOYALTY, Kendrick and Rihanna play a couple of star-crossed lovers, continually exploring elements of control, lust, and destructive tendencies in a relationship. The music video does such a great job at this, that the song is actually improved by it in my eyes.
What helps, though, is that this is a still fantastic vision for pop-rap as a whole. It's still dark, but still radio-friendly. An impressive achievement, and it seems like a direct hit at Drake, who deviated to pop more than rap during his reign at radio. Rihanna being the artist to help Kendrick in this achievement feels just as perfect.
What can I say about this song that others haven't said yet? It's the unexpected smash, it's the dark prophet of 2017, it's the way emo has been ingested by artists now old enough to let it influence their work in myriad ways, it's sad, it's empowering, it's complicated.
Most importantly, though, it's just so catchy. LUV became a fully fledged pop star with this song, and deservedly so. While he hasn't appeared elsewhere in this countdown, he followed this up well with The Way Life Goes, cementing his status as one of the most exciting up and coming artists in the world, not just in hip hop.
As mentioned earlier, here's a wonderful return to form from Kate Bush. Only this time, in the shape of a young Kiwi. Here Lorde goes full on drama class kid, and turns into a possessive ex, taunting her former lover by writing about them. I don't think I've ever felt this vengeful before personally, but it strikes a note of a super-villian in a movie or tv show; you want them to come out on top sometimes, just because of how dark they go. And here Lorde lays it all on the line, and amazingly, I side with her completely.
I say hi, you say hi, we stay high, you look so pretty, yeah
My 2nd most played song of the year. It's addictive alright. It feels grimy and dirty and sexual. Not sensual... just dirty and sexual. It takes Tove's liberated sexuality, a theme that's permeated her tracks since her debut, and shoves it right in your face (literally, if you're the muppet in the music video). Those descending bleeps are a bit odd to hear in a major pop song but, if we're being honest, then so's the line “I'm fully charged, nipples are hard, ready to go”.
Pure joy in song form. Anthemic, huge, and exhilarating. So many more words could be used for just how lovely and beautiful this song is. If you don't dance around like a fool when this song comes on, I don't want to know you.
The first appearance of the man who dominated my 2016. I much prefer this version, which ditches Jay-Z and Tyler The Creator from the track, as it's another one of Frank's masterful diaristic songs. This version feels more like a look inward, rather than an ode to biking, especially in the back half where the “transition” in.
This transition is quickly becoming one of Frank's more influential qualities. He does it quite often (for extreme examples, see Pyramids and Nights), but I can hear it gaining traction in up and coming RnB artists, such Col3trane, Duckwrth, SZA, and others. For an artist with only 2 “official” albums in 5 years (4, really, over 6 years), that's a pretty monumental achievement!
I've been a romantic for so long/All I've ever heard are love songs
Much like LOYALTY earlier, this is a song that greatly benefits from an amazing visual accompaniment. A good video isn't just important (otherwise Young Thug's Wyclef Jean would be in top 10 too), but this song holds up on its own.
Singing of love, like they've heard love songs all their life, this is like the idealist's way of listening to pop music. Consider it an antidote to the frustrations found in Nick Hornby's classic book High Fidelity: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”.
Romy and Oliver sing like two teens, afraid, but who have never felt of heartbreak. And it's such a delight. Imagine hearing a love song, and thinking it's saying “I dare you” at you. I don't have to imagine, I've felt that before (thank you Daft Punk's Digital Love), and this song is the perfect encapsulation of the feeling.
9 - DJDS, Amber Mark, Marco Mckinnis - Trees On Fire
Trees on fire, flame went higher and I don't ever want it to change
I honestly can't pin this song down. Perhaps, in that sense, it's spiritually closer to my 2010 EOY #1, Odessa by Caribou, which is another emotional club-banger. It's more about crafting a feel, less than a coherent narrative, and this definitely feels quite euphoric. There's just something about this song that I can't put into words. It just hits me in the right way.
The song that kicked off the DAMN. era, and how huge that opening felt on first listen. On par with his previous bangers, like personal faves King Kunta and Backseat Freestyle, Kendrick goes hard over one of the funnest beats I've heard in a while. While some would argue that this is Kendrick giving into more mainstream tendencies after his epic masterpiece, this type of track has always been in him and I'm always all for it (and of course, the video is already iconic and legendary).
That insistent beast in the chorus reminds me a lot of an older Frank Ocean favourite Super Rich Kids. Instead of it being a downcast track like that one, Jessie inflates it with a remarkable vocal performance. The way she takes that “need you” in the first three lines of the first chorus up into her higher vocal range makes the track lift off higher (higher!).
And yet, it's a love song that's not quite a love song yet. It's about that dreamy moment, when you realise you might want/need/love someone and it's all you can think about. She's always been an amazing singer (Wildest Moments is an old fave of mine), but she's never embodied the soul of a track quite like this.
And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go
I'm a bit of a sucker for a song about a mother who's no longer with the artist (see also: Airplanes by Local Natives). This one is carried along by Sampha's ethereal vocals, vocals that can always convey a huge amount of pathos. It's a tearjerker, but not in a the usual huge way. Sampha's song is sparse and elegant, revelling in space that he creates surrounding his piano and vocals. If you get a chance to check out the music video for this song, get onto it. Very affecting visuals to go with the lovely tune.
Fun fact: Sampha and Jessie Ware, both came up with SBTRKT. Sampha appeared on my EOY #3 Something Goes Right back in 2011, while Jessie appeared lower down in 2011 on Sanctuary, both features on SBTRKT songs.
Let's do something that we might regret/Take your guard down, I can see through it
What a blast of fresh air this feels like. A song so effervescent and delightful like this doesn't feel of 2017. It feels timeless. Just the opening “bong, bong, bong” of the bass is enough to make me smile. Rae has been compared to a lot of people by me, but the one that feels like the best fit is Dua Lipa's “Be The One”. That also felt like a blast of freshness and, while not really similar musically, I get a similar joy from this song.
Also, it takes a special kind of talent to take a joke from the Dewey Cox movie (“let's duet”), and turn it into something as beautiful as this. I don't think I have enough superlatives to truly do this song justice, so just chuck it on and let the sunny vibes take you away. Just do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it.
Frank is here because Frank is Frank. Seriously though, somehow Frank just manages to create hooks out seemingly thin air. Take Chanel: when I think of this song randomly, there's at least 4 different hooks that I catch myself singing. But the weirdest part is that, at first listen, the song feels like a jumbled mess. The transition to the “my pockets snug” section feels like a different song that's just been dropped in, and you don't hear the main “chorus”, if you could call it that, again.
But that's the mastery of this guy. Turning what feels like a diary entry, touching on his bisexuality, being an African-American versus the police, making money, and more, into a cohesive song that gives you a feel more than it tells a story. Essentially, it feels like a soundtrack song for the life of Frank, and I'm more than alright with getting that insight.
A song of defiance, of love, and of freedom. In this song, Mike takes everything everyone has ever said about him (everything that he's probably said to himself at one stage or another via internalisation) and lets it all slip away in the most bombastic, OTT way possible.
A song that's still way too prescient for our times, unfortunately. To get political for a moment, this song speaks to me in the way that not a lot of others have. As a country, we've been bombarded by negative documentation about the LBGT community in 2017 (and indeed, before 2017, and in 2018), and you often only hear the voices that Mike implores you to let slip away. But that's difficult.
A line like “they'll never break the shape we take”, in that environment, feels completely transgressive and so powerful, though. Matching this power with the huge orchestral instrumentation and Mike makes you feel like you can do absolutely anything. And fuck it, when I'm being carried by this sound, I can.
In a year where I fell in love and started a new relationship, The xx decided to come out of their shell in a similar fashion. Incorporating more elements from Jamie xx, they hit their stride on their best album, I See You. But this is the song that really connected to me this year.
It's all insecurity, unstable ground, and thrill (as they put it), and it perfectly incapsulates the opening few months of a new relationship. In turns longing and needing, yet aloof and scared, Romy and Oliver explore these opening notes of a meet-cute in the most complicated way possible. But that's because these are complicated people, just trying to find a home with someone else.
While my number one is all about the music, the lyrics, and the heat, this songs delivers the emotion, and in spectacular form. The way Romy and Oliver's voices meld together in the choruses and outro just do something to me, something that only their pairing of voices could do. There's something so perfect about their voices together, and it provides an emotional rush, quite unlike any other vocal duos.
Of course, Jamie does more than his part in this track. The stunning sample, pulled from an Alessi Brothers track, is manipulated perfectly to match the melancholic undertones of the song. And, as producer, he pulls the instrumentation back and forward to match the uncertainty of the lyrics.
This is a group that's been together as friends for 18 years, yet, as they expand themselves outward from their introverted beginnings, this song feels like a group that has really only just found their feet together.
What a beast of a song. This is number one for many reasons, but one of them is that this is the supreme flex, the most dominant display of a man on top of his game (showing exactly what he can do) since A Milli. There's been many a cultural force in hip hop in the 9 years since Lil Wayne's ridiculous track, but people like Drake, Kanye, etc. haven't dropped anything that's just plain gone in like this.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this song doesn't occur until over half way through. The beat change and Kendrick's ferocious rapping in the latter half of the track completely blew me away at first listen. It's one of the few times I've had a reaction to music that would compare to Big Quint. Literal “wow, wtf” spoken out loud.
And it seems like Mike Will, the producer, had the same feeling! From an interview not long after DAMN.'s release, he said: “With 'DNA.', he went the whole way through and then he just started rapping a cappella. He said, 'I just want to see if you can put some drums around this'. I said, 'Man, hell yeah'. But he was going so hard; that man was rapping so crazy. Just imagine him a cappella rapping the second half of 'DNA.' and I had to build a beat around that. I didn't want the beat to just sound like a regular boom-clap, boom-clap. I wanted that shit to sound just as crazy. I wanted it to sound like he's battling the beat.”
And that's exactly it. Hip hop has a long tradition of rap battles, and they rightly bring out some of the best lines in people. But a rapper who goes so hard, they have to build a beat to keep up and battle him? That's a sign of a once-in-a-generation talent.
That's just me focusing on the production, really. I haven't even looked at the lyrics yet, which is a searing celebration and critique of what's expected of Kendrick from himself, but also what his country expects from him as an African-American. He's been doing this throughout his career (some would say that's explicitly exactly what To Pimp A Butterfly is all about), but he's never made it this accessible and succinct before.
While this is explicitly “FUBU”, this song also appeals to anyone who has felt judged and pressured by society. You can read the lyrics and feel a connection, if you come from a low socio-economic environment, if you've had to fight for what you've got, if you come from a minority. It's that explicit focus on how he's perceived in his country that actually makes it relatable, even if not all lines are for all people.
Quite simply, I haven't heard a better rap song this decade, and I can't see anything better coming out in the next two years. He definitely does have royalty in his DNA; he's the King of the 2010s.