Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2017: Favorite Songs

It’s that time of year again where I run through the list of songs that inspired me, entertained me, or just plain got stuck in my head for amusing reasons, more than any other songs in the last 12 months. Most of these were released in 2017. Some came out in 2016 and I either didn’t hear them until this year or didn’t come to fully appreciate them in time for last year’s list. I’ve given brief explanations and YouTube links for the Top 30. For the rest… just check the reviews where they’re linked, if you’re curious.

And as always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2017 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.

1. “Magnificent (She Says)”
Elbow
Little Fictions
This one was my obvious favorite from the get-go. It’s just too hard to resist a song about a couple seeing the wonders of the world through the eyes of their child, when it was released in the same year I became a parent myself. This song was my lifeblood in 2017.

2. “Louder Than a Lion”
Eisley feat. Anthony Green
I’m Only Dreaming
This “dark lullaby” with an unexpected guest vocal from Circa Survive’s Anthony Green demonstrated that while Eisley may be down most of their original members, they’re not hurting for creative new ways to take listeners on an aural flight of fancy.

3. “A L I E N S”
Coldplay feat. Brian Eno
Kaleidoscope EP
Using extraterrestrials as a metaphor for immigrants isn’t a new idea, but Coldplay’s eerie take on the idea involves a perplexing 5/4 beat and one of their most intriguing melodies, and a message we could all use a reminder of in the age of Brexit and “America First” propaganda. It’s hands down one of the most creatively inspired things they’ve ever done.

4. “The Man”
The Killers
Wonderful Wonderful
A glitzy, glammy deconstruction of macho pride, that looks back at an earlier time in Brandon Flowers’ life and muses, “I really was that ridiculously full of myself, wasn’t I?”

5. “Homeward”
Future of Forestry
Awakened to the Sound
This song feels like the voice of God calling a wandering child home after a grand adventure. I love how elaborate and otherworldly the orchestration is, despite the fact that when you dig into it, it’s really a pretty basic three-chord song. And those big, pounding drums! *SWOON*

6. “Remembered For”
Colony House
Only the Lonely
Near the end of the year’s most fun rock album is this powerful song about wanting to be remembered for caring for the poor, the needy, the broken-hearted, and not just for being a famous musician. It’s a captviating rocker that follows a long string of them, with a somewhat spontaneous coda that segues well into the album’s mellow ending.

7. “Places”
Owel
Dear Me
The bright piano and strings and the rolling drums create one upbeat, somewhat deluded, but genuinely happy parade of sound that just won’t quit for six minutes and change. Jay Sakong lets himself play out “what if” scenarios in his head as he admires a beautiful stranger from across the room, and it’s a well-earned moment of optimism in an otherwise mostly slow and melancholy song cycle.

8. “In the Morning I’ll Be Better”
Tennis
Yours Conditionally
There’s something incredibly soothing and reassuring about the way Alaina Moore’s vocals and the vintage keyboards wash over me right at the beginning of this song. This was my very first taste of Tennis, and it hit all the right sweet spots on a difficult day when I was still reeling from a difficult loss.

9. “Whiteout Conditions”
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions
Defiantly upbeat even when singing about dark subject matter, Carl Newman and the gang come on incredibly strong in this behemoth title track that describes, with strange exuberance, what it’s like to go through an endless emotional winter when merely getting out of bed and dragging yourself to work feels like a true accomplishment.

10. “Everything Now”
Arcade Fire
Everything Now
A disco throwback ode to the endless bits and pieces of pop culture we’ve all got swirling about in our heads, in an age where pretty much the entire library of humanity’s creative works is available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. If not for the allusions to modern technology, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was recorded during the heyday of ABBA.

11. “Night of the Long Knives”
Everything Everything
A Fever Dream
This opening track, referring to a hostile nationalistic takeover of British and American politics as a parallel to when the Nazis consolidated power pre-World War II, lays out all of the ingredients on the table that make Everything Everything’s danceable indie rock sound so incredibly irresistible. It’s the crowning achievement on an infectious album where several tracks are strong contenders for that honor.

12. “Fields of Blue”
Tennis
Yours Conditionally
There’s something almost childishly naive about the simple drum loop and chord progression that propels this song about the bliss of sailing away into the vast unknown of the open sea with your lover at your side. It’s so flawlessly executed that I instantly fell in love with it. (Plus I’ve got some special memories of dancing around the living room with my toddler to this one.)

13. “Funeral Pyre”
Phantogram
Three
With sparse, impressionistic lyrics and a hook that relies more on the crushed 8-bit beat and thrilling guitar pyrotechnics than Sarah Barthel’s lovely vocals, this unorthodox opening track from Three managed to be strong enough to claim top honors on that album despite it having some incredibly catchy singles queued up right after it. This is the song I’d look forward to most if I ever saw the band live.

14. “Painting (Masterpiece)”
Lewis Del Mar
Lewis Del Mar
The most easygoing and instantly addictive track on Lewis Del Mar’s debut album is this sunny, lightly Latin-flavored indie pop single that serves as an encouragement to color outside the lines all you want and make a huge mess with the paint, because the act of expression means more than the finished product (or the voided deposit on your apartment).

15. “Ivory Tower”
Everything Everything
A Fever Dream
Internet flame wars served as the lyrical inspiration for this frenetic workout of a song about how easy it is to make snide know-it-all comments from a distance when you live a privileged lifestyle. The stuttering chorus hook and the heavy guitars get so manic near the end that I suspect Thom Yorke might be a little bit jealous.

16. “Joy”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Emotions
The polar opposite of the similarly stunning “Anger”, which made my list last year, this bubbly, upbeat tune personifies joy as “A glimpse of light in a mine of gold.” The film Inside Out was pretty clearly a strong inspiration here, since Ryan O’Neal, like myself, is a huge Pixar nerd.

17. “Same Old Blues”
Phantogram
Three
Chopped-up samples from a Gospel song serve as a deliberate contrast to the manic depressive approach taken in this addictive electropop single, with its huge bass/guitar drop in the middle eight to rev up the crowd. Being stuck in the doldrums never sounded so fun!

18. “Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)”
The Flaming Lips
Oczy Mlody
The combination of The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus that led to her (by all accounts, disastrous) Dead Petz album at least gave us this beautifully sad song, which apparently was literally about a dead pet in Miley’s version, but reworked by Wayne Coyne and co., it comes across as more of a lament for lost innocence. The dreamy instrumental passages between the verses make it feel like a lost track from the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots era – in other words, trippy dream pop at its finest.

19. “Follow Me Down”
Colony House
Only the Lonely
“Remembered For” comes right after this on the album; the two tracks are cleverly linked together, with this one as the strong setup to its spike. The thundering drums and Caleb Chapman’s passionate vocals make the song feel larger than life as he finally drops his guard and admits to being broken and needing help. The two songs were really meant to be together, considering how fitting “Remembered For” works as an answer to this one, but even when heard separately, this song is no less impactful.

20. “Lo”
Lisa Hannigan
At Swim
This is one of the few upbeat tracks on the mellow, heartfelt, At Swim, and it showcases Hannigan’s lilting vocals perfectly, with an appropriately folksy shuffling beat and some gloriously crisp acoustics. It’s not “Celtic” music per se, but it has a cheery hint of Irish-ness to it nonetheless.

21. “Showboat”
Josh Ritter
Gathering
Also giving his own machismo a fun little poke in the eye is this instant classic from Ritter, which compares the manly facade he puts on to a boat which is all decked out but barely even functional. He piles up clever metaphors and witty rhymes and alliterations pretty much nonstop here, proving yet again why he’s one of my favorite songwriters.

22. “Dive”
Ed Sheeran
÷
I often talk about Ed Sheeran like he’s a guilty pleasure – I love his singing style and his overall persona as a performer, but sometimes his lyrics make me cringe. Not so with this song, which is genuinely invested in wanting to know a girl’s in it for the long haul before he goes and lets himself fall head over heels for her. I may feel the urge to say “Don’t judge me” for admitting that I love a goofy, oddly sexual, and/or hedonistic song like “Shape of You” or “Galway Girl”, but I don’t have to make any qualifications here – Sheeran just nails it.

23. “Wonderful Wonderful”
The Killers
Wonderful Wonderful
The dark bass line that dominates this song, deliberately pushing the rest of the band into the background until a big payoff comes later in the song, makes the title track an unorthodox ans satisfying way to open The Killers’ fifth album. The lyrics, which are about promising a motherless child she’ll be taken in and cared for an no longer have to beg the heavens for her most basic of needs, cut this Foster parent right to the core in the best way possible.

24. “Mississippi”
The Secret Sisters
You Don’t Own Me Anymore
A few of my favorite song on this list imply heartwarming daddy/daughter moments that tug at my heartstrings. This one absolutely devastates me by describing an absolutely ugly daddy/daughter relationship from the perspective of a jealous father not wanting his daughter to escape across the state lone and elope with the man she loves, which drives him to murder them both in a drunken fit of rage. It’s the sad conclusion to “Iuka” from the Sisters’ previous album, and the final verse where the man finally takes stock of what he has lost and can’t get back makes it probably the most effective tear-jerker I’ve heard all year.

25. “Dear Me”
Nichole Nordeman
Every Mile Mattered
Nordeman is a smart songwriter, sometimes weighed down by the expectations of Christian radio. So while I’ve always trusted her to write with conviction, I was really surprised to hear her take such a social justice-y focus on this song, which is a letter to her old self, someone who parroted the typical conservative viewpoints of how those poor and lost souls out there have to help themselves and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and we’ll pray for them but we won’t give handouts, etc. She’s wiser now, and this song repents of those viewpoints, reminding her younger self to act on the belief that “Jesus loves us, this I know, and there are no exceptions.”

26. “Losing All Sense”
Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins
I like to call this “The Sprinkler Song” due to the sampled beat that makes me want to run through a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day. But for such an upbeat playful tune that shows off how tightly the guitars, bass, and drums can interlock when Grizzly Bear sets out to create a catchy song, there’s also some genuine heartache in Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s lyrics, which comes through perfectly in their vocal performances.

27. “Want You Back”
Haim
Something to Tell You
After a long wait for album #2, Haim delivered the goods with the perfect lead-off single. While the vocal sampling and other weird sounds might get a bit excessive here, the hooks are pure gold, and I love how the well-worn topic of relationship woes is freshened up by the admission that the one who did the dumping was in the wrong and is now ready to give genuine commitment a second chance instead of running scared from it.

28. “Run”
Foo Fighters
Concrete and Gold
Dave Grohl’s fierce screams collide with a muscular melody on a track that practices what its lyrics preach, getting Concrete and Gold off to a rousing start, and pretty much guaranteeing that any crowd it’s played live in front of will go absolutely berserk by the time its five minutes are up.

29. “Can’t Do”
Everything Everything
A Fever Dream
A catchy, danceable radio single about facing the pressure to come up with a catchy, danceable radio single. They may sing “Help me, I can’t do the thing you want!”, but guess what guys – in spite of yourselves, you did exactly that and it was awesome.

30. “Kept Woman”
Fleet Foxes
Crack-Up
The only reason Fleet Foxes doesn’t appear on this list more is because throughout much of their new album, I like bits and pieces of songs more than I do the full songs. It’s deliberately fragmented and I think that makes the album an interesting creative expression. But I’m most drawn to this arresting piano ballad, which harnesses the group’s trademark vocal melodies for (what I’m assuming) a powerful lament about a woman chained to a mundane destiny she never wanted.

31. “Avalanche Alley”
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

32. “Ready For You”
Haim
Something to Tell You

33. “Desire”
Everything Everything
A Fever Dream

34. “Covers You”
Future of Forestry
Awakened to the Sound

35. “No Fun”
Incubus
8

36. “Pass the Baby”
Jimmy Eat World
Integrity Blues

37. “When Was the Last Time”
Switchfoot
Where the Light Shines Through (Special Edition)

38. “Three Rings”
Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins

39. “Snowfall”
Eisley
I’m Only Dreaming

40. “Bleary”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

41. “My Emotions Are Blinding”
Tennis
Yours Conditionally

42. “Hidden in a Waveform”
Cool Hand Luke
Cora

43. “New Fears”
Lights
Skin & Earth

44. “Signs of Life”
Arcade Fire
Everything Now

45. “Gentle Storm”
Elbow
Little Fictions

46. “Runnin'”
Pharrell Williams
Hidden Figures: The Album

47. “Los Ageless”
St. Vincent
MASSEDUCTION

48. “Surrender”
Lalah Hathaway & Pharrell Williams
Hidden Figures: The Album

49. “Fox Hole”
Marah in the Mainsail
Bone Crown

50. “Shape of You”
Ed Sheeran
÷

51. “3WW”
Alt-J feat. Ellie Roswell
Relaxer

52. “Candy Coated Razor Blades”
John Reuben
Reubonic

53. “Friends and Foes”
Tim Be Told
Friends and Foes

54. “Nancy Mulligan”
Ed Sheeran feat. Beoga
÷ (Special Edition)

55. “The Wake of Your Life”
Mew
Visuals

56. “All I Can Think About Is You”
Coldplay
Kaleidoscope EP

57. “Vanisher”
Paper Route
Real Emotion

58. “You & I”
Colony House
Only the Lonely

59. “The World’s Smiling Now”
Jim James
Eternally Even

60. “Right Now”
Haim
Something to Tell You

61. “Little Fictions”
Elbow
Little Fictions

62. “Flower”
Relient K
Air For Free

63. “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”
Phantogram
Three

64. “It Matters”
Jimmy Eat World
Integrity Blues

65. “Mind”
Sleeping at Last
Atlas: Intelligence

66. “Man”
Relient K
Air For Free

67. “Snow”
Lisa Hannigan
At Swim

68. “You’re Mine”
Phantogram
Three

69. “Song in Stone”
Iron & Wine
Beast Epic

70. “Holy Water”
Switchfoot
Where the Light Shines Through

71. “The Sky Is a Neighborhood”
Foo Fighters
Concrete and Gold

72. “Black Mamba”
Marah in the Mainsail
Bone Crown

73. “Committed”
Matt Wertz
Gun Shy

74. “Tennessee River Runs Low”
The Secret Sisters
You Don’t Own Me Anymore

75. “I Am Not Yours”
Owel
Dear Me

76. “No Exit”
Tennis
We Can Die Happy EP

77. “Candy Pieces All Smeared Out”
Mew
Visuals

78. “Lustration”
Circa Survive
The Amulet

79. “Steal the Moon”
Owel
Dear Me

80. “Everything Has Its Shape”
KT Tunstall
KIN

81. “Taking Chances”
Cool Hand Luke
Cora

82. “Deeper in the Water”
The Lone Bellow
Walk into a Storm

83. “Still Breathing”
Green Day
Revolution Radio

84. “Die Young”
Sylvan Esso
What Now

85. “Stroll On”
MuteMath
Play Dead

86. “Loud(y)”
Lewis Del Mar
Lewis Del Mar

87. “Neighbors”
Grizzly Bear
Painted Ruins

88. “American Soul”
U2 feat. Kendrick Lamar
Songs of Experience

89. “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”
Tennis
Yours Conditionally

90. “Nothingness and No Regrets”
Mew
Visuals

91. “3:20”
Colony House
Only the Lonely

92. “Love Me Back”
Tim Be Told
Friends and Foes

93. “Alterlife”
Rina Sawayama
RINA EP

94. “Praise the Lord”
Crowder
Americal Prodigal (Special Edition)

95. “One More Light”
Linkin Park
One More Light

96. “Creature Comfort”
Arcade Fire
Everything Now

97. “Break the Fever”
MuteMath
Play Dead

98. “Lay Your Burdens Down”
Tim Be Told
Friends and Foes

99. “Diving Woman”
Japanese Breakfast
Soft Sounds From Another Planet

100. “Canada Dry”
Barenaked Ladies
Fake Nudes

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s