Carly Rae Jepsen- Cut To The Feeling
Don’t @ me: Carly Rae Jepsen is the best songwriter in pop music. While nearly everyone knows her for Call Me Maybe, her 2015 album was among the best of that year. It’s a divergence from the pure bubblegum pop of Call Me Maybe and takes a more synthpop route, with a heavy 80’s vibe. In 2016, she released a collection of b-sides from the hundreds of songs that were left on the cutting room floor and that was yet again among the best pop albums of the year. I dare you to tell me Cut To The Feeling isn’t catchy.
The War On Drugs- Pain
This was the instant standout track on from what was my favorite album of the year. The War on Drugs recently released it as a single, giving the band its first #1 record.
Kendrick Lamar- FEEL.
My Kendrick Lamar fandom is informed by his early material like O(verly) D(edicated) and Section.80- and particularly this song, which served as the initial introduction. So while many prefer Kendrick when he snaps, I tend to gravitate to the more relaxed material. The Sounwave production has an ethereal vocal sample over a breakbeat that gives Kendrick room to operate in the pocket as his tone escalates. The second verse is arguably the best on the album.
Jorja Smith, Preditah- On My Mind
Jorja Smith is primed to blow up in 2018. She’s 20, has a co-sign from Drake and some high-profile features on More Life. Most of her (albeit small) catalog is ballads and slower stuff, so On My Mind sticks out for a unique sound- like Amy Winehouse over a 90’s skate rink jam.
Parcels sounds like Daft Punk if they were a five-piece band that originated from an Australian surf town 30 years later. Oddly enough, the Daft Punk reached out to the Parcels and produced this single, which has the Nile Rodgers-style guitar that was all over Random Access Memories.
Tame Impala- Taxi’s Here
Released as a bonus track for the vinyl issue of Currents, Tame Impala’s exceptional 2015 album, Taxi’s Here hammers home their status as one of the best bands on the planet.
Big K.R.I.T.- Get Up 2 Come Down feat. CeeLo Green, Sleepy Brown
Dungeon Family-era Outkast might be my favorite music, period. Organized Noize on the boards with CeeLo spitting a verse and Sleepy Brown on the hook- on perhaps the best rap album of the year? I’m here for that all day.
Kamasi Washington- Truth
I don’t always listen to jazz, but when I do, it’s Kamasi Washington. This is 13+ minutes of soaring sax and vocal arrangements.
Drake- Glow feat. Kanye West
If anything, this is making the list for the filthy loop of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Devotion” towards the back end of the track. The multi-layered interplay between Kanye and Drake is solid, too.
***Speaking of Devotion, let’s take a second and appreciate this video of Earth, Wind & Fire performing the song at Sinbad’s Summer Jam in 1995. It’s all there- Phillip Bailey’s GOAT falsetto, outfits that make Steve Harvey’s suits look form-fitting, and just hard vibes.
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21 Savage, Offset, Metro Boomin- Ghostface Killers feat. Travis Scott
My grandmother could rap over Metro Boomin production and it would sound passable. I know she’s better than 21 Savage, who- let’s just face it- is a horrific rapper. Despite Offset (the best rapper in Migos) and Metro having a Weekend at Bernie’s situation on their hands, this song goes in a major way.
Tennis- No Exit
I like tennis the sport more than Tennis the band, but kept coming back to this track. It sounds like a Wal-Mart Stevie Nicks over a syrupy, groovy bassline.
JD McPherson- HUNTING FOR SUGAR
McPherson is a Nashville based, Oklahoma native that has a heavy 1950’s influence that ranges from rockabilly to R&B. This track is much more of the latter.
Paramore- Told You So
Paramore wins the award for most startling turnaround that I can recall. Coming off a 4-year hiatus, they did a complete 180 in dropping the emo stuff for a new wave sound. It certainly wasn’t something I was checking for, but registered as a welcome surprise.
Drake- Madiba Riddim
Caribbean swagger jacking claims aside, Madiba Riddim has the most replay value of the dancehall tracks on More Life.
Tuxedo- 2nd Time Around
Tuxedo is the side project of Mayer Hawthorne and producer Jake One. Mayer is usually good for highly listenable tunes and this is no different.
Fleet Foxes- On Another Ocean (January / June)
It’s hard to pick a single track off the Fleet Foxes’ Crack-Up, given the general composition and flow of the album. With that said, “On Another Ocean (January / June)” encapsulates what they’re going for with Robin Pecknold’s soaring vocals, abrupt changes of pace and their trademark harmonies towards the end of the track.
Miguel- Sky Walker feat. Travis Scott
SZA- Love Galore feat Travis Scott
I’m not sure if he’s in a Kardashian-influenced creative black hole as it pertains to solo material, but it seems like Travis Scott became the Nate Dogg (RIP in peace) of 2017. He popped up as a feature on seemingly everything. I can’t hate though, all the songs are good.
Ancient Water- Future Islands
Future Islands has been ascending since their breakout performance on Letterman in 2014 (seriously, go see them live). The synthpop group out of Baltimore by way of East Carolina University puts out consistent quality and Ancient Water is among the best tracks on 2017’s The Far Field.
Action Bronson- TANK (feat. Big Body Bes)
Bronsolino’s musical output has slowed in recent years as he’s made the move into TV with 3 shows on Viceland. (Quick aside- watch The Untitled Action Bronson Show. It’s basically Emeril Live on LSD.) I’ll put his 2012 mixtape Blue Chips up against any free material in recent years, so the release of his final installment in the Blue Chips series (titled Blue Chips 7000) was welcome news. TANK finds Bronson at his best- with his nasally NYC flow over Alchemist-laced production featuring an 80’s sample. Some grade A shit-talking from his ex-con cousin to round out the track is a welcome addition.
Sheer Mag- Just Can’t Get Enough
This song is straight out of the 1970’s with some catchy guitar licks and fuzzed out effects.
Charlotte Gainsbourg- Deadly Valentine
I find the lyrics of this song tough to decipher between Gainsbourg’s whisper and apparent French accent, but we aren’t here for that. The SebastiAn production is the standout with driving synths that illicit Kavinsky (of Drive soundtrack acclaim) and layered strings. Who cares what she’s saying.
Chris Stapleton- Midnight Train To Memphis
I figured there needed to be some country inclusion on this list, so lets go with this track which Stapleton recently performed on Saturday Night Live along with Sturgill Simpson flashing his considerable guitar chops.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings- Searching for a New Day
Daptone Records has been at the forefront of the soul revitalization and Sharon Jones’ posthumous Soul of a Woman is as good as it gets in that regard.
Capital Cities- Swimming Pool Summer
We could cap this off with a deep cut Grizzly Bear or The National, but let’s be honest, the average person doesn’t want that. There aren’t any pretenses with Capital Cities- they were writing commercial jingles prior to taking up pop music. This song is what you’d expect, a jam made for poolsides and cookouts.