Well, the year is over and it’s time to start a new batch of music playlists each week. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, for I certainly enjoyed making them. With all that music talk this year I found myself instinctively making lists and next thing I knew I had started ranking the tracks I was sharing with you as well as some others (there was no way I could share them all with you) and I decided that I was going to share with you my Top 100 songs of the year. So the rules for inclusion were simple; the song had to be released this past year (2017) either on an album/EP or as a single. This meant that some tracks I loved and even shared with you were ineligible despite appearing on albums because they were released as singles in 2016 (so MUNA‘s I Know A Place, which I LOVE, isn’t on this list).
But, that doesn’t mean that this list is lacking in both quality and diversity. The makeup of this Top 100 has a lot of factors. Some of songs I connect with personally, others are songs I admire for their musical experimentation and the way they play with genres…and still others are songs I’ve grown to love because of the way my kids perk up when they come on or the way they sing along or the feeling they give me, the memories they ignite.
I hope you enjoy my breakdown!
This will be a four part breakdown, since putting 100 songs with commentary in one post seemed a little much, so today you’ll get tracks 100-76 and I’ll pick up from there tomorrow.
Oh, and just a little note on content; this is a family site and so each and every one of these songs are representative of that. No song makes my playlists or this list without being a song I’d approve of my kids listening to.
I’m going to put the playlist at the top so you can listen to these tracks as you read about why I put them here, and yes, it’s in descending order, so all you have to do is hit play!
This may seem a little low for what has pretty much become my anthem of the year, but after Nothing But Thieves dropped their sophomore album, it became clear that this was not their best offering this year and while I could probably bump this higher, it feels right capping off the list. The abrasive chorus complete with the angry lyrics that are delivered with Conor Mason’s signature vocal prowess help elevate what could have been a mere standard rock track. The way they incorporate that twinkle, subconsciously lifting the soft moments into something almost haunting, and the way they manipulate a rather steady, pulsating beat to feel three dimensional all help make Amsterdam a key track of the year. And yes, as suggested by my initial comment, this is the not the last you’ll hear of Nothing But Thieves on this list.
I think the thing that I love so much about Luke Combs ballad here is that it reminds me of my late teens. It has such an aged Country feel; this nostalgic simplicity that feels like good ol’ country richness. I’ve never been a massive Country music fan, but there was a period in my teens when I got heavy into the likes of Tim McGraw and Gary Allan, and there is something about One Number Away that calls those years to mind, transporting me to my youth and bringing a big smile to my face. That, and Combs has serious vocal chops and the way he lays out that final chorus has all the right swells to bring the feels!
When I started the weekly playlists, the idea was to share some of my musical interests with everyone, but also to find out what you were listening to; to expand my own horizons. What I didn’t expect was to actually interact with artists, and so when Spinmont left me a comment praising my playlist (note, he didn’t ask me to seek him out or listen to his music) I was intrigued, and I really liked what I heard when I spun his EP on Spotify. His control and manipulation of sound is impressive, especially on Blush, where he uses echoes and squeals to create a tapestry of light, delicate and enchanting sound. One of my favorite ‘finds’ of the year, for sure, and I can’t wait to see where he goes next!
Ok, so I’ll be upfront and say that this track landing on the countdown has 90% to do with Lea Michelle‘s vocals, because…just WOW! I’ve been a fan of this girl since Glee, but never really of her output as a singer because her selection of tracks has never been too impressive. She’s like the Carrie Underwood of Pop music; incredible voice (one of the clear best in the industry) but horrible taste in actual songs. That being said, Run to You is as close to a Celine Dion hit as you’ll find in modern contemporary Pop, and who doesn’t love a 90’s Dion classic? When you factor in the personal side of things for Michelle (especially her traumatic loss a few years back) the song takes on an even more emotional presence, and her vocal range towards the end is absolutely remarkable.
There is something very ‘cool’ about Elliot Root. They have such flow to their work, and Wicked Lies is a perfect example of that. They are smooth. The almost jazzy texture to the way they weave around the track, you can’t help but feel your body swaying with the beat. Their album is a tapestry of sound, which also makes them a group I’m very intrigued to watch grow because they certainly have a lot of influences and the talent to back it up.
Pulsating beats, haunting vocals, cutting lyrics; one listen and I was hooked with the vibe Saro was creating on the lavishly produced Eyelids. The way that the vocals create their own instrument, implementing alternating shifts in tone with the slightest (and sometimes dramatic) octave change, is an incredible gift to a singer, and Saro has that ability in spades. His voice is laced with an androgyny that gives him a wide tapestry of vocal possibilities, which only add layer after layer to his music. I can’t wait to see where he goes from here!
At this rate, when EXES finally release an album, it’s going to be my favorite of the year (next year? Please!). Their breed of (in their own words) ‘electro-dream-pop’ gets right to my bones. I can feel the thump in my heart as singer Allie McDonald’s soft vocals literally whisper like an angel over their tracks. Quiet is just one of the tracks they released this year (and it’s not my favorite, so just wait…they’ll show up on this list again!) and it’s a beautiful example of their hushed yet powerful sound. Music should be about storytelling, and this exciting duo understands that very well!
When Ed Sheeran disappeared for a year, he promised he was coming back with his best work to date. Unfortunately, ÷ isn’t perfect. It contains fractions of Sheeran‘s best work, but as a whole it falls short. If only he had omitted songs like New Man and What Do I Know and released a more streamlined album of about 10 songs…and then it would have been perfect. One of the 10 he should have kept is clearly Dive, a beautifully composed and impeccably sung ballad with jazz overtones and a slick chorus that has Sheeran belting out at his best. I could listen to this song all day long.
Remember that whole ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer’ phenom where the club hit the radio back in the 90’s and it felt like every time you left the house you were entering a rave? Yeah, those were great times. When I listen to jACQ‘s Waiting For You I am transported back to those years with my older sisters bumping SNAP! and the like as we cruised to the mall. Nostalgia aside, the track is just plain fun, and jACQ‘s soft vocals caress the fiery beat like magic. Try not to bop to this…try…I dare you!
This is possibly the happiest ‘sad song’ I’ve ever heard. In a year where everyone has something to say about suicide prevention and anti-bullying (and rightfully so), Arcade Fire (for me) takes the cake on finding a way to make their message heard and an interesting, unique and memorable way. The lyrics on Creature Comfort pierce right through to the heart of the subject with a simplicity that is profound in itself, and the bouncy, almost jovial musicality (the bells, that pitch, the anthem-like chorus) give a childlike innocence to the track that, when you think about it, adds such weight to the reality that these feelings start at such a young age. This one packs a punch once you let it marinate.
There is something almost soothing about the way vocalist Dustin Kensrue sinks into the groove of this song. It is almost monotone, which seems like an odd compliment, and yet it has such a softness, such a purity to it that it works. In a word, it’s beautiful. The lyrics are gorgeously composed, almost spiritual, softly swirling around the simple musical compositions and delivering a haunting affect. The fact that this was an unreleased B-Side for Thrice baffles me. It may not be in the same vein as their most recognizable tracks, but Sea Change is almost more powerful because of that. Like I said, the song is subtle, so subtle that it could be confused for being dull, but the song is too beautiful to be called that. It’s just right.
Yeah, I didn’t see this coming; but Harry Styles‘ solo album (self titled, at that) is easily one of the best albums of the year. It’s cohesive, conceptual, textural and came way out of left field, at least as far as this guy was concerned. The classic rock influences are very well played and create an album that feels dated, but in a good way. It’s already vintage. Trying to narrow down the best track on the album was hard, but at the end of the day it is the album’s first single, Sign of the Times, that still haunts the most. Incredibly relevant and poignant and just brilliantly composed, this searing track is one of those songs I continue going back to. One of the best surprises of the year, for sure.
flora cash came out of nowhere for me. I put on their debut album on a whim and was instantly taken in. It is pretty much perfect from start to finish, and You’re Somebody Else takes the cake for me as the one to remember. The simple pluck of the guitar, the aching in the harmonies, the heartfelt earnestness in the lyrics, which lay there like the last words of a dying poet; all of it comes together to create something that feels so real, so brutally honest. When real artists bare their souls, magic happens.
I’m going to be up front and say that if Jungle were eligible I would have listed that song in my top 5 of the year. The guitar solo at the end of that song alone is possible my favorite musical moment of the year. But, alas, Jungle was a 2016 single and so it doesn’t land on this list. Murder to the Mind does, though, and deservedly so. Tash Sultana has such rich charisma; she just melts into every song and her 2017 single is no exception. Dripping with culture, laced with classic influence and 100% new age, this girl is going places. Once those horns kicked in I was sold. I can’t wait for her to drop an album, but more than that, I NEED to see this girl live!
I first heard VÉRITÉ about a year ago. I just happened to stumble across a track called Weekend and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve been patiently waiting for more. This year she finally dropped her debut album, and it was worth the wait. Bout You is just one of the many single worthy tracks. With pulsating beats, airy vocals, and killer production, Bout You soars and is better than the majority of the radio singles dropped by more popular pop stars. I hope this girl takes off, because she could be the future of pop music.
Cat Pierce reminds me a lot of Poe, the haunting voice that used to give Fiona Apple a run for her money. Cat‘s sultry You Belong to Me flows with such sharpness that it feels like it’s directed right at the listener, like a song sung right to us. Her relaxed vocals only escalate during the chorus that echoes and haunts with such prowess. It’s a simple song that flirts with delicacy while maintaining a very clear and strong command of the listener. It entrances…enchants as it were and lingers in the ear and in the mind. I love new artists with a real POV and undeniable style, and Pierce has that in spades. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here!
I don’t know if they’d be considered a boy band or not, but The Vamps have that commercial appeal and charm while still feeling a touch on the outside of the mainstream. I’m reminded of Plain White T’s while listening to Stay, a song that has an almost anthem worthy chorus while feeling incredibly earnest and emotional, thanks in large part to Bradley Simpson’s vocals. Each and every crack expresses something genuine that takes what should feel like a generic pop song and makes it feel richer than that. It’s a song that feels very comfortable, and we all need jams like that.
Gorillaz have been around since I was a teen, and they’ve always been really hard to pin down musically. They have so many references and influences that they are almost a musical genre all their own, and so while I don’t always connect to them I am almost always in awe of what they are producing. Their latest album is slick and explodes at all corners with a near fresh identity for the group, and Submission is just bouncy fun from start to finish; just how I like them. Danny Brown brings a funk to the track’s finale, and Kelela manages to caress the track with a layer of sensuality that works. At the end of the day, though, this belongs to the Gorillaz and their effortless sound building in creating a song with such texture.
This girl…like, we all remember Call Me Maybe, but her reinvented 80’s pop identity is brilliant and she is slaying yearly with such fun, jovial, bouncy tracks that feel nostalgic while still feeling fresh and exciting. Carly Rae Jepsen is a pop powerhouse, and Cut to the Feeling may not be her best work since her reinvention, but it’s kind of pretty darn close to pop magic. This girl is best described using colors because her approach to music is so vibrant she shines, like the rainbow.
Last year I was introduced to Snoh Aalegra‘s breed of nostalgia laced R&B and was instantly smitten. Such a slinky vibe, her cool vocals just melt over each track creating such incredible atmosphere, and Nothing Burns Like the Cold is no exception; in fact it may be her grand opus. This track incorporates so many things I love, including my love of film because it feels like such a slickly rendered theme song to the great film noirs of the 40’s with influences that certainly come from James Bond. Add the stylings of Vince Staples and this song almost feels dangerous, which is a real cool vibe to carry.
I feel like we’ve been waiting years for Rita Ora to actually become a pop star. She’s been around forever with only a handful of singles to show for it, but no real presence of reason to talk about her outside of that one time she dated Rob Kardashian. This year though, she dropped Your Song and it was kind of awesome…and then she performed it with Ed Sheeran and it was official; she’s coming! This track is bouncy pop perfection and I never grow tired of listening to it and singing along. The production is sick (it LITERALLY bounces) and her vocals have a raspy honesty to them that take the novelty ‘love lyrics’ and give them an urban rawness. I hope it’s real this time; I hope she becomes a star!
This has been a crazy good year for rock music, and Gang of Youths‘ album, Go Farther In Lightness is no exception. If we’re going to try and pinpoint standout tracks, What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out? is my favorite (by a hair, probably) with it’s electric guitar work, soft-spirited echoes, frenetic chorus lines that are tempered by a truly progressive verse structure. This is one of those rock tracks that feels intricately constructed, with thought put into everything from the lyrical message to the actual build of the song; creating a feel that is fluid and truly interesting from start to finish. Just a great all around rock song!
KIMBRA!!! Remember when Goyte introduced us to her during his ‘one-hit-wonder’ moment and we all went, “WHO IS THIS GIRL,” and then she dropped her debut and we were smitten? Was that just me? It couldn’t have been. Anyways, I kind of dismissed her generic sophomore album, but she’s back with new influences and her single, Everybody Knows, shows musical and artistic growth while calling back to mind her quirky, fun, and interestingly diverse debut. This is a pop track, but it’s layered and constructed with an alternative style, from the tinkering noises to her vocal approach. This is such a fun song, and suddenly I’m hooked back on Kimbra waiting patiently for her to slay us once again!
There have been a few acts that have debuted themselves to me this year that I have become kind of obsessed with, and Dermot Kennedy is pretty much the definition of what I love about music; raw, honest and emotional as all get out. His breed of singer/songwriter is kind of brilliant; incorporating industrial sounds and hip-hop glazed vocals (no he doesn’t rap) with an edge that bleeds rock angst and emotions that pour out of every word. It’s early to say this, but in a few years I could see him being my favorite musical act, and when he finally releases a full album I wholly expect it to be absolute perfection. On Glory (only one of the tracks that appears on this list) he pulls no punches, lacing his verses with a punch that feels Eminem inspired and bringing the choir to the chorus, throwing gospel swagger like he’s taking us to church, exploring his range and proving his worth. He’s magnetic.
I’ve been a fan of Ibeyi since they dropped their debut back in 2015. Their breed of African inspired alternative pop music is entrancing to say the least. Such a fresh and inspired take on musicality, blending their vocals together with otherworldly sounds and lyrics to create their own breed of music, accessible yet certainly artsy. On their sophomore effort, they push their boundaries even further, and on the Kamasi Washington laced Deathless, they reach a new height, creating a gorgeously textured track that spills over with poignancy and powerful imagery. I love supporting artists like this because they have such a clear and present POV, and we need more insightful and experimental acts like this.
And that’s all for me today. Tomorrow I’ll drop the next 25 on you. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the list!