Good morning! Today we’ll pick up where yesterday left off, continuing with the breakdown of my 100 Favorite Songs of the Year. Obviously, this list (and any list like this) is wholly subjective, but I had a blast putting it together and am excited to share it with you and hopefully hear your thoughts on my picks (and any of your picks as well). The playlist is located at the top of the list, so feel free to hit play and browse this post at your leisure!
When I listen to Vera Blue‘s Said Goodbye To Your Mother, I can see the whole story play out, and that says a lot for not only the lyrical content but the delivery of those words. You can feel the aching as she hits those higher notes within the chorus, the frailty within her pitch that calls to mind a youthful innocence being wounded due to love lost. And then there is the bridge, with the swell in the musical arrangement, and those words, crushing, like the simple truth being bled from her heart. I get chills whenever I listen to this song.
So, I’m a massive fan of Arctic Monkeys, and Lotus Eater by Foster The People is like the best song that Arctic Monkeys didn’t write. It’s fun, upbeat, catchy and just all around pretty awesome; with those colliding vocals, musical abrasiveness and explosive energy. There is this air of ‘cool’ that pervades this song, creating an atmosphere that uplifts the moment in a swell of excitement. To know that these are the same guys who delivered Pumped Up Kicks is kind of amazing, because the tones are polar opposites and yet this look is very, very good on them.
There is so much soul just in LÉON‘s vocal delivery, not to mention the way she frames her songs. If you told me that Think About You was a cover of 70’s soul classic, I’d believe you. She has a depth to her voice, but her sound is fresh considering that her pitch and range are much sharper and cleaner than most often associated with this style of music. While I love the rasp that often accompanies soul music, there is such a nice tone to LÉON‘s voice, creating a very easy listening experience. She’s one of the many new voices on the scene who bring a distinct POV that separates her from the generic. I can’t wait to hear more from her.
Talk about atmosphere! Goldfrapp is not a stranger to creating art with her music, and with each and every track she finds ways to transport us to a new world within the sounds infiltrating our ears. On Ocean, she outdoes herself, with cascading vocals, pounding bass, electronic sounds that create visuals of light in our minds and a deafening expression of mood that blisters from all corners of the production. Her album, Silver Eye, runs that gamut of atmospheric sound, but this, at least for me, is the album’s grand opus.
Does anyone remember that catchy pop track, Whip My Hair? Yeah, this ain’t nothing like that. Willow (daughter to superstars Will and Jada Smith) has come a long way to discover herself, and something tells me that she’ll only continue to do so, evolving her music as she goes. Her latest offering is a progressive blend of Bjork’s quirky experimentation with music, Alanis Morissette’s angst and Miley Cyrus’s edge. On Human Leech, she brings to the table a rocker’s edge, with grungy chords and chanted chorus lines that would make any 90’s rocker proud. This girl, at 17, knows what she wants and who she wants to be, at least now, and what she’s produced is remarkably sound and inspired.
I’m a sucker for a country duo. It started back with The Civil Wars (who I mourn constantly) and then moved into my obsession with Claire Bowen and Sam Palladio, who make beautiful music together on Nashville (and who I wish would just release an album together already) and now may be moving on to The Sweeplings. Their debut album is in many moments breathtaking, and Losing You just gets right to the heart of it. Their harmonies are stunning, their breadth within each frame of the track, from the chorus to the sweeping bridge, feels like literal inhales and exhales, such soft, organic movement, and their ability to ‘feel’ each word is incredible. I cannot wait to see where they go from here!
Kelly Clarkson. Sometimes we forget just how incredible she really is until we allow ourselves to just indulge in her tremendous vocals. There is NO QUESTION why she won the very first season of American Idol, and there is also NO QUESTION as to why she will always be the show’s biggest success story. She is one strong woman who brings the goods, and her latest album is her best to date. Her vocals have never sounded so full, so soulful, so mature…so honest. Didn’t I is a brilliant example of how she can work with her southern roots to create something that fuses soul, country and pop perfectly; and that voice. Loud, boisterous, but with marvelous control. Sing it!
On one of the tracks off of their debut album, Chloe x Halle sing about how they were told they needed a single and that their music was too weird/experimental. They don’t need a single. Their album is kind of flawless. Sure, none of it will ever make the radio and your average Joe is not going to appreciate their music, but their quirky blend of R&B and pop reaches levels of dreamy atmospheric qualities that make it hard to resist. Tra Ta Ta is probably their most commercial track on the album, but it is also my favorite. The childlike lyrics are beautifully complimented by the airy musicality and conveys a poetic feeling, as if they were writing their very own lullaby. Their uniqueness makes them one of the most exciting new faces in music today.
These guys haven’t changed one bit, and I love them all the more for it. Queens of the Stone Age remains very true to their musicality, continually creating music that fits their tone and satisfies their fans. They are one of the only bands that I adored in my teenage years that is still making music I can adore. Their latest album, Villains, isn’t their best work, but their single, The Way You Used To Do, could be one of their best. Full of the energy you’d expect from this band, the single never lets up and has enough changes in structure to keep us thoroughly entertained from start to finish. The rockabilly aspects are sharp, driving the song with a consistent thump, our heads moving in beat with the music. It’s the Queens of the Stone Age we all remember fondly, and the very reason we still think about them.
MY GOODNESS, Jacob Banks can sing. One of the best voices I’ve heard in a long time, this young man’s baritone pounds right in our chests as he fills every word with emotion and honesty. His EP this year was beautiful, but his latest single, Unknown (To You), takes the cake for me. As he laments to a lost love, his voice conveys everything we need to know. With a soul-drenched vocal, Banks brings such passion to his words and finds a striking balance between an homage to soul and a slick, modern delivery.
I’ve been a fan of Phantogram for a while, and their new album is aces, but You Don’t Get Me High Anymore has such a nostalgic feel to it. All I can hear is Sneaker Pimps and I smile every single time this track plays in my ears. Such kinetic energy bursting throughout and such 90’s influence dripping all over this track. Hands up, head swaying, this has the makings of a personal rave in your head and I couldn’t be happier about it. Bonus points; it’s my favorite song from this year to run to.
Wyclef Jean and Emeli Sandé have crafted a beautiful ode to life in this soft and inspired track, urging others to Carry On. I’ve mentioned this once before, with regards to Arcade Fire’s Creature Comfort, but in a year of songs dedicated to suicide prevention, this one sticks out for me as one of the better, if not the best. Emeli‘s voice is that of an angel already, and so the decision to include her on this track was a genius one by Jean, who brings so much life to his own vocals, but it is Emeli who grounds the track and makes it so powerful. Chills.
I first heard NAO last year, when she dropped her debut album, and I was instantly smitten. Her breed of R&B, pop, dance inspired music is so infectious and contains many, many layers. Her single, Nostalgia, is no exception. Close your eyes and embrace the obvious Janet Jackson (in her prime) influence as you let the bouncy energy of this track wash over you. From her high pitched delivery to the song’s ability to flow from moment to moment with ease (including that slinky breakdown at the end, that builds alongside her voice in a magical way and that fade out!), Nostalgia is that, nostalgic, in the best possible way ever.
My kids have been Lovatics for a long while now, and I’m not going to lie…so am I. Sadly, her music is not exactly family friendly anymore and so my kids have had to move on. Her latest album, which is touted as her most mature…is just that; mature. Still, there are nuggets of lush tracks that I don’t mind bumping in the car, and my favorite has to be the sultry Only Forever. Demi‘s vocals have always been impressive, but the way she’s matured over the years has added layers to her powerful voice that is evident here as she rasps her way through verses only to unleash her dynamic range at the tail end of the track. The piano laced musicality only adds a depth to the song that exudes ambience. I may not be entirely happy with the content of a lot of her new music, but her growth as an artist and a talent cannot be denied.
So…I didn’t expect this. Selena Gomez is someone I’ve often felt was…overrated and not really on par with the other singers of her generation. Honestly, I still feel that way, but her Talking Heads influenced bop, Bad Liar, is brilliant. With David Byrne’s blessing (yes, he’s blessed this track), Gomez bops her way into actual relevance with a track that is both catchy and creatively up scale, feeling modern while being nostalgic in a captivating way. Her vocals sift through the song with an airy grace, and that breakdown, that sharp, “Oh baby let’s make,” is absolute PERFECTION! More of this, please.
What I think is so impressive with what Pvris (I hate this name so much, especially once I found out that it’s supposed to be pronounced ‘Paris’) did with their debut album is that they took their approach to a progressive, alternative rock genre and gave it serious legs. There are so many aspects of their musicality that devout ‘rock heads’ are going to hate, especially since there are clear ‘electronic’ sounds infiltrating their sound, but they never once lose their edge. This is CLEARLY rock music, and Lyndsey Gunnulfsen has an incredible ‘rock’ sound to her voice, adding an angst-fueled femininity to their music. On Winter she belts it with a sensitivity that feels both hard and soft; which is a perfect way to compliment their electronica infused rock.
Like Michael Jackson with a bit more grit behind his words, Allan Rayman‘s 13 is one of the most infectious songs of the year. I’ve always been a fan of this man’s soul infused R&B, but his recent offering is darker and more layered than anything I’ve heard from him before. 13 is one of the bouncier, more lively tracks, but it doesn’t lose Rayman‘s ability to deliver his words with such texture. The way he carries out his vocals, completing his words with interesting and fractured run ons, only helps to create a sound that is uniquely his own. Rayman is in a genre all is own, and one that I can’t help but indulge in.
With the recent outpouring of sexual harassment and abuse accusations being thrown at some very powerful men, songs like P!nk‘s What About Us (which was apparently a politically charged song directed at Trump) feel all the more necessary and poignant. Her vocals are incredible (sometimes we forget that this woman is a true vocal powerhouse) and the subtle musicality is endearing, but it is the words and the emotion she gives them, the voice to the broken, that makes this song so important. Absolutely tremendous song that only gets more and more powerful with each passing listen.
I’ll never forget the day my brother-in-law gave me a copy of Gin Wigmore‘s Gravel & Wine. I was instantly a fan, and the album remains to this day one of my favorites. Her raspy, whiskey laced vocals and her edgy blend of rock and soul is a musical blessing on my ears. With her latest singles she’s proven that not only is she still here, but she’s expanding her range and staying diverse. Hallow Fate is a spiny rock track that packs a punch with each crunch of the guitar and pierce of her voice. I just love her so much!
Like Jack Johnson, but with a fresh fluidity, Charlie Cunningham‘s Lights Out is one of the easiest songs to listen to this year. It exudes a calm, serene feeling that moves with this softness, from the strum of the guitar to his soothing vocal tone, and then that chorus that just lifts in all the best places. There is a romanticism here, this feeling of falling in love, soft, sweet and easy to digest, with near cinematic swells that carry the song to an ethereal place. One of the best ‘feeling’ songs of the year; easily.
I don’t always care much for Lorde. When she burst on the scene what seems like a decade ago, she had this quality that felt special until it felt like gimmick and since her debut I haven’t really thought about her much. Her sophomore album is a cluster of songs that carry similar notes and lack any real energy and just wind up feeling un-special. Sorry, I just don’t get it. That being said, I’m kind of obsessed with The Louvre. The lyrical jumble is oddly poetic and her signature semi-monotone delivery simmers along in a way that feels appropriate, especially when she utters things like, “Broadcast the boom boom boom and make ’em all dance to it,” in a way that defies what we’d expect and becomes even more enticing because of it. It doesn’t hurt that the production notes are flawless and the song’s musicality has this endearing simplicity that feels almost classic. I can’t take a whole album of Lorde, but in small doses I guess I could be a fan.
Son Lux creates music that feels futuristically cinematic. There is a jerky quality to their musicality, like everything is performed and recorded with a chaotic, almost Tourette’s like nature. This only bolsters their presence, creating an entire atmosphere within each track. They are an experience, from the instrumentation to the vocalization. This year they’ve released an EP and a spattering of singles, and their most recent, Dream State, is my favorite of their offerings. The lyricism is impressively emotional considering the musical genre, but it is really the way their explosions of sound come together in such inspired and unforgettable ways that makes this one of the best tracks of 2017.
We all know that Sam Smith is an old soul. He’s the male counterpart to Adele, creating music that feels like it came from another era, and his voice, much like hers, is unarguably one of the very best in the business. Smith‘s much anticipated sophomore album picks up where his debut left off, giving us a collection of soul inspired ballads that drip from every corner with emotion. Smith opens his mouth and sings literal tears, and Midnight Train is no exception. What I think makes this particular track the album’s standout, though, is that it doesn’t just rely on Smith‘s proven formula of crying on cue but actually mixes varied inspirations, from Sinatra styled standards to Radiohead, to create a song that feels special. The emotion is there, but so is this subtle yet noticeable style that is at times lost in Smith‘s attempt to make us ‘feel’. I could listen to this song on repeat.
Jessie Ware is a musical ‘national treasure’. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. On her recent album, Glasshouse, she once again proves her worth, creating her masterwork and (IMHO) the best album of the year. This is the first of a few mentions you’ll see of Ware on this list, and what a great place to start. Calling to mind the 90’s love ballads made famous by a certain vocal powerhouse know as Celine Dion, Finish What We Started oozes romanticism. Ware‘s voice is a delicate whisper in the listener’s ears, fluttering with a sensuality that inspires and endears us to her. She creates musical magic with each and every offering.
WHO…IS…THIS…GIRL?!?!?! Early this year a former Kanye West backup dancer (what?) stepped to the front of the stage and delivered one of the most powerful debut albums I’ve ever heard, with songs that are drenched in poignancy and honest emotion, production values to be envied by nearly everyone and the voice of a fallen angel. On second thought, maybe her album is the best of the year! On Am I, Kacy Hill develops an emotional sucker punch that explores the way women are perceived in society and the battle they still face trying to be seen and heard. From those violins, to her voice, which echoes and vibrates with such subtle influx she reverberates in our thoughts, Hill has created an atmosphere that is beyond spellbinding.
And that brings today to a close. Tomorrow we’ll get into the Top 50!