By Jeff Yerger
If you’re a music nerd like me, you’ve been scouring every publication’s year-end list, looking for albums or songs you may have missed, or getting the pitchfork ready for when you discover Stereogum didn’t even consider Japandroids as one of their top albums (I mean, come on guys! Really? I trusted you!). You may also notice a common theme among these year-end lists: 2017 sucked!
Yep, 2017 sure did suck big time. This whole year has been one hot mess. This time last year, I wrote that 2016 was surreal. Well, if that year was surreal, then 2017 has been downright shit show. With everything that’s gone on (and I don’t need to remind you), I feel like it’s already been over 100 years since the Cubs last won the World Series.
But as much as there has been a collective 2017 exhaustion among these year-end think pieces, there is also another unifying theme: hope, specifically through music.
Hope may be all some of us has left, and it is the reason people like me continue to obsess over new music, or await for that next new song to punch us in the heart. Hope is the reason we still wake up every day, believing with good reason that we’ll find even a glimmer of good in the world we inhabit. I know this sounds all hippy-dippy, but I do believe that the best music that was released this year offered a hopeful glimpse into the power and resilience of the human spirit. There are some really talented young artists and dreamers out there, willing to put their lives on a record and tap into their own creative frontiers. And we, as listeners, are lucky to be a part of it.
In 2017, younger artists like Kendrick Lamar, Waxahatchee, Sylvan Esso, Laura Marling (actually forgot her album came out this year), Charly Bliss, Paramore, Father John Misty, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Lorde, Alvvays, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Julien Baker all created beautiful, powerful records about the human experience atop vital, urgent music. If these musicians are the future, then I think we’re going to be okay. 2017 also found veterans like Jay Z, The National, LCD Soundsystem, Jason Isbell, The War on Drugs, Ted Leo, and yes, even our old friend Liam Gallagher, making some of the best, most important music of their respective careers. I could go on… and these are only from albums I’ve actually listened to! I know there is WAY more out there than my little list can do justice.
See, to me, 2017 shouldn’t be about drowning in despair or worrying about what our President is going to tweet next. It should be about the amazing music that we have had the privilege to listen to over the past 12 months. It’s inspiring, and none of it should be taken for granted. Among the ever-growing chaos, absurdity, and noise in our world, never forget that like Waldo, hope is always there waiting to be found.
As you will see below, there is one album that came out in 2017 that delivers that very message, which happened to resonate with me the most this year. Of course, at any given moment, any of these songs or albums (especially in the Top Ten) could be number one. They’re all great in their own way, and they deserve your attention. While there is always way more great music out there than there is on this list, here are my personal favorites from 2017.
BEST SONGS OF 2017
There are at least a hundred or so songs I wanted to put on this list, but I had to narrow it down to 30, for the sake of sanity. Below is the top ten list, but I also made a 30 song playlist of some of my favorites from this year. Feel free to put it on at your Holiday parties. It’ll be a big hit I’m sure.
10. LCD Soundsystem – “Call the Police”
9. White Reaper – “Judy French”
8. Sheer Mag – “Just Can’t Get Enough”
7. Alvvays – “In Undertow”
6. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “If We Were Vampires”
4. Japandroids – “ Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
3. The National – “Dark Side of the Gym”
2. The War on Drugs – “Pain”
1. Father John Misty – “Ballad of the Dying Man”
BEST ALBUMS OF 2017
Again, there were so many here, it’s hard to leave off a few of them. Some honorable mentions that still deserve your attention, but didn’t quite crack the Top TEN:
- Charly Bliss – Guppy
- The National – Sleep Well Beast
- Jessica Lea Mayfield – Sorry Is Gone
- Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm
- Alex Lahey – I Love You Like A Brother
- Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow
- Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
- Partner – In Search of Lost Time
And now for your Top Ten…
- Sheer Mag – Need To Feel Your Love
Rock ain’t dead people, not as long as Philadelphia band Sheer Mag has anything to say about it. Like a mix of Thin Lizzy and AC/DC, this album and this band brings the attitude, the punches, and not to mention, the groove. KEY SONGS: Just Can’t Get Enough, Suffer Me, Expect the Bayonet
- Ryan Adams – Prisoner
What else could Ryan Adams do after a bitter divorce but turn to music? Prisoner is quite possibly the best album of his career, front to back, and it plays like a modern-day version of Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. KEY SONGS: Doomsday, Do You Still Love Me?, To Be Without You
- Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life
The good ol’ Canadian boys came back strong in 2017, using the same formula from their 2012 classic Celebration Rock, but mixing it up with power ballads, acoustic guitars, and one 7-minute rising epic. KEY SONGS: Near to the Wild Heart of Life, North East South West, Arc of Bar
- White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band
Again, rock ain’t dead, so stop saying it people! It takes guts to name your album “The World’s Best American Band,” but it takes talent to actually sound like it like White Reaper does here. This album kicks ass! KEY TRACKS: Judy French, The World’s Best American Band, Daisies
- Alvvays – Antisocialites
Yet another Canadian band that capitalized and expanded on the sound of their previous record, Alvvays created a succinct and highly enjoyable power pop record. On Antisocialites, everything the band did on the previous record has been brought up to a new level. KEY TRACKS: In Undertow, Plimsoll Punks, Saved By A Waif
- The Menzingers – After the Party
It ain’t easy growing up, and The Menzingers hit a quarter-life crisis, so to speak. We can’t all be carefree punk rockers forever, right? Well, the Menzingers aren’t pretending, and so they made a pop punk record about coping with adulthood. I realize this sounds so lame, but I promise you, the record isn’t. KEY TRACKS: Lookers, Tellin’ Lies, After the Party
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
The main thing I love about DAMN. is that Kendrick Lamar, after two masterful concept records, finally decided he wanted the spotlight. Aesthetically, every song on here is a different genre of rap, and Kendrick lays claim to each one of them as king. “Kung Fu Kenny” defeats all his enemies on here, whether it be Drake, Fox News, or his own ego. There is no doubt he is now the greatest rapper we have. We all need to sit down and be humble. KEY TRACKS: HUMBLE., DNA., ELEMENT.
- The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
On their major label debut, still with full creative control, The War On Drugs absolutely go for it. There is so much going on in this record, I’m still trying to figure it out. With his guitar and seemingly endless supply of pedals/synths, Adam Granduciel invites us to his beautiful world of frontier, heartland rock. The record sounds incredible, and the guitar solos are boundless. KEY TRACKS: Pain, Strangest Thing, Thinking of a Place
- Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
One of the best records of the year, Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound takes everything you think you know about Country music these days and burns it to the ground. There is more patriotism and love for country in this record than any other run-of-the-mill honky-tonker toasting a beer to the troops. Isbell loves his country, but he’s also angry, anxious, and frustrated… and he no longer drinks. He’s a white man living in a white man’s world, a world that may not be as open to his wife, musician Amanda Shires, and his daughter as it was for him. Isbell tells stories about the everyday struggles of those who may not have a voice, who may feel lost or looking for another life in, say, Tupelo, or anywhere outside of the Cumberland Gap. He also sings about love and devotion to his family, promising to cherish the moments they have, and passing on advice to his young daughter to find her passion in life. This isn’t a country album. This is honest Americana Rock and Roll. In many ways, this was my favorite record of 2017, and probably the one I return to the most. However…
KEY TRACKS: Hope the High Road, If We Were Vampires, Anxiety
- Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
In 2016, amid the craziest the US Presidential Election campaign in history, Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, found himself in front of a sweat-soaked crowd of festival goers in Camden, NJ, and he had a lot on his mind. Whether it was the heat from the relentless July summer sun, or the events of the Republican Convention the night before, Tillman seemed to have finally snapped.
Instead of playing a promised 30-minute solo acoustic set, he went on a delirious rant about America, the entertainment industry, and Leonard Cohen. The only original song he played was a rambling, 13-minute, chorus-less diatribe titled “Leaving LA,” which is now the beautiful beating heart to his latest album Pure Comedy. Only Father John Misty could find darkness underneath a bright summer sun, and out of that darkness comes the best album of his career.
Pure Comedy is nothing short of a masterpiece. Actually, at 74-minutes long, there’s nothing short about it. It is a sprawling, beautiful album about the human existence and the chaos it brings, whose eloquent narrator is as witty as he is serious. It’s a lot to tackle, but Father John Misty went for it, and he sure as hell nailed it.
Based on his interviews and previous albums, you’d be right to assume that much of Pure Comedy is a cynical view of the world, and a lot of it is. “Ballad of the Dying Man” tells the story of an internet troll who needs to check his newsfeed one last time before he croaks. “Things That Would’ve Been Helpful To Know Before the Revolution” is a fantastic Father John Misty song title, but it is also a look into an inevitable dystopian future. He sings about people of the future finding our wasted bodies glued to the TV screen, and God coming down from the heavens on judgement day, wondering what the fuck we did to destroy the once beautiful world he created.
At times, it can all be a bit much, but he says all of these things (and more) over a gorgeous backdrop of 70s folk-rock that is beautifully arranged and orchestrated throughout. It’s one of the best-sounding records of the decade, invoking sounds of the past while still pointing towards the future.
The last two songs, in particular, are what makes the whole epic journey before it so worth the time. “So I’m Growing Old On Magic Mountain” is a simple folk ballad, until Father John Misty decides to shut up and soak the listener in cascading synths and piano while the song gently disappears. But the record isn’t over yet.
In “In Twenty Years Or So,” Father John Misty puts it all out there: who are we, what are we doing here, and what does it even matter, since he read somewhere that the world is going to end in about 20 years. Yet, despite this existential crisis, we find Waldo: hope. “But I look at you / As our second drinks arrive / The piano player’s playing ‘This Must Be the Place’ / And it’s a miracle to be alive.” Despite all the bullshit, tragedy, despair, cynicism, chaos, and the battles between light and dark, right and wrong, good and bad he spent the previous 70 minutes lamenting about, there is still hope, even if that hope is something as small as sitting across from a loved one at a bar while a Talking Heads song plays. In the end, hope is all we need, and THAT’S the comedy.