The best music of 2017
So how was your 2017? My word of the year, the one that best described my overall mood and my life in general, was unsettled.
Much of the first half of the year was spent feeling shell shocked, living in an increasingly bizarre contemporary culture wrought, in large part, by a Trump presidency. Music was pretty much the last thing on my mind but, thankfully, the second half of the year brought on the substantive sounds I was craving. It was music that both challenged and embraced what's to come in the tumultuous months ahead.
I thought I was kidding myself, looking for that one distillation of sound that embodies how I felt during the year, but I was happily mistaken and finally found it in “Pa'lante,” one of my favorite songs of the year. The title comes from a contraction in Puerto Rican slang that means “forward.” This rousing song belongs to one Alynda Lee Segarra, the frontwoman for the New Orleans band Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Here's a solid live performance of the song from South by Southwest in March of 2017
Another discovery of mine was the great punk band Downtown Boys. One of my album picks, Cost of Living, is a bracing call-to-arms led by one of the genre's best young voices, Victoria Ruiz. Her intro to the strong album opener “A Wall” says it all:
Albums of the Year
• DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
• World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda by Alice Coltrane
• American Epic: The Sessions with various artists recorded by Jack White and T Bone Burnett
• Purple Rain (Deluxe Expanded Edition) by Prince and the Revolution
• Big Fish Theory by Vince Staples
• Dark Matter by Randy Newman
• Cost of Living by Downtown Boys
• The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone by Lee Ann Womack
• If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples
• War & Leisure by Miguel
Choosing Lamar's latest was a no-brainer. While it's not the statement piece that was To Pimp a Butterfly, his skills are as strong as ever as he tackles an album, as Hua Hsu described in his review in The New Yorker, “with contradictions, seesawing between supreme needs and animal wants, heroism and self-loathing, loose thrills and the possibility of eternal damnation.”
Keep tabs on the career arc of Miguel, who is making a transition to more socially mindful music, along the same lines as the legendary Marvin Gaye, with his latest album War & Leisure.
• Boomiverse by Big Boi
• 4:44 by Jay-Z
• Ctrl by SZA
• Masseducation by St. Vincent
• Ladilikan by Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet
• Brick Body Cams Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle
• Luv Is Rage 2 by Lil Uzi Vert
• A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs
• The Nashville Sound by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
• The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979-1981 by Bob Dylan
Songs of the Year
"Be Kind" by Desperate Journalist
"Astral Plane" by Valerie June
"Them Changes" by Thundercat
"Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B
"Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez
"Silver" by Waxahatchee
"Pa'lante" by Hurray for the Riff Raff
"Plimsoll Punks" by Alvvays
"Drink I'm Sippin' On" by Yaeji
"To the Moon and Back" by Fever Ray
Desperate Journalist's “Be Kind” is comfort food to me: if Nirvana and The Cranberries had a love child. Their album, Grow Up, is worth checking out, too.
Only good things can continue for New York artist Kathy Yaeji Lee, who makes house music under her single Korean name. “Drink I'm Sippin' On” is a great downtempo song, mostly done in her native tongue.
And Cardi B's rapping on “Bodak Yellow” is crazy good: the song of the year, hands down. It represents what Kristin Corry described in Pitchfork as “a new lane for female rappers—one that has little to do with seeking permission from male gatekeepers, pandering to white culture, or criticizing other women for their sexuality. It is about finding an audience on your own terms.”
So let's be strong in 2018, help each other out and strive to achieve what Nina Simone was quoted as saying: "I tell you what freedom is to me—no fear."