The best music of 2017

Text Gary Chun
Thread music

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.

Honorable Mentions:

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."


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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