Having passed the halfway point of the year, and with a dizzying amount of new music still to come, now might be the time to evaluate which songs truly left their mark on the first half of 2017, which songs broke the mould, and which songs I’ll still be obsessed with by Christmas. As always, this is just my take – you may feel differently. Honestly, I’d encourage you to.
10) Future Islands – “Ran”
Synth-pop outfit Future Islands are as notable for their live energy as for their albums, but the lead single from their latest effort The Far Field retains the sonic hallmarks which have made past albums so enjoyable – relentless, grooving rhythms, dreamy synth chords, and the inimitable delivery of frontman Sam Herring. A marriage of flawless, polished production and real, human emotion, Future Islands’ latest hit should be on anybody’s summer playlist.
9) Slowdive – “Sugar for the Pill”
Credited with originating the shoegaze sound in the 1990s, the comeback of indie legends Slowdive was heralded by many. Having updated their dream-pop sensibilities for the 21st century, “Sugar for the Pill” showcases Slowdive’s subtle change in tack; the single boasts beautiful, melancholic chord sequences carried by delicate guitars and synths, and the lead vocals of singers Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, proving the band’s worth in an era far removed from their original heyday.
8) Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”
Having taken on a role akin to a “sarcastic Michael Bublé” on last album I Love You, Honeybear (2015), this year saw Father John Misty produce an album of rich, dense, caustic social commentary and political musings in the form of Pure Comedy. In a 70-minute album, one of its highlights is the title track, a dystopian anthem built on gradually building pianos and brass, with Misty’s bittersweet lyricism shining through – “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we’ve got”.
7) Mac Demarco – “For The First Time”
Lackadaisical singer-songwriter Mac Demarco has made a name for himself with his wry wit, tongue-in-cheek attitude, and effortlessly enjoyable folk-pop offerings. His latest album This Old Dog showcased a slightly more pensive side to his songwriting, but on album track “For The First Time” we got back in touch with Mac, the roguish romantic, deliverer of whimsical lines like “It’s not inside me to forget her, just understand how I’ll be feeling on that day / It’s just like seeing her for the first time again”.
6) Elder – “Staving Off Truth”
While it remains hard to believe that prog/stoner-metal outfit Elder is a mere three-piece band, the lengthy and enthralling masterworks which featured on previous albums like 2015’s Lore, managed to hit harder and more intense than ever before on this year’s Reflections of a Floating World. Of the album’s five tracks, none of which are shorter than 8 minutes, my personal favourite is “Staving Off Truth”, with its ethereal, echoed lead vocals and a series of guitar riffs that are easily heavy and thick enough to erode mountains.
5) Tyler, The Creator – “Who Dat Boy”
One of rap’s most idiosyncratic and provocative artists, Tyler, The Creator is set for an explosive comeback in 2017. The first track from his upcoming fifth album is “Who Dat Boy”, defined by its unsettling synths, uncompromising lyrics, and an accompanying video that’s sure to have already rustled the feathers of a few worried parents. It’s a promising comeback for an artist who’s never been known to hold back, and is already pretty much dominating 2017 hip-hop.
4) Gorillaz – “Andromeda”
One of this year’s most politically-charged albums, the latest release by semi-fictional animated supergroup Gorillaz featured a number of memorable tracks with a rotating all-star cast of famous faces, but aside from some tasteful backing vocals from hip-hop artist D.R.A.M., single “Andromeda” is largely just a playground for gifted singer-songwriter Damon Albarn. In character as Gorillaz’s lead vocalist 2D, Albarn’s voice melts perfectly into the hypnotic, synth-led disco overtones to make for Humanz’s prettiest, most cosmic tune.
3) Paramore – “Told You So”
It’s rare for such an established band to practically reinvent their sound, especially after four albums and thirteen years, but Paramore seemed to do just that in 2017. 12 tracks of doubt, despair, and instantly-memorable synthpop grooviness came in the form of 2017’s After Laughter, marrying their newfound New Wave influences with a pure, funk rhythm on single “Told You So”. Extra praise must be reserved for frontwoman Hayley Williams’ note-perfect voice and caustic, self-aware lyricism – “For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come”. If it’s half as exciting as this, then what’s yet to come could definitely be worth the gloom.
2) Lorde – “Green Light”
Few could’ve predicted the accessible but oh-so-infectious tone of pop prodigy Lorde’s follow-up to her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, but this year has already seen her produce one of pop’s most scintillating albums. Its first track, the one which introduced us to Melodrama, effortlessly flits from impassioned, piano-led confrontation to energetic, danceable euphoria in its short four minutes, packing an album’s worth of drama into a single, bitesize banger.
1) Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
For one of the most iconic artists in modern hip-hop, if not modern music, the world watched and waited as Compton hip-hop wordsmith Kendrick Lamar lead up to the release of his fourth full-length album, DAMN., back in April. A shocking departure from the flowing jazz-rap of previous album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), the first taste we got of Lamar’s new musical direction came in the form of “HUMBLE.”, which dropped with little fanfare and branded a stripped-back, piano-led, old-school beat on which Kendrick dropped some of this year’s least-restrained bars: “My left stroke just went viral, right stroke put lil’ baby in a spiral”. Despite being anything but, “HUMBLE.” proved Kendrick’s inability to grow stagnant, and has been blaring from car stereos ever since.
Of course, that’s just my (loosely-structured) take on it all, and just the tip of the iceberg – if I’d included all the best singles and album tracks from just the first half of year, I’d still be writing this by December. Jay Z’s “The Story of O.J.”, Thundercat’s “Show You The Way”, Foo Fighters’ “Run”, Charli XCX’s “Babygirl”, Liam Gallagher’s “Wall of Glass”, these and many others are worth checking out.
If you have any personal favourites, I’d love to hear them. This list is sure to change and expand a lot by the time 2017’s fully done, but I have a feeling some of these songs will still be up there – it’s been a decent six-and-a-bit months.
Josh Will Eden