If 2017 left us politically baffled, it also gave us some of the most electrifying musical moments in recent memory. This was the year LCD Soundsystem finally came home; the year St. Vincent went pop; the year Harry Styles went full Elton; the year an ex-stripper strapped on a pair of red bottoms and unseated Taylor Swift from her throne; the year Fever Ray went to a tea party and got peed on.
Over the course of these wild and incredible 12 months, our favorite artists proved just how angry, rebellious, passionate, audacious, and strange they could be. Below you’ll find a list of our picks for the best songs of 2017. Scroll down to read about the top 10, and then listen to our Spotify playlist with all 50 tracks counted down from 50 to 1.
50. The Magnetic Fields – “’99: Fathers in the Clouds”
49. Bjork – “Saint”
48. LCD Soundsystem – “Call the Police”
47. Destroyer – “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood”
46. Lawrence Rothman – “Wolves Still Cry”
45. Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times”
44. Zola Jesus – “Witness”
43. Haim – “Night So Long”
42. Ariel Pink – “Another Weekend”
41. CCFX – “The One to Wait”
40. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
39. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
38. Alvvays – “Dreams Tonite”
37. Arcade Fire – “Everything Now”
36. Julie Byrne – “Follow My Voice”
35. Mount Eerie – “Real Death”
34. Big Thief – “Mary”
33. Arca – “Desafio”
32. The Black Madonna – “He Is the Voice I Hear”
31. Father John Misty – “Ballad of the Dying Man”
30. Sufjan Stevens – “Visions of Gideon”
29. Julien Baker – “Turn Out the Lights”
28. Kendrick Lamar [feat. Zacari] – “LOVE.”
27. Frank Ocean – “Chanel”
26. Japanese Breakfast – “Machinist”
25. Yaeji – “Feel It Out”
24. Drake [feat. Black Coffee and Jorja Smith] – “Get It Together”
23. Fleet Foxes – “Fool’s Errand”
22. Lorde – “Perfect Places”
21. The War on Drugs – “Strangest Thing”
20. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
19. Paramore – “Tell Me How”
18. Fever Ray – “To the Moon and Back”
17. Alvvays – “Not My Baby”
16. Hundred Waters – “Blanket Me”
15. The xx – “Say Something”
14. The War On Drugs – “Thinking of a Place”
13. Radiohead – “I Promise”
12. Charli XCX – “Boys”
11. SZA [feat. Travis Scott] – “Love Galore”
10. Hundred Waters – “Wave to Anchor”
Hundred Waters’ third LP, Communicating, is another feather in the avant-pop trio’s cap; their textured production and singer Nicole Miglis’s ethereal coos get richer and more captivating with each new release. Yet record highlight “Wave to Anchor” mesmerizes because it’s something else entirely. Its fizzy house pianos, rafter-shaking percussion, and squiggly Technicolor synthesizers burst through the track’s chorus like fireworks, coalescing into what could best be described as baroque-EDM-it’s what Cinderella would lose her glass slipper to if the clock struck midnight but her ball was a rave. “Who have I lived for?” Miglis desperately asks, but rather than throwing her head in her hands, she arches it back toward the heavens, determined to lift herself out of her heartache, if only for four and a half minutes. This is the sort of artistic leap that makes you wonder what the group could dream up if they decided to put out a proper dance album. Here’s hoping.
9. The xx – “Replica”
The title of the xx’s 2017 album, I See You, is taken from the lyrics of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Fittingly, its standout track, “Replica,” finds the band’s queer singer-bassist, Oliver Sim, taking a long, hard look at himself. Sim has spoken of his battles with addiction, and here he confronts them head-on with chilling lines like “I’ve turned out just like you” and “Do I chase the night / Or does the night chase me?” But in this moment of reckoning he is also resolute, and the ballad’s minimal, gorgeous arrangement ushers him onward. Romy Madley-Croft offers solace with her melodic guitar work and honeyed backup vocals, while Jamie xx’s bracing steel-drum sample in the song’s wordless chorus signals a light at the end of the tunnel. Sim knows he’ll reach it, one step at a time.
8. Kamasi Washington – “Truth”
In a year haunted by grim, almost surreal headlines, listening to “Truth” felt like waking up and discovering a twinned rainbow outside your door. Its splendor is that rare, that surprising, that pure.
Put on Washington’s glorious, six-movement suite, and time seems to stop. The song starts out tame-with a steady groove of piano, hi-hats, and bass-but it quickly swells into a luminous, all-consuming kaleidoscope of strings, brass, vibraphones, and Washington’s own feverish tenor sax. And yet, as it reaches its gospel-choir climax (there are actually three), the sprawling 13-minute instrumental also conjures images of entire lifetimes unfolding: babies are born, races are won, soldiers return home from war, families dance around picnic blankets and wedding cakes, waves crash against the shore. This is the sound of healing, renewal, and triumph, a joy that cannot be contained and a resilience that cannot be shattered. Washington’s hope-his truth-is inexorable and defiant.
7. Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Pa’lante”
Taking its cues from the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and early-’70s Bowie, the heart and soul of Alynda Lee Segarra’s concept album The Navigator is a three-act ode to her Puerto Rican heritage, one that took on new meaning after Hurricane Maria. Its title translates to “onwards, forward,” and was the name of a newspaper published by the Young Lords, a New York Puerto Rican nationalist group active in the 1960s. Here, the phrase becomes the queer HFTRR frontwoman’s rallying cry against colonization, marginalization, and the erasure of Latinx identities.
“Sterilized, dehumanized, be something / Well take your pay / And stay out the way, be something,” she sings as the track opens, her fictional narrator questioning her worth, her gender, and her ability to love. By the finale, however, she has found her strength and conviction. After sampling the 1969 Pedro Pietri poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” Segarra begins to belt out “pa’lante,” repeating the affirmation over a somber piano and dedicating it to her ancestors, to her family, to those who have fought and survived, to generations to come. It is then that her moving tribute transforms into a modern-day hymn.
6. Perfume Genius – “Wreath”
Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius) grew up with Crohn’s disease, a condition that left him feeling like his body was his own worst enemy. He also spent much of his youth grappling with his queerness and substance abuse. “Wreath” addresses those struggles, particularly the musician’s desire to undo the shackles of his past, “hover with no shape,” and ascend to a higher plane of being.
Of course, Hadreas knows there’s only one way to truly break free. The song is essentially about “only finding peace when you die,” he told Out in May. “That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing-there’s something cathartic about singing about it in a really anthemic way.” But as the track’s lush arrangement-fuzzed-out guitars, harpsichord keys, pulsing drums-surges forward like a team of horses, it becomes more than a meditation on mortality and the Elysium beyond. It serves as a wake-up call, a reminder to savor the fleeting, magical everyday moments we take for granted. It’s as much a celebration of life as it is of death.
5. Drake – “Passionfruit”
Has Drizzy ever sounded so vulnerable, so dejected? Hearing his pained and unfussy delivery on this spring’s sun-drenched, bittersweet “Passionfruit,” you can almost visualize him floating on an inflatable raft in some pool in Barbados, a warm breeze brushing against his neck as he stares at his phone and waits for a text from his increasingly elusive paramour. As he yearns for clarity or closure-anything but the silence-U.K. producer Nana Rogues’s languid dancehall beat shuffles along, studded with disco-y handclaps that accentuate the track’s nostalgia for simpler times. That’s the tricky thing about vacations: You have time to think.
4. Slowdive – “Sugar for the Pill”
After a 22-year hiatus, the British quintet returned this year with their excellent self-titled comeback album, a record anchored by this hushed, exquisite gem about a relationship that has run its course. At times, the pared-back ballad has more in common with the sophisti-pop of 1980s acts like the Blue Nile than it does the distorted, robust ’90s shoegaze that made the band famous. Its frosty guitars and singer Neil Halstead’s plaintive, hypnotic vocals bob and ripple in the shadows, floating along a crystalline surface so fragile that you expect the whole thing to finally just shatter into some big, dramatic coda. That moment never comes, and the song ends just as it began: with quiet resignation.
3. Father John Misty – “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”
Yes, a 10-minute lament about aging delivered by a pretentious, guitar-toting L.A. dude on the wrong side of 30 is a tough sell. But Josh Tillman somehow pulls it off, executing his vision with delicate restraint and a marvelous attention to detail. The arrangement is more stripped-down than most of the other cuts on his latest album, Pure Comedy, and while his cleverer-than-thou lyrics can induce eye rolls for some, this time they are uncannily insightful and painfully direct.
The “magic mountain” of its title is a New Year’s Eve blowout the protagonist cannot bring himself to leave, even though he knows he’s losing touch with the younger guests around him. He tries everything to drag out the party-getting shitfaced, dancing, cornering the baby-faced revelers and hoping their luminous glow and delusional confidence will rub off on him. But like any party, this one must end. The booze dries up, the crowd thins out, the metaphor is clear. “The longer I stay here, the longer there’s no future,” Tillman muses before receding into the track’s beautiful instrumental second half. It’s a poignant and crushing conclusion that captures the song’s inevitable truth: Eventually we all have you to get off the ride and let go of the fantasy.
2. Priests – “Nothing Feels Natural”
The most compelling protest music transcends the specific injustices, bigotry, and tragedy that inspired it. It articulates the struggles of the oppressed, but eschews on-the-nose sloganeering for tales of individual suffering or self-acceptance. It is spiritual and visceral. “The strength of art-why it can be this entryway, this doorway, this thing that unites-is that it has the flexibility to be both personal and political at the same time,” queer Priests singer Katie Alice Greer said in an Out interview earlier this year. “It can be left and right, any combination of feelings, emotions, or colors.”
The thrilling title track of the Washington, D.C. punk band’s blistering album Nothing Feels Natural succeeds because it arouses both fury and empathy without ever sacrificing its mystery and ambiguity. When Greer sings, “Perhaps I’ll change into something / Swing wildly the other way” over a scorched surf-rock guitar riff, we’re unsure of the source of her anguish-romantic turmoil? the gender binary? the throttlehold of patriarchy and capitalism?-but her rage is palpable and contagious. The song’s most memorable line, “But to people in sanctuaries all I can say is / You will not be saved,” is not a sign of defeat or hopelessness. It is Greer urging us to open our eyes, shake off our complacency, and fight like our lives depend on it.
1. St. Vincent – “New York”
When the lead single off St. Vincent’s fifth album, Masseduction, surfaced this past summer, it was shocking just how un-St.Vincent it was. Where was the art-rock goddess best known for her droll, maximalist takes on power, sex, and violence? Where were the raucous guitar solos? The circuitous song structures? The allusions and winks? Here, instead, was “New York,” a no-frills breakup ballad featuring the singer, a piano, a faint gallop of a beat, and some tear-soaked strings. It’s a tune that would fit perfectly in Taylor Swift or Lorde’s catalogs. It is polished, concise, and sincere-almost uncomfortable in its nakedness. It clutches you, envelops you in its shameless sentimentality, and then dissipates before you know it.
The track proved to be a bit of an outlier on Masseduction, a record that toys with pop formulas but still manages to be dark, complex, sultry, and cheeky (note its fantastic cover art) in a way that only Annie Clark can be. Produced with Jack Antonoff, it is the queer singer’s experimental, sci-fi spin on pop, the same way Let’s Dance was Bowie’s spin on pop. “New York,” however, is Clark descending to Earth-specifically, to the metropolis of its title-where she mourns the loss of her idol (perhaps Bowie himself), her lover (maybe real-life ex Cara Delevingne), and the edgy allure of her old stomping grounds. Strolling through Astor Place, she can’t shake the heartache, the memories of her time with “the only motherfucker who can stand me.” And when those cinematic strings come rushing in during the refrain, we can’t shake it either. This is the chameleonic artist in a wholly unexpected guise-Clark as the fallible, relatable human who wishes things never had to change-and while it may have been the biggest risk she’s taken, the results are magnificent. “New York” stands as further proof that the indefatigable, insatiable performer can sink her claws into any genre and totally slay us.