Said the Gramophone - image by Danny Zabbal

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by Sean

When I was 18 years old I moved to Montreal and set up a music file-server. I was there for university, the internet was fast, I didn't even know yet what I liked. How free that felt - not to even know yet what I liked. I knew I knew very little; I knew there was still so much to hear. The purpose of the server wasn't just to share the little music I had already discovered - artists like Sloan, Belle & Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel - but for visitors to share their own favourite music, so I could learn what else was out there.

Belle and Sebastian - "The Stars of Track and Field".
Dave Matthews Band - "Lie In Our Graves".

My server was called "Into the Grove." I called it that because I liked the image it evoked - entering a hiding-place, ducking under boughs. I had never heard of the Madonna song. I was 18 years old, I didn't even know yet what I liked. After logging in, users could see all the music on my computer: everything I had bought and ripped myself, everything other people had uploaded. Instead of Napster or KaZaA I used a service called Hotline, which allowed users to upload and download complete albums. There was 69 Love Songs and Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds' Live at Luther College and Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations. Dozens - and eventually hundreds - of records, which you could download yourself, unlimitedly, as long as you were a member.

How did you become a member? You had to upload an album I'd like. Something that wasn't yet in my collection - plucked from your own CD shelves or hard disk. I remember the server had a document laying out some of my favourite things, as loose inspiration. LIKES: The Beatles, Mogwai, Ben Folds Five, Beck; DISLIKES: Led Zeppelin, Limp Bizkit, Dr Dre, The Deftones. I hadn't yet wrapped my head around pop music, or hip-hop, or country, or dance - then again Into the Grove was how I started to do that. A user who saw I liked Odelay uploaded OutKast's ATLiens; someone answering my call for stuff that sounded like Smog gave me my first taste of Gillian Welch. I had lists of requests based on things I had heard of (but usually not heard). Without enough life-experience, without context, I didn't know what was obscure and what wasn't - whether Elliott Smith was more famous than Björk, or Björk than Clem Snide. I didn't know that my first Joy Division album wasn't supposed to be Les Bains Douches. I didn't know that no one else was crazy for the Hungarian fiddler Félix Lajkó. People uploaded treasures, their own private treasures, and everything sounded new to me, a thousand revelations - as if the ground was covered in gemstones, more than I'd ever pick up.

Lajkó Félix - "Etno Camp".
King Geedorah - "Fazers".

Into the Grove ran off a graphite-coloured iMac G3 in my dorm room. The computer would slow to a crawl when there were too many users connected, so I'd shut it down when I was on deadline - pulling an all-nighter for "The Social Imaginary of Tokugawa Japan." I didn't think of it as stealing music, even though it was. I was still buying new CDs several times a month. There was too much music to imagine paying for it all.

It wasn't long before I had filled the iMac's whole drive with songs. Since external hard-drives were too expensive, I bought a CD burner. Now I could back up albums to blank CDs, re-importing the music as I needed it. Each 650 MB CD could hold eight to ten albums: soon I had five, then ten, then 20 of these supplementary CD-Rs, carefully catalogued, stuffed with Radiohead B-sides, the Uncle Tupelo back-catalogue and Belle & Sebastian EPs. As the server became more popular, I started to go through more and more of these discs; paying $3 or $4 a pop began to take a toll, and eventually one of the Into the Grove regulars offered to meet me at a métro station and drive me to Kahnawake - where blank CDs, tax-free, sold for less than a dollar each.

Joy Division - "Disorder" (live at les Bains Douches).
Cat Power - "The Leopard and the Lamb (White Session)".

I said yes. One Sunday I took the subway to a stop I'd never been to before. The guy was waiting in a little Honda, the interior littered with kids' toys and Pepsi cans. I never learned his name but I can't even remember his username any more - Pedro or something like that. I don't know if he was an immigrant or Indigenous or Québecois; I didn't even ask him about his kids. Our real lives seemed taboo, like events we had witnessed in a war. Pedro (?) wasn't the first person I had met from the internet but he was the first peson I had met from Into the Grove - someone linked to me not by lengthy correspondence or hours of conversation but simply by shared interest, mutual obsession, a passion for diverse recordings and their accumulation. On the long drive to the reservation we talked about the Foo Fighters and Radiohead, HMV and Cheap Thrills, and Sam the Record Man's going-out-of-business sale. We passed signs for beer, fireworks and tax-free cigarettes. No thank-you, I thought to myself. We're here for blank storage media.

That media? We bought it. Entire spindles of CD-Rs, discount spoils - room for many months' worth of music. Or at least it should have been, but by then I was greedy. Albums arrived online every day and I was gobbling through them, discovering new artists by the hour. Looking back, I know I must have become less discriminating - but it would have been difficult to separate my appetite from my curiosity. My taste was expanding at the same rate as my hoard - gigabyte by gigabyte, discography by discography - as if each new upload was an invitation, or a dare.

Can you like this? What about this?

Let's be clear: none of this story is special. I'm telling the tale of Into the Grove not to hoot about taste but to commemorate a place that gave me an education. I didn't have a local record-store guy or world-wise older sister. I was just a teenage music pirate.

At the turn of the millennium, the internet seemed full of heartfelt pitches. Millions of users singing the praises of their favourite things - crowding around them, talking about them, calling for others to recognize their charms. Not the sturm und drang of social media: just clear-throated whoops, and echoes. Strangers like Pedro logging on to share their passions, not just once but every week, long after they had earned their Into the Grove membership rights, as if they couldn't help themselves.

Carlo Spidla - "Blackfly Rag".

I didn't appreciate them at the time. At the time, I thought the music mattered most (the quantity of stock-piled files; all those precious, catalogued mbs). It did not. Where are those CD-Rs now? (They're in an Edinburgh landfill.) The part of Hotline that lasted longest is the other people. Without them, in some alternate universe, 18-year-old Sean Michaels went on listening to Sloan and Belle & Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel. He went on listening to those, and their corollaries, whatever sounded similar-enough or congenial.

I didn't even know yet what I liked. But here's the thing: I still don't. None of us do. We'll keep changing til we're gone. Til we're cold in the ground. We can learn pleasures, discover - we can like what we don't.

That's the wonder of living, of not being dead.

By now I know: there aren't many better feelings than sharing something beautiful with someone else. I don't mean the crummy kind of sharing - a fleeting power dynamic, teacher/student - but the kind of sharing that reminds you of the ways you love something, the ways it touches you and makes you vulnerable. Sharing something precious is like holding up a mirror. And there's something radical to it too, I think. This gesture's at the heart of romantic love, and parts of parenthood, and maybe even of our responsibilities as human beings. By sharing what we've found, we can all be richer.

Alina Bzhezhinska - "Journey in Satchidananda".
The Blue Nile - "I Love This Life".

True sharing takes generosity. It has to mean something. It requires intention, and the sense that the thing you're offering has value. An algorithm can't be generous, just as a coin-flip can't be kind. My old file-server was a refuge, and also a kind of theft. But I understood the value of what I had. All those thousands of splendours. I thought I was a millionaire.

by Sean

These are my 100 favourite songs of 2018: songs I love more than yanny, laurel, and self-destructing paintings.

Said the Gramophone hasn't published much in in 2018. Forgive us: we're very old.

"People don't read blogs any more."
      "People don't read about music any more."
            "Does it make you any money?"

I believe in making things because the making's the thing. I believe in good things lasting. (I also believe in finding the right endings.)

But this blog isn't ending. It's changing.

In 2019 we'll be publishing longer stories and essays, one a month, by writers you love like Emma Healey and Mitz Takahashi and me. Dear old friends and bodacious surprises.

I hope you'll enjoy my Best Songs of 2018< and I hope you'll stay with us, checking in now and then. You're important to this.

This is the 15th list like this at Said the Gramophone: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

The best way to browse the proceeding is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in three parts:

Thanks to Joey there are also Spotify and Apple Music playlist versions.


Said the Gramophone has had many authors, most recently: Emma Healey, Jeff Miller, Mitz Takahashi and me, Sean Michaels. This list is all Sean's dumb doing - don't blame the others for my bad taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my first novel (it's about the theremin). A new book, The Wagers, will be published in about a year.

Among these 100 artists, 43 are mostly American, 29 are Canadian, 10 are British and there are 4 Australian, 2 New Zealand, 2 German, 2 Irish, 2 Swedish, 1 French, 1 Jamaican, 1 Korean, 1 Nigerian, 1 Spanish and 1 South African act. 46 of the frontpeople/bandleaders identify as women, 51 as men, 1 as transgender and 2 acts are girl/boy duos. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of this and past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2018 were:

  • Joseph Shabason - Anne (listen);
  • Kyle Gann - Hyperchromatica (listen);
  • Young Galaxy - Downtime (listen);
  • Rosalía - El mal querer (listen);
  • Madeline Kenney - Perfect Shapes (listen);
  • Tampa - Belated Love (listen);
  • Tim Hecker - Konoyo (listen);
  • John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (listen);
  • Melissa Laveaux - Radyo Siwèl (listen); and
  • Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings (listen)
  • I promise: all of these are fantastic.

    And now, without any more rigamarole, lots of proudly mixed metaphors:

    Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2018 - original painting source unknown

    1. Rosalía - "Pienso en Tu Mirá" [buy]
      My favourite song of 2018 is one of those stunners that reminds you that pop songs can do anything, there aren't any rules. Across her magnificent second album, 26-year-old Rosalía Vila Tobella reimagines (and arguably appropriates) flamenco music, weaving in pop and hip-hop, Auto-Tune and "Cry Me A River," demonstrating the same sense of invention that has marked the careers of M.I.A., Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. Her videos are ravishing (no surprise Pedro Almodovar has recruited her for his next film) and El Mal Querer is actually surprisingly doleful, declining the temptation to attempt an Andalusian Thriller. Still, "Pienso en Tu Mirá" feels propulsive and magical, carried forward by handclaps, synth stabs and Rosalía's nightingale of a voice. Minor instead of major, dark instead of bright - but luminous with feeling, aglow with possibility, as powerful an incantation as anything I heard this year.
    2. Robyn - "Honey" [buy]
      Robyn's first appearance on one of Said the Gramophone's Best Songs lists was thirteen years ago (!), when "Be Mine!" was my favourite track of 2005. I compared her to Bob Dylan and James Joyce. I said that "Be Mine" revealed "the triumph of acknowledging your sorrow." Sweden's greatest solo pop star has undergone at least two transformations since then, yet these two songs still seem linked. For all its lines about breath and flesh and saliva strands, "Honey" is a song about pleasure that doesn't quite sound happy. Instead it's bittersweet - the sort of bittersweet that Joyce left out of his bawdy love-letters: a sense of Robyn's longing or regret, or maybe just her wisdom. You can hear it in the bass notes, dark and gleaming, and at the end of her phrases. You can hear it in the production (ghostly in spite of cowbell!). Perhaps there's a secret message to a lover un-won; perhaps Robyn's desire's just chronically minor-key. But I read "Honey"'s ambivalence as bigger than that, and more grown-up. Not the anguish of loss, nor the melancholy of falling short, but the sadness of realizing what it is you always deserved.
    3. Drake - "Nice For What" [buy]
      "Nice For What" is a song of plunging orbits, big ellipses, the kind of song that ought to eventually go on forever - an endless New Orleans bounce, an endless loop-around and begin-again; endless starts, groundhog days. Women hustling and hustling and fighting and fighting, Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" sucked into a black hole - reborn as something infinite. If there's an actual song factory somewhere, this is the sound of its machinery. Persistence leads to victories, perseverence to just deserts.
    4. Sandro Perri - "In Another Life" [buy]
      The MP3 here is an excerpt of Sandro Perri's extraorinary 25-minute "In Another Life," which is not so much a song as a weather system, a climate that moves into a room and waits there, changing the colour and temperature. I've long-described Sandro as a musician who makes free music, free as in jazz - but who happens to operate in a genre (singer-songwriteriness) where that avant-gardism isn't obvious. What does it sound like to break apart a Nilsson-esque pop ballad? What does it sound like to make it fizz into nothing or fold itself in two? Can a nice tune still be a riddle?
    5. Christine and the Queens - "Doesn't Matter (Voleur de soleil)" [buy]
      I can't imagine preferring the English version of this electro-pop masterpiece - a song that gathers lustre with every syllable out of Héloïse Letissier's lips. "Doesn't matter (voleur de soleil)" relies on its agility, its swiftness: a song about despair that somehow finds a way to lift off.
    6. La Force - "Lucky One" [buy]
      One day I will make a mixtape about trying to live a good life. I'll call it The Republic and I'll fill it up with songs by Silver Jews, Patti Smith and maybe Iggy Pop; with songs like "Unless It's Kicks" and "We Have Everything" and La Force's "Lucky One." This is a song like an ember burning at the bottom of the hearth. It's a song like the songs we whisper to ourselves. Ariel Engle - of AroarA and Moufette and, now, Broken Social Scene - is more Dorothy Parker than Socrates; her wisdom's tossed-off, stinging. But she is still trying to sing something true here, with a voice like a silver cord. "Don't you forget what's simple / and what's small," she sings, sadly almost, not because it isn't true but because she knows how often she doubts it.
    7. Ariana Grande - "thank u, next" [video]
      It isn't very often that a #1 smash hit seems to have a different emotional register than every #1 smash hit that ever came before. What sets "thank u, next" apart isn't its sound - an airy, tinsely R&BB - but Ariana Grande's disposition. After a million anthems of self-reliance and reinvention, of overcoming one's exes, it's startlingly refreshing to hear someone just saying thank u to their past loves - not feebly but bravely, wisely, gently, thank us for moments shared and lessons learned, miles travelled to this spot. (And still, also: next!)
    8. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - "Talking Straight" [buy]
      There are times when Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever feel too much like a composite of other guitar-pop bands I love, from the Go-Betweens and the Feelies to Nap Eyes and Alvvays. But that kind attitude of leads to crankiness, not bliss, and I cannot but swoon for the snap of "Talking Straight," its gallop and its bray. Jangle like falling fortunes; riffs like ten-foot cacti, full of flowers; a melody you could hang your hat on all winter; everything picking up speed...
    9. Janelle Monae - "Make Me Feel" [buy]
      Purple-tinted funk like the wet and misting pop! of grape soda.
    10. Tim Hecker - "This life" [buy]
      I've spent dozens of hours with Konoyo, Tim Hecker's ninth album - a work of tinting electronics and efflorescing noise that feels more narrative than anything he has made before, as if it's not raw sound but story. "This life," which begins the LP, is like the opening sequence of a VanderMeer film adaptation, or of a Werner Herzog Heart of Darkness. It's a noise like a secret mission - keening sirens, insects, ghosts - and I feel almost as if I can smell it: scent of jade leaves, dark and vegetal, flexing in the night.
    11. 6LACK ft J Cole - "Pretty Little Fears" [buy]
      So much of a love-letter that I'm surprised it's not a rhyme in the first verse, rhyming with "propeller." 6LACK conceals his raunchy verses in the song's tender sound; from his tone of voice you'd be forgiven for assuming he's reading Neruda. The fit's a bit more natural on J Cole's feature - if only he had spared his wife the Matrix reference. (Thanks Neale!)
    12. Young Galaxy - "Seeing Eye Dog" [buy]
      A song reduced to essences: desire, audacity, moonlight. Such a respite - soft synths, Catherine McCandless's plainsong, everything as light as moths' wings. Taken from the tremendous Down Time, the most overlooked album of the year.
    13. Madeline Kenney - "Cut Me Off" [buy]
      Guitar-pop that's ravishing and askew - prisms twinkling, angles everywhere. Kenney's rosy voice tinges red at the edges; it blots almost, over "Cut Me Off"'s beautifully wrongish hooks, its beautifully wrongish drums. While Perfect Shapes owes something to Dirty Projectors' slanting vocals, Perfect Shapes (produced by Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner) is twice as good as Dave Longstreth's latest - vividly original, utterly delightful, one of the best damn things around.
    14. Connan Mockasin - "Charlotte's Thong" [buy]
      Drowsy, handsome music, with the pong that characterizes all of Connan Mockasin's tunes - that extra-terrestrial scent. An electric guitar prowls the house - searching for somewhere to lie down and sprawl. Drums beat like minute hands. And then Mockasin's mushy mumble: a wimp's voice, vaguely botanical, a stranger at this sumptuous table.
    15. The 1975 - "Love It If We Made It" [buy]
      A glittering, millennial reimagining of "We Didn't Start the Fire" or "It's the End of the World As We Know It." You get everything you need to know from the self-mocking opening lines, as the snare comes Phil-Collins-ing in: "Fucking in a car / shooting heroin / saying controversial things / just for the hell of it." I'm on-record as a 1975 fan; they continue to make a case for themselves as the UK's most interesting contemporary pop band, sucking the marrow from the Talking Heads and Radiohead, Danny Brown and Bright Eyes, Michael Jackson and The Streets. They integrate their influences in a way that feels almost anachronistic - and there's a similar out-of-time-ness to their (outstanding) big-budget videos, which seem lifted from MTV's heyday. Like most of my favourite diatribes, "Love It If We Made It" is really a declaration of love: to an algorithmic singularity, to the end of the world.
    16. Laura Jean - "Girls on the TV" [buy]
      I don't know what it is about this soft-focus indie pop song (or maybe I do - the grace of the singing, the unusually elaborated guitar-line, the chorus, the performance, the arrangement, the songwriting, everything).
    17. Mount Eerie - "Tintin in Tibet" [buy]
      Like last year's "Real Death", this song should not be on a ranked list; it should not be on a list at all. It should be at #1 or #100 or unnumbered, set apart. Its goal as a piece of music isn't the same goal as the other tracks here. Why count these things together, or measure them against each other? As Phil Elverum carries on, singing present and past, his vision somehow grows ever clearer.
    18. Lydia Képinski - "Premier juin" [buy]
      Sock yourself with this song, take it like a conker to the temple. A pipe-organ and a string section; a synth and a guitar. A song that tastes so ripe and raw that it's partly bloody iron, partly strawberry jam. Képinski's Montreal pop points right back to Arcade Fire's "Tunnels," Charles Burns' Black Hole, Frankie Barnet's An Indoor Kind of Girl. Today at full gallop, bolting toward the new. (And get a load of this.)
    19. SOPHIE - "Immaterial" [buy]
      Bouncing like a ball-peen hammer from ecstatic, sample-driven pop to something harder - shiny and warped. Featuring vocals from Montreal's own Caila Thompson-Hannant (Mozart's Sister, Cecile Believe).
    20. DJ Koze - "Pick Up" [buy]
      A midnight-coloured circle with Gladys Knight at its centre."[It's the] counterbalance of the sad voice and the disco loop," DJ Koze told Resident Advisor. "You find one loop, and if it's magical, you can hear it forever. But they're not easy to find. ['Pick Up' is] the only track I've made in one night -- in three or four hours, with a bottle of red wine."
    21. Mélissa Laveaux - "Lè Ma Monte Chwal Mwen" [buy]
      A song that erects its own fanciful, radiant universe - with Laveaux's elastic voice and winking Creole, the junkyard feel of the electric guitar. Like Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" reimagined on a Haitian beach.
    22. Nicholas Krgovich - "Spa" [buy]
      A man's hushed yet wry confessional - a break-up song that pulls no punches, beats around no bushes, itemizing the ending of a thing its singer did not wish to see end. Tragic and also somehow charming - it must be the saxophone.
    23. Thus Owls - "My Blood" [buy]
      Thus Owls' live performance of this song on 9/29 was probably the most moving performance I witnessed in 2018. Erika Angell sings about motherhood with a wisdom that seems visceral, not learned but felt - felt and then sung out, as if she has found the right words for these impossible feelings. (And Simon Angell beside her, strumming away, every chord a kind of vow.)
    24. Maggie Rogers - "Light On" [buy]
      A song like this makes songs like this seem easy: just verses, a chorus, a melody and harmony, drums. Mid-tempo and handsome, nothing to set it apart. Yet: marvellous. An ordinary pleasure to cherish and repeat.
    25. Boygenius - "Me & My Dog" [buy]
      Phoebe Bridgers leads all my favourite songs on the debut record by Boygenius - a group that brings together Bridgers, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus. She has a gift for writing tracks with a little sourness to them, an antidote to the sweet; it gives a break-up song like this a sort of seductiveness, as if the end of things is somewhere you might choose to stay.
    26. U.S. Girls - "Rage of Plastics" [buy]
      Meg Remy's Fiver cover turns the grave blues of the original into something jittery and brightly lit. Country rock with a bit of Phil Spector to it - and also squealing saxophones, wounded keys, high moxy, high-capitalist anxiety. It's like a plant that grew up in a shopping-mall atrium, now it's too big to stop.
    27. Les Louanges - "Tercel" [buy]
      I love the twisting grooves of Les Louanges' La nuit est une panthère - a record full of funky rock'n'roll and avant-R&B, neons flickering on rue Masson. "Tercel"'s lefthanded storytelling owes something to Frank Ocean and something to Beck; it owes something to the drummer and the debt-collector.
    28. Jennifer Castle - "Texas" [buy]
      A road song of straight highways and big sky, with Castle - like Johnny Cash or Bill Callahan - mingling the everyday and the erotic, the somber and the merry.
    29. Saba - "Prom/King" [buy]
      Saba's greatest gift as a rapper isn't his rhymes or his flow but his storytelling, his ability to choose the right detail. "Prom/King" is a two-part portrait of his cousin John Walt, and it's a song that conceals its full intentions, that holds back the ending - lingering instead on small conversations, until the end, when Saba's words - and "Prom/King"'s beat - prove literally insufficient, everything running out.
    30. Kurt Vile - "Bassackwards" [buy]
      Some artists are inventors. Kurt Vile's not one of these - someone who invents and reinvents, transforming their sound. A Kurt Vile song in 2018 sounds a lot like a Kurt Vile song in 2015, a Kurt Vile song in 2011: slacker monologue, warm guitars, a tune that walks in circles like a stroll around the block. And yet a song like "Bassackwards" still feels sublime - not because it is a copycat, a beloved re-run, but because it is its own polished jewel, unlike anything else. Not a reinvention but a refinement, as each of Vile's best songs is - its own original refinement, a slightly new perfect.
    31. Post Malone - "Better Now" [buy]
      I'm with Jayson Greene: I can't stand Post Malone and also I adore him, adore this dripping catchy music that has rien à faire with the rest of my aesthetics, the things I think and say I like. Crude and treacly, unsubtle, labouring: yet magnificent, gold-leafed, a sad song I could hang like a wreath on my door.
    32. Frog Eyes - "Pay for Fire" [buy]
      If Mannheim Steamroller recorded an elegy with David Bowie and The Residents; if a tree sang a serenade to its soil... The pearl of Frog Eyes' final album is a mess that's going to be cleaned up, a cataclysm mid-solution. Carey Mercer's never sounded sweeter, his band never so kind. But they're still capable of violence - daggers to betrayers' ribs, rocks to traitor's skulls, poison in the developers' wine. There are still forces of resilience out there, knights in declining armour.
    33. Ella Mai - "Boo'd Up" [buy]
      A gravity blanket of sparkly R&B.
    34. Cardi B with Bad Bunny & J Balvin)- "I Like It" [buy]
      "I Like It" is an exemplar of interpolation - not just a competent remix of a Latin classic but a glorious transfiguration thereof. Chock full of tiny details, slowly gathering momentum, crackling with musical energy.
    35. James Blake - "Don't Miss It" [website]
      This is my favourite style of James Blake: when he finds himself at the middle-point between Klavierwerke and "Limit To Your Love", when his sappier singing instincts get cut-up and enjambed. "Don't Miss It" is a song that seems to keep starting and restarting, and every time it does it glows a little differently, not more but merely differently - as if its current is being sent down alternate routes, undiscovered channels. Electricity can move in different ways through a circuit.
    36. Tampa - "Synth Quirk" [buy]
      Tampa is the best ever rock band in Memramcook. That's a town in New Brunswick (Tampa's also based in nearby Moncton). Their scrambling indie-rock is like a handful of Pop Rocks - sugar fizz and crackle-snap, tidy only in the hand.
    37. Charli XCX - "No Angel" [buy]
      Soap-bubble pop with some metal to it too, like Charli's tossing around aluminium pans.
    38. Wye Oak - "Lifer" [buy]
      A song of perseverence. Patiently gleaming til the guitar part at 2:00 - a phosphorescing solo that rends the song in two, rouses the phoenix in its nest.
    39. Toni Braxton - "Long As I Live" [buy]
      There are portions of "Long As I Live" that feel as if they could have been released in 1996, in Braxton's un-broken heyday. But listen carefully: you'll hear a voice with more years in it, a production haunted by younger sounds.
    40. Troye Sivan - "My My My" [buy]
      A pop song with hop and jump - no, with skip, a thousand split-seconds suspended mid-air.
    41. Tirzah - "Say When" [buy]
      Tirzah dismantles contemporary R&B, rebuilding it as something room-sized and almost barren. Working with Mica Levi (Micachu and the Shapes), songs like "Say When" are as much about the desires they withhold than the pleasures they indulge - like an experiment with abstinence, pop-musical renunciation.
    42. Channel Tres - "Controller" [buy]
      A work of pure hypnosis, Channel Tres's voice and oscillating beat mesmerizing the listener, leading them onto the dance floor. (Thanks Max!)
    43. Yves Tumor ft James K - "Licking an Orchid" [buy]
      One of electronic music's most interesting makers showing a Bryan Ferry-like head for songcraft.
    44. Loma - "Joy" [buy]
      I loved the debut LP by Loma - a collaboration between Cross Record's Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, and Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg. Like "post-rock" or "chamber pop," "chamber folk" seems like a lapsed genre at this point - something old and in need of regeneration. However songs like "Joy" have enough strength - and enough discord - to feel relevant and new, an alarm unfolding under woodwinds, drums, guitars, a lacework of synths. Cross and Duszynski's marriage ended over the course of this recording project, and I can't help but project that knowledge onto the music: a sense of transformation, or that something is really at stake.
    45. Low - "Always Trying To Work It Out" [buy]
      This is what I imagine it feels like to live in Trump's America. A song like a failing state - grim and cataclysmic, all the old rules fracturing. Yet also somehow hopeful, progressing: a staggering march, toward a far-off beam of light.
    46. Porches - "Find Me" [buy]
      Is cereal a soup? Are hotdogs tacos? How should one describe "Find Me"? A song that's a beeping, skittering rave-up - but with a singer who's doleful, melancholy, slinking through the bushes around the warehouse.
    47. Félix Dyotte - "Chrysanthèmes" [buy]
      I love the timelessness of "Chrysanthèmes." Dyotte plays the classic chansonnier while his band makes sure all the studio plug-ins are up-to-date, new and sumptuous.

    48. Simmy ft Sun-El Musician - "Ubala" [buy]
      Something in the low end of "Ubala" makes it feel more like landscape than music - terrain that goes on for miles upon miles, beyond the horizon. South African house music as far as the eye can see.
    49. Amen Dunes - "Miki Dora" [buy]
      The chug at the heart of this song might be a car or a motorcycle; it might just be Amen Dunes' running feet. But it's clearly a dash - a long one, mile after mile, while the song scans the horizon. A little Springsteen and a little Kurt Vile, with some mischief in its pocket. A little mischief and a little nerve, treasure waiting at the end of the trail.
    50. Stephen Malkmus - "Middle America" [buy]
      It's been a long time since Malkmus sounded as good as this, and I can't remember him ever sounding so kind. There's a generosity to this song that feels almost sappy; never mind that Malkmus is painting his customary tableaux, only half-comprehensible. "Men are scum, I won't deny" (he sings the line like he's giving someone an anniversary present), "May you be shit-faced the day you die / And be successful in all your lies / In the wintertime / in the wintertime." As if all this time he's just been waiting for a reason to cozy up.
    51. Molly Burch - "To The Boys" [buy]
      Bubblegum guitar-pop that's adamant and unapologetic, Burch singing like an acrobat who has climbed out of a cannon, turned it toward her enemies, plopped in a cannonball and calmly lit the fuse.
    52. Bas ft J Cole - "Tribe" [buy]
      Two rappers playing catch over a samba beat - each of them feeling fat and happy, jolly, made.
    53. Spice - "Tik Tak" [buy]
      A dancehall track that cut like a hot knife through my playlists, dividing everything into Before and After. Spice spits like she's made of clockwork, her mechanisms newly wound, as sure of herself as of the number of minutes in an hour.
    54. Lucy Dacus - "Night Shift" [buy]
      A song like a letter to a former lover, a letter never sent. But of course it is sent, it's here in six and a half minutes, and so that's why it bursts into flame at exactly 4:09 - so the recipient won't forget it, can't shake it off; so they'll smell smoke and burning paper; so maybe they'll get burned, burned again (for the second time). Dacus has made a thing that's tender and fiery, a ballad she won't - can't - take back.
    55. AdriAnne Lenker - "Symbol" [buy]
      Experimenting outside her band Big Thief, AdriAnne Lenker makes music that's much more constrained: rhymes and fingerpicking, a voice just louder than a whisper. But it's the rhythm on "Symbol" that makes it click for me, the sense of tempo, like a series of keys fitting into locks.
    56. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays" [buy]
      Somewhere there's an intra-dimensional Soul Train where "Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays" aired once in 1981. Ruban Nielson was wearing iridescent make-up, singing outside a giant cardboard TV. Stevie Wonder's sister played keys.
    57. Hop Along - "Prior Things" [buy]
      A cozier kind of Hop Along - as if they're living with friends in a green-gabled house, dinner cooling on the counter. Frances Quinlan sings her worries but I'm never actually worried for her - I believe in her instincts and the instincts of her friends, that good will win out. Those nodding strings; those bobbing keys; a whole world wishing her the best.
    58. Helena Deland - "Body Language" [buy]
      A ballad with undertow, the kind of hesitation that could save a life one day.
    59. Thom Yorke - "Suspirium" [buy]
      A piano figure forms the basis of this chilly lullaby, a ghost story in 3/4 time. "This is a waltz," Yorke begins. "Thinking about our bodies / what they mean."
    60. Ought - "Desire" [buy]
      Like a punk-rock "Song of Solomon," full of decent, law-abiding carnality. I love the randiness of the song, the impression of a band that's caught a springtime scent. "I could taste it in your paint," Tim Darcy sings, like a shipbuilder with a hard-on.
    61. Joseph Shabason - "I Thought That I Could Get Away With It" [buy]
      Saxophonist and composer Joseph Shabason made one of the most splendid albums of the year by taking snatches of sax and samples from interviews (with his mom), parcels of processed synths, pasting it all into a work that feels like it's about osmosis: the sense of a wisdom gained ambiently, over time. The accumulation of insight & experience & raw sensation, still only half-understood.
    62. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Party for One" [video]
      "Party For One"'s a clomping, stomping pop song, but its sense of sexuality's not so different from #60 - Jepsen's paean to self-love has a cotton-wool feel, as if freshly laundered.
    63. Scott Orr - "A Memory" [buy]
      A love-song that doesn't quite feel real, like something borrowed from slumber. "You woke up in a dream," Orr sings, "caught inside a memory. / I won't leave your side / and I'll lie with you baby." He brings to mind Sandro Perri or Damien Jurado but there's more flicker to this folk music, like it already senses its decay.
    64. Mariah Carey - "GTFO" [buy]
      Hard feelings don't deserve a song this pretty. "You took my love for granted," Mariah begins, all dusty rose. "You left me lost and disenchanted." But the song moves on past bland dejection: "My prince was so unjustly handsome," she sings, a line twice-stinging. Soon the listener begins to wonder: might she really spell out the song title? On a song that sounds like this?
    65. Pusha T - "The Games We Play" [buy]
      This song's here for the barb & prong of the beat, the blues guitar like a lean tiger.
    66. Couteau Papillon - "Peau d'opium" [buy]
      Glittering synth pop from Montreal that measures its pep against its weariness, its appetites against its caution. I love the zippy synths against Philippe Lachance's sandpaper falsetto, the skittering drums against the silvery guitar. A song to pack up in a suitcase when you're off to somewhere drab; wheel it along behind you, open it up when you get to the hotel.
    67. Viagra Boys - "Sports" [buy]
      Like a gritty remodelling of #42, Viagra Boys' "Sports" recalls Iggy Pop and even maybe Mark E Smith - men with baritone voices and an appreciation for the absurd, the way a saxophone can crack a song like an egg.
    68. Ebhoni - "Opps" [fb]
      With its bubbly synths and sunny horns, "Opps" seems at first feel like one of those R&B songs about riding round town with your friends. Instead, it's pure kiss-off: a venomous adieu to a 🐍 of an ex-friend, a sunny F.U. with the windows rolled down.
    69. Hollow Hand - "One Good Turn" [buy]
      Hollow Hand's a new romantic with a shelf-ful of Kinks albums, a shed full of guitars, a folder full of handclap loops. He's probably got a garden and a couple of sturdy old shovels. "One Good Turn" skips and jangles and la-la-las, weaves a tapestry, drives a tiny Citroen to the seaside.
    70. Jim James - "Just A Fool (Universal Clarity version)" [buy]
      My Morning Jacket's Jim James re-doing a rock song in full Bob Dylan get-up - a leather jacket around his shoulders, an acoustic guitar in his hands. No harmonica though: instead just a man's strange yodel, a dog-like yip, transsubstantiating the song in its final seconds.
    71. Lennon Stella - "Breakaway" [website]
      Spotifycore as it may be, Stella works wonders with "Breakaway"'s pre-chorus - a moment of tension when you don't know which way the song will go, higher or lower, faster or slower, into the sky or back down to earth.
    72. Rejjie Snow - "Désolé" [buy]
      Irish hip-hop - where the pennywhistle's synthetic and the hook's in French. I love "Désolé"'s elevator-music shimmy, its stop-start approach to catchiness. Not so sure about Snow's serenading skills: hopefully his lover likes her wooing off-key and genuine.
    73. Foxing - "Slapstick" [buy]
      Foxing perform a kind of alchemy, transmuting "Slapstick"'s punk-rock riffs into a variety of materials. Some of it still sounds hard and shining, but most of it is softer - emo balladry, fireside sing-along, games with yipping muppets. It's proggy something, I'm just not sure what - it owes as much to Justin Timberlake as to Jimmy Eat World.

    74. Hatchie - "Sure" [buy]
      Blissful jangle-pop from Australia. There's a quality to this kind of music that makes me think of rain - washouts, downpours, the daylight all smeared. Does it ever rain in Brisbane?
    75. Anderson .Paak - "Bubblin" [buy]
      The California rapper's stuck in a spy movie credits sequence: will he make it out alive?
    76. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - "Now U Got Me Hooked" [buy]
      My son likes to march: "March!" he announces, stomping up and down the hallway. (He's two and a half.) It's not a military sort of march; it's not rigid or formal. It's free, gleeful. He swings his arms and hikes his knees, stomping all alone. Which happens to be my preferred way of enjoying "Now U Got Me Hooked" - an infinitely amiable stomper by A.A.L. (aka Nicolas Jaar). Wave at the singer! Salute the trumpets! Ripple like a flag!
    77. Bonjay - "Night Bus Blue" [buy]
      The mystery of the night bus: where do they go in daytime? Surely they're not the same vehicles you see cruising down Bathurst, crawling up Yonge, while the sun's high in the sky? A night bus is a colder thing, frictionless and strange. It's brightly lit. The people inside are fading, or stirring, and after they're gone it's as if they were never there: the people of the city, the essence of it, dispersed to hidden workplaces or hidden away in bed. A night bus is a fleeting place and time and this song is as well - somewhere you can only remain for 7:20. It picks you up, it drops you off; you can't stay.
    78. Krystal Klear - "Neutron Dance" [buy]
      If robots ran on jam - tin-can machines with pectin-powered batteries, strawberry-scented servos, a convenient compatibility with peanut-butter - maybe then we'd all wake up together, the humans and the machines, to celebrate the morning with toast & "Neutron Dance." Part of a complete breakfast.
    79. Frankie Cosmos - "Jesse" [buy]
      This is a song about a conversation, Greta Kline explains in "Jesse"'s first verse - but immediately it leaves the frame of the conversation and goes into the ideas imagined there, the dreams turned over and remembered, as if the song is darting in the air above their heads, twisting between the figments of what's done and what's coming.
    80. Kim Petras - "All the Time"
      A song so sweet it'll make your teeth hurt. Petras is wrapped in foil, prancing across a stage, a girl without a past or a future - everything she's singing is a beautiful lie an she's singing it because it sounds right, or it sounds good, the kind of things a person might feel if they weren't too busy prancing, too busy tucking foil under their bra-strap, or behind their ear.
    81. Kacey Musgraves - "High Horse" [buy]
      I was not particularly smitten with Kacey Musgraves' turn toward a pan-generic country pop. Artists with the gift of vision should be able to indulge that vision, making songs like no one else. As much as I enjoy it, "High Horse" could as easily be the work of Katy Perry or Taylor Swift or even the likes of Jewel. But I shouldn't be too hard on a song I still like a lot: the Cardigans-like sheen of the guitars and strings, the handsome chestnut canter of the chorus's heart. And especially the splendid use of triangle, tinkling teensily while Musgraves sings about a tall pony.
    82. Snail Mail -"Heat Wave" [buy]
      The rippling thwack of an August heat wave; the thrum of a love that's at the edges of your summer, just out of reach. Lindsey Jordan's noisy, technicolour rock'n'roll feels strangely at-a-distance, as if she's describing the sunset before it falls.
    83. Burna Boy ft J Hus - "Sekkle Down" [buy]
      Nigeria's Burna Boy makes a song like this sound as easy as water flowing downhill.
    84. Pierre Lapointe - "Mon prince charmant" [buy]
      A love song that begins on the morning David Bowie died. Despite the stately string arrangements there's a loucheness to Lapointe's voice, to the way he observes his lover swimming - "like a David Hockney painting" - in the pool. He always sounds like he's holding something back, something unfit for polite company. Maybe he'll write it down, tuck the message into Prince Charming's towel.
    85. IU - "삐삐 (BBIBBI)" [video]
      Finally, a K-pop song about maintaining strong boundaries around social media. Filled with prrs and clinks, ringtones and pager-beeps, it tells a story of rejecting gossip, ignoring DMs. The chorus is a blinking line in the sand: "Yellow C-A-R-D," IU sings. "If you cross this line, it's a violation - beep." After 10 years atop the charts, IU doesn't need to put up with hashtag bullshit.
    86. Forth Wanderers - "Company" [buy]
      Sweet, clamorous and spasmodic punk rock - a song that swings on a wire from distance to intimacy and back, close and far and close again, as if it's tracking Ava Trilling indecision, her decision not to decide.
    87. Zen Bamboo - "Boys and Girls" [buy]
      A Strokes homage from Québec City - a world-weary singer and his band of plaid-clad rockers, all of them willing to stay up as late as it takes, but only as late as that. Then they'll go to bed. (Thanks Julia!)
    88. Chance the Rapper - "I Might Need Security" [soundcloud]
      A rap song about kingdom-making: not the acquisition of wealth but the distribution of justice, Chance telling us the ways he's reimagining Chicago, the people he wants out and the citizens he wants to call back in, the monuments he wants up (hint: it's a monument to himself). And all of it over a glorious gospel sample - the gospel, that is, of get the fuck outta here.
    89. Michael Feuerstack - "Before You Wake Up" [buy]
      Some advice from Montreal's most wise and useless advice-giver. One of Feuerstack's secrets is that if you ask him for directions, he always points to the closest stop-sign. There's no malice to it: Mikey only wants the best for you. He just knows how little he knows, knows you'd rather he sound convincing.
    90. Chaka Khan - "Like Sugar" [video]
      An old man in a blue blazer dancing til his shoes squeak.
    91. Teyana Taylor - "3Way" [buy]
      This is a very nice song about having a three-way.
    92. Mr Twin Sister - "Jaipur" [buy]
      A feverish groove, full of subtle touches. Andrea Estella's voice twists and trembles over a stylish hand-drum beat. Strings and flute, snatches of sax and dub, while she sings a dream of true love.
    93. Zora Jones and Sinjin Hawke - "God" [buy]
      A Ride of the Valkyries for mutant forces: superheroes zooming through thunderclouds, lasers lightninging out of their eyes.
    94. Major Lazer ft Burna Boy - "All My Life" [buy]
      Although I'm a fan of Major Lazer, there's a dutifulness to many of their songs: the sense of a procedure started and seen through. "All My Life" is much more interesting than the headline suggests - not just a competent Afrobeat-by-numbers but something oddly dignified, almost solemn, its tin-can grooves built around a dry, deliberate brass section.
    95. Panda Bear - "Dolphin" [buy]
      Panda Bear's just floating on a VR lake, singing like a melting cartoon character.
    96. Born Ruffians - "Side Tracked" [buy]
      Born Ruffians' band of merry men is finally reunited. Throwing axes at a wall, snatching harmonies out of the air, studying the geometry of roots-rock and R&B and then using the same math to make something sparer, not a luxury yacht but a raft.
    97. Westerman - "Confirmation" [soundcloud]
      Synth-pop under northern light, cerulean-blue.
    98. Tracyanne & Danny - "Jacqueline" [buy]
      Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell and Crybaby's Danny Coughlan offer up a chiffony country duet, a waltz for just inside the cemetery gates.
    99. Kids See Ghosts - "Kids See Ghosts" [buy]
      There are no real ghosts in Kids See Ghosts' "Kids See Ghosts." Any phantoms are of the Scooby-Doo variety - millionaire developers hiding behind paintings, would-be Instagram influencers noodling on the theremin. It's a song that feels like a children's illustrated mystery - smudgy paintings of old houses and neighbours' kitties, spectacled faces peeking through windows. But there's still something spooky to it - at least until Kanye West arrives, ruining the hard work of Kid Cudi and Yasiin Bey, a drunk uncle streaking magic-marker over the pictures.
    100. Jennah Barry - "Roller Disco" [buy]
      I've been to two roller rinks in my life - one in Québec, QC, the other in Atlanta, GA. Barry's "Roller Disco"'s more the former than the latter, but in a way it's a tribute to all the ways roller rinks are the same: the revolutions of the skaters, the orbits of the disco ball, adolescent love-scenes spinning through the evening. I like that Barry doesn't clutter the song with reverb, or drench the song in strings. Just the same old story the same old way, new despite it all.
    So that's 2018's century of songs, or the way they seem today. There are others that didn't quite make it, that I wish I were pointing you to too, and there will be so many I've missed. Maybe make your own suggestions in the comments or on Twitter.

    Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in things that are important.) Be kind with each other, be brave, undo what harm you can. Remember: music's good for the heart.

    See you soon.

by Sean

Tune in later this week for Said the Gramophone's 15th annual Best Songs list.

by Sean
Eating fish

Lydia Képinski - "Premier juin". Sock yourself with this song, take it like a conker to the temple. A pipe-organ and a string section; a synth and a guitar. A song that tastes so ripe and raw that it's partly bloody iron, partly strawberry jam. A sprint down the alley, a flight through the woods. Churn and boil and run, run, run - hearstroke and klaxon and wolves' matted fur. Képinski's Montreal pop points right back to Arcade Fire's "Tunnels", Charles Burns' Black Hole, Frankie Barnet's An Indoor Kind of Girl. An idea of future, the singer's self coalescing. An idea of past, all these names crossed out. And finally here, now: present (present, sir!). Today at full gallop, bolting toward the new.


Mata Hari - "Easy". A song about living in a bull's-eye. Maybe he moved there six months ago, maybe it was last week. His whole adult life he lived in some other building, some shoebox apartment; then finally he hired a van and brought his boxes to the bull's-eye, signed a lease. His friends had warned him against it. He didn't know if it would work out. But: of course it did. It was a bull's-eye! Concentric circles, red and white stripe. A target. He had been there only days when the first dart came flying, direct from cupid's bow - pow. Maybe "pow"'s the wrong sound. Zing, snap, STRUM. The luckiest days feel like hitting a target; one step down are the days when you are the target, or feel like it, or feel like you live in a bungalow erected on a target. When it feels as if the whole world, or all the things you want, are convening on the place where you're at, the place you're now standing - right on the threshold, hunched, fiddling with your keys.


by Sean
Glasses floating

Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel - "Absinthium".
Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel - "Serpentariae".

Atlanta's Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel are a duet, a duo. Their principal instruments are theremin and lap steel. They are evidently well-named. But at the same time that name, for me, suggests an emphasis on virtuosity, musicianship, the unacommpanied gifts of its individual players. In fact, the music of Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel feels more to me about dissolving the individual, forgetting the maker. Scott Burland and Frank Schultz make weather. Both of their instruments are suited to this approach. Anybody who has seen a lap steel being played has probably experienced that sense of mystification: where is the sound coming from? where is it going? It's as if the lap steel player is using his instrument to conjure music from the room, out of bare air. A theremin can give a similar impression. The machine seems secondary to the sound, just accompanying paraphernalia. The term "ambient music" is most often deployed to describe music that's restful, drifting, slowly unfolding. Most of Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel's improvisations are this - but they're also ambient in a more literal sense. These recordings seem intimately linked to the spaces they were made in (or from) and, if the listener plays them at home - loud, on speakers - they get tied up in those spaces too, knitting into the paint on the walls.

Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel is also a cheat of a name because Burland and Schultz use other instruments, or use their instruments in ways that conceal their identities. "Serpentariae" is suffused with gongs, bells, reverberations. "Absinthium" is filled with the clarinet and saxophone of collaborator Jeff Crompton. Around him, Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel dream up clouds, aurora, sunspots, storm-fronts. They make weather overhead. Listening to compositions like these - music these musicians made up, in studio, somewhere far away - I am struck by what a gift they have. Not just that they can make weather, summon it from nothing, but that they can bottle it - like springwater, or earth. Sending spring or summer up from Georgia, to where we shiver in the cold.

[buy / Duet appear next month at Knoxville, TN's spectacular Big Ears Festival]


Max Cilla - "La Flûte des Mornes".

Meanwhile, there are other weathers. Purple ones, warm sun on frozen days, melting snow on mountaintops.


by Sean

These are my 100 favourite songs of 2017: songs I love more than snow-men, group-texts and royal weddings.

I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no primary artist may appear twice.

I have been making these lists for 13 years: see 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.

You can also download the complete 100 songs in four parts:

There's a Spotify playlist too, although songs #53, #73, #81 and #87 are not available there. If you're a Spotify user, I recommend you read Liz Pelly's outstanding reporting on some of the ways the service harms musicians. Update 11/12/17: Joey B's queued it up on Apple Music. 16/12/17 Now on Deezer (thanks Max) and Google Music (thanks Noah).


Said the Gramophone is one of the oldest musicblogs. We are waning maybe but not yet, not yet.

Said the Gramophone has four authors: Emma Healey, Sean Michaels, Jeff Miller and Mitz Takahashi. This list is all Sean's dumb doing - don't blame the others for my bad taste.

If this is your first time at Said the Gramophone, I hope you'll bookmark us or subscribe via RSS. You can also follow me on Twitter or read my novel (it's about the theremin).

Among these 100 artists, 38 are mostly American, 27 are Canadian, 15 are British and there are 2 Norwegians, 2 Germans, 2 French, 2 Swedish, 2 Korean, 2 Kiwi, 1 Australian, 1 Colombian, 1 Argentinian, 1 South African, 1 Malian, 1 Italian and 1 Spanish act, plus 1 Aussie/American split. 45 of the frontpeople/bandleaders identify as women, 53 as men and 2 acts are girl/boy duos. As far as I know, none of this year's songs are by transgender artists. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect. Here are some charts of past lists' demographics.

My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures.

My favourite albums of 2017 were:

I strongly recommend that you buy these records and listen to them in full.

Some songs that you heard in 2017 may have been omitted from this tally because I heard them before this year, and included them in my Best of 2016.

Finally, some disclosures. I've done paid writing work for some of the artists in this list: Leif Vollebekk, Partner, Land of Talk and Young Galaxy.

Now, without further rigamarole:

Said the Gramophone's Best Songs of 2017 - original photo source unknown

  1. Perfume Genius - "Die 4 You" [buy]
    2017 was so many things, some of them encouraging, most of them terrible. A few of them truly beautiful. I cannot have been the only one who tried to take shelter in that last category - hiding under the boughs of whatever I could find. This was a year for calling old friends, gathering with neighbours, staring at paintings, swimming in lakes, learning the drums, carrying bouquets, chasing down toddlers, paging through comics, starting new projects, resuming old ones, grieving, baking, resisting, holding hands. I didn't do all of these things, but I did some. I carried my son in my arms and tried to see the world as he does - as a marvel unfolding, not yet set.

    "Die 4 You" gestures to a refuge somewhere else. Not outward but inward; not in children, the clichés of hetero metaphor, but in intimate, erotic love. Gay love, selfless love - a love white-hot and gleaming, sensuous, fearless, rare. "Die 4 You" is not a song so much as a moment. Place and time reproduced in sound: organ, drums, strings, piano, voice. Mike Hadreas sings in a gorgeous, rose-coloured falsetto and it's his own partner, Alan Wyffels, whose baritone surfaces at the chorus, lifting under him. The duet is extraordinary - sexy, hushed, insistent. There is some Sade in it, and obviously some Prince, but also glimmers of less obvious artists: Talk Talk, Portishead, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Glenn Gould, Radiohead. Each of these acts has created lustrous, enduring recordings. With this - and the rest of No Shape - Perfume Genius joins them.

  2. Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Pa'lante" [buy]
    A protest song for the past year and the coming one. A song like a small, bodega-sized Fitzcarraldo: Hurray For The Riff Raff haul up their song like Kinski and his steamship and his hill, with climbing chords and Alynda Segarra's mighty voice, the desperate pull of her heart. It's an anthem for carrying on, persisting, from the barrios of Puerto Rico to the slums of New York.
  3. Leif Vollebekk - "Elegy" [buy]
    On Twin Solitude, Montreal songwriter Leif Vollebekk reinvented himself. He was finished with Dylan-esque flow, obsessed instead with Prince-y pulse. "Elegy" is a piano ballad with a hip-hop groove; it's got strings but the strings aren't glossy, pretty. They're raw nerves. In a genre diminished by handsome sounds, tasteful arrangements, Vollebekk heads down a different road. Those drums, those strings; that rude, yearning electric bass. The story in the lyrics is underpainted, unfinished. The rhymes are perfectly imperfect - owing way more to Kendrick or The Streets than to Springsteen or Van Zandt. It won't be for everyone - too smooth for some, not smooth enough for others. But for me it's perfectly pitched, luminous. Leif's Astral Weeks isn't far off.
  4. Destroyer - "Tinseltown Swimming In Blood" [buy]
    Sometime in the near future, seismic activity sends Los Angeles crashing into Vancouver. Imagine this rainy L.A, full of dead flowers and beautiful women. The sky's gone green. A little Blade Runner, a little X Files or Twin Peaks. And here's the soundtrack. A dreary/dazzling groove, Dan Bejar as hitmaker, a band that isn't New Order playing as if they are.
  5. Drake - "Passionfruit" [buy]
    "Passionfruit" is soft and soft-lit, pulsing with a gentle tropical beat. And yet despite the tenderness of these sounds, their sensuousness, they're the bedding for a song of disappointment. Drake is underrated as a lyricist, or his ghostwriters are. "Tension," he sings, "between us just like picket fences." An image, a feeling, as vivid as a silhouette on the horizon, at dusk.
  6. Mura Masa - "Love$ick ft A$AP Rocky (Four Tet remix)" [website]
    I adore this remix of Mura Masa's naturally excellent "Love$ick": the way Four Tet strips away at the song's more hackneyed choices and elevates the stranger ones. Instead of blarpy synth horns, Kieran Hebden fills the track with bells and, later, a glittering modified guitar (?); "Love$ick"'s saxophone fleeting saxophone part becomes its heart, with a powerful sense of tactility and touch.
  7. Wolf Alice - "Don't Delete the Kisses" [buy]
    Wolf Alice have quickly become one of the UK's most interesting, adventurous indie rock bands - compare "Don't Delete the Kisses"' jittery space-pop to "Yuk Foo"'s (also excellent) garage-rock snarl. Ellie Roswell's verses here are rushing, outpouring - a little Aidan Moffatt and a little Michael Stipe. They overspill the meter, like a friend trying to tell you something important as quickly as they can. The chorus is something else: an echoing, melancholy shout. "What if it's not meant for me?" she asks. "Love." It's the stuff of closing credits - everything else receding in a rearview mirror.
  8. The Weather Station - "Thirty" [buy]
    There should be a name for it, a stock phrase: not a love-song, a road song, but a growing-older song. Tamara Lindeman's is painted in uncommon indigo. Startling, galloping, meditative, present.
  9. Future ft Kendrick Lamar - "Mask Off (remix)"
    "Mask Off" was the hit I was most grateful for in 2017 - a little midnight thrown willy-nilly over the city, into shopping-malls, convenience stores, pharmacies. Not just its magificent samples - also the folds of Future's flow, mumbled velveteen. He lists drugs as others would recite the names of flowers. Still, I'm grateful then to Lamar: for adding some meaning to what is otherwise mostly meaningless. A stronger story, some cleverer rhymes, a different - kung-fu - knack.
  10. Beaches - "Arrow" [buy]
    An avalanche of buzz and fuzz and refraining doo-de-doo, a guitar-pop song that buries me up to the neck. (Thanks Kevin.)
  11. Aldous Harding - "Blend" [buy]
    New Zealand's Aldous Harding is one of my favourite discoveries of this year. While other tracks from Party present her as a Joanna Newsom or Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Blend" highlights (for me) her uniqueness, idiosyncrasy. Coo and hush, murmured sweet-nothings - but full of disquiet, capgun pops. It's telling that the video so strongly evokes another brilliant, subversive artist - comedian Maria Bamford. Like Bamford, Harding is fluent in the things our culture expects her to be; but her vision's too clear, her instincts too daring, to settle for that.
  12. Weaves - "Grass" [buy]
    I adore Weaves' Wide Open, a rock'n'roll album that bleeds with melody, noise and soul. "Grass" is one facet of this: chill and restless, bridling and rainbow. Jasmyn Burke leads a band of twist-turning guitar; sings a song full of hoping; and the whole length through "Grass"'s metals are flashing from lead into gold and gold into lead, on and radiantly on.
  13. Alvvays - "Saved By A Waif" [buy]
    The best Alvvays songs seem like reinventions: as if they've improved on something that already seemed whole, mastered. For me, eevery change in this song - from verse to chorus, from the middle of the bridge to its conclusion - is filled with surprise. Ebullient guitar-pop, analog-fuzzy, with Molly Rankin's sailing voice - and the whole group's ingenuity, sonic sparks fizzing at the limits.
  14. Big Thief - "Shark Smile" [buy]
    A brutal, bobbing rock song - love and death anchored by neat drums, foraging guitar, the flick of Adrianne Lenker's voice.
  15. Partner - "Everybody Knows" [buy]
    A towering guitar anthem, somehow as much mischievous as righteous. Partner are a stoned Maritime (and millenial) Weezer, rich in wit; "Everybody Knows" is brilliantly constructured and fantastically played. The song builds and thunders, it rocks, it rules. A comfort to the baked, an inspiration to the sober - with scenes that outlast the smoke.
  16. SZA - "20 Something" [buy]
    From the year's best R&B album, this is SZA at her most unadorned. Bare voices, acoustic guitar, the searching of a woman in her twenties. A prequel, perhaps, to the Weather Station's #8.
  17. King Krule - "The Locomotive" [buy]
    King Krule's The Ooz is a brilliant bad dream, eerie in its sound and brave in its execution. What is this? you think, listening to Archy Marshall's drawl and lurch, his band's art-pop or surf-rock or woozy cabaret zzz. Each song seems like its own play - with set, costumes, storyline. Maybe even its own language. But at the same time it stretches out into a whole, one cohesive work of art - something sick and musical, calling to Scott Walker and Tom Waits and David Bowie and Micachu. "The Locomotive" is not the most propulsive of its songs, not the most keenly catchy, but I am beguiled by it, bound up by its spell. Music for a city in the dead of night: scarecrows in the street, smoke coming out of the stacks, loneliness and alarm. A drowsy dreamer waiting for his train, trying to get home.
  18. Mount Eerie - "Real Death" [buy]
    This song should not be on a ranked list; it should not be on a list at all. It should be at #1 or #100 or unnumbered, set apart. Its goal as a piece of music isn't the same goal as the other tracks here. Why count these things together, or measure them against each other? I can't; "Real Death"'s position here is almost arbitrary. But here it is, as you should hear it, as it is part of any conversation of songs and singing in 2017. "Real Death", like all of A Crow Looked At Me, is a document of events around the death of Geneviève Castrée. Castrée, a gifted cartoonist, poet and musician (she has appeared on previous Best Songs lists, as O PAÔN), died in July 2016. Mount Eerie is a man called Phil Elverum. Castrée was his partner, the mother of his young daughter. Elverum didn't write an elegy; he didn't write a tribute or a eulogy. He wrote songs remembering what happened - before, during, after. Bare, unembroidered, transparent and devastating. "[Death is] dumb / and I don't want to learn anything from this. / I love you." And the song just ends.
  19. Phoebe Bridgers - "Motion Sickness" [buy]
    Bridgers is fast becoming my favourite in a new class of heartaching singer-songwriters. Her gift's not just her voice and its openness; it's not just her talent for melodies, which dip and dart like gulls. The skill I admire most is her ardours' variability, their give. She sings sad songs without enclosing them all in stillness, or smoke, or beauty. There are minor and major keys; dynamics without gimmicks. It's not just "Motion Sickness"' doubled vocals that evoke Elliott Smith - it's the restlessness of the song, its willingness not to wallow. Bridgers and her drums, guitars, strings - they don't do the obvious things, they excel.
  20. Stormzy - "Big For Your Boots" [buy]
    Stormzy pulls no punches in this excoriation. A grime track that advances unhesitating; a stone-cold bodying.
  21. Charli XCX - "Boys" [video]
    Charli's ode to the world's multitudinous, variegated gentlemen. Gently electric, gleaming with synths and tropical percussion - but not so wound-up as to sound forced, fake. Instead this pop song is loving. She seems genuinely fond of the boys she's singing to. A throw-back, I guess, to when pop singers didn't have to come on so strong. To when the biggest prizes were coins popping gling from a Super Mario brick.
  22. Daniel Romano - "Ugly Human Heart Pt. 2" [buy]
    Psychedelic country music, rinky-dink glam, smart and dumb and devastatingly concise.
  23. Hamilton Leithauser & Angel Olsen - "Heartstruck (Wild Hunger)" [video]
    A song of appetite - love, lust, sheer craving. It's old-fashioned in his form, with strings and plinking piano, but mixed like crazy, all crashing and ringing. The Walkmen's Leithauser sings as he almost always does - loud, racked, full-throated. Olsen's performance is more unusual - less "honest" than her typical material; theatrical almost, like a lover in a 40s melodrama. But boy does she sell it. Longing, enunciating, chewing the scenery (?), her fearsome voice pressing against the limits of what the recording can contain.
  24. James Irwin - "Carlo What Do You Dream" [buy]
    James is singing here to Carlo Spidla, his bandmate and friend, a musician and man beloved to Said the Gramophone. But his tribute's noisier than the one that I would write, more knowing than the one I could write: an epic of dogged verses, unflagging drums, buzzing guitars like coiling brambles. It's one of those songs that feels like weather. I wish it was always like this, I think. This weather, this season: when everything seems right and just, most things seems possible, and the forecast...? It's for a happy ending.
  25. Lens Mozer - "All My Friends" [buy]
    How many times have I listened to this song? The answer is: so many. It was a talisman round my neck, a bracelet I wore for weeks before the snow started falling. Sometimes the best music is mostly repetition, mantras in beautiful handwriting.
  26. Broken Social Scene - "Hug of Thunder" [buy]
    My favourite of this year's Feist songs is not anything on Pleasure - it's this. A thing of bittersweetness, nostalgia, beat, with references to Jeff Buckley and Syd Barrett and, in its Cocteau Twins-like chorus, a sound of full-bloom Broken Social Scene. Powerful tenderness, devastating love. (Hug of thunder.)
  27. 이달의 소녀 (LOONA/Yves) - "new (이브)" [video]
    A Korean girl-group, LOONA, used this song to introduce a member called Yves. She sings the lead, and the way she sings it makes it difficult to imagine her ever ceding the front spot. "New" is built on a series of cycling loops, like most chart pop, but there's a logic to the way we move through it, a gracefulness to the way it skips from one part to the next. This is music, songwriting, not just a succession of catchy themes.
  28. True Blue - "Bad Behavior" [facebook]
    I love a drooping torch-song - a slow-dance under a listing disco ball, the hired band slowly turning into wax. True Blue play a beautiful tune on instruments that don't quite seem right - out of warranty, damaged. Fruit that's sweet-smelling and overripe.
  29. Vince Staples ft Juicy J - "Big Fish" [buy]
    For a song about counting money, "Big Fish" is surprisingly grim. Vince Staples' success hasn't mellowed his mood. Credit the rapper for making his vexation so gripping, alluring as well as forceful. Some MCs get swamped by their beats; Staples stomps all over his.
  30. Faith Healer - "Try ;-)" [buy]
    Edmonton, Alberta produces a gem of a song. Such a natural sound, cool and breezy, the kind that could have found a home in any decade since the 1960s. I wish everything felt this easy.
  31. Waxahatchee - "Never Been Wrong" [buy]
    Loud and unrestrained, with a withering sense of humour. But there's more to Katie Crutchfield's song than rock'n'roll chagrin. The trajectory of her voice, its ragged arc, proves the singer's far from brooding. She's free.
  32. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow"
    Swings like a shark's tail. Swooping and snapping; poised and greedy.
  33. Baxter Dury - "Porcelain" [buy]
    "Porcelain" is a reply of sorts to "Miami", Dury's magnificent/awful exploration of sleazy male turpitude. ("I'm the sausage man," he sneers.) Here he hands the mic to Rose Elinor Dougall, who sings her rebukes in a voice like cold milk. It's a #MeToo moment maybe, or else the other side in a toxic relationship. But the whole thing - and the songs as a pair - also feel like an answer to Serge Gainsbourg, whose Histoire de Mélodie Nelson floats like a ghost over all of Prince of Tears. The same wolfish basslines, the same chilled strings; but this time Serge's leering doesn't go unanswered. His victims stare back. (Thanks Steve R.)
  34. Ruth B. - "Superficial Love" [buy]
    For fans of Carly Rae Jepsen (whose "Cut To The Feeling" narrowly missed this list) - another Canadian singer making marvelous, airy pop. "Superfical Love" is more afternoon swoon than sugar rush, but Ruth B is still filled with feeling - poised, confident, singing a sure-hearted song of love & expectation.
  35. This Is The Kit - "Moonshine Freeze" [buy]
    A limber, intrepid folk-song, with braiding voices, rooting brass, the sense that nothing is settled. For years I've adored This Is The Kit (aka Kate Stables & co); this is among their best. "This is the natural order of things / Change sets in." Everything is either possible or im-.
  36. Sun-El Musician ft Samthing Soweto - "Akanamali" [buy]
    A massive hit in the artists' native South Africa, "Akanamali" is a love song you can dance to, as gentle as sunrise. I understand "akanamli" to be Zulu for a poor man; the (controversial) music video pits sweethearted pennilessness against callous materialism. But money doesn't figure into the actual lyrics, which are sung in Zulu, and which lift like the music, onward, upward, full of hope and possibility.
  37. Fred Thomas - "Mallwalkers" [buy]
    From Fred Thomas's excellent Changer, which made me fondly nostalgic for early 00s music by the Weakerthans, BARR, Ballboy and even the much-maligned Dismemberment Plan. But Thomas isn't making anything old-fashioned; "Mallwalkers" feels alert, alit, and when it points to the past it's doing so with verve, conviction, hard-won wisdom. This is a song about adolescence but it's not just a visit to high-school, a bittersweet vignette: Thomas digs in, he tries to understand it, explain it out, unpack what most mattered. He tries to figure out what is really left to say about it; what he would say, if some teenager were listening, expounding with fierceness and clarity. "Could it ever be possible to just pause on that feeling?" he asks, as guitars are rising and drums are crashing, the future rushing in. (And then, lustrous: strings.) I am so happy Fred moved to Montreal; I hope he stays; I hope I get to tell him so, some time.
  38. Nicholas Krgovich - "Country Boy" [buy]
    Almsot 20 years ago, when I was just a cub, I fell in love with a band called P:ano. They were one of my earliest priate love-affairs. This band was Krgovich's; his music has been with me a long time. But I've changed, and he has too: Krgovich's braver now, less tentative, like a draftsman who works in ink. At first "Country Boy" seems courtly, polite, a stately bit of lounge-pop. With every passing minute it gets more ravishing, more strange. Pedal steel, organ, cherry-red backing vocals... later, swerving fiddles and saxophones. It's naughty and thrilling, gutsy as a duck-call.

  39. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - "Continental Breakfast" [buy]
    From the year's most fruitful team-up album. A duet about friendship and collaboration - one cockeyed, curious songwriter singing to another, and then switch!
  40. Selena Gomez - "Bad Liar" [video]
    In 2017 chart-pop this song felt an astonishing reprieve: understated, almost tasteful, with Gomez smurfing sultrily over chimes, fingersnaps, a Talking Heads bassline. If anything it's still underbaked, a hit in search of its refrain.
  41. Sneaks - "Look Like That" [buy]
    Minimal rock'n'roll, dry as bone. Like a car shooting down a desert highway. Like a cat stalking across a hot tin roof. Like a heist in a Subaru. There's a treasure in the trunk, something from Repo Man, Kiss Me Deadly, Pulp Fiction... Be careful what you wish for.
  42. Lorde - "Supercut" [buy]
    A song of a relationship in retrospect: that moment of reversing, backward-spooling, memories flashing past like wind across a pennant, film through a shutter. "Supercut" has a kind of breathlessness that's hard to achieve - something in the accelerating drums, the cascading synths, Lorde's quick inhalations. Her memories seem at once potent and disposable, cast behind; there's a sense of barely catching up, of impulse overtaking patience, and everything's lit in indiglo. The supercut gets the pop song it deserves, nine years after the invention of the term: mesmeric, faintly astounding.
  43. The Drums - "Abysmal Thoughts" [buy]
    Imagine the Archies singing cheerily in quicksand. (Thanks Steve R.)
  44. Deep Throat Choir - "Stonemilker (Björk cover)" [buy]
    Last month Björk released a new album, Utopia. It's a record that breathes, covets, revels, but none of its songs excel for me as individual song. Instead, my favourite Björk track of 2017 is this - a version of "Stonemilker", from 2015's extraordinary Vulnicura, performed by the East London-based "indie"-adapting Deep Throat Choir. "Stonemilker" is a song of sorrow and discovery: the clarity that can accompany heartbreak, that "fierce", seismic perspective. Like Björk herself, Deep Throat integrate string-players, drawing melody from deep. But the choir can also do what one singer cannot. I find myself moved and moved again by the mingling of these voices, the way they move together. "Who is open chested?" they ask - and I think: you, you, this, all I hear here is opening-up.
  45. Aimee Mann - "Goose Snow Cone" [buy]
    Aimee Mann's "Goose Snow Cone" began on a lonely day in Ireland, when she was scrolling through Instagram. A photograph of a cat called Goose, with a face like a snowcone. Somehow it remedied the afternoon, I guess, or made its aimlessness feel purposeful. Sometimes all it takes is a picture, a phrase - and then you're writing a song, telling a story, bogging a blog, redeeming all those blues.
  46. Sinjin Hawke - "Don't Lose Yourself to This" [buy]
    An electronica of waterfalls, laserguns, woodwinds, tabla, and slamming garbage-can lids. Like something the first AI will sing.
  47. Dirty Projectors ft Dawn Richard & Gavsborg - "Cool Your Heart (Equiknoxx remix)" [website]
    Jamaica's Equiknoxx crew add some dancehall bounce to this Dirty Projectors highlight. It's a song about going in circles until eventually, perhaps, possibly, hopefully, breaking loose. Plus: sitar.
  48. Nilüfer Yanya - "Baby Luv" [soundcloud]
    "Baby Luv" is one of the first songs to be released by London musician Nilüfer Yanya; it shows extraordinary promise. On "Baby Luv", her singing's almost sculptural - a shape that emerges line by line, motion by motion, over guitar and little else. A figure full of disappointment, not easily described.
  49. Land of Talk - "World Made" [buy]
    The world is so much better with Lizzie Powell making music in it. She sings "World Made" as if she's been chugging tonics for the past five years; it's full of lemon, ginger, spruce and black pepper. Shining silver indie-rock, or burnished and gold, a beautiful noise.
  50. The Clientele - "Falling Asleep" [buy]
    The Clientele have been at it for a long time now, making luscious, reverb-drenched rock. Misty! Melancholy! Stuff to stuff on your iPod before rambling on the moor. Music for the Age of Miracles saw them broaden their arrangements beyond (gleaming) electric guitars and "Falling Asleep" was for me a career highlight: not just Alasdair MacLean's sighing voice but Anthony Harmer playing santur, a Persian dulcimer, which perforates this song like the sun's last rays through leaves.
  51. Juana Molina - "Cosoco" [buy]
    A peacock or bird-of-paradise of a song, summering from Argentina. Frilled and feathered, restless, heartbeating at double speed.
  52. Rostam - "Gwan" [buy]
    One of several reveries on Half-Light, the debut LP by Rostam Batmanglij. As a member of Vampire Weekend, Rostam had already demonstrated his ear for arrangements - here the marvel isn't just the mull and dart of the string-section, but the way he so lucidly describes his reverie, love dawning and sustaining. (Read Emma on other Rostam-ery.)
  53. Jay-Z - "Marcy Me" [buy]
    Jay-Z's best track in years is this return to the estate where he grew up - a short song like a short film, tactile and intimate, a personal tour.
  54. Fever Ray - "Red Trails" [buy]
    When Karin Dreijer got her start, in the indie guitar band Honey Is Good, her music didn't sound so extradimensional. But over successive records with her brother, in The Knife, and solo, as Fever Ray, Dreijer has drawn less and less from organic instruments and terrestrial moods. Synths and sequencers, pitch-shifters and effects - tones of alien pleasure or creeping dread. So it's interesting to hear "Red Trails", where the most prominent instrument - more prominent even than Dreijer's voice - is a fiddle, played by Sara Parkman. This is by no means trad folk music - Fever Ray is as forward-facing as ever. But Parkman's violin provides a texture that's different than anything else on Plunge - hot, dark ornaments within Dreijer's neon chill.
  55. N.E.R.D. ft Rihanna - "Lemon" [video]
    As much as Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo may wish to lead a band, N.E.R.D.'s greatest strength remains the pairs production talents. "Lemon" wouldn't be anything without its beat and it still isn't much until Rihanna arrives: she brings the song to life, gives it swing and swag. I could hole up and spend the winter in her verses; I just wish she knew her Star Trek a little better. (Spock's a Mr, not M.D.)
  56. Tim Darcy - "Still Waking Up" [buy]
    I love the breezy, blue-jean amble of this song; the way he's a tender lover and a hangdog letdown and a cool cucumber all at the same time. I love the way Darcy sings his head's "full of popular songs". It feels like a song for the same season as Nico's Chelsea Girls. The Ought frontman has always had charisma, even way back to his Crown Vandals days; here his magnetism is effortless, natural, like an accidental rhyme.
  57. Young Galaxy - "Stay for Real" [facebook]
    This song was part of the suite that inspired "Falsework", the story I wrote to accompany Young Galaxy's 2016 album. The train, the tower, the off-centre beat - all these things caught in my mind, and they've kept on residence there, gathering force as 2016 became 2017, as 2017 becomes 2018. "Nothing we wish for / ever comes easily," sings Catherine McCandless. I adore this band in their slower mode - hopeful, pleading, the song refracting as it's sung.
  58. Oumou Sangaré - "Kamelemba" [buy]
    Glittering afrobeat from one of Mali's most beloved, supple-voiced singers. I adore the way this song emerges from its early, bridling moments and into something light, effervescent, almost astral.
  59. La Bien Querrida - "El Lado Bueno" [buy]
    "El Lado Bueno" spends its first minute masquerading as a soft-focus snoozer before shedding its skin, finding fuzzing synths and a Peter Hook-style bassline. Like Stuart Murdoch before her, Bilbao's Ana Fernández-Villaverde has a way of sounding soft and strident at the same time, shy and intrepid, as if "twee" were the codeword for a special forces mission (of love).
  60. Gabrielle Papillon - "When the Heart Attacks" [buy]
    If this song's missing anything it's a little more extremism, roughness - a sound that breaks things, upsets the dinner settings. The inherent material, swathed in strings, is captivating, commanding; Papillon's lines fit together like golden bricks. It's a song like an enchanted road and you can imagine whole armies, communities, pouring down it. Papillon's a great singer, but she's also one of Canada's strongest pop songwriters - I hope hitmakers will try giving her a ring.
  61. Richard Dawson - "Soldier" [buy]
    Dawson's reputation is growing with every year and album: by now he's among the leaders of the UK's avant-folk scene, the kind of talent that calls for quiet, grateful attention. His songs play this wonderful trick: meticulously composed yet appearing so wild, meandering. They seem like messy uncoverings, truffles discovered in the dirt. The mood evokes shambolic antecedents like Will Oldham or Richard Youngs, but as a lyricist Dawson is much closer to someone like Joanna Newsom: purposeful, fastidious, logging every trembling wish and thought of the characters he imagines. "Soldier"'s soldier is fully transparent to us, brilliantly rendered. (Thanks David.)
  62. Zayn ft PARTYNEXTDOOR - "Still Got Time" [new album forthcoming]
    "Still Got Time" does something interesting with space. The production makes it sound like a sped-up miniature - squeezed, tiny, chiptune verging on chipmunk - but Zayn and PARTYNEXTDOOR sing with an easy, natural cadence, as if they have all the time in the world, miles extending on all sides.
  63. Deerhoof ft Jenn Wasner - "I Will Spite Survive" [buy]
    Working with Wye Oak's Wasner, Deerhoof's quirky pop gains a sense of gravity, stakes. Wasner and Satomi Matsuzaki gayly promise the impossible - "You can outlive your executioners!" - singing like telepathic sisters.
  64. Shakira - "Me Enamoré" [buy]
    Totally infectious - the kind of pop song that seems to spread across everything, catching, starting small and quickly taking over the block.
  65. Snoh Aalegra ft Vince Staples - "Nothing Burns Like The Cold" [buy]
    Snoh Aalegra is the second artist in as many years to build a song upon the scaffolding of Portishead's "Glory Box" (see also Alessia Cara's "Here", #60 on my Best of 2015 list; the original samples are from Isaac Hayes). Like Beth Gibbons on "Glory Box", Aalegra's wrestling with an ambivalent relationship; unlike Gibbons Aalegra seems arch, removed, as if her heart's only half in it. Her detachment makes her more of a femme fatale, with Staples as a sidekick; "Nothing Burns Like The Cold" is more about power than grief.
  66. Haim - "Right Now" [buy]
    Never mind that Haim's second album was the biggest musical disappointment in a year already full of them. "Right Now" succeeds by being short, simple and relentless. It's barely a song - just a chorus and pre-chorus, pure crescendo. But the strangeness of its composition - stray effects, errant sounds, sloppy drums - turn the crescendo fascinating. Ready for putting in your pocket, playing on repeat.
  67. Yaeji - "Drink I'm Sippin On" [buy]
    Dark city, drowsy rhymes, temporary drift.
  68. The War on Drugs - "Holding On" [buy]
    Several albums in, it's not clear whether the War on Drugs are getting anywhere with their Sprucesteen pastiches. But that doesn't mean it's not delicious listening, compulsive, salt and vinegar for the ears.
  69. Post Malone ft 21 Savage - "rockstar" [video]
    Stop staying out so late, it's not healthy.
  70. Lana Del Rey - "Love" [buy]
    For almost the entirety of "Love", Lana Del Rey cedes the foreground of the song. She sings from the back of the mix - calling across booming, chiming orchestration; narrating other people's desires. It gives the track an unusual, wistful tone - a feeling of perspective or maybe, against all odds, of wisdom.
  71. Future Islands - "Through the Roses" [buy]
    The song's conceit is either cute or eyeroll-inducing. A singer's confession to his fans: "You see me ... through the lights and the smoke and the screen / ... [and] I'm no better / I'm no better than you and I'm scared." Recorded the day after the 2016 election, Sam Herring wants you to know that he's worried too - and that "we can pull through / together / together." Schlocky maybe, but Herring performs it beautifully, entreatingly, finding each of the chorus's lifts and left-turns.
  72. Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts ft Karen O - "Talisa" [buy]
    I believe my only exposure to Talisa Soto was in the Mortal Kombat movie, when I was 14. So my imaginary doesn't have much to draw on when Karen O sings her song of Soto - stripping, strutting and pouting for Gianni Versace. I can't envision the magazine shoot but I can imagine the streets outside, the scrabbling birds and parked Ducattis, the women in couture overcoats. Parquet Courts have never sounded like they're having this much fun. (Thanks Vinny.)
  73. KMD ft Jay Electronica & DOOM - "Light Years"
    My second-favourite rapper (Doom) romping with Jay Electronica over sheer and unrestrained recorder. Expert as a TED talk, stylish as a Vogue cover, and vaguely irritating.
  74. Jon McKiel - "Conduit" [buy]
    Like a Constantines song pushed into a machine, compacted, transformed from rock-song into ruby; and then cut, polished, shattered, reassembled shard by shard.
  75. The Dears - "1998" [buy]
    You can tell as soon as it starts that this is one of those songs, perfect for driving, for wide skies and telephone poles, billboards and headlights, sun or clouds or stars. But there's still no predicting the grace of the chorus, Murray Lightburn in full maturity, proud as a two-time father, with help from canny piano, Beatles guitar, a pitch-perfect melodica solo.
  76. Charlotte Gainsbourg - "Rest" [buy]
    It's ostensibly a song of passion, but "Rest"'s burbling synths and Gainsbourg's worried whisper make the thing sound unsettled, unsafe almost, as if desire is a disease.
  77. Rae Morris - "Do It" [pre-order]
    Ebullient electro-pop with a simple, graceful hook.
  78. LCD Soundsystem - "How Do You Sleep" [buy]
    James Murphy's kiss-off to Tim Goldsworthy, his former business partner, starts in a place of agony. It takes 3:37 for the beat to drop - but then it's off, stamping, stomping, stepping, dancing, rejoicing in its confidence that the winner was Murphy.
  79. Andre Ethier - "Making A Living" [buy]
    Singer-songwriter and painter Andre Ethier, once of the Deadly Snakes, opens "Making A Living" with a nod to his google twin - LA Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. Really, this could be a song for either Ethier - or for you, for me, or anyone who's hustling. We're keeping at it, in our ways; we could all use a palm-fronded holiday, some slack-stringed guitar and comforting saxophone. In 2017 especially; but also probably, predictably, ever-after.
  80. St. Vincent - "New York" [buy]
    I love "New York" for its mournful, cement-blue verses. Annie Clark so plainly & expressively describes the tragedy of moving away from home, leaving people behind, and returning to find that everything has changed.
  81. Hair & Beauty - "I Know It's Not Funny" [buy]
    Half-way between a ditty and a dirge, like a kid leading a wagon to the cemetary. (Thank you Sebastian.)
  82. Cashmere Cat ft MØ & Sophie - "9 (After Coachella)" [buy]
    A staggering ballerina, either an adept or a drunk.
  83. Ty Dolla $ign - "All the Time" [buy]
    Lascivious and daydreaming, R&B that's outstretched on the divan, waiting for the sound of the key in the lock.
  84. Holy Data - "Vacation" [buy]
    Montreal's Holy Data play psychedelic, kitchen-sink pop, crazily swirling but meticulously composed - with shades of the Flaming Lips, Architecture in Helsinki and the mighty Go-Betweens. "Vacation"'s like something from a Murakami story - a bad dream that comes back as a strange egg, hatching under the overpass. BANG, BANG.
  85. Khalid - "Young Dumb & Broke" [buy]
    The greatest puzzle of this song is that there is no comma between "young" and "dumb". Khalid has written a charming and lackadaisical tribute to his generation, his ilk, all who are at once "broke" and "young dumb". Young dumb, I assume, is like being old smart or red hot or fancy free. It's like being heatstroked, and happy.
  86. Cuddle Magic - "Slow Rider" [buy]
    The slowest pony is the most confident climber. Indie-pop that's all chug and ooh, synthesizers catching their breaths.
  87. Train Fou - "Peuple Pollock" [facebook]
    A spectral and subdivided pop song, with shades of yesterday (Yeasayer and Massive Attack) and tomorrow (???). It's loop music, sample music, but with a forward-leaning groove, heavier and more abrupt than we're used to - much of the skeleton's made of trombone blarps, like snippets from an Inception trailer. Train Fou (literally "crazy train") take ridiculous, tacky, naff building-blocks and use them to make music that isn't ridiculous, isn't tacky or even silly: it's confusing but sincere, it's got something to say.
  88. Rainer Maria - "Broke Open Love" [buy]
    Rainer Maria return! One of the first bands I ever reviewed, way back in 2003. By then the band were already mid-career; it's been 11 years since their last loud, fervent LP. "Broke Open Love"'s emo does feel like something borrowed from a previous time, but Rainer Maria's sound's still electrifying, explosive, drums and guitar that thrash and catch under Caithlin De Marrais level voice. Sometimes even angsty rock'n'roll seems luscious, sensual, more about touch and taste than psychological distress.
  89. French Montana ft Swae Lee - "Unforgettable" [video]
    One of the best things wafting over radio this year. "Unforgettable" feels solidly international, blurring bits of contemporary African, Latin and Caribbean pop. That blurriness extends to other aspects of this music - as if the song's cloudy, watercolour, bleeding into adjacent songs. Oilspots in the air.
  90. Tess Roby - "Ballad 5" [buy]
    Most of this track is just biding its time for the final minute and a half, when Roby's gentle mumble and windy guitar-part fall away. What happens next starts with oozing synths and ends with a stunning, looping vocal line, like a bedroom cantata.
  91. Nate Husser - "Catherine" [website]
    Nate Husser's view of Montreal's Ste-Catherine street is unrecognizable to me. To me it's the high street, full of mass-market boutiques and harried shoppers, with bundled bags. For him it's a setting for violence, betrayals - vividly rendered, with a diamond-tipped pen.
  92. Emperor X - "Low Orbit Ion Cannon" [buy]
    Folk music for the DDOS era - hackers searching, seeking, for an uninterrupted connection.
  93. Sigrid - "Don't Kill My Vibe" [buy]
    Don't let the title fool you. Sigrid's pop song has none of Kendrick Lamar's woozy grousing - instead it's adamant, shouting, like a kid who refuses to grow up (or to let a loved-one leave).
  94. Big Boi - "All Night" [buy]
    OutKast's Big Boi rides a New Orleans piano loop like it's a juciyfruit bronco. Making light of the darkness, drawing close, swearing oaths.
  95. Romeo Santos ft Jessie Reyez - "Un Vuelo A La" [buy]
    Don't be fooled by "Un Vuelo A La"'s comely country waltzing. It's a pretty song of acrimony: Santos and Reyez trading verses about how the other one's to blame for the end of a relationship. You're crazy, Santos sings; You're a cheater, Reyez replies. "Un vuelo"'s a plane ride, but they're not promising each other a holiday - "un vuelo a la mierda" is a flight straight to Hell.
  96. Ed Sheeran - "Castle On The Hill" [buy]
    Despite my better judgment, Sheeran's rattling pop-rocker has kept its hold on me all year. It's the way it presses on, insistent, pursuing that galloping melody - and with the faintest quivering sense that maybe it could all fall to pieces.
  97. Spoon - "Pink Up" [buy]
    If Spoon were the Tindersticks, with groove and patience, brushed cymbals and Hammond organ. Also: steel drums, reversed tape, a travelogue not quite legible. The best short story I heard this year.
  98. New Pornographers - "Play Money" [buy]
    Neko Case and Carl Newman and their throng still brashly, catchily clamouring, this time with cybernetic bandmates, robots commissioned for their chords. Look out for the grand finale, with Neko and Carl's tolling voices, trombones sounding an alarm.
  99. Mac Demarco - "My Old Man" [buy]
    Demarco's "My Old Man" almost feels like a Clientele track - honeyed croon, acoustic guitar, an air of golden nostalgia. But Demarco's too jaded for that: listen closer and you recognize the wobble in the organ, the somberness of the words. "Looks like I'm seeing more of my old man in me," the singer repeats, but the key lyrics occur a few syllables before: "Uh-no," he sings. "Oh no."
  100. Miley Cyrus - "Malibu" [buy]
    Miley Cyrus's "Malibu" is my 100th best song and I include it almost guiltily. I am not one for guilty pleasures because one should never feel guilty for enjoying a song; here I feel guilty for recommending it. Truth is, seven months in, I'm still not sure if "Malibu" is any good. It doesn't seem like it should be. With its stomping and handclaps, Miley "au naturel", the whole thing seems contrived - a shrewd calculation shoved through a songwriting sausage-machine. That's how it seems. Only: I like it, I like it a lot. And even if that liking won't last me through the winter it's lasting me now.

    Small comforts, enjoy them while we can.

So that's 2017's century of songs, or the way they seem today. There are so many that didn't make it, that I wish I were pointing you to. Thank you to everyone who sent some favourites in. There will be so many I've missed (there are so many I'm already remembering). Maybe make your own suggestions in the comments or on Twitter.

Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in things that are important.) Be kind to each other, be brave, outlast. Remember: music is magic, an invisible force.

by Sean

An excerpt from Sappy Times' 2011 edition:

Charles Bradley comes out in a red and gold suit, flying like a screaming soul eagle. We cheer, but not yet knowing. His band is magic, treasure, the finest things you could find. Charles Bradley squints at us through the fog. Still, we do not know. Then there is a break, a beat, and the 63-year-old parts his lips. He sings. He sings like a torch thrown onto a house. There is smoke & heat & unassailability. Striving love, a man's hot breath. Now we know. Charles Bradley is singing a song about the murder of his brother and now we know.

He sings ten thousand beautiful things. He does the splits, gyrates, gives us hugs. He covers Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and I am almost crying as he sings "I am getting old." It is not that he is an old man: it is that he is showing us his soul, singing us his soul, the things he has wanted, lost, won. "I love you" he shouts, crying, sweating, "I love you," breaking and mending my heart. That electric guitar, so sweet, sweeter than honey, behind him. This tent is full of gifts, gold soundz, held up, clutched hands, running us empty, right yes [HORNS HORNS HORNS] right now.

Rest in power Charles Bradley, 1948-2017.
There's lots more in the archives:
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