The 20 Best Songs of 2017... (So Far)

Music Lists Best Of 2017 So Far
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10. Real Estate, “Darling”
Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney’s recent move to upstate New York did nothing to upset the delicate and shimmering sound that he’s been nurturing for nearly a decade. The melodies of this first single from the group’s latest album In Mind still enrapture, just as the gentle chime of the guitars still feel like they’re tickling your skin. The only new addition is an injection of pastoral imagery into Courtney’s lyrics that let us listen into this shivering impatience at the arrival of his loved one. The birds on his porch don’t have to worry about where their partner is. Why should he? —Robert Ham

9. Lady Lamb, “Salt”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how heartbreaking an acoustic guitar can sound. If you ever need a reminder, listen to the first 30 seconds of “Salt.” Set against a quiet wall of lo-fi tape hiss that sounds like rain, Aly Spaltro gently alternates between two chords and manages to cut you up before she ever sings a word. When she brings you in with the lyrics, it’s with a voyeuristic level of intimacy. It’s like you’re listening to her play a song that nobody was meant to hear. It’s fitting, then, that the song should grapple with a moment of intimacy and vulnerability on both a physical and metaphysical level. No matter how many times you hear Spaltro sing “Some days I’m convinced I’m already mourning you / Some nights I’m convinced I’m already dead,” her voice shaking and laced with an up-all-night rasp, it always seems to hit right where it hurts. —Carter Shelter

8. RaeLynn, “Love Triangle”
The genius of referring to a child of divorce as one corner of a love triangle is cool enough. But what makes this song from up-and-coming country artist RaeLynn truly ache are the details that she fills the verses with—waiting for dad on the front porch, the stilted conversations over dinner, the agony of not seeing your father for another two weeks. Wisely, this young Texan delivers all these lines with restraint and tenderness. She knows all these feelings far too well as she was inspired to write the song after being stuck in the middle of another parental squabble. The centerpiece of one of the year’s best country albums, “Love Triangle” will leave you in tatters. —Robert Ham

7. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
“Die Young,” the third single off Sylvan Esso’s sophomore release What Now, is the perfect love song for a generation torn between hope and cynicism. Sylvan Esso never suggests that love is the fix to the problem, only that it can throw a wrench into our own self-destructive desires. Amelia Meath’s voice is as strong and lovely as ever, sounding relaxed without sacrificing the urgency. And the way those burbling, scattered synths give way to the song’s magnetic chorus put this in the running for Nick Sanborn’s best work across the duo’s two albums. —Carter Shelter

6. PWR BTTM, “Answer My Text”
Liv Bruce may have written “Answer My Text” as a revisionist history of high-school dating life, but for anyone who grew up with a cell phone, this PWR BTTM song is more realistic that we really care to admit. In less than 3 minutes of chunky guitar-based rock, Bruce and bandmate Ben Hopkins craft an entire narrative about meeting someone, asking for their number, texting emojis and jokes from TV shows, and then waiting in agony for them to say literally anything in response. It’s one of many songs on the queer-glam-punk band’s stellar sophomore album Pagaent, with a message of universality that doesn’t change based on sexuality, religion or race: “Answer my text, you dick!” It’s not that hard, people. —Hilary Saunders

5. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/Odaigahara”
Fleet Foxes  could not have returned in a better way. Robin Pecknold’s touching ode to his relationship with childhood friend and fellow Fleet Fox Skye Skjelset touches on all of the folk ensemble’s usual touchstones in an updated fashion after the six years since Helplessness Blues. The band is, in every sense, out of the woods, and Pecknold’s pent up creativity and emotion bursts across the nearly 9-minute song. In particular, “Third of May” boasts some of Pecknold’s strongest lyrics to date. He describes a fraught friendship with lines like, “If I lead you through the fury will you call to me? / And is all that I might owe you carved on ivory?” If you need any more convincing, the song brought a certain former drummer for the band to tears, if that’s not a ringing endorsement, what is?
Carter Shelter

4. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “French Press”
One of our SXSW standout bands, Melbourne’s Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever (RBCF) first grabbed our attention on the strength of their first single, “French Press.” The Aussies have three guitar players and they’re on full display across this song’s swooping and enthralling five-and-a-half minutes. At it’s core, “French Press” is a surf rock jam, but vastly different from what we’ve accepted as such on the American mainland. In their Best of What’s Next feature, RBCF’s Fran Keaney explained that all of the songs from the group’s Sub Pop debut were recorded in their modest rehearsal space and their gritty-yet-effortlessly-polished sound rings sublime on “French Press.” —Adrian Spinelli

3. Future Islands, “Cave”
Future Islands have always been the first guys to belly flop into the emotional pool. So it should come as no surprise that _The Far Field Field’_s synth-rock single “Cave” is a frantic paddle through the deep end. Frontman Samuel Herring may spend most of the song rhetorically recapping his own state of brokenness. (“Is this a desperate wish for dying, or a wish that dying cease?”) But over a delicate wash of synths and caffeinated Cure baselines, he delivers the ultimate chorus kicker, “I don’t believe anymore,” over and over again. In his bleeding-heart below, it’s less the isolated cry of one hopeless romantic and more the universal anguish of a generation. —Laura Studarus

2. Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”
Pure Comedy’s title track also serves as its thesis statement, distilling the record’s—and Josh Tillman’s—worldview into a grim piano ballad. It’s easy to see why Tillman toyed with calling it “Total Bummer,” but it nails the comedy of “the human race slipping on the same banana peel over and over again through the ages,” as he puts it. “How’s this for irony?” he sings. “Their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs / That they never, ever have to leave.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

1. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE”
In the video for “HUMBLE.,” Kendrick Lamar stares down the camera—his head in flames, his body motionless—as he warns the competition to “get the fuck off my stage/I’m the Sandman.” It’s perhaps the most striking image (in a video filled with striking images) that best encapsulates the song and what’s quickly shaping up to be a legendary career. Lamar is on fire, literally and figuratively, and completely unbothered by it. (Of course, no one does introspection quite like Kendrick Lamar, and within the context of the rest of DAMN., “HUMBLE.” takes on new meaning, particularly when juxtaposed with its predecessor, “PRIDE.”) But even in a vacuum, “HUMBLE.” is undeniably great, thanks to a sinister beat from producer Mike WiLL Made-It, the beautiful simplicity of its “hold up bitch, sit down/be humble” chorus, a touch of body positivity (“show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks”) and another A+ performance from an artist who seemingly is incapable of delivering anything but that. —Bonnie Stiernberg

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