The 50 Best Songs of 2017

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The 50 Best Songs of 2017

When the Paste Music staff convened at the end of 2016 to choose our 50 favorite songs of that year, it felt like the world was coming to an end. Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen had left us. Mass shootings were plaguing the country. A dim-witted steak salesman was about to become the 45th presidenbrt. And, perhaps most devastating of all, Brangelina was kaput. How would we survive another year? What would surviving even look like? Turning as we always do to music, we found ways to cope in 2017 both by turning inward and turning outward with our favorite songs. Some artists, like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Sallie Ford and Sheer Mag, took shots at the resurgent patriarchy, whether by stoking public outrage or inviting us into their personal pain and redemption. Others, like Jay Som, Thundercat and Kevin Morby, fixed their gaze on the quiet pleasures and absurdities of everyday life, finding the sweet spot between the mundane and the sublime. That was the balance that kept us sane in 2017, even as we lost some more of our lodestars—Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell, Gregg Allman, Fats Domino and Tom Petty to name a few. Here are the 50 songs that made us laugh, cry, rage, relax and generally feel better about ourselves in a year we feel fortunate to have outlasted.

50. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Pa’lante”
Meaning “onward, forward,” “Pa’lante” is a rallying cry, starting off simply with Hurray for the Riff Raff frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra singing, “Oh I just want to go to work and get back home and be something.” As her voice gets stronger, the anger and passion more obvious, she continues, “Colonized and hypnotized, be something.” She’s speaking about the Puerto Rican experience in America (and “Pa’lante” includes a powerful sample of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary”), but in today’s political climate, it’s a fitting anthem for anyone marginalized. In the song’s final minutes, Segarra erupts and declares, “From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

Read Paste’s review of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Navigator

49. Feist, “Pleasure”
Leslie Feist’s comeback single “Pleasure,” the title track from her 2017 album, is dark and nervy and minimalist in a way the Broken Social Scene member’s previous work isn’t. When she yelps, “It’s my pleasure” over a grimy guitar riff meant for the Mississippi Delta, there’s no sense there is actually any pleasure. It’s the sound of a heady kind of fury, but also the sound of someone shaking off the rust after six years away and rocking out. And honestly, the pleasure is all ours. —Jared McNett

Read Paste’s review of Feist’s Pleasure

48. Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/Odaigahara”
Robin Pecknold’s touching ode to his relationship with childhood friend and fellow Fleet Fox Skye Skjelset touches on all of Fleet Foxes’ hallmarks 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 his 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?” Carter Shelter

Read Paste’s interview with Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold

47. Colter Wall, “Thirteen Silver Dollars”
Hailing from Swift Current, Saskatchewan (official motto: “Where life makes sense”), 22-year-old Colter Wall has a voice as deep as the river that runs through the prairie town. But life rarely makes sense for the protagonists scattered through his debut album, who try to drink and gamble their way toward some kind of larger purpose. With a few plucked strings and the richest bass since Johnny Cash, Wall tells the story of a guy who wakes up in the snow and has an unfortunate talk with a Mounty. But it’s OK: He’s still got his health, his Stetson and a bottle of wine to get him through. —Matthew Oshinsky

Watch Colter Wall perform live at Paste Studio

46. Cloud Nothings, “Enter Entirely”
With this year’s Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings leader Dylan Baldi didn’t quite reach the peaks of his previous two records, 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, owing in part to a more polished, less frenetic sound. But he did hit a few home runs on the album, and “Enter Entirely,” a brooding rocker with an instantly enthralling guitar riff that erupts into a ripping chorus, is one of them. Gritting his teeth through frustration and loneliness, Baldi repeats “moving on but I still feel it / You’re just a light in me now.” —Matthew Oshinsky

Read Paste’s 2017 interview with Cloud Nothings

45. 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 emerging country artist RaeLynn truly ache are the details with which she fills the verses—waiting for dad on the front porch, the stilted conversations over dinner, the hurt 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 all too well. The centerpiece WildHorse, of one of the year’s best country albums, “Love Triangle” will leave you in tatters. —Robert Ham

Read Paste’s review of RaeLynn’s WildHorse

44. Goldfrapp, “Anymore”
The perfect fusion of emotional frustration and dark dance beats, “Anymore” finds Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory returning to the slinky sexuality of Black Cherry and Supernature. This time, though, the British duo have painted it black with a helping of electronic work from producer Haxan Cloak. The beefed-up beats bring a do-or-die verisimilitude to the track. When Goldfrapp coo/growls “You’re what I want / you’re what I need / give me your love / make Me a freak,” you can taste the urgency in her words. —Laura Studarus

Read Paste’s 2017 interview with Goldfrapp

43. Thundercat, “Friend Zone”
Don’t lie: The “friend zone” is a thing and we’ve all been there. On Thundercat’s version, he drops an all-too-real recount of getting thrown into the zone by a prospective flame. The reigning bass god writes a steady groove to pair with a spacey synth loop and tongue-in-cheek references to having more time to play classic videogames. Let’s not overthink it, though, this is some nerdy stuff, and a song about getting friend-zoned on your 23-track album of bass-heavy funky jazz and hip-hop fusions called Drunk, is par for the course. —Adrian Spinelli

Read Paste’s review of Thundercat’s Drunk

42. Vince Staples, “Yeah Right”
Hip-hop’s continued embrace of modern electronic music gets a big boost on this highlight from Vince Staples’s stunning album “Big Fish Theory.” Anchored by soused production from PC Music member Sophie and Australian producer Flume, the LBC rapper rattles off an array of life’s important questions (“Is your girl phat? Fuck her all night? Is your buzz right?”) long before KUCKA arrives with the vocal hook and Kendrick Lamar slides in to win the entire damn game. “Twilight the zeitgeist,” indeed. —Robert Ham

Watch Vince Staples Perform with Damon Albarn, Ray J and Kilo Kish on The Tonight Show

41. Sallie Ford, “Get Out”
Sallie Ford has been plugging away in the rockabilly/retro rock circles for quite a while now, but this year’s Soul Sick feels like a major leap forward, ditching some of the bounce and pep for an infusion of garage-rock grittiness. “Get Out” is one of the album’s two righteously rocking earworms, along with “Record on Repeat,” driven by psychedelic guitar solos and some seriously groovy organ. Ford’s gravelly voice is commanding here, both raw and triumphant. The song is a simple, in-your-face statement from a girl who won’t be pushed around or put up with your crap. It’s a song for ripping down the highway at 100 mph with the top down, hellbent on your objective. —Jim Vorel

Watch Sallie Ford perform at the Paste Studio

40. Frank Ocean, “Biking”
After the smash success of 2016’s Blonde and Endless, Frank Ocean has taken no breaks. Though the Long Beach rapper didn’t put out a new record in 2017, he kept thirsty fans satiated with the release of a few singles. Of these, “Biking” is a standout banger. From the first “I don’t get weak in the knees” to the outro of “50 thousand racks,” “Biking,” featuring Jay Z and Tyler the Creator, makes it almost forgivable that Ocean didn’t put out a new full-length album. Almost. —Claire Greising

Check out Frank Ocean’s alternate, solo version of ‘Biking

39. Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Sorry Is Gone”
“It’s nice to have a guy around / for lifting heavy things and opening jars / Should we really let them in our beds? / Chain ‘em to a little house outside.” So declares Jessica Lea Mayfield on the title track of her career-best effort from 2017. Written in the aftermath of the collapse of her marriage, which she has described as being abusive and violent, “Sorry Is Gone” is the sound of personal liberation, set to Mayfield’s flangey guitar and Midwest twang. If you’re looking for an anthem of empowerment in this year of calling out predators and pigs, look no further than “Sorry Is Gone.” It’s the last apology this woman is ever gonna give. —Matthew Oshinsky

Watch Jessica Lea Mayfield perform live at Paste Studio

38. New Pornographers, “High Ticket Attractions”
Carl Newman’s love of words and wordplay can sometimes trip up even his catchiest songs, but he keeps things well aloft on this fantastic single. Said to be about the encroaching feeling of panic that was rising as he watched his fellow Americans fall under the spell of Trump (“With no respect for the warning/the violence of yearning / defiance of learning”), he turns that fear on its head with neon-glow new wave and always welcome call-and-response vocals from bandmate Kathryn Calder. —Robert Ham

Read Paste’s 2017 interview with New Pornographers’ Carl Newman

37. 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 Fields 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

Read Paste’s 2017 profile of Future Islands

36. Lowly, “Still Life”
Danish dreamers Lowly flew under the radar this year with Heba, their gorgeously atmospheric debut full-length. Opening track “Still Life” is an immediate stunner, a lilting crawl of ringing arpeggios, mournful synth droplets, with Nanna Schannong’s bell-clear voice and background sound detritus draping the whole thing a distant sense of sadness—beautiful, beautiful sadness. It’s only a relationship coming to an end in this song; Lowly make it sound like the entire galaxy. —Matthew Oshinsky

35. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, “French Press”
One of our SXSW standout bands, Melbourne’s Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever (RBCF) 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 its core, “French Press” is a surf-rock jam, but vastly different from what we’ve accepted as such on the American mainland. All of the band’s songs from their Sub Pop debut were recorded in their modest rehearsal space, and their gritty-yet-effortlessly-polished sound rings sublime on “French Press.” —Adrian Spinelli

Read: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: The Best of What’s Next

34. Lilly Hiatt, “The Night David Bowie Died”
The lead single off Lilly Hiatt’s crackling LP Trinity Lane, “The Night David Bowie Died” was written when it says it was. But it’s not to do with the White Duke, exactly. That’s just the night, probably one of many, when Hiatt happened to think about her ex and dive back into all those feelings of regret and guilt. Grungy Peter Buck-esque guitars lead up to a stomping confessional chorus: “I realize that I screwed up / I love you baby / What we had, it was good enough.” —Matthew Oshinsky

Watch Lilly Hiatt perform live at Paste Studio

33. Slowdive, “Sugar for the Pill”
No song this year better evoked that delicious ache that forms in the pit of the stomach when thinking about an elusive lover or that secret crush. Neil Halstead’s impressionistic lyrics only hint at those feels. Really it’s all about the slippery pull of the guitars and a vocal melody that heads straight for the head and the base of the spine like a particularly strong intoxicant. If this isn’t on the slow dance playlists for a millennia of proms, then there truly is no hope for the next generation. —Robert Ham

Read Paste’s review of Slowdive’s self-titled 2017 comeback album

32. Ron Gallo, “Temporary Slave”
“There’s a smokestack in my mouth / Living on the couch in my step-cousin’s house,” Ron Gallo sings at the beginning of “Temporary Slave,” a B-side from his psych-rock, satire-folk LP, Heavy Meta. The song, a playful but biting rumination on the current economic situation and eternal power of money, tempers lines like “Trying’s the first step to dying” with Mac DeMarco-esque guitars and sunny “la-la- la’s”—making it a bittersweet gem that doesn’t pull punches. —Madison Desler

Watch Ron Gallo perform live at Paste Studio

31. Alex Lahey, “Lotto in Reverse”
Melbourne upstart Alex Lahey released her debut album, I Love You Like a Brother, earlier this year, filling it with anthemic guitars and wry observations about her own relationships. Album standout “Lotto in Reverse” slings out sexy-cool verses that detail an almost-relationship gone terribly wrong, before exploding into a shout-along chorus that’s custom-built to help you get over whatever asshole did you just as dirty. —Madison Desler

30. Moses Sumney, “Plastic”
It often feels like we shouldn’t be listening to Moses Sumney’s music, as if these are journal entries or invite-only blog posts where the young Californian vents his spleen and bleeds words of pain and dismay. When he sings, “Can I tell you a secret?” on this tune from his latest album, it feels unnecessary. We’ve already been privy to so many of his inner thoughts. This feeling is amplified by Sumney’s bare-bones production, which puts considerable emphasis on his luminous voice and a string section that arrives to chill his heated skin. —Robert Ham

Read: Moses Sumney: The Best of What’s Next

29. Manchester Orchestra, “Lead, SD”
The initial idea for Andy Hull and Robert McDowell’s latest release as Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface, was to make a concept album following two fictional brothers in small-town South Dakota. That didn’t end up happening, but the track “Lead, SD” is a remnant of the project that never was. The lyrics are ominous, with Hull singing, “Is it temporary? I don’t think I want to be a dad / Nobody knew today would be the day he loses it / I’m lost without a single clues as to where I’m heading.” The soundscape is as expansive as South Dakota itself, with Hull’s throaty vocals, McDowell’s guitar, Andy Prince’s roaring bass, and Tim Very’s drums reaching past listeners’ headphones and toward the horizon. —Claire Greising

Read Paste’s review of A Black Mile to the Surface

28. Lo Tom, “Overboard”
Lo Tom is side project for Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan (vocals and bass), Starflyer 59’s Jason Martin (guitar) on guitar, The Soft Drugs’ TW Walsh (guitar, background vocals) and Velour 100’s Trey Many (drums). The four friends have played in each other’s bands over the years, and it sounds like they’re having fun, especially on the fuzzed-out pop of “Overboard,” which is as catchy as anything any of them have ever done with Bazan even reaching up to falsetto on the occasional note of the chorus. —Josh Jackson

Read Paste’s review of Lo Tom’s self-titled album

27. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, “Over Everything”
There aren’t two artists in 2017 more fit to duet than Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett. “Over Everything,” the Vile-penned song that launched their collaborative album, Lotta Sea Lice, is an apt snapshot of their entire record, serving up just enough dreamy weariness to keep us satisfied and wanting more. In a year full of violence and strife, “Over Everything” revels in the simple, unhurried beauty of making the art you want to make. While it’s a long track, the balanced mix of instrumentals and vocals captivates until the very end. —Annie Black

Read Paste’s interview with Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

26. The Family Crest, “Sparks”
Seven-piece orchestral rock band The Family Crest are masters of crafting complex melodies that stick in your ear, and the first track off their Prelude to War EP is the perfect example. With frontman Liam McCormick singing from heart straight to microphone in front of symphonic swells, the song can only be described as epic. “Sparks” kicks off an ambitious multi-album WAR project from a band that has traveled the country recording instrumental snippets and vocals from hundreds of volunteers. —Josh Jackson

Read Paste’s review of The Family Crest’s Prelude to War

25. Sheer Mag, “Expect the Bayonet”
Philly garage-rockers Sheer Mag only do a handful of things, but they do them unbelievably well. The band’s first full-length album, Need to Feel Your Love, is a powder-keg of taut rhythms, bouncing bass lines, hot-blooded guitars, populist politics and Tina Halladay’s soul-punk vocals. “Expect the Bayonet” pairs one of the band’s poppiest instrumentals with perhaps its most politically pointed rhetoric, with Halladay straining to spit out lines about rich men in white skin, dog whistles, violent minds hatching violent plans and solidarity for those underfoot. Of all Sheer Mag’s serrated songs, this is the one that will shank you just for looking at it funny. —Ben Salmon

Read: For Sheer Mag, Balancing Protest and Play in 2017 Is a Tricky Business

24. This Is the Kit, “Hotter Colder”
Kate Stables, the life force behind English band This Is the Kit, made her best record yet with 2017’s elegantly off-kilter Moonshine Freeze. The slithering title track got a good amount of deserved attention, but the swinging “Hotter Colder” is the albums’s scene-stealer, a jumpy rock song with a nevertheless chill vibe and Latin flavors in its horns and “do-do-do” choruses. On an album full of delicate folk and introspective lyrics, “Hotter Colder” gets the blood flowing and the feet moving. Don’t miss Moonshine Freeze. —Matthew Oshinsky

Read Paste’s review of This Is the Kit’s Moonshine Freeze

23. 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 2017 album, In Mind, still seduce, 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

Read Paste’s review of Real Estate’s In Mind

22. Ty Segall, “Orange Color Queen”
As he did on 2014’s masterful Manipulator, Cali shredder Ty Segall touched every corner of his musical mind on this year’s self-titled LP. He’s written ballads before (sometimes warped and weird), but never anything quite as lovely as “Orange Color Queen,” a love song about a gal so bright “the morning sun wants to know where you go.” Segall takes his foot off the gas for three minutes and spreads out with a breezy acoustic song that picks up steam as it goes and, of course, sticks a slick little guitar solo in there for good measure. —Matthew Oshinsky

Read Paste’s review of Ty Segall’s 2017 self-titled album

21. Steve Lacy, “Dark Red”
A DIY wiz-kid from California, Steve Lacy burst on to the scene in a major way this year, providing the iPhone-made beat for “PRIDE,” a standout off of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., and releasing a much-lauded EP (Steve Lacy’s Demo)—all before his 19th birthday. “Something bad is ‘bout to happen to me,” he sings on the best cut, “Dark Red.” If he keeps churning out laid-back soul and funk-infused smoothies like this, he’s going to be just fine. —Madison Desler

20. The War On Drugs, “Clean Living”
Meticulous, layered, and elegant are all words that describe The War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, as well as the penultimate track, “Clean Living.” Other tracks may have gotten more attention, but it’s this one that will haunt you long after listening. Adam Granduciel’s voice comes in over a soft, heartbeat rhythm, building anticipation for the lush, slow burn that follows. It’s earthy, cool, and sexy—like rain on a windowpane—and a quiet masterpiece off one of the year’s best albums. —Madison Desler

Read Paste’s interview with The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel

19. Lorde, “Greenlight”
Few songs released in recent years have carried more anticipation than “Green Light,” the lead single from Lorde’s follow-up to her mega-hit debut, Pure Heroine. And the New Zealand singer-songwriter made the most of the opportunity, turning a narrative page (from youthful ennui to grown-up heartbreak), establishing a bold new sound and dropping the hottest pop banger of 2017, all in just four minutes. Every bit of “Green Light” is engrossing, from the scene-setting verses to the absolutely massive chorus, which sounds like dancing atop the tallest building in a big city at night. But it’s the sprightly piano loop in the pre-chorus that takes your breath away, especially the first time you hear it. It’s a slice of house music spliced into a pop song, a delectable detail in a song full of them, and indisputable proof that Lorde is here to stay. —Ben Salmon

Watch Lorde perform Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ last month

18. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires”
Jason Isbell’s 2017 album The Nashville Sound finds the top-shelf singer-songwriter knee-deep in the realization that his newfound love, success and sobriety won’t necessarily cure all ills. The album rocks in general, but its quietest moment is this beautiful, fingerpicked ballad about marriage and mortality, sung in duet with Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires. In a world overflowing with love songs, “If We Were Vampires” is an elevated form of the genre: plainspoken and mature, lovely but melancholy, a heartening gut-punch. And it’s a good reminder that Isbell is an undisputed master of his craft. —Ben Salmon

Read Paste’s interview with Jason Isbell

17. Grizzly Bear, “Mourning Sound”
Grizzly Bear’s second Painted Ruins single is a study of sound, one that showcases each member of the resurgent indie-rock outfit. Guided by Chris Taylor’s thumping bass line and Christopher Bear’s steady drums, “Mourning Sound” synthesizes acoustic strumming, backing keys and an interstellar guitar riff as Ed Droste surrounds Daniel Rossen’s choruses with regretful verses, recalling what sound like true-to-life troubles: “I made a mistake … I moved away, still paying off the fines.” And what a wonderful mourning it is. —Scott Russell

Read Paste’s 2017 profile of Grizzly Bear

16. Protomartyr, “The Chuckler”
Only someone who’d never heard Protomartyr’s music would think a song called “The Chuckler” is a barrel of laughs. Here, the Detroit post-punk quartet is as dour as ever, with frontman Joe Casey speak-singing about angry faces and pitiful exchanges and clouds of poison and a thrift-store coat that smells of sauerkraut and cloves. (Eww.) As always, he’s backed by a crack band capable of building glorious tension out of rat-tat-tat rhythms, shadowy rumbles and Greg Ahee’s shimmering shards of guitar. In a Protomartyr song, chuckling isn’t just chuckling. It’s a coping mechanism. —Ben Salmon

Read Paste’s review of Protomartyr’s Relatives In Descent

15. Nikki Lane, “Jackpot”
“Jackpot,” a standout off of Nikki Lane’s excellent third LP Highway Queen, offers an updated take on retro-country, breathing new life into two of the topics that have grounded the genre’s songs for decades: love and gambling. Country-fried slide guitar, boogie-woogie piano, and Lane’s irresistible twang combine for a pedal-to- the-medal, honkey tonkin’ good time that’ll make you want to hit the slots. —Madison Desler

Read Paste’s interview with Nikki Lane

14. Craig Finn, “God in Chicago”
Craig Finn, known for his role as leading man of The Hold Steady, has a knack for understanding darkness. “God in Chicago,” the highlight from this year’s We All Want the Same Things, is part spoken-word, part salute to the middle of country, the song follows the story of a man who helps his dead friend’s sister sell the drugs that killed him. Finn isn’t exactly famous for subtlety, yet it’s the subtle details that make this song so devastating, from the help the narrator enlists from his old friend “Wayne from Winnetka” who “picked up on the first ring” to the “toothbrush from Walgreens” the pair purchase when they decide to spend the night at a Hyatt on Michigan Avenue. —Claire Greising

Read: Craig Finn: Rock Noir and the Anti-Hero

13. Big Thief, “Mythological Beauty”
After one hell of an opening salvo last year with Masterpiece, Brooklyn-based Big Thief hasn’t wasted any time assembling their next album, Capacity. Single “Mythological Beauty” loses some of Masterpiece’s rustic elements in favor of searing, sad acoustic balladry. That chiming, delicate soundscape elevates the mid-range of Adrianne Lenker’s voice before it ascends to a wavering crescendo in the chorus. —Sean Edgar

Read Paste’s interview with Big Thief

12. Bedouine, “Dusty Eyes”
Bedouine aka Syrian-born Azniv Korkejian spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia, moving all over America after her family won a Green Card Lottery. This nomadic lifestyle has influenced her music, coming across in her gently shambolic style, smoky vocals, and poetic lyrics. “Dusty Eyes,” a gently swaying single off her self-titled debut, sees the singer-songwriter at the height of her powers, her honey voice lilting over a steady build of lush strings and earthy guitars that will have you swooning. —Madison Desler

Read: Bedouine: The Best of What’s Next

11. 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

Read: Sylan Esso Master Purposeful Pop

10. Phoebe Bridgers, “Motion Sickness”
This stunner of a song from Bridgers’s LP Stranger in the Alps is bewildered from the beginning: “I hate you for what you did,” Bridgers sings against some fuzzy pop-rock rumble, “and I miss you like a little kid.” That couplet alone crystallizes the dizzying emotional trauma that often accompanies the end of a relationship, but the fast-rising L.A. artist spends the next four minutes painting a vivid picture of heartbreak, sorrow and defiance. The hurt is real, but there is hope in the song’s elegant, loping melody, which sounds like it dropped to Earth straight from heaven. —Ben Salmon

Watch Phoebe Bridgers perform live at Paste Studio

9. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
Death, taxes and Spoon. In historically volatile times, it’s good to know there are things we can count on. On the title track to their ninth (!) consecutive good-or-better album, the Austin, Texas, lean-indie machine showcases its most reliable features: danceable beats, prickly and inventive guitars, self-assured strut, vaguely seedy lyrics. But this time—as on the rest of the album—it all comes entangled in a well-crafted network of electronic effects. It’s an impressive evolutionary step two-plus decades into an incredible career. —Ben Salmon

Read: Ranking All Nine Spoon Albums

8. Sampha, ”(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
Soulful British singer Sampha made his much-anticipated full-length debut this year with Process, and no song from the album represents him quite as well as “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” The song finds Sampha looking back on the death of his mother, with the family piano—the very instrument on which he wrote much of Process—symbolizing the way in which music saved the singer’s life in the face of unspeakable loss. It’s little more than Sampha, his beloved ivories and “something some people call a soul,” as he sings, a simple yet undeniably powerful ode to the saving grace of songcraft itself. —
Scott Russell

Watch Sampha’s 37-minute film, Process

7. Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”
If dating in the age of ghosting, zombieing, and whatever other cute name they want to start calling someone who’s being a schmuck and has you down, look no further than self-esteem rap queen Lizzo. “Why a man great ’til they gotta be great” she asks on “Truth Hurts,” a self-love banger so catchy it should come with a warning label. She goes on to absolutely roast the man who dared to relegate her to side-chick, shrugging it off over a piano-loop and irresistible beat. —Madison Desler

Watch Lizzo’s 2016 Dayrtotter live session

6. The xx, “On Hold”
The past few years have seen R&B/hip-hop producers mining hits of the past in ordinary fashion, often pinching entire hooks and melodies and forcing the artists they’re working with to find their way within them. Jamie xx, the musical mind behind British pop trio The xx, once again shows how something familiar can be twisted into fresh shapes. In this case, it’s a snippet of a Hall & Oates song that he juliennes into the chorus of this brilliant elegy to a crumbling relationship and an unwillingness to simply let go. —Robert Ham

Listen to three bonus tracks from the deluxe edition of The xx’s I See You

5. Alvvays, “In Undertow”
Beautiful breakup tune “In Undertow” opens Alvvays’ stellar sophomore album on a high, despite its heartbroken undertones. “There’s no turning back after what’s been said,” singer Molly Rankin laments, letting go of a failed relationship before it pulls her so far out to sea that she loses sight of land. Surrender has seldom sounded this sweet—”In Undertow” is a near-narcotic piece of indie-pop that made immediately clear upon its release that Antisocialites was going to be a wave worth riding all the way to the beach. —Scott Russell

Read Paste’s review of Alvvays’ Antisocialites

4. 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

Read: The World According to Father John Misty

3. Jay Som, “The Bus Song”
Few songs have captured the mundane beauty of city life like Jay Som’s “The Bus Song.” Melina Duterte unpacks the emotional pace of a relationship and likens its ebbs and flows either to riding a car or taking the bus. It’s as if she’s staring at the end of things, but finds comfort and solace within herself when riding the bus: “But I like the bus / I can be whoever I want to be / take time to figure it out.” Duterte’s relatable lyrics are wrapped in guitars and melodious arrangements that evoke nostalgia for simpler times. Her even-keeled delivery shows a refreshing temperament, evident throughout her debut LP, Everybody Works, Paste’s favorite album of 2017. —Adrian Spinelli

Read: Jay Som: The Best of What’s Next

2. Kendrick Lamar, “DNA”
Now that he’s found himself on that vaunted plateau of superstardom, Kendrick Lamar doesn’t appear ready to hit cruise control. Instead, he’s roping in everyone from jazz freaks Badbadnotgood and arena rockers U2 to help turn his fourth album DAMN. from great to instant classic. But it says so much about his talent that the best track on this record is nothing but rhymes over a trap beat from Mike Will Made It. The song is positively steaming as Lamar spars with the music and explodes with wit, ego and humor. —Robert Ham

1. Kevin Morby, “City Music”
Kevin Morby’s fourth solo album is a dusky ode to urban life, and its core is its seven-minute-long title track, which perfectly captures a carefree wander down a city street on a warm summer night. “City Music” travels at a walking pace atop a pulsing bass line, as Morby coolly sings a love song to downtown sounds. But it’s his army of guitars that make this tune truly soar. They’re squirrelly and skyscraping and seductive, like Television plucked out of a New York City punk dive and plunked down in front of some sweeping L.A. vista at sunset. That vibe? That’s the vibe that carried “City Music” to the top of our list of 2017’s best songs. —Ben Salmon

Read Paste’s interview with Kevin Morby

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