In the National Football League there are 16 games in the regular season. Having a 10-6 recored would likely earn you a playoff spot, but you need to play pretty well to achieve that. Right now, in regards to calendaring pop culture, we’re just a bit past the midway point (most people check out by the last few weeks of December but we’re close enough). So how has 2017 musically started if we’re 8 games into the season? Right now I’d say we’ve won 6 of 8 games. We haven’t lost a ton of huge musical talent yet this year, we’ve had an exciting number of prominent 2000s indie rock bands return to the fold, and we can officially write off Katy Perry for the rest of her career! What a time to be alive. Now, its hard to say how the next 8 games of the season will go but with promising records from LCD Soundsystem, Washed Out, Sheer Mag, and Japanese Breakfast, amongst many others, it should be a very exciting second half. In an effort to celebrate the fact we all survived the first 6 months of the year, here are the top 10 songs of the year thus far.
10. “Hold On You” by Valley Queen
Valley Queen’s Facebook describes their sound as something comparable to My Morning Jacket and Fleetwood Mac and, while it’s a fairly bold and perhaps egotistical statement from a band who only have one EP under their belts, they certainly capture a similar kind of bluesy ethereal power. “Hold On You” uses every ounce of magic in lead singer Natalie Carol’s voice to capture something both understated and authoritative while the band hold down a dreamy Americana shuffle. Valley Queen’s Destroyer is the best EP I’ve heard all year and “Hold On You” is it’s bittersweet crown jewel.
9. “Alexys” by Freddie Gibbs
“Alexys” doesn’t move the needle on Freddie Gibbs’ legacy — his role as a deadpanned dope hustler has been cemented over the last decade and he plays the role perfectly throughout nearly all of his 2017 album You Only Live 2wice. But where “Alexys” shines is in BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada’s production work. The more the Canadian jazz quartet work within Kaytranada’s already freeform fusion playhouse the more I walk away impressed (See: “WEIGHT OFF” from Kaytra’s 99.9%, “Lavender” off of BBNG’s IV, or “Fall In Love” by GoldLink, to name a few). Gibbs is hardly a chameleon rapper but after going toe-to-toe in the ring with Madlib during their run of EP’s as MadGibbs, as well as on 2014’s excellent Pinata, he’s become efficient and comfortable in front of jazz rap beats and “Alexys” sets him loose.
8. “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar
When your song inspires this video, you get to be a top 10 song.
7. “Still Waking Up” by Tim Darcy
Tim Darcy’s vocals vary from angular and rawboned to immensely harsh when he’s singing with his main project, Ought. But as a solo artist, something about them comes across as sweeter and doe eyed. “Still Waking Up” is his version of a 1950s love song. “Something about the way you blink your eyes,” he croons, “tells me I’m not ready, tells me I’m still waking up alone.” Darcy’s solo album Saturday Night often flirts with the past, but none more than here where Darcy brilliantly captures the spirit of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.”
6. “Enter Entirely” by Cloud Nothings
You can judge how great a Cloud Nothing’s song is by how emotionally intense and tragic Dylan Baldi’s most repeated phrase is. Example: “You’re the thought that’s haunting me” on “I’m Not A Part Of You” is both emotionally intense and kind of tragic. “I thought I would be more than this” on “Wasted Days” is probably the band’s MOST emotionally intense and tragic. Cloud Nothing’s newest track, “Enter Entirely”, ranks right up there with their best work. In one of the band’s wordier tracks, “Enter Entirely” closes with Baldi, a man possessed and motionless in life, chanting “Moving on but I still feel it, you’re just a light in me now.” By the time he begins to scream it, the statement almost seems more of a wish than a command, delivering perfect emotional intensity and tragedy.
5. “Loving” by Land of Talk
After retreating from music for a number of years, Elizabeth Powell’s Land of Talk project returned with a matured sense of self. Through “Loving,” Powell has figured out a way to continue loving herself in spite of the turmoil of whatever romance she’s currently engaging in. “Loving” is delicate, with Powell’s damaged voice yearning with soft ferocity. “Don’t say you live here,” she begs. “Don’t let it get cursed.” Somewhere in those pleas Powell manages to flip innocence into power and, amidst the layered vocal tracks, its a magical thing to hear.
4. “Love Galore (feat. Travis Scott)” by SZA
SZA’s CTRL single “Love Galore” is sexual tranquility at its absolute smoothest. I have yet to hear an artist in 2017 who sounds this confident and comfortable while simultaneously oozing vulnerability. “Love Galore” is both a love song and a breakup song, although SZA isn’t so much longing or lusting after a man as she is putting him on notice that it’s over on her terms. Playing a solid support player, Travis Scott waits in the wings to flip the script and accuse SZA as being the one who caused them to break up, not him. Ultimately in spite of the relationship’s complicated end she returns for the ease and convenience of cheap love. It’s great story telling with even better performances. “Love Galore” is a masterstroke by the young artist.
3. “Percolator” by Charly Bliss
Eva Hendrick’s voice isn’t going to be for everyone — it’s like a prepubescent girl spent a night chain smoking, high pitched with a subtle gravel. Over the course of Charly Bliss’s debut Guppy she throws that voice around like a ragdoll, and on “Percolator” she gives her most colorful vocal performance amidst a hyper cynical and hyper sexualized, in her own words, “boy crazy” diatribe. Charly Bliss’s brand of pop-punk is immensely appealing and “Percolator” proves the band have true teeth to their music.
2. “Slide (feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)” by Calvin Harris
For my money, “Slide” is the song of summer. And yes, it would be better if Calvin Harris had just covered the immortal Goo Goo Dolls hit of the same name but here we are with a balanced and well groomed pop hit. Harris smartly surrounds his core features, Frank Ocean’s soulful vocals and Migos textural final verse, with a warming yet unassuming tropical R&B beat. It’s the sounds of summer at their best.
1. “A Better Sun” by Sorority Noise
Sorority Noise’s devastating album You’re Not As ________ As You Think You Are cuts hard, and its single “A Better Sun” runs through sleepless moments of regret, pain, and devastation. Cameron Boucher begins every line by repeating “This is the part…”, creating a cycle of friends, drugs, suicidal thoughts, and longing for everything to feel better. Sorority Noise let the chaos of the music echo the chaos of life, a timelapse of the world moving past us while the hurt lingers.