My Top 12 (?) Songs of 2017

A lot of records came out this year, folks. Some of them were so bad I didn’t even have to listen to them to know how much I hated them. Others were good, though! And here are the fruits of my musical explorations. These are my 12 favorite songs of 2017. Why 12? Because round numbers are for squares! Why else? Um… well, it’s a tribute to my main man Chase Headley, number 12 on the Yankees (at least he was until he was traded to the Padres yesterday – poor Chase), who hit .389 in the ALCS this year. Sure, let’s go with that.


12. Ryan Adams, “Shiver and Shake”

On, Prisoner, an album filled almost exclusively with morose, self-pitying breakup songs, “Shiver and Shake” stands out as the most morose and self-pitying of them all. It’s also legitimately chilling; an evocative portrait of all-consuming romantic loss and jealousy. The fact that it’s about Mandy Moore, well… let’s just say I would find it hard to be as broken up as Ryan sounds about divorcing someone partially responsible for fucking This Is Us.


11. Hurray for the Riff Raff, “Living in the City”

If Lou Reed were a Millennial Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx, he would sound exactly like this. In all seriousness, you can definitely hear the Velvet Underground’s ramshackle urban groove and penchant for poppy backing vocals in this song. But the lyrical imagery and sense of wonderment is all Alynda Lee Segarra. Read any interview with her. She’s incredibly outspoken and insightful on politics, feminism, music, etc. She’s an absolute badass.


10. Lilly Hiatt, “All Kinds of People”

There’s practically nothing to this song. Three verses, barely three chords, and the same old country waltz strumming you’ve heard a million times before. But there’s something elemental about Lilly Hiatt’s (daughter of John Hiatt) voice – that twang is full of both sass and vulnerability, and the way she wraps it around this keening melody is irresistible. And the way that caronking distorted guitar clicks into place at the end of the third verse just as she sings the song’s most evocative line (“Eyes big as whole notes”)… chills.

9. Margo Price, “All American Made”

I wasn’t crazy about Margo Price’s follow-up to her excellent 2016 debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, but the album’s title track is a stunning piece of avant-country. The sound collage of presidential speeches that runs throughout the track is just one of the devices she uses to paint an indelible portrait of an America whose promise and mythical qualities are quickly fading under an onslaught of “sports and Jesus and all the usual suspects.” Coming from a rising country starlet, it’s bold as hell.


8. St. Vincent, “Pills”

The main hook of this song has all the maddeningly cloying infectiousness of a commercial jingle… which is exactly the point. Kinda sick how gleefully and eagerly we sell drugs (legal ones), isn’t it? Fortunately, thanks to the tonal contrast provided by the strutting verses and Annie Clark’s revving guitar, that hook never wears out its welcome.


7. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires”

No, I’m not crying. I just squeezed a bunch of lemon juice into my eyes. I swear! I’m doing a cleanse. Leave me alone!


6. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, “Dwight Yoakam”

Awesome as it is, there’s way more to this heart-wrenching slow burner than its opening line (“I’m drinking water tonight cause I drank all the whiskey this morning”). It’s the sad sad tale of a girl up and leaving the singer for a guy who reminds her of the titular country star (speaking of whom – I totally did not realize that he was the dweeby asshole husband in the opening scene of Wedding Crashers until very recently. That is hilarious). You know, typical country song stuff. But considering that singer is a chick, “Dwight Yoakam” becomes a boundary-pushing queer anthem for the genre.


5. Father John Misty, “Ballad of the Dying Man”

Pour one out for your Twitter warrior homies. FJM’s got you. He’s also got the smoothest falsetto in town.


4. Craig Finn, “God in Chicago”

It’s taken a while for me to adjust to the difference in Craig Finn’s storytelling style between his writing in the Hold Steady and what he’s done on his now three solo albums – from the former’s idealistic fables to the latter’s often bleak slice-of-life narratives. But when he spins a yarn as evocative and complete as “God in Chicago,” it practically overwhelms everything else he’s written.


3. Sheer Mag, “Meet Me in the Street”

I can’t even remember the last time a new rock song absolutely melted my face with as much ferocity as “Meet Me in the Street” does. I mean, goddamn. It’s actually makes old-school ‘70s style rock ‘n roll feel dangerous for the first time since… I dunno, 1972? Especially since it’s about rioting and “throwing rocks at the boys in blue.” MC5 style.


2. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, “Crooked Letters”

It’s paradoxical how fully Lee Bains stuffs the songs on Youth Detention full of words–and not just words, but brave and articulate examinations of complex socio-economic problems–because you can barely hear any of them underneath the screaming guitar noise and basement-fidelity production. Which is why my favorite song on the album is its most sonically impactful. Ingeniously, a sampled chorus of kids doing a Mississippi schoolyard chant is used as the song’s main hook. If that sounds like some kind of novelty shit, well, clearly you haven’t heard the song yet. Just listen.


1. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, “Fuck Up”

Yup, the only artist with two songs on my list is Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. Partially because they’re kickass and their debut album, Sidelong, is fantastic. But mostly because “Fuck Up” is just about the perfect country song. To me, this sarcastic shot of twang is 100 times more emotionally powerful than whatever bullshit indie drama you watched and wept to this year.

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