Now that June us over, I felt like it would be appropriate to round up a bunch of my favorite songs from across all genres in 2017 so far. In no particular order, here are some of the best tracks I’ve heard in the past six months.
Temples- “Mystery of Pop” (from Volcano)
There’s a sort of meta-brilliance to this song in that it’s a pop song about how brilliant the idea of a good pop song is. That, and there’s the fact that I am a mark for antiquated instruments, and this song has a doozy of a mellotron line as its main hook. This song for me is the culmination of Temples’ merging of sixties psychedelia and synthpop. The tightly knit structure of the song and the odd way it goes about its transitions are also great little things for me to nerd out over.
Drake- “Passionfruit” (from More Life)
I’m not really a fan of Drake and to be honest I thought his whole “playlist, not an album” thing for More Life was bullshit, but “Passionfruit” alone makes the whole project worth it. I’m consistently amazed at how much I love this song despite my general indifference towards the artist who made it. The whole track has a vibe like it lives in its own little world. I think the extended opening bit and the ambient middle section give the whole thing a bit more weight, and Drake’s singing fits over this type of instrumental so much better than the watered down Caribbean pastiches that make up most of More Life.
(this song doesn’t have am official youtube video because it’s an iTunes exclusive)
Code Orange- “Bleeding in the Blur” (from Forever)
This type of song is such a huge risk for a band like Code Orange. “Bleeding in the Blur” is an anthemic and accessible hard rock song from an otherwise inaccessible hardcore punk band. This could have backfired so hard had they not nailed it in the way they do here. The chorus here is arena worthy and it even comes with a big guitar solo, something you don’t see a whole lot in hardcore. I think part of why this works so well is that it doesn’t completely jettison the uglier side of the Code Orange sound. There’s still obscene blasts of feedback before each verse and even a bit the animalistic vocal style the band more often uses at the end. Kurt Ballou’s sludgy production also makes this much heavier than a typical radio rock song.
Poppy- “Computer Boy” (single)
I know there might be an inclination to see Poppy as nothing more than a creepy viral meme, but actually listen and you’ll find out she has quite a few great songs already, even though she hasn’t released a full-length album out yet. This might be my favorite song from her overall. With her past few releases, she seems to be developing a theme of bright, upbeat bubblegum pop with a slightly sinister undercurrent. This is the most fun song ever written about social isolation and desensitization caused by overexposure to the internet. Take heed when I tell you the chorus of this song will be stuck in your head for weeks and there’s nothing you will be able to do about it.
Kendrick Lamar- “DNA.” (from DAMN.)
“DNA.” is the musical equivalent of bringing a shotgun to a knife fight. The fight is sort of decided before it starts. Kendrick Lamar isn’t really a showy rapper, but we all know how much damage he can do with a pen, lest we forget his “Control” verse. This track exists to remind everyone that he isn’t about to let up on all these other rappers before getting into the deeper aspects of DAMN. But the real reason this song is on this list, above all the lyrical acrobatics, is what will probably go down as the greatest musical moment of 2017. The beat switch at approximately two minutes is like a neutron bomb that just levels everything in sight. Mike Will Made It can leave me a bit cold as a producer, but his work on DAMN. and this track in particular are fantastic.
Harry Styles- “Sign of the Times” (from Harry Styles)
I was so impressed with this song that I ended up being a bit let down by Harry Styles’ album when the rest of the record didn’t really live up to this one track. Maybe I’m still reeling so much from the absence of David Bowie that I cling to any type of Hunky Dory-esque baroque pop ballad. But even with that extremely biased view, I still think this song is great, and there’s not much else to really say about it.
Foxygen- “Avalon” (from Hang)
“Avalon” is almost pure corn from start to finish, but its greatness lies in all the different types of kitschy trad-pop stylings it brings to the table. Foxygen incorporate everything from the Beach Boys to twenties swing music to the most camp shades of classic musical theatre. There’s even a ridiculous tap-dance segment where the tempo gradually ramps just to drive the point home even further. The album’s gorgeously lush production is driven to its logical extreme here, with just about instrument common to Western music making an appearance. This track is so much fun that I even forget the dark humor that lies underneath the sunny exterior.
Mastodon- “Jaguar God” (from Emperor of Sand)
Mastodon’s latest album Emperor of Sand saw the band further focusing their songwriting into expansive but still economical rock songs, all through a crazy concept about a man exiled into a mystical desert. The final track on the album however, is very much in the old style of Mastodon songwriting. By that I mean just throwing a whole bunch of crazy shit into a blender and making an amazingly bonkers prog metal smoothie. This is almost like four different songs crammed into eight minutes. The rest of the album is so carefully composed, but “Jaguar God” is such a glorious “hit the fan” moment for the whole record, the point where all the pent-up dread that permeates the record finally starts spewing out like a bursting pipe. The maniacal “IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME” climax is the peak moment of the record for me, with a big classic rock guitar solo right after to bring things back down to earth.
Ulver- “Rolling Stone” (from The Assassination of Julius Caesar)
What is it about artists I like going synthpop? Tame Impala tried on Currents and I was not a fan, but Ulver also did and I absolutely loved it. “Rolling Stone” the longest on this list, and every second of its nearly ten minute runtime is riveting. Ulver here have a thing for contradicting themselves for dramatic effect. The song is grandiose yet sleek and slithery. It has a nice catchy chorus and a noise laden crescendo that takes up a third of the track. Vague references to Romulus and Remus clash with the futuristic, technologically advanced beeps and boops that permeate the instrumental texture. It’s a mammoth track that is a highlight from one of my favorite albums of the year.
Fleet Foxes- “Fool’s Errand” (from Crack-Up)
I was drooling all over this new Fleet Foxes album when it came out a few weeks ago. While I still think it’s fantastic, it’s a record that’s not easy to pull individual tracks from. “Fool’s Errand” is the only song that really stands on its own from that album. Even with its potential as a single, it still has a lot of the obtuseness that characterizes Crack-Up. It’s full of uneven phrase lengths, labyrinthine harmonic structures, and a hard time signature switch to transition between verse and refrain. But that stuff only jumps out upon really focused listening. All of these elements are built so naturally into the song that you don’t really notice them the first time around, because the song itself is so engrossing in its melodies and crescendos.
Creeper- “Black Rain” (from Eternity, in Your Arms)
I think I mention Creeper in just about every other post on this blog, but they’re just one of those bands I can’t help but fanboy over at every opportunity. Creeper know how to be melodramatic convincingly. “Black Rain” is so bombastic and theatrical, with its spoken word piano intro and lyrics about screaming a lover’s name in the rain. But even through all of that, the band’s punk half is still present enough that it keeps the dramatic antics moving along quick enough that you don’t even have time to question it. I think this sort of gothy theatrical punk is the perfect musical backdrop to make the intensely over-the-top emotional response work.
Zeal & Ardor- “Blood in the River” (from Devil is Fine)
It wouldn’t be a best-of list by Sam Sagins if it didn’t include something totally evil as shit, now would it? And in this case, it comes in the form of “Blood in the River” by Zeal & Ardor. I gotta say, with all of these paganistic black metal bands obscuring their lyrics in incomprehensible shrieks and ambient reverb, I admire the balls of this guy to construct the whole hook of this song around the repeated chain gang chant of “A GOOD GOD IS A DEAD ONE”. And something about this sort of Satanic lyric rings more true than that of the metal bands that usually would do it. The whole lyrical idea of African slaves turning to the left-hand path in order to overthrow the white slave owners holding them captive is actually pretty damn epic.