Coming up with a top 5 tracks for the year was shockingly easy compared to previous years. Normally I am much more of an album-based listener, caring more about how a track works in to an album’s overall context rather than just how it stands on its own. But there have been a lot of great albums and songs that both stand out on their own and within the context of the record.

Honorable mentions:

  • Grizzly Bear - “Three Rings”
  • Makthaverskan - “In My Dreams”
  • Shamir - “Straight Boy”
  • The Body & Full Of Hell - “Earth is a Cage”
  • Fever Ray - “To The Moon And Back”
  • Sampha - “Blood On Me”
  • Converge - “Arkhipov Calm”
  • St. Vincent - “New York”

5. Lorde - “Green Light” (Melodrama)

Ah, Lorde, bringing me my pop jam of the year! I think if my Spotify 2017 Wrapped list actually factored in my Spotify Canada listening or if I had still, this would be the track I listened to the most this year. I was anticipating Melodrama rather heavily, but this track became my absolute jam over 2017. This is my honorary Robyn Award for 2017, being an intelligent pop song with emotional complexity while still being an absolute jam to dance to. I love how perfect the production is, with an enveloped kick and gradual layering of new elements while still having a solid, full core. It’s Jack Antonoff production at its best.

Lyrically, it does a good job at painting a specific picture of Lorde’s romantic situation while still allowing room for the listener to put themselves into the situation. Waiting for the sign to move on fully from a bitter break-up, seeing your ex at your old haunt but being so different around a new partner, expressing frustration at the hesitation showcased when showing public affection…all perfect dance pop material, right? But Lorde manages to take this hurt and turn it into an affirming message, giving herself her own green light to move on, giving the track a triumphant nature despite its hesitation.

This is what I want out of pop writing, and Lorde is cementing herself as a reliable source of that.

4. Baths - “Adam Copies” (Romaplasm)

This may not be the most hard-hitting song on Romaplasm (that would easily be the absolutely crushing “Human Bog”) but this is the song that hits my musical sensibilities, and is the one that I have picked up more on since originally writing my SALSA Weekly entry on it.

“Adam Copies” is less a song about moving on and more a song about steadfast obstinance in the face of conflict, acknowledging even when the pain feels like it gets to be too much to handle and soldiering on. Combine this with the hectic production with glitchy maximalism on full blast, and you get my favourite flavour of Baths (concidentally: my favourite track from him beforehand was “Maximalist”). This is vibrant and colourful, even as you feel the structure crumbling around you, which is very reflective of the mentality of the song.

Also, the large amounts of Evangelion references still rule.

3. Iglooghost - “White Gum” (Neo Wax Bloom)

I just wrote about this one a little bit back for a SALSA Weekly! UK bass/IDM artist Iglooghost makes one of the most memorable tracks I’ve heard in years on an album filled to the brim with colourful tracks, the musical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock masterclass.

I feel like what makes “White Gum” work for me moreso than other tracks on the record is just how much it is honoring its dominant breakcore roots and how well-balanced the various elements of this eternally-busy track are. Everything is capable of being deciphered, absences of even one element are very noticable due to other elements taking prominence/backing off from the texture during their absences. The sampling is unintelligible outside of select phrases where it is not pitch-shifted, and it maintains a booming intensity even as it reaches one of the best triplet transitions I’ve heard in many years.

I’ll be talking about Neo Wax Bloom more soon, but this is one of the most interestingly-produced records I’ve heard in years.

2. Björk - “Losss” (Utopia)

It’s a Proxy list, so Björk is of course going to be on there in a high position. Utopia was an album I was looking forward to not just as a fan of hers, however, but as someone invested in the emotional arc between Vulnicura and this; the experience of profound personal pain and recovering from that, learning to be more vulnerable again, how that pain is a gradual growing point rather than something to wallow in.

“Losss”, in spite of its song title, is explicitly about this recovery. It talks about the loss of a relationship and the blooming of something new in its place, never forgetting about the pain but learning to let people in again. Paired with some clashing, noisy production and minor-key writing, Björk has called it her “goth girl” song, and it fits! It’s dark while still finding ways for the light to seep through, to allow enough for a flower to bloom within all of the chaos causing a larger chasm in one’s chest. It’s stunning, and a standout for me on an album filled to the brim with standouts. It works best as a companion to the rest of the record, but stands perfectly on its own.

1. Julien Baker - “Claws In Your Back” (Turn Out The Lights)

*[Content warning: this is gonna talk very candidly about suicide, depression, and self-harm. Please be advised.]

There are songs I genuinely enjoyed more this year, songs I listened to way more this year, songs that make me feel way happier or way more dour (even on this record!). I think that Turn Out The Lights is an important record, especially when paired directly with Julien Baker’s 2015 outing Sprained Ankle. This is an ongoing emotional arc that hits a very real, hard place with regards to dealing with mental illness, interpersonal relationships, suicidal ideations, and learning to be okay with yourself and begin the healing process through its ups and downs. “Claws In Your Back” is the thesis statement of this record, encapsulating the thoughts of someone’s struggles with suicidal thoughts or attempts, questioning the heavens, questioning themselves, reaffirming that there’s still more for you do, more that’s keeping you here. Whether that be at the last second or a more gradual realization.

This reminds me very heavily of my own experiences with suicide. I have struggled for a long, long time with depression and anxiety, and have attempted to end my life multiple times. During the final one of those attempts, I came to the realization as I was passing out on the floor: I didn’t want this. I wanted to be rid of the sadness that had built up inside of me. I decided that after going to the hospital for one final time for this, that I needed to focus on getting help. That it was worth fighting to be more towards something resembling happy. I still am fighting this battle to this day, akin to the “…violent partner you carry around//with claws in your back…” that Baker mentions in the track.

One line still hits me every day: “I think I can love the sickness you’ve made//’cause I take it all back, I’ve changed my mind//I wanted to stay”. This is the first step in reclaiming your own life from your mental illness, as well as acknowledging that it will always be with you, but it will not beat you. During this turbulent year, this has been a necessary thing to continue to tell myself.

I’m glad I’m still here and that I heard this track.

The Top 5

The Honorable Mentions