Okay Embrace leave a lasting impression with ‘Drought (Song of California)’

Centered around twenty-year-old wunderkind David Schaefer, who cut his teeth in the L.A. indie rock circles in his teens with the band French Negative, Okay Embrace find virtue in the bedrock of a bygone era of indie rock: the guitar solo.


On the group’s debut single “Drought (Song of California),” the comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo are obvious and tempting (as are the associations with Third Eye Blind and Semisonic), but it’s the forthrightness and immediacy of the Schaefer’s vocals/lyrics that distinguish Okay Embrace from the cluster of 21st century indie bands fighting for attention and adoration with flashy guitar tricks. Schaefer, with his grounded, commanding voice, finds empathy in the bedridden mother swapping poetry lines with her child and the fire abatement officer lamenting his own inefficacy.

The guitars are fuzzed out and sun-faded, which serve the clarity of Schaefer’s singular voice and hark back to alt rock’s heyday in the 90s. There’s a drought in California, as we all know, but through Embrace’s perspective, it’s a global concern. – sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

The Melvins Shouldn’t Have Carried Pinkus Abortion Technician to Term

words fae sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)rating 3

Locust Abortion Technician is the name of a seminal album by The Butthole Surfers. Jeff Pinkus plays bass on the record. These days, he plays with Montesano metal outfit The Melvins. He’s the namesake of their latest offering Pinkus Abortion Technician. This is all the background information you’ll need for the album.

Pinkus begins with a litmus test to the audience to determine just how much they’ll put up with. Stop Moving to Florida is a hybrid of Stop by AOR mainstays The James Gang and The SurfersMoving to Florida—the pairing seems ironic on paper, but both covers are played with what can be argued as sincerity and reverence. Still, the cover-by-numbers way The Melvins play each song (with little artistic license and even less edge) forces the listener to decide for him or herself if the album’s inaugural one-two punch really is a deferential rendition of two classic bands’ deeper cuts or just a lark. At any rate, neither cover surpasses its original.

The Melvins, after three decades of genre hopscotching, have landed on Blues/Southern Rock as their M.O. here on Pinkus. It’s in the bottom heavy chug of the instructional dirge Don’t Forget to Breathe and the slide guitar on the ridiculously titled Prenup Butter. The genre’s simple swagger suits the band’s flair for dumb-rock riffing and hardass guitar distortion, but given how heavily vocalist King Buzzo leans into eccentricity for the record, Pinkus Abortion Technician sounds more like a novelty album than a concerted effort by the sludge metal veterans.

Here, Buzzo delivers his melodies like Alice Cooper doing a parody of Alice Cooper: strangely accented vowels inflate the middles of his words on the aforementioned Prenup, gossamer vocals dust the grungy hoedown of Flamboyant Duck, and throaty howls turn Break Bread into a shock rock misfire. In the case of metal, showmanship is paramount (well, that and technical prowess), but when the band straddle the line between pastiche and seriousness so precariously, the whole album turns into a balance scale for the audience, forcing them to determine which song will eventually tip that scale to one side or the other. If the number of covers on the album is any indication (three out of eight songs), then maybe PAT actually is a bit of lighter fare just to tide fans over until the next big release.

Pinkus sounds more than anything else like it was culled together from songs that tested through the roof while on tour. The two Butthole Surfers interpretations no doubt pleased audiences who were already thrilled to see Pinkus splitting bass duties with Steven McDonald on stage. When played live, I Want to Hold Your Hand (yes, that I Want to Hold Your Hand) must have gotten some real mileage out of the meager guitar solo that wound up on the studio version. Unfortunately, much of the electricity of these live performances seems to have been lost during the recording process. This isn’t to say that there aren’t excitable moments on the album—the thrashing speed of Embrace the Rub eventually wins out over its outright strangeness, and the cacophony vocals on closer Graveyard show that the band haven’t lost their knack for piss and vinegar metal—but Technician ultimately proves more of a slog than anything else.

The cover art for the album was created by Mackie Osborne, Buzzo’s wife and frequent collaborator, who’s designed albums in the past for the likes of The Circle Jerks, Tool, and Social Distortion. She’s responsible for the Jerks’ iconic artwork on Group Sex and Wild in the Streets. But here on Pinkus Abortion Technician, the sinister, grinning mutt with a dismembered finger in its mouth and a vest that reads “GODDAM RIGHT I’M A SERVICE DOG” feels quaint. It’s like if Garfield creator Jim Davis were asked to design an album cover for a metal band. The artwork, unlike that dog, but sadly much like the music, feels toothless. The visceral moments are few and far between, resulting in a middling album by a legendary group.

David Byrne dwells on his career on American Utopia

words by sean hannah (@shun_handsome)
rating 6

Rock and roll is serious business. It thrives on angst and maladjustment. It must be delivered with unwavering despondency and grave seriousness.  The seed of this ethos was first planted by John Lennon’s stone-faced performance of Help on Ed Sullivan and solidified shortly thereafter by Jim Morrison’s pouty face and his misapprehension that death is romance par excellence.

So why has it always been so entertaining to watch David Byrne just have fun?

Byrne has never taken himself all that seriously as a musician. He doesn’t follow trends, he works with the artists he truly wants to, and every album he’s put out has been uniquely Byrneian. David is the quintessence of artistic integrity; always cognizant of his audience but never interested in pandering or catering to them, the Scottish-born polymath makes the music he likes first and foremost with the hopes that we will too. His music doesn’t draw you in against your will to try and make you enjoy it, but each release always raises the question why you shouldn’t. And on American Utopia, the singer’s first solo album since 2004, Byrne continues his streak of making music designed with himself in mind above anyone else.

David’s greatest asset has always been his lyrical abilities, but on Utopia, he finds himself articulating ideas with a certain tactlessness. Bullet, for example, details the human element in a vague scene of a man being shot, calling attention to its subject’s food-laden stomach and love-ridden heart. The song conflates a man’s physicality with his emotional impact on others, yet describes the path of that eponymous bullet as its “merry way,” resulting in an uncouth mixed message about gun violence that seems to conjure an alternate New York history in which Bernie Goetz never got his fifteen minutes.

Much of the album deals with Byrne wrestling with his legacy as Talking Heads’ frontman. He knows he’ll forever be held to the standard of lyricism that he presented as a younger man with the seminal New Wave four-piece. So in light of this reality, Byrne makes winking allusions to his former group. The meta-musical track This Is That finds David evoking the familiar imagery of flowing water and limited personal funds in a nod to the Heads’ flagship single Once in a Lifetime. Only here, these concepts are used as a sentimental nostalgia trip, far removed from Lifetime’s cautionary tale of the disengagement from the passage of time.

Perhaps the most Talking Headsesque track here is Every Day is a Miracle, a Latin-tinged Industrial number that recalls the band’s exaltation of the mundane as a profound philosophical phenomenon. Here, Byrne’s preoccupations lie with a cockroach’s appetite for the Mona Lisa, a perfectly pruned rose, and the significance of a donkey’s penis. But none of these things are actually mundane or crass: instead, they’re depicted as the makeup of one of many miraculous days in a lifetime. American Utopia wasn’t conceived just for fans to draw parallels back to his records with Talking Heads (though the return of producer Brian Eno will certainly elicit Fear of Music/Remain in Light comparisons), and in spite of its lyrical shortcomings, the album explores new territory without compromising Byrne’s singular, globally-conscious point of view.

American Utopia isn’t a perfect album. It’s not Byrne at his peak, but it is a David Byrne album, which means that there’s an undeniable craft and care to it, and just the appropriate amount of weirdness and experimentation to remind us why Byrne has been an inimitable figure in music for so many years. Even though the record’s hits and misses are fairly evenly stacked, Utopia is a welcome return for David after having withheld a proper solo effort for nearly fifteen years. And while the salad days of Talking Heads’ commercial apex may be long gone, the fact remains that Byrne still stands as an unassailable pop culture icon as his music career approaches its sixth decade. With every new album or collaboration, Byrne maintains the ability to make headlines and waves in the music world; he’s always elated to share with us his latest artistic venture. Everybody’s coming to David’s house, and we couldn’t have asked for a more gracious host.

Some Villains give a glimpse of new EP with The Skin

By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

The more alarming of the two words in Some Villains’ name isn’t its noun. It’s that determiner “Some.” It implies that there’s a formidable current of evil out there, but these four Englanders are no cause for concern. Comparatively, they’re benign, operating somewhere between the borders of villainous and just. The band’s villainy is small cog in some nefarious machine hell-bent on churning out dismay and dread; they’re only a blip on the radar, the lesser of many, many evils. They’re just some villains, nothing more.

This is the guiding principle behind Some Villains: to exist in the ether between facile classifications. Their Facebook mission statement explains that the band’s music is an attempt “to straddle the line between the experimental and the accessible.” And on the group’s latest track The Skin, the Villains strike that balance with aplomb.

Heralding the group’s forthcoming EP Outliers is this lead single, a slow burning rocker that distills the influences Some Villains have been championing all throughout their career. Musically, The Skin’s verses most immediately recall Sonic Youth, particularly their song Cross the Breeze (both numbers utilize the same two chord oscillation). Some Villains, however, are far cleaner than the New York No-Wavers, forgoing the dissonance that permeated Daydream Nation in favor of a clearer, more direct sound. The other major influence on Skin is that of Queens of the Stone Age. Featuring a hefty drum and bass foundation and singer Edward Graves’s fervent-yet-aloof vocal delivery, the band evoke the sound of QOTSA in a way that sounds neither contrived nor dispassionate.

Some Villains’ ethos charges them with the task that many bands before them have grappled with and faltered: creating wide-reaching appeal while still maintaining their artistic integrity. It’s nearly impossible to have it both ways, and SV know this. Still, their forays into experimental territory aren’t alienating and their use of familiar rock tropes never feel like a compromise. It’s a tightrope walk, to be sure, to play to the experimental crowd along with the tamer mainstream audiences. But sunny down snuff, they’re all right by the heroes and villains.

Best Tracks Of The Week (15th-21st Jan)

Contributions from Sean Hannah(@shun_handsome), Charlie Leach (@Yungbuchan), Ross Malcolm (@RossM98) and Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Young Fathers – In My View

Continuing down a pop route shown on their previous single, In My View is a sultry, anthemic, heartfelt ballad for the Scottish trio Young Fathers. Through its pop leanings, this song still contains some of the hallmarks of a Young Fathers‘ song: lo-fi mixing, skewed and sometimes eclectic harmonies, and the varied and talented vocals of Massaquoi, Bankole and Hastings. If these two singles are anything to go by, their new album Cocoa Sugar could be an introspective, delicate, pop album – another exciting evolution for this excellent band. CL

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Peach Club – Venus

Opening up their latest EP Cherry Baby, this Norwich GRRRL band don’t wanna keep their first impression subtle or timid as they blow into a well-paced, menacing anthem on liberation and sexuality. Having impressed with last year’s Bad Bitch, another track that wasn’t afraid to spit back with venom, Peach Club have established themselves with this latest cut and EP that is chock-full of bravado, fierceness and outright badassery. LM

listen here

Rejjie Snow – Egyptian Luvr (feat. Aminé & Dana Williams)

In the run-up to his debut album dropping in February, Rejjie Snow releases a hint of what is to come in his first release of 2018: Egyptian Luvr.  Egyptian Luvr is a surprisingly bright and chipper track compared to others in his discography. Lyrically he exceeds his usual standards, going for a more emotional approach. If this track is anything to go by, the Irishman’s gonna have a belter of a year. RM

Preoccupations – Espionage

Heralding the group’s forthcoming New Material album slated for release on March 23, PreoccupationsEspionage finds the group in peak form, hitting all of the post-punk/goth tropes they’ve become known for. Moonbeam synths, cavernous drums, and Matt Flegel’s rasping vocal knell comprise this frantic dirge, which culminates in a call and response akin to Joy Division’s Interzone. “We are bound,” Flegel ululates, to which the band responds, “Till we’re deeper in a dead sea”. SH

Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake – King’s Dead

Featuring on the upcoming Black Panther soundtrack, King’s Dead is suitably epic without being bombastic. With Mike Will Made It and Teddy Walton on production duties, resulting in a beat that just won’t quit, this track is undoubtedly the best we’ve seen yet from this OST, packing in an insane amount of energy with incredible flow and playful lyricism on Jay Rock and Future’s part respectively. It’ll be exciting to see how a track like this fits into a family friendly Marvel flick, though. LM

Mount Eerie – Distortion

Last time we saw Mr Phil Elverum, he left us all bubbling messes in his heartfelt, grief full open letter to his late wife Geneviève. While he’s not completely put the situation behind him (and how could you), he has managed to make something into art by giving his work a wider scope: much like his memory of his partner, the guitars linger on as he crafts a 11 minute colussus that is utterly interesting and emotionally evoking. LM

Album Review: As Much as I Used To by Vagrant Real Estate

by Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

rating 7

Foresighted listeners who read the song titles of this seventeen-track objet d’soul before actually listening to it will be able to glean its basic narrative. A thoroughgoing romantic tale to be sure, As Much as I Used To tracks all the important milestones of its hypothetical relationship: the serendipitous meeting (First Sight), inchoate affection and consummation (Lust, Rendezvous), mounting trepidation (Hesitate), allayment (Assurance), and the devastating quietus (No You Don’t, Plato’s Cave), which proves to be a felix culpa (Still Friends). Like the myriad soul records he deconstructs and reassembles, Vagrant Real Estate seeks to universalize romantic despair and felicity by way of deceptively simple music and lyrics coupled with sensationalized scenes of either unbridled affection or debilitating rejection. But this Aberdonian DJ imbues enough aural nuance into its story that his flash fictive romance avoids cliché while still maintaining the appeal of familiarity.

The bulk of Used To’s songs are signified by oblique leitmotifs. Lust is certainly informed by its repetitive “I want you so…” and “Come on, baby” interpolations, but only when the strings climax and the soundbite “I just make believe” emerges, backed by a chorine countermelody, does the track truly embody the carnal attraction its title suggests. Hesitate employs a striking, dissonant piano chord that, when treated with a stentorian bass pop and a fidgeting guitar flourish, only strays farther from attaining resolution, in effect cultivating the feeling of reticence to which the song’s name refers. But despite the album’s more erudite depictions of these abstract concepts, The Vagrant is still able to play his audience’s pleasure principle and demand for immediate gratification. Casual listeners will fawn over the demonstrable sexiness of Muscle Cars, the instant melancholy of Blinded, and the speeded-up desperation of its successor Talk.

The soul samples Real Estate chooses to employ are arcane enough—no Let’s Stay Together or Three Times a Lady to be found among the bricolage of plunderphonics—but as with most artists operating within this strain of instrumental hip-hop, this doesn’t matter to anyone but the producer. For the half-engaged listener or fledgeling soul enthusiast, the obscurity of an artist’s source material is incidental to the music itself.

Like DJ Shadow, Vagrant Real Estate scours his collection of esoterica to find an appropriate snatch of melody, an engrossing loop or a chipmunk-worthy vocal line. Impressive, sure, but too principled for a genre predicated on extravagance and surfeit. Recall that The Dust Brothers sampled Superfly for Paul’s Boutique, after all. Still, VRE isn’t above throwing us an easily recognizable soundbite, either. Just listen to the Zoolander clip at the :44 mark of First Sight.

Like his hero J Dilla, The Vagrant champions brevity and the hypnotic loop above all else. With its longest cut clocking in at just under three minutes and most tracks running about half as long, As Much as I Used To utilizes a laser focus to pare its songs down to their aesthetic and thematic cores. But also like Dilla, VRE misprizes the tension and release model lauded by EDM punching bag Skrillex and orgasm addicts The Chemical Brothers. As a result, Used To comes off as more ascetic than dynamic, showcasing an aptitude for austere song structures without the payoff of forte-pianissimo oscillations. Even Madlib knew when to layer his instrumentals.

Cluttering Vagrant Real Estate’s Soundcloud page is an olla podrida of referential hashtags that identify, according to him, the most astute artistic comparisons. These tags run the gamut of instrumental hip-hop icons and evoke varying levels of credulity. Here we have #yeezy (absolutely), #drake (defensible), #donuts (if you must), and #wu tang (come on!), among others. The Vagrant no doubt holds a great amount of deference for each of these vanguards, and the aesthetic he’s created for himself certainly pays homage to them, but he strives to distil too many influences into a singular work of art. Make no mistake, Vagrant Real Estate is a talented producer, and As Much As I Used To serves as a promising start for a beatmaker looking to hone his craft in the LP format, but he’s bitten off more than he can chew for this first record. Remember what Kendrick said: “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it… You ain’t gotta try so hard.”

Best Tracks Of The Week (8th-14th Jan)

Contributions from Sean Hannah(@shun_handsome), Will Sexton (@willshesleeps), Gregor Farquharson (@grgratlntc) Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Shame – The Lick

Despite making repeated appearances on the band’s setlists, The Lick serves as the embodiment of this band’s ability to send a message with attitude and authority.

Appearing on their wittingly titled debut Songs of Praise, Shame don’t so much take shots at the current state of British lad rock as much as they spray their entire catalog of reserve but rage tinged lyrics at the unnamed culprits – along with a colossal hook that most bands would give their right arm to be able to pull off, The Lick serves as a highlight to what is sure to be an underrated gem of a record in 2018.

Woes – Real World

On the back of a huge 2017, Woes are ready to throw everything at 2018. Catchy chorus and huge riffs, Real World is a modern pop-punk classic. It shows what Woes can do, and how serious about the genre the boys are.

Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans

Dissatisfied with his 2011 lo-fi masterpiece Twin Fantasy, Will Toledo sought to update his internet-famous juvenilia after signing with Matador Records in 2015. This week saw the release of a reworked Nervous Young Inhumans, in which CSH retrofit the track’s muffled din into a hi-fi dance-punk mini-crisis.

Touching on Toledo’s formerly maladroit cursive, a tryst in the uncanny valley, and the great axiom “Art gets what it wants and gets what it deserves,” the updated Inhumans finds new verve in an old fan favorite.

Lil Peep & Marshmello – Spotlight

Released posthumously, Lil Peep and Marshmello recorded a song before his tragic passing. Two fast up and coming artists sound incredibly bittersweet on this track and it’s a reminder that Lil Peep was someone to watch. It’s excellent that it was released as it serves as a solid reminder of how Lil Peep was progressing. RIP Lil Peep.

David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming To My House

Co-written with long-time collaborator Brian Eno as well as features from the likes of Sampha, the first cut off Talking Heads frontman David Byrne‘s upcoming solo LP is enough to have you drooling at the mouth: with a seductive saxophone acting as the foundations for his vocals to bounce and pounce around, Everybody’s Coming to My House is a tasty sample of what’s to come.

Soccer Mommy – Your Dog

After a delightful LP last year, American singer-songwriter soccer mommy stays true to her “chill but kinda sad” mantra with new single Your Dog. Appearing on new album Clean, this track is anything but with some warped guitars leading the song alongside some disdain heavy lyrics from Sophie herself. We were left optimistic about her future after Collection and if this single is any indication, Clean will be another solid effort from the up and comer.

Album Review: POST- by Jeff Rosenstock

by Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)rating 8

If there’s any confusion or uncertainty about Jeff Rosenstock’s politics, let the conspicuous “Fuck Trump” button adorning his guitar strap set the record straight: the pop-punk maven has no interest in bipartisanship. Like any singer worth his or her salt, Rosenstock performs with an unwavering conviction, brandishing his principles and foregrounding his beliefs to better represent his voiceless constituents. As Bob Dylan apprised us in the late ‘80s, we live in a political world, and between the releases of Rosenstock’s WORRY. in late 2016 and his surprise New Year’s record POST-, the American populace has borne witness to a jarring shift in political epochs. Of the multitudinous interpretations possible, the title of POST- may well be political in nature (Post-Obama? Why not?), but given Rosenstock’s facility for tying everyday imbroglios to larger narratives, there’s likely a human element to the album’s name. And though he’s often favored personal strife over expressly political subject matter, Rosenstock, here on POST-, keenly conflates the malaise of the human condition with the frustration of living in an autocracy that fails to reflect his own values.

POST- is an album rife with conflict, vacillating between furtive political references and forthright internal turmoil. Yr Throat questions the efficacy of self-expression as the narrator’s body and mind lock into a stalemate: “What’s the point of having a voice when it gets stuck inside your throat?!All This Useless Energy stages a contentious dialogue between under informed neurotypicals and frustrated depressives: “You’re not fooling anyone when you say you tried your best. I’m worried of abandoning the joys that framed my life, but all this useless energy won’t hold me through the night.

Despite all the inert, self-consuming acrimony in his lyrics, Rosenstock is still able to direct his vitriol toward the larger issues. More socially conscious than overtly political, POST- susses out the everyday woes of the American public while still attesting to Toni Morrison’s pronouncement that all art is, in fact, political. And though he never refers to Trump by name, instead amalgamating him and other elected officials into the duplicitous, caustic “USA” villain character, Jeff continuously makes sly allusions to his unsavory Commander in Chief. In a political climate that has fostered a pernicious fissure between its two parties, and in a cultural landscape that attacks its leader far more vehemently and directly, Rosenstock understands the merit in avoiding explicit Trump name-checking.

Jeff Rosenstock’s songs are so effortlessly symbiotic that it’s hard to tell if the animus of his lyrics informs the energy of the music or vice versa. Is the lo-fi tale of blighted romance on Powerlessness fueling its Descendents-derived power punk sound? Does the New York Dolls-inspired guitar-kitsch on Beating My Head against a Wall dictate Rosenstock’s delivery of the album’s catchiest chorus? In an album fractured by both internal and external enmity, Rosenstock’s dedication to cohesion between his music and lyrics is his most reliable asset.

Rosenstock may not have the firmest grasp on the political morass plaguing him and his compatriots—without mention of race or class, his political gestures can come across as vague or even worse, toothless—which is why he opts for oblique, rather than direct, allusions to the Conservative opposition to his Liberal way of life. But he isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last punk singer to tenuously assess democracy in song. In any case, Jeff further positions himself as one of punk’s most effectual mouthpieces here on POST-. His verve compensates for all the ambiguity rock lyrics demand, and with the clarion call at the end of Let Them Win (which could have been cribbed straight from the Woody Guthrie songbook but for its conclusive “Fuck no!” lyric), Rosenstock asserts that he won’t spend the first full calendar year of Trump’s presidency sitting on his hands.

Whatever the meaning you choose to ascribe to the term “post” (Post-Obama, Post-Trauma, or for the overdramatic, Post-America) POST- refers to the end of an era. Every generation grapples with its social and political conventions, and now the Millennials have been called to action. A daunting task, to be sure, for a throng of young people consistently written off as thin-skinned, lazy, and disinterested. But with Jeff Rosenstock at the forefront of punk’s socially-inclined philosophes, we’re sure not to be tired and bored with the fight. May we never be again.

Top 50 Songs of 2017

We’ve been fairly negative this week, what with the moaning behemoth that was our ten worst tracks of the year list, but let us assure you that music in 2017 hasn’t been terrible: in fact, it’s arguably the strongest it has been since the glory year of 2015. There’s still another week to go before we give you the round up of the records we couldn’t get enough of but until then, the BLINKCLYRO team have a treat for you.

This year’s Top 50 Songs list marks the first year where it isn’t just Liam compiling his favourite tunes: all the writers for the site have submitted their top 10 tracks of the year and after compiling them, tallying the points and laying them out, this post before you is the end result of that. So strap yourself in, relax and prepare yourself for a bucket load of great tunes that’ll make you feel blessed to have ears.

50. Blaenavon – Orthodox Man

First heard in 2015 when played to a crowd of under twenty, Orthodox Man has remained very much the same between then and now. However, now played to sell out crowds it has become somewhat of a fan favourite and it is clear to see why. It is fun, it is exciting, it gets the crowd going. What more could you want from a debut record single?

49. The Xcerts – Daydream

What sets The Xcerts out from others is the vocal style, and Daydream is no exception. Murray Macleod’s Aberdonian accent beams through the track and the catchy riff and drums make it a dance along track. Throw in that beautifully constructed bridge and you have yourself an upbeat pop rock song, that is sure to send the Xcerts flying into 2018.

48. The War On Drugs – Holding On

Holding On is a highlight pick from the new War on Drugs album and makes for easy listening with a dreamy feel across the instrumentals and vocals. The fact that this song stands out on A Deeper Understanding, which is an already amazing album, testifies to the quality of the track. The winding journey that the track takes you on is definitely one to remember.

47. The Mountain Goats – Unicorn Tolerance

This funky pop track off this year’s Mountain Goats album is remarkable in both its familiarity, in terms of lyricism from Darnielle, and harmonised chorus, taken straight out of the bands previous works; it is notable too for its difference, with a very chill melodic pop beat going through, and an almost dreamlike feel, making something that old fans, as well as Mountain Goats VLs, will get.

46. Pip Blom – Babies Are A Lie

Hailing from Amsterdam, Pip Blom have been around for around half a decade now yet continue the evolution from, as they put it, the girl with little guitar to a full-on band that hit their stride on this tune; a chill track that eases in with a simple introduction and lets its hair loose on its earworm of a chorus.

45. Benjamin Clementine – Phantom of Aleppoville 

From this year’s I Tell A Fly, delivered by the avant-garde maestro Benjamin Clementine, this is very much a high point experimentally for the album, with a lon sweeping intro, blending in classical music, after an anxiety inducing chant early on with the track’s lyrics really shining as the song reaches its end.

44. The Smiths Street Band – Birthdays

I feel overwhelmed so I wanna be alone but then when I’m alone I feel lonely” were the words shared on the Australian rock outfit’Instagramam about Birthdays, a romance heavy tune that features on the band’s frankly underrated LP More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. Transparent and deeply emotive, The Smiths Street Band manage to effortlessly discuss issues of mental health and desire over this tight 3-minute odd track.

43. Idles – Mother

2017 was a fantastic year for Bristol outfit Idles, and their single Mother punched and kicked straight into the music communities consciousness. With scathing, growling lyrics from frontman Joe Talbot, the song was a perfect shot of heavy guitar music arrived with aplomb this year. This track stands out on their excellent album Brutalism for its much-needed commentary on the social fabric of our country.

42. Woes – Losing Time

Opening with an excellent sounding pop punk riff, Losing Time doesn’t hesitate to go huge. The vocals are reminiscent of the bands’ self-titled EP released last year, and both singers vocals blend brilliantly to create a beautiful harmony. The bridge of the track slows right down, with lead vocalist David Jess passionately shouting, before getting back to business: Woes are definitely one to watch in 2018.

41. Tommy Genesis – Tommy

While there’s a solid bit of production in the form of a Charlie Heat beat, Tommy‘s main draw is the display and establishment of herself as an aggressive and hyper-sexual rapper who can stand her own ground. With the bravado and confidence that Tommy Genesis holms, we wouldn’t be surprised to see her come out with something major in the near future.

40. Dua Lipa – New Rules (Initial Talk Remix)

It’s no secret that Dua Lipa seemingly came out of nowhere to deliver one of the biggest pop tunes of the year, one with a great sense of empowerment. Initial Talk thought that New Rules was missing something and decided to give it a dollop of 80’s gloss, an odd decision but one that works very well for a song that could have easily found itself sang by the pop juggernauts from that decade.

39. Enter Shikari – Undercover Agents

Easily one of the best tracks off The Spark & one of the most accessible Shikari songs, Undercover Agents is a bouncy number that’ll get the whole floor howling at the moon. Is it a song about Facebook or Instagram, or is “I want to see your body” covering for something else?

38. N.E.R.D – Lemon

Though it could be argued to be more the “Pharrell and Rihanna show” rather than a full-blown N.E.R.D comeback, this song is still a bonafide club banger. Just like the lyrics, the production bounces along with deep 808 bass kicks and a high popping synth, while in the latter part of the song, Rihanna raps with a swagger that is seldom heard.

37. Rostam – Bike Dream

Aeronautical oranges, continental paintings, an uxorious pair of boys. These are some of the images that populate Rostam’s Bike Dream, the fanciful second track of his excellent debut Half-Light. Atop the synth-drum dynamo powering the song is the exultation of Rostam seeing himself in the myriad New Yorkers ambulating around 14th Street. Amid the chaos, Rostam reaches the bittersweet summation of his many romances: “Telling me something or nothing, never the one thing I wanna hear”.

36. St Vincent – Slow Disco

Near the culmination of Annie Clark’s neon pop masterclass, Masseduction, sits one of her finest songs yet. An emotionally affecting powerhouse, Slow Disco stands out as a work of stripped back beauty amidst the sea of oddball experiments. On first listen it may just seem a welcome variation from the robotic and futuristic sounds of the rest of the record, but with time it reveals itself as the albums powerfully vulnerable highlight.

35. Vistas – Retrospect

Latest single Retrospective is everything we know and love this Edinburgh pop-rock outfit for. Opening up with the catchiest of riffs, the nod-along melody kicks in with frontman Prentice Robertsons’ spectacular vocals create a happy, feel-good vibe. The band has worked tirelessly the past two years and it is now all beginning to pay off with this tune being evident of the progress they’ve made.

34. Protomartyr – My Children

The second single to be released from their latest album and one of the most complete songs they’ve recorded yet, Protomartyr have managed to distill almost every aspect of their music into a deeply satisfying 3 minutes and 42 seconds. An ominous, mumbled intro gives way to angular guitars as anti-frontman Joe Casey delivers a caustic take on issues of growing old, remaining childless and the implications that might have on his legacy.

33. Alex Cameron – Runnin’ Outta Luck

Who would have thought that a satirical concept album based around the trials and tribulations of toxic masculinity and fragile egotism could be so catchy? The third single from 2017’s delightfully playful Forced Witness epitomises the thematic musical and lyrical consistences that run deep through the record via a bombastic, synth-embellished sound that recalls the classic rock and pop of the 1980s with an unrelentingly ear-worming chorus.

32. Harry Styles – Sign Of The Times

2017 marked the year that the members of One Direction stepped out on their own and released their debut solo material, and unarguably the best track born of the hiatus has come from unofficial band leader Harry Styles, who boldly emerged with Sign of the Times, a 5-minute epic which channels heroes Prince and David Bowie, effortlessly building from a solemn piano into to a rock opera without breaking sweat. Styles vocal performance is enthralling throughout, growing with the track from a brooding opening before howling “WE”VE GOT TO GET AWAYYY” in the epic climax, the track’s escapism aided by a choir and a glam-rock guitar tone elevating Styles’ already huge vocal into the stratosphere.

31. Clairo – Pretty Girl

Clairo seems to be fitting in remarkably well to her newfound position as a self-aware, bedroom pop artist. As you may expect, Pretty Girl is a relationship influenced song but one that finds pleasure in pointing out the flaws of superficially lead ones with a simple music video only exasperating the simplistic charm that she delivers in bucketloads.

30. Phoebe Bridgers – Funeral

A cut from her debut album, this track from Phoebe Bridgers is a real story of Bruce Springsteen proportions, delivering a thought-provoking, heartfelt and genuinely sad song, involving the artiste singing at a funeral: just as morbid and depressing as you would expect but with a glimmer of beauty.

29. Peach Pit – Being So Normal

Described as being “chewed bubblegum pop” by, well, themselves, Peach Pit manage to leave a muffled indent with this eponymously titled track off their debut LP; the lead smooth vocals may sound exhausted but when backed up by warm guitars and an undeniable crisp production, it’s hard not to feel yourself mellowed out and enthralled.

28. The Vegan Leather – Shake It

This paisley disco-pop outfit’s debut single was one of the hottest Scottish indie hits of the year, almost anthemic in its delivery; with a fantastic dance beat to accompany it. One of the most notable elements of the track is the harmonies between male and female fronts of the band, Gian and Marie respectively, working together to deliver a positively electric track.

27. King Krule – Dum Surfer

Dum Surfer, from King Krule’s album The Ooz, amplifies the very darkest aspects of his music. The lyrics are aggressive and unsettling. Krule’s deep and brooding voice matches the violent imagery which contrasts starkly with the jazzy saxophone and abundance of percussion. It sounds like nothing else but manages to stand by itself as one of the best tracks of the year.26. Young Fathers – Only God Knows

Young Fathers provided the backbone to the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. Included was the beautifully layered track, Only God Knows. Accompanied by Leith Congregational Choir, the trio from Edinburgh create three and a half minutes heart pounding, distorted bliss: it’s impossible to not find yourself smiling when this song comes on. Not only does it undeniably bring the other songs from T2 together but also establishes the versatility of Scottish hip-hop.

25. Lil Peep – Save That Shit

The “Pt. 1” affixed to Lil Peep’s debut album Come Over When You’re Sober will forever serve as a reminder of what Gustav Åhr’s career might have been. A sense of death’s rapid encroachment pervaded much of Peep’s music, and last month, a fatal overdose granted his self-fulfilling prophecy.

Standing out among Åhr’s robust oeuvre is Save That Shit, a maudlin breakup song featuring spidery post-grunge guitars, tightly-wound trap drums, and Lil Peep’s trademark gruff whine. The details of the couple’s relationship are in constant flux: “All she want is payback,” “You ain’t getting nothing I’m saying, don’t tell me you is,” “Do I make you scared? Baby, won’t you take me back?

The optimist in him wants to salvage the relationship, but the realist in him knows he can’t save that shit.

24. Corbin – Giving Up

When Corbin dropped his album Mourn earlier this year, it showcased his soulful vocal talents over moody and mournful cloud rap and RnB beats which have stuck out in our minds over this year though Giving Up is the track that has remained at the forefront of our minds.

The synths create a very downtrodden atmosphere to begin with and bring you into a state of melancholy where you can then be lulled by Corbin’s silky smooth voice. The drums kick in about 2:30 into the song which lifts the track considerably but the depressive quality of this track just gets stronger as Corbin’s vocals become more powerful and desperate near the end.

Taking into account the song’s lyrics’ focus on suicide makes this track a total emotional barrage, but a fucking good one.

23. Sorority Noise – A Portrait Of

Although Sorority Noise have teased listeners with lyrics and themes meaningful enough to rip your heart from your chest, 2017’s A Portrait Of is when the depth of the band really hit home. All of YNA_AYT is a journey into the deepest crevices of your conscience, but when the sophomore track opens with “I’ve been feeling suicidal..” you know you’re going to be in for an emotional ride.

Roaring a mid-section poetical giving reference to living his life as a continuation of theirs, Cameron Boucher truly opens up here and by the end of the track you’re left speechless, in tears or both.

The instrumentation is not ghoulish, nor is it an overly slow ballad to emphasise the lyrics, it is standard Sorority Noise in-your-face riff-topia with cutting hooks, dominant drums and quite frankly an elegant yet boisterous glue holding everything in place.

22. SZA – Drew Barrymore

Throughout her debut album CTRL, SZA discusses both relationships with others and herself with remarkable honesty and this is most evident on Drew Barrymore.

An ode to SZA’s favourite actress, the song’s themes are reminiscent of Barrymore’s iconic roles of women finding their identities. Similarly, on the track, SZA admits her insecurities and instead of being embarrassed by them, she sees a piece of herself in one of her biggest idols.

It is rare to see such difficult emotions towards relationships expressed so directly and with that comes sincerity that makes this track resonate so deeply; anyone that’s ever felt inadequate will both appreciate those feelings described so accurately and also a reminder that even people as talented as SZA feel the same way.

21. Mount Eerie – Real Death

Artistic expressions of death and grief are rarely ever as direct as they are on A Crow Looked At Me, an album dealing with the of passing Mount Eerie mastermind Phil Elverum’s wife Geneviève Castrée at the age of thirty-five. Yet in the opening track, Elverum insists that his record is exactly not that: “Death is real… it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art”.

With every word his cracked and pained voice utters, the listener gains only a minute sense of what it must be like to have been put through such a traumatic ordeal, and then shift through the aftermath. It’s a song so heartbreakingly beautiful that I struggle sometimes to listen to it in full – but I’m still glad that such a succinct statement of personal loss exists in today’s world.

20. Everything Everything – Desire

Desire feverishly builds, reaching a chorus featuring so many layered vocals, it sounds like an entire choir made up of Josh Higgs’ indulgent falsetto. The guitar riff at times rings like early naughties math rock in the best possible way and topping it all off are some very on brand Everything Everything lyrics “I am a pencil pusher with the pencil pusher blues“.

The beat stomps on through from the start, breaking at times into a delicate two-step instantly transporting you to a sweaty dancehall. It’s a song that makes it near impossible not to dance; some of the best indie pop we’ve had all year.

19. Kirin J. Callinan – Big Enough (Ft. Alex Cameron, Molly Lewis & Jimmy Barnes)

This is one of the rare songs on this list that has to be heard to be believed, especially in conjunction with its fabulously grandiose music video. Country twangs, EDM drops, heavy metal screams and a fist-pumping, chest-burstingly triumphant list of arbitrary countries, continents and states for a conclusion that, similar to marmite or self-immolation, will change your life for the better or the worse.

The reason it works and not devolve into the aural equivalent of a thirteen-way pile up on the M8 is the strength of the songwriting and the dynamics of the production, both of which create an addictive cocktail of a serotonin rush that never fails to lift your spirits. That, or make your face cringe so hard it cracks in two, but if it does that then you probably hate fun.

18. LCD Soundsystem – tonite

If James Murphy and co.’s first two comeback singles were intriguing yet divisive, then tonite firmly solidified the validation for their return to the stage, whilst simultaneously setting the scene for the album upon which it settles into snuggly in the middle third.

Lyrically, Murphy rearms his iconically ironic New York cool stance but with an updated penchant for the self-aware, allowing himself to deprecate the stagnant state of the charts without ever falling into the “Old Man Yells At Cloud!” trap that haunts many of rock music’s elder statesmen.

Pounding behind the words is a groovy instrumental that takes its cues from Daft Punk and The Human League, and reaffirms LCD Soundsystem’s place on the dancefloor, and indeed our hearts. We’ve missed you, Murphy.

17. The Menzingers – Thick As Thieves

With February’s After the Party, Scranton natives The Menzingers reached a career peak. A wonderful record bursting at the seams with shout-a-long slices of life, it establishes the band as a bonafide grade-A rock outfit. An ode to reckless abandon, Thick as Thieves encapsulates all that is great about the album.

The whole track just drips with an endearing sense of nostalgia and sincerity, with vocalist Greg Barnett gleefully yelling of ‘building castles of cans and bottles’ without a trace of cynicism or irony. The chorus, perhaps the best the band has ever come up with, seems tailor-made for crowds to scream back at the stage; it’s just joyous.

If you can get it out of your head, you’re not human.

16. Remo Drive – Yer Killin’ Me

What a belter this track is. A slice of raucous, driving, almost poppy emo from the Minnesota 3-piece Remo Drive’s beauty of a debut album Greatest Hits (killer title).

There’s such an infectious venom in frontman Erik Paulson’s vocals and lyrics that you almost can’t help but be subconsciously pissed off at whoever’s wronged him.

The mathy breakdown towards the end of the track is delicious as well. Yer Killin’ Me is a perfect introduction to the world of Remo Drive, and one that would easily fit into your running playlist or your moody playlist. Brilliant.

15. Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Llif3

The king of emo rap’s magnum opus. XO TOUR LIiF3 by Philadelphia’s own Lil Uzi Vert manages to walk the tightrope between depressing as fuck and club banger with aplomb. Flexing about his car one minute and lamenting a failing relationship in the next, this is a deceptively complex slice of hip-hop from one of the most exciting MCs of 2017.

Mr. Vert explores concepts that most modern rappers wouldn’t dare touch, the likes of how maybe drug abuse isn’t that good and suicide. On a surface level it’s a cracking trap track, but if you listen to the lyrics it’s a sad portrait of a man who’s a bit lost in the world of hip-hop. And that’s what makes it so good.

14. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Open Water

Choosing a highlight from King Gizzard’s extensive set of 2017 releases is no mean feat. From tightly wound prog to loosely held together jazz pop, the range this band have displayed this year trumps what most bands achieve across their whole career.

Way back in February, the group released the finest of these efforts, Flying Microtonal Banana, and with it, Open Water, the seven-minute colossus that stands as the jewel in the crown.

Bursting with pitch black imagery and fluid, winding licks, it sees the band really push themselves to their limit. Their drums had never been quite so ferocious before, the atmosphere never quite so delightfully disorientating, and the end result rarely quite so brilliant. 

13. Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling

Carly Rae Jepsen‘s transition from early 2010’s meme to critically applauded pop artist has been one of the most interesting moments over the past few years and this cut for animated flick Leap continues the trend.

We could easily discuss the effortlessly ascending and descending bits of production that tie into the Canadian singer’s wonderful pipes or her delivery from hushful whispering to ambitious proclamations; the hook, line, and sinker of Cut To The Feeling is just how bloody fun it is and in another dark and dreary year, we need more of these than ever.

12. The National – Day I Die

Bryan Devendorf herein stakes his claim as one of indie’s pre-eminent percussionists, kicking off one of the highlights of Sleep Well Beast with a frenetic drum intro. Relentlessly uptempo and featuring guitar licks reminiscent of The Cure, themes of marital affairs are navigated with reference-laden lyrics.

Matt Berninger boasts that, “Young mothers love me, even ghosts of / Girlfriends call from Cleveland“, although he’s clearly still more concerned about the no-mans land his current relationship occupies, struggling to understand where exactly things stand.

During the bridge, further context is given to “great uncle Valentine Jester“, a character visited previously and, as it happens, someone who Berninger shares a lot in common with, particularly when he gets “a little punchy with the vodka“.

11. Lorde – Green Light

Fresh from a break-up, Lorde’s second album, Melodrama, explores dealing with losing someone for the first time and all the thoughts that come with it. The first single, Green Light, starts desperate and heart wrenching.

The song opens with her raw, slow vocals and simple piano, but builds quickly to a fast dance anthem, flinging her reputation as a moody teenage songstress into the mainstream. The sincerity in her vocals mixed with the constant change of pace creates a warmth inside your stomach. It’s a song to cry but also to move on to. Lorde is showing us how to dance through the pain.10. Frank Ocean – Chanel

Frank Ocean is famed as one of modern music’s lyricists for his complexity and deft storytelling talents. However, Ocean throws this subtlety out of the window in the mic-drop of an opening couplet to surprise single Chanel – “My guy pretty like a girl / and he got fight stories to tell”.

This sets the tone for Chanel’s lyrical tone – it’s part bashful, part confessional, varying as Ocean drifts between singing and rapping – displaying a mastery of each. The dreary beat is the perfect bed for Ocean’s varied delivery, and transitions into perhaps Ocean’s most iconic hook yet – “I see both sides like Chanel” – another lyrical masterstroke as he flips hip-hop’s obsession with brands into an expression of sexuality.

9. Stormzy – Big For Your Boots

Stormzy seems like one of the nicest guys in music, but Big For Your Boots is a definite warning to anyone tries stopping his rise. His flow is incredible throughout the whole song, and some of the lines are solid gold.

Had a peng ting named Amy telling me to come round hers on a Valerie ting“. Sublime. The whole of GSAP was one of the standout albums of 2017, but this was the biggest diamond in the jewelers.

8. Paramore – Hard Times

Where do you start with the summery, pop anthem that is Hard Times?! The emo, pop-punk icons of yesteryear seemingly flipped their iconic style on its head and replaced it with a neon light complementing, almost sickly pink doused, upbeat classic.

Hayley Williams’ voice sounds as good, if not better, as their Riot! days and the re-addition of founding drummer Zac Farro adds a warming, sentimental value for the old-skool Paramore fans.

What we have is effectively an infectiously catchy piece of pop elegance from someone who was the antithesis of Hard Times. A fluorescent burst of colourful chaos, synths galore and a something that is a simple yet strangely complex arrangement of upbeat fun.

7. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Father John Misty’s third LP is comfortably the most lyrically ambitious release this year – providing social commentary on the grandest scale imaginable. This is best executed on the record’s stunning title track where Josh Tillman gives his perspective on “the comedy of man” – beginning with the birth process and arriving at religion with a lot in between – on the most grandiose score Tillman’s voice has ever graced.

The lyrics are the star of the show here, however, with Tillman addressing the human race at large with observations like “their illusions they have no choice but to believe”, however, the lyrics never take themselves too seriously, especially as he smirks “how’s this for irony?” in a subtle nod to his Father John Misty persona.

6. Brockhampton – Star

In a year where BROCKHAMPTON dropped three albums, there were several stand-out tracks that defined their year but none more memorable than STAR.

This track has a unique theme with its constant pop culture references. From Dom McLennon’s rapid-fire name dropping from Matthew McConaughey to Liam Neeson to Ameer Van’s bragging about being “the black Tom Hanks” and being “kingpin like Jay Z, dance moves like JT”. The track finishes on perhaps their strongest verse of the year as Kevin Abstract pronounced himself “Heath Ledger with some dreads” in a hilarious yet vicious verse that mixes references to pop culture and his own sexuality with ease.

America’s newest boyband have been on fire this year and that’s no more evident than on STAR.

5. Gorillaz – Ascension (Ft. Vince Staples)

When Vince Staples strutted onto the stage unannounced midway through Gorillaz’ sold out Hydro show, it was clear that the already fantastic gig was about to reach a new level. Staples’ stage presence was electric, his short frame covering almost every inch of the arena’s huge stage.

Somehow, the Long Beach MC manages to convey that energy as well on record as he does live on apocalyptic banger Ascension. Beginning with a quick-fire Staples verse atop a wartime air horn which soon gives way to Staples’ nonchalant attitude to the end of the world with the lyrics “the sky’s falling baby / drop that ass ‘fore it crash”.Gorillaz latest record Humanz was criticised for being too guest-heavy, but with Staples in such electrifying form, you can’t blame Damon Albarn for giving him the spotlight across his 2 lightning-quick verses.

As much as Staples is on fire, this still feels like a Gorillaz track. An Albarn verse is interspersed between Staples’ and is the perfect foil: Albarn sounds his age in contrast with Staples’ youthful exuberance: his verse darker, gloomier and more measured. He is happy to give the spotlight back to Staples who trivialises the apocalypse once more; with Staples on the mic, the apocalypse has never seemed so exciting.

4. Vince Staples – Yeah Right (Ft. Kendrick Lamar & Kucka)

Wouldn’t you know it – two tracks featuring Vince Staples back to back and boy, does the man deserve the high rankings on this list; anyone with a vague knowledge of Odd Future will have been made aware of the rapper’s potential and while he’s released some solid solo material, this track off Big Fish Theory certifies that there’s gold in them there hills.

Packing in the stellar production that can be found over the course of the entirety of Vince’s sophomore LP, Yeah Right teases the listener with his trademark delivery and a subdued instrumental before it’s released like a pack of lions with Detroit techno coursing through their blood. The sheer velocity of the bass borderlines on untenable at moments which adds to not only the power this song possesses but how closely this album walks the line between experimental and excruciating.

Then there’s that Kendrick verse which may possibly be the best guest bars to have been spat all year with an abundance of meta, serious, humourous and braggadocious lines that’ll etch themselves into your cranium. Tie in that bridge by Kucka which has a reminiscent tinge of old school UK Grime and you’re left with one of the greatest hip-hop tunes of the year.

3. Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses

Already known for being able to essentially do anything, Wolf Alice proved that once again when they defined the modern love song with Don’t Delete The Kisses.

Ellie Rowsell’s lyrics have never been better even though they are the most sentimental she’s ever written. “I might as well write all over my notebook that you ‘rock my world!’” she admits in one of two verses Rowsell delivers in an almost talkative tone that mimics the thoughts going through her head; it somehow encapsulates these thoughts that everyone experiences in a creative way.

Don’t Delete The Kisses is unashamedly lovesick and cliché, and it’s confidence forces a massive smile onto your face as Rowsell’s closing words “I see the signs of a lifetime, you til I die” would manage to touch even the most cynical of hearts. The second single from sophomore album Visions of a Life, such an instant classic was unprecedented and will be hard for Wolf Alice to top but for now, they can revel in the success of creating a song that will undoubtedly remind a whole generation of fans of the person that they love.

2. Tyler The Creator – 911 / Mr. Lonely

True to form, the 10th track of Tyler’s widely acclaimed comeback project Flower Boy is a two-parter – a reoccurring theme across each of his albums. It’s a perfect synopsis of the dichotomy between the two different personalities of the record – one side is airy, melodic and full of summery optimism; the other, introspective and brooding.

The beauty of this track and, indeed, the rest of the album is the way Tyler reconciles these aspects and lays them bare so candidly. Perhaps one of the most apparent throwbacks to earlier, darker material such as Goblin, he alludes to his erstwhile depression throughout – in 911 he takes a philosophical approach, realising his own experiences can help him relate to others. Portraying a soothing voice on the other end of the phone, perhaps an emergency call handler, he introduces himself: “My name is Lonely, nice to meet you”.

Soon, though, he finds himself the one most in need of reassurance as he lapses back into despair in Mr. Lonely. The beat becomes dark and snare-heavy as he condemns his outwardly loud and brash personality, also questioning whether materialistic pursuits have ever really helped to alleviate that omnipresent feeling of loneliness. The last line cuts the deepest of all: reaching for a friend “so I never have to press that 911”.

1. Kendrick Lamar – DNA.

Regardless of your opinion on DAMN., light 7 or not, there’s no denying that 2017 has very much been the year of Kung Fu Kenny himself. From the teaser track The Heart Part IV tearing apart America’s newly elected toddler/President to his comeback single Humble, along with its subsequent meme value, to the hotly discussed topic of how his fourth LP should be played, there are very few artists who managed to stay relevant for all the right reasons in 2017.

A constantly evolving artist, think back to K Dot on Good Kid, m.A.A.d City or the existential, jazz poet on To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar is the most important figure in hip-hop at the moment and certifies this perfectly with D.N.A. An introspective and aggressive behemoth, this track serves not only as a reflection of himself as an idolised and sought after celebrity (Only Lord knows I’ve been goin’ hammer / dodgin’ paparazzi, freakin’ through the cameras) but it’s so much more than that.

True to his roots and heritage, D.N.A is primarily about Kendrick as a black man and in a year where race was the focus of some of the most despicable moments of the year in America, its message is more important than ever: the feature of a Fox News anchor stating that his music “has done more damage than racism ever has” only provokes him into becoming the passion-driven, bar spitting activist that music needs more of.

As he ends on some vicious lines, the inclusion of “peace to the world” could be taken literally or be a homophone for the slang for a gun; either way, the intentions are made clear on a song that seems to sum up this year into a claustrophobically tight 3 minutes, six seconds. 

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/111518578/playlist/4T1V1dcSEhkDsZcyny9CWY


So there you have it, our definitive list of the best songs we’ve heard all year. I’d like to thank the following people for contributing not only their rankings which helped make the list but also the little write-ups they did for each track: 

Album Review: Utopia by Björk

By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)rating 4

The greatest looming threat to a pop singer’s career isn’t necessarily a diminishing talent for songwriting. More often than not, it’s the artist’s waxing age that does him or her in. Popular music is so heavily steeped in the exaltation of youth that showing even the most innocuous signs of aging can spell death for a musician’s career. Crow’s feet and receding hairlines won’t move albums or bolster streaming numbers when there exists an arsenal of cherubic up-and-comers at the ready to capitalize on the vacancy left by those former hitmakers. In the face of oncoming cultural irrelevance, these older artists are left with essentially two options: accept defeat and resign to a life of musical obsolescence or combat the aging process by way of artistic reinvention.

Madonna fended off antiquity by crafting pop songs through her ever-morphing registers of personal maturity. Neil Young did it by striking up avuncular (and symbiotic) relationships with the likes of Devo and Sonic Youth. And Bowie had burned through so many iterations during his career that his name is practically synonymous with musical metamorphosis.

But for Björk, musical mutability has been less a carapace against the ravages of time and more of a compulsion. Embracing the onslaught of alternative rock in the late ‘80s with the Sugarcubes and later discovering electronica the following decade, Björk’s career is a brazen protest against musical stagnation. To be sure, there have been no periods of stasis for an artist whose career has thrice begun in earnest. Yet on Utopia, her ninth album as a solo musician, Björk mistakes heterodoxy for being boundary-pushing and heartbreak for wisdom in an engaging yet familiar meditation on interpersonal relationships.

Utopia marks the second collaboration with producer Arca, whose panoply of twitching, programmed synths undergirds and guides Björk through her vicissitudes of jubilance, despair, and altruism. Relying mostly on Apollonian chamber music, Arca, along with fellow producers Rabit and Björk herself, crafts a thoughtful collection of dynamic, if lukewarm instrumentals. A delicately plucked harp carries Blissing Me. An ethereal chorus propels Features Creatures. The album’s title track is driven by a flute. As are Losss, Courtship, and Paradisia. The music is decidedly stately in its restraint, but Björk’s artistry has never championed understatement in the interest of normalcy. This raises the question “Can Utopia be called ‘experimental’ if it resists subversion?” Is Björk truly challenging herself or just giving us more of the same?

In response to the malaise and despair of Vulnicura, a self-described “heartbreak album,” Björk seeks to attain self-actualization on Utopia. Inaugural track Arisen My Senses explores the physicality of love as it intersects with musicianship and the advent of the internet: “Just that kiss / Was all there is / My palms pulsating of the things I want to do to you.” Physical sensation proves the gateway to fulfillment, much in the same way solitude and pastoral asceticism do in the Emersonian Claimstaker. “The forest is in me […] This is my home.” She’s markedly more ecstatic in comparison to her lovelorn self on Vulnicura, but Björk isn’t without trepidation when it comes to happiness. On the track Utopia, though she’s found comfort in her current situation, “Utopia: it isn’t elsewhere, it’s here,” Björk maintains an untraceable wariness about her: “My instinct has been shouting at me for years, saying ‘Let’s get out of here!’ / Huge toxic tumor bulging underneath the ground here.”

Ideas are inherently fragmentary. David Lynch likens them to fish swimming in our consciousness that are caught by chance rather than created by design. Björk seems to feel similarly, given that most of the lyrics to Utopia are fractious in form. As such, many lines come off as insular and underdeveloped. In the case of Saint, they’re plain clunky: “She has entered me thousand fold often / And undone knots at my most awkward.” The same is true of Courtship: “I then upturned a green-eyed giant / Who upturned and entered me.” The three producers’ decision to largely forego the inclusion of drums creates a decentering feeling, which is exacerbated by the songs’ fractured lyrics, yet they rarely add up to anything significant. And when attached to Björk’s amorphous melodies, her words only distract from the aesthetic of her voice.

The fallout of her past relationship hasn’t quite yielded the profundity she aims for on Utopia. It’s left her more guarded, certainly, according to The Gate: “My healed chest wound transformed into a gate.” But Björk doesn’t arrive at any major conclusions about love. She is, however, careful not to sully her children’s conception of a relationship in the wake of her heartache: “Tabula rasa for my children, let’s clean up, break the chain of the fuck ups of the fathers.” She’s selfless in her resolve not to let her shit ruin others’ chances at happiness. A benevolent gesture in a record otherwise overflowing with navel-gazing.

Björk’s youthfulness is self-evident in her resistance to stagnation and complacency. She’s outgrown alt-rock as well as dance music, but her alacrity to explore new musical territory keeps her from the status of musical curmudgeon. If we’re lucky, she’ll continue to embrace the future of experimental music and search out new musical identities for the rest of her career. If we’re luckier still, they’ll be more fruitful than here on Utopia.