Friday, December 22, 2017

My Top 30 Songs Of 2017

Hello! I don't really write here anymore because I spend most of my time doing music things over here, and soon, I'll be somewhere entirely new. 

But, this is still my little baby that changed the game for me almost eight (!) years ago when I started writing here everyday. So it's the spot to write about myself, if there was one.

Anyway, here are 30 songs that almost, almost made 2017 more than the pile of crap that it was.

30. Everything Now - Arcade Fire

Compared to what Arcade Fire have put out prior, Everything Now as a whole didn't do it for me. But this welcome takedown of greed and consumerism, in all of its anthemic, pan flute-laced glory, was undeniably special.

29. Crowded Places - BANKS

This song was the first time I truly hopped aboard the BANKS-wagon—although I do respect her as an artist. Maybe it was the pretty melody or vulnerability in her shaky vibrato, but this one became a repeat listen for me mid-year.


28. J-Boy - Phoenix

Somethin' in the middle of the side of the store remains one of my favourite lines out of 2017. This disco-ey curveball was an instant homerun for the French rockers, and proof that changing things up can often be for the better.

27. Bad Liar - Selena Gomez 

I'm about 90% sure I wouldn't like Selena Gomez as a person, and almost equally certain that I haven't really liked her music to date. But, pair a little Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" sample with her conversational cadence, and I found not only a timeless pop favourite, but my guaranteed new karaoke song.

26. Feel It - Young Thug

The Beautiful Thugger Girls "singing album" experiment was one of the best and most welcome moves the busy Atlanta rapper made this year. And he made a lot of moves. Unlike some of his other chaotic releases, this album is a cohesive fusion of melodic sex songs like "Feel It" and moody, guitar-picked ballads like the album opener, making it an oddly accessible soundtrack for navigating twenty-something emotions.

25. Broken Record - Alex Ebert

This song, from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' frontman Alex Ebert, was an unexpected doozy for me. "Broken Record" bears a slight resemblance to some of the hippie collective's quieter, seaside ballads, but somehow, this dreamy solo piece is so much more.

24. Bet She Looks Like You - Nick Hakim

Off one of my favourite albums of the year, "Bet She Looks Like You" harkens back to 70s soul or even the beautiful blues of Black Keys' Brothers era. Hakim's laidback rasp and glittery guitars make for great city music.

23. Sign of the Times - Harry Styles

While the other One Directioners continued to fulfill their pop prophecies post-boy band, I wondered what the c-u-t-e Harry Styles would do. From the first achey piano keys, Styles blew the other 1D solo efforts out of the water with this epic Bowie-meets-McCartney showstopper.

22. 3WW - alt-J

Featuring Wolf Alice's Ellie Rowsell, this meditative RELAXER single hooked me right away with its ballsy disregard for structure. The song goes in about eight different directions—including waltzing, antiquitous and typical alt-J prog—but is totally captivating from start to finish.

21. Say Something Loving - The xx

Man, this song still makes me swoon. Whether walking on a warm summer night, kicking away leaves or watching the first snowfall, its endearing message holds up.

20.  Holding On - The War on Drugs

Adam Granduciel nailed soul-searching highway rock again with this year's A Deeper Understanding, which is easily more layered than 2014's Lost In The Dream (although not better, IMO). Nothing says the "open road" like a WOD album, and this Springsteen-inspired scorcher says it best.

19. The One To Wait - CCFX

Feeling part Primitive Radio Gods, part Cocteau Twins, this glimmering retro-pop gem is a bit of a time-stopper for me. It feels both lonely and hopeful, and I'm always left wanting more of Mary Jane Dunphe's nostalgic pipes over those echoey guitar lines.

18. Green Light - Lorde

Lorde knows she's cool, we know Lorde's cool—sure, Lorde's cool. Sometimes it can be a bit much (especially in person). But this Jack Antonoff-produced song is maybe her coolest yet; a pulsing here I am break-up banger that not only drips with triumph, but is straight-up impossible to sit still to.

17. LOVE. - Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari)

Another woooorld premiere! An unexpected Kendrick song, "LOVE." is hands-down one of my most-played songs this year. It's beautiful, so there's that—and, honestly, let's just leave it at that. To anyone who feels the need to marvel at and deconstruct the "girly" direction he took, sit down.

16. Velvet Gloves & Spit - Timber Timbre

One of my very favourite Canadian bands, Timber Timbre's latest album proved their ability to churn out dark, Spaghetti Western ditties, as well as soothing Nick Cave-ish lullabies like this one. Another thing that struck me about this song was how the album art reflected exactly what I saw in my brain when I listened to this song. Neat.

15. Indulge Me - Moses Sumney 

Sounding a little Zero 7 in its slow, desolate start, one of the year's most exciting new songwriters captured the feeling of fading sun with this one, and I'd imagine that's not easy to do.

14. Passed You By - Chicano Batman

And on the opposite end of the sun spectrum is this beam-licked album opener off Chicano's latest release, which I listened to pretty much non-stop since February. I saw the West Coast quartet play a tiny show at SXSW two years ago and have been obsessed ever since—eating up every chord of their psychedelic, Tropicalia-touched rock.

13. Into The Ether - Leif Vollebekk 

Another one of my most-played albums of 2017, Leif Vollebekk's intimate ballads are still spine-tingling, even after hours spent with them. Behind the piano for the majority of Twin Solitude, "Into The Ether" stands out as probably the most heart-wrenching plea of them all.

12. Without Words - Joseph of Mercury 

On my favourite EP of the year, Toronto's Joseph W. Salusbury struck a thoughtful balance between sultry INXS and lilting Frank Sinatra—writing about love and longing in a way I hadn't heard in some time. Fit for a super hip 60s promenade, "Without Words" is the love song you didn't think people wrote anymore.

11. oh baby - LCD Soundsystem

Talk about an album opener. Written around the time of frontman James Murphy's divorce and LCD's temporary disbanding, "oh baby" is the kind of unexpected, twinkling heartbreak song that signalled a real rebirth.

10. Biking - Frank Ocean (feat. Jay Z + Tyler, The Creator)

This song could easily be anywhere in the top ten on this list, because it was such a faithful constant in my rotation this year. Boasting three of the greatest artists around, "Biking" really is about, well, biking—both literally riding a bicycle, and figuratively cycling through life's encounters. Regardless, from Jay Z's nonchalant bars to Frank's croon, his old friend Tyler's punchy rhymes and eventually, Frank's incomprehensible outburst—this song is fucking genius.

9. Bagbak - Vince Staples

The second best active rapper alive, Staples' effortless flow and social clarity is the stuff of legends. 2017's Big Fish Theory was surefire proof of how undistracted Vince is by noise; he doesn't really make or need a lot of friends, and will probably never have to cameo on a Maroon 5 song. For that, we love him.

8. New York - St. Vincent

On her most romantic and undecorated piano ballad yet, Annie Clark sounds like a modern-day Joni Mitchell with the opening line "New York isn't New York without you, love." It's a two-and-a-half minute tug on your heartstrings, but worth every damn note to feel that big city love with her.

7. Advice - Kehlani

I almost lost my mind/ I left myself behind,” are tough words to hear from Kehlani—and likely tough ones to write—straight out of a pretty dark period in her life. The R&B pop ballad is undeniably gorgeous, and her voice has never sounded better, but it's the honest narrative around self-love that did it for me.

6. Where This Flower Blooms - Tyler, The Creator (feat. Frank Ocean)

The Odd Future rapper always had my ear, although sometimes reluctantly, with a high chance of cringe. On this year's Flower Boy, Tyler himself seemed to have enough of his immature quips and obscenities, instead settling for clever reflections on his own sexuality and what it means to be a black kid. And when Frank swings in before the jazzy bridge? Oof.

5. GUMMY - Brockhampton

Sort of replacing the aforementioned rap collective is this ragtag group of 14 online pals who formed out of San Marcos, Texas in 2015. Releasing three albums in 2017 alone, the opening track off Saturation II is more than a bunch of feisty kids trading verses over mid-90s LA production—it's a gaggle of diverse young voices sounding pretty unafraid to be themselves.

4. Love Galore - SZA (feat. Travis Scott)

SZA won 2017, as far as I'm concerned. The endlessly talented R&B vocalist and poet has been a huge favourite of mine since her 2013 EP S, and it was frustrating to watch her get overlooked when, the only female signee to TDE, she offered so much more than her mainstream counterparts. This gorgeous first single was proof she'd paid her dues and waited long enough, before dropping the realest, most relatable female-led album of the year.

3. HUMBLE. - Kendrick Lamar

There's nothing I can possibly say about this song that hasn't already been said. The first single off the incomparable DAMN., "HUMBLE." (and its oh-so-dope video) ushered Lamar into a hybrid era of both street-savvy consciousness and party rap accessibility. His bars are as bouncy and memorable as Mike WiLL Made-It's beat, making for easily one of the best rap songs... ever.

2. Valley - Perfume Genius

This song is like a sucker punch every time it comes on, forcing me to stop and be mindful of everything happening in it. The whirling chords and Mike Hadreas' subdued vocals—particularly when he sings "How long must we live right/ Before we don't even have to try?"—were exactly how I felt at more than a few points this year. The entirety of No Shape is so rose-coloured, so lush—even at sad points. It's the kind of album no one really made this year, and he was the perfect artist to make it.


1. Chanel - Frank Ocean

Unsurprisingly, the most brilliant, elusive songwriter of our time delivered this dizzying thing less than a year after his long-awaited Blonde album, which had no shortage of other era-defining jams on it. "Chanel" premiered 18 times during an episode of Frank's near-perfect Blonded radio show in March, blowing other surprise singles out of the water with its blend of marching percussion, gloomy piano and some of his most complex wordplay to date. "Chanel" preaches the exact dichotomy that Frank represents, saying "my guy pretty like a girl/ and he got fight stories to tell" because he sees "both sides like Chanel." Obviously, Frank never has to explain why he chooses to withhold perfect singles from perfect albums, or what timing even means to him, because it all feels like part of this greater plan we don't even deserve insight into. Either way, seeing both sides, being both sides of anything is probably something we could all learn to do more of, and it's Frank's effortless embodiment of sonic and spiritual eclecticism that makes him untouchable.

A playlist, if you'd like!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #3-1

Happy New Year! Almost. This concludes my little annual countdown of what I think are the top songs of the year. I listen to a silly amount of stuff, so it's always a fun exercise to look back and narrow down what stood out most or had the most impact on me. It's so easy to be influenced by popular opinion or what your peers and critics say, when really, whatever music strikes you is a blueprint of who you are - and nothing else should really matter.

Thanks for reading!

3. All Night - Beyoncé: Following the above intro, this song is a great example of choosing an unlikely favourite off a groundbreaking album. Don't get me wrong, I was equally moved by "Formation," "Hold Up" and "Freedom," but it was this healing track that tied the whole story of love gone awry together. It's still honest, forgiving and, more than anything, just a really beautiful love song. I happened to be awake, drinking wine and working the Saturday night that this album dropped back in April, and for whatever reason, clicked on this song first. Of course, the rest of the album turned out to be far more charged than "All Night," but even after listening to it all, Beyoncé's vulnerability on this one still hit me like a ton of bricks. It's just as symbolic as it is literally pretty, and for that, will always be the Lemonade standout for me.

2. Nights - Frank Ocean: Again, upon the release of Frank Ocean's long-awaited Blonde, this track was almost always unmentioned by critics, who were enthralled with stunners like "Ivy," "Self Control" and our first taste, "Nikes." But as I've watched media outlets post their picks for best of the year, "Nights" is making it on to plenty, and that's probably because it's the kind of song a listener needs to sit with. Off one of my favourite albums of the year, I'm not choosing "Nights" because it sounds so distinctly Frank Ocean; in fact, I love the distorted approach to a lot of the album. "Nights" is just fucking dreamy; it's a classic. It takes you through a two-part journey that feels exactly like a lot of nights do. It starts as a downtown, neon-streaked adventure with its clangy chords and Frank's punchy delivery, before ending in a whirling, slow jam haze. Song to song, all of Frank's journeys are so different and sometimes tough to follow, but "Nights" is a place I feel like I've been in real life, and want to revisit.

1. Ultralight Beam - Kanye West: Oh man, where to begin. My first memory of this song is one of my most powerful music memories, maybe ever. I ran home from work to stream Kanye's The Life Of Pablo and Yeezy Season 3 reveal at Madison Square Gardens, where thousands piled in to sit and and listen with 'Ye and co. The first track played was "Ultralight Beam," and in preparing to consume a new Kanye record, this wasn't what anyone expected as the album opener. Even from the comfort of my couch, I was motionless. Starting with the tiny toddler preacher and Kanye's most coherent, diary-like verse, this song about a "god dream" and looking for redemption was already solidifying itself as the most game-changing of the year (and it was only February). A booming choir and Kelly Price interjection later, Chance The Rapper delivered the most spellbinding verse of the year. With insane clarity, Chance lets his acrobatic wordplay and vocal shifts tell the story of his life to date, and where he plans on going. He talks family, hunger and doing his best with that coined Chano exuberance, and it becomes clear that the positivity and hope Chance has mirrors what Kanye has been looking for, and probably still is looking for. It's a fitting back-and-forth between mentor and mentee, and while Kanye sets the tone and asks the questions, Chance delivers the answers - proving that youthful optimism and a little faith can go a long way.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #6-4

6. Love On The Brain - Rihanna: I've always liked Rihanna; she's a talented, versatile, hitmaker who's still wildly successful nearly 14 years after her first single. But. I've never owned an album of hers until this year's Anti, which I knew I would be purchasing the first time I heard the impossibly bad ass "B*tch Better Have My Money." Even though she's always been a bit of a bad ass, it felt as if the dawning of an even badder RiRi era was upon us; a serious rebirth of a new femme fatale that was more rock star than anything else. Sure enough, after Anti's release, that was confirmed - when even chugging doo wop ballads like this one managed to be intimate, vulnerable, kind of grimy and, most of all, chock full of confidence, all at once. From the first few notes of "Love On The Brain," as well as "Higher," I knew we we had a few contemporary R&B classics on our hands here. Similar to some of the great retro soul and R&B artists that likely influenced Rihanna, this round's raw, fearless lyricism and delivery suddenly put her in a class of her own.

5. We The People... - A Tribe Called Quest: Learning that A Tribe Called Quest would be releasing a new album 22 years after their last was maybe one of the most thrilling bits of music news (for me) this year. An album created with Phife Dawg prior to his passing, We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service was destined to hit hard. From the first buzz and kickdrum of this album opener, it was as if no time had passed; that they were just as triumphant, just as spot-on, as when they asked if they could kick it back in '90. A biting commentary on the state of America then, now and moving forward, ATCQ are still the people's rappers - the sharp, no bullshit boys who, days after Trump's election, swing in with 16 tracks of realness that predicted America's demise long before this album was released.

4. Sister - Angel Olsen: There were any number of tracks off Angel Olsen's breathtaking My Woman that I would have put high, high up on this list - but this one is everything I adore about the album all in one. The sprawling 8-minute track starts close to her Neil Young folk roots - voice shaky, drums skittering, guitar twanging - before thundering into her newest self, a Stevie Nicks-influenced shredder, baring her soul with vocal variations on one line: "All my life I thought I'd change." She spends the better half of the song exploring that concept, but it's not sad - and, similar to the Cat Powers' and Hope Sandovals before her, that's what makes Olsen one of the most authentic rock heroines of our time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #8-7

#8. Glowed Up - Kaytranada (feat. Anderson .Paak): Montreal-based Kaytranada flew onto the global radar this year, collaborating with everyone from Talib Kweli to Chance The Rapper, and eventually winning the Polaris Music Prize. To me, all of this signified that the future of Canadian music, and all of its possibilities, was here. While Canada's been historically pretty well-represented in the rock game and, more recently, the hip-hop game - a brilliant, genre-diverse DJ is something we couldn't really boast about until now. Particularly, a millennial who mind-bogglingly chops soul, R&B and funk samples together like someone who lived through the height of those genres. This track is a perfect example of what we're talking about with Kay's eclectic debut album 99.9%; it's amazing, but by no means representative of everything else on the record. The two-parter slithers around .Paak's fiery sing-rapping - the first half sounding chillingly extraterrestrial, before transitioning into a romantic, acid-jazzy finish. It's a bonafide hip-hop earworm, with a little something for everyone, but is wedged between some electro-jazz fusion and what sounds like an old-school breakdance number. He has so much range, and I really don't get how he knows as much as he does, but I'm beyond proud he's one of our own.

#7. No Problems - Chance The Rapper (feat. Lil Wayne & 2Chainz): And now for the man of the damn year, Chancelor Bennett and Coloring Book, one of the most refreshing hip hop albums of the last decade. Chance has been around for awhile, and avid listeners would remember that he wasn't always the confident, sunshiney fellow he is until last year's Surf, a stunning collaborative album with tons of huge stars and his backing band, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (name since changed, thanks to another Donald). Following 2013's darker, druggy confessional Acid Rap, which was still obviously incredible, Surf was a gorgeous hip hop experiment that fell deaf on the mainstream's ears, but acted as the prelude to the dynamic then-named "Chance 3" - a mixtape that had been hyped up by new friend Kanye West the second the year started. Once singles like "No Problems" dropped, it was clear that this album was going to be one of the most confident releases by an unsigned artist ever, as evidenced by the subject matter of this track, which is basically a (jolly) double middle finger to anyone who wants Chano to conform. Sure enough, Coloring Book was released independently and on streaming services only - becoming the first album to chart solely based on streams, and the reason The Grammys changed their rules to allow stream-only albums for consideration. This bouncy banger might seem like, well, just that, to anyone who hasn't followed Chano's story, when in reality, it's a forewarning that Chance really only plans to do things his way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #10-9

10. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales - Car Seat Headrest: As I got further down this list, I wondered if I made a mistake putting this song so high up, in the number ten spot. There were at least three other songs I thought deserved to be here - some of which didn't even make the list in the end - and so I re-listened to this album over and over again to feel confident in my choice. And it turns out I'm very confident, actually. After consuming Car Seat Headrest's official debut (frontman Will Toledo put out 11 Bandcamp albums prior) another dozen or so times, I remembered a lot about who I am as a listener. This kind of angsty indie rock is a big part of what I grew up on, and frankly, it's been a thing of the past for awhile now, until Toledo. He's this generation's 24 year-old indie saviour, whose lo-fi anthems ask the same drug and booze-induced questions about his place in the world as the Nirvanas and Pavements before him. Teens Of Denial is a lyrically sharp, instrumentally scorching rock record, in a time when great rock records are hard to come by.

9. Rings of Saturn - Nick Cave: Off one of the most devastating albums of the year, this song is a mess-you-up-in-public kinda song. And whether or not Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds' dark balladry is your bag, there hasn't been a time when I've played this song around other people and someone hasn't asked, 'What is this?" Skeleton Tree was written prior to his son's tragic death in 2015, and completed afterwards, so there's no escaping Cave's confrontation with pain here. But "Rings of Saturn," with its spoken poetry and transcendent melody is a momentary reprieve in itself. Over glimmering synth, Cave reflects on a resilient female lead (who I think is his wife), repeating, "And this is the moment / This is exactly what she was born to be." Especially after enduring an unthinkable tragedy like he has, their 16th album might be his darkest yet - but a song like "Rings of Saturn" proves he too can find the light.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top 25 Songs of 2016: #12-11

12. True Love Waits - Radiohead: Written in the late 90s around the time of my favourite Radiohead album The Bends, "True Love Waits" went on to be played live for the next two decades - before receiving new studio treatment and turning up on their latest, A Moon Shaped Pool. In what will likely be its final and most beautiful format, the song is stripped down to Yorke's aching vocals and piano, making for the saddest, most ethereal iteration yet. Sounding his frailest as he pleads "just don't leave," this version was likely recorded around his 2015 split from longtime partner and mother of his two children Rachel Owen, who shortly thereafter was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away last week.

11. 22 (OVER S∞∞N) - Bon Iver: Justin Vernon is not an artist you get mad at for experimenting. It's literally his best feature, his ability to innovate. He plays freely with genres, instruments and electronics, almost as if he gets bored easily, yet always manages to create something that still sounds distinctly his. On his most experimental album to date, Bon Iver blends unusual production elements, warped vocals and his coined wintery folk to pose pretty big questions around existence. With the stunning album opener, Vernon wants his existential thoughts ("it might be over soon") to really marinate, so the feeling isn't lost on us. He does this through distorted vocals, drawn-out buzzes, the sound of broken tape, strums, horns and other quirky bits - setting the tone for a weird, magical album that doesn't sound like anything else, but is so uniquely his.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Top 25 Songs Of 2016: #14-13

#14. untitled 02 - Kendrick Lamar: Get Top on the phone! Something I still mutter when I have to make a phone call. untitled. unmastered, one of the best demo releases ever, dropped unexpectedly in March - and while the songs are off the cutting room floor of the prolific To Pimp A Butterfly sessions, they're obviously equally as brilliant. Because it's Kendrick. On the six-minute untitled 02, the woozy jazz and sinister beat coast under Kendrick's shaky croon, before the song transitions into laidback, but pointed, rhymes about money, women, God and sin. These topics clearly aren't uncommon in rap, yet Cornrow Kenny's enchanting commentary unpacks them in a way that only he could.

#13. No Woman - Whitney: This Chicago amalgamation of Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Western members maintained my undivided attention throughout the year, beginning the first time I heard this song. The loneliness in this drifter's ballad is palpable; a real slice of Americana nostalgia delivered via trumpets, swirling guitar hooks and Julien Ehlrich's childlike falsetto. I watched these guys perform their debut album in a tiny dive bar in Texas, and it was really amazing to hear every bit of that weary, life-on-the-road contemplation come to life.