No. 20: “I Promise” by Radiohead
If released in 1997 this song would have been deemed some sort of alt-pop crossover attempt by Radiohead. The Bends wasn’t yet viewed as the pinnacle of 90’s alternative that it now is, and OK Computer had yet to be praised as the greatest record of the decade or all-time or even be released. It's funny that 20 years later, the song makes a lot more sense—both logistically and melodically. Filled with sardonic sarcasm, Thom Yorke’s falsetto in full bloom, a gorgeous mellotron plus the acoustic guitar they were about to mostly abandon for two decades, the track was first played in San Francisco in 1996 and played again live this year. I never thought Radiohead would give in to any form of nostalgia, but after A Moon Shaped Pool, it fits them well. — Landon MacDonald
Listen: “I Promise” by Radiohead
No. 19: “No Fear” by Dej Loaf
While many artists spend much of their time trying to cultivate a sound unique to themselves, Dej Loaf pulled up to the game in 2014 already in a lane entirely her own. On “No Fear”, the lead single from her anticipated debut Liberated, she takes her sound for a much-deserved joyride, guiding it down to a crossroads where elements of hip-hop, synthpop, and rock all meet in a bizarre but wonderful gathering of genres. It matches the carefree vibe Dej Loaf cultivated for herself, a breezy yet collected composure that presents itself without pomp or circumstance. Her intonation, forthcoming and deliberately relaxed, trails just a hair behind the production in a way which suggests the beat waits for her and not the other way around.
But most importantly, Dej Loaf gave us the most gratifying soundbite of the year with only two words: “Ooh yeah.” Every time you hear her say it, it always lands as satisfyingly as the “dah-dah” that trails each measure Disclosure’s “Latch” or the “La la la’s” which litter Kylie Minogue’s seminal “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. The fact that Dej Loaf easily ensnares you with a two-word phrase reveals just how calculated her sound really is, no matter how effortless she makes it look. — Mick Jacobs
Listen: “No Fear” by Dej Loaf
No. 18: “Boys” by Charli XCX
After pushing the envelope with her two most recent efforts, Charli XCX finally has pop music where she wants it. In the same way she carried “Fancy” to the top of the charts, Charli seems poised to catapult the hyper-pop stylings of the PC music collective into public consciousness when her third LP finally drops in 2018. “Boys” incorporates the lessons learned from the likes of Sophie and A. G. Cook and siphons them through the mind of a verified hit-maker while adding a touch of glitter. While something like Sophie’s “Lemonade” or her own past singles like “Vroom Vroom” revel in excess synths and breakneck speeds, “Boys” refines these elements into something sleek and steady. It meanders through the same day-dreamy tangents typical of PC music, but Charli XCX, lyrical genius that she is, translates her rambling into diary entries anyone with an attraction to the male sex understands all too well. In 2017 men are garbage and boys are guilty pleasures, that is, guilty of making us pine after them. But instead of feeling powerless to men’s charms, Charli allows her suitors to take the wheel faster than Carrie Underwood let Jesus take hers. By succumbing to her love of men and the pop machine, Charli XCX gives us a single that might sound superficial, but might just be more honest than anything we’ve heard from her so far. — M.J.
Listen: “Boys” by Charli XCX
No. 17: “Truth” by Kamasi Washington
Jazz fans must hate people like me. I haven’t listened to a pure jazz record not from the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s since the last Kamasi Washington record and I am sure that makes me a poser to some extent, but perhaps it’s a larger problem with the lack of creativity in the genre. Jazz is where indie rock will be in two decades—still referencing Pavement and Guided by Voices and hardly building off of it. Is it cool to make fun of La La Land’s jazz or like it? I don’t even know that. What I do know is that Kamasi Washington is a giant. — L.M.
Listen: “Truth” by Kamasi Washington
No. 16: “745” by Vince Staples
True fans of Vince Staples should be comfortable at this point assuming a Vince Staples track is way more than just some run-of-the-mill rap song. It usually signifies something much deeper, because he almost always shoots to kill. In case that wasn’t certain, Staples does us the favor of illustrating this concept on Big Fish Theory high point “745”. “All my life man I want fast cars, NASCARs / All my life I want runway stars, Kate Moss.” Now, having a fast car is one thing, but a NASCAR is like the highest echelon of that thing. Likewise, dating a runway star in no way guarantees that you’re dating Kate Moss. At the outset, Staples compares a commonplace fantasy with that fantasy’s highest, most realistically unachievable form. Traditional rap tracks beget longing for something better, to be sure. But not all rap tracks seek to summit Everest their first time up a mountain.
But this is just the kind of dramaturgy we’ve come to expect from Staples. He’s a writer’s rapper, in that he consciously juxtaposes differing ideas in a way that seamlessly complement each other. Nearly every bar on “745” begins with the words, “All my life…” Which is to say: All his life, Staples has dreamed of doing something, or dating someone, or living somewhere. These visions are purely abstract; sometimes it feels like they’re still being formulated by the wide-eyed youth Staples no-doubt embodied. But fast-forward to present tense, and we witness Staples enjoying his successes while pining for his fantasies in their original form. His dreams as a child are now butting heads with his reality as an adult. Cue the explosions.
So here’s where Staples’ magic really starts to materialize: Rather than mitigating the conflict between fantasy and reality, he leans into these two concepts as bitter rivals. Heady generalizations like, “all my life,” back up against “745”, a very specific moment in time (or a very specific BMW model, depending on where you are in the song). And between those two pillars is the meat of the track, where pretty women tell him lies and where fast cars become the vehicle ‘round which he slides to scoop up a runway star (but probably not Kate Moss).
In fact, Staples willfully takes up residence between those pillars, because that’s what life is: A constant vacillation between fantastical wish lists and realistic results. As Summertime ’06 and Prima Donna slowly transition into the tighter, more matriculated sounds illustrated on Big Fish Theory, Staples is smart to survey his surroundings. But rather than learn from them and move forward, he embraces the conflict between dream and reality, and that slow-churn aggregation amounts to “745”, the kind of languid hip-hop track you ask for but never expect to receive. Sound familiar? — Austin Reed
Listen: “745” by Vince Staples
No. 15: “Star Roving“ by Slowdive
Few albums this year sounded as wonderful and complete and thorough as Slowdive. That it’s the first album in 22 years from a band whose moment many thought had come and gone is even more remarkable. Slowdive is deeply connected to their earlier works Souvlaki and Pygmalion, but it also sounds modern, a band that has tracked and absorbed another quarter-century of musical evolution. “Star Roving” is Exhibit A.
“Star Roving” wouldn’t have been my pick from Slowdive (I prefer “Slomo” and “Sugar for the Pill”). But for a band that was gone for over two decades, it’s hard to think of a more gripping and engaging introduction to what the shoegaze veterans are all about. Namely, atmosphere and mastery of texture. Most artists tend to mellow out as they age; “Star Roving” is the exception that proves the rule. It’s one of the most dynamic pieces of Slowdive’s career.
Bands planning a comeback, take note: This is what aging gracefully looks like. — Brendan Frank
Listen: “Star Roving“ by Slowdive
No. 14: “Holding On” by The War on Drugs
When Adam Granduciel croons “He never gonna change; he never gonna learn,” it's vague, like the best Americana lyrics, easy to try on like a coat in the mirror of Goodwill, it fits just right. You can imagine the War on Drugs changing, but don’t count on it. When he sings “Now I’m headed down a different road,” its obvious that he isn’t talking about music or writing choices. The War on Drugs are here to stay, wearing in this sound like a butt groove on a 1970’s leather couch. Granduciel still sings like Bob Dylan, he still rocks like Bruce Springsteen. In every promo photo he looks like he just smoked a pack of Marlboros in his worn-in jeans and is ready for an apple pie. He is as American as the long dusty highways and grain filled horizons his songs emulate. This one in particular, like the best songs on his last two records, spends its energy in an exercise in repetition and consistency. — L.M.
Listen: “Holding On” by The War on Drugs
No. 13: “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius
Mike Hadreas has always had a gift for capturing the sound of escape. His early songs explore people who are running from something—abuse, stigma, addiction, themselves. But over the last two Perfume Genius albums, there’s been a gradual but powerful reclamation of self that culminates in “Slip Away,” the exquisite single from No Shape.
The title may suggest that this is another Perfume Genius song about flight—in some ways it is. Hadreas is breaking free from whatever demons are at his back. But this time, he’s not looking back over his shoulder—“If you never see them coming, then you never have to hide.” There’s a faith that everything will turn out alright if you have the right person by your side. Fittingly, the song is the most euphoric Perfume Genius has ever sounded. It’s a song that shows that running towards something is always better than running away. — Colin Groundwater
Listen: “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius
No. 12: “The Bus Song” by Jay Som
Correlation is not causation, but I’m tempted to make an exception for the decline of the traditional rock band and the ascent of the personal computer. The truth of the matter is you don’t need a band anymore. No longer do you need to post ads, hang out in dive bars, and ask around if you know anyone who knows anyone who plays an instrument.
But for the lucky few who can do it all themselves, this sea change is a whole new form of liberation. Jay Som is one of those few.
If bedrooms are a new sort of laboratory for music, “The Bus Song” transcends those four walls. It is the perfect marriage of isolation and ambition, both in form and function. “I just want you to lead me/I just want you to need me,” sings Melina Duterte as the music crashes, plinks, and soars around her. It’s like being overpowered by a down-filled pillow. In a year of memorable hooks, “The Bus Song”’s is unforgettable. — B.F.
Listen: “The Bus Song” by Jay Som
No. 11: “Los Ageless” by St. Vincent
Read through the write-ups on St. Vincent’s brilliantly Kubrick-esque new record and count up how many times the male producer of this record is mentioned. It is a weird level of ignoring the endless work St. Vincent has done cultivating her sound. From her early days in Polyphonic Spree to the perfect pop of Strange Mercy to that psychotic record with David Byrne to MASSEDUCTION — her most succinct statement, like it or not — St. Vincent has willed her vision into life. “Los Ageless” is her best song too. Well, that’s probably “Year of the Tiger”. But “Los Ageless” is her most succinct song, it's her most well-executed song. It soft and delicate in its delivery while still being thrifty in its layers. — L.M.
Listen: “Los Ageless” by St. Vincent
No. 10: “Chanel” by Frank Ocean
At the start of 2017, there was good reason to believe that we wouldn’t be hearing from Frank Ocean for a while. After he blessed us with the exquisite Blonde, it seemed likely that the reclusive singer would pilot his UFO back to the outer regions of the cosmos to cook up his next masterpiece. Fortunately for all of us, that’s not what happened.
Using his Apple Music show Blonded Radio as his outlet of choice, Ocean delivered four new original songs plus a couple of prominent features. Each track was a standout in its own right, especially “Provider” and Calvin Harris’s “Slide,” but at the end of the year it’s “Chanel” that stands tallest.
“I see on both sides like Chanel” might be a groan-inducing pun coming from another singer, but Ocean turns it into something equally sexy and compelling (and good enough for the Chanel label to riff on). The line refers to a lover who lives on both sides of the traditional gender divide, flouting masculine stereotypes at one turn and flaunting them at the next. But the line could just as well refer to Ocean’s varied talents and preoccupations. He croons at one turn and raps at the next, flexing all the time. Lyrically the song ranges in tone, from of-the-moment meme references (21 Savage’s “Issa Knife”) to savvier meditations on sexuality. All the while, he retains his signature otherworldly distance – his credit cards don’t work, he sings, so he pays in rubber-banded Delta gift cards. It’s a wry and perfect thought, that Frank Ocean spends so much more time in planes than on the Earth that he simply pays for things in airline miles. But even if he’s nearly always airborne, he still takes the time to drop songs from above, gifts we don’t deserve but so desperately need. — C.G.
No. 09: “Bad Liar” by Selena Gomez
In an instance of high irony, Selena Gomez sings, “There's nothing subtle here” on the most delicate banger of 2017. “Bad Liar” is the Jaws or Alien of pop tracks, a case study of the less-is-more aesthetic philosophy. Unlike those cinematic blockbusters, the song doesn’t only hold back on a big moment, it withholds any sort of payoff beyond its overall hypnotic snare. It slinks to and fro, snakelike atop a Talking Heads-cribbed bass groove. Gomez’s laconic vocal is tantalizingly restrained and, in turn, mesmerizing.
As a kiss-off it fails miserably (and intentionally). Form meets function here. This isn’t about cutting clean from a terrible romance, but surviving a more ordinary split, when embers continue to smolder after a relationship’s blaze has ended. Second-guessing creeps in despite assertions, both interior and public, that all is well. “Bad Liar” is mostly about the former deception, the helpful falsehoods we tell to ourselves after a breakup. Its tune, likewise, is the best kind of earworm, seductive and nimble, the musical equivalent of a self-revelation: something that can’t be denied or avoided, but embraced as a fact of life, part of its larger beauty. — Peter Tabakis
No. 08: “DNA” by Kendrick Lamar
Exploring his own history (“I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption, scholars, fathers dead with kids...; “When I was 9, on-sale motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay”) and heritage (the DNA theme of the whole song), Kendrick Lamar wastes no time with a near-breathless verse that takes almost two minutes of the song’s total duration. The only “breathing room” during that time is repeated two-syllable hooks that lead to an even more inspired section afterwards; “See, you’s a, you’s a, you’s a— bitch”, Mike Will’s drum punctuating that keyword and making it one of the hardest utterances of “bitch” ever. But a questionable quotation inspires an angrier Kendrick for the last half, whose flow becomes knottier as Mike Will’s beat becomes more manic (“give me some ganja!”) that together makes the first verse feel like a warm-up. As everyone knows, Kendrick Lamar sounded great over Flying Lotus and Sounwave’s jazzy beats on To Pimp a Butterfly, but he rarely sounded as apocalyptic as he does over Mike Will on “DNA.” — Marshall Gu
No. 07: “call the police” by LCD Soundsystem
Yes, it sounds like a U2 song. Yes, they quit and came back in less time than many artists take just to write and record a new record (Fleet Foxes, Radiohead). Yes, James Murphy said David Bowie “told” him to make another record. Yes, James Murphy complained about never playing on SNL. Yes, James Murphy asked his fans to give him a number one record. But who really cares when the song is this good? LCD are the rare band that deals in singles and albums. Their long players play well all the way through and their singles are mountain peaks across the horizon of music.
If you wondered if their brief but well-discussed exit robbed them of their excellence – “Call the Police” was the ideal defeat of that worry. The propulsive song never relents from the click track at the top through Mahoney’s constantly locked groove, never straying from perpetual forward motion. The pieces continue to stack until you are in an F-Zero straight race for the goal. The understated lower case titles perfectly represent this song that is so much more compelling than it acts like it is. — L.M.
No. 06: “Green Light” by Lorde
One particularly popular anecdote this year was that when Swedish songwriting Svengali Max Martin first heard Lorde’s “Green Light,” he dubbed it “incorrect songwriting.” He’s not wrong. “Green Light” doesn’t follow conventional songwriting tropes. Its tempo lurches back and forth with abandon. It incorporates a piano hook straight out of a bad 90s techno club also-ran. The lyrical denouement to its first verse is laughably bad: “She thinks you love the beach / you’re such a DAMN LIAR!” It’s on-brand in how wonderfully off-brand it is. And yet, miraculously, it all works. Much like Lorde herself, this song is a perplexing force of nature. When those pensive, brooding verses give way to the propulsive pre-chorus and ultimately the roaring thunderstorm of a chorus, it’s impossible not to be swept up in its wave of unfiltered teenage angst.
Lorde’s Melodrama was the best chart-topper of the year, and “Green Light” is the perfect introduction. The song’s appeal crystallized most clearly for me when it closed out Lorde’s phenomenal performance at Outside Lands. As the mist battered the stage, thousands of teens and twentysomethings (myself included) jumped in unison to the pulsing house beat and lacerated their throats shouting along to “I’ve waited for it! That green light! I WANT IT!” Lorde towered above it all, an incredulous and precocious 20-year-old spastically jerking around to the screaming guitars of the monster she’d created. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Those poor Boomers waiting it out to see The Who didn’t know what hit them. But as Lorde proves with gems like “Green Light”, as long as she’s behind the wheel, songwriting pros be damned, the kids are gonna be alright. — Zachary Bernstein
No. 05: “Slide” by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean & Migos
There’s this hilarious buffer that exists between the moment an eventual radio banger hits the internet and the moment it actually makes the radio. It’s just the way Top 40 hits work, I guess. Even the catchiest tracks can’t transition to the airwaves overnight, so these are just the things we’ve learned to live with: A moment in time where the radio knows not what’s about to hit it.
I’ll never forget that buffer as it applied to Calvin Harris’s seismic hit “Slide”. I’ll never forget it because it dropped about two months before I was to be married to my now-wife. From the moment I heard it, I knew it had to be featured on our reception playlist. It was funky and club-ready and melodic and new-wave, but most importantly: No one who heard it was safe from the dance floor. Say what you will about “Slide,” but you can’t deny: It has the kind of pull no track of 2017 could even fake.
Married people can guess what happened next: “Slide” wasn’t yet on the radio, so my wife put the kibosh on adding it to the playlist, much to my chagrin. But this is my life now. Compromise is dope.
My own personal experience with this track notwithstanding, “Slide” is a bona fide hit. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s easy to forget it’s a Calvin Harris track (the tell-tale sign of any decent Calvin Harris offering). I’m not saying Harris isn’t good at his job. As it applies to recycled DJ instrumentation and flash-bang production, he’s one of EDM’s primary forebears. So from the standpoint of audience gratification, he might actually be a genius.
But let me be clear: “Slide” is a cosmic success because of Frank Ocean. Sure, the shiny hooks and samples are courtesy of Harris, and the Migos bars about ¾ of the way through are infectious and robust. But without Ocean on the verses, “Slide” simply…wouldn’t. It would slow to a stop, and it’d never move again.
It’s his delivery, I think. On the surface, Ocean explores the art of no-strings-attached sexual dalliances. But underneath, “Slide,” is about having it all but still not having what you want most. Wealth doesn’t translate in an unlit club (“All this jewelry ain’t no use when it’s this dark,”), just like the charms on a bracelet never touch each other (“Wrist on a wrist, a link of charms / Laying, they’re still a link apart”). He knows that, deep down, all any of us really want is to be loved and appreciated. But somewhere along the line, we began confusing love with envy—appreciation with wealth. Pace-set by a beat and sample that beckons nostalgic feelings of the summer, “Slide,” demonstrates Frank Ocean’s attempt to add respect back into the relationship equation (“Put some spotlight on that slide / Whatever comes, comes through clear”).
This is some heady subject matter to be sure, and had it existed on a Frank Ocean LP, it would likely be completely fleshed out by album’s end. But remember: This is a Calvin Harris track, which means if you plan to explore deep, emotional content, you must be prepared to do so within the span of three minutes or so. Ocean is smart never to hog the limelight—he’s only ever the foliage that boosts “Slide” into the stratosphere as one of the year’s smoothest, funkiest tracks—but his goal is accomplished: To remind listeners that the summers can bounce; just practice a little self-awareness. — A.R.
No. 04: “New York” by St. Vincent
“New York” may be Annie Clark’s finest ballad, and the competition for that title is stiff. Her 2014 self-titled LP alone offered two credible contenders: “Prince Johnny” and “Severed Crossed Fingers”, the latter song being that masterpiece’s crowning achievement. But in an album packed with errant pop extravaganzas, “New York” stands in stark contrast as MASSEDUCTION’s grand and naked centerpiece.
Apart from a soaring gospel chorus, what makes “New York” so remarkable is its thematic plasticity. Is Clark lamenting the end of the early-aughts NYC music scene, recently documented (to great acclaim) by Lizzy Goodman? Is she mourning the death of David Bowie? Is she addressing her breakup with Cara Delevingne? The answer is, of course, all of the above and beyond.
“New York” is a classic composite song that, in the right light, fits this or that narrative. Which is to say, it’s universal, an elegy for many occasions, a multi-faceted opus. Choose your own adventure. But it only soars so high because Clark’s shattering melody can easily bear such a heavy burden, with weightlessness and might. — P.T.
No. 03: “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Now that Taylor Swift has (mostly) abandoned the joy of 1989, and with Robyn on a long hiatus, Carly Rae Jepson stands alone as our pop Prometheus, descending from the clouds to gift humanity with blazing throwback anthems. Forget “Call Me Maybe”, a miracle hit most notable for its backstory. Jepson has emerged as our smartest source of bubblegum sounds, refashioned as sophisticated compositions. In a rare switcheroo, critics adore an artist more than the general public, not for outlandishness or difficulty, but for pure pop vibrancy.
“Cut to the Feeling” is a castoff from the fruitful sessions that resulted in 2015’s magnificent Emotion. It somehow also didn’t make the cut for last year’s very good compendium Emotion: Side B. When it was finally released in May, we thought it heralded a new LP. Nope. Carly Rae Jepsen’s best song since “Run Away with Me” was held back from both releases because she thought it sounded too “cinematic and theatrical.” OK.
Thankfully, Jepsen’s talent as an artist is stronger than her judgment as a marketer. “Cut to the Feeling” showcases the most immediate and defiant pop chorus since “Since U Been Gone”, the current gold standard. If this is her idea of second-tier material, Jepsen’s future suddenly seems brighter still. — P.T.
No. 02: “Mask Off (Remix)” by Future & Kendrick Lamar
Ah yes: The age-old remix conundrum, wherein a reputable single is updated to reflect someone else’s vision for it. Let the world burn, am I right?
Well, sort of. But to be clear, “Mask Off (Remix)” is lights fucking out. And it doesn’t just win on behalf of someone else’s contribution to it. It wins because it’s a truly delicious track made meatier by a degree-of-difficulty verse for the ages.
In its original form, Future crafted a radio-ready hit founded upon pristine production, silky-smooth bass sweeps, a flute sample tailor-made for YouTube popularity, and—most notably—a subject matter as in-tune with today’s hip-hop leanings as any track released this year. This was no accident, just like all his other hits of the same ilk weren’t accidents. Future, perhaps as much as any other performer of the past decade, understands how hits work. He knows that the less complicated tracks are, the more relatable they’ll eventually become. So he approaches it formulaically: For every lamentation of a previous relationship or a near-death experience, he pens a celebratory track about Molly, Percocet and his real-life transition from food stamps to four-door Maybachs. It’s a plainspoken explanation for why his self-titled album’s high-point “Might As Well”, never reached the Top 40, while “Mask Off”, absolutely destroyed it.
So naturally, wrapping your brain around the genius of “Mask Off (Remix)” first requires forgetting the power and prevalence of the original version altogether.
I know; it’s counterintuitive. But it’s also necessary, because the remix represents a more prominent theme within the realm of hip-hop music—specifically, what happens when a track created by one of the genre’s most influential tastemakers is remixed by possibly the only tastemaker more influential than him.
In terms of delivery, Future and Kendrick Lamar aren’t playing in the same sandbox. In fact, Future may actually be playing in something more akin to an oil slick. While Lamar’s aesthetic is jagged, angular and landscaped, Future’s feels more like a Salvador Dali painting, constantly warping in shape and almost always evading tactility.
But this juxtaposition was no-doubt a deliberate one, and the formation of the remix was established upon Future’s recognition that “Mask Off” has levels—levels that may only be exposed by recruiting the game’s most heavily armed auteur. While Future’s bars narrate the concept of removing a mask to survey just how far the track’s protagonist has come since his early days in the game, Lamar’s verse exposes a more buried innuendo—one of staying true to yourself and never succumbing to the prospect of “masking” your identity in order to blend in. Contextually, the verse is prolific and timely. Never in American history has individuality and self-worth weighed more, and “Mask Off (Remix)” serves as a reminder that when it comes to defining yourself, no rules are written in ink. “Platinum, platinum, platinum / Gotta look at the self and ask what happened / How y’all let a conscious nigga go commercial / While only making conscious albums?” Lamar raps, beseeching the kind of consideration that makes a world of sense to an entire generation of disenfranchised know-it-alls. And there it is, as simply stated as a sentiment of this magnitude can be. The braids shouldn’t be on TV, but they are. Commercial hits shouldn’t be conscious aphorisms; they should be saccharine and fleeting and unsubstantial. Lamar’s observation only bolsters the power of “Mask Off” even further. This is the track that began as a commercial success but then evolved into something way more meaningful.
This, at its heart, is the brilliance of “Mask Off (Remix)”. Future laid the foundation with a radio single that ruled airwaves the only way a pop hit should. But his vision was deep and insightful and marvelous, and Lamar’s inclusion only magnified the inner-workings of Future’s brain. The result is a truly beautiful club banger that makes you think. Now get your ass up and be inspired.— A.R.
No. 01: “Pure Comedy” by Father John Misty
You laugh to keep from crying, right? And what was 2017 if not “the comedy of man”? 2017 has kindly offered reminder after reminder of the human race’s tribal wiring, with one crude shock to the system after another. At the start of 2017, Father John Misty’s masterpiece felt like a slightly cynical running commentary; as 2017 draws to a close, it feels prescient.
Josh Tillman sure knew what he was doing when he adopted his clerical pseudonym, and “Pure Comedy” reads as an anti-gospel of sorts. Organized religion has always been in his crosshairs, but here, it’s part of a broader ecosystem of institutions that have dovetailed in insidious and harmful ways. Maybe church and state are separate because religion and politics are the two things most likely to breed cognitive dissonance.
But “Pure Comedy” is bigger than pot-shots and wisecracks. It’s about the limitations of our heavy brains, the power of mythology and ignorance. It’s about the wonders of late capitalism. It’s about the cults of personality, the naked corruption, the misinformation that has infiltrated liberal democracy. It’s both microscopic and all-encompassing, about everyone and no one. It’s for every member of the species too smart for its own good but not quite smart enough to understand the consequences of that fact. “Pure Comedy” is 2017.
When we were having discussions about our favorite songs of the year here at PMA, no other song really seemed to fit. We didn’t settle on the biggest song (“Mask Off”), or the one we thought was catchiest (“Cut to the Feeling”)—as much as we may have liked to. We picked the song that fit. It’s said that every country has the government it deserves but never before has it so tidily played into the hands of America’s resident smart-ass. As masterful as “Pure Comedy” is, its timing was immaculate. — B.F.