The Playlist

The Rundown

20. 'Marine Tigers' - The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

With their 2017 album, Always Foreign, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die continued to expand their focus outward to larger societal issues of social justice, especially the increased prevalence of xenophobia and racism in today’s America. On an album completely lacking low points from start to finish, no song both captures these ideas and presents them as perfectly as ‘Marine Tigers.’

Over the song’s entire 7 minutes, TWIABP builds to a crescendo that is equal parts angry misanthropic rallying cry to fight back against oppressors and cathartic call for altruism among the oppressed. It is the perfect centrepiece to Always Foreign’s image of the horrors life brought in 2017 and also a hopeful reminder of why it is so important to resist the evil around us. These days, that reminder is most definitely a welcome one. - Zachary Evans

19. 'Call The Police' - LCD Soundsystem

What could be expected from James Murphy, a near-deified figure in the alt-rock world, than the mighty, striding statement of intent that was ‘Call The Police’? Both nonchalantly nostalgic and confidently reasserting, its release projected LCD Soundsystem ferociously back to the fore of the indie scene. Murphy carefully crafted his least electronic track in years, without losing the quintessential foundations of LCD. On ‘Call the Police’, he bawls with longingness akin to ‘All My Friends’, while the guitars, drums and synthesizers build to a momentous cacophony of fist-pumping, relentlessly driving rock music – and even a guitar solo to polish it all off. - Ed Cunningham

18. 'No Halo' - Sorority Noise

Sorority Noise’s 2017 album, You’re Not As_____ As You Think is a jagged and unsparing emotional ride that unquestionably deserves an entry along the timeline of truly great albums in emo’s fourth wave revival. As the opening track to the album, ‘No Halo’ is not only the perfect kickoff to the journey through grief and pain the album brings you on, but also a thesis statement on the inexplicable internal conflict brought on by personal loss and a concise distillation of the ups and downs found in radically shifting mental health.

Vocalist Cameron Boucher’s alternating of low-key, almost disinterested singing through the verses and frantically charged yelling on the choruses perfectly sums up the questioning frustration that builds up while dealing with grief. As the song builds to its bridge where the music finally comes crashing down and tension breaks, the song still never gives out comfort or answer those impossible questions about death it raises. Instead, it sits in the truth that life’s most painful mysteries are likely to go unsolved. - Zachary Evans

17. 'Yeah Right (feat. Kendrick Lamar)' - Vince Staples

I’ve seen ‘Yeah Right’ performed live twice this year; once during an evisceration of a SOPHIE set (as she co-produced the track), and once during the mass maul which constituted Vince Staples’s show. It’s one of those tracks where the live context amplifies… decadence. Yet, its wheedling, curdling, smothering bass; Vince’s jittery, marginally off-kilter flow; the distorted synth rasp which dangles precariously over the vacuum; it’s all manic, turbulent, sordid, and horrifyingly lucid, even on the tinniest speakers. Embracing a catchy but ostensibly bland refrain, the track is not only saved from vapidity but knighted Sir Banger by its gutturally feral maximalism, its intractable devotion to Not Being Boring. - Kieran Devlin

16. 'The Louvre' - Lorde

One of the first things you hear about The Louvre is how incredibly huge it is. There are so many pieces, that anyone short of The Flash would be unable to see every piece in a week, let alone a day. ‘The Louvre’ is not about the famed art museum, which only comes up briefly as the location Lorde avows she and her lover will be hung, likely as painting subjects, possibly as victims. (“Down the back, but who cares, still the Louvre,” she asserts).

It’s also filled with so much passion, it’s impossible to absorb it all at once. Much of Melodrama is heartbroken and heartbreaking, but Lorde knows feeling bad often comes with feeling amazing beforehand. ‘The Louvre’ is infatuation put to audio, from her awestruck breaths to the delirious pre-chorus. It’s no surprise that the closing melody is reminiscent of the main riff to ‘Born to Run,’ as this song joins Bruce Springsteen’s magnum opus as a classic of young, uncertain love. - Brody Kenny

15. 'Sue Me' - Björk

Björk has never been shy about channelling her concerns, hopes, fears and imaginary onto her music. She wrote and produced an album about her divorce, its origins and the aftermath. Vulnicura was a product of her vulnerabilities, with which she achieved her final moment of clarity, allowing her to move on with her life.

Utopia is the calm after all this past storminess, yet Björk dwells on another episode of her divorce. ‘Sue Me’ sees the Icelandic singer embodying a matriarchal and protective attitude towards her daughter, accusing her former husband of narcissism and neglect. Arca accompanies the showdown by providing a vessel, created with his atypical electronic and sound manipulation, for Björk’s domestic frustrations, enabling her to finally process her concerns in the way she knows best. - Francisco Gonçalves Silva

14. 'Ravens' - Mount Eerie

Throughout Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, Phil Elverum is dealing with the death of his wife through several different lenses and from many perspectives in time. ‘Ravens’ is arguably the sharpest and most unforgiving of these meditations, picking out moments from across a whole year in time with acute imagery and stark admissions of guilt and failure. It starts as he recollects seeing two ravens flying overhead while he’s outside chopping wood, and knowing they were harbingers of misfortune (“I knew these birds were omens, but of what I wasn’t sure”). His simple acoustic guitar accompaniment flutters like the wings of these premonitions and with it he glides in time over the scene (“you were probably inside wanting not to die”), and thinks back on his own failings in one of the most punishing lines in an album full of them: “I couldn’t bear to look, so I turned my head west like an early death/ Now I can only see you on the fridge in lifeless pictures.”

The song then drifts onwards through Phil’s processing; still seeing her eyes in his dreams, throwing her clothes away, reliving the time they found out they were pregnant. In a state of desolation he finds himself waking up in damp clothing in the wilderness of Masset, on the island where they had intended to build their family home, one month on from her death. Rather than feel disoriented, he’s suddenly rooted in nature - nurse logs, young cedars, God-like huckleberries - and is comforted: “nothing dies here.” Ultimately, he realises, she will always be with him; “I keep picking you berries.” - Rob Hakimian

13. 'Truth' - Kamasi Washington

Known for grand, cosmic jazz - his debut album was called The Epic after all - Kamasi Washington really outdid himself with ‘Truth’, a glorious 13-minute odyssey that closes out his latest EP Harmony of Difference. As a single piece of music, ‘Truth’ is pure euphoria; Kamasi’s saxophone is joined by bright, jovial piano and a crescendo of gospel voices. As a finale ‘Truth’ is a triumph, pulling together motifs from the five tracks that preceded it wrapping them all into one communion of music and message. - Rob Whitfield

12. 'Blue Train Lines (feat. King Krule)' - Mount Kimbie

The collection of great King Krule features continues to grow. Though his own records are no slouch, Archy Marshall’s hook on Ratking’s 2014 single 'So Sick Stories' stands as one of his finest vocal performances. Three years on, 'Blue Train Lines' has the King sounding even more aggressive than a boom-bap NYC emcee; wailing off-mic in between lyrics like early Lifter Puller-era Craig Finn. In a nod to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, the first line fired off is “here’s another thing.” Mount Kimbie aren’t rewriting any stories on the excellent Love What Survives, they’re continuing to expand upon this decade’s excellent version of British electronic and dance. Marshall’s pregnant verses do the same for the vocals. When the drum machine clicks in mid-track, 'Blue Train Lines' moves from memorable to perfect. - Michael Cyrs

11. 'Baybee' - Jay Som

There’s a bit in every indie club night, with about an hour or so left, when the DJ needs to slow the pace before making their final run at the dance floor through the hits. When you’re already sweaty, half cut and loose enough to let go; Jay Som’s 'Baybee' is the perfect track. Slow enough to catch your breath, dreamy enough to lose yourself entirely, a consistent groove so deep you can swing yourself around should the mood take you. 'Baybee' sits just over halfway through Jay Som’s breakout album Everybody Works, marking the exact point you realise that it is a great album, it's a grower, a keeper, your new forever song. - William Caston Cook

10. 'If You Need To, Keep Time On Me' - Fleet Foxes

Amid the grandiose orchestration and ambitious multi-part suites that make up Fleet Foxes’ excellent third album Crack-Up is the short, spare, and intimate ballad ‘If You Need To, Keep Time On Me’. Not only is ‘Keep Time On Me’ simpler instrumentally, but lyrically and emotionally it isolates a single feeling and expresses it in plain but deeply resonant terms. Robin Pecknold has said that the song was written amid the confusion and disappointment of Donald Trump’s election, and that can certainly be read into the lyrics, but they’re broad and simple enough to be applied to any trying time.

It’s a song about being someone’s rock, being loyal and strong for someone in their time of need. What more basic need is there for someone than to keep time (especially in a band)? Extrapolating the simplicity of the message of ‘If You Need To, Keep Time On Me’, even further, it’s assuring someone that you’ll help them maintain their sanity when they are struggling; “lean on me when you’re not strong,” essentially - just as long as you’re ready for me to lean on you when my world has been shattered. - Rob Hakimian

9. 'This Country' - Fever Ray

For Karen Dreijer, silence and absence has always been her bliss. However, she has never missed out on an opportunity to be incisive, either being part of The Knife with her brother Olof, being one half of queer DJ duo Karim & Karam, and now, eight years later, with the highly-unexpected Fever Ray comeback. A possible reason? The political mayhem we currently live in.

Since criticizing society and political measures has always been a course of action centrepiece in Dreijer’s line of work, ‘This Country’ serves this exact purpose on Plunge. Karin Dreijer, embodying her vocally distorted character, takes the opportunity to inevitably criticize ways of ruling. By listing essential demands ("Free abortions/ And clean water/ Destroy Nuclear") on top of glitchy synths and unconventional production methods, she glorifies and reprises her thoughts and interpretations about the means of the personal being political.- Francisco Gonçalves Silva

8. 'Rhesus Negative ' - Blanck Mass

Working off the assumption that genre is bullshit, or at least restrictive aesthetic labels are bullshit, it’s quite fun to segregate music through spirit rather than sound. Through this prism ‘Rhesus Negative’ screams the blackest, doomiest, postiest of metal, a purging, splurging dirge that excoriates and cleanses, that hollows and harries before presenting salvation; only, you know, with modulars instead of guitars. It’s an endurance test of course, milestoned by the vehement background drones, that doubles as a spiritual journey, with twinkling intervals and Benjamin John Power’s indecipherable bark lending the duration a sinister tenderness. - Kieran Devlin

7. 'Desafío' - Arca

This must be, hands down, the most ecstatically joyful sounding song ever written about masking existential despair by submissively challenging your lover to penetrate you. Sitting at the emotional apex of Arca’s third full-length, tellingly self-titled, album - on which Alejandro Ghersi introduced the world to his singular voice - ‘Desafío’ (or: ‘Challenge’), announces itself with air raid sirens before plunging head-first into the kind of transcendent, pop-indebted, club-ready banger that we could never have imagined Arca producing.

It’s a thing of startling beauty and contradictions. Synths swirl and stab, the cathedral rumbles, and Ghersi’s vocals scrape the heavens as his sexual advances grow desperate: “Listo o no (Ready or not) / Hay un abismo dentro de mí (There’s an abyss inside of me).” On an album that circles around a dark heart suffused with love, loss and unbearable pain, whilst delicately straddling a jagged line between avant-garde formlessness and pop formalism, ‘Desafío’ is an instance of hyper-sexual, rapturous release, and serves as Arca’s defining Pop Moment. - Andy Johnston

6. 'Pain' - The War On Drugs

The War on Drugs’ music is tightly composed, well-paced, and delicate. You feel like if you exhale too sharply while listening, it might collapse the momentous musical house of cards Adam Granduciel has created. It’s only fitting that ‘Pain’ concerns itself largely with things being destroyed. An already bruised Granduciel meets “a man with a broken back,” confesses to not being able to “shake the pain without breakin’” and pulls on a wire that refuses to snap. There’s a devastating juxtaposition between hearing his incredible technique and his guarded confessions (“I resist what I cannot change”). There’s no poetic moment of clarity to cleanly wrap things up, just a gorgeous fuzzy guitar solo. No song this year better encapsulated the truth that it’s okay to not feel okay. - Brody Kenny

5. 'Raingurl' - Yaeji

'Raingurl' is pop without inhibitions. Yaeji isn't concerned about which side of her Korean-American identity to side with, globe-hopping her shows between NYC and Seoul, speaking out in both languages with such abandon that we feel we understand every word. This is very much still house music, but irresistible to the point of crossover without the slightest bit of forcefulness. This is the kind of music that can make you dance like an idiot on the subway, walk into any party feeling like the centre of it. She don't fuck with family planning, and while the song's on, you won't either. Use with caution. - Chase McMullen


4. 'Mary' - Big Thief

'Mary', as a stream of consciousness, is a time machine that will freeze snowflakes in the sky around you. Appearing towards the end of Big Thief’s second album Capacity, providing a welcome moment of solace and introspection, it begins with a drone that allows sparse piano to gather momentum towards a controlled crescendo. Carried, driven, possessed by Adrianne Lenker’s voice. Her words paint by numbers with your own memories, holding the clocks, evoking all of the meaning you can handle until you realise everything has stopped, and, you’re just listening. It’s the song that will play during the big montage of meaningful life events before your final scene. Enjoy it, make it count, these songs don't come around very often. - William Caston Cook

3. 'A Private Understanding' - Protomartyr

“Not by my own hand/ automatic writing by phantom limb” is Joe Casey’s disclaimer for the first track off the encyclopaedic Relatives In Descent. No matter how much the lyric meanders after this, you’re absolved from having to take his words past face value. Still, this is a difficult task. As Casey tells a compelling tale of Elvis’ last days, comments on lead poisoning in Flint, MI, and references Greek mythology, it’s easy to get lost in the hypnotic excess of the themes. But you’re also absolved from the lyrical guessing game since the track is miles from musically boring (drummer Alex Leonard has the tightest post-punk drum grooves this side of The National’s Boxer).

If you’re feeling politically jaded, brooding, or just need to exorcise some of your distorted guitar demons, ‘A Private Understanding’ is a more than welcome introduction to 2017 Protomartyr. - Michael Cyrs

2. 'Slip Away' - Perfume Genius

‘Slip Away’ opens with a thrumming heartbeat that chugs along until it bursts as the huge wall of sound that is the chorus crashes in a cascade of audio glitter. The lead single from Perfume Genius’s fourth album No Shape is the perfect embodiment of an artist who has found their lane. An alt-pop song about being yourself and refusing to bend and break to society’s norms has never sounded so spectacular. - Joni Roome

1. 'DNA' - Kendrick Lamar

‘DNA’ is a microcosm of everything that makes DAMN. great. After the free-wheeling, exploratory jazz of To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick launches out of the gates with sheer force. The bruising beat of the track’s first half puts the spotlight on Lamar’s rapid-fire wordplay (some of his best yet), while the second half seems to pit the artist in a rap battle against the beat itself. Within this, Kendrick puts his focus on conservative talking heads, black heritage, and his own ambition to reveal the strands that make him the artist he is; the “power, poison, pain and joy” inside his DNA. - Rob Whitfield


Read The 405's Top 20 albums of 2017.