Folks, I could not be more thrilled to bring you the top 20 songs of 2017 and the final part of the DJY100. Thanks so much for reading. I always have so much fun putting these together and I’m really stoked with the response. Look forward to doing it all again soon, but in the meantime be sure to catchup with parts one, two, three and four before proceeding.
Here’s to whatever 2018 has in store!
– DJY, January 2018
20. Manchester Orchestra – The Gold
Over a decade on from their debut, Manchester Orchestra still easily strike the fear of God into their listeners. The Andy Hull-led project has never been about quiet devastation – it’s about the extremities of the emotional spectrum and the internal conflicts that come with going there. “The Gold” immediately asserted itself as a career-best track for the band in the lead-up to the release of A Black Mile to the Surface. Indeed, as excellent as that record was, it never quite scaled the same heights elsewhere on its tracklisting. Heavenly harmonies, heart-on-sleeve lyrics and strikingly-beautiful arrangements: “The Gold,” indeed.
19. HAIM – Want You Back
Consider “Want You Back” a mosaic of sorts: a complete work of art in its own right, but its foundations are simultaneously laid by dozens of others. Looking closely, you’ll see the likes of Taylor Dayne, Stevie Nicks, Shania Twain and Janet Jackson in alignment – all of whom could have easily made this song just as big of a hit as the Haim sisters have. Of course, the bigger picture is HAIM themselves – they’ve taken everything they’ve learned and made something all-encompassing of their past, present and future. Now make like the video: Shut up and dance already.
18. Gordi – Bitter End
Sophie Payten has never shied away from fragility and vulnerability in her music. Perhaps nowhere in her still-blossoming body of work does she bare quite as much as she does on “Bitter End.” She’s openly seeking tragedy amid reverb, tape loops and delicate acoustic guitar: The refrain, “Don’t deny me,” reveals itself in full to be “Don’t deny me/My bitter end.” It’s a song that never shakes the ever-present feeling of falling in slow motion – the world crumbles around you, and the inevitable demise looms. “Bitter End” comes from a broken place for those unable to escape one themselves.
17. Code Orange – Bleeding in the Blur
When Code Orange signed to Roadrunner Records, many metal fans connected the dots with their love of Fear Factory and Hatebreed to joining the roster. One overlooked aspect of this move, however, was the band’s affinity for alt-metal – the kind Roadrunner was instrumental in making big in the 90s and early 2000s. “Bleeding in the Blur” may be Code Orange’s most accessible moment yet – it was, after all, picked up as a theme song for WWE’s NXT – but it never compromises nor loses the edge that made the band noticeable to begin with. Blood is still thicker.
16. The New Pornographers – High Ticket Attractions
Whiteout Conditions saw a lot of internal changes for The New Pornographers, now in their 20th year as a band. It marked their first without long-serving drummer Kurt Kahle, as well as their first without Destroyer’s Dan Bejar making contributions. It’s worth noting “High Ticket Attractions” immediately sounded like business as usual for the Pornos – in the very best way possible, of course. Carl Newman and Neko Case are perfectly intertwined as vocalists, Blaine Thurier is off sending his keyboards into outer-space and new guy drummer Joe Seiders is locked directly into the groove. Power-pop never felt so powerful.
15. Gold Class – Twist in the Dark
By this point, Gold Class are a well-oiled machine. Its four members work in close quarters, knowing exactly when to hold back and when to butt heads. “Twist in the Dark” is their greatest exercise in dynamics to date – a propulsive post-punk single that barely draws breath across its four-and-a-half minutes. It all comes together in the chorus, where the titular phrase is howled less like a demand and more like a plea. Meanwhile, Evan James Purdey’s guitar sounds like it’s got sparks coming off it, thrashing and radiating against the booming rhythm section. This moment is unquestionably theirs.
14. Antonia and the Lazy Susans – Home Here with Your Friends
The term “wholesome” gets bandied about a lot when discussing Antonia and the Lazy Susans, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed four-piece from the Blue Mountains. It’s easy to see why – theirs is a warm, inviting and good-natured take on indie-rock; their hearts proudly on the sleeves of their band tees. “Home Here with Your Friends” feels like a big, reassuring hug. It plays on the cliché of “home is where the heart is” and affirms its meaning to an estranged absolute. You’ll be singing in arms with your best mates in no time – “Home Here” achieves this by design.
13. Allday feat. Japanese Wallpaper – In Motion
As impressive as Allday’s 2014 debut Startup Cult was, its lyrical content certainly played to a more adolescent view of women and the world around him. Three years on, Tom Gaynor is a little more centred – he’s found love, however fleeting; and the nights of getting fucked up, while still present, don’t hit him the same way they used to. Somewhere between an internal monologue and a balcony soliloquy, the whole affair is tastefully soundtracked by Melbourne beatmaker Japanese Wallpaper. Gaynor’s reserved, sweetly-melodic voice works well in the foil of the gentle, glowing beat. So this is growing up.
12. Tigers Jaw – Guardian
We write songs of people we love. We write songs of people we hate. There is, of course, a lot of grey area in things between people. A song like “Guardian” fills that void in its own way. Ostensibly, it’s about removing yourself from someone’s life after a long spell of dependency issues and indelible history. It’s a gut-punch of a song, but also liberating in its catharsis – the chord progression slides around in perfect circles; the chorus feels like a lifted burden. Tigers Jaw speak for the downtrodden and the emotionally-distant – and they sing it so beautifully.
11. Charli XCX – Boys
For someone who hasn’t even hit 30 yet, Charli XCX feels as though she’s undergone more transformations than your average Madonna. Hook girl, shouty punk, pop princess, experimental glitch-pop weirdo… one never really knows where she’ll end up next. That’s part of the excitement, to be honest. There’s always an adventure to be had – look at “Boys,” after all. It was attached to easily the biggest music video of the year, but this ain’t no OK Go operation – the song thrives on its own. Playful, charming and ornately-arranged, “Boys” was the straight-girl/gay-guy anthem millennials were craving in 2017.
10. Paramore – Hard Times
In case you didn’t get the memo care of the marimbas and bongos that lift the curtain on Paramore’s fifth album: We’re not in Franklin anymore, Toto. The name remains the same as it ever was, but those seeking a new slab of angst-ridden pop-punk in tune with the band’s early stages are going to find themselves bitterly disappointed – possibly even to the point where they’ll go off and make their own, should it suit them. Progression, see, is a two-way street: “Some of us have to grow up sometimes,” Hayley Williams sang on the band’s self-titled album back in 2013. She wasn’t just talking about herself, or whomever she may have been subtweeting. In order for a band to grow, its listeners have to grow with it – and, thankfully, Paramore have found themselves in a position of power as far as this dynamic is concerned.
For the most part, fans have been willing to go along with whatever Williams and co. throw at them – including line-up shifts, internal conflict and vocoder solos. There’s an ever-present restlessness to what it is they do, and it’s boldly reflected in the image of “Hard Times.” Each listen allows you to pick up on something that hadn’t presented itself previously – a returning Zac Farro, for instance, counting the band in before announcing his triumphant comeback with a thunderous drum fill. Or what about the onomatopoeic “oofff” that lands directly after Williams cartoonishly yelps how she’s “gotta get to rock-bottom”?
The song bounces between Talking Heads eccentricity to state-of-the-art pop on a whim, all the while providing the perfect contrast to Williams’ total-bummer lyrics sheet. The melody may be as bouncy and bright as anything the band has recorded, but even taking a second to scratch below the surface will see Paramore transmogrify into Pagiliacci. That’s what makes this such a striking song – every listen is a new adventure. Paramore are still in the business of misery, but lest we forget that misery loves company.
9. Nick Hakim – Bet She Looks Like You
One verse. One chorus. One drum loop. It doesn’t get much more stripped-back from a structural standpoint as it does on “Bet She Looks Like You.” That’s part of its intrigue – how could a song with so little technically do so much emotionally? A lot of it has to do with Nick Hakim himself, the man behind the music who plays nearly everything on debut album Green Twins and provides the quivering, gasping vocals that serve as the very core of this song’s being. He sings of a love that is killing him – quite literally. “If there’s a God/I wonder what She looks like,” he sings. “I bet she looks like you.” His parting words: “I wish that life/Would feed the tree/And you can put me to sleep/Forever and ever.”
Being a relatively new artist, Hakim is somewhat of a blank canvas. Spending time with “Bet She Looks Like You,” however, one quickly picks up on his methods. He paints with broad strokes of luminous green, circling outlines with shimmering chrome and allowing pitch-blackness to take its place where it can. His voice recalls vintage soul, and carries with it a realm of paradoxes – reverb-heavy, cavernous, distant; and yet as drawn-in and intimate as the bedroom in which it was recorded. His guitar playing shifts from baritone plucking to tasteful upper fretwork, a gated snare its only guiding light. Hakim blends, shifts and reshapes genre semantics to work within. He goes beyond writing a song with “Bet She Looks Like You” – he’s a creator of worlds.
8. Selena Gomez – Bad Liar
As long as sampling has existed in popular music, the side-by-side analysis has been inevitable. It’s easy to see something like “Rapper’s Delight” stemming out of Chic’s “Good Times,” for instance. It’s also fascinating to see the glimmering hope of Dido’s “Thank You” recontextualised as the stormy obsession ballad that is “Stan” by Eminem. What, then, to make of “Psycho Killer” in its new home of Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar”? They may seem worlds apart – Gomez, after all, was born some 15 years after the song itself was released – but their parallels run closer than you might think.
By sliding Tina Weymouth’s instantly-recognisable bass-line between syncopated claps and a bluesy modulation, one appreciates how rhythmically versatile both artists are. Weymouth knows her way around empty spaces, and Gomez knows how to fill out lingering ones. The scatterbrain lyrics – composed with assistance of the iconic duo, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter; also responsible for “Hands to Myself” – also resonate with the real live-wire that David Byrne is portraying. Both Byrne and Gomez reach breaking points, while also knowing when to draw back and switch to an internal monologue. There’s inherent struggle in both characters, and the tension builds quickly.
Of course, “Bad Liar” thrives regardless of being aware of its musical context or not – it’s one of the best songs Gomez has ever put her name to, if not the. It’s the perfect balance of smart and sexy, guilty and innocent, hot and cold. For someone who could have easily become a Disney also-ran, it’s been remarkable to see how far Gomez has come in the last half-decade. Should 2018 bring us a new full-length, consider yourselves warned – it’s only gonna get fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa far, far better from here.
7. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos – Slide
Consider the power of a man like Calvin Harris. Not physical, mind – he’s always been a scrawny type, even as he’s evolved from Scottish geek to Hollywood hunk. It’s more about what he’s able to bring out of people; the way that he can reach into any pop A-lister you can think of and transform them. Florence Welch, the indie queen? Disco diva. Kelis, the milkshake-sipping rnb star? EDM commander. Frank Ocean, the reticent bedroom-dweller who shuns touring and makes introspective music for the emotionally-invested and socially-isolated? Guess what, dude: You’re at the steering wheel of a sports-car, cruising LA with the song of the summer bumping in your trunk.
Ocean certainly feels like the outlier of the three artists involved in “Slide” – yes, including the guy who’s not even from America. What’s fascinating is that he barely changes his approach, even when presented with a slamming boom-bap rhythm and shiny synth patterns. He underplays the whole thing, which subsequently shifts the playing field and levels out in Ocean’s favour.
He’s too cool to get hype – not like Migos, who make their presence felt like the hyenas of The Lion King we so desperately want them to be. Not to say Migos aren’t cool – it’s that they’re a tad more extroverted and certainly more willing to play ball. The two work as perfect foil for one another; such is the pulling power and the masterful eye for detail held by one C. Harris. Exactly how long Harris’ redemptive streak will last is anyone’s guess, but for now it’s better to just cruise.
6. Charlie Puth – Attention
There’s an old saying that you may have heard in your travels: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. In 2017, the prince of darkness managed to one-up his own trickery, and a new challenger came for the title. And so it went: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that someone played bass on “Attention” by boy-wonder pop heartthrob Charlie Puth. You get a glimpse into pure evil in the glint of Puth’s eyes in a making-of video for the track, for which he wrote all of the music. “Everyone asks me who played bass on this track,” he says. There’s a cheeky, smug grin on his face as he reveals the perpetrator: himself, playing a MIDI keyboard.
For those that have heard – and, indeed, paid – “Attention,” this ranks up there with the cake as one of pop culture’s greatest lies. You’d feel betrayed were you not so impressed that the twentysomething wunderkind literally created a one-man band for the song – not only the electric, infused bass-line, but the tasteful, suspenseful palm-mute guitar. He can’t even play guitar, for fuck’s sake.
Perhaps the frustration at Puth’s creation is an overhang from his irritating debut album, Nine-Track Mind, which positioned him as a smug and overly-cocky loverboy, not to mention an easy critical punching bag. Puth’s arrival in 2017 with “Attention” and “How Long” was pop music’s equivalent of Sandra D turning up in the final scene of Grease wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. The stud has logged on – and he’s gonna talk his shit until you’re licking up every last fake bass-line. Guess it’s true what they say – better the Devil you know.
5. Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
“HUMBLE.” is endlessly quotable. Every line could be tweeted and get thousands of RTs. Every line could be given a bit of art, posted on Insta and rack up five-digit likes within the hour. Even an edit of the song that changes nearly every line to one of the curious artefacts brought up in the first 30 seconds – syrup sandwiches – has proven to be quite popular. There’s one particular line, however, that serves as a rason d’être for Lamar himself. It’s a command, but it’s neither “sit down” nor “be humble.” It’s this: “Show me something natural.” A black man’s afro, for instance. Or perhaps a rear end that hasn’t been digitally edited.
These are just examples, of course. It’s reflective of a greater quest that Lamar is on – not just on DAMN., but his entire career. He’s surrounded by bullshit artists, careerists and fake personas. It’s his duty to dismantle the systems that uphold these sorts of people, in turn making music that is inextricably linked to his own identity. “HUMBLE.,” for all intents and purposes, is a successful mission.
Its clattering piano keys created one of the year’s most hypnotic loops, weaving in and out of busy hi-hats and head-nodding chants while the bass rattles your car speakers. His flow is restless, never settling on a measure or metric but rather ever-evolving as he finds new ways to intertwine himself with his surroundings. Even as the beat rides out, you’re half expecting him to leap right back into the fray and find a dozen new flows to go with it. Could he do it? Easily. He’s a natural.
4. Gordi – Heaven I Know
Quick maths: One two three, one two three, one two three, one two three, one two. Across eight measurements, fourteen beats. 4/4, standard time. Sophie Payten’s whispered numbers game serves as the only percussive backbone of “Heaven I Know” for much of its runtime. It immediately grabs your attention as a peculiarity – especially when Payten’s voice layers on top of itself, marking out the on-beat with an A-shaped C-note on the two and the four. That’s a lot to take in on its own – we haven’t gotten to the military snare drum, the chipmunk vocal samples, the vocoder and the army of trumpets that make their presence felt on an increasing basis as the song progresses, implodes and subsequently fades.
Despite the fact it’s quite clearly a song about letting go and the acceptance of loss, “Heaven I Know” feels like a battle-cry. Its titular refrain is sung heavens-high with stunning harmony, the pain of its heavy-hearted sentiment crashing down on unsuspecting listeners with a considerable wallop. She simultaneously sounds as human as she ever has, while still glitching in the background like a malfunctioning robot.
Coming from any artist, this would be a mesmerising and wholly surprising effort. The fact it comes from an artist who – with all due respect – was previously more at home in the realm of your everyday singer-songwriter makes “Heaven I Know” even more compelling. It comes out of nowhere, and quickly takes up space everywhere until it’s inescapable.
What becomes of the broken hearted? That’s simple: They write songs like “Heaven I Know.”
3. Jacob – How Long Until You’re Next to Me?
Throughout history, popular music has offered up questions that not only work well as song titles, but as choruses. We’ve been questioning each other for millennia: Do you know the way to San Jose? Have you ever seen the rain? Are you gonna go my way? Who let the dogs out? A new question entered the conversation this year – one so straightforward and self-assured, you’re legitimately amazed that it had never been asked before. It’s asked by a band that, although five years in at this point, are entering a new phase of their existence and making changes accordingly. A band that’s developed a cult following in their time, mixing their love of third-wave emo with their heart-eyes emojis for vintage pop. A band that knows a thing or two about breaking hearts and being heartbroken – life may not be easy for a boy named Sue, but it’s just as hard for a band named Jacob.
“How Long Until You’re Next to Me?” was a standalone single for Jacob in 2017. That’s both literal – ie. not being attached to an imminent EP/LP release – and also in the context of stature. This is a peerless song – there was no better Australian song released across the entire calendar year, regardless of any genre semantics or gridlocks. “How Long” defies them anyway – it’s a song that’s just as at home on a summer pop playlist than it would at on the CDJ decks of an alt-club night. It’s got a spring in its step, but a sting in the tail. It’s bubbly and bright, yes; in equal amounts, it’s love-lorn and longing. It’s persistent, too – just when you think it’s done, it goes in for one last lightning round.
To borrow a phrase from Pavement, “How Long Unitl You’re Next to Me?” is an island of such great complexity. It’s simple as apple pie on the surface, but it’s tellingly deceptive. Each listen insists upon another – you’ll have notched up double digits without even noticing – and yet you’re never closer to answering the titular question. We may never – Bob Dylan probably never got an answer for how many roads a man must walk down before you can call him a man. At the very least, Jacob are on the right track.
2. Charly Bliss – Westermarck
Everyone remembers Bart and Milhouse’s all-syrup Squishee bender. The sugar-rush sends both kids into orbit, with Milhouse helpfully suggesting the two “go crazy – Broadway style.” All it took was one hit and they were away. Consider Charly Bliss the musical equivalent of the all-syrup Squishee. Not that they lead to bad decisions or anything like that – it’s just that they’re alarmingly sweet, and going out of your way to seek it out will lead to gasps from on-lookers. At the same time, it’s so easy to get hooked.
There may not be a more alluring voice in contemporary rock music than that of Eva Hendricks’ – it’s so head-range and treacly that one may initially suspect digital manipulation. The guitars are flowery and rainbow-swirled, the drums clinking and clashing against them. If you’re not lost in their world within the first 60 seconds, then you’re straight up not paying enough attention. “Westermarck” is the stand-out track on Guppy, the band’s debut album – and considering three other songs of theirs made the cut in addition to this one, you know that’s saying something.
What makes it so irresistible? It’s the single most succinct and swiftly-executed amalgamation of not only Charly Bliss’ key strengths, but of what made rock music great in 2017. There’s churning guitar, a chorus that demands to be screamed and even a “Teen Spirit”-esque melody-line guitar solo to tide you over. It’s so specifically personal, and yet nothing is ever really given away – what was the cause of the birthday fight that lead to the scarred face? How exactly was a baby going to pop or get shrunk? Was Rick Moranis involved? And would you believe Hendricks if she was right? Surely you would. She can make a believer out of anyone who listens to “Westermarck.”
1. Drake – Passionfruit
It’s a tradition almost as old as hip-hop itself. The beat kicks in, the crowd goes nuts… and just about as it’s about to get going, the artist cuts the music. Verbatim, they’ll tell the crowd something along the lines of: “You can go harder than that! If you’re really ready for this shit, then make some noise!” Noise is made, the song begins again and the energy in the room hits fever pitch. What’s fascinating about “Passionfruit” in its introductory stage is twofold. The first aspect is how Drake takes this live practice and executes it on a recorded song. Just as you’re settling into the groove of Nana Rogues dancehall futurista, a voice interrupts. “Hold on, hold on… fuck that,” it says. It’s DJ Moodymann, taken from a DJ set in 2010 where he botches a mix and makes sure to get it right. To have this experience outside of the realm of live performance is nothing short of disarming – even on subsequent listens, when you know it’s coming, it’s the equivalent of waiting for your toast to pop up.
The other half of this curiosity relates back to “Passionfruit” from a musical standpoint. Usually, the songs being hyped up by this fake-out are tracks like “All of the Lights.” Something that builds up and explodes, high on dynamic lift. “Passionfruit” is not that kind of song – at least, it doesn’t seem to be. It loops around hypnotically, its neon-glowing glass synths serving as a waterbed for Drake’s buttery vocals and the shuffled hi-hats keeping rhythm. The way it continues with such insistence, however, makes you more and more invested in how it progresses. Drake could have done this for any of his more hyped numbers in his arsenal – imagine this within the confines of “Jumpman,” for instance. For whatever reason, though, “Passionfruit” was selected as the song with which to start the motherfuckin’ record over. And it’s still believable.
Needless to say, “Passionfruit” is a little more nuanced and a lot more complex to explain than your average Global Top 50 entrant. It’s bright and tropical, yet it works just effectively for listeners in downer moods. It soundtracks glasses of champagne out on the dancefloor as well as drinking so much that you call them anyway. Drake is in your ear, but he’s also a million miles away. It beams with both the millennial-pink tinge of the club and the unforgiving white of the streetlights on the drive home. The chord progression is uplifting, and yet it’s easily contrasted and off-set by atonal blips that barely fit the metre. It’s truly a testament to Drake’s versatility as a singer and as an artist that he’s able to encompass so much within a single song – “Passionfruit” has more levels to it in five minutes than many acts are able to even fathom across an entire LP.
It’s fitting that the last voice you hear on “Passionfruit” – much like the first voice – is not Drake’s. This time, it’s Zoë Kravitz – daughter of Lenny, actor and singer – coming down a phone line, á la “Marvin’s Room.” Her only line is this: “Umm… I’m trying to think of the right thing to say.” There’s no resolution. The conflict that arises within the song’s lyrics is not resolved. The tension hangs in the air. And yet. And yet. And yet. The beat goes on. If the song didn’t transition into the “Jorja Interlude” on More Life, one could envision it going on forever. Still on this motherfuckin’ record. Probably always will be.
Thanks so much for reading! Don’t forget you can listen to a playlist of nearly every song featured in this list (with apologies to Clean Shirt and Neil Cicierega) below: