I can’t hear Aimee Mann without thinking of her work on the Magnolia soundtrack. This is her best record since Magnolia and “Goose Snow Cone” is her best song since “Save Me.”
Indie-pop from Toronto on the same wavelength as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (but without the power punk) or the tUnE-yArDs (but without the creativity). They’re the middle-of-the-road indie power-popsters for the rest of us.
Julien Baker joins fellow Memphis, TN crooner Valerie June as standout acts of 2017. Both represent a conflicted and complicated southern viewpoint with a devotion to the roots of their genre. “Appointments” builds slowly. The listener waits for that cathartic release, only the transcendence undermines expectations. It’s bittersweet and ruminative, not bombastic, but even more potent.
Los Angeles punk-pop trio full of self-awareness and cocky swagger. When the guitar solo bleeds into a blistering crescendo around the 2-minute mark, you’ll think to yourself, “Self, this rocks pretty hard, but not too hard that you’ll hurt anything vital.”
Or Jay-Brekky if you’re into the whole brevity thing. Solo project from Michelle Zauner, formerly of Little Big League. “Machinist” is an otherworldly meditation on the escape of earthbound pain and fear, a remarkable combination of synth and sax and voice modulation.
Electronic soul music for the weary.
Sydney, Australia’s indie-pop trio opened for Ryan Adams and Cold War Kids on the strength of one EP filled with catchy-as-hell earworms.
*also qualified for Top 2017: “Edge of Town”
A playful, straightforward art pop ‘n roll record that hints at Patti Smith vocals and Lou Reed rhythms. Shilpa Ray’s greatest asset is her boisterous big-blues vocals. A punk diva in an Ella Fitzgerald cover band.
Before looking it up I’d have guessed that Dear Reader hailed from Australia, but it turns out that Dear Reader is now just a solo project of Cherilyn MacNeil and she’s based in Berlin. Art-pop with plenty of soulful piano dirges and sweeping choral flourishes.
By now you’re probably starting to skim this blurbs without really reading them and I’m okay with that. Really. 100 blurbs is a lot of blurbs. 100 songs is a lot of songs. Trust me. I’m the one writing them. And tradition dictates that I take blurb number 41 to discuss the grind of reading and writing about 100 songs. Rather poorly. You’re not really reading anymore and I’m not really spending much time thinking about them. Molly Burch deserves better than a half-assed blurb because she’s a cross between Patsy Cline and Nina Simone and that’s a damn fine part of the vocal spectrum. The girl can sing.
Den Bejar vocals + leftover synth and bass from The Cure’s Disintegration. Epic track.
Toronto songwriter Tamara Lindeman perfects her formula on “Thirty” — the standout track from her fourth LP. Passionate, genre-spanning and remarkably unpredictable.
No stranger to the 30Hz countdown, HAERTS returns with this power ballad that sounds like CHVRCHES and Haim and Rhye and the Shout Out Louds all came together for a jam. So of course I love it. Hopefully the band has a second full-length album on the horizon.
Maybe the most un-Calvin Harris song I’ve heard. Epic, soulful hip-hop in four movements.
This Zimbabwe-born, London-raised student was discovered during his first week of studying abroad at UCLA while catching a ride in an Uber. He happened to play his demo for his driver, a former music executive, who passed Kwaye’s demo tape to the founder of Mind of a Genius. Frank Ocean – excessive production + killer hook.
Layered, folk-rock landscapes that reward with deep headphone listening and high volume. Lay down on your floor, stare at the ceiling and succumb to the Grizzly Bear.
Band members hail from the UK, Atlanta and New York City. Their sound becomes the interstice between them all, borrowing sonic tropes from Motown soul, garage rock, 80’s punk, R&B and even Italian horror movies. That sounds like a cute little buzz blurb for a sales pitch, but it’s legit. Wait until “The Underside of Power” drops out just before the 4-minute mark and you’ll swear you hear some Bruno Nicolai.
Brooklyn-based noir dream-pop. You’ll be forgiven for believing that frontman Greg Gonzalez was a female vocalist. There’s a lot of Galaxie 500 and Beach House here. While many other dream-poppers skew flinty and wistful, Cigarettes After Sex relishes a good bassline and droning guitars.
Pure punk-pop confection with a chorus that’ll infect your brain and have you singing “wooo oooh whoaaa oh whooaaa oh oh oh,” among mixed company. This 25-year-old Australian crafted a song neither I nor my 5yo could get sick of — and that’s a small miracle.
Sydney, Australia (yes, again!) post-punk, new-wave quartet inspired by Talking Heads, the Smiths, and Oingo Boingo. The band’s not getting enough attention for their debut full-length but you could probably say that about 9 out of 10 artists on this list because people listen to the garbage that’s placed in front of them.
Indie-superstar collective returns with this slice of comfort good. Mac and cheese for old souls.
Anthemic, angsty jangle-pop from Sweden. I’ve also heard them called “dream-punk,” which is a new sub-genre for me. Vocalist Maja Milner skewed darker on III (their third record, obvs.) but “Eden” remains a standout slice of accessible joy, the gateway drug to the darker themes within the rest of the album.
Australians dominated my 2017. These post-punkers play like Joy Division but where Joy Division kept listeners at a chilly distance, Gold Class’ record plays like a spiral, constantly pulling you towards the center with engaging lyrics about anger and politics and disillusionment. My most spun piece of vinyl from 2017.
Idiosyncratic Australian (they’re coming for me!) singer-songwriter plays like the sledgehammer version of Father John Misty, but where Father John Misty lets his lyrics speak for themselves, Alex Cameron pounds his cleverness home with a witty hook. Pitchfork called him “art-sleeze” and I’m struggling to come up with anything more appropriate. It’s worth noting that this is the second appearance of Angel Olsen on this countdown despite none of her own material making an appearance.
I didn’t immediately connect with Alvvays’ sophomore record but then I scanned my “Hits List” in November and found I’d logged four songs from the album. That’s only a failure when you consider I had five tracks from their debut on my 2015 Hits List. Way to let me down, Alvvays. I wish more bands would crush my dreams like you do.
*also qualified for Top 2017: “Not My Baby”