Here’s my list of the 50 most terrific tracks of 2017. Like most years of late, there was little “consensus music” this past year, with audience subgroups often hunkered down in their own silos, having little communication with the people in all the other silos. The platforms for hearing music—Spotify, Soundcloud, iTunes, Pandora, YouTube, radio (still), Tidal, etc.—each have developed a distinct audience (with the composition of those audiences often shaped by whether or not the platform is free). As these platforms have become increasingly driven by their own internal data analytics, they’ve simultaneously become more or less oblivious to each other, so that a song or artist’s success or failure on one platform barely influences the others. What we end up with are fewer cross-platform smashes, although there are of course some, and a lot of records that are purely Soundcloud hits, Spotify hits, radio hits, etc. What’s noteworthy about any of this is that I’ve been using the word “platform” here instead of “genre,” which was the main way music used to get divided up. Sure, there are still very distinct musical genres, as well as some cross pollination between them, but we appear to be entering a period where the platforms themselves are their own “genre”— a little bit like how there used to be AM music and FM music, distinct from each other, with only some overlap. That’s the development in music consumption that I’ve found most interesting this year.
As for the music itself, there was nothing as mind-blowingly awesome in 2017 as last year’s “Ivy” by Frank Ocean or 2015’s revelatory “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpets (he had some help), but my vote for fave track of the year goes to “123” by the criminally under-appreciated Girlpool. Also happy to include “Grant Green” by Mr. Jukes, featuring Charles Bradley’s final appearance on record before his untimely death—his voice was such a distinctive instrument and will be missed. Fans of retro soul will be pleased to discover “Be My Girl” by Eamon (Eamon? THAT Eamon? Really?), which would have made a great Intruders single in another era. Lucy Dacus didn’t release “Night Shift” until mid December, so perhaps this will be the first time you’ve heard it, but I’m guessing it will be on a lot of 2018 best-of lists. Seven years after they first appeared on my list with “All My People,” Portugal. the Man are back with their career-defining “Feel It Still,” which was as joyous as pop music got in this time of uncertainty, when so many artists released music which suggested they were pissed off, or at least on edge (understandable).
Finally, Miley Cyrus, Kesha and Harry Styles all make appearances on this list, following Justin Bieber last year, which just goes to show that we live in an era where yesterday’s young pop idols, given the chance to grow up, can make music possessing tremendous passion, sophistication and innovation. The direct link to their audiences via social media is the instrument which has made this transition to adulthood so much easier for young stars of today then it was for the teen idols of yore, who were tossed aside by industry gatekeepers after their sell-by date. These days, artists stay in touch with their fans as they all grow up together; youthful indiscretions are absolved, old commercial product gets filed in the same drawer as old English class assignments, and artists no longer need to remain forever defined by what they did when they were 15. No doubt David Cassidy (RIP) would have preferred to have come of age in this era.
It would be unseemly to include records on our S-Curve label on this list, but at the same time, I really do love the music we put out—so, at the very end of the playlist you’ll find great tracks by AJR, Andy Grammer, Elise LeGrow, Michael Blume and Rachel Crow, all of whom would have made the list on merit alone had their records not been ours.