I write only very sparingly about music, mostly because I believe it’s an even more subjective medium than film to some extent. However, there was a lot of music I loved in 2017 and my listening time is the highest it’s been in five years, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share eleven songs from the last year which I have adored.
I’ve arranged them in a vague order, with my most loved at the top. I am very open when it comes to music. I tend to listen to alternative and indie musicians the most, along with an assortment of electronic music (mostly electropop and synthpop) and post-rock. It would be easier to list the genres I don’t listen to, of which there are very little. This list is by no means as diverse as my library, but I hope it’s still a reasonably eclectic selection.
Goodbye by 2NE1 (YouTube)
Kicking off this list is the final song from South Korean band 2NE1, released as a farewell before they disbanded early last year. I don’t have much history with 2NE1, and listen to them only occasionally, but when Goodbye appeared on the YouTube trending page last January, it grabbed a hold of me and still hasn’t quite let go.
Although the song is more an adieu from the band members to each other, it captured me at a very vulnerable moment, and I found a deep affinity with the lyrics, which are delivered soul-stirringly by CL, Park Bom, and Dara. You don’t need to understand Korean to feel the anguish and heartache, and the instrumentals — stripped down in comparison to their pop songs — are just as evocative and bittersweet.
It’s also this song I must credit to introducing me more formally to the Korean music scene. I had listened to a couple of Korean musicians here and there, but a wealth of sounds were awaiting me after 2NE1. Today, I am slightly obsessed with Mamamoo, and really love how prominent rap and hip hop are in South Korea.
When today is over
It feels like tomorrow will be different
Will my life be okay without you?
Until the day we meet again
Carry Me to Safety by Mew (YouTube)
I feel as though many of us have that one band or singer we like to keep secret. They’re too precious and important to share, and the feelings they illicit must be my feelings alone. For me, that band is Mew — a three piece from Denmark. I have yet to formally meet another person who listens to them, and greedily keep them all to myself.
Once, on my way home from a Sigur Rós concert, I found myself walking behind somebody carrying a tote bag with words from Mew’s No More Stories… album. I remember freaking out internally. I should have reached out and bonded with them over this alluring band, talked about how we were on the same wavelength, and then become good friends for the rest of our days, but life isn’t a movie and sadly I didn’t say anything.
Mew’s recent album Visuals is certainly very distinct, as all of their work is. In ways, they have an unmistakable sound (largely due to the vocals from Jonas Bjerre, who has a voice as haunting and beautiful as Jónsi), but at the same time they experiment and adjust. Carry Me to Safety is unlike anything I have heard from them previously, but is completely enrapturing. At first glance their lyrics appear rather cryptic and difficult to decipher, but are somehow tremendously moving and alluring — almost transcending.
A life to live as me
A moment that feels free
Like two big colliders
Singing out their days
You smile as if to say
Now our story’s over
Love by Lana Del Rey (YouTube)
These days, when people ask me what music I’m into, I answer: “Lana Del Rey.” Before everything, there is Lana. My history with Lana Del Rey dates back to the release of Born to Die in 2012, and the subsequent mass-playing of Video Games. I adored Born to Die, and find that every Lana album since has been a grower.
I wasn’t too sure about Ultraviolence when it released, but would probably list it as my favourite Lana album today. I wasn’t too sure about Honeymoon, either. Sure enough, it grew on me. Same story with Lust for Life. When it comes to Lana, the initial singles never seem to grab me as much as the full album. I can’t just listen to a couple of tracks — I need the spellbinding experience of a Lana soundscape to finally envelope me.
It’s always tough to pick a stand-out track from Lana, and this year I have adored Lust for Life (ft. The Weeknd), Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind, White Mustang, Heroin, and Beautiful People Beautiful Problems (ft. Stevie Nicks), but must spotlight Love in the end, for the enchanting vocals and beautiful lyricism. It’s pure, unadulterated Lana.
Look at you kids with your vintage music
Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’
You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future
Signals crossing can get confusing
Burn it Down by Daughter (YouTube)
I have been a fan of Daughter ever since their early EPs, and saw them live in January 2013 before their first album had released. The venue was a church and I sat up in the gallery. It was a lovely, intimate performance, and was in fact the first live music I had seen in a couple of years. I felt as though I had been missing out on so much.
I got to meet the lead singer Elena afterwards, and still have my signed ticket. She was super nice, and I got a picture with her, too. I won’t post it here because I look like a doofus. I’m so glad to be listening to them five years later, and they’re as wonderful as ever, with a more mature sound and an ever enthralling discography.
For me, the stand-out track from their new album Music from Before the Storm is Burn it Down. The album is, in fact, a collection of Daughter’s work from the soundtrack for the video game ‘Life is Strange,’ which I have heard of but am not familiar with. It’s probably one of my favourite albums of the year, and Burn it Down is such an atmospheric and plaintive piece, with incredibly wistful and stirring lyrics. Elena’s voice is to die for. I also absolutely relish the instrumental tracks Flaws and Witches.
Always said I was a good kid
Always said I had a way with words
Never knew I could be speechless
Don’t know how I’ll ever break this curse
Privilege by Stars (YouTube)
I adore Stars. Similar to Mew, they’re a band that I tend to keep to myself. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon something magnificent, and must keep it sheltered. They’re a band whose music does have a sense of solitary listening to it. Some music plays really well in groups and with others, but for me, I like to listen to Stars when I’m alone.
I was introduced to them over a decade ago, through their song Personal. It’s a subdued and quietly stirring piece, and they’re one of only very few bands I listen to which have more than one primary vocalist. The voices of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan work so tremendously well together — they’re invariably enchanting.
Privilege features vocals primarily from Amy, and is the opening track on their new album There is No Love in Fluorescent Light. The album itself is stunning, and Privilege is such a ravishing piece. Stars always seem to know how to steal the listener away in an instance. My favourite new track featuring Torquil on vocals is probably Losing to You or The Maze. This release absolutely solidifies Stars as one of my all-time favourite bands.
Pulling down the blinds on sun’s tomorrow
A fist through the wall for what you can’t swallow
Babies in the crib take care and breathing
You count up all your luck, can’t stop the feeling
This Ole King by Why? (YouTube)
I wonder how many people discovered Why? by typing ‘Why?’ into Google in a moment of exasperation. I know I did. For a long time I only listened to their songs Fall Saddles and These Few Presidents, but I finally dived into the rest of their discography last year, and now I adore their first two albums; Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia.
I have a couple of favouites from Moh Lhean, the bands newest collection. The album released in March last year, with This Ole King acting as the lead single. The song debuted a couple of months prior to the album in December 2016, but I am going to cheat and include it anyway.
Why? are an American alternative hip-hop band, and possess a very distinct sound in terms of both their music and vocals. Yoni Wolf’s vocals are entrancing in their delivery and content, and This Ole King is at once familiar and fresh. I had it on repeat for weeks.
All my desire
To what I aspire
When I expire
Down dirtward all my hunger
In fire burn my anger
And collapse my stature
Amnesia by Doc Brown (YouTube)
I was introduced to Doc Drown around Spring last year. I had a job interview at a school, and managed hitch a ride back into town on a minibus with about fifteen Chinese students. The driver had one of the BBC radio stations on, which was broadcasting an interview with Ben Bailey Smith, who uses Doc Brown as a stage name.
He’s an actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and a rapper, who had recently returned to music. I remember his interview more than the song they played — Ben came across as a very genuine and deeply interesting person, so I looked him up when I returned home.
Amnesia is from Doc Brown’s new album Stemma, and is one of a couple of songs from last year that instantly grabbed me. It’s a very memorable piece and an instance where the vocals and backing track compliment each other so well. I also really love Corruptible from the same album, and his earlier release Decisions, Decisions.
Ground control to Major Tom
You got some nice ideas
You’re just saying them wrong
In Cold Blood by alt-J (YouTube)
One of my all-time favourite songs is Taro by alt-J — a stunning and extraordinarily beautiful piece which I would recommend to almost anybody. Their debut album An Awesome Wave, on which Taro resides, is an almost impeccable collection of alluring indie sounds, with many stand-out tracks.
I didn’t get into their follow-up album This is All Yours too much, but really enjoyed a lot of the new music from their latest album Relaxer, which released in June 2017. Nothing comes quite close to Taro, but Relaxer proved to be an eclectic and alluring collection.
My favourite track was In Cold Blood, which was unveiled as the second single. It’s a multifarious song with an almost erratic sound, that opens (rather bizarrely) with binary. I really love the delivery, though. Especially the moment the first verse kicks in, along with vocalist Joe Newman’s striking and addictive “lala-lala-laalaa.”
Hair the way the sun really wants it to be
Whiskey soda, please, your G&T is empty
Chairs, inflatables have sunk to the bottom
Pool, summer, summer, pool, pool summer
Heaven by PVRIS (YouTube)
PVRIS have been on my radar for a long time, but I never quite gave them the time of day, and constantly passed them over in favour of similar acts. It would seem that 2017 was certainly their year, however. Their sophomore release All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell reached as high as number four on the UK Albums Chart.
They’re a rock band with elements of synthpop, with very wistful vocals from singer Lynn Gunn. I tend to listen to female vocalists the most, and Lynn certainly has a very commanding and haunting voice, with a sort of soothing and melodic intensity.
From their new album, I really loved Half and Heaven, but it’s Heaven that gripped me the most. It’s a compelling piece with beautiful composition, opening with paced piano notes, before introducing beats, building a rhythm, and then blasting into the chorus.
Do you ever wonder
Who took the light from our life?
The life from our eyes?
All we did was suffer
Why couldn’t we just say
You took my heaven away
Wonderland by Jasmine Thompson (YouTube)
Jasmine Thompson’s career began at a very young age when she uploaded videos of herself singing onto YouTube. She shares some similarities to Birdy in that she’s a solo female vocalist who gained prominence primarily through covering songs, but has such a mesmerising voice that many of her covers are arguably better than the original tracks.
Her initial two albums are collections of her covers, but she has since moved towards releasing original music. I loved her Adore EP in 2015, and still listen to both the original Adore track and the acoustic version very frequently. She returned with another EP last year, which was titled Wonderland EP.
The title track Wonderland seems to me a homage to youth. It’s only a short track, coming in at three minutes, but portrays such a wondrous degree of emotion and wistful beauty — it sounds forlorn yet euphoric and ecstatic. It’s a rhapsody of sorts, and I love it. Jasmine released this at the age of sixteen, but it contains all the maturity and profundity of a seasoned vocalist. I’m always extremely excited for her new music.
Wasted youth in wonderland
Can’t help it
We fall in love with all our messed up friends
We’re so sad with our happy lives
We need each other
‘Cause we’re kids on the inside
Sober II (Melodrama) by Lorde (YouTube)
I remember listening to Lorde in early 2013, when she was still a little known artist with two EPs. Crazy to think only a few years later, she’s being referred to as the “future of music” by David Bowie, and has two massively acclaimed albums. It’s all very deserved, though. Similar to Jasmine Thompson, Lorde is still young but has immense talent and an expert discography.
I loved Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine — it contained all the best elements of her earlier music, and featured many stand-out pieces. Her second album Melodrama was released in June last year, and featured on many year end lists. For me, I still prefer Pure Heroine, but Melodrama was nonetheless an impressive follow-up.
The most prominent track for me was the namesake, Sober II (Melodrama). It features everything I expected and more, opening with a dramatic string section befitting of the title, before introducing some menacing trap elements. The song itself acts as an interlude, but is the absolute stand-out for me.
And the terror and the horror
God, I wonder why we bother
All the glamour and the trauma
And the fuckin’ melodrama
With that, this is the end. There is so much more music which I loved and listened to last year, but the songs above are my most favourite pieces. If you want to check out more of what I listen to and enjoy, then please feel free to swing by my last.fm page. In terms of albums, there were two stand-out releases for me in 2017. The first is Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life, and the second is Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm. I’m sure 2018 has many enthralling pieces in store — maybe I’ll see you again in a year. Adieu, thank you.