Every year I have the privilege of voting in the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop music critics poll– created by legendary music writer Robert Christgau and first run in 1971, it’s the longest-running poll of its kind, and a great way to aggregate the albums and singles most beloved by the people who think about music the most. Kanye West and Bob Dylan currently have the most finishes at the top of the albums’ poll, with four, and Missy Elliott is the only artist to top the singles’ poll in back-to-back years (for “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” in 2001 and 2002, respectively). Individual ballots award albums not just a 1-10 ranking, but a point system as well; critics are given 100 points to divvy up between their 10 favorite albums, meaning that not only do we end up with a ranking of best albums, but, a great way to measure the weight of an album’s impact. No album has ever eclipsed the point total 3,554 awarded to Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, released in 2003; the closest any album has come was Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which racked up 3,250. It’s an honor to be a part of such a prestigious institution of music criticism, but, it’s limited to 10 spots and my favorites of the year go beyond 10 spots– so, without further ado, I present an expanded version of my annual Village Voice ballot, my Top 30 Albums and Singles of 2017.
Before getting into my list, I have to talk about my two most-played songs of 2017. “P. Sherman” by Divine Council and “Pull Up” by Abra were both released in 2016, so they don’t qualify for the list, but I was basically addicted to those songs for most of year.
“P. Sherman” somehow took a quote from Finding Nemo — yes, I know — and turned it into one of the catchiest hooks I’ve ever heard and left me wondering, “How high were the Divine Council guys when they watched Finding Nemo and came up with this idea?” It’s one of the best pro-legalization arguments I can think of.
Abra’s “Pull Up”, with its mischievous synths, and its video (directed by Abra herself) full of uninhibited, free-spirited mischief, would have been the perfect soundtrack to every night I ever snuck out of the house in high school. In the song, Abra has the audacity to pull up to someone’s house with that someone’s bitch and throw a party; she is the antagonist of every mid-2000s sad boi emo band heartbreak song, and I find myself rooting for her. And that hook…. impossible to get out of your head.
And now, take a listen to my top songs of 2017 as you read my list and accompanying comments.
1) Thundercat – Drunk
For those of us who’ve been riding the Thundercat train, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. We knew the music would be beautiful, but now he’s got some of our heroes down for the ride: Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Wiz Khalifa, and the legends Kenny Fuckin Loggins and Michael Fuckin McDonald all show up to get down with Thundercat’s tripped-out funky soul.
2) Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
The best way to experience this album is by reversing the track order; Kendrick did this intentionally. But what can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? “XXX” is probably the most I’ve enjoyed U2 ever in my life.
3) Le$ – Midnight Club
At first, I believed Le$ was the most consistent and prolific rapper from Houston, then, when Curren$y signed him, I was like, “Maybe he’s the most consistent and prolific rapper in the South,” but now it’s become very clear: there is no rapper (or dare I say musician) in the world putting out quality music at this frequency. His first great tape was The Beautiful Struggle, which came out in 2010; he’s since put out 20 — TWENTY — full length projects with the vast majority of them containing completely original material. Since I started writing this, Le$ literally put out three more tapes. We haven’t seen this kind of output since the Lil’ Wayne of the mid-2000s, and Le$ may be starting to beat that pace– someone should run the numbers. Midnight Club is the most cohesive projects Le$ has ever released; it’s what Big K.R.I.T.’s “Time Machine” would sound like if you extrapolated it into a full album. DJ Mr. Rogers, one of Houston’s best-kept secrets, helms the production for Midnight Club, and it’s clear his ear for samples is only growing stronger; I’m a sucker for a horn sample, so forgive my bias, but “Bimmers x Jeeps” featuring Domo Genesis makes delicious use of Peter Brown’s “Without Love“. Rogers has figured out the formula — nostalgic soul samples and melted metallic melodies — for making Le$ sounds as great as he ever has. In 2011, on Settle 4 Le$ Vol. 2, Le$ gave us the Santana-sampling “Mothership“, featuring Bun B, and in 2017 on Midnight Club he’s flying his ship to a Whataburger on the moon, and he’s brought us all with him for the trip. Just make sure you know what you wanna order when he pulls up.
4) KINETICA – Disco III
KINETICA’s strongest release to-date. It’s amazing to watch her carve out her own soundscape. The beats hit with the force and urgency of molotov cocktails and the lyrics could only have been written after many episodes of deep, deep introspection. We count ourselves fortunate that KINETICA has let us in on a bullet-train ride through her synapses.
5) Amber Coffman – City of No Reply
Take a close look at Los Angeles through Amber Coffman’s eyes; the good , the bad (the album’s title track), and the caffeinated.
6) Kamaiyah – Before I Wake
7) King Krule – The OOZ
8) Lorde – Melodrama
9) Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts, Karen O – Milano
10) Sonder – Into
11) Jay-Z – 4:44
12) Steve Lacy’s Demo
13) Drake – More Life
14) Jaden Smith – SYRE
15) Majid Jordan – The Space Between
16) Anik Khan – Kites
17) Divine Council – Council World
18) Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
19) Kelela – Take Me Apart
20) Fat Tony – MacGregor Park
21) SZA – Ctrl
22) Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi) – Star Stuff’
23) Deradoorian – Eternal Recurrence
24) Paramore – Hard Times
25) Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time
26) Waajeed – Shango
27) Sango – De Mim, Pra Voce
28) Isles – Fractal Beach
29) Oliver Benton – Weathered Phases
30) Sheryl Crow – Be Myself
1) Night Game – “The Outfield”
— Having a hopeless crush is as exciting as it is painful; it feels like riding the bench all season and then finally hearing coach call your name only to find out you’re playing way out in left field. When lead singer Martin Johnson belts out “FAR AWAAYYYY” he perfectly captures that burning desire we’ve all felt: to hold what or who we dream of, even if we wouldn’t choose a cliched sports metaphor to communicate it. What makes this a great song is that Johnson is in on the joke, right down to the nostalgia-triggering Springsteen drums. “The Outfield” turns that heart-racing feeling of working up the courage to say hi to your crush in the halls between classes into something tangible. If only I’d had this song at my disposal in high school….
2) Thundercat – “Show You The Way” (ft. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald)
— Yacht Rock icons Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins get an unexpected boost in coolness from a disciple they never knew they had: Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner; the first 100 spins of this song were spent convincing myself that I was really hearing their voices. “Show You The Way” is an objectively perfect song that leaves you feeling as warm as when a friend tosses you a big, fuzzy blanket on a cold night– only it’s Kenny Loggins tossing you the blanket and Michael McDonald literally tucking you into bed with his voice.
3) VanJess – “Through Enough” (ft. Goldlink)
Channeling Robin S. and singing with a confident cadence ready to melt your face off, sisters Ivana and Jessica demand more of the men in their lives (shouldn’t we all?) while GoldLink shows off his wobbliest verse yet. “Through Enough” is a groove and a half and will be a dance floor staple at my house party for years, I encourage you all to follow suit.
4) KINETICA – “Alquile”
— Without wasting time on formalities, KINETICA injects you directly into the aorta of Santiago’s club scene posthaste with “Alquile”, a dance track that chops and speeds ahead with the urgency of the propellors of a military helicopter. But it’s her songwriting that keeps you coming back, extracting new meaning each time; on the hook, Kinetica’s voice steeps, “Alquile, alquile / alquile mi alma para no volver”, which, depending on your interpretation, translates to something like: “I rented out my soul, never to return”. When searching for the courage to move on and never look back, sometimes dancing is the best catharsis.
5) Miguel – “Sky Walker” (ft. Travis Scott)
6) Sunni Colon – “Little Things”
7) King Krule – “Biscuit Town”
8) Little Simz – “Shotgun” (ft. Syd)
9) Amber Coffman – “City of No Reply”
— The perfect break-up letter to the Los Angeles of the late 2010s, a city so expansive and sprawling that one can disappear and avoid being held accountable for one’s transgressions. Partners in affairs of both love and business can ghost you and hide in plain sight. It’s one of the city’s ugliest qualities, and Coffman’s talent is on full display in turning that ugliness into such an exuberant and emotive song. To escape it all, Coffman dreams of teleporting to a mountain and morphing into a flower; anyone who’s spent any extended amount of time in Los Angeles can surely relate.
10) yaeji – “raingurl”
11) “Alright” – Leafs
12) “Maze of Another” – Jachary
13) “Hard Times” by Paramore
14) “Fake Love” by Drake
15) “Nellie” by Benny Revival
16) “Tropicao” – Synead
17) “Cool” by Zack Villere
18) “Bam” by Jay-Z featuring Damian Marley
19) “Top Down” by Le$
20) “Rocket Science” by Joyce Wrice & Kay Franklin
21) “Swang N Bang” by Kirko Bangz
22) “Sneakin” by Drake ft 21 Savage
23)“Crew” by Goldlink ft. Shy Glizzy & Brent Faiyaz
24) “Trigger Bang” by Lily Allen featuring Giggs
25) “Texas” by Lesser Pieces
26) “Slide” by Calvin Harris ft Frank Ocean & Migos
27) “Frontline” by Kelela
28) “Madiba Riddim” by Drake
29) “Too Fast” by sonder
30)“Big Bank” by Big KRIT “Passionfruit” by Drake
31) “Bimmers” by Le$
But enough about me, check out the result of the 2017 Village Voice Pazz and Jop Music Critics’ Poll right here.