Favourite Songs of 2017... So Far

The Definitive-ish List of 2017 Music

By Ben Blanchard

 The Music | Photo by  Jamie MacPherson

The Music | Photo by Jamie MacPherson

With June upon us, we are officially approaching the year’s halfway mark. At this milestone, which usually feels as though it’s come too soon, I like to take personal stock of how the first part of the year played out. One of the best ways for me to do this is to examine my musical taste and the songs that I've formed a connection to since the new year. So I present to you ten of my favourite songs from this year. These are either songs that come from artists I only heard about this year, or long time favourites who released new material. At any rate, this is a list that is meant to showcase my personal music preference. My hope is that you discover a new song or artist that you relate to or form a connection with, and maybe feel is something worth supporting. 

10. Peter Silberman - Ahimsa

"Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself." - Wikipedia. A charming note to start this list on, considering how tumultuous this year has turned out to be. Peter Silberman is the lead singer of The Antlers and his debut solo EP Impermanence sees him at his most tranquil, with his soft falsetto floating over spacious arrangements. Ahimsa is the standout track for me due to its meditative stillness. This track offers a chance to calm and centre the mind; a small moment of silence before returning to the rush of noise that fills the day.

9. Vagabon - Cold Apartment

I first heard of Vagabon via the website Pitchfork who focused on her for an article highlighting rising acts of the year. With Cold Apartment, Vagabon plays off the powerful history certain places in our lives can hold. It starts as if she is quietly navigating the memory of a past relationship and as the song builds towards its climax we get a sense of the emotional toll that revisiting this memory takes. What stands out for me is her distinctive voice which can both offer comfort or cut like a knife depending on the lyrics she sings, and it pairs perfectly with the driven indie rock she creates.

8. Jens Lekman - What's That Perfume That You Wear? 

I've been a fan of Swedish singer/songwriter Jens Lekman for over ten years now and I was excited when I heard he was releasing a new album this year. What has kept me a fan of Lekman is how adept he is at crafting songs that are injected with a slice-of-life storytelling nature. What I find most enjoyable is how he can extract humour from the moments he sings about. Take this lead single, where he croons about the nostalgic trip he’s sent on from just smelling a shampoo bottle, describing in detail the ingredients of the smell that he is so attached to. There's a sunny vibe provided by an infectious sample of Ralph MacDonald's The Path that makes what could be a melancholic trip down memory lane sound like a lush carnival.

7. Calvin Harris - Slide ft. Frank Ocean, Migos 

Frank Ocean can seem to do no wrong at this point. Since the artistic achievement and critical acclaim that came from last year's Blonde album, Ocean has spent 2017 dolling out random singles, showing that there's no sign of him slowing down anytime soon. But while Ocean continues to experiment with the RnB genre, this collaboration with producer Calvin Harris shows that he can also craft instantly catchy and radio-friendly hits. And with his cool swagger all over this track, he makes it seem so effortless. With emcees from one of the biggest rap groups providing guest verses, this track has all the makings of the perfect Summer Jam that just happened to be released before the Spring.

6. Rostam - Gwan

You may not be immediately familiar with the name Rostam but you may have heard his work. He was a member of the band Vampire Weekend until he left the group early last year. He then went on to collaborate on an album with Hamilton Leithauser. In that time he's also released solo tunes, seemingly at random. Gwan is his latest release and it's a song that shows just what he's capable of. Rostam's lyrics pondering behaviour patterns and the deeper meaning of dreams are sung in such a light and delicate way that they seem to float in the air as they are carried by the beautiful cello that runs through the track. It ends up being a refreshing musical journey that's worth repeating.

5. Nyssa - Life is Hard 

I first became aware of Nyssa on the recommendation of a friend. He suggested I arrive early to watch her open for another band and I'm glad I did; her performance all but stole the show for me. Her stage presence and attitude demands attention. There is a confidence and commitment to her persona that reassures you that true rock stars still exist. The anthemic track Life is Hard is basically a mission statement. Through the pulse and tidal wave of 80's flavoured synths, Nyssa makes it known, with an audible sneer, that she's not interested in your validation. She's determined to enjoy herself by any means necessary and with the range and power behind her voice, I don't think she'll find any resistance. 

4. Syd - All About Me 

Syd is a member of the RnB/Neo-Soul group The Internet. This year the members of The Internet decided it was time to go solo and Syd was the first to release material. This is the lead single from her solo album and in it Syd paints a portrait of herself and her artistic goals. Her laid back flow is right at home over the dark instrumentals that are dripping with atmosphere. And while she explores who she is on this track and what defines her, she recognizes the value of the camaraderie and support she gets from her musical family on the hook.

3. The xx - I Dare You

This year saw the much anticipated release of The xx's third album and in the time since the last album the group seems to have become more cohesive. They play off each other’s strengths and have created an album that flows perfectly from top to tail. This track stands out for me since it seems to encapsulate the group's aesthetic. The track is undeniably danceable, propelled by building synths and guitar lines, flourished with a swelling ambience that rises and falls in time with the singers. It's this melody that enhances the trademark sultry tone that the singers use to deliver lines describing their romantic leanings. For The xx, there's nothing more exciting than putting it all on the line for the sake of love.

2. Future Islands - Ran

I fully realize the position that Future Islands has on this list is pure bias. I've been a fan of their's since I saw them put on a spellbinding performance as openers at a concert. And this lead single from their new album perfectly defines who they are. The new wave polish that underlies their music is just the first component that endears me to this band. What's key is the charisma and passion that emit from lead singer Sam Herring over those perfect synth chords, drum patterns and bass lines. His bursts of dramatic expression add extra emphasis to the emotional longing already present in the lyrics. There's an earnestness to this band that has made me a lifelong fan.

1. Kendrick Lamar - DNA

How can it be anyone else? Kendrick Lamar grabbed everyone's attention with the surprise announcement of Damn. The hardest thing is trying to choose a track to highlight from that album. With each listen, a different track will hit me as a favourite, it all depends on how I feel on any given day. But I guess there's always one track that I return to. DNA starts with a beat that has a smooth bounce that sees Kendrick celebrating black culture and his background while also facing some of the dualities that came from that background. Halfway through the track, the production takes a dark turn and gives him the perfect backdrop to go on a verbal tirade spitting out rapid-fire lyrics aimed to level all the bigots and critics out there. Kendrick's true talent is his ability to dissect and deconstruct complex topics, analyze them from all angles and go on to create lyrically dense concepts and narratives that he weaves into his own personal experiences. And it's what makes him king of this music thing at the moment.
But this list is all just personal preference. What music has stood out to you this year, what tracks have become your favourites and why do they resonate with you? Please let me know in the comments below.