America is in constant political crisis. The international community is facing the rise of right-wing extremism, white nationalism, religious and ideological terrorism, an increasingly centralized wealthy elite, and a fundamental threat to democracy in the form of widespread election hacking in nearly every Western nation. Waves of sexual assault revelations have impacted nearly every corner of our society.
At times, it feels like the world is drowning. But still we breathe.
Look back on your life in the last 12 months. Look past the big-picture fears, the worry of the world on your back. Look for those small, or even grand, moments of joy. Look for that fire of righteous anger and the catharsis of commiseration. Look for friends, and family, and community, and art.
Life continued its expanse in 2017. Dream jobs, college admissions, new births, blossoming loves, holidays, weddings, parties, sunrises and sunsets. Just as we cannot ignore the problems of the world, we shouldn’t ignore the rich veins of emotion which lay under those dark clouds.
It’s with this eye on the breadth of experience that I present:
The Best of 2017 – The Mixtape.
I listened to more new music this year than at any point in my life. Independent of obligations to review or highlight music for publications and the hope of a paycheck, I felt free to discover and absorb as many albums as I could for nothing more than the joy of discovery.
It was August when I decided to put together a playlist to keep track of the best music I’d heard. At first, it was a random assortment I’d set to “shuffle” and enjoy in the background. The first time I decided to share the playlist for a friend of mine, I became self-conscious about the order. Some songs didn’t fit together well, and the transitions were jarring. I wanted the experience of hearing this list to be pleasant and revelatory.
So I arranged it in an order that could be heard straight through. And then I re-arranged it. And I added to it. And I re-arranged it again. I kept working on it, kept building and organizing and contextualizing. Over four months of work, a passion project, a hobby.
And the result is this: A Spotify playlist of 100 tracks, showcasing some of 2017’s best songs, carefully sequenced and designed to be heard from beginning to end.
Taken as a whole, 2017 is a 6-hour-and-27-minute portrait of the year in music. It features emotional peaks and valleys, unexpected connective tissue, and confrontations of both the best and worst elements of our lives. There are sure to be songs you don’t enjoy. There are sure to be artists who grate against your taste. But, out of 100 songs, I can all but guarantee there will be gems you’ve never heard.
Each song on 2017 is from a different artist and album; no one is represented twice (at least not directly; there may be a guest spot on a song here or there). With one exception (Samia’s “Someone Tell the Boys”), each song is part of a larger work, either a full-length album or an EP. Many of the tracks included in this mix are the best examples from their respective records, but many aren’t; they were chosen not for being the absolute best representation of an artist’s overall work, but rather for their place in the larger compilation. This isn’t to say there are any songs here that I wouldn’t vouch for; every piece is a standout on its own, and yet fits together with the other pieces well enough to form a cohesive whole.
Obviously this isn’t an Earth-shattering project. This is a hobby. It’s not definitive, either. I’m not saying that anything excluded from this mix is inferior, or that my taste is somehow superior to yours. I took a lazily thrown-together collection of songs and challenged myself to produce something more ambitious.
Still, I hope you’ll listen to it, or at least try to. I know it’s a lot. But even though this comprises no original art of my own, even though this is little more than a pastiche of the music and creativity of many others, somehow, I still find a lot of myself in this mixtape. So even if the music isn’t your style or you find the process of listening to the whole thing tedious, I hope that hearing this will at least provide a glimpse into my worldview, weird and angry and absurd and mawkish as it can be.
Above all, it’s just a lot of really good music.
2017 has been a complex and brutal year. 2017 has been a wondrous and beautiful year.
100 tracks. 6 hours, 27 minutes. That’s a lot of listening. It can be daunting to look at. But, in an effort to make it more digestible, I’ve broken the larger Mixtape into a serious of smaller, mini-mixes, each with their own themes and moods and progressions. If you prefer to enjoy the playlist this way, the smaller compilations are as follows:
I Believe In Progress
Thundercat, “Uh Uh” (Drunk)
Kendrick Lamar, “DNA.” (DAMN.)
Tinariwen, “Sastanaqqam” (Elwan)
Charly Bliss, “Percolator” (Guppy)
Public Service Broadcasting, “Progress” (Every Valley)
St. Vincent, “Los Ageless” (MASSEDUCTION)
Syd, “Know” (Fin)
Marika Hackman, “Boyfriend” (I’m Not Your Man)
Sufjan Stevens, “Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name OST)
- Each song here serves as a pillar of ideas and themes which recur throughout the playlist: Socio-political anger (“DNA.”), socio-political lament (“Progress”), new love (“Mystery of Love”), secret love (“Know”), dangerous love (“Percolator”), and the places where love and loss meet the world at large (“Los Ageless” and “Boyfriend”). There are two outliers here: The brief but explosive “Uh Uh” and the desert rock of “Sastanaqqam.” One of these has no lyrics. The other is in a language to which I am alien. And yet, each of these speaks through rhythmic and instrumental prowess, not to mention thrilling performance, that transcends words. I hope this will serve as another recurring theme of this playlist: Even if you don’t care about what the songs mean, you can still find joy in listening.
It’s Hard to Stay True
Valley Queen, “Stars Align” (Destroyer EP)
Violents & Monica Martin, “How It Left” (Awake and Pretty Much Sober)
Lorde, “Sober” (Melodrama)
Delicate Steve, “Winners” (This Is Steve)
ShitKid, “Sugar Town” (Fish)
Nadia Reid, “Richard” (Preservation)
Cloud Nothings, “Things Are Right With You” (Life Without Sound)
The War On Drugs, “Pain” (A Deeper Understanding)
Hazel English, “I’m Fine” (Just Give In/Never Going Home)
Fleet Foxes, “Third of May/Odaigahara” (Crack-Up)
Slowdive, “Star Roving” (Slowdive)
- There’s a bit of cyclothymia present in this section. The songs are deeply personal, and each deals with the highs and lows of love and identity. Even the sardonic and twisted “Sugar Town” tackles questions of personal beliefs in the face of inevitable death (albeit in a very snarky way). There are contrasting rhythms and complementary riffs in every pairing. A mind is chaotic and ever-changing, especially for those of us dealing with mental illness. The variety of ways our feelings can manifest are captured here, with an eye on confronting pain and subduing mania.
How Much Is Enough?
Downtown Boys, “A Wall” (Cost of Living)
Your Old Droog, “G.K.A.C.” (PACKS)
Sallie Ford, “Get Out” (Soul Sick)
Melkbelly, “Off the Lot” (Nothing Valley)
Kelli Schaefer, “Moonstruck” (No Identity)
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” (Polygondwanaland)
People Like You, “The Baker” (Verse)
Half Waif, “Wave” (form/a)
Charli XCX, “White Roses” (Number 1 Angel)
Stormzy, “Big For Your Boots” (Gang Signs & Prayer)
- If you’re looking for a party-ready run of bangers, this is the first of the two most intensely fun mini-mixes in the list. If you were to tune out the lyrics entirely, each of these tracks can move a room. But with the lyrics, there is subversion: First Downtown Boys protest “the wall,” then Your Old Droog tells a harrowing story of a police shootout. Sallie Ford describes her anxious need to disassociate from her surroundings, Half Waif paint a portrait of loss, and Stormzy…well, Stormzy just wants to put young whelps back in their place.
Ready To Go
J.E. Sunde, “I Will Smile When I Think of You” (Now I Feel Adored)
Broken Social Scene, “Halfway Home” (Hug of Thunder)
LCD Soundsystem, “emotional haircut” (american dream)
Tove Lo, “disco tits” (BLUE LIPS (lady wood phase II))
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, “let gO Of my egO” (DROOL)
Cherry Glazerr, “Told You I’d Be with the Guys” (Apocalipstick)
Meat Wave, “Run You Out” (The Incessant)
Pile, “Hissing For Peace” (A Hairshirt of Purpose)
Saltland, “Forward Eyes I” (A Common Truth)
- This section largely continues the energy level of the last mix, with the added breath of air from J.E. Sunde’s acapella ballad. But I want to focus on the end of this run, as it brings the playlist to a tipping point: Starting with Cherry Glazerr’s hard rocking but oddly ominous “Told You I’d Be with the Guys” (“I know better now than to be with the guys”), the party begins to turn into something more sinister. In a musical sense, the wild abandon of these songs becomes increasingly angry, even violent, culminating in Pile’s aggressive and challenging “Hissing For Peace,” an unrelenting bombast of dark noise that builds and contorts and then…drops. And from the silence emerges the magical and mournful orchestration of Saltland, whose haunting album A Common Truth explores the looming threat of climate change through fragile compositions. Taken in that context, it conveys its message with richness and depth, but taken out of its initial context and placed here, it becomes a sobering question which the listener must answer. In this moment of lucidity, what are we feeling? And what are we doing with those feelings? As both a global political message and a call for quiet personal introspection, it hangs over everything that follows.
Out of Body, Out of Mind
San Fermin, “Bride” (Belong)
Pixx, “Baboo” (The Age of Anxiety)
Moses Sumney, “Don’t Bother Calling” (Aromanticism)
Girlpool, “123” (Powerplant)
Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else, “Wrong Turn” (Enjoy the Great Outdoors)
The Weather Station, “Thirty” (The Weather Station)
Waxahatchee, “Silver” (Out in the Storm)
Aye Nako, “Half Dome” (Silver Haze)
Jhene Aiko, “While We’re Young” (Trip)
- What do we do with a life we didn’t mean to create? Our best laid plans often bring us what we thought we wanted, only for us to discover that we’ve trapped ourselves in a cage. What then? Do we give up? Do we escape? Do we retreat? Do we stay and watch the world continue around us beyond our control? Do we deny the passage of time and embrace what life we have left to live for the gift that it is? It’s easy to be trapped in the wrong life. It’s easy to be lost in memories. It’s harder to find joy in the path that’s lead you to where you are.
It Will Never Go Away
Halsey, “100 Letters” (hopeless fountain kingdom)
Nick Hakim, “Bet She Looks Like You” (Green Twins)
Faye Webster, “She Won’t Go Away” (Faye Webster)
Leif Vollebekk, “Vancouver Time” (Twin Solitude)
Brooke Bentham, “Have to Be Around You” (This Rapture)
Makthaverskan, “Comfort” (III)
Gnod, “Bodies For Money” (JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE)
Soley, “Sing Wood To Silence” (Endless Summer)
- Relationships take work. Often, we can’t devote much of our mental energy to anything outside of the people in our immediate vicinity. And it can be hard; the words we use, the way we choose to touch or be touched, the places which hold lingering memories of mistakes and regrets, these can become all-consuming. But then, the World creeps in. It’s always been there, you’ve been keeping it in your periphery. But the World has problems, and, especially these days, those problems can erupt and lay waste to everything else on our minds. Rage overtakes rationale. When this happens, embrace your anger. Join your voice in the chorus of those who take a stand against injustice. And when the dust settles, even when the fight isn’t over or if your side has lost for now, you’ll be able to look at the people around you, at the life and relationships you maintain day-to-day, and appreciate your role in them. The World is a mountain too great to push alone. But while we live in the World, the World does not have to define us. Keep fighting when you can, but find solace in the quieter pleasures of a life shared with friends and family.
I Might Have Seen It All
Japanese Breakfast, “Diving Woman” (Soft Sounds from Another Planet)
Wilsen, “Garden” (I Go Missing In My Sleep)
Teen Daze, “Cycle” (Themes for Dying Earth)
Imaginary Tricks, “Lights Out” (Skommel)
Little Simz, “Shotgun (ft. Syd)” (Stillness In Wonderland)
Jamila Woods, “Breadcrumbs (ft. Nico Segal)” (HEAVN)
Ivy Sole, “West” (West)
Mount Kimbie, “Blue Train Lines (ft. King Krule)” (Love What Survives)
Do Make Say Think, “War on Torpor” (Stubborn Persistent Illusions)
- Reset. Start a new path. There are mazes to navigate here, and some end in pain, and some end in good humor. Surprises abound.
Let’s Rage Against the Night
Benjamin Clementine, “God Save The Jungle” (I Tell A Fly)
Wolf Parade, “Lazarus Online” (Cry Cry Cry)
Grizzly Bear, “Three Rings” (Painted Ruins)
Kacy Hill, “Like A Woman” (Like A Woman)
Daughter, “Hope” (Music From Before the Storm)
Desperate Journalist, “Hollow” (Grow Up)
SoftSpot, “Helen” (Clearing)
Milo, “Magician (Suture)” (Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?!)
Slowgold, “Stjarna” (Drommar)
Pumarosa, “Honey” (The Witch)
- I’ll be straightforward with this one: I love this part of the mix. Some of my most in-rotation albums from this year are represented here (Wolf Parade, Kacy Hill, Grizzly Bear, etc.), and the stories told by each of these songs are unique and thrilling in their own ways. I hope they’ll carry you along with all the richness and emotion which have brought me so much excitement. This also features my favorite song transition of the whole playlist. I won’t say which one, but when you hear it, you’ll know, because one of these songs ends the way the next one begins in a way that could not have possibly been intentional but is absolutely fascinating.
You, And Everything That You Do
Anna of the North, “Money” (Lovers)
NSTASIA, “Hell of a Time” (NEW RELIGION)
Alex Lahey, “Backpack” (I Love You Like A Brother)
Gothic Tropic, “Don’t Give Me Up” (Fast or Feast)
(Sandy) Alex G, “Proud” (Rocket)
The Secret Sisters, “He’s Fine” (You Don’t Own Me Anymore)
Rozwell Kid, “Wendy’s Trash Can” (Precious Art)
Tyler, The Creator, “Where This Flower Blooms (ft. Frank Ocean)” (Scum Fuck Flower Boy)
- I want this mix to illustrate the often surprising interplay between seemingly disparate genres and how, by placing them in sequence, the barriers between them are more technical than artistic. Pop, R&B, indie rock, country, bluegrass, punk, hip-hop; obviously these are very diverse styles of music. But are they diametrically opposed? I don’t believe so. Music doesn’t have to be identical to be equally evocative or to flow together enjoyably.
Someone Tell the Boys
Samia, “Someone Tell the Boys” (single)
This Is The Kit, “By My Demon Eye” (Moonshine Freeze)
Ratboys, “Elvis Is in the Freezer” (GN)
Great Grandpa, “Fade” (Plastic Cough)
Louise Burns, “Hysteria” (Young Mopes)
Alvvays, “In Undertow” (Antisocialites)
Julien Baker, “Appointments” (Turn Out the Lights)
- Probably the most thrilling political movement of 2017 has been the rising tide of feminist activism. From the Women’s March to the sweeping liberal victories in state and local elections in November, women and their allies have turned out in waves to tell a wealthy elite of sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic politicians and oligarchs to get out of the way of progress. Special commendation here to Samia, who, at 19 and without a full-length album available yet, dropped one of the year’s most danceable feminist anthems.
For All the Times You Were Told That’s Not Right
GoldLink, “The Parable of the Rich Man (ft. April George)” (At What Cost)
Anna Tivel, “Highest Building” (Small Believer)
Smino, “Glass Flows (ft. Ravyn Lenae)” (blkswn)
Bjork, “Arisen My Senses” (Utopia)
Open Mike Eagle, “Legendary Iron Hood” (Brick Body Kids Still Daydream)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “I Am Curious, I Care” (The Kid)
Aimee Mann, “Good for Me” (Mental Illness)
Nicole Atkins, “A Little Crazy” (Goodnight Rhonda Lee)
Laura Marling, “Nothing, Not Nearly” (Semper Femina)
P.O.S., “Sleepdrone/Superposition” (Chill, dummy)
- The future is uncertain. There’s a lot to reflect on, certainly, but what will we do next? I wanted to end this playlist with comfort, with notes of peace. And there are those moments. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith cradles the listener with messages of calm. Laura Marling puts a simple, relaxing strum over the closing of the year. But we have to manage our way forward with care. Our personal struggles aren’t over; depression and anxiety plague my life and the lives of too many others, loss still casts a pall over many lives, and for some of us, our introspection is a danger in itself. Our global struggles are also far from over; we are beset upon by the rich and the powerful, by social panic and political extremism. For all of the songs in this closing stretch, I chose to finish the playlist off with “Sleepdrone/Superposition” because it encapsulates so many of the conflicting thoughts and feelings I have as an individual and as a member of society about where we’ve come and where we’ll need to go. It’s confusing, grand, deeply personal, angry, remorseful, disgusted, defiant, noisy, and, ultimately, declarative: “This pain is nothing.”
We will endure. We will persist. If this playlist conveys anything, I want it to say that no matter how different or seemingly contradictory our appearances, our beliefs, our homes, our ideals, or our goals, when the whole human family is put together, it’s hard to tell our differences, and a lot easier to see what we’re able to create as a collective. Every piece together makes a picture, even if it’s not the puzzle we might have expected.
Yeah, I’m feeling cheesy. Fuck it. It’s been a hard year.