Waking Life: A Playlist Of Standout Songs From 2017

<p>(Photo: courtesy of the artist)</p>
Photo: Slowdive press photo

Another trip around the sun, another 365 days measured out in songs -- as always, one could do worse than that. I believe it was Dylan (NARRATOR: "It wasn't!") who once began a work: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." That's a decently accurate summary of 2017 in terms of popular music and its relation to the world. Or even just popular music. It's all pretty impossible to make sense of in 500 words or less, but the numbers are these:

  • 11 Waking Life playlists in 2017
  • 370 total cuts
  • 108 of those presented here as my favorites of the year (and no, I couldn't cut eight to make it an even 100. Believe me, I tried).

The caveats are the usual with such lists: I could not possibly hear everything and therefore did not, nor was there enough time spent with everything I did hear. Also, I tried to avoid multiple selections from the same album when possible (sometimes it just couldn't be helped) and I decided not to include new/old songs from reissues or early singles from upcoming 2018 releases. It's one perspective on what the year sounded like, anyway-- seven and a half hours of it, in fact.

"But," you are wondering, "What are the takeaways?" You're doubtless a joy at parties, but let's dig in a bit. One big trend that picked up where 2016 left off was that of artists returning after years of inactivity. I hope I don't have to twist your arm to convince you that this is a positive thing. Slowdive, Ride and The Jesus & Mary Chain all re-emerged from self-imposed ethers with their first records in two decades, and it was closer to three decades for The Dream Syndicate.

Best of times, indeed, though it's important to note that the work ranged from good to great. Otherwise there'd be no need to mention it here. Perhaps the strongest of these was Slowdive's self-titled effort, a record we first heard from a year ago this month in the form of "Star Roving." The dichotomies of that song are striking. It’s dreamy and celestial, yet also bursts out of the gate and carries you along. It’s reminiscent of the best from their heyday (1993’s "Souvlaki"), yet also sounds fresh and renewed. For what it’s worth, it also has a solid spot on my imaginary soundtrack for "The Last Jedi."

It's not trends that float the boat, though, and I insist that it's a lot more exciting to meet each of these songs on their own. It's often the smaller moments within each of them that are what makes them stand out for me -- those are the real, distilled takeaways from a musical year. Take that inexplicable, exclamatory "HEY!" that peppers the choruses throughout Aldous Harding's "Imagining My Man," for example; or the Dee Dee Sharp sample that provides the organic vibe and backbone of the whole of Shabazz Palaces' irresistible "Shine A Light."

There are lyrics that burn themselves into your brain. Like St. Vincent's "Los Ageless" asking:

How can anybody have you?

How can anybody have you and lose you?

How can anybody have you and lose you

And not lose their minds, too?

Or The Black Angels sneering: "Print and print the money that you spend / Spend and spend the money that you print..." in repetition on "Currency."

There are stunners (Phoebe Bridgers' "Smoke Signals"), bangers (Algiers' "The Underside of Power") and bass lines that don't quit (Dave Depper's "Do You Want Love?" and Broken Social Scene's "Halfway Home," to name two). There are songs inspired by other musicians (The Orwells' "Black Francis," Kevin Morby's "1234," Wolf Parade's "Valley Boy" and The Mountain Goats' "Stench of the Undead"), and also figure skaters (Sufjan Stevens' "Tonya Harding," obviously). Oh, and a bevy of Colorado locals -- The Yawpers, Kyle Emerson, The Still Tide, Mesita and Sur Ellz are all here, too.

That's about that (or some of it, at least). My favorite records of 2017 are hanging out here if you're curious. My best to you in the new year, during which I propose we all re-commit to supporting the artists we love when and where we're able. The seeds of fruits to come in your waking life ahead.